Hi, Readers! This post is an attempt at a live blog of a book, well, at least a chapter, an idea Jeffrey Tucker gave his readers as a way to pay better attention to important texts and produce something that might be of value to others in the beautiful free exchange of ideas on the Internet.
The following alternates between summary of J.P. Moreland’s revised version of Love Your God with All Your Mind and my thoughts. Accuracy in my responses has been sacrificed for the sake of capturing ideas as they arise–reader beware! But I have tried to faithfully represent the book in the summary paragraphs. Mistakes and misapplied words in the summaries are best assumed to be entirely my fault and not at all reflective of the quality of Moreland’s book.
Disclaimer ending. Live blog of the book beginning:
How did we get here?
Moreland begins the first chapter, “How We Lost the Christian Mind and Why We Must Recover It,” with a snapshot of the current intellectual crisis within Christianity by sharing a letter he received from an audience member after a lecture series. The woman narrated her transformation, credited to the lectures, from one who lacked confidence in her ability to rationally defend her faith to one who could engage those around her with peace of mind because she finally had reasons for what she claimed she believed as a Christian. Moreland, though pleased to have helped this one soul, was sad that the woman’s initial state describes the norm in wider Christian culture. In response to this, he poses several questions: why is it that contemporary secular culture caricatures Christians as lemmings? How is it that Christianity has moved so far from a biblical view, which is to say a high view, of intelligence? Why has Christianity abandoned its intellectual tradition? Why has ignorance seemed a safer route for the faithful in congregations than careful examination of the evidence?
These are good questions, which he packs into one line, so I’m extrapolating to fill them out in my summary. By beginning with the letter, Moreland suggests that we, too, as readers can experience the same transformation if we will open ourselves to the idea that perhaps God wants our minds to develop. He will go on to explain how we got to this desolate intellectual place, but as it’s beyond the scope of his book, it does make me wonder how Judaism utterly escaped this sensationalist trap–and yet, even as I type that, I think perhaps it didn’t utterly, but Orthodox Judaism values a practical education in the simple reading of the text, and when interpretations dive into the mystical depths, the interpreter is still supposed to be tethered to some level of the text, even if it is the hidden level. There is a distrust in Judaism for the “Madonna Kabbalah” crowd, a pejorative reference to those who go hunting for mystical insights without context. Living the torah changes one’s relationship to it. One needs to understand to apply. That sort of a built-in safety mechanism within Judaism that Christianity lacks. There’s no need to understand the calendar if you’re not celebrating the new moons, so the practical and literal (for the most part, with exceptions) text is crucial.
I remember Moreland remarked in a video once that his response to cultist groups who knock on his door is always this: “You are taking the Bible out of context. Can you give me the basic historical situation, structure, and theme of any book of the Bible?” So far no one he has asked has been able to do it, and he says that while asking someone to do that for every book would be unfair, a careful student of the Bible who sits weekly under a competent Bible teacher should be able to do that for at least one. So where are our careful students and competent teacher? John Piper is careful with the text. D. Thomas Lancaster is careful and competent in comparative Jewish literature. I’m not creating a list, but there are many good teachers, though there are not enough.
What secular culture might tell us about ourselves
Moreland next runs through a quick critique of secular culture: celebrity hero worship and game-show politics. His point, though, is that the people of God are supposed to be the salt of nation, so if the nation is perishing through corruption, it indicates the salt is perhaps not doing its job. And here I can’t help but think of Francis Chan’s sermon “If Jesus Were Your Pastor You Probably Wouldn’t Go,” where he points out that when Jesus says the unsalty salt is “not even fit for the dunghill,” he’s saying we’re less valuable than a pile of crap, which at least can fertilize something. Moreland exhorts believers to do better, his book focusing on the need for growth in the intellectual arena though there are many other areas of culture that need addressing.
I appreciate how willing he is to position a mirror between the critical believer and the wider culture. First, it turns the focus to the only realm a reader can impact, which is his or her own behavior. This is wise: let’s look at what can be done rather than what is outside our influence or power. Second, it removes the temptation to gripe at the world since the gripes are further indictments against the gripers. The world has every right to be worldly. More productive conversation happens among the believers about our responsibility, not other people’s failings, whatever we may perceive them to be.
The decline and the fall
Historically speaking, Moreland pins the intellectual slide within the Christian mainstream on two trends, (1) the anti-intellectualism that sprang out of the two Great Awakenings’ emphasis on personal conversion, and (2) what he calls the “evangelical withdrawal” from universities and intellectual culture through the 1800s and into the early 1900s. The existence of God was under philosophical attack, the Bible was being torn up by higher criticism, and atheism took on a respectable air with the acceptance of Darwinism. All this made the university less appealing to Christians who began to distrust intellectual pursuits, which seemed to end in these faithless, spuriously intellectual no-man’s-lands.
Yes, and not only would it remove Christians from the universities, but it would also remove them from the positions of political power and legal influence since the elite positions often require degrees granted by universities. I’d add, also, to his overview that Samuel Blumenfeld’s chronicling of this process in Is Public Education Necessary? Blumenfeld locates the conception of public education within a religious framework, from Luther’s schools designed to make children literate for the purpose of religious education, to the Calvinist stronghold on the young American universities, to the Unitarian takeover of the universities in (if I’m remember the date correctly) around 1826-ish (?), a takeover that created a certain religious climate still operating within universities. So far from being religiously neutral, the university has always been a state-backed enforcer of religious ideas. It just happens that the religious ideas currently enforced are Unitarian or humanitarian ideas. Blumenfeld is not sympathetic in his treatment of the topic, but he makes the slide understandable from the point of view of the Unitarians because Calvinism did not satisfy people, perhaps because of an implied lack of eternal significance for human choice or action? I’m not sure. Whatever the Unitarians of the early changeover had in mind, things have degenerated to our current situation of a government-run school offering salvation through (pro-government) education and good (private or public) works to elevate society. I say that because education is the primary goal and value pushed on students. From infancy they are taught that they need education first. Everything else is secondary. It’s just another religion supplanting Jesus but offering the same messianic view of a perfect society when everyone is “saved,” which is to say “educated,” and evil, as ignorance, eradicated. I’m grossly neglecting anything like a description of Unitarianism in the early part of the last century on purpose. Though I can gloss much from Blumenfeld, I would need to investigate to say anything on the matter, and I haven’t even returned to Blumenfeld’s book, so I’d better not.
Effects we now observe
So where does the anti-intellectualism and evangelical withdrawal leave us, according to Moreland? It leaves us with a lack of understanding regarding the relationship between faith and reason. It resulted in a sacred/secular fragmentation in how we live our lives and think about our faith. It damaged world missions by sending out people who won converts to Christianity but then did little more than make them dangerous Marxists. It removed the relevance of the gospel to the wider culture. And it defeated Christians by removing the confident boldness that comes from being able to speak knowledgeably on matters of faith.
The Marxist claim is a surprise. The rest fits my experience and identifies problems with enough specificity to be helpful. I often encounter Christians operating from an assumption about the veracity of a secular worldview. Why concede that ground? I don’t. Yes, Christians often can’t articulate a relationship between faith and reason, but that’s true of many in the general population. Most people unless they have some formal training aren’t going to articulate a clear view on the relationship between reason and anything at all, and in fact, scientism having reached its breaking point, we now have what we’ve been warned in “The Folly of Scientism” would come of an over-reliance on sense-data as the only truth and of scientists opining beyond their area of competence: people (Christian and non) do not trust scientists even when they are speaking within their realm of expertise. They also mistrust reason itself because it isn’t observable in the material world. On the one hand, it’s kind of funny to hear people say that; on the other hand, it shows that even people with college degrees lack a foundation in epistemology that makes all things plausible and all things suspect. Scientism slayed the philosophers and undercut the idea of rational argument. I’d call it an unintended consequence that people believe just about anything now. Especially if there’s a YouTube video on it.
What are the limits of knowledge?
Next Moreland covers one of the most important points of the book, to my mind. After mentioning that culture is secular and has relegated religion to the private musings of the heart, he drops this rather commanding proposition: “Secularism is primarily a view about knowledge.” It’s significant that if the secular world has defined religion as unknowable, then it has removed any influence from those subjects because knowledge grants power, his example being that a neurosurgeon is granted access to a person’s brain but a plumber is not. If only scientific knowledge is treated as true, then no one will search for ethical or religious knowledge. This is primarily why people don’t see any value in discussing morality. Since the Judeo-Christian tradition does not rest on scientific knowledge alone but also employs reason, this sweeps much of what it has to offer off the table of relevant subjects. Secular views have been happy to fill the vacuum. We talk in secularist terms and ignore altogether the great questions of the past related to virtue, dignity, morality, and duty. In doing so, we do not make a compelling case for our worldview.
Jordan B. Peterson makes this point that the world is ripe to hear not about rights but about their responsibilities, and that every claim to a right is a demand of another who is responsible for granting or safeguarding that right. (I don’t know if he’s talking about positive rights or negative ones–I’m intrigued to hear more from him on the subject because it seems to me that even the negative rights do have a positive aspect, but I’m not ready to articulate that idea fully yet).
To me, Moreland’s section on secularism as a view about knowledge is one of the most important points in the book because I think most people fail to consider how our current culture distorts our perspective. Fish can’t see the water (supposedly a Haitian proverb). The refrain “separation of church and state” pops up so commonly from Christians that I wonder if they’ve considered they pray daily for the Kingdom (not State) of Heaven to come to earth–and that in the Messianic era, Jesus Christ (Messiah, one anointed), as King of Kings is coming to rule. I think I can argue that being a subject of the Kingdom is voluntary, but that’s doesn’t change the fact that there will be no meaningful separation of church and state when the law of God is the constitution of the Kingdom–nor will there be a desire for that separation. When the law is just, escaping it means pursuing injustice, not a desirable path. One of Murray Rothbard’s histories chronicles horrible blood baths under the guise of setting up Messianic utopias. (It’s in part 5, “Protestants and Catholics” in the link above to An Austrian Perspective on the History of Economic Thought--it’s the only part of the book I’ve looked at so far, but it’s on the list of things to read from him after Man, Economy, and State with Power and Market, the latter having become a kind of desk reference of practical economic thought). Reading a bit of that history helps me grasp the fear of others imagining a seamlessly interwoven church and state, but the torah combats the injustice that sustained those communities; those aren’t examples of the Kingdom of God.
Three worldviews collide
Moreland last outlines three worldviews–not that there are only three, but to point out how these are influencing our current situation. First, scientific naturalism of weak and strong varieties. Scientific naturalism has an epistemology that delineates what is knowable, a creation story of x causing y, and a view of reality: physical stuff. Second, post-modernism with its denial of objective truth and assertion that meaning is socially constructed and relative to communities that share certain narratives. He doesn’t explicitly mention a third in the book, but in a lecture video, he mentioned the Judeo-Christian worldview as the third. Why should we care about these worldviews? Well, both the first two–which are dominant currently–assert that theological and ethical knowledge are impossible because they’re not empirically validated. This is why, as he includes with a quotation from a teaching handbook, children with misgivings about Darwinian evolution are told they must learn “our shared intellectual heritage” of evolution and keep their private feelings, mere religious beliefs (unfounded and unjustifiable), out of the discussion.
Matters of faith are fine as long as they are kept to oneself. Personal, private convictions are fine as long as they can be largely ignored. When they can’t, they’re not just misguided but evil. They ought to have no relevance to anyone else, according to the secular view. Indeed, this can be expanded to all truth claims, the point made early in Closing of the American Mind as well: students know little when they come to university, but they are convinced that there is no truth. They don’t realize that statement is self-refuting or in need of defense because it is an idea they’re indoctrinated with from the public school system. Students fail to see the value of sustained, thoughtful engagement with the most important philosophical questions, which are all not empirically determined: what is the good life, what is justice, how can we know and to what extent can we be certain, and what is more important than life (if anything)?–those sorts of questions.
Hope for the mind
Moreland leaves us with another exhortation that wisdom is fruit. It can be cultivated, and it is needed in this hour. He says to apply our minds in the service of God is to be more spiritual, not less.
That last point is an intriguing one, too, because there is the sense within some faith communities that all reasoning is demonic reasoning, all philosophy is vain philosophy, and that if one is reasoning from the Scriptures, one is not “being taught by the Spirit.” Thus, careful study of the Bible employing historical references and commentaries is “not trusting God.” Worse, it seems like the more outlandish the connections made through a kind of free-association with the words on the page, the more the ideas are considered spiritual. This is not ideal and keeps us from entering the text on its terms.
End of chapter.
Here’s a list of questions I’m generating as potential discussion questions. Fruitful questions are more valuable than answers sometimes.
- How might one respectfully acknowledge the different perspectives on knowledge that could hinder conversations between Christians and atheists or Christians and secular culture?
- Are there other worldviews to which we might give honorable mention besides or in place of those on Moreland’s list?
- To what extent has your previous education equipped you to discuss matters of reason, of faith, or of both?
- What other topics or areas of concern in might benefit from a long, historical view to help combat our cultural biases?
- What might be some characteristics of the ideal Judeo-Christian mind, and how might we encourage those within that framework?
- What might be done (without force or taxation) to support intellectual development for both Christians and non-Christians?
- Others? What are some other good questions this chapter’s ideas bring to light?
Well, readers, I hope this wasn’t an exercise in alienating my subscribers! I appreciate your granting me access to your inboxes and want to provide something of value, so I hope you found some food for thought in here. Read along, blog along, muse along… this is the book I’m studying in a book club of sorts in January. I figured writing about it might get me back in a habit of writing in general, and then I can pick up some of the loose threads of popular topics on the blog. I’ve not left my first love, don’t be alarmed.
Blessings, mercy, life, and peace–and all the best,