The Human Condition
Nathan Jacobson » Reflections on Christopher Hitchens' god is not Great.
Right out of the gate, Christopher Hitchens' god is not Great is at once colorful and poignant, a great pleasure to read. It's also clear that it benefits from the accounts and extravagant details of Hitchens' many assignments as a journalist in exotic ports of call. Before I read any further, I'm recording how I now see the problem Hitchens addresses: the pervasive ugliness and evil in the name of God and religion. As I read, I want to consider how well my current take on this undeniable reality can bear the weight of Hitchens' experiences, insights, and arguments. The title (God is not Great) and subtitle (How Religion Poisons Everything) of Hitchens' volume are immediately provocative. If, in the end, I'm going to be persuaded that religion ruins everything it touches, is it then rational to conclude that God is not Great? Or, just that religious people suck? Is there a non-sequitur here? And, is all religion malignant? Or, might there be some rare strains of benign or even benignant religion? As it stands, if I had tackled the subject in book form, I'd have titled it: Humanity is not Great. How People Poison Everything. Considering the evident fact that human evil, both the trivial and the atrocious, is found in all places and at all times, I'm inclined to think that the blame should be pinned first and foremost on me, myself, and I... and on you as well. The problem with people manifests itself in every human context, whether religious or irreligious. I believe that any judgment on the impact of religion, for well-being and ill, hinges crucially on one's appraisal of the human condition more generally. So, let's begin there...
J.P. Moreland (Harvest House: Jan 1, 2009), 272 pages.
A leading evangelical thinker offers this brand–new way of addressing life’s most important questions: Does God exist, and can we know Him? J.P. Moreland, distinguished professor of philosophy at Talbot School of Theology, abandons traditional didactic apologetics and entices skeptics and dissatisfied believers into a conversation about the emptiness and anxiety so many feel today. He invites them to the abundant life Jesus offers but that so few seem to be experiencing. Moreland shows that people are created by a benevolent God and given a life–enhancing purpose. He empowers readers to... overcome obstacles to faith, including questions about science and religion; embrace an enticing view of Jesus and the kingdom of God; and, replace unhelpful images of God with the truth. Readers will find practical and effective ways to experience intimacy with God, an effective life of prayer, and a confident hope in life after death. ~ Product Description
J.P. Moreland (SCM Press: Jul 31, 2009), 224 pages.
Materialistic naturalism has, for some years, been the received wisdom in philosophy, as well as amongst much of the educated public. Many serious philosophical arguments have been brought against this ideology, but usually in a series of separate controversies. Professor Morelands great service is to bring all these objections together, whilst adding his own original contributions, in a very effective anti-naturalist polemic. He shows us that the materialist world picture cannot accommodate the most basic phenomena of human life: It has no place for consciousness, free will, rationality, the human subject or any kind of intrinsic value. Materialism does not disprove these human realities, it is simply incapable of accounting for them in any remotely plausible way. I would add to the list of its failures that naturalism lacks even a coherent account of the physical world itself. Professor Moreland makes a very good case for saying that, as a serious world view, naturalism is a non-starter: more traditional, theistic philosophies fare much better in the face both of the phenomena and of argument. ~ Howard Robinson, Central European University
John Rawls with Thomas Nagel, Joshua Cohen, and Robert Merrihew Adams (Harvard: Mar 31, 2009), 288 pages.
John Rawls never published anything about his own religious beliefs, but after his death two texts were discovered which shed extraordinary light on the subject. A Brief Inquiry into the Meaning of Sin and Faith is Rawls’s undergraduate senior thesis, submitted in December 1942, just before he entered the army. At that time Rawls was deeply religious; the thesis is a significant work of theological ethics, of interest both in itself and because of its relation to his mature writings. “On My Religion,” a short statement drafted in 1997, describes the history of his religious beliefs and attitudes toward religion, including his abandonment of orthodoxy during World War II. The present volume includes these two texts, together with an Introduction by Joshua Cohen and Thomas Nagel, which discusses their relation to Rawls’s published work, and an essay by Robert Merrihew Adams, which places the thesis in its theological context. The texts display the profound engagement with religion that forms the background of Rawls’s later views on the importance of separating religion and politics. Moreover, the moral and social convictions that the thesis expresses in religious form are related in illuminating ways to the central ideas of Rawls’s later writings. His notions of sin, faith, and community are simultaneously moral and theological, and prefigure the moral outlook found in Theory of Justice. ~ Product Description
J.P. Moreland and Klaus Issler (NavPress: Jan. 17, 2006), 224 pages.
Starting from the American "pursuit of happiness," Moreland (a philosophy professor at Talbot School of Theology, Biola University) and Issler (a Christian education and theology professor, also at Talbot) connect with a widely felt desire. Yet they immediately take readers into deeper reflection of the very content of the happiness we pursue, arguing that our consumerist culture has replaced the more satisfying content of true happiness with a poor substitute. Moving smoothly into a discussion of discipleship, they focus on spiritual disciplines as the key to true happiness in life. Subsequent chapters explore how the spiritual disciplines can be used to improve many areas of our lives–emotions, thoughts, risk taking and the development of a more mature faith during difficult times. They end with a convincing chapter on the importance of spiritual friendships. Although exploring some deep topics, this will still be accessible to most readers and very useful for study groups, particularly with the excellent discussion questions at the end of each chapter. The practical suggestions and creative exercises throughout will be particularly helpful for those new to spiritual disciplines. ~ Publishers Weekly
Gary R. Habermas and J.P. Moreland (Wipf & Stock: Jan 2004), 462 pages.
By sharing the very latest scientific, philosophical, anthropological, ethical, and theological evidence on life after death, noted Christian scholars Habermas and Moreland present a strong case for immortality with this book. They begin by taking up the question of whether life after death is real what evidence supports its reality. They then explore what the afterlife is like and go on to show how having this reality in your future should affect the way you live here and now. This book will reassure you that there's no need to fear death — as long as you're prepared for the eternity that follows. It's also a great aid in developing a serious biblical, rational, and even scientific defense for belief in life beyond the grave. ~ Book Cover
Leslie Stevenson, ed. (Oxford University Press: November 1999), 336 pages.
This unique anthology provides an introduction to a wide variety of views on human nature. Drawing from diverse cultures over three millennia, Leslie Stevenson has chosen selections ranging from ancient religious texts up to contemporary theories based on evolutionary science. The second edition of The Study of Human Nature offers substantial selections illustrating the perspectives discussed in Ten Theories of Human Nature, — the Bible, Hinduism, Confucianism, Plato, Kant, Marx, Freud, Sartre, B.F. Skinner's behaviorism, and Konrad Lorenz's ethnological diagnosis of human aggression. The Islamic tradition and 17th-18th century philosophers Descartes, Hobbes, Hume, and Rousseau are also represented. Selections from Rousseau, J.S. Mill, and Nancy Holmstrom raise feminist issues, and Henry Bracken's paper deals with racial issues. Examples from E.O. Wilson's sociobiology and his critics are also included, together with Chomsky and recent examples from evolutionary psychology. ~ Product Description
Peter Van Inwagen, ed. (Eerdmans: Oct 1, 2004), 332 pages.
The problem of evil has challenged religious minds and hearts throughout the ages. Just how can the presence of suffering, tragedy, and wrongdoing be squared with the all-powerful, all-loving God of faith? This book gathers some of the best, most meaningful recent reflections on the problem of evil, with contributions by shrewd thinkers in the areas of philosophy, theology, literature, linguistics, and sociology. In addition to bringing new insights to the old problem of evil, Christian Faith and the Problem of Evil is set apart from similar volumes by the often-novel approaches its authors take to the subject. Many of the essays pursue classic lines in speculative philosophy, but others address the problem of evil through biblical criticism, the thought of Simone Weil, and the faith of battered women and African American slaves. As a result, this book will interest a wide range of readers. Contributors: Paul Draper, Eduardo J. Echeverria, Laura Waddell Ekstrom, Stephen Griffith, Del Kiernan-Lewis, Richard T. McClelland, Barbara Omolade, Richard Otte, Alvin Plantinga, John R. Schneider, Robert Stanley, Peter van Inwagen, Carol Winkelmann, and Keith D. Wyma.
Mark Johnston (Princeton University Press: Dec 31, 2009), 408 pages.
In this extraordinary book, Mark Johnston sets out a new understanding of personal identity and the self, thereby providing a purely naturalistic account of surviving death. Death threatens our sense of the importance of goodness. The threat can be met if there is, as Socrates said, "something in death that is better for the good than for the bad." Yet, as Johnston shows, all existing theological conceptions of the afterlife are either incoherent or at odds with the workings of nature. These supernaturalist pictures of the rewards for goodness also obscure a striking consilience between the philosophical study of the self and an account of goodness common to Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism, and Buddhism: the good person is one who has undergone a kind of death of the self and who lives a life transformed by entering imaginatively into the lives of others, anticipating their needs and true interests. As a caretaker of humanity who finds his or her own death comparatively unimportant, the good person can see through death. But this is not all. Johnston's closely argued claims that there is no persisting self and that our identities are in a particular way "Protean" imply that the good survive death. Given the future-directed concern that defines true goodness, the good quite literally live on in the onward rush of humankind. Every time a baby is born a good person acquires a new face. ~ Product Description
Jonathan Glover (Yale Nota Bene: Sep 1, 2001)
English ethicist Jonathan Glover begins with the now commonplace observation that the last 100 years were perhaps the most brutal in all history. But the problem wasn't that human nature suddenly took a sharp turn for the worse: "It is a myth that barbarism is unique to the twentieth century: the whole of human history includes wars, massacres, and every kind of torture and cruelty," he writes. Technology has made a huge difference, but psychology has remained the same — and this is what Glover seeks to examine, through discussions of Nietzsche, the My Lai atrocity in Vietnam, Hiroshima, tribal genocide in Rwanda, Stalinism, Nazism, and so on. There is much history here, but Humanity is fundamentally a book of philosophy. In his first chapter, for instance, Glover announces his goal "to replace the thin, mechanical psychology of the Enlightenment with something more complex, something closer to reality." But he also seeks "to defend the Enlightenment hope of a world that is more peaceful and more humane, the hope that by understanding more about ourselves we can do something to create a world with less misery." The result is an odd combination of darkness and light — darkness because the subject matter of the 20th century's moral failings is so bleak, light because of Glover's earnest optimism, which insists that "keeping the past alive may help to prevent atrocities".