May 24, 2005

Religion without Absolutes?

Last weekend's Birmingham News ran a story about a young medical student at the University of Alabama-Birmingham, Ford Vox, who has started his own religion. The religion is called "Universism." It's major tenet: There are no absolute truths.

I don't know about you, but it is difficult to say the least that anyone would find a religion appealing which has at its core a blatant contradiction. Imbibing the postmodern distaste for "intolerance," Vox and his followers (yes, he has gained quite a following!) have created a religion in which everyone can have his cake and eat it too. According to Vox, "We absolutely reject absolute truth." Of course, he's lying (or else very seriously confused). No one can absolutely reject absolute truth. For in trying to do so one must, by the very nature of the case, embrace at least one absolute truth, namely, the truth that there are no absolute truths. Which of course is absurd. But, folks like Vox cannot seem to think clearly enough to see the inconsistency in their own thinking.

In fact, on close examination, one finds that universists actually embrace many absolute truths--that is, things that they believe to be true. Here is a sampling of statements from their website (

"Universism is the world's first rational religion."

"Reaching to the heart of humanity's religious impulse, we have uncovered not faith, but mystery."

"The meaning of your existence is yours to determine."

Perhaps I'm missing something, but these sound a lot like absolute truth claims. Not only that, but they are absolute religious truth claims. Can anyone out there, perhaps some Universists, tell me where I may have misunderstood them?

May 10, 2005

Faith Seeking Understanding - Part 2

In my last post, I began to discuss what it means to be a Christian philosopher by analyzing the famous slogan "Faith Seeking Understanding." We looked first at the meaning of the word "faith" in that slogan and saw that faith is trust in the God who has revealed himself in the Holy Scriptures, and believing what he has said in those Scriptures. This week I outline what I mean by "understanding."

I suppose that the real question, more precisely, is what is seeking understading? I believe that to seek understanding means at least four things. First, it means to come to understand the meaning of the Scripural revelation. It means, for instance, that when the Bible says that we were "dead in tresspasses and sins," we seek to comprehend what it means to be dead in tresspasses and sins. When the Bible says that we are saved by grace, through faith, to seek understanding means that we attempt as best we can to know what God intends to communicate to us through that form of words. In other words, for the Christian philosopher to seek understanding means, in part, that the Christian philosopher must be, at least to some extent, a Christian theologian and a Christian biblical exegete. He must, as all Christians should, seek to come to grips with the meaning of the Bible.

Second, seeking understanding means drawing out the implications of what God has revealed. The Word of God makes many truth-claims, and these truth-claims entail other truths that are not explicitly contained in the Scriptures. The implications of the faith may impact what we believe about many other areas of life and many other academic disciplines. For example, our most basic Christian belief, that there is a God who created the universe out of nothing, it seems to me, has enormous implications for many different aspects of life. For example, the truth of Christian theism implies a rejection of methodological naturalism in science (the view that scientists must seek only natural explanations for any given phenomenon). Also, certain revealed truths imply that human life has meaning and purpose and value. This in turn implies that the Christian philosopher must be committed to the existence of objective moral principles.

Third, to seek understanding means that the Christian philosopher seeks to understand why what he beleives is in fact the truth. The Christian philosopher is an apologist who searches for ways to defend the faith not only to those who don't believe, but also for the sake of bolstering and enriching the faith of those who do.

As a quick side-note before I go on, these last two ways of understanding what it means to seek understanding suggest, as many earlier pholosphers said, that philosophy is the "handmaid of theology." Philosophy, or philosophy done by the Christian philosopher, seeks to provide a service to the Christian church by providing a service to the work of theology. It does so, as I have suggested, by drawing out the implications of the faith, and by providing the grounds of the faith.

Fourth and last, to seek understanding means that the Christian philosopher seeks to understand anything and everything in obedience to what we may call the creation mandate. In In Genesis 1:27-28, we are told to subdue the creation and rule over it. Man is to be God's regent on earth. We are to exercise, I believe, a benevolent dominion over the created order. But, what has all of this got to do with philosophy? Well, in order to rule over creation, we must have knowledge and understanding of creation. This fact by itself fuels the whole intellectual enterprise of man from a biblical perspective. It is because God commands us to subdue creation, that men like Isaac Newton believed that the universe was intelligible and that scientific knowledge is possible. The same may be said for philosophy. Because, God has created an orderly and intelligible cosmos and has commanded us to exercise benevolent dominion, the Christian philosopher has hope and confidence that his search for answers to questions in areas like metaphysics and epistemology will bear fruit. I make this point, also, to make it clear that a Christian philosopher need not limit himself in his work just to the handmaid of theology role or to the biblical exegesis role. He may also devote himself to being wht we may call, for lack of a better term, a generic philosopher who seeks to understand what reason alone, tempered by appropriate biblical control-beliefs, may discover about God's world.

In conclusion, let me say that as a Christian philosopher, I have a commitment to the truth of the Christian faith. I do not approach philosophy holding all my religious beliefs in suspension until I can answer all the tough philosophical questions that we deal with. Rather, like St. Augustine and St. Anselm, the Christian philosopher approaches his work with the principle "faith seeking understanding". We believe in the Christian God, we believe in Christ and his salvific work, we accept implicitly what we are convinced the Bible teaches about those subjects that it addresses. But we use our God-given intellects to understand as far as possible the content of that faith, it's implications for every area of life, and the nature of the world in which God has placed us.