Monday, September 21, 2009

The Moral Chasm

I sometimes write as if Christian theism (CT) is a variety of explanatory hypothesis and that it derives the greater part of its plausibility from this. Indeed I have compared it to theory within the sciences and have argued that it is very much like them. (A favorite example of mine is quantum mechanics.)

I would still insist upon this point. CT does do much explanatory work, both of entities physical and metaphysical; and its plausibility is bolstered by this. But let it not be thought that for me CT does only this. It does more, and more importantly it does something before. The genesis of my belief in CT does not lie in estimation of explanatory power. Rather the genesis is moral and practical in nature. Let me explain.

I feel that a moral chasm lies between the man I am at present and the man I ought to and can become. I am, in my own eyes, radically defective. I see it in what I think and do, and in what I do not think and do not do. I am quick to anger. I am lazy. I am selfish. I am fearful. (There's more . . . and worse.)

I know that I could do better. I know that there is another and better way. But my 41 years have taught me that I cannot do as I would do. (The spirit does not even always will it; and the flesh is always week.) I find it necessary, then, to look to a power outside myself, a power that would do for me what I cannot do for myself. I find it necessary to look to God.

This is not an argument. It is rather a history, and a current fact. I find it absolutely inescapable that I am a wretched sinner. (This is not flourish. It is plain truth.) The sense of this I carry with me always. It colors all that I think and do. I can no more shed it than I can shed my skin.

Nor do I wish to shed it. I do not wish to become on who believes that my faults are not really faults. Quite the contrary - I wish to become one whose defects have been overcome; and I look habitually and continually to God as the sole power able to grant this wish.

I thus am a Christian theist not by argument but by the sheer weight of the awareness of my sins. When I turn to argument, I do so not to lay out those arguments that brought me to Christianity. Rather I do so to show my interlocutors the intellectual power of CT (a power that they reject). But even if I myself were to come to doubt that power, a Christian I would remain. Knowledge of my sins (and inescapable propensity to sin) and of my inability to heal myself makes this inevitable.

13 comments:

Hesiodos said...

I'm not sure exactly how to interpret this. Superficially it seemed to be that you are saying that your CT is not amenable to rational discourse in the most important area- your own internal philosophical system. It also seems you are claiming (or admitting) that your adherence to CT is non-falsifiable. On second reading I begin to see that you may be making a rational argument concerning the necessity of CT for understanding yourself, your sinfulness (or finitude, or creatureliness...) and the loss of your understanding of yourself if it is abandoned. This does make some sense in that a dead person cannot do or think anything, so remaining alive is a prerequisite to rationality itself. It seems like a personal presuppositionalism, perhaps. Maybe I am not understanding this at all. Would you be willing to flesh your statements out a little in light of my observations/ thoughts above? Thanks

Theodore A. Jones said...

"As a man thinks, so he is."

Franklin Mason said...

Theodore,

I would truer here to say: "I am, and so I think". I do not make myself wicked by the fact that I believe it. Rather I encounter it in myself again and again, and thus I believe it.

I would say that it's in you too, and in everyone. I can say of anyone that I've ever known well that they too are wicked. Of course they are not wicked through and through. Where there is evil, there must be good (for evil is but a perversion of the good, and the good cannot be completely perverted for otherwise it would cease to be). But we all are evil, as is plain to see; and those who will not admit it either lie or hide from themselves.

Franklin Mason said...

Hesiodos,

Would it help if I were to say that Christianity best explains my sinfullness, and my felt need for a power outside myself to overcome it?

Ingrained propensity to sin seems a fact of experience. I see it in myself, and I see it in others. Chrisitianity accounts well for this. Thus I am forced to take it with great seriousness.

Now, one might say that I'm not so bad as all that. One might say that really there's no such thing as sin, for there is no standard outside the self against which one might sin. But I deny these things. Indeed they seem quite obviously false to me. I am as bad as all that; and the standard against which I sin is not some illusion that I or anyone else has created.

Now, I will admit that in some sense I might be wrong. My belief might, when considered in the abstract, be wrong; it is of the nature of belief that what is believed might be false. But when I consider this particular belief - that I'm a wretched sinner - I really don't see how I could be wrong about it.

Anonymous said...

A process. What is this process, as in due process, that is not unlawful which will result in a resolution of the dichotomy you recognize as a "moral chasm"? Your philosophy as I see it, relative to power, is intrinsic rather than obtained by an articulation spoken to you. "Faith comes by hearing their message." Co-relative is the factor of obedience of a single command of God. However any articulation heard from whatever source, intrinsic or verbalized to you, must be exactly consistent to "their message" or what is taught results in an unlawful compliance to the command and the "moral chasm" remains.
Theodore A. Jones

Franklin Mason said...

Theodore,

Sorry, but I don't really understand you (and I've read your post four times now). Do you mean to suggest that the beliefs I've expressed are the result of an external influence on me and thus arent' really authentic?

Anonymous said...

"Is any man an island"? Frankly, Franklin, I mimicked your writing style some what as a case point. You are about as easily understood as I am.
A belief system has three components. Theology, philosophy, and the outcome of practice or application of the former two. Hesiodos pointed to two of the obvious defects of you system. "Not amenable" and "non-falsifiable". Is Hesiodos right?
Maybe. What I attempted to say in regard to belief is that any belief system, but one, needs discarding. Placing CT in that category. CT might be a brilliant piece of work, but keeping one's ass alive is much more important. Aye.
Theodore A. Jones

Franklin Mason said...

Not amenable to what?

Theodore A. Jones said...

Good question but also a good opening.
"Ye must be born again." of God and there are no exceptions. Plus there is only one process for this type birth which is not unlawful.
Continue?

Hesiodos said...

The discussion does help me understand. It does seem like my second impression is the one intended by you. Thanks for the interaction.
Hesiodos

Theodore A. Jones said...

What happened to you Franklin? Things get a bit over your head or under your skin?

Franklin Mason said...

I didn't understand your previous comment. But I do understand this one. Please read "The Rules of the Game". Play nice or you'll be asked to leave.

Anonymous said...

"CT might be a brilliant piece of work, but keeping one's ass alive is much more important. "

Someone once said:
"For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it."