Wednesday 18 July 2018

How to answer, and how Not to answer: "Do you believe in God?", or "Are you a Christian?"

Both questions have the same answer, assuming it is true, and that answer is:

Yes! And now let me tell you what I mean by 'God' and 'believe'...

The wrong way to answer this question is:

Well, that all depends on what you mean by 'God' and 'believe'; because you may not mean the same thing as I do by these terms; and in fact there is great variation in usage; and indeed the very possibility of meaning for such terms depends on the conceptual scheme within which these terms are being deployed; and...

(Zzzzzzz... Snore...)

The right way is called witnessing to one's faith. Nowadays this requires courage - in public discourse especially.

Yes, you will necessarily be misunderstood, since an atheist cannot understand God and Believe in the same way as a Christian; since Christian understandings are ruled-out in advance by assumption.

But that is what is required of a Christian: affirmation of faith.

To answer the other way is an evasion. A deniable-evasion, true - but an evasion nonetheless.

Such a person is either too afraid, or too ashamed, publicly to identify himself as a Christian; and while this cowardice may be understandable given the negative sanctions, it is a sin - and the fact needs acknowledging and repenting.


Ugh said...

Sounds like you've listened to Jordan B Peterson who follows your 'wrong way' example to a tee. Being a Peterson fan I cringe every time he goes down that road. I suppose he is trying not to be pigeon-holed and therefore instantly dismissed by the anti-Christian intellectual crowd he runs with. I think it's foolish, but it doesn't negate (for me) everything he says. He has something worthwhile to teach.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Ugh - There are two ways to answer that accusation - I could say: Yes.

Or I could say, well, it depends on what you mean by Jordan Peterson, and then there is my personal intellectual development, and we need to consider whether this analogy fully and unambiguously captures what Jordan Peterson - or whether somebody allegedly like him - might have said on some particular occasion, assuming that there had been no tampering with the video...

My objection to JP is that too many people regard him as an authoritative source of Christianity.In fact he reduces everything to psychology and then to therapy - how people feel. In other words he is a mainstream secualr Leftist who is proposing a more effective and efficient way of pursuing the mainstream goal of this worldly utilitarianism.

This is not what we need. Our problem is ends, not means - because it is our lack of ends that is crippling the ability to pursue means.

As I have often said, each North American generation since Jung has produced someone who articulated a version of Jung's half-insight into alienation and therapeutic half-solution: Joseph Campbell, James Hillman and now Jordan Peterson. I'd place JP in third place of these, but he has the great advantage of still being alive and productive!

But I am fed up of people who offer partial-answers based on false metaphysics that exclude the one thing needful - I just can't be bothered!...

Chiu ChunLing said...

I tend to get into the question of what the person means by "believe".

There are certain senses in which I believe things (rather than merely not disbelieving them). And when one of those senses is clearly what is meant, I don't hesitate to affirm that I believe things (beginning with the first thing one must believe in order to believe anything else).

That is to say, if I'm talking to someone who understands that, if you fail to believe in God, you cannot believe in anything at all, I have no problem saying that I do believe some things. But when talking to someone who does not understand "believe" in such a sense, I have to clarify what it is that they mean by "believe". Because it is most likely a human neuro-typical psychological process of which I am neurologically incapable.

If someone like that wishes to dismiss me out of hand for explaining that they do not understand the term "believe" in any sense that is applicable to myself, then they also would likewise dismiss any other answer I gave them out of hand.

Just as you tend to dismiss Jordan Peterson out of hand.

Bruce Charlton said...

@CCL - Ha! But not accurate. I merely find JP *cloying*, repelling, because of his psychotherapeutic stance; which is something I reacted strongly against in my psychiatry training

(Psychotherapy is dishonest and manipulative - and a large majority of its practitioners are exploitative and/or drawn to its practicefor negative reasons of need - I reviewed sexual interactions in psychotherapy for a psychiatric journal... patient therapist sexual interaction is apparently normal rather than exceptional. Sexual ethics in psychiatry. Current Opinion in Psychiatry, 1993;6:713-6. Jung was typical in this respect.)

But I would not bother writing anything about JP, even indirectly, if it were not for the fact that he has been enthusiastically recommended to me by so *many* people; and he is being regarded as a Christian guide, when he isn't even a Christian - let alone a guide...

Luther Burgsvik said...

What puzzles me about the JP phenomenon is not the man himself but everyone who comments on him specifically why dont they comment on his clear love of money. Just look athis Patreon donations, or his book sales (compared to Bruce Charltob who gives them away for free), or his charging $200 for an internet interview, or his charging $10 for a magazine style personality test. Its all rather too much. When will he stop wanting more, and what exactly is he doing with his funds? Christian patreons uses to sponsor religious works of art, or chapels. JP hasnt done anything like that with all his wealth, so I doubt that he has much fidelity to Christianity.

Chiu ChunLing said...

Jordan Peterson is probably a Christian. But he is not a religious minister by profession or training. He is, as you correctly point out, a psychotherapist.

It is a profession rife with fraud and ethical violations. You correctly point out that abstinence from sexual predation on vulnerable patients is the exception rather than the norm.

Peterson is exceptional.

Whether he is an exception in that particular regard is not public knowledge. But that he is exceptional is clear. Mostly because the more serious fraud of psychotherapy and of the mental health sciences in general is the pervasive and entirely unsound implication or outright assertion that Christianity is fundamentally a sign or cause of mental illness.

Peterson is exceptional for publicly and effectively challenging this falsehood.

That he profits from this is commensurate with his claim to be practicing his profession, rather than acting on a calling as an authorized representative of Christ. I have no desire to insist that he make public his donations to Christian relief efforts, because I feel that this tends to go against the specific teaching of Christ on such matters. When we demand it be made impossible for any many to give in private, we effectively act to banish the possibility of obedience to Christ.

I remain unconvinced that Jordan Peterson really has much to offer to committed Christians as Christians. If the world persecutes Christianity, it is the Christian duty to bear that persecution. On the other hand, I think that Jordan Peterson has much to offer to psychotherapy, and to rational public policy which seeks to address mental health issues. If the worldly are willing to receive honest service for honest reward, then it is also a Christian duty to provide that...even if it ends up alleviating the persecution they suffer.

Jordon Peterson is not claiming to be a teacher of Christianity. He teaches psychotherapy, with an emphasis on correcting the harmful and fraudulent idea that Christianity is inherently insane. In doing so, he has done a great service to many Christians, and an even greater service to many who did not want to be Christians if it meant being insane.

His faults are the faults of an engineer who builds a bridge according to the precepts of load bearing and structural integrity rather than claiming the authority of scripture and revelation. And says that the purpose of the bridge is to bear all safely, whether or not they be Christians.

I don't want a world full of bridges built "by inspiration" and labeled "Christians only".

For one thing, I feel that would rapidly result in disproportionate deaths and injuries among Christians. But even if not so, I just don't feel it's a very Christian way to build bridges.

Bruce Charlton said...

@CCL - Well argued.

My point, however, remains. Which is that far too many people *are* regarding JP as a spiritual leader; and therefore regarding Jungian-type psychotherapy as the answer to the main problems of modernity.

And thereby regarding spirituality as psychology-merely - which is precisely the mainstream modern error, being reinforced by a different route.

The danger of this kind of Jungianism is that people think they *are* being spiritual, while remining unreconstructedly materialist.

This is a serious error, yet an error that (speaking from my experience) is plausible/ effective enough to block genuine understanding for a very long time.

And this is why I find it necessary to re-frame JP in a robust and unambiguous way.

Chiu ChunLing said...

I can appreciate the view that it is important to view Jordan Peterson as a psychotherapist rather than as a Christian preacher or minister. But I feel that the best way to do that is by presenting the case directly rather than by claiming he isn't a Christian at all.

Christians can and must follow many other professions than as preachers.

One can argue that in a strictly and exclusively Christian society, there would be no need of psychotherapists at all, their job being performed entirely by ministers. But whether or not an exclusively Christian society is even possible or consistent with the teachings of Christ, it is clearly not the society in which we find ourselves. We live in a society where psychotherapy is as essential a profession as electricians and plumbers. If we had a situation where it was almost impossible to find an electrician who wouldn't paint satanic symbols on my walls and remove all Christian art and scriptures to avoid 'interference' with the mysterious workings of electricity, I can see how an electrician who clearly said all that nonsense was unnecessary and not only did work without requiring it but published DIY manuals that could be used by the average Christian (or non-Christian) who wanted electrical wiring without all the anti-Christianity would meet a large portion of commercial success and come to be viewed as something of something of a champion.

Yes, having your wiring without having to have satanic symbols on your walls and throw out all Christian influences from your house is, ultimately, a materialistic good. But it is not therefore any great evil.

The problem is only when people confuse a material good for a spiritual one, and in clearing it up the most helpful thing is to first avoid falling into confusion ourselves.

Jordan Peterson doesn't claim to be offering salvation or spirituality. He's talking about mental health within a secular paradigm, and saying that it is not incompatible with a Christian religious outlook and practice. The best thing is to point out exactly what he himself says, that mental health isn't a religious question. It may affect your spirituality the same way that having your power go out at inconvenient times could, and so there is a connection after all. But spiritual life is a higher good than material life.

I have to say, Jordan Peterson hardly ever says anything that I don't immediately think could have been said a bit better (or a lot better). That includes his style of communicating that he is a psychotherapist open to religion rather than a religious teacher who has some experience as a psychotherapist. But if I feel the need to clarify what he is saying, I don't see how first muddling the picture helps.

Bruce Charlton said...

@CCL - I am sure that JP is Not a Christian, because I recognise the way he thinks as very similar to the way I used to think in the years before I was a Christian. I don't expect others to be convinced by this, but I am sure of it.

I regard professional psychotherapy as a phony profession, which ought not to exist. I wrote about The Moral Case Against Psychotherapy even when I was an atheist:

But nowadays I would write much more strongly against it.

Chiu ChunLing said...

It certainly is a profession rife with fraud, and predictably so.

It would be better if our social model were not dependent on such a profession existing. Of course, that means that the clerical profession would bear all the incentive to fraud and corruption...which it already has in far too great a degree.

As for fundamental patterns of thought...mine are rather more starkly evil than Peterson's, from the common perspective. One of my most pertinent criticisms of Peterson is that he takes basically Christian assumptions rather for granted. Of course, that is just what most people should do. But not those who are called to preach to those who do not grant those assumptions.

The thing is, Peterson is not preaching. He is speaking to the need to correct the severe ethical defect of the anti-Christian bias of most psychotherapy. It's true I find this a fundamentally trivial problem, on the level of pointing out the anti-Christian bias of Facebook (which I've done in the past but always regarded as rather a waste of my time and intellect).

Bruce Charlton said...

@CCL - "The thing is, Peterson is not preaching. " - The Thing Is - that he is preaching; in the sense that JP is being treated as a preacher, indeed treated as a Christian preacher. This is something I know from several personal interactions - not something I have read in the media.

For me, that's the reason to comment on him. And I don't have much else to say; except that JP is obviously and explicitly a Leftist Utilitarian, and so obviously Not what is wanted, needed or will be effective.

I don't intend to keep commenting on Jordan Peterson except perhaps indirectly, concerning issues he raises - JP was not mentioned in the post, but was named/ identified by Ugh, and the matter was sustained by you; not by me.