Tag Archives: ethics

Cantus Firmus at the Movies Ep. 7 – Crimes and Misdemeanors (w/ Bridget Nelson)

My special guest was Bridget Nelson of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and Rifftrax fame. The film we discussed was Woody Allen’s 1989 Crimes and Misdemeanors, a film that asks difficult questions about morality and integrity in a godless universe.

Bridget can be found at www.rifftrax.com, on Twitter at @bridgetjnelson, and her podcast Instead of Tweeting can be found on iTunes.


“Octagon Pt 2” by Polyrhythmics. Licensed under CC BY 3.0

PODCAST: Cantus Firmus Book Club Ep. 1 – Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind (w/ Tim the Atheist)

My guest “Tim the Atheist” and I discussed Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided By Politics and Religion. The topics discussed ranged from sociobiology to polarization to psychopaths to atheistic versus Christian conceptions of morality. A very fun and thoughtful episode!


“Liam Rides a Pony” by Polyrhythmics. Licensed under CC BY 3.0

PODCAST: Cantus Firmus at the Movies Ep. 5 – Batman V Superman (w/ Ben Doublett and Jackson Ferrell)

“The greatest gladiator match in the history of the world–
God versus man.”

In this episode I and special guests Ben Doublett and Jackson Ferrell watched Zack Snyder’s Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) and talked about its examination of the problem of evil and how it portrays a Christian answer to the problem by way of Superman’s identification with humanity. We also discussed the idea of one’s view of God being shaped by their relationship with their father, as portrayed in the film. Because Ben is an atheist influenced by the egoistic moral philosophy of Ayn Rand, we also had some excellent discussion of egoism and altruism (and which of the heroes represented which view). A very philosophical episode!

Ben Doublett’s recent novella, Kung Fu Gladiator, can be found on Amazon. Jackson Ferrell’s blog, Chocolate Book, can be found at www.chocolatebook.net


“Octagon Pt 2” by Polyrhythmics. Licensed under CC BY 3.0

The Gospel According to Batman V Superman

Fresh from the theater after having seen Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, I have been reflecting upon one particularly fascinating theme within it. In a far more thoughtful and sophisticated manner than the vast majority of overtly “Christian” movies, this film promotes a theology–even a gospel.

Warning: some spoilers ahead.

From the outset, I want to point out that this isn’t a theologian finding theology where it wasn’t intended. Indeed, Lex Luthor (of all people) reiterates explicitly and repeatedly that what transpires in this film points to something greater–the problem of evil and man’s relationship to God.

Luthor provides the viewpoint of the unrepentant cynic. Superman is odious because he resembles God and God cannot be trusted. If God couldn’t prevent the suffering of a young, abused Lex, better for God to die (or at least his proxy). Luthor therefore attempts to orchestrate deicide against Superman, first by the hands of man (Batman) and then by the hands of the devil (Doomsday).

The answer to Lex’s supposedly unsolvable problem of evil comes out of left field. How does a seemingly omnipotent and omnibenevolent God respond to evil, particularly when it results in free human beings who want to kill him despite His desire to save them? He identifies with their humanity and gives his life in order to defeat him who has the power of death (in this case, Doomsday). In doing so, he inspires conversion in men (represented here by Batman) who for the first time see God as loving–and pure love means being willing to suffer for the good of the beloved even though the lover doesn’t have to.

If God is willing to suffer with us, maybe our suffering isn’t as meaningless as we think it is. This seems to be the catharsis of Bruce Wayne. When Wayne sees Superman as powerful and alien, Superman (like God) seems quite dangerous. But when Wayne realizes that Superman has taken on humanity and even feels a love for his human mother as great as Wayne did, this changes him. Suddenly Wayne is overwhelmed with compassion–with empathy even–and helps Superman to rescue his mother from the clutches of Luthor. One can hear echoes of Jesus’ words to John on the cross to take care of Mary: “Behold, your mother!” (John 19:27).

This theology addresses what bothered so many fanboys about this movie–Batman’s willingness to kill. In this reading, it makes sense for Batman to kill for most of the movie–life is ultimately meaningless to him, so he creates his own purpose. It is Superman’s love and sacrifice that changes Batman, not a cold, deontological ethic grounded in passionless conviction. Despite what the enlightenment deists affirmed, it is not philosophy which makes us good but love. After seeing Superman’s self-identification and self-sacrifice to save humanity from death, Batman is determined to be a better man. This is the reason why he decides not to brand Luthor in prison, a brand which we are told sets inmates apart for death by the hands of fellow prisoners.

Though it has to be teased out, there is a rich theology in this film which is frankly unparalleled by what the Christian film industry is producing. It presents a gospel which is somehow more moving and more compelling despite not having to be spelled out.

Interview with Dr. Bill Ury – Social Trinitarianism

New podcast is up.

Click here to listen.

This podcast features an interview with Dr. Bill Ury. Dr. Ury received his doctorate from Drew Univeristy and is an adjunct professor at Wesley Biblical Seminary in Jackson, Mississippi. The topic of discussion was Social Trinitarianism– the view that God ought to be thought of primarily in His relational threeness as opposed to a more static oneness. One insight of this view is that personhood as modeled upon the Trinity is necessarily relational– that if we are made in the image of God, then, like God, we cannot be persons without being in relationship to other persons. He also pointed out how this perspective shapes our view of God, the church, sovereignty, and ethics, particularly in contrast with other perspectives on the Trinity.

Who Had the Better Moral Philosophy: Jesus or Ayn Rand (MP3)

Jesus Vs Ayn Rand

The debate last night over whose moral philosophy was superior, Jesus’ or Ayn Rand’s, went very well! I have the audio recording below and we should have video at some point soon as well.

I emphasized the relational nature of humanity since we are made in the image of God as well as the fact that Christian morality is rewarding and doesn’t require sacrifice for no good reason. I also tried to bring out the arbitrariness of self-interest as the primary moral motivator and the lack of grounding for objective morality on Rand’s view.

Thank you to Ben Doublett (my opponent), Carl Franco (the moderator), Larry Christensen (the sound guy), and everyone who was involved. Everyone in the audience seemed to enjoy the discussion and most felt moved in one direction or another by Ben’s and my arguments.


Slides from my opening presentation:


Debate, “Who Had the Better Moral Philosophy: Jesus or Ayn Rand?”, to Take Place September 9th, 2014

Objectivism Debate Photo

I’ll have the wonderful opportunity of taking part in a debate with my great friend Ben Doublett on the topic of the relational ethics of Jesus in contrast to the atheistic ethics of rational self-interest that Ayn Rand promoted. If all goes well, the recording will be hosted for free on this blog for anyone who is interested to listen, download, or share.

It will be taking place in Mason, Ohio, and anyone who would like to attend can find more information on our Facebook event page-

In my preparation, I’m revisiting or, in some cases, reading for the first time a number of works that I think should help me to articulate the best case for the ethics of Jesus, as well as the best case against Ayn Rand’s view, that I can. Any other recommendations would certainly be appreciated!

My reading list:
Ayn Rand’s The Virtue of Selfishness
Leonard Peikoff’s Objectivism
Harry Binswanger’s “Volition as Cognitive Self-Regulation”
Scot McKnight’s commentary on The Sermon on the Mount
Dennis Kinlaw’s Let’s Start With Jesus
John Piper’s Desiring God
Gregory Boyd’s The Myth of a Christian Nation
C.S. Lewis’ The Weight of Glory
and selections from William Lane Craig’s Reasonable Faith where he deals with the moral argument for the existence of God

Ben’s reading list:
Selected essays from “The Virtue of Selfishness” by Ayn Rand
Selected essays from “Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology” by Ayn Rand 
Selections from “The Fountainhead an
“Ayn Rand’s Normative Ethics” by Tara Smith
“Volition as Cognitive Self-Regulation” by Harry Binswanger
“Christian Ethics” by Georgia Harkness
“God in the Dock” by C.S. Lewis
“The New Testament”

Gay Marriage, Traditionalism, and the Fight for Political Power


Today the U.S. Supreme Court finds itself the focus of media attention as it deliberates on the constitutionality of California’s gay marriage ban (Proposition 8). In a show of solidarity, many of my friends who support gay marriage changed their Facebook profile pictures to a pink equal sign over a red background– a symbol promoted by gay activist group Human Rights Campaign (HRC) that stands for equality– the implication being that restricting marriage to heterosexual couples creates a system of inequality. As someone who doesn’t find either side’s arguments on this issue convincing, it’s difficult to know how to respond to the advocacy of friends who both support gay marriage as well as those who denounce it.

On one hand, it seems heartless to take a stance on an issue that results in emotional hardship for human beings that God loves. To not be able to visit a loved one in the hospital or be able to share your material goods with them because the law doesn’t think your relationship is valid carries with it an apparent implication that you’re a second class citizen. More than that, the cold characterizations of, and unloving attitudes shown toward, homosexuals by many conservative Christians puts Christ to an open shame. If Christians are to see homosexual behavior as a sin or an aberration, why is it also necessary to caricature homosexuals and elevate homosexual behavior to the status of a super-sin that calls down the wrath of God more than the sins they find themselves engaging in– whether private sins of dishonesty or infidelity, or political sins of militarism or nationalism? Going further, why is this sin the one that should almost single-handedly define the political platform of Christ’s followers in the West?

On the other hand, to speak of “marriage equality” consistently is to say that government should also provide benefits to polygamists, those in committed incestuous relationships, etc. If we are to redefine marriage as to exclude gender distinctions, why then must we hold onto old-fashioned concepts like monogamy? If a man is born desiring multiple women, why should our traditional morality keep him from satisfying his desires with the endorsement of our government? In other words, how many lifestyles must we force government to approve of before we can speak of true equality?

What I see in this debate is two groups vying for control. One group will not be satisfied if the other group gets their way. If the gay rights movement wins, it will win by forcing the government to view their relationships as morally equivalent to heterosexual relationships– a government which represents a people which is evenly divided on whether or not this is actually the case. In other words, it will win by forcing its values onto the people, using the political and legal force of government to back its view of morality.

If the conservative (mainly Christian-identifying) side wins, it will also win by forcing its own morality onto the people– a people which, once again, is evenly divided on this issue.

To get government on your side is to have the force of government behind you, with the ultimate goal of enforcing your position and keeping down those whom you disagree with. For Christians who are for a traditional, government-defined view of marriage, this truth is particularly disheartening. It is tantamount to saying that the faith of the suffering Jesus Christ– who loved all sinners and announced to His executioner that His servants would not fight because His kingdom is not of this world– has been reduced to a grab for political power. The gospel is no longer the good news of the saving, forgiving Messiah, but the conquering force of an earthly kingdom– a force which does not love sinners and show them compassion and respect, but subjugates them to a second class role.

What makes this debate all the more frustrating is that we could promote equality without the government forcing anyone’s values on anyone else. By simply not issuing marriage licenses and allowing for domestic partnerships (which need not even be romantic in nature, but merely legal contracts), the benefits of marriage could be given to both heterosexual and homosexual couples without either side using government as a tool for the subjugation of groups that they disagree with. Unfortunately, this true equality– one that doesn’t force private morality onto society but respects the rights of all citizens to live freely– isn’t good enough for either side.

That being said, I am not nearly as worried as some of my Christian conservative friends are about the way this ruling might come down. If government sides against Christian tradition, what then? We will simply have to acknowledge what has been true all along– the kingdom of God is not a kingdom of this world. Instead of trying to demonstrate God’s power through political force, Christians should follow the example of Christ who treated all humans equally– as sinners that God loves– regardless of what law or custom said about them.

Hopefully at that point, when we finally lose our grasp of the civil authority, our history of hatred and misrepresentation will not come back to bite us and force on us the second class citizenship we have tried to force on others.

Useful resources also coming from this perspective:



Abraham Lincoln and the Abolitionist Arguments Against Abortion

Was reading over a book about the Lincoln-Douglas debates and found this section to offer an incredible parallel to the abortion debate we’re having today:

Lincoln is quoted as saying, in response to Douglas’ arguments for the rights of southern states to own slaves:
“The doctrine of self government is right—absolutely and eternally right—but it has no just application, as here attempted. Or perhaps I should rather say that whether it has such just application depends upon whether a negro is not or is a man. If he is not a man, why in that case, he who is a man may, as a matter of self-government, do just as he pleases with him. But if the negro is a man, is it not to that extent, a total destruction of self-government, to say that he too shall not govern himself? When the white man governs himself that is self-government; but when he governs himself, and also governs another man, that is more than self-government—that is despotism. If the negro is a man, why then my ancient faith teaches me that ‘all men are created equal;’ and that there can be no moral right in connection with one man’s making a slave of another.”

In other words, Lincoln finds it perfectly fine for white men to do anything they want to black men, to treat them like property and not human beings, but only if they really are not human beings. If they are, according to Lincoln’s thinking, they cannot be treated as property. Similarly,  pro-life proponents rest their argument on the scientific fact that the unborn is a living human being and the belief that human life is objectively valuable; whereas pro-choice arguments tend to treat the unborn as a part of the woman’s body, and thus as her property to do with as she pleases.

Lincoln continues:
Judge Douglas frequently, with bitter irony and sarcasm, paraphrases our argument by saying ‘The white people of Nebraska are good enough to govern themselves, but they are not good enough to govern a few miserable negroes!!'”

In other words, Douglas accused Lincoln of arguing that slave owning states are somehow morally deficient. As a parallel in the abortion debate, I might paraphrase the oft-made claim from pro-choicers that they “trust women to make decisions about their own body” and that pro-choice women “think carefully about their decision to abort.” Of course, these claims are irrelevant smokescreens, and the implied accusation that pro-lifers are sexist instead of simply concerned about human life is also a non sequitur. On the slavery issue, Lincoln was quick to point out the vacuousness of these types of arguments and bring the discussion back to the real issue at hand:
“Well I doubt not that the people of Nebraska are, and will continue to be as good as the average of people elsewhere. I do not say the contrary. What I do say is, that no man is good enough to govern another man, without that other’s consent.”

It seems that today we are still failing to reach consensus because we are having two different arguments. One side is arguing for the human rights of those who are considered disposable, and another is arguing for the right of privileged individuals to govern their own “property.”