On the fundamental problem of socialist thinking

Socialism has a problem:

Bernie Sanders

What? Sanders? He’s a nice guy. What problem? It’s a totalitarianism problem.

Over at CapX (an obviously biased website), this observation was made:

Obviously, not everyone feels that dictatorship and mass murder are too high a price to pay for equality. Eric Hobsbawm, the British Marxist historian, for example, was once asked whether, if Communism had achieved its aims, but at the cost of, say, 15 to 20 million people – as opposed to the 100 million it actually killed in Russia and China – would he have supported it? His answer was a single word: Yes. Even today, many people, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau among them, fawn over Cuban dictatorship, because of its delivery of supposedly free health and education to the masses.

It is true that left-wing authoritarianism is a major problem on the level of social harm caused. This can be seen in the current state of eastern European countries and the association of communist ideology and authoritarianism despite the negative results of that worldview within living memory:

The aim of this article was twofold. First we aimed to contribute to the ongoing discussion on left-wing authoritarianism. Using representative samples the relationship between authoritarianism and political preferences was examined in 13 ex-communist Eastern European countries. Employing six different indicators of left-wing/communist political orientations made clear that, despite cross-national differences, left-wing  authoritarianism is definitely not a myth in Eastern Europe. Secondly, it was aimed to survey whether authoritarian individuals in Eastern European countries might be a possible threat to transition to democratic political systems. It was demonstrated that in general the Eastern European population seems to hold a positive opinion on democracy. It becomes also clear however that the authoritarian persons in the ex-communist countries do not hold a positive perspective on the democratic political system (305).

My thought is that western liberalism (Classical Liberalism) in its left and right wing instantiations leads to two negative results in the absence of Christian theology and Christian symbolic representations in the mind:

  1. Rejecting the image of God in man leads people to not mind the death of individual human beings, particularly if those human beings do not agree with them.
  2. Rejecting the existence of God while still believing in the logical consequences of belief in being made in God’s image leads to totalitarianism(this Charlton article is really good). Why? Because one still thinks of oneself as having all the trappings of being in God’s image: innate goodness, rationality, authority over the earth, the capacity for virtue, free will, etc. But on the other hand there is no actual God (who functions psychologically as a hyper pinnacle in the human dominance hierarchy) to judge you, so your positions, moral attitudes, etc all take the role of God in the mind. So your belief system becomes total and therefore must be imposed.

Why I don’t resent the Walmart crowd

One of the most startling elements of modern evangelical academia is how disdainful many of them are of the average parishioner. I sensed this happening to me in seminary and once I realized it, I started to see it in books. Then Twitter was invented and I started following more of these scholars to whom I looked for advice about Biblical interpretation and the like, and I discovered the outright disgust with undergraduate students displayed by those with doctorates, the foul modes of speech they used to talk about those they disagreed with, and the way they made fun of what I would call normal people. I have a social science hypothesis:

Christian academics become socially disassociated from the Christian church (and often their families) and instead become concerned with approval seeking from the academy. Social media exacerbates this by allowing approval seeking behavior in real time.

The recent election made things much worse. I began to see people whose jobs are almost entirely funded by endowments from private universities funded by normal Christians making fun of them with abandon. The level of mockery, dismissal, and hatred was outrageous. I’m trying to avoid naming names or giving too information, but I saw calls from Christian academics to move out of states which voted republican, to personally mock anybody who voted for Trump, mock members of congregations which they used to pastor, associations of Christian conservatives with the “fat slobs and losers at Walmart”, a Methodist academic on Twitter routinely started posting about genitalia almost daily when it came to Trump, etc. I’ve been in the home of a Christian academic when people started talking, seriously, about the possibility a person present (not an academic) destroying the property of suspected Trump supporters when he made house calls, etc. I’ll hear people criticized for beliefs I know they don’t have or read people insist that Christians who lean right hate the poor. It’s so funny to read Christian academics make fun of anybody who believes that the Bible is inerrant while insisting on concern for the poor. But anytime I meet a Christian at a homeless shelter or a recovering addict housed by a Christian, those Christians tend to all believe in inerrancy. It’s almost like the resentment is pure projection.
The list goes on.

I’ll go ahead and air a sense of moral superiority. If you hate the church so much and people in it who disagree with you that you refuse to discuss with them (or mock them despite not even attending church), just leave. Most academics don’t believe in God anyhow. If you want the atheists of academe to approve of you, just hang out with them.

 

When the wage gap closes you…

  1.  Rejoice?
  2. Try to solve other apparent problems.
  3. Move on.
  4. Complain

The answer, my friends…#4!

While I find people wielding the wage gap as proof of oppression in the United States tiresome and stupid, this article which indicates a closing of the wage gap is a new species of silly. In it the author observes:

Women want an equal partner, but there are increasingly fewer candidates to choose from. The census reports that “the average adult woman in the US is more likely to be a college graduate than the average adult man.” Moreover, today’s young, childless female city-dwellers with college degrees are out-earning their male counterparts by 8 cents on the dollar. Their higher incomes may be why they are less likely (29 percent) to be living with their parents than single men (35 percent).

And later in the article:

Almost 60 percent of women rate successful parenting as one of the most important parts of life, while only 47 percent of young men do, according to Pew.

But the problem is that despite the negligible wage gap, the author posits that women don’t want to marry men the same age as them who make 92 cents on the dollar. After all of the lobbying for employers, colleges, and governments to end the wage gap, now that it’s over and women aren’t interested in men who make the same amount as them:

The trouble with all this finger pointing [at women] is that it leaves out half of the baby-making equation: men.

Thankfully there are large swaths of society who never hear any of this weirdness.

Friend of God? What does that mean?

A favorite song of many evangelical Christians repeats the refrain:

“I am a friend of God, he calls me, ‘Friend.'”

But what does it mean to be friend of God, or more specifically, of Jesus Christ? The answer to the question leads me to hum that song line rather than proclaim it for fear of presumption.

To be Jesus’ friend is something that he decides based upon the state of my soul:

No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.[1]

But on what standard does Jesus call people friends? Just sentences earlier he said:

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.[2]

The particular sort of friendship Jesus wants to strike up with us is quite irregular. Very few friendships work this way. Our typical idea of friendship is basically Aristotelian: those who hold things in common. Friends spend time together, help each other, and think about things similarly. I think that Jesus’ understanding of friendship is similar. But in his case, to be his friend is none other than to be his disciple. In other words, in friendship Jesus doesn’t fit himself into your life paradigm as one who shares in your life, but demands that you alter your life to match his paradigm. Why? In John’s gospel, he is presented as the logos or logical structure behind the world. To be friends with Jesus is, in the final analysis, to be realigned with God and with nature. So, Jesus cannot alter the structure of the universe to you when you’re the one who is sinful. But he can offer friendship with us by offering to transform us. This is a difficult pill to swallow, but alas, it is the medicine Jesus offers.

References

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Jn 15:15–16.

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Jn 15:12–14.

Workless Society?

A Guardian article speculates on the sense of meaning in the world about a world beyond work:

You don’t need to go all the way to Israel to see the world of post-work. If you have at home a teenage son who likes computer games, you can conduct your own experiment. Provide him with a minimum subsidy of coke and pizza, and then remove all demands for work and all parental supervision. The likely outcome is that he will remain in his room for days, glued to the screen. He won’t do any homework or housework, will skip school, skip meals, and even skip showers and sleep. Yet he is unlikely to suffer from boredom or a sense of purposelessness. At least not in the short-term.

I suggest that as helpful as virtual worlds, like video games, sports, and fiction are for providing human meaning, there is very little evidence that those worlds provide positive biological incentives for flourishing when they replace the material world. Video games, fiction, and sports add an abundance of meaning to our material lives in the context a larger culture of ritual, story, tradition, and transcendent aspirations. But I do not think that those elements of life can substitute for the larger religious and philosophical stories contained in cultures which have evolved over thousands of years. Replacing them with purely simulated realities which have no history of supporting biological needs such as reproduction, creativity, and feelings physically productive seems dangerous.

 

John Wesley on Foreknowledge and Election


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By George Romney – National Portrait Gallery: NPG 2366

Below, you’ll find 1 Peter 1:1-2 and John Wesley’s comments on vs 2. Over all, I find what he says to be convincing. The idea that the descriptions of God’s fore or after knowledge in the Bible are metaphorical is perfectly reasonable. It is just as much true that predestination is a metaphor as it is true that God’s being surprised or ignorant is as well.

 

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the strangers scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace unto you, and peace, be multiplied.
(1 Peter 1:1-2 KJV)

[Quote] According to the foreknowledge of God – Speaking after the manner of men. Strictly speaking, there is no foreknowledge, no more than afterknowledge, with God: but all things are known to him as present from eternity to eternity. This is therefore no other than an instance of the divine condescension to our low capacities. Elect – By the free love and almighty power of God taken out of, separated from, the world. Election, in the scripture sense, is God’s doing anything that our merit or power have no part in. The true predestination, or fore – appointment of God is:

  1.  He that believeth shall be saved from the guilt and power of sin.
  2. He that endureth to the end shall be saved eternally.
  3. They who receive the precious gift of faith, thereby become the sons of God; and, being sons, they shall receive the Spirit of holiness to walk as Christ also walked.

Throughout every part of this appointment of God, promise and duty go hand in hand. All is free gift; and yet such is the gift, that the final issue depends on our future obedience to the heavenly call. But other predestination than this, either to life or death eternal, the scripture knows not of. Moreover, it is:

  1. Cruel respect of persons; an unjust regard of one, and an unjust disregard of another.
  2. It is mere creature partiality, and not infinite justice.
  3. It is not plain scripture doctrine, if true; but rather, inconsistent with the express written word, that speaks of God’s universal offers of grace; his invitations, promises, threatenings, being all general.

We are bid to choose life, and reprehended for not doing it. It is inconsistent with a state of probation in those that must be saved or must be lost. It is of fatal consequence; all men being ready, on very slight grounds, to fancy themselves of the elect number. But the doctrine of predestination is entirely changed from what it formerly was. Now it implies neither faith, peace, nor purity. It is something that will do without them all. Faith is no longer, according to the modern predestinarian scheme, a divine “evidence of things not seen,” wrought in the soul by the immediate power of the Holy Ghost; not an evidence at all; but a mere notion. Neither is faith made any longer a means of holiness; but something that will do without it. Christ is no more a Saviour from sin; but a defence, a countenancer of it. He is no more a fountain of spiritual life in the soul of believers, but leaves his elect inwardly dry, and outwardly unfruitful; and is made little more than a refuge from the image of the heavenly; even from righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost. Through sanctification of the Spirit – Through the renewing and purifying influences of his Spirit on their souls.
Unto obedience – To engage and enable them to yield themselves up to all holy obedience, the foundation of all which is, the sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ – The atoning blood of Christ, which was typified by the sprinkling of the blood of sacrifices under the law; in allusion to which it is called “the blood of sprinkling.” [End Quote]

Hopefully Wesley’s point of view is helpful to you.

Headship and Submission in Marriage

The Glass of Wine – Jan Vemeer I have no idea if they’re married or not, but this picture always struck me as a relaxing vision of an evening in the good life.

A friend recently asked about this topic, so I thought I’d give a sketch of my thoughts. I won’t be citing any sources, but hopefully what I cite as evidence is either self-evident or easily obtainable.

The basic question is this:

What does is mean to submit to your husband as the head of the household in the Bible?

Put more theologically:

Does being a Christian mean that a woman loses her autonomy to her husband?

And here is the question with a twist toward defending the faith:

If male/female equality is true and the Bible teaches husband/wife hierarchy, does that mean the Bible is wrong?

So there are three layers of discussion here:

  1. What does the New Testament actually teach about husband/wife relationships?
  2. What does it mean to be a Christian?
  3. Is the biblical picture of a well functioning marriage true/workable today?

Question 1: What does the NT actually teach about husband/wife relationships?

If somebody asked me, “does the Bible say wives should submit to their husbands,” my straight forward answer would be, “Yes.” If they said, “What do you think that means?” I’d say, “She should respect him, in public and private.”

If I were asked to give further explanation, I’d elaborate like this.

For the sake of argument, let us assume we’re talking about married Christians who aren’t having significant problems worthy or counseling or legal intervention (being physically assaulted is a problem for police and the legal system, the church can excommunicate an abusive spouse but can do relatively little to get them out of your life).

First, the Bible is clear about the core behavioral principle of Christians toward each other:

“Love one another even as I [Jesus] have loved you. ” (John 13:34)

“Whatever you wish others would do for you, you do unto them.” (Matthew 7:13)

The first principle of all relationships between Christians is love for one another because the first aim for the Christian is to seek first the kingdom of God and its righteousness (Matt 6:33).

The second principle for understanding the Christian instructions regarding husbands and wives is that the household was seen as a microcosm of society in the ancient world, as such a household was in competition with other households for prestige and resources and all human societies had a leader or, as the Bible says, “head.” This is just how things were conceived, or at least how they were written about. For instance, in Ephesians 1:22-23, Jesus is the head of the church and all spiritual reality. And so families/households had a head, the husband.

For the husband to be the head of household usually means four things:

  1. He is the provider for the family.
  2. He is the protector of the family.
  3. He is the representative of the family’s needs in the broader society. (this fits well with the previous two)
  4. He is the de facto leader of the group.

Now, in the case of Jesus Christ and his church, submitting to him as the head of the church means obedience, worship, and persistent deference to his will. In the case of Christian marriage it means what you might see in Proverbs 31. The woman there submits to her husband’s headship by ensuring that the well being his household is achieved:

  1. she cares for his health
  2. she raises their children
  3. she manages the in-house financials
  4. she uses her resources to improve the financial situation of the house in the market
  5. she seeks to maintain the honor of the household among the neighboring families.

In other words, to submit to your husband is to promote his interests and those of the family generally. Paul puts it this way: “…let each wife respect her husband.” In other words, submission isn’t a matter of obedience as it is toward Christ. Instead, submission is meant in the sense of admiration and pursuit of his well-being and honor.

Now, the interesting thing in the New Testament is that no specific rules are set forth for how husband/wife relationships should be pursued, but rather general principles. Husbands are to put extra effort into loving their wives and wives into respecting their husbands. My guess is that the general temptation of a wife is to gossip about or mother her husband and that the general temptation of a husband is to treat his wife harshly (like one of the fellas), neglect her needs, or talk down to her. So Paul give instructions to address each of these in Ephesians 5:33, “Let each husband love his own wife as himself and each wife respect her husband.”

As a tip, I recommend that men go out of their way to be admirable (to make your wife’s job of respect easier), and that women go out of their way to be sweet/lovable (to make your husband’s job easier).

As an aside, there is a sense in which husbands are to respect/honor their wives (Proverbs 31 says that a good husband praises his wife in the gates) and wives are to love their husbands, as the general command to Christians is to respect each other, encourage one another, listen to one another, and love each other.

Briefly, nowhere in Scripture is a husband instructed to boss his wife around, abuse her, or run her down as a function of his headship. That has happened in history and been perpetrated by Christians, but is forbidden in Scripture (1 Peter 3:7).

Question 2: What does it mean to be a Christian?

Some people feel that women might lose their autonomy in a marriage that uses the language of ‘headship’ or ‘submission.’ I want to address a few things here:

  1. People are justified by faith in Christ. So one does not become a Christian by figuring out how to be a spouse. Rather, one learns to be a better spouse by discipleship to Christ. This particular issue, while important, is secondary. Not only is it secondary, it’s disputed. The picture I painted above may not be accurate.
  2. One loses and gains autonomy as a Christian. When you become a Christian, you’re committing to be crucified to the world with Christ. But in doing so, you can find your life and find it to the full.
  3. When you get married, whether you’re a husband or a wife, you’re more specifically defining who you are. To define oneself at all is a simultaneous gain and loss of autonomy. If you become Jackie’s husband or Jerry’s wife, then you’re making a choice to be a specific person bound to another specific person. In that sense, you put on an identity within which to make a wide range of previously unavailable choices (gained autonomy) and you’ve severely limited your choices as well (lost autonomy).

Converting to Christianity or getting married is to lose/gain autonomy, but this is how all choices are. I do fear that certain quarters of the feminist movement want a world in which choices lead only to gained autonomy:

It would appear that while no woman needs a man for companionship, women need men and other women to pay for their birth control.

Thankfully, such a world is impossible.

Question 3: Is the picture of headship prescribed in Scripture good or workable?

I think the answer is yes. Most of what comes next is just a sketch, and maybe even speculative, though the psychological (esp. evo-psych) and anthropological research is there.

The notion that headship means domineering is clearly wrong. The notion that it means to protect, provide, represent, and lead is generally what children want in a dad and wives in a husband. In cases wherein things are different, the Bible is clear that people should treat others as they want to be treated and discussion and compromise are necessary. But I think that in the majority of civilizational history, women have had particular duties which made it difficult for them to be, in any sense, “head” of the family. Once a baby was born, mom became attached to the duties of feeding, educating, and otherwise caring for baby. This did not mean that they weren’t leaders, influencers, creative thinkers, or productive. It just meant they did it as mothers.

Insofar as biological sex differences are products of divine creation and/or evolutionary processes, the development of the headship model is rather natural and the Paul’s method of attaching the mutual ethics of love and respect to that model help to make it work in a fashion, not of biological necessity, but of Christian spiritual formation.

Concluding Thoughts

It’s best to remember that the New Testament commands all Christians to love and honor/submit to one another and that the character of married couples must include both of those traits, because in many places those characteristics are encourages without reference to gender roles or any roles in particular. So, Christian wives ought to respect their husbands and Christian husbands ought to love their wives.

The other details (the nature of roles) are definitely cultural, but culture comes from human beings whose behavior comes from their nature. And so it’s best to determine if the roles mentioned in the New Testament work before rejecting them outright. And like many of the social rules in the New Testament, there are likely exceptions.

In what sense is Christianity comforting?

One of the many conceits of the modern era is that religion is believed precisely because it provides irrational comfort to those who refuse to see things as they are.

And while I have no doubt that many believe various religious dogmas for this purpose, it simply isn’t true that Christianity can be believed, by those who understand it, solely because it is comforting. Why? Here are a few reasons:

  1. Christianity says that the world is your fault. The problems in the world are simply because of wrongs you’ve done and you’re responsible for them. Not only so, but it teaches, at its best, that while you must somehow make all of this right, that you cannot.
  2. Christianity, in its Calvinist iteration, says that all the evils of the world are God’s idea, and really and truly good, and that nothing can be done about them except that God undo them. There isn’t much comfort here if the wheels of providence oppose you.
  3. Christianity, in its non-Calvinist iterations, teaches that the earth has fallen under the control of a cosmic socio-path who hates God and pursues destruction as though it were the good. Not much comfort in knowing that not only is nature dangerous and that your sins put you cross-ways with God, but also that supernatural forces which influence human behavior and ideologies hate you.
  4. Christianity teaches that Jesus demands that you give up several legitimate goods, which God made for you to enjoy, in order to do what is right.
  5. Christianity teaches that your inmost secrets are under the scrutiny of a being of infinite goodness and justice.
  6. Christianity teaches that the creation is subject to meaninglessness (vanity) and that we must live as though the world is imbued with meaning even when it feels pointless.
  7. Christianity teaches that our prayers may go without answering because of supernatural incidents beyond our control (see Daniel).
  8. Christianity teaches that even at your most miserable, you’re responsible for your neighbor.
  9. Christianity includes the Old Testament.

The idea that one would adopt beliefs of this sort for emotional solace is a fiction. I do believe that Christianity offers comfort and that Christians are to comfort each other. I’m of the opinion that people would only subscribe to beliefs with such potential to crush their spirit for one of three reasons:

  1. They think they’re true (for good or bad reasons).
  2. They find, in Jesus, an irresistible personality.
  3. A deep fear of hell which lead them to bet on Christianity for redemption.

Pastors and Power

Richard Baxter saw, hundreds of years ago, the dangers of cozying up to political power. Ministers of the gospel, if they aren’t careful, will not only sacrifice original thought but also Biblical truth in order to avoid being ostracized, mocked, or disagreed with. Social media has made this quite apparent in the current year. For instance, as the pro-life position has become more and more subject to mockery, less and less Christians are publicly affirming it. I can think of two anti-political pastors (Greg Boyd and Josh Porter) who are “anti-political” as an expression of theology. So, they don’t really talk much about opposing abortion (as a matter of principle one should stay out of politics), but both were happy to engage in making fun of Trump and his voters on Twitter. I suspect that these strategies are more to appeal to people of a left-leaning political slant. And in fact, I’ve known many pastors personally who have taken a similar approach to ministry: mocking openly anybody in their churches that the political left finds distasteful.

Sadly, most positions are held by most people as a matter of tribalism rather than as a matter of truth. This state of affairs ought not be, but it is. As an aside, tribalism is a human default. The prime difference between the Christian and non-Christian tribes is that our chieftain (Jesus) commands us to put truth as our top loyalty (he is the Truth). So there’s a sense in which Christians should have the most disagreements (as seeking the truth entails argument) and the most unity (as we applaud the honest search for truth). Anyway, here is Baxter’s prescient commentary on our own time:

I would not have any to be contentious with those that govern them, nor to be disobedient to any of their lawful commands. But it is not the least reproach upon the Ministry, that the most of them for worldly advantage still suit themselves with the party that is most likely to suit their ends. If they look for secular advantages, they suit themselves to the Secular power; if for the air of Ecclesiastical applause, then do they suit themselves to the party of Ecclesiastics that is most in credit. This is not a private, but an epedemical malady. In Constantine’s days, how prevalent were the orthodox! In Constantius’s days, they almost all turned Arians, so that there were very few bishops at all that did not apostatize or betray the truth; even of the same men that had been in the Council of Nice. And when not only Liberius, but great Osius himself fell, who had been the president, or chief in so many orthodox Councils, what better could be expected from weaker men! Were it not for secular advantage, or ecclesiastic faction and applause, how could it come to pass, that Ministers in all the countries in the world, are either all, or almost all, of that religion and way that is in most credit, and most consistent with their worldly interest?Among the Greeks, they are all of the Greek profession: and among the Abassines, the Nestorians, the Maronites, the Jacobites, the Ministers generally go one way. And among the Papists, they are almost all Papists. In Saxony, Sweden, Denmark, &c. almost all Lutherans: in Holland, France, Scotland, almost all Calvinists. It is strange that they should be all in the right in one country, and all in the wrong in another, if carnal advantages and reputation did not sway much: when men fall upon a conscientious search, the variety of intellectual capacities causeth unavoidably a great variety of conceits about some hard and lower things: but let the prince, and the stream of men in credit go one way, and you shall have the generality of ministers too often change their religion with the Prince in this land. Not all, as our Martyrology can witness, but the most. I purposely forbear to mention any latter change. If the Rulers of an University should be corrupt, who have the disposal of preferments, how much might they do with the most of the students, where mere arguments would not take! And the same tractable distemper doth so often follow them into the Ministry, that it occasioneth the enemies to say, that reputation and preferment is our religion, and our reward.[1]

References

[1] Richard Baxter and William Orme, The Practical Works of the Rev. Richard Baxter, vol. 14 (London: James Duncan, 1830), 198–199.

What does the Bible say about finding romance?

Perhaps the two most frequent things young Christian men ask me for advice about are relationships and overcoming a pornography habit. I’ll stick with relationships, though Dallas Willard has great advice for those who struggle to kick pornography: Beyond Pornography. On to relationships.

Most of the guys who ask for advice, though sometimes women come to my wife for such advice as well, ask how to enter into a relationship in the first place in the current dating market. Many of them suffer from a glut of two pieces of advice:

  1. Be yourself.
  2. Just be a nice guy and girls will fall in love with you.

The problem with both of these pieces of advice is that neither of them are connected in any specific way with Christian piety or with general wisdom. Here are the problems with each piece of advice:

  1. Be yourself.
    This piece of pop-culture advice has the potential to be very valuable when applied to truth telling, staying the course when virtue comes up against resistance, or refusing to compromise on important decisions. But in general it is suicide for anybody whose personal problems stem from personal failures. Telling people who struggled fundamentally with the following sentences to just be themselves won’t help them:
    “I’m lonely and have trouble making friends.”
    “I’m overweight.”
    “I’m lazy.”
    “I’m disorganized.”
    “I’m not funny.”
    What most people need to do is make fundamental changes to how they live in order to be happy.
  2. Just be a nice guy and girls will fall in love with you.
    If what people mean by this is, “Stop being immoral,” then it  is half reasonable. But in practice, it amounts to, “Don’t ask a girl out, just be her friend, be nice, and eventually she’ll notice.” It’s similar to the bad evangelism advice, “Just follow Jesus and people will ask.” It’s a bit narcissistic and it sets people up to be bitter about being friendly because they expect an unlikely or even impossible result. One should not simply become virtuous (especially if it is defined as niceness) in order to get people to love them. That’s stupid on the surface. But it’s also untrue that niceness, as described above, will land you a date.

So, what should a man who wants to be a disciple of Jesus do when struggling with loneliness or failing to ever successfully ask a girl on a date (or ask at all)? The advice below, by the way, is also applicable to women and married people.

  1. Seek first the kingdom of God and its righteousness. (Matt 6:33)
    The first thing that needs to happen anytime there is a lack in our lives is that we need to reevaluate whether or not we’re living virtuously and basing our choices upon what benefits God’s people and what is in line with God’s purposes. Establishing, in our minds that our purpose is to pursue virtue and fulfill the duties God has placed before us is a powerful medicine for discontentment. The command to focus on our righteousness in the face of missing elements of the good life (read all of Matthew 6 if you would) is central to understanding what it means to be a Christian and it requires us to always re-calibrate our understanding of the good life and also recognizing that there is a highest possible value to seek in life. If people are so obsessed with getting a romantic partner that they compromise on virtue, success, or God’s purposes in general, then they are likely to find sinful romance (see Proverbs 1-9) and end up unhappy anyway. To seek the kingdom of God and its righteousness means (or see here for a rough sketch of what it means):

    1. Accept responsibility for your sinfulness.
    2. Accept responsibility for your problems in general.
    3. Work regularly on trying to fix them.
    4. Work on gaining all the virtues of Scripture (not just niceness).
    5. Learn to be content with God and virtue (in other words, gain some outcome independence, be fine with failure, and be comfortable with lack when you’ve done the right, wise, and courageous thing).
  2. Become skillful (Proverbs 22:29).
    In general, it’s important to have a skill or set of skills for making money, occupying your time, and bringing order into the world which God has given to us. We’re happier when we’re good at something. But learning to make your way in the world, accrue resources, and manage them well is very important for happiness in general (regardless of relationship status) as well as for finding love. Many young Christians spend so much time volunteering, hanging out, and ‘doing ministry’ that they neglect their studies, gain few useful skills, and make very little money in their twenties. This is economic suicide for your thirties and beyond. And being skillful tends to make you more interesting. I knew a woman once, who felt her calling was to be “a stay at home wife.” But she had no domestic skills. A man who expects to be married to somebody who pulls their weight in the relationship would run like Carl Weathers in Rocky III to avoid that sort of marriage. Similarly, men who cannot make money are simply less interesting to women generally. These claims aren’t always true, but they hold with the general population.
  3. Become likable and interesting. (Song of Solomon 1:3)
    One of the reasons that the woman in Song of Solomon is enamored by the man is that “his name is like oil poured out, therefore all the young women love you.” In other words, people love talking about him and they have pleasant things to say. She likes him, likes hearing about him, and likes talking about him. There are dozens of ways to become likable and only some of them require that you give up on virtue and God’s purposes. But having interesting stories, being generous, learning to be funny, dressing well, having bigger muscles, having a healthy BMI, learning to cook, being skillful (see above), being involved in your church, learning rhetoric, reading books, memorizing poetry, having party tricks, and having fun hobbies all go a long way to making you likable.
  4. Be selective. (1 Corinthians 9:5)
    In 1 Corinthians 9:5, Paul mentions that he and his fellow single apostles would be within their rights to have a “sister wife.” What that means is “wife who believes the gospel and cooperates with our life vision to share the gospel abroad.” Paul doesn’t take a wife because he believes it is virtuous to care for her and not endanger her. But the point stands that he perceives Christians should only marry other Christians. But I would add that one should try to marry somebody who is interested in your career and calling. One’s perception of these things changes over time, but marrying somebody who also wants to do what you want to do is both Christian and wise. Living with somebody who hates your career, calling, or life vision is miserable. It essentially forces you to have committed yourself to seek romance/sex from the only person in the world who regularly resents you, I suspect that nothing could be more miserable. On the other hand, having a virtuous circle of encouragement, challenge to improve, increased attraction, and increased friendship is idyllic and quite possible. It’s like the Scripture says, “at the right of the Lord are pleasures evermore.” (Ps 16:11) And marriage is God’s idea.

To summarize, working on yourself is the most central key to getting others to like you and learning to improve yourself whether or not others like you is utterly central to happiness. Failing to learn that lesson will not only lead to loneliness, but deeper dissatisfaction with relationships as well because you force your happiness to depend upon things other than God and upon things you cannot control.