Awhile back, I finished reading Armand Nicholi’s book, The Question of God: C.S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud debate God, Love, Sex, and the Meaning of Life. Dr. Nicholi is an associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard and has taught a seminar on Freud & Lewis at Harvard for the past 35 years. The course eventually led to this book and a PBS series by the same name.

The book is an interesting read for anyone modestly interested in one or both of the characters– or anyone interested in the topics covered. The book is relatively easy to read with ample quotations from each author in addition to impressive biographical information. The book is divided into two sections: “What should we believe?” and “How should we live?” (with chapters in this latter section on Happiness, Sex, Love, Pain, and Death).

Why a study on Lewis and Freud? They were key players in their day– and have even greater influence now. Their worldviews and prescriptions are markedly different. And Lewis shared much of Freud’s worldview until his conversion to Christianity as an adult– allowing for a set of interesting comparisons between the two.

Lewis embraced an atheistic worldview for the first half of his life and used Freud’s reasoning to defend his atheism. Lewis then rejected his atheism and became a believer. In subsequent writings, he provides cogent responses to Freud’s arguments against the spiritual worldview… Their writings possess a striking parallelism. If Freud still serves as a primary spokesman for materialism, Lewis serves as a primary spokesman for the spiritual view that Freud attacked. (p. 4)

If both Freud and Lewis thought the question of God’s existence to be life’s most important question, let’s see how they arrived at their conflicting answers. And let’s see if their biographies– how they actually lived their lives– strengthen or weaken their arguments and tell us more than their words convey. (p. 9)

The early life experiences of Freud and Lewis show a striking parallelism. Both Freud and Lewis, as young boys, possessed intellectual gifts that foreshadowed the profound impact they would make as adults. Both suffered significant losses early in life. Both had difficult, conflict-ridden relationships with their fathers. Both received early instruction in the faith of their family and acknowledged a nominal acceptance of that faith. Both jettisoned their early belief system and became atheists when in their teens…” (p. 34-35)

All that said, we learn especially from his letters that Freud flirted with theism off-and-on throughout his life. He frequently quoted the Old and New Testaments; he often used phrases such as “if God so wills” and “God’s grace”; and his final book was entitled Moses and Monotheism (p. 50-51). He was a great admirer of the Apostle Paul– quoting him frequently, considering him one of “the great thinkers”, and remarking that he “stands alone in all history” (p. 78, 53).

Freud was also fascinated by the devil and referred to him often in his writings. He was strongly impacted by Flaubert’s Temptation of Saint Anthony. The literary work he quoted most often was Goethe’s Faust. And the book he wanted to read before being euthanized was Balzac’s The Fatal Skin. Nicholi speculates that “Freud perhaps identified…with the devil himself– not as the embodiment of evil but as the ultimate rebel, defiant and refusing to surrender to Authority.” (p. 208)

Of course, there are many interesting points throughout the book. In concluding, let me share one that has been of use to me– in talking with people about theology and faith.

Freud argued that religion was a form of wish fulfillment, “a projection of human needs and wishes” (p. 42). But Lewis countered this…

…with the assertion that the biblical worldview involves a great deal of despair and pain and is certainly not anything one would wish for. He argued that understanding this view begins with the realization that one is in deep trouble, that one has transgressed the moral law and needs forgiveness and reconciliation…Although this biblical faith is “a thing of unspeakable comfort”, Lewis wrote, “it does not begin in comfort; it begins in dismay”…

In addition, Lewis astutely notes that Freud’s argument stems from his clinical observations that a young child’s feelings toward the father are always characterized by a “particular ambivalence”– i.e., strong positive and strong negative feelings. But if these observations hold true, these ambivalent wishes can work both ways. Would not the negative part of the ambivalence indicate the wish that God does not exist would be as strong as the wish for his existence?”

Like many other aspects of faith, one can find some comfort with (relatively lame) arguments like “wish fulfillment”. Or one can follow the preponderance of the evidence. Beyond the facts and the logic, one must choose to believe– or not.

Why might there be “increasing participation by religious organizations in offering substance abuse treatment funded by federal government vouchers”?

Perhaps because, at least in part, “A program’s faith element relates to the people they serve and the type of help they provide, as programs with more explicit and mandatory faith-related elements are likely to be substance-abuse programs.”

Thus, the more explicitly faith-filled substance abuse programs will increasingly face a special temptation to take federal funds for such purposes. And this will lead to complaints “that many of the faith-based programs funded by ATR [Access to Recovery] do not meet state licensing requirements, and are permitted to use religiously-based materials in treatment programs.”

These two brief essays provide a good juxtaposition of two perspectives that view immediate and mandated action to reduce carbon emissions as either morally obligatory or imprudent. For the former, see Vaclav Havel’s, “Our Moral Footprint,” which states rhetorically, “It is also obvious from published research that human activity is a cause of change; we just don’t know how big its contribution is. Is it necessary to know that to the last percentage point, though? By waiting for incontrovertible precision, aren’t we simply wasting time when we could be taking measures that are relatively painless compared to those we would have to adopt after further delays?”

Contrast that with Bjorn Lomborg’s “Our Generational Mission,” which uses the economic concept of opportunity cost to argue that immediate action is not necessary, and perhaps will never be. He wonders, “Why are we so singularly focused on climate change when there are many other areas where the need is also great and we could do so much more with our effort?”

Orlando Patterson, professor of sociology at Harvard University, penned a challenging piece on Jena 6 and our current racial tensions. I have learned much from Patterson over the years. For example, he was the first person to help me realize that we often confuse issues of race and class in America by assuming the race as the single variable accounting for the cyclical plight of poor blacks.

In a September 30th New York Times op-ed piece Patterson rightly says that what happened in Jena, LA and the current state of black America goes well beyond the antiquated appropriation of racial reasoning. Patterson writes:

The circumstances that far too many African-Americans face — the lack of paternal support and discipline; the requirement that single mothers work regardless of the effect on their children’s care; the hypocritical refusal of conservative politicians to put their money where their mouths are on family values; the recourse by male youths to gangs as parental substitutes; the ghetto-fabulous culture of the streets; the lack of skills among black men for the jobs and pay they want; the hypersegregation of blacks into impoverished inner-city neighborhoods — all interact perversely with the prison system that simply makes hardened criminals of nonviolent drug offenders and spits out angry men who are unemployable, unreformable and unmarriageable, closing the vicious circle.

Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton and other leaders of the Jena demonstration who view events there, and the racial horror of our prisons, as solely the result of white racism are living not just in the past but in a state of denial. Even after removing racial bias in our judicial and prison system — as we should and must do — disproportionate numbers of young black men will continue to be incarcerated.

Like many others, Patterson fails to see is that the crisis in black America, especially among black males, is primarily a moral one. To what Patterson said, I would add the following:

(1) Patterson calls for prisons to reintroduce rehabilitation as an integral method of dealing with offenders. Sadly, the best any government-run rehabilitation can do for a struggling inmate is to offer shallow behavior modification which has been proven not to work long-term. A man in prison has deep emotional, psychological, and spiritual issues. Prison rehabilitation is incapable of transforming and healing the soul of man who has acted out of his own lacerated wounds.

(2) Black fatherlessness is having a devastating affect on the masculine formation of black boys. This is a moral issue. Cultivating the attributes of love, commitment, intentional formation, care, teaching, time, and discipline that boys need to learn from their fathers, and other men who care about their development, cannot be engendered by a tax incentive.

(3) Rejecting the ghetto-fabulous mindset is a moral problem. On what basis do we expect a young black male to reject the self-sabotaging ghetto-mentality? Money and success? In a country as vain and immoral as America at times the market not only supports and encourages stupidity it also provides incentive for young black boys to pursue with recklessness. “Do yo’ chain hang low?” “Read a book!”

(4) The type of healing and restoration men need when exiting the prison system is moral at the core. While it is true that these men will need job training, new skills, etc., these men need, more than anything else, to embrace a new vision for what it means to be a man. Having a masculine identity that pursues whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, beautiful, commendable, praiseworthy, and the like requires a radically transformed and renewed mind and soul. It takes a morally formed masculine identity to make job skills and family commitments cultivate cycles of human flourishing.

When black men are given the moral formation to pursue a radically transformed view of themselves as men they will become the kinds of men who fight evil in the world instead of fighting each other and are intentional about raising another generation of girls and boys to do the same thereby making the world a better place.

"Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?" [John 6:9]

Among all the many good things going on last weekend in Boise, I (and a few others) noticed something a bit disconcerting.

The way many of the topics were covered shows how prone Christians are to being consumed by doom and gloom messages of scarcity and lack and overpopulation and an "ever smaller earth." While it’s reasonable to take a survey of the damage and an inventory of the challenges facing the Church on the subject of caring for creation (…first sit down and count the cost…), we must guard against the negative motivation campaigns that are a hallmark of the environmental movement.

This sort of thinking fosters false choices and unecessarily narrows our options for moving forward. For instance, during the session on climate change, this question was asked:

Do we spend our time, energy and money taking care of people? Or is it wiser to use our resources to rescue the planet so people will have a better place to live?

As children of God that thinking should immediately strike us as out of place. It is, in fact, in direct opposition to what we know (or should know!) about how God works.

- God makes everything from nothing [see footnote]. His abundance is not dependent on or limited by what exists on the earth yesterday, today or tomorrow. The cattle on a thousand hills are His. He can make stones cry out or turn them into bread. He both creates and tends to habitats.

- He is the author of life, and rules both the natural and supernatural. He creates living things from dead, whether that be almond branches or best friends. The life He creates does not merely sustain the status quo but is fruitful and multiplies itself abundantly.

- In our relationship with God through Christ we have access to the infinite resources of the Creator. We have the power of prayer that transforms the lives of individuals and nations. Prayer can bring buckets of rain or extended drought. Through Him we can bring water from a rock in the desert, or get money from a fish’s mouth.

- God gives the Church no reason to doubt that if He has given us a mandate, He will also give us the power and the means by which to carry it out. Likewise, we should not be surprised when our own means to solve problems – ecological or otherwise – are limited. Truth be told, He doesn’t need us around to make any of this happen. Our weakness and limitations force us to depend on His abundance and strength so that He is glorified, not us.

I couldn’t summarize this any better than this Torah teacher does here:

Then the word of the LORD came to Jeremiah: "I am the LORD, the God of all mankind. Is anything too hard for me?" (Jeremiah 32:26,27)

To deny God’s ability is to deny God himself. Nothing is too hard for God. However else we may struggle in our faith, we must come to the place where we accept that his power is limitless. Once we get to that point, the door of our hearts is open to whatever he may want to do in our lives. I wonder how many of us cannot hear the great things God wants to do in us and through us, because we don’t believe in his ability. Think of how we would pray and live differently if in our heart of hearts we knew God’s power had no limits.

A hallmark of the Christian ecologist must always be an unflappable, unstoppable confidence in God’s abundance.

Let’s admit here and now that fire and brimstone sermons do little to change hearts, and neither will they green the Church or transform our world.

[Don's other habitat is The Evangelical Ecologist. Click here for his other posts in this series.]

____

[Footnote: This is also a good argument for thoughtful debate over earth's origin. A materially-limited view of God is a natural outcome of routinely seeing Him as merely an intelligent agent acting within the confines of the earth's self-existing (and thus finite) evolutionary processes.]

Perhaps not from its inception, but certainly in the post-WWII era, the global Christian ecumenical movement, as represented by groups like the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, and the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, has been increasingly dominated by Marxist economics, liberation theology, and transformationalist ethics.

Much of this was mediated through the influence and work of Reinhold Niebuhr. Niebuhr in part observed the reality that since there was no single government above nation-states which could restrict and regulate their activity, the realm of global realpolitik is doomed to be characterized by immorality and warmongering.

If “all social co-operation on a larger scale than the most intimate social group requires a measure of coercion,” and “If, as Bertrand Russell prophesies, some form of oligarchy, whether capitalistic or communistic, be inevitable in a technological age, because of the inability of the general public to maintain social control over the experts who are in charge of the intricate processes of economics and politics, the communistic oligarch would seem to be preferable in the long run to the capitalistic one. His power would be purely political, and no special economic interests would tempt him to pursue economic policies at variance with the national interest .”

No doubt in its utopianism, idealism, and therefore almost exclusive blame for the ills of the world upon global capitalism the ecumenical movement has gone far beyond what Niebuhr himself had or ever would say (for, after all, unlike WARC, Niebuhr wrote, “Neither is it true that modern wars are caused solely by the modern capitalistic system with its disproportion of economic power and privilege.” He was a bit more nuanced).

For more on where the ecumenical movement is today, see this piece by IRD’s Mark Tooley (and some older background here).

For the move toward a global government, see this. And for the relationship between a global government and the ecumenical movement see this.

Update: See also, “Reinhold Niebuhr is Unseen Force in 2008 Elections” and Reinhold Niebuhr Today.

More: As predicted, Niebuhr’s name is seemingly on everyone’s lips. See this Atlantic Monthly article, “A Man for All Reasons,” and the reaction from GetReligion.

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
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The Acton Institute is a sponsor of this year’s Godblogcon, a conference that “will equip you with a working knowledge of new media technologies and its impact on society, empowering your ministry to employ quickly and easily new media technologies to engage culture for the cause of Christ.” GodblogCon 2007 will be in Las Vegas on November 8-9.

Blogging luminaries like Joe Carter, La Shawn Barber, and Al Mohler will be speaking, and the conference will also be a part of the larger Blog World & New Media Expo, which will feature folks like the Instapundit and Hugh Hewitt. Hewitt gave a talk about new media at last year’s meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society.

I’ll be representing the PowerBlog at the conference, and if you are a reader of this blog and will also be attending, drop me a note in the comment box on this post. I’ll also be scouting talent for next year’s Acton University, which fills up quickly, so if you’re a blogger and are interested in coming to Grand Rapids to learn more about theology and economics, talk to me.

Blog author: rnothstine
Tuesday, September 25, 2007
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You may have heard this line before, “As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, a soul from purgatory springs.” The quote was attributed to Johann Tetzel, a German Dominican Friar, in charge of collecting indulgences in 16th Century Germany.

However, it’s not Roman Catholics who have embraced a re-run of indulgences, but the new gurus of carbon-offsetting at the Evangelical Climate Initiative. Iain Murray of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, takes issue with ECI’s latest venture into indulgence – carbon offsets in his piece for the American Spectator titled, A Pardoner’s Tale. Murray sarcastically notes, “You can atone for your carbon sins by buying carbon offsets from the Evangelical Climate Initiative.” Murray also says:

Not to worry. ECI tells us that “The average American is responsible for about 23 tons of CO2 pollution.” And it just so happens that $99 (Not $78 or $103.54? How did it just happen to come to a price right under the $100 threshold past which consumers are much less likely to purchase?) is just enough to offset 23 tons of CO2 per year.

Murray also highlights the new found free market spirit of ECI, but also calls the faithful to their reformation roots, declaring:

One last concern: Where’s the Good Housekeeping seal of approval on ECI’s moneymaking site? Or the Better Business Bureau logo? Or the link to information about how the Securities and Exchange Commission regulates the carbon offsets and carbon trading businesses to make sure there’s no monkey business going on? They’re not there, because — well, because there is no regulation of this business. Apparently the ECI has finally found a tiny bit of the free market that it doesn’t want to strangle with regulation. One wonders, though, what happened to the ECI’s strong suspicion of sin in every branch of the corporate world. Or is the carbon offset industry impeccable?

It appears to me that this particular branch of evangelical theology is in dire need of a reformation. When it comes to the sin of carbon emission, perhaps carbon-using Christians should remember the words of Martin Luther’s Letter to Melanchthon: ‘Be a sinner and sin strongly, but more strongly have faith and rejoice in Christ.’

(Powerblogger Kevin Schmiesing pointed out the indulgent nature of carbon offsets in a post last February.)

On the campaign trail just recently, John Edwards called for Americans to give up their SUVs, and then was seen leaving the rally in none other than a sports utility vehicle. But not to worry an Edwards spokesmen said, “We buy carbon-offsets for the vehicle.”

It seems as if individuals and families were serious about altering their carbon footprint, they would curb their energy use instead of purchasing an indulgence for their guilt. It seems to resemble a fad or a trendy phase by guilt-ridden polluters. I wonder if I have to purchase a carbon offset for those parachute pants I once owned in kindergarten?

However, with the rising free and unregulated market of carbon-offsets, it will be interesting to see what other offsets emerge in the marketplace, and whether this will trickle down to the health, food, and tobacco industries. Entrepreneurs who miss out on this exploding market, may be feeling a bit of guilt and remorse as well.

Jay W. Richards of the Acton Institute, has a commentary today in the National Review Online titled, What Would Jesus Drive?: Electrified Evangelical theological confusion. Richards notes in his article, “With respect to the environment, the theological principles are uncontroversial: human beings, as image bearers of God, are placed as stewards over the created order.”

He asks four separate questions, which he calls “tough.”

(1) Is the planet warming?

(2) If the planet is warming, is human activity (like CO2 emissions) causing it?

(3) If the planet is warming, is it bad overall?

(4) If the planet is warming, we’re causing it, and it’s bad, would the policies commonly advocated (e.g., the Kyoto Protocol, legislative restrictions on CO2 emissions) make any difference and, if so, would their cost exceed their benefit?

Furthermore, he offers a tough critique of the defenders of the Evangelical Climate Initiative:

The problem with the chief defenders of the Evangelical Climate Initiative is that they haven’t thought through these four questions, at least not publicly. What they have done is label their position as the authentically Evangelical one. Other Evangelicals need to call them on this tactic, exposing the false dilemma for the piece of cheap rhetoric it is.

Be sure to read the entire commentary, it is a helpful analysis on the climate debate, as well as a good look at the political strategy of the Evangelical left and their allies, the Democratic Party.

Samuel Gregg, director of research at the Acton Institute, has a piece in today’s Detroit News titled, “Will Quran limit growth of Muslim nations?” The commentary addresses the economic outlook of Muslims, and Islamic nations, considering their religious position against the charging of interest. Gregg notes:

Given the Arab world’s increasing religiosity, however, one potential obstacle could significantly handicap these nations’ financial creativity and economic diversification policies: Islam’s prohibition of interest-charging.

Gregg also briefly examines how Christians settled the moral dilemma regarding interest:

Christianity once had a usury issue. Christianity began resolving this matter in the medieval period. Scholastic theologians established that, under certain conditions (such as free exchange economies), money was not simply a means of exchange, but also “capital”: that is, a productive good whose owners could legitimately charge others for its use. Not all interest-charging, the scholastics concluded, constituted usury.