Saturday, April 30, 2005

 

On the Lighter Side...

Whew, it's been getting heavy around here of late, so here's a little reprieve from the extensive pontificating.

What do Quentin Tarantino and the Papacy have in common? Find out by checking out this Scene from Pope Fiction. Here’s a sampling:

Vincent: You know what the funniest thing about Vatican City is?
Jules: What?
Vincent: It's the little differences. Like, they got the same sh*t they got everywhere else, but it's a little different.
Jules: Examples?
Vincent:
Like they got a army and everything, but even though they're in Italy, it's called the Swiss Guard.

I found this among a list of “Tips for Insulting a Person”:

Finally, remember all those names you used to call people in grade school? They can still be effective, if for no other reason than they are so obviously foolish. Honestly, how do you respond when a 35 year old mother of 4 calls you a ‘dummy’ or ‘potty-face’. You can’t; those are devastating insults, only to be used when you see no other option.

How to Blog Like a Rock Star” by Ambra Nykol. (HT: Joe Carter at EO) and now it's Rock Star Part II. (Hat tip: Instapundit) Here's a sample:

Complaining about how you wish more people would visit your website is the antithesis of cool. Keep that stuff to yourself. Don't rant about it on your weblog. That is what nerds do.

Bill Simmons at espn.com amusingly trashes the new movie “Fever Pitch”. Some women may not fully “appreciate” his humor, but here’s a sampling:

Here's a news flash for you: If that was really me in the movie and I had season tickets right next to the Red Sox dugout, not only would I have never considered giving them up for a girl ... there's a 99.9 percent chance that I would have died single. And that, my friends, is the difference between a chick flick and real life. Final Grade: B-plus (as a chick flick), D-plus (as a movie)

Also, be sure to check out his “10 generic themes that invariably show up in any chick flick” in the same article.

And finally, The Onion reports: “Family Feud Continues Years After Game Show Appearance”.

Friday, April 29, 2005

 

The World's Most Dangerous Idea (Part 2)

I now turn to the truly interesting and important part of this discussion… Why moral relativism is either a self-refuting theory or the world’s most dangerous idea.

First though, I want to address the specific commentary from Dave and Gaunilo. I did not mean to insinuate that the only code of moral truth is found in the Bible. Actually, basic guiding principles against lying and killing and in support of patriotism and “the Golden Rule” exist in a nearly all ethical systems, world religions, and cultures. This is consistent with a belief in a natural law.

Also, I am not repudiating the need to appeal to one’s own conscience. However, the fact that we should appeal to our own conscience and reasoning does not preclude the existence of a universal moral code. For instance, if Jeffrey Dahmar’s morality allowed him to cannibalize his neighbor, we should be able to unequivocally assert that his actions were wrong and should be condemned. If there exists no universal code of morality, then we have no grounds to say his “morality” is any less than ours.

A moral relativist could, in turn, argue that he is not an individual relativist, but a cultural relativist and our culture does not condone Dahmar’s actions. Fair enough. But the foundations of this philosophy deteriorate as well under scrutiny. For there can be no ethical “progress” in a society if morality is no more than a reflection of people’s tastes, preferences, and origins.

Can anybody reasonably deny that the abolition of slavery in the U.S. was an example of true moral progress? Yet, if we follow cultural relativism to its logical end, there can be no such thing as moral improvement. After all, what basis do we have to use as inspiration for improvement? If there is no universal standard by which to measure, there is no greater good to which we should aspire.

Now we move on to a favorite topic of everyone on the left – tolerance. Firstly, in my own defense (though I can’t speak for all conservatives), I have never alleged that liberals themselves have no moral code or principles. Rather, I have suggested that most liberals deny the existence of any objective moral code.

Also, my recognition that there exists such a thing as universal truth does not mean I am telling anyone what to do. One is a belief. The other is an order or instruction. It’s a leap to jump from one to the other and label me intolerant on the basis of merely espousing a belief.

Now, more to the point, what does relative morality have to say in regard to tolerance? The proposition that we ought to tolerate the views of others insinuates an underlying universal code of morality. An aspiration toward tolerance presupposes that there is something inherently good about being tolerant and open-minded. But if there is no objective standard, a core belief of liberalism is diluted and is, in fact, rendered to be without substance.

I will even take it a step further and assert that moral relativism can promote close-mindedness. If there is no moral truth to be discovered outside of one’s own logic and reasoning, what can be gained by engaging in dialogue with others? Why bother even listening to other people? What’s to be gained? Look inside and you will find all you need to know according to the slippery slope of a worldview that is relative morality.

G.K. Chesterton says it well in Orthodoxy:
The new rebel is a sceptic, and will not entirely trust anything. He has no loyalty; therefore he can never really be a revolutionist. And the fact that he doubts everything really gets in his way when he wants to denounce anything. For all denunciation implies a moral doctrine of some kind; and the modern revolutionist doubts not only the institution he denounces, but the doctrine by which he denounces it.

Are you disgusted by the genocide going on in Darfur? Did the world's failure to stop the disaster in Rwanda in '94 sicken you? Well, I'm afraid relativism is of no help here. There can be no basis for denunciation of such acts... After all, who are we to say our moral philosophies and practices are better than theirs? I don't think we need such "humility" in the face of human rights atrocities.

Where's the outrage? It began to dissipate around the same time relativism began to rear its ugly head. Societies can only be held accountable for their moral failings if there exists a standard by which to measure.

UPDATE: Since this is a theme that I feel warrants further elaboration, I want to provide links to some others on the topic:

Neil at the Ethical Werewolf elaborates upon the types of contradictions that abound for those that espouse relativism. He also provides a good rationale for why it is important to be informed on the matter:
Our views on the nature of moral concepts have big consequences for the theory of what's right and wrong. So we'd do well to clarify them and make sure they're what they ought to be.

Jeannine at Sharing Life makes a good case for remaining grounded in truth and avoiding altering our beliefs to fit the ever-changing whims of the culture:
The truth that God has revealed to us cannot be given up. This is not understandable to a world that believes in relativism, to which the concept of an absolute truth is absolutely alien.

Sean, a student at Harvard, expounds upon the deteriorating moral situation and break down of common sense from the vantagepoint of one trapped inside the confines of what he deems the “dictatorship of relativism”.

Doug Powell also takes his best effort at debunking the premises of moral relativism here. (Hat tip: JPE)

From a different perspective, JPE suggests that relativism is a scapegoat that diverts us from addressing the real issue which could better be characterized as "moral particularism". According to him, I am merely a pawn in money making game called the “relativism industry”. Makes me feel like some sort of lobbyist…

Thursday, April 28, 2005

 

The World's Most Dangerous Idea (Part 1)

The gauntlet has been thrown down. In response, I intend to defend the merits of moral absolutism and, subsequently, demonstrate how the core principles of liberalism are undermined by its own driving philosophy of moral relativism.

But first: Why is this discussion even relevant? More than any other single factor, I would contend that the relativist/absolutist moral dichotomy is at the root of the red/blue state cultural divide. Whether it is explicitly stated or lingering just beneath the surface, this issue is at the heart of the conflicting worldviews with which our nation and the world are now struggling.

On that note, I’ll begin my own feeble attempt to debunk the principles of a relative moralistic philosophy.

First, though, I’d like to refer Dave at The Grace Pages (along with other relativists) to the related commentary of a most distinguished member of his own Anglican Church, C.S. Lewis. Lewis articulates a solid case against moral relativism in The Abolition of Man. I’ve noted the contributions of both Lewis and G.K. Chesterton to this subject in a previous post. But I digress.

So as to avoid confusion, I want to start by defining both. Moral relativism is the belief that there are no absolutes or objective right and wrong concerning questions of morality. Instead, morality is a function of personal preferences and/or one’s cultural or ethnic orientation.

By contrast, moral absolutism is the belief in objective and universal moral standards (also called natural law), generally assumed to be derived from a higher power. Adherents to such a philosophy believe that the concept of truth exists naturally. It is not a matter of something being true “for someone” to the exclusion of someone else. It is either true or it is not.

I took the time to explain this because it is my primary intention to distinguish between the two and show why I feel logic and inherent reason are on the side of a belief in absolute morality. After reading Dave’s response to my last post, I’m concerned that we were both misrepresenting each other and I want to avoid spirally further into a semantic quagmire. While I believe most liberals adhere to a relativist philosophy (either implicitly or explicitly), I do not mean to apply that stereotype to all on the left.

First though, are liberals justified in their accusations of arrogance, narrow-mindedness against conservatives? Well, in many cases the answer is yes and I would attribute it to a misapplication of the moral absolutist philosophy. Few situations could be more frustrating that trying to have a discussion with someone who espouses a “completely black-and-white” mindset and who assumes to be on the right side of all issues.

Those who selectively quote random Bible versus in response to complicated moral questions and situations and act as if that settles the issue can be very frustrating. I readily admit that some who share my ideology use moral absolutism to justify an over-simplified, arrogant, and sometimes judgmental, worldview. Such behavior, however, does not invalidate the existence of an objective moral code.

By espousing a belief in absolute morality, I am not suggesting that the Bible has an answer to every theoretical situation and philosophical question in existence. Moreover, we need not oversimplify every moral scenario in order to believe in the existence of objective truth and morality. Life is complicated and many situations require a nuanced approach. But the question is do we have a starting point or standard of measure at the core of the debate or is everything subjective?

Also, the existence of exceptions to objective standards does not invalidate the concept of a natural law. For instance, is lying justifiable in situations that could save a life? The answer can be yes without completely undermining the belief in an objective moral code. Only a proponent of Kantian extreme absolutist philosophy would argue that lying is wrong under every possible circumstance.

Refutation of Relativism to follow. For now I give up due to a breakdown of blogger service...

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

 

Words V. Actions – Bridging the Gap

Terry Mattingly at Get Religion has found an interesting news item that has not received nearly the amount of news coverage it warrants…

Through a new idea called the "95/10 Initiative", a group called Democrats for Life is suggesting a way to reduce the number of abortions by 95% in the next 10 years. Who knows what kind of validity there is to those numbers, but at least it seems to be a step in the right direction.

As Terry points out, it will be interesting to see if there is any truth behind Clintonesque assertions of the hope to make abortion “safe, legal, and rare”.

(Kris at Anywhere But Here points to a good example that calls into question the sincerity of such assertions. Parableman’s archived ruminations on this subject also point out the disingenuous nature of leftist claims supposedly aspiring to make abortion “rare".)

My guess is that further conversation about this topic will be muted or, if the proposal begins to gain some traction, pro-choice Dems will find some minor point of contention that will allow them to oppose the idea. Afterall, abortion is big business in this country, as Joe Carter points out, and the lobbyists are not going down without a fight on this.

It will also be interesting to see how the right wing responds. For instance, what is the chance Dr. Dobson would ever rally the troops in a compromise that involves teaching comprehensive sex-ed in schools? (Oh my, what is that - a pig flying outside my window…)

Why can’t grown-ups find mature solutions to issues of life and death? I would submit it comes down to one of two possibilities. Either they are captive to special interests (see NOW or NARAL on the left) or they are beholden to noble ideals that negate the possibility of finding attainable compromises (see the right clinging to “abstinence-only” education even at the expense of human lives).

In an ideal world, we would conduct research to find an optimal solution that all reasonable parties could agree upon (in other words, what actually has the highest success ratio in reducing the number of abortions) and just do it. Period. For this reason, I think Democrats for Life are on the right track.

Jason at Antioch Road is calling for someone (Bush in particular) to “stand up and lead” on the abortion issue. That’s a request that needs to be heeded and is long overdue. Now that it appears someone is leading, I would be curious as to how he (and others on the right) feel Bush should respond to the Dems for Life initiative.

Over on the left, I’m also curious as to how Publius at Legal Fiction would react to this initiative. In a recent post, he stated: “For instance, progressives and conservatives could surely agree on the value of promoting adoption programs and sex education to reduce the number of abortions…” 'Surely', eh? Methinks not. Here’s an example of some folks from your own party putting some impetus behind those words: What say you, Publius?

We’ll see if anyone else wants to follow suit in offering or endorsing some sort of practical solution. Of course, that would involve an actual conversation between the opposing sides to find a workable compromise. Okay, now I’m actually making myself laugh. Sorry for the delusional suggestion. The children can now resume with the partisan name-calling and finger pointing. I need a drink.

UPDATE: Jason at Antioch Road has posted a reply that states his position on the 95-10 Intiative.

Monday, April 25, 2005

 

Of Babies and Bathwater

I want to take issue with the blurring of two ideologies/belief systems – Conservative Christianity and Christian Fundamentalism. While the fundamentalist is a conservative Christian, a conservative Christian is not necessarily a fundamentalist. I have observed that most backlashes purportedly against those on the right of the political spectrum in general are actually targeted against a subset of the right, Christian fundamentalists.

There is good reason for this and I sympathize with much of the frustration targeted at fundamentalists. Fundamentalists, much like the Pharisees of the New Testament, are often much more concerned with obeying the letter of the law than they are with the principles of grace that Christ espoused and displayed so prevalently.

The self-righteous legalism and hypocritical condescension of these folks has deterred legions of people from ever even hearing the message of Christianity. Also, fundamentalists are often sufficiently preoccupied with the end of the world and their own path to eternity to the extent that they often neglect the crucial need to live out the gospel of grace by example here on earth.

So the backlash against fundamentalism is not at all surprising and is largely justified. However, I would submit that in many corners the pendulum has swung too far in the opposite direction. We need to be careful not to throw out the proverbial baby with the bathwater. Focusing on grace, to the exclusion of any real core moral convictions, can result in a watered down sort of spirituality.

The result of a complete refutation of all aspects of fundamentalism is a foundation built on sand. In the name of pseudo-humility, everyone lives by his or her own sense of right and wrong and there is no common moral code. This is a dangerous road to tread for it leads to a steady corrosion of morality. Kevin at Short Attention Span offers some interesting insights on this subject.

On the other hand, the anti-scientific, anti-intellectual strain all too common among fundamentalists is antithetical to the type of conservatism I would advocate. Unfortunately, some do not differentiate the above characteristics of fundamentalists from the broader categories of conservatives and evangelicals. Here is an example of this blurring of the lines by the blogger Gaunilo:

It's simply wrong-headed to reject the findings of modern thought or science because a literalistic hermeneutic would interpret the scriptures a particular way… Christianity today is a laughingstock in the culture because it arrogantly has decided that on the basis of a religious text it is competent to judge matters of science that it knows nothing about.

I don’t disagree with this sentiment, but I disagree with the author’s conclusion that this should serve as a refutation of conservative Christianity.

The problem here lies in a false choice that is all too often offered. Are you a judgmental, hypocritical zealot of the "religious right" or an open-minded, loving, grace-filled liberal Christian? There is a lot to learn from those on the left (particularly in areas of compassion), and it is not my intention to paint with too broad a brush.

However, the left tends to lose its way because, as G.K. Chesterton put it, they are humble in the wrong area. From the perspective of many on the left, they are humble because “they have no right to tell others what is right and wrong”. Dave at Grace Pages takes that argument a step further by alleging “slander” against those who believe in an inherent sort of moral code:
To be blunt, I think this is something of a myth constructed by conservative Christians, among others. What they're really saying when they accuse someone of having no moral standards is that they do not share the same moral standards. It really amounts to slander: You don't share my agenda; therefore you have no principles.

I would assert that it is not “my” agenda or principles for which I am advocating, but rather God-given truths and principles which we abandon at our own peril. Liberal arguments against an absolute moral code sound modest and unassuming, but in reality, the proponents of relative morality are egotistical in espousing the assumption that man, not God, determines ultimate truth. Under such a scenario, man’s intellect and emotion hold the keys to ultimate discernment of truth. I would argue that is the most arrogant of worldviews.

Instead, I’d assert that the answer – the reasonable middle ground if you will – lies in an open-minded sort of conservatism. We should strive for a broadening of perspective without watering down our core beliefs. Assuming a divine inspiration of Scripture need not imply the need to blindly adhere to a completely literal interpretation. Quarrels over doctrinal differences should not overshadow common belief in the core principles of the Apostle’s Creed.

Balance. We need to find it. Demagoguing the other side will accomplish nothing.

UPDATE: Dave at The Grace Pages has issued a seething repudiation of my commentary above (or at least loosely based on my commentary). A word of caution: For those of you entering a blog entitled "The Grace Pages" expecting, oh I dunno, grace?, you may want to brace yourselves. No seriously, he makes a thorough and intelligent rebuttal, albeit in an overly sensitive manner. "An insult to (your) character." Really, Dave? I was excited at the prospect of beginning some real dialogue. I can assure you no personal affront was intended. Anyway, I can "take it on the chin," but I will need a separate post to return the favor. To be continued...

For a more specific dilineation of the differences between fundamentalists and evangelicals I would recommend checking out Blake Kennedy's post.

For some specific examples of characteristics that might be attributable to fundamentalists, see Parableman's post on "Defining Fundamentalism," which was prompted by Blake's post. One thing that I seem to be in disagreement with Jeremy on is the notion that not all Fundamentalists are Evangelicals. It would seem to me that Fundamentalists would also be Evangelicals, but perhaps I am just not aware of situations in which this would not be the case. However, I would clearly agree that not all Evangelicals are Fundamentalists, hence the reason for this post in trying to avoid the blurring of the lines between the two.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

 

Escaping From the Echo Chamber

This is my emancipation proclamation. I've grown weary of the philosophical walls surrounding me. And I suspect I'm not the only one...

As I was reading Joe Carter's advice about how bloggers can set themselves apart and enhance their value, I came across an interesting recommendation that he made:
Read Outside the Circle -- Conservative bloggers read The Corner, liberal bloggers read Salon.com, Christian bloggers read Christianity Today, libertarian bloggers read Reason, and everyone reads the New York Times. So why point out the material they already know about?

Your blog's target audience is either reading the same magazines and newspaper's that you do or they will follow the links to the thousands of other blogs who found the story first. Find what other people aren't reading.

It's a great point. I thought about it in the slightly different context of how much more impact we can have if we step outside our own walls. Regardless of your ideology, the thought of stepping out of the comfort zone to listen and engage the other side is intriguing. How many of us intentionally and consistently seek out conversation or understanding from the other side of the debate? Preaching to the choir rarely broadens our own perspective or has significant impact on anyone else's.

With this "broadening" ideal in mind, I came across an ever-so-rare example of actual, civilized dialogue between a conservative and a liberal. They both discussed their Christian faiths at a blog called the Faithful Progressive. It is a good example of a self-described "progressive" trying to grasp - both for himself and his readers - the thinking of a conservative Christian that may not fit the typical charicatures. I'd suggest reading their exchange. Jollyblogger has also followed Joe's advice, in reading and assessing David Schimke's views on the differences between progressives and conservatives.

In this spirit, I've decided to make a concerted effort to begin reading blogs from the left side of the political spectrum, specifically Christian ones. I know that none of these folks asked for my opinion of their writing, but I'm going to give it anyway - from what I hope is a sincere and open-minded perspective.

One particular blog - Father Jake Stops the World - caught my attention. He seems fair-minded and makes some interesting points about God's not being a Republican or Democrat, and the need to look at the whole spectrum of issues at stake politically. But then, similar to Jim Wallis, he makes some sweeping (left-leaning) assertions with seemingly no thought as to the other side of the debate. Here's an example:
What will convince me to support a candidate are actions that give evidence of a consistent life ethic that includes not just discussion of abortion and euthanasia, but also of the thousands of innocent Iraqis who have died due to the American invasion and those on death row who will be murdered in the name of the state.

Why does he point out "thousands of innocent Iraqis dying," but fails to mention hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis tortured, raped, or killed by Saddam Hussein's vicious totalitarian regime. Does that not factor into the equation at all? Surely, he does not think that situation would have remedied itself on its own or that Hussein would have turned over a new leaf. Captain Ed has more about it here. There are many arguments against the war that make a lot of sense, but this one seems a bit disingenuous.

In another post of his, with which I completely agreed, Father Jake talked of the need to shut out all of the distractions surrounding us in order to grow spiritually:
Let's try to shut out some of the noise in our lives, and listen for the voice of our Good Shepherd, who will revive our souls, and guide us along right pathways.

Now, for sure, there are good reasons to be weary of reading blogs from the other side. For conservatives, here’s one of them. In it, 'DarkSyd' states:
And outside of dozens of (Bible) verses… which seem to condone, justify, or apologize, for infanticide and the destruction of fetuses… in certain rare circumstances by God's followers, at his behest, or by the Almighty Himself, there are only a couple which directly comment on the status of unborn children. Neither of which do the anti-choicers much good.

Uh, whatever. If we need to pinpoint scripture that will “directly comment on the status of unborn children,” we have entered a truly pathetic state of morality. It does not seem like much of a leap of logic to contend that the Creator of life would not authorize, much less encourage, us to destroy life after its conception at a time of our own choosing.

There is plenty of deception out there that can tie us into knots intellectually, thereby justifying all sorts of wrongdoing. So I want to make clear I’m not advocating a journey to the dark side of the moon(bats). What I am suggesting is finding reasonable voices on the other side of the political spectrum in which to engage a dialogue. So come on along. Mystify your friends. Mortify your opponents. Transcend the labels. Join the voyage.

UPDATE: Not surprisingly, Catez at All Things to All "gets it". She writes:
I know about demonising the opposition. I know about passionately believing in an agenda and pushing aside the conscience pangs on issues because it means losing ground or losing face. I know how liberating it is to not have to live like that anymore.
Liberation. That's what I'm talkin' about.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

 

On the Lighter Side...

I don’t really understand how people actually enjoy listening to country music, but Joe at Evangelical Outpost has an explanation that makes some sense:
Kids who grow up listening to rock or rap often believe that country musicians only sing about how the dog died, the truck broke down, and their woman ran off. That is, of course, a fairly accurate assessment of country music. But by the time you hit forty you’ll have had your share of dead dogs, dead batteries, and dead-end relationships. You’ll find that you can relate to this music better than you can songs about drinking champagne while driving in your Rolls and getting shot at by rival East Coast rappers.

Ace of Spades offers up Top Ten Changes the New Pope Will Enact to Make Christianity More Acceptable to Liberals

Oxblog offers this take on the New Pope:
Personally I was hoping for a cuddly Italian liberal. But a conservative German with the nickname 'the enforcer' was probably my second choice.

Scrappleface gives us a heads up on this late breaking development:
Vatican Spins Off U.S. Catholic Church (2004-04-20) -- In one of his first official moves, Pope Benedict XVI today announced that the Vatican would "spin off" the U.S. division of the Roman Catholic church, but retain a 49-percent stake in the new entity, called R.C. Lite.

 

Carnivals, Politics, and Quirky Movie Trivia

The 66th Christian Carnival is up at Pseudo-Polymath.

You can find the 135th Carnival of the Vanities over at Conservative Dialysis.

I just discovered this site, entitled Dignan’s 75 Year Plan. I feel compelled to give a shout out to anyone who names his blog after an obscure reference from an even more obscure (but very funny) movie. For those of you who don’t know, Dignan is the name of Owen Wilson’s character in Wes Anderson’s directorial debut movie, Bottle Rocket. It’s no Royal Tenenbaums or Rushmore, but it certainly has some hilarious moments.

Anyway, Dignan points out something in his post “Agreeing to Disagree” that reinforces a point I was trying to make here about the degeneration of political discourse in this country. This section in particular is interesting:

I was talking with two work colleagues and told them that our disagreement was about methods but not about goals. They vehemently disagreed and said that Republicans and anyone that supports them are evil. End of discussion.

I think that some people have tried to counter this phenomena by moderating their beliefs. While that is an admirable move, I think the issue is that we should be moderating our rhetoric.


Right. Along these same lines, Brad at 21st Century Reformation makes a good point as to why politics can be harmful to your spiritual health:

…Christians need to remain humble and civil in all political discourse. This is my reluctance. Politics is simply not very gracious and to me spirituality is so much about being humble and gracious.

Politics seems to manifest itself as the opposite of grace. As the lines between politics and religion blur, I get worried as to the nature of the messages that are being sent.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

 

Discerning the Truth or Just Blowing (White) Smoke?

It’s the End of the World as we know it.

Or at least that is what I’ve gathered after reading Andrew Sullivan’s recent post regarding the selection of the new Pope. Now I wouldn’t expect a leading gay rights advocate such as Sullivan to be a huge supporter of Pope Benedict XVI (Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger), but this takes it a step further. Andrew portrays “the Grand Inquisitor” as the vessel of impending doom for all of Western Civilization.

I’m not a Catholic, but as a Christian I have much interest in this subject. Without question, the Pope has an enormous influence on cultural issues around the world. I also have quite a bit of respect for the typically thoughtful and articulate (if sometimes erratic) Sullivan. So naturally I am intrigued. What should we think of the new development?

Since Sullivan asserts that “it would be hard to overstate the radicalism of this decision,” I am curious as to the nature of the purported “radicalism” in question. Here is a quote from Ratzinger that Andrew uses to substantiate his critique:

Having a clear faith, based on the Creed of the Church, is often labeled today as a fundamentalism. Whereas, relativism, which is letting oneself be tossed and 'swept along by every wind of teaching', looks like the only attitude (acceptable) to today's standards. We are moving towards a dictatorship of relativism which does not recognize anything as for certain and which has as its highest goal one's own ego and one's own desires.

At the risk of also being labeled a throwback from the Inquisition, I have to say I agree with the rhetorical thrust of the new Pope’s assertion here. I am relieved to notice that the newly elected Pope is concerned with the problem of moral relativism infiltrating our collective worldviews. Indeed, the fact that he does not seem at all anxious to acquiesce to the wishy-washy humanism currently enveloping our culture is a very good sign. (I’ve recently noted my own concerns with a drift toward relativism here.)

Outside of perhaps his invocation of the term ‘fundamentalism’ (and his apparent endorsement of it), I don’t see how this attitude could be considered at all incompatible with the belief system he is now representing. It’s almost as if Sullivan is completely appalled that the new Pope is (gasp!) Catholic. (You can look to Professor Bainbridge for a not-so-charitable view of Sullivan’s appraisal of the papacy.)

Sullivan’s prediction is as follows:

For American Catholics, I foresee an accelerating exodus. But that, remember, is the plan. The Ratzingerians want to empty the pews in America and start over.

First of all, I’m not at all convinced of the existence of such a “plan” or conspiracy if you will. However, even if that is the case, so be it. If Ratzinger’s firm, conservative adherence to doctrine accounts for a mass exodus from the American Catholic church, then that will reveal much more about the sorry state of affairs for Catholicism in this country than it will the new Pope.

“Teach us what we want to hear, what is popular, or politically correct – regardless of consistency with Biblical principles - or we will leave the church.” If that has truly become the mantra of the masses, then by all means empty the pews and start over. Keeping the pews filled with lukewarm believers, pacified by a new doctrine void of any real principle and foundation, will lead to an inevitable collapse.

Christ himself, while not at all judgmental toward any individuals, certainly stood fastidiously against the popular whims of the culture when they strayed from absolute morality. In the words of G. K. Chesterton, “A man who stands for nothing will fall for anything.”

But I just can’t end with a ringing endorsement of the new Pope whom I admittedly know little about. A huge achievement for Pope John Paul II was his successful effort to bridge the historic divide between Catholics and Protestants. I hope that is the case with the new Pope, but this line from Reuters news gives me reason to pause:

In a document in 2000, he branded other Christian churches as deficient -- shocking Anglicans, Lutherans and other Protestants in ecumenical dialogue with Rome for years.

Considering the lack of specifics to back up that claim, I am not inclined to assess much credence to that quote. Unfortunately, a more trusted source echoes that concern. Regarding Ratzinger, Jeremy at Parableman states, "he's the one who insisted to John Paul II that he not sign the Joint Agreement with the Lutherans..." Not a good sign.

In an article in Christianity Today entitled “Pope ‘Broadened the Way” for Evangelicals and Catholics,” Methodist theologian Tom Oden summarized the key reasons for success in bridging the gap within the Christian community.

John Paul II was a strong, moral voice at a time when evangelicals were beginning to wake up to the fact that while we do, indeed, have many differences with Roman Catholics—on Scripture, sacrament, penitential practice, and many other things—we have many common and shared values, and, in some profound ways, shared doctrine. We share the same New Testament, the same canonical Scripture. We share the same confession, the same Nicene Creed, the same Apostle's Creed, and so forth.

Amen. It remains to be seen if his successor will follow the same path. I sure hope so.

UPDATE: Joe at The Moderate Voice has a great round up of opinions regarding Pope Benedict XVI.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

 

How to Describe a Great New Band

One of the challenges of listening to music that (practically) no one has heard of is in trying to accurately describe what it sounds like in a quick and understandable fashion.

As some friends and I headed up to Boulder for a concert on Friday night, we brainstormed to create an effective formula for describing new bands in such a way. It's very simple actually. Evoke the sounds of two different bands and add a location to the description. The hard part for me is in avoiding the temptation to name another obscure band in the comparison.

So here is my depiction of three bands I've been listening to lately - starting with the guys I just saw live on Friday night:

1) Drive By Truckers - Imagine Pearl Jam growing up in rural Alabama listening to Lynyrd Skynyrd. (Recommended Album for southern-fried rock neophytes: Decoration Day)

2) Bloc Party - The Cure meets Blur at a supercharged British dance party. (Recommended Album for novices to the new wave of old school 80's dance rock: Silent Alarm)

3) Old 97's - The Kinks meet (early) Wilco at a backyard summer barbeque. (Recommended Album for new recruits to the alt-country scene: Too Far to Care)

There is actually a lot of good new music out there. You just wouldn't know it by listening to Top 40 stations. (My apologies to Brittany and Nelly fans.)

Saturday, April 16, 2005

 

B-Ball's Back!

It was not too long ago that I couldn't have cared less about NBA basketball. Somewhere around the time Michael Jordan retired (the first time), I really lost interest. At such point, to me, pro basketball slipped into a slump of blandness. Or worse, it seemed a club of spoiled primadonnas who cared more about padding their own personal stats than winning games and having allegiance to their teams.

But now, something's changing and I'm pretty excited about it. It's almost beckoning back to those glorious Larry Bird/Magic Johnson days of yore. And I'm not just saying that because the Denver Nuggets are in the midst of an unbelievable turnaround this season. (Currently on a ten game winning streak, they are hitting their stride at exactly the right time.)

Finally, there is formidable competition between the East and the West, as well as some really exciting guys to watch. And these young guys actually have class. Lebron James is barely 20 years old and this kid is amazing. He's immensely talented, mature, and fairly humble for someone who is already drawing comparisons to the legendary MJ. In a similar camp, though I'd tone down the hyperbolic praise for him just a tad, is Dwayne Wade. He's a cool, smart kid with some big time skillz.

This also happens to be one of the first years in recent memory that anyone really cares about the MVP award. Bill Simmons offers up some of his patented wit on the subject here. Among his highlights from the top 3 contenders:

3) Dirk Nowitzki - "One of the biggest surprises of the season: Dirk Nowitzki developing a nasty streak. Who knew? Has there ever been a tougher European player? Actually, let's rephrase that – has there ever been a TOUGH European player? ... Having a cocky, snarling 7-foot German guy with 25-foot range has to rank among the highlights of the season. Who's more fun to root against than Dirk Nowitzki?"

2) Allen Iverson - "I mean, this has been going on for like 10 years – he keeps getting knocked down, keeps getting up, keeps ripping teams' hearts out. Throw in his insanely intense interviews and he's a solid No. 2 choice. Plus, he's the new Clubber Lang – I don't think he's cracked a smile in six years."

1) Shaquille O'Neal - "Try to follow this equation:
A. The Lakers won 57 games last year ... they're headed for 35 wins this year.
B. The Heat won 42 games last year ... they're headed for 62 wins this year.
I'm no John Hollinger, but even I can add that up: That's a 42-game swing, not to mention the balance of power shifting to the East. And yes, that should have been enough to win Shaq another MVP."

I do think Simmons is crazy, however, for not putting Steve Nash in his top three. In fact, I'd have to agree with Marc Stein that Nash should win the top award. But just the fact that I even care about who wins the NBA MVP this year is good enough for me. Afterall, we've still got a bit of a wait until football season starts back up...

Thursday, April 14, 2005

 

Stepping Down From the Pedestal

David Wayne has written a fascinating post in a new series called "Forgotten Factors in the Downfall of Nations." In it, he warns evangelicals that by focusing in on a couple pet issues – homosexuality in particular – deeper matters might be missed:
If we load up on one or two issues we may be missing other issues which are just as significant in God's sight… most of the more legislatively-minded evangelicals will admit that their pet issues are not the only issues, just the most important.
But that is where I wonder. It seems the case can be made that the sexual immorality of Sodom grew out of its arrogance and materialism. Or maybe hedonism is a better word… Hedonism can express itself in a craving for sex or in cravings for food, houses, nicer cars and other things. This is why I wonder if the immorality of Sodom wasn't a symptom of a deeper sin for which they were judged.

I think this raises a larger issue, and one in which everyone should take heed. Whether in political debate, theological ruminations, or just everyday life, we should be careful not to put ourselves on a pedestal thinking that we could not possibly sink so low as others. (That's not to say we should not have convictions even if they are not popular, but it is the particular emphasis with which I take issue.)

I can think of many instances where I've heard condemnation of homosexuality from the pulpit, but I don't really recall any that specifically railed against materialism. I'd imagine that one is a particularly tough sell in 21st century American culture. One of Jonathan Edwards' resolutions may be particularly instructive here:
(Be) Resolved, to act, in all respects, both speaking and doing, as if nobody had been so vile as I, and as if I had committed the same sins, or had the same infirmities or failings as others; and that I will let the knowledge of their failings promote nothing but shame in myself, and prove only an occasion of my confessing my own sins and misery to God.

Tough words to live by. Sometimes the things we least want to hear are the things we most need to hear.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

 

Drifting Into The Void...

Joe Carter at The Evangelical Outpost has opened a symposium on “Judeo-Christian Values in an Ethically Pluralistic Society" with the current entries listed here. The idea has intrigued me sufficiently to prompt the writing of the following essay. For purposes of this post, I equate an ethically pluralistic society with the assumption that all moral values are equally true, or what is considered moral relativism.

Do you ever wonder what happened to common sense? How has this old fashioned concept (not so long ago taken for granted) found its way on the road to extinction? It all comes back to the theory of moral relativism. Once we forgo the existence of absolute morality or natural law and replace it with relative morality, by definition we lose all commonality of principle and logic.

Relativism starts out seductively, with a seemingly innocuous premise that each person should judge what is right or wrong according to his/her own personal sense of morality. Particularly in our current postmodern world, there is a sense that truth is subjective. Many have espoused a view along the lines of “my own values are not necessarily right for everyone.” It sounds humble and unassuming enough, but G.K. Chesterton succinctly pointed out the danger with this line of reasoning:
What we suffer from today is humility in the wrong place… A man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth; this has been exactly reversed. The part he doubts is exactly the part he ought not to doubt – the Divine Reason.

It is often suggested that “we can’t legislate morality”. But the laws of the land are designed to do precisely that. They codify the agreed upon standards of public morality. (To clarify, I often agree with the sentiment against “legislating morality”. We really can only alter the root cause of these problems by changing hearts not by enacting more laws. However such laws are crucial in establishing order and providing safety for the public.)

So what if we have no more absolute standards of morality? As that deteriorates into a relativism driven by individual attitudes and feelings, it is not surprising that the general populace will become more and more hostile towards attempts to revert back to absolute law. Example: “Who are you to tell me how to act? It feels right to me, even if you don’t agree…”

To effectively address such questions, we need to be able to articulate the negative ramifications of plunging headlong into the depths of the abyss that is moral relativism. Practically speaking, what is so wrong with a relativist code of conduct (assuming that such a thing is even possible)? This is where it becomes crucial to point out that by eschewing minimum standards of behavior, we run the very real risk of digressing into a state of anarchy. This can be done by following the relativist model to its logical ends.

Some would say “I believe abortion is wrong, but I don’t feel like I have the right to tell anyone else what to do.” The question then becomes, “How do you then feel about a woman who kills her baby after she gives birth? Would you be okay with saying that is wrong? At what point does it become your right to tell her and why? Based on what?”

If everything is arbitrary - in the absence of any objective standards of right and wrong – it is merely an imposition of your own feelings upon another. No matter how heinous the crime, there can be no basis for outrage in such a world.

Once the effects of the relativist philosophy are brought to a personal level, few people would adhere to its viability. For instance, you may believe it’s wrong to drink and drive, but what if I have no problem doing it? What right do you have to tell me I can’t do that?

Any tendency toward a wishy-washy, feel-good type of morality dissipates immediately when it’s your spouse killed in a drunk driving accident or your daughter who is buying drugs from the junkie down the street or your son who is killed by a terrorist. When outrage and reality hit home, any previous notion of “relativism” is gone. Suddenly, there is right and wrong, good and evil – no questions asked.

Once the obvious contradictions have been addressed, an alternative must be suggested and justified. Why is moral absolutism necessary and, how can it be justified intellectually as resting solidly on logical principles rather than merely personal preference. As Francis Schaeffer has pointed out, we need to first argue for the possibility of rational discourse on matters of faith. This is something that the modern and post-modern world has largely rejected.

Drawing from sources ranging from the Ten Commandments to the Book of Proverbs, Judeo-Christian values provide the basis for a moral code that can and should be used as a guide in legislating. I want to be clear that I am not advocating theocracy of any type, but rather the realization that values and reason are not mutually exclusive.

And, in fact, values are the foundation of reason. Without them, we are left to drift aimlessly through this life with nothing but randomness and anarchy surrounding us. Also, it is instructive to note that the world’s other major religions offer similar creeds to those found in Judeo-Christian texts. If we believe values and morals to be “absolute” and inherent in mankind, it only stands to reason that all religions would espouse similar core values. As such, it would behoove us to focus on such broad-based similarities in order to strenghthen attempts to reach a common ground legislatively.

So what’s the consequence of not dealing with this issue? C.S. Lewis theorizes in the Abolition of Man what happens to mankind once we stray from an absolute form of morality or what he refers to as the Tao:

Stepping outside the Tao, they have stepped into the void…. You cannot go “explaining away” for ever; you will find you have explained explanation itself away. If you see through everything, then everything is transparent. But a wholly transparent world is an invisible world. To “see through” all things is the same as not to see. (Emphasis mine)


In Orthodoxy, G. K. Chesterton provides examples of how a moral relativist becomes a walking contradiction:
As a politician, he will cry out that war is a waste of life, and then, as a philosopher, that all life is a waste of time. A Russian pessimist will denounce a policeman for killing a peasant, and then prove by the highest philosophical principles that the peasant ought to have killed himself. …In his book on politics he attacks men for trampling on morality; in his book on ethics, he attacks morality for trampling on men. …By rebelling against everything he has lost his right to rebel against anything.

Arbitrariness and randomness in the absence of a concrete moral code can lead to endless contradictions and complete upheaval of anything remotely resembling what has traditionally been considered common sense. In order to have hope of changing the situation for the better, we need to be aware of the grim reality that we are currently embarking on a dangerous course that is leading us into a great expanse of nothingness…

Monday, April 11, 2005

 

Puttin' the Overheated Politics On Ice...

I’m noticing an odd paradox emerging in our “information age”. As we become increasingly bombarded with information, we are becoming less informed, but more opinionated. In order for news to really stand out in the midst of enormous competition, it must take a stand. Now I have no problem with editorializing, and in fact I often prefer it to “hard news”.

However, as the edges sharpen and the battle lines deepen, the audience becomes more entrenched in their opinions and hostility rises toward the other side. In turn, favorite opinion leaders are expected to follow suit. It’s a self-perpetuating pattern of anger. As the public discourse is infused with more vitriol, it becomes nearly impossible to have a conversation with someone on the other side.

Particularly evident on cable talk shows, there is no discussion anymore. The pattern is as follows:
1) To open segment, host hurls completely loaded soft ball question at guest
2) Guest #1 takes loaded question and runs with it, lobbing unfair characterization toward the other side
3) Guest #2 hurls back completely unsubstantiated insult
4) Guest #1 brings up valid point (I anxiously await response…)
5) Guest #2 ignores intriguing question introduced by guest #1, instead opting for character assassinations
6) More insults, yelling, frustrations ensue…

Everyone has plenty to say, but no one cares to listen. We’re now in a politically hyper-charged atmosphere where the other side is rendered completely unreasonable, hypocritical, dumb, or just plain evil – take your pick. The one thing no one has any need for right now is an actual, informed discussion.

I actually enjoy political dialogue, but instead we're stuck with diatribes. Under the best case scenario, they are disjointed, deaf monologues driven by anger and bias. But it could stem from a problem more sinister than blind, unwavering allegiance toward one’s political party. I fear we are often witnessing the blatant pandering to listeners, viewers, or readers.

I’m not six years old and I, for one, consider it an affront to my (admittedly limited) intelligence to think that I am being patronized. Is anyone else tired of the demeaning, condescending, and completely hypocritical attitudes yet?

Sean Hannity is continuous shocked – shocked – at the heinous rhetoric from Democrats. Do these people ever give Republicans credit? Ummm…pot, kettle, black.

Do you think – for one minute – that Rush Limbaugh would render Abu Graib a meaningless prank or simply the manifestation of a “need to blow off some steam” had it occurred under Clinton’s watch? UPDATE: JB at Balkinization points out how Rush Limbaugh joked about the exoneration of all top officers in the Abu Graib prison scandal. A torture scandal that reinforced the worst notions about the U.S. around the world treated as a source of comedy? Nice. (Hat tip: R. Johnson at De Sententia)

Do you believe that Michael Moore would be blowing off the Oil-for-Food Scandal if it were the U.S. (under President Bush) rather than the U.N. presiding over this enormous disaster? Are you kidding me? This story has the makings of a fantastic geopolitical conspiracy theory, with an indictment of big business to boot. Here’s a recap…

France and Russia illegally profiteer from oil proceeds intended to feed and medicate the Iraqi people, but instead lines the pockets of fat-cat politicians and businessmen. All of this primarily occurred in countries that just happened to spearhead opposition to a war effort intended to remove Saddam Hussein from power (which would of course put an end to the oil money slush funds). Ah… right story, wrong players. It’s a non-starter.

The bottom line is the state of the political "dialogue" in this country is an insult. We don't need to be spoon-fed partisan slant, and no political party should become our religion. We all really need to stop throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Listen and maybe, just maybe, we all would learn something. Because even Ralph Nader gets it right sometimes. A little less arrogance, a little more honesty, and a lot more empathy could go a long way… In a word: Chill.

UPDATE: In a recent post at Parableman, Jeremy Pierce brings up the need for a change in tactics in order to effectively engage in debate. I couldn't agree more with the thrust of his sentiments, particularly statements like these:

We must respect the viewpoints of those who disagree on fundamentals and seek to engage them in reason with the awareness of their differences... The most important task in reasoning with people who disagree with us is to listen to them. If we try to understand what they're saying, and we adjust our argument accordingly to deal with it, then we'll have a stronger argument.

It seems obvious enough, but rarely do we engage in this sort of rational, productive type of dialogue.

Friday, April 08, 2005

 

A Transcendent and Divine Sort of Detachment

In the midst of “one of the largest Western religious gatherings of modern times,” I wonder exactly what it was about Pope John Paul II that was so appealing and so universally adored. Among his main attributes: Empathy? Sure. Compassion? Absolutely. What about indifference? Or detachment? Now before any Catholic readers denounce me as a heretic, please hear me out.

First of all, I’m not talking about indifference as an end in and of itself, but rather as a prerequisite to really, truly loving others. In the last chapter of his book The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis discusses the highest love or what he calls “charity”. He describes it as follows:

Divine Gift-love – Love Himself working in a man – is wholly disinterested and desires what is simply best for the beloved…. Divine Gift-love in the man enables him to love what is not naturally lovable; lepers, criminals, enemies, morons, the sulky, the superior, and the sneering.

There was no better example of this in recent times than the Pope’s visit with his would-be assassin in December 1983, two years after the attempted murder. Here's a portion of that story as reported by Time magazine January 9, 1984:
At times it looked almost as if the Pope were hearing the confession of Agca, a Turkish Muslim. At those moments, John Paul leaned forward from the waist in a priestly posture, his head bowed and forehead tightly clasped in his hand as the younger man spoke. For 21 minutes, the Pope sat with his would-be assassin. ...The two talked softly...

What was exchanged between the two men remains confidential. The Pope would only comment, ‘I spoke to him as a brother whom I have pardoned, and who has my complete trust.’

Thomas Merton expounds upon the theme of indifference in what is often deemed “Christian Asceticism”. In No Man is an Island, he asserts:

It is only when we are detached from created things that we can begin to value them as we really should. It is only when we are “indifferent” to them that we can really begin to love them.

The indifference of which I speak must, therefore, be an indifference not to things themselves but to their effects on our own lives.

The man who loves God more than himself is also able to love persons and things for the good that they possess in God. Such a man is indifferent to the impact of things in his own life.

Elaborating on this theme and applying it to the realm of prayer, Kathleen Norris speaks of detachment in Amazing Grace. While elucidating on the virtues of becoming “detached” in a sense, she astutely disavows any sense of apathy or forfeiture with which it could be confused:
This sort of detachment is neither passive nor remote but paradoxically is fully engaged with the world. It is not resignation, but a vigilance that allows a person to recognize that whatever comes is a gift from God. …It is the sort of prayer that can absorb all manner of pain, and transform it into hope.

Peggy Noonan recounts the Pope's monumental trips to Poland early in his papacy in this stirring tribute. Here are his own words from 1979 that served as a precursor to the end of Communism in Poland ten years hence:

You must be strong, my brothers and sisters! You must be strong with the strength that faith gives! You must be strong with the strength of faith! You must be faithful! You need this strength today more than any other period of our history. . . .

Speaking of strength, this man was strong precisely because he had a strong divine gift-love working through him and people could sense that. That is so very different from our natural type of need-love, which is driven more by considerations of the ramifications on our own lives than out of sheer concern for the plight of others.

It is counterintuitive, of course, to think that in order to provide an unconditional, divine sort of love, we first need to become indifferent. That indifference though is to ourselves and our own narrow desires. In essence, we should strive to love others for their own sake. Aspiring toward indifference… Who knew? The Pope, apparently.

UPDATE: For further contemplation on this subject, I'd recommend you check out the following essays:

John from Blogotional touches upon this theme in his recounting of "The Fourth Degree of Love: Love of Self for God's Sake" – from the writings of Bernard of Clairvaux:
In a manner of speaking, we lose ourselves as though we did not exist, utterly unconscious of ourselves and emptied of ourselves.

Ales Rarus points out some of the Pope's attributes and convictions in “A Legacy of Dignity”:
He fought tirelessly for the dignity of the poor, the downtrodden, the oppressed, and the unborn. …he taught us that even those whom the world had rejected had dignity as human beings.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

 

On the Lighter Side...

Because some stuff is too funny not to share. Here’s a roundup that’s equally offensive to those all across the political spectrum:

Jim Geraghty wonders “DO TERRORIST GROUPS HAVE MARKETING CONSULTANTS?”

Regarding one specific terrorist group of Kurdish separatists in Turkey, he asks:

How did "KONGRA-GEL" (Kurdistan People’s Congress) ever get past the focus groups? It sounds like a hair care product.
And then concludes:

The marginal good news here is that the more time a group spends sitting around debating its name, the less time they spend plotting to kill people.

Speaking of terrorism, the Onion presents The Fox News Terror Alert Van. (I especially like the “Honk if you see Terror Happening” message on the back of the van.) And here's the intro to the "story":
MURFREESBORO, TN—Touting itself as "the only channel with a terror-alert system designed to meet the specific needs of central Tennessee," Fox News affiliate WMFB-TV Channel 11 debuted its terror-alert van Monday.

I thought I noticed a bit of a familiar pattern emerging with Mr. Delay's positioning of himself into an easily mocked parody of… himself. Scrappleface has the scoop in this story titled, "Gingrich Sues Rep. DeLay for 'Demon' Infringement."
(2005-03-30) -- Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich today filed a lawsuit against current House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-TX, contending that Mr. DeLay has infringed on Mr. Gingrich's "brand and service marks by positioning himself as the number one target of the Democrat party."

Following a quote from Howard Dean at a recent speaking engagement in Tennessee, Mickey Kaus paraphrases the crux of Dean’s sentiment in trying to appease red state voters:
'There, there, you worried irrational people. My pollster's told me about you. We're on your side, however illogical your pathetic little fears!' ... From vilification to condescension. This is progress in the Democratic Party.

And lastly, some words of wisdom from Vanilla Ice regarding his place in history:
As for music and my place in it, maybe things are changing a little bit. I know this: a good song is deeper than a tattoo. It'll remind you of the car you're driving and the girl you're going around with and the streets you're cruising. It's better than a photo album. A song is a tattoo that you never lose. 'Ice, Ice Baby,' man, you'll remember that when you're 90.

'Ice Ice Baby' at age 90. Nice. Something to look forward to. Hopefully, I'll still be ready to belt out some karaoke in my old age. Rollin'...

Monday, April 04, 2005

 

Breckenridge, CO Posted by Hello

Ahh. Fresh Powder, Blue Skies, and Sunshine... The makings of a great spring skiing finale on the slopes in Colorado. I took this pic from Keystone resort over the weekend. It captures the slopes of Breckenridge resort and the surrounding mountains.

Alright, time to go check out the college hoops championship. Peace out.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

 

Back to the Future

(This is a hopeful vision of how future generations may recount the current state of affairs in the Church one hundred years from now…Thanks to Pseudo-Polymath for the inspiration for this idea.)

Looking back on the state of the church at the start of the 21st Century, we should really consider it a blessing to be where we are now. It’s easy to forget the severe trials and infighting the Church was experiencing 100 years ago…

It would be futile to attempt to pinpoint an exact moment or turning point for the Church. Instead, the turnaround is attributable to a combination of events that culminated in a spiritual renaissance and new birth for Christianity. What is indisputable now, with the aid of hindsight, was the necessity for a shake-up of the status quo and the resulting change to the shape of the church.

Before we look at the positive impetuses that encouraged the transformation, I’d like to briefly assess the primary dilemmas facing the Church circa 1960 – 2010. Keep in mind these are broad characterizations and certainly not indicative of the entire state of the faith at the time.

During the latter half of the 20th and early 21st centuries, it had evolved into very much of a spectator type of religion. Congregants wanted entertainment and they wanted to feel good. They came to church service (if they came at all) largely for a self-centered doctrine focused on their own wealth and health. The “spectator” mindset was also a result of the overall lifestyle at the time.

You may recall this was the era of “suburban sprawl” at its peak. As a result of frequently long commutes to work and church, there was often a sense of detachment. The spiritual experience was less an integral lifestyle component and more a “destination” given a 1-2 hour allotment on Sunday mornings and thereafter relegated conveniently to its appropriate box until next week.

But then something internal started to change. People became more engaged in their own spiritual formation. There were a number of contributing factors and surely there will be something I am neglecting to mention. The first factor credited for the transformation was the brutally honest critiques offered at the time. Without some trusted authoritative voices first addressing these shortfalls and the need for change, we would have had only more of the same.

One seminal work I’d point to is Mark Noll’s Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. Published in 1994, it provided a timely, thorough, and often disheartening examination of the status of the evangelical community at the time. The book spurred on an intense dialogue that, in turn, did much to facilitate the creation of a cohesive Christian worldview. In the process, he helped to repudiate the anti-intellectual leanings of the fundamentalist movement. The discussion of ideas, doubts, and theology was no longer dissuaded, but encouraged, and the intellectual framework for Christianity was strengthened as a result.

(Given what we know now and how far we’ve come, it’s hard to image the extensive dearth of Christian intellectual contributions in the 20th and early 21st centuries. Attributable largely to the fundamentalist boom during that same time period, an anti-intellectual, anti-scientific viewpoint dominated the evangelical Christian landscape. It was much more about reactionary disapproval than it was about proactive idea generation.)

So once the right questions were asked, where did the discussion actually take place? I would credit blogging, still in its early rudimentary form at the time, as being a significant impetus in empowering Christian thought. That emerging technological medium helped bring Christianity “out of the box” and into the realm of public discourse with relevant and doctrinally sound opinions.

The final factor to be credited for inspiring the change of heart in the Christian Church was the emergence of the “community-based” model that not only drew more outsiders into the church, but also strengthened the relationships and spirituality of those inside.

So how could you detect the transformation in terms of the nature of the Church?

Churches began to promote dialogue rather than monologue and participation rather than performance. Rather than spoon-feeding members, they encouraged spiritual development. Churches welcomed questions, avoided simplistic answers and verified the dimension of mystery in authentic spirituality.

Those were all important characteristics of the Church as it evolved into its current form. But perhaps the largest was in coming to grips with the importance of our Earthly mission. As believers, we finally came to realization that the resurrection of Christ signified the beginning of God's new project. It was not to take people away from earth to heaven, but to colonize earth with the life of heaven.

There was a fundamental change in terminology and attitude that took place. Instead of focusing on changing the culture, our Christian brethren focused on communities and changing hearts. This was a significant shift of focus away from the "effect" (culture) to actually dealing with the "cause" (community). No longer was it a "cultural war" we were waging. The battlefield was transformed into a mission field.

As such, the Church went out into the community to provide for people where they were, as opposed to sitting back and expecting folks to come to them. Whether it was helping to provide forums for dealing with alcohol and substance abuse, free tutoring for children and medical services for the elderly, or hosting of sports and leisure groups in the community, there was a huge outbreak of outreach.

While it is instructive to analyze the aforementioned darker periods of the Church, it is admittedly with a sigh of relief that I step back into our current situation. Whereby throngs of previously disillusioned citizens have come to know the Lord through the humble, loving examples set by their neighbors, co-workers, or random strangers.

The petty squabbles and infighting between over denominational differences have been largely vanquished by a desire for achieving the common good and aspiring to "Mere" Christianity. While we understand that doctrine is important, the example set forth by our actions and how we live is much more so. Having come to that realization, the Church and the Kingdom of God have thrived ever since.

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