I hadn’t planned on doing this, but I am earnestly committed to avoiding work at the moment, so I decided to take a little time and respond to some constructive criticism I’ve received from my last post. Also, because I’m currently on a bit of a well needed hiatus from Twittering I’ve decided to respond on this blog. (Which I know, is a bit like claiming “I never watch TV” while binge watching Stranger Things on your iPad.)
Here are a couple of responses I received:
The saddest tenet of the Christian faith is the notion that we are “broken.” Teaching children that they are inherently, inescapably “sinful” without worshipping God (the very god that instilled this brokenness within them as punishment for the first “sin”) is emotional abuse.
— Jerlwayne (@jerlwayne) November 16, 2017
I get it you’re a Christian academic. However, being anchored to one school of thought limits your perspective. You are preaching to your choir here, maybe that was the intent. Your rational but unreachable desire for an objective definition of “good”, only obfuscates the truth.
— Thomas (@LetrsFromEarth) November 16, 2017
I should say up front that I’ve been interacting with these two guys for a while – especially Thomas. I always enjoy our Twitter conversations. They are respectful and challenging. They bring up some interesting questions here:
Is the doctrine of sin “emotional abuse?”
First, I would push back strongly against the assertion made here that God somehow instilled brokenness within us. This is a version of Christian theology that I’m not familiar with.
Secondly, I know that it is unfortunately true that some people are bludgeoned so much by the doctrine of sin that it can border on abuse. I’ve witnessed this with my own eyes. But surely this is a gross distortion of the gospel. But because of these regrettable examples, should we regard the simple teaching that evil exists as abusive? Is it abusive to learn that evil exists not just “out there” but also “in here” – in the cozy confines of every human heart? To go back to Pascal, I can’t make any sense of human history or the human condition without some sort of doctrine of brokenness or evil. I’d be interested to hear from an atheist who argues that evil as a moral category doesn’t actually exist. Such an argument, if made at all, would almost certainly be an exercise in silliness.
One of my jobs as a parent is to explain to my children the ways and the reasons the world is as it is. I agree with my friend that stealing childhood from my children by exposing them to the wider world of shamelessness and evil too early would be emotionally destructive and maybe even abusive. (Parents, let your children have childlike worries without imposing on them all of the worries of adulthood! Your 7-year-old doesn’t need to know what you think about Trump.) However, I do not agree with him that simply talking about the realities of sin and brokenness is abusive. How is a child to make sense of this world and make sense of their own lives in it without a framework that acknowledges that evil and sin pervasively exist?
In fact, I’ll go further. Teaching a child about the realities of sin will actually make her wiser and more empathetic because when she encounters brokenness in others she will be able to recognize its presence in herself as well.
Is there any such thing as objective “good?”
Thomas and I have been having a version of this debate for some time. He is a collectivist in regards to morality and does not believe in a socially independent definition of good. (He also insists on calling me an academic because he knows it irritates me.) I suppose he’s right – that I was assuming a common definition for “good” in my previous post. But some assumptions are made because…well…they’re right. But seriously, it is a good question which demands more of a response that I’m planning on addressing in a future post – probably as a way to avoid grading papers.
But he does accuse me of preaching to the choir in his tweet. To which I respond, what’s wrong with that? Sometimes choirs need preaching to. I think that it is critical that Christians understand the nature of the gospel they proclaim. There is no way to be made right – individually or corporately – independent of Jesus. I would also say this: simply because a message might be “preaching to the choir” (or in other words, it is a message that simply confirms the previous expectations or beliefs of the faithful) does not mean that it is false or without relevance to the unconvinced. Reminding a child who has burned his hand on a stove that stoves can burn children’s hands doesn’t make the information untrue to a child who has never burned his hand.
All I set out to say in the previous post was that evil exists in the world and in ourselves. There is nothing that we can do to bring an ultimate resolution or healing to the objective brokenness witnessed all around us. We try and try. We sometimes may get close, but we will always fail to bring about the healing we desire because we are a part of the problem. I’m still waiting for an unbeliever to point out what is wrong with this assertion. One skeptic on Facebook suggested that most skeptics don’t care about ultimate goodness. Instead, we should just be satisfied with approximate goodness. It’s not a bad suggestion as a solution to the problem. Let’s just do whatever work we can knowing that we will eventually fall short. But this is an admission that I’m right. We can’t be finally good without God. We can only try to do good things without God. And that might have its own problems and pitfalls which I’ll have to address in some other post.