Friday, February 17, 2017

Philosophy

Paul's epistle to the church at Colossae is an interesting letter. He wrote it because of the gnosticism there, a philosophy of "higher knowledge" that argued that they knew better than Scripture. Paul wrote,
See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. (Col 2:8)
Now, you might be tempted to think that you would be able to easily see "philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition", but Paul was writing "that no one may delude you with plausible arguments." (Col 2:4) So it would appear that Paul thought that these philosophies would sound plausible and they (we) might be deceived by them. It is my suspicion that many of us today have failed to heed this warning.

What kind of deceitful philosophies from human tradition might we encounter? Well, there was once the notion that men are the most important gender; women are the least important. In this overbearing patriarchal mode (still found in many places in the world today), men were allowed to lord it over women and women were without options. Over against this we find the biblical philosophy that says that men and women are of equal value (Gen 9:6), that men are to love their wives as Christ loved the Church (Eph 5:25-30) and to treat them with understanding and honor (1 Peter 3:7). Not the same thing.

Today's society, overrun as it is with radical feminism, has offered a new philosophy. Men are the least important gender; women are the most important gender. Equal error in the opposite direction. According to Scripture, "the head of a wife is her husband" (1 Cor 11:3), fathers are responsible for their children (Eph 6:4; Col 3:21), and wives are to submit to their husbands as they would to Christ (Eph 5:22-24; 1 Peter 3:1-6). Not the same thing.

Very popular today is the philosophy that people are basically good. It's a friendly philosophy and some people are appalled that anyone would disagree (despite all the evidence to the contrary). This philosophy based on human thinking is the source of all sorts of errors such as redefining marriage, redefining child-rearing, and removing sexual immorality from the list of sins. "It's not wrong if we love each other." The Bible, on the other hand, claims that all have sinned (Rom 3:23), that all are born sinners (Psa 51:5; Rom 5:12), and that, in fact, "no one does good, not even one." (Rom 3:12) In short, the biblical philosophy on the subject is that people are basically evil.

A lot of people are convinced today that morality is defined by that which causes harm. It doesn't matter that this is an incoherent notion. It isn't immoral, for instance, for two consenting adults to engage in sadomasochistic activities, defined as harm. It is immoral for two consenting people to engage in the same activities if one of them is 17 years old. How does this work? Further, can we really tell what "harm" is? How many "good" things have we discovered actually does harm in the long run? Still, that's the basic definition of morality for many. Scripture defines morality in terms of what God commands and what He forbids. The creature doesn't get to override the Creator on these things. Philosophy and empty deceit according to human tradition would disagree.

So far I'd guess you've been nodding your head and saying, "Yeah, I can see that." Here's one that might not go as well. Have you bought a philosophy according to human tradition rather than according to God's Word on the subject of marriage? The Bible indicates that marriage is the lifelong union of a man and a woman (Gen 2:24) for purposes of mutual support (Gen 2:18) and procreation (Gen 1:28). Our world does not. I mean, in almost no way does our world allow for any of that. They might agree to "union" and limit it to "two people", but that's about it. And the "union" that they admit to is a totally soluble one, where the biblical version is "one flesh" -- dissoluble. Yet I know that Christians have bought into the idea that procreation is a personal thing and there's no reason to think that it should be for everyone (or, at least, for almost everyone). They disagree that it is for life, citing all sorts of exceptions from adultery on down through irreconcilable differences. In fact, Christians have so largely embraced our world's shifted version of marriage that the step from where they are to "two people, not just man and a woman" that just occurred in the courts a couple of years ago is a pretty small step. Deceitful philosophy according to human tradition, not Scripture. And we've been taken captive by it. Why? Because it sounded so plausible.

How about this one? I know that all of us suffer from this one to some degree. What is the purpose of life? The world tells us it is, bottom line, primarily to enjoy ourselves. Christianity says we should be good while we enjoy ourselves. You will find, in fact, a sort of "sanctified hedonism" that says, "God wants us to be happy, so we really ought to do what makes us feel good." Even "God owes us that." Scripture says the primary purpose of all creation, us included, is to glorify God (1 Cor 10:31; Rom 11:36) and to enjoy Him (Psa 73:24-26; John 17:22, 24). Do you see the vast difference? Do you see how everything changes between the philosophy according to human traditions and the biblical version here? Our world hinges on my pleasures, my comfort, my preferences, my desires. The biblical version hinges on God's glory and aligning my life to enjoy Him. And, yet, we Christians constantly run up against these two, complaining about God's failure to make us more comfortable or keep us from difficulty and seeking our own pleasures rather than passionately seeking His glory. Why? Well, to be honest, the former sounds a lot more plausible than the latter. It's just not the right one. So we find ourselves taken captive by deceitful, human philosophy.

Noah Webster's dictionary from 1828 includes this in its definition of "philosophy":
... philosophy is a general term denoting an explanation of the reasons of things; or an investigation of the causes of all phenomena both of mind and of matter ... The objects of philosophy are to ascertain facts or truth, and the causes of things or their phenomena; to enlarge our views of God and his works, and to render our knowledge of both practically useful and subservient to human happiness.

True religion and true philosophy must ultimately arrive at the same principle.
Can you imagine that? "The objects of philosophy are ... to enlarge our views of God and his works ..." Go figure. Today's Merriam-Webster simply defines it as "all learning exclusive of technical precepts and practical arts." Noah Webster's version, where philosophy and true religion arrive at the same place, is a reference to philosophy not from human tradition. Merriam-Webster's version is in line with the philosophy that Paul warns against. Be careful not to find yourself deluded by plausible arguments.

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