Philosophy Fridays: Did Jesus Fear?


Every now and then, on a Friday, I’ll step into the deep waters of Philosophy, ramble away on some idea and maybe even interact with something I might be reading. Most of the time, a real philosopher could probably read my drivel and speak into it offering a corrective—but for now I’ll speak from ignorance. After all, it is Friday; what better way to have fun than with philosophy. In this post I’ll answer the question “Did Jesus Fear?”  in under 700 words. Heh.

Based on a Biblical text (1 John 4:18) someone might suggest that since perfect love casts out fear then therefore Jesus had no fear.

Technically, this is a philosophical question because the Bible never says if Jesus feared or didn’t fear so making a dogmatic statement either way could be dangerous. So what we have to do is examine the ethics of fear and then examine the possibility of Christ fearing.

Question one: Is there anything wrong with fear?

Well, we need to define our terms. If a car is flying down the street at a toddler running out to get a ball you might rightly feel fear.  Or a child who has previously been burnt rightly feels fear when they see something hot. That being the case, a person might rightly feel fear while thinking about some impending event (fire burning or a car ready to hit a child). It winds up being a mechanism that warns people of harm before the harm actually occurs—it’s actually helpful for self-preservation and survival.

But if that’s built-in, as it were, then we might rightly expand that to include things like fearing the amount of dairy you will be eating tomorrow since you know you are lactose intolerant. Otherwise, humans would just keep doing the same things without any concern for how it affects them.

Now, the Bible also speaks about wisdom beginning with the fear of the Lord (Psalm 111:10, Proverbs 1:7; 9:10; 15:33) and that seems to be actual afraid-ness when the Lord shows up. Maybe that’s just a reverential concern when you realize your own finitude before the infinite—but doesn’t that sound like fear in general? Indeed, the Bible also mentions a right fear of the coming judgment (Hebrews 10:27) but it is a fear that is mingled with love, respect and trust (Psalms 130:3-4) so somehow there is an afraid-ful/awed expectation of what’s coming even if you’re confident in the end.

Question two: What is John talking about?

John is no dullard and would know his Bible so whatever he’s talking about stands in direct opposition to perfect love. None of the fears I’ve listed in this post stand apart from love. After all, you might fear for the child because you do love her. And you might fear the fire because you love your hand. But in 1 John 4:16 John makes a statement about knowledge (we have come to know) about trust (and believed the love) on an object (which God has for us) and even the way love is perfected (so that we may have confidence in the Day of Judgment). It’s in this light that he says fear stands in opposition to love.

Did Christ not trust God? Did he deny the future Day of Judgment? Well, in both cases the answer would be no so he didn’t “fear” in that sense but he sure seemed to be a man who was concerned about his impending death (Luke 22:39-46) and I don’t know how to describe that event other than fear even if it was coupled with confidence (Psalm 22).

So did Jesus fear?

Depends on what you mean by fear. Did he have times he was afraid? Sure seems like it. Otherwise he’d be careless. Did he have times where he didn’t trust in God and which is what 1 John might be talking about? Nope.

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Philosophy Fridays: What’s The Point?

Every now and then, on a Friday, I’ll step into the deep waters of Philosophy, ramble on some idea and maybe even interact with something I might be reading. Most of the time, a real philosopher could probably read my drivel and speak into it offering a corrective—but for now I’ll speak from ignorance. After all, it is Friday; what better way to have fun than with philosophy. In this post I’ll muse upon the road of good intentions—no, not hell.

I’ve seen this in plenty of discussions in an area where there’s vast disagreement: “yes, that’s important but it’s not the main point”. What the person is wanting to do is point out that although the details of whatever is the subject are present, they are not as important—or perhaps even subsumed—underneath the main purpose of whatever X subject is. Or, more succinctly, they want people to stop getting lost in the details but focus on the overall picture.

So if we were examining what this hammer is for, we might wind up with two sides (though you can easily envision more): generally speaking, one side explaining the parts of the hammer and the other side explaining the essence of the hammer.

“Yes,” says the Essence “those details are important but they aren’t what a hammer is for!” Basically, they’re looking at the purpose of hammer to define its hammerness.  Though, it might just be that the idea of “hammer” that we have isn’t because there is some essential thing about hammers (like for banging nails into beams)—it may just be that the things that cause a hammer to be a hammer are just as important to the intentions of needing a hammer.

On the other hand, an individual saying what necessitates a hammer is such and such parts also falls short. After all, can’t you use a hammer to dig up weds? Doesn’t that mean that the pieces of a hammer are just as important as its purpose and actual usage? Hammers exists not only because of the parts (handle, head) but because of what it is to do (bang into things) and because it is used as such (someone, somewhere hammers things).

But what if a person rejected the details in favor of the purpose: what makes a hammer a hammer is purely the intentionality. In that case you lose any distinction from hammers and bats. They are surely different objects but they can both be used for the same things, even if poorly. And then we shouldn’t really add an idea of maximal intentionality because you can always conceive of a better, less-flawed, better striking hammer.

What this all winds up meaning is that the details to what makes a hammer a hammer are just as important as the purpose of the hammer behind the hammer. Maybe it’s all obvious when studying insects like ladybugs or clownfish, but you have to wonder if it changes when you look at other things—like text.

The modern mind might say yes, it does change (though the postmodern mind will expand on that). It doesn’t matter so much what the text says as long as we understand the purpose of the text (or the intent of the author). So if we know that the purpose of this letter is to attract that girl, then the way the writer describes things are important but are defrayed by the intentionality.

But is that right? You arrive at the purpose by means of the details of the text and in conjunction with the intentionality of the author. Postmodernism would point out that the text is void of author intentionality (they’re not often labeled Love Letter) and now is coupled with reader-intentionality but even with the different lenses, the details of the text are connected to intent.

In the end, what one should conclude—after some philosophical wrestling—is that purpose, or intentionality, doesn’t preclude the points used to arrive there; if anything the points combine as a means and the very fabric of intent but can’t really exist apart from it. This is much more than symbiotic: it is necessary.

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Philosophy Fridays: Hell? Oh!

Folk who know me might remember that the reason I became a believer was, in the first case, a fear of hell. Well, a roundabout fear anyway: I had just seen the Exorcist and hell became a reality to my young brain. Some atheists like to say hell is an abusive scare tactic and that my initial belief is unsubstantiated but this is predicated on four arguments which I will respond to in under 700 words (perfect for a Philosophy Friday): (1) that there is, in fact, no hell; (2) that hell is merely a boogeyman to scare people into believing Christianity (3) that the teaching of hell is incompatible with the teaching of an all-loving God;(4) and that the way we come to believe something matters to its veracity.

Christians have embraced the same sort of rhetoric. Hell, like Heaven, is not somewhere out there: it’s right here; now (1). Hell is presented as something scary with red-tailed devils with pitchforks which are completely antithetical to the reality of the Gospel (2). Hell is not compatible with the revealed God by Christ (3). Since what we’ve learned in Sunday School is wrong, and that’s where we learned about hell, then what we know about Hel is wrong (4).  Fellow PB’er Keith Keyser makes a point that this is just old teaching being brought up today and though I agree, I want to respond first on purely philosophical grounds.

These main arguments can be addressed in a few quick points:

Contra (4) the way we come to a belief doesn’t matter to its truth value. If I was colorblind and discovered that the grass was green by watching a cartoon, it doesn’t mean that the grass is in fact purple. Likewise, if I learned about hell in Sunday School or watching the Exorcist doesn’t make what I learned untrue—it might be true just because it’s true.

Contra (3) there are more options than the false dilemma of God is either loving or hell exists. It might be that God refuses to save people from hell because he loves them too much to force them to do otherwise. It might be that it would be worse for them not to be in hell. It might be that we don’t have all the information on how hell works. The point is that there are enough possibilities available that to settle on a false dichotomy is wrongheaded.

Contra (2) just because something is fear-inducing, doesn’t mean that it is in fact wrong. It might just mean that it needs to be dealt with. The sign saying the bridge is out up ahead might be scary but knowing the warning allows you to avoid catastrophe. That biohazard symbol warns about scary things but it also reminds one to be careful.

Contra (1) we have testimony that is being rejected. If hell is a place that was created by God we would expect that he would be the only one to really know about it and talk about it but other than that we’re left with quite a blank roster of witnesses. That’s not an argument for silence. It just means that if we learn about a hell it would have to be by someone who knows about it. Those who believe in Hell think God spoke about it so denying its existence is merely assuming that God didn’t speak it.

Even so, you have to wonder if believing the negative (There is No Hell) is the wise thing to do. I mean, the worst that can happen from affirming that there is a hell is to discover that there isn’t one and nothing—no harm beyond misrepresenting God. Now that’s pretty serious but at least there’s no hell. The worst that can happen from affirming there is no hell is that people die and get there by surprise.

Yeah (Calvinists) I know there’s a whole mess of theology being assumed there but let that lie for the sake of the argument. The point is that this would be a dangerous doctrine to deny if it turns out true.

Well, that’s just some introductory salvos before the deeper work coming next week.

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Philosophy Fridays: Free Will?

Every now and then, on a Friday, I’ll step into the deep waters of Philosophy, ramble on about some idea and maybe even interact with something I might be reading. Most of the time, a real philosopher could probably read my drivel and speak into it offering a corrective—but for now I’ll speak from ignorance. After all, it is Friday; what better way to have fun than with philosophy. In this post I’ll answer the question “Free will?”

There’s a pie on my table, but before I get to it I need to hit preliminaries.

The question folk might want to ask is “do we have free will?” but before we would even approach that we need to ask what it is, how it works, and so on. It’s a question that has been asked by theologians and philosophers as far as we know and rightly continues to be asked. Psychologists fraught in neuroscience might be quick to say no, especially in light of recent (debated) research we choose to act before we will to act making our will not-free; scientists dipping into the field of quantum physics point out that the quantum sea is completely indeterministic—unless that is you are one of the quantum physicists working in one of the other competing theories that say that that isn’t the case at all.

Back to this pie: is my will free to eat it? Well, if free will is defined by who (being Me) is responsible to act on the desire then yeah, maybe I do have free will. But what if I’ve been hypnotized to want to eat the first pie that I see? I might have the desire and act on it but that in no way means my will is free.

So maybe me eating this pie has little to do with having this desire but more with the fact that I act on what I desire most. So if I act on this desire to eat the pie, I am free in that I am acting on my desire. If I don’t eat it, my desire was to not eat the pie. But that doesn’t get us anywhere either. After all, I can still be brainwashed to want to eat this pie, act on the desire and no one would say I was free.

Additionally, it would leave me no different from the dog sitting by my foot, salivating for some pie crumbs. Her desire is to eat, preferably this pie that is in front of me. But if I put this pie and another equidistant all around her, does she stay stuck in the middle? If I had the same thing all around me, do I stay stuck in the middle of a circle of pie, unable to act?

Okay, maybe free will must include some sort of rational faculty—to differentiate (at the very least) from animals and to really own this desire of eating the pie. So with this rational ability, I should be able to remember how pie tastes like and also think about the future ramifications of eating too much of it especially at this time of the day. My greatest desire might be to eat that pie, but I should be able to employ rational processes that overwhelm that desire.

But really, isn’t that just pushing my desire back a step? Maybe health is my greatest desire? It doesn’t mean I’ll act on it. Maybe there’s a higher order desire and a sub desire—one that is right in front of me (this pie) and one that hovers in the background that is based on values of some sort—with or without morals.

In any case,  what would we say about God? Is he free to act against his desire or is he stuck? If anyone is free it would be him.

Maybe Free Will is just about having the ability to have done otherwise, even if you don’t. Or not.

Can’t type. Fingers sticky now. Very good pie.

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Philosophy Fridays: Universal Family Tree

On Fridays, I enjoy wading into the deep end of the pool to try treading the deep waters of philosophy. I’m a woefully amateur swimmer and I have no doubt that an occasional philosophical lifeguard will dive into my then muddied waters to pull me back into the tepid kiddie section, but for now I wade on. In this post, I’m not much considering a question as much as sharing a chart.

There’s the age old question about abstract objects (like the color red, or the number seven, or the property of Good) whereby philosophers wonder if they are real existing Somewhere or if they are merely convenient names for these ideas we’ve come  up with. When studying these  things, I’ve seen some connections in them, and in theories of how-we-know-what-we-know and I created this chart. It helped me think some of the things out, though any true philosopher would likely laugh at it pointing out the multitude of displayed stupidity. Fear of displaying my stupidity has never stopped me from displaying my stupidity in the past, and I doubt it will in the future. Here’s the chart but please, make sure to click on it to see it biggie sized.

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