Our Sick Political Culture

The oldest cousin on my mother’s side of the family died last year. This weekend, those of us who could met in a little country cemetery adjoining a family farm just outside Fithian, Illinois. It was a poignant moment. My cousin was born just after the Second World War to an American soldier who married a British citizen. A cousin from Great Britain attended the funeral! That evening, the family had dinner together. Near the end of our dinner, I picked up my cell phone to look at the news, thinking I would learn about the evening’s events in Israel and Gaza. Instead, I learned that former president Trump had been shot. Like many people, I could not say I was shocked, given the vitriol directed towards him over the past decade.

This week, I intended to return to discipleship as the blog’s theme. Saturday evening, I knew immediately that I could not do that. I’m sure that I can’t add anything to the thousands of words written on the Internet, nor can I add anything to what former President Trump and President Biden have said in their respective statements. But maybe I can add something about our very diseased political culture.

The United States of America has a problem with political violence. Four United States Presidents have been assassinated: Abraham Lincoln, James A. Garfield, William McKinley, and John F. Kennedy. In addition, attempts have been made on the lives of Andrew Jackson, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, and now Donald Trump. Presidential candidates have also been targets of assassination attempts. Attempts have been made on the lives of Theodore Roosevelt as a candidate, Robert Kennedy (successful), George C. Wallace (seriously wounded), and now former President Trump.

What does this say about our political culture? What does it say about our national fascination with violence? What does it say about the deluded capacity of Americans to believe that the ends justify the means?

The Myth of Redemptive Violence

In these blogs, I’ve had the opportunity to introduce readers to the notion of the “myth of redemptive violence.” The Myth of Redemptive Violence entails a belief that violence can be redemptive. The term was coined by a liberal Protestant theologian at Union Theological Seminary in New York, Walter Wink. Wink believed that (and provided impressive evidence for his theory) American society was and is deeply impacted by a subconscious belief that violence can be redemptive; that is to say, violence to overcome evil is warranted and even positive. Underneath the plot line of nearly every action movie we might see is this notion that violence can be redemptive. (One need not look any further than the latest James Bond movie to the theory at work.) Wink believed the myth of redemptive violence needed to be demystified to show how deeply misleading it is. For Christians, the myth is contrary to the gospel.

Here is how Wink describes our situation:

No other religious system has even remotely rivalled the myth of redemptive violence in its ability to catechise its young so totally. From the earliest age, children are awash in depictions of violence as the ultimate solution to human conflicts. Nor does saturation in the myth end with the close of adolescence. There is no rite of passage from adolescent to adult status in the national cult of violence, but rather a years-long assimilation to adult television and movie fare. Not all shows for children or adults are based on violence, of course. Reality is far more complex than the simplicities of this myth, and maturer minds will demand more subtle, nuanced, complex presentations. But the basic structure of the combat myth underlies the pap to which a great many adults turn in order to escape the harsher realities of their everyday lives: spy thrillers, westerns, cop shows, and combat programes. It is as if we must watch so much ”redemptive” violence to reassure ourselves, against the deluge of facts to the contrary in our actual day-to-day lives, that reality really is that simple. [1]

Recently, my wife and I watched a television show that exemplifies the problems with the contemporary entertainment industry. The show’s storyline concerns young people who can travel backward in time. Two different groups are attempting to influence the direction of human history. Roughly speaking, one group is portrayed as “bad guys” and the other as “good guys.” The good guys kill just as many people and act irrationally as the bad guys, except they are trying to “protect human freedom.” The bad guys are trying to control the future for their political and economic interests. The bad guys are mere caricatures of the people the media industry dislikes. The show is saturated by human self-assertion and ethical chaos. The characters struggle with the idea that there might be a higher power who controls the future, but of course, there isn’t one active in their plotline, so they must struggle to create a meaningful future all on their own. They have to make choices.

Deep in the moral incoherency of the show is what Walter Wink calls “the myth of redemptive violence” – the notion that violence can be redemptive if only the “good guys” defeat the “bad guys.” (It’s not redemptive for bad guys to kill good guys.) The result is a constant replay of a shallow, relativistic philosophy the writers were probably taught in High School and College. In addition, because the show takes the watcher back into history, occasionally, the watcher is treated to a shallow, cartoon version of world history, sometimes distorted.

A society dominated by entertainment reduces complex problems to sound bites and catchy lyrics. Gone are the human race’s fundamental moral and spiritual dilemmas, which are replaced by a simplistic one-hour drama. A media-saturated society allows people to view sex and violence without consequences. News depictions of our politics have become similarly shallow. If politicians often oversimplify complex problems, the media has largely lost interest in educating the public on the facts, which are usually complex and challenging to understand, finding it easier to give opinion pieces and distorted coverage of current events. Complicated problems cannot receive proper attention. They are too complex, and solutions require deep thought and careful weighing of alternatives. It is easier just to decide which side of the cultural divide you are on and download the talking points of your favorite candidate.

Politicians have reacted to the situation by taking advantage of it. By the middle 1970s, politicians noticed that it was much easier to get someone to vote against a hateful opponent than to get people to believe in the policy views of your particular party. Here, we have the genesis of what we have to call “negative politics” and “negative campaigning.” Negative campaigning takes advantage of our natural human fearfulness and anxiety to paint our political opponents as absolute devils who must be stopped at any price. Particular candidates are often described as devils incarnate (frequently using the word Nazi). Naturally, if I am fighting against Hitler, the kind of total warfare in which the United States engaged in the Second World War might be justified on a political level. Truth doesn’t matter if I’m slandering an evil opponent. Love doesn’t matter if I’m slandering an evil opponent. Morality doesn’t matter if I’m slandering an evil opponent. What matters is saving the world from this demon incarnate. After all, I’m saving the world. Therefore, the myth of redemptive violence justifies the intellectual violence in which I am engaged.

I’ve spent a lot of my adult life reading history. Henry Ford thought history was bunk. I believe Henry Ford’s theory is bunk. Those who study history come to see things from an entirely different perspective than those who simply listen to the evening news or their local politicians. As one writer mentioned, taking a long look at history helps avoid repeating it.

Just to give one example, any review of the history of Ukraine reveals that it has long been a battleground, often under partial or complete Russian control. The problems the West is having restraining the Russian invasion of Ukraine is nothing new. On the other hand, both Napoleon and Hitler crossed Ukraine to reach Russia. In particular, the Russians have terrible memories of the German invasion that precipitated the Second World War. After the Second World War, the Russians annexed Ukraine, and it became part of the Soviet Union. When the Soviet Union dissolved, Ukraine became a free nation with a substantial Russian minority population.

The Russians have, therefore, always viewed Ukraine as critical to their national security. When the United States began to do things like place troops in Ukraine and allowing the CIA to conduct operations and develop an extensive network in the country, the Russians warned the West that was a red line. [2] When we began to contemplate allowing Ukraine to join NATO, Putin warned the West that this was a redline. He would not allow Ukraine to become allied with what Russia views as a hostile power. We continued our activities in the Ukraine.

The easy view that the current war in the Ukraine is all Vladimir Putin’s fault is only partially true. The other truth is that the United States and its allies were complicit in what happened there and provoked the war. I have friends who believe that we should stop giving all aid to Ukraine because of the financial and otherwise “dirty history” of our involvement. I don’t subscribe to this view. I do believe we should seek a peaceful solution to the problem, saving the Western economies billions of dollars spent on military hardware. I also think we should learn from the results our arrogance and corruption have created in the Ukraine. We should stop the behavior resulting in costly and unfruitful conflict. In other words, this is not an easy problem to solve.

Closer to home, there’s no question but that our financial system is stressed because of the continuing use of deficit spending at levels that are not sustainable. [3] We are permanently impoverishing not just the next generation of Americans but several generations of Americans. On the left and the right, completely unrealistic proposals are sometimes made. I suspect that, to solve the problem, some kind of a middle solution will have to be found. Taxes will have to rise, and spending must fall in some areas. The question is how to do this wisely and carefully so that the interests of all Americans, particularly the most vulnerable Americans, are protected.

Conclusion

When President Biden and former President Trump urged their supporters to turn down the vitriol, they said the right thing. Of course, the question remains: Will they enforce this among their supporters? In a time of communication over social media, perhaps the more difficult question is, “Will all of us turn down the temperature of the political dialogue in our country?” All I can say is that I continue to get a lot of inaccurate and hateful spam directed against both candidates.

I keep in touch with friends from as far back as high school. In high school, I was a debater. In college, I studied philosophy, political science, and economics. In law school, I studied law. In seminary, I studied oral communication. My long-suffering wife has often reminded me when we are having heated discussions, that physical violence is not the only kind of violence. A knowledgeable person who is also highly trained can use their intellect and vocabulary to dominate another person. It took a long time, but I eventually got the point. There’s a kind of intellectual violence into which people like me can easily fall. The Myth of Redemptive Violence applies to all sorts of violence, of which military violence is only one type. Most of us are not in a position to employ that kind of violence. We are, however, capable of other types of violence. We can deceive. We can slander. We can undermine. We can twist the truth and words. All of this is forbidden to Christians and ought to be abhorred by those who love freedom.

Before I sign off, I will let everyone know that I am in the final stages of completing a book much different than any book I’ve ever written. It’s a philosophy book that outlines a kind of postmodern, constructive political philosophy, Sophio-Agapism. I believe the book will be finished sometime in the next several weeks since I have a draft back from the proofreader. The title is Illumined by Wisdom and Love: Essays on a Sophio-Agapic Constructive Postmodern Political Philosophy. I expect to sell about four copies of the book (if my children agree to buy copies), but it was motivated by a deep concern for our political culture at several levels. At one level, my problem is precisely the kind of politics that produced last weekend’s events—blessings to all.

Copyright 2024, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

[1] Walter Wink, “The Myth of Remptive Violence” at https://www2.goshen.edu/~joannab/women/wink99.pdf (downloaded July 16, 2024).

[2] See, for example, Mark Episkopos, “CIA in Ukraine: Why is this not seen as Provocation? Responsible Statecraft (February 27, 2024), Spy War: Who the CIA Secretly Helps Ukraine Fight Russia (February 28, 2024); Greg Millar & Usabelle Khursudyan, “Ukrainian Spies with Deep Ties to CIA Wage Shadow War against Russia” Washington Post (October 23, 2023). The amount of literature on this, both popular and technical, is huge.

[3] See for example, Brian Riedl, “Manhattan Institute, A Comprehensive Federal Budget Plan to Avert a Debt Crisis” Manhattan Institute (June 27, 2024); William G. Gale, “Five Myths about Federal Debt” Brookings Institute (May 2, 2019); James McBride, Noah Berman, &  Anshu Siripurapu “The U.S. National Debt Dilemma” Council on Foreign Relations (December 4, 2023). I have deliberately referenced articles from all sides of the issue.

Presidential Disability and the 25th Amendment

Amidst the recent discussions about the president’s capacity to conduct the office of the presidency, his fitness to be a candidate for office, and the often-exaggerated posts about the role of a vice president, I felt it was essential to return to the legal side of my brain. In this blog, I aim to outline the 25th Amendment and the circumstances under which a President may be removed from office.

I hope that this blog will be helpful to readers as they consider the country’s current situation. As always, I’m trying to be neutral and simply explain how the amendment’s provisions would operate.

Background

By the mid-1960s, several 20th-century several episodes caused Congress to believe an amendment to the Constitution needed to clarify what would happen if a president became incapacitated. After World War I, President Woodrow Wilson suffered a stroke during his second term in office and was incapacitated for a good bit of the last portion of his tenure. President Roosevelt, who died in office, had brain cancer and was severely limited during his final years in office. This was particularly apparent in Tehran, where many decisions impacted the world for years. Stalin took advantage of the President’s condition during their negotiations.

After World War II, President Eisenhower suffered a severe heart attack during the latter part of his first term and experienced ill health for part of his second term. During Eisenhower’s presidency, he and President Nixon created an arrangement by which presidential powers would be transferred to the vice president in the case of the president’s infirmity.

In 1963, President Kennedy was assassinated under circumstances in which he might have survived but not been capable of conducting the business of the presidency. In particular, President Kennedy’s assassination was instrumental in persuading Congress that a mechanism was needed to allow a president to resign or be removed and succeeded in office by the vice President. In 1867, Senator Birch Bayh introduced into legislation what has become the 25th Amendment.

25th Amendment

With this brief history in mind, let us look at the amendment:

Section 1. The first section makes it plain that if a president is removed from office or dies or resigns, the vice president becomes president. The term “removal” means that if a president is impeached, the vice president immediately becomes president. This provision was used at least once when President Nixon resigned and Vice President Ford became President.

Section 2. The second section provides that, whenever there is a vacancy in the vice president’s office, the president nominates a vice president who takes office when confirmed by a majority vote of both houses of Congress. Once again, this provision was used in President Ford’s nomination as Vice president upon Vice President Agnew’s resignation and also when Ford nominated Nelson Rockefeller as vice president.

Section 3. The third section provides that a president may transmit to the President Pro Tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives a written declaration that he is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, and until he transmits to them a written statement to the contrary, the powers of the presidency will be discharged by the vice president as the Acting President. This provision has been used by Presidents Reagan, Bush, and Biden when temporarily incapacitated due to medical procedures. It has become the standard means to provide continuity of leadership when the president must be under anesthesia.

When President Reagan notified Congress, he used the following language:

 After consultation with my Counsel and the Attorney General, I am mindful of the provisions of Section 3 of the 25th Amendment to the Constitution and of the uncertainties of its application to such brief and temporary periods of incapacity. I do not believe that the drafters of this Amendment intended its application to situations such as the instant one.

Nevertheless, consistent with my longstanding arrangement with Vice President George Bush, and not intending to set a precedent binding anyone privileged to hold this Office in the future, I have determined and it is my intention and direction that Vice President George Bush shall discharge those powers and duties in my stead commencing with the administration of anesthesia to me in this instance.

I shall advise you and the Vice President when I determine that I am able to resume the discharge of the Constitutional powers and duties of this Office. [1]

After the surgery, President Reagan sent the following notice that he was resuming his duties as President:

Following up on my letter to you of this date, please be advised I am able to resume the discharge of the Constitutional powers and duties of the Office of the President of the United States. I have informed the Vice President of my determination and my resumption of those powers and duties. [2]

This kind of letter has been used five times in recent years. Vice Presidents Kamala Harris, Richard Cheney, and George H. W. Bush have briefly exercised presidential powers under this provision. Interestingly, it is apparent from Reagan’s letter that the the use of the 25th Amendment for temporary incapacity was not assumed when he wrote his letter.

President Biden’s formula for invoking the 25th Amendment has been as follows:

Today I will undergo a routine medical procedure requiring sedation. In view of the present circumstances, I have determined to temporarily transfer the powers and duties of the office of President of the United States to the Vice President during the brief period of the procedure and recovery.

In accordance with the provisions of section 3 of the Twenty-Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution, this letter shall constitute my written declaration that I am presently unable to discharge the powers and duties of the office of the President of the United States.

Pursuant to section 3, the Vice President shall discharge those powers and duties as Acting President until I transmit to you a written declaration that I am able to resume the discharge of those powers and duties. [3]

His formula for resuming office is:

In accordance with the provisions of section 3 of the Twenty-Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution, I hereby transmit to you my written declaration that I am able to discharge the powers and duties of the Office of the President of the United States and that I am resuming those powers and duties. [4]

At this time, it is clear that a president may temporarily give up his powers to undergo routine medical procedures using the 25th Amendment. It is also clear that a president could transfer power for a more extended period if he felt unable to conduct the duties of the presidency. In other words, President Biden might not need to resign from office this close to an election. He might simply turn over his powers to Kamala Harris as acting president and only resume his duties as president if and when he feels able.

Section 4. It is Section 4 that has been most discussed in recent days. Therefore, I’m going to discuss its provisions at length. This section begins by setting out the situations in which a President may be removed due to incapacity:

Whenever the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President. [5]

Section 4 authorizes the vice president and a majority of the president’s cabinet or Congress to decide if the president cannot perform their duties. Note that neither the vice president nor the principal officers of the executive departments can act alone. It requires that the vice president and a majority of the principal officers of the executive departments agree. This decision becomes active upon transmission to the President Pro Tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives. Kamala Harris, for example, cannot act alone but only with the agreement of a significant number of the president’s principal officers.

Despite the preceding, the initial decision is not necessarily final. A president may object to the decision made by his vice president and principal officers. If a president disagrees with the decision made by his vice president and a majority of his principal executive officers, he may transmit to Congress his declaration that he is, in fact, not unable to perform his duties. Under these circumstances, after four days the president resumes his duties unless the vice president and a majority of the principal executive officers continue to believe that the president cannot perform his duties and inform both houses of Congress of their decision.

If the vice president and a majority of the principal executive officers continue to believe that the president cannot perform his duties, Congress is authorized to decide by 2/3 vote of both houses of Congress. Under the circumstances, the vice president continues to exercise the president’s responsibilities.

There are several portions of this particular provision that raise issues and confusion. Rather than the vague language of “vice president and a majority of the principal officers of the president,” I think a better method would be to have the decision made by the Vice President,  Secretary of State, the Secretary of the Treasury, the Secretary of Defense, and the Attorney General. It is possible that the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency should be added to this list, though I do not think it necessary.

This is a much smaller group of people and would likely be able to make the decision in a collegial manner. I question whether, even now, other cabinet members would be willing to overcome the judgment of these four principal cabinet officials. It also seems that, in a nuclear age, the timeframe specified in Section 4 for decision is too long. Finally, the Secretary of State should be tasked with convening the group. Protecting a vice president from being seen as leading a coup against a sitting president is important.

Conclusion

Although the 25th Amendment is an acceptable and workable solution to the problem of presidential succession and incapacity, there remains the question as to what constitutes “inability.” During the Constitutional Convention, John Dickinson raised this exact question concerning the meaning of ‘disability’” and who would be the judge of presidential disability.

The 25th Amendment does not answer the question of what constitutes a disability. Still, it does answer the question of who determines if one exists. Initially, it is the vice president and the principal officers of the executive branch and, if that decision is not accepted, the Congress by a two-thirds vote. One assumes that getting a two-thirds majority would be difficult unless there was a bipartisan agreement concerning the issue. Furthermore, I think it best to leave the decision to the participants rather than attempting to define disability in the Constitution.

I suppose one final word is in order. No law can substitute for restraint and judgment. President Washington exercised great self-restraint when he refused to run for a third term in office, although he would certainly have been reelected. Those privileged to hold the office of president need to exercise self-restraint in running for office and determining when it is in the country’s best interest for them to no longer hold the office. I don’t like age requirements because there are 70-year-olds who can run marathons and who would be capable of exercising the office of the presidency. On the other hand, there are 40-year-olds who could not. No law can completely substitute for wisdom and self-restraint.

I do hope that this little essay is helpful for readers who would like to understand more about the 25th Amendment and how it operates to ensure the continuity of presidential authority during a nuclear age.

Copyright 2024, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved.

[1] President Ronald Reagan, “Letter to the President Pro Tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House on the Discharge of the President’s Powers and Duties During His Surgery (July 13, 1985). This letter indicates that President Reagan had doubts about the applicability of the Amendment to surgeries, but he invoked its provisions in any case. Subsequent Presidents have simply sent the letter and resumed the office by letter.

[2] Ronald Reagan, Letter to the President Pro Tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House on the President’s Resumption of His Powers and Duties Following Surgery (July 13, 1985)

[3] Joseph Biden, Letter to the Speaker of the House of Representatives on the Temporary Transfer of the Powers and Duties of President of the United States (November 19, 2021).

[4] Joseph Biden, Letter to the Speaker of the House of Representatives on Resuming the Powers and Duties of President of the United States (November 19, 2021).

[5] United States Constitution, Amendment 25, Section 4.

Christians in Unstable Times

Unsurprisingly, I have become increasingly uncomfortable with the tone of political debate in Washington and how, on important matters, each party’s desire to win the next election often eclipses concern for the national interest. We have seen this phenomenon in debates over the War on Terror, the debate over the Gaza War, Abortion, Tax Policy, the role of the Federal Courts, the Federal Deficit, Social Security Reform, and other issues that profoundly affect the quality of life we and our children enjoy into the next generation and beyond. Both political parties tend to frame the problems in such a way as to win votes from their electoral base but make realistic compromise almost impossible. Much of the time, the facts are distorted in service to a political agenda.

Unfortunately, we Christians can become a part of this regrettable phenomenon. Conservative Christians are often looked at as mere tools of the Republican Party, and Liberal Christians are frequently seen as mere tools of the Democratic Party. To some degree, the charge has been true. Both groups are inclined to reject the policies of the other violently and sometimes resort to actions that border on disloyalty. Amidst all this, the question remains, “How should Christians act as we bring our faith to bear on our decisions as citizens and public servants?”

A Text to Guide Our Meditation

Here is a text from First Peter:

Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good, you should silence the ignorance of foolish people.  Live as free people, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the ruler God as placed over you (I Peter 2:13-17)

Introduction: Two Visions

A critical aspect of reading the Bible, and history for that matter, is that it gives us a perspective on our lives. There is no more accurate saying than the one that goes, “Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.” Because most people do forget history, the fact is we do repeat it. And, because it is also true that “The more things change, the more they remain the same,” the same kinds of problems occur in generation after generation. So, although Peter’s times and culture were very different from our own, the message of today’s text is as important today as it was in 64 A.D.

The Bible gives two very different and complementary teachings concerning the relationship between people of faith and their governments. I will call these two teachings the “prophetic stance” and the “accommodative stance.” The difference between these two stances is best revealed in the difference between Jesus driving the money-changers from the temple (Luke 20:1-8; Matthew 21:12-17; Mark 11:15-19; John 2:13-22) and his saying, “Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s and to God that which is God’s” (Luke 20:19-26; Matthew 22:23-33; Mark 12:13-17).

In the Old Testament, we see both of these stances at work. The prophets of Israel often spoke against the evils of the kings of Israel and Judah and predicted the nation’s downfall as a result of unfaithfulness to God. We see this prophetic voice in the ministries of Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and some of the Minor Prophets.

The lineal descendants of these prophets are seen on the right and the left as we experience harsh critiques from Christian groups on hot-button issues like war, abortion, the definition of marriage, and the like. Many of our younger members do not remember Francis Schaeffer, who wrote books like Pollution and the Human Race, How Shall We Then Live? and Whatever Happened to the Human Race? [1] Schaeffer is widely credited with providing the intellectual “heft” for what has become the “religious right. On the left, prominent Christians have written critiques of American culture and government. I think of William Stringfellow’s book, A Public and Private Faith. [2] And, on the right and the left, ordinary people have participated in abortion and anti-war protests. This is the prophetic stance at work in our time.

On the other hand, in the Old Testament, we also see figures such as Daniel, who serves evil and demented kings for most of his life, trying to make the best of a bad situation. We also see this approach in the Book of Esther as Queen Esther seeks to rescue her people, not by a critique of Persian civilization, but by working within the system for the betterment of the Jewish people.

I call this the “accommodationist approach,” not because it “accommodates” bad ideas or evil actions but because it works within the system as it exists to achieve the common good. Daniel, for instance, worked under Nebuchadnezzar to achieve good government for all the citizens of Babylon. In our own time, we think of the hundreds of active Christians in government and politics.

A problem with this approach today is that we are media-crazy. Protestors on college campuses, in public places, or outside the White House can be seen on television, making good media copy and increasing advertising sales. Hundreds of local, state, and national officials and employees of our governments who go to work each day and quietly labor for the public good just don’t make sensational copy. Quietly working to make things better doesn’t make headlines.

In this blog, I want to focus on the accommodationist approach. [3] During a lot of human history, Christians have had to function in the face of some kind of hostility to their faith and its consequences for public life. This was especially true of the very first Christians. When First Peter was written, there was tension between the church and the Roman establishment. The emperor Nero was hostile to the new Christian faith. He was engaging in periodic persecution, a persecution that would end with Peter’s death. [4]

I Peter was not the only book that noticed the capacity of religious faith to cause some people to take revolutionary positions against those in public authority. Paul relates the same message as Peter in Romans:

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. There is no authority except from God, who has instituted those existing authorities. Therefore, whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore, one must be in subjection to avoid God’s wrath and for the sake of conscience. Because of this, you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God who attend to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed (Romans 13:1-7).

There is no question but that America is in a post-Christian phase. Christians must learn to relate to our governmental structures in new ways. Robert George, a professor at Princeton University and a world-renowned scholar in the natural law tradition, speaks of a growing tendency of elites to consider themselves the “Brights” and those who continue to defend tradition and religious faith as the “Dims.” [5] This morning’s sermon is about how we can best learn to relate to those in power in this new Post-modern, post-Christian environment.

Mr. Jesus Goes to Washington: Submitting to Reality

Peter begins his teaching by urging his readers to “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instated among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right” (I Peter 2:13). In modern parlance we might put it, “Submit to national, state and local authorities.”

Submission is not something we Americans are fond of doing, and submission is something that the rebellious ethos of the modern and post-modern world intensely dislikes. The word “submit” means “willing to stand under.” It means to submit oneself to someone else or to subordinate one’s desires and will to someone else or some institutional order. In Latin, the term might be parsed as “submission,” in other words, to regard my personal mission as less important than the public good. [6] In this case, it means to be willing to submit to the institutions of the state as they happen to exist at the time.

We submit not only because social order is in the common interest but because we have a deep faith that God will work in and through all authorities – even those we dislike. As Calvin says in his Commentary on First Peter, we submit to authorities not because we believe them to be infallibly good or acting in our or the national best interest, but because we believe that God is in control of history – “obedience is due to all who rule because they have been raised to that honour not by chance but by God’s providence.” [7] In a democracy, this applies to leaders elected by both political parties.

Doing Good Silences Opposition

Peter goes on to say that as we submit to authorities and do good deeds, we silence those who foolishly oppose God and the Christian faith. “For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence ignorant and foolish men” (I Peter 3:15).

No aspect of modern culture so disturbs me as the tendency of the secular elites to make a straw man of some religious celebrity, like Jimmy Bakker or Jerry Falwell, and then discount the views of serious Christian thinkers. There is a lot of hostility to Christianity among certain folks, and a number of those folks are in the media, on college campuses, and active as public servants. Although there is a place to oppose this with strong words, there is also a place for us to respond by being good citizens, quietly active in government and politics, and doing as much good as we can toward others. When we do this, we silence those who oppose the Christian faith.

Respecting Others Silences a Lot of Opposition

 A second way we can silence critics of faith and impact the tenor of public debate in America is by respecting others. Peter goes on to say, “Show proper respect for everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king” (I Peter 2:17). We have seen growing disrespect for our national and other leaders during the last two Presidencies. I think this culture of disrespect towards authority began in the 1960s with the opposition to Vietnam and the scandal of Watergate. As important as it is to be vigilant in protecting our nation against unscrupulous leaders, we must also respect the leaders God has given to us. When Presidents and Cabinet members are shouted down by college students while giving speeches, when Christians throw things at public officials and publicly disrespect their office, we are participating in the decline of civility in our culture.

On the other hand, as we respect authorities and show courtesy towards leaders, we begin the process of restoring a sense of decency in our public life. A sense of civility and decency towards those who lead us will go a long way toward encouraging a better atmosphere in our national debates over good government.

Conclusion

We Americans have a deeply felt sense that things can be better and that we have a divine mission to fix everything wrong in the world. There is nothing wrong with this optimistic view of life and government. However, it needs to be tempered by a realization that leaders are fallen creatures just as we are; they are finite creatures who make mistakes just as we do. There is no perfect government or perfect leader. We need to remember the insight of the Prophets that only when Messiah comes will there be ideal leadership. In Isaiah 11, we are given a glimpse of this leadership:

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him— the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord—and he will delight in the fear of the Lord. He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears; but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth. … Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash around his waist. The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them (Isaiah 11:1-6).

It does not take too much intelligence to understand that this is not a vision of the world as it is in history but as it will be in the New Heaven and New Earth at the end of history. This is a lovely vision; Christians should always let it guide us as we act in history.

The search for a truthful, just, and life-enhancing community finds its ultimate symbol in the notion of a “Beloved Community.” There is no question but which Josiah Royce, who coined the term, saw in the church, and perhaps in John’s vision of the Heavenly City,” the root and ground of a transcendental vision of a “Beloved Community” as an eschatological realization of the hopes and dreams of all lesser communities. The Christian community looks back through the Scriptures to the beginning of the world. As a community of hope, it looks forward to the end of history and the renewal of all things. Thus, members of the Beloved Community look infinitely backward and forward in time, in both tradition and hope, to a future that encompasses all of humanity and human history. This is why Royce sometimes calls the “Beloved Community” the “Universal Community”—all people are invited to pledge their loyalty to and find meaning and purpose in the Beloved Community. [8]

Throughout history, Christians have worked for progress with wisdom and love.  We seek the vision of the Kingdom of God while remembering that it cannot be fully and finally achieved in this world’s history. We await the return of the Savior. In the meantime, we are called to act in Love to make the best of a fallen world.

Copyright 2024, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

[1] These books are collected in Volume 5 of the Francis Schaeffer, The Collected Works of Francis Shaeffer. Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1982. Each of these books was originally published separately.

[2] William Stringfellow, A Private and Public Faith. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1962).

[3] What I have called the accommodationist approach could with equal accuracy be called the transformative approach, since it seeks to accommodate social realities while at the same time bringing about transformation for the better in society and government.

[4] Archibald Hunter “Introduction to First Peter” in The Interpreter’s Bible. Vol. 12 (Nashville: Abingdon, 1957.

[5] Robert P. George, “The Phone Book Test,” an interview in Christianity Today. (June 2006):44-47.

[6] Geoffrey Bromily, ed, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. (abridged volume (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1985), 1159

[7] John Calvin, Commentary on the First Epistle of Peter. Tr. Rev. John Owen (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1993), 81.

[8] See, Josiah Royce, The Problem of Christianity (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 2001), 125

Romans: A Guide to Successful and Wise Living

Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures,  the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for the sake of his name, including yourselves who are called to belong to Jesus Christ,…. (Romans 1:1-6)

Now to God who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but is now disclosed, and through the prophetic writings is made known to all the Gentiles, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith — to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever! Amen. (Romans 16:25-27).

The Obedience of Faith

Our Sunday school class has been busy studying Paul’s letter to the Romans. In many Sunday school classes, such a study takes place over a long period due to the length and complexity of this wonderful letter. Our class decided to take another approach: Instead of covering the book sentence by sentence over a long period, we decided to cover it over fourteen weeks. One benefit of that approach has been the need for the teaching team to identify central messages and meanings to communicate to the class. It was my duty to teach the first lesson. In so doing, I concluded that the book is primarily about a phrase used at the beginning and the end of the book. That phrase is “the obedience of faith” (Romans 1:6; 16:27).

Paul was the first missionary to the Gentiles and proclaimed a doctrine of salvation by faith alone. This, in turn, produced the early church’s first major conflict, which revolved around the question of whether Gentiles needed to adhere to Jewish law, including circumcision, before embracing Christianity. The church’s decision, reached during the first great conference in Jerusalem, as recorded in Acts, was that Gentiles did not need to convert to Judaism before becoming Christians (Acts 15:1-29). This decision had to do with circumcision and implies that what is being spoken about is the ceremonial law. However, the issue of the law’s relationship with faith continued to perplex and trouble the first-century Church—and it can trouble us today.

In a culture that celebrates freedom and often celebrates liberty from any kind of traditional morality or forms of behavior, it can be challenging to hear a phrase like “the obedience of faith.” Nevertheless, we need to hear and understand that phrase, or we are almost certain to act unwisely in the Christian life. A good deal of the foolishness of contemporary Christians can be traced back to a failure to understand what we are forgiven for and freed for when we come to Christ.

Paul’s “Torah Free Gospel”

In Romans, Paul is concerned with ensuring that the Roman church is not confused about where Paul stands on the issue of faith and the connection between faith, works, and the law. At the beginning of the book, he sets for his program: Paul has been called as an apostle to proclaim the gospel of Christ and bring about the obedience that comes from faith. Faith allows believers to be transformed and, therefore, can live according to the moral law. Faith does not eliminate the law; it is the vehicle by which the law can be fulfilled in the life of believers.

In Galatians, Paul spoke dramatically about Christians’ freedom from the law. As a result, he was seriously criticized by Jewish Christians, who did not believe in the revelation of Christ abrogated the Jewish law and would inevitably lead to rampant immorality.  In Romans, Paul assures the Roman church that nothing could be further from the truth. Thus, Paul writes:

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried, therefore, with him by baptism into death so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in the newness of life. If we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be brought to nothing so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin Romans 6:1-7).

Paul is clear: Our freedom from the law resulting from faith in Christ is not freedom to sin or do what we like. It is freedom from sin and the “Law of Sin and Death.” It is as if Christians, when they become believers in Christ, experience a kind of death. Their former sinful self is now dead, and in replacement, a new spiritual self has been created by God. That new spiritual self can fulfill the law, which the Old Testament law could not provide. The new creation in Christ is set free from the Law of Sin and Death and can live in the newness of God’s divine life.

Four Meanings of Law in Romans

As I’ve taught, I’ve been able to help the class understand four different uses of the law Paul uses in Romans. Historically, Reformed theology held that there were three types of law revealed in the Old Testament: moral, ceremonial, and civil (or judicial):

  • The Ten Commandments exemplify moral law. They are permanently applicable today, and they still bind Christians.
  • The ceremonial and civil law contains ceremonial (liturgical) and political laws applicable only to the Jewish people. It was temporary and is not binding on the church today.

It is also vital to understand another phrase used in Romans: “the law of sin and death.” The apostle Paul refers to the law of sin and death when he says, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.”   (Romans 8:1-2).

In Romans, Paul contrasts the “Law of the Spirit” and the “Law of Sin and Death.” When Paul uses the phrase “the law of sin and death,” he recalls Adam and Eve’s story in the garden. Remember the consequences of Adam and Eve violating the commandment of God not to touch the tree of the knowledge of good and evil death (Genesis 3:2). Scholars can argue about what is included in this judgment of God, but it at least consists of spiritual death. That is to say, those who disobey God create for themselves a separation from God, a kind of spiritual death. This spiritual death can be undone by faith in Christ. The Law of the Spirit frees believers from the law of Sin and Death and results from believers receiving the Good News, the message of new life through faith in the resurrected Christ, followed by receiving the Spirit of God in their lives.

In Romans 8, Paul clearly states his view:

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus because, through Christ Jesus, the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do because the flesh weakened it, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh so that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit (Romans 8:1-4).

Faith allows believers to be transformed and, therefore, have the capacity to live according to the moral law. The law alerts Christians to our sinful predispositions and points out the danger of falling into sin. In our natural condition, Christians are no more able to carry out the law than the Jewish people of the Old Testament. In our natural condition, Christians are no more able to carry out the law than Jewish people of the Old Testament. It is only by the power of the Holy Spirit that Christians can fulfill the law, and this is not an act of will but primarily an act of faith, the spirit working through the lives of believers. The law of the Spirit gives spiritual life to believers and sets us free, not from the moral law, but from the law of sin and death. Furthermore, once free from the law of sin and death, we no longer live according to our natural desires but according to the Spirit and, therefore, can fulfill the law’s righteous requirements.

Love Fulfills the Law

This short blog is not intended to be a complete theological discussion of what it means to fulfill the law. Still, it’s important to remember that Paul says that the law itself is summarized by the Great Commandment, especially by loving others. In Romans 13, Paul states:

Let no debt remain outstanding except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does not harm a neighbor. Therefore, love fulfills the law (Romans 13:8-10, emphasis added).

It is love that fulfills the law. When believers receive Christ, they receive God into their hearts. When they receive God into their hearts, they receive the love of God because God is love, and they are empowered to love God and others (I John 4:7-21). Therefore, in loving God and others, Christians fulfill the law. But if we fail to do so, if we fall away from the love of God and others, we do not fulfill the law.) Notice, however, that this law of the spirit is not another law of the type one finds in the Old Testament. It is the spirit of God active in the life of believers. Love fulfills the law; it is not some kind of new law containing a lot of rules and regulations.

I hope this short look at portions of the book of Romans will help readers understand that the Christian life is not lawless. It is not as if the moral law we find, for example, in the Ten Commandments, has ceased to be applicable. The law is eternally relevant. By faith, Christians receive something even better than the law: the Spirit.

The spirit of God allows us to fulfill the law as we become more like Christ, who himself was the fulfillment of the law. He says, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17). I like the New Living Translation even better: Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose.”

By faith in Christ and loving God and others, we, like Jesus, can fulfill the law. The law becomes more or less irrelevant because we act by the power of the Holy Spirit in love, which transcends the law. It doesn’t repeal the law, but it’s bigger than the law. It is even more fundamental than the law. First, John tells us that God is love and light (I John 1:5; 4:8). It doesn’t say “God is law” because the law is not fundamental. Wisdom and Love are.

Copyright 2024, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

How Can I Know What To Do Next?

One of the most pressing questions humans ask is, “How can I know what I’m supposed to do next?” The question is often phrased for Christians: as “How can I know God’s will?” Both secular and religious authors have written many books to help people answer this question. Interestingly, there’s little evidence that these books have fundamentally changed human beings. After generations of self-help books, people still wonder what to do next.

There are times in life when we simply cannot escape the question of what to do next. We ask questions like,  “What school should I attend?” “What person shall I marry?” “What career shall I embrace?” “What church should I join?” “What religion should I believe in?” “Should I change jobs?”

These are all important questions, so important that the entire course of our lives can be changed by how we answer them. A lot of the time, we can delay making a decision. We can just keep on going in the direction we’re headed. Of course, that is a decision. Not to decide is to decide. We’ve decided what to do. We have to live with the consequences. If I’m offered a job and I don’t take it, thinking that I have more security where I am, that opportunity will probably pass me by for life. There are also times when we have no choice but to decide. There are times when we have to make a decision. We can’t avoid the decision.

In the modern world, the issue of how to decide has become increasingly pressing as the scope of human choices has become more significant. In prior ages, most people had minimal decisions concerning their career (it would be their parents), who they would marry (it would be the person their parents chose), or where they would live (it would be where their family has always lived), what political party to belong to (there were none for most people) or who to vote for (there were no elections), and the like. This is true in very few places in the modern world. As one author put it, “…the individual in modern pluralistic society not only has the opportunity to choose; he is compelled to choose. Since less and less can be taken for granted, the individual cannot fall back on firmly established patterns of behavior and thought. … Such a person must opt for one possibility rather than another. [1]

The inevitability of choice in modern society causes deep anxiety, poor decision-making,  and a sense of dislocation in many people. Stanley Hauerwas says it well,

We are told we live in a morally bankrupt age. People think what at one time was unthinkable; indeed they do what was once inconceivable. We experienced the world as so morally chaotic that we feel our only alternative is for each person to choose if not to create the standard by which they are to live.” [2]

In such a society, it is no wonder that many people feel their lives are falling apart when they face making decisions. It is no wonder that so many people feel deep regret and shame for their past decisions. It’s a wonder that things aren’t worse. In such a situation, it’s worth asking how we can make good decisions about the things that matter most.

Where We Go for Help

Although the conditions of our society make it more challenging to make decisions, and because of the lack of clear, moral guidance, decisions are more likely to be poor. Nevertheless, people have always faced the necessity of making good decisions. This has been true throughout history. The entire wisdom literature of the Old Testament is one long dissertation on making good life decisions. That’s why it’s essential to develop the habit of reading a small section of wisdom literature every day. It can be Proverbs. It can be Ecclesiastes. It can be The Wisdom of Solomon. It can be James. It could be one of many places in the Scriptures where the question of making good decisions is addressed. Yet, there is a deeper truth than just reading appropriate literature.

Romans 12 and Wise Decision-Making

This week, I focus on a tiny section of scripture, Romans 12:1-3. When I was in seminary, we were warned not to preach too much on a single text. Every pastor has their favorite texts, and there’s a tendency to return to them time after time. Our professors warned us against overdoing this. About five years into my preaching career, I reviewed a list of every sermon I’ve ever preached and where it came from in the Bible. It turned out that except for the Christmas and Easter passages, Romans 12:1-2 was the passage I had most often taught or preached on. Here it is:

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing, and perfect will (Romans 12:1-2).

The Practical Nature of Faith

If we are going to be able to make good decisions in life, it’s important to understand the difference between practical knowledge and abstract knowledge. Abstract knowledge is theoretical in nature, while practical knowledge always leads to action. Christianity is not an abstract system of doctrine; it’s a way of life. Christian life is all about action. It is about doing. It is about living each day in view of God’s revelation in Christ.

Paul’s letters have a standard structure. One feature of Paul’s writing is a tendency to begin a letter with teachings about God and end the letter with its practical implications for life.  He nearly always does this, and for a good reason: Paul thanks that our faith should lead us to action. This is why he begins the letter with the phrase “obedience of faith” (Romans 1:5).  The obedience of faith is practical action in everyday life based upon the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Romans 12 begins with the word “Therefore.” Paul is showing that we need to live differently because of all that he has said and all the logical arguments he’s made up to this point about the meaning of Christ. “Therefore” clues us into the fact that the mighty act of God in Christ has implications for our lives.*

It’s easy to believe that if we’ve got our theory right, we will get our practice right. Philosophers warn us that this is not always the case. There’s always a distance between any idea we have and reality. Making good decisions in life is about adjusting our lives to the way the world really is. Of course, to do that, we have to understand the way the world really is. The apostle Paul knows this, which is why he begins by urging the Romans to “offer their bodies as living sacrifices….” In Paul’s mind, God and God’s involvement in the world and our lives is the most fundamental fact. If we don’t recognize this fundamental reality, we won’t be able to make the best decisions possible.

Present Yourself to God

Paul begins by urging us to make a total commitment to the Gospel of Christ.  “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.” In a sermon many years ago, I asked the men of our congregation how many prayed before they asked their wives to marry them. Not one person raised their hand. The point was that we sometimes fail to “present our decisions and ourselves to God.”

You can argue that the decision about who to marry is the most critical decision many people make. My life would be completely different if I hadn’t married Kathy. Indeed, no decision I’ve ever made has had a more positive influence on my life. If there is any decision that ought to be lifted up to God, deciding who to marry is the one.

What is Paul urging us to do? He’s asking us to discern the will of God. To do this, we have to present ourselves to God. He doesn’t begin by asking believers to check out a library book and study it. Notice Paul doesn’t begin by saying “Memorize a lot of scripture.” He starts by saying that we should present ourselves to God. This doesn’t mean we won’t study our Bibles. It doesn’t mean we won’t read secular sources of information about our decisions. It doesn’t mean that we won’t ask the opinion of trusted counselors.

 It means that, most importantly, we must present ourselves to God. This means we have to pray. We have to meditate. We have to take time to allow God into the decision-making process that we are about to make. Finally, and this is the most challenging part of presenting ourselves to God, we need to present ourselves to God with an attitude of worship and sacrifice. When Paul uses the phrase “present yourselves as living sacrifices,” he uses a word that means worship. He is saying, “Bring yourself into the presence of God and pray and praise God continually as you make your decision, and don’t be afraid to make sacrifices along the way.”

For the past 50 years, with very rare exceptions, I’ve spent every Sunday morning in church. A good bit of the time, it was a sacrifice to attend worship. I might have rather been somewhere else, like the golf course.  The same thing is true in decision-making. It won’t always be easy or pleasant if we bring ourselves before God in an attitude of total worship as we make decisions. A good bit of the time, we wish we could do something else and be somewhere else.

Occasionally, we’re going to make a decision that we don’t really want to make based on our feeling that God wants us to make it. It’s true in my life over and over again. Some of my best decisions have been made in situations where I felt it would result in a bit of sacrifice. On the other hand, some of the worst decisions I’ve ever made were made under circumstances where I was taking the easy way out – deciding because I thought it would please me instead of pleasing God.

One final element at the beginning of this passage needs to be emphasized. At the end of the passage, Paul urges the Romans to offer their bodies as a living sacrifice precisely because it is their “true and proper” worship. The word in Greek is difficult to translate, and “true and proper” may not capture all the Greek implies.  The Greek word literally means “logical.” [3] It means reasonable. It is the very same root word used in John when he refers to Jesus as the “logos of God,” that is the word of God in human form.

In Jesus Christ, the most profound reason of the universe is revealed. As Paul points out in First Corinthians, at first glance, this deeper reason may not seem reasonable (I Corinthians 1:5-10). Nevertheless, our Christian faith should not lead us to act unreasonably, even though the world may often think that our pattern of decision-making is unreasonable. Instead, our decision-making should be logical and reasonable at a level that most people cannot imagine.

Be Transformed

How is it possible for us to live a life characterized by constant and total worship of God? Most of us can’t do this a lot of the time. This is why Paul says, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing, and perfect will” (Romans 12:2). My paraphrase of this reads, “Do not allow yourself to become conformed to the spirit and pattern of thought and behavior of our society but be transformed by complete changing your character and the way you make decisions so that you may in every situation discern the will of God in every situation.”

In one way or another, all of us tend to view the world through the lenses given to us by our own society. We internalize a worldview, habitual way of life, and a set of values, not primarily consciously but unconsciously, as we grow, mature, and live out our daily lives. In our society, this habitual worldview inclines us to believe that material things are very important. In our society, this habitual worldview inclines us to think that being powerful, wealthy, and able to control our environment is fundamentally the most essential thing in the world. Against all this, Christians believe that the most important fundamental thing is God revealed in Christ, who is the Truth and Love of God in human form (I John 3:8). Learning to live like Jesus is the most important thing in life–and Jesus did a lot of sacrificing to make our faith and life possible.

What Paul has in mind is that we need a change not in our exterior behavior, though there will be a change in our exterior behavior, but a change in our very being. When Paul says “be transformed,” the Greek word implies that there should be a complete and total transformation in the essential being of our person. [4] In Protestant circles, we tend to call this process “sanctification. In Orthodox circles, they use the word “Theosis,” which means becoming not just like God on the outside but participating in the life of God on the inside. We are transformed, not just by what we believe, nor just by how we behave, but by who we are. This is exactly what Paul means.

Eugenia S. Constantinou puts it this way, “The Holy Spirit illuminates, sanctifies, and actualizes the life in Christ. As we participate fully in the life of the Church, we acquire an orthodox phronema, a mind shaped not by the world but by the Spirit.” [5] As we grow in Christ as part of the community of faith, we acquire a new attitude, a new perspective, a new frame of reference, a new worldview, a new kind of reason, and a new orientation in our lives. This new orientation grows and matures as we embody more of Christ. This is how we learn to make good decisions in the will of God. There is no good decision-making without transformation.

Copyright 2024, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

[1] Peter L. Berger, A Far Glory: The Quest for Faith in an Age of Credulity (New York, NY: Anchor Books, 1992), 89.

[2] Stanley Hauerwas, The Peaceable Kingdom: A Primer on Christian Ethics (Notre Dame, IN: Notre Dame Press, 1983), 2

[3] Karl Barth, A Shorter Commentary on Romans (Richmond, VA: John Knox Press, 1959), 150.

[4] William Barclay, “Romans” in The Daily Bible Study Series Rev. Ed. (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster Press, 1975), 157-158.

[5] Eugenia Scarvelis Constantinou, Thinking Orthodox: Understanding and Acquiring the Orthodox Christian Mind (Chesterton, IN: Ancient Faith Publishing, 2020, 77.

Concluding Remarks on Sophio-Agapism

The paradigm for visualizing the world and human society envisioned the universe as made up of matter and society as made up of isolated individuals, both of which were bound together by forces. In the realm of industry, this meant technology. In the political sphere, this meant human ingenuity was put into the service of gaining political and economic power. In the thoughts of Hobbes, Rousseau, Marx, and others, there was no inherent limit to the sovereign’s power. In the hands of Nietzsche, this became a recipe for disaster because all that mattered was raw power and the desire to dominate (Will to Power).

American and other political institutions have been powerfully impacted by the Newtonian worldview, a Hobbesian view of politics focused on power and the theoretically unlimited power of the state. Just as under the influence of a mechanical view of the universe, modern thinkers were predisposed to perceive the world as consisting of small units of matter held together or influenced by forces; in politics, this worldview predisposed policy-makers to either extreme individualism or Marxist-influenced communalism, viewing the core governmental forces as power influenced solely by economic factors, all explicable through scientific analysis. Thus, the 20th Century’s most influential political and economic theories: Capitalism and Marxism.

In recent years, a materialistic model of the world has been superseded by a model that assumes deep interconnectedness, relationality, freedom, and inner sensitivity. By the middle of the 20th Century, at least physicists understood that the Newtonian model of the universe was limited and fundamentally incorrect. Today, scientists believe that the world, at its most fundamental level, is composed of disturbances in a wave field, with the result that every aspect of reality is deeply connected with every other aspect. Some scientists even believe that the world is fundamentally composed of information. Whichever view turns out to be correct, the fact remains that matter and forces are not fundamental. In theology, a robust analysis has emerged, suggesting that the world is profoundly interconnected and relationships are more essential than matter or energy. This fundamental view of reality cannot help but impact our view of human beings and society.

The insights of theoretical physics and other academic disciplines into the fundamentally relational nature of reality and the limits of a merely reductive scientific enterprise have been slowly transforming society. A newer “organic model” that sees the universe not as a machine but as an organism or a process is gradually emerging and influencing public life.  As the implications of this new worldview are better understood by citizens and politicians alike, political life and the contours of our politics and political institutions are bound to change, hopefully rationally and peacefully.

The modern world is dying, and something new is emerging. What we call “post-modernism” is only the beginning of the change and might be better called “Hyper-Modernism” or “End-stage Modernism.” The descent of modern thought into “hermeneutics of suspicion,” “deconstructionism,” and various forms of nihilism is fundamentally critical reasoning taken to an absurd end. The inevitable result will be that reason, spiritual values, moral imperatives, and the like will reemerge as essential factors in a wise polity. The vision of the purely secular, materially driven, and scientifically managed state will wither away until it finds its proper place in a more comprehensive human polity.

Hopefully, a newer vision of political reality will emerge in its place – a constructive form of postmodernism.“Sophio-agapism” describes the philosophical proposal defended in these essays. Just as the world comprises an intricately intertwined web of reality, governments will recognize that human politics must begin with smaller units, like the family, and move organically into more comprehensive organizational units with essential but limited powers. The vision of the all-powerful nation-state that controls a territory through legal, administrative, and bureaucratic power will be proved inadequate and false. Whether this happens due to a great crisis and collapse of the current nation-state, world-state visions, or organically, through the decisions of wise leaders, depends on the decisions we all make. One thing is for sure: a wise and genuinely post-modern political order will value dialogue as much as debate and decision.

In this series of essays, I’ve tried to discuss historical pragmatism and the development of a particular approach to political life and thought. In the process, I’ve been attempting to sketch out the contours of a sic approach to political theory and life. Briefly, the essential elements are as follows:

A Politics of Wisdom

Sophio-agapism embraces the notion that political philosophy and political action can be reasonable (the sophiomove) and serve the common good by understanding a society’s political life, the options for change available, the historical trajectory of that society, and other factors while experimenting wisely among various policy options. This is a turn away from a view of politics as primarily a matter of Will and a return to an older view that politics is mainly a matter of practical wisdom (phronesis). As a form of practical wisdom, sophio-agapism embraces the notion that wisdom comes from experience embedded in the human race’s experience through the ages and from the advances of modern science and technology.

A Politics of Love

Sophio-agapism embraces a communitarian viewpoint that sees all participants in society as part of a common community bound together not just by power but fundamentally by a willingness to sacrifice for the community, whose interests must be considered in addition to the selfish interests of individuals that make up that community (the agapic move). In particular, nurturing families, neighborhoods, mediating institutions, and voluntary societies creates social bonds that give stability and restraint to the state’s power and can accomplish goals that state power alone cannot achieve.

Political love is fundamentally a recognition that society is a joint endeavor requiring the cooperative efforts of all participants to achieve human flourishing. It is a social bond that transcends individual grasping and the search for personal peace, pleasure, and affluence. It requires confidence that the existing social order, as flawed as it may be, provides positive benefits to all members of society and should be protected while at the same time advancing in the realization of justice and human flourishing.

A Focus on Social Harmony

Sophio-agapism embraces the ideal of social harmony as the goal of political life. The modern, revolutionary focus on equality dooms political life to unending conflict among persons and classes. Political life aims to achieve progressively more significant degrees of harmony among the various participants in any society. A return to viewing social harmony as the foundation of wise and just decision-making is implied by the interconnectedness of the world and the various societies humans inhabit. Equality is undoubtedly an essential component of justice, as are opportunities to achieve, the acquisition of property that one can call one’s own, respect for all citizens, and a host of other components of a functional society.

The Reality of Universal Values

Sophio-agapism embraces the recovery in the public life of the notion that critical universal values, like justice, are not merely matters of the will of a majority or the choice of a single individual or ruling class but noetic realities. These noetic realities, what I have called Transcendental Ideals, can be studied, internalized, and applied to practical problems and extended in the dynamic process of the political life of a society. This requires the disciplined, fair, and impartial search for such values and their application in concrete circumstances by all the relevant players in society, private citizens, public officials, policy advisors, etc.

The kind of moral confusion we see in the West is evidence of the need to recover a sense of the reality of ideals, such as justice, and the importance of their continuing enfolding as part of a tradition of moral, political, legal, and philosophical inquiry by communities devoted to the unbiased search for justice. These Transcendental Ideals exist as ever-evolving noetic realities to be progressively revealed by a community dedicated to uncovering their nature and application.

A Wholistic Reason

Sophio-agapism embraces a holistic view of political wisdom and a recovery of classical and modern thought in guiding public policy. This means superseding the dissolving effects of critical reason as the primary source of political thinking and including with critical reason a form of reasoning that involves the cherishing of people and institutions within the political life of a society. In modern political theory, will and power have become dominant factors in public life. Power alone and the Will to Power do not lead to human or social flourishing unless they rest on a substructure of caring for others and institutions.

Politics is not primarily science; it is a skill. The skills involved include the ability to choose among alternatives, forge a consensus, make difficult decisions in solving public problems, maintain the maximum degree of social harmony, and other skills that are not primarily cognitive. In addition, they are not encouraged by the dissolving effects of critical reason. Just as there is a skill beyond technical proficiency in creating a symphony, social harmony is not entirely a matter of technical ability or scientific determination. Polls, for example, can only get you so far in the search for justice.

Fallibility and Limits

Sophio-agapism embraces developing a sense of limits in public life. The historical trajectory of the political development of any society places limits upon wise and caring change. The history of a society and its trajectory also opens avenues for developing the tradition of which that society is a part. The Enlightenment brought about a period of revolutionary thinking, exemplified by the French Revolution and the Marxist revolutions of the 20th Century. The results are not encouraging in the search for either social harmony or human flourishing. Rather than being revolutionary, sophio-agapism is evolutionary. It believes that the gradual evolution of human society guided by human wisdom and love can create a better future over time. Connected with this insight is a resistance to millenarianism of the left or right, Marxist or Capitalist. Humans cannot achieve a perfect society, but humans can improve upon the society in which they live.

Sophio-agapism encourages a sense of limits and a recognition of human fallibility in political life. Not all problems can be solved, and very few can be solved entirely or quickly. The attempt to make massive social changes involves the risk of enormous societal damage. This argues for an incremental approach whenever possible. Not all problems are susceptible to incrementalism, but a great many are. There is the chance of a significant cost and waste if substantial changes are made. It is hard to reverse the damage done by a massive political change. It is much easier to change course when the original action is incremental. This kind of incrementalism is not enhanced by the emotion-driven politics that currently characterizes Western democracies.

Investigation and Dialogue

Embracing an abductive (scientific) and dialectical model of political reasoning and behavior that deliberately attempts to find the best rational solution for all involved, seeking the harmony of society as a whole, and resisting political life’s descent into a form of warfare by other means. Reasonable dialogue is essential for societies to recover a sense of mutual respect for differing opinions and a standard search for the best solution among available options.

Many social problems arise from illogical, emotionally driven, poorly conceived policies. From how many governmental programs are structured to the outcomes permitted to the corruption and waste involved, these programs represent both a failure of character in leadership and a failure of thoughtful reaction to societal needs. The propensity to avoid complex problems until they are dangerously large and politically unavoidable is a risk in any democratic society. When the propensity becomes endemic in all areas of conflict, it is dangerous to political institutions.

Dialogue is important because it allows political actors to accomplish two essential goals in maintaining social harmony: the investigation of alternative policies and proposals and the maintenance of the maximum degree of unity during periods of decision. Contemporary politics is exceptionally reliant upon divisive, simplistic, and polarizing rhetoric. Focus on dialogue and reason would allow political actors to maintain social harmony while investigating the best policy to adopt. It would also allow the political climate to become more harmonious.

Overcoming the Focus on Power

Both political liberals and conservatives agree that there are fundamental problems in society and the human community. Interestingly, it may be a shared fundamental worldview that is at the root of the decay of public institutions. The idea that the world is fundamentally material and that politics is a matter of power and power alone is a profound source of the irrational behavior of the right and the left. If the world is fundamentally rational and relational, then all solutions that flow from a purely materialistic view of society—a view shared by extreme capitalist and socialistic theories of government, lie at the root of many of the problems we face and certainly at the root of an increasingly dysfunctional style of politics. The urgency for a new, more relational rational government ontology is apparent, emphasizing the potential importance of further developing the philosophical perspective outlined in this series of essays.

Copyright 2024, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved 

Acts 1:3-13: Together with the Risen Jesus

“After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive” (Acts 1:3)

            Some years ago, the Memphis Commercial Appeal ran a story titled “Most of Us Don’t Expect Resurrection of the Body.” The article began by disclosing that while most Americans identify themselves as Christians, those who identify themselves as Christians don’t necessarily believe in the resurrection. However, the church has always believed in this doctrine, and it is found in every orthodox creed. Every Sunday, all over the world Christians meet together and affirm their faith in the resurrection.

            There are many good books in which the authors defend the Christian faith and the resurrection. To name a few, C. S. Lewis wrote a book titled Miracles defending the resurrection. [1] Josh McDowell compiled a book entitled, Evidence that Demands a Verdict. [2]  The physicist and theologian John Polkinghorne wrote The Faith of a Physicist, in which he makes a scientist’s defense of the resurrection. [3] Lee Strobel, in his book, The Case for Christ, gives a reporter’s defense of the resurrection. [4] It is fundamental to Christian theology and Christian faith that the resurrection of Jesus was God’s vindication of his sinless life – proof of his victory over sin and death. Each time we say the Apostles or Nicene Creed, we affirm our belief that Christ rose from the dead, and that we too will be resurrected in the last day. [5]

The Argument from Changed Lives.

The resurrection is important. You see, Christ’s victory over sin and death, the resurrection, is also proof of our victory over sin and death. It is because of the resurrection that we Christians can live confidently amid danger and adversity. It is because of the resurrection that we can have hope amid trials. It is because of the resurrection that we can proclaim with the apostle Paul, “Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus!” (Romans 8:38).

There are many arguments for the resurrection. My favorite is this: The most significant argument for the truth of the resurrection is the changed lives of the disciples who formed the church, left their homes, and went to the ends of the world – and their graves – proclaiming the risen Christ. Formerly afraid and hiding, they were now willing to face great opposition resulting from their claim that Jesus was alive.

In this blog, I do not intend to regurgitate the arguments others have made. Instead, I want to discuss a practical question, “How can we experience the power of the new life of the resurrected Christ in our lives?”

Better Together with the Risen Jesus

           Dr. Luke begins the second volume of his biography of Jesus and the history of the early church with a brief review of the final days before Jesus’ ascension into heaven. Earlier, in Luke, Paul described the betrayal by Judas (Luke 22:47-48), the denial of Peter (Luke 22:54-62), the death of Jesus (Luke 23:44-46), and the flight of the other disciples. Luke then narrates the events surrounding the resurrection – the angels’ appearance to the women in the Garden, Jesus’ appearance to the two disciples on the Road to Damascus, and the Twelve in the Upper Room. Luke describes Jesus’ telling them that they were to be his witnesses to the ends of the earth (Luke 24:44-49). Finally, he describes Jesus’ ascension into heaven and the disciples’ return to Jerusalem (Luke 24:53).

            In the first chapter of Acts, Luke again recounts a story of the resurrection. He takes time out to reinforce in readers’ minds the fact of the resurrection. [6] Jesus, we are told, appeared to the disciples on many occasions after the resurrection. In First Corinthians, Paul gives a summary of these appearances, saying that Jesus appeared to Peter, then to the Twelve, then to more than five hundred people at the same time, then to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to Paul (see, 1 Corinthians 15:5-8). [7] In just a few weeks, the disciples, who were discouraged, despairing, and disbursed, came together and boldly proclaimed that Jesus was the Messiah and had risen from the dead.

From Despair to Courage

The disciples went from being a scattered, dispirited, discouraged group of former followers of Jesus of Nazareth to being filled with the Holy Spirit. They became a “Band of Brothers” whose exploits the world will never forget. [8]They were ready to face anyone or anything in the name of Jesus. Where there was danger, they possessed courage. Where there was persecution, they possessed fortitude. Where there was opposition, they possessed endurance. Faced with death, they had faith in God and hope for eternal life.

Isn’t this what we desire for our lives? Don’t we wish we could live free of petty fears and petty desires? Don’t we wish we were free to share the love of God with others as Jesus could and did? This morning, I want to highlight three ways we can experience the power of the resurrection in our lives.

Wait for the Holy Spirit

The first thing we must do is to wait for the Holy Spirit. We can imagine that, after they became convinced of the resurrection, the disciples were anxious to begin the business of proclaiming the rule of Christ. Luke gives us some inkling of this when he recounts that the disciples asked Jesus, “Is now the time when you will restore the Kingdom of Israel?”(Acts 1:6). In other words the disciples were saying, “Now that you have returned, can we get started defeating your enemies?”

The fact is, we Christians don’t always understand what God is doing or when and how God intends to do it. We can be overly anxious to get along with the plan before God has fully revealed to us what the plan is, much less what he wants us to do and how he wants us to do it. We can have difficulty waiting.

Many of you know that I am impatient. Once I’ve figured out that there is a problem, I am ready to start solving it, sometimes before God is ready. I’ve noticed that God often reveals some of his plan to me, but not enough for me to get started. I have to wait on God. God likes to teach us patience by asking us to wait. We learn to wait for Jesus to send his Spirit of Wisdom, Love, and Power before we act.

The Power of Meeting Together.

As Christians, we need to learn to wait on God, but waiting does not mean doing nothing. There was plenty to do during the days and weeks between the resurrection and the promise of the Holy Spirit and its arrival. Our text tells us that Jesus continued to appear to them and to teach them, giving them instruction concerning the meaning of his life, death, and resurrection. Jesus taught, and the disciples listened and asked questions, such as “Is now the time when you will restore the Kingdom of Israel?” (Acts 1:6). [9] As we wait for Jesus to empower us in some area, we can still do a lot. We can gather together for worship. We can study our Bibles, attend church, do small group Bible studies, and volunteer in some ministry. We can grow in our understanding of God, of God’s ways, and of God’s call on our lives. While we wait, we can grow closer to Christ and his people.

Some years ago, my former church participated in 40 Days of Community in small groups. Each person experienced a simple daily Bible study, a time of sharing in a group, perhaps a discipleship group or Sunday school class. Each had the opportunity to engage in one of several small service projects. In other words, we had the opportunity to grow together as disciples and work together as Christians. It was life-changing for many people.

Most of the Christian life is spent between tremendous spiritual experiences. Most of the time, we aren’t on the mountain top. We are slogging through the jungle of everyday life, trying to make ends meet, raising children, taking care of other human beings, watching over parents growing old – just trying to show a little of God’s love to those around us. If we are wise, during these ordinary times, we will be a part of some kind of small group of Christians as we share our lives and our faith in small but life-transforming ways.

Pray for the Presence of God.

The most important thing we can do when we meet is pray. Our text tells us that after Jesus ascended into heaven, the disciples gathered together in the Upper Room and prayed. It says, “They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers” (Acts 1:14). I want to mention two things about this verse.

First, if we desire to live Spirit-empowered lives, we must pray constantly.

Second, not only do we need to be in continual prayer, but we need to be constantly praying in unison with others. We need to meet with other Christians occasionally to pray together. If we want to see the power of God in our marriages, we need to pray as couples. If we’re going to see the power of God in our families, we need to pray in our families. If we want to see God at work in our ministry, like the choir or the band, we need to pray together as a choir or a band. If we want to see God at work in our congregation, we need to pray as a congregation.

Over and over again, I’ve seen the truth that prayer is the key to unlocking and releasing God’s power into a situation. Sometimes, that prayer is one of confession. Sometimes, it is a renewed prayer of intercession. Sometimes, it is a prayer of thanksgiving. Sometimes, it is a prayer of desperation. Whatever the circumstance, prayer is the key to unlocking God’s power.

I’ve also noticed that God often waits until we are willing to be just a little desperate in our prayers. God does not want pro forma prayers. He wants prayers of the heart. I think God listens more to our hearts than to our words. He is often waiting for our hearts to align with his will. I wish I had a story to illustrate this, but the truth is that most of the stories I could tell are so private that I can’t share them. Nevertheless, I have seen the power of God to unlock the solution to problems that, humanly speaking, were impossible to solve.

Conclusion

            What does the resurrection mean? Oswald Chambers, in his daily devotional, My Utmost for His Highest says this about the meaning of the resurrection, “When our Lord rose from the dead, he rose to an absolutely new life … And what his resurrection means for us is that we are raised to his Risen Life, not to our old life.” [10] The resurrection means new life – a different kind and quality of life. The resurrection means we can live the kind of God-filled life that Jesus lived.

            Most of us spend our lives isolated and burdened by old hurts, unresolved guilt, shame, bad habits, and the like. The resurrection is God’s promise that we don’t have to live as we always have. We are not predetermined by our biology, or by our family, or by our past. We can experience a new kind of life, even if we have to live with some of the consequences of the past. I love the contemporary a song “Christ Alone”. One of the verses goes like this:

No guilt in life, no fear in death
This is the power of Christ in me.
From life’s first cry to final breath
Jesus commands my destiny
No power of hell, no scheme of man
Can ever pluck me from his hand
‘til he returns and calls me home
Here in the power of Christ I stand. [11]

            This is the promise – Guilt about our past does not have to determine our lives. Fear of the future does not have to drive us. This means, especially, that fear of death – that fear which drives so much of human life, is gone. [12] To live in the power of the resurrection is to be free of that fear, and from any other fear, for we know nothing can separate us from the love of God.

Therefore, we need not fear others. Freedom from guilt means freedom from shame – shame that separates me from God and others. The resurrection means we are free to live joyfully as part of the Community of the Spirit – Christ’s church.

Copyright 2024, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

[1] C. S. Lewis, Miracles (New York: McMillan, 1947). See also, Mere Christianity (London: Fontana Books, 1952).

[2] Josh McDowell, Evidence that Demands a Verdict. Colorado Springs CO: Campus Crusade for Christ, 1972).

[3] John Polkinghorne, The Faith of a Physicist (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1996). These are his Gifford Lectures in the form of a book.

[4] Lee Strobel, The Case for Christ: A Journalist’s Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998).

[5] I mention the Nicene Creed (325 AD) because it is the universal creed accepted by Eastern and Western Christians. It is one of the official creeds of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). In the Nicene Creed, as in all orthodox creeds, it is affirmed that Christ was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures and that we, too, will be raised on the last day.

[6] See, William Barclay, The Acts of the Apostles 2nd ed. (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1955).

[7] Although there are differences among the Gospels concerning the details of the resurrection, they are united in a general pattern: the women first discovered the empty tomb, then Peter and perhaps John or the two on the road to Emmaus saw the Risen Christ, then the remainder of the disciples. Paul adds that there were appearances to many disciples and, last of all, to Paul (I Corinthians 15:3-8).

[8] See, William Shakespeare, “King Henry V Act IV. Scene III in The Collected Works of William Shakespeare (New York: Garden City Books), 581: “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers; For he today that sheds his blood with me/ Shall be my brother, be he e’re so vile./ This day shall gentle his condition:/ And gentlemen in England now abed/ Shall think themselves cursed they were not here….” (Emphasis Added).

[9] Jesus’ answer was a polite “No,” as he reminded them that no one knows the day or the hour of Christ’s final return (see Acts 1:6ff).

 

[10] Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest. (Grand Rapids: Discovery House Press, 1992), selection for April 8.

[11] This version of “Christ Alone” was recorded by Newsboys in their 2003 album, “Adoration”.

[12] William Willimon, “Acts” in Interpretation: A Biblical Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Louisville: John Knox, 1988), 19-20.

Dewey 5: Dewey on God and Religion

Candid portrait of American philosopher, psychologist, and educational reformer John Dewey standing in a wooded area, 1935. (Photo by JHU Sheridan Libraries/Gado/Getty Images).

During the last few weeks, I’ve been examining the work of the pragmatist John Dewey. Dewey’s form of pragmatism involved what he called instrumentalism, which briefly sees human thinking as instrumental in nature. He was raised in a Christian home and continued his religious faith into adulthood. Unfortunately, his philosophical studies and other intellectual commitments caused him to leave the Christian faith. By 1894, he had given up his Christian faith and became what he called an “unregenerate philosophical naturalist.” Charles Darwin and the emergence of evolutionary theory profoundly influenced this transformation. Darwinism, with its non-explanatory approach to the world and the emergence of human life, played a pivotal role in Dewey’s loss of belief in the supernatural.

As Dewey aged, he worried about the sustainability of portions of the intellectual and social projects to which he was committed. He came to see the need for a kind of philosophical underpinning for his commitments. He felt the need to develop common ground between religious and non-religious people to create a more just society. It was in this vein that he wrote A Common Faith. [1] Although I will be critical of some aspects of his program in this blog, I share both his concerns and his hope that a way can be found to build a common ground between religious and non-religious people and various religious groups.

Instrumentalism

Dewey’s form of pragmatism emphasized the instrumental character of human reason in solving practical problems. His view was naturalistic and did not involve the need for supernatural explanations. In this, Dewey differs from Charles Sanders Peirce and Josiah Royce. (In fact, it was the nominalist and naturalistic views of William James and John Dewey that caused C. S. Pierce to develop his brand of pragmatism, which he called “pragmaticism.”) Dewey was not interested in speculative philosophy or metaphysics, not in final or ultimate truths or realities, but in the practical application of philosophy to produce a better human society. In this, one might call Dewey a humanist in the best sense of the word.

Dewey’s Anti-Supernaturalism

Dewey’s form of pragmatism bordered on what we might call scientism. Dewey believed that science and modern scientific modes of human inquiry involved a fundamental change in the human condition and how humans adapted to life’s problems. He thought that a pragmatic humanist social agenda opened up hope for a better future. In this sense, Dewey is a typical post-Enlightenment thinker. In particular, Dewey was highly suspicious of any supernatural explanation for any phenomena.

The word “Supernatural” can easily be misunderstood. The term is derived from Medieval Latin “supernaturalis,” which is derived from the Latin “super” (above, beyond, or outside of) and “natura” (nature). Thus, by its etymology, reference to the supernatural does not necessarily indicate a diminution of nature or science. Instead, it refers to something above or beyond science. Not surprisingly, Dewey would be inclined to focus on the supernatural as involving something magical or exceeding the laws of nature in common religion. Even today, one finds a great many people who do have a magical view of Christianity and other faiths. However, a magical faith is not the only kind of faith.

Many Christians believe that God created an orderly universe filled with natural laws that must be understood and which control a great deal, in fact, most of the operations of human life. On the other hand, our everyday orderly, mechanical world rests upon both a quantum world and, for people of faith, was created by God, who stands above nature as its creator. In this sense, God is “above” or “beyond” nature (supernatural) as the transcendent ground of the created order, which God has created to have its independent laws.

Dewey’s Later Religious Ideas

In his book, A Common Faith, Dewey discusses three aspects of religion as he attempts to find common ground between those who possess religious faith and those committed to a naturalistic view of reality:

  1. Dewey distinguishes between religions and religious experience,
  2. Dewey advances the idea of God as the creative intersection of the ideal or possible and the real or actual and
  3. Dewey seeks to encourage the infusion of the religious as a pervasive mode of experience into democratic life.

In advancing these ideas, Dewey tried to find a way between those committed to a historical religion, such as Christianity, Catholicism, and Protestantism, and those who believed that advancing culture and science has rendered religions unnecessary. Dewey hoped he could find common ground between these two groups so that they could work together for the common good. We can certainly agree with Dewey’s intentions regarding this.

Religion vs. Religious

He advances his argument by distinguishing between religion and religious experience. Religion involves those ions and activities that are associated with any religion. For example, Christians have worship services, usually on Sunday. These worship services typically involve some kind of a liturgy, contemporary or traditional. Most of these worship services involve using scriptures believed to be of a divine origin. In almost every religion, there is also a kind of theology. That is to say, there is a group of beliefs held in common by the religious group. This might be the basics of the Christian faith, what are sometimes called the Five Sola’s of Protestantism, the Eightfold Path of Hinduism, the Five Pillars of Islam, the Torah of Judaism, or any other statements of essential religious belief.

This is not what Dewey means by religious experience. In A Common Faith, Dewey advances the idea that it is a part of human nature to have religious experiences in the sense of emotions and ideals of harmony, wholeness, inspiration, peace, comfort, and undivided engagement with the world. Religious experiences are diverse and might be inspired by reading poetry, making scientific discoveries, walking a picket line, or climbing a mountain. Such religious experiences create attitudes that help us commit more fully to our highest values. [2] Interestingly, among religious people I know, this kind of experience would not be deemed religious but like a religious experience. Why? Because religious experience is, by its nature, fundamentally an experience of the divine, not that of some portion of creation itself.

One author describes Dewey’s attitude as follows:

The highest religious attitudes, to Dewey, are (1) reverence for nature as the whole of which humanity is a part, and an understanding that we must cooperate with the natural world rather than attempt to dominate it; and (2) faith in the ongoing growth of humanity: growth in knowledge, wisdom, compassion. [3]

At the risk of sarcasm, what Dewey proclaims as “religious experience” seems a good bit like what the sociologist Robert Bellah describes as “Sheilaism.” Sheilaism is the kind of self-created abstract religion that demands nothing and has little content so common in our society. Here is how Bellah described Sheila:

Sheila Larson is a young nurse who has received a good deal of therapy and describes her faith as “Sheilaism.” This suggests the logical possibility of more than 235 million American religions, one for each of us. “I believe in God,” Sheila says. “I am not a religious fanatic. [Notice at once that in our culture any strong statement of belief seems to imply fanaticism so you have to offset that.] I can’t remember the last time I went to church. My faith has carried me a long way. It’s Sheilaism. Just my own little voice.” Sheila’s faith has some tenets beyond belief in God, though not many. In defining what she calls “my own Sheilaism,” she said: “It’s just try to love yourself and be gentle with yourself. You know, I guess, take care of each other. I think God would want us to take care of each other.” Like many others, Sheila would be willing to endorse few more specific points. [4]

Dewey has examined his own mind and described the religious experience of the human race in general as his personal preference—or what he personally thinks would be best in spiritual experience.

Against what Dewey refers to as “religion, he postulates the notion of the religious. Being “religious” refers to human experience that has no necessary connection to any religious institution, social organization, or system of beliefs. This experience occurs “in different persons in a multitude of ways” and generates a feeling of harmony with oneself and the universe that, at its core, entails a profound change and transformation in the person’s entirety. [5]

As helpful as it is for understanding, this distinction is ultimately useless in practice. Being religious is almost always, in fact, inevitably connected with a religion. There is, in practice, no distinction between being religious and practicing a religion. Let me explain why this is true. I am a Christian, a Protestant, and inclined towards what C. S. Lewis described as” Mere Christianity.” Most people would call me “religious.” How do they know such a thing?

They might have observed that my wife and I attend Church regularly. I read my Bible daily. I have a prayer list occupying about thirty minutes of my day daily. I pray the Lord’s Prayer and the Nicene Creed several times weekly. When away, pray the Daily Office online.  I sometimes practice a form of contemplative prayer. We go on Mission Trips periodically. I teach Sunday School when asked. Although I am retired, I occasionally preach at other churches and help around the church we most regularly attend. My character as “religious” is embodied in my religion and its beliefs. While one can distinguish my faith and mystical connection with God from these various practices, they are not separated in actual life.

The same might be said of my friends who are Buddhist, Jewish, Muslim, and the like. Like me, they have beliefs embodied in certain practices, without which their religious character would not exist.

Dewey’s God

In A Common Faith, Dewey wanted to construct an “idea of God” that could form a basis for the cooperation of religious groups (in his day, primarily Christian Protestantism and secular humanists, like himself, in a common project of improving humanity. Here is the way he describes his vision of God:

The import of the question extends far. It determines the meaning given to the word “God.” On one score, the word can mean only a particular Being. On the other score, it denotes the unity of all ideal ends arousing us to desire and actions. Does the unification have a claim upon our attitude and conduct because it is already, apart from us, in realized existence, or because of its own inherent meaning and value? Suppose for the moment that the word “God” means the ideal ends that at a given time and place one acknowledges as having authority over his volition and emotion. The values to which one is supremely devoted, as far as these ends, through imagination, take on unity. If we make this supposition, the issue will stand out clearly in contrast with the doctrine of religions that “God” designates some kind of Being having prior and therefore non-ideal existence. [6]

The problem with Dewey’s analysis begins with his definition of God, which states that “the ideal ends that at a given time and place one acknowledges as having authority over his volition and emotion.” This is precisely what theists do not believe. God is not my deepest belief that I should be a good spouse and father, a good citizen of my city-state and nation, or any of the like. Belief in God is belief in a person who stands outside of me and whose very being relativizes my self-chosen values.

In Dewey’s use, God is not a being. God is a name that I assign to my own ultimate concerns. In other words, Dewey is a religious nominalist. “God” is a convenient general word to describe my moral and other ultimate preferences. I must confess that I detect a bit of Whitehead in Dewey. For Whitehead, God is an Eternal Object, but unlike other Eternal Objects, God is an actual existence as the fountain of all values incorporated into evolving reality. Here is Dewey’s way of putting it:

The idea that “God” represents a unification of ideal values that is essentially imaginative in origin when the imagination supervenes in conduct is attended with verbal difficulties owing to our frequent use of the word “imagination” to denote fantasy and doubtful reality. But the reality of ideal ends as ideals are vouched for by their undeniable power in action. [7]

Two aspects of this definition leap out at the reader:

  1. Dewey’s fundamental pragmatism. God exists because it has a power to direct human action.
  2. “God” is an abstract ideal that exists as a unification of all human values.

Compare Dewey’s definition of God with this language from Whitehead:

This nature conceived as the unification derived from the World of Value is founded on ideals of perfection, moral and aesthetic. It receives into its unity the scattered effectiveness of realized activities, transformed by the supremacy of its own ideals. The result is Tragedy, Sympathy, and the Happiness evoked by actualized Heroism. Of course we are unable to conceive the experience of the Supreme Unity of Existence. But these are the human terms in which we can glimpse the origin of that drive towards limited ideals of perfection which haunts the Universe. [8]

God in Whitehead is also “a unity of values focused on ideals that give meaning to human and natural existence. God is “realized” in the evolving process of the world (realized activities). This is close to Dewey’s position in A Common Faith.

Conclusion

As always, there is much to learn from Dewey. Ultimately, I think his project fails as a unification of secular striving and religious striving. However, as a vision of cooperation, it remains a valuable starting point in the common search of religious and secular people for a better and more just world.

I have almost certainly not done complete justice to the subtlety of Dewey’s argument. He was a great philosopher, and I hope to return to his religious views in a future post. I do recommend A Common Faith to my readers. It’s not an easy book to read and has been much criticized by secular as well as religious people; nevertheless, it is an attempt to find common ground.

Copyright 2024, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

[1] John Dewey, A Common Faith (New Haven CT: Yale University Press, 1934).

[2] Kate Lovelady “Monday notes from Kate: John Dewey’s A Common Faith (November 28, 2011)

https://www.ethicalstl.org/monday-notes-from-kate-john-deweys-a-common-faith/ (downloaded, May 27, 2024).

[3] Id.

[4] Robert Bellah, “Habits of the Heart: Implications for Religion” http://www.robertbellah.com/lectures_5.htm (downoaded May 27, 2024).

[5] A Common Faith, at 17.

[6] Id, at 42.

[7] Id, at 43.

[8] Alfred North Whitehead, (“Immortality” in  The Philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead, ed.  P. A. Schilpp, (LaSalle, IL: Open Court, 1941), 697–98

Dewey 4: Instrumental Logic and Public Policy Formation

Candid portrait of American philosopher, psychologist, and educational reformer John Dewey standing in a wooded area, 1935. (Photo by JHU Sheridan Libraries/Gado/Getty Images).

It should be evident that the notion that reason has an instrumental function and that logic is instrumental has significant consequences for the development of public policy and the conduct of public debate. Rational public discourse cannot simply involve an attempt to gain enough public support that one’s personal ideas can be enacted into policy. From a sophio-agapic point of view, public policy formation begins with identifying a problem. Ultimately, it is about adopting strategies and tactics that will lead society to a better state. [1] As to justice, public policy is finally about the gradual evolution of a more just society in a way in which all citizens’ rights are protected and enhanced. As such, it is an essentially logical process. Dewey put it this way:

It is reasonable to search for and select the means that will, with the maximum probability, yield the consequences which are intended. It is highly unreasonable to employ as means, materials and processes which would be found, if they were examined, to be such that they produce consequences which are different from the intended end; so different that they preclude its attainment. [2]

Applied to the realm of public discourse, this principle can be stated as follows:

Public policy is unreasonable if it adopts policies and processes that, under examination, are likely to produce consequences contrary to the public good and the intended result.

Political actors must be willing to subject their views to criticism and modify their policies where the best evidence indicates that the public good intended cannot be acquired by the means chosen. This inevitably involves a logical and reasoned approach to public policy development, not simply enacting policies that more special interest groups favor.

Wise public policymaking involves using all forms of logic. Political actors must guess what the wisest public policy is (hypothesis). They must gather facts that either support or do not support our hypothetical public policy. Finally, in reaching our conclusions, we must ensure they’re not deductively incoherent. This is a part and parcel of proving or disproving the hypothesis.

Deliberation and Enhanced Common Sense

We have already seen that abductive logic proceeds from a perceived problem to a hypothetical proposal for the solution of the problem to a testing of that problem. Where ideology is allowed to determine the adoption of solutions to political problems, ideology or preconceived notions are improperly allowed to determine results. Here is how Dewey puts the problem:

But in social matters, those who claim that they are in possession of the only sure solution of social problems often set themselves up as being peculiarly scientific while others are floundering around in an “empirical” morass. Only recognition in both theory and practice that ends to be attained (ends-in-view) are of the nature of hypotheses and that hypotheses have to be formed and tested in strict correlativity with existential conditions as means, can alter current habits of dealing with social issues. [3]

Here, we have clearly stated the fundamental problem with much modern political discourse. Both those on the political left who favor collectivist solutions and those on the right who favor unlimited personal freedom believe themselves to possess the only sure scientific solution to political problems. Therefore, they do not see the need to consider their proposals as hypotheses that must be checked against reality to ensure that they work in practice.

It is not enough for there to be debate, discussion, argumentation, or even conversation and dialogue. The conversation has to be conducted to evaluate public policies and choose rational means to test them before adoption, or at least before adoption in such a way that the consequences might be disastrous. In this vein, more judgments cannot be excluded from the evaluating process since they are part of the complex and intricate existential and potentially observable and recordable material that makes up the facts of the case. [4]

Wherever political conclusions are taken to be a priori true or determined by ideological, philosophical, or other commitments, the process of reasonable policy determination is bypassed. Do we put it this way as respects, classical laisse faire economics:

In consequence, the three indispensable logical conditions of conceptual subject-matter of the scientific method were ignored; namely, (1) the status of theoretical conceptions as hypotheses which (2) have a directive function in control of observation and ultimate practical transformation of antecedent phenomena, and which (3) are tested and continually revised on the ground of the consequences they produce in existential application. [5]

This failure of logic can be seen in both the ideological commitments of the right and the left, Marxist and Capitalist. Once again, Dewey is clear:

A further illustration of the demands of logical method may be found in other current theories about social phenomena, such as the supposed issue of “individualism” versus “collectivism” or “socialism,” or the theory that all social phenomena are to be envisaged in terms of the class-conflict of the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. From the standpoint of method, such conceptual generalizations, no matter which one of the opposed conceptions is adopted, prejudge the characteristic traits and the kinds of actual phenomena that the proposed plans of action are to deal with. [6]

This conclusion is at the root of the sophio-agapic program. Whenever ideology supplants wise policy adopted to serve the best interests of all of society (the maintenance and creation of social harmony), there has been a failure of both logic and consideration of the best policy to undergird society.

The Deliberative Process

In matters of practice, there is no substitute for reason and deliberation in the consideration of alternative courses of action. Dewey understands that wherever practical issues are involved, and especially in matters involving political deliberation, the fact themselves and the situation itself continually changes:

Preliminary to offering illustrations of what has been said, I shall summarize formally what is logically involved in every situation of deliberation and grounded decision in matters of practice. There is an existential situation such that (a) its constituents are changing so that in any case something different is going to happen in the future; and such that (b) just what will exist in the future depends in part upon introduction of other existential conditions interacting with those already existing, while (c) what new conditions are brought to bear depends upon what activities are undertaken, (d) the latter matter being influenced by the intervention of inquiry in the way of observation, inference and reasoning. [7]

Deliberation about policy matters takes place in an evolving environment, sensitive to whatever actions are taken, subject to new conditions, and influenced by observers intervening in the situation using inquiry. This may seem not easy to understand, but I think it can be illustrated most adequately by examples from foreign affairs. Political actors make decisions in an ever-changing political environment where multiple nation-states are interested.  No international situation remains constant. There is constant change. Every action, however small, taken by international actors impacts others who will then change their behavior somehow. Finally, the fact that a nation is considering a change in policy influences the entire situation. This involves a constant process of evaluating and examining the various alternative courses of action available in an ever-changing environment. [8] Generally, policy policymakers have a state of affairs they wish could be created (for example, ending a conflict in the Middle East); even this policy goal can be and is subject to change as policymakers, change, and different policies are enacted. The result is that political decision-making, at best, is made in a volatile and rapidly changing environment.

Conclusion

Dewey should be taken seriously in a sophio-agapic understanding of political life. Since all human reasoning, including political rationale, must be conducted reasonably, restrictions are placed upon dialogue. It is also fundamental to a socio-agapic understanding of politics that decisions should be tested to ensure they are correct before being implemented on a grand scale. As Dewey puts it: “Unless the decision reached is arrived at blindly and arbitrarily, it is obtained by gathering and surveying evidence appraised as to its weight and relevancy; and by framing and testing plans of action in their capacity as hypotheses: that is, as ideas.” [9]

All of this involves the condition that dialogue be conducted reasonably and rationally. This takes us back to the fundamental meaning of dialogue. The Greek roots, “dia” or “through” and ‘logos” or “reason” indicate that dialogue is not a mere sharing of opinions. Instead, it is sharing logical views to reach a deeper understanding of the truth about a matter under deliberation. When one deliberates, one considers carefully all of the factors necessary to reach a conclusion. Wise decision-making involves the capacity to deliberate effectively. Once again, deliberation is an essentially social exercise, especially political decision-making. Balancing different social interests, achieving social harmony, and considering the consequences for those impacted are all part of a wise deliberative process.

From Peirce and James, Dewey has a “scientific and instrumental” view of knowledge that includes a kind of fallibilism that recognizes that our ideas, however well attested by reality and comprehensively accepted, can always be wrong and need revision. This excludes any sympathy for totalitarian undertakings in philosophy, politics, education, or any other field of inquiry. This part of Dewey’s philosophy is of increasing importance in our society, in which there are so many loud voices, left and right, who are sure of the truth about their own opinions and are contemptuous of the views of others. Where the advice of Dewey is ignored, there is a failure of logic, an increase in social conflict, and increasing contempt for opposing views—all phenomena we experience in American society today.[10]

The practical difficulties in the way of experimental method in the case of social phenomena as compared with physical investigations do not need elaborate exposition. Nevertheless, every measure of policy put into operation is, logically, and should be actually, of the nature of an experiment. For (I) it represents the adoption of one out of a number of alternative conceptions as possible plans of action, and (2) its execution is followed by consequences which, while not as capable of definite or exclusive differentiation as in the case of physical experimentation, are none the less observable within limits, so they may serve as tests of the validity of the conception acted upon. [11]

I could not more clearly state the sophio-agapic approach to public policy formation than the statement above. All public policy is in the nature of a social experiment, nearly always enacted where significant alternatives are available. Therefore, any given policy should not be seen as irrevocable or logically necessary but merely hypothetical. In executing such policies, policymakers should be conscious of the potential for error and, therefore, should be careful to evaluate the consequences of the policy and reverse courses if it turns out to have been unwise. This is the essence of a wise approach to policy initiatives.

Copyright 2024, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

[1] John Dewey, Logic: The Theory of Inquiry (New York, NY: Henry Holt and Company, 1938), at 498.

[2] Id, 10.

[3] Id, 497. A generalization in the form of a hypothesis is a prerequisite condition of the selection and ordering of material as facts. Id, at 498.

[4] Id. “The notion that evaluation is concerned only with ends and that, with the ruling out of moral ends, evaluative judgments are ruled out rests, then, upon a profound misconception of the nature of the logical conditions and constituents of all scientific inquiry. All competent and authentic inquiry demands that out of the complex welter of existential and potentially observable and recordable material, certain material be selected and weighed as data or the “facts of the case.”

[5] Id, 506.

[6] Id.

[7] Id, 162-163.

[8] Id, 170.

[9] Id,161.

[10] Id, 507.

[11] Id, at 509

Ecology and Leadership

This week, I spoke to an old high school friend who is interested in ecology. This friend has been critical in the past of my tendency to be interested in strictly religious and philosophical matters, forgetting the practical importance of such urgent matters as caring for our environment. My friend knows that I accept this criticism as valid. Eventually, it is my plan to write a chapter in a book I’m working on dealing specifically with the details of a Christian response to the problems raised by environmental degradation. It is an important topic that deserves all of our attention.

As we talked, I made a comment that exemplifies what I truly believe. It is difficult to write about issues like global warming because it is very difficult to understand the science and to discriminate between what I would call “politically and economically motivated science,” left and right, and the actual relevant facts.

Nevertheless, I don’t think the science involved fundamentally matters a whole lot in the end. Why do I say this? I say this because it seems to me that Christians are required to carefully use the precious resources of our planet so that they may be available for future generations. Christians are called to be stewards of the world God has entrusted to our care and servants not just of ourselves and our own selfish desires and needs, but also servants of generations to come.

It doesn’t take a lot of investigation or analysis to know that our culture is attached to the production and consumption of things. Some of these things are material, and others are what we might call experiences. Yet, in some way, all of this gathering of things and experiences gets in the way of life, relationships with other people, family, and friendships. The search for affluence and personal pleasure in the form of consuming things and experiences sits at the root of much of the dysfunction of our society—and I think of a good bit of our neurotic tendencies.

A second theme of recent blogs is our tendency to attempt to achieve (and permit to be achieved by others) a kind of leadership that focuses on power and not on servanthood. We desperately need servant leadership in government, business, nonprofit organizations, churches, and other institutions. The single, most important black cause of our cultural decline is the lack of true servant leadership that identifies problems and undertakes the difficult task of solving them in an honest and straightforward way.

To respond to my dear friend’s concern, this week, I decided to republish one chapter of a little book I published some years ago. In Centered, Living/Centered Leading: the Way of Light and Love, I undertook a Christian paraphrase of the Chinese Tao Te Ching, a marvelous book that has meant much to me over the years.  [1] In this book, I rephrased the Tao Te Ching on the left side of each two pages and did a small Christian reflection based upon a Bible verse on the right side.  The purpose was to illustrate just how close the ethics and leadership of Christianity and the Tao Te Ching are. While I did have to make some changes to the Tao to reflect my Christian faith, the fact is most of the time, it was unnecessary.

This week, the blog is simply Chapter 27 of that book. I chose this passage because it gives a simple metaphor for the wise life as concerns ecological matters: “A skillful traveler leaves few marks on the path.” Those of us who want to be skillful stewards of the environment, need to constantly remind ourselves that we should not leave too many “marks on the world”. To be a good steward is to use resources wisely and conserve resources as much as possible.

Here is the Chapter from the book:

Chapter 27

A skillful traveler leaves few marks on the path.
A skillful orator wastes few words when speaking.
A skillful business person instinctively calculates profit.

A skillful sailor ties knots that do not unravel.

A skillful dancer has instinctive grace on the dance floor.
A skillful, prudent person follows the Way through life.

A wise person seeks the best for everyone,
rejecting no child of the One Who Is.
A wise person cherishes Creation,
seeking the best for the lowliest creature.

This means embracing Deep Light.

This means suffering with Deep Love.

Therefore, the wise person reaches out to the foolish; the good reaches out to the wicked.

Rescuing the foolish and the broken, the wise shepherd embodies the Word.

Cherishing all things, wise shepherds follow the Great Shepherd.

This is the dark, mysterious path of the Way.

So from now on, we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though once we regarded Christ this way, we no longer do so. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, and the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and gave us the ministry of reconciliation . . .(2 Corinthians 5:16–18 [NIV])

Nurture and Help Others Grow in Love

            We live in a wasteful society. Materially, this results in “garbage on the trail” of our lives. Mentally, we are surrounded by words, from talk radio, to television, to music, to media and information on the Internet. We have abundant possessions, perhaps too many. Much of what we see, hear, and possess keeps us from seeing what is really important. To be wise, we must remove the clutter from our lives.

            The wise person realizes that people are the most essential thing in life. Jesus is the one who “came to seek and to save what was lost” (Luke 19:10). Saving people and assisting them in achieving a wise life are the most important things Christ-Followers can do. For Christ-Followers, reaching out to the suffering and lost in word and deed of mercy is central to the wise life.

Jesus tells the story of the prodigal son to suggest that God never abandons anyone, however far they have strayed (Luke 15:11–32). Lao Tzu says that the wise rescue the foolish and wandering. How would your priorities change if you took this seriously?

Copyright 2024, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

[1] G. Christopher Scruggs, Centered, Living/Centered Leading: The Way of Light and Love Rev. Ed. (Permisio Por Favor/BookSurge, 2009, 2016). It is available on Amazon.

Dewey 3: Common Sense, the Examined Life, and the Tao

Candid portrait of American philosopher, psychologist, and educational reformer John Dewey standing in a wooded area, 1935. (Photo by JHU Sheridan Libraries/Gado/Getty Images).

Last week, I noted that John Dewey believed that all human logic has both a natural and a cultural foundation. As a pragmatist, Dewey is committed to the notion of community and its importance in human relations, including its importance to logical and scientific thinking. Thus, he says:

THE ENVIRONMENT in which human beings live, act and inquire, is not simply physical. It is cultural as well. Problems which induce inquiry grow out of the relations of fellow beings to one another, and the organs for dealing with these relations are not only the eye and ear, but the meanings which have developed in the course of living, together with the ways of forming and transmitting culture with all its constituents of tools, arts, institutions, traditions and customary beliefs. [1]

In this concise paragraph, Dewey masterfully introduces the intricacies of decision-making in the political sphere. He underscores the challenges politicians face navigating their decisions within a specific cultural environment. This environment is a complex tapestry of societal artifacts, traditions, customs, beliefs, and attitudes towards governance and each other. Altering this inherited cultural milieu is a Herculean task, one that often spans generations. In the brief tenure of any policymaker, this is a reality that must be acknowledged.

Dewey agrees with Aristotle that human beings are by nature, social animals. As social animals, humans create situations and social environments that emerge from, but on a distinct level of reality from, the natural world. The human capacity for thought, logic, creativity, moral decision-making, and like make of human beings, a distinct and unique entity and human culture different thing from the natural environment.[2] Sitting at the root of human uniqueness is the fact of human languages. Human beings are capable of developing science systems and communicating information through those sign systems. [3]

Language occupies a peculiarly significant place and exercises a peculiarly significant function in the complex that forms the cultural environment. It is itself a cultural institution, and, from one point of view, is but one among many such institutions. But it is (1) the agency by which other institutions and acquired habits are transmitted, and (2) it permeates both the forms and the contents of all other cultural activities. [4]

Human language is the basis of human culture and every human, cultural institution, including the political and legal institutions of any society. Language is the agency by which these institutions can be created and maintained.

Common Sense vs Examined Language

Human languages have multiple uses, two of which are the special significance in politics:

  1. Sitting at the base of all specialized languages is what might be called the common-sense language of a people. The common-sense language of a people refers to those largely unexamined fundamental concepts that a group holds tacitly and which inform its judgments. For example, in America, it’s taken for granted that individuals should be free, and this freedom involves the ability to say and do what we please. This is a tacitly held fundamental, common-sense idea of almost all Americans.
  2. The second kind of language that we must deal with is what we would call scientific language. This is the language we use that is subject to experimentation testing as to its validity and limits. Contrary to common sense language, what Dewey calls “scientific language” is what we might call “examined language”. Examined Language is a language that has been examined to see just how far common sense is correct and can be applied. For example, in the law, the fundamental common-sense notion of freedom finds a restriction when I use my freedom to scream ‘fire’ in a crowded theater.

Upon examination, there are limitations found inherent in our common-sense ideas, and some of them are even shown to be false. These limitations are relevant to political discourse. Dewey analyzes the difference as follows:

The resulting difference in the two types of language meanings fundamentally fixes the difference between what is called common sense and what is called science. In the former cases, the customs, the ethos, and spirit of a group are the decisive factors in determining the system of meanings in use. The system is one in a practical and institutional sense rather than in an intellectual sense. Meanings that are formed on this basis are sure to contain much that is irrelevant and to exclude much that is required for intelligent control of activity. [5]

In addition to the limits of common sense, human beings are not merely rational, sign-producing, and sign-using biological computers. In the human person, there is a special role for ire, emotion, and (I would) say the full range of moral and spiritual constituents of the human personality. Dewey put it this way:

Another phase of the problem is brought out by the part played in human judgments by emotion and desire. These personal traits cook the evidence and determine the result that is reached. That is, upon the level of organic factors (which are the actively determining forces in the type of cases just mentioned), the individual with his individual peculiarities, whether native or acquired, is an active participant in producing ideas and beliefs, and yet the latter are logically grounded only when such peculiarities are deliberately precluded from taking effect. [6]

In other words, human decision-making is inevitably impacted by organic factors, and by the entire emotional makeup of human beings. In my judgment, Dewey makes an error when thinking that logic must preclude these factors from taking into effect what logic should do and do seek to be certain that the emotional and spiritual components are in fact, rational. As everyone knows, not every emotional or spiritual or moral conclusion of human individuals is rational. This does not mean that they should be excluded from the realm of logical inquiry or, in the case of political inquiry, from public debate.

Common Sense and Political Deliberation

I’ve already distinguished between common-sense language and what I’ve called examined language, which includes language that we would call scientific, that is, language that has been subject to the kind of inquiry and verification that we associate with science. I’ve also mentioned that our common-sense view of many situations almost amounts to a presupposition to see certain things in certain ways. But the phenomena of common sense are more complex and more important than that mirror summary.

Dewey talks about common sense as follows:

The use of the term common sense is somewhat arbitrary from a linguistic point of view. But the existence of the kinds of situations referred to and of the kind of inquiries that deal with the difficulties and predicaments they present cannot be doubted. They are those which continuously arise in the conduct of life and the ordering of day-by-day behavior. They are such as constantly arise in the development of the young as they learn to make their way in the physical and social environments in which they live; they occur and recur in the life-activity of every adult, whether farmer, artisan, professional man, law-maker or administrator; citizen of a state, husband, wife, or parent. On their very face they need to be discriminated from inquiries that are distinctively scientific, or that aim at attaining confirmed facts, “laws” and theories. [7]

Human common life would be impossible without common sense. In fact, where common sense begins to deteriorate, there’s almost always a kind of social chaos that ins. Lawmakers, for example, have to rely upon common sense or what might be called traditional interpretations of the Constitution and nearly all of their deliberations. There are times when changes need to be made, and those fundamental assumptions, those common-sense ways of looking at things, need to be questioned. But most of the time they do not.

This particular insight cast great doubt upon the postmodern project or what is sometimes called the deconstructionist project of deconstructing all common sense, true as mere bids for power. Social institutions and legal principles simply reflect the common experience in common understanding of the human race from its inception. This is fundamental to what I have called a socio-agapic view of politics. That is to say, the idea that the family is important, that children should take care of parents, and that parents should take care of children, that people should work hard for a living, and a vast number of important social ideals and institutions reflect the common sense of the human race over millennia.

Just to give one example, the prohibition against murder was not simply a prejudice and plot and acted into law by a group of people to subordinate the views of another group of people who happened to believe in murder. Murder is prohibited because it has been the universal human experience that murder causes social instability and violence. In order to control violence, murder needs to be controlled. This is a simple and obvious example, but there are many other examples that are not so simple, nor are they so obvious.

Dewey properly recognizes that there are limits to common sense, and being a modern post-enlightenment thinker, he is not inclined to grant common sense its full range of applicability. Partially, this is due to a recognition of the cultural variability of many common sense ideas. Dewey recognizes that common sense varies from culture to culture in some ways. The virtues of nomadic tribesmen in seventh-century Arabia are not necessarily the common-sense virtues of a person living in Los Angeles, California, in the early 21st century. His point is as follows:

One has only to note the enormous differences in the contents and methods of common sense in modes of life that are respectively dominantly nomadic, agricultural and industrial. Much that was once taken without question as a matter of common sense is forgotten or actively condemned. Other old conceptions and convictions continue to receive theoretical assent and strong emotional attachment because of their prestige. But they have little hold and application in the ordinary affairs of life. [8]

Obviously, Dewey has a point here. However, my caution would be that his point can be, and often is massively overstated in our society. For example, there’s no question that many of the proverbs of the Old Testament were created in a culture far different from ours. Nevertheless, in almost every matter of daily existence, they continue to provide great guidance. The same could be said of Oriental wisdom literature, the wisdom literature of the ancient world, generally, and the wisdom literature of other world religions today. Fundamental notions like the importance of honesty, sobriety, hard work, faithfulness, harmonic human relations, and other aspects of common sense may not have a hold on ordinary life, but they should have.

C. S. Lewis, the Tao and Dewey

In his book, The Abolition of Man, C. S. Lewis used the Chinese philosophical term “Tao” to encompass what he considers to be the broadly accepted, traditional moralities of both Eastern and Western cultures—including Platonic, Hindu, Taoist, Christian, and others. [9]  The Tao involves a ground to objective value in which certain attitudes are really true, and others really false, to the kind of thing the universe is and the kind of things human beings are. [10]

This Tao or “Way” is described by Lewis as follows:

It is the reality beyond all predicates, the abyss that was before the Creator Himself. It is Nature, the Way, and the Road. It is the Way in which the universe goes on, the way in which things everlasting emerge, stilly and tranquilly, into space and time. It is also the Way which every human being should tread in imitation of that cosmic and super-cosmic progression, conforming all activities to that great exemplar.”[11]

Lewis argues that this Tao, or Way, is the basis for all objective principles and, therefore, of human virtue. In short, the Tao refers to the belief “that certain attitudes are really true, and others really false, to the kind of thing the universe is and the kind of things we are.” [12] Throughout The Abolition of Man, Lewis argues that modern abandonment of the Tao endangers society by producing Men Without Chests. That is to say that items of wisdom and morality are not entirely matters of convention; they are embedded in the way things are, and the fact that different societies construct certain moral and practical matters differently does not in any way eliminate the reality of common sense solutions to human problems developed over centuries.

Conclusion

I am afraid that this week’s blog may imply a wholesale rejection of Dewey. It does not. It simply indicates a limitation in his work and a flow. Lewis, in The Abolition of Man, issues a needed corrective. Dewey is a materialist. According to this view, “the world of facts is without any inherent trace of value, and the world of moral judgments and much traditional wisdom is without one trace of truth or falsehood, justice or injustice, confront one another, and no rapprochement is possible.” [13]  

In The Abolition of Man, Lewis defends the legitimacy of the Tao or “Way, and outlines the moral and intellectual confusion that derives from a radical subjectification of moral judgments and the irrational nihilism that results from pressing the materialistic argument too far. In other words, Lewis argues, and I would agree, that the modern world is in constant danger of irrational and illogical behavior resulting from the complete privatization and relativization of moral judgments. If one wishes to see the end result of the contemporary view, one might look at the moral condition of much of American politics and education, perhaps especially the current violence on American campuses and the irrationality of much of our political discourse.

Copyright 2024, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

[1] John Dewey, Logic: The Theory of Inquiry (New York, NY: Henry Holt and Company, 1938), 42.

[2] Id, at 43.

[3] Id, at 44-45.

[4] Id, at 45.

[5] Id, at 50.

[6] Id. Dewey would not agree with my insertion of the importance of spiritual, moral, and emotional factors into the action of human decision-making. He is a determined material list. The limitations of what he is saying here is precisely that rather than seeing the human person as a radical unity of all levels physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual, he reduces everything to the material level.

[7] Id, at 61.

[8] Id, at 64.

[9] C. S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man (New York, Collier Books, a division of Macmillan, 1955): 28. For a Christian interpretation of the Chinese Tao, see G. Christopher Scruggs, Centered Living/Centered Leading: The Way of Light and Love rev. ed. (Shiloh Publishing, 2016),

[10] See Lit Charts, “The Abolition of Man by C. S. Lewis at https://www.litcharts.com/lit/the-abolition-of-man/terms/the-tao (downloaded May 7, 2024).

[11] Abolition of Man, at 28.

[12] Litcharts, at footnote 10 above.

[13] Abolition of Man, at 32-33.

John Dewey 2:Beyond Sharing (or Screaming) our Opinions.

Candid portrait of American philosopher, psychologist, and educational reformer John Dewey standing in a wooded area, 1935. (Photo by JHU Sheridan Libraries/Gado/Getty Images).

This week, I had a series of blogs on my mind, ranging from my practical analysis of our policies in the Middle East to a meditation on discipleship to continuing to dialogue with John Dewey regarding political philosophy. In the end, I decided that I was going to devote this week’s blog to John Dewey and the subject of logic and public policy formation. As with my last blog, I’m somewhat dependent upon the work done by Donald Gelpi in his masterful work, The Gracing of Human Experience and a friend for suggesting that I read him. [1]

Last week, I devoted myself to his notion of conversion that goes far beyond spiritual conversion to the conversion of the mind, the heart, the morals, and the politics of Christians. His philosophical analysis of conversion can be applied to secular and religious conversions. He proceeds with his analysis by looking at some of my favorite philosophers, including C. S. Peirce, Josiah Royce, Herbert Mead, and John Dewey.

Readers of the blog will remember that I am attached to the notion that our political culture suffers from a lack of authentic dialogue. It is to say that so much of our politics assumes that the political process is all about debate, argument, voting, and winning or losing. As one of my professors in college put it, “Politics is about power.” At the time, I agreed. However, as the years have gone by, I find myself disagreeing at a fundamental level. Politics is about power. However, democratic politics cannot be conducted without community, dialogue, and the search for mutual understanding. At its deepest level, politics is about community.

The subject of logic plays a vital role in dialogue. In a democracy, often people think of dialogue as various people and groups just saying what they believe. They don’t have to have a reason for what they think; what they’re considering doesn’t have to be logical; it’s enough that they have an opinion. At some level, this is a harmless illusion. However, for progress to be made, dialogue has to proceed on the assumption that we are searching for practical solutions to social problems, which will be revealed to us as a result of a process of inquiry.

Three Modes of Logical Inquiry

Most people are familiar with two methods of logical inquiry: “induction” and “deduction.” Peirce introduced a third, intermediate logic called “Abduction.” All human thinking, if it is to be valid, must consist of manipulating signs in one or more of these three logical ways. [2] Briefly, the three methods can be defined as follows:

  1. Induction. Inductive reasoning begins with specific observations and proceeds to a generalized conclusion that is likely but not certain in light of accumulated evidence.
  2. Deduction. Deductive reasoning begins with general rule and proceeds to a guaranteed specific conclusion in a limited case. If the original assertion is true, the conclusion must be valid in deductive reasoning.
  3. Abduction. Abductive reasoning begins with limited and necessarily incomplete observations and proceeds to the likeliest possible explanation for what experiencehas revealed.

Abductive logic yields the kind of daily decision-making that does its best with the information that can be acquired, which often is incomplete and draws a conclusion based on the best available evidence. It then tests its findings.

Abduction and Reasonable Inquiry

Importantly, abductive reasoning is at the center of a scientific approach to understanding and at the center of other forms of intellectual progress as well. Neither induction nor deduction can provide intellectual explanations of phenomena. All scientific inquiry begins with a problem and one or more hypotheses or ideas about the best answer or solution to the problem. This has important implications because it “dethrones” the positivist notion of knowledge as based upon “the facts alone.” Instead, all facts are identified and interpreted within some interpretive framework. Science, for example, is interested in developing and analyzing facts. Still, those facts are developed and analyzed within a theoretical matrix of reasonableness based on the scientific method.

Science is not the only area of life in which one has to reason from a hypothesis to a conclusion that can be tested against the facts. This is, for example, what detectives do when solving a crime. (“I think the Butler did it; now I have to find evidence that supports that conclusion.”) It is essential in business. (“I think this new product will sell; however, before investing a lot of money, I need to do market research to be sure I’m correct.” It is true in law. (“I think the right way to structure this transaction is as follows. But I need to test out whether or not my theory is correct.”) It’s true in Government. (“I think the best policy in this situation would be to raise taxes, but I still have to think and discover what facts are in support of my opinion.”)

Fallibilism and Humility

In addition to testing, I have to remain open to the possibility that my hypothesis is false and thus accept the existence of contrary facts. This involves two crucial principles that underlie abductive inquiry:

  1. Fallibilism. All wise thinking includes the possibility that I might be wrong. Fallibilism holds that no empirical belief (theory, view, thesis, etc. ) can be conclusively proven in a way that eliminates the possibility of error or limitations. There always remains doubt as to the truth of any empirical matter.
  2. Humility. Understanding that human understanding is limited, partial, and often wrong, I humbly open my mind to evidence contrary to my ideas.

Unfortunately, American public debate sadly lacks both a sense of the limits of human knowledge and humility about human availability and openness to contra views. This is why, even in families, it is difficult to have rational discussions about specific political figures at this time.

Abduction and Dialogue

Deep within the logical views of both Peirce and Royce is the notion that all thinking is tripartite. First, outside of myself, there is a reality being investigated (the object). Second, there exist my ideas (or my group’s ideas) about that object. Finally, there is the interpretation of my ideas (or my group’s ideas) of that reality by a third party, who is the interpreter.

In many ways, this is the most complicated area of all in public discourse. In a nation of 300 million people, it shouldn’t be surprising that there are thousands of interpretations of the same reality. There are many different interpretations of any one group’s ideas about any political reality. Public officials, if they are to act logically and wisely, have to somehow analyze, usually in groups, that reality and all the various ways in which it is interpreted and, from that, develop a course of action (the policy choice).

The Logic of Dewey

This gets me to the role of logic in the thought of John Dewey. John Dewey considers his view of logic as “instrumentalism.” [3] That is to say, logic exists as an instrument by which human beings make decisions. Because Dewey was a materialist, he considered that our notions of logic have two sources:

  1. First, the universe’s evolution created species that survive a way of looking at reality that was pragmatically useful for survival. That pragmatic way of looking at reality in the quest for survival is a natural source of logic.
  2. Second, all human beings exist in a human society that has evolved over time. Certain ways of thinking and looking at reality were conducive to that society’s success and its challenges. Thus, culture is also a source of logic. [4]

In other words, deduction, induction, and abduction did not emerge from some ideal realm, as Plato might have thought. Still, instead, these forms of reasoning evolved as a part of human beings facing reality and trying to adapt successfully to that reality and the challenges it presents. If we go this far with Dewey, we can see a natural connection between logic and political theory. Demanding that our public debate be rational and logical is just part of demanding that it successfully lead to policies that serve the common good.

On a purely instrumental level, we can see the importance of Dewey’s insight. However, I don’t think either Pierce or Royce would have entirely agreed with Dewey’s conclusions, nor do I think that they are consistent with the deepest understandings of modern science. For them, the universe itself displays a kind of rationality, from its inception, rationality, that we see logically developed in the mathematics of, for example, quantum physics. This rationality that is embedded in the universe is in some way prior to any human evolutionary rationality, and any human culture.

From a Christian perspective, the universe demonstrates an underlying rationality because it was created by a logical and rational creator, who, in love, created the universe that we are privileged to discover on a number of levels: scientific, religious, cultural, economic, political, and otherwise. This does not mean that aspects of this rationality that we observe in the universe is not a matter of evolutionary success. On the assumption that evolution and the gradual development of human culture were built into the potential of the universe from its very first days, then one believes it over millions of years, the rationality that we observe in the universe and in human culture gradually ever so gradually emerged over time.

The great British physicist turned religious scholar, John Polkinghorne, put it this way:

Certainly, our powers of thought must be in such conformity with the everyday structure of the world that we are able to survive by making sense of our environment.  But that does not begin to explain why highly abstract concepts of pure mathematics should fit perfectly with the patterns of the subatomic world of quantum theory or the cosmic world of relativity, both of which are regimes whose understanding is of no practical consequence whatsoever from humankind’s ability to have held its own in the evolutionary struggle. Nor does the fact that we are made of the same stuff (quarks, gluons and electrons) as the universe serve to explain how microscopic man is able to understand the microcosm of the world.  Some fairly desperate attempts have been made along these lines nevertheless showing how pressing is the need to find an explanation for the significant fact of intelligibility. [5]

This observation sits at the ground of my view that Christians ought to be able to engage in public life and public discourse and state their views on Christian grounds, so long as those views are stated logically and with reference to the reality of other positions. We cannot necessarily expect that strictly Christian views will be accepted in every matter of public debate, and in fact, we should be consciously aware of the fact that our views might be wrong, but nevertheless, Christians should be entitled to state their views on public matters.

Instrumentalism and Public Policy

It should be obvious that the notion that reason has an instrumental function and that logic is in itself instrumental has important consequences for the development of public policy and the conduct of public debate. Public policy is about adopting strategies and tactics that will lead society to a better state. As such, it is an essentially logical process. Dewey, while not directly talking about politics and political theory, put it this way:

It is reasonable to search for and select the means that will, with the maximum probability, yield the consequences which are intended. It is highly unreasonable to employ as means, materials, and processes that would be found, if they were examined, to be such that they produce consequences that are different from the intended end, so different that they preclude its attainment. [6]

Applied to the realm of public discourse, this principle can be stated as follows: Public policy is unreasonable if it adopts policies and processes that, under examination, are likely to produce consequences contrary to the public good and the intended result. In public life, politicians should be willing to subject their views to criticism and modify their policies where the best evidence indicates that the public good intended cannot be acquired by the means chosen.

Wise public policymaking involves using all the forms of logic suggested above. We must guess what the wisest public policy is (our hypothesis). We must gather facts that either support or do not support our hypothetical public policy. Finally, in reaching our conclusions, we must be sure that they’re not deductively incoherent. This is a part and parcel of proving or disproving the hypothesis.

Conclusion

I will spend a couple of more blogs on the fascinating question of the role of logic in public policy. It’s a subject that I think deserves our attention. We live in a society where the media and other specific instruments often promote a kind of decision-making based on what “I want” (or what my group wants). This kind of decision-making does not lead to sound public policy. It needs to be replaced. Furthermore, all ideologically driven policy formulations will likely be unsuccessful because they arrive at a reasoning process based on what I think an ideal society should look like. Both Marxist and hyper-capitalist policy thought are subject to weakness.

Copyright 2024, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

[1] Donald L. Gelpi, The Gracing of Human Experience: Rethinking the Relationship between Nature and Grace (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2001).

[2]. This section of the blog relies on my analysis of Peirce in G. Christopher Scruggs, A “Sophio-Agapic” Approach to Political Philosophy: Essays on a Constructive Post-Ideological Politics (Unpublished Manuscript, 2024).

 

 

 

[3] John Dewey used this term to describe his version of pragmatism. In this sense, logic is an instrument for evaluating ideas and policy alternatives. This is to be distinguished from instrumentalism, which refers solely to the means and use of power.

[4] John Dewey, Logic: The Theory of Inquiry (New York, NY: Henry Holt and Company, 1938), 23-60.

[5] John C. Polkinghorne, Science and Creation: The Search for Understanding (Philadelphia, PA: Templeton Foundation Press, 2006), 30.

[6] Logic, at 10.

How Grace Transforms Everything

Some weeks ago, a new friend suggested I read Donald L. Gelpi’s The Gracing of Human Experience: Rethinking the Relationship between Nature and Grace. [1] In this blog, I will not go into the details of his thoughts but instead focus on his analysis of the holistic power of grace to transform human persons. Why is this important for laypersons? It is important because all Christians, to be the kind of disciples we want and intend to be, need to be transformed, not just spiritually, but in our minds, ways of thinking, cultural attitudes, political attitudes, and other ways. The gospel does not transform only a part of me. It transforms all of me.

The Dynamic Process of Conversion

The dynamic process of conversion takes more than one form, each of which reinforces the other. For the purposes of our discussion, let’s look at the following kinds of conversion:

  • Religious conversion impacts our view of the nature of the world and ultimate reality.
  • Intellectual conversion impacts how we think and visualize the world and ultimate reality.
  • Affective conversion impacts our emotional life and our affections
  • Moral conversion affects how we view questions of value and ultimate moral claims.
  • Socio-political conversion impacts how we see human society and human culture.

These various forms of conversion are not separate but rather exist in a dynamic relationship with one another. As our religious beliefs change, our way of thinking changes. As our thinking changes, our emotions change. As our emotions change, our morals change. As our morals change, the way in which we see humans, society, and culture changes. This interconnectedness is a testament to the comprehensive nature of grace’s transformative power.

I decided this week to insert a little graphic that illustrates the dynamic form of conversion. It would go something like this:

 

The point of the graphic is to illustrate the absolute interconnectedness of a conversion experience.

In the past, I’ve had an opportunity to talk about the interconnectedness of reality. At the deepest levels of reality, things seem to exist in a state that physicists call “entanglement.” If this is the case, it should not surprise us that human beings exist in a complex, interconnected dialogue between the various universes they inhabit: religious, intellectual, emotional, moral, and social-political. These universes can be separated for purposes of analysis, but they cannot be separated for purposes of everyday life. Therefore, a change or conversion in any of these universes automatically results in a change in all of the universes.

Or at least it should.

The World Turned Upside Down

In Acts 17, we read the following concerning Paul’s ministry in Thessalonica:

The next day, they journeyed through Amphipolis and Apollonia and arrived at Thessalonica. Here, Paul entered a synagogue of the Jews, following his usual custom. On three Sabbath days, he argued with them from the scriptures, explaining and quoting passages to prove the necessity for the death of Christ and his rising again from the dead. “This Jesus whom I am proclaiming to you,” he concluded, “is God’s Christ!” Some of them were convinced and threw in their lot with Paul and Silas, and they were joined by a great many believing Greeks and a considerable number of influential women. But the Jews, in a fury of jealousy, got hold of some of the unprincipled loungers of the marketplace, gathered a crowd together, and set the city in an uproar. Then they attacked Jason’s house in an attempt to bring Paul and Silas out before the people. When they could not find them, they hustled Jason and some of the brothers before the civic authorities, shouting, “These are the men who have turned the world upside down and have now come here, and Jason has taken them into his house. What is more, all these men act against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king called Jesus!” (Acts 17:1-9, J. B. Phillips).

The complaint against the first apostles was not simply that they proclaimed Jesus the Messiah of Israel. That would not necessarily have turned the Roman world upside down. after all, Pilate put up a sign reading, “King of the Jews” on Jesus’ Cross. He did not seem a bit threatened by the claim.

The message that Jesus of Nazareth was a universal Messiah whose salvation was for everyone, in every place, and among every ethnicity was what turned the world upside down. This Messiah was to be the name above all other names, and all secular authorities must bow under his authority, even the Emperor (Philippians 2:10-11).  This is the claim that provoked opposition, then and now.

Many commentators have noticed that this proclamation had political and religious significance. Up to that time, political leaders were apt to believe their authority was absolute. that time, political leaders were apt to think of themselves as gods. They often thought of their authority as ultimate. In Jesus Messiah, that claim disappeared. Caesar’s claim to be a god was a false claim. The God of Israel was the one true God. Caesar’s claim to be the ultimate authority on this earth was false. Jesus Christ was the ultimate authority on this earth. If the apostles’ claims were true, then the foundation of the Roman Empire and many empires before that time was undermined.

Our World Turned Upside Down

The same is true today. If Jesus is the true Messiah, and if God’s nature was fully disclosed on the cross, if God really is love, then many of our presuppositions must change. Power is not absolute. Governmental power is not simply a matter of a winner-take-all contest. Our conversion to Jesus Christ changes everything. We can’t believe in the golden rule, “he has the gold rules.” We can’t believe that “Might means right.” We can’t think anything we do is justified because “The end justifies the means.”

Our conversion to Jesus Christ changes everything—or it was intended to. We can resist this change, and many of us do—all of us do at some point in our lives. We refuse to change the way we think, do business, relate to our spouses and family, and relate to others in our churches. We can also refuse to change how we view our culture, its institutions, and others in our society. When we do this, we deny the power of the gospel and the gospel itself. We refuse to change the way we treat people in our churches. Refusals indicate that we are not being converted as we should be. When we do this, we are refusing to allow God by the Holy Spirit to change us in our entire being. We deny both the power of the gospel and the gospel itself.

Copyright 2024, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

[1] Donald L. Gelpi, The Gracing of Human Experience: Rethinking the Relationship between Nature and Grace (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2001). Gelpi, a distinguished Jesuit scholar at the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley from 1973 until his death, was a well-known Catholic author. In particular, he was an expert on the thoughts of C.S. Peirce, Josiah Royce, William James, John Dewey, and other pragmatists. My friend thought that I would profit from reading this book. Gilpi is a difficult author to read because he works in the twilight zone between philosophy and theology constantly moving between both disciplines.

Mead 3: The Ideal “Universal” Society

This blog’s regular readers understand that the author opposes any “this-worldly” form of millenarianism, secular or religious. Many of the worst episodes of human violence are rooted in the human desire to achieve a perfect world within the boundaries of human history. This has been true throughout human history—and sometimes true of Christians.

In the 20th Century, the cataclysmic barbarity of Lenin, Hitler, Stalin, Mao, and a host of others found its roots in the mistaken belief that we can create a perfect world. Since the Enlightenment, human beings have been increasingly entranced by an unfounded hope that human beings can create an ideal society. Left and right politicians promise, and perhaps even occasionally work for, such a world. The results are uniformly disastrous. Churches and religious leaders can and have fallen into this trap. We can create a better world with wisdom and love for one another, but humans cannot make a perfect one.

The Hope for a Secular Paradise

Last week, I primarily dealt with conflict and integration in human society. This week, we will examine Mead’s notion of a “Universal Society.” Near the end of his discussion of conflict and integration, Mead states the following:

The human social ideal—the ideal or ultimate goal of human social progress—is the attainment of a universal human society in which all human individuals would possess a perfected social intelligence, such that all social meanings would each be similarly reflected in their respective social consciousness—such that the meanings of any one’s social acts or gestures (as realized by him and expressed in the structure of his self, through his ability to take the social attitudes of other individuals toward himself and toward their common social ends or purposes would be the same for any other individual who responded to them. [1]

Several aspects of this statement must be unpacked before we examine Mead’s views on achieving his notion of a universal human society.

  1. Mead accepts the Enlightenment notion of the inevitability of human progress.
  2. The world is evolving in accordance with the laws of nature, and human society is evolving according to the unwritten law of progress. In this, Mead reflects Darwin’s influence without fully applying the difference between cultural and biological evolution. In the case of biological evolution, all that is promised is survival of the fittest. In cultural evolution, such a “tooth and nail” notion ignores the fact that humans can actually create a worse future for themselves and the human race.
  3. At the core of Mead’s philosophy is the belief in human perfectibility, or more specifically, our capacity for a degree of “perfected social intelligence.” This term encapsulates our ability to understand and interpret social meanings and to align our actions with these meanings for the betterment of society.
  4. A perfected human social intelligence involves a unity of the acts and gestures of one’s individual self (“I” and “Me”), the social self of all other individual selves, and the social self of society as a whole regarding commonly held social ends or purposes. [2]

In my view, none of this is realistic or attainable, and an attempt to do so can result in foolish behavior, a loss of freedom, and suffering—the exact opposite of what those who make such an attempt desire.

Human Empathy

Underlying Mead’s argument is the human capacity to identify with one another in what he would call an “organized social life process.” [3] Mead understands that modern democratic societies have not reached the point where individual citizens can put themselves into the attitudes of those with whom they have relationships and whom they affect. [4] His argument, however, is based upon the presumption that it is at least theoretically possible, although there are obstacles and no society today has been able to achieve the kind of social solidarity envisions.

At this point, I think it might be good to put another word to this phenomenon: empathy. Empathy is the human ability to sense how another person is feeling and what they may be thinking and intellectually appreciate the reasons for human behavior. Empathy is crucial because it allows human beings to enter the emotional and thought world of another human being in a limited way. It is fundamental to such diverse practices as leadership, counseling, and even writing a popular book.

It doesn’t take a lot of experience to know that human empathy is limited. Every parent understands that they have some capacity to feel the pain and suffering of their children, but it’s imperfect. Every spouse knows the same. As one gets further from familiar relations, the problem gets even more severe. Pastors understand that they cannot fully enter the pain and suffering of counselees, so they must be careful about what they say and do. Business leaders understand that it is impossible to completely empathize with the problems of employees. Government leaders have the same experience. Our human capacity for empathy is limited, not just by our individuality but also by our selfishness and self-centeredness.

Societies cannot be built upon the hope that humans can fully enter into one another’s experiences on a social basis. We cannot. We can hope for a degree of wisdom and love in how we treat other people despite the fact that our interests and understanding will never be fully aligned. The problem is not that modern democratic societies or any other societies have not developed the capacity for complete understanding of and identification with the other. The problem is that it’s impossible.

Christians have an additional reason why we do not think a viable society can be built on human empathy or the human ability to enter into another individual’s mental, physical, and other worlds in a self-giving way: human sin, finitude, and brokenness. The human problem isn’t that some people do not have sufficient empathy. The human problem is not that some people act in selfish ways. The human problem isn’t that some people suffer from excessive anxiety and grasp too much money and power. The problem is we all do.

Children and Castes

Mead continues his analysis by examining the relationship between children and adults, especially between educators and children. [5] To be effective, teachers must empathetically enter the life world of those they teach. Interestingly enough, I have observed that when an adult teacher fully identifies with the children they are teaching, they emotionally regress or fail to mature as they should as adults. They get stuck in immaturity. As a pastor, I have seen this repeatedly with youth workers. Once again, this does not mean that we do not respect children, including respecting their limitations, emotional, physical, and mental. Any good teacher does. However, no good teacher believes it is enough to empathize with the student.

The second category Mead discusses is perhaps even more problematic. He begins to speak of “castes.” Most people are familiar with the Indian caste system, an absolute, impenetrable, and humanly unfair system of social stratification. Mead takes this concept and extends it to other relationships, particularly economic relationships. Once again, motivated by the best possible intentions, he muddies the waters instead of clarifying the situation. There’s a significant difference between “castes” and “achievement-oriented positions.”

Most of the time, there is an elite in churches, businesses, governments, academia, and other institutions. Much of the time, that elite has earned its way to a position. Of course, anyone who’s worked in any organization understands that political, social, and other injustices occur. Such injustices need to be addressed. But it’s a mistake to think that achievement-based excellence is some kind of a cast that excludes other people unfairly. [6] Mead seems to understand the limits of his analysis. For example, he notes, “Insofar as specialization is normal and helpful, it increases concrete, social relationship relationships. Differences in occupation do not themselves build up castes.” [7] Yet, his analysis leaves the impression that much of modern Western society’s social and economic inequity stems from this problem.

Selves and Societies

At the route of the problem of human social organization, the unbridgeable distinction between Selves and Society. Although human beings depend upon one another and civilization depends on our ability to unite in common endeavors, human self-centeredness, and selfishness inevitably color and render partial human social integration.

In a wonderful passage, Mead analyzes this problem:

The “social” aspect of human society – which is simply the social aspect of the cells of all the individual members taken collectively—with its concomitant feelings on the parts of all those individuals of cooperation and social interdependence, is the basis for the development and existence of ethical ideals in that society; whereas the quotes, “a social” aspect of human society – which is simply the asocial aspect of the cells of all human members taken collectively – with its concomitant feelings on the part of all these individuals of individual individuality, self-superiority to other individual selves, and social independence is responsible for the rise of ethical problems in that society. [8]

It is important to understand what he is saying and its limitations to unpack this paragraph.

  1. Mead defines the social aspect of a society merely in terms of the collective interaction of individuals. This is a classic statement of the modern view that individuals exist in purely external relationships with other individuals. Any such view inevitably ends up defining the existence of individuals in terms of power.
  2. Ethics is based upon a social consensus, the collective views of individual decisions concerning morality.
  3. Any society’s ethical problems stem from “asocial” aspects of human life instead of the social aspects of human life.

I believe meat is an error in all three of these beliefs. First, he’s already indicated that he understands that human beings grow out of social institutions, beginning with the family. If this is to be taken seriously, human individuals have no priority over human societies. Societies and human individuals exist in a kind of dynamic relationship. Individuals are important, and society is essential.

Second, the modern world was built upon the belief that human reason would be able to identify instead of human ethics that were agreed upon by all reasonable people. The history of the last 300 years shows that delusional. Our modern debates over abortion or a case in reasonable people on both sides hold diametrically opposed positions that cannot possibly be unified. The view against abortion did not grow out of a social consensus. In fact, in Greco-Roman society, there was no boundary against it. Instead, it grew out of something else: the belief that the sanctity of life was derivative of God’s love for every human being. Christians opposed the social consensus of their day on precisely that basis. My view is that ethics is a portion of wisdom. This is why studying the past and the decisions of the past, including wisdom and literature, is so important. When the writers of proverbs speak about sexual immorality, they do so based on the entirety of human history and the general experience of every human society that unbridled sexual gratification is foolish.

Finally, it doesn’t seem to me that you can say that the problems of human society stem from the “asocial” aspects of society unless you want to use the word asocial as a synonym for human self-centeredness, sin, and anxiety infinitude. If you’re going to do that, you can’t think of these things as aspects of human nature that can be overcome and extinguished. You think of them as things that must be dealt with and controlled. The writers of the Constitution had such a view. The whole system of checks and balances of American democracy has to do with the view that no one is trustworthy. Therefore, everyone has to be subject to constraints and limitations.

Conclusion

I’m going to have to leave me for a time. I’m writing a novel and must concentrate on the story. Nevertheless, I cannot leave his book without discussing his views on human time embeddedness and its consequences for human thinking. Mead was a student of Einstein and. understood that human beings are inevitably embedded in time and space and are therefore limited in their reasoning by their position in the space-time continuum. In a rather brilliant section of the book, he notes that humans always perceive the present based on the past and always understand the past based on the present. In other words, there is no unfiltered, scientific” understanding of the past. Our past is a constantly changing mental construct, as we’ve reflected upon it, as is our anticipation of the future. Even our current perceptions are immediately colored by all of the relevant perceptions from our past. [9]

Just to give a simple example of this, this morning, I was walking to get some exercise. I passed by a unique fence of multicolored wood. I immediately saw that it was a fence. Then, I noticed it was not like most of the wooden fences I am familiar with. The angles of the wood were different. The colors of the wood were different. Every fence influenced my understanding of this particular fence I could remember having seen. As I walked on, I continued to ponder fences in our neighborhood. I noticed other fences. I compared them with my mental picture of the fences I had just seen. But no fence was in my immediate consciousness except the one I was gazing at at that moment.

This has powerful implications for wisdom in public life. We are all colored by the attitudes, education, prejudices, and other factors of our past in our political views. Our hopes also influence our current political views for some future political situations. But we live in the present and must act in the present.  The only way to overcome those prejudices is to adopt a pragmatic attitude toward politics. As we think about past situations, we have to scrutinize them to be sure that we have the best understanding of what occurred and how effective a former policy was that we could have. We have to overcome our colored knowledge of that past. On the other hand, as we gaze at our preferred future, we also must act wisely. Instead of making massive changes, we must experiment and ensure our hoped-for future can be obtained.

I was a pastor for years and served in liberal and conservative denominations; I have friends on both sides of the political arguments. I’ve gradually come to the view that I am not. I’ve also come to the view that my friends are not right concerning many matters. I’ve concluded that none of us know what to do next. As we move into the future, our best move is to closely examine an action’s likely consequences and carefully monitor our success or failure. If we can do that, left and right, there’s hope for a better future.

Copyright 2024, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved.

[1] George Herbert Mead, On Social Psychology rev. ed. (Chicago, Ill: University of Chicago Press, 1964), 270-271.

[2] At this point, Mead’s argument’s weakness becomes evident. After 300 years of Enlightenment thinking, no evidence exists that such a situation can be peacefully obtained. The fact is that people have widely divergent notions of what is involved in social progress and what any “ideal universal society” should look like. Many of these divergent notions are not only divergent; they are opposed to one another. Abortion, transgender issues, the degree of economic freedom individuals should possess, the degree of censorship the government should be able to employ, all these and more have vastly divergent proponents.

[3] On Social Psychology, 271.

[4] Id, at 282.

[5] Id, at 272.

[6] [6] Id, at 272-273.

[7] Id,

[8] Id, at 275-276.

[9] Id, at 328-341.

Mead 2: On Society and Social Institutions

Last week, I ended by uniting George Herbert Mead’s views with those of C. S. Peirce and Josiah Royce via the notion of dialogue. Human beings exist in constant dialogue internally and between themselves, others, and the culture in which they live. This “triadic dialogue,” first suggested by C. S. Peirce and expanded by Josiah Royce, is not unique to Mead. It is, however, foundational to the kind of abductive, scientific view of how society might function.

Such a view undermines any political philosophy based on power. Dialogue is essentially a rational process, not a process of the will. It is essentially anti-Nietzschean. Dialogue presumes human beings can make sensible changes as they interact within a social context. This aspect of the pragmaticists’ thought gives hope that our society can overcome its fascination with power and will to power and move towards a more harmonious and equitable future.

One of my readers kindly asked me to bring the discussion forward with a discussion of Mead’s approach to political life, which I will try to do. Before launching off into the attempt, I think a reminder is essential: This blog tries to be sympathetic to every writer whose views are examined but also to recognize their place in the history of ideas and not require writers’ (or political actors’) views or actions which their position in history renders impossible. Mead writes in the early 20th Century, in an America that no longer exists. He also wrote before the famous failures and crimes of communism and the failure of the post-World War II socialist economies of Europe, which were required to open themselves to more competition to overcome stagnation and a loss of competitiveness. He also writes before the fragmentation of American society so evident in recent years. His social location is academic America in the early 20thCentury.

Selves and Society

For Mead, society and social institutions emerge in a dynamic relational process by which humans (“I’s”) constantly dialogue with and adapt to their surrounding culture. The initial culture for most human beings is a family consisting of parents, grandparents, and others who first influence the emergence of the child. Every child develops a self-image as it learns to adapt to the culture and perceptions of those who raise it. There is a constant internal dialogue between the emerging self (“I”) and the socially endorsed view that an individual has of themselves (“Me”).

This dialogue between self and society continues throughout life as humans adapt to their ever-changing environment. In a complex society such as ours, individuals are faced with the challenging task of navigating the social expectations and customs of an ever-more-complex hierarchy of institutions, familial, economic, educational, political, and other, each of which influences and is influenced by the other. This intricate web of societal interactions and influences provides a rich, stimulating environment for intellectual exploration and understanding.

Emergent Universality

Mead notes that human social institutions are of various sizes. He notes that Americans, with their native love of size and success, have long given institutional priority to larger institutions. [1] This love of the large and our intuitive belief that size and universality are both critical and positive can fail to understand that the large and universal can undermine the smaller foundations upon which they rest.

Mead believes that Rousseau’s notion of “The Will of the People” implies the gradual emergence of a “Universal Will of the People” and institutions that reflect that universal will. In his day, the League of Nations represented an attempt to create an organization in which a universal will could be institutionalized. [2] The failure of the League of Nations and the development of the United Nations after World War II can be seen as another attempt to institutionalize this universal will. Perhaps more importantly, creating a host of international administrative agencies, courts, service organizations, NGOs, and the like reflects the same impulse. [3]

Since Darwin’s time, all philosophy has been influenced by and must account for evolution. Mead represents one attempt to do so in the area of social psychology. Lurking behind his notion of emergent universality is the idea that human social organization is “going somewhere” in an evolutionary process. Mead understands that the evolution of human societies is not the same or subject to the same forces as natural evolution. The evolution of human societies involves the activities of reflexive human beings and the choices they make.

Religious and Economic Universality

Mead believes that human history reveals two universalizing processes reflecting this tendency. First, there is the emergence of “Religious and Economic Universality,” a phrase that refers to the impulse to achieve a universal or all-encompassing order in religious and economic contexts. I think that this particular analysis is flawed. From the beginning of human civilization, there has been what I would call a tendency to seek political universality as kingdoms and empires sought to expand their boundaries. Examples are the movements from the Assyrian, Babylonian, Medo-Persian, Greek, and Roman empires in the Middle East and Mediterranean areas in the ancient world.

Similarly, there has been an impulse to expand economic influence and trade throughout history. Marco Polo’s story is one of hundreds of stories of ancient trade explorers. Throughout history, wherever a political subdivision has been created, a kind of economic universality emerges within that empire—and beyond as that empire seeks to expand its economic life.

Mead also examines the expansion of religious groups with a universalizing tendency as they claim or desire universal scope. Mead uses Islam as an example of a religion that uses all available social means, political, legal, cultural, and military, to achieve a universal Islamic society. [4] In reality, many religious groups, Christian, Buddhist, Taoist, Islamic, and others have expanded their reach, often following the path of armies or economic expansion. How Islam finds its way to Indonesia is a story of a religion following ancient trade routes. Similarly, European and American missionaries followed European nations’ economic and political expansion. However, I believe this is a secondary phenomenon in most cases.

In any case, human history provides many examples of groups seeking to dominate other groups and universalize their particular social beliefs, forms, and organization. As communities come into conflict with one another, there is a constant impulse to seek domination. [5]

Self and Society

Underlying society’s constant turmoil and change is the continual interplay between the self and culture—and, in the case of most individuals in a complex society, between selves and the innumerable societies in which they participate. In the Western World of Mead’s day and the international community of our day, there is a constant interplay and adjustment of individuals and groups to one another. Often, this is expressed in terms of military activities. One thinks of the current struggles in Gaza and the Ukraine as examples.

Just as human beings seek to assert their egos in private life, in the life of nations, governments struggle for superiority and domination. With domination comes a degree of affluence and other kinds of social superiority. This, in turn, provokes additional conflict. Nevertheless, in the struggles of various societies for dominance and security, there is the potential for rational and non-violent accommodation and negation. [6]

Conflict and Integration

The process of social interaction and the drive for greater and greater social organization results in conflict in and among all human societies. Anyone who has been married understands that even the smallest family unit cannot avoid periodic conflict. In analyzing the role of conflict in human societies, Mead makes a distinction between two different social situations that impact the degree and dangers of conflict:

  1. Conflict within and among groups with some degree of commonality
  2. Conflict within groups where there is either. There is no degree of commonality or even outright hostility.

The first situation occurs where some degree of common life, social solidarity, and friendliness exists. In such situations, conflict arises within an underlying degree of shared values and cooperation. In the second situation, the factors that tend to moderate and make rational accommodation possible are either absent or weak. Instead, there is a degree of hostility, distrust, a lack of common life, social solidarity, and friendship. [7]

This distinction illuminates the difficulty the United States is having at the current time. Since the Second World War, and especially since the late 1960s, there has been a decline in common life, social solidarity, and friendliness among social groups. There are many reasons for this. Two that come to mind are the increasing lack of shared religious and moral values and the increasing concentration of wealth and power in society. The lack of shared spiritual and ethical standards and economic disparity make it difficult to feel that social and political life is fair or just. At the same time, a historically unique degree of conflict among classes, races, religions, and other groups has emerged in America. This situation points to a need to rebuild the common life of the nation in such a way as to increase the fragile bonds of common life, social solidarity, and friendliness.

Mead recognizes an inevitable degree of hostile behavior in any society, including the modern nation-state. A society’s legal system usually moderates this inevitable degree of latent and actual conflict. [8] The ability of any legal system to curb conflict is dependent upon (i) an underlying degree of lawful cooperative behavior in situations where there is or might be conflict, (ii) a degree and extent of conflict that existing institutions can handle, and (iii) a degree of trust in the fairness of existing institutions. I believe here, too, we see room for improvement and a warning concerning our current tendency to tolerate certain forms of unlawful behavior, an increasing level of social conflict, and the erosion of trust in the fundamental fairness of the legal system.

Conclusion

I am going to extend this series to one more blog next week. Mead is the least appreciated of the pre-World War II pragmatists. His views are important because he further develops Peirce’s communitarian foundation of pragmatism, which Royce extended. He deepens Royce’s analysis of the nature of human communities and provides deep insight into the interplay between individuals and social groups.

Copyright 2024, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

[1] George Herbert Mead, On Social Psychology rev. ed. (Chicago, Ill: University of Chicago Press, 1964), 255.

[2] Id, at 262-262.

[3] The failure of the League of Nations and the various corruptions of the United Nations and other international agencies reflect a continuing inability to find workable forms for institutionalizing this universalizing impulse, or perhaps it reflects the fact that no such “universal human institutions” of a governmental type are feasible at this time in history.

[4] On Social Psychology, at 256-257.

[5] Id, at 259.

[6] Id, at 259.

[7] Id, at 264-265.

[8] Id, at 265.

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