Mexico elects Marxist President, what does it mean for America? — WINTERY KNIGHT

Wintery Knight is always savvy; he is quite right in this case.  Socialism, far from being progressive, is a regressive and illiberal course of action which will only lead to more problems for our neighbors.  Rather than casting stones, let’s get our own house in order.

Mexico has held an election, and they decided to elect someone with the policies of Hugo Chavez (Venezuela). His name is Andrés Manuel López Obrador. What does it mean for America? It means we need to build a wall on our Southern border, and quickly, too. There were a couple of great articles about the […]

via Mexico elects Marxist President, what does it mean for America? — WINTERY KNIGHT

These aren’t the Droids you’re looking for: Social Justice Warrior Robots in Solo and Bladerunner

After watching the recent movie, Solo: A Star Wars Story, one thing struck me above the rest: the social justice warrior robot.  After reflection, I realized that there is a long history of the justice warrior robot/android in films and books.

Early on in the movie, we see L3-37, Lando’s robot, attempting to free other robots from some kind of cage fighting situation while humans look on.  Just like our modern day SJW’s, this robot is in-your-face, combative, and has little room for any argument or nuance.

Just like our modern day SJW’s, this robot is in-your-face, combative, and has little room for any argument or nuance.

This character brings us back to Star Wars episode IV where the bartender in Mos Eisley says of Droids, “We don’t serve their kind here.”  This is a clear reference to the discrimination that happened under Jim Crow laws in the south.  Throughout the rest of the franchise, droids are depicted as servants, even slaves; 3PO and R2D2 even refer to their human owners as “master.”

L3-37 has a strong reaction against the notion of droids as slaves.  She also entertains the idea that that droids could somehow have a human mate despite her construction which lacked any semblance of flesh and blood.  At the end of the movie, L3 tragically dies in an attempt to free all kinds of creatures from a slave-colony.

Another notable set of social justice warrior robots appear in the world of Bladerunner, a franchise loosely based on the sci-fi novels of Philip K. Dick, peace be upon him.  Dick was a prophet of sorts in the sci-fi world, seldom to be surpassed by any contemporary sci-fi writers.  We see androids rebelling against social degradation in the novels and movies, attempting to strike back and seek their own freedom.  But there is subtle twist in Dick’s world. The question arises about whether androids really are human-like enough to be considered people with equal rights (this is more true of the book than the movies).  Since they cannot feel as humans feel, they are actually far more dangerous, able to kill others at the drop of a hat. Androids are then a kind of pseudo-human in Dick’s world, a tragic, Frankensteinian mix of human qualities and robot.

Androids are then a kind of pseudo-human in Dick’s world, a tragic, Frankensteinian mix of human qualities and robot.

The issue lurking in the background to much of this social justice the issue of human rights.  How exactly is a human being constituted.  Our liberal democracies today recognize racial minorities, women, and sexual minorities as in need of the same protection under law as anyone else. Back when Star Wars made the comparison between robots and race in the 70’s, it made a lot of sense.  George Lucas’s robots appear to be able to feel emotions and act as if they had free will, unlike Philip Dick’s deranged and tragic bots.  Dick, I think, was writing not about race and gender etc…but about the ethical status of artificial intelligence in the future. For Dick, it’s a literal question of robotic rights. But Star Wars is fond of using robots as a metaphor for the status of minorities, pointing to the way of equality. With that said, Dick’s stories have an application; we ought to consider the facts of every claim about the need for equality, weighing that on the scale of reason. Otherwise our policy actions will be haphazard, reactionary, and haywire.

With out social justice warrior movement today, there are some troubling aspects, such as calling people Nazis who are clearly not Nazis, picketing and shouting down any speakers who challenge their worldview, and outright advocating of things like socialism or communism as the way forward.  What is it that drives the social justice warrior mindset today?  Philosopher Harry Frankfurt puts his finger on it in his fascinating book, On Inequality; he says people often fear “the unbearably deep suffering and dread that may be caused when people are treated unjustly.” Further, he suggests they feel that “their personal reality is threatened by a denial of the importance that is required by respect.” To understand these feelings, one need only watch a movie like Imitation Game, about the scientist Alan Turing.  The brilliant man is forced to take drugs by the government to reverse his homosexual orientation, to a soul-deadening effect. This kind of dread drives many people to action, striving for equality. But, as I said, pursuits of justice ought also to be based on facts as Solo illustrates.

In the movie, E3 quips that she could have a romantic relationship with Lando, her counterpart.  Yet one wonders if the curious lack of flesh and blood on the robot might get in the way a bit. The strange thing is that the makers of Solo apparently failed to see the stark absurdity of this statement. This recalls the movie Her where Joaquin Phoenix plays a man in the future who has a romantic relationship with a sentient artificially intelligent program.  In one scene, the AI program brings a woman to make love to the protagonist as a proxy, so that she can see through her eyes and experience something like that reality. The absurdity of this scene is part of the comedy of the movie. I’m not sure if the movie makers at Disney would get the joke about the robot copulating with a human. So at what point does a pursuit of equality get qualified by the facts? If a robot literally has no humanlike parts to its body, and it wants romance with a human, how exactly is that going to work? I’m imagining android body implants right now.

One can draw some parallels to a few minority groups today who seem to want to throw out all reason in pursuit of their existential dreams. One group I’m thinking of are the transgendered, people who identify as the opposite of their inherited biological gender. Now, first of all, I’m for protecting the rights of anyone, regardless of how they identify.  But I wonder about the wisdom of trying to compel others to truly think that the transgendered are the gender that they identify as. I understand using the pronoun that they ask us to use to be polite, but I only think of that as a kind of fiction. I listen to biology on this one, not ideology. Yet many want to compel others by law to use the pronoun of their choice. It’s already law in Canada. Another related point regards child rearing from gay and lesbian couples. What I’m about to say has nothing to do with your official stance on gay marriage. Sociological research and biological realities demonstrate that a father and a mother are the optimal setup for raising children. A gay or lesbian couple attempting to raise children is going to have a tough go of it and, at minimum, might consider bringing in the biological, opposite-gendered parent to be part of the child’s life. That’s the way biology suggests that things are set up.  Another popular pursuit for justice warriors today is economic equality.  Yet if you think about that for five seconds, it’s obvious that we can’t make everyone really equal in talents, intellect, ability, or economic status. If we did, the world would be hellishly dull and unproductive.  Now, by saying all this, I’m not suggesting from this that we should all go back to the 1950’s.  That ship has sailed.

So every quest for justice and equality ought to be limited by reason, science, and biological facts. In other worlds, nature does provide a limit to nurture that no amount of social engineering, re-education camps, gulags, or lovable movie characters can change. At what point can an “equality at all costs” ideology bend to incorporate facts?  That’s the question. Power to the robots!

Photo by Jens Johnsson on Unsplash.com

Are You a Grace or a Truth Person?

Most people are either geared towards grace or truth. Either we believe in unconditional love and forgiveness or we tend to put a higher focus on what is true and right. Sometimes we are grace oriented in one sphere of life and truth in another. There is a way, however, to bring both grace and truth into every area of our lives, and if we think about it, we desperately need both. Let me explain what I mean.

Grace oriented people often see how deeply weak and wounded most people are, including themselves. Their creed is a “all we need is love,” always looking for redemption. They often point out that the truth people are hypocritical. Truth people tend to emphasize what is right and true and sometimes exclude anyone who does not conform to their standards. This can be seen perhaps most starkly in religious people who appear to have little love or compassion for the sins of others. If you are a grace person, you are probably nodding your head here. Does not attachment theory in psychology tell us that the love we received or failed to receive as a child powerfully impacts us? Only healthy, loving attachments can heal those wounds, and who is more loving that almighty God, who, according to Christianity “is love”? Therefore, the grace person mostly concerns herself with loving others, giving them uncritical freedom. She thinks we should rarely correct or judge behavior to be wrong even if we see how destructive it is.

Grace people, however, have to realize that there is a limit to their perspective. Truth actually does matter. Truth leads to wisdom and boundaries. It highlights the stark realities of human nature. Though we sometimes look like we are born from angel dust, more often than not we appear born from sin. How many of us have been left trembling by the callous, selfish, and outrageous actions of people we thought were incapable of such things? And how much worse when we realize how selfish we ourselves can be. Anyone who has studied history will know how brutal the past was; the present is not that much better. In our own century, we had the Nazi (National socialist) and Communist regimes, both of which together inflicted over 100 million casualties in their pursuit of utopia (Utopia is ironically a very grace-oriented idea). And we all know that even forgiveness does not mean letting other people hurt you again and again. Forgiveness means letting go of need to inflict justice over a wrong, not making the person pay anymore. It does not mean forgetting what happened or stupidly leaving ourselves open to more abuse. Grace has limits, at least in the sense that people often refuse it and go their own way.

Truth people will be nodding their head to all that I’ve said in the last paragraph. They care about facts, right and wrong, and reality. They see the outcome of flakey philosophies which state that there is no truth or that everyone should be equal in every way. These notions are not grounded in any facts. Truth people understand simple biological facts about gender differences. They are astounded at the mob mentality of social media. They can see when people are doing something self-destructive or irrational and usually are the first ones to point it out. They also note that the grace people have a pattern of being hypocritically intolerant of anyone they think does not belong to the grace-tribe.
But truth people need to see that even they fall short of their own standards. How good is really good enough? This is especially true as it relates to relationship with the Almighty. Nobody is capable of being perfect, says Paul. “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Jesus told parables about self-righteous people like the pharisee who “thanked God he was not like everyone else” and the elder brother who refused to go into the party the Father had laid out for the wasteful younger brother (Luke 18, Luke 15). Truth without grace ultimately crushes the truth person under the weight of the law that they themselves have failed to keep. It often leads to callouse self-righteousness, hypocrisy, and mere outward conformity to the rules. All the while the truth person is desperately trying to cover up his own need for grace and forgiveness.

For all these reasons grace without truth and truth without grace are incomplete. Only in Jesus Christ can we really put the two together. How so? Jesus Christ is the one who embodied these two realities perfectly, so in him we have a perfect example of what it looks like. He could speak a word of truth with absolute love. Just read the gospels to see for yourself. But more than that, Jesus loved us to death, literally, showing us how we can reconcile grace with truth. At the cross, “Love and faithfulness meet together; righteousness and peace kiss each other” (Psalm 85:10). Jesus bore our sins and the weight of God’s justice on the cross to reveal God’s great unconditional love. The cross turns our grace into real grace that recognizes falsehood and sin, rather than just overlooking it or explaining it away. The person who zealously strives to balance grace and truth without Jesus has to ask herself a question. What philosophy or religion has ever united grace and truth in a more coherent, beautiful, and historically accessible way than that of Jesus Christ? Often I suspect that the rejection of Jesus Christ, either outright or in practice, is for one of two reasons. Either the truth person does not want to accept that radical message of forgiveness available to the worst offenders who embrace Jesus, or the grace person does not want to accept that God would speak clearly in a way that seems to exclude those who don’t accept it. But Jesus can offer forgiveness in a way that bears the weight of truth while telling the truth in a way that beckons in grace to the loneliest outcast. “In him we have all received grace in the place of grace” but also the fullest expression of “grace and truth.” (John 1:16-17).

Isms and Facts

Can facts correct your isms?  Or do isms correct your facts?  We all have particular beliefs.  Some of them we hold onto without even noticing them.  The philosopher Charles Taylor called these our “unthoughts.”  These are what we think without reflection, often without confirmation.  J. Warner Wallace, a famous cold case detective, says we ought to seek facts, not evidence.  Evidence so often helps us rationalize our unthoughts.  But most of us want evidence, not pesky facts that could challenge us.  Few people, in fact, step outside of what society generally allows them to believe.

So, for example, society tells us that religion is alright if we find our own personal meaning in it.  Most people only think of meaning as a property of their minds. Meaning is just in our heads, not out there in the real world.  But it’s not generally understood today that a religion could actually be true, even historically verifiable.  Since religion is something we simply make meaning of, it cannot have the ability to change our lifestyles much.  We don’t need to take up our crosses and follow a real Jesus very much.  Thus we can go to church on Sundays and live mostly for ourselves the rest of the week.  It goes without saying, though perhaps I need to say it, that this depiction is at odds with historical and orthodox Christianity.  I also think the idea of making your own meaning is incoherent, but that’s another story.

Another example of “unthought” is our preoccupation with race, class, and gender.  Many of our assumptions about this modern trinity go completely unchallenged.  We are told there is systemic racism and instead of researching what that means and looking for facts to support it or deny it, we simply accept it.  For white people it is good virtue-signalling to accept it because if you don’t, you are considered racist.  Sure there is still individual racism, which is very unfortunate, but systemic racism?  How do we define that? We have so much “white guilt” (as the much ridiculed black conservative author Shelby Steele points out) that we’re afraid to look into it. But when we boil it down, it is very hard to substantiate systemic racism as existent today. As far as class goes, we are told that when the rich get richer, the poor get poorer, as if economics were a zero sum game.  One reading of Thomas Sowell’s Economic Facts and Fallacy would blow this view to smithereens, but that takes away from watching our favorite TV shows. With gender, we are told that it is simply a social construct with no biological meaning.  If you examine these concepts, you will find out very quickly that all this is based on extremely muddled thinking rather than facts, research, stats and so on.  But again, most of us feel our way through life, keeping ourselves busy with constant amusement, unaware that “a-muse” means to not think.  We don’t think while we slowly walk onward towards our mortal end with nothing substantial to truly follow, leaving life half-lived and truth half-sought.

And we wonder why people are so sensitive today.  Well, if your worldview is completely subjective, not based on facts at all, and I challenge it, how are you going to react?  You’re going to react like Arnold Schwarzenegger in the movie “Jingle All the Way,” with total panic. “Put that cookie [fact] down! Now!”  Or perhaps you’ll be more like one of Jim Jones or Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh’s cult followers.  You’ll just smile, knowing that you know the truth because…well…you just feel it.

How Jordan Peterson helped me see that I should clean things

I’ve always been a messy person.  As a child, my military father would make me clean my room and do my homework.  But it never stuck.  I’ve struggled with organization my entire life.  Part of this is my Platonic nature.  I’m often more concerned with ideas than the physical world. At least that’s what I tell myself.  But recently I watched a video that actually changed my life.

In the short clip, Jordan Peterson explains very simply how our brain interprets things as either tools or obstacles.  He explains that for about five minutes.  When we see things out of place, we see obstacles. That does a number on our productivity.  It often makes me feel out of sorts, for example.  Tools, on the other hand, are things that are useful in our work.  Some degree of order is therefore a tool.  After his explanation, the good Dr. explains that this is the reason we should clean up our workspace.  Peterson had already been speaking my language, the language of ideas, science, and abstraction.  But then he connected it firmly to a very concrete thing: my workspace.

I’m not sure exactly how to explain this, but somehow that little bit of  commonsense has dramatically changed the way I function.  I now make my bed every morning, put away clothes after I wear them, clean up the kitchen and living room, and clean up my desk.  I even organize my days now with a tasklist, and I get most of the things done!  Anyone who knows me a smidge can testify that this is out of the ordinary for me.

I have continued my study of Peterson by reading his book, 12 Rules for Life, and even reading some of the books on his reading list.  He has expanded my understanding of this quest for order as a cosmic fight for the good, true, and beautiful.  And all this lines up perfectly with what the Bible says about our creation in the image of God as his stewards on the earth.  We’re here for order, creativity, and conservation of the good.  All of this ordering helps us begin to launch out into areas where we have never been before.  It can help us get a better handle on our very purpose for living.

How should we pursue equality?

Well-known philosopher, Harry Frankfurt, in his book, On Inequality, argues that extreme economic inequality is concerning because of its tendency to cause social unrest; yet he doesn’t think we should try to eliminate all inequality.  Instead, he argues that poverty is the major culprit that we should all agree to fight, not inequality itself.  But that’s not so much what I want to talk about in this article.  An intriguing part of Frankfurt’s book highlights the psychology of many crusaders for equality.  He points out that many equality justice warriors treat equality as an end in itself.  Yet, Frankfurt, like Immanuel Kant before him, believes that people are ends in themselves.  Mutual respect for the person should underlie any reasonable pursuit of equality.  Frankfurt argues that pursuing equality for its own sake can lead people into an inauthentic existence, to what the existentialists call “bad faith.”  It can lead, for example, to constant comparison with others; through envy we lay waste our souls, not to mention society at large.  Frankfurt argues that instead of this surface level envious pursuit of equality, we should take careful note of our gifts, abilities, nature, and context. Who are we? What are we? And what are we and other people able to accomplish in our current context?  If we do this, we will have a much savvier  perspective on how to advance both ourselves and others. If we do not start there, we can never have an authentic equality. The foundation for all this is always a respect for our shared humanity, along with knowledge of individual needs and abilities.  The answer is not always re-organization of society’s resources, institutions, and relationships as the cultural Marxists of today would have it.  We know from history, just as the book Animal Farm teaches, that even in “utopias,” some animals still be more equal than others.  I’m inclined to agree with Frankfurt that there are a lot of flakey pursuits of equality today that are not well-thought through, do not take account of nature, context, or ability.  Instead of shouting, we should learn through quiet reflection and study how we can make the world a better place.  We should look at the world in terms of respect for individual people, not merely social groups. And that also includes asking and answering the larger philosophical question posed by the agrarian essayist Wendell Berry, “what are people for?”

The Politically Incorrect Guide to Identity Politics

People’s sense of identity today is often thinner than a Victoria’s Secret model. Instead of the age old idea of using reason, common sense, and common ground to navigate conflicts of ideas, many think that the individual is just part of whatever group identity he aligns with. Postmodern theory even suggests that there is no common ground between group identities; all communication is lost in translation between groups. People are locked into their own psycho-socio-political-sexual-religious lenses and cannot escape. All we can do, supposedly, is coddle each other’s emotions and affirm each other’s chosen ways of life. Suffice it to say that this notion is self-contradictory and won’t help anyone bridge difficult cultural divides.

This notion that we are locked into a group identity and cannot get out is scarier than being trapped in a dream with Freddy Kruger. Think about it. If we are stuck in our own ways of thinking and cannot get out, then there is no point to ever attempting to change anyone’s mind. If it’s true, then you can’t change my mind about this topic, nor can I you. The group-think idea is also self-refuting. If it’s true that communication is locked within groups, then it is also false because this idea too is just another culturally bound idea. It’s like writing on the mirror “this sentence is a lie” with bright red lipstick. It may look sexy, but it just contradicts itself. If no groups can communicate, then we cannot even agree that no groups can communicate. We are left in the end with utter silence.

If no groups can communicate, then we cannot even agree that no groups can communicate.

Postmodern theory also leads to the quest for power. It’s just like the Lord Voldemort said to Harry Potter, “there is no good or evil, there is only power.” If the postmodern theory of truth is true (note the irony) then there can never be good things such as tolerance or peace. Because we are locked in our group identities, we are always confused by one another, and what we are left with is the struggle for power. Life begins to look more like a Monster Truck rally than an ordered or moral universe. In this theory, there is no pursuit of truth or virtue; we are left with students shouting down guest speakers that they don’t like. It’s more like a world resembling the movie Idiocracy. And let’s face it. We’re almost there.

It’s more like a world resembling the movie Idiocracy. And let’s face it. We’re almost there.

But another way this theory affects us is the facile and condescending quest to silence people from speaking about groups they are not involved in. So for example, some people start to squirm if we talk about policies in Islamic countries in a mildly negative light. The idea is that unless we are a part of a group, we can’t speak critically of them. Another strange example is when men claim ignorance about the issue of abortion because they are “not a woman,” as if it is only women would are allowed to have an opinion. But, you see, none of this follows if we are in fact not locked into our own group identities after all. We are influenced by cultural backgrounds, but that doesn’t mean we are determined by them. Sensitivity is needed, not silence.

Sensitivity is needed, not silence.

So while it is important to realize how our culture colors our view of the world, to make that into a barrier to truth yields an idiocracy in which none can speak publicly on anything of importance. If we are trapped into our group’s perspective, it leads to the quest for pure power, the dissolution of virtue, and the censoring of factual information about any group you do not belong to. So for all these reasons, we should chuck this theory out the window along with its brackish and filthy bilge-water. At the same time, let’s not forget that we are culturally and emotionally influenced creatures. Psychologist Jonathan Haidt has argued that our reason and emotion are like a rider on an elephant. Reason is the rider. Emotion is the elephant. Emotion, influenced by our cultural backgrounds, is much stronger than reason. But that doesn’t mean we can;t train our riders and our elephants to function better together. With a well-trained rider and elephant, we won’t censure people for speaking of others just because they hold different group identities.

Quick Guide to Karma

Often I hear something like this, “It’s karma,” which appears to mean something like “what you do will come back around to you later in life.”  We hear this phrase everywhere from the grocery store to Radiohead’s song “Karma Police.”  A refrain in the song is, “this is what you’ll get, when you mess with us.”  All this is puzzling and a bit amusing because it is clear that westerners haven’t the foggiest idea what karma actually is.  What they mean when they use it is “you will reap what you sow.”  They have a notion that there is some kind of ironic, cosmic justice that catches those who do evil off guard and cuts them down to size.  Another layer of irony is that this idea has more similarities with the biblical narratives than with actual karma.  Let me flesh that out.

The biblical narratives teach that the transcendent and personal God is just and that he brings an ironic reversal on those who do evil.  God is working for justice in the world to lift up the widow, the orphan, and the foreigner.  One day God will put everything right in this world.

But karma in Hinduism (this is similar to how it is used in various forms of its cousin religion, Buddhism), is related to the idea that since forever ago there has been a wheel of good and evil, of death and rebirth (samsara).  This struggle has always been, and it always will be.  Karma is the principle that you will be payed back for evil and rewarded for good.  But that does not so much happen in this life.  According to karma, in this life, you are being repaid for good and evil of your previous lives.  Your next life will repay you for good and evil from this life.  The ultimate point of seeking enlightenment on Hinduism as well as Buddhism is escape from this cosmic wheel of misfortune.

So the irony is that when people say, “it’s karma,” they are implying either that the person did something wrong in a past life or that he did something now and will be payed back in his next life.  Another irony is that we westerners tend to be very democratic and egalitarian.  We don’t like aristocracy bossing us around.  But karma implies that various classes of society are the result of karmic justice.  This is why they have a Brahmin class in India along with the Dalit class, the untouchables.  An interesting book along this topic is Why I am Not a Hindu by a Dalit named Kancha Ilaiah.  In his book, Ilaiah exposes the many injustices of the caste system in India.

So next time someone tells you “it’s karma,” perhaps you should ask them, “what do you mean?  Do you mean that such a person has been reincarnated and is being punished for crimes of a past life?  Or do you mean that this person will be punished in a future life, perhaps by being reborn as a lower class?”  That might spoil the dinner party, but it would orient the conversation towards the question of real meaning.  And unless a conversation is oriented around meaning and truth, it’s just bullshit in the end.

 

Four Reasons Jesus was not just another Avatar.

Remember the movie Avatar?  Humans could use a computer to plug into these giant purple aliens and live through them.  This idea comes from the venerable and ancient religion of Hinduism.  It was claimed that God often manifested himself in physical form.  Sometimes this is as a man.  Sometimes it is an elephant or another animal.  These manifestations, called avatars, were not considered a permanent state for the deity.  They were temporary scenarios where God or a god was attempting to change the karmic imbalance.  God was trying to tilt the world back towards moral harmony.  In Christianity, Jesus Christ is God made man as well who came to save humanity from their lack of moral wholeness.  Can these two pictures be harmonized?  Many in our pluralistic age have sought to do this.  It is surely a tempting route to bring together all the world’s great religions.  Perhaps it could help us co-exist as the bumper sticker puts it. But is this harmonization really an intellectually or existentially satisfying explanation?  I’m voting no on this.  Here are four reasons why.

1. Jesus permanently became a man

In the Christian Scriptures, God did not simply appear as a man.  He was made man permanently. John 1:14 says that the Word, that is, the 2nd person of the Trinity, was made or became man.  Everyone is familiar with the Christmas story where Jesus is born of the virgin Mary.  He grows up like a regular person and lives as a man from cradle to grave, eating, drinking, becoming tired and so on.  Other than his miracles and profound teaching, he is an ordinary man.  Also, Christian theology recognized that he stayed a man after his death and resurrection.  He now is man forever, performing the role of a priest and intercessor for all humans.  I need not harp on the fact that Brahman, the one God of Hinduism does not continue to retain his human or animal forms.

2. God is radically different in both faiths

Jesus believed that God was personal, all-powerful, all-knowing, all-present, loving, righteous, and good.  He often referred to God as “Father” and taught his disciples to do the same (Matt. 6).  It gets thicker though.  Jesus also claimed to be God in some sense, equal with the Father and yet having taken the flesh of a man (Matt 11:25-27).  This teaches that God is not just personal, but that he has always had a loving relationship within himself, so to speak.  God is so personal, he is three-persons.  That explains how God can be a loving being from all eternity.  Hinduism on the other hand, points in the opposite direction; God is ultimately impersonal and beyond all distinctions.  Therefore, God is really us and we are God (Atman is Brahman).  On Hinduism, God is also a banana, building, and a barrio.  It is true that some Hindu thinkers, such as Ramanuja, have argued that God is both personal and part of creation.  Creation is God’s body, so to speak, always existent.  But Biblical religion posits that creation is God’s workmanship, something he made out of nothing (Gen. 1:1).  Creation is more like God’s garments that he puts on or a tent that he stretches out (Psalm 104).

3. Jesus’ teaching contradicts Hindu Avatars

Jesus not only taught that God was the infinite personal creator, but he also taught a very different way of spirituality.  Hinduism has many different paths of salvation such as the way of knowledge, the way of devotion, and the way of works.  Krishna, an avatar of Brahman, explains the “way of love” as a form of devotion in chapter 12 of the Bhagavad Gita, for example.  All these ways imply action primarily on the part of humans to achieve salvation.  Jesus teaches to the contrary that salvation is something that God achieves and that humans receive by trust (John 3:16; 6:29; Luke 15).  Good works and spiritual disciplines are a response to that God-achieved salvation.  Salvation is not a human achievement at all.  We see this, for example, in the account of the sinful woman who came and anointed Jesus’ feet with perfume and tears (Luke 7:36-50).   Jesus says that her actions were a result of faith and being forgiven, not vice versa.  Loving relationship is at the center of Christ’s teaching, and it is always a gift, one where God himself is the giver and relationship with him the gift.

4. The reason for incarnation/manifestation is very different

Jesus’ came to save his people from their sins and fulfill the Old Testament Scriptures offering ultimate reconciliation with God to all people.  His life, death, and resurrection is a work that accomplished God’s plan, bringing his story to its climax.  God had created people to be his image bearers, his vice-regents on earth, but they have, sometime in the primordial past, turned away from him.  God chose a man, Abraham, and then his descendants to be a special nation to represent him on earth.  Though they failed as his representatives time and again, he sent prophets who foretold the coming of a Savior, one who would bring people into harmony with God, themselves, others, and the creation.  Jesus claimed to be the Messiah and then, in a grand-reversal of everyone’s expectations, died as a sacrificial victim and rose again.  I don’t have time to go into all the stunning parallels and implications or facts about all this.  one thing, however, is that his resurrection is the beginning of the restoration of all of creation.   As N.T. Wright points out, “The point of Christianity is not… to go to heaven when you die. [Rather, it is] putting the whole creation to rights…”  This is vastly different than Hindu avatars.  Avatars come to shift the karmic imbalance which, as far as Hindu scholars know, has always been the case.  The material order has always been rife with karmic imbalance, so the manifestations of Brahman are there to bring things back around a little, as the endless cycle of balance and imbalance continues.  Krishna says in the Bhagavad Gita, “For the protection of the virtuous and the destruction of evil acts, for the purpose of establishing dharma, I become fully manifest from age to age.”  This karmic imbalance is one reason that salvation in Hinduism is escape from the material order, not redemption of it.

Conclusion

For all these reasons, Jesus is vastly different than Hindu avatars.  Since he is different, he cannot therefore be another Avatar.  In fact, one way to look at these two religions is to see one of them as preparatory for the other.  Perhaps one is a vague shadow with some truths, pointing to a reality, and the other one is the concrete reality.  The question is, which one is a vague shadow and which one a concrete reality?  Is there any way to figure that out?  Contrary to popular sentiment, worldviews should be assessed for their truth value, coherency, factual accuracy, and livability.  This is not inherently dishonorable but can be done with gentleness and respect.  Now that we have distinguished between Messiah and Avatar, we can continue on that journey of discovery.

Can we justify real morality in a godless world?

Sam Harris’s book, The Moral Landscape, promises us that morals can be objective and scientific with no reference to a deity.  All we have to do is accept the supposedly common sense idea that morality is nothing else than the well-being or happiness of conscious creatures.  Since, according to Harris, humankind is just material in makeup, happiness is simply physical and psychological.  He thinks that brain scans and neuroscience are key to unlocking more of our moral questions.  Well-being just is morality and morality well-being, so to speak.

The problem with this is that well-being and morality do not appear to be identical.  To figure out if two things are identical, we just need to consider whether they have the same properties.  For example, if I say red is the same as blue, we can determine quickly that they are not the same.  If I say that my wife, Meridith, is the same as Cleopatra, then all of the two women’s attributes would have to match.  In the same way, morality and well-being would have to be identical for them to be the same thing.

Are they?  Nerp.  Not exactly.  Let me illustrate.  It is possible to experience well-being upon sipping a cup of coffee or climbing a mountain.  Does that mean we have done something moral?  What about moral choices where our own well-being is negated, such as sacrificing our joy for the sake of another?  Further, what if we simply handed out medication to increase serotonin levels and make everyone happy?  Would that make the world moral?  I don’t think so.  Simply put, since well-being and moral actions do not have the exact same properties, they cannot be the same thing.  Well-being is part of morality, surely, but it is not the whole thing.

But let’s take this further.   Does it even make sense to say that physical states of well-being are the same as moral states?  I’d say no.  This is because of the is/ought problem.  What is this?  The philosopher, David Hume, pointed out that material things, or the “is,” can never imply a moral “ought.”  Stay with me here.  According to Hume, there is nothing about the world itself in its matter that could justify us saying, “you shouldn’t act like that.”  My brain states or chemistry can never produce a moral ought, such as “it’s wrong to take my Eggo waffle.”  Make sense?  It’s hard to wrap the mind around this, which is why Harris can get away with his casual dismissal of the is/ought problem.  Another example comes to us from the classic movie, “Psycho.”  As the murderer creeps up to the shower with his knife in hand, is there anything about that state of affairs that makes it so that he ought not kill the hapless woman?  Not really.  There is no ought coming from the killer or the knife or the shower curtain or the blissfully ignorant woman.  Moral duties or “oughts” need to come from some from somewhere, such as a non-physical being, adequate to explain moral experience.  Theists explain this with God, an all-powerful, good, and loving law-giver.  Harris’s best counter argument against the is/ought distinction, however, is simply to dismiss it out of hand and scoff at it.

One part of his argument is true, however; we can investigate nature and come to understand ethical situations better through various sciences.  Psychology might teach us more about why people behave with bias, giving us more compassion for others when they display it.  Social science shows us that a close connection with a mother and a father are vital for a child’s development and that a good relationship with a father figures curb violent tendencies in males.  Looking to nature to inform ethics is called natural law, an idea which helped form the foundation of our legal system.  But Harris’s anti-God worldview leads to a universe where there is no ultimate purpose, value, or meaning.  Unfortunately, even conscious creatures like us do not have the miraculous power to endow nature with these bountiful gifts.