Friday, February 05, 2016

Too Hot to Handle: What Is Progress?

In which our regular writers toss around subjects a little more volatile than usual.

Donald Trump’s popularity is hugely alarming to the political left, whose agenda is often called “progressive”.

In the last couple of years Democrats have had much of their policy wish list implemented by presidential fiat to almost no resistance from the largest Republican majority in Congress since the late 1920s. Crickets.

All this social “progress” is rendered precarious by the specter of a Trump presidency. Trump has tweeted things like, “If elected, I will undo all of Obama’s executive orders”, posing an existential threat to the dream of the “just society” that lies at the heart of progressivism. Thus Carlos Lozada of The Washington Post can argue that Trump is a throwback; that he appeals to what Lozada calls the “stone-age brain”.

Tom: Let’s forget about Republicans and conservatives for a moment, Immanuel Can, and just take a look at Christians, which is our area of interest anyway. Where do Christians stand on this issue? Do Christians believe in progress?

Immanuel Can: Progress. What an interesting concept.

There are several different things to which it refers: moral, social, biological, political, technological … but I think it’s fair to say that the primary driver of all of them has to be biological: they’re extrapolations from the idea of Naturalistic Evolutionism. So right there we have a departure point.

Progressively Moral

Tom: Secular humanists and leftists in general seem to be looking for what they call progress primarily in the social and political spheres. After all, from an evolutionary perspective, what exactly does “moral” even mean? To progressives, I think it means whatever contributes to the socio-political environment they view as desirable. Within that worldview, the concept of morality doesn’t have any truly objective content. Loving your neighbor, for instance, is desirable only insofar as your neighbor buys into the leftist agenda. So the language is at least temporarily co-opted from Christianity, but genuine morality is absent.

IC: Oh, true — but “morality” is still always very important to the secularist and atheistic sets. The appearance of the moral high ground is precious to them.

Question their morals, and they will instantly tell you they are as good as anyone, even though they have no basis for meaning in the word “good”. They think it’s a (jargon alert!) “social construct”: that morality is just whatever a particular society makes up, or even sillier, what individuals want to make up for themselves. But whatever the standard, they’re sure they’re moral.

And no one, but no one, is ever more self-righteous than a liberal social justice advocate. In fact, they’re so sure they are on the moral side that they instantly label those who even dare to question it oppressors or bigots.

Christian Morality vs. Progressive Morality

Tom: Oh, I quite agree that they think they’re moral. It’s just that morality doesn’t mean the same thing to a social progressive as it means to a Christian. They start from an impractical, inconsistent and utterly unrealizable vision of society and work backward to acceptable human conduct from there: “morality” being whatever most effectively furthers the program. So to an SJW, lying is moral because it advances the cause.

The Christian comes from the inside out: the hope of glory is not some re-ordering of society, but rather “Christ in you”. If we each allow the Spirit of Christ to reorder our own inner lives — our assumptions, thought life, goals and desires — there is the possibility that working together we can produce a social order that is preferable to the current one.

It certainly won’t happen any other way.

IC: No indeed. For social progressives, something — either the evolutionary process itself or (as in Marxism) some perceived obligatory ‘pattern’ of history — is propelling the human race forward morally. “Every day, in every way, we’re getting better and better,” they might say.

That looks absurdly na├»ve to us, I know, given any knowledge of recent history. But in some areas, like medicine and technology, they are being reassured constantly that progress is happening: and they feel it is inevitable that it will inevitably extend to the moral and social realms.

Progress Through Political Action

Tom: Right. And primarily through political actions they are advocating.

IC: Yes, that is, progress would happen if only the idiots who doubt would stop doubting. Those who don’t happen to agree that they, the progressivist liberals, are the chief proponents of moral improvement and the hope of the future are just being willfully evil. Being against progress, such ideological holdouts must obviously be anti-truth, anti-reason, anti-academic, anti-kindness, anti-justice, anti-freedom and anti-hope. They must live on the wrong side of science, the wrong side of history and the wrong side of morality.

They must be just plain bad people in every possible way. Or else stupidly ignorant. But probably evil.

Regressive Humanity

Tom: Now of course here they have things precisely backwards, because without constant intervention from God into the stream of human history, man inevitably deteriorates. From Adam to Noah, God basically played it hands-off with humanity, and what was the result? “Every intention of the thoughts of [man’s] heart was only evil continually”. So we get the Flood and mankind, for all intents and purposes, is rebooted. Then we get God intervening again to select out Israel to communicate his truth to the world, and he gives them the law. Israel’s disobedience and the captivities that came from it enable that revelation to be spread all over the known world, so that by the time the Lord Jesus comes on the scene the stage is set for the spread of the gospel across much of human civilization within a single generation.

Western civilization, for all its flaws, exists today and has accomplished what it has largely because God kept intervening in human history, not because man has ever shown the slightest inclination toward moral development on his own.

IC: Yes indeed. The progression in Romans 1 says exactly the same thing: that people begin by rejecting God, but end in practicing every form of vileness ... and also, in giving enthusiastic moral approval to those who do those things and abusing those who object. So “moral progress” from a secular perspective means nothing more than utter permissiveness and the denial of all that God says is good, coupled with tooth-grinding anger against anyone who stands for real morality.

Christian Progressivism

Tom: Can we speak coherently of a “Christian progressive”, if we’re using “progressive” in the sense of leftist social engineering?

IC: No, of course not. Christian progressivism is a denial of the basic doctrines of sin.

Tom: Can you expand on that a little? It may not be intuitive to some people.

IC: Progressivism can’t see sin as degenerative or terminal. Instead, it can only reinterpret it as a problem that is diminishing naturally, something solvable by improved social arrangements or even doomed to disappear through natural moral progress. This calls into question the whole need for salvation, and implies that mankind can solve the sin problem by making new political arrangements (by constitution), defeating it through establishing social justice (by restitution), by seizing control of the course of history (by revolution), or simply waiting it out (by evolution).

How’s that for a rhyme scheme? Does it qualify me as an auld tyme Scottish preacher?

Tom: You’re about as Scottish as your cat. But still, I like it. I like it. It’s good.

Genuine Progressive Forces

IC: However, paradoxically, Christians who hold the line on morals are the most genuinely progressive force in society. They aren’t believers in the sort of natural, evolutionary or historical “progress” that liberal progressives think will carry us forward. They know that progress only really happens to the extent that people are brought into right relationship with God. But they focus on that ... and it has an astonishing number of good spin-off effects for society.

Tom: So Christians would be the true “conservatives”, if such could be said to exist anymore, in the sense that we ought to retain and display whatever is actually of eternal value in human society. I’m thinking of the “salt” and “light” metaphors the Lord used of his followers.

Progressing Downhill

One thing the Trump candidacy has revealed is just how screamingly far the Republican National Committee has drifted from its base and how little “conserving” so-called conservatives have actually done in society. They’ve only ever driven Americans toward the abyss a few MPH slower than liberals. If Christians ever fantasized that secular politicians on the ideological right of the political spectrum could save us, we ought to be well done with that now.

Where do you see us “progressing” from here, IC?

IC: Two ways, possibly.

The moral progress of the entire race is assuredly downhill. How fast that happens and the form it takes will depend on whether the agenda in future years is dominated by liberal secularists, as it has been for some time, or by the conservative backlash against that. Whether we are doomed to a “politically correct” future or a future of conservative/liberal conflict will not matter so much as that there will be no solution from either source. Politics cannot cure sin. And I have that on the authority of scripture.

But conservatism has this going for it: that it tends to move slowly, whereas liberalism tends to act with sudden grand gestures — revolutions, if you like. I can see the moral deterioration being slowed or speeded up, but I cannot see scripturally that we can expect it to end, far less to reverse.


  1. Based on what you are suggesting, scripturally there will therefore be an inexorable deterioration in human attitude, outlook, and behavior repeating the pre-Noah situation therefore necessitating ... what on God's part? A repeat of the flood (or something similar, like an asteroid)? The so-called Progressives will of course not buy into that and we'll probably not find out in our lifetime. To convince anyone that their outlook on life has to change in order to prevent that type of thing would seem to require a clear demarcation in the quality of life between those accessible to God and those ignoring God. Such a demarcation can however only be created by God (and possibly also by delegation through the believing human agent) but must be discernible to all to be useful. Politics for one serves that purpose because if it can institutionalize a climate of sin through executive and political action then it can also de-institutionalize it the same way hopefully leading to an improvement of human behavior. It would be dismal indeed if you are proposing that the second coming of Christ is inexorably contingent on humanity having reached a pre-Noah stage again and that improvement is really not possible. That would then seem to contradict the fact that Christ came to make an improvement possible for the individual and hence for society.

    1. I guess it depends on what one thinks Christ came to do.

      Did He come to say to us, "I'm going to tell you how to make yourselves good -- through politics, self-improvement programs and creating better institutions," or did He say, "You cannot save yourselves -- not by politics, not by institutional reform, and not by effort. And yes, so long as you don't understand that, you will get worse and worse -- but I can save you, if you will entrust yourself to Me."

      So which did He actually say? (See John 8:24.)

    2. What you are suggesting does make sense since it's based on the Fall (pre-Noah) and our weak disposition. It also leaves some things unclear though. E.g., if humanity's natural downward spiral resulted in resetting the clock with the flood, then for what purpose since the spiral has the same trend after Noah. This implies that the purpose of the flood was simply punitive since God must have known it would not change things in the long run unless he came himself to offer instruction and a methodology to straighten things out. You described that methodology (follow Christ). You also seem to have suggested in your blog that scripturally even that will not make a difference for humanity as a whole (but at least for the individual who now has a chance at salvation?) But that means that many pre-flood people got the short end of the stick since they did not have those instructions available. ( I realize of course that it is pretty futile to speculate about God's timing but nevertheless we will always try to make sense of the world ).

    3. Ah, but that's the point, Q: Christ didn't come to offer us a method...He came to offer Himself to God as our atonement.

      A "method" is something WE can do. There never was a method to turn a sinful person into someone capable of relationship with God. But there was an atonement, initiated and achieved by God through His son, empowered by God through His Spirit. This atonement does what no method could ever do.

      The human contribution to salvation has always been the same: nothing but to believe God, and therefore to have righteousness reckoned to us, in spite of us really not deserving it. (Romans 4:5) That's why it's called "grace"; because God graciously has done all of it, and we must only believe.

      The same passage (Romans 4:3, this time) gives you the answer as to how people have been saved prior to the coming of Christ. It turns out to be the same thing: believe God.

    4. I get your point and don't want to split hairs but in my book following Christ aka believing in God ARE methods, a means to an end (salvation) but that may be semantics. What you seem to be implying is that Christ's atonement works in conjunction with belief and will not work without it. But Peter also said that any man (not any Christian man) that acts rightly is acceptable to God. That would imply that the benefit of Christ's atonement is not contingent on belief exclusively but may also be obtained depending on how you lived your life (the noble savage or atheist).

  2. Romans 3:10-18, Q. Our deeds of righteousness don't matter to God unless we are in a right relationship to Him first (Heb. 11:6). That's pretty clearly ground zero of the issue.

    Now let's move outward from there. As to your counter-example, you'll notice that Cornelius was not saved (as evidenced by the giving of the Spirit of God (Acts 10:44, Rom. 8:9) until AFTER he heard Peter's message and responded in faith to it. A good man for a Gentile he certainly was, but it was not that that saved him, obviously: the response of faith is always required.

    Now to the "noble" Atheist. By definition, an Atheist is anti-faith. He does not accept any relationship to God. Indeed, such are, by their own profession, contemptuous of God. So it matters not at all how "good" they may perceive themselves to be, or even how "good" others may perceive them to be: the issue is that none of what they are doing is done for the honour of God -- rather, it can only be done for the promotion of some contrary agenda on their part, for were it otherwise, they would no longer be Atheists by definition. So I think you'd have a hard time showing it as a case of something God simply overlooks.

    On the "noble savage" idea, I think it's an unfortunate turn of phrase. That's an 18th Century term, a European conceit invented at a time when they both misunderstood natives and abused them with impunity. They professed to admire them, and handed them smallpox blankets. I think we should avoid it. But as to the idea of a pagan person with a good personal conduct, I can only refer you back to my earlier post on that subject, because it deserves fuller treatment than I can give in a comments box.

    The point is that relationship with God must happen before any good works are of value to God.

  3. [Editor jumps in on cue]

    I can only refer you back to my earlier post on that subject ...

    Which would be this one right here.

    I love this job ...

    1. Actually, I meant this one,, but okay...that one works too.

    2. Oh. Fine. Okay. There, now it's our Featured Post for the week (right column, with photo). In case anyone missed it.

  4. IC writes:

    "The moral progress of the entire race is assuredly downhill. How fast that happens and the form it takes will depend on whether the agenda in future years is dominated by liberal secularists, as it has been for some time, or by the conservative backlash against that. Whether we are doomed to a “politically correct” future or a future of conservative/liberal conflict will not matter so much as that there will be no solution from either source. Politics cannot cure sin. And I have that on the authority of scripture."

    So given moral progress is "downhill all the way" versus say up and down or net steady, what shall we make of various elements of "progress" in terms of engineering, heath care measures, hospitals, educational institutions and (horrors) politicians (secular, religious and some even "evangelical") who have worked long and hard to change ideas and practices such as abuse to slaves, women, children and the "weak"?

    Are all of these things indeed "morally downward"? Can we say that the morality of the globe was higher in 1916 (with WW1 raging and consuming millions of young lives) than it is 2016? Or how about 1516? Mathematically speaking one must believe that in the time of the Egyptian Pharoahs, and the Roman Emporers e.g. things were better or higher in some moral sense.

    Indeed politics nor engineering nor science nor education can "cure" sin. But given the great command to love one's neighbour, there indeed seems to be some sense of "moral progress" in this area, albeit not uniformly evident in the world.

    1. Permit me butting in, Russell. I'm sure IC will be along with his own thoughts, but your question intrigues me because the subject has been on my own mind of late.

      There is certainly the appearance of moral progress in the ending of slavery and improvements in health care. But I think these are localized improvements that we see as universal in the West, whereas in developing countries they are privileges rarely extended to the masses.

      Education, for me, is a saw-off. Yes, you can certainly get one in the west, but it's an open question whether the knowledge base is actually deeper today because of it. It seems to me we have more intellectuals and less wisdom.

      As for the abuse of women under the more patriarchal system, I have a feeling millions of aborted babies and the number of current divorces would have something to say about whether feminism has actually been progressive.

      I think the "progress" we've seen in the West is largely illusory and about to come undone in a big way. Right now, Germany looks like a good test case. Will millions of migrant muslims adapt to the West, or will they adapt the West to themselves, and ultimately to sharia law? I suspect the latter in some European countries. Others, like Hungary, seem warier. So do the "primitives" win the European contest, or does "progress" absorb them? We'll soon see.

      Additionally, we are leaving out the ultra-nationalists. They are not yet on the stage in significant numbers, being merely a noisy minority. But that could change fast.

      So where is the West headed? Good question. I don't know, but I think we're going to see major changes in the next decade, some of which will be very surprising to those of us who have lived our lives in perhaps the most comfortable surroundings in human history.

    2. Well, as I was saying, Russ, the idea of technological "progress" gets all too easily assumed to entail some kind of moral "progress": and it has to be clear with even a moment's thought that the first does not entail the second.

      I'm not the first person to point this out, actually. It's one of the few issues on which I am simpathetic with Sigmund Freud. He said much the same thing in "Civilization and Its Discontents." He pointed out there that "progress" even when we use it only to refer to improvements in technology, communication or medicine, is at most a mixed blessing, and at worst a kind of candy-coated curse, since every new technology we invent comes with a serious cost that is usually not factored in beforehand.

      For example, our improvements in hygiene are responsible for resistant bacteria and superviruses. The improvements in transportation that we make fragment families and communities. The improvements in communication through the internet issue not merely in free telephone calls but in the largest pool of pornography in human history and the rapid expansion of the sex-slave industry. And the same nuclear technology that gives us cheap heating in our houses makes possible, for the first time in history, the entire destruction of all life on the planet.

      We could multiply such cases beyond measure. But even if all our technological kinds of "progress" were actually unequivocally good, it would say nothing about our moral "progress." Indeed, it is probably our lack of moral improvement that allowed us to use the technology of the factory to produce Auschwitz's "factories of death."

      It's not that power corrupts: it's that we are corrupt, and as our power increases, so does our ability to express corruption. And since our technological power continues to go up apace without a corresponding improvement of our moral condition, what can we expect but increasing expressions of evil?

      As Christians, we are called to ameliorate society as much as we can, of course: and this accounts for the wonderful "spin off effects" to which I alluded above. But we cannot really expect to reverse the trend, only to slow it. That's still worth doing, of course.

    3. Clearly all technology is a two-edged sword. Always. It's easy to cite examples of this. My only point, and one in which I will not debate further is that as communities, and civilizations, over the history of humanity there have been net ups and downs wrt "moral progress", rather than a constant downward trend. One can debate whether say rural Ontario in 1950, with its access to "progress" in terms of modern agriculture methods and machinery, medicine, education etc. is "downhill" w.r.t. say a tribal and feudal village in the Midlands of England in the year 650, with its huts, death and pain from disease, illiterate and uneducated populace, subservience to Lords and rival raids from next door etc. For me this assessment is a no-brainer. Others are free to differ.

      Mankind has been endowed with creative skills, to mirror it's Creator. It has indeed subdued and filled the earth. I do believe that water purification e.g. is progress in a net sense. I do believe that freedom and a sense of civil liberty and individual responsibility is better than harsh masters and ignorance.

      As for mankind, as creatures of habit in a moral sense, there is nothing new under the sun. I see his predicament as static, rather than downhill. People are "broken" from birth. As individuals we make many wrong choices. The male eye will be always lustful towards a female, whether the temptation is overt or indirect. Both indicate a sinful state which is in need of redemption and eventually total healing. History and culture change as does technological advancement. But fundamentally the core is a mixture of good and evil, with evil often prevailing. Nothing but the blood of Christ and the love of God can heal this broken state.

    4. Again, though, Russ, I think the distinction between "moral" and "technological" progress is all-important. Technological progress is not in any sense moral progress. And if you give increasing power and scope of action (i.e. technological progress) to people who are not making any real progress morally, then the combination simply results in increasing power and scope of action for evil. That's easy math.

      If a bad person has a knife, he will do evil with it. If the same bad person has a gun, he'll do more evil. If the same person has a nuclear warhead...well, you see how it goes.

      So what can we expect when mankind's war-making power becomes global, his communications influence becomes 24-7, his power of government interference becomes unrestricted, and so on? Not good things, I'm thinking. And that's why I would insist that decline is what we can reasonably expect.

      Mankind themselves need not get any worse for things to get any worse. All it takes is more powerful technologies in the same hands.

  5. “Progress is a comparative of which we have not settled the superlative.”

    “Progress should mean that we are always changing the world to fit the vision, instead we are always changing the vision.”

    “My attitude toward progress has passed from antagonism to boredom. I have long ceased to argue with people who prefer Thursday to Wednesday because it is Thursday.”

    “Men invent new ideals because they dare not attempt old ideals. They look forward with enthusiasm, because they are afraid to look back.”

    - GK Chesterton (of course).

    1. I like that first one a lot. It makes a very good point. We always need to ask what wondrous (or demented) utopia a Progressive hopes to accelerate our "progress" toward. Usually, as I have found out, the Progressive vision is ultimately neither very plausible nor particularly desirable.

  6. Just one more observation concerning noble atheists. Actually, quite a few of my relatives and acquaintances are atheists but I would not categorize them as noble :). Instead they are fairly ordinary interested mostly in their own private agenda and prefer not to be inconvenienced or burdened by the additional demands of a life that includes faith. They are normal, not unfriendly and, even though some of them do not have average life styles, they interact, talk, relate in a courteous manner and are helpful and friendly as the situation demands. In other words, neither this world's legal system nor most people would dream of wishing them harm or into an environment similar to Hades or hell. Why should one, since they are just ordinary people with their own set of priorities causing no one harm? Now, if society or their neighbor would never dream of wishing them ill or condemn them for anything, then why would God. I know if they eventually meet him they will engage in a friendly discussion with him and probably say something like"gee whiz, I never thought you were real but now that I see you are I am glad we are meeting." Now, what would God's response be?

    You can see that I am driving at what I consider to be a great danger for Christians (and especially the Protestant branch with their preeminent emphasis on exclusively faith) in that we must avoid being the arbiters of, or even pretend to have knowledge of, who is saved and who is not. Even if that seems so obvious because the ground rules dictate that you MUST have faith to be saved. For if we do that it means we have an algorithm by which we can be the predictors of someone's eternal destiny, something I consider to be wrong and even presumptuous. And it would also suggest that our charity could be greater than God's. So what's the answer? In my opinion the Catholic idea of purgatory handles this very nicely because God's response to such a person simply is you are not material for damnation but you are also not ready yet for heaven. So your lot will be to become ready for heaven in purgatory. To me, that makes sense.

  7. And God bless you, Q, but to me it just seems like you are valuing your subjective, human assessment of all these people as higher than the Lord's. In the end, the Judge of all the Earth will do right, as Abraham said. Maybe you have called it correctly and they will all be consigned to Catholic purgatory as you suggest. But ... suppose God does not see it quite the way you do. Is it possible, in that circumstance, that his judgment may be right and yours, at very least, uninformed?

    1. Thanks Tom. But that is my point that I do Not know what God's assessment is so that I cannot possibly value mine higher (and I would never presume to do so). At the same time I do not mean to imply that it is OK to live in a moral vacuum but I take very seriously what is being done here and what I also know to be an obligation, namely, that all morality must be grounded in Christ and that that message must be lived and affirmed privately and publicly without compromise. Thus, exercising moral judgement at every point of life is obligatory but that cannot be construed as and is entirely different from God judging the disposition of a soul. Secularists in their dishonesty of course like to confound those two types of judgement because they hope to embarrass the believer and don't admit that judgement of human behavior as driven by your conscience is needed on an ongoing basis for the goal of living a moral life.

    2. I think it should be quite obvious, Q, that the value of an individual person, or their present attitude to God, is known only to God Himself. So I'm with you there. However, the Lord has done us a great kindness in very explicitly spelling out the requirements of a relationship with Him, that is, of salvation; for only in that way can we be sure to do the right thing, and be certain we have salvation ourselves.

      What then are we to do with those who proudly profess not only to disbelieve in God, but also (consequently) to want no relationship with Him and to deny the very terms of salvation He has given? Are we to believe what the Atheists say about their own beliefs or not? I think we are, since God Himself takes them seriously and gives them a right of decision you apparently wish to deny them.

      What I mean is that God does, in fact, allow people to reject Him, because that is the only way in which they can genuinely be free, and hence, is the only way in which other people could freely choose to love Him as well. Relationships conceived under forced conditions we do have names for -- but the less said about that sort of thing, the better, right?

      If, then, we take the Atheist at His word, and we take God at His, then we do indeed know -- or certainly should know -- where that combination places a person relative to God. For God has told us very explicitly that belief in His salvation is the only way salvation comes, and Atheists have also declared where they stand on that.

      Perhaps the only person left confused, then, is the person who does not clearly perceive that there can be no relationship without freedom, and so does not grasp why God would not simply force everybody into Heaven (through Purgatory, perhaps) against their wills.

    3. IC, let me elaborate a bit. I deliberately was not referring to or describing the type of person that you are, namely , explicitly rejecting God. The persons I am referring to and they are real, not hypothetical, would not be interested in rejecting God but are simply living every day focused on what that day has in store for them without paying much attention to anything else. They would not hold ill will without a good reason and are perfectly ordinary everyday persons that simply are not interested in sharing any enthusiasm for the Christian message. They are not bad people and would never dream of rejecting God if they were to stumble across him. They are courteous, pleasant to talk with, helpful, struggling with their daily allotment of difficulties, without harboring any particular notion of rejecting God. These people are much more prevalent than the atheist hostile to God that is often the focus here. So, if they where to meet him on the other side they would not reject him, since he is then real to them, and therefore they would not be forced against their will into purgatory but they probably would perceive it as an opportunity to redeem themselves in the eyes of God. I agree that for the atheist militantly hostile towards God one could have concerns that they might be in trouble, but we cannot even take that ever as a definite either.

    4. Oh, I see, Q. You're not describing Atheists at all...just folks who don't think about the question, or people who blithely assume there is no answer (i.e. a type of Agnostic, perhaps). Well, analytically, an "Atheist" only describes one who positively denies the existence of God. So your question is, "What about people who just don't think about it?"

      Again, I think my post on "The Mythical Native" (see above) is relevant. I have simply never met anyone who has said to me, "God? What's that? I've never thought for a second about whatever that is, and I have no inkling at all about whether or not such an entity exists." Rather, I have met many people who SEEM unconcerned about God at first, but who, if you keep talking to them, reveal that they have long been aware of the issue and, in fact, have been under conviction about it...but for their own reasons, have put the issue off.

      To suppose otherwise -- that is, to imagine that any person on the planet -- could actually honestly say they've never thought about God, would require us to have even more intimate knowledge of their inner life than it would take for us to identify them as Atheists. Not only that, it would be an explicit denial of what God Himself says about them.

      So I suggest that the postulate you are offering, that such people exist, is simply not true. And for that, I have the explicit word of God as well; for He promises,

      "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse." (Rom. 1:18-20)

      Everybody knows. Everybody chooses what they will do with that knowledge. No one has any excuse. That's what God says about it, and who am I to deny that?

      Finally, how is it that we cannot take the militant Atheist at his word, or God at his? For that is the implication of the last line above. God has plainly told us what is necessary for salvation. The militant Atheist denies that he believes any such thing. So why aren't we believing what both say?

    5. IC, I didn't imply that those people never thought or think about God but that they simply have different priorities then the practicing Christian (got any relatives like that for whom you nevertheless wish the best? :). They are also not bad people. What would influence their priorities is if they could perceive God in a more concrete manner. Just as they are happy to meet other people they will also be happy if one day they can meet God in a more concrete setting. Also, even though people might say disagreeable things, no one, except God, knows their true interior disposition and the potential for positive change (you of course heard about deathbed conversions) and so we can have an opinion concerning them but we don't know the final outcome. Once more, we can still judge when someone acts wrongly but we do not know their future for sure (although, yes, we might have a good guess depending on who we are talking about). I agree that there are consequences when God is ignored and that one must point that out but there isn't much one can do if a person disregards that. None of this changes the fact that we cannot sort people into boxes using some algorithm regarding being saved or not regardless of what they are professing. All we can do is point out that some behavior, attitudes, and omissions can get you into (serious) trouble (according to our world view).

    6. Well, I certainly agree, Q, that God can save a person at any time in his or her life, so we must never give up hope. But from a Christian perspective, there are only two states: 1) people who have a relationship with God, and 2) people who don't. Either the relationship exists, or it does not.

      Aristotle's Law of the Excluded Middle, a basic principle of logic, reminds us of the fact that in such cases, there is no middle state. Just as a light switch cannot be "kind of" on and "kind of" off, or just as a woman cannot be "somewhat" pregnant, or a corpse cannot be "somewhat" dead, states of existence have no middle condition. If God exists in an approving relationship to a person, he or she has life. If they do not have that relationship, then there is only death.

      But that people can pass over from death to life is something that the Scriptures definitely tell us. It's the gospel, in fact. Those who put their faith in God's salvation enter into that relationship (John 3:36); those that do not, do not. It's that simple.

      But this simple message is also decisive. For nowhere does the Bible ever speak of Purgatory, of a holy God who winks at sin, or of any kind of second chance once death arrives. In fact, the opposite is very frankly spelled out. Just for two passages, see Heb. 9:27, and Matt. 25:46. (There are a lot more like those, of course, but I won't list them all.)

      It's important, for the good of people, that we do not mistake the message. The truth is that we have a chance to be saved NOW. If we turn it down, we don't get a "do-over" later. after death.

      That's a bit of a "hard sell" today, in our multi-cultural, multi-"faith" society. And if, in a misguided spirit of tolerance, we start telling people their decision right now doesn't really make an ultimate difference, and if they believe us and put off what they need to do, we simply send them to an eternity apart from God.

      That's why to capitulate to the liberal, "I'm-okay-you're-okay" theology of the day would really be no act of kindness. What liberalism really does is care more about cultivating our own popularity with folks than it does about what happens to the people themselves. If we love people, we've got to tell them what God actually says about this, so that they can make the best decision in their own interest. And I'm sure you'd agree with that.

    7. IC, this thread could go on for a while, so I am going to summarize my end of it. Basically, I do not see reality (this one or the next one) as something that is describable as a light switch On/Off affair. To me, life is more like an analog device, like a dimmer switch, providing for a continuum of situations. This to me is confirmed by the nearly infinite variety of situations that people are born into with a continuous spectrum of good to horrible conditions. This continuum extends to everything in our physical reality including living conditions, our well being, attitudes and convictions. Naturally God deals with all that and takes it into consideration when dealing with us. To be fair he will therefore apply extenuating circumstances to lifes affected in a negative way and not expect from those a clear and unequivocal yes or no regarding him, at least in this world. I agree that that does not apply to those who can and should know better but refuse to act on that for a variety of reasons like indifference, combativeness, inconvenience, self-centeredness, pride. Only God can accurately weigh how the differences between peoples come into play and how they should be dealt with. I suggest that it is not our business to suggest how he conducts his. It furthermore makes sense to me that for the former God's consideration also extends into the hereafter by a purgatory type setting, which enables his creation to make up for the shortcomings they incurred due to their difficulties in this life. As I mentioned, once assigned to purgatory the soul is saved and on a path to heaven. This to me is by far more rational and psychologically realistic than a binary On/Off, faith/no faith, heaven/hell type scenario. With regard to purgatory, that was discussed before on this site and I supplied references that show that purgatory is a very likely reality, based on Catholic scholars and teaching. So they will match and exceed any of your references against with theirs in favor of purgatory, take your pick. Interestingly, there is a rapprochement dawning between the Eastern and Roman Catholic churches where they have decided to shelf their differences regarding purgatory so that reconciliation can move forward.

    8. Q, you should really take a look at Aristotle's Law of the Excluded Middle. It's not what you think it is: it's not a gratuitous assumption that things are always on/off or yes/no. It's both more specific and more powerful than that. One cannot choose to disbelieve in it and have it go away; one can only refuse to see it, and thus become erroneous in one's views.

      Briefly, Aristotle's law states that when we speak of things like *existence* there can be no half-existing state, no "continuum of situations" as you call it. And the Law of the Excluded Middle is not something that requires your belief or mine, any more than we need believe in the Law of Gravity for it to pull us down to earth. Both are basic laws of reality -- one of physical science, and the other of logic. Neither can be dismissed with an "I don't believe in it." At least, not by rational means, and not without fatal consequences.

      As for Purgatory, we have gone over this before, of course...but it's a figment of human imagination, one without even a stitch of warrant from Scripture. The burden to prove its existence then falls on anyone who believes in it. And perhaps that's our real difficulty at the moment...belief. For if the Law of the Excluded Middle can simply be "disbelieved" away, then perhaps Purgatory could be "believed" into existence. But belief isn't the sort of thing that actually alters reality like that. Rather, it only determines what view or interpretation of reality we are prepared to accept.

      Reality itself, however, stays exactly what it is. I suggest it's really not our task to re-imagine reality in ways we like -- at least, not as sane and wise people -- but rather to learn what reality IS, and conform our beliefs to that. And this is never more true than when we speak of the character and plans of God...He is always exactly *what He is,* not whatever we would wish to imagine Him to be.

      That's why one of His names is "I AM."

      However, as you say, we can stop this thread if you are desirous of moving on. I have no wish to vex you.

    9. IC, evidently I need to give you a little hint. The best way to not vex me is if you agree with me ;-). Well, kidding aside, I don't get vexed that easily, so don't worry about it. I did look up Aristotle and his theorem does not apply to what I said. I was talking about a continuum which is "a range or series of things that are slightly different from each other and that exist between two different possibilities" (Merriam Webster). That is certainly the way life is.

      Also, when I juxtapose the notion of instantaneous redemption into a heavenly state with a more gradual transition as by purgatory (where required) the latter process is more realistic. Naturally, Catholic and other scholars will disagree on that with you and not consider it to be a figment of imagination. I happen to agree with them and have stated the reasons for that previously.

    10. "A range or series of things that are slightly different from each other and that exist between two different possibilities" is certainly not the way *existence* functions. Other aspects of "life" as you say, you may have something by way of a continuum. But not existence. It's "on/off."

      Take an examples. Do platypuses exist? If any does, in any sense of the word "exist," then the answer is unequivocally "yes." If none does, it's "no." But there is no middle state, no continuum by which we can coherently speak of platypuses "kind of" existing. Existing is simply not the kind of attribution that can be "kind of."

      Were we to think otherwise, we would have to corrupt the meaning of the word "exist" to include "exist in the imagination only," say. But "exist in the imagination" is precisely what we ordinarily do NOT mean by the word "exist." So the question is absolute yes/no, or on/off. There is no "continuum" of possible answers. And that's just basic logic, not anyone's preference.

      Does person X or Y have a saving relationship with God? That question is really a question of existence: does such a relationship "exist"? It does, or it does not. There are no other middle possibilities. Likewise, does Purgatory exist is not a question that can be fudged by reference to the conscience, Catholic or otherwise. We're not asking merely "Do Catholics wish/think/hope/want to believe it exists?" For we know the answer to that one. We're asking if, when eternity comes, their expectation will be met with reality. We're asking if there REALLY exists such a place.

      The Scriptures say it doesn't exist. If others say it does, then somebody is absolutely guaranteed, by laws of logic, to be disappointed in their expectation one day.

      I'll go with the Scriptures on that one.

    11. IC, just a short additional clarification but I did not refer to existence simply as dead or alive but to a state of being. That is of course a continuum. It is at least obvious to me that during that time people will experience change. This includes growth of convictions, attitudes, sentiments, aspirations, outlook and so on.
      God is probably not a bystander to all that and therefore it can result in growth of faith as well. That may happen in different ways such as weakly and gradual, fast, sudden and even with intermittent reversals in spurts. Consequently, the timing of a definitive relationship with God is not predictable by us and can occur as late as on the death bed. I therefore think that your either/or categorization of that relationship and the resulting consequences (not being saved) is misapplied and not realistic. For example, there may have been potential for a relationship within a person but that person dies before a full realization of it, or the relationship is in a very tenuous state that you or I could not clearly categorize. Nevertheless we cannot presume that these are obstacles to God.

    12. We don't have to presume at all, Q. We've been told (Hebrews 11:6).

      And though we've been told that without faith one cannot come to God, we've been told it doesn't take much faith (Luke 17:6, Matt. 19:14). It's not a "gradual" or "intermittent" thing at all: it's all or nothing. Either we have a relationship with God through His Son (in which case we are reconstituted as sons of God (John 1:12), or we do not, in which case, we do not see Heaven (Matt. 7:23). And notice, in that last case, that it is people who think their deeds will get them to Heaven that are shown to be wrong -- and condemned. They were doing all kinds of stuff in Christ's name, but they had no approved relationship to Him.

      Relationships exist, or they do not. There's no such thing as a "kind-of" saved person. You're completely saved, or not at all.

      Anyway, that's how God says it is, as you can see.

      I'm going to stick with believing God. How about you?

    13. Disagree, IC, there is a possibly saved person during that time period when, with God's grace, that person gradually decides for God in their life. At that point there is a definite relationship with God and at that time what you are saying applies. As a matter of fact a lot of people function that way. If one knows such a person one can indeed presume that they might one day reconcile with God. So again, only God knows if, how, and when the individual will reach that stage. So, yes, I agree that that stage is necessary for the soul's salvation.

    14. I don't think we're disagreeing, really. Some people come to God in a grand and sudden flash of insight (as did the Apostle Paul, for example), and some by more subtle and gradual ways (as did Nathanael, for example). But it's not enough to be "on the road to" salvation if one does not actually complete the journey by placing one's faith in Christ. It is not enough merely to *seem* to be interested in having that which one never actually appropriates for oneself. And so long as we're understanding that, I think we're on the same page.