Monday, March 30, 2009

Redeemer Ministry School Spring Classes

If you want to take one of our Spring Redeemer Ministry School classes the cost is $240/class, which includes any books that may be used. Please call the church office to enroll. (734-242-5277)

RMS SPRING TRIMESTER - March 31 - June 5, 2009

9:30 - 11 - Kingdom of God III - Josh Bentley
11:30 - 1 - Worship III - Holly Benner & Gary Wilson

9:30 - 1 - Apologetics - John Piippo

9:30 - 1 - Leadership - Jim Hunter & John Piippo


Kingdom of God III - This class will study the moves of God in history. We can learn much about God and His Kingdom today by looking at how His Kingdom has come to earth in the past. We will focus on how the Kingdom of God has become manifest on earth when people have prayed "God, let your kingdom come on earth, as it is in heaven."

Worship III - Have you ever noticed how many different methods of worship are found in the Bible? Singing, clapping, dancing, building, shouting, kneeling, playing instruments, giving, serving… the list goes on! We are the Body of Christ, and God has fashioned each one of us to give Him a facet of praise that is unique from the person next to us. Creativity and Worship will explore how to find the creativity inside of you and to use that to honor God.

Leadership - This class will focus on leadership using Jesus as exemplary of the greatest leader ever. The nature of love and community will be seen as foundational to all authentic, relevant leadership. While we will look at some leadership books, leadership is not so much learned from reading books but from doing and practical application.

Apologetics - The word "apologetics" means "to make a defense of the hope that is within you." (1 Peter 3:15) Students will look at the ways Christianity is under intellectual attack today and learn how to respond to these attacks. Issues we will especially focus on are: Why is there evil in the world if God is all loving and all powerful?; Why do we believe the Bible is from God?; Why can we believe Jesus is the only way to God when there are other world religions? How can we say that Jesus is God incarnate?

Nature + Nurture = More Freedom?

The nature-nurture debate may always be with us. Currently it shows no sign of receding. See, e.g., the timesonline's article "Nature or Nurture? Please Don't Ask." Underneath the heading we read: "The question has fueled some of history's fiercest scientific and political feuds. Now we have an answer."

The "answer," according to the article, is that nature and nurture both shape experience. It's not nature alone, as Steven Pinker argues. "It is simply impossible to find serious biologists who believe that behaviour and social structure are “the inevitable manifestations of the specific action of genes”." And, because humans are not blank slates, it can't be nature alone. The nature-nurture debate is coming to a consensus as "improved understanding of how genes actually work shows the difficulty of separating nature and nurture."

The article claims that the work of scientists Avshalom Caspi and Terrie Moffitt "have demolished the nature- nurture dichotomy." For example, persons with a genetic propensity towards depression are more likely to develop it but within "particular circumstances."

The article concludes: "These results show the sterility of the old nature-nurture debate. Nature works through nurture, and nurture through nature, to shape our personalities, aptitudes, health and behaviour. The question should not be which is the dominant influence, but how they fit together."
But is it both "cultural determinism + genetic determinism?" "Cultural determinism can be just as inimical to freedom as its genetic counterpart. It implies that instead of being prisoners of our genes, we are prisoners of our parents, teachers and societies. Those who grow up in poverty will be forever disadvantaged, while those who come from privilege will retain it. Autism can be blamed on “refrigerator mothers”, and adults' relationship problems on their overprotective families. As a world view it is quite as bleak as one based on inheritance."

So - it's not all nature, and it's not all nurture. It's both. Is one bleak "inheritance-determined" world + another bleak "environment-determined" world equal to a less bleal world? I wonder just how far we've gotten with this discovery.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Science Fiction Co-opts the Christian Story

At the C.S. Lewis Institute Art Lindsley identifies "C.S. Lewis's Seven Key Ideas." One of them is Lewis's idea that Jesus was "the myth that became fact." In the recent City Journal there's an essay by Benjamin Plotinsky called "How Science Fiction Found Religion." Plotinsky finds the basic Christian story in a lot of science fiction and fantasy movies. Quoting Gabriel McKee: “There are inherent messianic qualities in the . . . concept of the superhero—an individual with exceptional abilities who sacrifices part of his or her life for the greater good.” Plotinsky finds the Christian story in The Matrix, Superman Returns, The Dark Knight, Spider-Man, Harry Potter, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (obviously), The Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, The Phantom Menace, Star Trek, The Terminator, Dune, I Am Legend, The Day the Earth Stood Still, and others.

(I'm now also reading philosopher Tom Morris's Superheroes and Philosophy: Truth, Justice, and the Socratic Way, Watchmen, and Watchmen and Philosophy. I've long been interested in our cultural obsession with superheros and mythic figures as reflective of our deeper, spiritual-existential neediness.)

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Easter & Non-Discursive Experience

We're almost to Easter again. As I’ve been reflecting on this I see that, personally, I’m as moved by the resurrection of Jesus as I have ever been. For me, that’s saying a lot, since those first few Easters for me that came right after I decided to follow Jesus were amazing.

Easter is a whole-being-knowing-experiential encounter. That’s how I feel it and know it to be. Long ago I rejected the idea that “knowing” is some purely intellectual thing. I thank God for the human intellect. I also know that the human intellect cannot wrap its mind around God. Resurrection life cannot be captured in the steel nets of logic and literal language.

From 1977 to 1986 I spent nearly ten years studying language. Part of my language-studies were with Dr. Judith Levi, who was then head of the Linguistics department at Northwestern University. I took her doctoral class on linguistic semantics and was forever hooked. I got immersed in structural and post-structural linguistics, semantic theory, the not-easy-to-define notion of “literal” language, all the various tropes of figurative language, of which my focus and specialty became metaphor theory. Metaphor theory took me into paradigm analysis and metaphorical thinking. How deep could I go? Not deep enough, I am certain! Among the many thoughts I have about such things include this; viz., that experience cannot be finally reduced to sentences and words. There is “nondiscursive experience,” which means: experiences that cannot be discoursed (talked) about.

Which brings me back to the resurrection of Jesus. I believe, in a whole-being fashion, that God raised Jesus from the dead, in history. This cannot, in principle, be contained in sentences and words. Yet one must speak about it. I have some “reasons.” They now include:

  • My life was forever changed in 1971 when I came to believe that God raised Jesus for the dead, and that this historical event had meaning for me today.
  • I had a “conversion experience.” Nearly every day of my life I remember what happened, to me. It was for me, in many ways, an “I can’t explain the thing but one thing I know – I was blind, now I see.”
  • I believe the Jesus-story is true. My ongoing historical studies, using scholars who have spent their lives on Jesus and studying Jesus, now take me deeper and deeper into the living Christ than I have ever been.
  • I’ll add that the story-as-story is viscerally compelling to me… today. It’s a story of love, choice, suffering, redemption, hope, and life. It’s true that other stories have had and yet have these elements. Even movies that have these basic themes are often called “Christlike” movies, or movies with “Christ-figures,” such as “Braveheart,” “The Matrix,” “Gran Torino,” “Saving Private Ryan,” “Gladiator,” “The Shawshank Redemption,” and “The Lord of the Rings.” C.S. Lewis, himself a scholar of myth, said the four Gospels, as a literary genre, do not read like myth, but like history. Yet Lewis viewed the coming of Christ to live and die and rise for our rescue as the historical instantiation of “myth become fact.”
I think I could say more here. One thing I know – I do love God and His Son Jesus. I’m spending all my days and will spend the rest of my days pursuing Jesus and being pursued by Jesus. I have been forever changed and am yet changing. I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection. I know Christ and the power of His resurrection. It captures not only my head but my heart and soul; it contains what the French philosopher Paul Ricoeur called a “surplus of meaning.” It can be discoursed about yet ultimately is non-discursive. As it should be.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Village Atheists & the World Wrestling Federation

As I've looked for after-responses from the Craig-Carrier debate I'm discovered that some atheists seem outraged that Craig vs. Carrier was good for Craig, bad for Carrier. Carrier himself, on his website, admitted he did not do well. Note: credit him for this; humility is good. And we all need it.

I've met and studied with many philosopher-atheists. Mostly they've been polite and even honoring of me even though they and I disagree. I've actually learned things from these professors, to include a few things about character.

But the outraged atheists'... their responses include:

- a few of them who want to debate Craig so badly they are saying Craig is "afraid" to face them. I'm not going to name them, since I see this as embarrassing. Some of these people I have never heard of at all. I read a lot in the areas Bill reads in, and don't come across some of the faux-challengers. Yet, for example, I read the words of a man who says Craig is afraid of him and that's why Bill won't debate him! Why, when I read things like this, do I want to watch the World Wrestling Federation? From my POV Bill has debated actual academic professional-scholarly atheists known to all who study this stuff. He's been "in the ring" with the hugest names in philosophy of religion and New Testament studies. That, for me, would feel intimidating. He doesn't actually have avoidance-syndrome. The idea that he would fear wanna-bes and should take on every village atheist is sheer nonsense. (Or, if Bill does lie awake at night with eyes wide open in sheer horror at the thought of facing _____, then he just needs some self-esteem counseling.)

- a few village atheists are seriously name-calling Bill. To them, Bill is beyond being a moron. Gee, I guess I'm missing something here. I've known him for a long time. I'm trying to think if I've ever met a person more sheerly-genetically brilliant than he is. When Bill walks into the room, he's smarter than you or me. And I've never seen him as personally arrogant about his giftedness.
- Some v-atheists openly call Bill "dishonest." They question him ethically. Or perhaps Bill is mentally ill? I've never seen that in him, either. To me he's just one very, very intelligent person who actually believes Jesus rose from the dead.

- Note: a lot of the atheists Bill debates treat him with great mutual respect; and he, them. Debating Quentin Smith is different than debating village-atheist-thugs who want a shot at wearing the belt. Smith and Craig are good friends. They mutally respect each other. Admittedly, it's not as thrilling as hearing a village atheist put on some tights and openly tell Bill that his mother was defective and then call him a coward for not facing him. But hey, that's philosophy. It can, at times, be unemotional.

- Some v-atheists seem concerned that Craig is a great debater. He is. He uses debate tactics. Why? Because it's a debate. As an undergraduate I took a course called Argumentation and Debate. In that class we learned how to argue and debate. The professor asked me if I wanted to be on the university debate team after I took her class. Expect debate tactics in a debate. If you don't want a debate, then read Bill's many books and articles. He's quite coherent. Is he rational? Eminently so. And, by the way, Bill's published debates are all over the internet, so his style should come as no surprise to anyone. When I read or watch Bill debate someone like Quentin Smith I get the same kind of feeling as I get when I watch a chess match between Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky. Good debates are like that.

- Some have gone so far as to deep-study Bill's facial expressions, as if he is to have none. I didn't see the video of the Craig-Carrier debate, but there were a few moments when Carrier said some things that made me think "incredible!" Perhaps there was also an expression of something on my face. OK. I personally have never found Bill to be the most facially expressive person I've known. I think it's amazing he stays calm given some of the things he hears in some of these debates.

A suggestion: focus on Bill's reasoning and argumentation.

N.T. Wright on Easter

I absolutely loved N.T. Wright's Surprised By Hope. One thought I have is: for all of us who share a Ladd-ian view of the Kingdom of God Wright's work supplements this nicely.

Here's an interview with Wright on Easter and his book at Note: this interview will be available for free until it recedes into CT's archives where you have to pay to get it.

Here's a piece of the interview. Wright says:

"So many people think preaching the Resurrection means doing a little bit of apologetics in the pulpit to prove it really is true. Others simply say, "Jesus is raised; therefore, there is a life after death." This isn't the point! Those types of sermons may be necessary, but there's more to it than that. To preach the Resurrection is to announce the fact that the world is a different place, and that we have to live in that "different-ness." The Resurrection is not just God doing a wacky miracle at one time. We have to preach it in a way that says this was the turning point in world history.
To take preaching seriously, you need a high theology of the Word of God. When your preaching announces that Jesus is the crucified and risen Lord of the world, things happen. The principalities and powers are called into account. Human beings who once thought the message of someone rising from the dead is ridiculous actually find that the message of resurrection can transform their lives."

Saturday, March 21, 2009

An Evolutionary Explanation for "Sports Fans"

Here is a very funny article giving an evolutionary explanation for the primal behavior of sports fans. (Parenthetically note that we now have the emergence of evolutionary explanations for everything. Soon we will have an evolutionary explanation for why we give evolutionary explanations. This of course sets off an infinite regress of explanations. Aristotle and Aquinas would weep ov er this - where are they now when we need some end in sight!)

Here's the opening paragraphs (read and enjoy):

"Marx was wrong: The opiate of the masses isn't religion, but spectator sports. What else explains the astounding fact that millions of seemingly intelligent human beings feel that the athletic exertions of total strangers are somehow consequential for themselves? The real question we should be asking during the madness surrounding this month's collegiate basketball championship season is not who will win, but why anyone cares.

Not that I would try to stop anyone from root, root, rooting to his or her heart's content. It's just that such things are normally done by pigs, in the mud, or by seedlings, lacking a firm grip on reality — fine for them, but I am not at all sure this is something that human beings should do. In desperation, if threatened with starvation, I suppose that I would root — for dinner. But for the home team? Never.

More than a decade ago, a baseball strike canceled the season and the World Series. The first time ever, we were told in hushed tones. A national trauma. Baseball had survived world wars, cold wars, hot dogs — even night games, the designated hitter, and Astroturf — only to succumb to a labor dispute between spoiled millionaire players and even-more-spoiled billionaire owners. How could it be summer without baseball, the pundits pouted? Most portentous, how could we be us without our spectator fix?

But wait. Here is heresy indeed: Was it really such a disaster? Or is it a disaster that our current paragons have been revealed to be hormonally enhanced and ethically challenged? Or if a college team is denied a bowl slot?"

Richard Carrier... A Suggestion

Having listened to the Carrier-Craig debate on "Did Jesus Rise from the Dead?" I'm still thinking of how ill-equipped Carrier was for this.

I'm also wondering about something, and offer Carrier a suggestion. He says he doesn't believe Jesus ever existed. It comes to me that if this were established then the issue of Jesus rising from the dead would be a moot point. Thus all the dialogue surrounding this including a lot of the stuff Carrier was bringing in that didn't help his cause would now be unnecessary.

The simple argument:

1. Jesus of Nazareth never existed.
2. In order to die one must exist.
3. Therefore, Jesus of Nazareth never rose from the dead (For the same reason that Frodo never destroyed the ring.)

If P1 is established the debate is over.

Maybe I'm missing something here. I'd never read anything by Carrier before this debate. I went to his website. On Sunday, March 8, he lectured in Ventura, California, on the topic "Why I Think Jesus Didn't Exist?" That was just ten days prior to the debate with Craig. Surely Carrier had not forgotten that he believed Jesus didn't exist. Why not use that as P1 in the argument above, instead of going on and on like he did in his attempt to show "Barabbas" never really existed? (As if establishing the non-existence of Barabbas would function as a premise leading to the conclusion that Jesus never rose from the dead?)

Roger Scruton On the Nothingness of Ex-Christians

(Photo of what a New Humanist looks like)

I disagree with philosopher Roger Scruton on a lot of things. He's an atheist, a "humanist," and thinks religious people are that way because they need a "moral prop." Of course, if there is no God, then that's one possible reason people "trust in God."

But I do agree with some of the things Scruton writes in his essay "The New Humanism." He says that, years ago, he shed the "old humanism" of his parents. But now, in light of the "New Humanism" of Dawkins-atheists, he finds himself longing for the old ways. Scruton's parents "had been raised as Christians, but had lived through the Second World War and lost faith in the God who permitted it. They regarded humanism as a residual option, once faith had dissolved. It was not something to make a song and dance about, still less something to impose on others, but simply the best they could manage in the absence of God."

Old Humanism is a noble concept for Scruton, finding its roots in the Enlightenment. Old Humanism was actually for something, whereas New Humanism is only against something. Old Humanism "was devoted to exalting the human person above the human animal, and moral discipline above random appetite. It saw art, music, and literature not simply as pleasures, but as sources of spiritual strength. And it took the same view of religion. Humanists of the old school were not believers. The ability to question, to doubt, to live in perpetual uncertainty, they thought, is one of the noble endowments of the human intellect. But they respected religion and studied it for the moral and spiritual truths that could outlive the God who once promoted them."

Scruton is struck by New Humanism's "lack of positive belief, but also by its need to compensate for this lack by antagonism toward an imagined enemy. I say "imagined," since it is obvious that religion is a declining force in Britain." Ha! Now that is funny. New Humanists might read Don Quixote at this point.

Dawkins-atheism "is for nothing, or at any rate for nothing in particular. Ever since the Enlightenment there has been a tendency to adopt this negative approach to the human condition, rather than to live out the exacting demands of the Enlightenment morality, which tells us to take responsibility for ourselves and to cease our snivelling."

Snivelling? Yes, I think so. Scruton's words capture the thought I've long had that, were I to become an atheist, or an "ex-Christian," I can't imagine myself wasting time arguing against Christianity or any other religious thing. Spend my life arguing against something that is not? I hope not. I'm certain I would not do this. I would then have far better things to do than spend my life studying something I don't believe in so as to argue against it. Sounds to me like existentialist theatre of the absurd. (Maybe some weird Heideggarian intepretation might work here; viz., about the experience of das Nichts as a precondition for the experience of Sein? Mostly, it also makes me want to psychoanalyze such people.)

What better things might I spend my life on? Perhaps what Scruton longs for; viz., constructing "a positive movement, devoted to seeking things worthy of emulation and sacrifice, even if there is no God to promote them."

Friday, March 20, 2009

Bill Craig - Richard Carrier Debate (Listened to...)

I just listened to the debate between William Lane Craig and Richard Carrier on "Did Jesus Rise from the Dead?" My opinion is that, on this topic, Carrier is way out of his league. I think he should not have agreed to debate Bill on this subject. He simply does not have epistemic access to the information Craig has. (You can listen to the debate here.)

Way back in 1971 Bill was my campus ministry leader at Northern Illinois University, and I was a philosophy major. At that time Bill was digging deeply into many issues, to include the existence of God, the nature of the Christian scriptures, and historical Jesus studies. When I went on for my Ph.D Bill completed two Ph.Ds - one with the great German theologian Wolfhart Pannenberg. Having used Pannenberg's metaphor theory [as applied to the historical resurrection of Jesus] in my doctoral dissertation at Northwestern U I thought of the amazing opportunity Bill was given to have Pannenberg himself as his mentor!

Multiply those early Christological studies in the 1970s many times over and one sees what great scholarship in a focused area looks like. Bill has spent a near-lifetime on this subject, studying with and debating the major figures in the area. Carrier has not. As I listened to this debate I found myself thinking of Bill as totally within his element and Carrier like a fish out of water.

Bill gives a strong inductive argument for the resurrection of Jesus. "Inductive" means "probableistic." I find it (still) persuasive. And, it's the same argument Bill gives every time he debates this topic (with refinements added, improvements made). To me Carrier appeared unprepared for this, which he should not have been given that Bill's presentation is out there in public. When Bill argues for the resurrection he uses the biblical documents historically. In his first rebuttal to Carrier Bill says, "I know Richard tonight wanted to debate the general reliability of the gospels. I'm really sorry he's decided to pursue that tack despite our agreement that that wouldn't be the topic tonight." Precisely. And, this is common knowledge to anyone who's listened to Bill's Jesus-resurrection argument. It does not depend on any theological doctrine of "inerrancy." As do no strictly historical arguments for anything. I found myself wondering if Carrier actually grasped this point, or understood that one can actually lay aside theological beliefs and make a purely historical argument. (For the most part, that is. Both Carrier and Craig make historical claims and thus face the problems of historical understanding through the filter of their own prejudices.)

Philosophy of Religion Oral Exams 3/25; 3/30

Philosophy of Religion Oral Exams - March 25 & March 30

Wed., March 25 - MCCC Main Campus, Room A173b

Mon., March 30 - MCCC Main Campus, Room A173a

The A building is the one containing the book store and cafeteria.

Oral Exam Questions

1. Mackie
2. Buddhism
3. Plantinga
4. Rowe
5. Wykstra
6. Hick

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Want to Rescue Girls Out of a Life of Sex Trafficking?

WANT TO BE PART OF SOMETHING GREAT? Join me as we’re pulling girls and young women out of a life of sex trafficking in Bangkok. We’re working with NightLightBangkok, which is a business that gives employment to women, giving them jobs to make jewelry. (Go to for details.)

We raised $1.3 million in five months last summer and fall to purchase two buildings to be used as new factories for NightLight’s expanding, life-saving business.

My church also raised several thousand dollars on top of that to send Dan Boylan and Joe Laroy from our Monroe community to Bangkok to set up a renovation plan.

NOW, the plan is ready. We’re raising more funds to renovate these buildings, to include sending more people to Bangkok to do a lot of the work.

We’re having a FUND-RAISER at Redeemer Fellowship Church for the renovatin of these buildings. This will be a time of worship led by local musician John Standifer and a band of excellent local musicians. We’ll also have NightLight jewelry on display.

This Sunday, March 22
6:30 PM. Redeemer Fellowship Church. 5305 Evergreen, Monroe, MI. 734-242-5277

Bill Craig - Richard Carrier Debate Results Begin to Filter In

Here's a press clipping from last night's Craig-Carrier debate on "Did Jesus Rise From the Dead?"

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Infinite Utilitarian Regress of Peter Singer

OK - I'm on a bit of a Peter Singer roll. Tonight I stayed home from Home Group Linda and I are in in our church. I hate to miss tonight but I have a cold that's causing a lot of sneezing, coughing, and nose-running + a sinus headache. So here I am, home alone. What do I do?

I went to one of my favorite websites, Arts & Letters Daily. There I began to look at all the Book Review sites listed. I got to The Australian and their book review section. There's a review of Singer's latest book, The Life You Can Save: Acting Now to End World Poverty. Singer the atheist gives a lot of his personal money to humanitarian causes, for which I tip my hat to him. The review says, "Singer has always asked a lot from his fellow human beings: that we give till it hurts, respect animals as we respect ourselves, consider coolly such flint-hearted arguments as the needs of strangers and the drain on social resources in decisions about life and death."

I applaud Singer's actions.

I'm also interested in a question that's put to him in the review. We read: "But what is the final sanction when the utilitarian argument is regressed as far as it will go? What is the answer to a shrug and the question, "Why should I?" "In the end it's what kind of life do you want to lead," Singer says, amiable again. "When you are old and say to yourself, 'What did I do with my life?', do you want to say, 'I earned lots of money and I spent it on consumer goods and expensive things and personally enjoyed them'? Or do you want to say, 'I did something worthwhile to try to reduce the amount of suffering in the world and make it a better place?"' Heart-warming, but that doesn't answer the question, "Why should I?" Singer is unfazed. He is sure that enough people will care enough to make a difference, if only arguments such as his can reach and move them."

What can we conclude from this?

1. Singer's utilitarian ethics leads him to help reduce the suffering in the world. He hopes others will do the same. I see this as good, and feel thankful for it.

2. Singer's atheism gives him no answer to the question "Why should we do this?" On atheism I am guessing Singer will admit no such answer can be given. Because this is the inexorable logic of atheism it will leave this world's suffering people unhelped by any atheists who understand this and see themselves as having no duty to help them.

Finally, surely there are "Christians" who do little or nothing to help the poor and suffering.

And, there are many Christians who are leading the way in helping the suffering of this world, as USC sociologist Donald Miller records in his book Global Pentecostalism: The New Face of Social Engagement.

Dinesh D'Souza on Peter Singer on Infanticide

Dinesh D'Souza has a nice article on called "Staring Into the Abyss
Why Peter Singer Makes the New Atheists Nervous." I agree that Singer has the logic of atheism correct. D'Souza, who recently debated Singer at Princeton, contrasts Singer with the "new evangelistic atheists" (you-know-who: D, D, H, &H). "The New Atheists say we can get rid of God but preserve morality. They insist that no one needs God in order to be good; atheists can act no less virtuously than Christians. (And indeed, some atheists do put Christians to shame.) Even while repudiating the Christian God, Dawkins has publicly called himself a "cultural Christian.""

Singer follows real atheism, like that of Nietzsche, who understood that with the loss of Christian theism's metaphysical foundation we've left "the land" and sail on a sea with an "infinite horizon" (this kind of horizon is the equivalent of "no land in sight"). So Singer advocates, among other things, "fourth-trimester abortions, i.e., the killing of infants after they are born." Singer writes: "My colleague Helga Kuhse and I suggest that a period of 28 days after birth might be allowed before an infant is accepted as having the same right to life as others... Rats are indisputably more aware of their surroundings, and more able to respond in purposeful and complex ways to things they like or dislike, than a fetus at 10- or even 32-weeks gestation. … The calf, the pig, and the much-derided chicken come out well ahead of the fetus at any stage of pregnancy."

Surely Singer is right in that, if there's no God, then humans are no different than animals and to think so is to be guilty of species-ism. Ideas like "All men are create equal" and "Human life is precious" make sense on Christianity but not on atheism. I've long thought that, were I an atheist, I'd be in the Nietzsche/Singer camp, and find it odd and at times humorous when atheists disbelieve in God but co-opt Christian theistic moral values to their advantage.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Physicist Bernard d'Espagnat Wins 2009 Templeton Prize

Reuters just announced that French physicist and philosopher Bernard d'Espagnat has been awarded the 2009 Templeton Prize for his work affirming the spiritual dimension of life. d'Espagnat has authored highly acclaimed books such as Physics and Philosophy and Conceptual Foundations of Quantum Mechanics.

"Award organizers said his work in quantum physics revealed a reality beyond science that spirituality and art could help to partly grasp."

From the article:

"D'Espagnat, a former senior physicist at the CERN particle physics laboratory in Geneva and professor at French and United States universities, argues in his books that modern quantum physics shows that ultimate reality cannot be described.

Classical physics developed by Isaac Newton believes it can describe the world through laws of nature that it knows or will discover. But quantum physics shows that tiny particles defy this logic and can act in indeterminate ways.

D'Espagnat says this points toward a reality beyond the reach of empirical science. The human intuitions in art, music and spirituality can bring us closer to this ultimate reality, but it is so mysterious we cannot know or even imagine it.

"Mystery is not something negative that has to be eliminated," he said. "On the contrary, it is one of the constitutive elements of being.""

Dead Sea Scrolls Not the Work of the Essenes?

Israeli scholar Rachel Elior claims the Essenes were not behind the Dead Sea Scrolls, as is usually thought. See today's report. Elior goes further in claiming the Essenes never actually existed.

James Charlesworth of Princeton is among the scholars disputing Elior's claims.

For the time being I'm siding with Charlesworth. CNN tends towards sensationalist religious stories. After all, who's really attracted to biblical studies? Appropriate here: take a wait-and-see attitude lest the spirit of Dan Brown be resurrected.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Natural Law Jurisprudential Philosopher Robert George

Tonight I'm reading some of the natural law reasonings of Princeton jurisprudential philosopher Robert George. Here's some good reasoning about the issue of abortion from George.

“Some politicians say that they’re ‘personally opposed’ to abortion, yet ‘pro-choice,’” says the 48-year-old professor of constitutional law and moral philosophy. “But we must ask: Is this a position that can survive the test of logical coherence? After all, if abortion is wrong, surely it is wrong because it is the unjust taking of the life of a developing human being.” He pauses to let that sink in and then launches another question: “And if one believes that, then what could possibly justify a regime of law that licenses so grave an injustice?”
Here's George the Princeton professor in class:
George hoists a foot onto the chair back, plants his forearms onto his knee, and fires off another round of questions: Is it morally acceptable to conduct research on embryos not yet implanted in the uterus, even if the embryos must then be killed? What about so-called spare embryos in frozen storage, which have no prospect of implantation? Is abortion ever morally justified, despite its homicidal character?
Students begin offering tentative answers — but not before they've taken a moment to think. As smart as these kids are, after half a semester in George's Civil Liberties class, they've learned not to blurt out a thoughtless opinion: George will force them to defend it, which could prove embarrassing.
One bespectacled youth speaks up: "I don't think I was an embryo," he announces. His classmates chuckle, but George responds seriously. "You weren't an embryo. Were you a fetus? Were you an adolescent?"

“I am not a physical organism,” the young man insists; he is his ideas, beliefs, and desires.

George pounces on the person/body dualism implicit in this remark and forces the class to confront the implications of affirming it: "If 'I' was not an embryo or fetus, neither was 'I' once an infant," he says. "To have destroyed the fetus or infant that later became 'me' would not have been to destroy me. So at what point then do we say 'I' began to exist? At what point do we draw the line on killing?"

George then drops a cerebral smart bomb: "If dualism is true, the answer won't be 'birth,'" he notes. Will it be six months after birth? A year? Two years? Three? After all, when does a child achieve thoughts, beliefs, and desires?

Pro-choice students must now confront an uncomfortable fact: The logical implications of their position entail believing that killing three-year-old children is morally acceptable."
Sounds like a fun class to me!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Richard Carrier Commits the "Pet Analogy" Fallacy

My friend William Lane Craig will be soon debating Richard Carrier on the resurrection of Jesus. Knowing nothing about Carrier, I decided to read one of his essays. I chose "Why I Am Not a Christian." Among the many things I find unconvincing in this piece is that, amazingly, Carrier commits the "pet analogy fallacy," based on a famous piece by the British philosopher John Hick. The "pet analogy fallacy" is a variation of the straw man fallacy. What Carrier does is set up a characterization of Christianity and proceeds to knock it down. What's humorous and tedious to me is that he succeeds in knocking the straw man down again, and then again, and again and again ad nauseum.

Hick, in his essay, states that the atheist's mistake is to view God as creating a hedonistic paradise, like a pet owner creates a perfectly safe environment for his dog or cat. In the following quote we see that Carrier seems to look at things this way.

"The God proposed by the Christian hypothesis is not a disembodied, powerless voice whose only means of achieving his desires is speaking to people, teaching them to do what's right. The Christian God is an Almighty Creator, capable of creating or destroying anything, capable of suspending or rewriting the laws of nature, capable of anything we can imagine. He can certainly do any and every moral thing you or I can do, and certainly much more than that, being so much bigger and stronger and better than we are in every way. All this follows necessarily from the definition of mere Christianity, and therefore cannot be denied without denying Christianity itself. It's a simple fact of direct observation that if I had the means and the power, and could not be harmed for my efforts, I would immediately alleviate all needless suffering in the universe. All guns and bombs would turn to flowers. All garbage dumps would become gardens. There would be adequate resources for everyone. There would be no more children conceived than the community and the environment could support. There would be no need of fatal or debilitating diseases or birth defects, no destructive Acts of God. And whenever men and women seemed near to violence, I would intervene and kindly endeavor to help them peacefully resolve their differences. That's what any loving person would do. Yet I cannot be more loving, more benevolent than the Christian God. Therefore, the fact that the Christian God does none of these things--in fact, nothing of any sort whatsoever--is proof positive that there is no Christian God."

There's much more than this in Carrier's essay. But this is one point he raises again and again, and is one of his reasons why he is not a Christian. Carrier's reasoning goes like this.

1. The Christian God is all powerful.
2. The Christian God is all loving.
3. Any loving person would eliminate all needless suffering in the universe.
4. There is needless suffering in the universe.
5. Therefore the Christian God does not exist, and Christianity is false.

Examples of P3 for Carrier include: a school killer's bullets would be turned into popcorn; all guns and bombs would turn into flowers; and there would be no need of fatal or debilitating birth defects. In other words, if the Christian God should exist, we would expect the kind of hedonic paradise Hick mentions.

My problem with this kind of reasoning is that it is a straw-man caricature of Christian theism. In all my Christian years I have never thought of actual Chrisitanity in the way Carrier presents it. I conclude that Carrier is presenting something I will call "Christianity2," which is "Christianity" as Carrier thinks it should be. Perhaps Christianity2 includes some forms of Calvinism that take the "absolute sovereignty of God" to its logical & extra-biblical limits.

Since I have never, ever, believed in Christianity2, his argument does not provide me with a "proof positive" reason to abandon Christianity. I'd say, at this point, Carrier has a good reason to reject Christianity2, not Christianity. Carrier, at most, may be arguing against that relatively small band of Christians who hold to strong Calvinism. Perhaps a few fundamentalists would be included here, too.

Whether or not an all-powerful and all-loving God should allow for needless suffering is interesting. But in Christianity there is, precisely, needless suffering. "Needless suffering" is denoted, e.g., by the idea of "sin." Because "needless suffering" is part of the noetic framework of Christianity one cannot refute Christianity by pointing out that needless suffering exists. That would be like rejecting tennis because there's a net dividing the court. In my view one can accept P4 but reject P3. That brings in the whole philosophical problem of evil, the free will defense, and things like Greg Boyd's Satan and the Problem of Evil.

Matt Evans on Mind-Body Dualism in Plato's Phaedo

I heard NYU philosopher Matt Evans speak on "Mental Causes in Platoi's Phaedo" at a U of Michigan philosophy conference on Thursday. I enjoyed hearing what he had to say. The dialogue afterwards focused on whether Evans had interpreted Plato correctly. In that regard I am not a Phaedo scholar and was out of the dialogue. What interests me is Evans's idea that Plato gives a strong argument for mental causality in a world where such causality is increasingly questioned by philosophical materialists. Peter Railton was there taking in the conference. Railton is a great scholar and himself a materialist. His comments were directed towards understanding the Phaedo and not what he thought about the argument Evans presented.

There was a time when I was immersed in these kinds of conferences and dialogues. One thing I noticed and was reminded of was how humane and genteel the dialogue was. There was questioning and disagreement sans emotionalism. No one was freaking out. There were no ad hominem abusives. That's not always the case, as we see in some debates. Wittgenstein's poker was not used.
Hopefully Evans's book will come out soon. I think it will be important to all of us who argue for mental causality and mind-body dualism.

Evans said the main lesson from his talk was that, whether one is a substance dualist or a materialist, mental causality presents problems fo us all.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Matthew Evans and Mental Causes

This afternoon I'm taking some of my students to a philosophy conference at the University of Michigan. U-M has one of the greatest pilosophy departments in the world. I'm glad it's close to where I live so I can catch an occasional conference.

Speaking today is Matthew Evans, Assistant Professor of Philosophy at New York University. His topic is "Mental Causes In Plato's Phaedo." I'm interested in this subject, and have been reading some of Evans's online papers. Does Evans support the idea that there is such a thing as mental causality? I'm looking forward to seeing what he says about this.

Here's something from one of his papers. "Hedonism is false... [F]ew, if any, ethical theorists still take Hedonism seriously as a comprehensive account of wat we have most reason to do. Nor should they. Hedonism is an extreme and implausible view - so implausible, in fact, that its rejection is not controversial enough to be of much philosophical interest to us at this point. For better or worse, we are all anti-Hedonists now."

So it's not only our pleasures that justify our actions. But more than that, Evans argues that Plato's idea is that "no pleasure is every worth pursuing as an end in itself, and consequently tat we never have any hedonic reason to do anything." This is indeed a radical claim, given the seeming power of wanting pleasure and avoiding pain.

Evans supports this by:

Socrates claims that every pleasure is necessarily 'for the sake of'' something other than itself. The pursuit of pleasures, Evans suggests, may be that they have a guiding role in picking out things pursuing as ends in themselves.

He then claims that if a thing is necessarily 'for the sake of' something other than itself, then it is not worth pursuing as an end in itself.

From these two premises Socrates (validly) infers that no pleasure is worth pursuing as an end in itself.

Most philosophers today agree that none of our pleasures is 'for the sake of' something else. "But Socrates seemsw to be arguing here that every one of our pleasures is 'for the sake of' something else.

All pleasures, even pure pleasures, have a suspect feature that makes them unworthy of a certain kind of pursuit.

Evans calls his argument the "Aiming Argument." By this he means that "becomings 'aim at' beings." The issue is, e.g., whether shipbuilding is for the sake of ships or ships for the sake of shipbuilding." The Socratic answer to this is, presumably, the former. A "ship" is a "being; "shipbuilding" is a "becoming." This is about the relation of "producing" to "product"; "producing" is subodinate to "product." "Every producing is, in this sense, essentially regulated by some product." (13) "Socrates wants to say that becoming is subordinate to being just as producing is subordinate to product..., [and] every becoming is essentially regulated by some being."

How does this relate to Hedonism? Evans says: "Socrates wants to say that every pleasure is essentially subject to standards of evaluation that are fixed by the nature of some being." "Becomings" cannot be considered "ends in themselves." There is something irrational and defective about the lover of pleasure.

My guess is that Evans's talk today will draw on the kind of distinctions he makes in this paper. Since "being," for Plato, is non-physical, and according to Evans functions as the cause of ethical behavior (whereas pleasure is not the cause), then we have an example of a "mental cause."

Longing For a Finnish Sauna

Whenever we stay at a hotel I'm hoping they have a Finnish sauna. I found myself wanting one today as I read the article on saunas and Finnish culture in Thunder Bay, Ontario, located on the northern edge of Lake Superior.

I was born in Hancock, Michigan to Finnish parents. My grandparents on both sides came from Finland. My mother grew up on a farm in a beautiful valley in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Located about a hundred yards from the house was a wooden shed with a sauna in it. I remember visiting "the farm" as a kid. One time it was in the winter. I remember taking a hot sauna and walking in the cold back to the house.

I live as far south in Michigan as one can get. But my heart yearns northward. Linda's heart yearns southward, so we have some conflict here!

I want someday to travel to Thunder Bay, take in some Finnish cuisine, smell the northern woods, see very few people, sit in a 200-degree sauna, walk out to Lake Superior, jump in the water, go back in the sauna, lay my head on a pillow next to my beautiful wife, and sleep like a baby.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Reagan Tried to Convert Gorbachev to Theism

See the news article here.

Apparently Ronald Reagan thought that if Gorbachev came to believe in God the Cold War might end. Reagan had heard Gorbachev refer to God and suspected God-belief might be in him.
(Thanks Andy for pointing me to this story.)

The Light At the End of the Tunnel...

Due to recent budget cuts and the cost of electricity, gas and oil, as well as current market conditions and the continued decline of the U.S. Economy, The Light at the End of the Tunnel has been turned off.

We apologize for the inconvenience.

(Thanks Andy...)

Monday, March 09, 2009

Man On Wire

Linda and I just the watched Oscar-winning documentary "Man On Wire," which is the story of French high-wire-walker Philippe Petit. In 1974 Pettite strung a 450 pound cable between the Twin Towers of NYC and walked back and forth 8 times. He lay down on the wire once, and knelt on it another time. The movie chronicles Petit wire-walking life leading up to that incredible feat.

I don't myself like heights, so watching this movie made me feel nervous. But I really was captivated by it. Petit's playful approach to life reminded me of Henri Nouwen's fascination with and study of circus aerial artists. Nouwen saw spiritual connections between what The Flying Wallendas did and living a life that followed after Christ. Karl Wallenda once said that "Being on the tightrope is living; everything else is waiting."

In 1968 Petit was waiting in a dentist's office reading a magazine and saw an article on the yet-unbuilt Twin Towers. He ripped the page out of the magazine and left the office with it, not making his appointment to fix his sore tooth. He now had a vision, one which he felt his entire life had prepared him for.

Life lived this way is life that is full and overflowing. The focus Petit had was amazing. If we followed after Jesus in the way Petit was purpose-driven we'd be more complete beings as well as more alive and playful.

I Left Facebook Today

I left Facebook today after being on it for a year. Whew! And Yeahhh! No more getting tagged and poked and whatever else happens there.

Facebook IS a cultural phenomenon. It DOES say something about our world. It expresses the kind of world we live in. Go to and you'll read the words "Facebook helps you connect and share with the people in your life." Yes, and no, and maybe. It depends on what you mean by he words "connect" and "share" and "the people in your life."

Facebook's own statistics are here. As of today there's 175 million "active users." An average user has "120 friends on the site." So much depends on the meaning of "friend." My experience is that there's little authentic community on Facebook because real friendship and community demand things Facebook cannot deliver. There's a shallowness and voyeurism here that is systemic and structural. No one, on my understanding of "friend," can have 120 of them. But I don't deny there are millions and millions of people out there who are looking for just one real friend.

Here are some definitions and understandings of "community." For example, "In biological terms, a community is a group of interacting organisms sharing an environment." I think that the larger the shared environment is, the more meaningless "community" becomes, at least when it comes to persons-in-community.
The Jesus-idea of "community" gets expressed in the biblical Greek word "koinonia." This word comes from the root word "koine," which means "common." Authentic Christian community means: sharing what we have in common, which is Jesus. Jesus' environment is called the kingdom of God. This especially works for me in small-group environments.
I'm in a small group in my church that has met for many years. It's a shared "kingdom of God environment" that cultivates and grows authentic friendship and community. We meet every week, face to face, sing together, study the words of Jesus together, pray for each other, sometimes even laying hands on each other as we pray, and eat and play together. This works best when we are face-to-face, not face-booked.

Surely some doctoral dissertations on Facebook are now being written. A lot of people are analyzing it. For example, Greg Guffield, host of Fox's Red Eye, says that "Facebook is a place that turns adults into teenage girls. "Instead of making things," he says, "We're telling people how great Gossip Girl is. Would your grandfather go on Facebook? Probably not. I think we've become a country thirsting for attention--Facebook is basically Googling yourself for people who don't have enough hits to warrant it." Being a television personality, Gutfeld will go on for the occasional ego-stroke, but admits, "It's all pointless. A Facebook friend won't shave your back."

I escaped from Shawshank-Facebook less than an hour ago. I see chunks of time appear for me and Linda (my closest friend). I'm outta here! I feel the freedom returning.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Twitter & Our Super-Face-ial Culture

Twitter and Facebook are emergent properties of our culture. They are now with us and will soon be gone, to be replaced by something that will make them seem as archaic as a newspaper, and at a cultural speed that would make Alvin Toffler drop his jaw in awe.

I'm on both of them. I like getting instant photos from my son and daughter-in-law who work in Japan. I feel enormously thankful for something as simple as e-mail (remember that?), which keeps me connected to them. It's far better for me to be able to contact them via their Vonage setup that allows me to dial a number in Ann Arbor that connects me to Takayama at no charge. Amazing!

Yet... I resonate with what Julie Manga says in her nytimes letter "140 Characters In Search of Some Meaning." "Twitter cuts both ways. There is certainly something refreshing about (apparently) uncensored, direct communication among people. But while perhaps intended to connect and inform, Twitter and other similar venues (like Facebook, LinkedIn, blogs and reality TV) can become an addictive distraction in life. They can be yet another means to dissipate our attention, get caught in seductive details and take us away from being present in the moment of our own lives and to the issues that affect our lives... I am not a Twitter-basher. I simply offer a caution that we be self-reflective about its impact on our lives personally and as a society."

Some people are now LIVING on Facebook. On the rare occasions I make an appearance, there they are, as if they'd never left, sitting in the living room of "online friends" waiting to say hello. Are they married? Do they have children" A job? Are they "on the job" when they twitter? Do we really need to know that, right now, Mary "is disappointed" and Bob "wonders if Friday will ever get here" and Katie "is a fan of Old Navy" and Jason and Jenni "ended their relationship?"

Thomas Merton, were he alive today, would never live like this. Merton never watched TV, yet possessed an uncommon wisdom about life and the world he lived in. If we become a total Facebook-culture that's what we will lose, because it's what's beneath the face that actually matters. Face-to-face is better than face-book. To meditate is better than to twitter. There's a ministry of presence and a ministry of absence (Henri Nouwen). There are some things that are not for the whole world to know. Besides, most people could care less that Angie "is now angry and going to bed."

Rick Warren on the American church vs. the New Testament Church

"Let me ask you to consider this question: What do the words committees, elections, majority rule, boards, board members, parliamentary procedures, voting, and vote have in common? None of these words are found in the New Testament! We have imposed an American form of government on the church and, as a result, most churches are as bogged down in bureaucracy as our government is. It takes forever to get anything done. Man-made organizational structures have prevented more churches from healthy growth than any of us could imagine."

- Rick Warren, The Purpose-Driven Church, p. 377

I believe Rick Warren here expresses the sentiments of many pastors and Christian leaders who love Jesus, love the people God has entrusted to them, and long to be part of "church" as a movement. John Maxwell said "This is the book we've all been waiting for." Legendary pastor W.A. Criswell said "This book will help every church, regardless of size, to recapture the mission of a New Testament church." Hadden Robinson said a wise pastor should read this book three times.

This was Warren's "purpose-driven" book that came out before his The Purpose-Driven Life. It was praised by evangelical Christian pastors and leaders and dismissed by organizational church leaders. (For the most part.) In my interactions and dialogue with pastor-leaders over the years I have seen the frustration and even despair of many who came to lead churches that were captive to "man-made organizational structures."

To get the quote above in context Warren's book remains worth reading (and re-reading).

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

The Failure of Non-Fictive Reasoning to Eliminate Christianity

Non-fictive attempts to debunk Christianity cannot, in principle, succeed. This is because the Christian claim is that it is a true story, not a propositional truth that concludes a chain of deductive reasoning. "Logic" and "being rational" do not apply to "story," in the sense that stories are not imprisoned behind the steel bars of "literal" language. Here are some thoughts I have about this, not necessarily in any logical order.

- The Christian story qua story will never go away. It is deeply embedded in the ontological depths of humanity, surfacing and re-surfacing in film (e.g., "Gran Torino"; "The Matrix," "The Shawshank Redemption," "The Lord of the Rings," "Saving Private Ryan," "Braveheart," "Gladiator," etc. etc. etc.) and in real life (the stories of fire fighters who sacrificed their lives to save others during "911"; the man who dove under a NYC train to save a life; etc. etc. etc.). It resonates, like a single piano tone causes a tuning fork to vibrate, with the basic deep-ontological insight that there's something not right with us that needs to be fixed, combined with a growing realization that we can't do this ourselves and need to be rescued ("saved"). Look - one reason the Christian story dominates culture is because it speaks to us. Rather than being a mere epiphenomenon of our ontological condition God gave us a true story that we could understand because of our condition.(See C.S. Lewis and many others here.) (See here Francis Spufford's Unapologetic: Why, Despite Everything, Christianity Can Still Make Surprising Emotional Sense.)

- Because Christianity is a story that purportedly happened in history, one appropriately studies Christianity via historical method. Historical method is not constrained by cultural paradigms such as, e.g., philosophical naturalism. 

So - I study Christianity historically. The people I read here study Christianity historically. If I wanted to study brain surgery I think it would be helpful to read the works of brain surgeons. The same goes with the Christian texts and Christian history; viz., study those who devote their lives to the study of the Christian story. One wouldn't want a "brain surgeon" who's cut and pasted some things from the internet to operate on them; I don't want to deep-discuss my passion for the truth of the Christian story with internet cut-and-pasters either. A lifetime of study would help, which includes great periods of thought and pondering of the subject matter.

The Christian claim essentially has to do with history. That's precisely why the evangelical atheists (Dawkins, Hitchens, you know who the other two or three are) have little to say to here, and why their "assault" does not affect the historical nature of what I choose to believe in. It's also why discussion of the historical nature of the resurrection of Jesus is vitally important. (See, e.g., the works of Eugene Peterson, to include Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places: A Conversation in Spiritual Theology; Eat This Book: A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading; The Jesus Way: A Conversation On the Way That Jesus is the Way; and Tell It Slant: A Conversation On the Language of Jesus in His stories and Prayers. For examples (powerful ones!) of the use of story to express Christian truth read Annie Dillard, Frederich Buechner, and Flannery O'Connor for starters.)

Is Christianity "rational?" I believe so. There is a logic to it. For me that's good, since I teach logic and love doing it. But I don't believe that logic, for all its powers, gives the last word about truth. Logic is essentially non-empirical, and is amazingly non-effective in helping actual people (in marital relationships, e.g.; in spite of Albert Ellis's "rational-emotive therapy." But note: the "philosophical counseling" movement does interest me,). Logic is a tool. It's not the only tool. If the only tool one has is a hammer they tend to view every problem as a nail. People whose only tool is logic (no matter how learned their logic is) use it to develop a theory of everything. I hate to burst your bubble, but much of life is not logical and its truth cannot be exhausted via logic. But the multitude of non-logical experiential realities can be spoken of via fictive theories of truth. "Story" conveys truth in ways logic cannot. My doctoral dissertation years ago was an attempt to develop a metaphorical theory of truth (following Paul Ricoeur, Wolfhart Pannenberg, et. al.). Logical people beware - there's an entire universe of study out there in support of this.

- I think both logic and story are unavoidable and necessary in the quest for human truth. Perhaps philosophically it's like this, to use an analogy: we need both Hegel and Kierkegaard. But when it comes to life and love and suffering and struggle and existence, read Kierkegaard.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Maher's Ridiculous ("Religulous")

One of my MCCC philosophy students asked me if I'd seen Bill Maher's movie "Religulous." I said, "No."

Note: only one person has ever asked me if I've seen the Maher-movie. Probably no one else ever will. If they do I'll give them my best "You have got to be kidding" look. (This is the same look you would give if someone asks you if you've seen "The Love Guru.")

I probably won't see it, unless some day it's free on TV. Even then, I doubt if I'll watch it. I'm not in denial about this. Rather, I mostly only have time to read serious atheistic literature. I love teaching Philosophy of Religion, and we don't waste students' time on silly stuff, whether from the side of atheism or theism.

Some have actually seen the thing. Here's a review from a theist. (I didn't read the entire review, for reasons cited above.)

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Flannery O'Connor

I was introduced to the writings of Flannery O'Connor by Will Peebles. (Will, if you're reading this, send me an e-mail!) Will and I and Steve Belkoff and some others were in an exhilarating "faith and fiction" discussion group back in the 1980s at Michigan State University. In today's nytimes book review there's a new biography of O'Connor, and just seeing her picture brought back a flood of memories for me of the rich, deep discussions we had.

"Wise Blood," A Good Man Is Hard to Find," "The Violent Bear It Away," "Everything That Rises Must Converge," "The Artificial Nigger," "A Temple of the Holy Ghost," "The Lame Shall Enter First"... here was a literary feast attesting to the power and superiority of fiction over non-fiction in getting at the heart of truth.

I was completing my doctoral dissertation on metaphor theory at the time, looking at figurative language's ability to express truth. O'Connor's writing showed a genius who had a personal truth-acquaintance with God and people and the Gospel of Jesus and possessed a vast trope-toolkit wielded to express truth in a way that stayed with you. That last thing, for me, is key. Story can stay with you in ways non-fiction cannot, the exception being non-fiction that tells a story. (Such as This Republic of Suffering, of which O'Connor would have been proud, and which comes back to haunt and sober me whever I read or hear the word "war.")
Decided: I need to read more fiction, tell more stories. The Gospel is a story. Hence, it's staying power. Hence (again), its indestructibleness in spite of non-fictive attempts to assault it.

Greg Boyd On the Kingdom of God

I used this great quote from Greg Boyd this morning. It's about the Kingdom of God.

"People with a non-Kingdom mindset ("'pagans") instinctively try to find their security in whatever they think will ensure that their self-interests are met (minimally, food, clothing and shelter). They "run after" these things. This is why they serve money and why they worry incessantly. But Kingdom people are to "run after "only one thing: the reign of God. Part of what this means is that we should trust that God will provide for our basic needs and not worry about ensuring our own self-interests."