Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Analysis of Skye Jethani’s Categorization in WITH: A MacIntyrean Proposal

WITH, in case that is too obscure. MacIntyre wrote After Virtue.

Jethani's Stances:

Jethani has five different stances we might take up toward God, which I briefly characterize here, with notes following them.

An attitude of control—If I…then God will…(positive: If I get it right, then God will reward me).
The goods are external to God.
An attitude of hopeless striving—The inverse of the above: If I…then God will…(negative: If I don’t get it right, then God will punish me).
Here, the bads are external to God, and the goods are not considered worth it, or are ignored.
An attitude of activity, doing, production.
One is producing goods, again, external to God.
An attitude of easy reception from God.
Again: reception of goods external to God.
An attitude of being with God, whatever that means.
Here, the good is considered to be God, i.e., the good which one is after is one internal to one’s relationship with God, not one which one’s relationship is a means to.


The Difference:

the stances Jethani is urging us to avoid are all stances which take one’s relation to God as a means to an end, or otherwise separable from the goods one is after. WITH, the stance Jethani wants us to take up towards God, is different in that it takes the goods of life to be ones which are internal to being with God, and not available apart from being with God. The other stances are taken as contingent: they are means to a good. This stance is bound up with the good—it is essential to the good that it be obtained in this way, and can only be obtained as a part of taking this stance.



This suggests that being with God is a kind of practice, a way of life. The question, then, is what kind of life it is. How does one be with God? What is a life with God? We might use alternate phrasings to try to shed some light on it. It is being in the presence of God (Brother Lawrence). It is standing before him as beloved. This is all very well, but none of these quite yet show what kind of life it is. They all seem to be static, they do not seem to have the dynamic quality of life. God is with you—live like it. But how is this developed? Is it a life fearing what God will do, or trying to please God? No: those make God the source of goods and bads. God is with you, and is staying with you whatever you do—live like it. He can stay and punish, he can stay and bless. The difficulty is in showing what makes God himself the good. What is so great about God?
I am suggesting taking a MacIntyrean approach to Christianity as a practice, where the practice is “being with God”, or "being a Christian" and the good internal to the practice is God. MacIntyre suggests that a living practice is one where there is argument about what the goods internal to the practice are. Thus, on MacIntyre’s account, what makes for a living Church is argument about what makes God so great, and, I suspect as a part of that, who/what God is.


Beyond the Stances

The other stances may, then, be enveloped, to some extent, in the final stance. The stances must change, of course, in that the sought good must no longer be external to God.
This becomes appealing to God for God, in some way or another. It may take the form of lament, of “where are you, God?” Or of other kinds of intercession. The difference between OVER* and OVER is that in OVER* the good being sought from God is God, whereas in OVER it is something external to God. Further, God must be presumed good, So any time we seek things by God we must presume that he has the best in mind, and trust him to be good. A “your will be done” caveat is thus added.
This becomes seeking to do right by God. It is the desire to remain near to God. It loses its often legalistic character because of the trust that God is a loving God. The legalism is further hindered by the recognition that God is a living God who seeks us, and will not leave us on our own. The greatest we can fear from God is still less than is outweighed by God’s abiding with us. We are not afraid that God will leave us, since he has promised not to, and he is good.
This changes from doing good works for God to doing good works of God. The good works are a participation in God’s life, a representation of the life of Christ. The good of the good works, then, is the good we ourselves seek in being with God.
The change in this one is most obvious: what we want from God is God, and anything else we receive from him is good only because it is from him and is a reminder, or symbol, to us of him.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Missionaries aren't Special

I noticed a distinction made between a "sending church" and a "sent church" (which are to be one).

I am puzzled by the distinction.

What makes someone "sent"? If they moved away from where they lived before? It doesn't help to add to this "with the intent of furthering God's kingdom," we are all supposed to have that intent in whatever we do. What is the difference between a Christian migrant and a Christian sent to be a missionary in other parts of the world? Is it that not all Christian migrants work for Christian organizations? Is it that we fund missionaries?

I am not against missions agencies. I am against a certain kind of valorization of missionaries. There are missionaries I am comfortable valorizing in a certain way. Not because they are missionaries, but, rather, because of their attitude towards God which is lived out in particularly visible ways. In the way that all Christian missionaries are special, so are all Christians.

The important thing about missionaries is that a greater portion of them, more frequently, have to do what we are all supposed to be willing to do: sacrifice everything for the sake of knowing God. Missionaries happen to be the source for most of our stories about people doing things we cannot imagine them doing if it was not because God was worth everything to them. That, I am comfortable valorizing in a certain way.

But this is along with the martyrs and for the same reason.

And the "sending church" might have its own kinds of martyrs. People who give up everything because God is more important to them than anything else. People who would love to travel the world, or just want to go be a missionary, but give that up because God's kingdom here is more important to them than doing what they want, hope, they would get to do for God. Reluctant missionaries are still missionaries (Jonah). So, too, reluctant martyrs are still martyrs. Neither of these groups are actually martyrs (or, I have not explicitly mentioned any--some in each category are), but they are somewhere on a spectrum which has martyr at the extreme end. They are those who live lives according to the belief that God is more important than anything else--lives filled with a passion for God. And it is good to recognize those who have lived lives which show what the Christian life should look like (that is the point of recognizing Saints in the Roman Catholic Church, I take it).

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Religious Belief

In the above piece, Joe Carter, working off of Roy Clouser, offers analysis of what a religious belief is, according to which "A belief is a religious belief provided that it is (1) a belief in something as divine or (2) a belief about how to stand in proper relation to the divine, where (3) something is believed to be divine provided it is held to be unconditionally nondependent."

He goes on to argue that by this definition materialism is a religious belief, and that, in fact, we all have religious beliefs. Carter thinks this definition is neither too broad nor too narrow. I will begin by arguing against these two claims.

Is my belief in the principle of non-contradiction a religious belief? I do not think it is dependent on anything else, nor do I see how it could be, so, by the above definition, it is a religious belief. There is a problem here: we do not use the word "religious" or "divine" to refer to logic most of the time. Further, the definition above, as shown by this example, makes "religious belief" equivalent to "belief about what is necessarily non-dependent" i.e., "belief about what is necessarily a brute fact if it is a fact at all." Or, "belief about where reasoning must, necessarily, come to an end." (or a belief about how to stand in proper relation to such things). I therefore think that the definition is too broad.

Is my belief that Jesus was the Christ who died for my sins a religious belief? Is it not a religious belief if I hold that God could have done things otherwise, perhaps by keeping the Fall from happening, or simply because I think it was dependent on the Fall's happening that Christ would die for our sins? Is my belief that he was born of the virgin Mary not a religious belief because I think he could have been born of someone else? It would seem strange to think that these are not religious beliefs. It may be that Carter would group these as having to do with how to stand in proper relation to the divine, but, then, what are the bounds of that category? If they are supposed to be beliefs about things like "what I must do to be saved," then, depending on one's beliefs about how much is required, "born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate" seem not to be religious beliefs. Nor would beliefs about whether miracles happen be religious beliefs in themselves, what would be religious beliefs instead would be beliefs about how to stand in relation to the fact that miracles do or don't happen, under the presupposition that miracles are done by the divine (or that their happening is unconditionally nondependent).

Finally, it may be that materialism is not a religious belief, even given the above definition, if it is held that matter is all that exists but that its existence is dependent, or could be dependent, on something else. A materialist might hold that matter could have been created by God if God existed, that God would have been unconditionally nondependent had he existed, but that God does not exist. Dependency is not the same as contingency, and a thing can be both contingent and nondependent.

Thus far the negative part of this post. On to the positive (which is always harder). I do not pretend to be able to offer necessary and sufficient conditions for a belief's being religious. Rather, I offer a few circumstances where we seem to call beliefs religious relatively unproblematically.

1. We call some beliefs religious because they affect how we live in significant ways which are dependent on the person's holding the belief in that way. We may well want to say that a belief can only be called "religious" as a kind of generalization: most people who hold this belief hold it as a religious belief.

2. We call some beliefs religious because they are held in the context of a religion. I take a religion to be something like a practice or tradition whose reason for being is based in beliefs of the first sort.

These two may not exhaust all the kinds of things a religious belief might be, but I cannot think of any others at the moment.

We might, then, still call materialism a religious belief. By this we would mean, I think, that it has certain effects on life beyond what one might expect given simply its propositional content and degree certainty.