I am currently reading Miracles by C.S. Lewis.  I came across a remark in passing that caught my attention:

The state of affairs in which ordinary people can discover the Supernatural only by abstruse reasoning is recent and, by historical standards, abnormal.  All over the world, until quite modern times the direct insight of the mystics and the reasonings of the philosophers percolated to the mass of the people by authority and tradition; they could be received by those who were no great reasoners themselves in the concrete form of myth and ritual and the whole pattern of life.  In the conditions produced by a century or so of Naturalism, plain men are being forced to bear burdens which plain men were never expected to bear before.  We must get the truth for ourselves or go without it.  There may be two explanations for this.  It might be that humanity, in rebelling against tradition and authority, have made a ghastly mistake; a mistake which will not be the less fatal because the corruptions of those in authority rendered it very excusable.  On the other hand, it may be that the Power which rules our species is at this moment carrying out a daring experiment.  Could it be intended that the whole mass of the people should now move forward and occupy for themselves those heights which were once reserved only for the sages?  Is the distinction between wise and simple to disappear because all are now expected to become wise?  . . . .

If we are content to go back and become humble plain men obeying tradition, well.  If we are ready to climb and struggle on till we become sages ourselves, better still.  But the man who will neither obey wisdom in others nor adventure for her himself is fatal.  A society where the simple many obey the few seers can live: a society where all were seers could live even more fully.  But a society where the mass is still simple and the seers are no longer attended to can achieve only superficiality, baseness, ugliness, and in the end extinction.  On or back we must go; to stay here is death. 

(Emphases added.)

Thus, according to C.S. Lewis, in the past it was perfectly acceptable to trust wise authority figures on spiritual matters.  Now society urges upon everyone the need to figure it all out “on their own.”  Of course, if a person is incompetent to figure it out “on his own,” Naturalism is often treated as the necessary default choice.

On a related note, last night I came across an interview with Antony Flew, a long-time atheist who recently became a deist (meaning he now believes in an inactive god but rejects all religious revelation).  He discussed his reasons for rejecting Christianity with Christian Philosophy Professor Gary Habermas, but added this:

HABERMAS: You have made numerous comments over the years that Christians are justified in their beliefs such as Jesus’ resurrection or other major tenants of their faith. In our last two dialogues I think you even remarked that for someone who is already a Christian there are many good reasons to believe Jesus’ resurrection. Would you comment on that? 

FLEW: Yes, certainly. This is an important matter about rationality which I have fairly recently come to appreciate. What it is rational for any individual to believe about some matter which is fresh to that individual’s consideration depends on what he or she rationally believed before they were confronted with this fresh situation. For suppose they rationally believed in the existence of a God of any revelation, then it would be entirely reasonable for them to see the fine tuning argument as providing substantial confirmation of their belief in the existence of that God.

The above remarks from Lewis and Flew—two long-time debate opponents at Oxford—lead me to conclude that one is justified in placing the burden of proof on opposing worldviews.  In other words, if an atheist finds the evidence in favor of the resurrection of Jesus to be wanting, he nevertheless cannot accuse the Christian of unreasonably holding to a false belief unless he can prove as a matter of reason that the resurrection did not happen. 

Both the Christian and the atheist are beholden to simple reason.  But when reason permits two contrary conclusions of fact based on evidence, neither side is justified in accusing the other of acting irrationally for retaining a prior belief.  They may, and should, argue which way the evidence points, but each is justified in retaining prior beliefs, even if based solely on authority, unless all evidence and rational thought require one particular conclusion.  No one can be a sage in all fields; we must accept some facts based on faith in someone giving us information, whether that person be priest or physicist.


To follow up on a post from eight months ago, the Supreme Court has granted certiorari on (decided to review) the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision in Christian Legal Society v. Kane [and the University of California, Hastings College of the Law].  (The case has since been renamed “Christian Legal Society v. Martinez.”)  According to the Christian Legal Society’s press release, the Supreme Court will “decide whether a public university can refuse to recognize a religious student group because the group requires its leaders to share its religious beliefs.”

I am not sure that that description is precisely accurate.  The Ninth Circuit opinion to be reviewed held that the UC Hastings Law School’s policy that “all groups must accept all comers as voting members even if those individuals disagree with the mission of the group” was constitutionally permissible because it was “viewpoint neutral and reasonable.”  The “question presented” in the Supreme Court docket is “Whether the Ninth Circuit erred when it held, directly contrary to the Seventh Circuit’s decision in Christian Legal Society v. Walker, 453 F.3d 853 (7th Cir. 2006), that the Constitution allows a state law school to deny recognition to a religious student organization because the group requires its officers and voting members to agree with its core religious viewpoints”, as stated in the CLS’ petition.  (Scotusblog reported that the Court will decide “[w]hether a public university law school may deny school funding and other benefits to a religious student organization because the group requires its officers and voting members to agree with its core religious viewpoints”.)  Of course, none of these quite explain the hot-button point of this whole thing: the CLS wants to officially, as part of its organizational constitution, prevent homosexuals from becoming members or officers of CLS, and Hastings desires not to fund student groups that discriminate against homosexuals. 

One slight variation between the press release and the court docket is that the Supreme Court’s term is “core religious viewpoints”, not “religious beliefs,” which could be an important distinction.  Another issue I note is that even if Hastings requires all groups to “accept all comers as voting members” (the foundation of the Ninth Circuit’s decision), the CLS student group easily could have done that, and yet still required its officers to fit within the guidelines that the voting members established.  If gays, lesbians, and whoever else want to become officers, they can join the CLS and rally a vote to change the guidelines for officers (and law students have much better things to do than join groups and attend meetings just to oppose the missions of those groups and face the hostile arguments that would go with that attempt).  

In any event, the Hastings policy really seems ridiculous aside from its discriminatory aspect.  The CLS could probably say “anyone who shows up at the Bible study on [date] can vote.”  They can spread that message by email to the other CLS members.  Who is going to know?  Non-Christians will not regularly attend the Bible studies (it’s hard enough to get the Christians to attend them).  The policy seems to be a wholly ineffective way to “make a statement” against discrimination. 

Moreover, Hastings could eradicate its “official” policy prohibiting recognition of groups that don’t allow gay and lesbian officials, and simply allow the student government to assign funds however they want, which will inevitably include discrimination against the CLS anyway (and I speak from experience in this regard).

Nevertheless, the importance in the case is not that the CLS get funding, or that the CLS’ rule be permitted to stand (the group could continue to meet with its rule intact without funding from the school).  Rather, the important issue is that government not be permitted overt discrimination against the faithful for their commitment to their religions (whatever religion that may be), even when their religions deem homosexual activity to be sinful. 

Potentially, the Supreme Court could delve into whether the doctrine against homosexual sex is a “core religious viewpoint”, as stated in its “Question Presented,” because there are Christians who believe homosexual activity is morally acceptable.  Of course, that would certainly get the attention of the more conservative Christians across the country; they will not take kindly to a governmental entity telling them what their “core religious viewpoints” are.  I doubt that the Supreme Court would risk such a backlash, which could ultimately undermine its power.

More likely, the Court’s decision will set guidelines for a state school’s recognition of, or discrimination against, student-led religious organizations on the college/post-graduate level.  The ironic thing here is that even though the public school seeks to prohibit an organization from “discriminating” against homosexuals and others, it “discriminates” against those who believe homosexuality is wrong.  So the public school erred on the side of freedom of sexual activity over freedom of religion and conscience.  Such is the result of the sexual revolution.  And that is a scary progression, from dedication to conscience to dedication to sex.

We can only hope the Supreme Court doesn’t make it worse.

If God commanded you directly by voice from heaven to vote to make wearing red t-shirts illegal (say it’s on the ballot, California referendum style), and you became convinced that God had actually given you such a command, would you vote accordingly?  Just to secure the hypothetical, let’s say that you were with your closest friends and family, including the ones you trust most and the ones who are most skeptical in character, and each of them affirms that he/she heard God give you the command, and you are provided whatever other forms of proof you need to be certain that it was actually the Creator of the Universe who gave you the command (dew on the grass but not on the blanket, a staff turning into a snake, burning bush, water into wine, and whatever else you want).  Again, would you vote according to the command?  (You need not assume that it’s the Christian God giving you the command; just some ultimate creator.)

If your answer to the question is “yes,” it seems to me that you are therefore willing to enforce your religious convictions in a political manner upon others, consistent with your (practically undeniable) belief in God and His command, regardless of whether anybody else had any insight into your knowledge of the command obtained through direct revelation.  It probably wouldn’t much matter to you that others happen to disagree about whether you had been given the command, or even if they thought you were crazy.  You were given a direct insight from God and a command, and you chose to obey.  (Note: this is only because God hypothetically commanded you to, and I am not setting forth the argument–at least not in this post–that in reality, God has in fact commanded you to vote in any particular way on red t-shirts or any other issue.  That’s for another post.)

If your answer to the question is “no”, then it seems you aren’t really all that willing to obey God (or else you doubt your sanity).  You place your politics or personal judgments ahead of God Himself, which is to say that you are ultimately faithful not to God, but to the state and/or your own fallible judgment.  In short, you are deliberately and knowingly unfaithful.

Now replace “red t-shirts” with abortion.  Maybe God has commanded people to oppose abortion, or maybe He hasn’t, but if a person in good conscience believes that God wants him or her to politically oppose abortion, he or she is perfectly entitled (perhaps even obligated) to do so, even on religious grounds.  The appropriate response to that position for the pro-choice person is not to spit on the freedom of religious conviction and the free exercise thereof by demanding that people keep their religion to themselves, but rather to discuss whether God actually does require them to oppose abortion.  And that will bring us squarely to a religious discussion about politics.  Suddenly the lines don’t seem so clear. 

I came up with this little hypothetical at one minute shy of midnight, which is rather late for me.  Perhaps I’ve committed some fallacy.  But I’m very curious how one would respond to my brief argument (one conclusion being that if your religion requires certain political action and you reject, even oppose, that political action, you deny your faith).

In the comments to another post, the question arose whether the pro-life position is inconsistent with a failure to prevent as many naturally-occurring deaths in the womb as possible.  I found the discussion worth a separate post, and I hope that the gentleman with whom I was conversing will take no offense at the separate post written in response to his comments: Read the rest of this entry »

In my criminal law class at law school, we discussed four basic theories of “why we punish”: deterrence (“to keep them from doing it”), incarceration (“to keep those who do it away from us”), rehabilitation (“to help them stop doing it”), and retribution (“because they deserve it”).  Any punishment should fall in line with your basic theory of punishment.

It seems to me that each theory of punishment, when applied and examined, ends up needing such a degree of retribution as justification that retribution may be said to be the primary theory.  Deterrence is probably the most commonly-held theory in America, but if deterrence is our primary motivator, we should chop the hands off of teenage shoplifters; that would deter!  We don’t do that because we don’t think they deserve to have their hands chopped off. That punishment strikes us as cruel and unusual in comparison to the weight of the crime.  I find incarceration equally problematic (we could lock up criminals indefinitely), and rehabilitation is foolish because it doesn’t (can’t?) work.  Ultimately, the other theories lead to obvious injustices unless they have retribution as a foundation, notwithstanding critics that claim the retributive theory is too “vengeful.” 

One of the best explanations of the problems with the deterrence and rehabilitation theories is C.S. Lewis’ essay, The Humanitarian Theory of Punishment.  In the essay, he argues:

Read the rest of this entry »

This post is a bit behind the news because I’ve been catching up after an illness.  However, almost two weeks ago, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit (aka “the Ninth Circus”) ruled that a public university law school (University of California, Hastings College of Law) could require student groups to adhere to a “non-discrimination policy” forbidding discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or religion. 

The policy poses obvious problems for any religious student group that wants recognition by the school and access to the fund of student fees available to student groups.  The policy requires that any such religious group not discriminate on the basis of religion, which would seem to undermine the group’s whole reason for existence, which is to affirm its own religious tenets. 

The appellate court’s opinion in the matter was extremely short, short enough to reproduce in its entirety here: 

 Before: KOZINSKI, Chief Judge, HUG and BEA, Circuit Judges.

The parties stipulate that Hastings imposes an open membership rule on all student groups—all groups must accept all comers as voting members even if those individuals disagree with the mission of the group. The conditions on recognition are therefore viewpoint neutral and reasonable. Truth v. Kent Sch. Dist., 542 F.3d 634, 649–50 (9th Cir. 2008).


This decision is interesting because, even though it went against the Christian group that brought the lawsuit, in an odd way, it limits its holding so much as to render it insignificant.  After all, the policy that is upheld is characterized as a policy requiring that all students be afforded voting membership in all student groups, regardless of the mission of the group.  The court did not go out of its way to place any value in preventing discrimination or comment on any religious matter at all.  The opinion means, ironically enough, that under the policy as defined by stipulation of the parties in the lawsuit, Christians could join the “Outlaw Club” (the openly homosexual group recognized by the law school), and if they could get enough votes, take over the leadership and use the group’s allotment of student funds to host a homosexuality recovery program, or a Bible study and ice cream social.  That would be quite bizarre, but not much more bizarre than the school’s policy itself. 

Something tells me that it won’t take long for the parties to return to court if the law school takes the predictable step of selectively enforcing its non-discrimination policy.  I hope there are a lot of Christian women ready to join their local law school feminist clubs to spread the word about how abortion has harmed women. 

In any event, it may be best in the end if the Christian group gives up on the idea of getting its miniscule share of the student funds anyway.  I had the misfortune of being part of the Student Bar Association when I was in law school, and when I went to bat for the Christian Legal Society after seeing it get shafted on its funds award, I was amazed at the inconsistent reasons that were given.  “You didn’t do as many activities last year as (club A that got more funding than the CLS).”  “Yeah, but we had more activities than (club B that got more funding).”  “Well, club B has more members.”  “But we have more members than club A.  And further, we had more activities last year and we have more members than the Softball Club, which got more funding.”  “Yeah, but the president of the Student Bar is on the Softball Club, so good luck with that one [laughs].”  The real discrimination occurs in the Student Bar Association, and I’d be shocked if anyone involved in the process of alloting student funds thinks they are distributed in a “viewpoint neutral” way.  I’m guessing that the law students at UC Hastings have no qualms with a little religious discrimination of their own…

[Update: the Supreme Court has decided to review the Ninth Circuit’s opinion.]