Monday, June 28, 2010

What is Agreement?

God has so made the human mind that, as soon as people really begin to think, they begin to differ. If, therefore, there is no difference of opinion in a church, it shows that there is no individual thought in that church. Men think alike only by not thinking at all. This is assent, not conviction. Such belief is, in reality, no belief and has no value. The only agreement in opinion that is worth anything is that harmony which comes after full and free inquiry about subjects on which men differ. Only thus can questions really be settled; without such free discussion, differences are only covered up. ~ Dave Miano


What I took away from this quote is that agreement where there has not been the freedom to question is not really agreement.

We see this all the time in American churches. Many congregants believe their positions to be "bullet proof" correct, yet cannot give an account of why they believe this way. It is not a position they came through by their own discoveries and wrestlings, rather it was imparted. And because many churches hold a tacit agreement within the congregation to peaceably hold to these views, it never occurs to the congregants to think that there might be other possibilities.

This also presents a problem in leadership. In 27 years of Christianity, I have heard many Pastors and leaders state something like this:

"I feel such and so about topic X...... but I could never tell my congregation that".

This is the harmony that the author seems to feel is lacking.

As a personal example: I was taught the penal substitutionary view of atonement; not amidst other views and theories... that was the only option. It was not until much later in my Christianity that I learned that many Christian groups have NEVER accepted that view. So, I didn't really "believe" that position... it was simply the only one I had been taught. My agreement with my fellow parishioners on this issue wasn't really agreement, we simply knew no differently.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Goes Good Together

I really enjoy the writings of Richard Beck over at Experimental Theology.  I consider George McDonald to be my theological guide in many ways.  So, when Beck writes about McDonald... I am having a good day.

His latest post - George McDonald: Justice, Atonement, and Hell - articulates thoughts that have been rolling around in my head for a while.  Specifically, that our typical Christian concept of Justice does not capture the heart of God on the subject.  Very often, it sounds like scales being balanced, or someone getting what's coming to them, exacting a pound of flesh - an eye for an eye.  However, Beck echos in his article a thought that I heard N.T. Wright say a year or so ago.... Justice is when things are put right.

Beck says:

This twofold notion of justice--an act of reconciliation requiring the participation of victims and perpetrators--is at the heart of MacDonald's notion of God's justice and atonement. This is the notion that sits behind his "universalism." That is, God just can't ship people off to hell to earn the label "just." Neither could we view hell as a manifestation of God's justice. Because hell doesn't heal the wounds of sin. Hell doesn't mend. Hell doesn't bring peace. Hell doesn't atone.

I couldn't agree more. The problem with Hell, as it is evangelically interpreted, is that is offers no redemption, no hope, no peace. This runs completely counter to the message of love, hope, and redemption spoken of by Christ. It offers only brokenness. A story that ended badly.

He later says:

A further problem with the allure of substitutionary atonement--to have Jesus suffer the consequences of my sin rather than me getting into the hard work of repentance and reconciliation--is that it is selfish, a theological product of my sin. Substitutionary atonement is an attempt to cling to my sin ever more tightly! Let Christ suffer the consequences of my sin so I don't have to make amends and restitution. I'm off the hook as it were.

I don't think many evangelicals would say they do not have to do repentance or reconciliation, but the underlying thought that all of my wrongs are "paid for" does cause us to often leave those words in their rhetorical state. It becomes less urgent.

I highly recommend the entire article.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Some Things You Just Don't Buy On Clearance

I was waiting for a prescription when I saw this in the isle across from me.  I would think that buying clearance medical supplies is a little iffy as it is. But I gotta believe it is always worth it to spend the extra buck or two to get a fresh batch of Trojans.

Just sayin. :)

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Stop Using Big Words

There is an old episode of the Simpson's where Homer's mother shows up after decades of being thought dead. Lisa and Grandma Simpson discover they have a lot of things in common.

Homer's Mother: You know, Lisa, I feel like I have an instant rapport with you.

Lisa: (visibly moved) You didn't dumb it down. You said "rapport."

I know how Lisa feels. I appreciate when people use finer word selection. I particularly love when someone uses a descriptive term I don't know. I like to use the word predilection. It is a little more specific than tendency, which carries no implication of desire. To me, that is an important differentiation.

However, I have discovered over the years that many people are bothered when someone is more specific in their word selection. They complain scoffingly about the use of "big" and "complex" words.

I see this occasionally in blog conversations. It seems to happen a lot in political or religious discussions. How I see it progress usually is that a person who has bullet-proof belief in certain positions gets frustrated when the cliche' explanations, that worked so well at their church or within their political circle, don't get very far in an open conversation with people of opposing (or just differing) points of view. Because the depth of their argument isn't very deep or nuanced, they start to attack the other person. With me, they usually attack my use of words. Recently, a gentleman accused me of using "big words and phrases" to "sound" right (just for the record, my conversation was no more linguistic than this post
). It never surprises me at this point to hear the person speak, in an almost prideful sort of way, about their lack of vocabulary, or education, or knowledge on a matter.  It is almost as if to say "I know I don't know my topic with any depth, and I therefore can't give a good explanation of my position.... but I still KNOW I am right!"

Has anyone else seen this phenomenon? How do others side-step the conversation with you?  The above approach works with me in a way, because I usually just quit the conversation at that point.


I touched on this topic a few years ago in an article entitled Religious Illiteracy, where I quoted a person from a blog I frequent. She stated her ignorance about theology, but then proceeded to say her points were not open for debate.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Execution of Ronnie Lee Gardner

In a few hours, the state of Utah will be executing Ronnie Lee Gardner for the crime of murder.  I am an adopted son of Utah, and have been very happy with my family's move out here six years ago. However,  I believe our beautiful state is about to commit a shameful act.

I know that most of my ethic on this issue is driven by a belief that Jesus Christ taught correctly and challenged us to be better than our most base selves.  A natural reaction to injury is to desire like for the perpatrator.  We want the scales to be balanced.  An eye for an eye.

It is on this topic that Jesus chose to contradict the laws that, many believe, were handed down by God.

"You have heard that it was said, 'Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.' But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also."

Later, in that same sermon, Jesus said:

"You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.'  But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect."

It is wrong to murder.  A human life should not be taken.  It was wrong when Ronnie Lee Gardner did it 25 years ago.  It will be wrong when the state of Utah - when we - do it tonight.

God forgive us.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

If Churches Educated Instead of Indoctrinated
I am reading a great book by Stephen Prothero entitled Religious Literacy. In it, he makes the case that it is bad for our civic development to be so passionate about our religion, and yet be so woefully ignorant about religion - ours and everyone else's.

I have often lamented how unfortunate it is that our churches do not spend more time on religious education. Many churches teach their own view, but leave their congregation completely ignorant of other views and perspectives.

Mason over at New Ways Forward addressed this recently on his blog.  He suggests we start by ramping up our Sunday morning sermons:

"You don't want to alienate people who are visiting or new to the faith. But that might not be as much of a danger as you think. Give your audience the benefit of the doubt, chances are they can handle a lot more than you think. Technical language might lose them, but depth? If they can follow LOST they can follow your sermon."

Later he says:

"And a suggestion for [bible] classes, don't give just one side. All too often there seems to be a reticence to discuss more than the approved position on a given question and a tendency to present straw men of the opponents. But quite frankly to people of my generation that doesn't make you look strong and assured, it makes you look weak and scared that we'll ditch your views if you're honest with us about the other perspectives."

I think very few churches feel comfortable presenting anything but their own view. How many sermons have you sat through where only one view of ecclesiology, atonement, scripture interpretation, eternity, etc. is presented? The church view is often taught not only as the preferred view, but as if no other view exists.

This is not education, this is indoctrination. Do churches believe that ignorance is bliss? Or do they fear members discovering more compelling alternatives? Is it just easier to keep it simple? I saw a movie about the Civil War where a plantation owner said, "We like to keep the slaves ignorant... they're happier that way".

I try to model varied viewpoints in my own philosophical and spiritual instruction with my children. On a given topic, I articulate how other denominations, religions, or atheists may perceive that issue. I might have an opinion, but I point out to my children people we know who would see the topic differently. My view is not the only game in town.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Radio Interview With Author David Dark

My good friend Brook did a 2 hour (yes, 2 hour) interview with David Dark, author of The Sacredness of Questioning Everything, on local Detroit radio.  As far as I know, it is not streamable anywhere.  I have hosted a download of it through my skydrive account, but I had to compress it down a bit to get it under the 50mg file max... so the audio is so-so.  If anyone knows of a better way to do this, I am all ears.  The original file was 200 mg and some change.

David is one of my favorite authors in theology right now.  This interview is a great peek into his head and heart - and Brook does an excellent job of using every question and comment to its best interviewing potential.  I was surprised at how quickly the two hours passed.  If you want to listen in on a great conversation, download this mp3 file.

Indoctrinate Your Children For Jesus

This video made me nauseous.  The people who made this, and those who like it, would probably call this approach "mind control of children" if it were used for any other religion or political thought they disagreed with.  Can you imagine what Focus on the Family would do with an atheist version of this video?  But when Christians do it, it is fine.  It is inconsistencies like this that cause Christianity to lose its credibility.

Not only is this wrong on an ethical and child rearing side, it is also (imho) just bad BAD theology.

HT: Bruce

On a related note from

Here are some other posts I have written on the subject of children and Christianity:

Baptizing Children
Save Your Kids From Hell!!!
Exclusivism and Parenting

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Craig Evans and Bart Ehrman

I don't think this is really a debate.  For one thing, Evans never really addresses Bart's questions.  The two men just state their case as to what scripture really is.  To me, Evans sounds like he is trying to have it both ways.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

All Get What They Want

One of the things that I noticed in my first years in Salt Lake City was the commonalities between my evangelical upbringing and the LDS (Mormon) faith.  Of particular note were the "faith-building" stories.  In my own Christian subculture, people loved to pass on stories of healings, raisings of the dead, ordained meetings, etc.  It always was a story repeated by someone's cousin who heard a pastor who had talked to a preacher who had heard it from a guy in Africa.... but it DID happen.  When I came to SLC, I discovered Mormons had similar stories in their sub-culture... sometimes the SAME story -  substitute ward for church, bishop for pastor, missionary for... um, missionary, and voila!; your faith gets a shot in the arm!  Where the stories originate, who knows.  There are probably Hindu versions of these stories running around.

I was reminded of this phenomenon when I opened the Faith section of the Salt Lake Tribune this morning.  It seems there is an author and speaker coming to town who died and went to heaven.  Now, since she is Mormon, when she went to heaven she had the opportunity to hear Joseph Smith teaching.  In the Charismatic circles I grew up in, the story involved a person who saw a building full of "healings" that had not been claimed in "Faith" by believers.  When evangelicals tell these stories, there is usually a side trip to hell where the visitor gets to watch atheists and liberals burn.

On my initial reading, I rolled my eyes. Every group seems to have these folks, and every group has people who will pay money to listen.

As I thought about the article later in the day, I found myself considering: What if her story is true? What if she did see visions of a Mormon heaven? What if the Charismatic saw streets of gold and money everywhere? What if the evangelical got to see all of the nay-sayers finally get theirs.

What if all get what they want?

In the series finale of Lost, Jack asks his father where they are (now realizing that he is dead).  His father tells him that this is a place that he and his friends created together so they could find one another.  It was their creation.

In a Christmas Carol, Jacob Marley carries the chains he forged in life. The chains were of his making.

In a deleted scene from the movie Dogma, the demon Azrael (played by Jason Lee) explains that the torments of Hell were created by man:

"Human, have you ever been to Hell? I think not. Did you know that Hell was once nothing more than the absence of God? and if you'd ever been in His presence, you'd realize that's punishment enough. But then... your kind came along. And made it. So. Much. Worse....

Evil is an abstract! It's a human construct. But true to his irresponsible nature, Man won't own up to being the engineer of evil, so he blames his dark deeds on my ilk. But his selfishness is limitless, and it's not enough for him to shadow his own existence. He turned Hell into a suffering Pit - fire, wailing, darkness - the kind of place anyone would do anything to get out of. And why? Because he lacks the ability to forgive himself. It is beyond your abilities to simply make recompense for and regret the sins you commit. No - you choose rather to create a psychodrama and dwell in a foundless belief that God could never forgive your 'grievous offenses'. So you bring your guilt and inner-decay with you to Hell - where the horrid imaginations of so many gluttons-for-punishment give birth to the sickness that has infected the abyss since the first one of your kind arrived there, begging to be 'punished'. And in doing so, they've transformed the cold and solitude to pain and misery."

In C.S. Lewis's Narnia Chronicle The Magician's Nephew, Aslan explains to the children that their evil Uncle Andrew has made himself unable to hear the voice of Aslan. Aslan further explains that all of Uncle Andrew's torments were those "he created for himself." Likewise the queen, in getting what she wanted, succeeded in creating her own misery.

I do not know what will become of us in the moments after we die. Perhaps there will be nothing. However, it would not surprise me to find we get the eternity we desired.

If that be the case, we should heed Aslan's final warning to the children:

"All get what they want; they do not always like it."

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Quotes From Blogs I Have Read Recently #9

The cartoon is from

The main issue which keeps me on the far ledge of Christianity, or any other faith for that matter, is that their connection with mankind and the divine has borders, their relationship has limits. Christians can connect with other Christians, even with varying denominations, but have trouble connecting with Muslims, and so on and so forth. Loyalty to your tribe and to your beliefs supersede compassion and connection with your neighbor.
A God Sized Puzzle

One final thought I would add is that like the story of the Sheep and the Goats the determining factor of one's fate is not affirming the correct doctrinal beliefs, believing the right religions, or even accepting Jesus as Lord. It is something far more simple: Failing to take care of those who need your help. That, I think, is the real lesson of this story. Those of us who choose to ignore the beggars at our own gates (which could be all of modern America, where most of us could care less that thousands of our fellow human beings starve to death on a daily basis) will one day come to understand a thing or two about "reversal of fortunes", and its safe to assume it won't be a pleasant experience.
The Unitarian Christian Universalist

Clergy typically are no longer the most educated members of a community, which was at one point often the case. And this has, for many, shattered the mythological image in two ways.

First, when pastors speak authoritatively on issues that they are not experts in. This happens quite a lot in some churches, be it on science, or politics, or the arts. And when it does, it easily drives away those who work in or study those areas, because the image they were presented has been shattered. They were sold a mythology of pastoral authority; only realize that that emperor has no clothes.

The other, potentially more damaging, way that mythology is shattered occurs when members of the church learn for themselves. Some churches, thank God, encourage this and want to walk alongside the congregants as they grow and learn. Others I have found are interested in increasing the knowledge of their congregations only in so far as their development stays “in line” with the leadership.

Inquisitive minds are only given one side of the debate and told its right, no need to read the other (many books written against emerging churches take this approach). But, when given an all or nothing answer to so many questions, these inquisitive people take advantage of the massive access they now have to information of all sorts. And they often come to realize it was never so simple and that the ideas they were sold actually are looking quite weak.

New Ways Forward

I am still trying to make sense of this famous story. I am still trying to understand the "God" of Job. Job’s God making deals with Satan doesn't at all fit my own understanding of who God is. To say that Job was an historical character that really experienced all that the book says is something I cannot believe. If there is anything at all to be learned from this story, it has to be found at a deeper level of interpretation. There are no pat answers to be found here from God for the conservative interpreter of Job.

We saw the evolution of “Logos Christology” in the writings of Justin Martyr, who believed that Jesus was not literally God but only a type of divine super-being created by the Father and through whom He created the world. We saw this belief was held in various forms by most second- and third-century Christians, including prominent theologians such as Theophilus, Hippolytus, Irenaeus, Origen, Methodius and Tertullian. Christology continued to develop through a variety of successive heresies (Sabellianism, Patripassianism, Arianism, Homoiousianism, etc.)

We saw Trinitarianism began to take shape at the Council of Nicaea in AD325, in an era when Christianity became politicised under the reign of Constantine. We saw this initial Trinitarian definition was incomplete, being gradually refined by successive councils over the next 120 years. We saw even in the late 4th Century there was no consensus on the deity of Christ or the Holy Spirit, and prominent Trinitarian scholars were accused of tritheism. Does this sound like the faith once preached by the apostles?

Historically, doctrine always develops from the minimal to the complex, evolving as it is exposed to new influences and adapting in response to perceived heresies. Thus, the simplest doctrinal statements are more likely to be the earliest and most authentic. It is therefore significant that the earliest Christian creedal statements are Unitarian. They begin with simple, Biblical formulae:

Ephesians 4:4-6, “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you too were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all”

Later post-Biblical era Christians employed identical language to express an identical theology. The Didache (a late first-century church manual) contains a summary of key beliefs including salvation by grace, the need for repentance, the ritual of baptism, the Eucharistic meal, the identity of Jesus Christ, the Second Advent, and the resurrection of the dead. These are supported by copious quotations from the NT, demonstrating that the apostolic writings were in wide circulation and upheld as the benchmark of orthodoxy. Yet there is no mention of three persons in the Godhead; there is no suggestion that Jesus is God.

Parchment and Pen

Friday, June 04, 2010

Not Unusual For Beck

Unfortunately, the video below is not unusual for Glenn Beck.  In it, he proclaims that no other media outlet will share information that he alone will.  Of course, everyone else did.... but does that change anything?  No.  True believers are true believers.

Rush, O'Reilly, Hannity and the like do stuff like this all the time.  There is no need to be accurate or tell the complete truth because they are a mono source for the majority of their audience.  Even when confronted, their slick personalities can weasel out of almost anything.  So if you are caught up in it, you believe it fully (I did).  And if you have broken free of the spell, it is great comedy for guys like Stewart.


The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Glenn Beck Airs Israeli Raid Footage
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTea Party
Related Posts with Thumbnails