Monday, November 29, 2010


Wow. This is a sermon by George Macdonald, read by David Baldwin. It is long, but worth it.

h/t Undeception.

Some highlights:
"If anything be against mercy it cannot be called justice for it is cruelty."

"To say on the authority of the Bible that God does a thing no honourable man would do is to lie against God."

"I will accept no explanation of any way of God which explanation involves what I should scorn as false and unfair in a man."
"Such justice as Dante's keeps wickedness alive in its most terrible forms."

"The notion that a creature born imperfect, nay born with impulses to evil not of his own generating, and which he could not help having, a creature to whom the true face of God was never presented, and by whom it never could have been seen, should be thus condemned (to hell), is as loathsome a lie against God as could find place in a heart too undeveloped to understand what justice is, and too low to look up into the face of Jesus. It never in truth found a place in any heart, though in many a pettifogging brain. There is but one thing lower than deliberately to believe such a lie, and that is to worship the God of whom it is believed."
 "Love, and not self-love, is Lord of the universe."
"Our business is not to think correctly, but to live truly."

"One chief cause of the amount of unbelief in the world is, that those who have seen something of the glory of Christ, set themselves to theorize concerning him rather than to obey him."


Aric Clark said...

Finally, someone from the 19th century I can stand to read.

Nick.Larson said...

wow. It's good. I think this is an excellent portrayal of Justice. It was a bit dry, but very good.

reborn1995 said...

Just curious about a meta-ethical question:

What is the origin of or ultimate standard of ethics and values? i guess i got the impression reading the highlights that there is some standard even back of God Himself which even He is amenable to. How do i know or have access to the content of that standard?

But perhaps i'm reading these quotes too strictly. It could be the author believes that God's character is that standard and determining factor, but people misrepresent it. However, i still think the quotes lend themselves more plainly to the former interpretation.


Doug Hagler said...

Ethically speaking, I think that there is no good outside of God. This means that there may be good that is outside of specific human doctrines or theologies; even good that is outside the words of the Bible, though I say this theoretically, not sure what that good would be.

Though we don't talk about it a lot, the OT particularly (and the NT through John's Logos) holds up wisdom very highly. She is present with God at creation, and manifested in the flesh in Jesus Christ.

Wisdom tells us, for example, that if a human being can be more merciful than God, then we can't really say that God is merciful. This isn't to say that God answers to human reasoning, but to say that human theology does answer to wisdom.

Is it possible to find justification in the Bible for a theology of penal substitutionary atonement? Certainly. It is also easily possible to find justification for rape, slavery and genocide. Does penal sub atonement really say anything about God's goodness, mercy or justice? George MacDonald doesn't think so, and neither do I.

Doug Hagler said...

As for the origin of a standard for ethical values - in brief, there is not one such origin. Single-origin ethics, in my view, fall apart both logically and in their application (divine command based on an interpretation of scripture, strict utilitarianism, deontology based on a specific set of rules). I am convinced that each of these attempts at single-point ethics have failed.

Right now, Aric and I are very much on a virtue ethics kick, and so I might answer that the source of ethics is in the human quest to cultivate virtue and to flourish more fully. Yes, vague, but as I said, I don't believe in any one (knowable) source-point for ethics.

And yes, insofar as good and evil, right and wrong, justice and injustice are meaningful words, our theologies of God should be answerable to these ideas as well as to scripture.

All truth is God's truth, after all, and in my view, all good is God's good.

reborn1995 said...

Fair enough--i admittedly just read the highlights (i typically don't do anything with sound while i'm at the office). And everything you said sounds good to me.

My main worry was of the general problem-of-the-criteria variety. If we can reject this or that theological conclusion because it fails to be merciful (or whatever value is in question), we seem to invoke some standard by which the merciful and unmerciful are determined. More specifically my worry is whether my person sense of what is merciful can ever be checked or corrected. In other words, perhaps there are things that i currently find inconsistent with mercy that turn out in fact to be consistent with mercy. Can this occur? What standard would correct me in such a case? Perhaps the current inferential or intuitional processes i use in my attempt to employ "wisdom" are mistaken. How would i know? What "check" is there on my sense of wisdom?


reborn1995 said...

just curious--have you ever read any of Linda Zagzebski's work on virtue ethics or virtue epistemology? i'm a grad student in her department and know she specializes in those areas.


Doug Hagler said...

Man, you ask good questions. What I really want to do is work on a constructive theology of wisdom. It's been popping up in my sermons and thoughts, and I want to do something with it.

I haven't read Zagzebski's work - could you recommend one? There's no chance I'd be able to read more than one in the near future.

As for the checks on personal intuitions and reason - in my working definition, that's what community and honesty are for. In a vacuum, there is no check on my intuitions. I think that wisdom is an emergent property of interconnected people. Can be, anyway. So is the escalation of violence, depending on the situation.

I might take Aristotle's view - find someone you consider wise and virtuous, and work with them. I think the word was phronemos - a wise one. At the very least, have someone of greater wisdom and virtue than yourself in mind.

In some ways, scripture is like a phronemos for me - I assume there is more wisdom in there than I have now, or can ever have. It still requires quite a struggle, though, which seems appropriate.

reborn1995 said...

The zagzebski book you should look at is this:

i bring up the general worry mainly because i think scripture, even when interpreted well, still challenges some of what may feel like deeply held values. For instance, it certainly challenges a modern American's feelings about the glory of military violence or service, and probably even challenges more so our acceptance of materialism, greed, and gluttony.

In those cases, many people reject the seeming pacifism (or other values, but just using non-violence as an example) of scripture because it doesn't seem wise to them--it seems foolish, it won't work, it seems unfair, unjust, cowardly etc. etc. etc.

i would say that's a case where our gut intuitions and pop-wisdom is just plain wrong or mistaken or sinfully tainted or whatever.

But if i reject some scriptural interpretations on other issues because it goes against what i take to be proper applications of wisdom or it goes against my moral intuitions etc--how do i know i'm not in the same circumstance as those above who simply have faulty intuitions or wisdom-content?

i suppose my worry is that structuring too much latent authority on reason or wisdom opens the doors for relativism or at least cultural relativism.

(i say that, but i also admit that in my work here in the philosophy department i always feel more inclined to defend intuition or common sense rather than just assume an automatic skeptical stance like many western analytic types often do.)


Doug Hagler said...

Again, all good questions. My experience is that there is no such guarantee. It is possible that God intends for me to deny justice to LGBTQ folks (and women and so on) and to glory in warfare and violence. I do think that taken as a whole, this goes entirely against the arc and movement of scripture. Again, though, the search for guarantees comes up empty. That's why I put so much effort into making the case for things like inclusion and nonviolence - because I have to. There is no objective standard I can point toward that makes any sense (to me).

Or, if there is one, I don't know what it is.

Aric Clark said...

First of all, thanks for the awesome interaction here.

My thoughts on God and Goodness - it is a two way street. It must be.

God defines what is good. That is God is the biggest thing there is. There is nothing beyond God. No super-standard to which God is subject. If that were the case God would not be God. This is important in ethics because it subjects our cultural relativism to judgment and reminds us that our finite ability to see and reason in terms of consequences, or virtues is bound to fail at times. We must be prepared to revise our understanding of goodness on the basis of a clear "revelation" (though I hate to use that term) of the identity of God. The principle way this works in Christianity is through the person of Jesus. Jesus helps us define what good is in his life, ministry, teachings, death, and resurrection.

The reverse is also true. Good defines who God is. That is God is completely good, through and through, and we should reject any description or definition of God which falls short of this standard. If some claimed behavior or attribute of God can be shown to be less than good it is false. God is not like that. This is important in ethics because it subjects our ultimate standard (God) to the necessity of proof. Without this move it is too easy to use God as a justification for all manner of horrible things and disguise evil as good merely because we say it comes from or God.

To riff on Barth these two are in dialogical relationship to one another. It is not about seeking some false middle ground, but insisting on the truth of both such that the poles of each argument merge like a Magic Eye poster and for a moment we get a glimpse of God.

Doug Hagler said...

Thanks for the book recommendation!

reborn1995 said...

All good stuff sounds like to me. i'll have to chew on some of what's been said. i hope you take it as complimentary that as someone who does disagree with some of your ethical stances, i still find this blog intelligently and engagingly conducted. That is--even in the cases where i disagree, i always find it worthwhile to have read and considered what's written. i find that a rarity especially when considering issues that are typically fraught with heated polemics.


Doug Hagler said...

Guy, you just made my day. I'm looking for good, constructive conversations far more than I am looking for agreement. I also enjoy when someone who has more specialized knowledge than I (we) do comes and sharpens up what we're saying. That would be you :)

We're enthusiastic generalists, but still generalists. At least, I think of myself as a generalist.

Nick.Larson said...

Seriously good food for thought here all of you. I particularly agree with Guy when you raise the idea of "worry mainly because i think scripture, even when interpreted well, still challenges some of what may feel like deeply held values."

I completely agree, the problem with saying well it's sola scriptura is then who's interpretation of scripture are we using. What frameworks or assumptions are we using to see it? What meaning do we take with us to the text? The stricter exegetical approaches say we can eliminate these things by working harder. I want to believe this, but simple need to reject this modern stereotype that we can just do something harder or better to get closer to the "truth."

Instead I would agree like Doug and Aric do, that community is the major way that I test my thoughts and see whether I am stretching scripture or scripture needs to stretch me. I think that going through seminary where I was asked to stretch a lot of my previously held beliefs, what I realized through that experience was that when I relaxed my grasp on those beliefs that I found some got strong support and others became less important. I can now look back and see the value in that process, but at the time it was hard. I think that's really the walk of faith. My belief is that sometimes we can only handle some version of the truth for now, and over time that idea can be continually expanded. One of my major questions that I ask myself is does this idea/virtue/value increase or expand my view of God or shrink it.

I would also like to echo Aric's use of Barth (wow my Prof. Greg Love out there must be smiling).

reborn1995 said...

This also reminds me of some good discussions i've read lately on the difference between "sola scripture" and "solo scriptura."

Have you read discussions on this? "Called To Communion" reviewed that article too (do you follow that blog at all?)