Are Christians immoral?

The Christian life is contrary to morality because it is not repetitive. No fixed duty has to be done no matter what course life may take. Morality always interdicts this type of being. It is an obstacle to it and implicitly condemns it, just as Jesus is inevitably condemned by moral people.

The Subversion of Christianity, Jacques Ellul

When typing the above quote, I wanted to put quotes around “moral” so that the last phrase read: “just as Jesus is inevitably condemned by ‘moral’ people.” But, I try to keep direct quotations undisturbed so as not to mislead anyone. I think that Ellul would have agreed with that editorial change, but he is currently incommunicado (he died in 1994).

So, what does it mean to say that “the Christian life is contrary to morality”? If you take “morality” to mean a number of set, fixed rules, then the true Christian is immoral. Even a light reading of the Gospels shows that Jesus regularly did things to violate the rules of the Pharisees (see, for example Matthew 23:38).

The message is that when you are filled with the Spirit of God (the Holy Spirit), then you will act appropriately without a set script of “dos” and “don’ts”. This is the real sense of the now-trite phrase “What Would Jesus Do?” and what has been for millennia known as the concept of The Imitation of Christ (see, the example the book by that name by Thomas à Kempis, ca. 1418).

This is the same notion as is written in the Tao Te Ching (replace “the great Tao” with “God” as you read it):

When the great Tao is forgotten,
Kindness and morality arise.
When wisdom and intelligence are born,
The great pretense begins.
When there is no peace within the family,
Filial piety and devotion arise.
When the country is confused and in chaos,
Loyal ministers appear.

Tao Te Ching, Chapter 18 (Feng & English)

In other words, the only time you need rules of conduct is when people are not in tune with the Spirit of God. This is evidenced by our current society: as people lose touch with God they replace it with an unending series of “dos” and “don’ts” that are quite literally impossible to keep up with. (See, for example Three Felonies a Day which lists many things you probably have done that are crimes.)

If we return to a connection with God, we can do away with the human-made list of rules of conduct. However, this is not carte blanche for doing anything you feel like and then claiming “God wanted me to.” Like Jesus, you have to be willing to face the human-made consequences. Being right, unfortunately, is not a legal defense — just ask the people who were thrown in jail for eating SpaghettiOs or for warning friends about a software bug.

As a society loses its soul, it increases its penalties.

 Jan van Boeckel, ReRun Productions [CC BY-SA 4.0 (]

Don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater

Logos, (Greek: “word,” “reason,” or “plan”) plural logoi, in Greek philosophy and theology, the divine reason implicit in the cosmos, ordering it and giving it form and meaning. Though the concept defined by the term logos is found in Greek, Indian, Egyptian, and Persian philosophical and theological systems, it became particularly significant in Christian writings and doctrines to describe or define the role of Jesus Christ as the principle of God active in the creation and the continuous structuring of the cosmos and in revealing the divine plan of salvation to man. It thus underlies the basic Christian doctrine of the preexistence of Jesus.


I usually try to use quotes from original sources, but for this post I thought the above quote was the most instructive. The article is short and to the point and I suggest it to anyone who is interested in this topic.

The opening chapter to the Fourth Gospel (“John”) indicates how the concept of Jesus/Christ had developed by around 90 AD. By then, Christians had started to realize that maybe the Kingdom of God wasn’t arriving as soon as they had thought, and they started to modify the message into something more “sellable” given this unfortunate fact.

When I say this, I don’t mean any disrespect. But, it’s important for every well-informed Christian to understand the history of the core ideas that became orthodox (small “o”) Christianity.

The metaphysical concept of the Logos had been around Greek (and later, Roman) philosophy at least since Heraclitus (540 BCE). The word had/has multiple ordinary uses (such as “word”), but also became the go-to label for the organizing principle of the universe, something like the concept of “Tao” in Taoism. Thus, when trying to “market” Christianity to the Greek-speaking general public in the Eastern half of the Roman Empire, it was a natural step to equate Jesus Christ with the Logos — if for nothing else than as an easy way to explain what Christians were talking about.

In addition, there seems to be some evidence that the first verses of John were added to the rest of the material, and possibly came from another source entirely.

Even so, you might ask, then so what? Information like this helps to make it clear that Christianity is a human artifact. Years of divine inspiration and trial-and-error have honed its truth, but — like every human artifact — the dogma is not itself infallible. The trick, as I have written elsewhere, is not to “throw the baby out with the bathwater” (as the old saying goes).

To be a Christian, you don’t have to check your brain at the door.

 Richfife [Public domain]

If you let “Jesus take the wheel” won’t you crash the car?

In a society where we are bombarded with action slogans like Just Do It! many of us can feel a bit of disgust when someone says “let go and let God” or — even worse — “Jesus take the wheel.” I confess that this was my response to the song when I heard it. I don’t think it’s a good idea to let go of the steering wheel of your car while your child is asleep in the back seat.

But of course, this isn’t the point of the song. Although maudlin, the song brings up a good point with regard to the “steering” of one’s life. This approach to living is embodied in this well known quote from the Gospels:

For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.

Gospel of Matthew 16:25

For those who like longer explanations, here is one:

The more we hang on, the more we fail to live. The more sedulously we avoid death, the more certainly we avoid life. We are scared stiff to awaken to the truth that we are being swept along by the life of God as in a mighty torrent; that it sweeps us away from our possessions and our very selves to carry us out to the ocean of God himself. Therefore we cling desperately to floating logs or swim with all out might against the stream, not seeing that this effects nothing but our own discomfort and exhaustion.

Alan Watts, Behold the Spirit

This is also an important principle of Taoism. It’s called Wu Wei and it literally means “inaction.” However, it doesn’t mean “inaction” as in sitting on your couch playing Halo and eating potato chips off your chest — it means to not run around wildly trying to make sweeping changes in the universe. It almost never works.

When nothing is done, nothing is left undone.

The world is ruled by letting things take their course.

It cannot be ruled by interfering.

Tao Te Ching, Chapter 48 (Feng & English, trans.) (Bold added)

Each person taking small actions in harmony with the will of God is a lot more powerful than one person blustering and running around trying to change everything at once. You can see this in the way large business organizations sometimes try to make sweeping changes but often ending up with no changes at all because of the silent resistance from the line staff.

Again, this is not lethargy; it is taking strategic, intelligent, appropriate action calculated to have an actual effect, rather than butting heads directly up against the “mighty torrent” mentioned by Alan Watts above.

A truly good man does nothing,

Yet leaves nothing undone.

A foolish man is always “doing”,

Yet much remains to be done.

Tao Te Ching, Chapter 38 (Feng & English, trans.) (Quote marks added)

This is in the same spirit as the quote attributed to St. Augustine:

God provides the wind, Man must raise the sail.

(Saint) Augustine (quoted all over the place but I can’t find the original)

It took me a long time to “get” this enough to start using it in my own life. Having done so, I find myself much more peaceful now, while those changes I was pushing for are quietly being effectuated. It’s true, you don’t end up getting credit, but maybe that’s okay.

When actions are performed

Without unnecessary speech,

The people say “We did it!”

Tao Te Ching, Chapter 17 (Feng & English, trans.)
 Thue [Public domain]

On the logical necessity of mysticism– Part 2


Here is why mysticism is a logical necessity: (1) We think in words, (2) Words are approximations, therefore (3) There are things which can not be expressed. This is the essence of the mystical.

There are, indeed, things that cannot be put into words. They make themselves manifest. They are what is mystical.

Ludwig Wittgenstein, proposition 6.522 of the Tractatus Logico Philosophicus

The Tractatus Logico Philosophicus is, to a great extent, a logical proof of the necessity of mysticism. In a manner reminiscent of Lao Tzu’s writing of the Tao Te Ching, the words of this short book had to almost be bled out of Wittgenstein while he wrote it. Consider these two quotations:

Those who speak, do not know; those who know, do not speak.

Lao Tsu, Tao Te Ching

Whereof one can not speak, thereof one must be silent.

Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico Philosophicus

Now consider how hard it is to write a treatise on the matter!

Consider all of the aspects of life which can not be adequately expressed in language: “love”, “beauty”, “flow”, “happiness”. In many ways, all of the things in life that matter most are the hardest to describe.

Since his death in 1951, academic philosophers have tried to understand Wittgenstein’s work by turning it into “a system” or some other equally cruel torture. For me, his work is easy to understand, because his “philosophy” is “no-philosophy” – time and again he writes that philosophy is an activity of clarification, not an attempt at systematically writing down all the Truths of the world. One of the last sentences he wrote before his death was:

Doubting and non-doubting behavior. There is a first only if there is the second.

Ludwig Wittgenstein, On Certainty

Thirty years before that, he wrote:

Skepticism is not irrefutable, but obviously nonsensical, when it tries to raise doubts where no questions can be asked. For doubt can exist only where a question exists, a question only where an answer exists, and an answer only where something can be said.

TLP, proposition 6.51

Is the point that Wittgenstein was a Taoist? No, of course not. What is important is that here we have the most influential philosopher of the 20th century, originally trained as an engineer, who becomes so deeply immersed in logic that he eventually realizes that it is a house of cards. In fact, in his later thought Wittgenstein began to describe logic as another form of what he called a “language game.” Such a game is fine, as long as everybody is playing by the same rule book. But, like any other game, it doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with life-as-we-live-it.

This mystical orientation in a logician is not limited to Wittgenstein; it is a fairly common phenomenon among logicians and theoretical mathematicians. For example, Raymond Smullyan, a mathematical logician with an international reputation, is also the author of The Tao is Silent – his ruminations upon the Tao.

So where does this all lead? I personally do not advocate that anyone accept any teaching uncritically. However, I think that some who would profit from the acceptance of mysticism are kept from doing so because they are afraid to admit a certain “illogic” into their lives. For those people, I offer Wittgenstein’s analysis of the nature of logic as the instrument to rid themselves of the chains of reliance on a stilted logic and to free themselves to experience the mystical in their lives.

reference for Lao Tsu pic: