28 April 2008

God: Theology's Whipping Boy


In case you haven't been appalled yet today, check out the comments in this article, a brief on the church floor collapse in British Columbia which injured at least forty people. In fact, I'll just copy the four extant as of the writing of this post:


"Perhaps God is lifting His protective hand from Canada for their acceptance of the homosexual lifestyle. He sure works in mysterious ways!"


"Why do I get the feeling that there was more involved than just simple design flaws? The church truly needs to get away from the world, yet everyone seems to love it. Sad."


"Glad to see that people were enjoying the music and using the music to praise the Lord, but sorry to hear of the injury to so many. But, the Lord must have had His hand on His children, and it wasn't time for any of those kids to go home to Father."


"Our lord works in mysterious ways. Praise him."


That's right. Mysteriously, God protected those kids from dying while punishing them for loving the world which is as bad as it is because Canada accepts the homosexual lifestyle. Hallelujah.


I'm sure I come across as being pretty harsh on Christians. I am a Christian, and I have a bit of a checkered past with it. By that, I mean that I used to be an asshat acting like I was a decent guy, and now I'm an asshat acting likely slightly more of an asshat. That's not the point though.


The point is, I'm not sure any of these comments have all that much to do with God. Theological language is easy to throw around. Whether or not God was involved at all is one issue; how God was involved if God was is another.


The fourth comment, for example, denies knowing how God was involved and declines questioning God's involvement. In short, it's a theological cop-out. The speaker appears humble by refusing to know how God was involved, and promotes their own self-righteousness by praising God nonetheless.


The first and second comments are, I believe, more or less similar to each other. Though the second doesn't directly implicate God, both statements indicate that some flaw— whether in Canadian culture at large, or of the Christian community— incited God to allow the tragic event. It's the problem with the advice of Job's friends, who assume that because Job undergoes tragedy, he is guilty of sin. Is all tragedy punishment? If so, then what evil exists to be punished, since the victims are always the guilty?


The third comment is probably the most sincere of the four, but only, I contend, the first sentence. The second sentence, however, seems to me to retract what sincerity existed in the first. Although God is portrayed as involved, not in the punishment, but in the protection, the manner in which God is involved is fatalistic. Each person has a "time to go home to Father." The injuries, the entire tragedy, is grievous, but inevitable. In a way, the third comment is nothing more than an heartfelt version of the fourth.


But, dear readers, I do not wish to leave you out in the coldness of cynicism for too long. I won't offer you a comprehensive theodicy (the traditional attempt to reconcile the problem of evil, which is the very thing I've written about all along without naming it directly— in short, how a good God and evil both exist simultaneously).


Instead, I offer you the example of the aforementioned Job. When a tragedy struck, he called God to court— literally— the entire book is in the form of an ancient judicial proceeding. And I make no promises as to the simplicity of that action nor the length of time it will consume, though I might suggest it is endlessly complex and will consume your entire life. But that is only a suggestion.

Keep Trying, Monkeys!


You'll get yourself all evolved soon enough.

27 April 2008

How to Displease Everyone


It seems like all you have to do to displease everyone is become honorary chairman of the National Day of Prayer.


Poor Dr. Ravi Zacharias. I thought his prayer was pretty good. I'm not sure how you'd object to it.


As it turns out, nobody liked much of what went on on the National Day of Prayer. On one side are those calling for an inclusive day of prayer, asserting that the "National day of prayer has been hijacked!" Bummer.


On the other side are people who accuse Dr. Zacharias of leaving out Jesus' name so as not to offend other religions. They go so far as to find it "appalling that Dr. Zacharias is willing to capitulate to the un-Scriptural, interfaith ecumenism and discard the name of Jesus."


My advice is, if you get asked to give a prayer at the National Day of Prayer, instead of trying to give an appropriate, thoughtful prayer, maybe just flip everyone the bird and say something like, "Suck it, monkeys, I'm going corporate!"

Why Create When Others Have Done the Work for You?


Sadly, the "I Agree with Josh" Facebook group has been deleted. Please try this one instead. And for more things we can all agree with, try this.

26 April 2008

You Twit!


If you haven't yet signed on to the Twitter bandwagon, here's a quick reason you should: It lets bloggers half-ass their work and self-promote in 140 characters or less.


Not the best reason, sure, so here are some of my favorites from the last couple of weeks:


  • Wisdom begins in knowing just how much bullshit one is full of

  • If you own a pickup truck, make sure to get a couple of boards to keep in the bed, in case someone needs to drive a 4-wheeler up there.

  • Is a lonely solipsist ironic, or simply true?

  • The best way to make your theory irrefutable is to first make it incomprehensible.

  • You'd think the word "superfluous" would be a little more concise.

  • Ethics: the insistence upon morality by those who entirely lack it.

  • Today's aphorisms are tomorrow's fundamentals

  • If you're loaded, you're drunk. What does it mean to be overloaded?

  • You know what you never see? A panhandler handling a pan.

  • Candyland should have more opportunities for players to say, "Too rich for my blood!"

  • Everyone's an egoist but me.

  • Nostalgia was way better back in the good old days.

25 April 2008

How to Disagree with Josh


Did you catch yesterday's post? Did you disagree with Josh, as I did?


Now you can create your own "I Agree With…" campaign. Who will you choose? I know who I would pick for mine: me.


And while you might be noticing glaring grammatical errors in the document, your intellectual objections in that arena are nothing more than a smokescreen for a sinful heart. In fact, I'm putting that in my statement!


Did you also notice how much it'll cost to run this campaign? Around eight thousand dollars. Do you know how much I spent writing this post, in which I wholeheartedly agree with my own ideas? Nothing.


And the time commitment? I spent almost a quarter hour on this, and a good three minutes of that was getting a glass of root beer. Three months is just ridiculous.


I could go on with lots of ways writing a cheap blog post is better than running a big long campaign, but I think instead, I'll just go have a real beer. That's another for my statement of faith!

24 April 2008

I Question the Existence of Josh


Even if I intended to agree with him, would it matter if Josh existed?


The link above will send you to a Facebook group and event organized by students at a local Rochester school. I won't tell you which, but if you don't figure it out yourself, we're not friends anymore.


Before I discuss my agreement or disagreement, I'd like to give my own overview of the group. It seems to be a group of Christian students rallying around a heavily modified Apostles' Creed. More on the modifications later.


The purpose, I believe, is not malicious, though it could be perceived as such due to the largeness of the group and the occurrence of the main event, "Josh Speaks," on the "Day of Silence." As you might imagine, a Christian group speaking on a day during which LGBT groups nationwide are silent could exacerbate tensions.


What I'd like to offer next is a series of reflections on different aspects of what I find an entirely curious phenomenon.


On Josh


First, as for Josh, I do not know him, but he seems to be only a spokesperson for the group. I'm not sure, however, that it matters whether or not he exists when it comes to discussing the events and comments surrounding the Facebook group.


It seems to me that people— whether agreeing or disagreeing— are responding largely to the creedal formula presented, which is only confused by the attachment of Josh's name to the end. Anyone's name— even a fake one— could be substituted, and the comments would be mostly the same.


I don't mention this to be insulting or flippant. I merely mean to suggest that any discussion of Josh, per se, is mostly superficial due to relevance. The significant discussion is that of the creed, its meaning, and the reactions to it.


On Creeds


Second, Josh's statement— which is really the consensus of a group of individuals— is, as I have mentioned, a heavily modified Apostles' Creed. The modified "Josh" text emphasizes particular aspects of Christian theology, namely, the soteriological (having to do with salvation).


I would like to discuss the issues pertaining to this pseudo-creed in particular, and then creeds in general. Because of the name of the group and the profile pictures created ("I agree with Josh"), people are constrained to pick one of two opposites, yes or no, agree or disagree. I think they have.


I guess what I'm suggesting is something about the duality of humankind. Specifically, I'm suggesting that that manner in which this pseudo-creed was presented caused as many difficulties as the content. So, even one point of tension, contention, or confusion, causes a "disagree" result, perhaps alienating not only non-Christians, but other Christians. What was meant for unity might only serve to further divide.


Interestingly, while the Apostles' Creed names God as "creator of heaven and earth," Josh's Pseudo-Creed does not. Therefore, in a theological sense, when Josh's Pseudo-Creed states that Jesus' death was to "make relationship with God possible," Josh's Pseudo-Creed remains internally consistent on that point, but out of sync with other aspect of Christian orthodoxy.


If God created everything, everything is in relationship to God already, though that relationship may be non-communicative or broken. This is not a pedantic tangent— this issue greatly influences one's ideas of the world at large.


As for creeds in general, I have other issues. Which creed is the right creed, exactly? While the Apostles' Creed is probably one of the older ones and has points on which the largest community of Christians agree, what about the topics not covered, say, in the realm of Christology?


Should we turn to the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, which addresses some of those issues? If so, do we take issue with the fact that that creed relies heavily on the language and ideas of Greek philosophy?


And suppose we do this for every theological issue, coming to consensus and creating a new, longer creed, or an additional creed. How could anyone simply agree or disagree with such a document?


It seems to me that even in the use of creeds, there are difficulties in terms of both too little sophistication, or too much, and that older creeds do not necessarily address the concerns of a contemporary generation, and newer creeds risk theological inconsistency with the past (this may be impossible, but a topic for another time).


In Conclusion


If you pushed me for an answer, I'd disagree with Josh. (Sorry Josh, if you're out there). In part, I do disagree with the phrasing of some of the content— any seminarian who claims to have no questions probably failed seminary (or should have). The larger part, however, is a problem of language.


By this, I mean that I find it difficult to wholly accept or reject a creed. One of the group administrators states in the discussion boards that the group is not meant for debate, merely expression. Debate, I believe, would have been a better option.


In a debate, we could raise questions specific to one line or another of this pseudo-creed. Someone might offer a clarification or a nuance which facilitates understanding. This would mean, however, that the creed itself is not closed, but open to reinterpretation and reevaluation.


On the other hand, rather than the closed-off nature of the group (those who patently agree or disagree with Josh's Pseudo-Creed), the group would be far more open for others— those who agree or disagree only in part— to engage and question.


Furthermore, I might suggest that every expression, of faith or anything else, is, by virtue of being expressed, open to debate in that it is necessarily open to interpretation (there is no immediacy of knowledge or meaning here).


In that sense, it almost seems ridiculous to agree or disagree with another's expression of faith. Agreement or disagreement, in a simplified yes/no sense, implies non-interpretation, a refusal to engage the subject of the expression, in this case, faith. So, if I disagree with Josh, it is only because I do not have the audacity to presume that I understand in full. And so with all creeds.

23 April 2008

How a Singing Fish Ruined My Faith


I've linked to it before, and I'll link to again in an upcoming Creation and Evolution post, but today's Creation Moment was too good to pass up.


Did you catch the part about fish having gears and pulleys? Does the author simply not realize that an evolutionary biologist can point to the same features and give a reasonable explanation for their existence? "Something works, therefore God made it" is not a great argument.


Is the implication that if a fish had gears and pulleys, we wouldn't believe in God?


If so, watch the video below only if you want to become an atheist.



21 April 2008

Uncertain about this whole postmodern thing


Those crazy postmoderns are at it again, ruining Christianity for everyone else! What we need is more doctrine.


So, stand up, all you Nestorians and Docetists, you Gnostics and Waldensians. We're not sure how yet, but this postmodern thing is probably your fault.


What the world really needs now are people who are willing to be absolutely certain that they are right. Postmodernism is a tool the terrorists use to keep us from winning against them. Bastards!


Personally, I'd like to have a good ol' creed recital. We could see who could do the most elaborate ones. Anyone who can't is obviously uncertain about the truth and probably one of those postmodern heretics. Hey! We could maybe set them on fire, like we used to do to people who lacked doctrinal fortitude!


Awesome!

Every fascination with death is necessarily morbid


Recently, the Supreme Court ruled against two Kentucky inmates who claimed that lethal injection is cruel and unusual. Sorry guys. On the other hand, now you can totally cheat on your diets. Every cloud.


Isn't interesting, though, that all legislation regarding the death penalty is formed by those not undergoing it? The question, I believe, is not exactly whether or not this form of capital punishment is cruel and unusual, but for whom it is cruel and unusual.


For the society administering the 3-stage lethal injection— the second drug is a paralytic, in case the initial anesthetic fails— the method is perhaps the least cruel or unusual. It's why we clean the area where the needle goes. It's like watching someone get a shot. Sort of. The only unusual thing about it is at the end, they're pretty dead.


Likewise, a lethal injection is less cruel to those administering it. There's less to clean up, no awkward guillotine or gallows sitting around, and very few people need to be directly involved.


The problem in the recent Supreme Court case seems to have been the lack of evidence of cruelty. All that was available was a theoretical description of the effect potassium chloride on a paralyzed but non-anesthetized person. It seems nobody who had undergone it was available to testify.

19 April 2008

The Panhandler's Story


Ever seen a panhandler handle a pan? Me neither.


I have heard some pretty crazy stories though. Your daughter just got hit by a car and you need cash to take the bus to the hospital? Too bad they didn't let you ride in the ambulance with her. Or did you need me to call one for you? No?


The reason I never give any money, however, isn't because I don't want to feed their addictions (I do). It's because the stories are never internally consistent. Come on, guys!


Recently, a man asked me how far a local gas station was. Apparently, 1 mile is too far to walk, which I didn't know because I walk that route all the time. As it turns out, he just needed 4 bucks for gas to get to his job another half mile past that gas station.


The gas can story is pretty common. I think the idea is that anyone who might give money won't stick around to see you go get the gas and refill your tank, so they'll have no idea you bought booze instead. Nice!


I've heard it probably a dozen times in the last year, and I think at least once from this guy. The new twist was that he was willing to leave his driver's license with me so he could come back at noon after he got his paycheck to pay me back. Hell of a guy.


Except it meant I'd give him money to get gas so he could drive his car without a license to his job and back. Never give to anyone willing to drive without a license for less than cost of the applicable legal charges that person would incur in the instance of their being caught.


I know you won't read this, panhandler guy, but you won't get my cash unless you try harder. Maybe work a song and dance in there somewhere? Or some logic?

The Gang Goes Green


Know what's pretty great? The environment. It's not just for hippies anymore!


I was down with this whole helping the earth thing way before that Al Gore movie. What was it called? An Inconvenient Weight Gain? I forget. I'm still glad he made it, because the film brought environmentalism into the mainstream. Chicks dig guys who go green!


Now everyone wants to save the world. The hardest part is coming up with your own list of ten simple ways your readers can do it.* Other than that, it's a great trend— and a great way to boost your own self-righteousness! Who doesn't love a good false sense of superiority?


The best part is letting corporations do the work for you. They just tell you what products are green, and you can pick them up right off the shelf. You can feel like you're really making a difference without having to drastically change your way of life! And hybrid cars? Sexy!


Oh, and did you remember Earth Day yesterday? I sure did. And it made me feel fantastic.


So, if you're stuck feeling guilty about your own overconsumption and reckless wastefulness, join the rest of us who love to hold it over your head that we recycle paper and plastic. Come on. Be a part of Gang Green!


*Note to self: come up with ten ways my readers can save the world.

16 April 2008

Abortion, Non-Satirical Edition


My previous post brought up an issue— abortion— which, as scott_ish pointed, is highly complex.


If you ask me, both sides are raising legitimate and important questions.


On the one hand, conservatives are concerned that abortion is murder. The important question here is when we call a person a person. At which developmental stage are individual rights conferred, and to what extent? Does life begin at conception, and if so, ought that alter other laws?


Say a mother is killed and a newly formed embryo she carried is destroyed as a result of a car accident. Is the person responsible for the accident also responsible for multiple counts of manslaughter?


Additionally, if an embryo has particular rights, would a woman who intends to abort be considered a negligent mother? How, then, could social services take away the child in order to protect it as they would, say, a toddler?


On the other hand, liberals generally cite the rights of a woman bearing an embryo. Traditionally, persons are allowed certain rights concerning their own bodies. If a woman's rights are violated, for instance, if she is raped, and an embryo is created, is she now responsible to bear the child?


Or, what if the embryo itself endangers the mother's health? Let us say it is a person. Any one else might be held responsible for endangering the mother's welfare. In this case, it would seem to be impossible to hold the embryo responsible in a legal sense, especially since it depends on the mother for its own life.


I don't have a good answer on this particular issue, and I doubt I've covered all the intricacies. More perspectives are available at AskPhilosophers.

14 April 2008

You Got Religion in My Politics! (You Got Politics in My Religion!)


Sorry Democrats, looks like it's that time again, when evangelicals nationwide will firmly announce that they won't vote for you just because you like killing babies. It's terrible you had to hear it this way, I know.


Maybe you could just give them the platform they want. After all, America is a Christian nation, and it is our Christian tradition which has given us our moral philosophy. I know some people think you don't have a moral philosophy, but deep down, maybe you could at least pretend, just for the evangelicals.


Would it really be so bad, letting that one demographic hold sway over national policy? Everyone else could just put our heads down and power through. We won't feel stratified at all, I promise.


You remember Dred Scott, right? If we had all just listened to the Evangelicals back then, we probably could have avoided that whole Civil War debacle. And we know how much you hate war (and that one was totally not about oil either).


So, I know you'd like to have your candidate (whichever one— both fine choices) in the White House. My advice is to just admit that life begins when the Evangelicals say the Good Lord says it does.


In fact, you might want to draw some leadership inspiration from some of the heroes of the faith. Try Ehud. He was left-handed, which is a lot like being black or a woman. Good luck— or should I say, God luck— in November, baby-killers!

12 April 2008

When Punctuation Is Pejorative


Mark Twain once said that clothes make the man. As a writer, I imagine he had some notion that punctuation makes the sentence (hint: he did).


In a recent article, Christian Post Correspondent Alexander J. Sheffrin reports on a policy in the Town of Ithaca, NY which allows same-sex couples many of the same rights as married couples. While I have no illusions about media bias (hint: it exists in some form everywhere), I was a little surprised at the article above.


Did you notice it? When the author refers to any possible union between same-sex couples, the word marriage is put into quotation marks. Still think sarcasm doesn't carry through to the written word?


I'm not interested in reading too much into Sheffrin's stance on gay marriage (hint: he doesn't believe in it). I'm not interested in being shy about my stance on the issue (hint: gay couples should have equal marriage rights). I am interested in a form of "journalism" a little less ham-fistedly pejorative, even when "reporting" the opposing side of an issue.

10 April 2008

Captions? More Like, Craptions!


There are so many things wrong with the following cover. Can you find them all? Can you write an awesome caption for it?


Sowing Atheism Cover

I Hope They're Recording This


Things that promise to be awesome: a jazz Mass written by Winton Marsalis.


In many of the churches I've attended, the union of music and liturgy is a tremendous mess. In more so-called "traditional" services, the music and liturgy tend to work well, but the music— while high-quality— is almost entirely outdated and divorced from current cultural trends.


On the other hand, churches with more allegedly "contemporary" services have music that tends to lack liturgical significance as well as quality. And, while guitars and drums might seem to indicate an embrace of cultural music trends, the reality is that the musical style and forms used are co-opted by outreach. The purpose isn't quality music as an offering to God, but advertising for potential newcomers. It's not an embrace as much as it a side-hug.


It'd be nice to get someone to do a rock mass, too (are you listening, U2?)

08 April 2008

What Would Jesus Drink?


A favorite pet topic of mine is alcohol use in Christianity. Some people think nobody should drink any alcohol at all, not even for communion (are you hearing this, B.T.?).


Hey guys, remember that one time Jesus turned WATER into WINE? Just to keep a party going?! For people who may have ALREADY been drunk.


And I think I here you say, "Yeah, sure, but the wine they drank then was weaker."


Except that everyone thought Jesus' wine was WAY BETTER.


And then you say, "But it was a special circumstance."


Except that Jesus HADN'T PLANNED ON DOING IT. And, he made approximately an ASSLOAD.


And then you say nothing. Because Jesus wants you to drink. In fact, most of the biblical references to wine in particular are positive, treating drinking it as a normal part of life. Awesome.

07 April 2008

Get Behind Me, Crazy


If the Prince of Darkness comes by, I'm not here.


This post would be too long if I were to enumerate the issues I have with the interviewee's responses. In short, I don't believe the devil is the primary source of evil in the world. Eviler things are done in the hearts and by the hands of humans.


I'm not saying the devil doesn't deserve his due. Let's not blame him for something that's not his fault though. "No, you're not depressed, you're oppressed. That's your problem right there." Put down the Prozac and pick up the holy water!


Besides, everyone knows there are better ways to get rid of devils.

If You Build It, They'll Still Overuse the Reference


Unchurched Prefer Cathedrals Over Contemporary Church Buildings:


A few years ago, I listened to Brian Walsh speak what may as well have been extemporaneously— he was presenting a hastily written paper to fill in for a missing presenter— on architecture and worldview. I think I still have the notes and the doodles somewhere.


It was the first time I'd seriously considered architecture in religion, Christianity in particular. I realized how much it bothered me to walk into most modern churches, especially in the relatively impoverished area where I grew up. These were no contemporary megachurches, but they nevertheless embraced practicality over beauty.


It says something to a newcomer who sees plastic flowers on the walls, funeral home carpeting and colors, and fake brass. In an attempt to make visitors feel welcome, they're pushed away, perhaps sensing a certain insincerity.


The difference, I would suggest, in contemporary church architecture and that of the cathedrals, is intent. In our time, churches are intended to attract the unchurched. Cathedrals, I think, were not.


Which is better? To create a building with the intent to make the unchurched feel welcome, or create a building expressing your religion's deepest beliefs? Is it possible for the unchurched to walk into the second type of building and feeling uncomfortable, but nevertheless welcome? Why is it that denominations who make use of cathedrals are, on the whole, dwindling?

06 April 2008

Apologies


It was a busy weekend. New updates tomorrow. For now, a few thoughts from the weekend:


To see Victor Wooten live is worth more than I paid to do so.


The same can be said of local Rochester group Filthy Funk.


I don't like running, but I do walk. And Saturday, I felt better the more I did.


Compared to coworkers, i've been treated well in my job. It's still time to move on.

03 April 2008

It's FrankenSHTEEN!


Are UK churches right in condemning human-cow hybrid embryos? Personally, I've still got some questions.


First, is this going to turn into some Manbearpig-type thing?


Second, will this creature have an affinity toward leather, or find it repulsive?


Third, will they be as delicious, making cannibalism acceptable? Something like the talking cow from The Restaurant at the End of the Universe?


Fourth, will they be a person on the inside, but look like a cow on the outside? If so, will they someday host The View?


It should be noted that US churches have as of yet made no response. This is likely due to the existence of human-cow hybrids in the US already, although the preferred method is to inject the human— via ingestion— with cow in the form of hamburger.


Also, would UK churches be okay with the hybridization if the animal in question were a sheep?



Finally, I think a sea cow would have been a better choice. They could call it a "Humanatee!"

02 April 2008

The Craziest Idea


Plenty of people have crazy ideas at some time in their lives. Some people are crazy enough to form cults or run for government positions. I have only ever discovered one person crazy enough to invent the craziest idea in the world— an idea so crazy, the category had to be invented especially for it. That crazy idea is "Time Cube." That crazy person is Gene Ray, the self-titled wisest human.


I can say confidently that Gene Ray is batshit insane. To be fair, I haven't read everything available on the site, so I can't in good conscience say that Gene Ray is completely batshit insane.


My favorite part is, after scrolling through endless axiomatic monstrosities, reading one which condemns the "Word World," immediately followed by the "Next Page" link. Awesome.


Second most awesome? Never adequately describing this "Time Cube" in the course of the barely readable, largely incoherent accusations that everybody else is stupid and preventing the truth about Time Cube from being known.


Third most awesome goes to what turns out to be a contender for the most arrogantly titled "About Me" page on the internet: The Power Above God.


Anything else I might say will be far less hilarious than reading a portion— any portion— of the site. Enjoy the non-reality.

Mitchell & Webb Tell Bible Stories


Helpful religious instruction from British duo Mitchell & Webb. This is why it is important to always think about what well-meaning people tell you is true.