Tag Archives: Metaphysics

Schaeffer on Ethics, He is there and he is not silent, pt. 2

As noted before, I have really enjoyed Schaeffers little book. I was particularly impressed with his ability to tie metaphysics in with ethics. I usually hate ethics. It is boring to me particularly because so much time is spent talking about the hot topics. And usually people discuss ethical issues like they discuss flavors of ice cream. Ethics becomes interesting when one of two things happen: 1) Meta-ethics is considered. How we go about choosing ethical norms, as well as choosing the criteria for choosing ethical norms. What motivates our establishing ethical norms as well as our actual practice is profound in meaning. 2) Ethics is related to metaphysics and epistemology. Schaeffer builds on metaphysics. Frame and Newbigin would both say that knowledge is ethical; there is an element of the will and morality in submitting to God and gaining true knowledge of the world. Knowledge of creation depends on a moral choice to not consider yourself judge over God.

Schaeffer evaluates ethical positions on metaphysical bases. This is his genius. He sets out two main options: an impersonal beginning, and a personal beginning. The personal beginning has two options within itself: man is continuous now as he was created, or he is discontinous, changed.

So without further ado here are the quotes:

Impersonal Beginning

Insignificance of Cruelty

Insignificance of Cruelty

“Thus to the pantheist, the final wrong or tension is the failure to accept your impersonality. If you look to those places in the East where pantheims has worked itself out more consistently than in our modern, libearl theology, or the hippie-type of pantheism, you will find that the final wrong int man, the final Karma, if you will, is the fact that he will not accept his impersonality. In other words, he will not accept who he is.

In the Hindu paneverythingism there is a hight development of the fact that there is no ultimate difference between cruelty and non-cruelty. This can be seen clearly in the person of Kali. … Interestingly enough, the feminine Kali is also always the destroyer. She is often pictured as having great fangs, with skilly hanging around her neck. Why? Because finally, cruelty is just as much a part of what is as is non-cruelty.” (pg 24-25)

“But, eventually as you examine the new theology as well as the pantheims of the East, you come to the place where you cannot rightly speak of right or wrong. In Western religious paneverythingism, we find men trying to stem off this situation, and to retain a distinction between cruelty and non-cruelty. They try to hold off the arrival at the place where they have to acknowledge that there is no basic meaning to the words “right” and “wrong.” But it cannot be done. It is like starting a stone downhill. Beginning with the impersonal, though one may use religious terms and even Christian terms, there is no final absolute and there are no final categories concerning right and wrong. Hence what is left may be worded in many different ways in different cultures, but it is only the relative – that which is sociological, statistical, situational – nothing else. You have situational, statistical ethics – the standard of averages – but you cannot have morality.” (pg 25)

Schaeffer rejects the impersonal beginning of creation as a basis for ethics. It is not true to what is there.

Personal Beginning:

“If man was created by a persona;-infinite God, how can we escape the conclusion that the personal God who made man cruel is himself also bad and cruel? This is where the French thinkers Charles Baudelaire and Albert Camus come on the scene. Baudelaire … has a famous sentence: “If there is a God, he is the Devil.” … [A] real Christian would agree with Baudelaire that if there is an unborken line between what man is now ans what he has always intrisically been, then if there is a God, he is the Devil. Although as Christians, we would definitly differ from baudelaire, we would agree with this conclusion if we begin with his premise.

Now Camus dealt with the same problem from a slightly different viewpoint. He argued that if there is a God, then we cannot fight social evil, for if we do, we are fighting God who made the world as it is. What these two men say is, I think irrefutable if we accept the absic premise that man stands where he has always stood – that there has been a continuity of intrinsic cruelty.” (pg 27-28)

“I have said that people who argue irrationality to be the answer are always selective about where they will become irrational. That is certainly true of this area. Suddenly men who have been saying that they are arguing with great reason become irrationalists at this point, and say that there is only an irrational answer for the questions of how God is good. Liberal moderna theology is firmly fixed in this classification.

Let us look at this more carefully . As soon as irrationality is brought in at this point, it will lead to tension in two directions at the same time. First, there will eb a motion back toward reason. As people argue that God is a good God against all reason rationality, there is something in them that is in tension. Consequently, liberal who offer this answer frequently split off back into reason, and every time they do, they lose this blindly optimistic answer. As soon as they enter reason, the optimistic answer is gone, because all the optimism concerning God’s goodness rests upon irrationality. If they step back into the area of reason, they are back into¬† pessimism; that is, if there is a God he is a bad God. … As one flees into irrationality at this point, there is the tendency to spin off back into pessimism.

The other tension that is immediately set up when people give this answer is to spin off in the opposite direction, towards making everything irrational. As they spin off towards irrationality, they ask, where do I stop? They tend to say that perhaps on should just accept the whole irrational chaotic situation, and decide that there is no meaning in the use of religious “god-words” at all. ” (pg 28- 29)

“Modern man has no real basis for fighting evil, because he sees man as normal – whether he comes out of the paneverythingism of the East or modern liberal theology, or out of the paneverythingism of everything’s being reduced (inclduing man) to only the energy particle. … [The Christian] has the solution for Camus’ problem” we can fight evil without fighting God, because God did not make things as they are now – as man in his cruelty has made them. … [Man’s cruelty and the results of man’s cruelty] are abnormal, contrary to what God made, and so we can fight the evil without fighting God.” (pg 32)

Schaeffer uses Jesus at Lazarus’ tomb as a great example of sorrow for death, and blinding anger at the evil of death, without being angry at God.

“He was furious; and he could be furious at the evil of death without being furious with himself as God. This is tremendous in the context of the twentieth century.” (pg 32)

“It is important to remember that it is not improper for men to ask these questions concerning metaphysics and morals, and Christians should point out that there is not answer to these questions except that God is there and he is not silent. Students and other young people should not be told to keep quiet when they ask these questions. They are right to ask them, but we should make it plain to them that these are the only answers. It is this or nothing.” (pg 34)

Schaeffer saw clearly that if you do not submit to Christ on all these matters, and cling to the biblical philosophy, then you are left with a thorough-going nihilism. Nietzsche was the honest philsopher. He rejected Christ and was consistent in that rejection. Most others want to have their cake and eat it to; it just doesn’t work like that. I suppose it would be more like: either the Judaeo – Christian God of the Bible exists as does the cake that you can eat, or the cake, and nothing else exists.

Here is Schaeffer’s positive account of the ethical situation man finds himself in:

“Now we have come to the other possibility, the Judaeo-Christian position. There was a spcae-time, historic change in man. There is a discontinuity and not a continuity in man. Man, made in the image of God and not programmed, turned by choice from his proper integration point at a ceratin time in history. When he did this, man became something that he preciously was not, and the dilemma of man becomes a true moral problem rather than a merely metaphysical one. Man, at a certain point of history, changed himself, and hence stands, in his cruelty, in discontinuity with what he was, and we have a true moral situation: morals suddenly exist. Everything hands upon the fact that man is abnormal now, in contrast to what he originally was.” (pg 30)

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Schaeffer on Epistemology, He is there and he is not slient

I just finished Schaeffer’s little but powerful book on the three main areas of philosophy; Metaphysics, Ethics and Epistemology. I picked it up for a friend but ended up reading it before I gave it to him. There are so many priceless, insightful, and terse lines I thought I would share some. He cuts to the heart of the issue with some very beautiful summaries. Here are some of my favorites from the first chapter, the others will follow in later posts (I hope).

“Man is personal and yet he is finite, and so he is not a sufficient integration point for himself. We might remember another profound statement from Sartre, that no finite point has any meaning unless it has an infinite reference point. The Christian would agree that he is right in this statement.” (2)

“Christians have tended to despise the concept of philosophy. This has been one of the weaknesses of evangelical, orthodox Christianity – we have been proud in despising philosophy, and we have been exceedingly proud in despising the intellectual. Our theological seminaries hardly ever relate their theology to philosophy, and specifically to the current philosophy. Thus, men go out from the theological seminaries not knowing how to relate it. It is not that they [do] not know the answers, but my observation is that most men graduating from our theological seminaries do not know the questions.” (4)

“If a man held that everything is meaningless, nothing has answers and there is no cause-and-effect realtionship, and if he really held this position with any consistency, it would be very hard to refute. But in fact, no one can hold consistently that everything is chaotic and irrational and that there are no basic answers. it can be held theoretically, but it cannot be held in practice that everything is absolute chaos” (5)

He hits the nail on the head in so many of these. The last one is especially important when we consider Hume. He refutes the belief in induction as rationally based. There is no objective basis, when rationally considered, for believing that the future will resemble the past, or that x causes y. Yet, in spite of this ‘bombshell’ (as my profs used to call it), his approach to the philosophical life was a purely professional one. That is to say, philosophy is to be left in the study, and should not encroach on living a normal life. Hume was not willing to step off a cliff, because he knew that he would fall to his death. Yet, Nietzshce somewhat embodies a thotough going rejection of God, and trust in revelation…. and of course loses his mind at the end of his life.

“Perhaps you remember one of Godard’s movies, Pierrot le Fou,” (I dont, but thanks anyway) “in which he has people going out through the windows, instead of through the doors. But the interesting things is that they do not go out through the solid walll. Godard is really saying that although he has no answer, yet at the same time he cannot go out through that solid wall. This is merely his expression of the difficulty of holding that there is a totally chaotic unverse while the external world has form and order.” (6)

“…That which is personal began everything else, the very opposite of beginning with the impersonal. In this case man, being personal, does haev meaning. … These things are not abstract, but have to do with communicating the Christian gospel in the midst of the twentieth century. I get tired of being asked why I don’t just preach the ‘simple gospel.’ You haev to preach the simple gospel so that it is simple to the person to whom you are talking, or it is noo longer simple. The dilemma of modern man is simple: he does not know why man has any meaning. He is lost. Man remains a zero. This is the damnation of our generation, the heart of modern man’s problem.” (11)

“It is not that [Christianity] is the best answer to existence; it is the only answer” (15)

“…Man, beginning with himself, can define the philosophical problem of existence, but he cannot generate from himself the answer to the problem. The answer to the problem of existence is that the infinite-personal, triune God is there, and that the infinite-personal, triune God is not silent.” (19)

Schaeffer speaks so clearly on many of these topics. It has been a great encouragement to me to read him and be reminded of the positive account we have in the Bible, in God’s word. I often am consumed with the negative account of why postivism, rationalism etc. fail, but neglect the positive. The account that Schaeffer builds is exactly what we need. What I would hope to do at some point is use secular philosophers (like Wittgenstein, Quine, etc.) to frame the exact problems on a more technical level so as to more clearly explicate biblical beliefs in contrast to the emptiness of the worlds attempts to answer the questions. Some day…maybe.

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