Our New Redemption: Critical Theory as Theology Without “Theos”

There is one, almost singular, theological and philosophical problem that has haunted Western civilization since the rise of modern skepticism in the mid-17th century, i.e. since Descarte. It is a theoretical problem that has launched a thousand ships of philosophical speculation, all floundering on the open seas of human inquiry, and subject to the acidity of the rational mind reasoning about itself.1 Kristen Irwin expounds on the view of the early, modern philosopher Pierre Bayle, who questioned the reliability of reason, “The sense in which Bayle is a skeptic is not entirely straightforward, but what is clear is that Bayle exhibits a profound suspicion of reason’s ability to deliver certain knowledge. In Bayle’s view, reason seems to be useful in enabling us to draw conclusions about the world, but it runs into so many contradictions and yields so many paradoxes that it ultimately undermines itself, and thus cannot be trusted. Thus, Bayle’s skepticism is, minimally, skepticism about the reliability of reason.” in https://iep.utm.edu/bayle/#:~:text=The%20sense%20in%20which%20Bayle%20is%20a%20skeptic,ultimately%20undermines%20itself%2C%20and%20thus%20cannot%20be%20trusted. But, it is a theoretical problem that plays out in the everyday life of every man, woman and child; a theoretical problem that cannot be easily ignored (as Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorems perhaps can be). That problem is how to think, speak, and act morally apart from any metaphysical grounds for moral values or moral duties. This problem, at first considered soluble if baptized in the waters of pure reason, a reason unadulterated by claims of divine revelation and church authority, quickly became an unassailable fortress against which no weapon formed by human heads seemed able to prevail. The Enlightenment, many now claim, failed to illuminate the issue of human morality, making it only more obscure to us than it was under the transcendent light of its predecessor, the Queen of the Sciences: Theology.

The existential void the Enlightenment left behind in western culture, in virtue of seeking after a universally applicable moral system grounded in reason alone, provided the seedbed for the emergence of a new kind of philosophy: Critical Theory. Early Critical Theory2 I am thinking here of Marx and The Frankfurt School in particular, along with all of its subsequent, social scientific subsets, e.g. Critical Race Theory, Gender Studies, etc., sought, and still seeks, to construct morality apart from anything ontological other than the human subject herself, and apart from any phenomena other than that of human experience. Critical theory as such is a purely empirical theory, but one where the human reasoner is himself part of the empirical data subject to social and historical analysis.

Where the enlightened modernists failed to successfully replace religious morality with Reason (capital “R”), the post-modern critical theorist now took up the mantel of moral progress. This new, critical philosophy consisted of Marx and his successors on the one hand, e.g. the cultural Marxists: Gramsci, Adorno, Marcuse, et al., and Nietzsche on the other (few have been willing to embrace Nietzsche as an ethicist worth emulating, but perhaps someone like Ayn Rand might fit the bill). Abandoning the first principles of metaphysics, and the classical theories of knowledge, the question of ethics was now placed squarely in the realm of the human will by both parties; either with the emphasis on its communal (Marx), or its individual (Nietzsche) forms.

However, while the moral axiom: “How now shall we live?” remains the question that motivates us all, at least as a culture, if not as individuals, the answer remains an elusive target. Further, it is a question that motivates us even apart from, and independent of, any religious commitments. For we cannot help but live in a society of peers, and we cannot help but have moral intuitions about our relations to each other, and to the environment in which we live, and move, and have our being. And, even if one were banished and isolated to the proverbial deserted island, moral questions about how to treat oneself would still be with us even there.

“How now shall we live?” seems, therefore, to be a question that cannot be answered with any kind of unifying consensus if there is no agreement about our religious commitments, and even if there is agreement in our total rejection of any religious commitments whatsoever. With our without acknowledgment of God, we seem lost to a never-ending series of speculation about what is “the good” and what is “the good life.” To have unity on moral values and duties we would seem to require a real, extant, and clear moral principle, or Person, to either guide us into the Good, or tell us about it, or even model it for us.

Otherwise, what do we really have to say about morality?

Critical Theory as The New Theology

In his chapter, “To Seek to Salvage an Unconditional Meaning Without God is a Futile Undertaking: Reflections on a Remark of Max Horkheimer” the prodigious, second-wave philosopher of Critical Theory Jürgen Habermas says this about a comment made by his predecessor and founder of the Frankfurt School of Social Research, Max Horkheimer:

“Horkheimer’s interest in the doctrines of Judaism and Christianity was spurred less by a concern with God as such than with the redemptive power of God’s will. The injustice that comes to pass in a suffering creature should not be permitted to have the last word. At times it seems as if Horkheimer wanted to put the religious promise of redemption directly at the service of morality.”3 in Religion and Rationality: Essays on Reason, God, and Modernity, 95

This passage, upon first reading, may seem obscure. However, once understood it can be shown that the idea contained herein, this notion of trying to realize the “redemptive power of God’s will” apart from any interest in God “as such,” is what lies at the heart of much, if not all, of the social justice movements that engulf and inflame our society today. It is the sentiment at the center of organizations like Black Lives Matter, and the fulcrum of initiatives that seek justice and the healing of division, yet attempt to do so without resort to a Divine Nature that grounds the apparently divine will found in traditional, religious texts. This, as we shall see, leads to a dangerous conflation: the confusion of the will of God with that of man; or the elevation of man to God rather than the descent of God to man.

First, however, what is Habermas saying about Horkheimer’s interest in “the doctrines of Judaism and Christianity?” Clearly, the critical philosopher, meaning Horkheimer, is presupposing “the death of God” as pronounced by Nietzsche, and assumed by Marx, as the inevitable consequence of the Enlightenment project of rationalization about religious belief. Thus, for all critical theorists, like Horkheimer or Habermas after him, that God is dead, meaning He never existed, is the starting point for any social theorizing, and any attempt to answer our question “How now shall we live?” Atheism is true, and we must simply get on with it.

Second, however, is the realization that we cannot seem to simply “get on with it!” The idea that the injustice that accompanies the suffering of sentient creatures, i.e. ourselves, animals, can be treated in a sterile, scientistic manner as mere “natural fact,” is simply unpalatable to the socially conscious, existentially sensitive human agent. How can we look at the long history of human and animal suffering, in all it horror, and say “well, that is just what molecules in motion do, and there is nothing more to say.” Certainly, there must be not only more to say, but also more to do! There must be a morality that gives us some meaningful context for that suffering, and that spurs us to some kind of ethical action. Stoic resignation is not an option for the critical theorist who seeks liberation from the oppression of such a woeful existence. In this sense, moral action becomes imperative for the critical theorist. For all critical theories, liberation from existential oppression is the focal point of all human thought and action.4 James Bohman writes in the Standford Encyclopedia of Philosohpy entry on Critical Theory, “In both the broad and the narrow senses, however, a critical theory provides the descriptive and normative bases for social inquiry aimed at decreasing domination and increasing freedom in all their forms.

However, as we have alluded to above, morality according to the post-modern critical theorists cannot really be considered an object of the intellect, i.e. as something capable of being grasped or discovered by the natural light of reason. After all, if God is dead, then there is no ultimate truth about morality to grasp, nor universal standard to be discovered. No abstract reasoning about abstract “truths,” no further scientific investigations of natural processes, and no theological commentary about supposed special revelations from above, e.g. the Bible, will give us any real moral content. For, where there is no moral law Giver, there really is no moral law.

In light of this “reality,” the novel proposal to the problem of dealing with moral sensibilities about perceived injustices, arises out of being pressed in between a modern rock, which says there are only natural facts about the world, no moral ones, and a post-modern hard place, which cries out that we need morality to live and to thrive as sentient and feeling creatures. The proposal of Horkheimer then, and several others, was to assume the moral content of Christianity, and his native Judaism, as descriptively true, yet without assuming its God as real. Horkheimer does not consider the moral content to be true in the sense of referring to an ultimate, non-physical reality (which would make it an object of the intellect to be grasped), rather he asserts it, morality, as being useful to us for the sake of functioning well (imposing function being an object of the will).

Third, then, is assuming the particular Judeo-Christian content of morality, in spite of rejecting the metaphysics of biblical and theological claims. What then for Horkheimer (the ethnic Jew) is central to biblical morality?— it is the “religious promise of redemption.” Redemption, even a redemption without a Redeemer, is still the only hope for modern man to get on with modern life. Habermas details this aspect of Horkheimer’s thinking,

“Once the rationality of the remorse experienced by a religiously tutored conscience is rejected by a secularizing world, its place is taken by the moral sentiment of compassion. When Horkheimer expressly defines the good tautologically as the attempt to abolish evil, he has in view a solidarity with the suffering of vulnerable and forsaken creatures provoked by outrage against concrete injustices.” (Habermas, 96)

In other words: even when we realize that religion is metaphysically false (and feel remorse because of it), we nevertheless recognize that our moral intuitions have been “tutored” by thousands of years of religious practice. And, even more, we still sense that those religious sentiments (even if they be only that, sentiments) are somehow correct, and worth defending. So, we feel compassionate in spite of the stark reality of a brute, naturalistic universe, a universe that is indifferent to us, and therefore are still moved to fight “evil” when we “see” it in the form of concrete injustices (knowing full well that there is no such thing as justice against which we can actually measure our feelings about the perceived injustice). Our outrage is stoked when we perceive these apparent imbalances in society, and our compassion demands we respond accordingly. Habermas goes on to tell us more about Horkheimer’s plundering of this particularly Christian moral content:

“The reconciling power of compassion does not stand in opposition to the galvanizing power of rebellion against a world devoid of atonement and reparation for injustice. Solidarity and justice are two sides of the same coin; hence, the ethics of compassion does not dispute the legitimacy of the morality of justice but merely frees it form the rigidity of the ethics of conscience.” (Habermas, 96)

But, now we come to the heart of the moral matter, if indeed God is not that heart. Having jettisoned religious belief as true but still finding that we have a conscience that has been trained in and molded by religious content, in particular that of Judeo-Christianity and the Bible, we are now told by the critical theorist that in a world where there is no “real” atonement and reparation for injustice, because there is no real God to do the atoning and repairing, our own “reconciling power of compassion” must be the vehicle by which “concrete injustices” are rectified. After all, if we are not going to be the ones to do the redeeming, then the redemption will not, cannot, come. Moreover, this immanent, and human-centered power of compassion, is not opposed to the “galvanizing power of rebellion,” but rather embraces it.5 one might think here of Saul Alinsky’s dedication in his classic work Rules for Radicals, where the author commends Lucifer for his rebellion, a rebellion that won him his own kingdom. In other words, if there is no God to atone for us, yet atonement is still necessary for us to live morally and to have an “unconditional” meaning that contextualizes our suffering, then in a world where there are concrete instances of things we perceive as unjust, and that “must” be made right for us to experience atonement, rebellion becomes a morally acceptable vehicle of redemption.

Compassion and rebellion are the new moral dynamo generating the new, moral society. This begins to look very familiar to what we see currently on our television screens and YouTube videos, where cries for justice and compassion are inevitably accompanied by acts of rebellion and revolutionary fervor. This is the politicizing of religiosity, the messianism of our times.6 Few journalist have done a better job of identifying and explaining the new religion of Social Justice than Andrew Sullivan, see here https://andrewsullivan.substack.com/p/the-roots-of-wokeness

But here is where those who identify themselves with “Christ” face the stark choice: We must decide whether the critical theorist is right in saying that religious belief itself is a mere product of man’s own making, and that its truth claims (like all others) are historically situated and thus unfixed from anything transhistorical, transfinite, or culturally transcendent. For if this is the case, then the redemption we need may tell us something about ourselves, our current “society,” but tells us nothing about anything beyond ourselves, or this latest version of ourselves. If Horkheimer is right, then Critical [social] theory is the new theology, in that it calls us to a form of moral life, even one replete with corporate atonement and communal redemption; however, it is a theology without a theos, or, at least, without a divine theos. It is religion “from below,” an earth without a heaven:

[Social theory] has superseded theology but has no new heaven to which it can point, not even a mundane one. Of course, social theory cannot completely efface [heaven’s] traces and hence is repeatedly questioned about how it is to be attained–as though it were not precisely the discovery of social [critical] theory that the heaven to which one can point the way is no heaven.” (Habermas, 98)

For in a world that is itself the sum of all reality, the new religion of social theory, with its hope for an immanent, social justice, the new heaven just is that culture which will result (perhaps for us, most likely for our children or grandchildren) if we were only to act now! What that new culture will be like, of course, is not something we can really say much about. You have to arrive in the “undiscovered country” before you can know what it will be like.

Alternatively to this New Theology, we can choose to believe that there is a something beyond ourselves, even a Someone, whose eternal life and transcendent nature is reflected in that which He has created. Further we can come to believe that our need for redemption tells us as much about the eternal Creator as it does of His temporal creatures. Instead of listening to the words of the critical theorist, we listen instead to the words of the critical realist, who says:

“The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” (Romans 1:18-20)

Either those things that are called moral evils are, as the critical theorist says, the product of human construction, and, consequently, the redemption that they demand also the product of human construction; or, they are, as the Apostle Paul says, the product of human rebellion against ultimate reality, and, consequently, redeemable only through the reconstructive action of the author of that reality. In ontological terms, redemption is either a bottom-up struggle performed by purely accidental creatures, and which has included in it the creation of culturally relative theological concepts and religious practices that aid us in our survival; or it is a top-down event, one enacted by a necessary Creator who has given us reason that allows us to form ideas, concepts, and language to describe that which is ultimately and actually real.

Whichever we decide will make a world of difference in what happens “down here” and in our daily lives. For on the former view the only authority against which we rise up is that of men and women just like ourselves, yet who merely constructed morality in a different fashion than we do today, a dynamic which implies an endless process of doing the same deconstruction and reconstruction with every generation of human society. On the latter view, however, the authority we are rebelling against is not like us, because He is not us, and we are not Him. Moreover, in virtue of not being like us, He (or It) may have an actual answer to our moral problem, so long as we can have access to Him (or It). And, if we have access to Him, we may be able to change who we are, and if we can be changed, then so can our moral behavior. And, if our moral behavior can change, so to the society in which we live.

Conflating the Divine Will With Human Will: Black Lives Matter And the Doctrine of “Heal Thyself”

In paragraph four of their statement about “What We Believe,” the most powerful and dominant social justice movement of our time: Black Lives Matter, claims the following: “Every day, we recommit to healing ourselves and each other, and to co-creating alongside comrades, allies, and family a culture where each person feels seen, heard, and supported.”7 (https://blacklivesmatter.com/what-we-believe/) This doctrine of “self-healing” or “heal thyself” is fundamentally related to the above exposition of the early critical theorist, Max Horkheimer’s, notion of a theology without God. Upon further reading of the Black Lives Matter doctrinal statement, one will quickly discern that the moral and religious impulse is still there: human dignity is presupposed, redemption is what matters, and liberation is the key. The only problem is that we are the only agents of atonement (and, oh is there a process for how to atone!), as well as the only standard by which we name what is good “good”, and distinguish it from what is “evil.” Again, the determining factor of moral judgments no longer being the intellect seeking knowledge, but the will exercising power. Human power becomes the sole vehicle for societal change, because the human will is the sole determiner of moral “truth.”

In his short work Marxism and Christianity, former Marxist now Roman Catholic philosopher, Alasdair MacIntyre says this about the role of religion in the life of the individual agent:

“But religion is only able to have this latter transforming function because and insofar as it enables individuals to identify and to understand themselves independently of their position in the existing social structure. It is in the contrast between what society tells a man he is and what religion tells him he is that he is able to find grounds both for criticizing the status quo and for believing that it is possible for him to act with others in changing it.”

MacIntyre. Marxism and Christianity. Apple Books, 13.

MacIntyre wrote this in 1968, many years before his conversion to Catholicism. This is why the astute observer will take note of MacIntyre’s fundamental metaphysical flaw when he says “it is in the contrast between what society tells a man he is and what religion tells him he is.” At that time, MacIntyre, like so many social justice theorists and social justice activists of today, confused the dictates of religion with the reality of God. Still a metaphysical naturalist, religion for MacIntrye was, as it remained for Horkheimer, merely a set of descriptive, yet non-referring claims—a set of sociological constructs, not universal moral truths revealed by a divine will. At some point for MacIntyre that understanding of religion ended, and his attention, unlike Horkheimer, turned to God “as such.”

To turn to God “as such” is to recognize the reality of the Divine Nature, and come to understand the words of the Bible and the content of the Christian faith no longer as just highly compelling products of human sentiment, but as divinely revealed fixtures of an intricately designed cosmos. A cosmos replete with essences and natural kinds, with ontological realities that can be examined by reason, be experienced with the affections, and by which we can gauge our moral attitudes, harness the best of our moral intuitions, and help guide our moral actions.

To not see this objective, mind-independent, fabric of the universe; a fabric not woven by human brains, but by a divine Mind, is ultimately to conflate God’s will with our own. For to look at the Bible and think of it as merely a human book, as Horkheimer did, even if a book worthy of plundering for the cause of moral action and the execution of justice, is to conflate the human will with the divine. It is to grant divinity to ourselves, and to elevate our own goodness as we conveniently ignore all the evil that we have done, and will continue to do. It is to try and do Christianity without Christ. It is to “heal ourselves.”

For many Social Justice theorists and activists today, society is all there is, and it does “tell a man what he is,” or perhaps “what it is.” For them to change society is for them to change man. But for the Christian this is not so, nor is it, as the younger MacIntyre erroneously claimed, religion that tells a man what he is. It is God who tells us who we are, and that divine speech act of identity, that communication from above, can be found both in the careful observation of His creation, and in the direct revelation of His Word.

That is the Old Theology. Theology with theos.

Bridging Lessing’s “Ugly Ditch”: The Historical Testimony to Miracles

One of the great skeptical minds of the 18th century, Gotthold Lessing, coined a phrase to describe what for him was an unbridgeable gap between the 18th-century enlightened mind and the purported supernatural events of the Bible. Lessing called this gap the “ugly broad ditch,” a chasm in knowledge that made it unreasonable for someone in the 18th century to believe in miracles and consequently many of the New Testament claims. For Lessing, since miracles did not occur in his time, the likelihood of them having never occurred at all was high. As such, the historical claims made by the Apostles and recorded by the writers of Scripture were too unreliable to put one’s faith in.

In Lessing’s thought, the contingent, or “accidental,” events of history could not be the basis for a rational belief in what had to be universal and necessary truths of religion. Whether or not historical claims were true, was leaving far too much to chance and fluctuations in the kinds and degree of evidence for those claims. This inherent susceptibility of historical testimony to skepticism made belief in any supernatural features of that testimony, especially the miracle stories of the Gospels and resurrection of Jesus, unjustified. If one was to accept only what was rational for an 18th century person to believe, one would have to forgo belief in the miracles related in the Scriptures, and consequently the idea of their being any historical basis for Christianity’s grand, theological claims.

Still, why think that Lessing’s “ugly ditch” is really there? Why believe either that religious claims must be grounded in necessary truths, like those of mathematics, or that the historical evidence for miracles was in the 18th century no longer valid, while it seems that in the 12th century it was?

First, the claim that religious truths cannot be left to the evidence of history is itself question-begging, since there is no reason to think that all truths must be self-evident or necessary in the same way that “2+3 = 5” or “there are no married bachelors” are necessary and self-evident. Moreover, if the actual content of a specific religious revelation (e.g. the Bible) gives good theological reasons for why religious claims are not grounded in necessary truths like math or logic– for example because human freedom is valuable, and interpersonal love must be freely chosen as opposed to coerced–then there is also an explanation for why religious truths are fundamentally different from others, and consequently need not be grounded in the same way. As to Lessing’s second contention, that the historical evidence is too shaky to believe in the miracles of the Bible, or that there was too much temporal distance between himself and those events to justify belief, this also seems tendentious at best.

Miracles and Historical Testimony

One obvious reason to reject Lessing’s claim is his assumption that miracles did not occur in the 18th century. Much of his argument seems to ride on the fact that because one has not experienced miracles personally, it is then unreasonable to assume that figures in the past experienced miracles. Seeing for Lessing would indeed be necessary for believing, albeit one is left to wonder if it would have been sufficient.

Lessing therefore begs the question whether or not there were credible miracle claims circulating in his own time. This is a logical fallacy that also appeared to not bother the Scottish philosopher David Hume enough to rethink his own position on contemporary miracle claims. It was assumed that there simply were none, and that they were mainly to be found among the more “barbaric and ignorant” peoples– peoples that must be intellectually naive, or predisposed to perverting the truth for the sake of more mundane goals. Either way Lessing, like Hume, argues circularly, simply asserting that contemporary miracles claims are not reliable.1 It is worth noting here that Humean skepticism goes far beyond just claims of supernatural activity, but to cause and effect relationships themselves. As such, Hume’s skepticism cut across a much broader range of knowledge than just the religious.

There is another problem though with Lessing’s understanding of miracle claims as it relates to the generational thread of historical testimony. For, it is not simply that the eyewitnesses to Jesus’ apparent miracles, or to the apparent Resurrection, claimed to have experienced miracles, it is that all of the early church–all subsequent Christian communities that persisted past the original eyewitnesses– also believed in those same miracles. Those historically and culturally closest to the original testifiers of Jesus’ miracles had no problem believing them, unlike Lessing who, being further removed in time, apparently could not. But, temporal distance alone seems hardly sufficient to dismiss the validity of a historical claim!

While it could be the case that the earliest, non-eyewitnesses were simply duped by the so-called eyewitnesses (e.g. Peter, Paul, the Marys), this would entail that all, or many, of the early Christians (young, old, rich, poor, peasant, aristocracy) were equally susceptible to the lies of these original Apostles. They (the early Church members) basically believed the testimony of the Apostles without any independent, corroborating evidence to support the idea that things like miraculous healings, or the multiplying of food, could really happen. This means that none of these early Christians, many of them eventual martyrs, had ever seen or heard of a credible miraculous event in their own time, yet regardless still believed the Apostles’ testimony to the same or similar kinds of events in their time.

If not duped, however, then the other option is that early followers knew for themselves the stories were false, yet propagated them in spite of knowledge to the contrary. If this were the case, then the earliest Christian communities, to include their leaders, would be implicated in the greatest conspiracy of all time– propagating known falsehoods about miraculous events, events that never occurred, over a vast geographical space and an extended, continuous period of time. For what purpose they would have done this, we have no idea. That they were able to maintain that known falsehood for so long, and across so many cultures, might itself be considered more miraculous than the Resurrection they claimed to believe occurred.

Further, it is hard to believe that these earliest Christian communities would continue to propagate known falsehoods only to enjoy the social ostracism, imprisonment, and even the torture and death that ultimately befell many of them. This was hardly a win-win situation. In fact it was clearly a lose-lose: lose if you are persecuted for telling the known falsehood, lose even if you are not, since ultimately you know there is no real, redeeming content to the faith you claim to hold– something made explicit by the Apostle Paul himself (see 1 Cor 15:12-19).

On the other hand, one reason why the early Christians might have believed in the purported miracles of the Gospels is that they had independent evidence that miracles occurred in their own times, a fact that would begin to undermine Lessing’s critique, as belief in contemporary miracles, say in the 2nd century, would bridge the epistemic gap about supernatural claims between 2nd century Christians and the generation of the 1st century Apostles. Thus, if this belief in contemporary miracles by post-Apostolic, early Christians was part of the reason why they believed the miracle stories passed on by the Apostles– orally or in Scripture– then the question must be asked: “When, or at what point in time, or even in what place in time, did this epistemic bridge from one generation to the next regarding belief in miracles collapse? When did the “ugly ditch” actually get dug?

The question can also be formulated this way: at what point in history did testimony about specific miracles, either the ones mentioned in Scripture, or in ones ongoing, cease to be a valid source of evidence for justified belief in miracles?

The Seamless Testimony from The Apostles to Today

It seems that for the vast majority, historical testimony to miracles was still a valid source of evidence in the 2nd and 3rd centuries, as well as in the 4th, 5th, 6th, 8th and all the way through to the 14th and 15th centuries. There is not an abundance of skeptical literature about either ancient claims to miracles, or contemporary ones, in the 16th century either (although skepticism about Natural Theology begins with the likes of Michel de Montaigne around this time). That is not to say that there are not any critiques of miracle claims prior to the 16th century, but just that the abundance of evidence is to the contrary: most people accepted the reality of miracles up to Lessing’s day.

So, when does Lessingische skepticism toward human testimony about miracles first emerge in history? When does the “ugly ditch” get dug, especially if the majority of people up until the 18th century did hold that testimony about miracles was reliable? Who or what ultimately digs this ditch? After all, the ditch cannot simply be assigned to some arbitrary date; as if in 1748, on a Thursday at 5:45pm GMT, all miracle claims, both ancient and contemporary, became subject to the skepticism of 18th century man.

The reason for Lessing to reject justified belief in miracles is not that the historical testimonies were ever demonstrated to be false, something that is nearly impossible to do, or that the temporal gap between the New Testament miracle claims and Lessing’s belief about them is too long, especially if there was continuous, persistent belief in miracles. Clearly it would be one thing to pick up some ancient text no one had read in several hundred years, comprised with fantastic stories in it and say: “Eh, these are ancient stories filled with claims of things we have never seen before. Why believe these things really happened?” But, when you have a historical lineage, a succession of real, human communities called “the Church” that has passed on these beliefs, and passed them on often under very harsh conditions, then you have some additional reasons to believe that what was being passed on was not just mythological. It was something real enough that people were willing to stake their physical lives and their cultural identity on its being true. Very few philosophies have garnered that kind of dedication in both belief and practice!

It seems therefore that the reason Lessing felt belief in miracles was unjustified was the simple fact that he never experienced one personally. So, there really is no argument about whether older, or contemporary, testimonies about miracles are false other than to say: “I never saw one, therefore all testimonies to miracles are false, or at least unreliable.”

Further, if the writings of the New Testament were mere fabrications, at least in regard to reports about its miraculous events, then the entirety of the early church, starting with men like Polycarp and Ignatius, moving forward to Irenaeus and Origen, up on through Augustine, Boethius, and Aquinas, to Luther and the Reformers, through the great puritan thinkers of the 17th and 18th-century, to today’s analytical philosophers of religion, are all in some way implicated in the continued fabrication of said miracle stories– for each generation going back to the first would have known that the miracles reported by the Apostles were false and thus irrational to believe, and yet passed them off as being true. Or, if not liars, there has been a persistent, almost seamless strain of men and women being “fooled” into thinking something incredible happened that did not happen, and that based solely on the fact that someone told them so.

After all, if miracles do not happen then literally no one, not Clement of Rome, not Ignatius, not Polycarp, not Jerome, not Augustine, not Aquinas or Edwards, nor Lewis or Ratzinger, Swinburne or Polkinghorne, has ever experienced anything themselves, or heard any credible account in their own time that would give them additional warrant that the claims made by the Apostles, or found in the Scriptures, are reasonable to believe. Talk about a leap of faith by men who could hardly be called “barbaric or ignorant.”

What is more likely then– that thousands, if not millions, of Christians throughout the Church’s history have experienced miracles that make it justified for them to believe the miracles reported in the Scriptures actually occurred;2 One contemporary compendium of miracle claims is Craig S. Keener’s book, Miracles. Keener documents personal testimonies from every continent, most of which are healing miracles. That said, some miracles in the Bible might be harder to accept than others, e.g. the multiplication of the loaves and fishes as opposed to the healing of the paralytic, in virtue of seeing more kinds of one miracle attested to today than other kinds. Still, a miracle is a miracle.or that Christians from the very beginning have been fooled into thinking that incredible events for which they have no independent reason to believe happened, except it was told to them, really happened?

In the end Lessing dug his own ditch, and did so because he was seeking absolute certainty. But, absolute certainty is not forthcoming about anything in this life outside of a very limited set of claims. Lessing’s concern about the shifting sands of time may have been warranted, but his ultimate conclusion on where to place his faith was not. What Lessing perhaps should have done is believed in the preponderance of evidence– a preponderance that points to the reality of miracles, both in 1st-century, in the 18th, and today.

Four Domains of Christian Knowledge: Apologetics (Metaphysics)

This is the last part of a series of posts outlining and defining four fundamental domains of Christian knowledge: Theology, Church History, Spiritual Formation, and Apologetics. We must engage in these disciplines, if we are to develop a robust intellectual and spiritual life, a life fully dedicated to Christ.

This last post on Apologetics has itself turned into a small series, so I am going to break it into several smaller posts, in an attempt to say something more substantive about Apologetics than just “Apologetics is the defense of Christianity using arguments and evidence.” Although it is, in part, just that.

What is Apologetics?

To an audience like this one, Apologetics may be as familiar a term as “doctrine” or “salvation.” However for many Christians, Apologetics is still an unknown or obscure term, a word that suggests we are meant to say “sorry” for something we have either done, or failed to do, but of which we know nothing. For others, Apologetics is at best a futile endeavor, if not an outright detrimental one; an undertaking that never helps the skeptic to believe, and often helps the believer to become skeptical (see here for a recent example).

But, we know better than that. We know that Apologetics is something that everyone does naturally, anytime they seek to defend or clarify the claims and content of the Christian faith, or any faith really. Even Atheists do some kind of apologetics when they defend their views. We also know although the discipline of Apologetics does not cause saving faith, that apologetical arguments and evidences can be effective steps in one’s indvidual journey toward saving faith. Thus, we understand the apologetical project to be one that the human person, any human person really, does naturally when they defend their views by giving reasons for their belief. But, at the same time, we rightly restrain our expectations regarding the power of rational argumentation when it comes to attaining personal knowledge of a personal God. No argument converts the human heart, that operation is reserved for the Great Physician.

In short then, we can define Apologetics very simply: Apologetics is the rational defense of Christian truth claims using arguments and evidence. Apologetics, in this sense, is as much for the head, as our previously discussed discipline, Spiritual Formation, is for the heart, or the emotions. Still, because we also recognize that the head and heart (the “left” and “right” brain) cannot be so neatly divided, we realize that there are different strains of Apologetics that can be pressed into evangelistic use.

Some Apologetics emphasize logical rigor and abstract analytical thought, while others seek to awaken the more aesthetic side of the human person, relying on good art and compelling stories to offer an attractive view of the world. Some authors have gone on to suggest that reason itself is an extension of the human imagination, that “reason is imaginative.” (Andrew Davidson, Imaginative Apologetics, xxv). If this is the case then our apologetical defenses, or offenses, need not rely on logic alone to attract our audience, but can be fully-orbed articulations of a Gospel that speak to the whole person, albeit not at the expense of good reasoning. Apologetics can be supra-reasonable, or “above reason.”

What we need is an apologetical method that cuts deep at the base of the world’s false premises, or as John Milbank puts it:

“We need a mode of apologetics prepared to question the world’s assumptions down to their very roots and to expose how they lie within paganism, heterodoxy or else and atheism with no ground in reason and a tendency to deny the ontological reality of reason altogether.” (John Milbank, Imaginative Apologetics, xx).

That said there are two broad categories of Apologetics that most kinds of Apologetical questions fall under: philosophical and historical Apologetics.

Philosophical Apologetics

Philosophical Apologetics is itself a very broad topic, but philosophy as a discipline is indispensable to the life of the Christian disciple, especially in the structuring of Christian thought. That said, this indispensability of philosophy does not mean that philosophy, or even reason, stands above theology, or revelation. Aquinas states it this way:

“This science [sacred theology] can in a sense depend upon the philosophical sciences, not as though it stood in need of them, but only in order to make its teaching clearer. For it accepts its principles not from other sciences, but immediately from God, by revelation. Therefore it does not depend upon other sciences as upon the higher, but makes use of them as of the lesser, and as handmaidens” (Summa Theologica, I.5.ii)

As a secondary intellectual discipline, or handmaiden, there can almost be a “philosophy” of any other intellectual discipline. Thus, it is now common to find all kinds of very narrow philosophical disciplines at the academic level: philosophy of science, of art, of religion, of literature, of mind, of history, of sports, etc. However, philosophy more generally has usually been understood to entail the study of four foundational areas of human experience, namely: metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, and logic.

But, what do these four core domains of human existence themselves entail? In order of philosophical inquiry, there is often a debate of what comes first, metaphysical inquiry, or epistemological inquiry. For sake of bypassing that discussion, and to keep this post somewhat brief, let’s assume metaphysics is the first order of inquiry. So, what does metaphysics entail?

Metaphysics & Christian Faith

Metaphysics is the most fundamental kind of philosophical knowledge if we are to understand with clarity and coherence the Christian worldview. Metaphysics (literally “after the physics”) is called such because Aristotle, or some compiler of Aristotle, placed his discussion of non-physical realities after his discussion of the natural world. These realities came after the physical things, or “after the physics.” Metaphysics explores two broad areas of human experience: existence and causation. In doing so, metaphysical investigation deals with ontology (what exists), and causality (how things change states or modes of being), to include derivative areas of inquiry like questions about identity, and time.

Metaphysics attempts to determine if there are things like essences, or substances, of both naturally occurring objects (e.g. iron, zinc, leptons), human artifacts (chairs, vases), living things (dogs, you and me), and, if they exist, abstract objects (the number “2”), and even immaterial concrete objects (God or gods, angels, human souls). Metaphysics also tries to understand the chain of causality, or how things that might exist go from one mode of existence to another mode of existence spanning across time. Finally, notions of possibility and necessity, or what are possible states of affairs versus necessary ones, or contingent beings versus necessary Ones, are also explored in the realm of Metaphysics.

Since the rise of Darwinian evolution and post-Newtonian theories in physics however, there has been a dominant paradigm in Western culture, which has sought to reduce all of reality down to only the natural world and its scientifically verifiable properties. From about the second half of the 19th century, to roughly the 1950’s there was a strong push to ditch metaphysics as a serious academic discipline altogether, replacing it with pure science (even though metaphysical reductionism goes further back to the likes of Scottish philosopher, and naturalist, David Hume).

The height of this philosophical trend toward scientific reductionism hit in the 1940’s and 1950’s with the short rise of logical positivism, a philosophical movement that sought to dismiss any question about non-physical realities as inherently meaningless, since they could not be empirically verified, or logically demonstrated. Therefore, religious claims about non-physical realities were also regarded prima facie as unintelligible, in that they could not be positively confirmed or verified through standard scientific methods. Fortunately this theory died a relatively quick death and by the 1960’s and 70’s there was a resurgence of metaphysical work that helped to reinvigorate the philosophy of religion, which, while broader than just Christian Apologetics, is where most of the scholarly work that underlies popular apologetical writing occurs.

Today, there is an abundance of contemporary metaphysical work being done across the Western academic world, and much of it is related to religious claims about reality. Thus, there has been a renaissance of philosophy of religion, and Christian truth claims are once again taken seriously in the philosophy departments in the West (well, at least some of them).

Some top contemporary Metaphysical thinkers of the last 50 or 60 years are: David Lewis (non-theist), David Armstrong (non-theist), W.V.O. Quine (non-theist), Saul Kripke (theist, Jewish), and David Chalmers (non-theist), and L.A. Paul. Paul especially has been working in the area of religious experience as transformative experience.

Among Christians who have contributed to Metaphysics in recent years are well known names like William Lane Craig, Alvin Plantinga, Alexander Pruss, Robert Koons, J.P. Moreland, Peter van Inwagen, Elanore Stump, Robert Adams, Brian Leftow, Marilyn McCord Adams, Ed Feser, and Timothy Pickavance.

Thomistic and non-Thomistic Metaphysics

With regard to Christian Metaphysics, there are two main lines of Christian metaphysical though: Thomism (following Thomas Aquinas), and non-Thomistic Analytical Philosophy of Religion. Some famous Thomistic philosophers are Norman Geisler (Evangelical), Ed Feser (Catholic), Peter Geach (Catholic), Elanore Stump, and Robert Koons (Evangelical).

Non-Thomists are scholars like Alvin Plantinga, Peter van Inwagen, William Lane Craig, Alexander Pruss, Brian Leftow, and Willam Alston. However, much of St. Thomas’ writings and philosophy is appropriated by many Christian philosophers today, even those who do not buy into Thomism wholesale. So there is much overlap among Christian philosophers in this area, as many continue to profit from the works of the great Thomas Aquinas.

Special Areas of Apologetical Interest

Some particularly interesting areas of metaphysics for Christian Apologists are Philosophy of Mind, Philosophy of Time, and the Philosophy of Science. In particular metaphysical questions about mind-body interaction, the persistence of personal identity over time, God’s relation to time, free will and determinism, and the role and limits of the scientific method, are all very relevant to our theological reasoning, and defense of the Christian faith. Metaphysics, along with Epistemology, are perhaps the most important areas of philosophy for a Christian to understand, as they allow us to best articulate what it is we believe, and why we think it to be true.

In the next post, I will break down the philosophical discipline of Epistemology.

“Celebrity” Deconversions & The Journey of Faith – Part II (Kinds of Experiences)

Further reflecting on the recent “rash” of celebrity deconversions in the Evangelical church, I now consider what kinds of personal experiences, in contrast to intellectual habits, may increase epistemic resiliency with regard to Christian faith. In other words, apart from intellectual preparedness, will some people have a greater capacity to overcome doubt, both emotional and intellectual, due to particular kinds of experiences they have had?

I think there are people who have a greater capacity to endure through doubt, and I believe there are three kinds of personal experiences that strengthen the epistemic resiliency of the Christ follower.

Profound Religious Conversion Experiences

Many adult believers who fall away from faith often relate some subjective feeling or experience of a personal encounter of Jesus they had, either as a youth, or teenager, which supplemented their belief that Christianity was true. This, along with community and a sense of purpose, provided the foundation for their adult faith. Thus, when they deconvert after being presented with counter-evidence they had not previously seen, they find themselves torn between this subjective, albeit deep, feeling of Jesus being real, and this apparently more objective and rational data that undermines the Jesus story.

However, there are also cases of converts who personally attest to an intense visual or audible appearance of Jesus, and this not in their youth, or still cognitively malleable teenage years, but as fully developed, mature adults. Some of these adult conversions also take place apart from the right kind of community (think current trends in Muslim conversions), and when the person already has a sense of purpose in their life. Moreover, many such cases of dramatic religious experience, whether occurring during an actual church service (as was my case), or in some other more private context, are reported by adult converts as being far more real than the daily reality that surrounds them.

In this sense, there seems to be a qualitative difference among kinds of religious experiences. Some seem generated in, or under, the “right” kinds of conditions: a youthful church member who has a feeling of Jesus during a Christian worship service, youth camp, or summer retreat. But others are not, they are had by non-church members, living adult lives already full of meaning and purpose, yet where there is also some accompanying visible or audible quality to their experience of Jesus. Of course, there are more types of religious experiences than just these, and various combinations of the qualities of such experiences could be considered. However, if we take adult conversions which occur through profound religious experience, under non-optimal conditions as genuine, it seems that we can identify at least one kind of religious experience that may lend to epistemic resiliency when counter-evidence to Christian truth claims is presented later in one’s life.

My conversion, for example, was at 34 years old. I was at the top of my game physically, and mentally, having just qualified for the Army special forces “Q-course” a few months prior. My motivation for going into my first ever Evangelical church the day of my conversion was not any particular desire to seek out and find God, but the girl who had asked me to go with her. After all, I already had my own personal, and very syncretistic beliefs about deity, and girls just interested me more than Jesus. However, the experience I had was so real, and also so altering when it came to my beliefs and behaviors, that it is difficult now, as a 44 year old, to not see this experience as a significant piece of evidence for the veracity of the Christian faith. Of course examples like mine can be abundantly multiplied, and are certainly not limited to white, male, heterosexual Westerners like myself.

Therefore, it seems that profound, religious experiences with visual or audible content that occur under sub-optimal conditions (e.g. not in an explicitly Christian environment, not being sought out directly, etc.) can increase epistemic resiliency in the journey of faith.

Witnessing or Interacting with the Demonic, or Extraordinary Evil

Another kind of experience that may lend to epistemic resiliency in the journey of Christian faith, is prior encounters with the spiritual realm. Many, even skeptics, attest to observing or encountering things that are so bizarre, as well as extraordinarily real, that they cannot be explained away as mere psychological phenomena. Interactions with demonic agents, or experiences of horrendous evils (genocide, torture, etc.), can open one up to something that can only be described as “non-physical,” yet entirely actual.

People who have converted to Christianity out of the occult are often very aware of this, and because of their many interactions with a realm beyond the natural one, they too have a certain epistemic resiliency that those who have not had these kinds of experiences do not. For when the abstract claims about supernatural agencies (like the many references to demonic possession in the New Testament) become real, concrete experiences, such experiences are rarely forgotten, remaining as vivid memories, and cognitive reminders, that, at a minimum, the Bible is right about the supernatural world.

My own account of this involves two experiences with the demonic. One particularly malevolent one took place in a small apartment in a densely populated part of Munich, Germany, during a “sting” operation against child sex trafficking in which I participated (on the side of the investigative journalists, of course, not the perpetrators). The other, far too personal to relate in a blog post, had to do with someone I was involved with, who had dabbled with various forms of religious Yoga, and practiced things like astral projection.

One of my best friends, however, who converted to Christianity out of native American shamanism, relates a harrowing account of what it is like to live “on the other side.” Here is his story, one that will not leave you skeptical about the reality of the spiritual realm: http://www.readphoenixroad.com/

Thus, encounters with spiritual forces, especially demonic agents, or horrible moral evil, can also serve to bolster fidelity to some core claims of Christianity, in spite of other epistemic challenges. That the spiritual is real, and that it seems to be fundamentally dualistic, i.e. there is real evil and real good, increases our confidence in the biblical worldview.

Gross Immorality

Finally, a third kind of experience that may provide greater epistemic resiliency is one’s personal struggle with, or long-term involvement in gross immorality. What I mean by gross immorality here is those folks who have committed acts like murder, rape, unjust war, and torture; or who have engaged in sexual perversion over extended periods of time, or egregious forms of greedy behavior, fraud, or even political corruption, e.g. Chuck Colson.

People who have sinned in dramatic fashion, or pursued sensual pleasures or egotistical behaviors all the way to their fullest extent, often come to know experientially the total bankruptcy of what the world has to offer. Thus, upon conversion, they tend to more fully appreciate Peter’s words in John 6:68-69 when doubt comes to them later in life, “Lord, who will we go to? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that You are the Holy One of God!”

People who have been forgiven much, love much. And it is often the case that even if they come across challenges to their Christian faith, they nevertheless have had the experience that there really is nothing else out there to turn toward when the existential chips are down. There is a quality of Goodness and Beauty about Christ, and Christianity, that compels them to see beyond the intellectual challenges to some of its truth claims, and thereby remain steadfast in their faith.

Conversely, not everyone who is an adult Christian has strayed into deep sin, or egregious immorality. Normally, this is a good thing too! But, those Christians who, by and large, have lived a morally decent life, who have not drunk deeply from the well of iniquity, simply have not had the personal experience of moral evil against which they can contrast their current experience of a decent, Christian lifestyle. The “not knowing what it is like,” whether it be that of a bat (Thomas Nagel reference), or of a mafia boss (Michael Franzese), of serious moral depravity, gives the average Christian a sense of not actually being as wicked or depraved as the Bible seems to suggest. And that is in spite of professing it every Sunday with their mouth, or when trying to witness to a skeptic.

True, many adult deconverts will not walk away from their Christian morality, at least in the basics, and certainly not at first. But that is mainly due to the fact that most of their inner life has been shaped by years of Christian moral formation, and even good habits can be hard to break.

Thus, long-term involvement in gross immorality and sin can also act as one more factor in the epistemic resiliency of the born-again believer. Skeptics may make their claims against some propositional truths of Christianity, but the Goodness and Beauty of the faith is powerful to those who have engaged in evil, and know ugliness from the inside.

Conclusion: Personal Experiences can Increase Epistemic Resiliency, but They Cannot Be Actively Pursued

Of course, the main problem for epistemic resiliency based on personal experience, is that none of the kinds of experiences I related here can, or should, be actively pursued. They tend to just happen to the person. As such, people who just happen to have had these kinds of experiences will likely have a greater resiliency in their faith journeys than those who have not. But, none of these experiences can be intentionally sought out by a Christian believer! By their nature they are things that either occur unexpectedly, i.e. the profound religious experience, or that either happen prior to one becoming a Christian, i.e. practice of the occult, or that lead one to become a Christian, gross immorality.

Still, it seems to be the case that believers who have been through experiences like these, will often have an easier time of persevering to the end, at least in their beliefs, if not their practices.

Photo By The King of Mars – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=78156864

“Finity Wars”: The Problem of Worldview in Marvel Comic Movies

“Now when this corruptible is clothed with incorruptibility and this mortal is clothed with immortality, then the saying that is written will take place: “Death has been swallowed up in victory. O Death, where is your victory? O Death, where is your sting?” (1 Cor 15:54-55)

“The doctrine that war is always a greater evil seems to imply a materialist ethic, a belief that death and pain are the greatest evils. But I do not think they are. I think the suppression of a higher religion by a lower, or even a higher secular culture by a lower, a much greater evil.”

C.S. Lewis, “Why I Am Not a Pacifist”

Recently, at the suggestion of a close friend, I started watching some of the Marvel Comic movies that have become so popular of late. Although I don’t really see the attraction of these films (action to the point of nausea, hackneyed dialogue, etc.) I have come to appreciate some of the messages they seem to promote. One message that appears to be ubiquitous, if not fundamental, to the films is that human life matters, and so much so that it is worth fighting for, even fighting apparently invincible cosmic creatures. Now, that is a good message! Not only for those of us who already accept its truth, because we already accept that human beings are made in the Image of God (Gen 1:27), but especially for a culture that has largely forgotten the God in Whose image we are made.

However, underneath this good message about the intrinsic dignity of human life is another message, one that emerges repeatedly, and that, I believe, leaves the sensitive viewer somewhat confused, if not disheartened, or even in despair. What message am I alluding to? It is simply this– that in spite of the amazing variety of beings, the panoply of powers, and almost endless modes of existence, the universe of the Marvel superheroes, their extra-terrestrial friends and foes, and their mundane human counterparts, is still one that lacks any sense of the transcendent. The Marvel universe, as ontologically rich as it is, is still an entirely immanent, and in that sense naturalistic world.

This deficient view of reality, a view that leaves no room for the transcendent, does so in failing to acknowledge the Creator of the universe itself and all the dignified life within that universe that warrants the continuous (maybe potentially infinite) cosmic battles fought to preserve it. In persistently denying or avoiding the notion of the transcendent, both ontological and teleological, the thrust of the Marvel narrative ultimately can be reduced to the defense of finite, human physical existence (the ontological) and the freedom of finite human persons to construct their own meaning for that existence (the teleological). While there is certainly a glorified immanentization here, as the Marvel universe is certainly far more bizarre and mysterious than our own, nevertheless it is a universe cut off from the transcendent, both in being, and purpose. It is where things and agents that exist as brute facts struggle to create meaning for themselves. But, as such, it is also a place where Thanos’ plot to eradicate half the population of the universe cannot rightly be adjudicated.

Thus, while there may be a hint at immaterial human existence in the films, as seen perhaps most noticeably in Dr. Strange, still these immaterial “souls” are also entirely immanent and hopelessly entangled in the fabric of an impersonal “multi-verse”; a multi-verse that has no ultimate meaning, nor ultimate end. In a funny aside, these souls are depicted more like material bodies, as seen in the somewhat ridiculous fight scene between Strange’s “soul” and the “soul” of the thug henchmen at the hospital. One has to wonder, “Do souls, like bodies, have to train in Ju-Jitsu too?” “Do C-fibers fire if your soul gets roundhouse kicked to the face?” Just saying.

Hence, there is in the Marvel world this more subtle, yet ubiquitous message, a message that essentially overemphasizes the value of human physical existence, since presumably that is all there is. At the end of the day, the Avengers and their malevolent, other-worldly counterparts are fighting non-stop over how long some part of some population of the earth is going to survive physically. Ultimately then, there is “infinity war” not for the infinite souls of men, but for the finite existence of randomly evolved bipedal life on earth. Thus, even if Captain America and Iron Man were to win every cosmic battle, death would still win the war— death at the hands of accident, death from disease, death from human evil, or just the passing of time. Moreover, this immanentist worldview also assumes that earthly pleasures are all that human beings are really meant for, that they are the ultimate goods available to us. This is, after all, the basic motivation behind Thanos’ consequentialist plan for the universe.

But this is just the Marvel universe, a fairy-tale fiction cooked up by Hollywood (well, by Stan Lee and Hollywood). A universe that cannot answer the deepest questions of human existence, because what is clearly true of all of the creatures in the Marvel world, despite their apparent invincibility, is that none of them is the Creator of that world. Thus, even with all is valuable parts, the Marvel world is still a vision drawn from a world view that takes some kind of naturalism for granted, and, in doing so, the Marvel heroes in that world cannot really ground the answers they attempt to give to the ethical questions their narrative poses– questions that revolve around whether some form of consequentialist or deontological ethics is true. Questions of whether there is meaning beyond sheer physical survival.

Apart from the narrative’s author stepping into the story (Lee actually does appear in typical Hitchcockian-style in each film) and revealing his purpose to this confused amalgam of superhuman and alien combatants, there really can be no answer to these moral dilemmas.

As Christians, however, we know better than this, just as St. Paul knew better. We know that the real universe, marvelous in its own right, is also the one designed (Col 1:16), upheld (Heb 1:3), and consummated by the Word of God, the divine Logos, who is Jesus Christ (Col 1:20). We know that the true cosmic battle is not over a prolonged existence aimed at worldly goods, physical pleasures, or even noble moral acts. Rather, the real infinity war is over the final destination of the immortal human person, the consummation of the body and soul that will exist forever, either in an “eternal weight of glory” (2 Cor 4:17) with a personal and loving Creator, or in an eternal lake of fire (Rev 20:10-15, 21:8), where war will, in fact, be really infinite.

This is the battlefield of the saints, this is the fight of the martyrs (1 Tim 6:11-16), and this is our fight as followers of Christ today. Thus, for the Christ follower, we lead with right ontology, and right teleology. That God exists, and that He has designed the universe, its natural laws and its moral agents, is what ultimately grounds and makes our ethical conclusions either right, or wrong. Captain America’s statement “we don’t trade lives” is right, but apart from the reality that human life is made in the image and likeness of its Creator, it is mere sentimentalism.