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Bears repeating: our presuppositions matter

28 Dec

A dear friend of mine dove into theological waters for the first time last week.  As a result, I understand more clearly her view on the veracity and usefulness of the Bible.

She belongs to the United Church of Christ.  One of their beliefs is essentially ‘no creeds’.

  • The UCC has no rigid formulation of doctrine or attachment to creeds or structures. Its overarching creed is love. UCC pastors and teachers are known for their commitment to excellence in theological preparation, interpretation of the scripture and justice advocacy.

I am not writing a post to attack this denomination, but to use what they write about themselves to illustrate several points regarding logical and clear thought.

A couple of conclusions one can draw from that paragraph:

  1. If there is no substantive content to a belief, then there is no foundation for saying something is true or false, right or wrong.
  2. If you advocate ‘love’, who is going to criticize you, especially if you are vague about what love means?  Seems attractive and safe, yes.  Nevertheless, meaningless.

Some questions I would ask:

  1. Just what DO you mean by ‘love’?  Whose definition are you using? Is ‘love’ allowing people to continue in self-destructive ways because they believe them to be right?  Is it ‘loving’ (in order to avoid saddening or offending someone) to withhold a diagnosis for a disease that is curable?
  2. If there is no doctrine, then how can one interpret the Scriptures?
  3. And on what basis can one’s interpretation of Scripture be judged ‘excellent’?

That’s a short response, having read what this denomination writes about itself at the macro level. At the micro or individual and personal level, here is what weighs on me concerning my friend.

If I am correct in presenting her viewpoint, she believes that certainty about what the Bible teaches is impossible and in fact ‘destructive’.

I passed some sleepless hours across three nights last week working out the implications of this view.  What I have been given by God, the light and faith to believe that the Bible is not only true but authoritative, is precious and incalculably beneficial to me.  Here are just a few of its gifts:

  • God’s promises are both a safe haven in scary times and a source of REAL, supernatural strength when I both feel and AM weak
  • His Word provides guidance and wisdom
  • I have assurance that I am personally known and loved by a good Father who created me and everything in the universe
  • There is a purpose to both my life and my suffering
  • I have an inheritance safely waiting for me that outweighs all suffering on this earth

So there you have it, some out-workings of presuppositions.  Beliefs really do matter.

So what is my advice to all of us?  Not only must we know what we believe, but WHY we hold those beliefs. And we must be willing to follow the ramifications and determine if we like where they lead.

Bonnes Pensées!  Happy thinking!

 

 

Meaningful definitions require boundaries

19 Oct

human-animal-stem-cell-research

Scientists at the National Institutes for Health apparently are talking about lifting a ban on research that would co-mingle human stem cells with animal embryos.

Human-Animal Embryo Stem Cell Research

Listening to a discussion about this back in August, the commentator who mentioned this new development posed the question:

  • What does it mean to be human?  If you have 99% human DNA and 1 % ‘other’, are you still considered human?

In other words, “How do we define the term, HUMAN?”

What came to mind was how TODAY, we seem to be playing fast and easy with definitions.

Two examples come to mind:

1a. Tolerance once referred to the restraining civil behavior between two or more people who held and articulated differing and/or contradictory beliefs and positions.  If you think about, one doesn’t tolerate what one find acceptable, one AGREES with it.  By definition, the ‘classic’ view of tolerance presupposes contrary views.

1b. Tolerance today seems to require that a ‘minority, despicable viewpoint’ be shut down, shamed and disbarred from the discussion table.

The term has remained the same, but the concept has changed.

2a. Marriage once referred to the legal union between one suitable (not a close relative) man and one suitable woman of appropriate age.

2b. Marriage today refers to a state-granted status that recognizes a two-person, gender-indifferent union with the same legal rights of a married biological male and female.  (A temporary quantity and constituent view – down the road who knows how many humans and what/who else might fit into this new definition!)

Logical friends, definitions matter!!!

These are but two current examples.

Think about other terms in the area of religion, for example:  God’s love, Faith in God or Prayer.  These ALSO seem to stand for a multiplicity of concepts.  So what exactly is the relationship between TERM and CONCEPT?

First of all, a concept is the immaterial idea of something one pictures, the image of which one holds in his head.  A concept can indicate something real or imagined like a tree or a unicorn. A term is the written or verbal name we give to that concept.

Terms can be confusing because the same term can refer to different concepts.  Greg Koukl of Stand to Reason teaches that before ANY discussion about a topic can ensue, two people must clarify and agree on the definition of terms used.  Conversational partners must know and state the concepts they have in mind when each employs a term.

So back to those religious terms I mentioned. Today, in Christianity, people seem to talk with ease and certitude about ‘the love of God’ or they announce: ‘I believe in God’ or ‘I pray’.  We cannot assume that they and we are picturing the same thing.  As the fox in Le Petit Prince says ‘Words are the source of misunderstandings.’

As the social climate across the literate world grows more fractured and sharp, logical and reasoning men and women CAN make a difference by gently asking the clarifying questions that will guide others to think about what they mean.

Who knows?   In bringing a concept to light, in employing the discipline of articulating WHAT WE MEAN, someone or even we ourselves might decide to modify what we believe. Not a bad result. For thinking is never wasted effort or time.

 

 

Truth as a dodge

27 Jul

I have no husband,” she replied. Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband.  John 4:17

Woman at the well

Jesus gives her credit.  The Samaritan woman is telling the truth, partially. She is not married, but she is living with a man who is not her husband.  And Jesus calls her bluff by revealing that he knows the real situation.

Politicians are masters at this ploy.  Their words FEEL like truth because there is in fact some truth among all their discourse.

So why is this important?  The heads up to be wary of one’s interlocutor’s replies or explanations reminds me to ask some questions as I evaluate what I am hearing (or reading for that matter!)

It goes without saying for good logical Joes and Janes that in every meaningful discussion the definition of terms needs to be established and agreed upon.  I am talking about additional considerations.

Pastor John Piper has taught me, via his sermons, to listen well by assessing the following:

  • What other words could have been chosen?  By saying X, what is he NOT saying?
  • What grounds her statement?  What is behind it?  What presuppositions precede it?

It could be that what is NOT said actually carries more significance than what is out in the open.  This is especially true in a country as divided by issues, as America seems to be. With an election ahead of us, why not practice with me in evaluating at a more deep and layered level what a speaker or writer might actually be intending.  More importantly, may we be care-filled about our words.  Words matter!

It depends on what ‘is’ is!

22 Jun

Bill Clinton We laughed at his disclaimer, but Bill Clinton had a point.  A naked word is clueless.  The first rule in logic is: Clarify your terms!

But what is a term? A word set in a context.  So, in one sense, Bill pointed out the obvious – ‘IS’ as a word takes on significance only in a context.

Take, for example, the unaccompanied word, ‘set’.  How can ‘set’ be employed?

  • a lamp, set upon a hill
  • a man, set out on a journey
  • my cat, set upon lapping some milk
  • a victim, set up by a Ponzi scheme
  • the book, set down on a table

Words and terms matter, dear friend. May we take time to use particular care to avoid confusion and communicate with accuracy and clarity.