ALVIN PLANTINGA, BARACK OBAMA, JONATHAN GRUBER AND THE HEART OF AMERICAN DARKNESS

It is not often when I’m reading a tome of analytic philosophy that I am stopped in my tracks by a passage that reads like a penetrating diagnosis of what’s wrong with contemporary America. But that happened recently, and I have not been able to get the passage out of my head. The passage appears in Alvin Plantinga’s 500+ page volume Warranted Christian Belief in a chapter where he is discussing how sin distorts our ability to see the truth.

Prior to the passage that arrested my attention, he noted that it is a matter of common sense that we are naturally disposed to accept the idea that there is such a thing as truth. Moreover, the notion of truth assumes a certain sort of relation between our beliefs and the way the world actually is. The truth accurately depicts a world of objective reality.

Unfortunately, however, some environments can be so toxic that our notion of truth can be smothered and squelched to such an extent that we end up with no concept of truth at all. Plantinga went on to give a concrete example of this phenomenon, and this is the passage that left me pondering for days.

“It is said that one of the most serious results of the long Communist tyranny in eastern Europe was just such a suppression of the idea of truth. The truth was officially perverted so often and so cynically (for example, the official organ of the Communist party devoted to the dissemination of propaganda was ironically named Pravda, i.e., truth) that people came to lose the very idea of truth. They were lied to at every level in utterly shameless and blatant ways; they knew they were being lied to, knew that those who lied to them knew they were lying and that those to whom they lied knew they were being lied to, and so on; the result was that the whole idea of truth tended to evaporate. One said whatever would be of advantage; the question of whether it was true no longer arose” (Oxford University Press, 2000, p 216). Continue reading

Who Speaks for the Church?

The drums of war are beating, the President has asked Congress for support of military action, the Congress is debating. It is 1990, it is 2003, it is 2013. The President is Republican, the President is Democrat. The story in one form or another goes back decades, sometimes with congressional votes involved and sometimes without (e.g. the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, when I was in high school). Every President I can remember has been involved in such conflicts, overtly or covertly. We in this USA are a non-partisan warring nation. In these crises and conflicts the President speaks, the Congress speaks, various lobby groups speak, and to some degree the public speaks (if they bother to contact with Senator or Representative), but who speaks for the Church? Who speaks from the perspective of the King of Kings?

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The election results: an interpretation

Several thoughts come to mind in the aftermath of yesterday’s election.  One is that the country seems to be becoming more geographically polarized.  The vast majority of the interior of the country voted for Romney.  The coasts and the midwest industrial belt went for Obama.  These trends have, of course, been going on for quite some time.  But I think that they are becoming slightly more pronounced.  I know my American history pretty well, and I cannot remember an electoral map whose geographical polarization was this pronounced since about the mid-nineteenth-century.  Geographical polarization is a dangerous phenomenon because it frequently can exacerbate the tensions between competing factions.  It is easier for radicalization to occur – irrespective of the particular end of the political spectrum on which one is located – when one is surrounded only by like-minded persons.

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