Saturday, June 19, 2010

getting the whole truth?

Spirituality favors a holistic view of the individual, seeing the self not as a series of compartments but as a whole entity. The tendency of religion, meanwhile, is to divide the body and spirit, emphasizing the spirit's superiority over the body.
Burke and Taylor, A Heretic's Guide to Eternity, p 59

In his book 'A Christianity Worth Believing', Doug Pagitt says a bit about babies and our responses to them. For most people, a newborn is a good thing, something to be valued and whose arrival is to be celebrated. It would seem very incongruous if someone where to talk about a newborn child as a horrible sinner.

We the massed unwashed who are outside of the great enlightened Postmodern ones are at times accused of not being nuanced. In this, Pagitt showed himself to lack that 'virtue'.

There is no contradiction in saying the a chld, or any person of any age, is both precious and sinful, both a valuable being and a sinner in need of redeeming. In fact, one sees it in the Bible, "God has commended his love to us in this, that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us".

And here, we have to deal with a similar type of thing that some people seem to think of as contradictory--the body is valuable and good, the material world is a creation of God and good, and the physical body even has an important role in the resurrection, but it is not more important than the soul.

Consider marriage. The Bible says much concerning the importance of marriage, and it is a good thing, something set up by God. But then, Jesus tells us that in the age to come we will not marry, but will be as the angels. If I may put it so, Jesus tells us that marriage is only a temporary thing, something for this world only--if one of the couple in a marriage should die, the other is free to marry another.

"Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both body and soul in hell" Matther 10:28. The idea of some sort of difference between body and soul is not new. As this passage shows, Jesus taught it.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

down the rabbit hole

Perhaps I'll start looking into how the whole Postmodern movement was inspired by Powerpoint, even before Powerpoint was invented. Maybe I'll use Caputo-ese, talking about how the event of Powerpoint brought about Postmodernism, permeating all thought and actions leading that made for the birth of Postmodernism, and how the fact that we now have Powerpoint only means that not all of Caputo's nonevent events actually remain nonevents.

I'll probably need Wally to help me with that.

And remember, when Powerpoint crashes, Postmodernism dies.

either/or either/or or both/and?

Spirituality adopts a "both-and" approach to life, allowing culture, context, and situation to be reflected in the beliefs and practices of the seeker. Whereas spirituality encourages tolerance and acceptance of difference as the foundation for postmodern ethics, religion tends to trade in binary oppositions. It is most comfortable with clear boundaries and "us and them" divides.
Burke and Taylor, A Heretic's Guide to Eternity, p 59

In his book Can Man Live Without God, on pp 126-129, Ravi Zacharias related a time when he had a debate of sorts with a professor of philosophy, concerning this concept of "both-and'. The professor tried to say that Hinduism was a "both-and" religion, "...when you see one Hindu affirming that God is personal and another insisting the God is not personal, just because it is contradictory you should not see it as a problem. The real problem is that you are seeing that contradiction as a Westerner when you should be approaching it as an Easterner. the both/and is the Eastern. The both/and is the Eastern way of viewing reality".

Zacharias, who was born in India and born among the Eastern mind, was having none of it. He points out the contradiction in the argument, than when one studied Hinduism "I either use the both/and system of logic or nothing else?", and ends with a more everyday example, "...even in India we look both ways before we cross the street--it is either the bus or me, not both of us".

In fact, this list that Burke and Taylor have created shows the contradiction in their statement. The claim the spirituality is "both-and", but have set up a list of "us and them" in the form of "spirituality and religion", or more accurately "spirituality vs religion", and it is obvious that they think that spirituality is much better than religion.

So, in order to say that spirituality is a "both-and", they must create a "binary opposite" between spirituality and religion. Or, as the professor who debated with Zacharian put it, "The either/or does seem to emerge, doesn't it?"

It does emerge. It cannot help but emerge. Either you are 'spiritual', or you are something else--athiest, religious, fundamentalist, whatever else may be out there. Either you believe in "both-and", or you don't, which kinds of puts paid to any sort of universal application of the notion of "both-and".

And as you may expect, there is no hint of a "both-and" in the teachings of Jesus; if anything, they are full of "us and them", even to Him saying that those not against Him are for Him. His parables are full of "binary opposites"--wise and foolish virgins, wheat and weeds, faithful and wicked servants, sheep and goats, lost and found sheep, those who walk by the wounded man and the Samaritan who helps him, the man in Abrahams bosom and the one in Hell.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

living the zombie life

Spirituality is concerned with conscious living and with cultivating the sense of interconnectedness. Religion, by comparison, is often held captive by pseudo-orthodoxy and tends to be concerned with professions of belief rather than transformational living.
Burke and Taylor, A Heretic's Guide to Eternity, p 59

First, we have to consider some of their stranger words here. What, for example, do they mean by 'interconnectedness'? And what kind of living do they consider 'transformational'? Or, for that matter, what they mean by 'conscious living' (I'm assuming it's opposed to some kind of 'unconscious living', like, maybe, people asleep, or in comas, or maybe the fictional undead-ness of a zombie?)

I consider these words to be vague, feeling words, mostly feel-good ego words. To my mind, it's not so much that these words have any concrete meaning, but that these words are how people like Burke and Taylor describe themselves, and thing of themselves. What they describe is more the sense of superiority these 'spirituality' people feel over the poor unenlightened unwashed, those who believe that creeds and professions of faith actually mean something over vague feel-goodiness.

Of more concreteness is "pseudo-orthodoxy". That seems to be saying that any attempt to say that there are certain things that must be believed is either false, or that more or all such beliefs that are called necessary in their view wrong. To put is another way, the term "pseudo-orthodoxy", as use in this context, is essentially anti-orthodoxy.

I am not anti-orthodoxy. I am very much pro-orthodoxy. In fact, I am very much pro-Orthodoxy. And I will show that Chesterton, in his book Orthodoxy, has already quite sufficiently answered these anti-orthodoxy types.

This is what I have called guessing the hidden eccentricities
of life. This is knowing that a man's heart is to the left and not
in the middle. This is knowing not only that the earth is round,
but knowing exactly where it is flat. Christian doctrine detected
the oddities of life. It not only discovered the law, but it
foresaw the exceptions. Those underrate Christianity who say that
it discovered mercy; any one might discover mercy. In fact every
one did. But to discover a plan for being merciful and also severe--
THAT was to anticipate a strange need of human nature. For no one
wants to be forgiven for a big sin as if it were a little one.
Any one might say that we should be neither quite miserable nor
quite happy. But to find out how far one MAY be quite miserable
without making it impossible to be quite happy--that was a discovery
in psychology. Any one might say, "Neither swagger nor grovel";
and it would have been a limit. But to say, "Here you can swagger
and there you can grovel"--that was an emancipation.

This was the big fact about Christian ethics; the discovery
of the new balance. Paganism had been like a pillar of marble,
upright because proportioned with symmetry. Christianity was like
a huge and ragged and romantic rock, which, though it sways on its
pedestal at a touch, yet, because its exaggerated excrescences
exactly balance each other, is enthroned there for a thousand years.
In a Gothic cathedral the columns were all different, but they were
all necessary. Every support seemed an accidental and fantastic support;
every buttress was a flying buttress. So in Christendom apparent
accidents balanced. Becket wore a hair shirt under his gold
and crimson, and there is much to be said for the combination;
for Becket got the benefit of the hair shirt while the people in
the street got the benefit of the crimson and gold. It is at least
better than the manner of the modern millionaire, who has the black
and the drab outwardly for others, and the gold next his heart.
But the balance was not always in one man's body as in Becket's;
the balance was often distributed over the whole body of Christendom.
Because a man prayed and fasted on the Northern snows, flowers could
be flung at his festival in the Southern cities; and because fanatics
drank water on the sands of Syria, men could still drink cider in the
orchards of England. This is what makes Christendom at once so much
more perplexing and so much more interesting than the Pagan empire;
just as Amiens Cathedral is not better but more interesting than
the Parthenon. If any one wants a modern proof of all this,
let him consider the curious fact that, under Christianity,
Europe (while remaining a unity) has broken up into individual nations.
Patriotism is a perfect example of this deliberate balancing
of one emphasis against another emphasis. The instinct of the
Pagan empire would have said, "You shall all be Roman citizens,
and grow alike; let the German grow less slow and reverent;
the Frenchmen less experimental and swift." But the instinct
of Christian Europe says, "Let the German remain slow and reverent,
that the Frenchman may the more safely be swift and experimental.
We will make an equipoise out of these excesses. The absurdity
called Germany shall correct the insanity called France."

Last and most important, it is exactly this which explains
what is so inexplicable to all the modern critics of the history
of Christianity. I mean the monstrous wars about small points
of theology, the earthquakes of emotion about a gesture or a word.
It was only a matter of an inch; but an inch is everything when you
are balancing. The Church could not afford to swerve a hair's breadth
on some things if she was to continue her great and daring experiment
of the irregular equilibrium. Once let one idea become less powerful
and some other idea would become too powerful. It was no flock of sheep
the Christian shepherd was leading, but a herd of bulls and tigers,
of terrible ideals and devouring doctrines, each one of them strong
enough to turn to a false religion and lay waste the world.
Remember that the Church went in specifically for dangerous ideas;
she was a lion tamer. The idea of birth through a Holy Spirit,
of the death of a divine being, of the forgiveness of sins,
or the fulfilment of prophecies, are ideas which, any one can see,
need but a touch to turn them into something blasphemous or ferocious.
The smallest link was let drop by the artificers of the Mediterranean,
and the lion of ancestral pessimism burst his chain in the forgotten
forests of the north. Of these theological equalisations I have
to speak afterwards. Here it is enough to notice that if some
small mistake were made in doctrine, huge blunders might be made
in human happiness. A sentence phrased wrong about the nature
of symbolism would have broken all the best statues in Europe.
A slip in the definitions might stop all the dances; might wither
all the Christmas trees or break all the Easter eggs. Doctrines had
to be defined within strict limits, even in order that man might
enjoy general human liberties. The Church had to be careful,
if only that the world might be careless.

This is the thrilling romance of Orthodoxy. People have fallen
into a foolish habit of speaking of orthodoxy as something heavy,
humdrum, and safe. There never was anything so perilous or so exciting
as orthodoxy. It was sanity: and to be sane is more dramatic than to
be mad. It was the equilibrium of a man behind madly rushing horses,
seeming to stoop this way and to sway that, yet in every attitude
having the grace of statuary and the accuracy of arithmetic.
The Church in its early days went fierce and fast with any warhorse;
yet it is utterly unhistoric to say that she merely went mad along
one idea, like a vulgar fanaticism. She swerved to left and right,
so exactly as to avoid enormous obstacles. She left on one hand
the huge bulk of Arianism, buttressed by all the worldly powers
to make Christianity too worldly. The next instant she was swerving
to avoid an orientalism, which would have made it too unworldly.
The orthodox Church never took the tame course or accepted
the conventions; the orthodox Church was never respectable. It would
have been easier to have accepted the earthly power of the Arians.
It would have been easy, in the Calvinistic seventeenth century,
to fall into the bottomless pit of predestination. It is easy to be
a madman: it is easy to be a heretic. It is always easy to let
the age have its head; the difficult thing is to keep one's own.
It is always easy to be a modernist; as it is easy to be a snob.
To have fallen into any of those open traps of error and exaggeration
which fashion after fashion and sect after sect set along the
historic path of Christendom--that would indeed have been simple.
It is always simple to fall; there are an infinity of angles at
which one falls, only one at which one stands. To have fallen into
any one of the fads from Gnosticism to Christian Science would indeed
have been obvious and tame. But to have avoided them all has been
one whirling adventure; and in my vision the heavenly chariot flies
thundering through the ages, the dull heresies sprawling and prostrate,
the wild truth reeling but erect.

What is most inane, and even insane, in the statement by Burke and Taylor is the statements of belief are somehow inferior to how one lives; rather, it should more accurately be stated that beliefs precede actions, and thus beliefs are most important, as they will lead to actions.

And let them not fool you, Burke and Taylor are very concerned about correct beliefs, as they define them. The whole book is about how the church's beliefs are either not-quite-right, or very wrong. Belief in hell, for example, should be either discarded or hell should be redefined; the belief that only those with faith in Christ will be saved needs to be discarded, and those of other religions and faiths should be welcomed.

Friday, June 4, 2010

theOoze and illegal immigration

So, theOoze has more directly weighed in on political matters. The writer of the article plays the very modern game of creating his own word, and trying to assign it to the US.

Today, the U.S. has become infected with the disease of immipartheid

The word is a combination of "immigrant" and "apartheid". And by "immigrant", the writer means "illegeal immigrant".

In 2007, the estimates range from 10 to 30 million undocumented, resident immigrants living in the U.S., the vast majority of which are non-white and of Hispanic descent.

And he wants to say that, somehow, how we treat illegal immigrants is like how South Africa treated blacks in Apartheid. He claims certain parallels.

1. Voting rights were restricted or non-existent.
2. Access to public services such as education and medical care were restricted and often of inferior
quality vs. those afforded their white counterparts.
3. Forms of identification emerged that designated the person as a member of a segregated class. (
consular cards, discussion about the implementation of a national ID card).
4. Movement within the country was restricted. (try getting on an airplane today without a valid ID).
5. Permits authorizing one to labor in certain occupations and/or certain geographic areas emerged.
Oftentimes, these permits did not include the spouse or other members of one’s own family.
6. The legal ownership of land was tightly regulated, precluding segregated persons from participation.

So, let's see...

Concerning #1, I doubt any country will allow non-citizens much if any in the way of voting rights. I was in Russia during at least one election, and though my being there was perfectly legal (I had a visa), I didn't even imagine that they would have allowed me, an American, the right to participate in their elections.

Concerning #2, of course access to education would be restricted. It really couldn't be otherwise. If anything, the life chosen by illegals will also effect their children--moving here and there; having to be stay "under the radar", so to speak; without the necessary paperwork, such as social security cards, to legally enroll in schools. But the fault is more with the illegals than with the society.

#3 is puzzling. As people in the country illegally, illegals don't have such IDs. Perhaps this writer is referring to things like voting ID cards?

#4 is even more strange. Movement in this country is NOT restricted, and his assertion that it is is asinine and misleading. Airplane travel has proven to be very vulnerable (remember 9-11-2001?), and you've spent a few hundred dollars to get a plane ticket, you'd probably want the airlines to make certain you're the one who's occupying the seat.

I've no idea where he gets 5 and 6.

What is most clear, from a casual walking down the street in a US city, is that immigrants are everywhere, they work and own businesses, they are free to come and go, they can cross state lines, they can own property. Those that are citizens can vote, and can even run for some offices (think Ahnald and California). As I've heard before, America is a nation of immigrants, a melting pot, and all kinds of people make up this nation, and that is a good thing. I went to college with fellow students from places like Japan and Tiawan, while in missions I attended training or served at bases with Brits, Mexicans, Philippinos, Canadians. I worked for two years at boarding school, right in the middle of nowhere in Appalachia, whose student body was sizably composed of students from many different African and Asian countries, and one could see these various races of students intermingling, in friendships, and even some in dating relationships.

I don't think the timing of this article is an accident. Though it isn't mentioned, it's too close to the time after the passing of Arizona bill to make me think it's not a response to it. Another attempt to make that bill seem racist, I suppose.

beyond what is commanded, probably not good

Spirituality trades in mystery and seek experiential, firsthand encounters of the divine. Religion, meanwhile, frequently comes across as overly dogmatic and absolutist. Religion too often imposes blanket rules and regulations on us without considering context or social and environmental dynamics.
Burke and Taylor, A Heretic's Guide to Eternity, p 59

Read the New Testament, and you'll read many commands. Jesus tells us to do many things, and so the writers of the Epistles. Some are specific, others more general.

One thing I have not seen suggested or commanded in the New Testament is that we are to "seek experiential, firsthand encounters of the divine".

That doesn't mean such experiences may not happen. The Apostle Paul's conversion was brought on by such an experience, and he seems to have had other visions and supernatural experiences after that. He relates a bit about a man who was taken to Heaven itself, and many think he is talking about himself, which I'm not sure of that way or this. I have heard of accounts of people in the more recent past who have had similar experiences.

But while being open to such experiences may be acceptable, actively going to look for them is not ever commanded in the Bible. More importantly, in all of the practical things the New Testament tells us to do, none of them involve any kind of 'spiritual practices'--trances, mind-emptying meditations, repetitive prayers (in fact, Jesus' words against prayers of "vain repetition" may be considered against such a practice), isolation, labyrinths, or others.

Also, we may ask, how does one know that one is experiencing a "firsthand encounter of the divine"? Let us be real, if there is a divine, is there not also a diabolic? Does the Bible not tell us that the the Devil and demons can appear as "angels of light"? Is any man so true and experienced at the spiritual that he can know when he's dealing with the good or the evil?

This is particularly important, I think, when we consider the last part of Burke's and Taylor's paragraph. Religion says that there are things that must be believed, and says there are moral absolutes that apply to all people at all time. Christianity that is based in the Bible certainly says such things. It is as wrong for a man to sleep with another man's wife today as it was for King David to commit adultery with Bathsheba, the wife of another man. Murder is as wrong now as it was when Cain murdered his brother. Lying, stealing, dishonesty in business and other relationships, and worshipping false gods and idols, all were wrong long ago, and there is no reason to think they have suddenly become right today.

I know the New Testament's words about the Law being abolished or replaced can cause confusion. Much of what is now not followed are more like ceremonial laws, or things that the Old Testament Law called unclean but are no longer so. There are people who have dealt with it in more detail than I currently can.

The statement against dogmas and rules shows an astonishing amount of arrogance on the part of Burke and Taylor, as they essentially say that they need no guides when they deal with the spiritual, that they can venture into such things on their own, that they can determine for themselves if what they experience is really divine, and not devilish. Such arrogance should be avoided, as should, I think, any unbiblical attempts to push oneself into the supernatural. If God chooses to give you dreams and visions, or even prophecies, all well and good, but that is God's choice, not yours to take upon yourself.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

are they really countercultural?

Spirituality encourages a countercultural dynamic. It challenges many of the values of material life by injecting a renewed focus on the divine. On the other hand, religion and the establishment tend to go hand in hand. While the sacred texts may encourage countercultural living, in practice, religion has embraced the values of contemporary life.
Burke and Taylor, A Heretic's Guide to Eternity, p 59

Wow, so much politically loaded language in that, it's difficlt to know where to begin.

"Spirituality encourages a counterculturlt dynamic". Really? A counter to what culture? The copyright for the book is 2006, so likely much or all of it was written circa 2005 and 2006. Meaning in the time of George W Bush's second term as US President, with of course inspiration coming from the first term.

In other words, "countercultural" in this book likely has at least some hint of an anti-conservatism that President Bush represented in many people's minds, though rather imperfectly I think.

It is interesting, now in 2010, to see how things have changed. If there is a movement that could be considered "countercultural", it would be the Tea Party Movement. The people in it, largely falling into the category of 'common people', have stood up to what they consider injustices and wrongs--unfair excessive taxation; attempts by the government to gain control of such private spheres as automotive manufacturing and health care; attempts to curtail certain types of speech, notably conservative talk radio.

Yet with this counterculture movement, the take on it has been--much less favorable. Those who had previously been 'countercultural' now attack those who are against the present US adminstration, which has taken what was once considered 'countercultural' and is making it cultural. The attacks on the Tea Party, often based on lies and unsubstantiated claims, are numerous and vicious. Those who previously applauded the countercultural now attack the countercultural when their own ideas and preferences become or seem to be becoming the cultural norms, the establishment.

And this is the thing to keep in mind, in regards to this excerpt from "Heretic's Guide..."--'spirituality' is countercultural only until it becomes the 'establishment', then it ceases to be countercultural.

And one must question, as well, how much religion has "embraced the values of contemporary life". If by this Burke and Taylor mean evangelical Christians (possibly among others), then what values has it embraced? The killing of the unborn, which almost all evangelicals deplore? The drug culture? The culture of loose sexuality, which has had it's effects but which is still fought against?

If anything, one could argue that it is the 'spiritual' that embraced compromise with culture. For example, on p 49 of this same book, it seems that even their preference and pushing of 'spirituality' is a cultural thing. "The cultural shift in favor of spirituality over religion and towards a God freed from the constraints of religious dogmatism and feudalism is exciting. The table is being set for the future, and I believe we will see the ideas that have captured humanity's imagination aobut God for centuries transitioned into new contexts".

The current controversy concerning homosexuality is a prime example. While most evanglicals have stood against the legalizing and recognizing of homosexual partnerships as 'marriage', it is the 'spiritual' people, the ones who denigrate the Bible and claim to be more spiritually aware than the average ''Christian", who are all too ready to compromise with what the world wants, and to even provide spiritualized supports for it--explaining away biblical passages which forbid such sexual practices, claim that "love" is more important than "law", and when all else fails, say that those who are against it are "haters" who do not show true Christian love.

I would conclude, then, by saying this statement of Burke's and Taylor's is rather misleading.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

heretics and goddesses

On pages 58-60 of A Heretic's Guide to Eternity, Spencer Burke and Barry Taylor offer a list that could be considered 'spirituality vs religion'. It's an interesting list, and I'm planning to comment on some or all of them, a bit as a time, as time allows.

Spirituality encourages us to treat each human being equally and to explore the feminine of the divine as well the masculine. Religion, conversely, is dominated by male imagery and in many places continues to oppress and undermine women. The patriachal nature of most of the world's religions often means that women have to fight for the right to be treated equally.
p 58

Interesting. Let's see...

The Bible is filled with imagery of God in the masculine. In fact, much of it comes directly from God Himself. One of the strongest biblical images of God in the Bible is as Father. He speaks of Himself as a bridegroom, especially in relation to Israel. While I suppose a warrior could be man or woman, it's a predominately male image. And Jesus is so obviously male. And, finally, the Bible constantly uses male pronouns, 'he' and 'his' and 'him', to refer to God.

One may rightly say that God is really a spiritual being, and likely without gender as we know it, and it is a good point. But the fact remains, outside of a few possible cases such a in Proverbs and the feminine Wisdom, almost all of the imagery concerning God is masculine. And if we believe that God inspired the words of the Bible, then the predominately masculine imagery is itself inspired by God.

As such, then, I can only see a potential danger in any attempt to "explore the feminine of the divine". First, what does that mean? If a man is saying that he's going to "explore the feminine of the divine", what is it he's looking for?

Religions have had feminine deities. The Greek Hera, for example, seems to have epitomized the bad wife (not that Zeus was all that great a husband). They also had a goddess (Artemis?) who was a hunter, not exactly something we associate with women--men are usually thought of as hunters, and women as the gatherers and farmers. There was also the one (Aphrodite?) who epitomized beauty. And the Fates, who were women. You can find a rundown on Greek goddesses and supernatural beings here, though I will warn you about much of the artwork.

Hinduism has some feminine deities, too. Perhaps most famous is Kali, a blood-thirsty assassin and murderous goddess.

Perhaps those examples should give one pause in one's attempt to "explore the feminine of the divine". One may not like what one sees.

But I think the rest of the excerpt shows what the real agenda is. The Bible is pretty plain that pastors and church leaders are to be men. In the OT, the priests were all men, and that was how God set things up. Jesus' disciples and apostles were all men, though some say that some later apostles may have been women. When NT writers deal with pastors and deacons, perhaps the thing they take for granted is that those leaders are men.

And as well, the Bible says that in marriage, the man is the head, the leader. The husband has authority and responsibility. The Bible even plainly tells wives to 'submit'.

This is, of course, very not-PC (and I don't mean it's Mac or Linux). That is offensive to the "women need men like fish need bicycles" types. It's offensive to the "women can preach as well as men" types. It's offensive to Emergents, who pride themselves on their women-pastors.

Since the Christian religion attempts to follow the Bible, then one must appeal to something else to work around it. Hey, look, 'spirituality'. We today are more spiritual than those guys way back 2000 years ago. Oh, they were fine, we revere their works and all that, but in some things, they were just so stick-in-the-mud. And anyway, what they wrote has been misused and used to abuse women, and since that's happened, we must rethink all they taught instead of trying to understand how to apply their teachings rightly.

It should be said that, yes, there are many examples of women being abused and oppressed. I can't think of anything more anti-woman than Islam, and can't understand why any woman would choose Islam if she were not forced to.

Perhaps one could point out things in largely Christian nations that could be improved on. That's a given, and should be addressed, but it isn't helped by appealing to some kind of extra-scriptural "feminine of the divine". This has a more new-agey ring to it than biblical Christian.