RealityBites blog

Science worship and moral meltdown

Over the next few months I will be blogging about stories that I believe to be powerful and worth telling. Some of the stories are inspiring. Some will 're-enchant' the world. This one falls into a different category. It challenges hidden secular idolatry.

The Columbine High School massacre occurred on April the 20th, 1999, at Columbine High School in Columbine, Colorado in the United States. Two students, Eric Harris (1981-1999) and Dylan Klebold (1981-1999) killed 12 students and a teacher, injured 24 others, before committing suicide. The bloodbath provoked extensive debate regarding gun control laws, the availability of firearms in the United States, and gun violence involving teenagers. Much discussion also focused on the nature of high school cliques, subcultures and bullying in American society.

Eric Harris was a self-confessed disciple of Thomas Hobbes the 17th century materialist philosopher. Harris followed Hobbes in asserting that 'only nature exists'. This view is sometimes referred to as 'scientism'. He wrote the following in one of his notebooks:

just because your mommy and daddy tell you blood and violence is bad, you think it’s a f—g law of nature? wrong, only science and math are true, everything else, and I mean every f—g thing else is man made.

The belief that only the natural sciences hook onto reality is a popular belief among some western people. If only 'nature' exists then the only things we can believe in are those things that can be measured by scientific equipment. This leads to the conclusion that moral statements such as 'murder is wrong' are man made and empty of any genuine cognitive content. This view is also called logical positivism.

Without doubt western culture has many postmodernist features but we shouldn't ignore this widespread form of modernist materialism. The pernicious gospel of Hume, Hobbes  and Richard Dawkins is a very powerful worldview and yet it is seldom subjected to radical critical appraisal. Why does no-one ever connect moral meltdown in banking, family breakdown etc to the aggressive gospel of Hobbes and Harris?

Roy Keane and Thomas Hobbes

Is Roy Keane the most articulate commentator on our secular world?

If I was to offer advice to Wayne Rooney, who is a good lad, I would tell him to make sure he looks after number one. Players are pieces of meat – that is how I look at it. When your time's up, your time's up.

Thomas Hobbes would have roundly applauded Keane's astute comments when he wrote this:

The Value, or Worth of a man, is as of all other things, his Price… And as in other things, so in men, not the seller, but the buyer determines the Price. Leviathan (chapter 10)

In a time when the Christian faith is increasingly sidelined and marginalised can we learn anything from Roy and Thomas?

Storkey and the failure of militarism

At a recent LifeMatters event Alan Storkey was very critical of American and British foreign policy. He argued that American politicians have been 'patsies' for the weapons industry for a long time. In particular the Bush family has many connections with the big weapons companies. Obviously the profits are huge.

What do we think about this?

Here is some stuff I've dug up.

Contractors Have Thrived Under Bush Policies: Contracts to the Pentagon's top ten contractors jumped from $46 billion in 2001 to $80 billion in 2003, an increase of nearly 75%. Halliburton's contracts jumped more than nine times their 2001 levels by 2003, from $400 million to $3.9 billion. Northrop Grumman’s contracts doubled, from $5.2 billion to $11.1 billion, over the same time frame; and the nation's largest weapons contractor, Lockheed Martin, saw a 50% increase, from $14.7 billion to $21.9 billion.

Ties That Bind – Contractor Connections to the Bush Administration: When the Bush administration first took office, it appointed 32 executives, paid consultants, or major shareholders of weapons contractors to top policymaking positions in the Pentagon, the National Security Council, the Department of Energy (involved in nuclear weapons development), and the State Department. Since that time, the "revolving door" has continued to spin, including a high profile scandal in which Air Force procurement official Darleen Druyun pled guilty to criminal charges for negotiating for a position at Boeing while simultaneously negotiating with the company on the terms of a controversial scheme to lease 100 more Boeing 767 airliners for modification and use as aerial refueling tankers. Another controversial move involved Pentagon acquisition chief Edward "Pete" Aldridge's decision to move straight from Donald Rumsfeld's Pentagon to a position on the board of Lockheed Martin.

Is this true?

Welcome to the Reality Bites Blog

I'd just like to welcome all our friends to the brand new Reality Bites blog. I'm chuffed that Swalesy has kicked this off very sweetly. I also found Al Wolters' book very helpful. Al was my tutor in my first year at the Institute for Christian Studies and he is not only a top scholar on Plotinus, Greek philosophy et al but a really lovely person. When I knew almost nobody in Toronto, he invited me to his house on Christmas day. I turned him down as it happens but he is a real gent.

What I found so liberating about Wolters' book is the permission to be truly human and to be fascinated by the world in which we live. His clear teaching about the kingdom of God and how it affirms the creation is brilliant. Thanks Swasey for your thoughts mate. I know you're a Geordie and struggle with our great language but your essay is first rate!

Creation Regained

It's often good to begin by quoting other people…  So here's Jon Swales' review of a small book called Creation Regained by a chap called Al Wolters:

Creation Regained, although a short book which can be read and intellectually digested within several hours, is a remarkable book and one which has transformed, not only my understanding of the Bible, but my entire outlook on the world. In recommending this book I would like to tell my story of how this book changed my life, embarked me on a major paradigm shift which has led to not simply a greater understanding of the Bible and theology, but also a greater appreciation of the theological dimensions of friendship, fine wine, hill-walking, teaching and love making.

My evangelical upbringing, as with much of evangelicalism today, is inherently dualistic. I once asked a number of Sunday school kids to give me a list of spiritual professions and also to list spiritual and unspiritual activities.  They gave me the following list:-

Spiritual Professions/Activities

Vicar, Missionary, Choir Member, Doctor, Choir Member, Sunday School teacher, Pastor, Deacon, Monk, Nun, Prayer, Reading Bible, Singing Hymns, Exorcisms ???,  Making religious artefacts, street preaching

Unspiritual Professions/Activities

Teacher, Artist, Politician, Pop Singer, Athlete, Baker, Butcher, Candlestick Maker, Banker, Scientist, Computer Programmer,  Eating, Sleeping, Drinking fine wine, sex, playing games, painting a picture, watching tv. Hill walking, banking

Although I never undertook this task myself as a child, the results help to highlight the worldview which I inhabited and absorbed as a child and in my teenage years. As my pastor once remarked, "Two things matter in life, the saving of souls and personal holiness". This became my mission, my way of looking at the world. I wanted to be spiritual and would try and fill my life with as many activities from the left column of the table and would see the tasks/professions on the right-hand side as being a waste of time, unhelpful or at best just a necessary part of my life. I could not wait to get to heaven in order to escape the mundane tasks of the world and live in disembodied bliss. In the words of the Negro spiritual ‘This world is not my home, I’m just a passing through’.

When I arrived at university I found Christian friends who viewed and approached the world differently, who seemed to enjoy life more and were, in my past opinion, involved in unspiritual tasks of art, politics, gardening and finance. It was then that everything changed, my worldview shifted, I read and talked about this little book by Al Wolters Creation Regained.

In this book I discovered that the essential worldview and story of Scripture is opposed to dualistic thinking—that creation (humans, hills, wine, art, culture) is a divine gift which is to be enjoyed and celebrated.  This world is fallen, but it is our home, and because of Christ we need to work towards the redemption of all spheres of life (Banker, Teacher, Gardener) until the day when Christ will make His home on earth.

This shift in thinking, often described as reformational, is transformative and means that as a Christian I should enjoy this world as a gift whilst simultaneously working by the Spirit for the redemption of all of life/created reality.

I wholeheartedly recommend this book and do hope and pray that this reformational vision will spread throughout the church and encourage God’s kingdom to spread in all areas of life and culture.

Creation Regained: Biblical Basics for a Reformational Worldview, A.M. Wolters (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1985; 2nd edition 2005), ISBN 0-8028-2969-4