Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Man’s Pursuit of Utopia

In “The New Atlantis,” Francis Bacon gives us a picture of the ideal state of humanity. In this ideal state, men possess the highest of moral qualities. The people of this Baconian community are devout, virtuous, and upright. In this utopia, science is the cause and ground for why man has been able to attain such happiness. Here, science is practiced perfectly and because the right method of science is employed, sound science is the result. And the product of sound science is the natural elevation of man to his proper place of absolute autonomous rule and reign over the physical world. In such a utopia, man acquires unimaginable cooperation, unsurpassed peace, and unceasing harmony.

Since men have existed, they have been in pursuit of the summum bonum. Bacon is clearly no exception. The problem with such lofty goals is that the manner in which each man defines the highest good differs almost to the man. What is humanity’s highest good? Philosophers have offered a number of alternatives for the highest good over the years and that is just the beginning of the problem. The answers have ranged from hedonism to rational eudemonism to ethical pluralism and many others. Bacon believes, as do many of his ardent students, that science has or is the solution to man’s problems. Not only can science define the highest good, it can carve out the path to this wonderful utopia.

In his book, “That Hideous Strength,” C.S. Lewis uses a fictional novel to expose the naïve belief that scientific materialism can actually deliver the utopia it promises. For modern readers, we cannot help but envision the same experiment guided by communism. One of the main characters of the novel, Mark Studdock, from the very beginning, is moved about like a pawn without any regard for what he might hold as the highest good. The arrangement at the N.I.C.E. is deliberately vague, slippery, and impossible for Mark to quantify or understand. The leaders of the N.I.C.E. clearly place little value on Mark as an individual. They only see him as a means to an end. In time, Lewis reveals that this is how the N.I.C.E. operates. This is their core philosophy. What matters is the ideal, not the person. Individuals are depersonalized and valued only for their ability to achieve the ideal. If they are deemed unhelpful, they are quickly disposed of in short order. Additionally, the N.I.C.E. seems to operate upon a purely pragmatic ethic. What is moral and just is that which promotes the ideal. If murder promotes the ideal, then murder is moral. If lying promotes the ideal, then lying is moral. If torture and false arrest and imprisonment promote the ideal, then these things are moral. One does not have to read about the N.I.C.E. for long before they realize that this utopia is indeed the strangest utopia one could ever imagine.

What Lewis is getting at is that thing which Bacon never seemed to consider. One man’s utopia is another man’s nightmare. One man may consider unrestricted access to another man’s wife whenever he pleases as utopia while for couple; such a scenario is much closer to hell. The modern ISIS group is a perfect example. Recently, ISIS terrorists that do well on the battlefield are rewarded with female slaves to do with them as they please. For these godless terrorists, such an arrangement may very well represent utopia. For the female slaves, it is sheer hell.

When man is the measure of all things the most natural question in the world is, “which man?” Utopian thinking requires criticism of the current state of affairs. One has to ask what the basis is for such criticism. How does one man look at the world and see deficiencies? Where does this idea that things ought to be better, originate? It is the myth and folly of rational thinkers to suppose that science can answer that question. It is not a scientific question. Moreover, it seems equally implausible for one to consider that a rationalist could provide a cogent answer. In that question, the question of the highest good, the summum bonum, is bound up a mystery, a puzzle that neither science nor pure rationalism can solve. Indeed, the solution rests someplace else.

The motives and values of the N.I.C.E. are clearly a very different set of values held by those of St. Anne. Who is to say, if man is the measure, which set of values ought to be preferred. How can we appeal to science to settle such a dispute? How could we appeal to logic to settle the matter? Indeed, an appeal must be made and that appeal must be made to that which stands over humanity, that which transcends humanity. There is no other way to address the riddle that is utopia.


11 comments:

  1. If murder promotes the ideal, then murder is moral. If lying promotes the ideal, then lying is moral. If torture and false arrest and imprisonment promote the ideal, then these things are moral.

    This is part of my problem with popular modern conservatism. Indeed, it can become very easy for some sorts of people to defend torture, to defend slavery, to defend bombing of entire cities, to defend war, to defend all manner of atrocities in the name of an ideal or even in the name of God.

    Doesn't make it right. I agree with you on this point.

    In Christ,

    Dan

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    1. I am afraid it isn't that simple. God is the one who sets the standards for morality and those standards come from His divine nature. War is not murder. Scripture does not command us NOT to kill. It commands us NOT to murder. Jesus NEVER told the soldiers to STOP being soldiers. He told them to STOP abusing others with the power.

      Conservatives do NOT defend American slavery and every liberal who claims they do is a bonafide LIAR and COWARD. It was the conservatives that changed slavery forever in America.

      As far as defending other atrocities, your statement here is far too broad and polarizing to be very helpful. You are a typical political liberal Dan and that liberal thinking of American culture is the color of your external claims to Christianity. It is a Christianity that is defined by your philosophy as opposed to a Christianity that defines and informs your philosophy.

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  2. 1. I didn't say that conservatives defended slavery (although, certainly some did). I said that people can and have used "the Bible" or speaking for God to defend slavery, to defend bombing a city of innocent civilians (Hiroshima, for example) and do all manner of evil. The point wasn't that conservatives or liberals do this, but that SOME people have done this in the name of a greater good (or sometimes, in the name of the bible, or in the name of God). I was agreeing with your point that it has been demonstrated that people do this sort of thing and they ought not.

    2. Where you said...

    God is the one who sets the standards for morality and those standards come from His divine nature. War is not murder. Scripture does not command us NOT to kill. It commands us NOT to murder. Jesus NEVER told the soldiers to STOP being soldiers. He told them to STOP abusing others with the power.

    I bring up another good question that you asked earlier:

    "When man is the measure of all things the most natural question in the world is, “which man?”"

    WHO gets to decide what God has and hasn't said, what standards God has and hasn't set? And on what basis is one group given carte blanche to speak for God while another is not?

    I'm looking for your rational, consistent basis that allows you to dismiss others' opinions and insist that you are the one who can't be mistaken on God's will. Do you have any grounds - ANY at all - to support your claim to speak for God on some number of points including war, marriage, investing, wealth and poverty...? Or is your opinion, like mine, mere human opinion on an unprovable position?

    If you cite "the Bible," well, I cite the Bible, too. So, on what basis is YOUR interpretation The One God-Approved Opinion?

    This is the hole in your reasoning. You rightly question "when man is the measure of all things..." but then fail to question your own humanity and reasoning.

    I'd be willing to bet, if I were a wagering man, that you are entirely unable to provide a consistent, rational basis as to why you dismiss my opinion and embrace yours beyond "it's what makes most sense to Ed..." but I'm prepared to be educated... IF you dare respond to this gaping hole.

    In Christ,

    Dan

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    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    2. If you are right in your pluralistic approach to interpreting Scripture, then your words have no more authority than mine and you have opened the flood gates to an anything goes approach to interpreting Scripture. In other words, anything goes. The authority is no longer Scripture, but man.

      For some reason, you seem to have no trouble interpreting my blog posts. Why then do you have such trouble interpreting those items in Scripture that are so plain, such as Scripture's self-authenticating, self-authoritative claims? It is impossible to miss. The writers are clear in their authority and they are equally clear that they expect people to submit to their writings, and that, without question. Elders are to be submitted to, not challenged and questioned by the ignorant masses.

      In short, Dan, your pluralistic view of interpretation along with your implausible approach to human language results in the complete destruction of a single Christian religion. Jesus can be interpreted in whatever way anyone wishes. Poppycock!

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  3. The authority is no longer Scripture, but man.

    You're missing my point, Ed. Who says YOU (a fellow human, like me) are the One who has the Authority to interpret Scripture and not me? I am a Seeker, one who follows Jesus and his teachings, as are you. I look to Scripture, as do you. I interpret Scripture the best I can, prayerfully seeking God's guidance, as do you. Why is YOUR opinion the authoritative one and not mine? What rational, consistent criteria do you have to decide who has the authority and who doesn't?

    That is a critical question and a hole in your argument until you answer it. Until you answer it with something other than your opinion as an authority, your argument does not stand, rationally or morally or biblically.

    For some reason, you seem to have no trouble interpreting my blog posts. Why then do you have such trouble interpreting those items in Scripture that are so plain,

    Who says I do? You're begging the question, assuming that I am the one having trouble interpreting. But why would we assume it's ME that's having the problem, not you?

    I agree with your comment that I do understand your blog posts. You, on the other hand, have a very consistent history of misunderstanding my comments and views. Given that, why would we not suspect your interpreting skills and not mine?

    Elders are to be submitted to, not challenged and questioned by the ignorant masses.

    I am amongst the elders at my church, Ed. Why are you challenging me? On what basis are only YOU and your friends who agree with you the ones who should be submitted to?

    These are the questions that I'd really be interested in seeing addressed directly.

    If you have nothing more authoritative than "Because I say so..." you really don't have anything, Ed.

    I stand very prepared to learn from those wiser than me, but those wiser than me must be prepared to make a reasonable argument, a biblical argument. I stand waiting.

    In Christ,

    Dan

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    1. Dan, you seem to run in circles. Either you are just dense or you are deliberately evading my point. You left a body of elders and sought out a fake group of elders. They are fake if for no other reason that the celebrate the queer lifestyle and pretend that God condones what Scripture clearly teaches He hates.

      It is NOT my opinion that God's law forbids same-sex relations any more than it it is my opinion that Jesus rose from the dead Dan. Those are easy, straightforward teachings of Scripture. Simple rules of basic human language can make no other conclusion.

      You have yet to provide a single piece of exegetical evidence to refute orthodox views on divine judgment, God's commands of genocide in the OT, Adam as non-literal, etc. You point to generalizations about ANE methods and attempt to undo thousands of years of Biblical teaching and history.

      Paul warned the Ephesian elders that there would be men, even from among them, that would rise up, draw men after themselves, and teach damnable things. These men are wolves, not sparring the flock. But if you met them, I am sure they would seem as nice as anyone could be.

      Your arguments against the authority of Scripture, in favor of gay sex, against God's righteous judgment, against the historical Adam, against the creation account of Moses, against God's activities in the OT all demonstrate that your philosophy comes first. You impose your philosophy on the nature of Scripture, on what it means to be saved, on divine judgment, on sexual ethics, etc. No one can help you Dan but God. You are corrupted and deceived and in desperate need of divine redemption, regeneration.

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  4. And you still miss my point, Ed. On what basis are YOU and your favorite bunch of believers THE ONE source for authority?

    What if I left the church I attended because the elders there were mistaken? Should I remain at a church where the elders are wrong, in your opinion? Or should I simply accept "They are the elders, I will agree with them even if I think they are clearly mistaken..."?

    I do NOT argue against Scripture when I disagree with your opinion BECAUSE OF SCRIPTURE, do you understand that?

    You are going to be ignored and written off as an egotistical pharisaical crankpot unless you can address this vital question: ON WHAT BASIS AND WHOSE AUTHORITY is your opinion the one that must be heeded?

    Continually dodging the question does not do anything but undermine your authority because it makes you appear impotent, hypocritical, irrational and unbiblical, not to mention arrogant and immoral. Why would anyone listen to that?

    In Christ, who I follow (not Ed),

    Dan

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    1. How many times do I have to tell you that we are NOT discussion my opinion Dan. We are discussing Scripture's teaching about itself. It makes direct, clear, straightforward claims about itself.

      Those who twist it do so to their own destruction. That is what Scripture teaches about itself. Jesus said the religious of his day erred BECAUSE they did not understand Scripture. Jesus said IF you continue in my WORD, THEN you are my disciples indeed. Paul told people to watch others and if they did not obey his letters, put them OUT of the Church. John told us NOT to even have dinner with those who claimed Christ but perverted His nature and corrupted His gospel. Paul pronounced a curse on ANYONE who changed the gospel he brought.

      Now, if no one can understand this and if we are all free to just interpret these clear statements any way we please, then Scripture is full up with absolute nonsense and it is a waste of time to even both with it. But if these statements can be taken at face value, it means that anyone who rejects them is in dire straights. They are clearly self-authoritative, self-authenticating, self-sufficient. That is at a minimum the claim.

      When one comes to the Scripture, they must ask, what does this entity claim about itself? An honest reading cannot possibly go in any direction other than "these documents make authoritative claims on mankind from beginning to end." Now, you can simply say, I will believe Scripture's claims about itself or I will not. There is no third party, no other opinion. Either you will say I simply thing Scripture was a bunch of men making these claims or you will recognize that Scripture is speaking to you loud and clear that it is God making these claims. The choice to believe it or reject is a faith act. It is a faith act that you will never make until God imparts his knowledge to you by way of regeneration.

      You clearly do not understand that when we say Scripture is its own basis, it is self-authenticating, it is the final authority, that there is no other basis. My opinion has nothing to do with it. Either you accept that Scripture is self-authenticating, binding, and our final authority and that Scripture is its own ground for this position or you do not. You clearly do not. You demand something more. There is nothing more. There must be a final authority if there is to be any authority at all. Why can't you understand that? We could say "based on who's authority" ad infinitum" you know. And we would never reach the end. DO YOU NOT UNDERSTAND THAT THAT IS RANK SKEPTICISM?

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  5. You clearly do not understand that when we say Scripture is its own basis, it is self-authenticating, it is the final authority, that there is no other basis.

    I bet that you do not believe this.

    The Bible CLEARLY says (JESUS says), "Don't store up for yourselves treasures, here on earth." In the parable of the man with the barns, the man is condemned for storing up/saving up wealth for later on. Again, Jesus' words. We are told/commanded not to charge interest, we are warned repeatedly of the dangers of wealth, how it is a trap, that the love of money is the root of ALL evil. We are told to sell our things and give it to the poor.

    The point is clear, "Don't save up money." It is from Scripture, it is self-authenticating, it is the final authority. There is NO OTHER BASIS for reaching a conclusion on whether or not we should save money/invest money.

    And yet, you probably invest money, don't you? You probably have a savings account, don't you? You probably literally store your treasures here on earth, don't you?

    You reject the clear and repeated and consistent teachings of Jesus about the root of ALL evil in favor of storing up treasures, because you do not take Scripture as the final authority.

    Am I mistaken?

    My point, Ed, is that you are missing my point. I'm absolutely not questioning God's authority. Not at all. God is my God and I seek to walk in the steps of Jesus, and do so by God's grace with all my heart and mind and soul. I am not a skeptic about following God.

    BUT, when Ed insists that he is the final authority of interpretation of Scripture and, thus, of what God says, I reject Ed's arrogance out of hand BECAUSE of Scripture, BECAUSE I follow God.

    IF you want me to bow to some vague group of elders (that conveniently includes you), you will have to provide some authority for me to accept your authority. IF you are just saying, "Trust me, Ed from the Internet, I AM speaking for God and with God's authority on these points..." I will respectfully say, No, thank you.

    I will not and can not bow to Ed's authority, because God is my authority.

    Do you understand your problem and why you are so impotent and powerless on this point? You are demanding people bow to your hunches and giving us no reason as to why we should.

    That's just crazy.

    In Christ, my Lord,

    Dan

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    1. Does Jesus really command us NOT to save or invest? Is that what Jesus is getting at in this text? No scholar worth his salt would take such a position!

      The context is hypocrisy. Men who do things BECAUSE they value this world, status, and power more than they care about the kingdom! The issue in Matthew 6 in the narrower context is related to the unbridled appetite for wealth. It has nothing to do with possessing or being wealthy but everything to do with being possessed by the insatiable appetite for it. And for those of us who are not wealthy, we must learn NOT to lean on our own ability to care for ourselves, but rather on God and be anxious for nothing. But to save and invest moderately is only prudent. Stick with the context Dan. Other texts of Scripture support this interpretation.

      Second, 1 John 2:19 says, "They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us."

      If you are correct, and just anyone's interpretation will suffice, then John's actions against the secessionists were arrogant and immoral. Why could not they say to John what you are saying to me?

      Let's talk about one of the most egregious and damnable teachings you have expressed in your conversation with me: gay Christianity. Scripture condemns it in numerous places. Leviticus 18, 20, Romans 1, 1 Corinthians 9, 1 Timothy 1. How would you interpret such passages and based on whose authority? The Christian community, a community to which you are obligated has condemned homosexuality from the start. Only now are cavils and wolves and quibblers attempting to overturn that. On what basis can you justify your refusal to submit and that joke of a community over there in Ky? You can't just go out on your own and decide you don't like the Christian Jesus and come up with a new story. You are obligated to the Christian community to submit and remain faithful to her teachings.

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