Peter Berger, RIP

Peter Berger, a hugely influential Austrian-born American sociologist, died last week at the age of 88:

On June 27, Berger passed away at his home in suburban Boston, concluding a lifetime of scholarly influence and a career that made him one of the most notable scholars of his generation.

The influence of Berger certainly extended to me. In one of the chapters of Keeping Your Kids Christian, on the concept of plausibility in the life of faith, I quote extensively from two early books by Berger, The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge (with Thomas Luckmann), and The Sacred Canopy: Elements of a Sociological Theory of Religion. I first learned the concept of Plausibility Structure from reading The Sacred Canopy back in the mid-1980s, a term most Christians have never heard, let alone are familiar with. They should be, as I argue extensively in the book.

“We Must Be True to Ourselves”

The title of this post is almost an axiom among modern Americans. We may hear it put in other ways as well, like “as long it makes you happy,” or “you must do what’s in your heart.” I’ve heard it said that we live in the age of “the sovereign self.” In our age, the subjective rules; the only perspective that counts is my perspective, and my perspective is declared valid simply because it is mine. Whether what I think corresponds to reality in any objective sense is beside the point.

We tend to think of it as a relatively recent phenomena, but this idea of being “true to ourselves” is a form of relativism, and it’s been around a lot longer than most of us would think. The phrase actually goes back to a Johann Gottfried Herder, who wrote to his fiancee, Caroline Flachsland in 1772:

All our actions should be self-determined, in accordance with our innermost character—we must be true to ourselves.

Peter and the Deity of Christ

Who Jesus is, is the central question of human existence. If he was who he said he was, and if he is who the Council of Nicea in 325 said he was and declared by orthodox Christians ever since:

God from God,
Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made;
of the same essence as the Father.

Then all of existence is determined by this fact. Jesus commands our allegiance, and our worship, because he is God, not just a great moral teacher or religious leader.

The Growth of the “Nones” Is No Threat to Our Kids Faith

The title of a recent piece at Scientific American tells us the “Nones” juggernaut continues:

College Freshmen Are Less Religious Than Ever: Data from a nationwide survey shows students who list their affiliation as “none” has skyrocketed

“Nones” are people who when surveyed about their religious affiliation pick “None of the above.” What this means is that our culture will continue to get more secular as religion gets less important to more people over time. Those who applaud the increasing secularization of America hope we eventually turn out like Europe where churches are empty, and those who take their Christianity seriously are a curiosity.

The Logic of Atheism Drove This Scholar to Jesus

Logic is an amazing feature of the universe God created, but one that is unfortunately often ignored. It is no longer taught in public schools, which is obvious from the tenor of public debates over politics and religion. And those of us who attend weekly worship services at our local church also get very little, if any, teaching about logic. But if we are to think well and critically through life, logic is indispensable, especially in a hostile, post-Christian Western culture. (The one encouraging bright spot in this logical wasteland is the growth of Christian (and public charter) classical education, but it’s only a drop in a very large bucket at this point.)

Most people tend to think that logic drives people away from Christian faith, but logic is in fact one of our faith’s most powerful allies. I recently learned about an atheist turned Christian who found this out much to her surprise. Sarah Irving-Stonebraker was once a committed atheist, and she tells her story of coming to embrace the Christian message in a piece at The Veritas Forum. Growing up in a “loving, secular home,” as she puts it, she just knew that “Christians were anti-intellectual and self-righteous.” She doesn’t seem to have known any Christians at the time, but that is the perception in the Western cultural air we breathe.

Bob Dylan And His Classical Education

Although I’ve never been a big fan of Bob Dylan, I’ve always appreciated his genius, and especially his ability to capture the cultural Zeitgeist. A piece by Rod Dreher titled “Bob Dylan On The Road To Damascus” explains why he was so good at this. We learn from Dylan’s Nobel Prize speech that several books he read in grammar school,  Moby Dick, All Quiet on the Western Front, and The Odyssey, among others, influenced the way he saw the world, and thus wrote lyrics. Dreher comments that

He goes on to discuss those three novels, and how they affected his understanding of the world, and in turn, his music. One of the greatest popular musicians of the 20th century, the recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature, got his start in what we now call classical education — one that gives the student “a way of looking at life, an understanding of human nature, and a standard to measure things by.”

The Epidemic of Unexamined Assumptions

Given I’m a fan of popular culture, and a student of it’s influence on, and reflection of, the worldview of the people in that culture, I was very eager to read a piece titled Questioning the Gods: How TV’s Tackling Belief and Religion. The article perfectly captures a certain epistemology that is at the heart of how people understand the world in our secular, post-modern relativist culture.

When Keeping Your Kids Christian gets published, you will see that I’m a big fan of identifying assumptions within the culture, in discussions with others, and in our own thinking. Unexamined assumptions are an epidemic today. While everyone knows what assumptions are, most people don’t think they have any! Many Christians think this way too. But once we learn to question assumptions, many things become clear that once seemed opaque. As we uncover hidden assumptions we clarify thoughts and arguments to see if the logic holds up under scrutiny.

Epistemology Isn’t Just For Philosophers

In researching, reading, and thinking about writing a book about keeping my kids Christian, I was kind of surprised to discover how important questions of epistemology began to emerge. I even decided to write an entire chapter on epistemology—in a book on raising kids! I can understand why a lot of Christians would think that’s a bit nutty, in many cases because they wouldn’t even know what epistemology is. I’m hoping in some small way that my book might help change that. Every Christian in our postmodern, relativistic, secular age needs to know not only what epistemology is, but how important are the implications for their faith.

Simply, epistemology is the study of how we know what we know, and it has been vigorously debated among philosophers in Western civilization since at least Rene Descartes (1596-1650). The reason religious faith is so problematic in the modern West is because skepticism about metaphysical ideas and historical facts is the default epistemology of the culture. Which is why I was so surprised when I saw an article at the reliably liberal and secular NPR website titled, “Skepticism about Skepticism.” I instantly thought of a quote by C.S. Lewis in his book Christian Reflections (p. 164)

Hey, Bill Nye, Fake Science Guy, There Are No “Extra Kids”

Who is this Bill Nye guy anyway? I only became aware of him recently, but it seems he’s a popular “science educator.” He got his moniker, “Bill Nye the Science Guy” from a PBS children’s science show in the 90s, and we know that anything that has the word “science” attached to it has instant credibility in our secular age. Unfortunately, science has to be one of the most abused words of modern times. Instead of referring to an empirical method of inquiry, it’s become a weapon to shut down debate. Specifically, it’s used as a cudgel by the secular left to intimidate anyone who dares question the “scientific consensus” on things like global warming (which has transmorgified into the redundant term “climate change”) and evolution.

So it didn’t surprise me when I saw the provocative title of a piece at The Federalist, “Bill Nye’s View Of Humanity Is Repulsive.”  You’ll see why below, but human dignity is only possible in a theistic universe. Without God all we are is lucky dirt. Material things don’t have any transcendent value in themselves. Keep in mind I am speaking logically; you cannot get to value from dirt. We step on dirt, we don’t fall in love with it, or cherish it, or treat it with respect. It’s dirt! If atheism is true, then all we are is lucky dirt and thus logically can be stepped on with impunity.

LifeWay Research: Americans Are Fond of the Bible, Don’t Actually Read it

The Bible, the most influential book in American history, has fallen on hard times. According to a recent Lifeway Research survey, while Americans respect and many venerate the bible, it seems most never open one.

Americans have a positive view of the Bible. And many say the Christian scriptures are filled with moral lessons for today.

However, more than half of Americans have read little or none of the Bible.

Less than a quarter of those who have ever read a Bible have a systematic plan for reading the Christian scriptures each day. And a third of Americans never pick it up on their own, according to a new study from Nashville-based LifeWay Research.

You might see in these words, if you are a Christian, that the problem is that most Americans don’t read the Bible. Even more disconcerting, however, is that people think the Bible is about “moral lessons,” which isn’t surprising given people generally equate religion with morality.