The Veil of Ignorance

Dogma Debate

Recently, Justin Brierley had a debate with David Smalley on Smalley’s radio podcast show, Dogma Debate. The two were debating the existence of God as argued for in Brierley’s new book.

Brierley comes from a very different perspective than I do in terms of theology and apologetics, and thus, the vast majority of his answers went in directions different than I would have gone, although some were very good.

What I found most intriguing in the discussion was David Smalley’s perspective on morality. Smalley’s defense for how Atheism can account for morality was new to me, and that inspired my response.

Smalley argued for, what he called the Veil of Ignorance (VOI). According to him, this John Rawls method can essentially be boiled down to “putting yourself in another person’s shoes.” Smalley puts it this way,

“The Veil of Ignorance allows you to remove the bias so you can review the facts of reality.”

The context of this was given in the hypothetical of a child being raped. If the rapist would put himself behind the VOI by disregarding the fact that he is a rapist, and imagine he was the one being raped, he would realize rape is wrong.

When he goes behind that veil, he removes his bias as the perpetrator, and makes an informed decision based on an objective reality.

Jesus Repackaged

The VOI is borrowing from the Christian worldview. This is the Golden Rule repackaged with secular instructions. The VOI can be summed up as doing to others what you would do for yourself. The problem is that this is a Golden Rule hanging in midair.

The Christian, however, grounds the Golden Rule firmly within his worldview, since Jesus commanded it, and Jesus’ Word serves as the ultimate authority for all of life. The Christian can affirm the Golden Rule, and state why it ought to be followed. The secularist has stolen the Golden Rule, (ironically, theft is something the Golden Rule does not permit) and then imposes it without being able to tell any person why.

Transferred Bias

The claim that the VOI removes the bias is not true. The bias has changed, the biased has been transferred, the bias has shifted, but it has not been removed.

The rapist certainly has a bias, but so does the victim. Putting ourselves in the victim’s shoes is not removing bias, it is requiring the adoption of the victim’s bias. Victims are equally blinded by their own self-interests rapists are. To assume a victim has no bias is logically untenable. Any claim of bias leveraged against a perpetrator could be waged with equal force against a victim.

In order to remove bias, one needs a transcendental authority which is above the experiences and feelings of both the abuser and the victim. And that goes back to why, as Christians, we have reason to trust the Golden Rule. It came to us as revelation from a perspective above both parties involved.

The Golden Rule, and all of God’s Law, is reliable and authoritative because, to use a tautology, it’s God’s Law. His Law is grounded in immutability; it grew from omniscience.

This makes it far superior then a philosopher’s unoriginal musings.

Progressives, Conservatives, and Christians

I listen pretty regularly to political podcasts on a daily basis. In these, identification is important. Terms are used regularly like “the left,” the right,” “liberals,” “conservatives,” “democrats”, “republicans” etc.

In terms of identification, there are two in particular I find most interesting. Those being “conservative” and “progressive.” I am intrigued because both of those terms require the Christian worldview to have any true meaning at all.

In 1 Corinthians 1:30, Paul teaches that Christ is our everything. In order for there to be no room to boast, every aspect of our spiritual life is credited to Christ. As Jonathan Edwards famously wrote,

“The only thing you contribute to your salvation is the sin that made it necessary.”

That is the only thing Christ’s hands are clean of. That is the only thing we get to claim as all our own; Christ did not give us our sin. That’s all us. Every other aspect of our salvation is all Christ.

Paul says,

“And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.'”

Christ is our wisdom, He imputes us His righteousness, and He has redeemed us by His blood. Got it. How though is Christ our sanctification? The Bible seems pretty clear that the Holy Spirit is the one who sanctifies us (Romans 8: 13; Galatians 5: 16-23; 2 Thessalonians 2: 13; 1 Peter 1:2). There are two senses in which Christ sanctifies us, and it is the latter I would like to focus on.

First, Christ in many ways is attributed with the work of the Spirit since the Spirit is a co-equal member of the Trinity, and is sent by Christ. This is why Paul can interchangeably refer to the Spirit as the Spirit of God, and the Spirit of Christ. Romans 8: 9 reads,

“You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him” (emphasis mine).

Then, in the very next verses, Paul refers to the person of Christ being in us while also  teaching that the Spirit is in us.

But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you” (emphasis mine).

This is no modalistic proof-text as the Members are interacting with one another and are distinguished from one another. However, given that distinction, Christ and the Spirit are both said to be “in us.” Biblically, Christ being in us and sanctifying us is not at odds with the Spirit being in us and sanctifying us.

However, there is a second way Christ is our sanctification, and that is by being the standard for sanctification. Christ is what we are being sanctified to. Sanctification means to be set apart. We are being set apart from anything that is not Christ. Christ is the goal of sanctification. Romans 8:29:

“For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers” (emphasis mine.)

Being made like Christ is sanctification. He is the end point of our trajectory; He is the goal. This is why Paul could say something like,

“Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1).

The point is this: without an objective standard, no change can be called progress. Anyone can identify change, but progress is interpretation of that change.

If a man in his early twenties gained twenty pounds of fat, that change would be readily observed by his offensive line coach, and his family practitioner, but that change would not be interpreted the same. Coach will be thrilled, Doc will be concerned.

Thus, change needs a reference point. An objective standard is what is missing from the modern progressive movement, which is why it is inappropriate to call that progress at all. Certainly, the culture has changed socially in a drastic way over the last 300 years. What was unspeakable and shameful then is now behavior we must celebrate. Certainly there has been change, but how could that change possibly be called “progress?” What’s the standard?

If a person comes up to you and says, “I am heading west, is that good or bad?” You would be forced to ask the question, “Where are you trying to get?” Until then, the question cannot be answered. Modern progressivism has no objective standard, and therefore any standards they do maintain are entirely arbitrary.

Without Christ, one has no standard for interpretation. Thus, Christians are the true progressives. Sanctification is true progress. Christ is the goal. When we move toward Him, we are progressing.

The same issue arises when talking about conservatives. Conservatives conserve things. They don’t want change, but conservation. But again, conservatism is only good when we know what is worth conserving.

Douglas Wilson said it this way,

“Western values have value only if they are a coded way of referring to something else. And that something else cannot be another horizontal fact, like representative government, or women’s rights, or anything like that. That just pushes the question back a step. Why should we prefer those? And if we say that Western values simply means ‘our values,’ then why should those outrank ‘their values’? In the ebb and flow of Darwinian struggle ours sometimes loses to theirs.” (Empires of Dirt, 54).

Without an objective standard, without Christ, we haven’t a clue what ought to be conserved. Conservatism makes no sense without Christ. Can a conservative who wants to conserve the original meaning of the constitution, or traditional family values, can he answer why?

If you haven’t figured it out yet, I consider myself pretty progressive. But, I also consider myself quite conservative.

I suppose in this world of titles, I should just stick to “Christian.”