Imagine No Religion

“I maintain that nothing need be destroyed, that we only need to destroy the idea of God in man, that’s how we have to set to work. It’s that, that we must begin with…

Men will unite to take from life all it can give, but only for joy and happiness in the present world. Man will be lifted up with a spirit of divine Titanic pride and the man-god will appear. From hour to hour extending his conquest of nature infinitely by his will and his science, man will feel such lofty joy from hour to hour in doing it that it will make up for all his old dreams of the joys of heaven. Every one will know that he is mortal and will accept death proudly and serenely like a god. His pride will teach him that it’s useless for him to repine at life’s being a moment, and he will love his brother without need of reward. Love will be sufficient only for a moment of life, but the very consciousness of its momentariness will intensify its fire, which now is dissipated in dreams of eternal love beyond the grave…

[Is] it possible that such a period will ever come? If it does, everything is determined and humanity is settled for ever. But as, owing to man’s inveterate stupidity, this cannot come about for at least a thousand years, every one who recognises the truth even now may legitimately order his life as he pleases, on the new principles. In that sense, ‘all things are lawful’ for him. What’s more, even if this period never comes to pass, since there is anyway no God and no immortality, the new man may well become the man-god, even if he is the only one in the whole world, and promoted to his new position, he may lightheartedly overstep all the barriers of the old morality of the old slave-man, if necessary. There is no law for God. Where God stands, the place is holy. Where I stand will be at once the foremost place…’all things are lawful’ and that’s the end of it!

That’s all very charming, but if you want to swindle why do you want a moral sanction for doing it? But that’s our modern Russian all over. He can’t bring himself to swindle without a moral sanction. He is so in love with truth.”

– The Devil (“The Brothers Karamazov”)

Excellent Excerpts from “The Brothers Karamazov”

“I fancy that Alyosha was more of a realist than any one. Oh! no doubt, in the monastery he fully believed in miracles, but, to my thinking, miracles are never a stumbling-block to the realist. It is not miracles that dispose realists to belief. The genuine realist, if he is an unbeliever, will always find strength and ability to disbelieve in the miraculous, and if he is confronted with a miracle as an irrefutable fact he would rather disbelieve his own senses than admit the fact. Even if he admits it, he admits it as a fact of nature till then unrecognized by him. Faith does not, in the realist, spring from the miracle but the miracle from faith. If the realist once believes, then he is bound by his very realism to admit the miraculous also.”

brothersk

“I am sorry I can say nothing more consoling to you, for love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing compared with love in dreams. Love in dreams is greedy for immediate action, rapidly performed and in the sight of all. Men will even give their lives if only the ordeal does not last long but is soon over, with all looking on and applauding as though on the stage. But active love is labor and fortitude, and for some people too, perhaps, a complete science.”

“‘Tell me yourself, I challenge you – answer. Imagine that you are creating a fabric of human destiny with the object of making men happy in the end, giving them peace and rest at last, but that it was essential and inevitable to torture to death only one tiny creature – that baby beating its breast with its fist, for instance – and to found that edifice on its unavenged tears, would you consent to be the architect on those conditions? Tell me, and tell the truth.’ ‘No, I wouldn’t consent,’ said Alyosha softly.”

“If it were not for the Church of Christ there would be nothing to restrain the criminal from evil-doing, no real chastisement for it afterwards; none, that is, but the mechanical punishment spoken of just now, which in the majority of cases only embitters the heart; and not the real punishment, the only effectual one, the only deterrent and softening one, which lies in the recognition of sin by conscience.”

Fyodor Dostoevsky

Fyodor Dostoevsky

“Each of you keep watch over your heart and confess your sins to yourself unceasingly. Be not afraid of your sins, even when perceiving them, if only there be penitence, but make no conditions with God. Again I say, Be not proud. Be proud neither to the little nor to the great. Hate not those who reject you, who insult you, who abuse and slander you. Hate not the atheists, the teachers of evil, the materialists – and I mean not only the good ones – for there are many good ones among them, especially in our day – hate not even the wicked ones. Remember them in your prayers thus: Save, O Lord, all those who have none to pray for them, save too all those who will not pray. And add: It is not in pride that I make this prayer, O Lord, for I am lower than all men.”

“Remember, young man, unceasingly…that the science of this world, which has become a great power, has, especially in the last century, analysed everything divine handed down to us in the holy books. After this cruel analysis the learned of this world have nothing left of all that was sacred of old. But they have only analysed the parts and overlooked the whole, and indeed their blindness is marvelous. Yet the whole still stands steadfast before their eyes, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. Has it not lasted nineteen centuries, is it not still a living, a moving power in the individual soul and in the masses of people? It is still as strong and living even in the souls of atheists, who have destroyed everything! For even those who have renounced Christianity and attack it, in their inmost being still follow the Christian ideal, for hitherto neither their subtlety nor the ardour of their hearts has been able to create a higher ideal of man and of virtue than the ideal given by Christ of old. When it has been attempted, the result has been only grotesque.”

“So long as man remains free he strives for nothing so incessantly and so painfully as to find some one to worship. But man seeks to worship what is established beyond dispute, so that all men would agree at once to worship it. For these pitiful creatures are concerned to not only find what one or the other can worship, but to find something that all would believe in and worship; what is essential is that all may be together in it. This craving for community of worship is the chief misery of every man individually and of all humanity from the beginning of time.”

Valley of Vision

Below are a couple of my favorite Puritan prayers from the Valley of Vision collection. It’s available on Amazon HERE, and many passages can be found for free HERE.

Choices

O God,
Though I am allowed to approach thee
I am not unmindful of my sins,
I do not deny my guilt,
I confess my wickedness, and earnestly plead forgiveness.

May I with Moses choose affliction rather than enjoy the pleasures of sin.
Help me to place myself always under thy guiding and guardian care,
to take firmer hold of the sure covenant that binds me to thee,
to feel more of the purifying, dignifying, softening influence of the religion I profess,
to have more compassion, love, pity, courtesy,
to deem it an honour to be employed by thee as an instrument in thy hands,
ready to seize every opportunity of usefulness,
and willing to offer all my talents to thy service.

Thou hast done for me all things well,
hast remembered, distinguished, indulged me.
All my desires have not been gratified,
but thy love denied them to me
when fulfillment of my wishes would have proved my ruin or injury.
My trials have been fewer than my sins,
and when I have kissed the rod it has fallen from thy hands.
Thou hast often wiped away my tears,
restored peace to my mourning heart,
chastened me for my profit.
All thy work for me is perfect, and I praise thee.

Humiliation

Sovereign Lord,
When clouds of darkness, atheism, and unbelief come to me,
I see thy purpose of love in withdrawing the Spirit that I might prize him more,
in chastening me for my confidence in past successes,
that my wound of secret godlessness might be cured.
Help me to humble myself before thee
by seeing the vanity of honour as a conceit of men’s minds,
as standing between me and thee;
by seeing that thy will must alone be done,
as much in denying as in giving spiritual enjoyments;
by seeing that my heart is nothing but evil,
mind, mouth, life void of thee;
by seeing that sin and Satan are allowed power in me that I might know my sin,
be humbled, and gain strength thereby;
by seeing that unbelief shuts thee from me,
so that I sense not thy majesty, power, mercy, or love.
Then possess me, for thou only art good and worthy.

Thou dost not play in convincing me of sin,
Satan did not play in tempting me to it,
I do not play when I sink in deep mire,
for sin is no game, no toy, no bauble;
Let me never forget that the heinousness of sin
lies not so much in the nature of the sin committed,
as in the greatness of the Person sinned against.
When I am afraid of evils to come, comfort me, by showing me
that in myself I am a dying, condemned wretch,
but that in Christ I am reconciled, made alive, and satisfied;
that I am feeble and unable to do any good,
but that in him I can do all things;
that what I now have in Christ is mine in part,
but shortly I shall have it perfectly in heaven.

Book Review: “Orthodoxy”

It’s been a few months since my previous book review, but that’s because my wife and I only read a few pages each night before bed. I mostly read medical texts and classic fiction on my own time…which doesn’t always make for great “book review” material.

For those who aren’t familiar with G.K. Chesterton, the man was a genius. I actually posted a Chesterton quote page back in May of 2012, so clearly I’m a fan.

In “Orthodoxy”, Chesterton sets about describing his own intellectual journey – from his early Christian upbringing to his adolescent skepticism and back again. It’s very much a “gut-level” approach, with Chesterton explaining how, despite his best efforts, the orthodox teachings of Christianity gradually won him over.

Chesterton was also a pretty sarcastic (and hilarious) guy, so there were a few laugh-out-loud moments.

I actually think that the chapter titles do a pretty good job of describing the progression of the book:

Chapter 1: Introduction in Defense of Everything Else
Chapter 2: The Maniac
Chapter 3: The Suicide of Thought
Chapter 4: The Ethics of Elfland
Chapter 5: The Flag of the World
Chapter 6: The Paradoxes of Christianity
Chapter 7: The Eternal Revolution
Chapter 8: The Romance of Orthodoxy
Chapter 9: Authority and the Adventurer

“Orthodoxy” is the perfect book for anyone looking for an honest, intuitive, lighthearted, and personal sort of apologetic. Chesterton defends the Christian worldview in an easy-to-grasp manner by appealing to “an enormous accumulation of small but unanimous facts” (as he puts it).

As usual, I’ve collected below a few of my favorite passages:

“As an explanation of the world, materialism has a sort of insane simplicity. It has just the quality of the madman’s argument; we have at once the sense of it covering everything and the sense of it leaving everything out…The Christian is quite free to believe that there is a considerable amount of settled order and inevitable development in the universe. But the materialist is not allowed to admit into his spotless machine the slightest speck of spiritualism or miracle…The Christian admits that the universe is manifold and even miscellaneous, just as a sane man knows that he is complex. The sane man knows that he has a touch of the beast, a touch of the devil, a touch of the saint, a touch of the citizen. Nay, the really sane man knows that he has a touch of the madman. But the materialist’s world is quite simple and solid, just as the madman is quite sure he is sane. The materialist is sure that history has been simply and solely a chain of causation, just as the interesting person before mentioned is quite sure that he is simply and solely a chicken. Materialists and madmen never have doubts.”

“A man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth; this has been exactly reversed. Nowadays the part of a man that a man does assert is exactly the part he ought not to assert – himself. The part he doubts is exactly the part he ought not to doubt – the Divine Reason.”

“Reason is itself a matter of faith. It is an act of faith to assert that our thoughts have any relation to reality at all. If you are merely a sceptic, you must sooner or later ask yourself the question, ‘Why should ANYTHING go right; even observation and deduction? Why should not good logic be as misleading as bad logic? They are both movements in the brain of a bewildered ape?’ The young sceptic says, ‘I have a right to think for myself.’ But the old sceptic, the complete sceptic, says, ‘I have no right to think for myself. I have no right to think at all.'”

‎”…But when I came to ask [the determinists] I found they had really no proof of this unavoidable repetition in things except the fact that the things were repeated. Now, the mere repetition made the things to me rather more weird than more rational…The recurrences of the universe rose to the maddening rhythm of an incantation, and I began to see an idea.”

‎”…What we need is not the cold acceptance of the world as a compromise, but some way in which we can heartily hate and heartily love it. We do not want joy and anger to neutralize each other and produce a surly contentment; we want a fiercer delight and a fiercer discontent. We have to feel the universe at once as an ogre’s castle, to be stormed, and yet as our own cottage, to which we can return at evening.”

“I found it was [my agnostic teachers’] daily taunt against Christianity that it was the light of one people and had left all others to die in the dark. But I also found that it was their special boast for themselves that science and progress were the discovery of one people, and that all other peoples had died in the dark. Their chief insult to Christianity was actually their chief compliment to themselves, and there seemed to be a strange unfairness about all their relative insistence on the two things.”

“Some satisfaction is needed even to make things better. But what do we mean by making things better? Most modern talk on this matter is a mere argument in a circle – that circle which we have already made the symbol of madness and of mere rationalism. Evolution is only good if it produces good; good is only good if it helps evolution. The elephant stands on the tortoise, and the tortoise on the elephant.”

‎”In actual modern Europe a freethinker does not mean a man who thinks for himself. It means a man who, having thought for himself, has come to one particular class of conclusions: the material origin of phenomena, the impossibility of miracles, the improbability of personal immortality and so on. And none of these ideas are particularly liberal. Nay, indeed almost all these ideas are definitely illiberal, as it is the purpose of this chapter to show…”

“If I am asked, as a purely intellectual question, why I believe in Christianity, I can only answer, ‘For the same reason that an intelligent agnostic disbelieves Christianity.’ I believe in it quite rationally upon the evidence. But the evidence in my case, as in that of the intelligent agnostic, is not really in this or that alleged demonstration; it is in an enormous accumulation of small but unanimous facts. The secularist is not to be blamed because his objections to Christianity are miscellaneous and even scrappy; it is precisely such scrappy evidence that does convince the mind. I mean that a man may well be less convinced of a philosophy from four books, than from one book, one battle, one landscape, and one old friend….I can only say that my evidences for Christianity are of the same vivid but varied kind as his evidences against it. For when I look at these various anti-Christian truths, I simply discover that none of them are true. I discover that the true tide and force of all the facts flows the other way.”

‎”Somehow or other an extraordinary idea has arisen that the disbelievers in miracles consider them coldly and fairly, while believers in miracles accept them only in connection with some dogma. The fact is quite the other way. The believers in miracles accept them (rightly or wrongly) because they have evidence for them. The disbelievers in miracles deny them (rightly or wrongly) because they have a doctrine against them…If it comes to human testimony there is a choking cataract of human testimony in favour of the supernatural. If you reject it, you can only mean one of two things. You reject the peasant’s story about the ghost either because the man is a peasant or because the story is a ghost story. That is, you either deny the main principle of democracy, or you affirm the main principle of materialism – the abstract impossibility of miracle. You have a perfect right to do so; but in that case you are the dogmatist. It is we Christians who accept all actual evidence – it is you rationalists who refuse actual evidence being constrained to do so by your creed. But I am not constrained by any creed in the matter, and looking impartially into certain miracles of mediaeval and modern times, I have come to the conclusion that they occurred.”

Book Review: “Miracles”

My wife and I recently finished reading “Miracles” – one of the many classics from C.S. Lewis.

The book begins by poking some holes in naturalism. By comparing the assumptions of naturalists with those of supernaturalists, Lewis effectively undermines the modern belief that naturalism is somehow more “rational”.

CS Lewis

For the remainder of the book, Lewis methodically builds a case for the miraculous. One of his central arguments is the idea that miracles, while apparently violating the laws of “nature” (defined as the observed universe) actually fit within a broader definition of “nature” (defined as the entirety of God’s creation, both observed and unobserved). In the last few chapters, it is further explained how Christianity – via “The Grand Miracle” – radically differentiates itself from other religions.

I highly recommend this book not only to Christians seeking to defend their belief in miracles, but also to anyone who is simply curious to learn why some of us continue to hold these beliefs in this modern, scientific, “post-miraculous” age.

I’ve collected below a few of my favorite passages:

“When a thing professes from the very outset to be a unique invasion of Nature by something from outside, increasing knowledge of Nature can never make it either more or less credible than it was at the beginning. In this sense it is mere confusion of thought to suppose that advancing science has made it harder for us to accept miracles. We always knew they were contrary to the natural course of events; we know still that if there is something beyond Nature, they are possible.” 

“It is a profound mistake to imagine that Christianity ever intended to dissipate the bewilderment and even the terror, the sense of our own nothingness, which come upon us when we think about the nature of things. It comes to intensify them. Without such sensations there is no religion. Many a man, brought up in the glib profession of some shallow form of Christianity, who comes through reading Astronomy to realise for the first time how majestically indifferent most reality is to man, and who perhaps abandons his religion on that account, may at that moment be having his first genuinely religious experience.”

“If Naturalism is true we have no reason to trust our conviction that Nature is uniform. It can be trusted only if quite a different Metaphysic is true. If the deepest thing in reality, the Fact which is the source of all other facthood, is a thing in some degree like ourselves – if it is a Rational Spirit and we derive our rational spirituality from it – then indeed our conviction can be trusted. Our repugnance to disorder is derived from Nature’s Creator and ours. The disorderly world which we cannot endure to believe in is the disorderly world He would not have endured to create.”

‎”In the Christian story God descends to reascend…He goes down to come up again and bring the whole ruined world up with Him. One has the picture of a strong man stooping lower and lower to get himself underneath some great complicated burden. He must stoop in order to lift, he must almost disappear under the load before he incredibly straightens his back and marches off with the whole mass swaying on his shoulders.”

“I do not think that it is the duty of a Christian apologist (as many sceptics suppose) to disprove all stories of the miraculous which fall outside the Christian records, nor of a Christian man to disbelieve them. I am in no way committed to the assertion that God has never worked miracles through and for Pagans or never permitted created supernatural beings to do so…But I claim that the Christian miracles have a much greater intrinsic probability in virtue of their organic connection with one another and with the whole structure of the religion they exhibit.”

“Who will trust me with a spiritual body if I cannot control even an earthly body? These small and perishable bodies we now have were given to us as ponies are given to schoolboys. We must learn to manage: not that we may some day be free of horses altogether but that some day we may ride bare-back, confident and rejoicing, those greater mounts, those winged, shining and world-shaking horses which perhaps even now expect us with impatience, pawing and snorting in the King’s stables. Not that the gallop would be of any value unless it were a gallop with the King; but how else – since He has retained His own charger – should we accompany Him?”

Book Review: “The Knowledge of the Holy”

My wife and I recently finished reading A.W. Tozer’s “The Knowledge of the Holy”, and I figured it would be a good opportunity to write my first book review.

The book itself is very short (117 pages in my edition), and could potentially be read in a single sitting. Allison and I finished it in three weeks by reading a single chapter each night. Since the material is at times a bit heavy, this might be the better approach.

A.W. Tozer

Tozer spends each chapter reflecting on a specific quality of God – His infinitude, immutability, wisdom, goodness, justice, mercy, grace, holiness, and so forth. In the process, Tozer explains how all of these qualities are inevitably linked together. I couldn’t begin to do the author justice, so I’ve collected below a few short passages:

“What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us…Among the sins to which the human heart is prone, hardly any other is more hateful to God than idolatry, for idolatry is at bottom a libel on His character. The idolatrous heart assumes that God is other than He is – in itself a monstrous sin – and substitutes for the true God one made after its own likeness. Always this God will conform to the image of the one who created it and will be base or pure, cruel or kind, according to the moral state of the mind from which it emerges…A god begotten in the shadows of a fallen heart will quite naturally be no true likeness of the true God.”

‎”If by ‘practical men’ we mean unbelieving men engrossed in secular affairs and indifferent to the claims of Christ, the welfare of their own souls, or the interests of the world to come, then for them [knowledge of God’s immutability] can have no meaning at all…But while such men may be in the majority, they do not by any means compose the whole of the population. There are still the seven thousand who have not bowed their knees to Baal.”

“The unbelieving mind would not be convinced by any proof and the worshipping heart needs none.”

“I think it might be demonstrated that almost every heresy that has afflicted the church through the years has arisen from believing about God things that are not true, or from overemphasizing certain true things so as to obscure other things equally true…For instance, the Bible teaches that God is love; some have interpreted this in such a way as virtually to deny that He is just, which the Bible also teaches.”

Do I recommend this book? Absolutely! I considered creating some sort of “rating system” for future book reviews…but in all honesty, I only have enough motivation to write about the ones that I really enjoy.