Ethics

Don’t Be Naive: or, “judge a righteous judgment”

foolsdance“Thou shalt judge . . . . a righteous judgment”

Rom 16:17-18 Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them. 18 For such men are slaves, not of our Lord Christ but of their own appetites; and by their smooth and flattering speech they deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting.

διχοστασίας      divisions
σκάνδαλα          obstacles
χρηστολογίας    smooth talk
εὐλογίας           flattery
ἐξαπατῶσιν       deceive
ἀκάκων             naïve

Warnings against those who use smooth talk (rhetoric) and false logic to bring dissensions and digressions from the truth abound in scripture. For those who claim that we “must not judge” things (what others say, believe, or do), we see in this passage a strong exhortation to “keep your eye” on things contrary to the teaching you have learned. More than that, we are to turn away from them! We often think of this perhaps just in terms of smooth talking salesmen, or some such, but in this case we can understand this as anyone who persuasively in words, print, or other means presents ideas that are not true (true: in accordance with Scripture) so that we might believe in them. Many terrible ideas are being published in beautiful books and beautiful words, and many a hip preacher and teacher can get the crowds shouting on their feet for ideas that will in the end bring down the house (being built on sand). Oftentimes, the ideas will seem a bit novel, but not so apparently diverting from orthodoxy that they are obviously departing from the truth. The seriousness of falling prey to such subtly false rhetoric is a matter of disobedience or obedience to Christ. It is in this sense a matter of life and death, the necessity of having biblical discernment and assessment of people’s logic (thinking/reasonings) and their rhetoric in communicating. This necessity of discerning flattery and deceptions of many kinds requires true wisdom from God, to have skillful discernment and assessment, so that we can clearly distinguish (judge) truth from falsehood, righteousness from unrighteousness, good from evil, etc. Naïve, fools listen to the songs of folly and foolishness, dancing their tune, and this is the epitome of unreason and irrationality. Logic and rhetoric therefore have as their primary concerns the very Truth: what is true to reality not imaginations, what is right, and to what is true to the character of God and all who represent him. We would be wise to listen to the words of wisdom here in Paul, and thus walking with the wise (Prov 13:20) we might become “wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matt 10:16).

Can we become good following Aristotle’s notion of virtue-habituation?

downloadA rather challenging and sobering insight from Steve Porter about the impossibility of becoming and being good simply through Aristotle’s notion of virtue-habituation. (BTW, this entire book is worth its weight in a year’s supply of oxygen). His thoughts remind me of the perennial assumption (in much contemporary teaching that spiritualizes and exemplorizes and moralizes biblical narratives) that the goal is to teach a “gospel of sin management” (a term Dallas Willard used in the Divine Conspiracy).

 “Unfortunately, the proposed mechanism by which practice and habituation is supposed to bring about virtue is problematic. The overarching problem is the connection between doing virtuous acts without a fully formed character and the supposed subsequent formation of such a character. That is, we can do virtuous acts for non-virtuous reasons/motives/desires and what becomes habituated, then, is not a virtuous character but a non-virtuous one. For instance, I can do brave acts, look outwardly brave, and become habituated to respond in brave manners and all the while possess a deep cowardice. Even though I am sincerely intent on becoming brave, my habituated brave acts continue to be the result of my attempt to overcome my cowardice rather than the result of an inner proclivity to respond bravely. Or, I can do kind acts towards my wife, look outwardly kind, and become habituated to respond to her in kind ways and all the while be thinking about how she owes me kindness in return. I am not in possession of a kind character. Rather, I have a self-absorbed character that nevertheless manifests itself in acts that appear kind. As these examples suggest, the outward practice of virtuous acts does not always (or even regularly?) translate into the inner reality of virtuous character. The outward practice of virtuous acts without virtuous character can just as easily habituate non-virtuous character as it can virtuous character.”  Steven L. Porter, Being Good, Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2012, p. 136.