8-1. All persons make a priori assumptions, whether they realize it or not. If one
posits the existence of God, then one has no more made an a priori assumption than
if one posits the non-existence of God.
What one never really does, however, is make no assumptions about the Ultimate
Question: the agnostic finally defaults to atheism.
8-2. Whether absurd or not, whether true or not, I have posited something like the
following premises as the foundation of this study (although I am not sure which is
really first and which are derivative): first, that there is a God; second, that God by
his nature is not only omniscient and omnipotent but omnibenevolent and therefore
non-retributive; third, that God came to earth in human form (that is, self-imposing
certain limitations on his powers) in order to exemplify the right kind of conduct
toward other persons.
In other words, I have assumed, for all practical purposes, that Jesus was the
Messiah, a Child of God in some unique sense.
8-3. I assume the divinity of Christ in part because the choice is there to make:
one posits that Jesus either was or was not the Messiah. It is also a matter of great
import which of these choices turns out to be true. If he was the Messiah, then we
should certainly want to know what he really said and meant. If he was not, then we
should want to be free of a lot of myths.
In any case, we get nowhere by assuming nothing about the existence and nature
of God: a premise is a first step. One cannot move forward in practice or in theory
if one does not posit that first premise, make that first step.
8-4. Some other premises would seem to follow from the assumption of the
divinity of Christ: if one assumes that Jesus was God incarnate, then one might want
to assume that, regardless of the incoherence and incompleteness of the fragments of
his teachings which have come down to us, he had something coherent to say.
Assuming coherence, one cannot rationally do other than attempt a reconstruction
of his life and teachings, a reconstruction that must challenge the biblical account in
many particulars. One relies primarily upon the methods of rationalism, not
empiricism, in attempting such a reconstruction. As for simply trying to find out what
Jesus really said, one certainly cannot simply quote the Bible, for that would not even
be empiricism but dogmatism.
What one finds, in any case, is that both the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth and the
Bible cannot both be presumed to be coherent. An inerrantist view of the Bible forces
one to an incoherent view of the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth.
8-5. I have assumed that religious faith need not be dogma so much as "working
premises"--choices one makes as presuppositions for further action and inquiry. In
this sense one "chooses to believe" in a very literal sense: one chooses the premises
upon which one will reflect and act.
Faith is not so much the substance of things hoped for as it is the essence of things
posited--and acted upon.
8-6. "Faith" does not imply irreversible commitment that is closed to all new
experience or argument. It does have a quality of boldness in the face of uncertainty,
but only because faith implies making a choice and acting on it--a choice that could
be wrong, with consequences that could be disastrous, but preferable in any case to
waiting passively for things to happen to one.
Nor is it only in formal religious faith that what one posits is that which one hopes
for. One also posits (and hopes) that an ordinary wooden bridge will not collapse as
one drives over it. That presupposition is also faith, for faith is only a rational
premise for action.
8-7. A bridge across eternity cannot, of course, be tested or examined empirically
as simply as can a bridge across a river. Nonetheless, one does not want to exclude
any empirical knowledge that could conceivably bear upon the truth or falsity of any
religious assumption of an a priori nature.
Does all of this imply that a priori assumptions can be proven or disproven by
empirical data? The answer is certainly "no" at the level of single assertions, but
within the grand rationalistic architectonic of a social theory based upon a priori
assumptions, the congruence of the worldview with empirical evidence is vital. If it
were not so, then we would not be justified in resorting to what fragmented and
flawed empirical evidence we have in the biblical account of the life and teachings of
Other empirical evidence is also relevant, however, such as fossils deposited over
millions of years in sedimentary rock. These seem to imply that the universe evolves,
a conclusion which impels one to believe that God (if one posits the existence of God)
is a God who continues to create.
Above all, what Christian ethics and evolutionary theory working together seem
to imply is that God might also still be in the process of creating and developing what
we typically call "human nature." One dare not presume that knowledge of either
God or the empirical world is irrelevant for understanding the human psyche, either
for what it is or for what it is becoming.
8-8. There is the possibility that the views of the best Christian commentators
(such as Augustine and Aquinas) might be more important than the views of Jesus
himself--if he was not the Son of God, God Incarnate.
Yet, if there is even a chance that he was the Son of God, then, abhorrent as it is
to the secular tradition of political theory, we must take the leap and look--heaven
forbid--at biblical exegesis as a valid form of inquiry in political theory.
8-9. Jesus as communist? as anarchist? as radical Jew? as pacifist? Well, the
answers in the first two cases are maybe so and maybe not, depending upon one's
definitions, but Jesus as radical Jewish pacifist going against the grain of an entire cul-
On an existential human level, that is exactly what he was.
8-10. In the case of ethical systems, one must depend a great deal on coherence
criteria as much as, if not more than, upon correspondence criteria: one assumes
coherence for a Messiah, and, upon that premise, one perhaps allows the coherence
criteria to override claims of fact where those are not strictly verifiable by empirical
means alone. (Conflicting or nonsensical scriptural accounts represent a case in
The epistemological problem does loom paramount. It is such a forbidding
problem that, unless one has a compelling moral vision or intuition, one is not likely
to want to invest too much time in the kind of speculative theory which is necessary
just to frame the questions, much less try to provide the answers.
8-11. The ethical paradigm offered here ought at least to provide the basis for a
meaningful interpretation of history, one that is ultimately morally satisfying,
internally consistent, and congruent with the facts. Yet, it is not possible to work
backwards and presume that one can prove the validity of one's ethical stance by
simply pointing to the historical record. History in itself "proves" nothing.
The "lesson" of Vietnam, for example, seems clear enough to the pacifist, but a
very different lesson appears equally clear to the militarist. Perhaps one might
speculate so far as to say that the wrong interpretation will ultimately prove morally
and intellectually dissatisfying, but only because it goes counter to basic rational
ethical insights, not because it can be proved to have been unjustified by empirical
The exact interplay between empirical verification and moral insight is an ultimate
problem and will not be resolved here. I hope, however, that by emphasizing rational
consistency rather than the historical record by itself, I will find a basis for rebutting
militaristic interpretations of certain factually non-controversial events--interpreta-
tions generally lumped together as claims that this or that war was practically neces-
sary and morally justifiable.
A valid pacifistic worldview, that is, ought to provide the basis for reinterpreting
history and saving it from the dominant popular paradigms which presume to show
the necessity and justification of war, punishment, and state coercion of every kind.
8-12. In terms of the formal theoretical foundations of pacifism, what one seeks
is an ethic which comes the closest to being a reconciliation of consequentialist and
deontological theories of ethics,1 or which at least tries to satisfy the essential insights
from both traditions. As a general rule, one wants to believe that the principles of
pacifism, non-retributivism, and transnationalism (non-exclusivity) would tend to
promote good consequences. Yet, one feels the force of such principles even in those
circumstances where good consequences either do not obviously follow or cannot be
One wants as well a deontological theory which does not lead into the quicksand
of utilitarian theories, as well as one which does not leave one high and dry on the
"empty formalism" of Kantian ethics. One wants a deontology and a teleology, that
is, but the deontology that one wants is not that of Kant, while the teleology that one
wants is certainly not that of Bentham.
8-13. In Kantian theory the only thing good in itself (the only inherent good) is
good will. This doctrine is advanced in the name of "natural law."2
The problem with this view of good, as well as with the conception of natural law
that it represents, is that it posits a totally amorphous and vacuous theory of good.
If one believes that all good comes from God, then Kant's view implies that all that
God wills for the world is good will--and nothing more. Everything else is seen to be
a matter of either rational personal choice or purely emotional personal preference.
The view is superficially attractive because it seems to promise each individual the
role of value legislator. It also "frees" one from the task of deciding what to do with
the competing claims as to what specific things might be inherently good, as on the
more traditional natural law view.
Most problematic, however, is that this amorphous theory of good and natural law
is seen to imply for Kant only that the moral law may be summed up totally in the
requirement to treat other persons as ends in themselves, capable of making rational
choices and contracting with other persons on mutually agreeable terms. Yet, if all
other ends are mere matters of taste or convention, then Kant's view implies that
anything agreed to by consenting rational beings, and carried out in good faith and
good will, is "good." The resolution of these differences becomes then not an
intuitive moral problem for each individual person, but a juridical problem for deciding
between competing claims. It is no accident that the theoretical relativity of ends in
Kant leads to a sterile legalism in practice.
Kant's legalism and concomitant retributivism, that is, are derivative of a certain
type of relativism.
8-14. Does Kantian epistemology lead to a particular conception of God and of
It should be remembered, of course, that Kant does not truly posit God, especially
not the God of the New Testament--his system is one that stands on reason alone.3
There is thus not only a certain scepticism for Kant about the prospects of knowing
God, but there is also a disparagement of the human need for divinely ordained
structure and purpose in knowledge of particular forms of what is "good" or
Empty formalism begets relativism, however, and relativism begets legalism.
Without the possibility of knowing the specifics of divine law, moral theory is
transformed into legal theory, for legal theory derives from the presumption of
irreconcilable conflicts, and legal theory must posit the state as the arbiter of
Kant was a legalist, a statist, and he was these things because of his weak and
vacuous conception of the good, which in turn derived from his sceptical approach
to the ultimate epistemological problem: the existence and nature of God.
8-15. What are some substantive questions that every natural law theory ought to
address? A few come instantly to mind:
(1) Does God will that persons should rule over each other in hierarchical
relationships, or is his ultimate will that persons should be capable of finding non-
hierarchical and non-authoritarian forms of human association?
(2) Does God will a specific pattern of mating and mate selection, even though the
world evinces a multitude of varying patterns in this regard?
(3) Does God will that humankind should use reason to develop technological
devices that will allow persons to dominate physical nature and thus escape the
constraints of the natural order, or does God will that persons should use reason to
discover the underlying harmony within physical nature and to live in accordance with
this posited harmony?
Whether approached as problems of ethics or of neutral scientific enquiry, these
issues at least point to questions of inherent value. The Kantian view does not seem
to allow these questions to be approached as other than matters of personal
preference: such matters are for Kant within the "phenomenal" realm, and as such are
not matters that are seen to be central ethical questions for him. Indeed, the empty
formalism of Kant's philosophy is in reality a denial of the significance of all truly
meaningful natural law questions.
8-16. Even those of us who must reject the Kantian system of ethics must
nonetheless acknowledge that Kant has seen something quite clearly, and the clarity
of his vision is useful: the linkage between retribution and the state. Indeed, we may
go further and say not so much that the state exists for the purpose for administering
retribution as that the state is retribution: the state is the realm of all practices and
beliefs embodying the principle of retribution.
In any case, Kant was wrong in deducing from his general Categorical Imperative
a specific categorical imperative of retribution.4
8-17. It may be noteworthy that Kant began with secular (or at least scepticist)
premises, and that he concluded with a conception of the moral law containing a
categorical imperative of retribution rather than one of non-retribution. An overtly
theistic, non-retributive conception of God, by contrast, impels one toward an ethic
of non-retribution. Perhaps one might risk so much as to say that, without the correct
theistic premises, there cannot be valid ethical conclusions. Human reason is relied
upon in positing either premise, but in the one instance the premises upon which
reason operates are either atheistic, agnostic, or retributively theistic, and in the other
case they are overtly theistic.
I am aware that there are some agnostics among those who consider themselves
"non-retributivists." I wonder, however, if they could accept the radical non-
retributivism set forth in this work, or whether such a radical non-retributivism
requires overtly theistic premises of a non-retributive nature. I do not want to
overstate the case of a linkage between theistic (or other epistemological) premises
and ethical conclusions, since one can always find theorists who may serve as
counterexamples. Yet, if the arguments are coherent, one must believe that the
assumptions must have something to do with the conclusions.
8-18. It is conceivable that God is a retributive God who yet thinks that judgment
and retribution are too important to be left to human beings. I do not think so,
however, since I believe that God wills that persons should will what God wills. A
non-retributive human made in the image of a retributive God makes no sense.
A retributive human made in the image of a retributive God remains a logically
coherent possibility, of course. I can only say in this regard that the only practical
"proof" of the viability of the theistic assumption is the psychological viability of the
ethic which is entailed by it. I do not find a retributive ethic to be agreeable to the
very core of my psyche, and the dissonant emotional state which reflects (or is) this
spiritual condition is existential "proof" (or at least evidence) that the assumption is
This agreeability with the psyche is the most overt linkage between theology and
moral psychology. One assumes, that is, the epistemological significance of the
condition of one's psyche, and one thereby takes very seriously indeed the congruence
between one's emotions and intuitions, on the one hand, and the corresponding ethical
and theological belief systems which seem to be correlated with them.
One looks, that is, for emotional and intuitive feedback as means of testing one's
rationalistic premises and conclusions.
8-19. How can we know the answer to the ultimate theological question: why do
innocent persons suffer? We cannot, but we can speculate and see what conclusions
follow from our speculations.
Let us speculate that God allows suffering for possibly more than one reason,
among them being the possibility that only the suffering of the innocent is sufficient
to pierce the most hardened hearts. Innocent persons tend to be valued--even loved--
by other persons, even those whose capacity for love runs low. The thought of the
end of all innocent persons is perhaps enough to make even the most hardened heart
reflect upon the meaning of life, for who would want to live in a world where there
was no idealism and only cynicism?
One thing does seem clear: God does allow at least some injustices to exist,
possibly so that we may learn to respond to them with good. Beyond that one can
only speculate as to what is in the mind of God.
8-20. I take it to be self-evidently true that much of the Old Testament is more in
the nature of folklore than revealed truth. This is most obviously true in the Genesis
story of the creation of the Earth, as well as in the "historical" accounts from Adam
and Eve to Noah and beyond.5 The early books of the Old Testament represent the
early attempts of a nomadic people to offer explanations as to how the earth was
created and how men and women came to live and die on it. Like early accounts in
most cultures, one finds exaggeration and speculation.
Over time, of course, priesthoods were established to stand watch over the
compilation and revision of such stories, especially as they began to be written down.
Formal priesthoods, of course, are typically somewhat reactionary organizations
which can become concerned above all with enhancing the legitimacy of the office of
the priests themselves, rather than to advance the cause of truth. Priesthoods thereby
tend to reject all attempts to challenge the total legitimacy of their received wisdom:
what began as folklore and ethical and theological speculation finally comes to be
bound up together as something of a "package deal" as far as truth is concerned.
Anyone who challenges the moral authority of the priesthood in a primitive
theocratic culture is going to get into trouble. Thus it was when along came Jesus of
Nazareth, challenging the traditions and biases of a priestly culture thousands of years
8-21. It has been the priesthood itself which has been largely responsible for the
infamous dilemma between blind, unquestioning faith and blind, unquestioning
rejection of faith. The priests have simply not had enough faith in the power of truth
to admit of defects or limitations in the official versions of it. The problem has
derived largely from the presumption that the elders of a community should be entitled
to respect simply by virtue of having been the elders.
The most horrible paternalism has thus resulted with regard to intellectual enquiry.
Whether to insulate the faith of their "flocks" or of themselves, this priestly
paternalism has resulted in aversion to parallel studies of a religious and scientific
nature. The often false dilemma between science and religion thus was not created
primarily by the scientific community, but by the priestly community, which refused
to accept any claims of science which came into conflict with holy writ.
The result has been an often bitter and usually fruitless attempt by parties on both
sides to defend either science or religion in opposition to each other: a more robust
faith, in either, would have allowed for the possibility of reconciling at least some
competing claims. The progress of ethical enquiry depends upon respect for both
religion and science. There is nothing in either which requires the exclusion of the
8-22. The epistemology of a meaningful, reasoned religion requires a receptive-
ness to empirical and non-empirical knowledge of varying kinds (reason, intuition, et
cetera). The empirical component cannot, of course, be set aside as applying only to
those questions which are not religious or biblical: it is the Bible itself which must be
subjected to the most intense empirical scrutiny, even though it is equally true that
empirically-based knowledge will not prove the validity of what one might want to
affirm on the theological plane. One must nonetheless subject all religious knowledge
to as much scientific scrutiny as possible, even if one finally rejects empirical science
as the ultimate authority on religious questions.
8-23. Notwithstanding the valid concessions to science, it is still the case, as J. B.
Phillips says, that "to any Christian these [biblical documents] are the most important
documents in the world."7 He goes on to say that "anything therefore which makes
the significance and relevance of the Personal Visit clearer to the reader is to be
welcomed with open arms."
By "anything," Phillips refers only to the content of the Greek documents which
are our oldest sources of the New Testament. I would go further and refer to science
as well, whether linguistic analysis of the New Testament or scientific theories such
as evolution which challenge the larger biblical tradition.
Intellectual difficulties are admittedly introduced by wanting to believe portions of
the Bible without believing all of it. Yet, these difficulties with believing only parts
of the Bible, as great as they are, are not as great as those which come with either
accepting or rejecting the Bible in toto. The dilemma must be bridged; the tightrope
must be walked. The study of the Bible must be a scientific enterprise, whatever else
it might be.
The scientific evidence to date does not show the Bible to be either totally true or
8-24. In attempting a reconstruction of the full ethical system of Jesus of
Nazareth, my premise (or is it conclusion?) has not only been that the Bible contains
only fragments of his teachings, but that the biblical version of his life and teachings
is substantially flawed, both as a historical account as well as a statement of moral
philosophy. His disciples clearly did not fully understand his message, and this
problem is compounded by the fact that he seems not to have written anything down.
Some very difficult choices were required of me in the course of this attempted
reconstruction. First, there was the question as to whether or not to take seriously
the claims of divinity: could the ethical system be understood apart from its religious
context? I decided, with trepidation, that it could not, and so I assumed at the very
least that Jesus did at least see himself as the Messiah. Second, since neutrality on
such basic assumptions also seemed unlikely to produce anything of real value, I also
had to make a choice as to whether or not I would take the claim of divinity seriously:
any attempted ethical reconstruction is bound to vary, depending upon whether or not
one accepts or rejects the premise of the divinity of Christ. Or, at least, so it seemed
to me, and thus I decided to give what some would decry as the scientifically
unjustifiable benefit of the doubt to the claim of divinity, at least as an operating
That is, the attempted ethical reconstruction here is one made by a believer, not a
non-believer, in the divinity of Christ. This premise of Jesus' divinity is the strongest
epistemological assumption conceivable, and I must confess that it must be viewed
as having been originally made on a substantially a priori basis, in spite of the flawed
historical record of the Bible. That is, the assumption of divinity was only a premise,
especially during the early stages of inquiry.
That the assumption of the divinity of Christ need not remain completely at the
level of the a priori means that, once assumed, it admits of a high degree of rational
confirmation through further analysis, speculative theory, and perhaps even some very
limited empirical evidence culminating in the construction of a full theoretical
architectonic of Christian ethics within the context of Christian faith. Some of that
"empirical evidence" is of a psychological nature, since one's emotional feedback upon
trying to live the Christian ethic is a significant form of verification, even as it does not
8-25. It is true that the claim of divinity of Jesus can be interpreted in weak or
strong terms. On the weak interpretation, Jesus could have been only a radical Jew
who assumed that we were all children of God, and upon that basis he might have
trusted his own conscience as a son of God to challenge the religious and political
orthodoxies of his day. On the other hand, he might have really believed that he was
the Son of God in the stronger and more unique sense of being God Incarnate. Those
who have given us the record which we have clearly believed the latter, and I also
have accepted this strong interpretation as to his own concept of himself.
After choosing to accept the premise that Jesus thought of himself as the Son of
God, another choice presented itself: was Jesus sane or not? If he made the weak
claim, the issue of his sanity would probably not arise; but, if he made the strong
claim, then the question of sanity would indeed arise and would thereby affect the
issue of coherence: we are not typically justified in attributing coherence to an insane
man, and we certainly do not typically adjudge as sane those who claim to be God.
In any case, the whole attempt to offer a coherent reconstruction of his ethical
teachings led me more and more into the overtly religious teachings, so that I was
finally unable to deal with the issue of ethical coherence without making a judgment
of the man himself. It seemed unreasonable to try to take his ethical teachings
seriously if one could not take the man seriously: as he himself said, it is by their fruits
that you shall know them. No madman, then, could be expected to speak great truths,
especially not in a coherent fashion.
The New Testament ethical account is not entirely coherent on its face. Therefore
the choice arose as to whether or not to attribute the incoherence to the man or to the
incomplete and inadequately understood record of his teachings on the part of his
earliest followers. I chose primarily the latter, again giving him the benefit of the
doubt: there seemed to be a thread of a teaching not only so coherent but so
compelling and inspiring that to do otherwise would have been intellectually
dishonest. I say "primarily," however, insofar as Jesus' thought may have changed
significantly over the course of his life on earth. I thus did not assume total coherence
in all of his teachings, especially with regard to the retributive language that pervades
many parables and metaphors attributed to him.
8-26. Given the force of Jesus' teaching, and the way that it was so tightly
intertwined with the account of the man's personality (especially in the face of arrest
and execution), I decided (or perhaps discovered) that the posited coherence could
only be reconstructed by treating the life and the teachings as an indivisible whole.
The whole which emerged was so compelling that I found it hard, on balance, to say
with any authority that such a message and such an example could likely have come
from just another intellectual critic of the establishment.
At this point, it occurred to me that my own biases do not matter. Others might,
after all, say that other important figures, such as Socrates or Gandhi, have
demonstrated a comparable congruence of teaching and personality, and that therefore
there is no reason to assume divinity for Jesus of Nazareth in any particular sense--
especially not in the strong sense of being the Son of God.
I can respect that idea, but I also found that some of his most powerful ethical
statements seemed to emanate from claims about his divinity. These arose from
particular accounts of temptation to use force--first, early in his career, when he was
tempted to become like earthly rulers and to try to set up a secular kingdom (my
interpretation of his being "tempted by the devil in the wilderness" in the fourth
chapter of Matthew); and, second, very late in his career when he was arrested and
is said to have responded to Peter's use of force by saying that he could, if he wanted,
"call down twelve legions of angels" and thereby avoid the subsequent interrogations,
beatings, and execution. Such temptations are only fully intelligible if one is talking
either about a madman or a Messiah.
The choice of merely radical Jewish intellectual did not make sense in the context
of such claims of divinity: if he actually made such claims, he either was the Messiah
or else he was crazy. Again, a choice which was a de facto epistemological choice
seemed to present itself.
8-27. There yet remained the possibility that the biblical account was so flawed
that the above strong statements attributed to Jesus of Nazareth were simply false, the
products of biblical revision over the centuries. Since these were so central to his
historical significance and the force of his ethical teachings, however, throwing these
out as being false meant giving up on the project entirely: nothing of real significance
would remain, except possibly the story of just another deranged person who thought
that he was God. The choice was therefore to presume the accuracy of at least some
of the core teachings, necessitating thereby the dismissing of the possibility that this
was just another radical Jewish intellectual.
Thus did I come to the stark choice: Messiah or madman. Upon the basis of that
choice, one made slowly and painfully over a period from 1973 to 1989, I very
grudgingly accepted as an operating premise the divinity of Jesus of Nazareth in the
strong sense. Others may choose not to and may find other interpretations besides
mine more compelling. I can only say that, in my case, I came to these strong
conclusions from a stance of initial adult agnosticism after having been raised as a
child in a fundamentalist household.
The reconstruction of my beliefs on a more critical and much more liberal
theological footing does not, of course, protect me from the criticisms of those who
might see me as merely reaffirming some childhood dogma. That might be true, but
it also might not. In any case, there is never an adequate defense against such a
charge. I can only say that my present ethical and theological views are greatly at
odds with the teachings of my childhood.
I can also say, however, that the reconstruction of my beliefs paralleled a
reconstruction of my life. The earlier fundamentalist beliefs had to collapse with the
fall from innocence, and I believe that the reconstruction is more mature, more honest
than either the early fundamentalism or the later agnosticism. This is so in spite of
errors of judgment or of interpretation that remain. I am not assuming, of course, that
my thought has ceased to evolve.
8-28. Christian ethics, so far from being a repudiation of reason, is founded in
reason. Indeed, it is not too strong to say that Christian ethics is based upon one most
fundamental premise: that reason provides an alternative to force, threat, or
manipulation. Reason, that is, is not a mere instrument of truth but is itself a
substantive expression or manifestation of truth. To the extent that persons genuinely
speak from or with True Reason, they speak to some degree from God, for reason in
its fullness and completeness itself reflects the very spirit of God. Thus everything
that is truly spoken from reason can be said to be in some sense "divinely inspired."
Divine inspiration is, in any case, not something reserved to the writers of the Bible
or to persons who make overtly religious appeals or claims. Indeed, it is not too
strong to say that much of the Bible most certainly is not divinely inspired, for the
Bible contains much that is false and imperfect. What passes for virtue in the false
culture of religious posturing is little more than book worship: it is hardly the worship
of God, for one cannot simultaneously disparage reason and love God. Bible
worship (which seems to be the defining essence of what is widely called religious
"fundamentalism") is a variant of what sociologist Robert K. Merton has called the
"displacement of goals":8 the Bible, which was a set of writings intended to try to
record insight and truth and therefore to promote the fullest attainment of truth, has
come to be confused with truth itself.
When we have faith in reason, in the fullest and truest sense, we demonstrate faith
in God. When we have unqualified faith in a book, by comparison, we betray a lack
of faith in sustained rational inquiry.
8-29. If it is true that there is such a thing as self-evident truth, then it is also true
that there is a ground of knowledge which might be claimed to be prior not only to
sensory experience, but to reason: a priori knowledge in some radically intuitive
sense. If there is not some kind of truth which is prior to conscious reason, then it is
difficult to comprehend the meaning or significance of the claim that there is self-
If there is self-evident truth, then it would seem that one might have to posit some
kind of fundamental moral faculty which directly intuits that which is good or right.
This idea is hardly a new one, but it is not one which is presently held in high regard.
The idea that there is self-evident truth seems to imply not only that some things are
known prior to both reason and experience, in the sense that those terms are
commonly used, but it seems as well to imply a very important but also strangely
disturbing corollary, a corollary that its advocates have not to my knowledge
This disturbing corollary following from the existence of self-evident knowledge
and truth would be that there are limits to the power of rational and empirical enquiry:
some intuited goods, that is, cannot meaningfully be further argued for, much less
proven or refuted.
By referring to knowledge independent of conscious reason, it may be said that I
am speaking philosophical gibberish, and perhaps I am. Yet, we dare not suppose that
the idea that something is self-evident means that something is self-evident through
conscious reason, but perhaps only that it is self-evident to reasonable and sentient
beings. That is, the idea of self-evident truth seems not to be an endorsement of
rationalism per se, but an endorsement of a way of knowing which is somehow pre-
rational or even extra-rational: an epistemology of simple intuitionism. Reason, on
such a view, can at best try to express and communicate something about the content
of those intuitions.
8-30. Intuitionism in the strong sense has about it that claim of conviction (or
perhaps merely dogma) which is as close to being philosophically invulnerable as one
might get. Nor in calling it "invulnerable" do I necessarily praise it, for I mean only
that it cannot be verified or refuted, either by empirical or rational means. If it cannot
be verified or falsified, either by reason or the senses, then it would seem to be not
only beyond question, but it would seem that it belongs neither to the province of
philosophy nor of science. If it belongs neither to the province of philosophy nor to
that of science, then it surely belongs either to the realm of madness or of religion.
There remains the possibility that truths first glimpsed by intuition can be
independently verified (in some sense) by reason, and perhaps by the senses as well.
The problem is what to do with intuited insights in the meantime.
A stronger claim for intuitive knowledge, however, implies that one simply knows
certain things without knowing how one knows, with no possibility of further
8-31. A doctrine of "invulnerable intuitionism" seems to be so absurd as to be
totally indefensible, implying as it does a certain closed-mindedness. It also suggests
that there might be some things which are known in such a way that further examina-
tion or doubt is not only fruitless but potentially destructive.
So stated, it would seem to be the kind of stance which one might expect to be
held to by dogmatists and authoritarians of all kinds. Yet, the claims of self-evident
knowledge by Thomas Jefferson and others who have been predisposed to challenge
authority suggest that the epistemological doctrine of intuitionism is not in itself the
bulwark of authoritarianism, although its language could be used to buttress the
claims of those who are authoritarian, such as the heads of ecclesiastical and political
8-32. If the ultimate intuited end is peace, and if this peace is also to be achieved
through peaceful means, then how is the psychological disposition to be peaceable and
to use peaceful means to be cultivated?
No theory of the moral psychology of Christian ethics is complete that does not
address this question.
8-33. The affirmation of pacifistic principles is necessary but not sufficient for the
cultivation of the peaceable disposition. We often desire to be peaceable, but our
actual disposition is otherwise. How can it be that our "desire," our spiritual
aspiration, to be peaceable should be so much at odds with our actual emotional
disposition to action?
The problem is perhaps one of a lack of faith, in the non-hackneyed sense of a lack
of a coherent belief system. A complete and perfected faith or belief system would
perhaps come to fruition in a perfectly peaceable disposition. Still, why is it the case
that those with highly developed pacifist ideals can sometimes be as embittered and
cantankerous as those who make no pretensions toward ethical idealism?
Perhaps one possible explanation is that moral failure in one area can lead to the
disintegration of character in other areas. In practice, this could mean that a failure
to be disposed to pacifistic action does not always come from a failure to understand
pacifist ideals, but from self-contempt arising from moral failure in some other realm
of action or belief. The bad conscience or incomplete faith in one realm can surely
affect behavior and general psychological disposition in all areas.
8-34. In Whatever Became of Sin? Karl Menninger seems to be saying that the
unrepented sin has very serious psychological consequences.9 Perhaps one of those
consequences can be a disposition to be suspicious, hostile, and aggressive even in the
face of avowed belief in the principles of peace.
If that is true, it not only suggests that certain varieties of psychopathology have
a foundation in how persons cope with moral dilemmas, but it also suggests that one
of the most horrifying possible consequences of sin is loss of moral insight and
intuition. That is a frightening prospect, indeed, for it implies at least the logical
possibility of the death spiral of the psyche.
Yet, is not the power of God greater than all such rationalization of unrepented
sin? Is our "free agency" so complete that God could and would only stand by and
watch as we made a complete and irreversible journey to self-destruction?
8-35. The need for internalized safeguards to help guard against errors of moral
judgment is obvious if pacifists are not to lose credibility among their more
conventional fellow human beings. Besides, those whose efforts are likely to take
them afoul of official guidelines and sanctions had better be pretty sure that they can
trust their own judgment before they put their lives and happiness on the line.
Even the conventional wisdom holds that faith and judgment can be warped and
distorted by sin and depravity. No person, of whatever ethical persuasion, is immune
to temptation and the subsequent rationalizations and desensitized moral disposition
which are the consequences of moral error: sin. Karl Menninger's idea of the severe
or even grave consequences of unrepented sin is as penetrating an insight of psycholo-
gy as may be found. It suggests that sin in any realm can so damage or destroy
judgment or a benign disposition that the mere claim to be acting in accordance with
pacifist principles is certainly no assurance that one will, in a given problematic
situation, (1) adequately and accurately size up the nature of the moral threat, (2)
think of creative and benign alternatives to the use of force, and (3) exercise the
requisite self-control and patience necessary for responding in a peaceable and
The idea of the danger of "the unrepented sin" reminds us that the wellspring of
all useful thought and action is a healthy psyche, one purged of the false rationaliza
tion which is the consequence of sin. This means that the first course of action in any
situation is to be sure that the mind is clear and that general ethical values are in order.
This means that the first principle is indeed to "Know thyself. . . ." in the most fun-
damental sense, so as to be eternally prepared for whatever nasty surprises may come
our way. We dare not wait for the crisis to burst upon us before we put our houses
in order, before we "trim our lamps." Otherwise we shall react with anger and
shocked surprise, not moral insight and a benevolent disposition.
When Christian ethics seems to be failing us or we seem to be losing our faith in
peaceful solutions and responses, we may be sure that not only does the practical
situation need further analysis, but that even before this the purity of our hearts must
be restored: "Seek ye first the Kingdom of Heaven. . . . "
8-36. To what extent can one achieve a consistently altruistic and non-retributive
disposition, a disposition so gentle and good that one does not even stop to think of
the prudential concern except insofar as it is instrumental to the moral one? Is such
a degree of altruism possible? Can it be achieved by rational thought? Is it a habit of
thought? Can one achieve it finally once and for all?
The growth of our spiritual selves, of the fountain of character, depends on
answers to questions such as these.
8-37. Those who believe in the efficacy of force do not necessarily act from
vindictive motives or from selfishness. They are perhaps neither more nor less
vindictive or selfish than those who claim to abjure the use of force or violence.
The bitter idealist is a common enough phenomenon that it would be absurd to
think that those who are more idealistic in their avowed beliefs are necessarily the
more emotionally mature or the most benevolent in their dispositions. Indeed, many
avowed pacifists advocate peace on a global scale but operate out of pettiness or
malice at the personal level. If pacifists were more prone to such tendencies than
others, then one would have reason to suspect that an ethic of pacifism itself is the
corrupting influence. Fortunately, this does not seem to be the case: pacifists are at
least not demonstrably worse than others in the development of their personalities.
The question remains, however, as to whether they are demonstrably better.
Perhaps the personal foibles of pacifists are an indication that they either do not
really believe what they are saying, or else they have yet to grasp the full implications
of pacifism: that its locus of action is typically not global, but local. In addition, many
who call themselves pacifists are still believers in the necessity of making judgments
about the worth of others, or else they are legalists or believers in the efficacy of
punishment: they are just one or another variety of strident moralist. In addition,
there is the perennial problem of self-contempt and low self-esteem, which may come
out as a hateful, suspicious, or aggressive disposition. Are pacifists less likely to have
greater self-esteem? The answer is surely "no" when they make moral claims which
they do not strive to live up to.
I do believe that, in spite of such failures by individual pacifists, there can be little
doubt but that a coherent and complete pacifistic ethic is a positive force which tends
to integrate personalities over time, whereas militarism has the opposite tendency over
time. The young pacifist and the young militarist may resemble each other a great
deal in their motivations and intellectual outlooks. It is not clear that the same can be
said for those whose lives have been shaped over the decades by one outlook or the
This much said, there is nothing more common than the career military officer who
has maintained or developed qualities of gentleness with age. These are typically
persons who have not been afraid to express their doubts about military solutions,
persons who have sought alternative intellectual foundations for ethical action. They
have, that is, become more pacifistic in their thinking as well as in their emotional
Where one does see the most troubling tendencies toward irascibility and
authoritarian personality traits, however, is in those advocates of judgment and force
who have closed their minds to alternative ways of thinking--those who insist upon
defending the indefensible, suppressing their doubts even as they shrivel their souls
in their desire to escape the truth.
8-38. Some "pacifists" do not so much advocate peace as they renounce war.
This in itself would be admirable if it were not part of a more general tendency to
renounce everything, just another act of renunciation and cynicism.
When no positive ethic of peace is offered in place of war, pacifism does not bear
fruit either in constructive action or in the cultivation of a benevolent disposition.
8-39. Hateful "pacifists" do not love peace. They only need someone to hate in
order to feel superior, and the persons in the military are a convenient target.
Much that passed for pacifism among some young radicals (including this one) of
the late sixties or early seventies was simply a spin-off of the tendency of rebellion and
renunciation. There was much genuine idealism in the anti-war movement of that
period, but there was also much that was simply cynicism, nihilism, self-indulgence,
and what Marx himself called "left-wing opportunism."
Yet, even the baser tendencies which came to light during the sixties and early
seventies in the anti-war movement were to some extent a product of the culture of
war. The Vietnam War was not hated because it was unwinnable, but because it
seemed so utterly pointless to so many persons. The perceived purposelessness of the
war became linked in many minds to the perceived purposelessness of the culture in
general: throwing off the Vietnam War went hand in hand with throwing off the rat
race of competition for grades and jobs--and often much else besides. Thus did the
anti-war movement come to be associated with the counter-culture, even though
members of the counterculture were rarely principled pacifists.
Notwithstanding the negative manifestations of much of the anti-war movement
and the counterculture of the late sixties and early seventies, it is not at all clear that
the renunciation was all in error. The problem for most young persons who
renounced the values of their elders was finding other values to affirm. That many
would go too far was probably inevitable: once certain values had become discredited,
it was too easy to assume that the entire culture had been discredited, and many
succumbed to the temptation of banal thoughtlessness.
8-40. The retributive tendency can be expressed in dignified language and theories
as a "principled retributivism," but it is still a rationalization of the worst in human
nature, tendencies toward irrationality, vengeance.
If this is correct, then the implication is that, whenever one is prone toward any
retributive judgment or act, one must (if one can) immediately challenge and check
one's own judgment and actions. This is the ultimate or final personal backup on one's
own limited rationality. If this backup fails, and one trusts one's irrational judgment
of another, then one's blind assessment of that other person as an offending party
worthy of retribution might mean that one has passed the last rational warning
preventing one's total loss of control, resulting in the poorest decisions or even acts
It is important to recognize that the correctness of the judgment is irrelevant here:
even were the assessment of the other's culpability correct, there would still be the
problem of whether action based upon such judgment would ever be functional in a
social sense. Therefore, whenever one's anger rises, one must assume that one's
rational thought processes have not up to that point been sufficient to deal with the
situation in a problem-solving mode. Full brakes must be applied to action at this
point until one is certain that full rationality is being brought to bear. The only way
to know this for sure is to have the feeling of anger or retribution not merely
disappear but be replaced by a sense of understanding and even compassion. If the
negative emotions are still present, then the decision is suspect, to say the least.
Rethinking is called for. This may be the case where one disavows retributive
principles and practices, while yet being driven by hostile or retributive impulses.
All of this follows logically and practically from the equation of irrationality and
retributive tendencies, even if the latter does not seem to be manifesting itself as
emotion but as principled retributive rationales. Rationalization is rationalization, and
the more dignified is its cloak, the greater is its danger.
8-41. The words of Stephen, "Lay not this sin to their charge,"10 are said to have
been uttered during a vision of Christ as he was being stoned to death. The words are
very similar to the words of Christ on the cross, "Father, forgive them; they know not
what they do."
This similarity has been oft noted. Because Stephen is the more obviously human,
his feelings invite direct identification--it is hard for most of us to identify with Christ
on the cross forgiving his malefactors. In Stephen's case, there seems to be a total
absence of rancor, even a spirit of good will, that contrasts so strongly with the smug
men who were stoning him to death, or with Saul of Tarsus who stood to the side
watching with approval.
Jesus also had to contend with smug men, and others who were downright
treacherous. We assume that his motives were at least as perfect as those of Stephen.
In assuming that he was divine, however, we may cease to be impressed at the
retelling of the story.
8-42. If we measure our love only by our rational concern, and not by what we
feel, then we do ourselves a disservice. The capacity to feel is still the best measure
of our spiritual vitality--and of our true rationality. When we are losing that
emotional capacity, when we see the first symptoms of spiritual death in either
numbness or in resentment toward our real enemies, long before we feel indifference
or hatred toward those whom we truly love, then we should be alerted that we are on
the slope toward ruin. It is then that we should be prepared to alter our present
course so totally as to be prepared to give up everything that we have if such is the
price that we pay for the regaining of the spiritual integrity whose value is in its own
state of being as well as in its fruits for others.
8-43. Insofar as the divine telos or purpose in human nature is the endstate toward
which present human nature is evolving, then we may yet speak meaningfully of a
teleological conception of morals based on human nature, but only if we emphasize
that this nature is in the process of becoming, and is not yet fully in being.
Evolving human nature is thus not seen here to be the ultimate standard of morals,
but should rather be viewed as the end product of moral evolution guided by the
unchanging will and spirit of God guiding action and subsequent genetic development.
What we call "human nature" is thus useful as a standard only insofar as it points to
the ultimate will of God for human nature. It is this will which is the only standard
which is eternal and unchanging and thus a suitable foundation for morals.
We are not, of course, at any endstate, either as individuals or as a species, and so
even strong assumptions about "human nature" do not give us the ultimate rock
promised by some natural law theory. Our reason and our moral vision continue, that
is, to outdistance our instinctual nature.
8-44. As a rationalist in the Christian tradition, I assume that we need not use
some extrapolated human nature to derive our moral ideals. Rather, we should
extrapolate from our moral ideals (rationally ascertained with the assistance of
intuition, emotion, and scripture) to figure out what our human nature may be
becoming, at least in terms of dispositions to action and behavior (which latter two
terms are not synonymous).
That is, the recognition that human nature may evolve should make us realize that
the standard of morals must be not in nature, static or changing, but in the spirit of
God which is directing that change. Thus it is in the realm of ideas, spiritual intuition,
or reason that we are to look for the values ordained of God, and so we may measure
our progress on the moral evolutionary ladder accordingly.
8-45. In purely practical terms, an unethical person will not bring to his or her
stressful decisions that reservoir of conviction and self-esteem so necessary for good
will and a predisposition toward rational and benevolent action and behavior.
Unethical persons will as likely as not try to cover up their own failures from
themselves, by engaging in rationalizations which will affect not only a disposition to
act but a disposition to judge clearly.
There can be no reason for an unethical person to be capable of great rationality
or good will when confronted with a stressful situation, whether or not that situation
is substantively related to the source of guilt.
An unethical person, in other words, is an unpredictable and dangerous person,
even where predictably evil. Such is the fruit of a bad conscience. Even so, one
would rather be on the receiving end of such caprice born of the bad conscience than
to be the author of such capricious and dangerous action.
8-46. The pure consequentialist, the utilitarian, is apt to see himself as a decisive
"man of action," when what he really means is that he is a man of great impatience.
The pacifist, by contrast, is apt to be viewed as passive, when in fact his slow and
deliberate appeal to rational persuasion simply reflects patience borne of faith. The
pacifist is above all a person who reflects upon the way that God has created and is
creating the earth, with change so imperceptible that, were it not for the scientific
evidence of evolution buried in millions of years of sedimentation, one could scarcely
believe that the world is changing at all.
8-47. If belief in God is the natural and healthy state of the human psyche, then
such belief is challenged by events such as the suffering of the just, and by nature "red
in tooth and claw." It is conceivable that some persons--and even entire cultures--may
choose not to believe in order to find some hedonistic excuse to escape the pain of the
world as they find it.
If so, then it is religious unbelief which is the true "opiate of the masses," to turn
Marx completely on his head. Unbelief in such instances is an act of choice, possibly
a rationalization to engage in some pain-killing but socially dysfunctional behavior--
but choice nonetheless.
It is difficult to believe, however, that unbelief in and of itself can be an escape
8-48. Some persons are more prone to carry grudges than others, and perhaps no
characteristic is a better single indicator of character than is the capacity to suffer
from an enduring injustice without succumbing to vindictiveness. Perhaps the person
of totally good will would not be prone to vindictiveness at all. (Do such persons ex-
ist in this life? Is the purpose of this life to produce persons of such disposition?)
Although persons of good will can certainly be injured by others, they do not
compound the injury by dwelling upon it. One who does so ultimately finds that the
resentfulness is a greater evil than is any external pain inflicted by another. Pain
inflicted by another can indeed be excruciating, but rumination over the injury is
literally "hell." This is so whether or not such rumination ever comes to fruition as
overtly vindictive acts: the vice of a vindictive disposition is indeed its own "punish-
Yet, we need not suppose that the "punishment" of being of a vindictive disposition
comes from God or is sanctioned of God. It is a product of renouncing God and his
Spirit of perfect forgiveness.
8-49. It seems likely that embittered, vindictive people are not entirely responsible
for their miserable dispositions, in the same way that some persons seem to be of
good disposition simply because they have not had too hard a time of it. It seems
presumptuous and unfair to label every person of a petty and vindictive disposition as
"evil" or "depraved," even as one is sure that one would not want to trade places with
them. What do we say of persons who seem to be trapped in such a state and who
do not seem to be making progress toward total virtue? Are they victims of perver-
sity or ignorance? Perhaps some of them have simply never been taught better.
Perhaps some of them have been brutalized beyond our comprehension.
8-50. Abuse tends to create or exacerbate a sense of self-contempt. Thus is it
possible to think of a vindictive person as being not so much "vicious" or "depraved"
as victimized--and embittered. After all, among the lower animals, we typically do not
think that a grouchy cat or a vicious dog is really exhibiting a trait of moral character.
They are largely products of a hostile or abusive environment. We humans may
likewise, in either our gentleness or in our embittered vindictiveness, be largely
victims of reinforced patterns of abuse and mistreatment.
We do have the capacity to be self-consciously reflective, however, and thus we
have the capacity to analyze and try to transcend an embittered or vindictive
disposition. Since the natural tendency to become vicious in the face of great abuse
is so strong, however, I think that we do well not to judge those who are obviously
embittered, vindictive, and generally troubled. We might do better to try to see that
they do not suffer further pain, and, if we dare, we might offer teachings as to how
to transcend such a condition--if we know how. The best lesson to teach is, of
course, the lesson of personal example. The last thing that an abusive person needs
is more abuse, such as imprisonment or other social condemnation.
Can one imagine the Christ further abusing an abusive person by subjecting them
to the further abuse of accusation, trial, and imprisonment? Frankly, I cannot, and
neither can I imagine him endorsing any such actions any more than I can imagine him
endorsing war: God, in whatever form we may best imagine him, surely could not
endorse the state or its horrors.
8-51. Perhaps the best way of dealing with the most violently embittered or
vindictive persons would be to shower them with benevolence. That would be a
radical approach to criminality and deviance: "Return good for evil." Instead of
putting the most violently vindictive in prison, perhaps we should give them extra love
and concern, as we would an abused child.
We seem to have tried everything else.
8-52. If we are to finally, fully escape the ethical morass of judgment and
retribution, perhaps we should be prepared to say of the most vicious, vindictive,
petty, or judgmental persons among us: "Father, forgive them. They know not what
they do. Please do not punish them, but instead bless them so that they might know
the fullness of divine mercy and salvation, in both this world and the next."
Otherwise, we should have to assume that anyone would choose such an existence
out of full knowledge and wisdom, and that is implausible in the extreme.
8-53. Two stories juxtaposed in the New Testament were surely not put next to
each other by accident: the story of Jesus calming the raging sea, followed by the
story of Jesus casting out "demons" from the man afflicted by so many of them.11 In
the first instance, the message seems to be that God is the God of all nature, and of
every apparently random contingency of "fate" and circumstance that could possibly
bless us or afflict us in an external or material sense. In the second instance, the
message seems to be that God is the God of the realm of mind and consciousness, of
every force and condition that could possibly afflict or redeem us in an internal or
God, that is, is the God of heaven and earth: he is the God of both the spiritual
realm and the material realm. He is not a force who operates only within us,
comforting us only by his Spirit, while remaining impotent to control events external
to us. The Lord God is Lord of all. Everything that happens is certainly not his will,
but neither is it beyond his ultimate control. The dramas and trials of human existence
are surely not without meaning, even when they seem most devoid of meaning.
Too many wonderful and mysterious things happen to be a matter of mere chance.
8-54. Biblical references to the "fear of God" are either Old Testament passages
or remnants of Old Testament thinking in the New Testament. It is God's warning
that we should heed--we should fear the consequences if we do not heed God's
warning. This is not the same as fearing God. Indeed, it should be the basis of praise,
not abject fear, for God is telling us how to avoid the emptiness of the soul which is
felt as fear.
Even the women at the tomb of Jesus were in fear of the angel as a representative
of God.12 Later, however, Jesus is said to have appeared to them in a more
comforting context.13 The scriptures are replete with examples of divine injunctions
to "Fear not. . . ." God well knows that we tend to feel fear when confronted with his
power or the power of his message, and he wants to reassure us that he is not to be
feared but trusted.
8-55. If God is not the God of fear, but of a sound mind, then why does he create
us with the capacity for fear? The answer here is surely that the design of our psyches
in order to detect a threat to our physical or moral existence is itself an act of grace,
not of threat. God, by building a warning device into our psyches, has not thereby
himself threatened us: there is an essential difference between threat and warning.
Even the lower animals have the capacity for fear: perhaps one of the first functions
of developing rationality is the capacity to comprehend the emptiness inherent in the
threat of extinction. In humankind this capacity has so expanded with the expansion
of rationality that human beings are capable of comprehending threats to their psychic
and moral, not merely physical, well-being.
8-56. Is it possible to know what is right and still do wrong? The question has
been around at least since the time of Plato.
I think that the question cannot be answered apart from specifying that what is
really at stake is the possibility of sin in the face of total knowledge of that which is
right. That is, as long as our knowledge and our faith are incomplete, we admittedly
shall have the disturbing disposition to do wrong even when we know better, even in
those realms where we believe that our faith is the strongest. Clearly, however, if we
are always going to have the disposition to do wrong even if we know what is good
or right, then what promise lies in the concept of "heaven"? If heaven is not a state
of the soul wherein one has finally triumphed once and for all over evil and
temptation, then how would heaven be different from our present temporary triumphs,
followed by later lapses?
Therefore I should like to argue for the possibility of a final full and total triumph.
Nor do I mean a Nietzschean triumph of the will: I mean a triumph of the will of God
over our imperfect will through the perfection of our faith--our belief system--through
God's truth. When our faith and understanding are complete, perhaps we shall no
longer be surprised and betrayed by our desires. Nor will the desires themselves be
at odds with our true being. Out of total truth and total faith will come the total
harmony of the soul.
When our knowledge and understanding are complete, that is, we shall surely have
absolutely no disposition to do evil: one wants to believe that it is not possible to
comprehend right in its fullness and still do evil. Otherwise, a final triumph over sin
and temptation--heaven--would seem to be impossible in this or any other life.
8-57. The empty, hellish state of depravity triggers the psyche to engage in
rational search for the cause of its own malaise. It is fortunate that the ensuing re-
examination of past incorrect moral choices is aided by Reason, the omnipotent Spirit
of Truth, which has power to rescue even the most depraved soul from the depths of
his or her own mental hell. If God could not rescue the most morally self-deluded,
then the necessary implication would be that our own delusive thoughts, our own
"devils," would be more powerful than the eternal thoughts of God. There is no
person, no matter how depraved, who can withstand the truth of the omnipotent God
indefinitely. Sooner or later, every knee shall bend, every head shall bow, to the
Truth--and be the happier and the better for it.
The implication--that every soul shall ultimately be saved--yet remains abhorrent
to those whose religion is a source of pride rather than of salvation: they would rather
be among the "chosen few" than among the "brotherhood of man"--the brotherhood
and sisterhood of humankind.
8-58. The theological concepts pointed to by the concepts of "Eden" and "heaven"
are similar but distinct in some enormously important respects.
Eden implies a past state in which either mankind or individual human beings are
seen as having been (however transiently) in a quasi-paradisiacal state characterized
by abundance and innocent hedonism, but a state also seen as having been corruptible
and thus ephemeral to varying degrees.
Heaven by contrast implies a concept of full and true paradise, a paradise in which
whatever it is that human beings are becoming has been achieved in an incorruptible
state which is everlasting, eternal. Most significant from a moral point of view is the
level of moral consciousness or awareness in the two concepts. In the idea of Eden
there is the idea of a very nearly innocent partaking of the pleasures of life without
much conscious thought, reflection, or commitment. In the idea of heaven we have
the idea of persons who have perhaps tasted Eden, but who, having become aware of
moral choices which have the potential to corrupt them, have rationally affirmed and
committed themselves to those values which are ordained of God, finally achieving
a level of knowledge and moral perfection such that they attain an enduring and final
triumph over those forces which threaten such a state. Heaven may thus be seen to
be more than Eden, of course, but in a very real sense it may be seen to be its final
realization and attainment.
The force of the concept of Eden is that it seems for many of us to describe, more
than a biblical concept, an actual experience of limited duration (typically in youth),
followed by failure and disappointment, both in oneself and in others and in the
external world in general.
The force of the concept of heaven, by contrast, lies in the hope, paradoxically,
that the state of "Eden," of lost innocence, can somehow be regained. Its force is thus
founded at least partly in memory, but with an intuition of that which Eden itself only
pointed to: a completion or satisfaction of those goods only tasted in Eden, combined
with a transcendent spiritual awareness of the will and goodness of God.
The concept of heaven, symbolizing all of our ultimate aspirations, is thus a
motivating force which will not leave us alone. It recurs over and over again to
destroy complacency with any merely "satisfactory" temporal arrangements, inducing
us to reaffirm commitment to a higher state, one satisfying spiritually as well as in all
8-59. When we see someone who is totally and thoroughly obnoxious (in
whatever manifestation), our first reaction ought to be, "There goes a person in need
That would be (and is) the divine reaction. Unfortunately, the all-too-human
reaction is contempt or hostility or arrogance--reciprocated obnoxiousness, in any
We do not have enough faith in our "spiritual" powers, in the ability to lift and
inspire others to greatness. Is it that we prefer to feel superior in our judgment and
8-60. Where human relationships (of whatever kind) are concerned, reciprocated
evil or indifference is always dysfunctional for the future of that relationship--and no
failed relationship (in the sense of lasting hostility or total indifference to another's
personhood) is ever acceptable. One's psyche is the richer for every door left open
to another's essential humanity, the poorer for every one closed.
8-61. One hears frequently a glorification of "expressing anger" or "channeling
anger." The rationale commonly offered is that so doing is more healthful psychologi-
cally than suppressing anger. Yet, it must be remembered that anger is a motive
which prepares one to fight. If one does not use that anger to fight using physical
violence, but using verbal violence such as judgment or accusation, one is nonetheless
fighting, aggressing against another.
The real goal when confronted with a situation which produces anger is to engage
in a rational problem-solving process which helps to solve the problem peacefully at
the same time that it utilizes the reason which can triumph over anger. This may be
what some persons mean when they recommend "channeling" anger in a "construc-
tive" way. Yet, one may be sure that if one is actually motivated by anger as one
works or fights, one is only hurting oneself and quite likely hurting others as well.
One is, in any case, not solving a problem rationally when one is using anger.
One's feeling of anger is less reliable as a signal that one is threatened from without
than that one is threatened from within: the emotion of anger is a warning signal to
rational beings that they may be about to make a serious mistake. Let no one
therefore glorify anger, and let no one remain silent in the face of such claims.
8-62. Although it would be a grievous error to say that sin causes all (or even
most) mental illness, it is equally true that sin always impairs mental health to some
degree. That is, the fullness of mental health is not compatible with the fact of sin, at
least as the suppressed guilt which accompanies continuing or unrepented sin. If sin
has truly been put behind one, on the other hand, then there exists the greater
likelihood that mental health may be restored.
It may be claimed that I am confusing mental health and spiritual health, but I
confess that in many instances they are so bound up together that I truly cannot tell
which is which. It is the psyche that one is talking about, in any case, whether
conceived of as mind or soul.