Archive for the ‘Old Posts’ Category

My previous post on this issue got a decent amount of feedback, both in the comments and elsewhere. Here is my promised rebuttal to those thoughtful comments, and while I want to address them in particular, I’d like to first take a moment to re-articulate the core of my previous article, before tackling the particular responses.

The reason for this approach is that the majority of feedback I received (certain persons notwithstanding) was largely off-topic from the central issue or addressed what were only peripheral concerns.

What I called the “central issue” of the last article was the idea of sola scriptura. Some people took issue with my definition, so I will expand it.

What I mean by sola scriptura can be boiled down to something like this:

The supremacy of the Bible over and/or against tradition (or any other means) as the primary authority, starting place, or standard for Christian life, morals, beliefs, etc.

As a matter of note, saying something like, “GOD is the primary authority, starting place, etc.,” doesn’t say or add anything to the discussion if reading and using the Bible is your primary way of communicating with/interacting with God. We’d still be talking about the same thing.

Fixing our definition of sola scriptura makes the arguments presented last time stronger and more to the point and makes for a wider target. Now, if sola scriptura is the “central issue,” the underlying issue is the issue of authority. This is the real center of the problem, which I will summarize like this:

There are certain things that are of central importance to the Christian: how we are saved, what is the church, are the sacraments real, how should we specifically live our lives, what it means to be a Christian, etc. These are very important issues. However, the Bible isn’t written as a rulebook or an instruction manual, and because the Bible isn’t crystal clear about these very important things, and because, moreover, no text can interpret itself, the text must be interpreted. If the Bible is the only show in town (because you believe in some version of sola scriptura), then the Christian who takes the Bible in this way is in for a bumpy ride: endless argument and discussion about interpretation leads us to the question of authority: who is the authority on interpretation? And then we’re at a standstill, since the question is actually impossible to answer in the realm of Protestantism. This leads to all the problems we detailed in the previous article.

The critique may be made even shorter by saying this:
At the end of the day, you and the Bible means YOU, because the Bible has got to be interpreted.

Put another way,

Sola scriptura means solus ego.

That is the central problem with Protestantism, and is the cause of all the splits and other consequences we discussed.

Now, our previous responses boiled down into four major categories:

1. The differences between denominations really aren’t that big.

2. Protestantism isn’t perfect, but this is okay (because nothing is perfect and/or we can make it better).

3. Different approaches (other than Protestantism) have their flaws too.

4. The Holy Spirit can do it!

I’ll address these four concerns in turn.

1. The differences between denominations really aren’t that big.

John McCormick writes,

“…there are some divisions within Protestantism, and to be honest the division between the orthodox and Catholics, that are derived more from cultural differences than differences in our understanding of the Bible or our faith in Jesus as the risen lord.”

Yes of course there are cultural divisions all the time, but we’re not talking about cultural divisions, we’re talking about theology. A friend of mine once pointed out that even the time-honored John 3:16 can (and is) read in radically different ways by different Protestant sects. Calvinists (who believe in determinism) would take the word “world” to mean something like “only the elect in Christ.” Arians (followers of Arius) would take “only-begotten” to mean “created.” Arminians would take “whosoever should be belief in him shall not perish” and add “unless he falls away and loses  his salvation.” Certain assent-only Christians (some Baptists or Lutherans) would take “believe in him” to mean intellectual assent, devoid and unrelated to works. The list goes on and on, and they go on and on about things that are utterly central to the faith, vital knowledge to our existence as Christians, and necessary questions that need clear, distinct answers if we are to live fully Christian lives.

James Chasteen writes,

“That is to say, divergent thought is possible while still maintaining saving faith within the individual and theological hegemony within the collective.”

Now, this can be true, but to a degree. Discussion about what order to do Sunday worship, what songs to sing, and any of the peripherals may seem to be fairly inconsequential to most, but that’s not what we’re talking about, as we pointed out. Someone who thinks that God sends people to hell and someone who thinks that heaven and hell are open to any who chose them do not have the same cosmology, do not have the same understanding of salvation, and probably don’t believe in the same sort of God. Lumping a massively large group of people with all manner of radically divergent ideas together because they all read the same text (albeit differently) and then calling them the same thing is a very confusing move, and hard to justify. For a more clear-cut example, Mormons, “Christians,” Muslims, and Jews all affirm the importance of the Old Testament. Are they similar, therefore, in distinct and important ways? Why, yes they are. Are they the same thing? Not even close. Obviously Protestant groups aren’t as radically divergent as the above examples, but when one examines the profound differences in their theology about fundamental, core issues, it becomes very difficult to call them all the same thing.

2. Protestantism isn’t perfect, but nothing is, but that’s okay, and/or it can get better.

John McCormick describes this as an inability to “enforce a consistent hermeneutic,” calls the inability in “developing a coherent system of thought” a “difficulty,” and invites us to developing a “coherent philosophical system” in Protestantism.

The problem with this sort of language is that the problem with Protestantism (the underlying issue of individual authority) can’t be solved by some further movement, some additional voice in the braying multitudes. There are tens of thousands of separate, distinct Protestant denominations, some with more organization, some with none, and any voice that tries to transcend Protestantism in order to rally Protestantism will not be able do that by the nature of the thing. You think that hasn’t been tried before? It’s been tried thousands of times, literally. Attempting it again will only add +1 to that huge 20,000-30,000 number we talked about. That’s all. This is due to no other reason that the issue of authority.

John McCormick writes,

“Why we have lost the public sphere I believe is related to our inability to understand how to engage in the public sphere without the use of force. There are good Protestant and Evangelical thinkers. They are just really bad at communicating to the masses of protestants.”

I’m not sure how that claim can be made, for it’s quite the opposite of the situation! We have some utterly FANTASTIC speakers and communicators in Protestantism, and some singularly brilliant men to boot (William Lane Craig and Alvin Plantinga, to name two). The issue isn’t with the speakers by a longshot. The issue is that each individual Protestant can (and does) hear a fantastically communicated message from a brilliant theologian and then immediately begins thinking to himself whether or not, or to what extent, he agrees with it! The reason this happens is because there is no sense of obedience to authority (and no sense of authority to be obedient to) within Protestantism. Another way of putting this is to say that the true doctrine, if it is true, must be administered to the people and the people must conform to that true doctrine. But here again is the issue of authority: not only is this not really done (as the individual Protestant must decide if he agrees or not) but it actually isn’t possible: if I’m a Protestant, and the leaders of Protestantism all say contradictory things, how am I to choose who to conform to? How do you even begin answering this question, except by beginning a process of “figuring it out for myself”? And then we’re back to where we started: individualized authority. Not only does every Protestant tend to be his own Pope, he has to be!

3. Other solutions to this problem (from Catholics and the Orthodox) have problems of their own (with the hidden assumption that this invalidates their solution).

I’m not going to address the numerous referrals to Orthodoxy and Catholicism which I received on the previous article because they are off topic. As I said before, it is “vitally important to focus on the problems presented, and shouting bravely that Catholicism (or Orthodoxy)  is no alternative will not provide us with a solution to these problems.”

4. The Holy Spirit can solve these problems.

The excellent dissection of this problem done by Jon Bryan may be examined further and in more detail in a later article, but the holes with the solution(s) presented are simple:

  1. Who says that this is the way we should do things and why should we believe his authority? The Bible certainly doesn’t explain how this works in any specific way. Though, in fact, the passages in Acts about Pentecost seem to lean, if they lean anywhere, to a specific group of humans and a specific institution having a special interpretive relationship with the Spirit who is to “guide” them into “all truth” (I’ve never had a tongue of fire on my head, have you?) though that’s not really part of our discussion yet, just food for thought.
  2. No one’s denying that the Holy Spirit giving special insight can’t or doesn’t or won’t happen, only that it doesn’t seem to be the normative (as in “normal”) way things happen; it always shows up as some special exception to the norm. Further, we need something normative to guide us into the truth about these things, and we need to know with definitiveness what that thing is and how it works (see 1).
  3. The fact that people disagree about doctrine with such variety IS in fact an argument against the Holy Spirit working in this particular way. For your description of how this might work provides a compelling possibility, but doesn’t really seem to match up with the world we encounter. If the Holy Spirit were helping us in this way and guiding each individual person, we would expect to be living in a particular world. Let us imagine a world where there exists a hyper-active Holy Spirit (HAHS?) that behaves this way. In this possible world, we’d find a loosely organized (if at all) group of Christians carrying their Bibles around and praying all the time and ending up mystically on the same page as everyone else who did the same, all more or less as one group. In this world it would be the “traditionalists” endlessly splitting and fighting and fragmenting over man-made doctrines. We can surely conceive of this, however, when we look at our world, we don’t see this, instead we see Quite the Contrary: What we see instead are the Bible-only, HAHS-believing, and tradition-hating people endlessly splitting and fighting and fragmenting. Meanwhile, it is the “traditionalists” who have stayed unified in three very old groups (Catholic, Orthodox, and Oriental Orthodox). Each of these three groups is massively older and more similar with one another than with the group of fragmentors and are yearly growing closer in unity rather than further apart (Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox are actively working toward reunification, and there is constant cooperation and respect between Catholics and the Orthodox and moves toward unity and mutual acknowledgement).

That’s all for now, folks. Hopefully that was helpful. We are still waiting on an answer to the central question of Authority. Who says? Why should we listen to them? Why I can’t I do it myself? I Protest!


Read Full Post »

EDIT: I’ve included three more videos at the bottom.

There’s been a lot of chatter about Orthodoxy and Protestantism (and Catholicism, for that matter) in the last month or so, and I am preparing some more posts to help further discussion on the topic of denomination, and to answer many of the questions and concerns that people have posted and written to me about.

As I mentioned perviously, I am looking to do a follow-up post to my controversial Problems with Protestantism post which addresses the concerns many have raised. I’m also looking to do a few posts about Orthodoxy, specifically how Orthodoxy solves (or doesn’t have) the problems I mentioned about Protestantism, what is meant by “sacramental theology,” and a post which I hope to title Reasons to Believe in a Historical Church.

In the meantime, I’d like to offer some very helpful videos on Orthodoxy.

Church History

Part 1:
Part 2:
Part 3:

This video series is a documentary with a very good synopsis of church history, and an overview of the current movement away from Evangelical Protestantism. Just ignore the fairly rabid youtube user who posted this video; the documentary is very level-headed.

Answering Objections

This five-part series is a lecture by Father Anthony, and is wonderfully informative in summing up and answering the most common objections to Orthodoxy that Protestants tend to have.

A couple warnings: first, the sounds quality is not perfectly great. Second, this guy is doing a play on the game show Deal or No Deal, in which someone calls up on a proverbial phone to ask questions. In this case, that person poses as the Protestant interlocutor. BUT I bring this up because when the “phone” rings, it’s really loud and starting, so you have been warned! Other than that this is a wonderful talk, and he presents a number of EXCELLENT points, well worth dwelling on.

Part 1:
Part 2:
Part 3:
Part 4:
Part 5:

Scripture (Alone?)
As for the final video set, ignore the guy’s somewhat untraditional accent. The first two videos are an excellent discusion on the history of the canonization of scripture, while the last is a discussion on the issues with sola scriptura.


Stay tuned! I will have at least one thing up in October about this.

Read Full Post »

So the one and only Alvin Plantinga is speaking this Wednesday and Thursday night at APU, and this will be my first (and perhaps only) opportunity to hear him speak. That said, my (new) usual Thursday night post is probably getting bumped to Friday night, but rest assured, there will be much to say.

For these sorts of “boring” things I usually expect only a certain tiny clique of my fellows to entertain any level of excitement, but as Thursday comes striding towards the present, my roster has filled up with all sorts of other friends, who, though not majors or scholars, nevertheless maintain an honest and healthy interest in edification. The word “Thursday” keeps getting tossed around from person to person, with definitive nods or sparkling eyes. Vehicle seating capacity may actually become an issue. This is, I suppose, of one of those good problems to have.

See you Friday!

Read Full Post »

Just Reprocessed Emerson

There’s a lot I’ve been thinking about and working on while I’ve neglected this blog, including three entries, all about “serious” issues (more Dawkins, gay marriage in the US, and theology, probably) but I’ve also been thinking (as I grow uncomfortably more aware of my impending graduation from college) about more practical things, I guess you could call them. Something along these lines came to me, clunky words, perhaps, that have been said before. I think I wonder, in vain, if reiterating words will make them more potent, but I guess the more ways something gets said, the more possibilities there are for more and different kinds of people to key in.


After a great deal of different kinds of writing, I found that I’ve penned my best words when I wasn’t trying to write particularly well, but instead, just writing what I was honestly thinking, the words that were in my mind, lingering on the tip of my tongue. Writing freely into my journals, with no editors, no readers, I found the most honest words I had ever written, and in that, some of the most powerful. Reflecting on it, it may come as some surprise to us who grew up surrounded by quotes and sayings that those men and women of powerful prose were people writing not for the sake of writing, writing not to “look smart”, living life with no thought to its being scrutinized, but simply and honestly, recording the deep and unshakeable convictions which came, unavoidably, over the horizons of their minds.

If I had to guess, I would say that something about our generation, about this whole age, is one that is overly self-reflective. We learn, from studying and objectifying the successes of those who came before us historically, that we are studied and objectified, that because we will be scrutinized we must live our lives accordingly, and so we reach for success like a wooing girl, who flaunts and poses her beauty because someone is watching, and she knows this, but pretends she does not. It is all a lie, of course; she wants to pretend to be caught alone, in a moment of fake honestly, so that her admirer will see her “as she is.” But the admirer does not see the real her; only the pretend girl, and in that sense, sees only her pretend beauty. She is like quantum trickery, shifting and changing because she knows we are watching. We are like that, as a generation: we are always trying, acting, pretending, putting on the airs and appearances of, but our insides never show, our authentic selves so rarely come out to grace the world with the beauty of a true thing, a thing as it really is. We have become so caught up in the science of making that we are never doing. We are forever attempting success, trying to achieve the things that life has to offer us because of the expectations around us, because we want to be caught in the eyes of another and seen as something, some persona, some outer mask with which we can be associated. We try for things, and wonder why don’t achieve them. Try and catch all the water, and it will only slip through your fingers. But let it go, and you have the whole of it as your swimming pool.

How many times has a teacher or parent echoed dimly, “just be yourself”? So often that it has begun to ring hollow and ragged. Yes, that IS the immortal secret: do all that is written on your heart to do and you will achieve greatness, “speak your latent conviction and it shall be the universe sense.” But like everything in this age, we have but a part of the secret: we have information, but no wisdom; we have concepts, but no understanding; we have knowledge, but no conviction. “Be yourself,” they say, and not a word follows afterwords about how to do this, or even to explain what yourself is, or why such a thing is desirable in the first place.

It came to me when I was reading the introduction to the Complete Sherlock Holmes. Christopher Morley wrote of the series’ magnificent author, “What other man led a fuller and heartier and more masculine life? Doctor, whaler, athlete, writer, speculator, dramatist, historian, war correspondent, spiritualist…big in every way, his virtues had always something of the fresh vigor of the amateur, keen, open-minded, flexible, imaginative…that brave and energetic lover of life.” That last part stuck with me, that brave and energetic lover of life. Suddenly there was conjured into my mind not a man who sat and fretted and fussed about what he would do, and how, and why; not a man looking at himself, but a man looking at the world, and seeing in it all the delights of his heart, took no look at himself to judge his ability or worthiness, but simply went off and did, spurred by nothing but his great enthusiasm, forgetting himself (I imagine) altogether in the living of his life rather than the waking analysis upon it.

So take the things that rest powerfully upon your heart and go forth and do them, achieve them, make them, grow, design, build, learn, write, teach, found. Do it, do it now; don’t think of what others will think, even though we do, we do always, but forget those others, and forget yourself; do not dwell on selves; and do not dwell on failure. You will meet it soon enough! We all stumble and fall, sometimes we fall in great pits in the ground and it takes many years to climb out, but there are so many more years. Failure is inevitable, so it is not something we should spend much time thinking about beforehand. Perseverance, however, is not, and so we must foster such a virtue endlessly; little else will serve us so well and for so long.

This is the question that should now be dwelling in your mind: what is it that is in your heart to do? Reach for it; it waits for you.

Read Full Post »

Huge apologies to my readers, who badger me constantly, and rightly, about the lack of posting in the last few months. As I say every time I update, a lot has been going on with me (things have been pretty tough lately) and though I have a great deal of good things half-written to put up here, I am reduced to copy-pasting my papers in the hopes that they will satisfy  you until I can get something up proper.

Here’s my latest on Sickness Unto Death. It was, actually, sub-par in my opinion because I was forced to go into the essay without a good grasp of Kierkegaard’s conception of the self and I wonder if the paper suffered because of it. The conclusion is something I felt needed another essay on its own, but the Professor wanted mostly summary.

Hope you enjoy.

Sin is the Sickness Unto Death

The inability for human beings to be happy, though they all seem to be trying to achieve that end, is something worth noting, and the great Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard made clear and distinct note of it. He found that the misery in mankind, this inability to “be happy,” stems ultimately from a fundamental despair inherent to the very nature of humanity, something from which there is no escape. And further, that it is precisely the awareness of this problem and the solution to it which Christianity attempts to provide.

We must begin first with the self, as a robust understanding of what the self is and what that means will be fundamental in explaining and demonstrating the universality of despair. The problem begins with the very nature of humanity, which is itself in conflict. “A human being”, Kierkegaard writes, “is a synthesis of the infinite and the finite, of the temporal and the eternal, of freedom and necessity, in short, a synthesis.”[1] This synthesis arises out of the separate parts of these dualities, and it is these dualities which result in a kind of self-referentialism out of which the Self arises. “The self is a relation that relates itself to itself,” — that is, it is this dialectical tension, the two selves relating to one another — “[…] the self is not the relation but is the relation’s relating itself to itself”[2] – that is, the self arises out of a self-referentialism. Now, with this formulation in mind, that man is a dialectical synthesis, that the self is itself a conflict, we can move into a proper treatment of despair.

Despair arises out of this problem, of this dialectical tension within the very self that makes up the man. The problem lies in the nature of man, and so man despairs of himself. “To despair over oneself, in despair to will to be rid of oneself – this is the formula for all despair.”[3] This is what despair essentially is, and Kierkegaard makes a point to distinguish it from what might be called “depression” as a disease, as something that happens to a person, rather than something which that person is. “[It is not] something that happens to a man, something he suffers, like a disease to which he succumbs, or like death, which is everyone’s fate. No, no, despairing lies in man himself. If he were not a synthesis, he could not despair at all.”[4] Again, the problem lies in what man himself is, and so the solution is to try and escape oneself. But man cannot escape himself, and so is miserable either way. If he wills to be something other than himself, he will despair that he is not that thing which is not himself. But if he reflects on himself, he despairs of himself for being himself! Thus all people are in despair, regardless of what form this despair takes, for man cannot escape despair any more than he can escape himself.

One may object, however, that this is a morbid view of humanity: that all men are not in despair, for we all know many happy, consistent people who enjoy themselves and others, and it would look very much like their natural state would be to be free of despair until some misfortune befell them, and they were mired in despair for some short amount of time until they overcame it, and then proceeded to return to a state free of despair and pursue their normal lives. Kierkegaard says that these people are nevertheless in despair themselves. “Not being in despair, not being conscious of being in despair, is precisely a form of despair.”[5] These people, for whatever else they may do or enjoy, have willed to be something other than themselves because they have not acknowledged the problem of human synthesis, the dialectical tension; just because they may or may not be aware of the fact that they are in despair does not change the fact that they are in despair. This misconception is especially easy to come by, because people who are in this sort of despair (what Kierkegaard call’s “finitude’s despair”[6]) can “very well live on in temporality, indeed, actually all the better, can appear to be a man, be publicly acclaimed, honored, and esteemed [and] be absorbed in all the temporal goals”[7] for the materialism of the world does not make real selfhood a prerequisite for success. “They can use their capacities, amass money, carry on secular enterprises, calculate shrewdly […] perhaps make a name in history,” but, Kierkegaard concludes, “themselves they are not; spiritually speaking, they have no self, no self for whose sake they could venture everything […] however self-seeking they are otherwise.”[8] Precisely because this sort of despair “makes life cozy and comfortable” it is “in no way, of course, regarded as despair”[9] by the world. Playing the world’s game, then, does not solve the problem of the self, and in so far as it seeks to remove one from one’s self, the self remains in despair. Just because it has “mortgaged itself to the world” changes nothing, and it the self may be further from selfhood than before, because, as we said, man cannot escape from himself, but neither has he yet accomplished the task of becoming a self. Despair is never-ending, and “the reason for this is that to despair is a qualification of spirit and relates to the eternal in man. But he cannot rid himself of the eternal – no, never in all eternity. He cannot throw it away once and for all, nothing is more impossible; ”[10]

As it should be clear by now, the self, in trying to escape itself, fails, and therefore, the self does not have the power to free itself from despair. “In spite of all his despair, however, he cannot manage to [free himself]; in spite of all his despairing efforts, that power is the stronger and forces him to be the self he does not want to be.”[11]

The only way to escape despair is to will to be oneself. “The formula that describes the state of the self when despair is completely rooted out is this: in relating itself to itself and in willing to be itself, the self rests transparently in the power that established it.”[12] The reason the self must, in addition to willing to be itself, rest transparently in the power that established, is because “itself” as it is in actuality is a created self, something that “has been established by another”[13], so in willing to be oneself, one must be willing to embrace all aspects of itself, primarily, that it was established by something other than itself. Indeed, this is where the synthesis reaches its most important point, as man’s dual finitude and infinitude are reconciled in God, we can now replace the word “sin” with “despair” and look at the Christian reconciliation through a much clearer lens. Any ideas of “innate” or “original” sin simply refer to the paradoxical state of humanity which by definition is in conflict (in “sin”) and requires reconciliation to the power that established it (“God”) in order to be free of despair (again, “sin”).

The conception of Hell, then, arises as the only alternative for the self, should it choose not to will to become itself. If the self does not freely will to be itself –and therefore to rest transparently in the power that established it– it will go on being in despair, and because the self is spirit and cannot die, then there will never be an end to its suffering. “This […] is precisely the torment, is precisely what keeps the gnawing alive and keeps life in the gnawing, for it is precisely over this that he despairs (not as having despaired): that he cannot consume himself, cannot get rid of himself, cannot reduce himself to nothing.”[14] and because of that, if he does not will to be himself, he will be in torment forever. This is the meaning of the eternal suffering of Hell; not as a place to which people are sent by an angry God, but as a state in which the despairing refuse to be themselves and can never die in their infinite misery.

With Kierkegaard and a correct conception of despair in mind, Christianity takes on a new and clearer meaning: moving beyond the dogma of “us-and-them” lines of argument, away from the persecution of the secular by the religious, indeed, away from the distinction all-together, and into a clear conception of the problem of human angst and misery, and the potential for freedom from sin and despair alike.

Works Cited

Kierkegaard, Søren. Basic Writings of Existentialism, ed. Gordon Marino (New York: Random House Inc., 2004)

[1] Kierkegaard, Søren, Basic Writings of Existentialism, ed. Gordon Marino (New York: Random House Inc., 2004), p. 41

[2] Ibid., 42

[3] Ibid., 49

[4] Ibid., 44

[5] Kierkegaard, Søren, Basic Writings of Existentialism, ed. Gordon Marino (New York: Random House Inc., 2004), p. 52

[6] Ibid., 52

[7] Ibid., 64

[8] Ibid., 65

[9] Ibid., 64

[10] Ibid., 45

[11] Ibid., 49

[12] Ibid., 52

[13] Ibid., 42

[14] Kierkegaard, Søren, Basic Writings of Existentialism, ed. Gordon Marino (New York: Random House Inc., 2004), p. 47

Read Full Post »

Welcome back, you few and faithful.

Let me start by conjuring up a scenario we have all run into. You do a search, or stumble upon some sort of interesting blog. It’s a blog of promise and zeal, and probably has one or two interesting entries in it. Then, as you pick around, you notice that there aren’t that many entries after all, and this is somewhat disappointing. You rationalize to yourself, thinking that it might just be a new blog, but then you check the date and its from 2003 or something, and it’s just been sitting there on the internet, collecting cyber-dust because someone got excited about writing a blog, but never kept it up.

Most blogs die like this, not with a bang nor a whisper, but by abandonment, without even the decency to board up the windows; people just forget, their interest peters out, and they move on to other things.

I had always prided myself in my commitment to updates, and though they didn’t always come regularly, there was always a post, here and there, to remind my wonderful readership that I was still alive.

And so I am; the three couple months scared me and I thought I too was giving up on my own blog, but I’m back now and I’m sorry to have kept everyone waiting for so long. To have people stop me in my day-to-day and ask about Truth is a Snare made me realize that this wasn’t something I should give up on, no matter how bad I felt.

The truth is, after maintaining this blog for over two years, I was burnt out. Intellectually, I encountered some difficulties; the last semester at the new school was extremely rough, and all manner of problems seemed to come out of the woodwork for a joint assault. But I am alive, and that’s more than I can ask for.

Two years! That’s a long time. I rarely see casual blogs get maintained with any level of dedication. I guess I should have some sort of Anniversary post, but that can be saved for next week.

This year I want to start addressing some of the huge problems and considerations that I have been in almost constant thought about for the time that I was not updating; they have been stewing inside of me for a long while, and I think I have them outlined with some sort of coherency. I have, among other things, cultural considerations, primarily about our culture as a mediocracy, issues with the modern movement in intellectual and artistic realms towards the rejection of truth, a treatise on Being (hurray!), a treatise on the Soul, a fleshed-out summary of how Magic: the Gathering works as philosophy, and a return to the inauthentic pseudo-intellectual who haunts and hounds the authentic man.

But first things are first. Next week I will FINALLY wrap up the whole Dawkins fiasco, and this week I will post up my Ethics final paper on Nietzsche, which several people asked about.

My preface for this paper is that I was braindead, and it took me a whopping NINE hours to write, during which I barely met the minimum page requirements. I don’t think I have to say that this was overwhelmingly uncharacteristic of me, but considering it was the very last thing I did finals week, I may be excused on account of the low sleep and food intake.

Please enjoy.


Zachary Porcu

Craig A Boyd


Nietzsche’s Ethics, a Critique

It may be that we have a well-educated society, here in America, or elsewhere in the so-called western world, but the study of philosophy and the geneology of ideas as they grow and evolve from century to century is something that remains, for the large part, inaccessible to the modern citizen. We have what may be called a trickle-down understanding of philosophy, where superficial readings of great works and writings glean off only the most explicit concepts and pass them among the populace, and thence, wrenched from their context, to be confused and misquoted for generations. Nietzsche is one such thinker, and it is precisely this uncritical approach that has allowed his ethical philosophies to become so romanticized by a new generation of skeptics, and to give birth to an equally uncritical kind of normative secular ethics. Indeed, once one takes a critical look at these ideas, presented primarily in such works as Beyond Good and Evil and The Geneology of Morals, one cannot help but see the problems that arise, and all talk of a normative ethics as espoused by Nietzsche becomes meaningless in his own terms.

We must first begin with Nietzsche’s formulation of the age-old labels “good” and “evil,” the way in which he formulates his new definitions being typical of his very un-typical approach to philosophy. Most of us take the terms “good” and “evil” with a host of assumed meanings and definitions, and most of us assume that the two have pretty much always existed. Nietzsche disregards this conception of morality, including also the utilitarian idea at the time, of “good” as the most benefit for the most individuals. Nietzsche asserts that “goodness” did not arise from those to whom good was practiced towards, but rather “it was ‘the good’ themselves, that is to say, the noble, powerful, high-stationed and high-minded, who felt and established themselves and their actions as good…they first seized the right to create values and to coin names for values.”1 Hence, the “good” came about as a positive self-assurance on part of those in power. Note that the important part of the so-called “master morality” is its proactivness. The master, or the powerful, or the noble, are always acting, creating, making, doing, ruling. They reach forward themselves, of their own power and will, and create for themselves their ideas. Hence, their idea of good primarily revolves around themselves, and becomes a kind of self-definition. It is only later that they find a use for the antithesis, for “bad” things, which are those things that are in contrast to themselves. The second thing to note is that this description is not necessarily negative; Nietzsche is not about to take a Marxist turn and begin defaming the ruling classes as oppressors and tyrants. Instead, what is important to note about the “master” or “noble” is that he is free, free to relate to and define his environment, and, of huge value to Nietzsche, free to be creative, as opposed to what he calls the “slave morality,” as we shall see. For the slave, or the “low, low-minded, common and plebeian,”2 is centered around what Nietzsche calls “ressentiment” (basically, resentment). The “low” man starts first in a state of resentment towards the masters, and defines them as “evil.” The slaves “understood themselves to be ‘good’ only derivatively. Judging their masters ‘evil,’ they concluded that they were ‘good,’ in the negative sense of lacking the masters’ evil traits.”3 Again, there are two important things of which to make note. Firstly, “slave morality” is essentially reactive; unlike the masters’ morality, which begins with the positive affirmation of the self, slave morality begins with the evilness of the master, and only lately coming to call itself “good” by contrast. For Nietzsche, it becomes clear that this reactive morality is restrictive; unlike the master, who is free to express himself creatively –indeed, he possesses the very power to definite himself as “good”– the slave can only define himself in relation to the master. This makes him constrained, and in a position where he can be neither creative nor expressive. The second point of interest lies in the distinction between “bad” and “evil.” The master has his own goodness as his starting point, and sees others things as merely not-good, that is to say, “not-like-him.” That is the extent to which the term “bad” has meaning to him. The slave, however, is full of resentment against the master, which solidifies into hatred. In his hatred, he villainizes the master, painting him as not merely “bad,” but actually “evil.”4 Thus, the whole dichotomy of good and evil, according to Nietzsche, is a fabrication of the slaves, of the weak, of the “impotent” whose resentment of the strong, or masters, causes them to flip the value judgments of the masters. The weak make weakness itself the very object of value, and the strength of the masters a crime, or sin.

To further solidify his point, Nietzsche turns to etymology. Beginning in his own language, Nietzsche points out that German word schlecht (bad) is one letter different than schilcht (plain), points out the similarity of root with schlechtweg (plainly) and schlechterdings (simply).5 This supports his theory that, from the perspective of the nobles, of the masters, “bad” originally referred merely to that which they were not. In contrast to the grandness and active creative power of the masters, all that might be seen as “not them” would indeed seem simple and plain by comparison. He then turns to Latin, supposedly to trace the evolution of moral language back even further. The Latin word bonus merely means “good,” but Nietzsche attempts to trace it back to the word bellum (war).6 Here we have the masters’ definition of “good,” namely, that of conquest, of action. Having provided several other examples,7 8 9 Nietzsche makes a fairly convincing case in tracing the evolution of morals language through traditional etymology.

Nietzsche’s formulation of good and evil doesn’t quite reach its climactic fervor until he begins to deal with what he calls “priestliness,” and “priestly” societies, like those of Judaism. Nietzsche conceives of the beginnings of priestliness, and thus of the ideas (and words) “pure” and “impure” as being “from the beginning [they described] a man who washes himself, who forbids himself certain foods that produce skin ailments, who does not sleep with the dirty women of the lower strata, who as an aversion to blood – no more, hardly more!”10 However, as this develops, Nietzsche notes that values like this, in an “essentially priestly aristocracy…could in precisely this instance soon become dangerously deepened, sharpened, and internalized.”11 Eventually, the priestly ways break off from that of the aristocracy and develop in opposition to them. For the masters are strong and vigorous, they live in a state of action and acquisition; the priest, by contrast, lives a life of denying his indulgence in the world of experience, the very world itself. Therefore priests become “the most evil enemies – but why? Because they are the most impotent. It is because of their impotence that in them hatred grows to monstrous and uncanny proportions, to the most spiritual and poisonous kinds of hatred.”12 Here again is the slave-type morality dangerously breaking through. If slave morality grows up in response and in opposition to the masters’ morality, the priestliness would be the most potent kind of slave morality, not only because priests have even less than the common man (by way of their own self-denial) but because they can solidify slave morality into a system in itself, bringing their vengeance not in earthly terms, but exalted into a spiritual, everlasting revenge. Their anger has the room, in such a system, to develop infinitely larger and larger. Thus the “truly great haters in world history have always been priests; likewise the most ingenious haters; other kinds of spirit [geist] hardly come into consideration when compared with the spirit of priestly vengefulness.”13 He sees the ideas of the priest as “dangerous in such a conflict because of their hatred, which they can’t release into a healthy physical form, and their hatred turns into a permanent desire for vengeance.”14 Nietzsche turns at once to the “most notable example,” “the Jews, that priestly people, who in opposing their enemies and conquerors were ultimately satisfied with nothing less than a radical revaluation of their enemies’ values, that is to say, an act of the most spiritual revenge…for this alone was appropriate to a priestly people, the people embodying the most deeply repressed priestly vengefulness.”15 Slave morality, that reactive, unproductive, unfree, uncreative, unimaginative, unreal morality finds its full voice in Jews and, later, Christians. Nietzsche’s antagonism towards the Judeo-Christian system can perhaps be better understood once this perspective is taken. The implications of such a standpoint on one of the oldest and most influential moral systems in history are profound and next to baffling. Indeed, this is no mere critique, no mere nitpicking of a single religion, but the blatant overthrowing of the entire Judeo-Christian system of thinking as it is embodied in all culture as a form of “slave” morality In this formulation, Nietzsche has inverted the values of modern morality (ironically, the morality which he claims is itself an inversion): humility, piousness, meekness, respect, charity; all of which he claims are the reactionary inventions of the “slaves,” mob morality which can aspire to no greater.

There are several issues with Nietzsche’s formulation of ethics so far, the most obvious being his oddly uninformed characterization of Christianity. Nietzsche, as has been shown, sees the Judeo-Christian worldview as one based upon resentment, fostered in hatred, and seeking revenge. These claims, while seemingly supported by Nietzsche’s reasoning, become strange and discordant when compared to actual Christian teaching, both from the Bible and theologians. Throughout the Bible the external is often devalued in face of the internal. First Samuel informs us that “the LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”16 Nietzsche’s formulation of Christianity contends that it is rooted in hatred, which is internalized, and that it raises up a god to fulfill and justify this hatred. But the God of the Bible focuses on the internals, where the man would be fostering self-destructive hatred, not on the external attributes the slaves would dislike in the master, as Nietzsche contends. Furthermore, the Bible contains many warnings against hatred and resentment. Solomon writes, “Hatred stirs up dissension, but love covers over all wrongs.”17 John warns, “Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him”18 “Let those who love the LORD hate evil, for he guards the lives of his faithful ones and delivers them from the hand of the wicked.”19 These passages describe, very briefly, Christianity’s viewpoint of hatred, which it paints in no uncertain terms as a negative thing. John goes so far as to say that even if one things about murdering, one is just as guilty of murder (and a murderer, he notes, has no eternal life.) Nietzsche contends that the Judeo-Christian conception of an afterlife and immortality is primarily a tool for the hatred Jews and Christians feel to continue and perpetuate their desires for vengeance. But John is clearly stating that it is the unhateful who can become true sons and daughters of God. In light of the warnings against hatred so thoroughly present throughout the Old Testament and New Testament, Nietzsche’s claims begin to sound dubious.

CS Lewis further weighs in on the matter and, coincidentally, uses Nietzsche’s exact language. In his book, Mere Christianity, Lewis begins discussing virtue ethics in light of the Christian belief that man will “life forever.” It is worth quoting at length:

Remember, we Christians think man lives for ever. Therefore, what really matters is those little marks or twists on the central, inside part of the soul which are going to turn it, in the long run, into a heavenly or a hellish creature. We may kill if necessary, but we must not hate and enjoy hating. We may punish if necessary, but we must not enjoy it. In other words, something inside us, the feeling of resentment, the feeling that wants to get one’s own back, must be simply killed.20

It seems unlikely that Lewis attempted to use such a close term (“resentment”) in describing that aspect of the personality which he identified as the negative attribute of humans. Lewis here brings up the fact that the very things Nietzsche identifies as the main focus of slave morality are the very things that the Judeo-Christian worldview cannot tolerate: hatred, resentment, self-centered feelings of vindictiveness. The fact that such a central point of Christianity – the movement away from hatred and vengeful feelings – would be so overlooked by Nietzsche is odd and difficult to account for, given his rather studious and religious upbringing. Nietzsche was the son of a Lutheran minister and “both of his grandfathers had been ministers just as his father had been. In his paternal line, this clerical tradition reached back several generations.”21 Furthermore, Nietzsche went to a Protestant boarding school, and studied theology at the University of Bonn. It is therefore natural to assume that Nietzsche, were he to criticize the Judeo-Christian tradition, would be substantially more informed than the likes of people like Richard Dawkins. Yet, this does not seem to be the case. Christianity, far from a reactive, is actually quite pro-active. It has a value system based on authority and reason, one which stands on its own and asserts its own truth, not a passive reaction against another value set; something Nietzsche surprisingly misses all-together.

Although, bolstering Christianity in light of Nietzsche’s attacks is not necessary to undermine the ethical system that Nietzsche has so far proposed, for his ethics are unable to, in themselves, constitute an ethics in any normal, normative sense. So far, we have surmised what Nietzschean ethics is not, namely, a traditional moral system. Indeed, if the dichotomy of good against evil and evil against good is merely an invention of the slave morality as a reaction against the strong, Nietzsche obviously feels it is not worth considering. He is far more concerned with the ethics of the strong, those who are proactive in their definitions, who act, make, and create. But if we look to the master morality to answer the primary ethical question of “how should we live?” it is not at once clear of what the normative drive consists. Nietzsche, in attempting to move beyond what he sees as the contrived morality of the slaves, asserts that the powerful class “will have to be the will to power incarnate, it will want to grow, expand, draw to itself, gain ascendancy – not out of an morality or immorality, but because it lives, and because life is will to power. … it is a consequence of the intrinsic will to power which is precisely the will of life.”22 Note first that such a formulation of morality fits perfectly alongside Nietzsche’s original description of how master morality forms its worldview in the first place: the masters act, which is their primary mode, and, full of their own manifest creative energy, define goodness as synonymous with themselves and they way they act. The masters will it, and they make it so, only later finding some things which are not like them, and so invent a word for it (“plain,” which later becomes our modern “bad”). But in attempting to define any sort of moral system therein, Nietzsche only states what he considers things to be in their natural state. Given this, there is no ethical choice necessary; the master morality is only behaving in accordance with its nature “not out of an morality or immorality” – for ultimately, there are no such terms in this formulation – “but because it lives.” In equating the “will to power” as the “will to live,” Nietzsche does not interject anything new into his equation, but only changes the terminology slightly. “But because it lives” is not really any different than saying “because.” In the end, we are left without a reason for being creative, bold, action-oriented, pro-active, or even to justify any of the positive connotations we have for these words. Though the Will, for Nietzsche, is the primary thing, it is itself unable to produce any sort of normative, any reason for doing anything.

G.K. Chesterton makes the point very nicely that what Nietzsche outlined as his alternative to conventional morality is merely redundant and meaningless. “You can discuss whether a man’s act in jumping over a cliff was directed towards happiness; you cannot discuss whether it was derived from will. Of course it was. …you cannot praise an action because it shows will; for to say that is merely to say that it is an action.”23 This philosophy of Will can be reduced to absurdity by simply asking what the reasons are for choosing any particular thing or any course of action? Chesterton notes that “the worship of the will is the negation of the will,”24 for “To preach anything is to give it away,”25 If the Will is, as Nietzsche contests, then one should not be in the position of having to choose it as a better alternative to other forms of ethics, as he oddly seems to encourage us to do. Separated both from conventional morality as well as from utilitarian pleasure calculations, the Will to power is nothing short of a declarative statement, a description of something that is, and a descriptive thing cannot bridge the is/ought gap.

Nietzsche, in his new moral conception does not, ironically, go “beyond” good and evil, but rather regresses from them, and in abandoning all call for the normative, thrusts the reader into cold world which is merely descriptive, lacking all normative direction for ethics. The ethics of Nietzsche, then, turn out to be non-ethics, a renouncing of ethics. Though he may have dismantled what he considered to be the primary problem of modern ethical thought, Nietzsche offers us no supplement, no alternative, and doesn’t even do us the courtesy of total nihilism, but leaves the reader confused and starry-eyed about some sort of vague “will to power” which is as irrelevant and removed from ethics as resentment is from the Christian life.


1 Nietzsche, Friedrich, Basic Writings of Existentialism, ed. Gordon Marino (New York: Random House Inc., 2004), p.113

2 Ibid

3 Magnus, Bernd and Higgins, Kathleen M., The Cambridge Companion to Nietzsche (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), p. 49

4 Nietzsche, Friedrich, Basic Writings of Existentialism, ed. Gordon Marino (New York: Random House Inc., 2004), p.122

5 Nietzsche, Friedrich, Basic Writings of Existentialism, ed. Gordon Marino (New York: Random House Inc., 2004), p.115

6 Ibid., 118

7 Ibid., 117

8 Ibid., 125

9 Ibid., 126

10 Ibid., 119

11 Ibid

12 Nietzsche, Friedrich, Basic Writings of Existentialism, ed. Gordon Marino (New York: Random House Inc., 2004), p.121

13 Ibid.

14 Ackermann, Robert John, Nietzsche: A Frenzied Look (University of Massachusetts Press, 1990), p. 92

15 Nietzsche, Friedrich, Basic Writings of Existentialism, ed. Gordon Marino (New York: Random House Inc., 2004), p. 121

16 1 Sam 16:7

17 Proverbs 10:12

18 1 John 3:15

19 Psalm 97:10

20 Lewis, Clive Staples, Mere Christianity (New York: HarperCollins, 2001), p. 120

21 Magnus, Bernd and Higgins, Kathleen M., The Cambridge Companion to Nietzsche (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), p. 91

22 Nietzsche, Friedrich, Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future (New York: Penguin Books, 1986), p. 17

23 Chesterton, G.K, Orthodoxy (Wheaton: Harold Shaw Publishers, 1994), p. 37

24 Ibid., 37

25 Ibid., 36


Ackermann, Robert John, Nietzsche: A Frenzied Look (University of Massachusetts Press, 1990)

Chesterton, G.K, Orthodoxy (Wheaton: Harold Shaw Publishers, 1994)

Lewis, Clive Staples, Mere Christianity (New York: HarperCollins, 2001

Magnus, Bernd and Higgins, Kathleen M., The Cambridge Companion to Nietzsche (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996

Nietzsche, Friedrich, Basic Writings of Existentialism, ed. Gordon Marino (New York: Random House Inc., 2004)

Nietzsche, Friedrich, Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future (New York: Penguin Books, 1986)

Read Full Post »


Weekly updates will continue after the semester is over, in two weeks.

Thank you for your patience.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »