Archive for April, 2010

All work and no play?

I just got back from doing a really liberating thing.

I went to the gym in the middle of a work day. It cost around an hour and half.

Church leadership and ministry is a funny job. On the one hand, you spend quite a lot of time in the middle of the day doing organizational tasks, preparing and praying the Word of God, and some meetings. However, since most members of the church have jobs, the best times to see them are before and after work, so a minister’s day can get elongated at both ends.

The result – long ‘working’ hours, and no exercise or other ‘down time’. (I say ‘working’ since I’m not entirely comfortable with using the category of work without qualification for what I do, but don’t have a better one)

There are 3 responses I’ve seen so far.

  1. The no-response response. As far as I can tell, this is the most common. That is, ministers just slowly get more and more unfit (physically, mentally, even relationally) as they go on with their 70+ hour weeks. This is no good for so many reasons. One that stands out is captured in a comment by a friend of mine – he said, ‘you workoholic minsters are really not helping. We overworked employees are looking to your for models of how to get a better balance’.
  2. The ‘count the hours’ response. This is where you make sure you take time off somewhere else when you work a long day / extra time. When I started in ministry, I was dvised to divide the week into 21 segments (morning, arvo and evening), work (say) 13, and then make sure that if you did a bunch of evenings for example, that you take off a morning somewhere else. I have never managed this, mainly because there’s always the ‘givens’ in a week – sermon prep, meetings, etc – and taking time off just adds stress to getting them done.
  3. The ‘lock in time off’ response. This is a pro-active version of the last one. For some it’s a day off, for others, it’s a maximum number of evening meetings per week. It can work, but still seems to me to leave open the possibility that pretty much all discretionary time is taken up with church stuff.

Anyway, I’ve realised that for me, I simply wasn’t getting exercise as a result of my work patterns, with predictable results. So it’s the gym 3 times a week now, including during the day if that’s the only way it’s going to work this week!

What have others done?

PS – I’m so uptight about this, I had to assure my staff I’d be working extra this evening to make up for it!


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I finally figured out something a few weeks ago.

I got an answer to the question, “Should we Christians seek to impose Christian morality on our society by legislation?” Here’s what I said


from flickr by K.Renee

Our politics is the politics of Jesus who is our Lord; but that doesn’t mean there is no place for the state. Precisely because the people of God have burst the national bonds of Israel, we are not a nation state, and therefore will always live within the framework of a Caesar, just one to whom we do not give ultimate loyalty. This is the significance of Jesus profound comment, “render unto Cesar that which is Caesar’s, and render unto to God which is God’s”. Jesus recognises that there are some things that rightly belong to Caesar, that until Jesus returns we will be members of two kingdoms serving two masters – the kingdom of glory which is our primary loyalty, and the kingdom of Judea, or China or Australia or whatever, which is a focus of secondary, but nonetheless real obedience. Listen to how Paul puts it in Rom 13:

1 Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Do you wish to have no fear of the authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive its approval; 4 for it is God’s servant for your good. But if you do what is wrong, you should be afraid, for the authority does not bear the sword in vain! It is the servant of God to execute wrath on the wrongdoer.

Notice 2 things about this second kingdom:

  • The first is that it is not altogether separate from the kingdom of God. No, Jesus is its Lord as well, it’s not as though politics somehow escapes from the loving Lordship of Christ. Whether the Roman empire knew it cared about it or not, the truth is that its authority derives from God – there is no authority except from God, says Paul, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God, and will give an account to God. And that is why we Christians give it proper respect.
  • But second, notice the task of the governing authorities – it is to uphold public justice – to uphold the right and to execute wrath on the wrongdoer. Now you may think that Paul is a little optimistic about the capacity of the Roman empire to restrict itself to that, or even to have the faintest clue about right and wrong, given its insatiable desire for conquest. But in principle, that is the role of the state from a Christian perspective, to uphold public justice, to punish what is wrong and to uphold what is right. And what we learn from the administration of power in Israel is that that will best happen, with the least abuse, when there is an appropriate separation of powers.

In relation to the world, the over-riding concern is against tyranny, and tyranny comes when the rule of law is not upheld, and when power is concentrated into a pure form, such that these different functions are performed by the same body; when the army is the judiciary, and makes the laws that it administers as well, there is situation ripe for oppression. And we should thank God that we live in  society that recognises the importance of the separation of powers, largely because of our Biblical inheritance. It is a great gift to us, and you see it in stark contrast to the majority of the world’s nations. We should pray for, and even work for, its spread.

But this principle is as needed in the church as well. In our Anglican context, the Rector is responsible for the ministry of the church and the Parish Council and wardens responsible for the budget and property of the church. And since both are necessary, it means that they need to get one with one another, respect each other’s role. We are wonderfully well served by our wardens and Parish Council, and it makes a great deal of difference. But it also means that Jesus is the head of the church, not the Rector, not even the Bishop or Archbishop – at the most important level, because Jesus is our prophet priest, king and judge, we don’t need or have any other, except perhaps in very lower case letters, so that the truest thing to say about ourselves is that we are sisters and brothers to each other, walking alongside each other in the Lord.


Well, how can we apply this concretely – 4 quick points;

  • first and perhaps most obvious, pay your taxes, and be glad about it. At the most basic level, both Jesus and Paul uphold the right of the state to tax, in order to pay for the administration of public justice; and although it may not leave the warmest of feelings in your heart as you see your money disappearing from your pay check, the truth is that it is part of your Christian discipleship to render this thing which is Caesar’s to him.
  • second, the fact that the governing authorities are not somehow separate from the Lordship of Christ, but have their authority from God leads to a surprising conclusion; namely, that those who work for the government, or what we might call public servants, are literally deacons. That’s the term Paul uses for them – deacons in the service of God. And since the functions of government have spread and now include funding of a whole range of social sector agencies, they too are deacons – do we have any deacons in the house this morning? It is a good and honourable thing, and we do well to give this role and these people the honour due to them. They are serving the Lord.
  • third, and back to the question we started with, you might say, ‘OK, then, as Christians we are to be citizens, not to withdraw; we know the truth, we know the will of God for people, we know what is best for living life well, revealed to us in Christ. Shouldn’t we work to make the law of the government increasingly correspond to the law of God? Shouldn’t we work to legislate Christian morality, not perhaps through violence but persuasion?’ And I hope you can see the answer to that. It has to be ‘no’. Why? Well because that would be a fundamental intrusion of Caesar into that which is not Caesar’s, whether for good or for evil, even if it seeks to uphold Christian morality. You see, morality is about the heart, and the conscience, ultimately it is about a person’s faith commitment or none, and those things belong to God, not to Caesar, and Caesar has to keep his nose out of them, even when he thinks he is on the side of God, perhaps especially when he thinks he is on the side of God. Another way to make this point is to see the government is about upholding and defending justice, public justice, and the thing is that there are some things which are immoral but not unjust – I think the Bible teaches pretty clearly that homosexual sex, or lying, or breaking your promise is immoral; but other than in particular circumstances, those things are not matters of justice, that is they don’t damage and denigrate the inherent dignity and value of others, and so are not the business of governments, even when they are Christian. But there are plenty of situations where what is immoral will be unjust – murder, stealing, rape and so on – and because they concern justice, they are precisely the things that governments should legislate about.
  • Finally, you’ll hear the focus on justice, and justice is where it gets tricky – see it is all about respect for and protecting the inherent dignity and value of a person; but where does that come from? From our conviction that people, all people, are created in the image of God –  fundamental bottom line for us Christians. In other words, at the very heart of it cannot be anything other than the deepest convictions about human nature and dignity, and we have something profoundly important to say at that point.

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Part 3! – scroll down for some inflammatory comments about independent school funding and the provision in the timetable for SRE – but don’t comment without reading the rest!


from flickr by TonivS

I finished the last post by saying that a Christian approach to creation leads to a rejection of the notion of a hierarchical view of society as a whole. Since the distinctive nature of social communities are such that they are rarely part or sub-whole of another, society is best understood as intrinsically plural, made up of many different communities, each with its own proper (created) sphere. Of course, this social pluralism parallels the aspectual pluralism of our framework. Just as there is an irreducible plurality of aspects, and no aspect is more ‘real’ than another, so too there are irreducible spheres of social life to which the natures of the various communities correspond. These spheres correspond to the aspects which qualify social communities. None includes another as a part, so there can be no all-encompassing community in human society. And hence there will be no all-encompassing authority. Instead, there is a plurality of spheres, each of which will have its own internal sovereignty. This notion of ‘sphere sovereignty’ is the social principle that communities whose structural purpose is qualified by one aspect are to be protected from interference from communities qualified by a different aspect, precisely so that each can fulfil its distinctive structural purpose. Of course, spheres of social sovereignty do not correspond to different groups of people as such – all people are concerned with all the spheres, whether they are members of a community devoted to its interest or not. And the same people who are members of one such community (say a church, employees of a business) are also members of other communities as well (the state, students in a school, subscribers to the opera etc).

One application of this notion of sphere sovereignty is with regard to the issue of the nature and source of authority in society. By what right does one person tell others what to do? Traditionally, the answer is found in one aspect of human life – rationality (Aristotle), economic ownership (Marx), monarchy (biological), military power (the police state). Again, notice the reductionism – all other aspects are written out of play, and authority derived from one aspect only. The inevitably totalitarian tendency of this is obvious, regardless of what form the exercise of that authority takes – even democracy doesn’t provide any guarantee against this outcome.

We can critique this along the following lines – all authority derives from God’s authority, and so authority does not have one nature at all. Within creation there is no one supreme kind of authority, because only God has that. Instead, there are many different kinds of authorities, that correspond to the irreducibly plural nature of creation. In particular, this means that it is incorrect on Christian principles to see human individuals or communities as the creators or source of authority – only God is that. It may be that the vote of the majority is the best way to select those who bear authority, but that vote does not create the authority. The owners of a business do exercise their authority by virtue of their ownership, but that is because the business is an economically qualified organization and so has an economically qualified authority. The authority of parents, however, does not reside in the fact that they own the family house or support the children financially; it resides in the ethically qualified relation which exists between parent and child by virtue of the way that God has created humans. So even if the family is entirely financially dependent on the state, the authority of parents is not reduced. A school is a logically qualified organization; the authority in a school is an authority based on expertise in knowledge (of course, it was also have some lower-order aspects to it as well, say economic, which will have their own function, subject to this leading function; hence it is inappropriate to make profit the purpose of a school). And in the same way, the state will have its own distinct kind of authority, an authority qualified by justice, and in particular, public justice. Note here that the state’s authority will extend to every act or community that impinges on public justice (say fraud in a church); however, precisely because its proper authority is limited to public rather than all kinds of justice, its authority does not extend to all breaches of justice – say favouritism among children, or rules for who can be ordained in a church.

It is clear then that this analysis leads to the vital concept of a limited state, restricted as to what it can make and enforce laws about. And this comes about because of our non-reductionist analysis of society. The state is a particular social institution, qualified by a particular leading function, within which it has a particular authority, and all this is given by God, as reflected say in Rom 13. Of course, this is not to be confused with theocracy, which holds that God himself (usually by means of a self-appointed agent, such as the church) rules the state or businesses or schools. Rather, God is the source of authority in our social life through the way that he has created humans and the world. And so there is simply no one social institution or authority which is supreme over the rest. Each social community is to have its own kind of sovereignty and integrity in its own sphere. As such, most of life is regulated by neither the church nor the state, but the various social realities of which we are members.

What then, according to this framework, which is an attempt to rigorously think through a Christian doctrine of creation, is a state? A state has a foundational function and a leading function – the foundational function is historical/cultural and the leading function is justitial. What’s more, these two are related. Their relationship is such that the power by which a state came into existence (its foundational function) allows it to exercise an influence which corresponds to its leading function, in the case of a state, the power of legislation. The state wields power to enact laws for the accomplishment of its structural purpose, namely the administration of public justice. This means that there will be two elements in the internal organization of the state – organs for the enforcement of justice (military and police) and organs for deciding what is just (legislature and courts). Notice that the organs of force correspond to the state’s foundational function, while the organs for establishing and interpreting law correspond to its leading function. Therefore in a properly formed state, these two parts should not be identical (as in a military dictatorship) nor should the lower-order function direct or control the higher order function – rather, the organs of justice should control and direct the organs of the power of enforcement.

Notice, that although justice will be a concern of all communities, it is only the government – the ruling body of the state – which will have the duty and right to legislate and enforce justice for the public at large. As such, the state must possess a monopoly of the power of force in the territory that it governs. It is also clear that the state is not merely a function of the entrance of sin into the world. It is quite possible, even prior to sin, that legitimate and competing rights might be found between individuals or communities, in which case it would be the responsibility of the state to decide between these non-sinful competing rights. However, the role and function of government takes on a new and much more significant form given the presence of sin.

There are a number of interesting results of this understanding of the state – for example, in civil cases, it is understood that there should be compensation made by the guilty party to the injured party. However, in our system of justice, criminal cases are prosecuted by the state – the assumption being that the state is the injured party, and the result being that no compensation is paid to the actual person who has suffered (even if this is provided by the state, the error is compounded). Why is this? Because the proper role of the state has not been recognised, that is as the bearer of authority, not the creator of it, so that when its laws are broken, since the state is founded to establish and uphold public justice, it still acts on behalf of its citizens, not on behalf of its own offended majesty.

How might this framework for understanding the role of the state be applied to different areas – say to schools? To driving licenses? To marriage licences? The welfare state?  Time and space prevent the detailed examination of these different areas. However, enough has been said to enable us to get a sense on this approach to a Christian view of the state and the political realm.

What we can say about it in relation to schooling in general and SRE in particular is this: the responsibility for education belongs to the sphere of the family, not the state. In sense, independent schools are the natural outworking of this view, and government schools a back up option if there are some parents who don’t band together to create a school, or home school. What’s more, where the state assists parents in their responsibility for education, it should do so equitably – which is why it should provide government funding for independent schools (at present, independent school students are funded 50% of government school students, not including the capital funding the government provides for government schools and not for independent schools); and where parents are Christians, and so rightly desire the curriculum to include SRE, the government should make provision for that in the timetable.

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I ended the last post by saying that society is in an important sense, an artefact, a product of human transformation of natural materials, and is in principle subject to the same kind of analysis that we have done for an animal’s den or a house. How might that pan out?

from flickr by Adam Dimech

In general, society can be understood as people and or communities of people who have a relationship of one kind or another to each other. Most communities are formed via a historical/ cultural process, where membership is voluntary and not life long – examples of such organizations include businesses, schools, political parties etc. Some communities, however, are not formed in this way, but are determined by their biological aspect; in particular marriage and the family are not organizations, but institutions whose formation is not a cultural achievement, but is rooted in our biological nature and so governed by biological laws as regards its second foundational aspect. But notice that the foundational function, that is the process by which it was formed, is not the same thing as the leading function (to assume that it was would be reductionist). Thus, although there is not less to sexual relations than perpetuation of the human species, there can be more to it, namely the leading function of marriage which is essentially a community of love (its leading aspect is ethical); thus, to say as Aristotle did, that reproduction is the only purpose of sex, is simply to misunderstand the nature of sex and marriage. Where this will enable us to go is to the make some general statements about all the various types of human social communities. They will all be structured according to aspectual laws and norms, and will have both a foundational and leading function; this then will enable us to establish what is normal and abnormal about various communities, depending on their aspectual natures, which finally will enable us to determine the appropriate activity of that community, in our case that of the state; that is, in understanding what it is in its nature, we thereby understanding what it should be in practice.

One final point by way of introduction to the analysis of society. One thing this framework allows us to get a firm grip on the issue of laws and norms. You may have noticed that there is a sequence among the various aspect with respect to how things have an active function in them. The lower aspects are preconditions (note, not causes) of the higher functions. Further, the laws that apply to the aspects lower on the list are impossible to disobey – we can’t violate the order we find in quantitative, spatial, kinematic or physical aspects. But from the biological aspect upwards, the higher the aspect, the greater the possibility that it can be disobeyed. Rather than determining what is possible, impossible and necessary, the laws in these aspects are increasingly norms which act as guides to the way that plants, animals and human ought to act if they are going to maximise the purposes which are qualified by those aspects. For example, there are biotic norms for health, which can be violated, but you will be healthier if you conform to the law – eat lots of fibre! In other words, the analysis that is available by means of this aspectual framework allows us to say something positive about both how things are, and how they ought to be, according to their natures. Notice that to say something is the norm in this sense, is not to say that it is normal in the sense that it is common – it is quite possible that the norms are commonly breached, but that doesn’t mean that the norm is not real. Again, this is helpful, since it enables us to say that there is more than mere subjectivity to the norms of life, and especially human and social life; but also to say that those norms are not somehow embedded in the essence of the thing – if that were the case, then (like Aristotle) we would have no way of explaining how it was possible for something to disobey those norms without violating its very nature and thus becoming something else. In other words, what we are saying on the basis of a doctrine of creation is that norms are a distinct side of reality, not identical with the things, acts or communities that they govern. The purpose of an act or community is normed by its leading function,  and resides neither in the objects of our experience, nor in us as the experiencing subjects.

Let’s start to apply this framework to an analysis of society, starting with some reflections on one of the basic issues in social theory, the individualism: collectivism dilemma. Individualists say that the basic social unit is the individual, because individuals can exist without communities, while communities are formed by, and are comprised of, individuals. On the other hand, collectivists hold that some form of community is the basic social reality, since it is what sustains and produces individuals. They view the individual as a part of a larger social network. On the basis of our framework, we can see the truth and the errors in both claims. The first thing to say is that it is true neither that individuals create communities nor that communities create individuals, but that God has created both, both have their distinct reality, and both will be governed by their aspectual norms as created by God. It is simply a reductionist mistake to claim that either is basic to the other. Obviously individuals have their own reality; but then so too do communities, which almost always have an identity above and beyond the individuals in them, as can be seen by the fact that even when all the individuals leave or change, the community can persist. Equally, it is very unlikely that any human individual can survive apart from human community – even a survivor in the wild was raised by and learnt skills from someone.

This relates to a further point, which will become important, namely, the notion of parts and wholes. We can readily understand the error of saying that a person is a part of a human social community. It is simply inadequate to reduce any person to a ‘cog in the machine’ of the state or some other community. This is because human beings alone are created in the image of God (unlike any other element in creation), and so have the ultimate purpose (qualifying function) of fellowship with God, unlike any community (even the church), none of which have that same possibility for fellowship with God. But there is another feature of part: whole relationships, which can be understood on the basis of the framework that we have developed. In this case, I have in mind the question of whether one social community is part of another. This turns out to be a crucial issue, often assumed by social theorists, and many important implications come in its wake. For example, since a part is dependent on the whole, any community which is part of another is subordinate to it, and will have an authority that is subject to the authority of the whole of which it is a part.

Traditionally, something is a part of something else if it participates in the internal organising and functioning of the whole, and cannot exist apart from the whole. Both of these conditions are necessary, but neither are sufficient. Simply being unable to exist apart from Y will not make X a part of Y, since they might have a whole: whole relation – a tree can’t exist apart from the earth, but it is not a part of the earth, it is an individual whole having its own parts. Even functioning in the internal organization of Y does not make X a part of Y – a small stone might function in a bird’s digestive tract, to help grind its food, but it is still not a part of the bird. However, there is another element to a part: whole relation – this is seen by the fact, as we have seen, that humans can’t exist apart from some community, and that they do function in the internal organization of communities, but they mustn’t be regarded as mere parts of communities. What needs to be added to the traditional understanding of the part: whole relation is the recognition that a part will share the same qualifying function as the whole. Hence, because humans do not share the same qualifying function as any community, they cannot be understood as parts of those communities. Once this is recognised, it turns out that a part: whole relation is much more rare than is usually thought – it is true that things (and people) are included in a whole, but they are included as themselves a whole (a sub-whole or an encapsulated whole), rather than a part. But even in that case, the encapsulated whole, although it retains its leading function, that leading function is over-ridden by the leading function of the larger whole.

Suddenly, all this theory starts to pay dividends in social theory – understood in this way, one social community is part of another if and only if it cannot exist without the other, it functions in the internal organization of the other, and it has the same leading function as the other. Likewise, one social community is a whole which is encapsulated by another when it functions in the internal organization of the other, has a different leading function which is overridden by the other’s and it could exist apart from the other. From this, a very important conclusion follows – namely, that although there are communities that are parts of others (divisions within an organization, faculties within the EU, small groups in a church) the major types of social institutions and organizations never are parts of one another. A state may have parts such as municipalities, shires etc, as well as an army and a court system, but a business can never be part of a state. They have different leading functions, and therefore different natures and structural purposes accordingly. They are irreducibly different types of social communities. The same holds true with regard to the relation of family and state; a family has a distinct leading (ethical) function and is structured according to its own type law. It can exist and function where there is no state, and so even when it exists within the territory governed by a particular state, it can never be one of that state’s parts. In fact, neither is there any reason to think that all the major types of institutions and organizations are sub-wholes encapsulated within a larger whole – what would that larger whole be? Usually, the state is suggested, but if it really were all inclusive, then each of the encapsulated sub wholes would have its leading function over-ridden by the state’s leading function; they would cease to function in the distinctive ways which correspond to their distinctive structural purposes. Of course a state may choose to support another community, say a school, but even (and perhaps especially) then, it must be recognised that the supported whole has a nature distinct from that of the state.

What this leads to then is a rejection of the notion of a hierarchical view of society as a whole – and we’ll look at the implications of that tomorrow.

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Warning – this is heavy!

A few years ago, I did some work on a Christian view of politics, and presented a couple of papers at Sydney Uni for the EU there. I found the whole thing really helpful (not so sure that anyone else did!), and thought I’d post some longish sections here. It gives the background and justification for the far more bite-sized conclusion of yesterday’s post.


My goal here is to develop a positive theory of society in general and then the state in particular. However, we will need to start with a much broader issue, which lays the theological and theoretical foundations, derived from a thorough application of the doctrine of creation. I this I have been guided by the appropriation of Herman Doooyeweerd’s work in Roy Clouser’s book, ‘The myth of religious neutrality’.

The doctrine of creation and the nature of reality

The Christian doctrine of creation is that there are only two sorts of things, God and everything else, and that God created everything else from nothing, ex nihilo (Gen 1-2, Isa 40.12–28, 45.18–19, Jn 1.1–3 etc). Another way of saying this is that everything that exists (other than God) gains its existence from, or is dependent for its existence on, God. God alone is non-dependent – everything else, both entities such as galaxies and dogs, as well as ideas such as numbers and justice, gain their existence from God.

This is in contrast with a pagan idea of creation, which holds that God is somehow within or part of the created universe. Another way of putting the pagan perspective is that there is one continuous reality, part of which is the divine segment, upon which everything else depends. One type of paganism is dualism, which holds that there are two divinities, usually opposed to each other (form/matter in Platonism, yin/yang in some Eastern religions for example), and their interaction produces the rest of creation. The Biblical doctrine of creation is also contrasted with a pantheistic view, the inverse of paganism, which holds that creation is a part of god. The same underlying principle is in place, that there is only one continuous reality; here however, rather than there being more to reality than what is divine, reality is in its entirety part of the divine. What then is the explanation for the non-divine? Divine reality is not easily discerned, and therefore the distinction is not between a portion of reality which is divine and a portion which is not, but between the divinity of all reality and the illusory appearance that there are realities which are not divine.

What’s clear, then, is that the fundamental Biblical move is to deny that there is only one continuous reality. Rather, there is God, and there is everything that he has made, and everything that he has made has its own, good, created reality. Sin, then, does not consist in some aspect of creation per se (for example, the individual ownership of the means of production), but rather the misuse or misdirection of creation against the worship and service of its creator. This will become very important when we come to think about the diverse aspects of human society.

First however, we need to add another building block to our theoretical foundation. Clouser has an interesting chapter on the nature of theorizing. He plausibly suggests that a theory, such as the theory of society and politics that we will be developing, is an attempt to explain something, by means of hypotheses. Sometimes, the thing to be explained will be a concrete reality, such as a car accident. However, there are a group of theories, namely scientific and philosophical, that deal not in concrete realities but abstract realities.

Abstraction is literally to mentally extract or remove something from some wider context. Low abstraction is when a property is partially isolated from its context, such as commenting on the colour, or the price or the power of a new car. High abstraction is when the property is entirely isolated from its context, and becomes about the abstracted property itself – colour itself, or prices or whatever. But it gets even better – we not only abstract individual properties and patterns, we also abstract kinds of them. So for example, in explaining the movement of a billiard ball, you could abstract the properties of velocity, mass, density etc, but they all fall within the kind physical. Interestingly, once such a kind of property is distinguished, it forms a whole field of inquiry, such as biology, economics, or ethics. Various theorists have come up with various lists of kinds of properties, or aspects, but the following covers most of the field: fiduciary, ethical, justitial, aesthetic, economic, social, linguistic, historical, logical, sensory, biological, physical, kinematic, spatial, quantitative. Even when a science is named after a thing (such as entomology, the study of insects), it will always be one or more of these aspects which are studied, and in particular, the laws or orderliness which govern the properties in that aspect. The difference between a science and philosophy is that philosophy seeks to theorise, not about one or more of the aspects, but about the relation and connection of all the aspects.

Clouser adds another step – he distinguishes what he calls a theory based on entity-hypotheses, where to answer a puzzle or question, a hitherto hidden underlying reality is suggested, about which experiments can be performed to confirm (although never prove) or disconfirm the existence of that reality. But there is another sort of theory – a theory based on a perspectival hypothesis, such that the solution to the puzzle or problem is looking at it from the right perspective. For example, Marx suggested that the key to understanding history and people was economic, that it is the aspect which is decisively explanatory, and that other factors such as religious beliefs, personal power, racial hatreds, are always controlled by the economics of the situation, rather than the other way round. You can begin to see here the kind of reductionism that is often the key problem with standard political ideologies. Notice that this reduction comes in a weak version (other aspects can be reduced to the selected aspect), or a strong version (the selected aspect is the only real one). Either way, the genuine plurality of aspects is being denied, or at least reduced in such a way that other aspects depend for their existence on a prime aspect, rather than on God. In other words, either sort of reductionism constitutes a pagan view of reality, that what all other elements of creation depend upon is a divinised aspect within creation itself.

A decisively Christian view of creation, on the contrary, will consistently uphold the principle that nothing in creation, about creation, or true of creation is self existent, nor is any aspect of creation to be regarded as either the only genuine aspect or as making the existence of any other aspect possible. What this enables us to do is to recognize that although things of a particular type share a specific nature which is more centrally characterised by certain of their aspects rather than others, this need not entail eliminating or reducing those other aspects; for example, a plant is more centrally characterised by its biological aspect, but it still has physical properties as does a rock. However, those physical properties are not reducible to biology, even though the laws relevant to the biological aspect of plants is what guides and regulates the internal organization and development of the plant considered as a whole.

One final step. Of the things that exist, plants, families, societies, houses, some exist as natural things, and others exist as artefacts, that is something which natural material has become. For example, the rocks and sticks that line the den of an animal, by themselves, have no more than a physical qualification – that is, they are centrally characterised by the physical aspect. However, having been taken by the animal and used as part of its den, to serve its biotic or sensory needs, a change has taken place, a transformation has occurred – what was only a possible aspect of the sticks has now been activated, and unless we recognise such transformation, we fail to see the rocks and sticks as what they are, not just rocks and sticks, but the den of an animal. In this case, it was the sensory needs and feelings of the animal (the need for shelter, warmth, protection of young etc) that governed the process of formation of the den, and so although the foundational aspect of the material from which the den is constructed is physical and biological (sticks are biological), what Clouser calls its leading function, the aspect which governed its formation, is sensory. In the case of a human artefact, it is even more complicated, since humans create things according to plans. Hence, a stone in itself is characterized by its physical aspect, but in a house the leading aspect is social, that is the purpose for which it was built, the aspect which if you fail to recognise, you have really missed the nature of the thing in question; in terms of the process of the formation of the house, that is more in terms of historical or cultural aspect.

At long last, we can start to apply this to a analysis of society; for you see, society is in an important sense, an artefact, a product of human transformation of natural materials, and is in principle subject to the same kind of analysis that we have done for an animal’s den or a house.

[To be continued tomorrow]

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If you read the letters to the Sydney Morning Herald, you’d get the impression that what’s at stake in the Ethics vs. SRE debate is a level playing field for competition.

That’s wrong.

A level playing field is fine – actually a good thing. But it’s irrelevant to this particular issue.

What’s at stake here is this: whose job is educating kids?

The anti-SRE people, think it’s the government’s job to educate kids. And they reason, since the government is secular, so should education be. It’s an argument with a certain logic, but only if the premise is right.

But it’s not.

It’s not the government’s job to educate kids – it’s parents’ job. Sure, parents might get some help from a relatively new group of professional – teachers – for those areas where they (the parents) don’t have the skills, say calculus or music. But that’s all it is, outside help, even if it’s 5 days a week for 6 hours a day, for 40 weeks a year.

And that help is therefore to be given on the parents’ terms, not on the terms of the helpers. And if the parents are Christians, they will want this formal educative help to include within it the Christian gospel.

That’s why SRE must be available as an element in the weekly program of government schools – because we Christian want it, and where the government is involved, its as a servant, not a lord.

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So, today was E-Day – ethics day, that is. We teach most of the Scripture classes at Haberfield primary, one of the schools selected to pilot the new ethics class.

The media were there in droves – every network – as well as the Minister for Education. Parents were being interviewed as they brought kids to school. It was nuts!

And the result?

More than one third – 10 out of 26 – of the students in our Scripture classes were lost to the Ethics trial. My understanding is that it wasn’t supposed to be that way – that the new course would not ‘grab’ the Scripture kids, but the ‘non-Scripture’ kids.

And it’s hard not to think that the recent media beat up made things a lot worse – polarising the issue, and so making the new course far more attractive.

The best comment of the day – one kid was supposed to go the Ethics course, but said to his teacher, “No way. I want to stay here”.

Really great Scripture teachers – like we are blessed with – and really great Scripture classes has got to be the best strategy!

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