Archive for April, 2011
24 Apr 2011
Christians celebrate today (on good evidence) that Jesus Christ was raised from the dead.
But they also believe that they themselves will share in Jesus' resurrection.
What does this mean?
1. By saying that Christians will share in Christ's resurrection, they might mean that Christians will live on as disembodied spirits. This belief is remarkably widespread in popular Christian thinking, Christian hymns and songs, and in what non-Christians think Christians believe. It may be expressed as, "When Christians die, their souls live on in heaven, where they will be with God for ever." But this is certainly not what the Scriptures teach, and is contrary to orthodox Christian teaching. For example, two of the most important creeds of the early church, the Apostles' Creed and the Nicene Creed, both explicitly deny that we will spend eternity as disembodied spirits in heaven, the former speaking of "the resurrection of the body" and the latter speaking of "the resurrection of the dead". In fact, this idea owes more to Greek thought, as the ancient Greeks despised bodies and believed that one day their souls would be set free from the constraints of being embodied.
2. By saying that Christians will share in Christ's resurrection, they might mean that Christians will get a replacement body in the life to come. In other words, when Christ returns he will inaugurate the life to come, and in that life to come we will have bodies. But those new bodies will be a completely new bodies, having no continuity with our current bodies. (Examples of this would be some Christians who see death and suffering as so intrinsic to the current physical nature of life that the only way they can conceive of a world without them is if the world to come had a radically different physical constitution, perhaps with life based on something other than carbon.) This is better, as it affirms an important Christian belief: that to be fully human, you need a body. But in denying any continuity it denies that this body matters at all. You might as well do whatever you like with this body, as it's going to be thrown away and replaced with a new one. And it also ignores the empty tomb: if "resurrection" means that we get a replacement body, then why was Jesus' tomb empty?
3. By saying that Christians will share in Christ's resurrection, they might mean that Christians' bodies will be raised as resurrection bodies in the life to come. This is what happened to Jesus: his old body was raised (continuity) and transformed (discontinuity) into a resurrection body. This is the orthodox Christian teaching about resurrection. And it matters! If we're going to be disembodied spirits in heaven, or if this present physical Universe is going to be zapped and replaced with something else, then why does it matter what I do with this body? Nothing good that I do with this body will have any lasting consequences, and nor will anything bad that I do with this body. All that matters is people's souls, and we can ignore people's bodies, and everything else that is physical, as nothing physical has any ultimate significance. No, this body matters, and whatever we do now, in this body, is not in vain, but will have lasting consequences into eternity - because this body will be raised. And that's the good news of Easter Day.
Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labour in the Lord is not in vain (1 Corinthians 15:58, NIV).
21 Apr 2011
The claim made in Roy Clouser's book, The Myth of Religious Neutrality, is that all of life is religious, that is, that for every person, every part of their lives is affected by their own religious beliefs. In other words, there is no such thing as religious neutrality, as everyone has religious beliefs (whether they realise it or not), and those beliefs touch every area of life.
Now, such a claim, in addition to being somewhat ambitious, would also be vacuous and meaningless if – as many have argued – no clear definition can be formulated as to what constitutes a "religious belief".
Finding such a definition is the goal of Chapter 2 of the book, What is Religion?
In essence the definition is as follows: a religious belief is a belief about what is unconditionally and non-dependently real. This may be a "primary religious belief", about the unconditional and non-dependent reality itself, or a "secondary religious belief", about how other realities (including ourselves) relate to this unconditional and non-dependent reality.
This idea of something being "unconditionally and non-dependently real" (what Clouser also calls "divinity per se") seems to be present in all religious belief systems, covering
God, Brahman-Atman, the Dharmakaya, and the Tao ... the Nam in Sikhism, Ahura Mazda (Ohrmazd) in early Zoroastrianism or Zurvan in its laver development, the soul/matter dualism of the Jains, the high god of the Dieri Aborigines, the belief in Mana among Trobriand Islanders, Kami in the Shinto tradition, the Raluvhimba of the Bantu religion, the Void, Suchness, or Nothingness found in various forms of Buddhism, and the idea of Wakan or Orenda found among various tribes of North and South America. It also holds for the ancient Roman idea of Numen, for Okeanos in the myths of Homer, and for a host of other ideas (p.20).
Clouser's definition of a religious belief seems coherent to me (and he defends it at great length): it is simple, precise and seems to trace out a fairly tight circle around everything we would intuitively term a "religious belief". It does, however, include some beliefs we would not usually think of as "religious" (such as philosophical materialism). But as long as we are clear what is meant by the term, I don't think that should be too much of an issue (and if philosophical materialism possesses the core characteristic of all religious beliefs, then calling it a "religious belief" itself doesn't seem too outrageous).
Chapter 3 will look more closely at types of religious belief, before the substantial part of the book, attempting to demonstrate that all people have religious beliefs (that is, that all people hold to a belief in something that is unconditionally and non-dependently real) and that these religious beliefs have "the single most decisive influence on everyone's understanding of the major issues of life ranging across the entire spectrum of human experience" (p.4).
8 Apr 2011
How much of your life is affected by your religious beliefs? Not much, surely? For a start, many people are not religious at all, so the answer for them would be, "None of my life is affected by my religious beliefs, because I don't have any religious beliefs." And for those that are religious, there are only certain areas of life that are affected: some areas of ethics, involvement in a religious community, prayer and the like. Okay, there are some people who are religious and completely barmy, for whom everything seems to be about religion, but that's a different case. But for the majority of people, most or all of their life is untouched by their religious beliefs, right?
No, not at all! At least, not according to Roy Clouser, whose book, The Myth of Religious Neutrality: An Essay on the Hidden Role of Religious Belief in Theories I've just started to read.
His claim is that "religious belief has the single most decisive influence on everyone's understanding of the major issues of life ranging across the entire spectrum of human experience" and that "it exercises such influence upon all people independently of their conscious acceptance or rejection of the religious traditions with which they are acquainted" (p.1, emphasis added). Or, more precisely, "What will be demonstrated is that no abstract explanatory theory can fail to include or presuppose a religious belief" (p.4).
This is quite a bold claim, which first of all begs the question of what a "religious" belief is. That is the subject of the next chapter.
But for now, it is tempting for me, as a Christian, to assume the primary intent of the book is "to convert readers to belief in God, or to refute atheism, agnosticism, secular humanism, or any other 'ism'" (p.5). You see, Mr Atheist, you are just as religious as I am, etc. ... No, the main purpose of the book is for people like myself, to be persuaded
that our belief in a transcendent Creator mandates a distinct perspective for the interpretation of every aspect of life. And this distinct perspective extends to the construction and interpretation of philosophical, scientific, and all other theories because there is no area or issue of life which is neutral with respect to belief in God (p.5).