Do Moral Values change over time?

It is often claimed that moral values change greatly over time as societies “advance”. For instance, it is often claimed that modern societies are morally superior for not killing witches or shunning homosexuals. But perhaps what this apparent progress actually shows is that while we are scientifically superior, we may actually be morally similar, to ancient societies. Surprisingly similar moral values often underlie very different historical manifestations of morality. How can this be so? It seems to me that when we combine traditional moral values with increasing scientific knowledge, we actually get changes in cultural practices that are more just and compassionate. Let me unpack this with some thought experiments:

What counts as "Christian"?

Recently I was in an online discussion about whether a group of people and the ideas they represent are "Christian". My initial response was that if they have been baptized into Christ, and they do not renounce that baptism, then they are Christians. They may be faithless Christians, bad Christians, hypocritical Christians, uninformed Christians, unjust Christians, but they are still Christians.

Two Forms of Imperial Christianity

I am teaching a course on Religion and Politics in American culture. And the truth is, there has never been a time when Christianity was not used, in some sense, to validate the legitimacy of the United States Government. There has always been some large faction in American Politics which equated being American with being Christian in some sense. And on occasion, we have wrapped the American Flag quite tightly around the cross to validate the righteousness of our cause over and against that of some other nation or faction, whether in the Revolution, the Civil War, WWI, WWII, the Cold War conflicts, or the never ending "War on Terror". What is relatively new this political season is that, in the absence of a war or clear external threat to our country, we have major preachers such as Pat Robertson and others, declaring that our sitting President is God's anointed leader and savior of the Country, and that disagreeing with him is "revolting against God". This is an interesting twist, and harkens back to versions of Imperial Christianity in the middle ages which stressed the "Divine Right of Kings" to rule as God's chosen instruments. And it brings to mind the Imperial Christianity of 1930's Germany that also anointed Adolf Hitler as Germany's savior.


Hate is a Policy, not a Feeling

We tend to think of things like hate and love as feelings: They happen when we "feel" them, or experience them inside ourselves, even if unexpressed in outward action. But it seems to me that they rather are motivations that lead to concrete actions. Hate is not so much judged by a Likert Scale of 0 (no feeling of hate) to 5 (strong feeling of hate). Hate is judged by the outward actions and attitudes it manifests in social interactions. 


Puppies and censorship in a divided America

This is an absurdly long essay that goes nowhere. I doubt you want to read it. You probably would be better off googling cute puppies instead.


Do Christians and Muslims worship the same God?

I see this question a great deal on the interwebs, lots of people ask me my educated opinion, and there are dozens or hundreds of books written about this. Yet most people are not going to read those books, but they might read a short, under two minute write up. So, as a Christian priest who believes in the Trinity and follows Jesus as God incarnate, and who also serves as a chaplain at a school with many Muslim families, and also teaches World Religions year after year, here is my answer:


Doing what Jesus did

Jesus said... "Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father." (John 14:9-12)

There are as many different ways of interpreting Jesus' life as there are interpreters, and the myriad of lenses used in looking at Jesus can be overwhelming. We can analyze him using sociological, historical, literary, ethical, mystical, and theological lenses. And within the theological lenses we can look at him from Orthodox, Catholic, Lutheran, Reformed, Anglican, Evangelical, Pentecostal, Fundamentalist, and dozens of other perspectives.

And yet, in the midst of a bewildering variety of ways of seeing Jesus Christ, our central concern in living as a Christian is (or at least should be) to live "in Christ": To imitate, emulate, and seek to embody Christ in such a way that we can say with Saint Paul "it is no longer I that lives, but Christ lives in me" (Galatians 2.20). So what kind of lens can we use to view Jesus that most effectively helps us imitate Christ and live in Christ?


On Atheist Heroes and the possibility of Altruism

Recently, a friend of mine started a discussion about whether acts of pure altruism are possible. Altruism is defined in my dictionary as “the practice of disinterested and selfless concern for the well-being of others”. Philosophically, Altruism can only exist if there is a category of action which creates benefit for others, while creating no benefit (or even a detriment) to self. 


First Post of 2017

I'm not much of one for New Year's Resolutions. I figure that if one is serious about changing their lives, they won't wait to start that change at an arbitrary time, such as the beginning of a year. So, what I am writing here is not so much what I will start doing now, as much as activities I have already started doing. 

Thus, in 2017, as in 2016, I resolve to make more time for the things that bring value to my life, and use less time on the things that take value from my life.

Top 10 activities that add value:
  • Praying/Meditating
  • Discussing
  • Lifting
  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Teaching
  • Serving
  • Encouraging
  • Hiking
  • Playing
Bottom 10 activities that take value:
  • Worrying
  • Brooding
  • Ranting
  • Procrastinating
  • Resenting
  • Fearing
  • Arguing
  • Judging
  • Complaining
  • Stressing


The Four Horsemen of the Post-truth Apocalypse

As I read the posts on social media and the cultural commentary from all sides, it seems to me there are four primary heresies-- Four Horsemen of the Post-truth Apocalypse, to borrow an image from Revelation-- that are destroying authentic Christianity "from the inside out" during these days:


Christ and the Religions

Recently I did a teaching on three ways of relating the universal Love of God to the particular work of Christ in a pluralistic culture: Exclusivism, Pluralism, and Inclusivism.

For Christians, these three ways of relating Christ to world religions is based on our understanding of what the Incarnation of Christ accomplished, and how we read the Biblical texts that point to this Incarnation event. As we read the Bible, a Key Interpretive Question is this: Which set of texts are given primacy in interpretation? Will we allow texts of limitation to interpret and restrict texts of universal Love and Salvation, or will we allow the universal texts to expand and fulfill the horizon of the texts of exclusion and limitation?


Right about the Right

This is the best thought piece on the Religious Right, by a member of the Religious Right, that I have read in years (or watched). Russell Moore represents what is best in that tradition, and I found myself nodding in agreement more often than I frowned in disapproval. The whole thing is worth the hour of time invested in it. Yet, despite large swaths of my sympathy, there are three areas where I think he gets it wrong: 


Modes of Prayer in the Spiritual Life

I am working on a teaching about modes of prayer in the spiritual life. I'm trying to come up with a way to help people find the presence of God in all kinds of activities, not just the verbal prayers we might pray alone or together. So, here is a chart I worked up for teaching, along with six rhyming words which describe six modes of prayer.
This is a bunch of stuff to make us think hard about our incredible love affair with the God of the universe, our astounding infidelities against him, and his incredible grace to heal and restore us through Christ. Everything on this site is copyright © 1996-2015 by Nathan L. Bostian so if you use it, cite me... otherwise you break the 8th commandment, and make God unhappy. You can contact the author by posting a comment.