Monthly Archives: September 2010

Technology as a god

Technology has become a god “in the sense that people believe technology works, that they rely on it, that it makes promises, that they are bereft when denied access to it, that they are delighted when they are in its presence, that for most people it works in mysterious ways, that they condemn people who speak against it, that they stand in awe of it, and that in the born-again mode, they will alter their lifestyles, their schedules, their habits, and their relationships to accommodate it. If this be not a form of religious belief, what is?”

Neil Postman, The End of Education

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Man’s divided nature

Pascal seemed to think that mankind had 1. a divine nature of which we are inherently aware and 2. a bestial nature of which we were also inherently aware.

Per the divine, we immediately recognize that we are of infinite worth, dignity, and value.

Per the bestial, we are also immediately aware that there is something fundamentally broken in us.

Pascal seemed to think that an acute and proper awareness of both natures is vitally important. An awareness of our bestial nature ought to spur us on to discover the origin of our divine nature. For the Christian, this is our being made in the Image of God which has been irrevocably marred by us.

But let them conclude what they will against deism, they will conclude nothing against the Christian religion, which properly consists in the mystery of the Redeemer, who, uniting in Himself the two natures, human and divine, has redeemed men from the corruption of sin in order to reconcile them in His divine person to God.

The Christian religion, then, teaches men these two truths; that there is a God whom men can know, and that there is a corruption in their nature which renders them unworthy of Him. It is equally important to men to know both these points; and it is equally dangerous for man to know God without knowing his own wretchedness, and to know his own wretchedness without knowing the Redeemer who can free him from it. The knowledge of only one of these points gives rise either to the pride of philosophers, who have known God, and not their own wretchedness, or to the despair of atheists, who know their own wretchedness, but not the Redeemer.

And, as it is alike necessary to man to know these two points, so is it alike merciful of God to have made us know them. The Christian religion does this; it is in this that it consists. Let us herein examine the order of the world and see if all things do not tend to establish these two chief points of this religion: Jesus Christ is end of all, and the centre to which all tends. Whoever knows Him knows the reason of everything.

Blaise Pascal, Pensées, Section VIII: The Fundamentals of the Christian Religion, #556

Instinct and reason, marks of two natures. -Blaise Pascal

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Blaise Pascal on moral relativism

The licentious tell men of orderly lives that they stray from nature’s path, while they themselves follow it; as people in a ship think those move who are on the shore. On all sides the language is similar. We must have a fixed point in order to judge. The harbour decides for those who are in a ship; but where shall we find a harbour in morality?

Blaise Pascal, Pensées, Section VIII: The Fundamentals of the Christian Religion, #383

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The soul of cyberspace

think of technology itself as an animistic dynamic that filters through the individual machines, being an over spirit to them — an animistic spirit that’s way beyond what humans are comprehending on their own level.

So says Britt Welin, quoted here from an excellent paper by Douglas Groothuis titled “TECHNOSHAMANISM: Digital Deities in Cyberspace”

…when one is on psychedelic drugs “and you tune into a cyberspace environment, you lose your parameters and you find yourself entirely within the electronic environment.” Welin’s husband, Ken, also strives for union with cyberspace. He says, “Our video-computer system’s set up to ease us into a level of intimacy where we can use it in a transparent sense” and “enter into a trance relationship with it.” It then “ends up having a spiritlike existence.”

According to Erik Davis, the labyrinthine recesses of cyberspace, with its unfathomable complexities and strange potencies, “may soon appear to be as strangely sentient as the caves, lakes, and forests in whic h the first magicians glimpsed the gods.” To the sacred and mysterious natural spaces of unwired ancient animists we may now add the sacred and mysterious cyberspaces of the wired modern animists. Leary and a cowriter saw computers as fulfilling the goal of “magick” as defined by archoccultist Aleister Crowley: “The art and science of causing change to occur in conformity with our will.”

(emphasis mine)

I am inclined to agree with Leary. Cyberspace is made up of almost pure thought-stuff. That is at the same time both its blessing and curse. Operating as a disembodied mind, it is very easy to fall into the trap of thinking that we are gods, or at the least god-like in our ability to shape our [digital] world. Like the builders of the tower of Babel, our God-given ability to create can be misused to the point where it becomes spiritually damaging.

Although cyberspace technologies in themselves need not be demonic, they easily become conduits of deception and distortion when appropriated by the pagan practitioner, since their simulations are so seductive and their magnetism is so compelling. Because such technologies facilitate the construction of artificial environments, they can be a particularly powerful tool in the hands of cybermagicians who long to “create their own reality” one way or another.

We need to be very careful when it comes to the cyberspaces we create and choose to live in.

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A deeper look at Blaise Pascal’s wager

Many have heard the popular simplified version of Pascal’s Wager, “If there is no God then I do not stand to lose anything but a small amount of fun for upholding a strict moral standard. However, if there is a God then I stand to gain everything if I adhere to His revelation while I stand to lose everything if I behave otherwise.”

While many are content to leave it at this, few understand that this is a minor point in Blaise Pascal‘s larger argument. His main point was that everyone is already making a wager, and that in light of the gravity of the wager, we should take great care in placing our bets.

And fewer still are familiar with Pascal’s brief but brilliant life enough to know that his wager was not made in a vacuum but was made to friends of his who were familiar with other arguments for God’s existence. Who were only prevented from belief in God because they rightly believed that after accepting God they would have to keep his commands. Who didn’t think that believing subsequently following God would make them happy.

It is quite sad that our present cultural emphasis on happiness (defined primarily as pleasure) has taken center stage. Pascal and others of his era would have been appalled as their understanding of happiness hearkened back to Socrates’s wise words that an unexamined life is not worth living.

So Pascal’s wager, in essence, is a challenge to find a more virtuous life than that of follower of Christ.

Read the full text of Pascal’s argument here. It is found in section 3, part 194.

Further resources regarding Pascal’s Wager:

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Cyberspace and the Book

Cyberspace stands in sharp contrast to the book. The book is linear.Its very nature affects how and what we understand—and so does the nature of cyberspace. But they are very different. The communications medium employed shapes the message: “the medium is the message” is true, whether one accepts all the details of McLuhan’s communications theory or not. There are inherent characteristics in the very medium that do affectboth what can be communicated and how it is communicated. Technology is not neutral.

Television, for example, molds and shapes what we understand from a message and even how we view our world as we peer through its lens (more on that below). Likewise the technology of cyberspace. Staring
into its glassy face affects the shape of the message transmitted, the receiver, and the transmitter in unexpected (and often unhelpful) ways. The book differs from both television and the Internet in significant ways—ways that impact the nature of Christianity.

Christianity, as Judaism before it, is a revealed religion. Its base is in revelation. From the first recorded revelation of God and his will to humanity—inscribed in stone by the finger of God—to the Torah, to the completed OT, to the incarnational revelation of the Son, to the writings which comprise our Greek testament, all assume propositional truth as the essence of communication. We have a worldview that is almost exclusively text-based.

Communicating the Text in Cyberspace

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Eddie Long bringing fresh sperm to the congregation

Bishop Eddie Long on the preacher’s job of bringing “fresh sperm” to the congregation:

As of this writing, it is unclear as to whether by “the church” Long really meant “small boys”.

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Is the Bible a suitable candidate for an objective moral standard?

Here is a portion of an exchange I recently had via Facebook with Nigel, a friend of mine. The topic of this section is about whether the Bible can legitimately be used as an objective moral standard.

The problem is, as I pointed out, the Bible can only be considered a universal standard if an individual interprets certain evidence in such a way as to suggest that it is.

Nigel, you seem to be misunderstanding

  1. what is meant by “an objective standard” and how that relates to the ability (or not) of others to
  2. properly understand and
  3. apply that standard. All three are separate issues.

1. Objective standard. If a standard is objective then it does not matter if no one understands or accepts it. Objective simply means that it exists independent of the subject (us). So even if there were no Christians, I would argue that the objective moral standard of Christianity exists and is binding on every person. In other words, the Bible is merely a means by which we know the standard, but it does not, itself, constitute or establish that standard.

2. As for understanding. You seem to also presuppose a deconstructionalist view of the text wherein it is we who bring meaning to a text and not the text that contains meaning independent of our interpretation whereupon it is incumbent on us, the reader, to decipher what the original author meant by any given text. You seem to be following Derrida’s deconstructionalist model when you argue along the lines that since there are many different interpretations of a text that therefore there is no objective definition. I would argue that

3. You also seem to be making the argument that since the application of the moral standard found in Scripture has not been consistent, and has changed over time, that such a change in the application of the objective standard serves as proof that there is no objective standard. Again, this seems to be an outworking of Derrida’s postmodern deconstructionalism wherein it is the subjects that bring meaning to the object and not the other way around. I would argue that we could not talk about a “more proper” application of moral law unless we first presuppose there there exists an objective law in the first place by which to judge applications of it across time. If we reverse this so that application determines the standard then what we are left with is a sort of “might makes right” notion. Interestingly enough, “might makes right” still adheres to an objective standard (a poor one in my estimation) that comes logically prior to the understanding and application.

So when it comes to the question of objective morality we need to address each category separately, starting with the question of

  1. whether an objective standard exists. If it does then we can proceed, if not then all things are relative and subjective. We can live as we please because there is nothing we are objectively beholden to.
  2. how those objective standards are understood. If there is a standard, it must be understandable by those who are to be bound by it. If we say that objective standards exist but that we cannot know them, then how can we really know they exist at all?
  3. how to we apply these objective moral standards? Only after we establish the existence of an objective moral standard and only after we establish the objective means we are to use in understanding that standard can we begin to talk about how that standard is to be applied. The beautiful thing here is that after we have established that an objective moral law exists and how we can objectively understand that law, we can easily correct the application of moral laws as we grow in our understanding of the moral law.
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Aldus Huxley vs George Orwell

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Like riding a bike

We’ve recently undergone the task of teaching our daughter to ride her bike without training wheels. And through the tears we often hear the protest “you’re hurting my feelings” from our less than enthusiastic daughter. To her, riding a bike has gone from an enjoyable activity to a huge chore that her parents force her to undertake almost every evening.

While working with my daughter I couldn’t help but think about the parallels between learning how to ride and learning theology and apologetics.

Learning how to ride a bike is hard. Especially for children whose motor skills and sense of equilibrium are still developing. Learning how to ride a bike results in a lot of falls, tears, and anger. And worst of all, it is not over in a day.

The same could be said for learning theology and apologetics.

It takes hard work, time, and a willingness to risk making mistakes (sometimes very big mistakes) to learn theology and apologetics. Feelings are bound to get hurt along the way as we both develop and sharpen our beliefs and as we learn how to argue for our beliefs. Sometimes we get embarrassed when we go to argue for a newly formed belief we don’t quite fully understand and, due to our lack of experience, end up falling flat on our face when blindside by a rebuttal we hadn’t considered before.

And just like riding a bike. We don’t learn theology or apologetics because it makes us feel good or because the potential positive feelings later on will outweigh the pain experienced now. We learn how to ride a bike because it is a good thing to learn in and of itself. With theology and apologetics, we can add to this that we also study them because they help us grow closer to God.

No one said that learning theology and/or apologetics is easy.

It’s like riding a bike.

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