Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Fundamental Assumptions: Putting Second Things First

Parvus error in initio magnus erit in fine (Small Error in Beginning, Large [Error] will be in the end)

—St. Thomas Aquinas

Another blogger sent around a link to an individual who posted a book promoting an idea of a pure and unblemished Christianity free of "religion."  I responded to what I thought was wrong with the assumptions of the suggested book.

However after doing so, I began to ponder the nature of the fundamental assumptions people make about their claims.  Many of them go unquestioned, and the result is we put Second Things first.

The problem is our claims do need to be evaluated to be sure they are not the result of an unquestioned error.

Atheism vs. Theism

The atheist, for example, speaks out about religion being false, and goes through all these motions to debunk Christianity.  The problem is, the atheist is putting second things first.  The prime issue is what is the nature of man.  The atheist presumes Christianity cannot be true, and his explanations of what the nature of man is comes as an afterthought.

The issue is whether man is created or the result of a string of undirected results.  Whether he is to be a son of God by adoption or merely the direct descendant of pond scum.  The idea of what binds human rights or dignity or all the rest does hinge on this.  If man is nothing more than the end accident of undirected evolution, then there is no obligation to follow conscience, or to do anything which hinders oneself.

The atheist may argue "Well, we have these things as a survival instinct for the good of the herd."  However, if we think of it, this is not instinct.  It is not an innate urge like the desire for food or safety or sex.  Sometimes the pull of conscience compels us to do things which do not benefit the survival of the species. 

Standing in front of a tank in Tiananmen Square does not benefit the survival of the species.  The unwillingness of the tank column to drive over the individual does not ensure the survival of the species.  From a strict sense of "instinct," the man is behaving in a way detrimental to the "restoration of order" in a society.  We have had non-democratic societies longer than we have had democratic societies for example.  So if we are to view the idea of democracy and freedom as something desirable, the fundamental question is "why are some ideas worth dying for?"

This then is a fundamental question for the atheist: what is the nature of the human being and why is it required we champion the "Tank Man" or Gandhi or Martin Luther King Jr. and not Hitler or Stalin or the British colonial system or the society of segregation?

Ant colonies take slaves.  If man is merely following instinct, then why is it wrong for humans to do so?  Why do we assume that the idea of human rights is not some sort of aberration against the norm if man is acting on instinct and not something outside and above him?

It is not enough for the atheist to say "I don't believe in God."  He needs to say what he believes IN, so we can assess his claims and see what basis he makes it on.

The Assumptions within "Bible Only"

Whatever did the first Christians do?  They had the Jewish Scriptures which promised a Messiah, and they had these twelve men going about preaching that a man who claimed to be a messiah and was executed was in fact raised from the dead.  The first Gospels were not written until about 30 years after the death of Jesus… with the Gospel of John believed to be written some 60 years after the crucifixion.  Letters were written of course, admonishing the communities to heed the teachings they passed on.

So how did we get from this to an idea that the Bible alone is sufficient?  Does anyone see the strong paradox in insisting the only thing which is binding is a canon that which came into existence at the end of the fourth century, when the Church declared that only certain writings would be permitted to be read in Church?

The claims of "Bible Only" have to address a more fundamental question: On what authority does one claim that the Bible alone is binding?  Is it because of God's decree that it is so?  If so, where is this decree?  Is it because of people reading the Bible and thinking it contradicted the teaching of the Church?  Arians (who claimed Christ was the first creature made by God) and Modalists (who claimed that "Father, Son and Spirit" were merely roles played by God) thought Scripture contradicted the Church teaching.  Yet even "Bible Alone" Christians believe in the Trinity and exclude those groups who do not accept the Trinity from being considered Christian.

A look at Christianity from the beginning does not show a group of separated communities who all believe in God and the Bible.  They show one Church in many locations, adhering to the faith passed on by the Apostles. 

So, "The Bible Alone" argument is putting a second thing first.

So the Fundamental Question to be asked is: If the "Bible alone" was the original belief of Christians, where is this belief in the "Bible alone" without religion taught among the earliest Christians?

Because if the "Bible Alone" wasn't a belief of the early Christians, it is a later innovation, and we do need to follow the belief of those first Christians if we would be faithful to Christ.

The Issue of Abortion

The promoters of abortion speak a great deal about "choice."  However, it is a great deal similar to the cry of "State's Rights" during the Civil War.  The State's right to do what?  (Keep slaves if they chose).  The right to choose what?  (To abort a child).

The issue of choice and a woman's right to control her fertility are putting second things first.

The fundamental issue is, what is the nature of the fetus they wish to abort.  Either it is a human person or it is not.  Christians who recognize the evil of abortion have answered the fundamental question.  Those who rally for "choice" do not… indeed they either evade the issue ("I don't want to force my views on others.") or they argue their conclusion ("it's a blob of tissue") without providing any proofs for their claim.

Before a nation can sanction abortion, it must ask the fundamental question.

The Response of the Christian

In all of these examples, and in many more the important thing is not to permit the individual to put second things first.  We must continue to ask the fundamental questions, and so long as they remain unanswered we ought not to permit it to go forward.  (It may go forward despite of us, but it never should go forward with our consent).

The world may ask us "Why are you opposed to X?" putting a second thing first.  The answer is we are not opposed to X.  We are opposed to their unspoken but fundamental assumption which leads them to their slogans.

Now the proponent of these things may not answer of course.  However, once we recognize the fact they cannot or will not answer, the questions they do ask become devoid of power.

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