How my faith impacts my politics

Posted by Dan Martin | Posted in Challenging conventional doctrine, Culture wars and Current events, Justice | Posted on 26-02-2015

donkey-and-elephantWith some frequency, some of my Bible-believing friends who tend toward the conservative end of American politics ask me how I can justify my more left-leaning political views.  More than a few have expressed genuine consternation that anyone who believes in Jesus could possibly vote Democratic (as I often have), or could oppose certain Republican priorities (as I usually do even when I’m not happy with Democratic alternatives).  While I usually try to keep this blog away from American partisanship, I think those questions deserve a straight answer.

As a Christian, I believe that the scriptures are pretty clear that God favors the poor and weak over the wealthy and powerful.  This will come as no surprise to longtime readers; if you want a refresher take a look at my Advent Jubilee meditation or this post on Jesus’ comment that we’ll always have the poor.  While it is also clear that God disapproves of just plain laziness and failure to take responsibility (2 Thess. 3:10 for example), it is my opinion reinforced by years of meeting people, that poverty in this country as well as around the world has far more to do with structural barriers, discrimination, bad luck, and abuse by the powerful, than it does with individuals failing to do what they should for themselves.

So my “liberalism” comes from the notion that BEFORE we blast people for failing to take responsibility, we need to look at the ways in which the deck has been stacked against them. It also comes from the observation that despite the smug certainty most wealthy and even moderately successful Americans display, those of us who are not poor owe that fact AT LEAST as much to accidents of birth, good fortune in friends/contacts, and the hard work of other people, as we do to any skill or hard work on our own. Therefore, no one deserves to say that his wealth is his own, and the product primarily of his own hard work. This is only more true for Jews and Christians, who should take the eighth chapter of Deuteronomy (particularly Deut. 8:17) into account.

Next, my perspective comes from a belief that outcomes matter more than theories. So when people want to cut government programs for the poor (all the while increasing subsidies to big businesses who take their production overseas), I don’t frankly give a crap whether their theory of government is correct or not. I care that the NET EFFECT is increased suffering for the weak. The only legitimate time to cut such programs is when they are no longer needed (because the beneficiaries have other REAL alternatives … a combination of voluntary giving and genuine opportunity, neither of which the Republicans and Tea-partiers have created, at least not in sufficient quantity to make a difference). If Christians continue to insist that voluntary giving should replace government assistance, they should follow the old law of supply and demand. When (if) Christians give enough that government assistance is no longer needed, then and only then dare they suggest it’s time to cut public programs…NOT before.

Finally, I believe there are things that only government can do well. My work in public health is one example. Society benefits from having contagious disease controlled, but the market benefit is never obvious to the payers. It only works as something funded by all of society (i.e. through taxes) because there’s no way to tie disease prevention to a specific market segment. Same way with roads. It’s wrong, I believe, to fund our roads through tolls because the need for those roads in society (and the need for individuals to move on them) is not linkable to specific market forces, such that any just charge scheme for road use could be created. Everybody benefits from good roads, and from a society where movement is free.  The benefit any individual derives from roads is rarely proportional to the miles s/he drives on them (which is why gas taxes for roads are also inequitable).  In fact, those who benefit most from the roads (through movement of goods they make or sell, or through bringing customers to their doors) may drive very little in proportion to those who, for example, have to drive from where low-income housing is, to where their low-paying job is located.

So in sum, it’s not about “government sticking its nose wherever it can” (a problem, I might add, that “conservatives” have at least as much as liberals whenever they try to legislate conservative morality). It’s about some necessary things only working when the costs are spread across society, and when the control is linked to society (i.e. voters/taxpayers) rather than to those with the most resources.

Of course there are other reasons.  Regulation, the giant bogeyman of the right, can certainly be bureaucratic and overbearing.  But if there is one lesson that economic and social history ought to have taught us by now, it is that where their pocketbook is concerned, people tend to be amoral or immoral.  Libertarianism presumes that left to themselves, most humans will do the right thing.  Open eyes, I think, suggest otherwise.  So do the doctrines of original sin and total depravity, which last I checked are given more lipservice among conservatives than liberals (this reality, by the way, is also why the Communist ideal of the “withering away of the state” is untenable).  Of course sin and depravity affect the humans in government too … but that’s why we have a government of laws, checks, and balances.  And anyone who thinks the Bible teaches libertarianism in economics hasn’t read much of it (see the Jubilee post linked above).

Certainly there are deep flaws in American political liberalism too, not least the desire among far too many to just dispense with ideas like God and morality altogether.  While I’ve got major issues with the right-wing attempt to legislate around sexuality, the left-wing attempt to remove all hint of sexual restraint is definitely not progress.  However, when I compare the frequency with which the Bible speaks to the twin topics of economic justice and sexuality, I conclude that God is more angry, more frequently, over who’s screwing whom in an economic sense, than in an anatomic one.

Ultimately, I have no illusion that either Democrats or Republicans offer any hope of morally governing this country.  I disavow any notion that one’s faith, or lack thereof, can be conclusively tied to party affiliation.  Nevertheless, when my political views lean further to the left than many of my fellow churchmen prefer, it’s precisely because of my faith, not in spite of it.

An Open Theism Reading List

Posted by Dan Martin | Posted in Open theology | Posted on 30-01-2015

It’s been a while since I’ve written much on Open Theism, but a Facebook friend of mine, Jacob Matthew Hunt, has prepared an excellent reading list over at the blog The Greatness of the Open God.  Take a look at the list here.  Some quality stuff by some quality authors!

Je ne suis pas Charlie

Posted by Dan Martin | Posted in Culture wars and Current events, Other Interesting Stuff | Posted on 08-01-2015

PencilWith the people of France and decent people everywhere, today I mourn the deaths of the editors, cartoonists, and staff of French satire magazine Charlie Hebdo.  With the people of France and decent people everywhere, today I also condemn in the strongest possible terms, the murder of people who exercised their right to free expression in the public sphere.  But in contrast to many decent people French and otherwise I do not, as the British paper The Independent said today, “… honour the stance they took as the most daring of all publishers in Europe.”  Let me tell you why.

It is generally agreed that the folks at Charlie Hebdo are equal-opportunity offenders, at least in that they’re perfectly happy to insult Jews and Christians as well as Muslims (I have yet to learn if they have ever insulted secularism or atheism).  So it’s certainly true that they can’t be accused of somehow being uniquely anti-Muslim.  It’s also true that at least some of their satire bears an honorable message … when I browsed through some of their past cartoons I was struck by their November 2011 cover (printed just after their offices were firebombed by another Muslim extremist), with the powerful caption “Love is Stronger than Hate.”  No better message, no better response.  But the other side of their satire is aptly illustrated in this July 2013 cover, which reads “The Koran is shit — it doesn’t stop bullets.”

This and other even-more-offensive images, it seems to me, demonstrate a problem common to free people:  we often do a crap job of exercising the freedom we’ve been given.  Now let me be abundantly clear:  with Voltaire’s biographer Evelyn Hall, although “I disapprove of what you say … I will defend to the death your right to say it.”  It is not the purview of government or society to squelch a voice that speaks an unpopular, inappropriate, or offensive message.  I’m also not against satire:  there is something about people in power that can be wounded by mockery as by nothing else, and there is something about biting humor that is unique in its ability to comfort the abused and rouse the apathetic.  But often we forget that the pen, like the sword, and like freedom itself, can be wielded well and poorly, for good and for ill.

There is a great difference between satire and gratuitous insult.  According to Merriam-Webster, satire is “trenchant wit, irony, or sarcasm used to expose and discredit vice or folly” (emphasis mine).  If I may paraphrase, satire is humor directed at a bad target in such a way as to highlight or expose its badness.  This is to distinguish it from just plain insult and meanness.  It’s the difference between my saying generically (but in a funny-to-some manner) “you are evil and disgusting” (which you very well may be), or specifically and humorously pointing out something evil and disgusting about your behavior or speech.  The latter, I submit, is satire, while the former is merely being a boor.

H.L. Menken once observed that “The trouble with fighting for human freedom is that one spends most of one’s time defending scoundrels. For it is against scoundrels that oppressive laws are first aimed, and oppression must be stopped at the beginning if it is to be stopped at all.”  I hope I’ve made clear that I believe that what several have described as “the right to offend” must be preserved in a free society.  But the simple fact that a scoundrel is defended does not in any way make him less a scoundrel.  The Apostle Paul said in 1 Cor. 10:23, “’All things are lawful,’ but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things build up.”  I might make it a little more blunt:  you have the right to be a jerk, but you still shouldn’t be one.

And that’s where perhaps our French brethren, like us here in America, have missed the boat.  The French national motto is “Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité” or “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity (brotherhood).”  The Fraternity seems missing, I think, when one insults for the sake of insulting rather than to make an actual point.  And however true it is that the Qur’an (like the Christian Bible) has been unsuccessful at stopping far too many bullets, to call it “shit” is a gratuitous and ineffectual attack on all Muslims, not merely the violent ones.

I hope the murderers of the Charlie Hebdo staff — and of two policemen, one himself a Muslim — are caught and brought to justice.  I hope one day in Syria and Iraq and Iran and Afghanistan, people are as free to ridicule faith (or non-faith) as we are in the West.  I also hope those of us who have that freedom will learn to use it as a tool for good and change, instead of as a license to wound indiscriminately.

Why Do I Believe? Part 11 – It’s not all positive … Theodicy

Posted by Dan Martin | Posted in Apologetics, Challenging conventional doctrine | Posted on 06-01-2015

This child has probably died by now.  When I took this picture, her mother had previously been taken to an Ebola treatment unit, and the child became ill some days later.  Taken in Masokory, Sierra Leone November, 2014.

This child has probably died by now. When I took this picture, her mother had previously been taken to an Ebola treatment unit, and the child became ill some days later.  Ebola is one of those things I don’t think respond well to most folks comfortable theories of a good God.  Taken in Masokory, Sierra Leone November, 2014.

The thing that irritates me about most apologists is that they’re so damn sure of themselves. Not all of them are as cocky as William Lane Craig (who, in my estimation, uses sophistry and intimidation to cover up sloppy thinking). However, even gentle ones like Josh McDowell or Ravi Zacharias seem, at least in the stuff I’ve read, to present a neat, airtight package devoid of uncertainty. Doubt, it appears, is unacceptable for an apologist … which is just one reason I don’t aspire to be one. As I said at the very beginning of this series, my intent is not to convince anyone else to adopt my position, but merely to explain (to myself if to no one else) why I’ve landed where I am.

So with the next couple posts I’m going to step back from my presentation of the positives, and look at a couple subjects that introduce honest doubt in my own mind.  I’ve already presented objections to a variety of people’s arguments for God, though I’ve done it from the point of view (which, to be honest, is my point of view) that God does exist and that Jesus accurately portrayed and modeled who God is.  But I do not for a moment think all the evidence I’ve seen points only one way.  It’s entirely possible I’m completely wrong.  No need to look surprised … I warned you this was coming!

But there are at least two major lines of argument against the existence of the God of the Bible, that in my opinion are extremely hard to refute.  They are actually two sides of the same coin, I think, and they come down to one very simple question:  If God indeed exists, where the heck has he been?

It’s not a new question, and though atheists often ask a form of it, they aren’t the only ones.  In the very Bible I read, plenty of people have asked it, including Job (Job 23:8-9), David the Psalmist (Psalm 13:1-2), and Jesus himself (Matt. 27:46).  There’s an important variation of it in Job 21:7 and Jeremiah 12:1, and that is the issue of why people continue to get away with such awful stuff without God stopping them.  This issue, what theologians and apologists call “Theodicy,” is the question of how one reconciles the belief in a good God with the obvious existence of evil.  I heard the Christian-pastor-turned-atheist Bart Ehrman put the question as emotionally as any, when he asked how God could have tolerated the screams of live children being thrown into the ovens of Auschwitz without intervening.  I have no answer, and I’m unsatisfied by the answers others offer.  I’m strongly convinced of the idea that freedom to do evil is necessary for the choice to do good to have meaning … but that philosophical point would not be compromised in the slightest, I don’t think, if when people hit certain thresholds of evil, God would just shut them down.  I cannot see how the collateral damage is necessary for human accountability.

I’m even more mystified by the amount of evil that gets done, affirmatively in God’s name, without him stepping in to do a little reputation control.  Hitler and Pol Pot never claimed God’s blessing, but what about when the inquisitors tortured and burned people explicitly in Jesus’ name?  What about when the crusaders, in Jesus’ name, slaughtered Muslims and even ate some of the dead (First Crusade … siege of Ma’arra), or decimated fellow Christians (Fourth Crusade … Constantinople)?  What about today, when people naming Jesus’ name spew hatred and venom toward others, whether it’s Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptists, or the unapologetic screeds against Muslims recently making the rounds of Christian publications in which a supposed Christian (this link is for reference only – NOT endorsed) counseled the faithful to “First trust in God, then obtain a gun(s), learn to shoot, teach your kids the Christian doctrines of just war and self defense, create small cells of family and friends that you can rely on if some thing catastrophic happens and civil society suddenly melts down.”

There is general agreement among those few who’ve ever stopped to consider the possibility, that the fact I am not God is categorically a good thing.  But if I were, with all my commitment to human freedom and accountability, I wouldn’t tolerate this level of evil done in my name. There are ways, even for us mortals, to declare enough to be enough and put a stop to abuse. We tend to make a mess when we try, but surely an all-wise, all powerful deity could shut down a genocide without seriously compromising human freedom, even as we open theists see it.  There’s a brand to protect here, and it’s not being protected.  Maybe nobody’s there to care?

The traditional Calvinist response is that God has a greater purpose in all things, and while they deny that God is the author of evil, they say God gains greater glory from demonstrating his justice in punishing evil. So in a convoluted way they claim that it’s God’s will for evil to exist so he can either redeem it or punish it, thereby maximizing his glory. I think that notion is reprehensible in that it ultimately makes God complicit in the evil done, and further that holding anyone culpable for actions they couldn’t NOT have done (it being God’s decree and all) is the very epitome of INjustice.

Of course, nobody who’s ever read my writing to date is going to be surprised in the least to learn that I find a Calvinist perspective unsatisfactory. But I find Arminian and Open View explanations even more wanting in this regard (though they answer other questions with better success in my view). Ultimately–and this is my point–I have yet to encounter a theist answer to God’s apparent toleration of the most reprehensible of human actions, that I find convincing.

It gets no better when I consider natural evil, by which I mean natural events that create vast human suffering. Events such as the 2004 Banda Aceh tsunami that wiped out over a hundred thousands lives, or any of the many earthquakes and hurricanes that have caused vast destruction in recent years, or the Ebola virus I just personally witnessed killing innocent people in Sierra Leone, aren’t as easily dismissed as human-caused disasters. While there is a plausible argument that free agents cannot truly obey their creator unless they have the option to hate, no such argument holds for non-sentient matter. I have heard some propose that only in the face of disaster does the noblest of human character show, and to some extent that is true, but as above I do not think the human collateral damage is necessary even for other humans to attain greatness. The suffering seems gratuitous to me. And like it or not, I find the possibility that nature is just random and cruel, governed by no good being (or maybe no being at all) the least-disgusting explanation for such suffering.

I’m not going to present an answer to this objection. I have not seen an answer that passes my own smell test. When atheists, agnostics, and seekers object to the apologist that the theistic explanations on offer don’t cut it, my vote is with the skeptics, not the apologists.

Why Do I Believe? Part 12 – My personal experience is no help!

Posted by Dan Martin | Posted in Apologetics, Challenging conventional doctrine | Posted on 06-01-2015

knockIn some ways, this may be the most difficult bit I’ve written in my whole apologetics series.  I’ve wrestled with whether to post it at all, but I feel honesty demands it.  If I’m going to talk about why I believe what I do, I can’t ignore the fact that my personal experience of the divine is a big fat nothing.  So here goes …

In my last post, I laid out the first of my two principal lines of thought against theism … there is bad stuff in creation for which no theist argument I have encountered provides a compelling response.  I actually left out one theory because it leads into my second objection.  Perhaps the most interesting explanation of natural evil I have found comes in the Warfare World View articulated most recently by Greg Boyd.  It’s worthwhile to go read that article in toto, but the short version is that there are plenty of powers out there in the universe who hate God, and although they will eventually be defeated by him, there’s a war going on and a lot of the bad stuff we see around us is the collateral damage of that war.  And maybe this is true.  There is certainly support for such a notion in the Bible.  If it’s true, “the devil caused the tsunami” removes at least some of the implied guilt behind “why did God let the tsunami happen?”

However my second big objection to theism is observational.  I simply don’t understand why, if God exists, he’s so blasted difficult to see.  I’m over 50 now, and I can reasonably say that I’ve been a believer in Christianity in some form for most, if not all of my life.  I accept the possibility of God’s miraculous intervention in  the affairs of humans, and the possibility of God’s communicating with creatures.  I just don’t see it.  Oh, I’ve known plenty of people who claim various miraculous happenings … some people I respect quite highly.  But I can say two things with great confidence:  first, that I have never observed direct divine action; and second, that no claim of divine action by anyone I have encountered has me convinced.

It’s not that I haven’t looked for it.  I spent my preteen and early teen years surrounded by the charismatic movement in California, and I asked for and prayed for “the baptism of the Holy Spirit” more times than I care to count.  I really believed I’d receive it, too … and so did the dozens of people who prayed for me, layed hands on me, etc.  Some of them tried to get me to speak in tongues by telling me just to open my mouth and say whatever came, as if somehow if I started faking it the Holy Spirit would take over and make it real.  I never went for that … though I was certain of very little, I was (and remain) convinced that if God’s Spirit were actually doing something in me I wouldn’t have to fake it, and I wouldn’t wonder if it was real.  Looking back on that time now, I don’t really know if any of what I saw going on around me was genuinely divine.  I’m quite sure most of it was illusion or delusion or both (which led in part to this prior post), but I’m not quite prepared to say the entire thing was a fraud.  But I am confident that I never encountered God directly, then or since.

Even in the more staid context of non-Charismatic Christians,I’ve encountered lots of claims to answered prayer, miraculous happenings, and the like.  Here I apply the criterion of my professional discipline of public health:  for something to be accepted as cause of something else, the association between the two must be stronger than one would expect by chance alone.  I find no such association, for example, between prayers for healing and actual healing occurrences.  By this I mean that the likelihood that one gets better (or not) following prayer for healing appears pretty much equal to the likelihood it’ll happen absent any prayer.  Christians don’t tend to live longer or healthier lives than non-Christians, nor theists than atheists.  Furthermore, when I look at the biblical accounts of healings in the first century (the gospels and Acts), I see stories of instantaneous, often-dramatic recovery — stuff like a guy who’s never walked a step in 30 years getting up and jumping, or a guy born blind and suddenly seeing.  I’ve never seen anything remotely like this, and I’m not about to accept that recuperation over a period of months with modern medicine is in the same “miraculous” category as, for example, John 5:8-9.  I cannot point with any confidence to any instance in my own life where I prayed, or others prayed for me, and that prayer was answered.

It seems to me that the wonder of any particular reported miraculous event is inversely proportional to its proximity.  The most outrageous claims are represented to have taken place in distant and nearly-unreachable places, where the possibility of verifying or observing them is nil to none.  I’ve been to some of those distant places … I’ve served in Africa and Latin America multiple times, and I’ve seen no more signs and wonders there than I have here at home.  And here it’s important to add that I’ve seen no more evidence of the present action of evil powers, than I have of God.  I’ve seen plenty of evil — don’t misunderstand me here — but that which I’ve seen is quite reasonably explained by human depravity without resorting to the spirit world for support.  This is why, to come full-circle on the “Warfare World View” I referred to above:  while in some ways it may “let God off the hook” to say that enemy powers cause various evil events, in point of fact I’ve seen no more tangible evidence of those powers than I have of the Holy Spirit (not that I particularly want to … if there are demons at work I’m quite happy not to meet one).

In sum, though, I have to say that my own personal experience does not support the existence of a supernatural realm at all:  good, bad, or neutral.  This is perhaps more troubling to me given that, as my other writing makes clear, the theological perspective I find most biblically and philosophically compelling (Open Theism) is thoroughly grounded in a relational God.  Nor can I rest in the testimony of others on this point.  I dearly love and respect some of my Christian brothers and sisters, but in those rare times when I’ve dug into their testimony, I find upon closer examination that one of two biases color their accounts:

(a) Their testimony depends on a choice to interpret events in a supernatural way when, to my view, simpler naturalist explanations are in order … that is, something good happened (whether or not following prayer), and that good is attributed to God’s miraculous work.  This isn’t all bad; I am committed to the idea that a life lived in gratitude is superior to one lacking that perspective.  But a thankful outlook is not the same as evidence of divine action.

(b) They tend to ascribe positive outcomes to the miraculous while dismissing or ignoring the negatives.  That is, when they pray and good things happen they’re (appropriately) thankful to God, but when they pray and good things don’t happen (or bad things do), they either ignore it altogether (at least in public; I wonder what they think at night in the dark alone), or they rationalize that God must have said “no” to their request.  This latter in particular rings extremely hollow to me, as I don’t at all equate being ignored with a decisive “no” which, however unpleasant it may be, still requires tangible communication.  No answer–silence–and a clear negative are not at all the same thing.

Jesus said in Revelation 3:20 “Behold, I stand at the door and knock.  If anyone hears my voice, and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.”  It’s a great image, but one that has proven, in my life, to be false.  I’ve never heard the knock.  Many times I’ve opened the door anyhow, hoping to find someone on the other side, but nobody’s been out there.  I’ve also knocked on the door plenty myself.  It’s stayed tight shut.  I don’t knock any more.

So where does this leave me?  I’ll go into more detail in future posts, but I remind the reader that this post and my previous #11 follow ten in which I have laid out some of the positive evidence I find compelling.  As I pointed out in The Belief Matrix, where someone lands in terms of belief is a synthesis of a variety of evidence and other factors.  Only a simpleton would assume that all evidence influencing one’s position must point the same direction.  It certainly doesn’t for me.

The Practicality of Nonviolence

Posted by Dan Martin | Posted in Culture wars and Current events, War and Peace | Posted on 27-07-2014

Violence-PeaceIn my myriad discussions over the years, with friends and acquaintances who are dubious about the idea of Christian nonviolence, a recurring objection has been raised that often comes in a form much like this:  “Yes, your theory is all well and good, but in the real world people are violent and evil, and can only be dealt with by force.”  On the surface this objection seems to make a great deal of sense … after all, who can honestly say that the world wasn’t better off after Hitler was defeated (which is the usual example)?  But I think that the example of World War II has perhaps enjoyed a little too much favor in this regard, and the more I observe history, the more I begin to wonder if perhaps that war (itself not nearly the clean case some would like to make it) may be a historical anomaly rather than the rule.

The objection to nonviolence is essentially theoretical.  I say this for the simple reason that it has hardly ever been tried.  People reject the notion of a nonviolent response to a Hitler or a Stalin or a Mao or a Saddam — or Hamas or ISIS or Israel — on the basis that they are (were) so violent/evil that they must be stopped.  The failure of nonviolence is hypothetical, not historical.  By contrast, if we only bother to look, history suggests pretty strongly that violence has a rather dismal track record.  In no particular order, some examples:

  • Israelis and Palestinians have been at each others’ throats for over seventy years.  In this time neither the suicide attacks of the Palestinians, nor the massive–often disproportionate–military actions of the Israelis have been able to materially tip the balance.  If anything, they have merely increased the rancor, added grudges, and hardened the perspective of each side.  If any present conflict on earth calls into question the efficacy of violence, this one should, regardless of which side you think is in the right.
  • The much-vaunted “victory” of the US in Iraq led to the disintegration of the country into sectarian and tribalistic factions that have been unable to come together and in fact are rapidly falling apart.
  • Ten years of American action in Afghanistan resulted in a weak central government whose elected leaders couldn’t dispense with their own sectarian biases, and are now collapsing under the onslaught of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), a group so extreme that even Al Quaeda and the Taliban consider them fringe.
  • Very few historians dispute that the “War to End All Wars” laid the foundation for the rise of Hitler and the Second World War.  What they acknowledge less frequently is that much of the partition of Africa and the Middle East that led to many present-day conflicts, also came out of WWI.

If anything, it seems to me that the critical lens ought to be focused, not on the theoretical futility of nonviolence, but on the repeated, demonstrated futility of armed intervention to solve nearly anything.

Now of course, from the perspective of a follower of Jesus, there is another vital point, and that is to say that “success” as defined by the world is never guaranteed.  There are, in point of fact, things that a follower of Jesus may or must do, and others that she or he may not or must not do, and I believe that participating in the armed conflicts of this world falls into the latter camp.  But that’s not really the point of this post; I’ve addressed that idea elsewhere (feel free to browse War & Peace on this blog for more).

The point for now is that even from a strictly-secular perspective, it seems to me that advocates of nonviolence need not assume the burden of proof their opponents often demand.  While we don’t, in fact, know that nonviolence would work in any given situation, history provides a great deal of bloody evidence to suggest that violence is an abject failure.  Next time anyone tells you that peace is impractical, ask how violence has worked out for them.

Why do I believe? Part 10 — By their fruits …

Posted by Dan Martin | Posted in Apologetics, Justice | Posted on 31-05-2014

grapesA couple posts back in this series, I wrote how the character of Jesus himself is a major reason why I choose Christianity.  Closely related to this reality, I find myself attracted to Christianity because of what it is capable of producing in people.  Note carefully, I said “capable of producing,”  not “produces.”  I am the first to admit that an awful lot of people who bear the “Christian” label are not people I want to associate with, let alone emulate.  I’ve even been known to say that if all I knew of Christianity were Christians, I quite likely would not be one.

Nevertheless, when it comes to evaluating a philosophy or faith or tradition, I honestly don’t think it’s fair to judge it solely (or even mostly) by its poor application among those who bear the label.  I mean this for any system of belief, not just Christianity.  If I want to know something about Islam I look to those Muslims who are trying to make peace, not to Osama Bin Laden and his crew.  For Buddhism, I find the Dalai Lama to be a better and much more attractive source than the extremists in Myanmar and Sri Lanka.  Gandhi tells me more about Hinduism than the factions in India who’ve been attacking both Christians and Muslims in that country.  I am not kidding when I say that there is good to be found, and good people produced, by many (and maybe most) of the great religions of the earth, and among atheists and nonreligious folks as well.  Though there is plenty of evil in these groups too (Christians most definitely included), credible cases can be made and have been made by adherents of all of them, that what their faith actually teaches is incompatible with violence and should motivate people toward good.  I tend to believe the peacemaker of any faith, who tells me s/he came to a position of peacemaking through their faith, and who repudiates violence committed in the name of that faith by other practitioners.

Charity is an important practice in most major religions.  Islam teaches it; giving alms is one of the Five Pillars of Islam.  Judaism has the wonderful concept of Jubilee, though I have yet to encounter any evidence that it’s ever been practised.  For an unbiased overview of the basis for giving in several major religions, have a look at this article on Harvard University’s website.  I affirm the impulse to give, regardless whence it comes.

Having said this, it appears to me that there is something particularly distinctive about the way of Jesus that really is different from all the other philosophies and religions that motivate good in some people.  The self-giving way of the cross … sacrificing one’s own well-being for the good of another who might not even be family/friend/fellow-citizen, seems to be a particularly Christian teaching.  Not, to be sure, that most Christians live that way, or that nobody else does; but that at its best, Jesus seems to motivate–even demand–an other-directed focus that I do not see replicated anywhere else. With all its faults, the church seems to have at least partially gotten the message too.  I’ve not traveled nearly as much of the world as I’d like, but in the places I’ve gone, I’ve seen more relief, development, and human aid ministry being done by Christians than by any other group.  The hospitals, water projects, AIDS treatment facilities, orphanages, etc. that I’ve seen are more likely to be run by Christian agencies, or Christians serving in secular agencies, than by other groups…at least the ones I’m aware of (and I admit that may be sampling bias, though I don’t think so).  Disaster relief, while done in significant measure by government agencies, has a heavy proportion of Christian agencies as can be seen in this listing of respondents to the earthquake in Haiti.

It’s no scientific survey, but the nonsectarian charity website GuideStar’s Directory of Charities and Nonprofit Organizations, in it’s “Religious” subcategory, lists over 84,000 Christian charities, 4,400 Jewish ones, and less than 2,000 each for Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist groups.  Now this directory is of agencies registered with the American Internal Revenue Service, so it stands to reason that there would be more Christian charities in the US, proportionally speaking, than in a country such as India or China.  I wish this table at the World Bank included religious affiliation so I could do a count, but they don’t and I don’t have the inclination to visit every website listed.  A quick scan though, turns up what appears to me a preponderance of Christian organizations as opposed to those of other faiths.  I would welcome evidence to the contrary, but it seems that Christianity spawns faith-based organizations that do charity and not just proselytizing, at a rate not replicated by other faiths or philosophies.

This is not a contest.  I’m not trying to sell anybody else on why one faith is “better” than another, and the last thing on my mind would be to denigrate the compassionate work of any faith but my own.  There’s plenty of need in the world, and far too few people meeting it for me to quibble over whether the hungry are being fed by a Buddhist, a Muslim, an atheist, or a Christian.  I’m quite certain the empty belly appreciates food equally no matter what sort of blessing–if any–was said over it and by whom.

Still, to me, it seems that the way of Jesus at its best, invites its followers to a level of altruism and others-directedness deeper and more comprehensive than that on offer anywhere else I’ve looked.  Most of us never rise to the challenge … that remains indisputable.  But we could, and some do.  And those that do have made and continue to make their mark.  I find that attractive.

“Who Really Cares?” Arthur Brooks Book Review – Repost

Posted by Dan Martin | Posted in Culture wars and Current events, Justice | Posted on 29-05-2014

whocaresBack before I started blogging in 2008, I read and then wrote an online review of Arthur Brooks’ book Who Really Cares: The Surprising Truth About Compassionate Conservatism.  I’m reposting it here with some updates, because I continue to find people citing Brooks’ study as evidence that conservatives are more compassionate than liberals.

In short, Brooks’ book is a highly flawed diatribe posing as a rigorous statistical analysis.  Anyone who has taken basic social science or statistics should easily be able to see through his poor use of numbers and data, but unfortunately it’s become somewhat of a touchstone anyway.

First of all, Brooks states on several occasions that his goal with the book is (if I may paraphrase) to get liberals off their high horse about conservative greed and selfishness, and to motivate them (the liberals) to give more. However, he has so completely intermixed conservative political opinion with his statistics and arguments, that the only ones who are going to be around to hear him are either masochists like me or the already-converted conservatives. If one REALLY wishes to motivate liberals to greater charity, spending a large portion of the book talking about how deluded, misguided, and selfish they are is probably not the most effective strategy. The book as written is far more likely to reinforce conservative Americans in their smug, self-satisfied opinion of their goodness, than it is to spur any liberals to good works.

Secondly, although I suspect that a number of the statistical claims Brooks makes may be true (although any beginning statistics course will emphasize that correlation is not the same as causation), they are compromised by other places where he frankly plays fast and loose with the numbers. One of the most egregious examples is his discussion of the estate tax on page 102 (hardcover edition). Brooks cites as proof that taxation hurts charitable giving, the statistic that someone who inherits $20,000 will give an additional $82 to charity; someone who earns that same $20k in the stock market will give $48, and someone who just gets a $20k salary increase will only give another $18. He lets us digest those figures for a few pages, and then on page 113 announces “Even if the estate tax’s demise did redirect donations toward heirs, these would be especially likely to give much of it away.” (emphasis mine).

Now, I don’t know about your math, but in my calculations $82 is not MUCH of $20,000. Even if the estate tax were only 10% (and it’s much higher than that), the tax revenue (admittedly not the same as charity) would be $2,000. If “generosity” is defined as giving less than 1% of anything, God preserve us from the stingy folks!   Of course, Brooks’ argument here also suffers from the reality that no estate in the U.S. is taxed until it exceeds $5.34 million (it was $2 million when Brooks wrote the book), so that $20,000 differential he’s talking about is on top of a bigger chunk of change than most Americans will ever see, but I digress.

Additionally, it has been noted by at least one reviewer I read elsewhere, but it merits repeating, that a good deal of the giving behavior of religious-vs-nonreligious folks comes from a survey of self-reported behavior, not observational studies (which are admittedly harder to do). I doubt that it would fully explain the difference, but I know that religious folks (and I am one) tend to answer survey questions according to what they “know they ought to do” in at least some cases—that is, when self-reported “good” behaviors are compared to observable criteria, there is almost always an over-reporting of the “goodness.” Since non-religious people are (I am assuming, as is Brooks) less likely to feel a moral compulsion to give, they may also be less likely to over-report their giving. I doubt this could explain away the entire difference, but it is a potential source of bias that is worth examining.

But the most wrongheaded elements of the book occur when Brooks leaps from statistics to policy. Even if we give him the benefit of the doubt, that every statistical claim he makes is correct, valid, and supported by the data, his conclusions don’t follow. I am one of his “rare bird” religious liberals. . .actually I’m an even rarer bird, as I’m a morally-conservative but politically-liberal Protestant/Evangelical Christian (yes, we do exist!). Brooks concedes that we “religious liberals” give nearly as much as the religious conservatives (I actually give more than a lot of conservative friends of similar age and income in my own church), and that both give a great deal more than the nonreligious of either stripe (of course, whether even this difference is inside or outside the margin of error, we can’t tell since Brooks has not disclosed his methodology).  He makes it abundantly clear that religion trumps every other indicator, and then uses his numbers on the generosity of conservatives to justify and advance a conservative political agenda that is at odds on nearly every point, with the perspective of us “religious liberals.”

He also makes the fallacious implication, when arguing taxation-vs-charity, that taxes are primarily (both in intent and effect) directed at the redistribution of income, and secondly that these taxes are spent in largely the same spheres as charity, such that one would supplant the other. Both implications ignore the fact that the U.S. federal budget includes vast sums—all paid for by taxes—that can’t be classified as charitable causes under the most expansive of definitions. Defense, debt service, agricultural subsidy, commerce, public health (disease control, not medical aid) and even the basic operations of government itself are items that together add up to vastly larger sums than anything that can be construed as being in the same competitive space with charity. These things still require funding, and that funding comes from taxes. Much of the debate over taxes, therefore, is not a question of taxation vs charity, but rather: “Given these public expenses, how are we going to distribute the burden of paying for them?” This is an ethical question, and compassion can and does play into some people’s answer to that question, but it is not necessarily correlated with the compassion of charitable giving. It is not for this reason any less-valid a concern from a compassionate point of view.

Yet another fallacy in Brooks’ reasoning is that all giving that is legally defined as “charity” (a term he never actually defines), is in fact motivated in any way by compassion.  The vast majority of many religious people’s giving is, I rather suspect, spent on the institutions and facilities that service their religious practice.  This is true in every church I’ve ever attended.  To really get at the question of charity, one would have to analyse giving that is actually directed toward charitable purposes … this is an analysis Brooks does not do.

In the final analysis I, too, would like to see charitable giving increase. I do think that Brooks makes a valid point that anybody who’s crowing about compassion should put his/her own money where their mouth is and pony up real donations of time and cash. But particularly if charity is to fill the gap of that minority portion of government spending that IS in the same space, EVERYONE—conservatives, liberals, religious, nonreligious—will have to give a LOT more than they give today to make the slightest dent in the problem. Far from soothing complacency for the “compassionate conservatives,” Brooks should call his own people (a majority, he says) to greater good works and not merely heap scorn on those outside his fold whom he deems hypocritical.

A Few Thoughts About Marriage and our “Rights”

Posted by Dan Martin | Posted in Culture wars and Current events | Posted on 09-03-2014

WeddingI have recently observed or participated in several discussions about Christian marriage in the blog/Facebook world, that have troubled me mightily.  On one hand, I see (mostly male) Christians holding forth the position that sex is so important to marriage that any wife who denies her husband his “rights” or “needs” in that regard, is sinning and violating Paul’s commands in 1 Cor. 7:1-5.  Some have gone so far as to state that repeated or long-term sexual denial is grounds for divorce (citing Martin Luther among other sources).  Among commenters on that particular thread, I have even seen several (males again) state that sex is the only thing that differentiates spouses from roommates, or that sex is the principal (or a principal) reason for marriage.

On the flip side, I have seen women reacting in egalitarian outrage, blasting the men for failing to recognize the wounds inflicted upon them by the “purity culture” of churches that, in order to teach girls to be sexually abstinent, use shaming terms like “slut” and “whore” to refer to any unmarried girl who explores her sexuality.  With some legitimate grounds, they point out that the shame toward sex projected on girls before marriage, is then revised to the shame of not being sexual goddesses after marriage.

I’m not going to solve this issue…as if anything I say ever could.  I know there’s a lot of hurting people out there, some of whom feel sexually starved, others of whom feel inadequate or afraid or unloved or wounded.  I’m also not claiming to be an expert:  I’ve been happily married to my first wife for 24 years and love her more today than I did on our wedding day, but we have often observed that this fact has more to do with some combination of insane luck and undeserved blessing, than it is owing to any skill or wisdom on either of our parts.  But I can’t escape the nagging feeling that too much of the argument from both sides has been about each person’s individual needs, desires, fears, wounds, etc., and virtually none has been about each spouse loving and caring for the other.  And when giving and loving has been mentioned, it’s all been of the form “if he/she loved me, he/she’d do this for me.”  Not once have I seen “if I loved him/her, I’d do (or sacrifice) this for him/her.”  Not from the men, and not from the women.  Not from the sexually frustrated, and not from the sexually wounded.

Ladies and gentlemen, if the first things you think about marriage have “I” or “me” in the subject, you’re probably talking about a doomed marriage.

Since the apostle Paul has been appealed to already in this storm (I do not call it a debate), perhaps we’d do well to look at a few of the other things Paul said relative to marriage.  Things like how submission of wives to husbands (Eph. 5:22) must be in the context of mutual submission “to one another” (Eph. 5:21), and in the context of husbands loving their wives “as Christ loved the church, giving himself up for her” (Eph. 5:25) and even loving them “as their own bodies” (Eph. 5:28).  And let’s not forget how Paul described love in 1 Cor. 13:4-7, in which we learn that love does not insist on its own way (v. 5) and keeps no record of wrongs (v. 6).  Furthermore, right on down in 1 Cor 7:10-11 Paul repeats the prohibition on divorce, which makes the notion of using verses 1-5 as grounds for divorce doubly ludicrous.

I really think all this argument about sex is really a proxy for a much deeper question, which is whether anyone or anything, including our spouses or our faith, is important enough to be worth sacrificing what we need or expect or desire.  We’re Americans dammit, and if there’s one thing we’re good at, it’s standing up for our “rights.”  It doesn’t really matter whether the “right” in question is our “right” to be sexually satisfied, or our “right” to space to deal with our sexual wounds … in both cases the focus is on me as an individual, and that focus is fundamentally toxic to marriage.  To give oneself to another in marriage is, in a very important sense, to suborn our “rights” to the privilege and duty to serve and love that person who becomes our spouse.  The two “becoming one flesh” (Gen. 2:24, Mark 10:8, Eph. 5:31) is so much more than the physical joining of two bodies; it’s about loving another person so much that their good becomes our greatest wish.

There’s one final point I wish to highlight.  All those biblical commands about submission, love, and the rest are commands given to us as the “submitter” and as the “lover.”  Never can the words of Jesus (or those of Paul) be used legitimately to tell anyone “you should submit to me” or “you should love me.”  Paul said “husbands love your wives; he did not say “wives, your husbands ought to love you.”  That difference is not an insignificant one.  To any of you who are a husband or wife, your biblical call is to love and submit to your own spouse, not to remind him/her of the duty to submit to or love you.  It is my job to love my wife, not to analyze or critique whether she’s loving me appropriately (she is, by the way).  The moment I start pointing out how my wife ought to treat me if she really loved me, or how she ought to behave if she’s a true Christian wife, I have lost focus on how I ought to conduct myself as a Christian husband.

I’m not saying it’s easy.  Self-giving never is.  I’m not saying it’s always rewarding or that such love will always be reciprocated.  This side of the resurrection, very little is promised in Scripture.  But the way of Christ is the way of giving up, not demanding, our due (Phil. 2:5-7).  This applies to marriage too.

Why do I believe? Part 9 – Popular apologetics I don’t buy …

Posted by Dan Martin | Posted in Apologetics | Posted on 11-01-2014

scalesWhile I’ve already laid out a variety of reasons for my faith position, the world of apologetics includes several popular arguments that I don’t find as compelling as most apologists seem to wish.   Two of the most popular were both advanced by C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity (neither, so far as I know, was original to Lewis, but he is possibly the most popular or famous among their adherents).  These are the “Liar, Lunatic, or Lord” (sometimes described as “Lewis’ Trilemma“)and the “Objective Morality” arguments.

Before we look at these lines of reasoning themselves, I would remind the reader of my Parenthetical Apologia in this series.  As I pointed out then, part of my issue with conventional apologetics is the (I believe, indefensible) notion that by reason anyone can be backed into a corner where they must accept the truth of Jesus–either by presenting them with a solid argument for faith, or by rationally defeating their arguments against it.  I do not accept this approach, and I am certainly not attempting to practice it.  Rather, I am trying to explain how I arrive at or remain in the faith position I occupy today.  So when I say that these two arguments are not compelling to me, I am actually saying two things.  The first and most obvious is that they don’t do much to move me up the certainty scale of my own Belief Matrix.  Your mileage may vary, as the car commercials say, but they simply don’t deflect the needle much in my case.  But secondly (and the first is at least partly a consequence of this), I find both arguments logically flawed … which is an unfortunate thing for a line of reasoning that purports to be logical.  If I, as a believer, find the reasoning weak, it comes as no surprise to me that many atheists find it laughable.

So to the first argument.  Lewis said it thus in Mere Christianity:

“A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher.  He would either be a lunatic–on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg–or else he would be the Devil of Hell.  You must make your choice.  Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse.  You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God.  But let us not come with any patronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher.  He has not left that open to us.  He did not intend to.”

This argument was restated and re-popularized by Josh McDowell in his book Evidence That Demands A Verdict, as well as numerous lectures and presentations over the years (I recall seeing a version of McDowell’s lecture on 16-mm film in the 70s).  It remains popular among Evangelicals; in fact, I heard a friend using it just the other day.  Problem is, it’s just too leaky to hold water.  First of all, it depends upon Jesus having actually said the things he’s represented to have said in the Gospels.  If Jesus never said them–if, for example, the apostles embellished the story later–then the argument fails on false premises.  I happen to believe he did say substantially what is written; I’ve written before that I hold Jesus’ words in the Gospels as the highest authority we have in the church.  But I accept the testimony of the Gospels because of my faith, not the other way aroundEarly in this series, I said that from an evidentiary point of view, the Bible is inadmissible until the God of the Bible makes the text relevant.  I stand by that statement.  From an apologetic point of view, the premise “Jesus claimed to be God” is simply not accepted by many (most?) who are not already believers.  As such, any line of reasoning that begins from this premise is dead on arrival.

A related problem with the Trilemma argument is that even when using the Gospels as authoritative texts, the claims Jesus made aren’t as open and shut as the apologist might wish.  Take for example Jesus’ forgiveness of sins in Mark 2:1-11.  With the scribes in Mark 2:7, both Lewis and McDowell ask “who can forgive sins but God alone?” and claim as a consequence that Jesus, in forgiving the paralytic’s sins, was claiming to be God.  But that’s not what Jesus said.  Rather, in Mark 2:10 he defends his “authority” to forgive sins by healing a man.  He does not validate or dispute the scribes’ objection, he sidesteps it completely.  So to presume that Jesus’ action in this case represents a claim of divinity, with all due respect to Lewis and McDowell, does not necessarily follow from the evidence.

One more objection is made quite cogently in Jim Perry’s article The Trilemma– Lord, Liar Or Lunatic? over on the The Secular Web (infidels.org).  I encourage the reader to pay serious attention to Perry’s entire article, because the tone in which it is written is highly respectful and even-handed…not at all the hostility and contempt displayed by (for example) Hitchens or Dawkins.  Perry states:  “it is not the case that there are three and only three precisely-defined choices to be made here, but rather a vast continuum of possibilities.”  He’s right.  As he continues:

“We don’t know with any level of confidence precisely what Jesus as a historical figure claimed for himself, and in any event if whatever he claimed was false there are a great diversity of possibilities, which include liar and lunatic (which McDowell has not successfully ruled out) but which also include many other options which do allow Jesus to be considered a sage or moral teacher and no more.

The trilemma argument does not support any particular opinion one way or another concerning Jesus. If one already believes that Jesus was the Christ of the Christian faith and hence Lord, then naturally one is disinclined to believe that he was anything else, and may favor the idea that other options are untenable. This argument, however, provides no logical support for one who doesn’t already believe to choose the “Lord” option out of all the others. (emphasis mine)

So on to the second argument, that of Objective Morality.  In simple terms, Lewis (again in Mere Christianity) argued that when humans refer to things they “know” to be right or wrong, just or unjust, they’re basing such claims not on their own subjective definition of right and wrong, but rather on an objective truth that stands outside us, and that all humans understand (with some variation to be sure) at a fundamental level.  Lewis, and many before and since, take the fact that we refer to things as “good” or “bad,” “better” or “worse,” as evidence that there really is a fundamental, extra-human standard against which we judge such things.  He then goes on to conclude that for such a standard to exist, someone external, non-human (i.e. God, though not necessarily the Christian God) must have established it.

William Lane Craig makes the argument far more directly when he frames it as:

  1. If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist.
  2. Objective moral values and duties do exist.
  3. Therefore, God exists.

This argument is formally correct; that is, the structure “If not A, then not B; Not B; Therefore, not A” does follow the rules of logic.  However, I see two significant problems with this argument, and they are the two premises.  Let’s start with number 1.  As nearly as I can see it, premise 1 really states the desired conclusion in the premise.  “If God does not exist, objective morals don’t exist” is true if, but only if, you have presupposed that the only possible source for objective morals is God.  Or put a different way, upon what grounds is #1 is true?  One possible basis for establishing Premise 1 would be:

  1. Anything that exists is created by God.
  2. Objective moral values and duties exist.
  3. Therefore, objective morals and values are created by God.
  4. And therefore, if God didn’t exist, neither would objective morals or values (or, for that matter, anything else).

And #4 really shows the impossibility of this line of reasoning, because it essentially leads us to “we exist, therefore God must exist,” which may mean something to the theist but is entirely unconvincing to the atheist.  So once again, we find ourselves contemplating a circular line of reasoning…Craig has stacked the deck.

The second problem I have with the Moral Argument is Craig’s Premise 2, “Objective moral values and duties do exist.”  While I instinctively believe this is probably true, instinctive belief is not sufficient for an argument based on logic.  Unfortunately, it appears to me that the basis for most apologists’ acceptance of the truth of Premise 2 are emotional or intuitive, not rational.  Lewis bases his argument largely on the fact that people who object to objective morality or “Natural Law” turn right around and prove by their behavior or arguments that, in reality, they do believe there are things that are right or wrong in other than a subjective, relativist way.  It shouldn’t take much thinking to realize the fallacy of this argument.  We as humans behave as if a lot of things are true, that we ourselves believe are objectively not true … for example, most people claim to believe that “money can’t buy happiness,” yet spend their lives pursuing money for the very purpose of achieving happiness (and believing they’d be happier if they were rich).

Craig’s own justification for Premise 2 is even more problematic:  in the above-linked article he opines that “there’s no more reason to deny the objective reality of moral values than the objective reality of the physical world.”  That sort of argument only works with a logical foundation of true-till-proven-false.  Just because we haven’t got the goods to deny objective morality, does not mean for a moment that we have established grounds to affirm it, and Craig should know better.  And as nearly as I can piece together, Craig seems to acknowledge that moral ontology is rooted in God: i.e. that good is good because God said it’s good (with which I happen to agree); but then he turns around and says the existence of objective good (which we just said is rooted in God) can be known by other means (maybe, maybe not, I’m thinking) that then provide proof of God’s existence.  There lies classic circular reasoning.

A third line of reasoning I’ve found a lot among those who advance the Moral Argument is a completely emotional one, and tends to run along the lines of “it’s horrible to contemplate a world in which raping a child is not objectively evil.”  Since nearly everyone (myself included) agrees that raping a child is morally reprehensible, nobody stops to recognize that just because the alternative (prohibition of child rape is merely a relativist consensus of society) is awful or disgusting does not make a thing objectively true.  In fact there is a great deal about our world that is awful and disgusting.  Unfortunately, “it would be terrible if X weren’t true” is a completely insufficient basis upon which to conclude that X is objectively true.

And herein lies the real problem, not only with the Objective Moral Argument, but with most “gotcha” apologetics I have yet seen (I would add atheist apologetics are often guilty of the same fallacies) … arguments set up as exclusive possibilities, lists that aren’t at all exhaustive, or just plain nonsequiturs.  Frequently, they’re as silly as saying that if the sky is not blue, it must be red…and while it’s true a non-blue sky may in fact be red, they completely ignore the entire remainder of the color spectrum.

One final caveat.  I have not said, nor do I mean, that people have not come to faith through contemplating the Trilemma or the Objective Moral Argument.  In fact I have personal friends for whom both have been quite persuasive.  I appreciate what N.T. Wright said in a truly-excellent critique of Mere Christianity:  “a lot of people have become Christians through reading Lewis and, though, like me, they may have gone on to think things through in ways he didn’t, they retain, like me, a massive and glorious indebtedness.”  Just as many have found important truth through reading Lewis, many have been shown to Jesus through these two arguments, and not for one moment do I disrespect the path that led them there.  But we must learn to make a distinction between things that may be helpful to some people (even things God uses), and intellectual arguments that establish the truth of our philosophies.  As logical proofs, neither the Trilemma nor the Objective Moral Argument withstand the test.