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.


Elliot said...

Hey Tyler,

Thanks for writing your thoughts! This is the kind of thinking we were trying to encourage people to start at RIT. When it comes to spiritual matters, people at RIT clam up and don't talk about them (and thus sometimes don't even think about them). That was the real goal of this campaign, so if it got you thinking and talking (writing), it worked.

I'm sure that when you look at all of this from a deep theological standpoint, it sounds ridiculous, but when it comes to deep discussions at RIT, you're talking about physics, maybe art, or probably Pokémon. There are parts of the "pseudo-creed" that, if I thought about it as deeply as you have, I may or may not find issues with. But the point was to draft something which Christians in a general sense could agree with and use that unify Christians on a very secular campus, get people to realize we're out there, and get people thinking and talking.

You brought up the fact that the facebook group said the forums weren't about debate. That was poor wording, I believe. On the contrary, we wanted to encourage debate. At the same time, we didn't want harsh "debating" to discourage people from expressing their opinions. This meant that at first, the administrators deleted posts which simply picked apart people's points. Eventually, by the end of the week, some of the debates that did occur on the facebook group were a bit more fruitful.

There are some aspects of this week which could have been handled better. Starting the week without posters was rather unfortunate, for one, but they were late in coming from the printer. Bad timing became an issue, and sometimes we ended up taking more time defending the way things were done rather than defending our beliefs.

Still, the week was a net success, I believe, as more people spent time thinking about spiritual matters and what they believed. I'm not sure anyone jumped to Roberts graduate level, but any thoughts are better than no thoughts.

Thanks again.


Scottish said...

Tyler, well-written. You basically encompassed most of my reaction to it.

Elliot, a good response to Tyler. You're obviously an intelligent thinker yourself, and I don't worry for people like you. What I worry about is people that get caught up in the movement, and as Tyler suggested, don't actually think about the spiritual/theological issues, and instead just go along with people.

Anyway, how did it go last night, and why did the Facebook group get deleted?

Elliot said...

I don't think there were too many blind sheep, at least not amongst the people who are members of the five Christian groups who organized this. We explained the whole campaign very well before it started.

Last night we really weren't sure what to expect. Some of our antagonizers did show up, though they were peaceful in their jokes parodying our event. A deaf student was speaking to the leader of InterVarsity before Josh spoke and came to Christ then. Nobody went up to talk to the designated response people. Many left right after the speech, but a lot stayed around to discuss things with others. I overheard some interesting debates.

All in all, there were about 350 +/- 100 people there (shut up, I'm bad at estimating). There appeared to be many, many visitors, though it was hard to tell because only a few people were wearing green shirts (we decided to take them off for the event so visitors wouldn't be overwhelmed).

As for the facebook group--I'm not sure why it was deleted. Perhaps it was an attempt to allow Josh's life to return to some state of normality--this week was very hard on him what with receiving a lot of hate mail and verbal threats.

T. M. Gagnon said...

Elliot and Scott, thank you both for the comments. I'd like to touch on a couple additional points in response.

First, I don't intend to hold that rallies of this sort lack sufficient depth to compared with some imaginary RWC standard. If you spent some time at Roberts, you might notice a surprising lack of depth in spiritual discussions. When no dissenting voices arise, there's not always much to talk about.

In fact, I found that much of the discussion on the forums quite interesting. I also believe they revealed a depth of thought on the side of the dissenters that was, perhaps, unexpected by some of the organizers.

Next— and in a related way— I would suggest that describing the campus as "very secular" runs the same risk of a campaign in which the only visible options are one of two opposing sides (agree/disagree).

If, as I think most Christian creeds would tell us, God created the heaven and earth, what is there that exists which is not in some way sacred? So, it shouldn't be surprising that some non-Christian is spiritually preceptive in some manner, or thinks about such topics in depth.

The issue, as I mentioned in the post, is for me mainly one of language. The words we use at times betray our intents, at others, defy or confuse.

I think the organizers of this event intended it for good. I also think that the agreement/disagreement language, and the similar sacred/secular tends to force people into one camp or another.

bethanybeams said...

I remember the "I Agree With Josh" group that started at Ball State when I was in high school on their campus. They weren't nearly this thoughtful. So while I didn't get into it then, and don't really now, I must offer props to both sides (at least of the Artisan crew) for having such intelligent comments.