In our fast paced electronic world today who has time for books anymore? Even if we had the time why should we spend it reading a book? After all, anything we want to know we can Google and have our answer in an instant. What possible reason, then, could compel the modern man to stop, sit down and read a book from cover to cover? Honestly it is a difficult and daunting task to try and convince a person of today to give reading a book a try. If they want entertainment they have movies, television and an iPod/iPhone for that. If they want to know something they do not already know then there is Google and Wikipedia for that. It seems then that books have outlasted their purposes and are antiquated mediums for things we can now access so much more expediently.
One of the greatest difficulties of convincing such a person that they ought to read books is that they wouldn’t read an argument for doing so. If they started to read an essay like this one they probably would have stopped at the end of the first paragraph and said “exactly.” But for those who would continue reading I am probably preaching to the choir by now. Even so, let us discuss the matter of why people ought to read books, lots of them, and good ones. After all someone might read on by the grace of God and those of us who are already convinced can at least sharpen our thoughts on the matter and then make a Youtube video to try and convince the others.
One of the best reasons for becoming bookish, that is, for becoming a person who surrounds themselves with good books and actually reads them, is because books communicate both entertainment and knowledge in ways those other mediums cannot. Consider, for instance, how the mind interacts with the written word in a story as opposed to how it engages a movie. Had you never seen the movie adaptation of Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, but only read the book, what might Orcs have looked like in your mind? Consider further if you had read it for the first time when you were twelve years old rather than thirty years old? Do you think that the way your mind would have imagined Orcs would be the same when you were twelve as opposed to thirty? Likely not.
One of the important differences between story in books versus story in film is that it is the mind of the person reading a book who sets the limits on mental images and conception of characters and events. Certainly words can paint a gruesome picture at times but, generally speaking, our minds can limit a character in our imagination to what we can handle. So a twelve year old conception of an Orc is not nearly so gruesome and horrifying as what a thirty year old might conceive of. Yet when we experience an Orc in the movie version of The Lord of the Rings one’s mind is filled (indeed forced) by someone else’s depiction and whether you are ready for it or not, there it is. In this way the visual arts and film are more violent towards the mind because they force upon us at once images that can never be unseen whereas books allow our own experiences to shape how we see an perceive characters and events. While other reasons could be given for seeking our entertainment from books rather than movies or television the freedom of mind, and in some cases the security of it, is a good reason. Movies imagine for you and they tell the audience what they must see and therefore both limit the imagination of some or hoist upon the minds of other something they weren’t ready for. Books allow the audience to see any number of realities as the story churns on but movies paint one blunt picture without any give.
How about when it comes to gaining information? Why are books more valuable than our instant resources like Google or Wikipedia? One of the primary reasons they are better is because they give us rooted information rather than disconnected information. By rooted I mean information that is fixed within a context to help gain a more meaningful understanding. What is better, I ask, to learn a word by looking it up in a dictionary or to learn it by reading it being used in context? How much more likely are you to understand the nuances of that word and how it relates to the real world if you discover it in conversation rather than on the word of the day calendar? This is not only the case with vocabulary but when you read books you learn about people, cultures, eras, philosophies and more and you experience them as living and breathing things rather than cold isolated factoids. Information is meant to be learned and experiences in context because we are not trivia machines that are meant to learn answers to questions but then not really understand our own answers.
These are but a couple of simple reasons to become bookish and a great many more could be given. Most of those reasons come back to the same basic idea, however, that books engage the mind in a way no other medium does and they provide a taylored experience to each person. As Schall has said “The same book can move another’s will and understanding differently than it does our own. We ourselves are receptive to different books at different times in our lives. It is quite possible for one to get nothing out of reading a book, whereas someone else, reading the same book, goes out and changes the world.”
I have come across some who have argued that C. S. Lewis was a Universalist and is therefore now in Hell. I have a problem with this for two reasons. The first problem I have with this is that it is simply factually false because C. S. Lewis was most definitely not a Universalist as I will demonstrate momentarily. The other problem I have is with the logic that someone is in Hell solely for the reason that they hold to a false doctrine like Universalism.As to the first point, the claim that C. S. Lewis is a Universalist, this is demonstrably false without a lot of effort. There are two sources commonly used to argue that Lewis was a Universalist. The first is from a letter he wrote where he stated "I think that every prayer which is sincerely made even to a false god or to a very imperfectly conceived true God, is accepted by the true God and that Christ saves many who do not think they know Him." (Letters of C. S. Lewis, pg 428) The other reference that people usually draw from comes out of The Last Battle which is the final installment of The Chronicles of Narnia. In that story there is a character named Emeth who finds himself in "Aslan's country" (tantamount to heaven). He himself finds this peculiar having served the false god "Tash" and now realizing that Aslan is the true God and creator of Narnia whom he should have served.
The controversial statement comes when Emeth recounts his conversation with Aslan. Emeth is sure Aslan will kill him because he was a servant of Tash but instead Aslan comforts him and says "Child, all the service thou hast done to Tash, I account a service done to me." Emeth recounts more of their interaction saying "Yet I have been seeking Tash all my days. Beloved, said the Glorious One, unless thy desire had been for me thou wouldst not have sought so long and so truly. For all find what they truly seek."* Lewis' point is clear that Emeth was seeking after the true God but only knew of Tash. Essentially, one might say, Emeth responded faithfully to the revelation he had and was truly seeking to serve God but was simply ignorant of Aslan.Now I will readily agree that I think Lewis expresses an errant view of salvation here. I have elsewhere argued that salvation must come through a conscious expression of faith in Jesus and therefore it is not possible for someone to be saved like Emeth was in The Last Battle. I would argue that anyone who is seeking God is doing so because God first sought them (John 6:37; 44) and that whoever seeks will find Christ in this life not the life hereafter. So don't get any idea that I am agreeing with the soteriology (view of salvation) that Lewis is expressing here. I think it is misguided.That said it needs to be dealt with honestly for what it is and what it is is not Universalism. The theology expressed by Lewis both in the letter referenced above and here in The Last Battle is better labeled Inclusivim rather than Universlism. Universalism is the idea that all people will be saved no matter what they believe (Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, even Atheist). All people are loved by God and therefore will be saved by God no matter what. The “Christian” version of Universalism says that Jesus has died for the sins of the whole world and therefore no one will be lost and his atonement covers everyone no matter what they believe. A less specific kind of Universalism simply says all roads lead to heaven and there is no distinction.
Inclusivism is the idea that people will be saved by Jesus if, and only if, they respond appropriately to the light they have. This view does not believe all people will be saved but only those who truly seek God. If Muslims are seeking God and serve Allah because it’s all they know, if they are sincere, they will be saved. But their salvation is not from Allah, it is from Jesus who counted their service to Allah as service to him because they sought the true God and simply did not know who he was. Sound familiar?
It’s important that we note that Lewis’ version of Inclusivism is “soft” in that it appears that salvation in this way is rare and not widespread. Most of the people who served Tash in The Last Battle do not, by any means, enter Aslan’s Country. In fact a great many people disappear into the darkness rather than entering into Aslan’s Country as Narnia is brought to an end. Only those who looked upon Aslan with love entered the door while others were separated into the darkness. So it is clear from both the Chronicles of Narnia, as well as The Great Divorce that Lewis does not shy away from the reality that there are many who will spend their eternity away from the presence of the Lord and, such being the case, one cannot fairly call Lewis a Universalist. You can call him a sort of soft Inclusivist and you can disagree (as I think you should) with that idea, but let’s be fair and label him properly.
So what about the idea that Lewis himself is in Hell? Well I think it’s fair to say that Lewis was wrong on this point and that Emeth would actually not have entered Aslan’s country, I think the idea that Lewis is in Hell for bad theology is reprehensible. There are two defining questions as it relates to the salvation of us all and they are “Who is God?” and “What is the Gospel?” Admittedly I would say Inclusivism entails a misunderstanding of the gospel to some degree but I am not convinced it is a damnable one. It wrongly expresses hope for people who have not bowed their knee to Jesus as Lord (and by name) but it does not negate the fact that the one who holds this view is himself consciously expressing faith in Jesus as the Savior.
I am thankful to God that our salvation is not dependent upon perfect theology. Were that so, even as it relates to questions of soteriology, many more people who love Jesus would be lost. If we had to have perfect theology to be saved no one would be. Imagine if our salvation were depended upon a right view of the extent of the atonement (then only Calvinists would be saved!). That’s a bit of a joke, but, seriously, there are many Bible believing Christians who love Jesus and trust fully in him and have differing views on second order issues about the way salvation works or how it is applied. But a wrong view about how God applies salvation is not necessarily damnable if the person with the wrong view himself trusts fully in Jesus for salvation.
So if C. S. Lewis is in Hell it is not because he is a Universalist (because he was not). If C. S. Lewis is in Hell it is not because he was an Inclusivist (even though he was to some extent). If C. S. Lewis is in Hell it is not because he had imperfect theology (we all do). If C. S. Lewis is in Hell it is because he did not trust in Jesus and Jesus alone to save him from his sins. While I disagree with Lewis on a good number of things I also have been edified by his work in a way that is beyond my ability to express fully. His salvation is between him and the Lord but I would be surprised to find out that someone who has helped me so much in growing in my faith in Christ and in defending the faith was not in Heaven with the Lord. One day we will all know for sure.
*The interaction between Emeth and Aslan is all in Chapter 15 of The Last Battle. I did not bother with page numbers because there are so many different editions.
In my last post I dealt with the foolishness of atheists who say “there is no God” but then claim that they don’t have to defend their position since it is a non-belief and you don’t have to defend why you don’t believe in something. If you haven’t read that post you might do that now before reading this one. But if you have I think there is a good follow up discussion we should have about the difference between “Hard Atheism”, “Soft Atheism” and “Agnosticism”.
Hard atheism is really what I had in mind when I wrote my last post. Hard atheism is the proactive, anti-theist, “New Atheism” that we see so much of today. It is an evangelistic kind of atheism that sees religion of any kind as a cancer on society and it thinks its version of “reason” is the chemotherapy. This kind of atheism, which I think is a growing movement, is one that makes a universal negative (i.e. there is no God) into positive truth claim. It affirms the idea that there is no God. When someone says “there is no God” the hard atheist says “amen, that’s true.”
Soft Atheism is the perspective that simply says “I don’t see any reason to believe in God and therefore I don’t.” They don’t make the positive claim “there is no God” they make the softer claim “I don’t personally think there is a God.” This type of atheist is not evangelistic you usually only run into them when you happen to ask them their thoughts, they are not actively recruiting for their team. It’s reasonable to still ask them why they don’t believe in God, but it is not fair to ask them to prove their position because their position is merely that of “unconvinced as it relates to God.”
Agnosticism is the notion of being undecided and uncommitted to a position about God’s existence. This position says “there might be a God, I just don’t know personally.” True agnostics are really not evangelistic at all because they don’t have a position to win anyone to other than uncertainty. It might be fair to ask this person if they would be willing to hear a case for God’s existence but they don’t really have to defend their position because technically they aren't committed to one.
Atheism literally means “without God” or “no God” while Agnosticism means “without knowledge” or “no knowledge.” Something I find interesting is that many atheists today act like hard atheists until you ask them to defend their stated position that “there is no God” and then they pretend to be soft atheists. They make positive claims, they evangelize to their cause trying to get people to affirm the idea that there is no God, they are combative and obnoxious towards theists but as soon as they are pressed they suddenly act as though they are in the camp of soft atheism or agnosticism. This is a dodge to avoid answering for the claims they have made. It is the case, however, that he who makes a claim bears the burden of proof.
I claim there is a God and I have a case for my view on stand by to deliver to those who ask me for a reason why I believe. Those who say they are unconvinced or uncommitted to the idea of God and simply mind their own business don’t have to defend themselves. Those who go on the offensive and proclaim “there is no God” and who badger people of faith and call us nasty names for believing in God...they have to defend their claim. They are not free to be one thing and then run and hide like cowards behind the more reasonable versions of their brethren. But they do it all the time. Do not let them.
*This post was updated at 3:10 pm on 9/11/14.*
Atheists claim that "there is no God" and often enjoy ridiculing theists and saying things like “there is no evidence for God” which is demonstrably false. But the real fun is that when they are pressed to provide evidence for their position they respond by saying things like “I don’t have to provide evidence for my withholding of belief.” Or they say “You can’t prove a universal negative" such as “there is no God.” Here is why both of those statements are foolish.
As to the statement that one does not have to provide evidence for why they don’t believe something I would say there is some general truth to this. Often they retort with things like “Do I also have to provide evidence that there are no unicorns or flying spaghetti monsters?” Statements like this tend to back down many theists because there is some real sense to them generally speaking. I don’t have to provide evidence for the non-existence of things in most cases. If we had to provide evidence for the non existence of everything we don’t believe in then that would be ludicrous and we would not get much else done. So are atheists right that they don’t have to provide evidence for their position that "there is no God"? Are they really free to throw spears at theists all day long without ever defending their own fortress? Hardly.
The major problem with this claim (which sounds so sensible at first) is that it ignores a major factor. That factor is that they are making a truth claim when they say "there is no God" and whoever makes a claim bears the burden of proof. Not only are they making a claim but they are making one that is counter to what the vast majority of people living today and who have lived throughout human history have believed. In other words atheism is actually the extreme minority view that is sitting back taking jabs at the majority and pretending like they have the high ground but that they don’t have to defend their position. Atheism is essentially taking something that 99% of all people who have ever lived have believed to be true and claiming it to be false and then saying they don’t have to provide any reason for their conclusion. You see 99% of the human population throughout history has not believed in unicorns or flying spaghetti monsters, but they have believed in some sort of supernatural being or beings. Furthermore belief in God is not a non-evidenced assumptions but rather something that has been strongly supported through evidence and reason. Christian theism, in particular, has provided a strong case for why we believe in God and why we believe that he is the God who made himself most fully known in the incarnation of Jesus. If tomorrow someone starts proclaiming that there is no gravity (after all you can’t see it) then they have their work cut out for them. They dare not say “I don’t have to provide evidence for my non-belief in gravity” because if they do they will just look foolish. But atheists do this very thing all the time when they say "there is no God."
As to the idea that “you cannot prove a universal negative” let’s kill that real quick. You most certainly can do this. All you have to do to demonstrate that “there is no God” is to show that such a being is logically impossible. If God’s existence is logically impossible then you can prove this particular claim (that there is no God) which is a universal negative. This is indeed what some have tried to do (to their credit since atheists ought to try to prove their position) with the logical problem of evil. Of course the logical problem of evil is almost universally recognized to have been successfully defeated by the Free Will Defense and it does not prove its case. But it is simply not true that you can’t prove a universal negative as a matter of principle. There is at least the potential that you can.
But even if you could not do so in principle then the atheist who says "there is no God" would still have the burden of demonstrating that the probabilities are on the side of atheism. They cannot simply say we don’t have to defend our non belief because when they proclaim "there is no God" they are making a positive claim. If, as an atheist, they wish to tell us we as theists are misguided and that we shouldn't believe in God then the burden is on them to demonstrate why this is so. Give the evidence in favor of God's existence and that the vast majority of the human race both presently and throughout history have believed in God, why should we simply take them at their word that "there is no God"? We shouldn't. They need to make their case.
It is commonly objected when theists present The Moral Argument for God’s Existence that atheists are just as capable of being moral as theists. Of course this retort is a total misunderstanding of the Moral Argument altogether. Note the following argument:
If objective moral values exist then God exists.
Objective moral values exist.
Therefore God exists.
It seems very commonly, despite the fact that the argument says no such thing, that atheists think theists are saying “In order to behave morally one must believe in God.” But look again carefully at the above argument. Does it say that? No. I really have a hard time understanding why so many intelligent atheists seem to miss the point of the argument. I mean I understand if they want to try and reject the argument and attempt to defeat either premise one or two but I don’t understand why they constantly fail to understand the argument itself.
The point of the argument is to say that the only sufficient ground for the existence of objective moral values (that is to say, moral values that are true for all people, places and times) is the existence of God. If God does not exist then there is no sufficient ground for objective moral values and moral values become necessarily subjective (that is to say moral values are reduced to personal or societal opinions and there is no reason for them to be binding on the conscience of anyone).
What this argument is not saying is that you must believe in God for objective moral values to exist. Actually any theist worth his salt would tell you that your belief in God or your belief that there is no God has absolutely no affect whatsoever on the reality of whether or not objective moral values exist. If objective moral values exist the they simply do regardless of what you think or believe about anything. If they don’t exist then they simply don’t regardless of what you think or believe about anything. That objective moral values exist is either true or false just like the claim “God exists” is either true or false, no amount of belief in them or belief against them actually changes anything.
The point is only that if objective moral values do exist then God also exists. They are inseparably tied together. If you concede that objective moral values exist then you are in a corner and have to give in that God necessarily exists as well. The reverse is also true. If you concede that God does not exist then you necessarily concede that objective moral values do not exist either. Simply put, if God exists then rape, murder and theft are objectively morally wrong. If God does not exist then rape, murder and theft are not objectively morally wrong, they are at best distasteful to you and socially taboo.
I think this argument holds and is indeed very strong. But do you see how it is not the case that theists are not saying you have to believe in God to behave morally? You can be a perfectly moral person and an atheist. Your belief that God is not real does not make you immoral (aside from the fact that we as Christians would see your rejection of God as immoral itself). But you can be faithful to your spouse, help old ladies cross streets, give to charity, never lie to anyone, etc., etc., and be an atheist. You can behave morally as an atheist. Clear? I hope so.
We are also not saying that theists behave in a morally superior way. Indeed there have been many immoral theists throughout history and Christians believe all of us are morally impaired and thus need Jesus Christ as our savior. There are theists who have lied, cheated, stolen and killed in cold blood. So this argument is not about theism guaranteeing moral superiority to atheism.
The point is simple and I hope you apprehend it. If objective moral values exist then they do so because God exists as the sufficient ground for them. If God does not exist then there is no sufficient ground for objective moral values and therefore objective moral values do not exist.
But although we are not arguing that belief in God is necessary for moral behavior it is the case that no one is able to behave morally if God does not exist. See the difference? Belief is not necessary, but God himself is. If it is the case that there is no God then it is also the case that you are not capable of being good. This is true for theists and atheists alike because what we believe about God makes no difference. The brute fact is what matters and if God doesn’t exist then calling someone or some act or behavior good or bad loses all objective meaning.
If there is no God then self sacrificing to help the poor or save someone from drowning is not good, it’s just an act that you have emotions about. Raping children is not evil or bad if there is no God, it’s just something you strongly emote against. You can’t be good without God. You can’t be bad without him either. All actions are morally neutral and individuals and societies can merely react to them emotionally but not objectively.
So the questions are simple:
Do objective moral values exist? If your answer is yes then you must confess that God exists.
Does God exist? If your answer is no then you must confess that there are no objective moral values.
Atheists often say “there is no evidence for God’s existence.” I find this an extremely odd thing to say if not altogether dishonest. Is it really the case that there is no evidence supporting the existence of God? Hardly. Someone might more reasonably say “I don’t find the evidence for God very convincing.” That is a completely different discussion and one I’m willing to have but to say that there is no evidence at all is just naive.
The fact is that there is evidence for God. That evidence comes in the form of arguments from the origins of the universe (the cosmological argument) and evidence in from of the appearance of design in the universe and in biological life (the teleological argument) and evidence for God in the existence of objective moral values (the moral argument). One could multiply other lines of evidence for God’s existence such as the argument from desire, the argument from human experience, the argument from reason, the evidence for Jesus' resurrection or even the transcendental argument. There are lots of things that people have pointed to as evidence of God’s existence and many people have found them very persuasive including people like Anthony Flew who was once one of the most prominent atheists of our day.
So why is it that so many atheists insist on saying things like “there is no evidence for God’s existence”? I think it comes down to the fact that they have not seen or experienced him personally and, for them, that is tantamount to there being no evidence. But this is just not a reasonable position to hold. To say that “I haven’t seen him, heard him or touched him so therefore there is no evidence that he exists” is honestly just foolish.
Imagine a person says “I have never met anyone named Brian Hearn, therefore there is no evidence anyone by that name exists.” First of all this is just an obvious non sequitur, but we will just blow by that for now. In response to this you pull up the White Pages on your phone and show that there is a person by that name. But they say “Nope, not good enough.” So you proceed to go with this person to the address listed in the White Pages and you meet Brian Hearn's mother. Brian is away overseas but she assures you he really does exist. Still not good enough. She shows you mail addressed to Brian, a high school yearbook with Brian's picture in it and even Brian's birth certificate. Enough evidence? Nope, your friend still does not believe...in fact he insists he has seen no evidence whatsoever.
No evidence! He has seen where he lived, met someone who knows him personally, seen mail addressed to him, seen a yearbook picture and his birth certificate. No evidence? “Well, I haven’t seen him, heard him or touched him, so there is no evidence” says your friend. At this point, what are you to do but throw up your hands and say “You are just completely unreasonable!”
But this is exactly what many atheists do. Note that I said "many". I dare not place all atheists in the camp of foolishness with those who say “there is no evidence for God whatsoever.” But honestly, my experience is that many of the atheists I meet on the internet (and I rarely meet them anywhere else) are this type of unreasonable person who insist that "there is no evidence". But this is just as foolish as the person saying there is no evidence for Brian Hearn in the story above.
No rational or reasonable person will conclude that "there is no evidence for God" unless they are truly just ignorant of it. They may be convinced that the evidence is insufficient to warrant belief in God. They may think the evidence can be reinterpreted to lead to another conclusion. But the claim that there is no evidence at all is something only a fool would say or someone who is just flat dishonest or so self important that they won’t call it evidence unless they find it personally persuasive. The height of arrogance is to dismiss outright any evidence in support of a proposition that you don’t want to believe. The fact is that there is evidence for God’s existence. Lots of it. Anyone who says otherwise looks foolish and arrogant.
I was talking to an atheist recently who said that most atheists she knew did not want to destroy people’s faith but only the violence done by faith. But I wanted to ask the question “does faith itself really lead people to behave violently?” Atheists often talk about all of the wars caused by religion and people of faith but I don’t think they are free of their own charge about faith leading to violence. The idea that faith is necessarily always religious is demonstrably false.
Faith is essentially synonymous with trust. You can have faith (or trust) in a person or an ideology. It seems hard to accept the notion that faith is somehow itself something that leads to violence. It is not hard, however, to imagine that faith in a person (namely their teaching and leadership) or a certain philosophy, religion or ideology could definitely give way to violent behavior. To deny that someone’s faith in something would ever lead them to violent action would be foolish because it would not take very long to come up with an example of just that.
However I think it bears pointing out that while atheists often claim that the faith that leads to violence is religious in nature this is hardly exclusively the case. No one is denying that religion has fueled violence but then again so have ideologies like Communism which are strictly non-religious. But it is more than fair to say that there are “true believers” in Communism and that their faith in that system of thinking and living has led to the death of millions. So it is not faith itself that leads to violence, it is faith in certain people or ideas that give way to violence. The kind of trust or total buy in that people give to any religious ideal is not any different than what occurred when people bought in, wholesale, to Hitler’s rhetoric.
So then faith itself is not the problem. What honest people ought to admit is that some ideas are more dangerous than others and it does not matter so much whether those ideas are religious or non-religious. There have been many atrocities committed in the name of “God” but there have been many committed in the name of “Man” as well. Trust (or faith) is not inherently dangerous but some ideologies are whether they are religious or not.
So what about Christianity? Is it a dangerous ideology? Some think so and they point to the crusades and Spanish Inquisition for evidence that it is. But anyone who studies not only religion but folk religion can tell you that what a religion actually teaches versus what people come to believe about it or how they behave while identifying themselves with it, is not necessarily the same. There is no doubt that people have identified themselves as Christians and then committed acts of violence that would abhor any moral man. But one can hardly help it if someone says they identify with a religion and then behave the opposite of how that religion instructs them to live.
Did Jesus condone violence in his name?
Matthew 5:38-40 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.”
Matthew 5:43-46 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?”
Matthew 26:52 “Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword.”
I remember when I was much younger I attended the college graduation of a family member. As the dean read the names of the graduates and their majors I remember hearing him say numerous times “in Liberal Arts.” I knew what he meant when he said “Mathematics” and I knew what he meant when he said “History” and other disciplines such as those but I did not know what “Liberal Arts” meant. I asked someone, I don’t remember who, what Liberal Arts meant and I recall getting an answer to the effect of “that is what people get when they don’t know what they want to be.”
For a very long time after that I had adopted that as my own view (do you see how formative a simple conversation can be, for good or ill, in a young boy’s life?). Liberal Arts, or sometimes referred to as “the Humanities” to many people is perceived as little more than taking a bunch of different kinds of classes because you don’t really know what you want to do with your life or who you want to be. It’s no small wonder, really, why people have come to think that because on a practical level it is true in one sense.
The sense in which this is true is that because a Humanities program is intentionally interdisciplinary and many people who don’t have a clue what they want to learn about in college end up graduating with a major in “Liberal Arts” or “Humanities”. Their friend who knew he wanted to be a scientist majored in biology, their other friend who knew she wanted to be a sports therapist pursued Anatomy and physiology, but they did not know what they wanted to do and so they took a class with this friend and that friend and that other friend too. Then came their junior year of college and they had a conversation with their academic adviser who told them “You’re well on your way to a degree in Liberal Arts already and you have take too many different classes now that you will not have any other major unless you want to be a fifth year senior.”
So the poor fool who did not know what he wanted to do and bounced around from class to class sampling all kinds of different disciplines gets stuck with a “useless” degree in the Humanities. He went to college not knowing what he wanted to do and suddenly he is graduating with a degree that says to the whole world that he wandered aimlessly through college. Or, at least, that is how it appears to many. I would say, however, that there remains a possibility that that poor fool ended up with a better education than the math, history, or biology major did. Let me tell you why.
I do not think the above scenario I described is ideal. An accidental Humanities education is not as good as an intentional one. But the reason I argue that it might, even accidentally, be a better education than the others is because of what the Humanities by their very nature are and do. Biology majors produce biologists, Math majors produce Mathematicians but Humanities majors produce humans. The purpose of the Liberal Arts is to train the mind, body and soul towards embracing what it really is to be a human being. Specializations certainly have their place (we need people who really know their stuff in a given discipline) but the Humanities ought to underlie or be the foundation upon which any specialization springs from.
Essentially what the Liberal Arts do is recognize that man is a multifaceted being and that no one subject is sufficient to train all that makes him human. Another way to put it would be to say that no one is only a carpenter or a stock trader or a philosopher or a mathematician, we are all so much more than just that. The truly human man or woman has more to them than to be pigeonholed into a single discipline to the extent that they cannot interact meaningfully with other disciplines. The Humanities tell us that we should not be enslaved to only one area of knowledge or practice but that we should be conversant with other areas of life and disciplines of work and thought no matter what area we personally excel in or earn a living by.
It is the lack of a Humanities education and foundation that allows people like Richard Dawkins, who is an otherwise brilliant guy, to make an argument in The God Delusion such as “Who made God?” and to then think he has profoundly defeated theism. Only a smidgen of good philosophy would have held this brilliant scientist back from uttering such nonsense as that but, let’s face it, he did not know better.
But it is not just poor Richard Dawkins who makes these kind of errors. The same can woefully be said of many seminarians and pastors who know the Bible backwards and forwards but no nothing of biology, philosophy or non-biblical history. The same can be said about the medical practitioner who knows nothing of religion. The same can be said about any number of people in one discipline or another who says “Why do we really need math when we have calculators?” The unfortunate reality of any specialist who was not first grounded in the Liberal Arts is that they too often only see the value of their own discipline and marginalize the value of others. Their ignorance leads to a depreciation of other disciplines and the disproportionate exaltation of their own.
But the truth is that man is a rational, spiritual, biological, social, musical, and entrepreneurial being. We are not any one of those things to the exclusion of the others. To close ourselves off into one corner of human experience is to behave explicitly less human than we are. It is inhumane to be so highly disciplined in one field that we cannot meaningfully interact or appreciate the other “subjects” that are out there. In so doing we guarantee that we will misunderstand and falsely accuse other disciplines of things they do not think or practice and we become snobs of one sort or another and falsely elevate our own discipline to the highest place of glory.
So that poor fool who fumbled around from class to class in college, trying a little of this and that, may just have ended up with a greater understanding of the interconnectedness of the various disciplines than did the person who knew who they wanted to be. That fool might just see right through other people later in life when they make unbalanced statements about the superiority of this or that, or how unnecessary or unimportant other fields of study are. That person might understand why math is more than calculators and men are more than atoms, and why God does not need a maker.
It’s definitely best to approach the humanities intentionally. It’s good to go in knowing that you are learning to be more human and are intentionally seeing how all of human knowledge, practice and experience works together. But even the fool who fumbled into it might end up better off than those who declare a major their freshmen year and never took a class outside of it. So the Liberal Arts are what people get when they don’t know what they want to do? Perhaps so. But the Liberal Arts are for people who want to know who they are.
*The meme I included in this article is funny for more than one reason. One of them might be missed by people in the STEM fields which makes it all the more comical.
As a Christian apologist I am committed to making a case for why people ought to believe Christianity it true. As such I have learned (and continue to learn) to give answer to many objections to the Christians faith and I have learned how to make a very strong positive case for Christianity. I think we can rationally demonstrate that believing in God makes more sense than not, that the Bible has been reliably transmitted throughout the centuries and that the facts it contains have proven themselves reliable and we can make a fantastic evidential case for the resurrection of Jesus. When it comes to demonstrating the truth of the Christian worldview I am convinced we have the goods.
But I have noticed recently an area where I think we as Christians need to do better. A lot better actually. We need to do much better at not only presenting people with what we believe as Christians and why they should believe it too, but also why they should want to believe! Now obviously we can say “You want to believe whatever is true don’t you?” And of course most people will say “Sure I do.” But I think often times part of the reluctance towards accepting Christianity, even after people have been provided with sufficient evidence to believe, is that they see Christianity as boring, restrictive and the end of all fun and joy in life.
To this we need to give as robust of an answer as we do when we present the cosmological argument to an atheist. I am convinced that Christianity is not only true but that it is the worldview that people should adopt if they want the most satisfying and joy filled life this world can offer them (not that it is really a worldly offer, of course). Sometimes people will say things like “Even if Christianity were not true it is still the best way to live.” I think that is essentially true, although I would not advocate following Christianity just because it is pragmatically advantageous. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 15 that if Christ has not been raised we are still dead in our sins and if in him only in this life we have hoped then we are above all men to be pitied. We should not live out a worldview merely for pragmatic reasons. But all of that said, I do believe the approach to life that is laid out in the Bible is the best route to human flourishing. In that sense I would agree that even if it were not true the Christian lifestyle would be the most advantageous.
But the good news is that we do not have to create some sort of dichotomy between what is true and what is the best way to live. But many non-Christians think that they do. Many of them feel like accepting Christianity as true means the death of fun, the death of laughter, the death of sex, the death of every other thing that they enjoy. To them its like offering a million dollars but telling them they can’t spend it on anything they like. The fact is we as Christian case-makers need to do better about painting a picture of what we are offering. We are not only offering them the truth, but we are also offering them an abundant life in Christ filled with joy.
The truth of the matter is that so many of the things that non-Christians enjoy are things that they could enjoy even more as Christians. Work, food, friendships, sex, all of these things and more were created by God and he likes them too. God made those things and more for our pleasure because he loves us. Indeed we do tell non-believers that they must repent of their sin and trust in Jesus, which means stopping the way they are currently living life and starting to live the way the Lord has said to live but that does not mean the death of joy but the enhancement of it.*
Has it ever occurred to you what the world would be like if everyone followed Christ and his teachings? There would be no war, no one would be going hungry, there would be no abusive relationships, broken marriages or kids without moms and dads who love them, people would tell the truth and make honest business deals, etc., etc. The world would be a more enjoyable place to live if we did things God’s way. Let’s take one example to really drive home the point the Christianity provides a better way of living life.
Since sex is always a big issue, and because Christians are often labeled as prudish about sex which communicates the idea that to become a Christian is to stop having sex, let’s address this issue to illustrate the superiority of the Christian worldview. Far from telling people that they can’t have sex anymore if they become a Christian we are telling them that they can have sex better than ever. Here are some of the advantages to Christian sexuality:
1. You have the safety and security of never contracting an STD.
2. You do not have to worry about whether you are “performing” as well as their other partners.
3. You can learn over time how to better please your spouse in sex because you get to practice with the same person all the time.
4. The Bible commands both husbands and wives to meet each others needs and partake in sex regularly (neither husband or wife is to be selfish 1 Cor. 7:1-5).
5. You have the security of pregnancy occurring within a context that is prepared to nurture children. (The line “don’t worry baby, if you get pregnant...I’ll take care of you” is actually true.)
6. The Bible has a whole book (Song of Solomon) dedicated to the joy of sex in marriage and encourages married couples not to be prudish or timid about enjoying each others bodies to the fullest.
7. All of this sexuality is expressed within the confines of a covenant relationship, blessed by God, which promises to last until death. Christians sex never leaves you alone the next morning.
Now I do not know about you, but it sounds to me like the Bible is a big fan of sex and that it offers a plan that makes sense about how to really get the most out of it. Far from offering people truth over and against a satisfying sex life we are offering them truth and an ultimately more satisfying sex life. It’s true that Christianity restricts sex to the marriage relationship but it is this very restriction that turns around and provides the safety and security that all people need to have the best sex possible.
But it’s not just sex that Christianity gets right (that just serves as an obvious example). Christianity provides a plan for enjoying all of life at its best. When we realize that all things that are true sources of delight in this world were made by God and made for our enjoyment then we should realize that God, as the Creator of all good things, knows how we might best enjoy them. Christianity celebrates food and drink too, but it also knows we will be happier and healthier if we enjoy them in moderation (Proverbs 23:20-21). Christianity celebrates friendship but it knows that “bad company corrupts good morals” (1 Cor. 15:33) and so we need to be wise about who we spend time with. Christianity sets forward an admirable work ethic by telling us to work as if unto the Lord himself (Colossians 3:23). Pretty much any issue you can think of the Bible provides a framework for making life decisions that result in our thriving.
The fact of the matter is that people pursue so many things in an attempt to make themselves happy and fulfilled but they often end up destroying their lives in the process because they don’t know how to enjoy those pleasures the way they were designed to be enjoyed. Rather than continuing on that path why not realize that God’s way is actually the best way? If you are not a Christian and you are reading this I want to tell you two things. First, Christianity is really and demonstrably true and we can provide answers to your questions if you need help in coming to rationally affirming the Christian worldview. Second, Christianity provides you with a life of thriving rather than striving. Many of the things which God made for your enjoyment will also destroy you if you do them your way but if you submit to the Creator’s design and do them his way it will lead to incredible satisfaction in this life that you will find nowhere else.
* Make no mistake, I am not saying that Christianity does not demand your very life when you come to Christ. The Bible has lots to say in the fashion of “deny yourself” and “carry your cross.” In some parts of the world becoming a Christian means losing your family, home, job and life. I would not dare make light of that. Certainly the gospel is worth your very life, to be connected in a relationship with the God of the universe is worth any price we could pay and the weight of glory of spending eternity in a perfect world of bliss, free of suffering with our creator outweighs any affliction here. We absolutely ought to believe whatever is true even if that truth is costly. But if you are given the chance to know Christ and actually live out a Christian life I promise you will find it to be the superior way to live.