Sunday, October 19, 2008

The Potter and the Clay

By Kevin Parry

When I once looked into the heavens

And into the starry lit sky
I thought I could see your wonder
And thought I could never deny

That you were the Rock of Ages
The potter, and I the clay
That you were my creator
For whom I could only obey

That on the Cross you suffered
Died and rose again
My burden was yours to bear
The sorrow, the grief, the pain

But despite all that you did for me
I still could not see your face
In the shadows you remained hidden
From every conceivable place

I then cried out to you
I gave you my soul, my all
But all you gave me was silence
Silence to my desperate call

When I now look into the heavens
And into the starry lit sky
I now know you are not there
Looking down from up high

For you do not live amongst the stars
But only within my mind
For I shaped you in my image
Within my head you are confined

Because I now know the truth, Yeshua
And I’m sorry to say
That I am in fact the potter
And you, are in fact, the clay

© Kevin Parry, 2008

Wednesday, October 15, 2008


"A true patriot is one who protects her/his country from the government"

- I heard this quoted by South African playwright, Pieter-Dirk Uys, in a TV interview, but it can be attributed to Thomas Paine.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

I might not believe, but I can still appreciate

My wife, her parents, and I visited Sterkfontein Caves in the Cradle of Humankind last weekend. Sterkfontein is famous for hominid fossils that have been excavated there; it is one of four sites in the world, all of which are in South Africa, where fossils of the hominid Australopithecus africanus have been found, and currently a full skeleton of a 3 million year old specimen, fondly named “Little Foot”, is being painstakingly removed from the wall of one of the chambers.

My wife and her parents are Christian. In fact, her parents are retired missionaries who worked in rural KwaZulu-Natal for many years. But all three are comfortable with evolutionary theory. I guess I’m quite lucky, as a person who believes in evolution, to have many Christian friends who don’t view evolution as a threat to their faith, and this always makes for interesting discussion! In fact, most of the Christians I currently know would consider themselves theistic evolutionists, albeit of differing persuasions.

While we were waiting for the cave tour to begin, Cori, her parents, and I had an interesting discussion revolving around the question of whether Christians, who don’t believe in evolution, can come to the caves and, despite not believing, still at least acknowledge the depth of work that palaeontologists have done, and have some appreciation of the importance and beauty of the site. After all, I – as an ex-Christian – can still visit St Paul’s cathedral and stand in awe at its splendour, and I can still appreciate the impact that Christianity has had on art, literature and culture. I guess the question we were grappling with was: can a person have appreciation for a site like this, despite the fact that they might not agree with what it teaches?

By the way, if any of you are around in the Johannesburg area, do yourself a favour, visit Sterkfontein, and take one of the cave tours. It is incredibly fascinating.

Monday, October 06, 2008

When it's right to disobey God

Imagine, for a moment, that you are an Israelite soldier at the time of the Old Testament. One day, King Saul - claiming that he has received a command from God - orders you, together with your fellow soldiers, to raid a nearby Amalekite town, and to kill every man, woman, child and animal. Now imagine that you feel uncomfortable about that order: killing enemy soldiers during war might be justified, you think to yourself, but woman and children? You have reservations. So as an Israelite soldier, under orders from the creator of the universe, would you be ethically and morally right if you refused to obey this command?

Take particular note of your answer to this question, as it might indicate what type of ethical philosophy you subscribe to.

Deontological ethics
The story of God ordering Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac in Genesis 22 clearly highlights the ethical and moral philosophy advocated by much of the Bible. Abraham was willing to obey God’s command, despite any major reservations he might have had, because Abraham, like many theists today, based his moral and ethical worldview on the foundation of deontological ethics, an ethical system that is based on obligation and duty. But more specifically, Abraham adhered to divine command theory, a form of deontological ethics that states that whatever God commands must be right, and that reward and punishment should be used as motivation.

On an apologetic website, the following answer was given to why God commanded Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. Notice how much emphasis is placed on unquestioning obedience to God, which is an important element of divine command theory?

[Abraham’s] unquestioning obedience to God’s confusing command gave God the glory He deserves and is an example to us of how to glorify God. When we obey as Abraham did, trusting that God’s plan is the best possible scenario, we lift up His attributes and praise Him for them.

The problem with divine command theory
As a Christian, I once subscribed to the divine command theory of ethics, but since leaving the faith I have realised that deontological ethical systems can be incredibly disempowering for the individual, as well as extremely dangerous. The divine command theory is ultimately authoritarian, and the biggest danger that I see in an authoritarian approach to morality and ethics is that it emphasizes following orders over and above anything else. If we follow God’s instructions, then we are good; if we don’t, then we are bad. It doesn’t matter if we cause untold suffering and destruction in the process. In other words, the consequences of our actions don’t matter; what matters is that we please God.

There are other issues as well. As the following article argues, there are three main problems with deontological ethics:

  • There is no real moral merit in following an order, anyone can follow an order while not all orders should be followed;
  • The ability to follow an order is more characteristic of robots, not free ethical individuals; and
  • Orders are followed simply because they are given, not because they reduce suffering, increase happiness or are in any way virtuous.

Is obedience more important than consequences?
As I’ve mentioned many times on this blog, I’m in the slow process of developing a ethical and moral system that is not based on religion. I’m not done yet, but the one thing I do know for certain is that I’m moving away from deontological ethics. I try not to measure the ‘rightness’ or ‘wrongness’ of my actions according to whether I follow rules, commands or orders, but rather according to the consequences of my actions. When I consider a particular action, I ask myself: what would the consequences be for myself and for others? The command itself no longer matters.

So, if you were an Israelite soldier, would it be right for you, if you based your ethical system on consequentialism, to disobey God’s command to annihilate the Amalekites?

What are your thoughts?

(I just want to thank Phil; my discussion with him on an earlier article inspired this post)