Saturday, May 12, 2018

Solomon and wealth



Solomon started well.  When he was being installed as king he prayed for wisdom and knowledge to rule wisely rather than for wealth. Because he prayed wisely and asked humbly for wisdom and knowledge God promised him wealth as well.

However see on what basis Solomon prays “You have show great and steadfast love to David my father and have made me king in his place.” 2 Chr. 1:8. Solomon is appealing to God due to God’s covenant love (steadfast love; hesed), God’s unconditional love which he expressed when he made the covenant with David that his son would sit on his throne.  We know that ultimately this applied to Jesus.

Solomon Prays for Wisdom
2Ch 1:7  In that night God appeared to Solomon, and said to him, “Ask what I shall give you.”
2Ch 1:8  And Solomon said to God, “You have shown great and steadfast love to David my father, and have made me king in his place.
2Ch 1:9  O LORD God, let your word to David my father be now fulfilled, for you have made me king over a people as numerous as the dust of the earth.
2Ch 1:10  Give me now wisdom and knowledge to go out and come in before this people, for who can govern this people of yours, which is so great?”
2Ch 1:11  God answered Solomon, “Because this was in your heart, and you have not asked for possessions, wealth, honor, or the life of those who hate you, and have not even asked for long life, but have asked for wisdom and knowledge for yourself that you may govern my people over whom I have made you king,
2Ch 1:12  wisdom and knowledge are granted to you. I will also give you riches, possessions, and honor, such as none of the kings had who were before you, and none after you shall have the like.”

As king of Israel Solomon was to follow the instructions for kings in the Torah, the Pentateuch.  Deuteronomy 17:14-20 He is told in Deuteronomy 17:16 not to multiply horses. 

Deut 17:16 But he shall not multiply horses to himself, nor cause the people to return to Egypt, to the end that he should multiply horses: forasmuch as the LORD hath said unto you, Ye shall henceforth return no more that way.

In other words he is told not to build up a great army.  This is because God himself is Israel’s protector.  The king is not to trust his army.  To get horses he would have to send servants to Egypt to buy them because horses were not available or bred everywhere.  If the king of Israel wanted to buy horses from Egypt he would have to make an alliance with them.  He would become entangled politically with Egypt having to support Egypt against other enemies.  The king of Israel was not to make alliances with other heathen nations.  All surrounding nations worshipped false gods and often had disgusting practices, such as offering child sacrifices to Molech or fertility rituals which involved sexual immorality.

Earlier in Exodus 23:33,34 God had told Israel:

You shall make no covenant with them or with their gods. "They shall not live in your land, because they will make you sin against Me; for if you serve their gods, it will surely be a snare to you.

Though this and a couple other warnings are specifically relating to Israel conquering the land, they did not do as they were told and did end up in idolatry.  The warning to the king in Deuteronomy is the same sort of warrning.

The king was not to build up a big army and feel secure in it.  (Remember Gideon who overcame with only 300?). God was their defense.

1 Kings 10:26 And Solomon gathered together chariots and horsemen. He had 1,400 chariots and 12,000 horsemen, whom he stationed in the chariot cities and with the king in Jerusalem.
1Ki 10:27  And the king made silver as common in Jerusalem as stone, and he made cedar as plentiful as the sycamore of the Shephelah.
1Ki 10:28  And Solomon's import of horses was from Egypt and Kue, and the king's traders received them from Kue at a price.
1Ki 10:29  A chariot could be imported from Egypt for 600 shekels of silver and a horse for 150, and so through the king's traders they were exported to all the kings of the Hittites and the kings of Syria.

So, Solomon broke this command not to multiply horses (build up a big army and trust it or to enter alliances to build one up).  He also sent his servants to Egypt to get them against what the Law commanded.

It was also common that to enter into an alliance a king would have to marry a daughter of the king with which he was entering into an alliance.  The king of Israel was not to do this, but Solomon did it many times.

Deu 17:17  Neither shall he multiply wives to himself, that his heart turn not away:

1 Kings 11 tells the story of Solomon’s wives.  He had seven hundred wives of royal birth (i.e. he entered into 700 alliances with heathen nations).  He also had 300 concubines.  Vs. 3 This was against God’s law.  He had seen his father’s polygamy and fell to even worse temptation.  God’s intent was always one man and one woman Gen 2:23, 24.

Solomon’s foreign wives led him astray.  He worshipped false gods and even put up altars to false gods and allowed their depraved practices. Vss 4-8. He even, for instance, put up an altar to Molech (“The King”) a god who required child sacrifice.  Molech was a hollow metal idol.  The idol had outstretched hands up raised.  The priests built a fire in the idol and then put a live baby on the hands of the red hot metal “god.”  Probably Solomon was trying to be kind to his foreign wives and didn’t see a problem with them having their religion, but he fell into temptation himself.  He was basically asking for the protection of all these foreign gods.  Yahweh wasn’t enough.  As a result God ripped his kingdom in two and his son only inherited half a kingdom.

Solomon’s wealth was world renown, but it was also wrong and a trap.  God had also said:

Deu 17:17 b  neither shall he greatly multiply to himself silver and gold.

The King was supposed to use his wealth to free those in slavery and provide for the poor.   Solomon spent his wealth on show, palaces and thrones. 

For instance Solomon had to build a new throne for the princess of Egypt whom he had married.  So here he shows not only that he has disobeyed God by getting horses and chariots from Egypt, he has entered into an alliance with Pharoah and married his daughter.  Not only has he married her, but he wastes money on a special palace.

2 Chronicles 8:11 Solomon brought Pharaoh's daughter up from the city of David to the house that he had built for her, for he said, “My wife shall not live in the house of David king of Israel, for the places to which the ark of the LORD has come are holy.”

Solomon had completely lost his grip on his relationship with God.  He had become a mighty, worldly king.  He had put together a huge army.  He had gotten his “tanks” from Egypt.  He had made an alliance with Egypt and many other surrounding nations.  He had married many, many times (700 at least) to seal these covenants / alliances.  He had become a show off, showing off not his knowledge and wisdom, which lasted a while just like Samson’s strength lasted a while.  He ended up worshipping disgusting and pagan gods.  He displeased the Lord so greatly that half his kingdom was lost.

Deuteronomy 17:18  And it shall be, when he sitteth upon the throne of his kingdom, that he shall write him a copy of this law in a book out of that which is before the priests the Levites:
Deu 17:19  And it shall be with him, and he shall read therein all the days of his life: that he may learn to fear the LORD his God, to keep all the words of this law and these statutes, to do them:
Deu 17:20  That his heart be not lifted up above his brethren, and that he turn not aside from the commandment, to the right hand, or to the left: to the end that he may prolong his days in his kingdom, he, and his children, in the midst of Israel.

Solomon and every king of Israel was supposed to write out a copy of the Law himself.  He was to have the Law of God (the Torah) read to him “all the days of his life.”  By listening to God’s Word he was to “learn to fear the Lord.”, not to be afraid of God, though maybe it would have helped.  He was to honor God and keep his Law.  He was to reverence God and yes, fear the righeous One of Israel.

However Solomon became proud.  He was proud of his army. He was proud of his political acumen, making “wise” alliances. He was proud of his wealth.  He was proud of his harem.  He was proud of “his” wisdom.  He forgot the source. He fell into idolatry.

The young king who started so well ended up breaking just about every command God had given him.  He despised God’s covenant and forgot his law.  He was a “great” Ancient Near Eastern king in so far as he had what they all had: wealth, a mighty army, a harem, “wise” alliances, a tolerant religious policy, fame... However, he had totally lost his way.

My professor for Pentateuch and earlier prophets said that the Chronicler had one goal: to show that all the kings of Israel and Judah fell short of what God required.  At the end of 2 Chronicles Cyrus says, “Let him who will go to rebuild the Temple, go up!”  The one who would rebuild the real Temple was the one who was also the Prophet, Priest, King and Sacrifice, Jesus, the only Son of God, the only true Messiah.

If anything Solomon shows us the danger of wealth and power.  Perhaps the better way is the wisdom that says

Proverbs 30:7-9 New International Version (NIV)
“Two things I ask of you, Lord;
    do not refuse me before I die:
Keep falsehood and lies far from me;
    give me neither poverty nor riches,
    but give me only my daily bread.
Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you
    and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’
Or I may become poor and steal,
    and so dishonor the name of my God.

But these are from the sayings of Agur son of Jakeh, not Solomon.

Friday, February 16, 2018

On differences between the King James Version of the Bible and some other more modern English translations



Dear Bob,

There are three issues in the chart showing difference between the King James Version and other more modern English translations.

The first is the use of the so-called Textus Receptus or Received Text, Erasmus’ GK text. The King James Version (or Authorized Version (by Kg Jas) uses the TR as a basis for translation. The TR tends to have conflated readings, i.e. a scribe added words to make something clear when the text he was copying wasn’t clear, e.g. the reference to Joseph in KJV and to “his father” in other texts. Scribes wanted us to be sure that we knew that Joseph wasn’t Jesus’ father.

A second issue is that most modern translations use the United Bible Society’s Nestle Aland Greek New Testament. The UBS text is an “eclectic” text, which means it compares all available Greek New Testament texts, e.g. Alexandrinus, Vaticanus, Beza, and others. The idea is to get the surest text we can as close to the original Greek NT. Often scribes added glosses (comments) into the TR. As a result, there will be passages with longer readings in the KJV. The rules of determining the NT canon are used. One is the shorter reading is preferred. That is why some verses are shorter in the more recent translations. Another rule is that more difficult to explain texts are preferred. That means that when you have a shorter, more difficult passage, TR tends to explain by means of glosses. So, a more difficult passage is preferred in an eclectic text.

A final (by no means “final”, but the last I’ll mention) issue is whether a translation is “literal” or paraphrastic. No one, other than Young, has a literal translation. A literal translation makes no sense in English. Some versions, e.g. NASB, try to stick to word order in Greek, if possible. As a result the NASB reads rather woodenly, not easily in English. Others like NIV or NLT use a more paraphrastic translation, i.e. they will to capture the thought, if translating the words as they stand would be meaningless. Many who argue for the KJV are really arguing that the TR is better than the eclectic text. I don’t think that dog hunts, but...

Concerning this table of differences between the KJV and other translations I have answers for two such instances, as examples.  I give these two below with more explanation of the process of establishing the best Gk NT text.

Matthew 18:11

Textual apparatus from the Society of Biblical Literature Greek New Testament

10 οὐρανοῖς WH Treg NIV ] + 11 Ἦλθεν γὰρ ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου σῶσαι τὸ ἀπολωλός. RP

Translation of the apparatus
10 heavens WH Treg NIV] (means end the text here) + (add vs 11 “For the son of man came to save the lost”) only RP

The simple answer to why Matthew 18:11 “For the son of man came to save the lost” is left out of the NIV and other English translations, other than the KVJ (and those which rely on the Textus Receptus (Received Text; Erasmus’ Greek NT) or Byzantine text types is that the evidence for its inclusion is very poor.  Only Byzantine text types, which tend to add glosses, include it.

Wescott and Hort, whose text is the main basis of this SBL Greek NT edition, Tregelles’ edition and the Gk NT edition, which served as a base for the NIV translation (“Western” text types based on Sinaiticus, Alexandrinus, Vaticanus, the Ephraemi Rescriptus, and others) did not have this extra verse.  (See below for explanation of the Gk NT editions and their significance take from the SBL Introduction to their edition of the Gk NT.)

The rules of textual criticism say that if the majority of manuscripts lack a verse, the shorter reading is preferred, i.e. leave out what seem very clearly to be glosses or interpolations (additions) (the rule so-called textus brevis, shorter text).

Luke 4:8

To take one other examples Luke 4:8 is partially omitted by newer translations.  Again, this is due to poor textual evidence in the Greek NTs.

Greek text
8 καὶ ἀποκριθεὶς ὁ Ἰησοῦς εἶπεν αὐτῷ· Γέγραπται· Κύριον τὸν θεόν σου προσκυνήσεις καὶ αὐτῷ μόνῳ λατρεύσεις.

English translation
8. Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only. NIV

SBL Gk NT text translated:

And answering ‘the Jesus said to him’ (‘’ means some question about word order is in question, but not inclusion). It is written: ‘Lord the God your you shall worship’ (some question about word order again) and to him alone you shall serve.

SBL Gk Textual Apparatus

8 ὁ Ἰησοῦς εἶπεν αὐτῷ WH NIV ] αὐτῷ εἶπεν ὁ Ἰησοῦς Treg; αὐτῷ εἶπεν ὁ Ἰησοῦς Ὕπαγε ὀπίσω μου Σατανᾶ RP • Κύριον τὸν θεόν σου προσκυνήσεις WH Treg NIV ] Προσκυνήσεις κύριον τὸν θεόν σου RP

Apparatus translated

8 Jesus said to him WH NIV] (include to here); to him said the Jesus Treg; to him said the Jesus; Go behind me, Satan. RP (alone supports this phrase)  The Lord your God shall you worship WH Treg NIV] (Include) Worship Lord the God your RP

So, the issue is whether to include “Go behind me, Satan.” or not.

In this case actually there is agreement by all texts types except for “Go behind me, Satan!” There is a question of word order for the phrase: “And he said to him”, but this doesn’t affect meaning; it’s a question of emphasis (which I won’t explain; other than word order adds emphasis to words placed first or last).

The most likely reason for inclusion of “Go behind me, Satan!” is that the Matthew 4 version of the temptation of Christ, which is a parallel text, includes it.

Matthew 4:10 Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’”

The copyist of Luke no doubt remembered the Matthew version and added the phrase “back in”, thinking that he was doing something good, because likely some other copyist had left it out.  These sorts of additions happen a lot in Byzantine or Eastern text types.

Those working on the SBL and UBS Gk NTs wanted to preserve the Gk NT text as it stands rather than allow such additions and glosses, even if they seem to make sense.

Those who argue for the KJV and similar translations based on the TR or Byzantine Gk NT texts argue that these inclusions should have been there.  Some argue that Erasmus knew of the other manuscripts found later (in time).  Some claim he destroyed them or ignored them in his preparation of his own Gk NT edition (TR).  I think all of these arguments are unlikely.

I don’t see that any of these differences make any substantive difference to the text itself.  I was trained in Gk NT (and Heb OT) textual criticism (to a MDiv level).  I think the arguments for “KJV only” are not very plausible.

Warmly in Christ,
Phil

Introduction to SBL Greek New Testament (pp ix- xii)
The Greek New Testament SBL Edition. Michael W. Holmes (ed). Atlanta, Georgia: Society of Biblical Literature, 2010.

The Text

The Greek New Testament: SBL Edition (SBLGNT) is a new edition of the Greek New Testament, established with the help of earlier editions. In particular, four editions of the Greek New Testament were utilized as primary resources in the process of establishing the SBLGNT. These editions (and their abbreviations) are:

WH = Brooke Foss Westcott and Fenton John Anthony Hort, The New Testament in the Original Greek, vol. 1: Text; vol. 2: Introduction [and] Appendix (Cambridge: Macmillan, 1881). This justly famous and widely influential nineteenth-century edition of the Greek New Testament was one of the key texts used in the creation of the original Nestle text 1 and was used as the initial basis of comparison in the creation of the United Bible Societies’ Greek New Testament.

Treg = Samuel Prideaux Tregelles, The Greek New Testament, Edited from Ancient Authorities, with their Various Readings in Full, and the Latin Version of Jerome (London: Bagster; Stewart, 1857–1879). Although the fine edition of Tregelles has been overshadowed by that of his close contemporaries Westcott and Hort, his textual judgments reveal a “consistency of view and breadth of appreciation” of all the available textual evidence not always as evident in the work of his major nineteenth-century colleagues, who display (to varying degrees) a tendency toward a preoccupation with the latest “big discovery” (Ephraemi Rescriptus/04 in the case of Lachmann, Sinaiticus/01 in the case of Tischendorf, and Vaticanus/03 in the case of Westcott and Hort). 3 Tregelles offers a discerning alternative perspective alongside Westcott and Hort.

NIV = Richard J. Goodrich and Albert L. Lukaszewski, A Reader’s Greek New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003). This edition presents the Greek text behind the New International Version 4 as reconstructed by Edward Goodrick and John Kohlenberger III. 5 It thus represents the textual choices made by the Committee on Bible Translation, the international group of scholars responsible for the NIV translation. According to its editors, this edition differs from the United Bible Societies/Nestle-Aland editions of the Greek New Testament at 231 places. 6

RP = The New Testament in the Original Greek: Byzantine Textform 2005, compiled and arranged by Maurice A. Robinson and William G. Pierpont (Southborough, Mass.: Chilton, 2005). This edition offers a text that is a reliable representative of the Byzantine textual tradition.

Establishing the Text

The starting point for the SBLGNT was the edition of Westcott and Hort. First, the WH text was modified to match the orthographic standards of the SBLGNT (described below). Next, the modified version was compared to the other three primary editions (Treg, NIV, and RP) in order to identify points of agreement and disagreement between them. Where all four editions agreed, the text was tentatively accepted as the text of the SBL edition; points of disagreement were marked for further consideration. The editor then worked systematically through the entire text, giving particular attention to the points of disagreement but examining as well the text where all four editions were in agreement. 7 Where there was disagreement among the four editions, the editor determined which variant to print as the text; 8 occasionally a reading not found in any of the four editions commended itself as the most probable representative of the text and therefore was adopted. Similarly, where all four texts were in agreement, the editor determined whether to accept that reading or to adopt an alternative variant as the text. 9 In this manner, the text of the SBLGNT was established.

A comparison of this new text with the four editions listed above, using as the data base the 6,928 variation units recorded in the accompanying apparatus (described below), reveals the following patterns of agreement and difference:





Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Masters of Suspicion Part IV: A Christian Response

A Christian Response to the Masters of Suspicion

It may seem easy for us as Christians to simply dismiss these three Masters of Suspicion: Friedrich Nietzsche, Sigmund Freud and Karl Marx. However, the more I think about them the more I see them as good company to keep.  It’s easy for us to read the things we agree with.  If a preacher tells us that we shall reign with Jesus, that sounds good.  If a Bible teacher tells us that Jesus will supply all our needs, we tune in.  If a popular exponent of the Christian economic advice tells us that hard work is a virtue and we deserve to prosper if we work hard, while other less fortunate people are simply lazy, that sounds good to us.

The Bible, unlike our popular teachers, is rather harsh with us.  It doesn’t see much good in human nature, in the flesh.  The Apostle John warns us: “Do not love the world or the things in the world.  For all that is in the world: the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh and the boastful pride of life are not from the Father, but from the world. And, the world is passing away and all of its lusts but the one who does the will of God will abide forever.” I Jn 2:15. The “world” John speaks of is this world which will one day be burnt up.  He is speaking about a system of the world that is opposed to God, because it has made idols of many things: money, sex and power.

How does this verse help us see the usefulness of the three Masters of Suspicion? Nietzsche says that we are driven by will to power, what John calls “the boastful pride of life.” (“I am in charge!”; “I will rule”) Freud says that we are driven by unconscious urges. John calls these the lust of the flesh. (Sexual temptation) Marx says that we are driven by desire for wealth. John calls this the lust of the eyes. (Desire for things or for “financial security”).

It is easy to deceive ourselves.  We believe almost always that we are motivated by the best and honest motives.  However, if we were as acid with ourselves as the Bible is, and actually as the Masters of Suspicion are, we might realize that we are not as honest with ourselves as we’d like to think. 

The goal of this sort of self analysis or introspection should lead us to changing our behavior to a more biblical approach. We should regard others more than ourselves and serve others as Christ served others, selflessly, humbly. We should be examine ourselves regarding our unconscious urges. We need to turn the spotlight of the Holy Scripture and the Holy Spirit on the dark places in our hearts. We must seek to honor our commitments in marriage and in sexual purity. We should consider our wealth as something God gives us to advance his kingdom, rather than “feather our nest” or to buy one more thing because “you deserve it.” Jesus’ life was others’ centered, not self-centered.  We should use our wealth to help the poor and needy.   Maybe the Masters of Suspicion seem like unlikely company for Christians to keep, but sometimes our “enemies” know us better than we know ourselves.

Postscript for my philosopher friends (and enemies)

I realize that I have not done justice to Nietzsche’s attack on “ontotheology”. It wasn’t my intent.  I also haven’t answered Freud’s general insights or even shown that they are true or useful beyond my purposes.  Again, that wasn’t my intent.  I also haven’t done any critique of Marx per se.  It wasn’t my intent either.  My intent was to deal with the ways in which considering their thought might help us to critique ourselves.

Third Master of Suspicion - Karl Marx

Third Master of Suspicion - Karl Marx




The third of the Masters of Suspicion is Karl Marx.  Marx is not taken seriously at all these days, except where people are poor.  Perhaps we feel that he had a right to criticize 19th century industrial Britain or 19th century Imperial Russia.  However, he was also criticizing industrial society in general, and expected Germany to be the place where the first Workers’ revolution would occur.

Marx’ suspicion concerned money, stuff, things, capital.  Marx believed that the ruling powers, which held ownership of capital, used their influence and power to keep the workers in near slavery.  The main insight is that it’s not about morality or religion or good will; it’s all about money.

We say that we believe in the Christian virtue of charity, but we hoard things, building additions onto our houses to hold our “just in case” supplies or discount purchases.  We have garages for four cars.  We “save” money in the stock market or banks hoping to stave off economic reverse.  This may sound all too close to home, but it has been less than 175 yeas since some in the US argued that God had intended some to be slaves and serve others.  The ones intended to be slaves happened to be black and the ones to rule white.  Even “good” Bible exegesis of the day upheld this view. See RL Dabney’s “Defense of Virginia.” (http://www.portagepub.com/dl/causouth/dabney.pdf)

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Masters of Suspicion Part II - Sigmund Freud

Sigmund Freud is also considered one of the Masters of Suspicion.  Freud’s psychoanalytic theory revolutionized psychology in his day, even if it is not so attractive to many now.  Freud’s basic idea was that besides our conscious mind (which is the place philosophy believes it can answer all questions of truth, beauty and goodness), we have an unconscious mind where in fact most of our “reasoning” goes on.  Freud, like Nietzsche, saw our “reasoning” as rationalizations.

Freud saw the unconscious as the place of base urges, sexual urges.  Sexuality is what drives humans to do what they do.  He did many case studies on mentally ill patients, who were suffering from symptoms or disorders like neurosis, which could be explained by finding a primal root.

In one study Freud focused on a young woman named Emma Eckstein (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emma_Eckstein).  Emma seemed generally to be a normal young woman. However, when she went into a shop alone she became abnormally agitated and rushed out.  Through a long series of counseling sessions Freud brought to Emma’s conscious mind an incident which she was repressing (not suppressing - which is conscious; but repressing - unconsciously keeping buried from her conscious mind).  Emma finally recalled consciously that she had been groped by a shop keeper when she was a young girl.  The trauma of the event caused her to repress the memory.  Only through a long series of sessions of psychotherapy was she able to surface the hidden spring of her odd behavior (and supposedly find healing).

Freud developed other theories of behavior based on sexuality.  One of the most famous is the Oedipus Complex.  Oedipus was a character in a play by the ancient Greek playwright Sophocles.  In the story at Oedipus’ birth it is prophesied that he would kill his father and marry his mother.  This was his fate. To prevent this fate, he is sent away and not raised by his parents.  Later, however, he returns and in fact kills his father (of course not knowing that he is his father) and marries his mother (not realizing that she was his mother).  Freud theorized that all boys go through a period of hating their fathers and desiring to “possess” their mothers (not necessarily sexual possession, but having her undivided attention and affection).  Freud also wrote an article about this concept called “Dostoevsky and Parricide”, (https://www.sas.upenn.edu/~cavitch/pdf-library/Freud_Dostoevsky_Parricide.pdf), in which he explained the behavior of the Karamazov brothers by use of his theory.  They were driven by the Oedipus Complex.


While Freud is not so popular in psychology circles these days, his theories and ideas can give us pause before we act.  We need to ask: Just what is driving us?  Are we in fact being rational?  Are our reasons really rational or just rationalizations? When we say that we believe in Christian morals and then are unfaithful to our marital promises and justify ourselves using logic like “She never really loved me.” or “We grew apart.”, are being honest or are we merely justifying our desires? One heir of Freud among Postmodern thinkers was Jacques Lacan.  Lacan aims his sharp arrows at our “inmost parts” questioning our motives, asking whether we even know what they are or even what we want.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Masters of Suspicion Part I

Masters of Suspicion Part I

When I was studying for my Master of Philosophy at the University of Leuven (Louvain) I was introduced to the term, “Masters of Suspicion.”  The Masters of Suspicion were Friedrich Nietzsche, Sigmund Freud and Karl Marx.  Each one in a different way cast doubt or raised questions about the rationality of the society around them.

First Master of Suspicion - Friedrich Nietzsche


Friedrich Nietzsche eschewed the German Idealistic philosophy of his day.  He hated Georg WF Hegel.  Nietzsche did not believe that the Prussian state was guided by rationality.  Nietzsche believed that the wealthy and weak had devised their philosophy to protect their prerogatives and privileges.  According to Nietzsche Prussia was not the kingdom of God on earth, but rather a place where old men tried to keep their own positions.

Nietzsche felt, for instance, that the Christian religion was used to keep the weaker in charge.  Nietzsche despised the fact that “Old woman’s religion” and “Old woman’s morality” bound the strong to behaving like weak sheep.  Nietzsche believed that the only true motivation was “will to power.”

Will to power means that everyone wants to rule and no one wants to serve.  However, since most people weren’t strong enough to rule or force their will on others, they adopted systems like Christian morality to force the strong to be kind and follow the rules, which would benefit the weak.

Nietzsche believed that it was only the Superman, Übermensch or Blonde Beast (Teutonic males) who should rule.  The powerful should rule by force.  The powerful should make the laws for the weaker.  What the powerful want should be law.

Giving “reasons” was only giving rationalizations for what one wanted.  The Superman should impose his will without giving reasons.  Will was primary for Nietzsche, not “reason”, since will was what drove people.

Nietzsche wrote in a literary, aphoristic style. He would not write systematic philosophy.  For generations he has been either despised as a sideshow to philosophy or seen as a brilliant mind, who overthrew the sham of old German Idealism.

Nietzsche helps us all to examine our motives and ask whether we really are seeking what is morally good and true, or whether we are simply trying to gain the upper hand. 

A Russian Response to Nietzsche - Dostoevsky’s Crime & Punishment and The Idiot


Fyodor Dostoevsky wrote Crime and Punishment to answer Nietzsche. Raskolnikov, the “hero” or anti-hero of the novel, chooses to act as a “Superman” to determine that, in his case, murdering his landlady to steal her money was justifiable, since he was the more evolved person morally and was above the law.  Raskolnikov could not finally maintain this super human status, and finally confessed his crime and repented.

Dostoevsky also wrote another novel called The Idiot in a way again it is a reply to Nietzsche.  There are two male figures, who are among the main characters: Prince Myshkin and Rogozhin.  Myshkin is a physically weak person.  He is an epileptic.  Still he is a kind person, despite being despised due to his “foolishness.” Myshkin has a childlike faith in people and is “naive.”  Rogozhin (which literally translated means “the horned one” [Satan?]) takes what he wants by force.  Rogozhin and Myshkin love the same woman. Rogozhin can’t stand that she won’t choose him.  So, he decides to kill her.  Both men go mad after this act.  There is a difference, though Rogozhin goes mad having murdered someone and loses his mind while raving and cursing.  Myshkin likewise goes mad, but as he does he is holding Rogozhin in his arms, rocking him and comforting him.

It seems a rather bleak story, but Dostoevsky’s point is that: “Yes, Nietzsche is right. We will all return to unconsciousness. We will all die, but we can choose how we die. We can choose to “go down” raving and cursing or blessing and comforting.”  Dostoevsky is not directly answering Nietzsche, but he is facing us with an extreme dilemma: Would we rather embrace Nietzsche’s will to power and achieve what we want (if we could) at whatever price it costs or is the “old woman’s morality” so bad, even if it is “unworldly?”

However, Nietzsche as a Master of Suspicion can still goad us to examine our motives.  We say that we are Christians, but are we really rather using anything at our disposal to get what we want?  Are we really behaving as true believers or are we really acting as anyone else in the world?

A Postmodern thinker influenced by Nietzsche was Michel Foucault.  Foucault wrote a seven volume history of sex.  He was gay.  One of his basic insights is that the powerful criminalize those behaviors they dislike.  The reason for laws is not some basic moral code, but fear of the other, the different, and a desire to remain in power.  Whatever we think of Nietzsche or Foucault, we need to ask: Just what are our motives?  Are we driven by love and truth or are we driven by a desire to remain in control?  For Foucault it is all about power plays, not about rationality.

Monday, October 16, 2017

The Pleasure Principle

I know I "cheat" by invoking Freud when I have no intention of speaking of him, but I do generally invoke the idea that pleasure is a sure guide to right behavior (or equally that the avoidance of pain is a sure guide to right behavior).

Such a view is strictly speaking called hedonism.  It comes from the Greek word, hedone, which is the word for pleasure.

If we could show that life resulted without God (that is without a ground beyond ourselves which establishes morals), hedonism might be a reasonable view. But, it fails for several reasons.  

First, how did we get here?  One astrophysicist, Sir Fred Hoyle, said that Evolution was the most unbelievable miracle of all time.  He saw that the mathematical odds for evolution were incredible, even for an astrophysicist like himself.  He did, not, though reject evolution, but he moved from theism (there is an omnipotent Creator God) to panentheism (there is a spirit or designer within the world directing its evolution or progress).  This is usually a Hindu view, but is also present throughout the whole of western philosophy.

Panentheism has a fatal flaw: "God" has no guarantee of "winning" or achieving his or her outcomes.  "God" must work with matter, and humans and other creatures to try to achieve his or her goals.  Such a god is not worthy of worship.  Such a god also carries out his or her project at our expense.  He or she gains from our efforts, but we pass back into unconsciousness.

Some now are willing to postulate that aliens "seeded" life on earth (for instance, as in the film, Jupiter Ascending).  This is no better.  Where did the aliens come from?  How did they come to exist?  If they are created, then they had a creator.  This is an example of an ad infinitum argument.  There cannot be an endless regression of causes.  At some point there has to be an uncaused cause (a theistic God).

I suggest again Geisler on panentheism.  The Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics might be easier than his explanation in Christian Apologetics.

The issue of hedonism is also self-destructive.  First, it's difficult to define "pleasure".  Do you mean unbridled pleasure?  Surely this can't be true, because after your first several undergraduate drinking sprees, you learn that drunkenness is not pleasant, at least the hangover isn't.  It's also in the long run self destructive.  So, you moderate your behavior.  If you moderate your behavior, you admit that there is a rule beyond mere pleasure, and it must be a rational one.  No one can be a pure hedonist seeking immediate gratification.

There is also a problem of what is pleasure.  For some torturing others is pleasant.  If you're into sadism or masochism, that might sound good, but what if you are not and you are being tortured?  (The Marquis de Sade is the person from whom we get the term sadism.)

Also there are arguments that it might be preferable to suffer pain and even death for some higher cause.  Any country which institutes conscription into the army in time of war uses such an argument.  The greater good requires some individuals sacrifice themselves for the preservation of the greatest number.

It seems easy to define pleasure, but it is not so easy.  If we want firm definitions, we must have a rule or a standard, upon which to base our definition or judgment.  For Christians that standard is what God, the Creator says, and who He is in Himself.

For instance, God says that monogamy is his intent.  We can ignore it to pursue "pleasure" (whether heterosexual - adultery or sex outside of marriage - used to be called fornication - or homosexual).  However, sexually transmitted diseases show that we suffer consequences when we ignore the rules God gives.

Even if we use a naturalistic explanation, defining pleasure is not easy.  Some pleasures are immediate: taking LSD gives a person a "high", but it has long term detrimental effects (at least, addiction, if not overdose).  Some pleasures might not have immediate negative consequences, but they have long term ones.  Nicotine has been called "the perfect drug".  It lifts you up when you're down, and calms you down when you're anxious.  The problem is that long term smoking leads to emphysema or lung cancer.

So we're back to the same problem: What is pleasure? and Should it be governed or controlled?  It must be controlled, then pleasure is not the final arbiter of behavior, but rather reason.  Whether arguments from reason or physical explanations are given, there must be a rule or ground of reason and a design in creation, which wanton indulgence in pleasure breaks, resulting in consequences.

For further interaction with hedonism, one could see Carl FH Henry, Christian Ethics, for an explanation of how hedonism is self-defeating.  The Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics also has an article about hedonism.