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Campus Bible Talk meets every Monday during the school year (except during holidays and during Reading Week Breaks) at Athabasca Hall, Heritage Lounge, at 6:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m.

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Saturday, October 24, 2015

Moral Relativism and Its Implications

If you don’t know already, CBT has recently implemented what is being called “Monday Night Discussions,” which take place on the last Monday of each month. A topic is submitted at least one week before the last Monday of any given month and the group takes it from there. It is a fantastic way to bring topics to life, share ideas, learn new things, and stand for the truth. The topic suggested by one of the students this last time was the difference between moral relativism and moral objectivism (or moral realism). If you didn’t get the chance to sit in on the discussion, you missed a real treat. But never fear, for what follows is an explanation of moral relativism and its opposite: moral objectivism/realism. Included below is a rough following of the major points that were covered on this a particular “Discussion Monday” night. 

Before we even begin to answer the question of what moral relativism is, we must first come to a basic understanding of what relativism implies. Stated most basically, relativism affirms that the truth of any given question (in our case, the truth of moral questions) resides in the person answering the question. This is to say, the thing that makes an answer either right or wrong is the person’s opinion on that particular question; the truth of the matter is found in the subject. 

For instance, suppose you were having a conversation with your friend about ice-cream. Over the course of conversation, it comes up that your favorite flavor of that frozen goodness is chocolate. To your surprise, your friend disagrees with you! Rather than affirming the supremacy of the chocolate flavor of ice-cream, he chooses to give credence to the vastly inferior flavor of strawberry. Now both you, the reader, and I, the author, can clearly see that your hypothetical friend is in great need of immediate correction. After all, strawberry is most certainly NOT the supreme flavor of all ice-cream flavors. That spot is reserved for chocolate. And so you proceed to try and change your friend’s mind by showing him the error of his ways. Shortly thereafter, you find yourself hotly debating who is right and who is wrong; is chocolate or strawberry the right flavor to like best? 

Hopefully you already know the answer. Both you and your hypothetical friend are correct: chocolate is the best flavor for you and strawberry is the best flavor for him. You both have different answers, contradictory answers nonetheless, that are both simultaneously correct. But how can this be? The answer is that the truth to the question “which flavor is best” relies on the opinion of the person (in this case, you and your friend) answering the question. There is nothing inherent about the flavor of chocolate that makes it superior to all other flavors. The only reason that chocolate is better than strawberry is because you think that chocolate is better than strawberry! And the same holds true for every other person on the planet. But here is the twist: What if you woke up one morning and found that strawberry was actually your new favorite flavor? Well, then strawberry would then be the best flavor for you. You see, based on nothing else than personal preference, people can have conflicting answers to the question “which flavor is best” and all be 100% right all at the same time. How can this be? It is only possible because ice-cream flavor is an issue that is relative to each person.

But what about the opposite and opposing view: objectivism? Consider a counter example to the ice-cream illustration used just above. Suppose I had a book. Suppose further that I placed this book on top of the Empire State Building in New York City. Lastly, suppose you and I went throughout Edmonton and asked people if my book was on top of the ESB. When we gather our results, we find that 30% of our survey said the book was there and 70% said it was not. Who is right? The 30% got the question right. Now what about this: I want you to imagine that every single person capable of rational thought took our survey and that 100% of the answers (that is approximately 7.4 billion people) said that the book was NOT on top of the Empire State Building. Question: is the book on top of the building? Yes! It does not matter one bit what people think about the book, the truth of the question is determined by the object, not by the people answering the question (hence, “objectivism”). Therefore, even if no one thought that the book was there, it would not change the fact that the book still stood on top of the building.

Now that we have a basic understanding of relativism and objectivism, we are prepared to deal with the topic of moral relativism. Given what you now know about relativistic thinking, what would moral relativism imply? It would imply that questions of morality (i.e. abortion, theft, lying, etc.) were relative to each person. For instance, have you ever heard the expression “Abortion may be wrong for you, but it’s not wrong for me.” Or “If you don’t like abortion, don’t have one!” These claims reduce the moral question of abortion to mere claims of personal preference. You might as well be talking about ice-cream: “Don’t like chocolate? Don’t have any!” But Christians affirm that morality is much more than mere preference. Christianity affirms that morals are objective; that they are real and exists independently of what any person on earth things about them. 

Take for example, the Salem Witch-hunts. Overly superstitious people would put women (primarily) on trial for being a witch and practicing sorcery. In order to test whether the accused was a witch or not, they would tie them to a chair, throw them in a lake and see if they floated. Or, they would place a plank of wood across their chest, having great amounts of weight on either side of the plank. If their chest was crushed, they were not a witch. You can see where this is going. If they died, they were innocent. If they lived, they were executed. A lose-lose situation if ever there was one. We can all agree that this behaviour is immoral regardless of what people think of it. The people who conducted the “trials” most likely thought they were doing the right thing. But they were wrong. Their actions were immoral regardless of what they, or anyone else though. 

What about a more pronounced example? Take the Nazi Holocaust. People were killed in torturous ways simply because of their race. Others were killed because they were seen as “unfit” to reproduce, or because they had mental disabilities or different sexual orientation. Children were killed along with the elderly. Surely this was one of the darkest moments in human history. But what if Hitler had won the war, killed everyone who thought the Holocaust was wrong and brainwashed everyone else into thinking it was right? Question: would the Holocaust still have been wrong? This author is compelled to think that it would be. But if certain things (such as boiling babies in wax for entertainment) are wrong even if everyone thinks they are right, moral objectivism is true.

Atheism, the system of thought which affirms the proposition that God does not exist, cannot account for moral objectivism. In atheism, there once was nothing. After an indeterminate amount of time (please excuse the sloppy description, but this is only a rough sketch of supposed billions of years) nothing exploded and created everything. Everything flew in all directions and then came together to form planets and stars. One of these planets, now called “Earth” was a big rock in space. This rock produced chemicals and the chemicals made bacteria. Today, we call the more advanced species of bacteria “humans”. Every now and then, one of these more complex biochemical machines will destroy another complex biochemical machine. We call this “murder”. But how in the world would the atheist ever be able to affirm that this thing we call murder is objectively wrong? It simply cannot be any more wrong for one human to kill another human than it is for one lion to kill a gazelle. Atheism cannot account for the moral features of reality that we answer to on a daily basis. So then, we can agree that, if God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist. But as we have seen very briefly, objective moral values and duties do exist. The conclusion follows logically and inescapably, therefore, that God exists.

There is one other very significant implication of this fact: we are all obligated to conduct ourselves morally. In other words, God has set the standard and we are morally obligated to meet that standard. However, when someone takes the time to do serious self-reflection, they will realize that something deep inside their innermost person is broken. Something inside each of us is dark and twisted. It’s something we are ashamed of - embarrassed about. We all have a profound feeling of raw guilt inside. We all know that there are certain moral standards to live by. But we also know that we have all failed to meet that standard. Just like we tried to hide the fact that we stole a cookie from the jar before supper, we try to hide our moral shortcomings. And, just like we deserved to be punished for taking the cookie, we deserve to be punished for our moral crimes. Dear reader, there is only one known cure for guilt. It’s not acceptance, anger, sadness, or confession. It’s not anything we can do. The only cure that guilt has, the only cure for the human condition, is forgiveness. Jesus Christ, who walked the earth and lived among us, came to give you that very thing: forgiveness. Christianity correctly identifies mankind’s most fundamental problem: guilt. But Christianity is the only religion that offers the only solution: forgiveness.

It was a long read this week, but that’s only because it was such a great discussion. If you like what you see here, won’t you stop by Athabasca Hall at 6:00pm on Monday? We would love to see you! And if you don’t like what you see, submit a topic for a Monday Night Discussion (and if you want, come prepared!). We always welcome the opportunity to discuss important issues in a safe environment.

Aaron Johnson

Saturday, October 3, 2015

For What Can I Pray?

Prayer is a vital part of the Christian faith.  1 Thessalonians 5:17 tells us to "pray continually."  And the Bible is full of people praying to God.  Even Jesus himself, who was the Lord on earth, prayed to His Heavenly Father on multiple occasions (Matthew 14:23, Luke 6:12-3, John 11:41-2).  Or just look at the Book of Psalms to find different types of petitions and prayers (Psalms 3, 30, 32...).  Considering this, can we not assume that God is approachable with any need that we may have?

Absolutely.  The Bible does not only give examples of other people praying, but it also has prayer advice for us personally.  Let me list a few things about which we can pray to God.  All Bible quotations are from the New International Version.

Thanksgiving.  It is good to thank God when something good has happened.  You have just grasped an important but difficult concept in your Mathematics class.  Your mom has recovered from a bad illness.  Or the Vancouver Canucks, uh... the Edmonton Oilers... have won the Stanley Cup.  The Lord's blessings to us are great.  While I believe that hard work and perseverance are necessary to achieve success, I also think that our opportunities, joys, and possessions are gifts from God:

"Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment." (1 Timothy 6:17)

As the Apostle Paul says in this passage, it is important that we do not let these gifts become our sole focus.  But it is still important to be thankful to God for them.

"Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus." (1 Thessalonians 5:16-8) [emphasis mine]
Paul reminds us of this in another Bible passage, which is one of my favorite verses:

"Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving [e.m.], present your requests to God." (Philippians 4:6)

Anxiety.  This last verse brings me to another point.  Note how in the first part, Paul tells us to "not be anxious about anything."  Anxiety is an awful thing, no matter its severity.  I am sure that every single one of us has experienced the overactive heart, headaches, and the inner turmoil that come with worry.  We may have been wrongly accused of something.  Or you may be coming up to a difficult test.  Even the Lord Jesus prayed in anxiety, just before He went to the Cross to die a painful death to save us from our sins:

"He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, 'Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.'  An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him.  And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground." (Luke 22:41-44)

It is good to express our anxieties to family and friends.  Oftentimes they will help us and offer words of comfort in times of need.  But it is also excellent to know that God is also there to be a "Listening Ear" and help us when we are worried.  "Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you." (1 Peter 5:7)

Strength.  Despite Jesus' prayers in Luke 22, He did end up going to the Cross.  But see how an angel came to strengthen Him.  Life demands much of us.  We have to work hard and be competent in our jobs.  Throw classes, family life, leisure, and sleep into the mix, and it can all add up to an overwhelming mess!

The Christian life is also not easy.  Please do not get me wrong here, for I personally think the Christian lifestyle is the best one.  But through it we are faced with temptations while doubt and trials beset us.  Sometimes these things occur simultaneously!

This is where God's strength comes in.  Let me return to 1 Thessalonians 5, where we are told to cling to righteousness and reject evil.  We are also to be sanctified (made holy) "through and through," and we are to be blameless.  This sounds like tough stuff!  We as fallen human beings will always fall short of God's standards put forth in the Bible.  Can we do this on our own?  Absolutely not.  But God can help.  Please, never doubt that "The one who calls you [God] is faithful, and he will do it." (1 Thessalonians 5:24)  God can help us walk the Christian walk, despite its many difficulties.

Doubt.  Life is not only hard, but it is also confusing.  It throws us curveballs (I know, this is a cliched term) all the time.  We do not always know what to do.  Things are not always obvious.  Even some passages and Biblical concepts are difficult to understand and reconcile with our current mindsets.  What can we do about this?  Of course, we can pray.

"If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.  That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord.  Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do." (James 1:5-8)

If we are unsure about something, let us also remember God's call in Isaiah 1:18: "Come now, let us settle the matter."  Other Bible translations have this verse as "Come now, let us reason together."  Does this sound like the words of a God that is unwilling to help those struggling with uncertainty?  Personally, I do not think so.

Peter, one of Jesus' disciples, was familiar with doubt.  After Jesus spent some time alone praying one night, He saw a boat going through stormy weather.  Peter was among those on the boat, and Jesus began to walk upon the water towards it.  At one point, Jesus asked Peter to come out onto the water.  Amazingly, Peter was then walking on water towards Jesus.  But something went wrong: "But when he [Peter] saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, 'Lord, save me!'"  Note what Jesus does next: "Immediately [e.m.] Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. 'You of little faith,' he said, 'why did you doubt?'"  You may read this entire story in Matthew 14:22-33.  Note how Jesus did not just let Peter sink.  He helped Peter.

Forgiveness. When we have put on Christ (Romans 6), we have access to His salvation.  Psalm 32 is all about the Old Testament King David confessing his sin to the Lord and asking for mercy.  In the New Testament, John writes the following: 

"If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness." (1 John 1:9)

"And forgive us our debts,
    as we also have forgiven our debtors." (Matthew 6:12)

If we admit that we have committed sins, God is always there to forgive us when we have repentant hearts. 

We can also pray for God to forgive others.  All have sinned, and all need God's mercy (Romans 3:23).  Sometimes people hurt or disagree with us, and this can cause us to become bitter.  It can be very hard to forgive others when they do wrong, even if we are not their victims.  What is one good way to overcome this?  We can sincerely ask God to forgive them.  Jesus prayed this for His killers while He was dying on the Cross:

Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)

Anything at all.  It is time to wrap up this blog post.  Prayer is such a big topic!  Remember Philippians 4:6, which I quoted above?  I'll copy it again here, but with different emphasis, in order to stress the idea that we can bring anything to God in prayer.

"Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God." (Philippians 4:6) [e.m.]

Now, I do not want to encourage you to pray for evil purposes.  "But Christian, you said I could pray for anything, right?"  Well, no.  God wants us to flee from evil, not be active in it.  (See Romans 6:1-2 and 1 Thessalonians 5:22)  But if you are tempted to do something wrong, you can ask God to help you choose the right path (1 Corinthians 10:13).

If you pray to God with His will in mind, I believe that He cares for you.  Do you want to pray for a new car or a good grade in school?  I think you should ask God for the wisdom, funds, or whatever else you need to make these things happen.  If God decides it is a good thing for you, I am confident He will help you with it.

But keep in mind that while God's answer may be "Yes," sometimes it is "No."  Or it may be "Not yet.  But be patient, and I will always be with you."  I believe that I have personally been given all three answers in my prayer life.  As Jesus said, "...yet not my will, but yours [God the Father] be done." (Luke 22:42)

Either way, I am thankful to have access to God's help anytime I need it.  If I am feeling lonely, stressed, or happy, I am glad that God is there to listen.  He can also be there for you, if you ask.

I'll leave you with this one last thought:

"For we do not have a High Priest [the risen Lord Jesus Christ] who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have One who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet He did not sin.  Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need." (Hebrews 4:15-6)

Christian Basar