Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Pelor and the Euthyphro

Those of you who know me know that I am an avid Dungeons and Dragons player as well as a long time student of philosophy. More often than not the latter of these informs my thoughts on the former. I find philosophy fascinating and wonderful, and I believe that fantasy, science fiction, and the comic book/superhero genre are realms in which questions about philosophy, theology, and ethics are asked in new ways and brought to a a reader's mind. I will be touching on this again, I'm sure, as this is more than a bit central to my thinking.

Today I want to discuss the divinity system in D&D, which is wonderfully simple, with one of my favorite issues in philosophy, namely, the Problem of the Euthyphro. One of my favorite things about D&D is that it is so simple, its theology is cut-and-dry, at least in the version I'm used to, and it shows a particular bias on the part of the writers, which I love. The D&D system is not like the Force, which is complicated and multi-faceted and deep.

In a dialogue known as The Euthyphro we encounter a fascinating question about the relationship between the gods and good and evil. (By the way, if your education failed you so thoroughly that you have never read this dialogue, go read it. It is short and fun and classic. Go read. Now.) The question is, essentially, which came first, the chicken or the egg. Let me explain.

Lets take the example X. Most reasonable folks agree that X is good, and notX is bad. It doesn't matter what X actually is, it is just an example, a holder for an action.

The problem is this: is X good because the gods decided it is, or because they like it, or is X good whether or not the gods like it? Is X morally good because it is commanded by the gods, or is X commanded by the gods because it is morally good? Both are problematic.

First, one has to assume that the gods are perfect, that, while they may make lapses of judgement, they are themselves good and try to do good and lead humans to do good things.

Then, take the first option, in which X is good because the gods decided that it is a good thing, the gods voted and they all generally think that X is good and, thus, it is. The problem with this is that you can fill anything into the place of X and it is good. Take the most despicable thing you can imagine and put in the place of X. The gods, who are good and helpful and so forth, can just arbitrarily say anything falls into that category, and thus what is morally good, X, is only so based on their opinion, and anything (even things that we all see as evil) could be good if the gods decided that it is. (And if the gods disagree with each other, then we are really screwed.) Also, if there was ever a time without the gods, what was good and evil then? And if the gods change their minds, does what is good change so that X is currently good but, after some divine council, they decide that X is not bad and notX is to be preferred? Needless to say, this is a problem, especially as it gets picked up in the 4th century CE by Christian (and other monotheist) philosophers and theologians.

On the other hand, is X morally good and the gods command it because it is morally good? While this answer deals with some of the above questions, it is not satisfying upon closer examination. The second answer means that the gods themselves are only teachers, looking to something above themselves for what to teach, no different than a junior high algebra teacher, turning to the book and saying X is good because they understand the nature of the universe. X, then, is bigger and more important than the gods. Also a problem, especially as this question is discussed by monotheists.

So which is it, asks the dialog? Are the gods arbitrary and tyrannical, able to call anything good at their whim? Or are the gods merely teachers, discerning something greater and realer than themselves and passing it along to us humans? Either way, the gods (and later, God as conceived by monotheist thinkers) end up looking kinda dumb.

While I do believe there is an answer to the Problem proposed in this dialogue, and I believe that the Christian faith can give a very clear and true answer, I want to hear your thoughts, and I also want to talk a bit about D&D.

Pelor is the All Father in the D&D cosmology. He is the big good guy, symbolized by the sun, and the most "good" or all the gods, though he is not the only god nor even the only good god. He is the god most opposed to undead (zombies, vampires, etc), and most supportive of good without the restrictions of law and chaos.

Pelor, however, and the rest of the D&D cosmology, falls very distinctly in the second category of the Euthyphro. Pelor does not decide what is good, the gods are not the designers of society so much as they are the judges of good and evil and the teachers of mortals. Pelor supports what is good, but it is good long before Pelor ever ascended. Good is good even if nothing recognizes it, evil is evil even if we all pretend it is not. This makes for a very cut and dry system, in which self sacrifice is good, for example, even in a universe run by evil beings.

However, it is TOTALLY UNSATISFYING for a Christian. Pelor and the D&D gods are subservient to the moral categories around them, but we believe that God is sovereign, wholly holy, and nothing can dictate to God. So, is God a tyrant, and X is good because God just decided that it is, and God in God's divine wisdom, could have decided otherwise? This answer is also unsatisfying (and I think worse) because it makes good and evil arbitrary, and whether or not there are four lights or three or five just doesn't matter.

What are your thoughts? How does one grapple with this question?

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Great Commission

Matthew 28:16-20

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age."

I hate this thing.

That makes me a bad church planter, I know, but whatever. I mean, don't get me wrong, it isn't that I disagree or thing it is wrong, or unnecessarily popular or something. I hate it because it is in the bible, is the last command given in the gospels (though, if one takes Luke/Acts as one book, than perhaps there are two later sentences he gives) and because we have to pay attention to it.

It drives me crazy because I have this nagging voice, constantly, telling me about the great commission. If I could rewrite the gospels (which we all do enough, ignoring what I don't like and over emphasizing the things we already agree with) I think I would drop the great commission first. It is so obnoxious, so simple (sort of) in what it calls Jesus people to do. Anybody who connects to any kind of Jesus movement (from conservative Christendom to the Jesus People on the 60s) is called to listen to the great commission. No group I have ever run into that does not fall out of acceptance of the Nicene-Constantinopolitan family can (validly) set aside the Great Commission.

As I see it, there are a few major parts to the great commission:

Go, therefore...
At the core of the great commission is a call to get the hell out of your comfort zone. It begins with "GO!" Its a command, a requirement, not a suggestion. It means that, at the beginning of following the great command is the need to leave wherever you are, wherever you find yourself, and go find yourself elsewhere. It means that one has to start the great commission with one foot in front of the next. This does not necessarily mean a geographical move, but a move of some sort.

Make disciples
Jesus movements, people who love Jesus, are contagious, like a virus. Somebody infected with Jesus and in love with Jesus will infect others. But it is more than just saying "REPENT, SINNER!" It is walking with somebody through life, learning from Jesus, from the gospels, from the words of the Word and the palpitations of the Holy Spirit.

Do it. Don't not do it. When you finish, you aren't finished.

Teaching them
Praying the "sinner's prayer" just don't cut it. We are also required to teach what we have learned from Jesus, not only the words but the actions of Jesus. Teaching takes time, teaching takes significant relationship, teaching also requires the teacher to know the subject, and when the subject is Jesus, that is a life time of study.

I find it fascinating that Jesus' final concern is that those who follow him do not keep it to themselves, do not lock themselves away. Rather, Jesus' final concern is that the teachings of Jesus go into the world, from this little piddly back-water called Israel into the whole world.

This crap is hard.

Why couldn't it have ended "Therefore, hang out with like minded people and lock yourselves away from people who are different."

That would have been much preferable.

But it probably wouldn't have changed human history much, would it?

Friday, March 19, 2010

The 17th Ammendment

I'm a bit annoyed.

Not really angry, not really frustrated, not really bothered, just kind of annoyed.

I'm not annoyed at Nancy Pelosi, but she did remind me of something that bothers me a bit. She recently (I don't know when, if anybody has a link to an article or speech or something, PLEASE link it). I'm annoyed at something she said, not because I disagree with it, but because it brings up a complaint I have.

NB. I am not a libertarian, but I was raised as a libertarian. While I do agree with the basics of the libertarian perspective, I DO NOT claim that this is the proper position for a person who is trying to follow Jesus. Jesus is truth, and while I do believe that one's faith should (MUST) inform one's politics, I do not mean to suggest that I have a corner on the market. Let us continue...

Pelosi spoke to a large collection of democrats, asking them to move forward on a certain initiative, regardless of the feelings of their constituents. She spoke, if memory serves correctly, to a handful of senators and representatives.

Sort of.

Really, she spoke to our two houses of representatives. The Senate is directly elected, now, since the passing of the 17th amendment in the beginning of the 20th century after partisanship kept a number of senate seats empty as state governments would not name a senator to send to Capitol Hill. However, this changed the dynamic of the legislative branch of the US government.

Before the 17th amendment there were two houses within the legislature: the house of representatives, who were to do the will of the people, and were numbered according to the number of citizens within a certain area. The second house was the senate, who were not directly elected by the people, and thus did not have a "constituency" in quite the same way. Thus, they had to be less concerned with the will of the people and could be more able to do what they believed to be right (what Pelosi was asking of those to whom she spoke.)

We see this same principle in the Judicial branch of the Federal government -- judges may act on what they believe to be right, to be constitutional, and to be what is best for the country, uninfluenced by popularity. This has allowed the federal government, particularly the judiciary branch, to do a great deal of good, and has kept the will of the people (which is never perfect) in something resembling a checked state.

Our legislative branch was supposed to have two houses, that is, two branches: one that was tied to the will of the people, and thus would support the voice of the average jane (at least to some extent), and one that would have more freedom to do what they believed to be correct, even if it is unpopular. Thus the voice of the people would check the "yammerheads" (Robert Heinlein's term for law/regulation-happy politicians), while the politicians, who are genuinely trying to do what is best, can keep the will of the people in check.

This system comes from the Constitution, first of all, and it stems from the Framers' great distrust of both the average individual AND professional politicians. It allows both to keep the other in check, so that only laws that are approved of by the people AND the politically elite make it to the desk.

When the 17th amendment was passed this system changed, and gave the voice of the people power in both houses, forcing senators and representatives to act on the will of the people. Essentially, according to the original document as I have come to understand it, we now have two Houses of Representatives. Even the executive branch has become something resembling a really powerful representative, what with constant attention given to popularity rating.

There is no "check" against them, with the exception of the Judiciary, which can still be bypassed. There is no check or balance against the will of the average individual, at least the will of the coming together of the average individual. Maybe it is very un-American of me to say, but I side with the Framers. I know I don't understand politics as well as I want, I don't understand economics, I don't understand world politics and international systems and treaties and international dynamics and how the value of the US dollar affects the world. There is a great deal I do not understand, and I am more educated than the average American, and while I may not be smarter than the average American, I am at least AS smart as the average American. I am educated, reasonably intelligent, and relatively thoughtful.

If I don't understand these things as well as I would like and don't trust myself to make these decisions and often am swayed by media or recent conversations or other petty things, why in the world would I believe that the will of a whole lot of people just like me is of such prime value that it should be basically unchecked in the government. I don't trust the average individual because I know that I AM the average individual, and I wouldn't trust ME to make these decisions, and if I don't trust me why would I trust a big group of mes to make the same decision.

This annoys me.

Monday, March 15, 2010

1+1=Baked Potato

I had a fascinating experience a number of years ago, around my sophomore year at Hope College. It was around the issue of abortion, sort of, but affected how I see the world, how I listen to people, and how I try to teach and learn. It happened with two conversations I had with my sister, whom I love, and my girlfriend, with whom I was falling in love (she would become my wife, and I still love her a great deal.)

My sister supports the ability of a woman to make the choice of weather or not to have an abortion. She made it very clear to me, she is not pro-abortion, but pro-choice. She has strong arguments for the value of this choice, both historical, political, and logical, as well as emotional. She is very loving, very kind, and brilliant (though she would disagree). She supports the parents' choice out of love and compassion, not out of hate or anger or dislike of babies or desire to see people suffer.

My girlfriend, now my wife, supports a federal ban on abortion. She is very loving, very kind, and brilliant (and much more of all three of these than me.) She offers arguments in support of a federal ban that are logical, loving, emotional, political, and that respect the political climate before RvW and current. She is not ignorant of the situation, but well researched and has come to a carefully thought-out conclusion. She supports a federal ban on abortion out of love and compassion, and for no other reason.

I had a conversation with both my sister and girlfriend within the span of four days on this issue. Both were kind enough to explain why they believed what they believe, and both answered my questions. Both also found it surprising that others could disagree. They saw the facts and the only logical conclusion that anyone with a heart and mind could come to was what they believed. Obviously, any rational person would come to agree.

Needless to say, this struck me, a philosopher, whose entire world view, then, was based on what could be logically discovered and proven.

Another story: While in seminary I had a two friends with very different political view points. During the last election I overheard a conversation between the two of them. One supported Obama and could not understand how the other could support McCain because of his stance on war. The other supported McCain and could not understand the other because she supported Obama, who is pro-choice. Essentially, both of their arguments came down to "How could you support that murderer?!"


I have had a number of experiences like this on all sorts of topics: health care, total depravity, income tax (taxes in general), limits of sanctification, privatization of basically anything, Jesus, interpretations of history, human choice in salvation, value of facebook or cell phones or television or technology or whatever, human sexuality, and the list goes on and on.

Over the years I have come to a very striking conclusion: people disagree. People can come to the exact same set of data, have loving and kind motives (or any other motives) and come to different conclusions.

People often look at a question and come to different answers, or express their answers differently. I have realized a basic fact: No matter what you believe, no matter how well educated you are and passionate you are, no matter how strong your arguments are and who you are citing, there is ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS somebody equally educated, equally passionate, equally well supported with counters for all of your arguments and answers for all your counters, and coming from a perspective you would respect.

This fact is crucial to how I see the world. It is crucial, I believe, to recognize that nobody has a corner on truth. I believe that the gospels are correct in that Jesus is the way the truth and the life. That means that Truth is not a set of principles, but a person, probably with a gnarly beard, calloused feet, and compassionate and loving eyes. Truth also grew up under oppression and despotic Roman rule, and I imagine does not think highly of being caged and used for the purposes of folks in power. Call me crazy.

This does not mean that we can't believe anything, nor does it mean that everybody should throw all their beliefs out the window in favor of hugs and flowers and listening to Bob Dylan and Janice Joplin and Peter Paul and Mary (though I think a little more hugs, flowers, and protest music would do the world a great deal of good). I still strongly believe in entire sanctification, I still support a federal ban on abortion, and I'm still something resembling a libertarian; I still fight like a bulldog for Sacrament theology, Wesleyan theology of sanctification, and the value of social justice (bite me, Glenn Beck.)

This is something that I value very highly, and is very highly by my generation, as I see it. As my friends EVT said, "It makes sense that I could see 1+1 and say the answer is 2 written in blue. It also makes sense that someone could see 1+1 and say the answer is 2 written in red. It doesn't make sense that someone could see 1+1 and say the answer is 'baked potato.'" This just makes good sense to me. (I read "baked potato" as an answer that gives no respect to the question itself.)

We can come to similar conclusions or very different conclusions, but we have to recognize that other people are not idiots, are not evil, are not just willfully stupid. Rather, we can disagree, but we can do so civilly, rather than demonizing and attacking their character.

Maybe I'm nuts, maybe I'm just a hippie or post modernist or liberal or whatever label you want to put on me to write me off. You are welcome to.

Peace and wholeness.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

First (awkward) Post


Hello, I'm Peter Gillotte.

This is my blog. I am new to blogging, and I'm not immediately sure how to start. So, instead of being awkward (which is already is), I'll treat this like an introduction. If you care to read, I will tell you a bit about myself, a bit about why I am writing this blog, and a maybe tell a joke.

See, awkward already.

Why am I blogging? Well, the obvious answer is that I have something to say. And I do think I have something to say, a lot of things to get off my chest. But I also am a pastor, and as many of my professors in Seminary told me, most pastors and seminarians are narcissistic (though I had professors that also made us narcoleptic.) A portion of this blog will be to give me a place to write some of my own thoughts, my own ideas (some more, shall we say, provocative than others), without needing to gush my narcissism and awkwardness all over a sermon, which has been my modus operandi in the past.

I will also be discussing, theoretically, a number of items that may be inappropriate for discussion in sermons. Some of this comes from personal experiences (one does find it difficult to draw sermon illustrations from a D&D game or Star Wars book, after all), books I will be reading, and discussing on this blog, conversations I have had, etc. Many many pastors use the "personal illustration" in their sermons. While this can be effective, I was recently struck by an article I read in Leadership Journal about the dangers of the personal illustration; particularly about what it can teach a congregation and where the weight of the church can fall. Church should be about Jesus, not the pastor, and coming to church and hearing about the pastor more than about Jesus is, well, problematic. More in this to come. If you are interested in listening to me or hearing what I have to say about things, you would be welcome to lurk or post as you desire.

I am also a church planter, looking to be planting a church in Kansas City soon, to where my family and I have recently moved. As I navigate this ecclesiological adventure, I will talk about The Field, the church we will be planting, giving updates on the process and eventually announcing events as they come to be. If you are interested in hearing more about The Field and this church plant, stay tuned, and you will be rewarded with information, as soon as information exists.

Finally, I will be using this blog to discuss some of my own ideas. As I said, I will be discussing here some of my own more provocative ideas, things I believe about Jesus and the church (church universal, not specific bodies of believers) and faith and sexuality and politics and architecture and cars and the environment and theology and leadership and philosophy and fasting and ethics and prophecy and the bible and manliness and beards (probably a lot about this one, lets be honest). Much of this, also, is inappropriate for the pulpit, but for different reasons.

(I may also eventually discuss why I like to do things in threes. Genetic preference for trinitarianism? Too much bad poetry written as a youth? Natural out pouring of being the youngest of three? Disdain for the number four?)

(See, I tried to be funny and ... awkward again. Lets keep moving.)

I will end, I think, with a joke, and post a bit about me on my next post (see, narcissistic -- I want a whole post just to talk about myself). Talking about myself, after all, will guarantee that I do actually post a second post.

So, deep under the ocean, there were two prawns by the name of Oswald and Christian who were very good friends. Being prawns, they spent a great deal eating whatever was smaller than them and avoiding being eaten by things bigger than them. (This is not unlike how we all spend a great deal of our lives, lets be honest.) Now, prawns are not large creatures, and while plankton is abundant, so are larger fish, particularly barracuda, at least in this neck of the seaweed.

One day, while swimming along and trying to avoid being seen, and thus eaten, Oswald and Christian come upon The Magic Cuttlefish. (Yes, magic cuttlefish. He's vaguely more benevolent little brother. Back off.) Having found The Magic Cuttlefish, Oswald and Christian are granted one wish between the two of them (see, only vaguely benevolent). Oswald, being the more outgoing (read: jerkwad) of the two of them, and tired of running his whole life, shouts (bubbles?) out "Magi Cuttlefish, I want to be a giant barracuda!" Magic Cuttlefish of course obliges and, poof (sputter?) Oswald is a giant barracuda. He is, of course, excited, but Chris is nowhere to be found (because, lets be frank, "aw hell a giant barracuda" produces a strong instinctual reaction in a prawn.)

Oswald goes off, swimming and eating and scaring and hunting and hiding (and a wee bit of running, as even a giant barracuda is shark food) and having himself a hellova time. After a while, as these stories always go, he begins to miss his friend. So he goes on a quest to find The Magic Cuttlefish. Having found him (a feat in itself) , he asks to be turned back into a prawn. Magic Cuttlefish obliges without much argument (because this joke is getting long and not very funny.) Oswald, back in his previous state, swims home to find his friend! Wee! However, he learns that Chris has locked himself up in his hole and refuses to eat and talk with anyone, as he misses his best friend so very much. Oswald goes to his hole and announces "Chris! Come out! It is me, Oswald, I want to come and play!" Chris, not being a dummy, yells back a very sad "No! You are a giant barracuda (and still a jerkwad!)!" To which Oswald responds "No no! I'm different now! I'm a prawn again, Christian!" /rimshot! (Or, perhaps, /facepalm)