The Messianic Presidency?
Last night I watched a Frontline special on PBS called, “The Jesus Factor.” It was an examination of how George W. Bush’s faith has influenced his politics. It was really interesting, and, all-in-all, a pretty worthwhile way to spend an hour. I had a couple of gripes, naturally(!), with the program. I’ll start with those.
- They frequently referred to Bush as a Methodist and there were some assumptions (implicit and explicit) that Bush’s belief system was standard for Methodists. However, in United Methodism (as in every other religious/denominational tradition) there’s a pretty broad spectrum of belief and Christian practice. I think it might have been important to note that many United Methodists have some serious disagreements over policy positions advocated by Bush and his staff. Further, there are some disagreements (major and minor) between Bush’s political positions and the United Methodist Social Principles. For instance, the Social Principles oppose the death penalty, while Bush is an enthusiastic supporter. United Methodists don’t require members to agree to the social principles, but it should show the breadth of belief and values within the United Methodist tradition.
- They described Bush’s supporters as “evangelical Christians.” This highlights a problem with labels – while they communicate ideas quickly, they also strip ideas of their inherent complexity. Not all conservative Christians “practice” in the evangelical tradition. Not all evangelical Christians are politically conservative. The program missed the complexity of the intertwining of religious and political values in the US.
I might have more to say later. Also check out a transcript of their interview with Jim Wallis (founder and editor of Sojourners Magazine). He has an interesting perspective on how 9/11 transformed Bush’s faith.
One more thing. They also interviewed Richard Land, director of the Southern Baptist Convention. He made a comment that I thought was very interesting.
“The problem with the left is that some of them don't think God has a side. George Bush and most of George Bush's supporters believe God has a side, and we believe that side is freedom. We believe that side is democracy. We believe that side is respect for basic human rights. We don't see the word starkly in terms of black and white. But we do see that there is a good and there is an evil, and that there is no moral equivalence between Saddam Hussein and the United States of America.”
As much as I’m a big advocate for democracy, I don’t recall Jesus mentioning it anywhere. If you think about it, the modern incarnation of democracy didn’t exist until almost 1,800 years after Christ’s ministry on earth. I’ve always been intrigued by the combining of Christianity and Americanism (for lack of a better word) in evangelical/fundamentalist Protestantism. Wallis makes an excellent point about this in his interview. If we really believe the universality of the gospel, why is America special? I’m not sure it is – I think the creation of a theology of American exceptionalism makes us feel less guilty about our wealth and incredible privilege.
I’ll continue this later – an interesting side discussion would be to talk about syncretism, Christianity and American exceptionalism.
The Faithful Skeptic
Friday, April 30, 2004
The Messianic Presidency?
Thursday, April 29, 2004
Satan and the Easter Bunny
Evil is a tough subject for mainline and left-leaning Christians. We acknowledge that evil exists in the world, but we’re uncomfortable talking about where it comes from. We don’t like to believe that Satan actually exists. Satan fits into the same category as the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus – an imaginary character useful for, illustrating concepts, telling stories and motivating children (albeit a very different type of motivation than Santa is used for).
I’ve always been in the camp that believed evil is a necessary consequence of free will. It’s not that God wants evil world, or even that God can’t prevent evil in the world, but that evil has to exist if we’re going to be given the choice to live a Christ-centered life. For the possibility to choose Christ to exist there has to be the possibility of choosing a life of evil.
But that’s not always a satisfying answer. There are times when it certainly seems there is an active, evil force at work in the world. But is it Satan or demons? I almost hate to admit it, but I’ve read all of Frank Peretti’s books. Peretti describes a world of “spiritual warfare” in This Present Darkness where demons and angels battle for the future of humanity. Christian “prayer warriors” provide strength for angels to combat the insidious efforts of Satan to weaken believers and unbelievers alike.
Even Stephen King provided a vision of an active, demonic force in the world in The Stand. Randall Flagg seems to be an agent of Satan, if not Satan himself. Certainly there are a lot of literary examples of evil, probably most of them better written than The Stand and This Present Darkness.
The reason I’m thinking about this is that I overheard a conversation at work where a colleague (who is Christian) was saying that he felt the Devil was working against several people in his church involved in a new program. Several bad things (break-in at the church, a car break-in, and an accident at home that injured a friend) had happened to people, but a couple of good things (purse was recovered from the car break-in) were starting to happen. His interpretation was that God was striking back against Satan.
I’m not saying I think my colleague is crazy or that he might be right. I have no idea. What worries me is that those who believe in an active Satan tend to attribute everything bad that happens to them to the Devil and everything good to active intervention on the part of God. But what if it isn’t the Devil? What if the break-ins are the result of poverty or drug-induced crime? Is our response to step up evangelism and recruit prayer warriors, or work in mission to address systemic injustice in society and other roots of crime?
I don’t know the answer. Maybe it’s a combination of spiritual and worldly intervention. I guess I just hope that we don’t write off hope for changing the world we live in because we’re waiting for God and his angels to vanquish Satan and his demons. I’m afraid that end times theology and the idea of an “activist” Satan tell Christians that we can’t hope to change our world. Who cares if we wreck the environment, throw the developing world to the wolves, and ignore social and economic inequity? Jesus will fix everything when he returns in the final showdown between good and evil. I’d like to think that we can advance the Kingdom of God on earth and we don’t have to wait for the second coming.
Wednesday, April 28, 2004
Nothing insightful or even thoughtful to say today. I'm very busy at work. This is the time of year where we spend six months preparing a budget that is wrong the moment we publish it. As opposed to the other six months of the year where we work on preparing financial statements that are 6-9 months out of date by the time we're finished.
- Satan and the Easter Bunny
- Learning from Claire
Tuesday, April 27, 2004
Community: Does "place" matter?
I was reading Jimmy’s post and comments relating to his proposal for discernment committees and I started thinking about community. In a previous life I was a land use planner and I completed a year in a Ph.D. program in Urban Studies and Regional Science (regional science is a very cool field that blends economics and geography to try to explain how and why cities work the way they do). I was thinking that most churches don’t do a very good job creating or nurturing community. Jenell Paris (of the The Paris Project) was suggesting that a community should be involved in your life and help you through tough decisions and major life changes.
I think one of the main problems is a lot of Christians aren’t involved in communities that offer that kind of support. So I started wondering why. One interesting article I read in grad school (can’t remember what it was called, sorry) was about social networks. The authors were arguing that the availability of cheap automobile transportation to most Americans fundamentally changed the constitution of our social networks over the past 100 years. Before cars were widely affordable, people were primarily limited to relationships with those that lived near them. They mentioned the large percentage of children that lived close to their grandparents in the 1950s and the very small percentage that do now. Thus social networks were by necessity limited to those who were in close physical proximity.
I can’t prove it, but I suspect it was a very similar situation for churches. People probably attended a church that was close, and most likely with people who lived near them. I’m willing to bet that living close to members of their church increased viability of that church as a community – not just a place where people worshipped on Sunday.
The personal automobile had a dramatic impact on the physical community. It was no longer necessary to live close to where you worked and it was significantly easier to maintain relationships with family and friends that did not live in the same neighborhood. The car has enabled people to be more intentional about community. We can choose our church from the whole “marketplace” of churches, select schools based on academic achievement, select jobs with less concern that it will limit choices of churches and schools, and continue friendships with those who make different choices.
One consequence of our new freedom is that our church communities are now very loosely tied to the idea of “place.” It’s not uncommon for people to drive 30-45 minutes to attend the church of their choice. That also makes it harder to maintain a sense of physical community when the membership is very spread out. We can be intentional on Sunday, but it is a lot harder the rest of the week.
Another consequence is that our mobility dramatically reduces the chances of “accidental” community, at least in most large metropolitan areas. It is very unlikely that we’ll run into someone from our church at the grocery store or the park. Maintaining community outside of Sunday becomes a lot of work. We have to make a commitment to integrate our church community into our social network.
I’m not suggesting that we need to go back to the days where we can’t afford to venture beyond our neighborhoods (though with gas prices lately, it kind of feels like that!). Rather, community means something very different to us than it did to our grandparents and parents. Our new reality of community means we have to work harder to surround ourselves with people who will help us grow in faith and practice being Christian.
Monday, April 26, 2004
Isn’t Vietnam over yet?
I know this is probably naïve, especially since I was born after the end of the Vietnam War, but can’t we stop fighting it? I’m eager for the first presidential election where it won’t be an issue – will it be 2012, 2016? The current bickering over
Kerry’s medals and Bush’s National Guard record strikes me as a little insane.
I know that for a lot of people in Bush and Kerry’s generation, Vietnam was the defining issue of that time. But maybe it’s time to let that go? Maybe it’s time to fight our 21st century battles?
Another aspect of this troubles me. The nature of electoral politics today makes every moment of a candidate’s life fair game for scrutiny. I wonder though, is it fair to judge the character of George Bush or John Kerry based on their actions in the 1970s? Even if we were to decide that one or both of them behaved poorly in regards to Vietnam, isn’t there the possibility that they redeemed themselves through subsequent actions? Isn’t there the possibility for people to change? Obviously accountability is important, but we need room in politics for people to grow and we need to acknowledge the humanity of our politicians.
What concerns me more is that Christians on both sides of the political spectrum have entered this particular argument with great zeal. But as Christians, I believe we should acknowledge God’s redemptive power and ability to wholly transform our lives. As both candidates profess to be Christian, shouldn’t we trust that God is working similarly in their lives?
I’m not arguing that we shouldn’t hold politicians responsible for their actions. But in this case, how does Bush’s record from 1972 and Kerry’s discarding (or not) his medals inform our choice for president? Does it necessarily tell us anything about how they view the war in Iraq or the larger war on terrorism? Let’s evaluate the candidates on their actions and statements in recent history. It’s not like there’s a lack of material.
I think our world would be a better place if we focused on real issues, rather than slogging through the legacy of a 30 year-old political and cultural conflict. For instance, rather than wondering whether Bush fulfilled his National Guard commitment or Kerry threw away his medals, let’s have a serious discussion about the 528 US troops and 104 coalition troops killed in Iraq, 106 US troops killed in Afghanistan, 4,895 to 6,370 Iraqi soldiers killed, and 8,000 to 10,000 civilian deaths in Iraq.
Sources: AntiWar.com, Iraq Body Count
Androgynous Earthworms and Noah's Ark
I teach Sunday School for our mid/senior high youth at church. That might sound like a big job, but yesterday the mid/senior youth consisted of Monica (6th grade) and her friends Rachel (3rd grade) and Phoebe (6th grade and from outside the US – her english is questionable). And yesterday was a good day for attendance – usually only Monica shows up. Monica is a very nice kid, but it is very discouraging when only person shows up to your class. It is a small church, but I know there are more kids out there.
Anyway, in Sunday School yesterday we read the story of the flood and Noah’s ark. I have a hard time generating meaningful discussion with this group. The most relevant conversation was started when Monica wanted to know if there were worms (earthworms, specifically I think) on the ark. And if so, how did they handle the whole male/female thing because apparently she just learned in science that earthworms have both male and female reproductive organs (or whatever worms have). You know what? I had absolutely no idea how to answer that. I think I must be the world’s worst Sunday school teacher.
As we were reading the story the pragmatist in my head started going. How in the world could Noah fit two of every creature on one ship? The questions proceeded from there. When I got home, I read a little bit of Borg’s “The Heart of Christianity.” He was discussing “metaphorical” interpretations of scripture. He described the Bible as having “more than literal truth.” Not that any particular passage is true or untrue, but that almost every passage possess truth beyond literal/factual truth. So we can argue about the literal truth of the Bible, or even agree to disagree, but that Christians should be able to discuss the larger truths in the Bible that may be more meaningful than the literal factuality of a passage.
So what does Noah’s story tell us? Umm, I’m not sure I can answer that with any confidence. I’m feeling more confident though, that we don’t have to worry too much about androgynous earthworms.
Though I do have a question – presumably the flood was freshwater (from rain). So what happened to all the little fishies in the salty sea? I didn’t see any specifications for a large saltwater tank on the ark. Deep, pressing question, I know.
Just in case you’re curious, a joint US-Turkish expedition is searching for Noah’s Ark this summer. Apparently some people believe an object nestled on Turkey's Mount Ararat is the ark. I don’t know what else to say…
Friday, April 23, 2004
Check out this story about the popularity of personality tests on the web at Yahoo News. You saw it here first – somebody from Reuters must be reading my blog. Or maybe I’m suffering delusions of grandeur. I better go find an online test to verify that…|
Thursday, April 22, 2004
Yeah for me!
You are a GRAMMAR GOD!
If your mission in life is not already to
preserve the English tongue, it should be.
Congratulations and thank you!
How grammatically sound are you?
brought to you by Quizilla
Will the legacy of the internet be endless quizzes?
What kind of thinker are you?
Online test based on Jung – Myers-Briggs typology
Tickle: IQ and Personality Tests
Personality Tests and Tools
The Political Compass
What’s your spiritual type?
What kind of Christian are you?
I’m lacking inspiration today. Here’s my attempt at a deep thought for today: Is the reason we’re so focused on all of these quizzes and tests that our society is so completely unreflective that we have to turn to this crap to tell us who we are? Do we lack the ability to understand ourselves or do we just not care?
Wednesday, April 21, 2004
Blogs and Talk Radio???
There’s a really interesting article here that discusses the political implications of blogging and makes a very interesting comparison of blogging to talk radio. The main difference between the two, however (as their argument goes), is that blogging keeps a history. The consequence is that your political foes (should you be so lucky as to have political foes) can go back and check your archives at any point. Talk radio, on the other hand, doesn’t provide the same convenience. One interesting argument is that people are surprised by the extremism of conservative talk radio because relatively few people are exposed to it, and it is much more difficult to track the history of what any particular commentator actually says.
One of the best examples is that of Rush Limbaugh’s short stint on ESPN. The author argues he was hired because the demographics of his show reflected the crowd ESPN wanted to reach. They never bothered to carefully check what he actually believed or had said. So Rush makes one comment that is construed as racist, and he’s gone. They argue that he probably wouldn’t have ever been offered the job if the producers at ESPN had paid much attention to the stuff he was saying.
Uh oh…so my posts here might potentially be derailing my 2008 run for the Presidency?!?! Better stop now.
Work sucks – what’s new?
I hate my job. I hate getting up in the morning and I spend all week looking forward to Friday at 5:00 p.m. I’m miserable at work for a variety of uninteresting reasons, but because of the state of the job market, I’m more or less stuck where I’m at. After the latest in a string of events at work that didn’t go my way, a (very well intentioned) friend said, “Brian, God has a plan for your life.” God, if you’re listening right now, your plan sucks. Don’t get me wrong – my personal life is great. I have a fantastic family and friends and I thoroughly enjoy almost every minute I’m away from work. The exceptions usually involve cat puke, taking out the garbage, and explosive diaper situations.
The whole “plan for your life” thing has always bothered me. As Christians we’re led to understand that God only wants the best for us. Though sometimes we’ll suffer, but we really don’t know why (See an interesting post on this at Dry Bones Dance). What I’ve taken from this is that if work (or romance, church, family, etc.) sucks, it must be because we’re not following God’s plan.
Jay Voorhees (Only Wonder Understands) has an interesting discussion on this topic coming out of a discussion on salvation. I know I’ll probably butcher his point here, but he suggests that in a creation-centered theology (in contrast to a cross-centered theology) a loving and compassionate God woos us rebellious humans with the “intention for redemption and restoration.” Free will is necessary to allow us to choose God. The connection to the above discussion is that the existence of free will suggests that God doesn’t have every aspect of our life planned out. So the fact that I hate my job is my fault, not God’s.
To be serious for a moment, I don’t know what to do. Do I try to convince myself that I’m actually happy at work? Do I persevere knowing my current professional misery is part of God’s perfect design? Do I look for a job where I will be happy?
I was at some seminar or conference some time ago and someone (I have a great memory, don’t I?) said something to the effect of, “If you could be doing any job in the world, what would it be? And if it isn’t what you’re doing now, why aren’t you?” I think I disagree with the notion that there is one, perfect job out there for all of us. There are a lot of things that I think it would be fun and intellectually challenging to do. The problem is that what I’m doing now isn’t one of those things.
I think the Christian practice would be to pray for discernment about what God wants me to do. But to be honest, I have a tough time with discernment. I think that I let my desires overwhelm anything else. I also think that I have a tendency to believe that if I’m doing something I like then God must want me to do it, and if I’m not, then I must not be listening to God. How do we keep our deepest desires, needs, and fears from influencing “real” discernment.
Jimmy (I don’t know Jimmy, but I don’t know his last name either, otherwise I would use it) at In Search of Truth, Blue Cheese, and a Platform, makes an interesting proposal in regards to discernment. Basically, people within churches should be part of a covenant group committed to a process of helping the individuals within the group discern God’s will for their lives in respect to major commitments – like marriage, having children, etc. The idea is that in community, decisions are not simply a private affair. Also, the group process helps avoid the problem I mentioned above – that our inner desires might cloud our vision and obscure God’s plan (if God does have a plan). There’s a part of me that is attracted to the idea.
Here comes the inevitable “but.” But, there are a couple of things I wonder about. First, what guarantee is there really that a group will be any better at discerning God’s will than us as individuals? There are plenty of examples from history of group dynamics that were destructive and not interested in advancing God’s kingdom (Nazis, communists, religious cults, etc.). Second, if we are ultimately held responsible for our actions (ethically, legally, spiritually/religiously), might that obligate us to make our own decisions? Group input is nice, but the buck stops with me.
I also think that there is definitely a place for groups and community in the individual decision-making process. I’m just not sure where the line is. So, feel free to offer advice about my job situation. Will I follow it? Depends on whether I like it or not. =) (Just kidding!)
Tuesday, April 20, 2004
Abortion - a personal reflection
The subject of abortion has been weighing heavily on my heart. I’ve meant to write about it, but I haven’t been able to. One of the reasons is that someone close to me has had an abortion recently. This happened at a time when they were emotionally distant, and she has started renewing connections to family and friends. I was afraid that I might offend her with what I might write and set the process back.
I’m still afraid. I’m more afraid though that if I’m silent I might miss an opportunity to speak to her heart. The reason for writing this is that I think there are a couple of ways to approach the issue that avoid the pro-life/pro-choice quagmire. I’m not going to try to approach them all at once – this may take a while.
On Easter, I was in Nampa, Idaho attending church at the Nampa First Church of the Nazarene. At one point in the service, I noticed a teenager wearing a t-shirt that said (in bright, capital letters) “Abortion is Homicide.” I thought, "oh, my!" I didn't expect to see that in church.
The legal implication of saying “abortion is homicide” is that women who have abortions are murderers and belong in prison. But as Christians, is that the proper response? The trouble I have with that young man’s t-shirt is that I don’t think women who have abortions belong in prison. I think that probably a lot of the women that have abortions do so because they are afraid, alone, and part of a culture that tells them they have no other choice. Our responsibility as Christians is to reach out to them and let them know that they are not alone, they do have other choices, and while we can’t make the fear go away, we can be present for and with them.
I think out here in the west, the Methodist Church is pretty soft on abortion. I think a lot of men and women in the church see the choice, somewhat understandably, as being between pro-choice (meaning pro-woman) or being shouting, angry, sign-holding, clinic-blocking protesters. We’re losing an opportunity to present a “third” way – a Christ-centered loving and compassionate approach that is both pro-woman and pro-child.
The decision of someone in my life to have an abortion has left me heartbroken. I mourn the loss of that child, but even more deeply felt is my pain that this person couldn’t come to me when they realized that they were pregnant. Sarah and I would have adopted the baby in a second. We would have paid her medical expenses without blinking. Is there something we could have done to change her mind? Is there anything I could have said that would have made a difference?
I’ve tried to let her know since then what I’ve said above. I hope she knows that next time she can turn to us. I hope that she lets God into her life. I hope and pray that there is not a next time, but if there is, please let her talk to someone who can let her know that there is another way.
Monday, April 19, 2004
In the last several days, a story has broken about how Randall Terry’s (the founder of Operation Rescue) is homosexual. Jamiel Terry “came out” officially in an article in Out Magazine (an excerpt of the article is available at Beliefnet). Randall Terry responded with a commentary at the World Net Daily. They were each interviewed separately and those are available at Beliefnet also (Jamiel Terry, Randall Terry).
Jamiel Terry rejects his father’s anti-homosexual beliefs and Randall Terry feels his son “sold out” the family by accepting money for his "coming out" article. Randall Terry stated that his son is no longer welcome in his home because he feels his son does not respect the privacy of the family and might reveal more to the press.
I don’t want to get in the middle of this and argue that one or the other is right. I think it is incredibly sad that this matter is getting played out in the public eye. This is obviously an incredibly difficult issue for that family, and I’m sure the media attention won’t help resolve it.
I also wonder about the ethics and responsibility of the media. I’m sure they’d respond that Randall Terry’s public anti-gay stance make his son’s sexuality an issue of public interest. Certainly, it is also the case that his son contacted Out Magazine and this isn’t a circumstance of him being “outed” by the media. I just wish that the media didn’t report these kinds of stories with such gusto. It's hard to be witness to such pain in any family, no matter what your political leanings are.
I had a humbling realization this morning. At least one person that I don’t know (personally) has actually read portions of my blog. Also, another person I don’t know has put a link to my blog on their blog. Up until this morning, as far as I knew anyway, only my wife and a couple of friends read my crazy ranting. Now people I’ve never met may actually form opinions about me based on what I write. What a scary and exciting thought!
It’s like wandering around the house with my pajamas on. With Sarah, Claire and some close friends, I’m not self-conscious at all. But now I just realized I’m wearing pajamas and there is a stranger, more-or-less, in the house.
Implications of this feeling – maybe I should start to proof-read and spell-check my posts more closely…
Thursday, April 15, 2004
I feel like I’ve been doing a lot of questioning lately. I’m feeling like a skeptic. Maybe part of the problem is Christians are often bombarded by messages (usually from other Christians) that tell us that “real” Christians don’t question. Real Christians don’t need to question because our faith should resolve all those nagging issues. What does that say about my faith?
I stumbled across an interesting blog today from the Vineyard Community in West Palm Beach, Florida. I read an article called "
Good Theology Matters." The author, Mike Bishop, makes an interesting argument. Here are a couple of his thoughts:
“So much of the theology around seems to be generated in order to defend pre-determined ideas about who is right and who is wrong or what's offensive or not offensive. Theology that simply protests another group's ideas is simply an argument - not theology. If we're constantly having to defend our theology against competing groups, then possibly the issue is pride, not determining "the truth". On the other hand, theology that simply warms the heart will leave the rest of your body and life untouched. Ideas about God are worthless unless they cost something or cause you to lose sleep at night.”
“Theology is really about how you practice life in light of God. The only way your theology can be meaningful to others is if it actually makes sense with the way you practice life and if that way of life is worth pursuing.”
One of the common themes in the postmodern church movement is a need to create space for ordinary people to “do” theology. I think ordinary people usually think of THEOLOGY (imagine a grizzled, gray haired, bearded professor saying, “THEOLOGY”) as the dominion of academics. For most United Methodists, how many of us really know what the official theology of the church is? How many of us actually own a copy of the Book of Discipline (I don’t)?
Bishop goes on to talk about the idea of faith. He quotes N.T. Wright (a renowned Biblical scholar) as pointing out that Jews don’t see Judaism as faith. They see it as a halakah, a way, or a “life-path”. That makes sense to me. It ties back to Borg’s critique of conservative Christianity as primarily a belief system rather than a way of life. Maybe a part of the “way” of being Christian is to question? It seems to me that Christianity would be more powerful if it showed the world a way of life, rather than primarily a peculiar belief system.
This reminds me of the dc Talk song, "What if I Stumble." The song begins with some guy saying (not an exact quote) "The biggest cause of atheism in the world is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips and deny him with their actions." But I think the issue goes well beyond hypocrisy. I think the problem is that Christianity in America doesn’t really tell us powerfully what it means to be a Christian. When you think about the images you get from the media about what it means to be Christian, it’s not particularly compelling. You see people who picket abortion clinics and behave like monsters, people who feel strongly about praying before high school football games, people who care deeply about the sexual practices of homosexuals, and people who refuse to watch R-rated TV and movies, unless of course they’re bloody, violent movies about Jesus. Really, what do any of those things tell us about being Christian?
In the Methodist Church, I think we could do a better job helping us ordinary people understand how our social mission relates to our theology. But, when you think about attracting “unchurched” people, I’m not sure we have a good story to tell them. Why should they show up to our little church in Aloha when they could stay home and watch football? I’m not sure that churches with “gen-x” worship services really do much better – they just have a product that’s more entertaining (and louder?) than what’s on TV. But how do we convince people that being a Christian can change your life? That the Christian halakah is different?
Back to the Vineyard Community in Florida. Their "About Us" section talks about a way of “doing” church that really appeals to me. Basically they have quasi-organized gatherings where people walking the same path get together. That might involve singing, prayer, bible study, or just watching their kids running around. It is about connections with people trying to walk the same path and being in community. It sounds fantastic and maybe a little revolutionary. I’m not saying that we need to get rid of Sunday worship, but what if the UMC really focused on creating communities of faith? We talk about it, but most of the people in our church only see each other on Sunday for the most part. How can we create a sustaining, comforting, and nurturing community that is focused on living a Christian life? One of the things they talk about is that Church doesn’t have to happen at the church. Church can happen anytime Christians get together. That’s a powerful idea!
So I decided to check out the national Vineyard USA website. I checked out their statement of faith, and sure enough they’re biblical literalists (and believe in its inerrancy). Using their church-finder, I found a Vineyard community in Hillsboro. Sure enough, they’re biblical literalists too. I found my enthusiasm fading quickly. Right now I’m having trouble taking seriously anyone who believes the inspired/inerrant/literal school of thought. I find it to be an absolutely untenable position. Am I taking this too seriously? I wasn’t about the jump off the Methodist ship so to speak, but I found the Vineyard ideas interesting. I guess they can still be interesting even if we differ on some big theological issues.
Getting back to the theology issue – I think biblical literalism/inerrancy is a question of “truth” and how we live (to reference the quote above). I think it speaks to the relevancy of the Bible in modern times and our philosophical approach to Christianity. I really don’t think it is an unimportant issue. An interesting side note, in one of the Catholic.com articles I posted the link to yesterday, they discuss the issue of Christian “essentials” versus “non-essentials” (I think that was the terminology they used). They point out that nowhere in the Bible does it talk about essentials versus non-essentials. I think their point being it’s all essential.
I’ve written too much today. Gotta stop.
Wednesday, April 14, 2004
A couple from church stopped by tonight. They're great people and we really enjoy talking to them. Tonight they told us that they've been trying to have a baby for a year and a half. The drugs she has take cause her a great deal of pain. During that time we've gotten pregnant and had Claire. It's sad when people who would be such great parents have trouble getting pregnant.
It's amazing how lucky we've been and we don't always realize that. I pray that they'll get pregnant soon. It's so hard to understand how some people abort children when others go through excruciating pain trying to get pregnant. It's hard to understand the lack of justice in the world sometimes.
I’ve been thinking about inspiration the last couple of days. Biblical inspiration, to be more precise. I’m having real trouble with the argument that the Bible is divinely inspired. Most protestant Christians argue for the divine inspiration of the Bible based on specific passages in the New Testament (2 Timothy 3:16-17, John 20:31, 2 Peter 1:20, 21). Though, I think anyone with any scientific training or background in argumentation will tell you that a text’s own claim to truthfulness is not a very compelling argument.
Catholics have an interesting perspective on the issue. They argue that fundamentalist/evangelical Protestants are missing the boat for a couple of reasons. First, if you read the scriptural passages in question in context, it is doubtful that they are making the claim that fundamentalists would assert they are. Secondly, and I think more convincingly, that even if those passages were making the claim that all scripture is divinely inspired, the canon as we know it today didn’t exist then! Thus the fundamentalist claim is based on an inaccurate understanding of what constituted “Scripture” when John and Paul (in particular) were writing.
Apparently Catholics agree that the Bible is inspired (but I think they see it differently than fundamentalist Protestants), but they get there another way. First, the reliability of the Bible has been verified by history. Out of the Bible the infallible church was founded. The infallible church tells us that the Bible is inspired. The important implication of this argument is that the infallible church can tell us the correct interpretation of the divinely inspired Bible. In the fundamentalist tradition (the Catholic argument goes), there is no authority to guide interpretation. Loonies like me can read the Bible and run with our own crazy ideas.
I appreciate the Catholic argument against the fundamentalist tradition, but frankly the Catholic argument for inspiration doesn’t do much for me. Basically it boils down to “the Bible is inspired because the Pope says so.”
Before I go on, here are my sources for the Catholic arguments. These come from Catholic Answers, which is a very informative website and has helped me to understand a lot about what Catholics believe. These are some of the tracts from the website:
- What’s Your Authority? – an entertaining imaginary conversation between a Catholic and Protestant evangelist.
- Scripture and Tradition
- Proving Inspiration
If you have some time it’s a fun site to explore.
Going on… If we accept the premise that the writers of Scripture (from Old Testament prophets to the authors of the Gospels to Paul) were divinely inspired, did God stop inspiring people? Is our test of inspiration the fact that they were canonized? Did God stop speaking to the world after 100 or 200 A.D.?
What if Paul was just a guy? Albeit, a very influential guy that did a great deal to create the Christian church. What about other men and women through history? Were people like St. Augustine, Martin Luther, Susanna Wesley, John Wesley, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Martin Luther King, Maya Angelou, (sorry, I don’t know many female Christian theologians) and others divinely inspired? Could their writings carry as much divine weight as those of Paul?
Really, in either the Catholic or Protestant traditions, how do we know the Bible was divinely inspired? And if we can know that, do we have to believe that God has stopped inspiring? What is the test we use to determine inspiration? Are my writings inspired by God? What if I assert that they are?
I don’t have an answer. I’m not sure that anyone could give me a satisfying answer. Is there an answer?
Tuesday, April 13, 2004
I’m no longer a Christian. I now worship Bubu, the divine grasshopper God. Bubu teaches that it is our right as divinely created creatures to feast on the harvests of others. If we follow the teaching of Bubu faithfully, we can be reincarnated as a grasshopper. If we fall from the teachings, when we die our appendages are slowly plucked off by sadistic human child-like figures. There is no love your neighbor in Bubism. The prime directive is to feast! Fill your needs first. If you help others, you are not a true Bubist.
Just kidding. You see what I did there? I constructed a basic moral/ethical system based on absolutist values. I read some comments in a blog today (I won’t bother to link to it) where some idiot was arguing that Republicans are the party of God because they are moral absolutists and Democrats are all moral relativists. I’m tempted to swear here, but I won’t. What total nonsense.
There are several assumptions that underlie that belief system. First, a belief in God is necessary to avoid total moral relativism. Second, Democrats (and liberals generally) don’t believe in God and must therefore all be moral relativists. I started addressing the first argument above. You can construct any number of moral systems based on absolutist beliefs. Some systems are based on the Bible and Christian beliefs. Others might as well be based on grasshopper worship.
You can construct secular moral systems based on principles such as valuing human life, or protecting the environment. What characterizes absolutist moral systems is the idea that there are basic, first principles which are essentially unchallengeable. Well, our acceptance of those first principles are based on our accepting certain assumptions – like whether or not God exists. It is perfectly reasonable that people’s belief systems start from different assumptions that are characterized by different first principles. To argue that monotheistic religion is sole source of absolutism is ridiculous.
Radical environmentalists (like Earth First!, or the Earth Liberation Front) are very absolutist and they are not monotheists. See the postmodernism discussion in my earlier blog posts for a longer discussion on the dangers of absolutism. My point here is that lots of people are absolutists (like the Nazis) that most Christians (who feel very strongly about being absolutist) would not want to be associated with.
The second argument that all Democrats must be moral relativists because they are not Christian ignores the fact that many progressive Christians are Democrats. The reality in America is that religious belief crosses party lines. To make a blanket argument like that shows the ignorance of the author.
I’ll finish this argument later. The thought for later is that a lot of the people who claim to be moral absolutists really aren’t that good at being absolutist.
Monday, April 12, 2004
So – now I’ll discuss the sermon at the Nampa First Church of the Nazarene. The worship service was interesting:
Lots of singing (mix of traditional Easter hymns and praise music)
Offertory (no presentation of offertory – once the plates were done passing around that was the end of that part)
They get their music out of the way early. For communion, the pastor said it was open table, but that if you had unresolved sin he asked that you confess it to Jesus and ask for forgiveness before taking the elements. Anyway…
The pastor was preaching from John 20. Frankly, I’m not sure what the point was of his sermon. He talked for quite a while, but a lot of it was kind of nonsensical. One of the points he made was in relation to Mary Magdalene going to the tomb and being upset at the absence of Jesus’ body. The pastor said, (my best recollection of his words) “Here was Mary Magdalene at the epicenter of human history, and she was concerned about a missing corpse.” His point seemed to be that this stupid woman was completely missing the point. However, that seems pretty unfair when you consider the very next part of that same chapter is Jesus appearing to Thomas who wouldn’t believe without seeing. The pastor didn’t criticize Thomas.
Also, when John 20: 8-9 says the other disciple (John) enters the tomb, sees the empty clothes, and believes. But the next sentence says, “(They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.)” The pastor was criticizing Mary Magdalene for not knowing scripture, when John says Peter and John didn’t know it either. It seemed the pastor wanted to show Mary Magdalene as a poor, stupid woman who loved Jesus in spite of her ignorance. But the disciples weren’t exactly shining paragons of knowledge and good sense either. What’s the point in criticizing Mary Magdalene?
I really don’t have much else to say. I think the point of his sermon was that Jesus was resurrected and we should be happy. But I’m not exactly sure, either. He was very repetitive and the message was pretty simple. I’m hoping I just tuned out and missed what he was trying to say, rather than my understanding being all that there was.
My impression of the church was that it was mostly style, and not much substance. It was scripted down to the minute and felt like a show, more than a church service. I’m having trouble nailing down (probably a poor analogy for an Easter service) what bothered me about the service. I mostly just feel unsatisfied and empty. It’s a good thing that I don’t feel that way after church at home.
As a side note, I did some reading today about the differences between Nazarenes and Methodists. Apparently Nazarenes come from the “holiness” movement and believe in a two-part process of salvation. First comes “regeneration” which is your basic ticket to heaven, but if you are a dutiful, devoted, and faithful Christian you can achieve “Christian perfection” through sanctification.
Christianity Today has a blog that covers all sorts of topics, but today they’re covering a controversy of sorts surrounding John Kerry and his Catholic faith. I guess the big question was whether any Catholic church was going to bar him from taking Communion for his pro-choice stance. Apparently a couple of Catholic churches in Nebraska have already said that he is not welcome to take communion there.
This seems absolutely ridiculous to me on so many levels I don’t even know where to start. First, I think abortion is a terrible thing. I have trouble believing that so many people in our society support destroying lives and robbing the world of the potential that those unborn children represent. However, I don’t think that abortion should be illegal. I especially support abortion when it is necessary to protect the life of the mother.
I highlight my beliefs to illustrate the difference between a personal belief and a political belief. John Kerry may very well oppose abortion on a personal level, but political positions are a different beast. My point here is that we can’t ever be sure what John Kerry, George Bush, Krusty the Clown or anyone else really thinks or believes. Are Catholics really willing to deny communion to someone based on what they believe someone thinks?
My second complaint is that I think society is going too far in making the private piety of politicians a public affair (that alliterates well – not even on purpose – try saying “the private piety of politicians a public” five times quickly). We’re not having an election for the Pope – the last time I checked we’re trying to elect the President. It’s fine with me if people want to elect a Christian, but do we really need to engage in strict doctrinal litmus tests in the public sphere?
Finally, it bugs me that George Bush gets a total pass from the religious right on these same questions. He is our great Christian President, of unquestionable morals, unshakeable faith, appointed by the most high himself to safeguard America, the last and best great bastion of Christendom.
I wonder what Jesus would say about waging a war on false pretenses, changing tax policy to further enrich the wealthy at the expense of the working class, and supporting policies that degrade our environment? If we’re going to subject John Kerry to intense, dogmatic doctrinal/religious scrutiny, George Bush should get the same treatment.
But really, what absolute nonsense. Is it a matter of public policy if a Presidential candidate takes communion? I think some of the religious right would vote against Jesus Christ if he ran as a Democrat. Partisanship in this country has sunk to unbelievable levels of stupidity. Instead of actually talking about issues that matter we focus on inane details. We might as well get out the measuring tape and check their penis length.
Can you tell I’m grumpy this morning?
For the record, I really don’t care that much who gets elected President. Until we fix campaign financing we’re tied to a system of legal bribery that is only interested in gaining and maintaining power. Ethics, progress, and hope are completely irrelevant. Kerry, Bush, Krusty the Clown – it doesn’t matter. We might be better off with a fictional cartoon character as president. I’d be willing to experiment.
We’re back from Nampa. Nampa reminded me a lot of Denver in terms of landscape and climate, but without the culture. That’s mean, but kind of funny and maybe a little true.
Anyway, we attended a production called “No Greater Love” and Easter services at the Nampa First Church of the Nazarene. “No Greater Love” is based on a musical that was written back in the ‘60s, but has been extensively edited and rewritten by Sarah’s aunt. It is basically a retelling of the life of Jesus with a lot of music. The production was huge – 300+ people in the cast, a full orchestra, massive set, and even a live camel! The story takes place at some point after the resurrection with Paul, Peter, and John ministering to new Christians. A Roman official shows up with an arrest warrant for Paul. Apparently Paul has converted the Roman official’s wife’s sister and slave. The official’s wife wants Paul tried for stealing the slave and corrupting her sister.
The rest of the story is Paul and the apostles (Thomas shows up later) recounting the story of Jesus to the Roman official and his wife. Then, predictably, the official and his wife become Christians and the show has its triumphant ending. Then the senior Pastor got up and did an altar call, more or less.
A couple of thoughts about the show… I think I blogged about this issue last week, but if I didn’t it’s one of the issues Marcus Borg raises in “The Heart of Christianity.” That is, the emphasis of conservative Christianity (what he calls the “traditional view”) on belief. He describes the essential characteristic of the traditional view is of Christians as “believers.” What makes one Christian is holding a particular set of beliefs (particular to your denomination/sect). Those beliefs may include the historical veracity of the Bible, the truth of particular church doctrines, or the truth your flavor of theology. The point being that the emphasis is on belief, not action. It’s not, “they’ll know we’re Christians by our love,” but rather, “they’ll know we’re Christians by what we believe.”
Anyway, back to the show. Paul, Peter and John were trying to convince the Roman official to believe in Jesus. By affirming the truth of the resurrection story the official’s doubt was dispelled. They were convinced that their sin was forgiven despite the fact that they had been horrible people. They were also mourning the death of their child, and questioning how God could allow that to happen. Then the official’s wife’s sister told them that God loved them, and all was well. I know this was just one production, but it really seemed to be theology-lite. It provided simple answers to very complicated questions and really nothing about what happens next. So I became a Christian – so what? What does it mean to be a Christian? The character Paul said several times that God promises a “full” life, but not necessarily a happy one. What does that mean?
The production and altar call was focused on getting people to accept Jesus. But what happens next? How is the church going to care for those people who just came to Jesus? I don’t know why this bothers me so much. I think part of the reason is that it reminds me of experiences with evangelical Christians while I was in high school. They were very concerned about me accepting Jesus – beyond that they didn’t care much about what happened to me. This sort of evangelizing is basically all about getting a one-way ticket to heaven. But to really be a Christian means much more. It seems incredibly irresponsible to tell people that they’ll go to hell if they don’t accept Jesus, but not also tell them about what it means to be an authentic Christian. It’s like those deals where they give you a free trip to somewhere warm with the condition that you hear a sales pitch about buying a time share. It’s the same kind of high-pressure sales tactic and they never tell you what the catch is. I think there must be a more responsible way to do evangelism.
I’ll write about the sermon later.
Wednesday, April 07, 2004
No more blogging this week. Going to Nampa, Idaho to see family! Sarah's uncle is the mayor of Nampa. Pretty cool!|
There is an excellent interview available online at The Atlantic Monthly website. The interview is with Scott Turow, a lawyer and novelist who wrote Presumed Innocent, which was turned into a movie with Harrison Ford and some other people. Anyway, he’s written a book on the death penalty and how he went from being a death penalty “agnostic” to an opponent. He is a former federal prosecutor and served on a commission appointed by former Illinois governor George Ryan to examine the death penalty in that state. Shortly before his term ended, Governor Ryan commuted the death sentence of every death-row inmate in Illinois to a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.
He makes a couple of very interesting points. Michigan and Illinois are apparently nearly identical in terms of size and population makeup. Illinois has the death penalty while Michigan does not. If it is true that the death penalty is a deterrent, logic would suggest that Illinois would have a lower murder rate. Guess what? That’s not true. Michigan’s is lower. Also, Texas, which executes more prisoners than any other state in the nation, has a murder rate higher than the national average. Is the death penalty a deterrent? The research would suggest otherwise.
Well, read the article yourself if you’re interested. It is very interesting to see how his perspective changed. It is also interesting because he’s not a crazy, bleeding-heart liberal. He is a former federal prosecutor, but has also provided pro-bono defenses to death row inmates. Interesting guy.
There is also an interesting commentary by Jack Beatty titled, “The Faith-Based Presidency.” It is a very, very harsh critique of George Bush and takes an even nastier turn that I’ll get to in a second. Here’s a snapshot of some of his comments:
“Or his [Bush’s] troubles with truth arise because he bases his thoughts on authority not reality.”
“A magnetic north of untruth, he's a stranger to the art of rational persuasion…”
“He doesn't explain his policies because he can't—and because they don't make sense.”
Now here is where he gets me.
"You can question Bush's veracity, his grip on reality, and the rationality of his policies, but not his faith. Turning to Jesus to escape from drinking was the turning point in his life. Sincerity, unreservedly giving your heart to Jesus, is the fulcrum of life-altering faith, say people who have experienced it. Reason, skepticism, critical thought, irony, argument—all threaten this sustaining emotional purity. You owe your life to a miracle, and it will go away if doubt creeps in.”
Beatty is basically saying that Christianity is incompatible with reason, skepticism, critical thought, irony and argument. Give me a break. The issue of how Bush’s faith affects his politics is probably legitimate. I think we can question the factual assumptions (or lack thereof) behind his policy and politics, but to label all Christians as irrational, unquestioning, emotional, and naïve is frankly pretty insulting. I think one of the problems with the left in this country is a lot of them invest absolutely no energy in understanding or even recognizing the heterogeneity of Christian thought and practice in America. Anyone who would paint all Christians with the same broad brush clearly knows almost nothing about Christianity and Christians.
Now, to be honest, I have to admit that I’ve run into some Christians in my life that fit Beatty’s description, or are pretty darn close. But I’ve met a whole lot more who are thoughtful, intelligent people and are powerful advocates for their faith. Some of these people are fairly conservative and/or evangelical Christians. I’m all for Bush-bashing, but to claim that Bush can’t explain his policies because they don’t make any sense when at the same time the author is making blanket, nonsensical criticisms is the height of hypocrisy.
This was going to be a short entry. Someday I need to learn to be concise.
Tuesday, April 06, 2004
I was thinking about why I frequently read things like Christianity Today, where I almost never agree with what they have to say. I realized a couple of things. First, it’s more entertaining to read material written from a conservative perspective because it usually catches me off-guard. I know what to expect from liberals, but conservatives surprise me frequently. Second, I think I learn more about what I believe by reading articles written by people who disagree with me.
I think people, myself included, have a tendency to set up those we disagree with as straw-men. We oversimplify and misrepresent their arguments in order to knock them down. By reading and learning about the perspective of those I disagree with I gain a more nuanced view of what they believe. Then forces me to think seriously about their arguments and respond substantively. I think a lot of people in our society today, on both sides of the political spectrum, only expose themselves to the opinions of those that they agree with. It’s a mutually reinforcing system in which no one ever learns anything and people adopt increasingly extreme positions.
We’ve created a culture of political, social, and religious discourse that is undergoing its own cold war, of sorts. Because neither side ever invests serious effort in actually understanding the opposing position, each side has to “invest” in increasingly extreme ideology to maintain its uniqueness and primacy. The corollary to the increasing extremity of ideology is the simultaneous oversimplification of public discourse. It is much easier to convey extreme positions in short, simple, catchy statements. Talk radio, both liberal and conservative, is a perfect example. Talk radio hosts present a very simple, very ideological view of the world. There is little to no interest in understanding the nuance of ideas or the complexity of reality. I think the result is that we have a bankruptcy of ideas. We’re trapped in the dogma of extremist, over-simplified ideology.
I think one reason is the sheer volume of information that people are presented with today. On hand it is an incredibly opportunity to view the world from multiple perspectives and really see the complexity of our reality. On the other hand, I think the sheer volume of information is absolutely overwhelming to a lot of people. So rather than deal with information overload, they retreat to sources that reinforce their worldview. Most people don’t do very well with information that threatens their preconceived notions about how the world works.
How do we fix this? No idea.
Here’s an interesting article on postmodernism from a Methodist perspective. The article is from Covenant Discipleship Quarterly, a publication of Covenant Discipleship, which is a small group ministry of the United Methodist Church.|
Last night during the news I saw one of NBC’s very short public service announcements. It was an actor from one of their shows (can’t remember which) who said basically, don’t judge anyone – ever. That left me a little unsettled, but I wasn’t entirely sure why. I’ve also been thinking about this poem my sister-in-law keeps talking about. It is called, “The Field Beyond” by Jalaluddin Rumi.
Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field. I'll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in the grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase `each other'
doesn't make any sense.
Rumi was a 13th century Sufi poet and mystic. Sufism is a sect/branch of Islam and Sufi’s believe that they are on a spiritual path and that they can become close to God while they are alive, while apparently most Muslims believe they achieve that closeness in paradise. Apparently, as part of their spiritual path Sufis produced a great deal of literature, of which this poem is a part. Here is a link to a page put together by a professor at University of Georgia on Sufism. This same professor, Alan Godlas, has a whole slew of other resources on Islam. He’s even won awards for his webpage. Here’s a link to his main website. Here’s an interesting article on the revival of interest in Rumi’s poetry in the US from the Christian Science Monitor. That is totally off track of where I was going, but interesting to learn.
This poem unsettles me a bit, also. Now, I’m not some Christian legalist and moral absolutist, but I think we need some room in our language and discourse for rightness and wrongness. I am judging George Bush when I say that I think it was wrong to go to war in Iraq. I believe it is wrong to hurt children. I believe it is wrong for corporate executives to steal from their shareholders and defraud the government. Does that make me a bad person? A less enlightened person?
Jesus famously said, ‘Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.’ John 8:7 (NRSV) Was Jesus really saying that we shouldn’t judge anyone? Or maybe that before we execute sinners we should think about our own sin? Now, I just pretend to know something about theology, so I’ll stop before I get myself in trouble. I think the point here is that if our society is going to maintain any sort of moral compass, we absolutely have to have standards of rightness and wrongness.
Now there is a whole legitimate discussion we can have about rightness, wrongness, and grace in the theological/church context. I’m still reading Yancey’s “What So Amazing About Grace?” and I think he would argue that most churches focus too much on rightness and wrongness, and not enough on grace. Through grace, we’re all saved from our wrongness regardless of our worthiness.
Here’s where I’m torn. I believe that Christians should be able to speak out against evil and injustice (both types of wrongness) in the world. But I think the danger is that our compass for identifying evil and injustice is very susceptible to our internal bias and bigotry. For example, James Dobson (of Focus on the Family fame) was in Portland yesterday telling 2,000+ ministers that gay marriage is a battle for America’s soul and Oregon is one of the key battlefronts.
Relating to my blog from yesterday, is Dobson’s position based on a “true” biblical interpretation, or is it based on his own perception and worldview irrespective of other interpretations of the Bible? The problem is (if you’re honest with yourself) that it is essentially impossible to establish, beyond a reasonable doubt, so to speak, the absolute scriptural position on most modern issues, especially gay marriage. So we’ll never know whether Dobson’s condemnation of gay marriage is coming from his superior (factual) understanding of the Bible or an anti-homosexual bigotry.
So the danger as we judge is that our indignation may or may not be righteous. I think that Christians can still be powerful advocates for leading lifestyles that do not embrace the moral depravity of modern culture. But we need to be conscious of where our opposition to our culture comes from – an honest, heartfelt study of Christian principles (led by reason, scripture, tradition and experience) or our own bigotry motivated by fear?
Monday, April 05, 2004
Sorry for not blogging. I’ve been busy, sick, and suffering from writer’s block (probably exhaustion induced). Lately I’ve been thinking about ideas and beliefs. How is it we come to believe certain things and have particular opinions? An interesting aside, I’m reading “The Heart of Christianity” by Marcus Borg. He discusses how many Christians (particularly conservative and evangelical Christians) describe fellow Christians as “believers.” As in, “are you a believer?” Isn’t it interesting how in that language, the sum or essence of being a Christian is whether you believe [a particular and varied arrangement of fact, doctrine, and theology depending on denomination/tradition]? His point is that for a lot of Christians, being a Christian is about much more than what you believe – it is about how you live. I’d never thought of it that way and it definitely makes you think.
Anyway, there is an article on the Scientific American website "Smart People Believe Weird Things," that caught my attention. You can read the article for yourself, but basically the premise is that people’s ideas are seldom based on facts, logic, and/or reason alone (if at all). Rather, most people’s beliefs are based on genetic predispositions, cultural influences, parental influences, etc. People select the logic and facts that support their beliefs and discard everything else.
I think the point isn’t that everything we believe needs to be based on cold, hard facts. Contrary to what you hear in a lot of conservative churches, I think that being a Christian involves the heart more than the head. But, as we reflect on what we believe, I think we need to be honest with ourselves about where those beliefs come from. It’s one thing to say that the sun is actually blue and there is empirical evidence to prove it. It’s another thing entirely to say that you’ve been raised to believe that the sun is blue, and even though it appears yellow, that is really an elaborate deception. I think in political and religious discourse we don’t do a very good job distinguishing between the two types of statements. We argue beliefs as though they are facts and visa versa.
We need to create spaces for our religious and political discussions where we can consider the facts without spin (there’s a very interesting, post-modernism discussion that could happen here about whether that is even possible, but let’s operate under the assumption that it is) and our beliefs as just that – beliefs. Rather than focus on the validity of someone else’s belief system (which is essentially a factual inquiry), we should look at the intersections of belief systems with fact, and competing/cooperating belief systems.
Is this practical? No. A nice idea? Yes.