Introducing myself with an explanation of basic terminology like objective and absolute


(Mitchell W McKain) #1

I was looking for a general introduction thread but only found one specific to the homeschool section.

I was not raised Christian, but in circumstances so liberal that I can generally critique the Christian establishment better than most atheists. Science has always been my fundamental outlook on the world, and it is on that basis which I explored philosophy and religion. Existentialism was my first stepping stone, for that is what provided me a means to even understand what the word “God” could possibly refer to. My studies of existentialism brought to the conclusion that the fundamental existentialist faith was that life is worth living. Then I came to believe that the faith in God played the same role for religious people. From that equivalence I was able explore what sort of God best played this role of giving us a faith that life was worth living. It was a journey that ultimately lead to a Christian faith.

I am not new to discussion forums and a search of my username will quickly reveal what I have had to say elsewhere. In general you will find that stand up in the defense of science, Christianity, and principles of a free society like tolerance. But perhaps the following explication of terminology will explain a lot more: objective versus subjective, absolute versus relative, and religious versus secular.

Our most basic access to the world is personal experience and this is the essence of what subjective means. The objective is an abstraction which we piece together as an understanding of what is the same for everyone. One of the most successful methods and strictest standards for this is found in science, which gives us written procedures anyone can follow to get the same results. While personal experience may be the most compelling reason for our own belief, it does not provide a basis for a reasonable expectation that others should agree. That expectation, derived from proof and evidence, is what the objective is all about and when we have them it only makes sense for this to take precedence.

Many rules and standards we have are relative to society and culture because, like which side of the road we drive on, it is more important to have a rule than what the rule actual is. Thus relative truths are a matter of convention and I do not consider putting the authority of God behind them as sufficient to make something absolute, for that only makes it relative to the particular religion or god you believe in. Instead the basis for absolute standards must be when there is a good reason why one alternative is better than the other. And when we have a good reason why one alternative is better then it does not make sense to cling to the relative dictates of convention.

Many of us have cherished beliefs which we cannot prove to others and these can be categorized as religious – often difficult to compare since they tend to only address the questions which they are interested in. Yet we come to value a society which welcomes diverse religious perspectives and thus we need a way of governing a society which protects our liberty to pursue our own religious beliefs – this is the reason for secular rule. Surely it is obvious that our religious liberties must be limited by the same liberties of others and thus cannot extend to forcing our religious beliefs on others. So as long as the secular is acting to protect us from the excesses of religion then we must accept that our religious liberties only make sense when the demands of the secular are given precedence.


What are the practical implications of belief in God, both on the individual and culturally for the well being of a community?
(Randy) #2

Welcome, Mr McKain! We were just discussing relative and absolute morality and truth on another thread as well–enough that I was considering starting a new thread to discuss this. I am not a Biologos rep, but enjoy learning here. Maybe you can fill us in more about yourself, your background, and why this (and other things) interest you.

God bless. Randy


(Mitchell W McKain) #3

I am open to sharing, but that is a nearly endless topic, a more specific question would be helpful in providing a starting direction for that.

Let’s see… I live in Salt Lake city, but no, I and none of my family are LDS (mormon). I can generally be categorized as a liberal evangical, but I am not the sort to buy into theological packages and so my position on specific issues are all over the spectrum. I am Trinitarian, at least, which I take to be practically the definition of Christianity according to the first ecumenical council. I am not universalist though I do not include this distinction in the definition of Christianity but acknowledge that univeralism has a long history among the historical fathers of the church. I am more in line with the Eastern Orthodox on a few theological issues like original sin, atonement, and the purpose of creation. I would also see the EO as the most original and unchanged sector of Christianity though as an evangelical I don’t think this is entirely a good thing, and I actually like the RC better as a church. However I am 5 Solas protestant so the RC isn’t a good fit for me either. I reject all 5 points of TULIP Calvinism, yet Arminianism doesn’t go far enough for me. So I am more of an incompatibilist libertarian and open theist.


(Mervin Bitikofer) #4

I echo Randy’s welcome to you!

And that might make you the first “ILOT” I’ve (knowingly) welcomed to the forum. Just rearrange your priorities a bit (Theistically Open incompatabilist libertarian) and you could call it “TOIL”. In any case, you’ve obviously given all these things a lot of thought, and taken up your stand with much thought and history. Welcome!


(David Heddle) #5

Welcome. I must say that I find it logically impossible to accept the Five Solas while simultaneously rejecting the so-called five points of Calvinism. One might argue about the extent of the overlap in the Venn diagram, but it would be hard, in my opinion, to argue that the intersection is the null set.


(Christy Hemphill) #6

Welcome!

Why ‘religious’ and not ‘metaphysical’ or something else that’s more generic. Doesn’t religious imply connected to a religion which implies some set of organized, communal dogma? Atheists have cherished beliefs about love and goodness, but they aren’t religious per se. The importance of patriotism or democracy or freedom of the press in the US is a cherished secular belief that you can’t prove is objectively best.

This kind of assumes we only ever operate in one social realm. But we don’t. We have homes, schools, churches, clubs, charities, internet forums. The way we exercise religious liberties and the precedence they are given depends on the realm we are talking about.


(Mitchell W McKain) #7

Hmm… Those seem like entirely disjoint topics to me.

Five Solas… (my version, LOL)
Salvation by the grace of God alone. What God demands is faith alone, but to make faith alive/real requires works, and the works God is primarily interested is NOT religious works (attending meetings and rituals) but helping the helpless (like widows), defending the defenseless (like orphans), seeking justice, correcting oppression, and providing for those in desperate need. He is represented by Christ alone, authority is given to scripture alone, and the glory belongs to God alone, though this doesn’t mean that God doesn’t value our efforts.

Tulip Calvinism…

  1. Total depravity: NO! We are not completely evil and sinful, we are a mixture. The most we can say is that we are impure and that the bad poisons everything we do. But it is incorrect to say that we can do no good things or have no good desires. We CAN open our hearts to Christ however small the crack, but a crack is all God needs. But it is true to say that we cannot offer salvation to anyone, or show anyone else the way – only God can do that! We can only be blind guides to others.
  2. Unconditional election: NO! It is true that there is absolutely NO merit for salvation in us, but the difference between salvation and damnation is in us alone and not in God.
  3. Limited atonement: NO! Christ died for ALL!
  4. Irresistable grace: NO! Grace is offered to all and the choice to accept that grace is ours.
  5. Perseverence of the saints: To even ask the question of whether we can lose our salvation is improper and faithless. This is nothing but a grasping for entitlement which is utterly contemptuous! God cannot be manipulated or bound with any supposed promises or imagined contracts.

(Mitchell W McKain) #8

Yes I could say religious or philosophical. But no, religious does not imply a set of organized, communal dogma – just because it completely individual does not mean it isn’t religious. Atheism is a position on a religious issue - same category. I don’t buy into their special pleading rhetoric for negative positions. Infants are no more atheist than they are theist. But the freedom OF religion includes a freedom FROM religion, so atheism is protected by this as well. I attach no importance to patriotism and consider the value of democracy and freedom of the press to be fully open to question and debate.

For the most part the issue of precedence only arises in public arenas which include public schools. But even homes and churches are not sovereign domains which can set aside the rights of the individual. The jurisdiction of secular government for protecting us from the excesses of religion extends into the home and the church as well.


(David Heddle) #9

Writing a superficial refutation of TULIP, even with capitals for emphasis, does not prove your point. You might want to address how you are right and so many people are wrong. For example, I just picked one sola, _sola gratia, on Wikipedia, where I read:

Consequently, they argued that a sinner is not accepted by God on account of the change wrought in the believer by God’s grace, and indeed, that the believer is accepted without any regard for the merit of his works—for no one deserves salvation, a concept that some take to the extreme of Antinomianism, a doctrine that argues that if someone is saved, he/she has no need to live a holy life, given that salvation is already “in the bag”.

It is also linked to the five points of Calvinism.

That doesn’t mean it must be linked to Calvinism, but points out that in fact many Christians and theologians do–so it may take a slightly more scholarly effort than summarily dismissing the overlap.


(Christy Hemphill) #10

But you said secular concerns should have precedence everywhere. I find that a little ridiculous. Secular concerns don’t have precedence in inherently religious environments, even if churches and homes and sectarian schools are subject to secular law.


(Mitchell W McKain) #11

I don’t believe in proof with regards to ANY religious issue. It is ALL subjective and opinion and nothing more. The above is only a “refutation” in the sense that I refuse them not in the sense that there is an attempt to disprove them. But of course I think I am right, otherwise I wouldn’t believe it. But I put ALL my faith in God and absolutely NONE in my religious opinions – that would be standing on shifting sand indeed. Thus I would not dare to judge anyone on such grounds for I would not like to be judged by such things myself. I believe in the Christian gospel of salvation by the grace of God, not the Gnostic gospel of salvation by “sound doctrine.”

I do not say that one cannot make links between the 5 solas and Calvinism, but only that I do not. I see no connection whatsoever.


(Christy Hemphill) #12

You can choose to use words however you’d like, but the word ‘religion’ does indeed imply a particular system of faith and worship, not just any old Joe’s personal beliefs.


(Mitchell W McKain) #13

??? responding to Christy not heddle ???

It is only ridiculous if secular government goes beyond the duty of protecting us from the excesses of religion to that of ordering our lives in general which is way beyond that mandate. This is why I prefaced my statement with the caveat “as long as the secular exists to protect us from the excesses of religion.” But perhaps a slight rewording is needed for greater clarity: as long as the secular is acting to protect us from the excesses of religion…


(Mitchell W McKain) #14

On this we are only left with the option of … agreeing to disagree.


(RiderOnTheClouds) #15

I consider myself to be a Calvinist as far as salvation is concerned (I am an Anglican however, and accept some catholic ideas such as transubstantiation and clerical celibacy, my main disagreements with RC are with salvation and Mariology), that is my interpretation of Ephesians 2:8 at least, but I won’t judge.


(Albert Leo) #16

The responders to this forum challenge me to rethink some of my cherished beliefs and how I express them. Judging from your first contribution, you will certainly add to those challenges in a rather elegant manner, and so you are most welcome.

You need to expand upon the statement that you place no importance on patriotism. As it stands this statement is so obviously false that it casts doubt on the sanity of the stater. Millions of soldiers (and uncounted numbers of civilians) died in WWII responding to the call to “uphold the Fatherland”. As a ‘dogface’ in that conflict, I was willing to put my life on the line in the patriotic belief that our kind of democracy offered a better life for further generations. Patriotism on both sides was, to some extent, misleading, but unimportant? No Way!

In these times I see patriotic nationalism as, perhaps, the greatest threat to the future of the human race. There is a red button in easy reach of each of the leaders of a half dozen nations that could literally set this world on fire. The shrapnel that knocked a hole in my skull (Jan. 1945) may have knocked some sense in as well. Now I see the concept of “globalization” as the ultimate goal–at least as worthy as sacrificing for Uncle Sam was in 1940. As fellow passengers on “Spaceship Earth” we cannot continue the deadly rivalries that are fueled by nationalistic patriotism. When Jesus commanded us to “love thy neighbor as thyself”, he meant the native on the opposite side of the earth as well as the Samaritan next door.

I would love to continue this discussion with you over a glass of port in my living room. But lacking that opportunity, I hope you continue an interaction on this forum.
Al Leo


(Mark D.) #17

I share your use of the word “religion” but I’m sympathetic to the distinction William James made between “religious experience” and the “theology and the organizational aspects of religion”. It seems to me that many religious people report of having religious experience. That need not include anything wildly mystical but it does seem to be integral to religion becoming highly valued in a believer’s life. The wiki entry on James’ book “The Varieties of Religious Experience” makes the distinction this way:

James was most interested in direct religious experiences. Theology and the organizational aspects of religion were of secondary interest. He believed that religious experiences were simply human experiences: “Religious happiness is happiness. Religious trance is trance.”[3]

He believed that religious experiences can have “morbid origins”[4] in brain pathology and can be irrational but nevertheless are largely positive. Unlike the bad ideas that people have under the influence of a high fever, after a religious experience the ideas and insights usually remain and are often valued for the rest of the person’s life.[5]

So indeed whatever any Joe Blow may believe should not be described as a religion. But what a person believes and the value they attach to it may originate from similar experiences. I don’t think there is any reason to restrict religious discussion to the doctrinal canon of established religions only. Or if there is I’d be interested to know what that may be.


(Christy Hemphill) #18

I was objecting to the idea that any cherished belief we can’t prove to others is a religious belief, as stated in the OP. I could believe with my whole heart that dogs deserve the same rights as humans based on my intuition that they have a soul to soul connection with us (something I can’t prove), but that doesn’t make it a religious belief or my experience relating to my soul mate dog a religious experience. I don’t think all “beliefs” are rightly categorized as “religious.” Maybe that was not what the OP intended to communicate, but it sure sounded like an attempt to put specific labels on all possible kinds of truth.


(Mark D.) #19

Fair enough. I’m not sure what the OP had in mind or if this distinction applies for him. But I always enjoy learning what you think and seeing how you express it.

What prompted my response to you is probably a difference in priority in what makes something “religious”. For me that is a natural category of human experience. I think for many it would be experience relating to a particular religion, or in the worse cases, to one particular religion. Frankly I’d rather pursue that difference but it is probably tangental to the thread.


(Mitchell W McKain) #20

After a forced break due to the post number restrictions on new participants, I find I will have to be more judicious in writing responses, including combining them as much as possible.

To Reggie_O_Donaghue @Reggie_O_Donoghue
I like the Anglican church. I have been considering that for a next church… means Episcopal denomination here in the states as far as I can tell.

To Albert Leo @aleo
The key word in what I said is the “I.” “I attach no importance to patriotism.” If you read the OP again perhaps you will see why – I had an extremely liberal upbringing. I do not confuse my internal state with reality to say, “patriotism has no importance.” I suppose you can say I am an idealist in the sense that my only loyalties are to what is right and I will not give my family, country, race, sex, species, or world any precedence in that. Indeed, I am more inclined to sacrifice these for the sake of what is right. I pretend to no delusion of anything like pure objectivity. Life requires subjective participation where what I want makes a difference – so of course I will give some precdednce to my own needs and values in the living of my life. Nor does this mean I do not honor those who have made sacrifices for sake of a better world, but why should I honor those of my own country any more than those of other countries?

As for things like globalization and unification, I am very wary of this. The lesson I take away from Genesis 11 is that war is not the greatest evil – a world united in a single evil way of life is a greater evil than that. I place a higher value on diversity and competition between many different ways of thinking – I see this as being as valuable to the survival of human civilization as genetic diversity is to the survival of the species.

To Christy
I am quite frank that all my Christian beliefs are in exactly the same category as the beliefs of other in things like faries, UFOs, psychics, alternative medicine, and ghosts. Just because I believe them cannot change the fact that they are based on subjective justification (such as personal experience) just like these beliefs of others.

And…BTW… I am not a fan of the word “soul.” I tend to use the world “spirit” instead (going back to 1 Cor 15 as my touchstone) and I believe that spirit is something which comes to all living things in accordance with the measure of life they experience (which is highly quantitative).

To MarkD
I share your respect of William James as worthy of some attention. I distinguish different religions like Christianity, Islam, etc according to what they believe. But of course, this does not sum up religion, it is only the easiest and most substantial means of categorization that I personally at least can get a grip on.

To both Christy and MarkD @Christy @MarkD
I see no reason whatsoever to make the word “religion” the property of organized groups, except when trying to get a handle on major labels like Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, etc… I will not deny the value of labels for the purpose of communication so that we can zero in on where particular people are at. But too much emphasis on group categorization can be misleading, for the individuals are not as united in belief, experience, and values as such labels might make it appear.

I wonder if this is also connected with my aversion to the habit of many of the religious in making even God into the exclusive property of their particular religion. We can talk of different gods as a convenient way of speaking. I will even talk about all the different Christian deities which I do not believe in. But I would not confuse the God I believe is real with the any of the various human conceptions of him. Indeed I think their are some issues in theology where this leads to some really big distortions.