Maybe even a few splinters on the lips

One of the frustrations that I have faced over recent years as it pertains to entering into dialogue with secular voices about the nature of truth and morality is the apparent deficit in knowing some of the basics of the history of western thought. Well-educated, graduate-degree holding individuals seem to have little knowledge of, capacity for, or willingness to learn some of the basic groundwork that should have been learned in their freshman philosophy class.  I can only surmise that one of two things is happening… either someone isn’t teaching or someone isn’t listening.  Then along comes someone who can crystallize 300 years of how we westerners know what we know in two pages like Vishal Mangalwadi does in his book Truth and Transformation: A Manifesto for Ailing Nations (2009).  Mangalwadi, having studied philosophy at secular universities, studied at the L’Abri Fellowship in Switzerland, and studied in Hindu ashrams, chronicles the decomposition of the West’s moral compass in the following:

If moral integrity is foundational to prosperity, why don’t secular experts talk about it?  The reason is that teh universities no longer know whether moral laws are true universal principles or mere social conventions made up to restrict freedoms.

And why don’t they know?

Economists have lost the secret of the West’s success because philosopher’s have lost the very idea of truth.


The truth was lost because of an intellectual arrogance that rejected divine revelation and tried to discover truth with the human mind alone.  Scottish philosopher David Hume (1711-1776) demonstrated that unaided logic and experience could not prove God, human self, or some of the basic assumptions of science, such as that every effect has to have a cause or that the laws of physics have to be the same everywhere and at every time in the universe.

Hume’s recognition of the limits of logic should have humbled the Enlightenment’s arrogance.  However, instead of admitting that our logic had its limits, many assumed thatif logic could not prove God, then God did not exist.  Hume tried to build a case for morality without God, but German philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) recognized that without divine revelation the human mind was incapable of knowing whether the universe was moral.  In this life we see the righteous suffer and the wicked prosper, but without revelation we cannot know if there will be a final judgment after death.  Kant tried to save morality, but Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900), the nineteenth century German philosopher, concluded that if logic could not know morality, morality had to be a mere social construct.  Since Judeo-Christian morality favors the weak, it must have been made up bythe slaves to restrain the freedom of the powerful – the Aryans.

Existentialist philosophers that followed Nietzsche decided that since the universe had no God-given meaning and moral norms, the quest for freedom required us to create our own values and purpose.  For example, the German existentialist Martin Heidegger (1889-1976) began his intellectual carrier[sic] as a champion of the Nazi thought.  Nazism was defeated militarily, but logic’s inability to know God or morality has produced postmodern universities that no longer know if anything is right or wrong.  Having rejected God and his revelation, educational institutions have become incapable of teaching goodness, beauty, and truth. ”  [bold text is not original to the author] 

The emboldened part is especially important because Mangalwadi is doing a little, as the secular scholars might say, de-mythologizing.  You see, there is this popular myth out there that scientific investigation accompanied by individualistic rationality is sufficient to provide us with all we need to determine our moral standards by which we all might be governed.  And the problem is that many secular voices out there have swallowed this myth hook, line, sinker, pole, fisherman, boots and all, with maybe even a few splinters on the lips  from the dock.  But if the attentive reader is willing to hear this, that myth died many moons ago.

Now it is possible that Mangalwadi has misinterpreted Hume, Kant, Nietzsche, and Heidegger.  But if that’s the case, so did your freshman philosophy professor.



Filed under Culture and Economics

3 responses to “Maybe even a few splinters on the lips

  1. Kirk

    Here is an amiable exchange (unedited) between a secular man and myself from where this blog entry posted on my Facebook page. In order to protect the innocent, we will call this other man “Henry”:

    “Interesting article cuz. A couple of points. Everything we know comes from man. Fishing – man made. Your dock – man made. Your bible – man made. All gods – man made. The difference is that you “believe” they are not man made. Secula…rists are not so convinced. Secularist do believe morality exists outside of a religious context. Murder, stealing, treat others like you want to be treated – not new to any religion or secular society. Secularists differ in that we don’t believe we are doing things because we are being watched or judged or some reward in the future – we do it for its own merits.

    “Having rejected God and his revelation, educational institutions have become incapable of teaching goodness, beauty, and truth.” I completely reject this statement, at least from my university experience. Truth can only be discovered by critical thinking, so judeo-christian theology or muslim theology don’t get a free pass as simply being the “truth”. Nor does Wiccan or scientology theology. None do. That is not rejecting god – they are simply not picking one god over all of the other gods. Universities realize the proof for all religions is the same. Those who “choose” one religion over another do so for many reasons, but the main reason they choose one is because it is the one their parents chose. Hence, religion has been their “culture” since birth, so at an early age you are indoctrinated into one belief and told that it is the only true one.

    Did you choose to be a christian? Why didn’t you choose to follow Islam instead? Analyze your reasons for choosing one over the other and you find that you, too, are part atheist. That is – you reject all gods, except the christian one. Why do you reject the Islam god? You have problems with the proof, I suspect. You don’t “believe” that god spoke to mohammoud or that the Koran was “revealed” by god. My reasons are the same for not be muslim. My reasons are the same for not being Christian. Just because many people believe the same things for a really long time does not make them true; nor it is any evidence of truth (the world was flat for a really long time).

    You forgot my favorite quote from Nietzsche ‘I cannot believe in a God who wants to be praised all the time’.”

    “Thanks for the response. I think you and I can agree on many things. I too can rejoice in the many man-made things. The homemade chicken soup I ate and the beer I drank while reading your post are two wonderfully man-made items. In a certain sense, thanks to the genetic contributions of my parents, the taste-buds with which I can enjoy the aforementioned soup and beer are man-made. But all of this is speaking in a secondary or derivative fashion. We are talking here of *ultimate* questions. We are talking about the *ground* of existence and the *justification* of knowledge and morality. Secularists are quite capable of doing good and saying rational things. But the challenge that remains unmet, including your response, is the ability to give an account for morality, knowledge, the capacity to communicate, the human mind, the grounds of existence, etc. For instance, what “merit” does any thought or action have, and from where does it derive its “merit”? Merit implies some sort of universal morality. What sort of criteria are we to use to determine whether killing this person or removing that person’s property has any merit or not? Secularism cannot give a satisfactory account for these questions given its presuppositions.

    Secondly, I agree that Islam, secularism, Christianity, etc. don’t get a free pass just because they claim to be the truth. But if we judge each worldview/religion according to its own standards, then they aren’t getting a free pass. And this is precisely the point where I have seen secularism fail the test – not because “the preacher told me not to believe it” but because secularism fails the test of intelligibility. It’s precisely critical thinking from a biblical worldview that is much more satisfying (beautiful), moral (good), and intelligible (true) when compared to critical thinking from a secular worldview. It’s critical thinking as I have experienced it that exposes the bankruptcy and inconsistency of trying to give an account for rationality and the intricacies and grounds for existence when looking at the world through secular eyes.

    As far as why I “chose” Christianity, I’ll freely admit it is in large part due to my Christian family and heritage. For that I am grateful. But that doesn’t mean my allegiance to Christianity (and many others smarter than me) is an unexamined one. And it doesn’t mean that I haven’t sought to understand other worldviews in the best possible light. It does mean my path to Christianity has been more of a natural one than it is for some. But does it negate Christianity’s truth since I have had a more “privileged” path than some? I should think not.

    Lastly, I have always found that Nietzsche quote ironic since his writings declared the death of God and then proceeded to make man into one to be praised. I personally prefer Ambrose Bierce’s winking rejection of autonomous reason. Responding to Descartes’ cogito ergo sum (I think therefore I am), Bierce chided “Cogito cogito ergo cogito sum” (I think that I think therefore I think that I am). ;)”

    “Quick response, reserving more time in the morning…

    I do not choose to be secular. I am because I am not convinced any religion is other than man-made. So when you say your morality is devine or something other than man-made, I am not co…nvinced. Your morality is the same as mine…man-made. You just choose to believe it is divine, which provides additional reasons to follow rules of getting along – guilt, reward, etc. That does not make it divine. You also get a few more rules that deal with my Nietzche quote about praising him.”

    “My response is provisional given your caveat…

    Your non-choice is a choice, John. The agnostic makes a truth claim… a truth claim that rests on the certainty of uncertainty. So from that perspective, your choice not to be convinced that… something is divine revelation is as firm as my choice to believe it to be so. The standards of truth that hold our distinct allegiances and lead us to make such choices are drastically different.

    Your ultimate judge of truth is your own mind. You are trusting in your mind’s ability to have all the data necessary to make this judgment (true), to correctly interpret all that data once it is presented to make the best judgment (good), and that your mind can put all the data in its appropriately proportioned order (beauty). Your mind is submitted to no standard outside itself which ascribes a near-divine capability to it. (I know you are not claiming that your mind is divine, I’m just trying to walk the argument all the way out to the skinny branches.) That claim to intellectual independence seems to be more incredulous than a claim to intellectual dependence on a divinely revealed standard.

    My ultimate judge of truth is the Triune God as He is revealed in the Bible. I believe that He has made your mind and my mind to image His own, in other words, with a capacity to know and reason and discover and comprehend and communicate. But ultimately He is the holder of all truth as it truly is. His knowledge is independent and ours is dependent. His knowledge is original and ours is derivative. His reasoning is perfect and ours, though it has great capabilities, is flawed. The difference from my perspective between your intellect and mine is not that mine is better than yours or vice versa. It has more to do with one mind being in submission (albeit imperfectly so) to the standard and one in rebellion (albeit not completely).”

  2. Kirk

    Here’s a continuation of the dialogue:
    “I would agree with your assertion thay my non-choice is a choice if I had not examined christianity and many other religions my entire life. I am just not convinced christianity has it right nor any other man-made myth. What I mean is tha…t I am not convinced they didn’t make it all up (yes, they got some historical things right in the process).

    The clear difference between our world view is that you believe the bible was written by some divine intervention. The problem stems from the fact that your proof that the bible is “god’s word” comes from the very source you rely upon. The bible is true because it says it is true. It reminds of the line from Dan Brown’s book where he says (I believe to make a point about the bible) that everything in this book is true. That line infuriated catholics, especially my friend who is a member of opus dei. You rely upon a self-authenticating document. Most religions have them. That is not enough for me. Men did write the bible. Do you believe it is all true? I assume you don’t, so why not? The book says it is all true. Men decided what books to include and not include in your bible or does the bible answer that too (not sure about that one myself).

    How do you know so much about god? Can you answer that without referring to the bible? And don’t tell me you “feel” his presence or that he talks to you. If so, please ask him to let you record your next conversation so we can stop this game of whether it is the christian god or some other god or gods. The Koran says the same thing – it is also self-authenticating – same evidence as the bible – but you choose to believe one document over another, where the evidence appears to be equal.

    I don’t choose to be secular. I am just not convinced that any man-made myths are correct. I cannot choose to believe something I don’t believe in. I am aware of the christian expression, when doubting god, about, “fake until you make it”, but that doesn’t work for me. If you told me and cited to ancient books that the world was flat, I would not believe you. This is not based upon my own experience of going into space or even travelling around the world- it is based upon the most recent evidence. The bible, like many other myths, tried to explain things thousands of years ago – like the earth being the center of the universe. The bible has the world being only 6k years old. Noah’s ark. Virgin births. Raising people from the dead. Parting the Red Sea (have you seen how big it is!). Walking on water. Water to wine. All great stories and very familiar in other myths, but I am not convinced of their truth in christianity or the religions that pre-dated christianity with similar myths.

    What morality does christianity provide that secularism doesn’t? Praising god, keeping the sabbath holy, etc are not, in my opinion, about morality. Murder. Stealing. False witness. Golden rule (not only a christian thing). All christian and secular laws. Beyone laws – jealousy, greed, racism, sexism – those are not secular laws per se, but are viewed the same in secularism. In fact, racism, sexism, slavery and child abuse are all supported in the bible. I am getting off track and would be happy entertain – issue to issue – the morality in secular laws over the morality of biblical laws. I would rather stay on point about your premise. You believe your book was written by god. I don’t. There is no choice there for me. When it is raining, saying that is liquid sunshine, doesn’t make it so.

    Saying the bible is divine and then relying on the bible for your source of divinity is not convincing to me. I understand why you believe your moral compass is greater than mine – you kind of have to if you believe the bible is god’s word, so no hurt feelings for your moral superiority position. I “believe” (don’t like that word because, by definition, it invokes feelings over evidence) that if someone was drowning, you and I would both try to save them. I just wouldn’t give god credit for me being there and having the ability to swim or that it was a miracle. Nor would I blame god for that person not knowing how to swim either.

    I guide most of my life by a native american saying “Don’t judge a man until you have walked a mile in his moccasins” It is, of course, man-made, but it logically makes sense. So before I turn away from that street beggar and make stereotype judgments, maybe I take the time to walk in his shoes. I don’t need a video camera (god) recording my actions for me to do what is morally right. And I certainly don’t want to rely on the bible for moral advice, unless there is an edited bible that has taken away most of the old testament and some of the new testament immoral laws.

    Secular people, just like religious people, can choose or not choose to act morally. There are universal laws of morality that exist outside the context of christianity or any other religion. The fact that religions all contain the same moral rules, except those dealing with rituals, praising their god, eating rules and dealing with those who don’t agree with their religion, seems evident that there is a threshold of morality that is universal.”

    Another respondent:
    [Henry], you said, “The problem stems from the fact that your proof that the bible is “god’s word” comes from the very source you rely upon.” But you do exactly the same thing. You rely on your reason to understand origins and then you give *reasons* why you rely on your reason. Your proof that your reasoning is the truth comes from the very source *you* rely upon. Therefore, you are opening your Bible (your reason) to authenticate your reason.

    I am relying upon myself to the same extent that you are – what you think is the truth. The bible is self-authenticating, so, yes, I choose to not rely on that as a trustable source. I also choose to not rely on any other man-made myth as… a trustable source. To me, they are all man-made, yet stating they are not man-made, and not divine based upon the evidence (self-authenticating) that I have seen.

    I don’t know the origins. I don’t know what happens when we die. I don’t know if someone listens to my thoughts or can alter what occurs here on earth. You choose believe in the authenticity of the bible – I choose not to.

    I am not relying upon myself that morality is and can be based upon logic, without a god. Many, many ethicist have written on this subject with obvious persuasion to me. They don’t make up stories or people or events – they just use plain old logic. I am relying upon my upon myself, but the proof is not myself. I am relying upon my years of religious study, experience and dialogue. My conclusions are based upon facts or, more specifically, lack thereof.

    [Henry], since I had the first word, I’ll be glad to let this post be my last so that you might have the last word.

    The facts you claim to rest on are not uninterpreted facts. The info and data you gather are interpreted based on certain guidi…ng secular presuppositions and those secular presuppositions affect how you view what you are studying. The hard part is being honest with one’s own presuppositions and how they do, in fact, affect how we interpret our world.

    For instance, the secular worldview presupposes a world where the impersonal forces of nature are ultlimate, consistent, and universal. This is the secular metaphysical theory. But our metaphysics is interrelated with our theory of knowledge. If we grant the secularist his metaphysics, then there is no morality, no good and evil, no right and wrong, because matter and energy are impersonal. Moral distinctions are impossible to make given this presupposition and be consistent with the presupposition. As an example, a secularist’s decision to murder the homeless or to serve in a soup kitchen is no more moral in either direction than a rock rolling down one side of a mountain compared to it rolling down the other. This impersonal nature of the secular reality is also related to the study of religion, mythology, medicine, legal precedent, art history, herpetology, aesthetics, etc. According to the secularist metaphysical presuppositions, the facts gathered in the study of any subject are indistinguishable as right or wrong because the secularist is just matter in motion in the same location as the other pieces of matter in motion which he is studying. The secular metaphysic necessitates this theory of knowledge and morality.

    Thankfully, most secularists live inconsistently in this matter. Most secularists are not like Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot, Margaret Sanger, Michel Foucault, Chairman Mao, Kim Jong Il, and all the other horrors of the secularism of 20th century. Most secularists like you can use “plain ol’ logic” to see what is right and what is wrong. You just can’t justify which “plain ol’ logic” you are using or why you are using it or why I should use it too or why our laws should be based on it. The “be good for goodness sake” of the secular ethic sounds quite noble (it actually sounds a lot like Kant’s “categorical imperative” which was hamstrung quite some time ago). The problem remains this and continues to remain unanswered… according to the secular presupposition that all reality is impersonal matter in motion, what is good?

    As to your objections to the Bible’s ethic, I do have answers for your objections. I am unfortunately low on time, so this will be so brief as to probably be most unsatisfactory to you. But let’s look at this through the same lens as I have examined the secular stance, namely using its presuppositions. The secular objection is lodged in this way, “The Bible condones and endorses immorality from where I am sitting, therefore the Bible is not a reliable or advisable source for guiding our morality and ethical decisions.” But what is the metaphysical theory that the Bible provides. The Bible tells us that ultimate reality is personal. The Trinity is ultimate reality. He is the absolute and independent Person. He has created all things and sustains all things and His nature is morally perfect and He has communicated this truth and His will to mankind. He has created us to be loyal to Himself and to be instruments who get to participate in bringing about His good plan. So when we come across things in the Bible that *appear* to be the endorsement of immoral actions such as the genocide of the Amalekites, we need to take a closer look. If we assume along with the Bible that God is good and always commands what is righteous, then there is a good explanation for the command to kill Amalekites, whether we are given that explanation or not. But he has also given us minds to read His Word and reason, using the Word itself, as to whether certain commands were intended to be provisional and temporary (killing Amalekites, Old Testament cleanliness laws, etc.) or universal and timeless (have no other gods before the LORD, honor your mother and father,etc.). It’s important to reiterate that *I* don’t pick and choose which laws are provisional and which ones aren’t. The Bible does.

  3. Kirk

    And here’s the last of this conversation between “Henry” and myself:

    Don’t be surprised if you see another blog post addressing the Nietzsche quote you gave me. 🙂

    I am doing a terrible job, because you are missing my point. Your myth, philosophy, religion, worldview – whatever you want to call it – comes from entirely from one source – the Bible. You believe the Bible was written by some higher bei…ng – God. You believe Jesus performed “miracles” and rose from the dead. You believe Jesus was really god (although it always bothered me why he prayed to himself – assumed bad editing). You believe that if the bible says it is from god, then it is from god and cannot be questioned. All of your beliefs are contained in from this single source.

    I don’t believe the bible was written by god. I believe it was written by men (it was, but you know what I mean). To me, it is the equivalent to Greek mythology or Islam – man-made philosophies. You just choose to believe one over another. I don’t because, again, the evidence for all of them points to being made up by men. So when some guy in the old testament walks out and says god told him to kill the Amalekites, you actually believe that to be true. (Bush said god told him to invade Iraq-sorry, couldn’t help myself). Why don’t you believe that the Koran is all true too? I asked before, but you did not reply. I trust that your reply would be that the bible is true, so, hence, the Koran cannot also be true. Your choice and I emphasize choice.

    Back on point – in my opinion, your morality is based upon a man-made myth. It is not divine. It did not come from some mystical being in the sky. Men, like in every other single religion that you do not believe in, wrote laws about morality and said they came from god (thus, you cannot argue about the laws this god gives). Ironically, men wrote almost identical moral laws in every other major religion you do not believe in. They, too, gave credit to a higher being (oddly, the person getting the info from a higher being is usually alone- just sayin’). Whether you like it or not, I consider the whole bunch of you in the same category – a belief in a self-authenticating document that is entirely man-made.

    Now when it comes to morality that is not made up, we are left with rational thought. I finally remember one of the books I studied on this topic in college – Reason and Morality by Alan Gewirth. I studied another great one in the same class, but cannot recall the name or the people I loaned them to. Just like the bible, I cannot summarize (or even remember) the analysis right now, so I won’t try.

    I see the only difference in your morality and mine is a higher being who watches you and will punish you (at least you are convinced of both). When you are convinced, I agree that it may make people “act” moral, but doesn’t mean they are moral. If you need a video camera on you to do the right thing, is that really being moral. Like that old saying about doing what is right when no one is looking. Secularists don’t think anyone is looking, yet we still make moral decisions. Christians think the camera is always on, so when they don’t make moral decisions, do they, for that split moment, not really believe He is watching? Sorry, last lines off topic, but that phenonemon always perplexed me. Bank tellers don’t take money from their drawer, because god (cameras) will catch them.

    “That which does not kill us, makes us stronger.” F.N.

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