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What American sitcoms and 18th century French novels have in common: thoughts on Carl Trueman, ‘A Comedy of Moral Errors’ in First Things

http://www.firstthings.com/blogs/firstthoughts/2014/12/a-comedy-of-moral-errors

Gay marriage has not become normalized through the presentation of arguments (though that is not to deny that many of its proponents have made arguments). It has become normalized through the Will and Grace factor: The impact of comfortable, sentimentalized, middle-class sitcoms, soap operas and their like in which no-one is ever seriously hurt, no action ever has wider social ramifications, and niceness triumphs every time.

Comedy of the American sitcom kind has proved the unexpected silver bullet for changing moral perceptions. The genre is well established as a means of projecting the values and aspirations of middle America. Characters are generally harmless and likable, even sympathetic. The villains are not sinister but typically buffoons or idiots, with the result that any opinions they spout lack all plausibility. The good guys and gals are all clean, comfy, witty, and ultimately reasonable—the kind of people who would generally make good neighbors. The very bland predictability of the genre, combines with the subversive morality of the plots to prove a powerful force in reshaping public opinion.

The crux of Trueman’s article is as follows. Philosophically airtight, solid arguments are worth little in the eyes of most people if the object of them is sentimentally or morally unappealing. Hollywood, and ‘Hollywood-ised media’ by extension, is the prime moral influencer of the masses, and the morality it champions is liberal. Its arsenal of artistic weapons is trained, in the case of the American sitcom at least, to bypass the head and go straight for the heart. It does this by representing liberal political perspectives as ‘likeable’ characters or figures, and playing them off against embodiments of ‘traditional’ perspectives dramaticised as ‘unlikeable’ characters or figures – the latter perspectives usually being a product of America’s Christian heritage in one way or another. Christians who hold to things like the conservative Biblical definition of marriage and sexual ethics are at a disadvantage to those who argue for the liberal perspective no matter how sound their arguments are, because most people take their cues from the sources that cast Christianity as the ‘unlikeable’ cause. Those with conservative Biblical views simply do not have a hold on the cultural power house that drives the moral sentiment of the masses, and they do not have anything like it at their disposal to use instead. Moreover, they are the object of that powerhouse’s scorn, which is expressed by repeatedly casting those with ‘traditional’ views as the bigoted old fools and the liberal-minded who oppose them as the young, intelligent, attractive, tidy, upstanding, mild-mannered, sensible individuals. Of course in the American sitcom there are no baddies or villains, just characters that inspire a vague, fuzzy-edged feeling of disgust, dislike, ridicule or patronizing endearment. But the effect is the same. My thought is that on an artistic level, it achieves a similar impression (albeit softer) as the old films did by repeatedly painting villains as semitic figures.

Trueman writes:

Most people gain their understanding of selfhood not from reading Thomas Aquinas but from watching The Bold and the Beautiful and following the antics of the Kardashians. We who advocate for traditional marriage and sexuality are at a huge disadvantage in the public square because we simply do not have the access to the kinds of tools exemplified by Will and Grace and Transparent. As we try to argue for our position, our opponents have simply narrated theirs, identifying their revolutionary positions with the reasonable and the normal by using the most apparently harmless and familiar of cultural idioms.

A further problem that I can see, from the perspective of the art of sitcom-writing itself, is that there are so many of these stories that make liberal perspectives look appealing and conservative Biblical ones look unappealing that what has been created is not just the stories themselves, but unwritten rules formed out of the deep groove of artistic precedent that come to define the genre, determining how these stories should be configured if they are to ‘feel right’ and be thought of as ‘good’ stories. A major reason why so few of these stories are sympathetic to the cause of the conservative Biblicists is because the precedent for the conservative Biblicists to be stereotyped as emotionally unattractive, dim-witted, bigoted, mentally impaired, or ‘old fashioned’ characters is so strong that the unwritten rules of the genre won’t allow them to look like anything else.

This isn’t anything new. In the world of art, the American sitcom, in doing what it does in the way it does it, in spite of being thought of as morally progressive, is not far from the 18th century French ‘sensibilité’ novel as an art from, which also largely viewed itself as progressive in its day. If the unwritten rules of the American sitcom genre are restrictive, then the sensibilité novel subgenre became so conventionalized that it came to be parodied. Both art forms thrive on their appeal to public moral sentiment and they simultaneously strive to shape it by introducing a morally subversive element, which they strive to justify and normalize in subtle ways. The main character of the 18th century sensibilité novel, although implicated in the morally subversive element, is presented as a paragon of desirability, likeableness and good taste (or bienséance, in the French), according to the moral sympathies of the majoritarian viewer/readership culture. The sympathetic presentation of the ‘goodie’ is at the expense of those around them who cannot attain their heights of ‘goodie-ness’; the latter are cast in the role of ‘baddie’. It is important to note however that sensibilité and the American sitcom often shy away from painting outright ‘baddies’ or ‘villains’ unless these are faceless, undeveloped, scapegoated characters, and seem to prefer to point to an institution or to ‘society’ as the culprit (i.e. a constructed perception of the prevailing culture that is hostile towards the ‘goodie’). Nonetheless, characters that are not sympathetic towards the goodie character are always presented as undesirable, and this ‘undesirable character’ slot is filled by the would-be baddie and is manipulated in similar ways. Both kinds of work often provide an intrigue or sub-plot that subtly presents the ‘goodie’ as being treated unfairly by those who do not sympathise with them; the sitcom, relying on humour rather than indignation as the main vehicle of sentiment, tends to cast the non-sympathiser as a stooge. To this effect, plot events are carefully framed, characterization is carefully orchestrated and literary tropes and cultural idioms are deliberately employed in ways that will make the ‘goodie’ cause look supremely tasteful (bienséant), as well as pleasant and likeable. As a result of all of this, the entire work is drowned in such an impression of ‘harmless niceness’ that the morally subversive aspect, constituting perhaps a ‘tragic flaw’ and as the object of the ‘goodie’s’ misfortune at the hands of the undesirable characters, starts to become assimilated into the niceness as ‘excusable’, and then as ‘normal’ by the time of the subgenre’s widespread reception by the viewer/readership culture. Whereas today’s big moral subversion is gay marriage, one big moral subversion of the 18th century French novel was adultery (think Manon Lescaut). Whatever the time-bound specifics, my point is that that kind of art is orchestrated strategically to interact with the public moral tastes in such a way as to shape perceptions without the audience realising that those perceptions are being shaped. And the trajectory of these perceptions, whether the art is contemporary and American or 18th century and French, has never been towards either conservative Biblical principles or the Christian gospel itself; only away from them.

What is the conservative Christian to do about this? Well, not come up with better arguments for their points of view. Sensibilité ancient or modern is not an unstoppable force, but for the past couple of centuries I suspect that it has not been tackled in the right way. This would be understandable: tickling the media receiver’s sensibilities then gently removing the rug of moral reference out from under their feet and replacing it with your agenda while they’re too entertained to notice, is fundamentally manipulative and seems underhand. The logocentric God, the God of light and vision, who reveals himself and his will and gives commandments openly, works by elucidating, instructing, laying bare and making visible: ‘underhand’ and ‘manipulative’ just don’t characterise the way he does things. It’s therefore not inconceivable that many Christians find it hard to know how to respond to these. What many Christians don’t realise is that elaborate philosophical arguments just don’t cut the mustard when trying to engage people on life’s big questions, when they get their definition of what life is all about from the sentimental hi-jinks that television, newspapers the internet, or, indeed, novels, can make them feel. Feeling needs to be met on its own level. What is needed to get the world feeling outside of the cloying liberal straitjacket that cossets and binds mainstream media genres unawares and subtly reinforces the suffocating ideological consensus that reigns over hot potato issues (as well as the gospel itself in many cases), by shutting down rational discussion under the weight of moral sentimental rhetoric, I think, is more art. Now don’t get me wrong. The greatest need of this world is not to affirm that marriage is between one man and one woman till death doth them part. Nor is it to outlaw and prevent abortion in every country in the world. The greatest need of this world is to be reconciled to God by the blood of Jesus Christ and to start a new life with him. And that is never going to happen unless they hear the Word of God. Art will never be a substitute for that Word and sentiment will never shatter the Logos; the worst sentiment can do is dissimulate it, influence attitudes towards it or distort perceptions of it. But whether conservative Christians are occupied with preaching the gospel or safeguarding the things that God holds dear in the public square, art can lay grounds by which the blinding prejudices and misconceptions of this age can be stripped away and the Word of God can be heard for what it is. What the conservative Christian can do is create stories that their perspective and message can inhabit sympathetically, and hope that these stories will somehow occupy a positive space in the public consciousness that they can use in their interactions with people, so that there can be a cultural point of contact for the Christian to draw on that dissipates their interlocutors’ disgust rather than exacerbating it. As Professor Louis Markos puts it:

We are, in many ways, a civilization adrift on the stormy seas of relativism and existentialism. … Our compass is broken and the stars obliterated, and we are left with nothing to navigate by but a vague faith in the modern triad of progress, consumerism, and egalitarianism. They are not enough. . . . What we need, in short, are stories. (On the Shoulders of Hobbits, 10–11)

I found that in a recent DesiringGod blog post on Tolkein, incidentally. Now I’m not advocating that everyone try to out-Tolkein Tolkein. Tolkein addressed a cultural climate that was different to ours: relativism and existentialism were new, not taken for granted: the existence of stories at all was something to marvel at. But now there are so many stories, so many genres and kinds of story and so many ideological forces that hold monopolies of influence and power over them (and it seems that everyone wants a slice of Middle Earth), that it is important to be mindful of what we’re dealing with as we go about writing stories.

As far as I can see, that can be done in one of three ways. Firstly, you could fight fire with fire, exploit loopholes in what kinds of stories the genre allows and what kinds it doesn’t, and potentially leave yourself open to the wrath of the developers of the genre that you’ve just hijacked, and that of those who approached your work expecting their usual fix of sentiment and sensed that something was ‘off’. Secondly, you could write a story exposing the secular liberal empire for what it is and pass your work off as ‘postmodern’ and ‘a critique of our times’ – although this would require your approach to look secular and liberal at least superficially because if it doesn’t then you will look like that bigoted old fool from the sitcom. Thirdly, you could create a whole new kind of art that can only be described in its own terms. With the latter comes the risk that nobody will like it. But there may be some who do. And with those who do, there is greater protection from sabotage than either of the first two options.

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Questions Around an Article: ‘Let Darwin Teach You’ by Jon Bloom

Bloom, Jon (2014) ‘Let Darwin Teach You’, published on the Desiring God blog on 9th June 2014
http://www.desiringgod.org/blog/posts/let-darwin-teach-you [last accessed 9th June 2014]

The Overview
I can’t decide what I think of Jon Bloom’s article. The central premise of it is that we become what we meditate on, which is one of the main points made in John Piper’s recent book, Seeking Beauty and Saying Beautifully. The article, coming from a site that is effectively John Piper’s ministry platform, probably has as its primary function to disseminate the teaching from John Piper’s new book. If we meditate on glorious things, Bloom writes, we keep our taste for glorious things, whilst if we meditate on lesser things, we may stop being able to appreciate glorious things. Scripturally, this is undergirded by 2 Corinthians 3:18 and not much else – no doubt the rest is in Piper’s book, which is available free of charge on the website in PDF format for those with the time and the will to read it. Bloom presents the testimony of an extract from Charles Darwin’s autobiography as an initial documentary case in point of an individual who lost their sense of wonder by being consumed by their meditations on lesser things – and as a warning to Christians lest they do the same.

The Issue
The mention of a scientific name popularly associated with the New Atheism movement on this conservative evangelical blog likely functions as a controversial ‘hook’ of popular interest, and to read the article with integrity, I feel that one ought not read too deeply into the conclusions made about Darwin. But for the subtler and perhaps controversial conclusions that may indirectly be drawn from Bloom’s assessment of what constitutes ‘lesser things’ – again, conclusions that Bloom might not have intended for people to draw – I’d love to be able to read the article through different eyes. I would love to read it through the eyes of a Christian who is a scientist, a Christian with a strongly analytical or systems-oriented mind, or a Christian who is a data-collecting enthusiast. And, it goes without saying, a Christian who is simultaneously in love with the God of Jesus Christ. And so I’m going to present here the extract of Darwin’s autobiography, with some of the Bloom extracts that allow controversial conclusions to be drawn – whether they are the unhappy consequence of some juxtaposed statements that Bloom didn’t really mean to insinuate, or whether there is something more deliberately meaningful in them. It is not within my power to judge whether Bloom meant these conclusions or not; far be it from me to do so, although I am aware that more politically invested individuals with Postmodernised consciences often do it by default. I am not one of those.

Jon Bloom on Darwin
Jon Bloom presents the following extract from Charles Darwin’s autobiography and then writes some evaluations that I don’t know how some people might take.

Up to the age of 30 or beyond it, poetry of many kinds … gave me great pleasure, and even as a schoolboy I took intense delight in Shakespeare…. Formerly pictures gave me considerable, and music very great, delight. But now for many years I cannot endure to read a line of poetry: I have tried to read Shakespeare, and found it so intolerably dull that it nauseated me. I have also almost lost any taste for pictures or music… I retain some taste for fine scenery, but it does not cause me the exquisite delight which it formerly did… My mind seems to have become a kind of machine for grinding general laws out of large collections of facts, but why this should have caused the atrophy of that part of the brain alone, on which the higher tastes depend, I cannot conceive… The loss of these tastes is a loss of happiness, and may possibly be injurious to the intellect, and more probably to the moral character, by enfeebling the emotional part of our nature.

Bloom’s evaluations of the passage:

All that time abstracting theories from facts so conditioned Darwin’s mind for analysis that he lost his enjoyment of beauty. He lost the forest to the trees. He lost the poetry of life to the dry prose of life data. … A similar atrophy can occur in Christians too. We can all learn from Darwin.

Darwin is a warning to us that if we spend too much time meditating on lesser things, someday we may wake up to find that we have lost our ability to find glorious things delightful or even interesting.

This made me think a lot. From a personal perspective, I certainly know where Bloom is coming from and what he might be warning Christians against. I had a season where I became so obsessed with the details and categories of Reformed theology that at my worst, when I read the Bible, the only thing I would marvel at was how well it fitted into my theological paradigms, when what I needed to do was marvel at our great God in Jesus Christ. That impoverished my spiritual life. The Bible stopped being about Christ for that period, and became about whether my theology was right or not. And what is theology really, but a lens through which we view God, as per R.C. Sproul’s analogy of a car windscreen enabling us to see the view from inside a car? Divorced from its purpose, it is useless in itself. And theologians don’t come much more Reformed than Sproul. When all you see in life and the Bible is more data or evidence to either fit into or contest your own systems and theories, you sort of become the master and determiner of all you perceive. All you then perceive when you look at a thing is either something that is ‘your system/theory’ or ‘not your system/theory’, rather than what it intrinsically is. You don’t see the thing itself any more; all you see is either something you want to see, or something you wish you hadn’t seen. All you have before your eyes is then a potential acquisition for your intellectual empire, rather than a unique thing in its own right with something in it that speaks of God’s glory in manifold, delight-inspiring and richly nuanced ways. I’ve been there, done that and worn the t-shirt, and I don’t want to go back there; it’s like a prison.

Concessions
All that said, maybe I’m just a wide-eyed Romantic at heart and am only seeing this in one of many ways. Maybe what’s spiritually unhealthy for me is healthy for other people, and helps them to bear good fruit and grow in a lively, intimate affection for the Lord and the things of the Lord. The Myers-Briggs personality test decided that I’m an INFP. I take it as a handy descriptive tool, not as a prescriber of my identity. Sit me in a garden and my first inclination would not be to weed it, make daisy chains, test whether my memory of botanical taxonomies is up to scratch and try to mentally classify all of the plants; go looking for berries, eye up the conservatory and make casual plans for my next house extension, or wonder if I ought to be somewhere else doing something more productive and anxiously wave my mobile phone around to try and get some signal. Instead I would probably stay quite still and just marvel delightedly, and wonder – like Jon Bloom – at how sad it is that some people’s greatest delight in observing such a garden lies in the fact that they’re able to reel off all the species names and care instructions, and don’t even look for the Christ-inspired beauty in the flowers themselves. And then perhaps I’d jot down a few lines of poetry or music if some inspiration comes… or an outline for my next blog entry. But some people’s first inclinations would be to do such things, and because such people can be and are children of God in Christ Jesus, then that makes all the difference. We’re a neurologically diverse church. We perceive things, and the importance in things, differently. Jon Bloom and John Piper could just be two of a kind – but then again, that might be a kind that has a greater bent towards spiritual things and wonder-inspiring things than other kinds, and that consequently has a lot to teach these other kinds.

Questions From the Floor
Is Jon Bloom then marginalizing people who don’t share his mindset? Who knows? Is awe-filled wonder at God’s glory in Scripture and things something that different people feel differently, or is the experience much more specific than that, so that it happens that some people are more predisposed to seek it out and thrive on it than others? As a humanities student this article made me wonder what scientists/medics/mathematicians who are Christians – or perhaps just people with fixations on systems and fact-collecting – might think of this article. We don’t all think/feel/perceive in the same way. Are data and theoretical systems really ‘lesser things’ to meditate on than “glimpses of glory in the Bible or in the world”? Are these things even incompatible with each other? Is this article actually saying that people who obsess over systems of knowledge and collections of facts tend to be at a spiritual disadvantage, or am I setting up a bit of a straw man there that needs further qualifying? Is Bloom even saying something more nuanced? Political correctness aside, is the statement that people like Darwin are spiritually disadvantaged by their mindset, actually true in itself?

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Too Scared to Cry: The Church that Forgot How to Lament

Moore, Russell (2014) ‘Too Scared to Cry: Social media outrage and the Gospel’, published on DesiringGod.org on 28th May  2014. http://www.desiringgod.org/blog/posts/too-scared-to-cry-social-media-outrage-and-the-gospel [last accessed 30th May 2014]

I only wish there were a ‘reblog’ button for Moore’s article. The point of it is that we have forgotten how to lament. And I completely agree with it. I see this so often in the world as well as in Christian circles. Instead of being sad, we’ve got to be angry – at people and at God. We’ve got to be angry, and to make accusations and impositions on people and things to change. We shake our fists and our heads, we demand our rights from man and God, to be respected, to be prospered, we call down fire from heaven, and we say ‘How can a loving God have ordained this?’ in disgust and unbelief.

No, no, no. Let us wail and lament and cry and fast and rend our hearts for our pitiful state – our cruel world, our raggedy English church that wallows in the same mire and takes it into its delicate pores. Let’s learn to lament together about this condition, rather than stoking each other’s indignation. Let us share sadness, rather than anger. If we will permit ourselves to be sad, there might be wisdom and insight, and with these, a foundation of repentance for the bearing of more and better fruit. “Bear fruit in keeping with repentance” said Jesus (Matthew 3:8 ESV). Grief, sorrow, wisdom and insight appear to be bosom chums, after all. We would do well to get used to tempering our grief with sorrow, I feel; then we might be able to bear wisdom and insight and use them fruitfully.

For in much wisdom is much grief: and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow.
(Ecclesiastes 1:18 KJV)
The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning; but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.
(Ecclesiastes 7:4 KJV)

Let us crack open the Scriptures, read what God says and promises to peoples who live and behave like our churches, and lament. Never was the Word of God so readily available to our people, and never were our churches so illiterate in it, and never did our churches so blithely disregard it, blaspheme it even – so dare we feel entitled to blessing, prosperity and a bounteous harvest? What impudence, to complain “The Lord hasn’t been speaking to us or pouring his Spirit out on us lately, and there is no increase”, and to feel justified in railing at God for this! For a long time now I have felt that we are dancing on the edge of an iceberg. All around are the symptoms of decay, and God knows what monstrosity lurks beneath. If these signs are all around, then why is it a surprise when ministries and endeavours praised and encouraged by churches at the proposal stage then fail for lack of support when put into practice, or when parochialism, individualism, selfish priorities, lack of diligence, lack of unity, pressure to ‘perform’, the idolatry of leadership and the devaluation of follower-ship and submission to authority, and a crumbling sense of community, push lone wolves into lone ministries that have to scrap with each other for resources in order to survive, because those who could be providing the resources have been driven by those same things to be the bosses of their own ‘lone’ ministries? Are these not just more symptoms of the underlying leprosy? What sort of house is a house struck by a leprous disease, when you need a safe structure in which to dwell and operate that’s not going to disintegrate when you need it to support you? Would you trust the decaying loft beams to hold you up while you try to build a dormer window for your roof extension?

The really sad thing is, I think, that not even the victims of this situation can claim that they do not also contribute to the problem in some way. Individuals make demands on the resources of church communities for their ministries with the intentions of doing good, but it is the church communities that have to suffer the loss of those resources if the individuals do not contribute anything to that church community from which they have taken. The church is already a large and struggling ministry from which many are prepared to take, but to which few are prepared to give in time, money, fellowship or service. Stretching the church’s resources further cannot be a help to that community, if it is already sick and weak. To put it another way, while I am working at Joe Bloggs’ street evangelism project, I am not visiting my widow friend from the 10:45 congregation – if, indeed, I were the rare and sought-after sort of churchgoer who actually visited widows and supported evangelists, as per the Biblical mandate.

Let us not be angry at this, nor let us be shocked. Let us not point fingers, even if we have specific scenarios in mind. Nobody has been wronged who is not in some way guilty, so let us not be furious: there is no-one towards whom we can rightfully direct fury; we’re all stained with the same blot, and our indignity is shared. Rather, this is what happens when you have a diseased condition in the churches and the Christians who inhabit them (and those who don’t). But where fury cannot be justified, let us not grow apathetic like people of the world do. It’s the classic get-out clause, and an excuse to do nothing, when everybody and nobody is to blame. We are not excused, and the disease does not disappear, just because nobody is allowed to rage at anyone or anything. The response I think we need to offer is a lament, and that’s a response that the world at large doesn’t seem to include in its repertoire: it seems to me that when the world goes about the business of getting down to brass tacks, it usually only rages and plots in vain, and anything else is widely considered an admission of defeat. Those moral defeats that it cannot deny: the Holocaust, the Great War – the world laments. But as for us, let us lament those things that the world would conceal: we have already surrendered to the gospel in moral defeat, we have accepted the intrinsic vileness of our condition and do not need to hide or distract ourselves from it by reviling others, and those of us who are wise stake our lives on the cause of God, and nothing can defeat that cause. Let us weep and pray and search our hearts, that they might be set right, and rifle through our practices and our ministries and our subcultures and our churches, each to that which has been put under his own stewardship, with carefully-chosen advisers, to find out where the rot is and to seek to expel it and turn away from it – this is the essence of repentance after all. God heals the broken hearted and binds up their wounds – but I cannot recall where he promises any such thing for people who have allowed themselves to be driven by judgemental, self-exalting and other-abasing anger against people and things and God.

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Cracking the Epicurean Paradox…

…as put to me in the following statement from a Facebook private message:

If God is willing to abolish evil but not able, then he is not omnipotent.
If he is able, but not willing, then he is malevolent.
Is he able and willing? Then where did evil come from?
If he is neither able or willing, then why call him God?

Also, where does God reside if not within nature? If he doesn’t reside in reality, then he doesn’t exist.
Who created God?

Before beginning, I must pause to admire Epicurus’ (and his translator’s) rhetoric, which features in the initial paragraph.  Poetically speaking, it’s a job well done, and must undoubtedly provide much catharsis and pathos for atheists – as well as overwhelm uninformed theists when the sustained, progressive reasoning breaks of into a disorientating accumulation of pithy questions that scale the page faster than they can be intellectually grasped.   The poetic aspect of the text aesthetically and intellectually flatters the cause it supports, as the catchy, lucidly expressed maxim requires minimal  intellectual exertion to merely parrot, and maximal exertion to refute.  The two-way nature of a debate between physical actors conceals the fact that it is not the parroter whom the theist is refuting, but the late Epicurus himself; and that the atheist, safe behind his flat-packed bulwark of borrowed, accessible genius, can pitch his shot in strong whilst scarcely needing to lift a finger, thanks to Epicurus’ talent as an aestheticist.  I wish to make it clear that this is not a poetry competition or a contest in flattery, and that I propose to deconstruct the questions at my own pace and with the level of verbosity that my considerably inferior intellect requires to make itself understood.  I also wish to maintain that the self-evident facts and goings-on of this world are often anything but flattering in the eye of the human beholder, and I see no reason why metaphysical truths should necessarily be flattering either – that is, to people in the eyes of each other, or to God in the eyes of people who unconditionally refuse to worship him.

The accompanying questions and statements in the second paragraph I understand to be personal assertions of the writer of the message and do not appear to be part of the Epicurean question.  Together, they carry an underlying condition that “naturalism” necessarily equates to “reality” and is thus arbitrarily the only worldview of philosophical legitimacy.  This condition presupposes the conclusions about a non-material God that the question supposedly seeks: a non-material God cannot reside in a non-material realm because an alternative definition of “reality” as constituting anything except material “nature” is not negotiable: ergo, “On the condition that nothing that is immaterial can exist, and that God is immaterial, I challenge you to convince me that an immaterial God can exist” .  Unless conceptually freed from this straitjacket of philosophical preconditions, God of course cannot exist.  Nonetheless, the question of whether naturalism is the only possible worldview of philosophical legitimacy – provided that the statements were turned into a question that is falsifiable – would constitute a debate in itself.  I do not have the time or resources to address that debate now, however.  I will draw on this last paragraph in my discussion, but as it is presented as an aside, an “also”, to the Epicurean questions, then the paragraph will not constitute the central object of my argumentation.

As a further preliminary note, regarding Epicurus’ riddle, how one defines ‘evil’ and how one conceives of it is a matter of great importance.  It is evident that people of different societies and cultures have different ideas about what ‘good’ and ‘evil’ are.  This leaves us in a position of relativism whereby there are so many different opinions that a universal definition of good and evil such as the one that Epicurus presupposes cannot exist.  Epicurus was writing before the age when researchers were ethically obliged to take account of their own subjectivity in light of other cultural realities; Epicurus would have us believe that what he thought of as ‘good’ and ‘evil’ was the absolute definition of those terms.

As concerns the debate, I am only interested in defending one God, and that is the God of the Bible, who is Sovereign and Lord over creation and chooses to reveal himself to man through divine inspired writings.  This perception of God is according to Evangelical theology of the Calvinistic school which posits that the Bible is the infallible, inerrant Word of God, according to its own testimony and the conclusions laid down in the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy .  This is the God and the view of God that I am defending.  The God of the Bible is a Sovereign God who does what he wants, applies to himself the descriptors he wishes to apply to himself in the Bible, and defines the descriptors by the acts he chooses to define them by therein also.  By ‘Sovereign’, I mean Lord and King over every aspect of creation.  The following article provides a basis for this definition in layman’s terms: http://www.theopedia.com/Sovereignty_of_God

Epicurus’ society believed in the Ancient Greek gods and they had no authoritative manuscript tradition defining and describing their gods, therefore the definition of the gods in relation to what they conceived of as ‘good’ of ‘evil’ was already fair game – and Epicurus treated it as such.  But standing out from the carnival of relative ideas, the Bible defines good, evil and God in its own terms.  These concepts are not, therefore, fair game when the God of the Bible is the subject of debate.  If God is Sovereign, then the divine status of the Bible as the Word of God serves to transcendentalize its definitions, which God makes transparent or opaque in their interpretation and ordering to whomsoever he chooses.

  • Here are some logical preconditions in addition to Epicurus’ that also must be the case if God is to be Sovereign:

God does not have to be approved of by man for his activities to be transcendentally legitimate.  (Romans 9:18-23)

If a Sovereign God chooses to reveal certain things about himself to man, then this is his bidding.  Man, whose capacities are beneath those of his maker (evidently man is time-bound, culture- bound, subject to material decay , subject to diverging from God in his thinking, and limited in cognitive capacity), is not in a position to accuse God of being wrong (Isaiah 29:15-16).

If God defines himself, good and evil in his own terms, then no human definition can override God’s. (2 Timothy 3:16)

God can do whatever he wants (Psalm 115:3).  This includes withholding knowledge from man, revealing things in ways that some men find confusing, and acting in ways that are incomprehensible to man.

  • Regarding Epicurus’ stipulations about what a God should or shouldn’t do, and taking into account the logical preconditions for a Sovereign God above, we know the following about the God of the Bible:

God is eternal, immortal and invisible and the name he gives himself is “I AM WHO I AM”. (1 Timothy 1:17) (Psalm 90:2) (Exodus 3:14)

God is Spirit and resides in heaven, and is not personally visible in the natural world except through his manifestation in Jesus Christ: (John 4:24), (Psalm 2:4) (John 14:5-11), (Daniel 2:28) (Philippians 2:6-8). There is a spiritual ‘realm’ and heavenly ‘places’ (Ephesians 6:12).

Humanity was created with the purpose of giving God glory.  (Isaiah 43:1) http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/sermons/why-did-god-create-the-world

God has an ulterior plan (which exists for his glory) and does all things to bring about this plan in the time he allots for it to take place. (Ephesians 1:11) (Psalm 75:2)

God is in control of all things, including evil, which he allows to temporarily exist for the sake of ulterior goals, which include the ultimate destruction of evil. (1 Corinthians 5:4-5) (Psalm 94:23) (Mark 3:24)

God allows evil to exist for a reason.  (Psalm 34:21)

http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/ask-pastor-john/why-does-god-allow-satan-to-live

http://www.desiringgod.org/blog/posts/why-not-destroy-the-devil-now

https://littlecloudsong.wordpress.com/2011/12/19/a-kingdom-divided-how-god-used-evil-and-suffering-against-itself/

God’s ultimate plan involves completing the abolition of evil from the world one day.  (Revelation 12:19)

  • Conclusions that may be drawn from these observations:
  1. God alone has the prerogative to define evil.
  2. God is willing to abolish evil.
  3. God is able to abolish evil.
  4. As he is Sovereign, God controls evil and uses it to bring about its own abolition.
  5. As he is Sovereign, God abolishes evil according to his own plan and he fulfils his purposes according to the ways and the timings in which he has chosen to fulfil them.
  6. Evil comes from refusal to cooperate with God.
  7. As he is Sovereign, God has not chosen to reveal to man how or why spiritual and mortal beings have the capacity not to cooperate with him in his created order.
  8. God has chosen to reveal to man that the natural world and “reality” are not synonymous with the exclusion of a spiritual reality.
  9. God is what he calls himself in the Bible, according to the works described in the Bible that testify to the epithets he gives himself.
  10. God is to be called God because God demands it, as Sovereign, for the sake of his glory.
  11. God is eternal.

Not to us, O LORD, not to us,
But to Your name give glory
Because of Your lovingkindness, because of Your truth.

Why should the nations say,
“Where, now, is their God?”

But our God is in the heavens;
He does whatever He pleases.

Psalm 115:1-3

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