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>Moral perspectives on lying

2009 October 25 3 comments

>There are a range of Christian theories on the moral acceptability of lying.

The issues around lying seem difficult to fully categorise in English. The problem is a lack of simple words to express subtle differences in meaning. To illustrate this note that the concept of lying can be considered analogous to killing. With killing we have sub-terms such as murder, manslaughter, and capital punishment. We also recognise killing in a variety of situations such as warfare and self-defence. The debate about the morality of types of killing is more transparent because we agree on meaning, even if we disagree or the moral acceptability of them.

Whereas “lying” merely means distorting the truth irrespective of the circumstances. There are terms such as deception, falsification, untruthfulness, but these are basically synonymous. There are situational terms though, such as perjury.

So is falsehood a single conceptual category? I have long thought it meaningful that the 9th commandment is not, “You shall not lie,” but rather, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour.” I have previously distinguished between reality and what one perceives as reality stating that affirming a false belief is not lying. I have also made the distinction between voluntary and forced disclosure of information which I wish to expand on here.

The moral debate is that either:

  • lying (or specific types or lying) is objectively wrong, that is, various forms of absolutism; or
  • lying is not intrinsically wrong (for all people), (though it may be preferable to avoid in certain situations for other reasons), that is, forms of subjectivism.

Christianity claims that morality has its source in the moral law giver, thus it views the morality of truth telling as objective: the same rules for all people at all times. Here are particular forms of such absolutism.

1. Unqualified Absolutism

Lying is always wrong. People should never lie ever. No matter what the situation or consequences.

Doug Beaumont explains such unqualified absolutism.

Unqualified Absolutism is based on the idea that most moral actions are intrinsically right or wrong, and because sin is always avoidable there can be no actual moral conflict. Given a choice between telling the truth or lying to avoid a murder, for example, one must choose telling the truth for in that instance it is not the one speaking, but the murderer who is sinning. In that case it is better to permit sin than to commit it. This view states that moral “oughts” are viable regardless of their consequences, for any moral philosophy that has exceptions results in relativism. Moral law is based on God’s unchanging nature, therefore moral law itself is unchanging. Logically, if an act is intrinsically evil, it cannot become good because of a changing situation. Finally, God can always provide a third alternative to sinful actions.

This is how many people view lying. It is a somewhat reasonable but it lacks depth. Exceptions to rules don’t intrinsically mean relativism. True, exceptions can be special pleading or hypocrisy, but they may be legitimate (eg. age based rules). And as I note below, unqualified absolutism may conflate intrinsically different actions.

2. Conflicting absolutism

Lying is wrong, but it needs to be considered within the situation. If lying conflicts with another moral commandment then one must do obey the higher moral. But lying, while required, is still sinful.

Such a position acknowledges that we have moral conflict (at least in this age). I think this is an improvement as it notes that as bad as lying may be, it may not be the greatest evil (though lying is a bigger evil than many acknowledge). This position encourages people to do good and love their neighbour.

It fails in that it suggests at times all options a man may have involve sin. However if we wish to do right, Scripture suggests we are able to do so (thru God). Further, how much less are we to blame when others have placed us in a dilemma, rather than our own prior choices.

3. Graded absolutism

Lying is wrong unless it conflicts with a higher moral commandment. Obeying the higher moral by lying is not wrong or sinful.

This resolves the dilemma or not being able to make a right choice. It affirms moral conflict, but it claims that the choice to do the better is good. And not sinful if a greater good is being done. There may be some support from Jesus’ words to the Pharisees. It discussing tithing garden herbs Jesus states

But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.

While one could claim that tithing herbs and doing justice are morally equal—Jesus does say not to neglect the former—the context would suggest that doing justice is a higher moral command. Apologists for unqualified absolutism could argue Jesus commands they do both, but there is no conflict between moral obligations set up here, so unqualified absolutism cannot be proven from the passage. I am merely illustrating that moral commands are graded.

It is important to note that this is not arguing that the end justifies the means. Yes, the end is considered, but for the sake of doing good, not for preferred result. Doing good may have unpleasant consequences.

4. Libertarian absolutism

Lying is wrong if one is voluntarily giving information. One need not tell the truth if one is being compelled to divulge information. I am responsible for my actions, not yours.

This has the advantage over graded absolutism in that it recognises that voluntary information and compelled information are categorically different. It is somewhat analogous to saying that predatory killing is sinful but self-defensive killing is not.

Interestingly Jesus’ words may shed some light on our understanding here.

After this Jesus went about in Galilee. He would not go about in Judea, because the Jews were seeking to kill him. Now the Jews’ Feast of Booths was at hand. So his brothers said to him, “Leave here and go to Judea, that your disciples also may see the works you are doing. For no one works in secret if he seeks to be known openly. If you do these things, show yourself to the world.” For not even his brothers believed in him. Jesus said to them, “My time has not yet come, but your time is always here. The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify about it that its works are evil. You go up to the feast. I am not going up to this feast, for my time has not yet fully come.” After saying this, he remained in Galilee.

But after his brothers had gone up to the feast, then he also went up, not publicly but in private. The Jews were looking for him at the feast, and saying, “Where is he?” And there was much muttering about him among the people. While some said, “He is a good man,” others said, “No, he is leading the people astray.” Yet for fear of the Jews no one spoke openly of him.

About the middle of the feast Jesus went up into the temple and began teaching. (John 7, emphasis added)

Jesus said he wasn’t going but then he did. This implies that Jesus’ answer was not true. In fact some manuscripts say, “I am not yet going up to this feast.” Which would seem to make Jesus’ answer more honest. Looking at the passage it is clear Jesus wished to go without others initially knowing he was there. He
is asked if he is going, however Jesus does not wish to tell this person. Being evasive may be construed as a yes. Jesus says that he is not going to this feast. Within the libertarian absolutism view a request is made of Jesus to divulge information he does not wish to give and he is at liberty to answer in a way that does not divulge same information.

This position is distinct from graded absolutism in that one is not weighing up morality in conflict. The distinction is in will for informing.

Although one could think nothing one hears in conversation is reliable, the solution is listen to what people wish to tell you.

5. Authoritative absolutism

Non aggressive version

  • Lying is wrong in non-aggressive situations. Self-defence against an aggressor allows for lying. Authorities are owed the truth.

Libertarian version

  • One need not tell the truth if one is being compelled to divulge information unless being compelled by a legitimate authority.

Authoritative absolutism states the voluntary information must be true as per libertarian absolutism, or that all information must be true unless facing an aggressor. It states that, in general, compelled information does not need to be true though there can be variation on what is meant by compulsion.

But this position does allow an appropriate authority to force information (whereas strict libertarian absolutism would not). A person following libertarian absolutism would allow one to lie in court if he did not wish to divulge the truth. Non-aggressive absolutism would mean that it is eumoral (morally good) to tell the truth in legitimate courts and immoral to withhold it. Note the caveat: obeying a lesser authority is not required if that means disobeying a higher one. Obeying a policeman, a ruler, or a court is necessary even unjust ones, or in unpleasant circumstances; unless doing so compromises a higher earthly ruler or God.

Conclusion

People may argue for the legitimacy of any of these options within Christian theology. Unless one recognises that the concept of lying may include more than one category, graded absolutism is as far as one can advance and this seems to be the best approach. However the knowledge of a permissible sub-categorisation based on the distinction between voluntary and involuntary knowledge sharing allows for more nuanced views.

Categories: ethics, truth

>Ministry of standards

2008 November 29 6 comments

>Governments involve themselves in much of public life. It is reasonable to think that at least some involvement is excessive. Many would argue that most involvement is excessive. Of all the portfolios that governments have, there is one that I think should exist of its own accord.

We should have a Ministry of Standards.

Now we do have laws related to these issues, but I think the issue is important enough to warrant its own department with various divisions.

By standards I mean

  • defining various standards;
  • ensuring they are appropriate;
  • enforcing their use; and
  • prescribing punishments for breaches

Given that I prefer minimal government this may appear intrusive, but I see it as an issue of justice, and justice is an important role of government.

Defining standards

It is important to understand that I mean standards which are defined not prescribed. I do not think the government should enforce what manufactures should do, rather describe accurately what they in fact do. Granted there may be safety issues that mean minimum standards must be met in some areas, but by and large I think people should be able to exchange what they wish to do so. People should be able to buy products of varying quality.

Quality often relates to price. For any given object, desired price and quality vary among consumers. Some want high quality, others want low price. Most want high quality and low cost, but decisions are made at the margins. Government does not have a role in specifying a minimum standard (usually). Such a policy limits people, especially the poor who may not be able to afford such high quality items.

I do however think the government can have a role in ensuring that such items are of the claimed quality, and further, the government can have a role in specifying what must be shown on items for sale.

Examples include weights and volumes for foodstuffs, measurement dials in vehicles, breaking force and insulation property of glass, and electricity meters. Much of which is already covered by law.

Ensuring appropriateness

Consumers have the benefit of taking their custom where they will. Manufactures have the benefit in knowing exactly the quality of their product. Few consumers have the knowledge or ability to assess quality to this degree. Manufacturers may advertise various benefits of their product which is fine, but this should not be used to remove focus from more important quality issues that may not be mentioned.

Consider digital cameras. The quality of a photo is determined by several things including resolution. For people who print photos 6 megapixels is probably adequate. Now manufacturers can produce cameras of higher density such as 9 megapixels and they should be free to do so. This is good for larger photos, for cropping photos, and for digital zoom. The problem is that people may assume that the number of pixels reflects the quality of the photo because of the way cameras are marketed; but other factors are important such as the depth per pixel, speed of shot, stability of image capture, and software manipulation. So one may spend the extra money gaining extra pixels with no gain in printed product, and possibly worse if the pictures are blurred. He would be better spending the extra money on a camera that shoots more stable pictures at a lower resolution.

Defining standards of measures that affect photo quality that must be displayed on the product makes people aware of the issues, it lets them choose what they think best, and makes it harder for manufacturers to make cheap improvements and market the product as significantly superior.

Enforcing use

This is legislation that makes certain labelling compulsory and allows for the government to fund random testing to ensure compliance. Not compliance to some artificial mandate, rather accuracy of labelling. I am not concerned whether a product contains 1% or 20% sugar, just that one can trust the label.

Dealing with non-compliance

I think there is a role for this ministry to define the level of fines for breaches. The relationship between consumer and manufacturer is asymmetrical. Fortunately manufacturers are quite responsive to consumers for the sake of their brand name. However they may not be, especially in areas that may not have significant repeat service such as car and house sales. When organisations are blatantly and knowingly passing off a false product it is unduly onerous to expect a duped consumer to take up this cause. It costs them time, time that may be intentionally delayed by a company; money they may not have; and even if they were to win in court they may still be out of pocket and time and the company may be inadequately fined nor forced to significantly change their practice. Government enforcement is probably preferable.

I do not see this as applying to legitimate disputes, nor should it remove the ability for a consumer to act if they deem it necessary.

Nor am I anti-industry. I think some people make frivolous claims. Frivolity should be dealt with by claim dismissal and fining if necessary (paying the appropriate costs of all sides at minimum). Further, many companies care about both their employees and their customer base; they are what keep them in business.

Some caveats

  • As mentioned above, I don’t see the governments role as setting what standards a product should have, just what standards it should measured by and making those easily accessible, preferably displayed on the product. Of course the company can include any other benefits it wishes to, so long those claims are accurate.
  • If the government wishes to set minimum standards, e.g. seatbelt positioning and engagement, then this is the role of a different department. It is very important the roles are not confused and that excessive red tape is not created.
  • I do not think the compliance costs should be high. It is reasonable to measure the macro- and micro-constituents of foodstuffs as this is a one-off cost. Incorporating the data into a label is not that costly either. But requiring a car company to carry out extensive crash testing would be an excessive cost. Car companies remain free to do this of their own volition and many large car companies do this anyway. And the government is free to carry out this testing (though at whose cost?).
  • I am not certain whether the government should enforce standards that are measured by a group not of the manufacturer’s choosing. It is their product, they should have some say. Though if it is a sensible and well defined standard then the result should be the same whoever tests.
  • Protecting vulnerable people from predators and the public from scams are important issues, but may come under a slightly different aegis. Possibly a division within the “standards” umbrella, probably within a policing portfolio.
  • I think monetary policy and inflation comes under the definition of standards, but the issue of monetary standards is large enough to have a separate division within a Ministry of Standards.

Current law

I am aware that much of this is already in legislation. I do not mean to imply that this is not done. I just think it important enough for citizens that it is reasonable for the state to involve itself. It is after all an issue of justice, and justice is one of the few mandates of the state.

More to follow.

Categories: justice, politics, standards, truth

>The only test of any analysis is its truth

2008 November 9 2 comments

>I am currently reading America’s Great Depression by Murray N. Rothbard. He makes an interesting comment concerning critiques of Austrian economic theory. If it was included in the first edition, this comment was made in 1963:

Hayek believes that Mises’s theory is somehow deficient because it is exogenous—because it holds that the generation of business cycles stems from interventionary acts rather than from acts of the market itself. This argument is difficult to fathom. Processes are either analyzed correctly or incorrectly; the only test of any analysis is its truth, not whether it is exogenous or endogenous. If the process is really exogenous, then the analysis should reveal this fact; the same holds true for endogenous processes. No particular virtue attaches to a theory because it is one or the other.

I found this reminiscent of the intelligent design debate. My substitutions bolded.

Evolutionists believe that intelligent design theory is somehow deficient because it is non-naturalistic—because it holds that the generation of genetic information stems from interventionary acts rather than from acts of the organism itself. This argument is difficult to fathom. Processes are either analyzed correctly or incorrectly; the only test of any analysis is its truth, not whether it is naturalistic or non-naturalistic. If the process is really non-naturalistic, then the analysis should reveal this fact; the same holds true for naturalistic processes. No particular virtue attaches to a theory because it is one or the other.

>Cannibalism and historical revisionism

2008 October 5 3 comments

>Paul Moon is a professor of history whose interests include the history of the Maori people in New Zealand. His recent research is about cannibalism within previous Maori culture which he documents in his book This Horrid Practice. Unfortunately this has not passed the politically correct test. A complaint went to the (New Zealand) Human Rights Commission, the Commission suggested mediation!

An academic warned him he was putting his career in jeopardy and another professor labelled Moon as “brave” for publishing this research, going on to condemn his work without reviewing it. Moon’s response:

…why should an historian have to be “brave” when choosing to write about a topic, and what does this comment say about the state of academic freedom in this country?

The fact is cannibalism has been well documented in many cultures around the world including the South Pacific. Both Papua New Guinea and Irian Jaya; Solomon Islands, which was known as the Cannibal Isles; Marquesas Islands; and Fiji.

Scripture is not afraid to mention these matters though it does not condone them. During a siege 2 Israelite women made a murderous and cannibalistic pact (2 Kings 6).

Ideology drives research to an extent, it determines the types of questions that are asked. But unfortunately some people appear to let their ideology drive their conclusions. While it is reasonable to be suspicious of questionable conclusions and request further proof, to predetermine the conclusions that match your philosophy by manipulating data or forbidding (amoral) research which may oppose your worldview means that one will never come to an understand of the truth. One may even defend lying for the greater agenda.

Conclusions will often be understood within the underlying paradigm. Logically valid reasoning will not override bad premises. But it may call into question one’s premises. The desire should be for truth; if the truth contradicts your belief it means that your belief does not correspond to reality. Worldviews should be both internally consistent and correspond to reality.

>What did Jesus know? Part 2

2008 April 19 3 comments

>In my previous post I posited 4 categories which we can reasonably split the concept of knowledge into (there are others such as mathematical/ logical but this is unnecessary for our purposes here):

  • History
  • Future events
  • General facts
  • Personal thoughts

Of these, men usually only have access to 2 categories: history, if it has been documented; and general facts, if they have been discovered.

Men in general do not know the other 2 categories. Future events can only be known by God and those whom he chooses to reveal them to. Personal thoughts are only known to the man who has them and those to whom he reveals his thoughts; as well as God and those whom God chooses to reveal them.

Therefore discussion about whether Jesus knows facts concerning Joe Future is irrelevant to whether he knows historical events and whether he believes them. Now I happen to think that Jesus did not know every future event during his sojourn on earth. He knew a lot because the Father revealed it to him. Further, he could easily have known about Michael, Chris and James in the same way he knew about the way Peter was to die—revelation. But being human limited his ability to know everything in the universe at that time. And even if he did not give thought to every person he redeemed as he died on the cross, he certainly did in heaven before the incarnation and does so now.

Jesus’ opinion about Genesis is not so much a question of knowledge in general but the knowledge of historical events and general facts (though predominantly history). Did Jesus concede to the worldview of the day and the documents of the past? If he was taught false belief the Father was able to correct him, whether the Father did so a further question. We need to deal with history versus myth and fact versus pseudofacts.

Dealing with factual knowledge first: I am not certain that many of the beliefs of the ancients were incorrect. What needs to be remembered is incomplete knowledge is not false knowledge. Further, an alternative classification scheme is neither incomplete nor false, it is just different. Examples of these:

  • Thinking we need to breathe air to survive is incomplete knowledge, thinking that oxygen is the component of air required for respiration is more complete knowledge.
  • Categorising animals based on locomotion or habitat is correct knowledge even though moderns prefer to use a more complete body plan for classification. (This is type of knowledge is always true because it involves making definitions).
  • Thinking maggots spontaneously generate from the essence of rotten food is incorrect knowledge.

Not knowing something and deferring an opinion till more information is available is not incorrect knowledge.

It is my suspicion that much of the ancients’ factual knowledge was correct, even if, at times, it was incomplete. One could find several ancient ideas that were incorrect, however I suspect they would predominantly be amongst the speculations of the philosophers of the age. The reason for this is that most factual knowledge is merely observation, and the ancients were perfectly able to do as such. Errors are more likely to creep in where the gaps in knowledge were unobservable and speculation was made. Of course men are free to refrain from speculation and acknowledge ignorance. I do not see evidence in Scripture that Jesus held to false views of the world.

When considering history it matters if the history recorded is indeed accurate; and if not, is it inappropriately accepted, or dismissed for suspicion of error. That Jesus held to the truth of Scripture is easily provable. Whenever Jesus references Scriptures that record historical events he clearly believes they accurately describe reality.

Evidence that Jesus thought the biblical narrative reflected reality is seen in 2 ways in which Jesus interacted with it.

Firstly, Jesus’ claims are based on the truth of the historical record. That Jesus’ contemporaries will be judged harshly is based on the fact that Jonah was a real prophet and the Ninevites really repented. Examples could be extended to other historical personages such as Abel, Abraham and Zechariah. The form of Jesus’ argument is based on the activities of these people really happening.

Secondly, Jesus affirms the truth of Scripture. Claims like,

You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me,… (Joh 5)

presuppose that Scripture is a reliable witness. More striking is how Jesus states that Scripture itself can prove men are in error:

Jesus said to them, “Is this not the reason you are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God? (Mar 12)

When we suggest that Jesus falsely believed the historical nature of the Bible because of cultural considerations we both invalidate the premises on which Jesus corrects error, and deny his claim that Scripture is the arbiter of truth. If we destroy the premises our options become:

  • Jesus’ comments were based on the incorrect views of the day therefore we can disregard them, or
  • we believe Jesus conclusions even though they were based on faulty logic

That the Father revealed the heart of Nathanael to Jesus yet did not inform him that parts of the Bible were untrue, or that passages that Jesus assumed were literal for his argument were in fact metaphorical, seems to stretch credibility.

Categories: history, inerrancy, knowledge, truth

>What did Jesus know? Part 1

2008 April 17 Leave a comment

>Chris Tilling blogged on his journey from creationist to evolutionist. He was challenged about the fact that Jesus believed claimed the creation narratives were historical. So the question arises how does one reconcile this with an evolutionary perspective if one also is a Christian. A solution proposed is that Jesus could be wrong. Tilling’s entry is worth reading in its entirety to garner his perspective though I will only quote part of it.

Jesus’ worldview was in so many ways that of other 1st century Palestinian Jews. Had you asked him if the earth was flat, he would have almost certainly said ‘yes’ (cf. here on James’ blog). Had you asked him if there was a literal Adam or Eve and serpent, I think he would have been puzzled by the ‘literal’ tag, but I suspect that if you had pressed him he would have said that he believes in a literal Adam and Eve (though I cannot prove these statements. I am making historical judgments, and I see no reason why he would not have believe these things – modern science did not develop for centuries. Though as noted, the whole metaphorical / scientific categorisation would have probably puzzled him). This is why, had you time travelled and asked 1st century Jesus to tell us about Michael or Chris or James, he would not have turned around and said ‘Oh yes, Michael/Chris/James will be born in almost 2,000 years from now’, and then proceeded to tell the details of your life to Peter and the disciples. He wouldn’t have had a clue about you or me as he was fully human.

My concern with these types of responses is that they fail to grasp the various aspects of what they are discussing. Here we have several types of knowledge presented and a discussion of 1 type used as an example of another without consideration of the validity. Further there is lack of processing of the solution to all the corollaries. There are also false statements that need to be corrected.

There are 3 types of knowledge discussed in this example.

There is historical knowledge. This is information about the past that was recorded so it was accessible to people. The people who were aware of it knew these claims existed. They could believe them or disbelieve them but they are aware of the claims. That Jesus points to Adam and Eve to illustrate marriage means that he was aware of the Edenic narrative and it is clear that he agreed with it.

There is generalised knowledge about facts. The structure of the universe. The sphericity of the earth. The anatomy of a platypus. The flight path of the albatross. These facts exist but our knowledge of them increases as we investigate the world. If these facts have been discovered an individual can potentially know them, if they have not been discovered then men do not know them. One could ask Jesus how avian lungs work and short of revelation from the Father he likely would say he did not know. It is possible that being asked whether the world was flat or spherical he would respond that he did not know, if it was the case that Jesus did not know. I am not so certain however people at the time did not know.

Then there is knowledge about the future. One could consider this similar to the first category: history that is yet to be revealed. Other than educated guesses, there is no way for any mortal to have this knowledge. Jesus as man did not know these facts other than revelation from the Father. As part of becoming man there were aspects of the divinity that were not available to him in the same way. That Jesus did not know some things is evident by his statement that he did not know the exact date of his return:

But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. (Mar 13)

Interestingly Jesus was actually aware of many things in this category. Being close to the Father he was informed of much in the future such as the Olivet discourse and contemporary events that he would not have yet heard about such as Lazarus’ death.

This divine knowledge extended to knowledge of the hearts of men. This was current rather than future knowledge, but only accessible to those thinking the thoughts. Jesus did not need the testimony of man because he knew what was in a man:

Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man. (Joh 2)

Categories: history, inerrancy, knowledge, truth

>Happiness or truth?

2007 November 28 Leave a comment

>Vox interviews atheist Jonathan Haidt, author of The Happiness Hypothesis.

I think conservatives are right, there are certain things that are better off veiled. There are certain things better off not being exposed to the light. Now, to the scientist, that’s a terrible thing to say and I’m not saying that science should necessarily stop. But I think if we respect and even revere our founders, if we have things that bind us together and make us proud of who we are and what our nation is, we’re much better off than if we do all the careful historical research and then advertise the fact that our Founding Fathers all have warts and moral lapses.

If he believes this it is way scary! Now I don’t necessarily place my pearls before swine, but he is essentially justifying “the end justifies the means” which he later condemns. Better to believe a lie for the sake of community? How far is that from better to lie to the community for its benefit that reveal the truth to its detriment? Historical revisionism and politics determining truth and all that evil.

Give me truth any day. I’d have warts over a unity of lies!

Categories: ethics, truth

>Comments on the emerging church

2007 October 30 Leave a comment

>A good friend has started attending an emerging church which has led us into conversation about it. I have read some about it but not extensively and no books by any of its more well known proponents. This post discusses

From early on I have had some caution about the movement but I have found it difficult to critique. I now realise that this is because I could never find a set of beliefs to interact with. The fact that there does not seem to be given beliefs makes me uneasy. This post gives a helpful distinction between hard and soft postmodernism within the emerging church.

Now I am aware that Jesus rewards us according to our love for him and our neighbours, and our obedience; not our knowledge. I do not intend to be divisive solely because of variant beliefs. Nor do I think that salvation is about right beliefs (it is about who we follow), but right belief is important in that right behaviour is more likely to follow from right belief than wrong belief (though it is no guarantee of it).

Beliefs can be important in at least 2 ways. They are important in terms of how foundational they are to Christianity. They are also important in terms of how much weight we put on them.

A person can claim a particular theological issue is peripheral. It either is or it is not. If it is peripheral it may be dealt with in such depth and regularity it becomes important.

Consider tithing 10% of one’s income. If a Christian thought men should tithe, that tithing is a major issue, and he frequently thought about it, or he taught on it regularly and influenced others about it; then it is important for him to have correct belief because of how much of an issue it is in his life or because others are affected by his influence; even if tithing intrinsically is a lesser doctrine.

The emerging church emphasises minimising our differences. And that nor insisting our beliefs are true leads to unity and away from judgment and divisiveness.

I agree that Christians can be too judgmental. This is a problem of men because of sin, not because of truth. I can know the truth and speak the truth in love or in hate. And interestingly, if I hold my ideas with conviction, I can be judged as being divisive by those who claim not to judge! Kind of like “tolerant” men being intolerant of intolerance.

The anti-judgment claim allows the more liberal view to inappropriately claim the moral high ground. If one group claims God allows something and another that God forbids it, the group claiming freedom may blame the banning group for being divisive. However this is only the case if they are indeed correct, in which case the other group may be being divisive. If the freedom group are actually incorrect then they are encouraging sin; they are

ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. (Jude 1)

So the issue is not about how inclusive we are, it is about what is true. In fact Jude states that divisive men are not those who emphasise truth, rather the ungodly:

“… In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions.” It is these who cause divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit.

I think the solution to excessive judgment is not so much a focus on inclusion, but a reminder that we all stand before Christ and it is he who judges. I actually think Jesus is quite confrontational; he intends to divide based on truth and error. We are for Jesus or against him. Moreso he does not let us stay as we are but changes us all to be conformed to his will. And, whether we like it or not, God does, at time, use men in this process. (We should therefore be careful in how we do God’s will, and be certain it is God’s agenda and not our own we seek).

So my advice to my friend was: Enjoy your new friends and encourage them in their love for Jesus but stay very grounded in Scripture.

Categories: doctrine, truth

>Does one need always tell the truth?

2007 October 21 8 comments

>My general view has been that there is a hierarchy of absolutes, so if one is faced with doing one or other of 2 usually wrong actions he needs to decide what is the right thing to do. If we are faced with a genuine conflict of morality, we are to choose that which conforms to loving God and loving our neighbour.

That being said I cannot think of a situation where murder would ever be the eumoral choice; of course murder is not the same as killing and if killing is ever justified then the killing is unlikely to come under the definition of murder.

With lying it is more complex. I personally think that Rahab did the right thing with the spies and the authorities of Jericho. Although previously I would have classified this under graded absolutism (ie. hierarchy of absolutes as above) my more recent thoughts have been that I think it depends on whether you are voluntarily giving information or you are being forced to.

If you are trying to convince someone of what you believe, or in general share your thoughts, you are morally obligated to tell the truth. But if others demand information that you do not desire to give them the situation is not the same. If someone is forcing you into a position of sharing information I wonder if that removes any obligation to tell the truth. I am not aware biblically that one is morally required to give information to someone they do not wish to. So being vague or evasive is not necessarily morally wrong, one has to weigh up the consequences of sharing that information. And if sharing that information causes damage to others (Nazi’s looking for Jews) then love of one’s neighbour may dictate that lying is justified.

We have liberty to our opinions and what we do with them, if someone tries to remove that liberty (eg. by forcing information out of us) we are released from any moral obligation in our answers. Further, if people misunderstand what we are saying when we do not wish them party to our information we are under no obligation to correct that misbelief.

However, God is not happy if we choose to keep our mouths shut in order to allow the miscarriage of justice.

Categories: ethics, philosophy, truth

>Orthodoxy or orthopraxy?

2007 September 1 3 comments

>Flipside asks,

Do you think that in US/Western churches today we focus too much on knowing scripture in the intellectual sense, and not enough on living it? If we did not explicitly say that we are Christians to our friends and acquaintances, would they make the same observation of us as the people at Antioch did – Namely that we are like Jesus!

So, is right behaviour more important than right belief?

In drawing men to Christ a love of Christians for their brethren is attractive to those on the outside; they see our love for one another and that testifies to the love of God. As Jesus prayed,

I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them. (John 17)

There is also a place for telling the truth. Demolishing arguments and explaining the truth to unbelievers. In Athens Paul reasoned in the Areopagus and some believed (Acts 17).

So both our behaviour (love for each other) and our reasoning (explaining the truth) are important in attracting men to Christ.

But what in our own lives? How do we please God (though that may also influence others around us)? We are to please God first, even if unbelievers find this unattractive; we are the smell of Christ, fragrant to the elect and a stench to the rebellious.

For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. (2 Corinthians 2)

In our pleasing God it is right behaviour which is important. Jesus frequently states that those who love him will obey his commandments (John 14). We must obey him even when we struggle to understand him. In contrast it is possible to have right belief but not live it, or at least try to live it. Teaching people the truth but refusing to live it is hypocrisy; a practice Jesus frequently condemned. Orthopraxy triumphs orthodoxy.

An aside, doing the right thing when you think it is wrong is not recommended. For example eating food that has previously been offered to idols means nothing intrinsically as there is only one true God (1 Corinthians 8, 10). But if you have qualms about it you should avoid it. Eating food when you think the act offends God is an offence against him.

So why the huge emphasis on orthodoxy? Because belief and behaviour cannot easily be separated. Belief does actually lead to behaviour. Wrong belief frequently leads to wrong behaviour. So while one is to obey God, thinking you are doing God’s will when in fact you are not is not obedience. Sincerity, while of some value, does not excuse sin. This is why we must continually return to Scripture. We must renew our minds to be conformed to be like Christ as well as obey him as he asks of us.

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

There is a further benefit of learning truth: it becomes our default thought pattern. So when we face difficulties that challenge our emotions the struggle doesn’t automatically cause a crisis of faith. Expecting suffering because we are told it will come may not make suffering any easier. It is, however, more likely to encourage us to ask God’s help in our pain and less likely to see us asking questions like, “Is God real?” or “Does God love me?”

>Inconsistent Christians

2007 August 21 6 comments

>In his book The Battle for Truth, David Noebel comments in his conclusion,

Why do Christians so easily accept inconsistencies into their worldview? In this sense, non-Christians are much more consistent. There are no Marxist/Leninist creationists. There are no New Agers who believe in ethical absolutes. The Christian, who trusts the Scriptures and therefore has access to the one worldview based on eternal truth, should be the first person to recognise the bankruptcy of secular religious views. Yet all too often he is the first to embrace them!

This seems way too common. It is most unfortunate. Christians need to love the Lord with all their heart, soul and mind. I think there are several reasons why the above comment is the case—at least within the West.

Christianity is the truth, so where other worldviews contradict Christianity they are incorrect. Many Christians subscribe to a false worldview. To a subset of this group the inconsistencies between what they believe and Christianity may not be a compelling reason to reject their false beliefs, or conversely, Christianity. While some atheists may be somewhat more consistent, there is, fortunately, no shortage of inconsistent atheists. While atheists have no reason for universal, objective morality they do not all become nihilists, or mass-murderers like Stalin who was more consistent.

Part of Christians’ inconsistency is their desire to hold onto Christ in a world that denies him. They have met him and believe but have yet to allow their false worldview to be completely transformed. It is admirable they remain in Christ but they need to be made aware that Christianity demands our worldview is conformed to Scripture. What is also difficult is that they live in a culture where they are now going against the flow. Christian beliefs are currently very antithetical to secular beliefs, therefore the Christian viewpoint is actively opposed. While that may not be a lot different to what the non-Western Christians face, the Western Christians are in the position of having emerged from a Christian heritage which had a more favourable view of Christianity.

A further reason is that there are weeds within the church. Some people are “within” the church but are not of God and they promote ideologies that oppose God. Christians need discernment, though with the basic lack of a Christian worldview this is more difficult; looking at the fruit of person’s lives can be helpful in this area. Weeds appear like wheat early on, but they do produce fruit in the long term? fruit consistent with being in Christ. Rank heresy should not be too difficult to spot. Unfortunately it detracts some, and there is much that is more subtle than grossly heretical beliefs.

We have a tendency to agree with data that confirms our beliefs and explain away that which challenges it. This is understandable. It is a reasonable position if you are in the truth but an unreasonable one if you are in error; the problem is how do you know which camp you belong to?

For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths (2 Timothy 4:3-4)

The answer is not to assess if data conforms to your ideas but do you conform to Scripture.

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:2)

Categories: apologetics, philosophy, truth

>Liar, liar

2007 May 25 3 comments

>Lying is usually viewed as wrong and appropriately so. To call someone a liar is not a small undertaking and to do so falsely causes major damage and is a sin. However it is not enough that someone disagrees with you to think they are lying; opponents can be wrong without being dishonest.

We must not confuse a person’s opinion of reality with distortion of what they know.

Ultimate truth is what conforms to reality. Falsehood is what does not. But to pass off what one thinks is reality when it is not reality is not the same as distorting what one knows to be the case.

There are 4 scenarios

  1. Agreeing with reality and saying so
  2. Agreeing with reality and saying other
  3. Disagreeing with reality and saying so
  4. Disagreeing with reality and saying other

Scenario 1 is truth telling, scenario 2 is lying, but what of scenarios 3 and 4?

The problem is we have disagreements over what reality is. Differing opinions may be related to arguing at cross purposes or real disagreement. If the opinions are incompatible it may be that both persons are wrong, but if one of them is correct, logically the other must be incorrect. The person arguing for the incorrect position corresponds to scenario 3. To call that person a liar is, in fact, not correct. The difficulty is the argument is over which position is correct. Calling the other person a liar at least implies that one is certain they are correct (they may be, but this misses the point there is disagreement); it may also imply the other person is misrepresenting what they know to be true, whereas they may actually believe their incorrect position.

So to prove someone a liar one needs to demonstrate the person is aware of some fact that contradicts their position and they were hiding this knowledge to suit their purposes.

This is important. Calling someone a liar seems to be yet another common way of refusing to debate the issues. It is really a form of equivocation: someone claims that not being in agreement with the facts (scenario 3) is as an adequate definition of liar, but in tarring someone as a liar suggests they are in the position of misrepresenting what they know to be true (scenario 2), and it is this (the implied scenario not the actual one) which is seen as a moral failure. Whether lying is ever acceptable is another topic.

And what of scenario 4, being in the position of telling what you think is a lie but in actuality corresponds to reality. Well that still makes you a liar, however if people act on your lies it is likely to result in less damage to society than scenario 2 (and perhaps scenario 3).

Categories: ethics, logic, truth