For those of you following along you will know we are to to a new chapter on sin. I read the whole chapter in search of an argument for the existence of god, or against the non-existence, and there is none. So, if you’re only interested in the question of the existence of a deity, you can skip this post, and chapter 10. This post will be a tangent to address some of the tangents in Keller’s redundant filler.
Keller does a few things in this chapter. He starts by defining sin not simply as breaking rules, but as putting anything but god in the center of your life. From there he implicitly asserts that one can not live without a center to ones life, or with many, and that putting anything there but god will lead to personal unhappiness and various other maladies.
Keller can define sin however he likes, but that is about the only thing in this chapter that I agree with, other than his points against straw men. Keller spends a lot of time pointing out that things can go badly if you build your entire life around your career, or children. I agree, but I don’t agree with Keller’s assertion that they, and similarly deleterious life centers, are the only alternative to god.
One alternative is the Buddhist method, of living a center-less life, and attempting to lose ones ego. Perhaps this sounds more difficult than centering your life around god, but I don’t think so. I think it’s just harder to trick yourself into thinking you’re doing it right.
Somewhat of a corollary to this is to make everything the center of your life. Keller says that if you make your family the center, you will care less for other people’s families, and if you make your nation or race your center, you will become nationalist or racist. This is not a problem if you make everything the center, all life. This has the same end result as the previous method, I think, since in both cases you try to become “one with the universe”.
One could also center your life on a process, like science. If one built a life on a way of acquiring knowledge, which is what science is, and not on the knowledge itself, one is not subject to having their identity questioned when new evidence comes to light. There is virtually no chance of empiricism itself being invalidated, although all conclusions drawn from it must be held as potentially incorrect. This solution is not utopian, since one would still be subject to feeling superior to those who interpret the data differently, although at least two empiricists can have an argument and potentially do experiments to come to a conclusion, unlike those who are not empirical at all, who could not be argued with.
I also don’t see why one couldn’t take a middle of the road approach. Instead of no center, or an everything center, have a lot of things center. I think in practice this is a pretty common route. Most people don’t pin their entire identity on one aspect of themselves, but on many. This approach would not be as secure as the first three I mentioned, but it is not as unstable as Keller’s straw men. Especially if one were conscious about it and could replace or increase the number of things in one’s center.
I’m sure there are many other fine alternatives that I haven’t thought of.
So, I don’t think Keller’s right about the way people build their lives, and have to, but even if he is, does building one’s life around god fix anything? Well, it certainly would fix some things. Keller is right that building a life around god is better than building a life around a lot of other singular things (other than those mentioned above), I think, because god is designed to be a center. God is all forgiving and loving and such, which is just what one would need. And, in a practical sense, if everyone centered their life on god and not on their nation or race, there would probably be less nationalism and racism. However, I do not think utopia would arise. I see no reason why, just as centering your life on your family makes you care about other families less, centering your life on god wouldn’t make you care about other gods less, and through them the people that hold those gods. This is a problem that will never be escaped either, since god is so nebulous and personal, people will always be splintering into groups that disagree with the other groups about what god is. If you believe you have the true god, and know what he is like, then you cannot help but feel superior to those that disagree. And people who build their whole lives around a single concept, as Keller points out, are vulnerable when that concept is threatened, and will react forcefully. Since there is no way to settle differences between groups, I don’t see what makes what Keller argues for different from zealotry, and I don’t see how zealotry leads to anything but violence.
So, Keller’s assertions are wrong, there are many good alternatives to building your life around god. Also, building your life around god is fraught with the danger of zealotry. Also, since god is such a nebulous concept, it seems to me it would be easy for one to think they were building a life around god, but actually be deceiving themselves. Finally, even if building a life around god were a good idea, this is not evidence that any god exists, let alone any particular one.