Monday, March 31, 2008

Real Racial Reconciliation

Last Thursday evening, I was sitting in on a lecture about atheism when I nearly exploded out of my chair with excitement. My reasons for this is that, without warning, one of the speakers (a professor at my college, who I will dub Dr. P) demonstrated real racial reconciliation. In speaking about the origins of atheism, Dr. P launched into the logical consequences of atheism, specifically nihilism. While talking of nihilism, Dr. P (who is black) addressed the black people in the audience: "I do not want colored people to think that nihilism is a white problem. I have spoken before on the 'nihilism of the hood'." He then went to demonstrate how urban gang mentality is directly related to nihilistic thinking, and then brought his point home with an example of "nihilism of the hood" by referencing the Lester Street Murders. After he made his point, the whole audience, white and black alike, sat unified in our minds and hearts in regards to nihilism and atheism.
That is real racial reconciliation, and I here defiantly post it as testimony against all previous logic in regards to racial reconciliation. Real racial reconciliation is not the continual awareness of and making others aware of the racism that divides us. Real racial reconciliation is the continual awareness of and making others aware of the commonalities that unite us. Any racial reconciliation effort that does not base itself on that logic will lead its followers hopelessly into side eddies, or into further racism (for how reconciled can we get if we are constantly reminded that we still hate each other?).

Thursday, March 27, 2008

"Supposed details about celestial furniture..."

I was as giddy as a school boy after reading and mulling over this article by an atheist (we'll call him Mike), because it gave me the opportunity to give practical application to something I read by C.S. Lewis. How nice to know that all my readings of his works were not in vain!
Mike summed up his own point better than I could, so here it is: "As long as Christianity pushes the dogmatic bases for the truth, then any modern society is doomed to have its scientific advances hobbled to an anachronistic mythical religious past." His reasoning for this is that theology "is of itself a very flawed reasoning system drawn from a pre-scientific ancient world view." The example he gives to demonstrate this is that Christianity (to this day) still speak of the "heart" (among other things) as something Jesus must "come into" in order for someone to be saved. Mike theorizes (or just bluntly states) that Christians say this because there theology in this area (i.e., salvation) is based upon the flawed assumptions that ancient people (those uncivilized morons) had about the heart, i.e., that it was the emotional center of a man, not only the seat of physical life but also of spiritual life. Mike's conclusion is that because the theology is based on flawed assumptions, then the theology itself is flawed, an therefore erroneous.
I could berate Mike for his rather arrogant assumption that ancient people could not distinguish between the literal and the metaphorical, but I have a much more delicious attack: I will accuse him of committing his assumed error of the ancients, i.e., being unable to distinguish between the literal and metaphorical.
Mike has committed what I'll call the "imago-literal correlation" fallacy, a fallacy committed when (in an argument) one debater does not draw a distinction between the
essential truth(s) held by a fellow debater, and the imaginative expression(s) that that fellow debater uses to express those essential truths. This idea can be found in Lewis' essay "Horrid Red Things," which Mike's article reminded me of (for which I am eternally grateful to him). In the essay, Lewis tells of a little girl who had two beliefs about poison: (1) that it was dangerous, and (2) that it was full of horrid red things. The first belief is an essential truth about poison, while the second belief is an imaginative expression about poison. When the little girl's mother hears of these two beliefs, she will only correct the latter, not the former. When the little girl has been educated in these matters by her mother, nothing will have fundamentally changed about her beliefs except for the imaginative expression she uses: she no longer believes (as she once did) that poison contains horrid red things; she still believes (as she has always believed) that poison is dangerous. Though it is wise and often necessary of us to correct erroneous imagery, we must not think that erroneous imagery makes the essential truth erroneous as well. As Lewis put it: "If I, staying in [the girl's] house, had raised a glass of what looked like water to my lips, and the child had said, 'Don't drink that. Mummie says it's poisonous,' I should have been foolish to disregard the warning on the ground that 'This child has an archaic and mythological idea of poison as horrid red things.'" The invalidation of the imaginative expression does not mean the invalidation of the essential truth. To commit the imago-literal correlation fallacy is to believe that the invalidation of the expression consequently invalidates the truth behind that expression.
This, of course, is what atheist Mike has done: he has not distinguished between the expressions and the truths (i.e., "theology") behind them. That men of old had the erroneous belief that the physical heart was the center of physical and spiritual life, the center of the person behind the human, does not invalidate the belief that humans have (or are) souls. That men of old had the erroneous belief that the physical heart was "dirty" or a source of evil does not invalidate the belief that there is something fundamentally wrong with humanity. That Christians of old had the erroneous belief (though I doubt they did) that God "cleanses" your "heart" by Christ "coming in" to it does not invalidate the belief that God, through Christ, fixes whatever is fundamentally wrong with humanity. The erroneous beliefs not only do not invalidate the essential beliefs, but also do not even touch them, which is why Mike's argument is vacuous. For any Christian with a rudimentary understanding of theology, the only proper answer to Mike is a resounding, "Yeah. So what?"
Furthermore, Mike has not only fallen prey to the imago-literal correlation fallacy, he has also fallen prey to what I call "nitpickyism," i.e., attack the fundamentally superfluous and ignoring the fundamentally necessary. I suppose, in order to please Mike's scientific mind, we could change our word usage. Instead of saying that we are "fallen" (as though we tripped, or are clumsy), we could say that an aboriginal, supernatural infestation of malicious intent has corrupted our inner disposition. Instead of saying that we need to be "saved" (as though we were drowning, or in some sort of physical danger), we could say that only a supernatural intervention of benevolent intent from outside our existence can correct our corrupted dispositions. Instead of saying that being saved comes by "asking" (as though by invitation) Jesus to "come into" (as though in a spatial relation) our "hearts" (as though the physical organ), we could say a great Being of holiness is offering to us (because He met certain, special conditions) His own inner disposition in place of ours for free if we will only subject ourselves to this process. We could do that, if it would make Mike feel better about our theology.
Unfortunately, it won't make him feel better about our theology, because he has yet to even begin to attack our theology. He has only attacked the expressions, not the theology behind them. Therefore, our using different words will not please him because all we did was replace the old expressions with new ones. Instead of us saying "fallen," we now say "malicious infestation" (as though some disease had a will) has "corrupted" us (as though we were some sort of metal or chemical, or a control in an experiment). Instead of saying "saved," we now say "benevolent intervention" (as though we are druggies) from "outside" us (as though in a spatial relation) that "corrects" us (as though like a teacher). Instead of of saying "asking Jesus into your heart," we now say that a holy Being offers to us His own disposition in place of ours (as though we were at a swap meet or bazaar). No matter how many times we reword it all, Mike will never be satisfied, because he cannot distinguish between the expressions and the theology behind them, and thus will nitpick about any wording we use; for as Lewis said in his essay, "All language, except about objects of sense, is metaphorical through and through...We can make our language more polysyllabic and duller; we cannot make it more literal."

Friday, March 7, 2008

A Lengthy Comment to Master Jenkins on Preacher-Boy Syndrome

In regards to bad preaching:

Most preachers today (young and old) suffer from what I call "Preacher-boy Syndrome." You probably know what I mean: You have a friend you've known for years. His a cool guy. He loves life, loves hanging with friends, loves the Lord, and has a humor and vigor that lighten the room.
Then he gets called to be a preacher. He goes to Bible College for a year and comes back. What happens? Now he is all...strange. You feel a certain distance that wasn't there before; you could be looking him in the eye and he'd still seem oceans away. He seems almost brainwashed. Some would say "sanctified," "holy," "excited about God," and other such foolish misdirections. All you know is that anyone with two good eyes and plain common sense could see that there is something not right about him at all. He seems stressed, always pressured. He's always trying to smile a smile that seems plastered on. He's always spitting out "Amen!" and "Praise God!" to everything you say to him (even when what you said does not even merit such a response). You find him asking you weird questions in public, like "You think I should witness to those people over there?" Beforehand, he had never asked you that; he just did it. In short, you feel this terrible atmosphere of anxiety wrapped around some sort of artificial covering that was once your friend. You feel as though he's jumping through hoops with a gun put to his head, as though he's putting on a show to save his life. Sometime, many times, pastors never recover from this.
What happened to your friend is "Preacher-boy Syndrome," which is the Black Death of Bible Colleges these days. Aspiring young preachers, all bright faced and eager, get told (with different words than the ones I'm about to use) that a "preacher" is not who they are, not who God wants to be through them, but is a part that they perform. In order to perform it right, they must say the right things, do the right things, dress the right way, ask the right questions, hang with the right people, etc. In short, preaching, shepherding, stop being who they are (who God is through them) and start being some thing that they are to produce. In other words, it is no longer real; it is contrived. The problem you sense when your friend comes home from Bible College is that he feels utterly, abysmally, undeniably fake. Everything, from his dress to his sermons to his conversations to even his wife, all of it feels contrived, concocted, there because that's what's supposed to be there.
Preach the grandeur of God? Engage the depths of theology? Intellectually challenge your congregation? Spiritually prick their hearts with mighty missiles of God's truth? Good heavens, man! I'm still trying to organize all the charities and events and meetings and fund raisers and parties and choir outings and cantatas and three-point sermons! I'm too busy doing what I'm supposed to do! Doing what I have to do if I'm to be seen as a pastor! How can I be a pastor if I'm not doing all these things! Saying all these things! Wearing all these things!
Since when did following God's will for your life become about anything you do? When did it stop being about God using you and working through you? When did we feel it necessary to put ourselves in the way?

Why does preaching suck these days? Because we have no real pastors. We have performers in pastor costumes. Thus is Preacher-boy Syndrome; thus is another plight and blight upon the modern church.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Why God is Not a Sadistic, Egotistical Monster

Our good friend atheist Joe is back with a fresh attack. His latest polemic basically runs something like this: God is a sadistic, egotistical monster because: (1) He created a world that did not need to be created; (2) He created this world even though He knew it would fall into sin, causing temporal misery and then perpetual damnation for His creatures; and (3) He did all this for His own glory. In short, because God willfully caused and causes suffering for His own glory, He is a sadistic, egotistical monster.
There a few major flaws in his argument. In regards to the first point, i.e., why a reasonable (i.e., practical) God created that which did not need to be, I already presented my thoughts here. However, I would like to add a thing or two. Joe's claim that, for a "reasonable person" (which we assume God is), the only motivation for action is because of "a lack, either his own, or someone else's," is utterly false. Though as fallen humans we cannot know this fully yet, there is such a thing as a complete disinterestedness in a thing, i.e., the thing is done and/or enjoyed because of itself, and not what I or anyone else get or benefit from it. Some artists create because they need to express something; like the prophet Jeremiah, their bones burn unless they prophesy. However, other artists (even the one's whose bones sometimes burn) create merely for the enjoyment of creating, because creating is a good thing in and of itself (as well as a joy in and of itself). The artist was not thinking that he or the world needed more goodness (or joy), only that the thing itself was good to do regardless of its purpose or end. In the same manner, God created the world, not because He or anyone else needed a world, but simply because it, the creation and giving of life and existence, was a good (and enjoyable) thing to do. Read Genesis again: "God created...and God saw that it was good."
In regards to the second point, i.e., God created a world He knew people would suffer in and suffer later all for His glory, there is the erroneous (and blasphemous) assumption that suffering caused by Sin brings God glory. The ravagings of Sin may allow an occasion for God's glory to be presented (i.e., to make known His love, strength, joy, courage, wisdom, etc., to those who are ravaged), but the ravagings themselves are not to His glory. They are abominations, and grevious to Him. "I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked," says the Lord (Ezekiel 33:11), and when He came in the flesh He railed against those who committed evil (Matthew 23), and wept at the presence of death (John 11:32-36). Suffering and evil neither gives God glory nor is it glorious to Him, period.
What glory, then, does God's get out of this whole mess of a world? Answer: the glory of redemption. Why did God create a world where He knew we would fall into Sin, as opposed to creating a perpetual paradise where the inhabitants (if there were any) had neither the opportunity nor even the ability to fall? The Christian answer has been that the experience of redemption is better than the experience of unfallenness. Is this the "fortunate fall" theory? Yes...sort of. The difference is that while most take the "fortunate fall" to mean that God foreknew, and therefore caused, the Fall, the truth is that God foreknew, and therefore allowed, the Fall. That difference is key: causation necessitates commendation, but allowance does not. God did not find the Fall agreeable (for lack of a better term), but He did see a way to turn its evil into good (which is what He does: Genesis 50:20 & Romans 8:28).
How do we know that
the experience of redemption is better than the experience of unfallenness? Consider this: what are angels? According to the Christian tradition, angels are unfallen beings (and therefore require no redemption) and are continually in God's visible presence (and therefore require no faith). They live the life that atheist clamor for: a life where there is no suffering and no questions, no mysteries or doubts. It is indeed idyllic. Now, consider I Peter 1:12. Peter notes how the coming of the gospel to humanity is a matter that "the angels desire to look into." Imagine that! The idyllic angels, who have tasted neither sin nor doubt, look at our world of the Fall and Redemption and actually desire to know it! Is their idyllic life of unfallenness not good enough? Apparently not. In finding ourselves in the story of redemption, we find ourselves in that which the unfallen angels do not know about and yet desire to know. Apparently, it is better to be redeemed than unfallen. God allowed the Fall so that we could taste that which angels have never known.
One last thing. Atheist Joe uses a quote from
Dostoyevsky’s book The Brother's Karamazov, where Ivan Karamazov ask the question of whether or not one would build an "edifice of destiny so that men would finally be happy and would find peace and tranquility" if it was conditioned that they must torture an innocent. Joe attempts to compare this to God creating our world while He foreknew the Fall, and his comparison is completely ridiculous. First of all, the world (or the universe for that matter) was never predicated as that which would bring men happiness, peace, and tranquility, and God never created Creation because it would do that. As stated earlier, He created it simply because it was good, and it was good to create it. Second of all, God's creating Creation was not conditioned on the Fall. The Fall does not cause Creation, nor did Creation cause the Fall. Thirdly, finally, and most importantly, given that we allow the question for a moment, the answer to the question of whether or not God would let an innocent suffer in order to bring about paradise is a most resounding, "Yes, He would." The difference (a difference that causes Christians to fall on their knees and worships Him) is that He was the innocent that suffered (on the cross) in order to bring about the paradise that is redemption. As Christ, God was (so to speak) that "little girl who beat her chest so desperately in the outhouse," the one who's "unavenged tears" caused the edifice of redemption to rise and tower above all humanity. For this, we praise and thank Him forevermore.

Harry Potter: Not anti-Christian, just a-Religious

I am not a Harry Potter fan, "not" in an indifferent sense as opposed to a negative sense. I do not hate the books or movies; I've just never read or seen them. Therefore, it is hard for me to have a conclusive opinion on the subject since I am on the outside looking in. I know many Christians do not like him (like the Witchcraft Repackaged crowd), and others write practical apologetics for him (like the Looking for God in Harry Potter crowd). My standing is more like Greg Koukl; I'm suspicious of both sides, nowhere near convinced that he is either an evil or a God-send.
However, I still find interesting discussions on him to be quite fascinating and thought-provoking. Check out this Time magazine article (of all places) that I found from July of last year. It put another, more interesting, possible reason for Christians (or anyone) to be less than enthusiastic about ol' Potter boy. Take it for what you will. I find it stimulating:

Who dies in Harry Potter? God
by Lev Grossman

"Joanne Rowling has three fancy houses and more money than the Queen, but she still doesn't have a middle name: the K. is just an empty invention, added for effect when she published her first book. Starting with that first letter, she has orchestrated a sustained dramatic crescendo unlike anything literature has ever seen. By selling 325 million books in 66 languages, she has almost single-handedly made the case that the novel can still be a global mass medium. With the fifth Harry Potter movie opening on July 11 and the seventh and last book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, coming at midnight on July 21, the crescendo has reached a grand climax.
"Rowling's work is so familiar that we've forgotten how radical it really is. Look at her literary forebears. In The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien fused his ardent Catholicism with a deep, nostalgic love for the unspoiled English landscape. C.S. Lewis was a devout Anglican whose Chronicles of Narnia forms an extended argument for Christian faith. Now look at Rowling's books. What's missing? If you want to know who dies in Harry Potter, the answer is easy: God.
"Harry Potter lives in a world free of any religion or spirituality of any kind. He lives surrounded by ghosts but has no one to pray to, even if he were so inclined, which he isn't. Rowling has more in common with celebrity atheists like Christopher Hitchens than she has with Tolkien and Lewis.
"What does Harry have instead of God? Rowling's answer, at once glib and profound, is that Harry's power comes from love. This charming notion represents a cultural sea change. In the new millennium, magic comes not from God or nature or anything grander or more mystical than a mere human emotion. In choosing Rowling as the reigning dreamer of our era, we have chosen a writer who dreams of a secular, bureaucratized, all-too-human sorcery, in which psychology and technology have superseded the sacred.
"When the end comes, where will it leave Harry? He'll face tougher choices than his fantasy ancestors did. Frodo was last seen skipping town with the elves. Lewis sent the Pevensie kids to the paradise of Aslan's Land. It's unlikely that such a comfortable retirement awaits Harry in the Deathly Hallows."

My further thoughts on this same idea can be found at the bottom of this blog article.