Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Agents and Causes

Here’s a bit of what I am researching currently:

We often think of agents causing particular events or outcomes. This seems pretty straightforward in cases where we have everyday causation: I formed an intention to get up and open the door; I get up and open the door. The event of the door’s opening is caused by me. Seems fairly simple.

But what about the omissions and “negative” causings? Suppose, as in the Frankfurt case, I am driving down the hill, and I remove my hands from the steering wheel. I am seemingly omitting to act with respect to driving the car; I am driving the car by doing nothing, it seems. I have a disposition to act: on the occasion it becomes clear I need to make a course correction, for example, I will place my hands back on the wheel and drive on.

But this failure to act isn’t, seemingly, in line with the causal account mentioned above. It doesn’t look like I’m causing anything, and in cases where I don’t need to course correct, I’m achieving my objective by doing nothing at all. Why might this be a problem? Since we often take intentional actions to be a necessary condition for intentional agency (that is to say, we are responsible for our actions because we intentionally caused them; if we don’t intentionally cause them, we may lack agency, and hence, responsibility).

But perhaps Andrei Buckareff’s recent journal article “I’m Just Sitting Around Doing Nothing: On Exercising Intentional Agency in Omitting to Act,” might be able to help.

In it, he argues an intentional action should be identified as an outcome of causings (causingsàoutcome; outcome=intentional action). A causing has all the causal powers interacting, maybe directed toward some end or goal, and an outcome is what is produced by these interactions of causal powers.

Intentional agency should be identified with causal processes. A causal process is both a causing and outcome together (that is, the causing and the outcome are proper parts of a causal process). So for Buckareff, intentional agency=causal process, which =causing + outcome; an intentional action=outcome; it seems to follow intentional actions are parts of intentional agency.

In the case of omissions, an intention is directed toward either an omission or an outcome that itself requires an omission. If an intention is directed toward an omission, then we have a causing + an outcome, which is a causal process and hence intentional agency. If an intention is directed toward an outcome that requires an omission, then we have a causing + an outcome, which is a causal process and hence intentional agency. What remains is whether we think Buckareff’s account is subject to objections.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The Gospel and Evil in the World

Yesterday, I wrote about how I am not obligated to speak on every instance of evil that occurs. However, since I brought it up, and did condemn the actions that took place in Charlottesville, I wanted to add a little more. The Christian story—and the hope of the Gospel—has a lot to say in various areas that get varying levels of attention. We ought to speak on each of these kinds of issues.

First, there is the issue of abortion. Lost in much of the hectic day-to-day for many is the idea that a holocaust is taking place, something that represents modern-day slavery in terms of America’s moral shame: the killing of unborn babies. Children are precious in the sight of God (Isaiah 1:17, James 1:27, Luke 18:16, Matthew 18:6), and harming them by putting them to death is an atrocity that must be spoken out against.

Second, there is the issue of human trafficking. Much of human trafficking is done as indentured servitude, and quite a bit as sex slavery as well. Would-be immigrants are offered “jobs” for transport and shelter for not enough money to pay all the bills. In return, the traffickers “rescue” the people, and they are fundamentally forced to stay in these conditions. The Bible does have a bit to say on this form of servitude, and it wouldn’t be correct to say it condones it. On Israelite servanthood, the issue was about protecting both the lender (who was not to charge interest on his countrymen) and the borrower in the event he could not pay. Human trafficking fails to treat people as human beings made in the image of God (Gen. 1), and so ought to be opposed vigorously.

The third issue I would like to discuss is that of bigotry. Bigotry exists against various groups, and to varying degrees. Believing that one race is inferior to another, inherently, is a fundamental denial of the creation part of the human story. We are all made in the image of God, and we ought to seek racial reconciliation, peace, and justice for those who are oppressed. The Old Testament is replete with references to peace and justice, and how we treat the poor and oppressed tends to say a lot about us.

I don’t have all the answers on all of these things. I don’t know all of what we should do. I do know that I am constantly trying to learn; I want to be in an attitude of learning and prayer. May God use us to right these three major types of wrongs, by bringing the Gospel to the people in an intentional and contextual way, letting the transforming power of the Spirit work, and doing what we can in our communities today.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Condemning, Confessing, Promoting on Social Media

I missed much of what happened over the weekend. I wasn’t on social media for most of the weekend, and since I’ve now come to realize I get the vast majority of my news from it, I wasn’t really aware of what happened. I wasn’t going to address the Charlottesville issue because I don’t address that many political issues on Facebook much anymore.[1]

So let me just say that I condemn racism and using violence to solve ideological issues in this country, regardless of right, alt-right, left, center, progressive, far-left, far-right, whatever your preferred political label is. The Gospel needs to be the answer; the transforming power it contains in the person and work of Jesus Christ, the Father who sent him, and the Holy Spirit is what we all need.

Now instead of giving you all of my opinions on what has happened, I’m going to take a bit of a different approach. My wife mentioned to me that she has seen some on social media insisting on something like the following: you must condemn this on social media, and if you don’t, then insert your favored term here (“then you’re a racist,” “then you’re not a Christian,” “then you’re bigoted,” “then you must be alt-right,” etc.).

I think this is problematic, and frankly appears to be a single step above the old Christian chain e-mails, whereupon receiving one a believer was expected to forward it to 25 friends, lest she be condemned as “ashamed of Christ.” While one should not be ashamed of Christ, and one should even utilize their e-mail platform to promote Christ, whether or not she sent the e-mail has no bearing on whether she is fulfilling her duties as a Christian (even though it could—say, if in fact she was ashamed of Christ, and this is why she didn’t send the e-mail).

In a similar way, I am not required to condemn everything loudly, even when it may be worthy of condemnation. I did so above only because, since I am addressing the issue, it’s quite appropriate to do so. Nothing about my previous non-response entails my view on a subject, and anyone who interprets that way is doing so illegitimately. I’m afraid what the combination of social media and competitive, customized journalistic agendas has produced is a world filled with fundamentalists, where not saying, thinking, and doing the same exact set of things as everyone else in the group is condemned in the most extreme terms, where people are virtually incapable of nuanced debate, and where they are constantly looking for conflict. This kind of thinking, without check or restraint, nearly always leads to violence, and leads us to hate others in our hearts, in violation of Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount (cf. Matthew 5:21-22).

Finally, while some good can be done on social media, let us not kid ourselves: the world’s social ills are not solved on Facebook. Should you use your platform to advance the Gospel and truths related to it (which will doubtlessly include condemning racism)? Of course you should do this occasionally, at least. Let’s engage the world with the hope of the Gospel—one that transcends race and political ideology!

[1] And I get that it’s not merely a political issue. I really do! But it’s become one, and almost immediately after it occurred.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Desires and the Longing to be Known

If we were created by God, then the desires that we have are, at their roots, something both attainable and good. However, we have twisted and perverted much of these desires much of the time, so that they no longer serve the ends for which we were created. If we focus on fulfilling desires in a godly manner (say, by making worship of God in life as our main focal point), we will find that life can be much more satisfying. What do I mean here?

Take, for example, our Western culture’s desire to be famous. All many of us want is to become YouTube famous, or be part of a viral video, or become a sought-after singer, model, or actor/actress. This often leads us to think, say, and do a variety of things that are, shall we say, less than godly. It often leads us toward self-centeredness, and our character suffers. How can this desire be something good?

Simply put, I believe this desire to be famous is fundamentally a desire to be known. And this desire to be known is a perfectly normal response to the way in which we have been designed. On the Christian story, we were made to be in a loving relationship with God, our Creator and Father. Humans are made in his image, to know him and to be known by him. Further, we were made to live in community with other humans. We were made to know them and to be known by them. So it only makes sense that God would create us with this desire.

“Now wait a minute,” you might be saying. “There’s a big difference between the desire to know and be known (with respect to God and others) and just wanting to be famous.” That’s absolutely correct. Since humanity is lost—since we all have sinned, or failed morally—we have a tendency to have twisted desires. Instead of desiring to know and be known by God and others, we desire to be known by all, to serve our own ends.

But this is where the Gospel provides hope. Where all we have to look forward to, from culture’s perspective, is being known by a certain amount of people for our own purposes, and nothing greater, God provided a way to get back to that great design, that great purpose—in the person and work of Jesus of Nazareth. What do you think about Jesus? Would you want to follow him? Would you want to trust him? If you don’t know much about him, check out this really brief video:

3-Circles Life Conversation Guide Demonstration from North American Mission Board on Vimeo.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Theology of Truth and the Christian Life

I have written elsewhere on the issue of Christian theology and practicality. I don’t want to re-hash that all here, but I do want to make a few brief remarks. There is a very real sense in which we should love God with our minds as an end to itself. That is biblically and theologically evident. However, many people struggle to do so without a link to the intellectual exercise’s practicality. This can be frustrating for many people like me, who see inherent value in thinking about God and other intellectual exercises.

However, it seems to me the Christian life is relevant to every area; every intellectual exercise can and should be linked to something practical. This is due to Christianity’s applying to every area of life, and God being the necessary foundation for all of created reality.

But how can this be? How can something like truthmaking and holes relate to God in any practical sense? First, we must understand that every truth relates to God in some way, and therefore requires a belief and/or attitude in response. Whichever way you take an account of truthmaking, you can recognize that this is the way it is due to God’s nature, or due to God’s will, and you can respond accordingly. You can praise God for what he does, or worship him for who he is.

This may seem simplistic, and there are far more applications available to various intellectual pursuits, but the point remains: every truth is worth investigating, and every truth relates to God. This should lead us to greater worship, and growth in our actions and attitudes in life. What do you guys think?