Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Cult and Culture

Dr. Veith over at Cranach allowed me the use of this poignant reflection. Thank you Dr. Veith.

"I’ve been at the CIRCE conference in Houston, which offered not only tips for classical education but, what is supremely classical, actual content. I learned some things that I’ll be posting on this blog.

For example, we had several presentations that drew on Russell Kirk, arguably the father of modern conservatism. One of his points was that the root of “culture” is “cult”; that is, the foundation of every culture is a religion with its distinct way of worship. (In cultures that reject religion, an ideology takes its place, as happened with Communism.)

That’s a profound point in itself, but then it made me wonder: I have always complained about Christians who conform to today’s culture with all its woes. But could it be that the problems in the church came first, creating our cultural woes? Did the secular liberalism of the European state churches produce the secular liberalism of modern Europe? Did the subjectivism of Christianity (which certainly began in the 19th century) produce the subjectivism of contemporary culture?

If so, reforming culture would simply be a matter of the church getting its act together."

Monday, July 28, 2008

While My Guitar Gently Weeps on the Ukelele

A Glass House and a Rock to Throw

If a loose summary for John Hick’s essay Jesus and the World Religions could be given, it might read like this: “all’s well that ends well.” Essentially, Hick moves from the observance of Christianity in modern culture as being surrounded by a multitude of other religions, to the conclusion that Christianity cannot be exclusively right. His reasons are simply that the historical evidences about Jesus of Nazareth are fragmentary, and that people’s imaginings of Christ are varied enough to support other messianic figures.

"For New Testament scholarship has shown how fragmentary and ambiguous are the data available to us as we try to look back across nineteen and a half centuries, and at the same time how large and how variable is the contribution of the imagination to our ‘pictures’ of Jesus... a number of different beings, describable in partly similar and partly different ways, have been worshipped under the name of Jesus or under the title of Christ" (p. 167).

However, where Hick’s essay may serve to aid those who wish to view Christianity through Gnostic syncretism, it is wholly untenable for the orthodox believer. Further, Hick’s position on the identity of the historical Jesus is not original, but merely a restatement of two alternative positions, liberalism and universalism. As such, Hick’s essay simply recreates another image of Jesus, rather than discovering who the historical Jesus was. He creates nothing that has not been said before, that is, that Jesus is just another manifestation among many that reveal God. The orthodox believer would do well then in noting several arguments that weigh against Hick’s position.

To start, Hick notes that people project certain ideals on the figure of Christ; that he is “a divine psychologist probing and healing,” or that he is “a figure of inexhaustible gracious tenderness” (p. 167), and other such descriptions. In doing so, people elevate Christ to a position of being able to be “many things to many [people]” (p. 168). In short, because people project these ideals onto Christ, he becomes the answer to “the spiritual needs of his devotees” (p. 168).

Here Hick’s reasoning fails to be convincing. The notion that Christ is all things to all people because people have made him out to be, is circular. For Christ to be all sorts of wonderful things to people he must have first exhibited those characteristics, and for Christ to exhibit those characteristics he had first to be all sorts of wonderful things. In order for Hick to be able to question who the historical Jesus was then, he must first account for whether we attribute characteristics to Jesus for our own needs; or in fact, whether Christ reflected such descriptions as he has been come to be known by, and thus we have “mental images of him” (p. 168).

For Hick, Jesus of Nazareth was a human being deified. To illustrate this, he draws on similarities between Christ and “the founder of Buddhism, Guatama” (p. 168).

"It may be helpful to observe the exaltation of a human teacher into a divine figure of universal power in another religious tradition which we can survey from the outside" (p. 168).

Guatama, Hick maintains, gave up an affluent lifestyle to pursue spiritual truth. In doing so, he attained enlightenment, became an itinerant teacher, and finally established a “community of disciples, monks and nuns” (p. 168). To this day, Guatama’s teachings continue to influence the Asian community, a large section of humankind.

Hick’s point behind all this comparison of Christ to Guatama is simply that like Guatama, Christ is considered divine because people are severely appreciative of his teachings, and awareness of God. In short, Christ is a man deified by our veneration of his deep spiritual teachings. A couple of arguments run counter to Hick’s position, however.

First, if all greatly spiritual teachers naturally move into a deified position in the eyes of their devotees, why is it that others like St. Paul, Isaiah, or Alistar Crowely are not deified? One answer in favour of Christ’s status as divine, is that others like St. Paul, Isaiah, and Alistar Crowely were not resurrected. In saying this then, we must admit that the records of Christ’s resurrection imply something unique about him which make him more than a deeply spiritual man. The natural implication from that last statement is that if Christ were more than deeply spiritual, resulting in his resurrection, he must go beyond the finite limitations of human beings. If he is beyond human beings’ natural capacity, he must be supernatural, which is what we usually equate with divine.

Second, Jesus’ ministry is full of his own implicit recognition of divinity, and other’s explicit confession of his divine status. In fact, it is the reason why the Jews crucified him, because of his talk of being divine. After Christ’s resurrection, he gave the commission to baptise in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Matt. 28:19). If we take Hick’s position ~ that Christ was simply a human deified ~ and combine it with Christ’s commission, we end up with a guy named Jesus who already assumed enough of himself that he would rank himself among the divine. Or to put it differently, Christ was an egomaniac who used his awareness of being spiritual as leverage over the people of his time in an effort to gain a place in divine reality.

If this is true, then Christ was not necessarily spiritual, but severely self-doting. His whole ministry was a scam and the world has been deceived for two thousand years. Here, however, the weight of history, other intelligent theologians and philosophers, the integrity of logical thought, and some five thousand extant manuscripts which agree practically synonymously about the identity of Jesus as God*, come crashing down against Hick. The identity of Jesus as divine and human, rather than merely a deified man, remains strongly convincing to the rational orthodox believer.

To further his argument about Christ being only a deified man, Hick turns to the considerations of “modern New Testament scholarship” (p. 171). This is an obvious euphemism for “liberal theology” which, as stated earlier, is the position Hick takes alongside universalism. Here Hick suggests that the synoptic gospels convey a sense that Jesus was a real person with a real message; that this message can be gleaned properly when one looks beyond the confusing terms like ‘God the Son Incarnate,’ or ‘the only begotten son of God’ (p. 171-172). The synoptic gospels, as it were, are narratives of Jesus meeting the fancies of the people of his time.

"These documents give us three sets of communal ‘memories’ of Jesus, variously influenced by the needs, interests and circumstances of the Christian circles within which they were produced" (p. 172).

If this much is true, then the gospel writers point to Jesus as the one who they see most fits their needs, and interpret accordingly. Surely, if Christ was not afterall divine, he must have had needs like the gospel writers and the rest of us. The question which naturally arises from this admission is, who modelled or fulfilled Christ’s needs? To say ‘another person,’ perhaps someone pre-dating Christ, submits that Christ heeded examples of those who were less aware spiritually than he was. Afterall, the reason why God might keep manifesting himself through other deified people was to bring spiritual awareness to a deeper level ~ a progression to some sort of eschatological revelation of “Absolute Reality” (p. 169).

Surely, however, Christ could not fulfil his needs by finding exemplars with less spiritual insight, or greater deficit of knowledge of the divine than himself. If we say Christ’s needs were fulfilled by God, then we end up in two logical hang-ups, given Hick’s liberal context. It is important to note here that the issue at hand does not question whether God can fulfil needs, but rather how Christ received God’s fulfilment of his needs.

First, Hick’s position suggests that Jesus, Guatama, and other deified figures, all ‘attained’ spiritual fulfilment (p. 168). In other words, they apprehended the divine. Remembering that Christ, to Hick, is simply a man whom other’s deified, how is it that this mere mortal ever arrived at infinite insight? How can the finite ever apprehend the infinite.

This then, is the first hang-up of Hick’s liberal theology: he offers a lot of context about Christ’s apperception of the divine, but suggests no content of how Christ knew what he did, or how Christ ‘attained’ spiritual insight. For the orthodox believer reading Hick’s essay then, a lot of speculation is given, but no solid evidence is offered to verify his conclusions.

Closely related to the first point, another logical hang-up occurs when observing Hick’s liberalism. If Christ was simply a man, then he was finite. The finite is by definition, limited; and the infinite, unlimited. How then can the human figure of Jesus transcend his finitude to become aware of the infinite God without being divine too? The problem with Hick’s liberalism then, is that it allows for the finite to somehow grasp the infinite. As this concerns Hick’s view of Christ as only a man, it would have been impossible for Christ to have gained the spiritual knowledge he had unless he was also divine. As it were, Christ had to have been God as well as human to effect such a tremendous impact on history, and humanity.

The natural outgrowth of Hick’s liberal theology of Christ being only a man whom people deified out of a deep and abiding respect for him, is universalism. That is, all people, no matter what their religion, will be saved because God is the God of all religions. The great people who testify to God, all testify to the same God but under different names.

"We must thus be willing to see God at work within the total religious life of [humankind]... and we must come to see Christianity within this pluralistic setting... The different religions have their different names for God acting savingly towards [humankind]... But what we cannot say is that all who are saved are saved by Jesus of Nazareth" (p. 180-181).

Hick quite obviously views God then, as the God of all religions. In fact, Hick goes so far as to remove the title of God at one point and use instead the proper noun form “Ultimate Reality” (p. 181). Simply stated, Ultimate Reality is the common denominator of all conceptions and manifestations of God which underlie the witness of highly spiritual people. It is the universalising of all reality into one big ‘cosmic weave,’ so to speak. Two problems rise out of this position, however, and again further the strength of orthodoxy.

First, if, as Hick implies, God is the God of all religions, then he is a very poor God indeed. The Gods of other religions are described and understood in contrary fashions. For example, the Hindu’s Atman is ever changing, whereas the Christian triune God in never changing. Hence not all religions agree on one picture of God. If this is true, then the revelations of God as revealed by people like Jesus, Mohammed, Guatama, or Krishna should also contradict each other. The logical question here is, how could God contradict himself and still be God? If we note contradiction as a flaw in reasoning, then for God to contradict himself is a flaw of cosmic proportions. God becomes nothing more than a very confused, perhaps even inept logician, deserving no more attention than a sarcastic question like ‘does your mind hate you?’

Second, the universalism offered through Hick’s idea of Jesus, and God is exclusive, oddly enough. When dealing with Christianity universalism must be accepted on the grounds of giving up Christian belief. Quite simply, Christianity professes one God, and one only (Deut. 6:4). To be a universalist means that all other gods are just as valid and equally part of the one ultimate reality. A combination of these two views, which would create a contradiction, necessitates the rejection of Christianity’s one God, to the inclusion of the world’s many others. Clearly then, the orthodox believer is better off viewing Hick’s position as legitimate grounds for academic exercise, rather than a believable statement.

Although John Hick can be commended for his clear presentation of ideas, straightforward writing style, and creative speculation, his ideas run into serious logical inconsistencies. These inconsistencies provide the orthodox believer with ample arguments to dismiss his premises as true. As it were, Hick has created a glass house and invited orthodox theologians to throw rocks at it.

Some of Hick’s general contentions about the identity of the historical Jesus, and how he relates to God and other religions have been examined throughout this essay. Those ideas of Hick’s shown have been found to be erroneous. Where Hick seeks to discover the identity of Jesus in relation to other religions, he does nothing but reinstate Gnostic syncretism. When the evidence of logic and history are considered in opposition to Hick, the orthodox believer can rest assured that Hick’s assumed knowledge of the historical figure of Christ does not preclude his divinity, or remove his special status as over above all other religious figures.

© Christopher J. Freeman

* Geisler, Norman L. Christian Apologetics Baker Book House, 1976, p. 307

Poetry, the Artist, and God


“The poet only desires exaltation and expansion, a world to stretch himself in. The poet only asks to get his head into the heavens. It is the logician who seeks to get the heavens into his head. And it is his head that splits.”[1]

This is the impetus of the poet: “to get his head into the heavens.” What have all the poets through the ages sought to tell us? Have they wanted only to draw our attention to the mundane? Have they desired to show forth the startling brilliance of the obvious? No. What the poets through the ages have always tried to do is capture the genius and sublimity of the heavens as they are in ordinary things. Perhaps the lines of Joyce Kilmer will serve to illustrate this point:

I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;
A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
A tree that may in Summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;
Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.

Here is an ordinary object, a tree; and from that tree the poet captures in vivid, and reverential curiosity a quick-eyed glance at God, at heaven, and the unsurpassed beauty of a common thing. If all of the things that we consider to be exceptional, phenomenal, and extraordinary were suddenly to be removed from our lives, at least two things would happen. First, we would note that what has just happened is rather extraordinary! And second, all the common things that we take for granted would suddenly seem like the most precious and phenomenal things; the ordinary would suddenly become extraordinary. That is the vision the poet sees with; that is the living heart of wonderment for the world within which the poet seeks to see the heavens.

To understand and appreciate the vision and function of the poet and his craft, however, we must first take a brief look at the nature of art, and then its expression in the particular media of poetry.

The Nature of Art and the Poet

Art is beauty expressed in metaphor. The expression rendered through art overcomes the mortality of the expressing artist. In short, expression transcends the individual. The essential drive of the artist then, is to capture a vision of beauty and offer it as conduit to the sublime. Sometimes, however, the beauty of a piece of art is not apparent because it is depicting scenes of terrible agony, or unmitigated destruction. One could rightfully ask at that point, “if art is beauty expressed in metaphor, why is it that what I see is not beautiful, but horrific and ugly?” Yet, even gruesome art can point to beauty.

Consider that art that asks us to observe the macabre, without itself being a glorification of the macabre, also asks us to seek a resolution so its contents are not repeated in reality. Hence, grotesque art puts out the cry of redemption, of which we, as creative human beings, are responsible to offer. We can offer this redemption by pointing to the Redeemer. Therefore, the art that strikes us as heavy and dark, can actually be a pointer to the Light. It’s the irony of grace still shining in the presence of heretical images. And here is where the poet can take a very active role in conveying these encounters with beatific, and agonizing realities; here is where the poet chances words on a page, and asks the reader to see with him what he, or she, has seen:

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of my being and ideal Grace.
I love thee to the level of everyday’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints ~ I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life! ~ and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death. [2]

~ Elizabeth Barrett Browning
This poem asks the reader to see with the author all the fantastic, and purely delightful ways that she loves her lover; how she dotes after his affections, and invites every moment, and every part of who she is to be dedicated to him. The poetess, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, has faithfully captured the wonderment of common romantic love in an extraordinary metaphor of beauty, and passion. And is that not what romantic poetry is about? The risk of ultimate love coupled with the risk of ultimate suffering?
Still, the poetic artist is not bound to expressing only beauty, as was mentioned earlier. The poet has to consider the whole scope of reality if he really wishes to write poetry. Beauty is not the only ingredient in reality; love is not always considered until it is noticed missing; hence, the poet can alarm us to seeing the need for love in a dreadful situation:
I walked a weary path through streets
Forlorn, exasperated from the sickly
Apathy carved into the souls of people
About me, and reflected deep in the
Fallow sockets from which they gazed.
Hard pressed, crushed, and creased,
This burgeoning society of convenience
And ergonomic efficiency, they staggered;
Defeated, and oppressed by the weight
Of their constructs; their own
Sticky desire to be God, while
Becoming more the image of a zombie,
An encrusted, rotting tomb.
Still, they smile here and there
At each other ~ perhaps a reflex,
Or waning memory from a time more human;
A time less stuffed with emptiness:
When truth unified values,
And communities laboured to keep values true;
A time when common love was the end we strived for,
Not the petty satisfaction of individualism;
When peace meant opposing needless evil,
Not an agreement to disagree;
When criticism served to encourage other’s out of folly,
Not as means of self-elevation, or dominance.
I remember a time more human, more divine
But now I walk this weary path,
Scourged and blighted by these tarnished times.
~ Christopher J. Freeman

Two things in life are constant: love and pain. They are the measure of our passions, and the ends of our reachings. One positive outcome of pain is that if we are willing to look it in the eyes, we will see its depths; and if we see its depths, how much greater our capacity to forgive will be (if we are willing to forgive); grace is never truly appreciated unless one looks at the sin grace delivered them from.
That is the contrast the poet of the last poem was suggesting: if we are guaranteed to have love and expect pain, then the only way to continue to love is to forgive what causes us pain. It is easy to see then, that the poet painted a horrific picture to alarm the reader to the need for perseverance in love. The poem is a cry for redemption; an overwhelming urge to be freed from the extraordinary vices of his times so that he might find peace in the ordinary pursuits of love, humility, and faith.

The nature of art ~ and most immediate to this lecture, the poetic artist ~ is to express the two most extraordinarily common facets of the human condition: love and pain. Or, put it another way: if the history of art were boiled down, the sediment left over would be humanity’s pursuit of love, and the cry of redemption from pain. True art seeks beauty, which is based in truth and points to love.
God and the Poet
“Leonardo DaVinci once said that he ‘freed the sculpture from within the stone.’ The process of composing poetry is somewhat similar; the poet bangs and chips away at the thickness of her pride to reveal humility, and true understanding in a collection of words artfully sculpted and rendered.”
~ Sarah Mae Freeman (Oct 29th, 2002)

God is a poet. One only need look at the inspiration in the Psalms to see that God, too, has an extraordinary view of the ordinary person (c.f. Psalm 23). Still, what is more energizing, more resplendent, more noteworthy of the praise that God deserves is the personal poetry that God writes with all our lives.

Sanctification, as the theologians call it, is the personal work of God in our lives continually conforming us to the likeness of Christ. But what is the likeness of Christ? An interested person might rightfully want to know what they are being conformed to; a thorough person might look up passages that say (c.f. Gal. 5:16-26; Rom. 8, 12:9-21). The point is not to keep a checklist of all the things we need to do to let God write our lives into a beautiful poem; that is the effort of the logician. And we already know that the logician’s head splits!
The point is that we abandon ourselves to the rhythmic, and sovereign impulses of God, the Author of life, and let Him “bang and chip away at the thickness of [our] pride” to reveal humility and truth. In the end, we are left with the glorious and romantic peace of knowing that our lives are the greatest poetry written by the greatest Poet.

So it is also when the poet considers a subject. Yes, there’s the interplay of words, the puzzling task of rhyming or not, the confusion of punctuation and syntax; but those are simply the tools necessary to completing a project. The real challenge of the poet, the hard and fast reality of the masters, was to set a truth on fire; to write something that burned away all the dirt and dross of falsity, to sanctify a ready mind with a revelation, and to return a sense of wonder to the reader. Consider the words of George Herbert:

Love bade me welcome; yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-ey’d Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
If I lack’d anything.
‘A guest,’ I answer’d, ‘worthy to be here;’
Love said, ‘You shall be he.’
‘I, the unkind, ungrateful? Ah, my dear,
I cannot look on Thee.’
Love took my hand and smiling did reply,
‘Who made the eyes but I?’
‘Truth, Lord, but I have marr’d them; let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.’
‘And know you not,’ says Love, ‘who bore the blame?’
‘My dear, then I will serve.’
‘You must sit down,’ says Love, ‘and taste My meat.’
So I did sit and eat.

One can see in Herbert’s poem, his wrestling with pride, his drawing back from the impulses of God’s true love; until finally, after Love answers true to the poet’s questions, he submits to the truth, sits and eats. Not only has God wrought His poetry in the poet in this example, but the poet has set out a poem by which we can all “sit and eat” of the same revelation. That is, we are invited to take of the same love that enlightened the mind of the poet; we are asked to sit with the poet in the company of Divinity, and learn the same truths the poet has learned. Thus, as God writes the truth of Christ into our lives, and shapes us into His poetic story, the poet has the unique gift of telling forth God’s truths in a fashion that renders Him glory.

The Disposition of the Poet, and Conclusion
It is a popular notion to suggest that artists are depressive people. So many of the world’s most renowned virtuosos are noted equally as much for their contributions to art as for their violent depressions, erratic lifestyles, and psychological difficulties. While it is true that many of these artists did suffer from what we might term abnormal behaviour, it is not true that abnormality is required to be a great artist. The popular notion that one better expresses themself when depressed is at best an honest admittance that something is wrong with their creative life; and at worst, an oppressive deception that stops the artist from seeing the wonderment of reality.
Depression is not a breeding ground for honesty; it is a ground for honestly breeding deception. That is to say, when one is depressed their creations carry with them a certain sense of distortion, loss, and bereavement. While these are all valid experiences in people’s lives, they are not the entire composition of life. So to say that one creates best when one is depressed is a dismissal of all other aspects of life where one can find truth, love, beauty, peace, joy, and rest. Come to think of it, why would one think that they are more creative when they align themself with a problem that takes away from them more than it adds to them? Isn’t creation adding to reality?

Should all art then, and more specifically, poetry, be happy? No. For this is equally a deception. Glossing over the faces of reality does not remove their appearances in our lives. We don’t create true art through dishonesty and denial. We don’t suffer less by ignoring more. As said earlier, the poet is at his best when he takes in the whole scope of reality in which he participates.

Poets align themselves with imagination. Any person ~ and much more the poet ~ would be foolish to malign themself with the notion that the best creations are forged from depressed imaginations. This is not to say that no ingenious art was ever created by a depressed artist; but a majority of the greatest pieces of art were created by lively individuals whose spirits soared high and free, who saw that “stars lie hidden in their souls” (Pamella Vaul Starr), and that the pursuit of virtue is the rightful heir to a godly imagination.

"Imagination does not breed insanity. Exactly what does breed insanity is reason. Poets do not go mad; but chess-players do. Mathematicians go mad, and cashiers; but creative artists, very seldom. I am not …in any sense attacking logic: I only say that this danger does lie in logic, not in imagination… Poe, for instance, really was morbid, not because he was poetical, but because he was especially analytical. Even chess was too poetical for him; he disliked chess because it was full of knights and castles, like a poem… Perhaps the strongest case of all is this: that only one great English poet went mad, Cowper. And he was definitely driven mad by logic, by the ugly and alien logic of predestination."[3]

The proper providence of the poet, of the creative artist, is not to scrutinise and criticise until they are so miserable and depressed that all they can contribute is a bleak vision of horror and spiritual suicide. A poet should at all times observe reality with a sense of wonder and gratitude; for these ingredients are the foundations of humility, and humility is the parent of profundity. If the poet lives by these means, then the end will be that he has got his head a little further into the heavens, and can “Teach the free man how to praise” (W.H. Auden).

Cogita, Labora, Ora.

Christopher J. Freeman, © 2002.
[1] Chesterton, G.K. “Orthodoxy” Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000, p. 178
[2] All poems, except by Joyce Kilmer and Christopher J. Freeman, are taken from “Immortal Poems of the English Language” New York: Washington Square Press, 1952, edited by, Oscar Williams.
[3] Chesterton, G.K. “Orthodoxy” Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000, p. 178

This Terrible Beauty

This terrible Beauty haunts me still:
That I could love to the fullness of my senses,
Reach through the fires of perdition, into Heaven itself,
And seize upon divine desire;
Then, in the emptiness of self,
Be filled with ugliness and rage at Him whose image I wear.
And to hear His words, crucified and pure,
“It is finished”, I stagger.
For in lifting the same cross He bore,
I suddenly moan, “it is beginning,” and stagger on.
I’m not strong enough,
Not able to endure the pains of purity,
The ceaseless longings of unlimited love,
The pointed teeth of matchless mercy
Gnawing at my gutless pride.
Christ rose triumphant, the beginning and end;
And I shamble, ashen and void,
Beginning where He ended, and ending where I begin.
Life was lighter when all I had to bear was the world;
I find the cross too heavy.
So I oblige my weakness to crucify me
And die to Him who went before me.
He is strong and beautiful, and suffers to carry me
To where ugliness and rage bleed away.

(Christopher J. Freeman, March 4th, 2001)

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Jesus Said, "Do Not Worry..."

But sometimes the church gets me to worryin'....

Increasing Opposition to Christianity

There certainly hasn't been any shortage of anti-Christian intellectuals throughout history. Especially since the ill-named 'Enlightenment', a very sharp turn in philosophical agendas has breezed through history into the 20th century where it culminated in the 'God is Dead' movement in the 1960's. From there, there was a lull.

But now, Oxford professor John Lennox warns that there will be increasing opposition to Christianity:

"History has come full circle and Christianity is seen once more simply as one among a plethora of competing alternatives, all of which are regarded by an increasing number of influential intellectuals as dangerous," stated Oxford professor Dr John Lennox at this year's Keswick Convention.
So while the past fourty years have seen a bit of a down-turn in the attacks against Christianity, a new storm gathers on the horizon. This time however, Lennox suggests, the attacks won't only be from anti-Christian intellectuals but also from Christians themselves.

"We are called upon to defend the Gospel. It is on trial, faith is under fire, and it is not only its contents, it is the messengers, and we will increasingly find we have not only to defend the Gospel to the world but we have to defend it to believers as well."

Christians fighting amongst themselves about issues of faith is nothing new. The concern this time, however, is that there is a renewed interest in attacking the unity of Scripture. In particular, says Lennox, “what Paul has to say about the cross and the death of Christ for sin.”

Lennox continued by saying,

"The attack is under full sway and the intensity is increasing and we need to understand and remind ourselves that Paul, the apostles and Jesus Christ stand or fall together.

"We shall have to count the cost of what it means to defend historical Christianity."

This isn't something that a lot of Christians are happy to do, however. The idea of having to defend historic Christianity and all its orthodox doctrines is a big challenge. Anyone not prepared to make a committment to learning, and diligent study will find themselves left behind some of the more difficult challenges posed by celebrity atheists like Richard Dawkins, PZ Myers, or Christopher Hitchens.

Since some of these limelight philosophers, and anti-religious advocates draw a lot of attention, there will be a need for apologists ready to take up the challenge they pose, and give an answer to the faith that Christians hold in common (1 Peter 3:15-16). But Lennox adds that he notes a lack of confidence amongst Christians, not so much in their readiness to fight, but in their view of the authority of Scripture.

"A danger that I see is all around ... is a loss of confidence in God's word and its authority. We have to decide what side we are on and whether we are going to stand with Paul and the apostles and have confidence in the word and maintain the faith for which many of our forefathers stood."

So the question now becomes for the Christian reader, “what side will I stand on: the side of Paul and the apostles? Or will I be on the side that idles on in silence?”

Monday, July 21, 2008

Speaking the Truth

Balaam's Ass has a great string of quotes about speaking the truth.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Children and Worship, p. I

On any given Sunday, Christians from all over Christendom gather together to celebrate Christ. Some gather in an informal, loose way; others gather in an ancient pattern of worship known as the Liturgy (of which there are, granted, many different forms, though all are fairly formal, predictable, and therefore reliable). One thing most of these faith communities have in common is the separation of children from the Ministry of the Word, and the Sacrament of the Alter (at a later date, I will write an article expressing my views concerning the exclusion of children from the Eucharist). Quite basically, children are dismissed from the central functioning of the local church – the worship of Christ – at some point not long after, and sometimes even before the service begins.

Now there are some who would say that this is so because it reduces the amount of distractions in the congregation at any given time. Any person who is a parent should rightfully take offense to such a sentiment. Of course children can be a distraction, but only if your mind is focused on (and thereby already distracted) the exclusion of children as a valid, worshipping population of your congregation. That is, if the pattern of worship that people have come to accept, and expect is such that children are prompted to absence by the over-popular verbal valet, “could the children's ministry leaders now lead the children to their classrooms, please?” then an unnecessary, dare I say 'ungodly' assumption that children are a segment of people that need to be segregated from the 'real' worship becomes the guiding psychology of the congregation.

Parents feel ashamed that their children make noise, other parishoners react in irritation if they miss a refrain in a hymn, long-time attendees seem to forget their own children made noise too, and treat other parents as if they're doing a poor job disciplining their children to silence. Soon pastors, priests, bishops, and circuit counselors are brought in to set up a system to deal with the 'disorder' and 'unruliness' bludgeoning the silence congregants would prefer, but which is not necessarily a moral issue in need of such serious mitigation. What is missed in such drastic manouevers to establish a passive, receptive atmosphere to the mechanical revolutions of church worship is fatal and far-reaching.

The first fatal and far-reaching effect is, as I said earlier, that a psychological pattern is set up by partitioning children from the rest of the congregation. That pattern is the immediate pattern that seeps through the adult population and leadership of an assembly. What of the children though? What pattern is possibly set up in them when we routinely separate them from 'adult' worship?

I would like to submit that we're teaching our children that their uninhibited expressions, and spontaneity are first, a displeasure to God, and second, an irritation to the overall community of faith. Such weighty impressions being thrust on vulnerable, nascent minds, I believe, sets up a schismatic, possibly dissociative scheme in the psychology of our children. For example, we know that church attendence drops significantly when children are confirmed (in whatever way the local church does that), and/or reach their mid-teens, and that those 'drop-outs' tend to find acceptance in other circles that may, or may not have a positive influence on them. In any case, those same children who were once separated from the general congregation eventually find themselves leaving voluntarily because they've found acceptance in crowds outside the church; groups that accept regardless of volume, naivety, or age.

And really, why shouldn't those children – the same ones who received a 'shove-off' when they were young – find acceptance with people outside the church? Afterall, the latent hypocritical pattern of displacing the youth in our midst and then expecting them to join the rank-and-file later on is simply setting ourselves up for failure: divide the demographics of the congregation because of naivety and age, and then expect unity through doctrinal assimilation, and age, in the future. It is quite like cutting off the branch you're sitting on: the future generation of the church must be cut off from the goings-on of the church in the present. But cutting off the future from the present simply for ease of worship means only that the future is worked against, and more probably damaged by an ever-increasing depopulation of disenfranchised youth. Consequently, the 'ease' sought after by congregations morphs into a 'disease' that, rather than filling the pews with undistracted members, sees the pews being emptied out.

This kind of dividing is simply a microcosmic perpetuation of the greater, macrocosmic schisms in church history: the Great Schism of the East and West, the Reformation, and the numerous sects, denominations, and affiliations that have sprung up as a result. And although those church divisions continue to happen, some of our focus has turned to dividing ourselves from ourselves due to the relative age of the people within a local assembly. So while myriad external pressures play against the functioning of the church in this world, a very significant, dangerous pressure infects and divides the church internally. I call these particular internal pressures theological snobbery, and age-segregation. And these particular pressures, I contend, receive no place in Scripture.

In my next installment in this series, I will explore Scripture and make a case for the second fatal and far-reaching effect of segregating children from the central worship service of a church: it forces the probability of apostate generations, relies on the dubious hope of prodigals, and turns preferences into moralisms.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Raising My Grandkids

Here's something from a while ago. I'm re-posting it here at my blog because I thought it would be nice to have something up that would read with less bite to it.

It's 1:22 a.m. and I'm still up. Have to rise to the alarm at 6:30 a.m., and grump my way down the stairs to get the kids' breakfast ready. Not exactly sure why I can't sleep. Seem to have this slideshow of my life whizzing by in my head; projections of future failures, aspirations, successes.

Fine time to have an existential moment. At 1:22 a.m., that is.

Must've been brought on by a comment my wife made earlier. Yes, I'm blaming her. The blame is good though. She said, in a moment of marital insightfulness, "we're raising our grandkids." From the outside, that's a comment worthy of a sidelong glance, a twisty face that says, "Er, wha?" 'Cause from the outside, we're only 30 and 33 years old with three kids [*four now] under the age of 4.

But the view from the inside is different. There's a vault opened up in my head now: family patterns, cycles, history, mistakes, problems, joys, memories... Really, it's that slideshow I mentioned earlier. So, I think back to my wife's comment, and understand that the way we deal with our family now is the way our kids will deal with their families then (whenever 'then' is). And more, generational problems in my family can be worked out in future generations if Sarah and I do something about it now, with our kids.

That's a good thing for me to think about. Gives me the opportunity to love whoever my future generations will be, even before they are. Let's me start in motion a smoothing-over process. You know, break the bad patterns, start good ones in their place. Lets me say "I love you" into the future, into the hearts and minds of the wee ones to come.

It's also a bad thing for me to think about: keeps me up until -- what is it now? -- 1:40 a.m. Time to try and sleep again...

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Truth From the Mouth of Aesop

"After all is said and done, more is said than done."

Oh, so very true. So very, very true. It's so true it burns.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Hosting Mr. Myers

I don't even know why I want to throw in with this issue, but a certain, strange compulsion irks me on.

Mr. Paul Myers, biologist and blogger has donned a new hat: comedian. That's right, he's decided that it would be funny to do a photo-blog entry of desecrating the Eucharist.

Can anyone out there score me some consecrated communion wafers? ...if any of you would be willing to do what it takes to get me some, or even one, and mail it to me, I’ll show you sacrilege, gladly, and with much fanfare. I won’t be tempted to hold it hostage (no, not even if I have a choice between returning the Eucharist and watching Bill Donohue kick the pope in the balls, which would apparently be a more humane act than desecrating a goddamned cracker), but will instead treat it with profound disrespect and heinous cracker abuse, all photographed and presented here on the web.”

Well, it's good that Myers doesn't want to hold the Eucharist hostage. Given Catholic theology – that the Eucharist, when consecrated, actually becomes the body, blood, and divinity of Christ – holding God hostage would be a big order, even for a man specialized in poking at zebra fish. I don't know what that last clause was supposed to mean, but I found it a little amusing.

At the back of all this, where the whole bloody incident started (and probably where Myers got his knickers in a twist) is the story of a Florida teen who took a host home and received a big Tsk-tsk from the Roman Catholic Church. Fine. Tsk-tsk accomplished, let's move on.

But no.

Media morons, and newspapers everywhere seized on this 'momentous' event, this first time in history where anyone has ever done anything sacriligious to the Christian faith, this unique occasion when someone did something they shouldn't have with a religious affectation. Desecration of the Temple aside, killing of non-Catholic Christians, and failure to send aide to persecuted brothers and sisters in war-torn countries aside, it's a good thing our peevish friends at the syndicates and television studios turned their vulpine ways to this unoriginal event.

And humping the media leg comes Myers, full of atheist (in)sensibility, and oh-so-laudable motivations such as wasting his time picking fights with the Catholic Church, mocking the faith of millions around the world, and spearheading a fight against a God he doesn't believe exists. For what other reason is there to promote such a wanton waste of time and intellectual energy than to prove that God won't super-charge his posterior with a fresh thunderbolt from above? That leaves the option that Myers simply wants to do this to show that he can, because being offensive about religious things will give him all the pomp and hilarity of other crusading media atheists like Richard Dawkins, and Christopher Hitchens. That, and it's oh-so-cool to hurt people, isn't it?

Well, PZ Myers, enjoy your time in the limelight. Perhaps Tinseltown will canonize you by making a movie about you: the unsung hero of atheists everywhere, the man who single-handedly took a communion wafer and did bad things to it (like the stupid kid who sits on a hill and burns ants with a magnifying glass), the eminent cerebral who took time away from his studies in biology to make the world a better place by pissing off a large portion of its population for no other reason than to show that he could. Underdog. Vigilante. Time Waster.

Not too far behind on the time-wasting front, however, is the crotchety, whiny little outfit, the Catholic League. Mr. Donohue has gladly obliged Myers' petulance, and taken high offence at the proverbial beer bottle tossed into the crowd. So now, a wee fist-fight has ensued and Donohue has called in his thugs. For example, this quote from the Catholic League website:

“As a result of the hysteria that Myers’ ilk have promoted, at least one public official is taking it seriously. Thomas E. Foley is chairman of Virginia’s First Congressional District Republican Committee, a delegate to the Republican National Convention and one of two Republican at large nominees for Virginia’s Electoral College. His concern is for the safety of Catholics attending this year’s Republican National Convention in Minneapolis, Myers’ backyard. Accordingly, Foley has asked the top GOP brass to provide additional security while in the Twin Cities so that Catholics can worship without fear of violence. Given the vitriol we have experienced for simply exercising our First Amendment right to freedom of speech, we support Foley’s request.”

Is it just me, or has this been overblown?! So now, public officials are being called in, and extra security is being requested because some pokey, little professor wants to be naughty with the sacrosanct? And notice the hyperbole driving the fears of Catholics in Minneapolis: “...provide additional security while in the Twin Cities so that Catholics can worship without fear of violence. Given the vitriol we have experienced for simply exercising our First Amendment right to freedom of speech...”

Since when did nasty words (vitriol) equate to physical violence? What about the stages between saying mean things to blowing stuff up? But leave it up to zealous crusaders like Donohue to whip the crowds into an even bigger frenzy by manufacturing fears of violence because Myers and some of his friends have burped out their cynicism and sarcasm. I mean it's harldly likely that Myers wants to up the ante from drive-by sarcasm to drive-by shootings. Give me a break!

And as far as the First Amendment right to freedom of speech goes, it's logically implied that Myers has the freedom to not listen. Claiming freedom of speech as a trump card when you're feeling a little insecure about vulgar missives being passed back and forth doesn't get anyone anywhere. Myers has the same right, so now what? Should he pull in an elected official of his own and demand FBI surveillance and security because Catholics might want to retaliate by taking his zebra fish hostage? My daddy's bigger than your daddy. Oh yeah? Well my daddy beat your daddy up in school, so there.

People, listen. What Myers wants to do with the Eucharist is offensive to a lot of people. Understood. But his public admission is on level with throwing a beer bottle into a crowded bar and watching as people kick the snot out of each other. God's not gonna be damaged by one man's infantile attempt at gaining popularity amongst unbelievers. If that's what he wants, he's got it. But at what point are the rest of us going to suffer for his blasphemy? That's between him and God, and since he doesn't believe in God, he'll have to wait until he finds out if God really does exist before he can actually be accountable for his intellectual, and spiritual bullying. In the meanwhile, I wouldn't give the man any more attention than this article. Doing more would be giving him undue focus in my life, and I just don't think this issue that he's raised is really worth much more than this.