Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Playing The Absolute Truth Card

I suspect that many people who play the Absolute
Truth card may actually fear truth.  If they play
the card, they don't have to think about the
argument of the opposition.
Absolute Truth is a concept that is very big in conservative Christian circles. Actually, let me clarify, it is a very big phrase. It's use rarely goes past the phrase. It is more like a card played, than a concept wrestled with. It is often used as the antithesis to relativism (I don't think they are opposites, by the way).

I was commenting on a friend's facebook status when the Absolute Truth/Relativism dichotomy was brought up. The author made the point in reference to a discussion on tolerance saying, "tolerance is now interpreted to mean that all ideas have equal value and that there are no absolutes; big problems there".

I responded:

"I don't see it as all ideas have the same value, but rather that all ideas get the same starting place. Each player comes into the game with "10 dollars" and you have to hold and/or build your ground from there. This is such an adjustment of position for many Christians in America that they often see this as a bad thing or themselves as persecuted. When they came into the game before, they were given favored status and a higher position. It was assumed that theirs was the correct position. Now they come into the game having to stake their territory like everyone else. Christians used to be able to presume that their position was absolute... it was granted by default. Now they have to put up or shut up.... this is tremendous culture shock. Many Christians are rising to the occasion, while others are having a temper tantrum."

As I look back over conversations when I have heard the absolute truth card played, I suspect what is really being stated is a longing to return to a time in America when Christianity was the dominate voice. - When we didn't need to work so hard at developing a good argument. - When it didn't matter how we lived, because it only mattered what we said.

Do I believe there are things that are true regardless of what I think? Sure. But I have no idea what those are and neither do you. We can drop 5 people in a room who feel they have the absolute true position, even though they all disagree with each other. In that moment, from our perspective, those truths have ceased to be absolute.

I appreciate N.T. Wright who said in a teaching (I paraphrase) - I suspect that at any time a good third of my theology is wrong, the problem is I do not know which third it is.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Quotes from Blogs I Have Read Recently # 10

I don’t think I can handle seeing one more angry Facebook debate or hearing another less-than-subtle accusation from the pulpit that a certain pastor finally revealed themselves to be a false teacher.
~ New Ways Forward

This is the tension and controversy in the book. Traditional Christianity has taught that this life is your chance, your opportunity to repent or face eternal conscioius torment for all eternity. Bell is standing on an older tradition that state that in ages to come the whole world of fallen creation will be restored to the Father through the Son. This is more than a good southern Baptist can stomach. ~ Not Whistling Dixie

The entire system of fundamentalist Christianity is established on the few being entirely right and the many being completely wrong. There is no wiggle room. They vigorously insist that the only way to procure a genuine relationship with God and enter into heaven is through their religious system. All other methods are an illusion. Of course, as humans, we frequently judge the merits of a belief system on the actions of its adherents. Fundamentalists know this. That is why they advocate the position that they solely exhibit morality. First, it lends credence to their particular beliefs. Second, it disparages non-believers. From the outside, this accusation seems obviously ludicrous. But to a believer, it merely confirms their convictions. ~ The Scientific Universalist

Indeed, if you proof-text enough, just about every conclusion is Biblical and just about every starting point can be argued. But, as I've said before, theology is nothing until it hits the ground and what's most important about a theology is not whether or not it's "true" but it's the way it hits the ground. Do our theology hit the ground in such a way that they roll us in the direction that God is moving? Or does it take us somewhere else. That's what matters. What direction will your starting point take you and should you consider starting somewhere else? ~ Living in the Kingdom

This is why Christ's victory over death is so central to Christian universalism. If death remains the moral pivot of your biography then the death-fetish remains firmly in place, along with its other-worldly obsessing. Universalism removes the death-fetish, creating a this-worldly orbit around God's love. A love-centered faith. As the bible says, perfect love casts out fear. We become liberated not only from death but from the fear of death. ~ Experimental Theology

Universalism is weakness. There is no reason people should become Christians, no reason they should be good, except an appeal to their better nature. The rebel, the apostate, the oppressor, the persecuter of Christians, will not ultimately be punished. The only answer to evil, oppression and violence is love and forgiveness. This is frightening, it makes us powerless, it has its own terror as we realise there will be no flaming sword to defend us. It is the way of the Cross. ~ Painting Fakes

Monday, March 21, 2011

Just Give Me A Pill

"I feel terrible Doc!" Mr. Jones said as he took a seat in the examination room. "I can’t walk up a flight of stairs without getting winded. I ache all over. I seem to catch every bug that goes around. I need you to make me feel better!"

"Well Sir," the doctor replied, "Let's run some tests and see where we stand."

The doctor gave Mr. Jones a stress test, did his blood work, and an overall physical.

"Mr. Jones, it seems you have high blood pressure, are a border-line diabetic, and are about 100 pounds overweight. In short, your poor diet and lack of exercise have made you a prime candidate for any one of a number of cardiac problems and diabetes is definitely around the corner. I have developed a workout regimen that I want you to follow as well as a list of dietary changes." The doctor handed his list to Mr. Jones.

"What is this $#@*!" Mr. Jones said angrily.

"Excuse me?" the doctor said, a little taken aback.

"Perhaps all those fancy medical degrees messed up your hearing doc! I said I need YOU to make me feel better! I ain't doing any of this @#$%!"

"Mr. Jones, how do you expect you to get better without any effort on your part??" the doctor replied dryly.

"Well, what the hell do you have all that education for if you can't make me better?! What the @#$%^ are all those pills in the cabinet for??"

"Mr. Jones, there is no pill for what ails you. Your condition is the result of a systematic series of choices. It is going to take a lot of hard work to reverse the situation you are now in. Now, I can educate you on the steps you will need to take to improve your health, but you are going have to follow my instructions."

"@#$% you!" Mr. Jones said while crumpling up the list. “What is the point of your being a doctor if you can’t take care of this for me?! I guess I am gonna have to go find a real doctor who can actually heal people!”

Mr. Jones,” the doctor implored, “You may well be able to find a doctor who will give you some pills to mask your symptoms; but the underlying issues are not going to go away. In order for you to be truly healthy, it is going to take work and discipline on your part. We can’t get around that fact!”

Whatever doc! It makes me sick that they give lazy people like you this position in the first place!”

This little story was inspired by an interview I heard on NPR this weekend. I wish I could find it online to pull some quotes. Basically they were speaking to someone at a conservative think tank about the state of American education. The gentleman had one answer - great teachers. Nutrition? Home-life? Class-size? Pre-requisite skills? Child and/or parent commitment? None of those things mattered at all - a great teacher can negate all other variables and produce the same results in each student. Of course, when we put this argument in another circumstance, we see how absurd it becomes.

For some reason though, the politicians and academics of either side of party lines want to make it all about the teacher. Even president Obama has abandoned the idea of responsibility being anywhere else. In ONE campaign speech, he talked about the role of parents and community... but he dropped that approach and we haven't heard a word since.

I am presently reading M. Scott Peck's book "The People of the Lie". In it, he shares numerous examples from his career as a psychiatrist. Over and over we see that success or failure with a patient is most often determined by a patient's ability to accept reality. He said of one patient:

She wanted healing, but she was not willing to lose anything, give up anything, in the process. It was as if she demanded of me, 'Heal me, but don't change me!'

America knows where it wants to go, but it wants to get there by way of a pill... not hard work; not reality.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Shared Sacrifices?

This morning, while driving to work, I listened to the Glen Beck show. He had a guest host who was crowing about the Winsconsin scenario. The host had nothing but contempt for unions; there was no good aspect to them. He made the oft heard argument that, if one is going to bargain for one's wages and working conditions, you need to to do this solo. It is unfair to an employer to have any kind of group bargaining.

Of course, this would be of extreme benefit for an employer. The host used his own situation as an example. When he argues his worth, he points to the amount of money he brings into to the company. In his situation however, there is a one for one corolation. In job positions that hire en masse, it is a different story. I, for example, cannot point to how much money I bring in to the company.

The host felt that collective bargaining puts the employer "over a barrel". While I don't think anyone should be put in a postion of powerlessness, it is clear in history that prior to Unions workers were regularly "put over a barrel."

To me, it is always about balance. Employers have a natural position of power that would allow them to abuse individual workers when the work force is hired en masse. Without a union, individual workers are often helpless.

This is just the natural tendency of those in power (whomever is holding the reigns). There is a story in the Old Testament that often gets missed. King David commits adultrey and the prophet Nathan comes to tell him a story to convict him. Because of the sex involved, we tend to get distracted from the economic tale. Basically Nathan tells of a rich man who owns countless flocks of sheep and a poor man who has only one. The rich man has a guest and, rather than killing a lamb from his own flock for dinner, he uses his power to take from the man who has only one lamb.

As the cartoon from Pat Bagley shows, it is often the case that if there is going to be someone dealing with less, it will be the person with little, not the person with plenty. The vast amount of our nation's wealth sits in comparitively few hands. The hundreds of millions who are left to divide the remaining amount are the ones who are being asked to function with less. Our lamb will be taken so the rich man does not need to touch his myriad of flocks.

Unfortunately, through the use of religion and politics, the rich in America have managed to get the middle class chaffing at each other.  The middle class is fighting over singular sheep, and during our squabbles, the rich take from ours to expand their oceans of flocks.  Do you think that is an unfair analogy?  Do a google search under cooperate profits, CEO wages and bonuses over the past 25 years.... then compare that to increases in worker wages and benefits.  While their's goes up, workers go down.  But don't mention this or talk about it - Rush and Sean will accuse you of class warfare - and that sends all the middle class dittoheads scurrying for cover.

The truth is, there is class warfare.  Like I said, I want balance.  I don't want anyone over a barrel; but the middle class better start protecting themselves.  As billionare Warren Buffet said:

"'There's class warfare, all right, but it's my class, the rich class, that's making war, and we're winning."

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Hard to Watch

This video was downright painful to watch. I couldn't believe it went on for 14 minutes. Ugh! I was exhausted! I am definitely going to need to re-read Thich Nhat Hahn's Teachings on Love after viewing it. It made me realize though who the group is that I have trouble loving - loud, ignorant, white, Christians! Help me Jesus! :)
* (Note, the Christian protesters came to protest a pro-Sharia group that never showed up.)

What is interesting is that the Muslim man shows grace for his "enemies" and their symbols... and the protesters can't even comprehend it.

HT : A God-Sized Puzzle

Monday, March 07, 2011

Raise Those Standards!

This morning, my whole school district got together for professional development. It began with a keynote speaker. His lecture was titled "It ain't the kidz!" The subtitle was something like "Only teachers can close the achievement gap in our schools."

If you read this blog at all, you know that premise doesn't go over well with me. So, I went into the lecture pre-jaded. However, the presenter was a gifted public speaker, and I ended up agreeing with a lot of what he had to say. He showed that very often, schools are expecting less of (and therefore teaching less to) minority groups based on their demographic, rather than addressing what the data of their aptitude actually indicates. No argument there. This is why I say that schools are a significant variable in the education equation, and schools need to do better. Still, I chafe at the presenter's insinuation that schools are the only variable that has an affect on outcome.

What was stated over and over throughout the lecture is that we need to have higher standards and expectations, more rigorous curriculum, and that failure cannot be an option. However, I was not surprised that there was never a mention of any consequences or ramifications if a student did not meet those standards and expectations. In our present system, the child who aces everything and the child who never lifts a pencil, advance through the system at the same rate.

This is a big issue in political discussions right now. So, I want you to take note of every time a politician, or someone in academia, makes a strong call for rigorous standards.... then note what consequences they mention. Enjoy the silence...

Do we need consequences to accompany standards? Can't we just have the high expectation?

Let's take driving as an example. What if we had high expectations for people's driving habits this year. We want everyone to obey the right of way laws, stay within 5 miles of the speed limit, etc... But for this year, there will be no consequence. We hope you will drive well, but the police will no longer hand out tickets.

How well do you think that will go?

Take the analogy out one step further: Let's hold the police responsible for every violation and accident... but forbid them from enforcing the law.

An expectation without a consequence is just another piece of advice that we may dismiss at our leisure.
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