In light of Anne Rice’s announcement that she “has left Christianity,” I re-read an old Trinity Foundation article analyzing the reasoning behind the Whitehorse Inn’s decision to interview Rice and give her an entire program to talk about her “return to Christianity” from atheism (even though she returned to Roman Catholicism, not Christianity). The Whitehorse Inn: Nonsense on Tap
Anyways, I read the following quote and it amazes me how many people I have come across that don’t understand this. Some people actually think that Romans 1 is talking about trees and stars.
Furthermore, Christ lights, John 1:9 says, echoing Romans 1 and 2, the mind of every man who comes into the world. This is the Biblical doctrine of general revelation. It is a denial of the pagan Aristotelian-Thomist-evidentialist-empiricist theory. The mind of every man, who is the image of God, is informed by the mind of Christ. So even if he is blind and cannot see the heavens, he has an innate idea of God. This information is innate, not learned by sensation. It makes man the image of God, and it makes all men inexcusable. It is these innate ideas that all sinners suppress in their zeal to escape God. One of the ways philosophers and theologians suppress these innate ideas is by inventing “proofs” for the existence of God derived from observation. (The pagan Aristotle is the godfather of all such proofs.) The gods they so “prove” are not the God of the Bible; they are idols – inventions of their sinful minds. If the Thomistic proofs for the existence of God were valid, they would disprove Christianity, for the gods they prove are not the God of the Bible. They are an illustration of the philosophers’ desire to escape the God of the Bible.
The Bible does not begin with any proof of the existence of God; it begins with God. Nor does the Bible contain any argument attempting to prove the existence of God from what Rosenthal calls “general revelation.” Such a proof is logically impossible and theologically reprehensible. Truth cannot be derived form anything non-propositional. Unless one starts with truth, with propositional revelation, one can never arrive at any truth. Unless one starts with Scripture, God will remain merely a suppressed idea.
The Libertarian Reader: Classic and Contemporary Writings from Lao Tzu to Milton Friedman is a collection of essays from a variety of sources on a variety of topics related to libertarianism. The first chapter in the book is “1 Samuel 8” and it provides a rather striking example of eisegesis, anarcho-capitalist style.
The most important book in the development of Western civilization was the Bible, which of course just means “the Book” in Greek. Until recent times it was the touchstone for almost all debate on morality and government. One of its most resonant passages for the study of government was the story of God’s warning to the people of Israel when they wanted a king to rule them. Until then, as Judges 21:25 reports, “there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes,” and there were judges to settle disputes. But in I Samuel, the Jews asked for a king, and God told Samuel what it would be like to have a king. This story reminded Europeans for centuries that the state was not divinely inspired. Thomas Paine, Lord Acton, and other liberals cited it frequently.
Anyone who has read Judges and 1 Samuel is immediately struck by David Boaz’ statements. It’s clear he never read that section of the Bible and instead relied on Thomas Paine to tell him what it meant. Judges 21:25 is not a commendation of the situation in Israel, it is a condemnation. The Israelites had a law, a divinely imposed law, and yet they ignored it and did what was right in their own eyes. Contrary to Boaz, that is not a good thing. (Furthermore, the state, the sword, is divinely imposed – Gen 9:5-6; Rom 13:1-7; see Political Philosophy: Biblical Answers)
What John Robbins points out in his lecture on political philosophy is something Boaz misses: both totalitarianism and anarchy are lawlessness. In one a king does whatever is right in his own eyes, in the other everyone else does what is right in their own eyes. What is lost in both is the rule of law. Robbins notes in his essay “Rebuilding American Freedom in the Twenty-First Century” (we’re not off to a good start):
Americans sometimes foolishly overlook crime as a threat to freedom, thinking that the only threat comes from government. It doesn’t. Our neighbors may also be threats to our freedom. In fact, lawless governments and lawless individuals aid each other. The criminal and the dictator are twins distinguished only by the amount of power at the disposal of each. Each becomes the others’ excuse for more and more lawlessness, less and less freedom. The loser in such a contest is the rule of law. Freedom, we must keep in mind, is now lawlessness, but the result of effective application of moral law to both ruled and rulers.
Israel’s problem was one of lawlessness. They turned away from the law God gave them and did what was right in their own eyes. They also turned away from God as their sovereign king and demanded a king of their own. Boaz sees virtue in one of these two things where the Bible sees sin in both. When we abandon the rule of law, what we are left with is lawlessness:
1 Samuel 8:1 When Samuel became old, he made his sons judges over Israel. 2 The name of his firstborn son was Joel, and the name of his second, Abijah; they were judges in Beersheba. 3 Yet his sons did not walk in his ways but turned aside after gain. They took bribes and perverted justice.
4 Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah 5 and said to him, “Behold, you are old and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now appoint for us a king to judge us like all the nations.” 6 But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to judge us.” And Samuel prayed to the Lord. 7 And the Lord said to Samuel, “Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. 8 According to all the deeds that they have done, from the day I brought them up out of Egypt even to this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are also doing to you. 9 Now then, obey their voice; only you shall solemnly warn them and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them.”
10 So Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking for a king from him. 11 He said, “These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen and to run before his chariots. 12 And he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. 13 He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. 14 He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his servants. 15 He will take the tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and to his servants. 16 He will take your male servants and female servants and the best of your young men and your donkeys, and put them to his work. 17 He will take the tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. 18 And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the Lord will not answer you in that day.”
19 But the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel. And they said, “No! But there shall be a king over us, 20 that we also may be like all the nations, and that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles.” 21 And when Samuel had heard all the words of the people, he repeated them in the ears of the Lord. 22 And the Lord said to Samuel, “Obey their voice and make them a king.” Samuel then said to the men of Israel, “Go every man to his city.”
Our nation’s current distress has provoked many to consider the sinful nature of man. Some believe that the problems we are facing are the inevitable result of an economy founded upon self-interest. Richard Dahlstrom, Senior Pastor of Bethany Community Church in Seattle, WA says:
What else could you expect from an economic system predicated on the notion that everyone acting in their own self-interests will always lead to a win/win situation. Somehow, I wonder: WWJT. What would Jesus think?
Dahlstrom is referring to Adam Smith’s “invisible hand.” In his “Wealth of Nations,” Smith said:
…he intends only his own gain, and he is in this, as in many other cases, led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention… By pursuing his own interest he frequently promotes that of the society more effectually than when he really intends to promote it. I have never known much good done by those who affected to trade for the public good.
To put it more simply, he said:
It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own self interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities but of their advantages.
In other words, the butcher isn’t motivated by how his meat will help you, he is motivated by the money that you give him in exchange for it. Furthermore, the more money he desires to earn, the harder he works to provide you with whatever you want. Thus out of his own interest he provides for you.
As for the win/win aspect of it, it’s simply the result of a voluntary exchange. The only reason that two people volunatrily choose to trade is because the trade will make both of them better off. No one trades in order to lose. Now, it may be true that they don’t get everything they want out of the trade, but, if they voluntarily make the exchange, it is because they believe they will be better off by doing so. Thus it is a win/win situation.
The alternative to this system of voluntary exchange is force, which is what Dahlstrom and others like him are in favor of. When force is involved, it is not a win/win situation. Someone is losing because they are being forced to do what they would not want to do.
Ah, you say, but what about Mother Teresa? Well, I’m convinced Mother Teresa was paid by philosophy professors across the world so they would have something to talk about when they get to the topic of altruism in class. Hitler got a check too as he is the go to when any topic of evil is mentioned.
But was Mother Teresa really motivated by a sense of altruism? A sense of abandoning her own interest for the sake of the poor?
She was deceived by Rome’s false gospel. She spent her life living in the most miserable conditions because she was taught that her personal suffering would bring her closer to Christ. Furthermore, she intentionally deprived suffering people of relief because she wanted to be in a community of suffering.
For more on Teresa:
Mother Teresa’s Redemption
The Myth of Mother Teresa
Penn & Teller on Mother Teresa (a heavy dose of profanity)
Is Mother Teresa a Saint? Part I
Is Mother Teresa a Saint? Part II
The Missionary Position (A Review)
That’s interesting, you might say, but my morality isn’t derived from some 18th century economist. My sense of right and wrong comes from the Bible and the Bible says self-interest is sinful.
Dahlstrom makes only one reference to Scripture, Matthew 6:33:
But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
In regards to this verse, he says Jesus would “think we should put the interests of the kingdom before our own.” The error here is that Dahlstrom thinks that the interest of the kingdom is not our own interest. He thinks we should put aside our self-interest for food, drink, and clothing, and pursue something that is not in our self-interest at all. I’m not sure how he feels, but the kingdom of God is very much in my self-interest.
Rather than teaching us to pursue things that are not in our own self-interest, the verse directs us to what is truly in our highest interest.
John Piper has much to say about this:
When you have the notion that high moral acts must be free from self-interest, then worship, which is one of the highest moral acts a human can perform, has to be conceived simply as duty. And when worship is reduced to a duty, it ceases to exist. One of the great enemies of worship in our church is our own misguided virtue. We have the vague notion that seeking our own pleasure is sin and therefore virtue itself imprisons the longings of our hearts and smothers the spirit of worship. For what is worship if it is not our joyful feasting upon the banquet of God’s glory?
By Christian Hedonism, I do not mean that our happiness is the highest good. I mean that pursuing the highest good will always result in our greatest happiness in the end. But almost all Christians believe this. Christian Hedonism says more, namely, that we should pursue happiness, and pursue it with all our might. The desire to be happy is a proper motive for every good deed, and if you abandon the pursuit of your own joy you cannot love man or please God – that’s what makes Christian Hedonism controversial.
Christian hedonism aims to replace a Kantian morality with a biblical one. Immanuel Kant, the German philosopher who died in 1804, was the most powerful exponent of the notion that the moral value of an act decreases as we aim to derive any benefit from it. Acts are good if the doer is “disinterested.” We should do the good because it is good. Any motivation to seek joy or reward corrupts the act. Cynically, perhaps, but not without warrant, the novelist Ayn Rand captured the spirit of Kant’s ethic:
An action is moral, said Kant, only if one has no desire to perform it, but performs it out of a sense of duty and derives no benefit from it of any sort, neither material nor spiritual. A benefit destroys the moral value of an action. (Thus if one has no desire to be evil, one cannot be good; if one has, one can.)2
Against this Kantian morality (which has passed as Christian for too long!), we must herald the unabashedly hedonistic biblical morality. Jonathan Edwards, who died when Kant was 34, expressed it like this in one of his early resolutions: “Resolved, To endeavor to obtain for myself as much happiness in the other world as I possibly can, with all the power, might, vigor, and vehemence, yea violence, I am capable of, or can bring myself to exert, in any way that can be thought of.”
In his lecture on “The Ethics of Self Interest and Profit”, part of his “Introduction to Economics” series, John W. Robbins points out that self-interest is not sinful. What is sinful is mistaking what is truly in our self-interest. Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. It is in our highest interest to do so. Because we are sinful, we think it is better for us to sinfully break God’s moral law and rebel against Him.
I have read much from Robbins on a variety of topics and he has continually brought fresh insight from the Bible to bear on the topics. His method is to start with a topic, then start at the beginning of his Bible and read it all the way through, making note of every passage that has any relevance to the topic. This can be a tedious task, but it is very rewarding.
A short cut is to simply start with a concordance. If we look up the word profit, we get a few results that are worth discussing:
1 Samuel 12:21 And do not turn aside after empty things that cannot profit or deliver, for they are empty. 22 For the Lord will not forsake his people, for his great name’s sake, because it has pleased the Lord to make you a people for himself.
Here we are instructed to turn to God because He can profit us, unlike the kings Israel sought after instead of God.
Proverbs 3:13 Blessed is the one who finds wisdom,
and the one who gets understanding,
14 for the gain from her is better than gain from silver
and her profit better than gold.
We are to seek wisdom because we can profit from it, because it is in our self-interest.
Proverbs 11:4 Riches do not profit in the day of wrath,
but righteousness delivers from death.
This verse illustrates Robbins’ point above. The riches of this world do not profit anyone in the day of wrath, but those who trust in Christ profit from His righteousness. Thus we are to seek Christ, not riches, because it is in our self-interest.
Next we come to perhaps the strongest verse in support of Dahlstrom:
Matthew 16:24 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.
This would seem to be an airtight argument that we should not do anything out of self-interest. But let’s continue reading the passge:
25 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?
Here, again, we see that it is not sinful to act out of self-interest. What is sinful is thinking that gaining the whole world is in our highest self-interest.
1 Cor 13:1 Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. 2 And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.
Paul is appealing to self-interest. In fact, Paul condemns these actions that are devoid of love precisely because they do not profit.
Renewing our Minds (Rom 12:2)
Dahlstrom closes his note by saying: “If Christians, who have the very words of Christ about money refuse to altar their view of self-interest economics, how will the rest of world do?”
To that I say, if Christian pastors, who have the very words of God about everything in life, refuse to transform their minds, how will their sheep do?
I pray that God will give us all wisdom as we seek understanding from His Word.