Friday, December 31, 2010

The Day the Church Stood Still






Here are some things I know about logic, as it is understood in philosophy. (For 10 years I've taught Logic at Monroe County Community College.) I'm going to use them to talk about the Christian theistic idea of "being led by the Holy Spirit."
  • Logic is about arguments - formulating them and evaluating them.
  • When philosophers use the word "rational," they mostly mean "logical." And by "logical" they mean certain specific things. You can find these things in a basic logic text. For nine years I used Hurley's classic A Concise Introduction to Logic. It's a great text, but has no colorful pictures or funny jokes. For the students I teach just the appearance of colorful pictures and funny jokes make the book more appealing. Hurley does have a sly, subtle, and sometimes perverted humor that shows in the problem examples he gives. I have found this, as the professor, at times embarrassing. Hurley is trying his best to relate to today's students. He is not succeeding. But in terms of straight logic without entertainment, Hurley is excellent, probably superior. This past year I switched to Vaughn's The Power of Critical Thinking: Effective Reasoning About Ordinary and Extraordinary Claims.  Vaughn is excellent on informal logical fallacies, and especially wonderful on "the subjectivist fallacy." Most students freak out and need therapy after being introduced to the subjectivist and genetic fallacies, since they form the heart and soul of their own "logical reasoning." When I teach those sections I feel like Klaatu in the original "The Day the Earth Stood Still," trying to explain to the students that the core of their thinking is illogical, as they sit their with guns pointed at me.
  • Logical arguments are composed of statements. A statement is a sentence that is either true or false; or, put another way, a statement is a sentence that describes a state of affairs. Using logic one can reason that State of Affairs X either obtains or does not obtain. It is instructive to note that not all sentences make truth claims. Requests, for example, are neither true nor false. If we're out for dinner and I request "Please pass the salt," you've made a Ryleian category mistake if you answer "That's false."
  • An argument has one (and only one) conclusion. In this way, at least in logic, multi-tasking does not apply, as if one could give one argument that logically leads to ten conclusions. An argument has at least one supporting premise. That premise should have a "claim of inference," meaning: if the premise is true, then the conclusion follows, either necessarily or probably. The classic, Aristotelian argument form is called modus ponens, which means: to affirm the antecedent. It goes: 1) If A, then B. 2) A (the antecedent is affirmed). 3) Therefore, B. Like: 1) If it rains, the ground gets wet. 2) It's raining. 3) Therefore, the ground gets wet. Using a Jesus-example, consider this. 1) If you love me, you will keep my commands. 2) You love me. 3) Therefore you are keeping my commands. Just as certainly as raining makes the ground wet.
  • Arguments are either deductive or inductive. A deductive argument is one such that if the premise or premises are true, then the conclusion must be true. ("Must" = "necessarily.") An inductive argument is one such that if the premise or premises are true, then the conclusion probably, more or less (depending on the claim of inference in the premises), is true. Such as: 1) I am now writing this piece on my laptop. 2) I intend to finish the piece with a half hour. 3) Therefore the piece will be finished in a half hour. The conclusion is only probably true, since there are a number of reasons that could come against my finishing the piece. I may be interrupted, for example. Or, I may die before I finish, in which case you would not even know I was writing the piece in the first place.
  • Humans are wired to think logically. There's a current debate on the nature of such wiring. Stephen Pinker says that logic is hard-wired, neurally, in our physical brains. It's really hard to think non-logically, even when one's logic is twisted or confused, just as one could add a column of numbers and get the wrong total. If one were to argue against the reality of the innateness of logic then one would have to use logic to arrive at the conclusion, which might be: Logic does not exist. We are logical beings. Our logical ability allows us to predict and conclude many things. We do it all the time. Logic gives us a sense of control and security. In this regard note the inner chaos that results in fictional characters like "Alice" who enter a world where (but not entirely) logic seems not to apply. Were our lives like that instability would be the norm. Logic helps to stabilize things. If I know that if it rains the ground gets wet, and then know "it's raining," I (logically) will not go out to water the lawn. That may seem simple but it's not at all simplistic. We take it for granted. Were this not so, and if we did not have logical capacities, we'd all be out watering our lawns in Seattle in the winter, during the rainy season..
  • But "life" is not all logical. There are many things we cannot conclude. One of them is, speaking from the POV of Christian theism, what is called the "leading of the Holy Spirit." I believe it is important to understand this, because if it is not understood then one will try to make sense of the Spirit in terms of human logic. That would be fatal to real, full life in the Spirit. This mistake leads to "the program-driven church."
  • At the heart of the biblical Book of Acts is the person of the Holy Spirit. In Acts the "acts" of the Jesus-followers (e.g., the "apostles," the "sent-from-God-ones") are grounded in the leading of the Holy Spirit. A paradigm case of this is found in Acts 10, in the story of Cornelius the Roman centurion.
  • God sends an angel to Cornelius, who is a pagan God-fearer. Cornelius is more than interested in the God of Judaism, as he worships and prays constantly, and participates in the regular, daily Jewish prayer times. He also gives generously to the poor. The angel appears to Cornelius and says: "Cha-ching! Your prayers and offering to the poor have registered as a memorial offering before God!" In other words, "Cornelius, what you are doing is acceptable to God." 
  • The angel instructs Cornelius to send three men thirty miles south of Caesarea to Joppa, to a man's house by the sea whose name is Simon the Tanner. Simon, aka Peter, is there. The angel says - "Bring Peter to your home. He has something to tell you." Cornelius obeys. But note this: Peter knows nothing about this. He has no rational premises from which to conclude anything. He's sitting on the rooftop of Simon the T's house hungry, as the meal is being prepared. Then God gives Peter a vision. This is the unbeknownst-to-Peter orchestrating activity of God. God has the Big Picture. God waved his conductor's baton over Cornelius, and now points his baton thirty miles to the south over the heart and mind of Peter. Got's got a little symphony going on here, and is directing Cornelius and Peter.
  • God gives Peter the shocking, paradigm-shattering-and-shifting vision of the unclean animals. "Eat them, Peter," the voice from heaven says. "No way!" respond Peter. The voice says, "Don't call things unacceptable that I have called acceptable." OK. Peter sits there, stunned. Meanwhile, the three non-logical men from Caesarea come knocking on Simon the T's door. Peter comes down. He does not know why they are there. He concludes nothing.
  • The men tell Peter about their master, Cornelius, and about the dream Cornelius had. Peter then does  conclude something. Somehow, perhaps by experience or intuition, he sees the orchestrating hand of God in this. So he goes with them, into the unknown. There is some reasoning going on here, but it's like this: 1) I think God sent these three men to me. 2) I don't know what for, but I am to go with them, because I think this is God and I trust God. If Peter logically concludes anything here, it's only that "This seems like God to me, so I will trust my intuition. Besides, I just had this shocking, seemingly anti-Jewish dream, and now these guys show up and invite me to take a road trip."
  • Peter arrives at Cornelius's house. His entire household is there, which includes family and soldiers and servants. Peter says, "Uhhh..., you all know a Jewish boy like me is not supposed to be here with pork-eating pagans like you, right? But God told me not to call you 'unclean'. So here I am." Cornelius says, "Now that we're all here in the presence of God, tell us what you are supposed to tell us." If I were Peter I might be thinking, could I have a few days to put together some notes and an outline and then get back to you? What Peter does is simply open his mouth and begin talking. In doing this he is simply trusting that this is God, and God is now going to orchestrate and guide and "lead" what God wants to say to these pagans through Peter. There's no planned program here. And, it's not been "predicted," in the sense of logical predictablity, which is: given these premises we can conclude this. The only premise needed for Peter is: If this is God, then I will obey. I will follow. But I do not know the logical outcome. I do not know where this is going. In the Book of Acts, this is what it means to be "led by the Spirit." You can't program the Holy Spirit like you can program a thermostat to turn the heat on at 9 AM. Being led by the Spirit is like having a God Positioning System (GPS) that includes your starting point and the next steps to take but does not give you the destination.
  • We see this clearly in what happens next. Peter tells C's household about Jesus, and about forgiveness of sins. As he continues talking the Holy Spirit gets poured out in that place, and C and his household begin praising God and speaking in tongues. This giving of the Holy Spirit is the sign of God's ultimate acceptance. In the giving of the Spirit God says things like, "I've come to make my home in you. I want you to host my presence. You are now a portable sanctuary." But Peter not only did not or could not logically predict this totally amazing, culturally shocking conclusion, he didn't even recognize initially what was going on as he just kept on preaching. Peter stayed with the program-as-he-knew-it. Instead: Deus Interruptus.
This is the non-programmatic "church." I'm not against "programs." If God says "start this," then obey. But in our Jesus-following context we don't hand out "programs" with the "order of service" on Sunday mornings, because I do not presume to be able to program the Holy Spirit. Do I plan for Sunday morning? Oh yeah. My plan is: abide in Christ; hear his voice; follow; preach...  and remember, John, remember... that God is the Orchestrator, who knows the sound he wants his people to sing, so watch the Baton of God closely. Follow. Let God have the baton, for God's sake! Trust. Be led by the Spirit whom humanity foolishly tries to control and predict. Logically conclude only one thing: If this is God, then I'll follow because it's going to be very good.


The Day the Church Stood Still. And God had his way.

Worship In the New Year at Redeemer!

6 AM, Jan. 1, 2007

Our worship team, led by Holly Benner, will worship in the new year tonight. I get to be on the team, and will be bringing out the big guitars for the evening.

Worship begins at 9 PM.

Lasts until...  (For two years we worshiped until 6 AM. The last time we did this I think there were still 20-30 people there. I was there. I was old. I was tired. And I thought, "I shall never do that again.")

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Don't Get Married If You Can't Admit It When You're Wrong



Real men don't apologize.
- The false prophet Rooster Cogburn; Hezekiah 1:3


Like Gary Chapman I grew up with a father who was truly wonderful in many ways but could not admit it when he was wrong. Since Hezekiah 1:1 says The apple doesn't fall far from the tree I joined the "Never Admit You're Wrong" fraternity.


My boy's just like me.
- The prophet Harry Chapin; Hezekiah 1:4


I now accuse Chapman of breaking into my office and stealing my spiritual journals. Because he writes:
"Shortly after our wedding, I enrolled in seminary and began theological studies. It was in this context that I discovered that the Christian scriptures have a great deal to say about confession and repentance. Confession means to admit that what I did or failed to do was wrong. Repentance means that I consciously turn from that wrong and seek to do what is right. I was attracted by the boldness of John the apostle who said, "If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, [God] is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness." I realized that I had allowed myself to be deceived. Blaming Karolyn for my outburst was evidence of my deception. I found great personal solace in confessing my sins to God. To be totally honest, it was much more difficult to learn to confess my failures to Karolyn." (Gary Chapman, Things I Wish I'd Known Before We Got Married, K 502-14)


While this is similar to my story, I now brag on the fact that I first admitted I was wrong about something to Linda way before I got to seminary. Which is good because part of my seminary experience resulted in me thinking I was now smarter than even your above-average Christian. My logical chops got sharpened on the teeth of Bultmann. Tillich, and even Heidegger. I felt that just the ability to say the word "Heidegger" was indication of belonging to a superior race. As exhilarating as this made me feel inside, it did not help my marriage.


Chapman writes: "After spending a lifetime counseling other couples, I am convinced that there are no healthy marriages without apology and forgiveness." 


Linda and I agree 100%! If you are thinking of getting married but cannot admit it when you arw wrong, cannot apologize and ask for forgiveness for what you have done, then you are a spiritually sick person who is going to infect your significant other.


Chapman's chapter on this helps us as he gives the "5 apology languages" he has discovered in his research. Read them closely for practical help. Here are 5 ways to say "I was wrong."


I really like Gary's book - thank you Gary for writing it! But now I cannot resist having some fun with Chapman, since he can only see 5 ways to do something, whatever that might be. (We all perseverate...) So here are my "5 Food Languages":  


1. “The Italians were eating with forks when the French were still eating each other.” (Mario Batali)
2. "Fat gives things flavor." (Julia Child)
3.  "This is so good you can eat it off a bumper." (Emiril)
4. “He that but looketh on a plate of ham and eggs to lust after it hath already committed breakfast in his heart.” (C.S. Lewis)
5. “After a good dinner one can forgive anybody, even one’s own relatives.” (Oscar Wilde)

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Inexpressible Makes a Rare TV Appearance

Every year Linda and I try to watch The Kennedy Center Honors on TV. It was on tonight - what an amazing show it was!

And, I had one of those rare musical experiences that makes me want to do something non-discursive like bow down and worship and give thanks to God for life and love and...  

Jennifer Hudson sang "I'm Here" from Broadway play "The Color Purple." 

(Silence)


Russia and China - Failed Attempts to Create an Atheistic Society

Today I've been prepping for my trip to New York City next week where I'll teach my Spiritual Transformation class at Faith Bible Seminary, and speak throughout the weekend (Jan. 8-9) at Faith Bible Church. The seminary and church was founded by my friend Dr. John Hao. It will be so good to be with John and his wife Rosie and the beautiful Chinese Jesus-follows at FBC!

While tracking down some information I want to share I rabbit-trailed to this forthcoming book by Baylor U. professor Christopher Marsh: Religion and the State in Russia and China: Suppression, Survival, and Revival (Continuum). It's coming out on January 20. As I looked at the chapter headings I thought - this looks valuable an interesting. I note them here, mostly for my own reference.

  • Introduction - From Forced Secularization to Desecularization
  • Ch. 1 - The Theological Roots of Militant Atheism
  • Ch. 2 - Evicting God: Forced Secularization in the Soviet Union
  • Ch. 3 - Faith in Defiance: The Persistance of Religion under Scientific Atheism
  • Ch. 4 - Russia's Religious Renaissance
  • Ch. 5 - China's Third Opium War: The CCP's Struggle with Religion
  • Ch. 6 - Keeping the Faith: The Persistence of Religious Life in Communist China
  • Ch. 7 - From Religious Anesthesia to Jesus Fever
  • Ch. 8 - Man, the State, and God
Those are creative headings!

Marsh's intro sentence reads: "One of the greatest ironies of the twentieth century must be that, while in the democratic West secularization was being proclaimed as the futre of the world, in the Communist East untold millions were suffering for their faith as they resisted the onslaught of forced secularization in the name of science and progress."

Marsh's book is about "the failed attempt to create an atheistic society" and what we can learn from this.

You can read the entire introduction at amazon.com, which is very cool.

Listening to Junip's "Fields"

I'm enjoying this cd, which Will Hermes of Rolling Stone calls his #1 album of 2010. Hermes says:

"In a year that demanded serious chilling-out, Jose Gonzales made a gorgeous chill-out record, all gentle melodies and hypnotizing grooves. Yet — as with most things — below the pretty surfaces were cracks, doubt, turmoil."

"1. In Every Direction - Junip
2. Always - Junip
3. Rope & Summit - Junip
4. Without You - Junip
5. It's Alright - Junip
6. Howl - Junip
7. Sweet & Bitter - Junip
8. Don't Let It Pass - Junip
9. Off Point - Junip
10. To The Grain - Junip
11. Tide - Junip
12. Rope & Summit - Junip
13. Far Away - Junip
14. At The Doors - Junip
15. Loops - Junip
16. Chickens - Junip
17. Azaleadalen - Junip
18. Black Refuge - Junip
19. Turn To The Assassin - Junip
20. Official - Junip
21. Chugga-Chugga - Junip
22. The Ghost Of Tom Joad - Junip"

We Marry Our Parents


The apple doesn't fall far from the tree.
- Hezekiah 1:1

Linda and I are loving Gary Chapman's premarital book Things I Wish I'd Known Before We Got Married. Buy this little book. Cover it with super- glue. Place it in the hands of your sons and daughters.

Chapman writes:

"I am not suggesting that the girl you marry will turn out to be exactly like her mother, nor that the man will be exactly like his father. I am saying that you are both greatly influenced by your parents. If he has a father who is controlling and verbally abusive, don't be surprised if in ten years he has similar traits. To some degree, we are all products of our environment. Research indicates that abusive men were almost always abused as children."

In my premarital counseling I have for years given the FOCCUS Pre-Marriage Inventory. One of the sections is about "Family of Origin." We're all more like our families than we might like to admit. To understand this increases behavorial predictability. Sometimes I have thought that I not only have inherited behaviors from my father but that I even walk like my father, and sit in a chair in just the way my dad did. (Is that possible? How many variations of chair-sitting can there be?)

For every one of us, some of our paternal inheritance is good, some of it is not so good. Regarding the "not so good," are we doomed to repeat the past sins of our fathers? Chapman writes:

"You may be asking, 'But can't we learn from their poor example and change our own behavior?' The answer is yes, and the important word is "learn." If the sn of an abuser does not take specific steps to understand abuse - why his father became an abuser, and what he needs to do to break the pattern - then he is likely to repeat it." (K 296-308)

And, "if a girl's mother is alcoholic, we know that statistically she is more likely to become an alcoholic. However, she is not destined to alcoholism. If she takes positive actions to understand alcoholism and learns more constructive ways to respond to stress and disappointment, she can break the alcoholic chain. Therefore, if in a dating relationship either of you has a parent with a destructive lifestyle, the responsible action is to enroll in a class, read books, talk with counselors, and discuss with each other what you are learning. Don't sweep these issues under the rug." (Ib.)

I'll add a few more thoughts to this wisdom.

1) I've collected 30 years of empirical evidence that shows personal transformation (meta-morphe) and change as a result of a consistent lifestyle of abiding in Christ (dwelling in the presence of God, and defining this in a certain way).

2) Gerald May, in his beautiful book Addiction and Grace, gives clinical examples of sudden, quantum-leap transformations in addicted clients. Psychiatrically inexplicable, May attributes these rare yet real events to the grace of God.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Redeemer Ministry School Winter Trimester Classes

Classes for our RMS Winter Trimester are:

• Tuesdays, 9:30-1 - Prophecy – (John Piippo & Josh Bentley)


• Wednesdays, 9:30 – 1 - Kingdom of God II (Healing & Deliverance) (Josh Bentley)

• Thursdays, 9:30 – 1 - Teaching/Preaching (John Piippo)

• Fridays, 9:30 – 1 - Worship II (Holly Benner)

Persons who are not full-time students can register through the Redeemer office at 734-242-5277.

$150/course.

Because of our RMS New York City trip (Jan. 3-8) + Randy Clark's School of Healing and Impartation (Jan. 12-15) the Winter Trimester will begin Tuesday, January 17.

Redeemer Coming Events

REDEEMER COMING EVENTS


• New Year’s Eve Worship at Redeemer! Dec. 31, begins at 9 PM. Bring some snacks to share after midnight.

• Jan. 3-8 – RMS students join John, Linda, and Holly in New York City with Chinese Jesus-followers.

• Jan. 9, 7 PM. Ordination service for Josh Bentley.

• Jan. 12-15 – Randy Clark’s School of Healing and Impartation at Redeemer.

• Sunday morning, Jan. 16 – Randy Clark preaches at Redeemer.

• Monthly Saturday night WIN events.

• Every Friday night at Newport Beach CafĂ© – various Redeemer people preach and lead worship. 9 PM.

“Furious Love Event” – April 6-9 at Redeemer. Heidi and Rolland Baker, Greg Boyd, Shampa Rice, Angela Greenig, Robbie Dawkins, Philip Mantofa, Will Hart, and Darren Wilson.

• Sunday mornings – we finish up preaching on The Christology of the Book of Acts, and begin preaching and teaching The Christology of the Letters of Paul.

• Green Lake week – June 25-July 1. With Randy Clark and Rachel Hickson (from Great Britain). Go to hsrm.org for registration and information.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Christian (and Muslim) Fundamentalism As Really Forms of Secularism

Women's Prayer Room in Jerusalem
In today's nytimes books there is a review of Olivier Roy's forthcoming (Dec. 8) Holy Ignorance: When Religion and Culture Part Ways.  

The reviewer is Alan Wolfe. Here are some highlights, which make me want to read it.
  • "Those defending Christmas who are not being true to their traditions and teachings. There are no Christmas dinners in the Bible, which is why America’s Puritans, strict adherents of what that venerated text offers, never sat down by the raging fire awaiting St. Nick; indeed, they briefly banned Christmas in Massachusetts. Yule as we celebrate it today owes more to Charles Dickens than to Thomas Aquinas. Our major solstice holiday is what Roy calls a “cultural construct” rather than a sectarian ceremony, which explains why Muslims buy halal turkeys and Jews transformed Hanukkah into a gift-giving occasion. Mistakenly believing that Christmas is sacred, those who defend it find themselves propping up the profane. The Christ they want in Christmas is a product not of Nazareth but of Madison Avenue." The battle every "Christmas" is not best seen as a battle against increasing cultural secularization, but an outcome of it.
  • Here's Roy's thesis, which is so very intriguing, plausible, and paridigm-shifting: Fundamentalism is not a reaction against the increasing secularization of society, but a product of it. "Fundamentalism is not about restoring a more authentic and deeply spiritual religious experience. It is instead a manifestation of holy ignorance." Roy uses this term to "characterize the worldview of those who, having lost both their theology and their roots, subscribe to ideas as incoherent as they are ultimately futile. The most important thing to know about those urging the restoration of a lost religious authenticity is that they are sustained by the very forces they denounce."
  • Roy agrees with Weber, Durkheim, and Marx that religion will decline as modernity advances. But again, note why Roy thinks this way. It will decline because it becomes yet another manifestation of secular culture. "It cedes so much to the secular world that it can no longer offer a transcendental alternative to it."
Any Jesus-follower interested in the decline of "Christianity" in Western culture should pay attention to Roy. What gets called "Christianity" in America is simply the secular world dressed up in religious clothing.

And, any who deconvert from such "Christianity" have not left the real thing since they never belonged to it in the first place.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Lawrence Krauss & the Steel Nets of Mathematical Language

Lawrence Krauss, in a recent Wall Street Journal essay "The Lies of Science Writing," says that "writing about science poses a fundamental problem right at the outset: You have to lie." What does he mean by this?

"Because math is the language of science, scientists who want to translate their work into popular parlance have to use verbal or pictorial metaphors that are necessarily inexact." For example:
\
"Consider the demonstration many physicists use to describe the bending of space by matter: putting a bowling ball on a rubber sheet and watching it produce a deep indentation. This nicely shows how the sun curves space around it and how this affects the motion of other objects moving nearby. But it's also a scam. The ball bends the rubber sheet and pulls in other objects simply because the whole apparatus is sitting in Earth's gravitational field. This image also gives many people the false impression that when we talk about curved or flat spaces, we are talking about two-dimensional surfaces embedded in a three-dimensional space and not about three-dimensional curved spaces themselves."

As another example, genes aren't really "selfish," but Dawkins's metaphor "is a brilliant and simple way to explain that natural selection relies on the self-perpetuation of genes that promote higher rates of survival."

Since my doctroral dissertation was on metaphor theory, to include the use of metaphor in science, here are some thoughts I now have.
  • All language is fundamentally metaphorical. Even our verb "to be" ('isness') was originally a Sanskrit metaphor. Language we now call "literal" was once someone's figure of speech, trying to express something we don't have adequate words for. Like, e.g., the "leg of the table." Today "leg," when applied to tables, is considered a use of the word "literally." As in: I bumped my foot on the leg of the table.
  • I think a strong argument can be made for the "necessary inexactness" of all language. I think this could include mathematical language. This is because "numbers" are themselves words that persons use. See here, I think, J.L. Austin's How To Do Things With Words.
  • Does math "exactly describe" reality as it is? I don't know, or am not sure, what this means or even could mean. Surely a theory of description is needed. How do "numbers" refer. If numbers themselves do not refer, then human agents use numbers to refer. And with this we enter, it seems inexorably, into the world of inexactness. (I assume Krauss thinks there is a way of speaking of reality or describing reality that is "exact" since his critique of metaphorical language is that it is "necessarily inexact.")
  • I'm guessing that the ontological status of numbers or lack thereof would be part of this discussion.
  • I'm certain Krauss is correct in saying that in science some metaphors are more apt (and this less deceiving) than others. I'll add that this is the case with all attempts to speak of things as they really are. Here I'll raise the Kantian objection: can we really get at the ding an sich?
  • If Krauss is claiming that math or the use of math non-deceivingly describes things as they really are, then this sounds to me like a return o some kind of logical empiricism or positivism.
  • Let me try something. I'm using a mouse to maneuver on my laptop. Let's say the mouse weighs 5 ounces. Is "weighs 5 ounces" descriptive of the reality of the mouse? I'm not certain this is the case. Because if I were using the same mouse while floating in space it would be "as light as a feather." So "weighing 5 ounces" does not seem to be literally or exactly descriptive of the mouse as it really is. Now take this example and apply it to all cases of using numbers to what Krauss calls "the real universe." Have we really described reality without remainder?
  • I don't think metaphorical language is necessarily inferior to so-called "literal" language in describing reality. There are things, as I think Philip Wheelwright once said, that the steel nets of literal language cannot capture.
 

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Choose Forgiveness as Your Life's Theme

Kenya
This coming Sunday morning I'm going to continue our preaching series on The Christology of the Book of Acts. The verses are Acts 13:38-39, where Paul concludes his first, and longest recorded, message:


 38 “Therefore, my friends, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. 39 Through him everyone who believes is set free from every sin, a justification you were not able to obtain under the law of Moses.

There are some really BIG words here.
  • sin
  • forgiveness
  • freedom
  • justification
  • law
Right now, from Tuesday's POV, I'll especially focus on forgiveness. Yes, I've preached on forgiveness many times. You can't preach through the four Gospels like we just did at Redeemer and not hit on forgiveness a lot.

Extrabiblically one of my main forgiveness-resources is the work of David Augsburger. Linda and I were blessed to have David as one of my seminary professors, and he graciously invited us to be in a weekly small group with his wife Nancy. Not only were we taught much by David and Nancy, but we "caught" a lot more. David had written Caring Enough to Forgive, which I still use in my life and our counseling of others. Could one preach and teach on forgiveness too much? I think not. For example...

Tonight I'm reading David's Helping People Forgive. In the Preface David writes:

"This, my third book on forgiveness, will not be my last. Forgiveness has been the inner theme of a dozen of my efforts on counseling, conflict, communication, and conciliation. [David, the truly great teacher, loves alliteration!] Perhaps every life has a theme, a discernible motif, connected unquestionably to its central weakness, injury, or inability, and the more deeply we pursue it, the closer we come to each other. The ancient philosophers suggested there are only seven truths and all else is elaboration. They did not name forgiveness as one of them. Perhaps that is because it embraces and enables justice, prudence, temperance, and above all charity." (p. x)

Monday, December 20, 2010

No Abiogenesis Here

Baboon on Kenyan roadside
Discovery.com has this article: "Life on Earth Began Three Billion Years Ago: A mathematical model dates back the evolution of genes critical to life to three billion years ago."

But the first sentence reads: "Life on Earth dramatically surged around three billion years ago, possibly when primitive forms developed more efficient ways to harness energy from sunlight, according to a study published on Sunday in Nature."

But if life on earth "dramatically surged... [out of] primitive forms [of life]," then such surging was not the beginning of life.

So I'd say the title is misleading. There's no abiogenesis here. Instead, we have more complex life coming from more primitive life.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Read This Book, and Link Here, BEFORE You Get Married!

Redeemer - Linda & My Guitar
Read this book, and link here, BEFORE you get married.

(Linda and I are much impressed with these resources, and are already handing them like sushi out to people we love.)

John Cleese Explains the Gene That Thinks There's a Gene That Explains Everything

Why Ricky Gervais Should (Logically) Reconsider God

Today's Wall Street Journal has this article: "A Holiday Message from Ricky Gervais: Why I’m An Atheist."  (Thanks Greg for pointing me to this.) His thoughts + my thoughts are:
  • "People who believe in God don’t need proof of his existence." How to respond to this? A number of us believe there is proof of God's existence, and this is very important to us. Reformed epistemologists like Plantinga believe theists have "warrant" for their belief. So Gervais's statement is an exaggeration, and therefore false. Some don't need proof. Remember that evidentialism (of the W.K. Clifford variety) is false, so even if Gervais's statement was true (which it's not) it would not be threatening.
  • Gervais: “I don’t believe in God because there is absolutely no scientific evidence for his existence and from what I’ve heard the very definition is a logical impossibility in this known universe.” First point: there is absolutely no scientific evidence for God's existence. But that is false. At least theists claim there is evidence, and many scientists who are theists agree. Consider the fine-tuning argument for God's existence, or the argument from consciousness for God's existence (J.P. Moreland), or the argument from reason for God's existence. And, when we reason by inference to the best explanation, an argument can be made from empirical states of affairs to theism as a better explanation than atheism. Second point: I have no clue what Gervais is saying about "the very definition is a logical impossibility in this known universe." That statement is senseless. There's no logical impossibility regarding God's existence. J.L. Mackie tried this approach once and it was soundly refuted by Plantinga, and even agreed on by atheists such as William Rowe.
  • Gervais:  "Science seeks the truth. And it does not discriminate. For better or worse it finds things out. Science is humble. It knows what it knows and it knows what it doesn’t know. It bases its conclusions and beliefs on hard evidence -­‐ evidence that is constantly updated and upgraded. It doesn’t get offended when new facts come along. It embraces the body of knowledge." Not quite. "Science" seeks nothing; scientists do. And because scientists are human they discriminate. Just read the history of science regarding this. Furthernore, "truth" is not something science discovers, since "truth" - if it exists - is non-empirical and not discoverable by science. "Truth" is more like a value judgement, and something about which science says nothing. The idea that a statement is "true" needs a theory of truth behind it, and "theories of truth" are not empirically seen, weighed, or measured. BTW, "facts" are theory laden, so what counts as a "fact" is constituted by a theory. 
  • Gervais: "Why don’t I believe in God? No, no no, why do YOU believe in God? Surely the burden of proof is on the believer. You started all this. If I came up to you and said, “Why don’t you believe I can fly?” You’d say, “Why would I?” I’d reply, “Because it’s a matter of faith”. If I then said, “Prove I can’t fly. Prove I can’t fly see, see, you can’t prove it can you?”" But it's not all a matter of faith. Or, it is a matter of "reasonable faith." See William Lane Craig et. al. on this. When theists talk about "faith" they do not mean "blind faith," or unreasonable faith. Surely some Christians hold to a kind of blind faith. I think that's just a human thing to do. For example, most of the atheists I meet blindly hold to their atheism. If asked "Why don't you believe in God?" they can say little or nothing. To turn the question back on the theist is not acceptable. But I wouldn't thereby reject a reflective philosophical atheist's reasoning on the basis of  bunch of blind-faith atheists. I'm thinking Gervais has never dialogued with a philosophical theist before.
  • Gervais rants on, not entirely coherently, about religion as evil. He appeals to theists: "I would just rather you didn’t kill people who believe in a different god, say. Or stone someone to death because your rulebook says their sexuality is immoral. It’s strange that anyone who believes that an all-­‐powerful all knowing, omniscient power responsible for everything that happens, would also want to judge and punish people for what they are." I just don't know how to respond to this. If Gervais is wanting to talk about religion as evil, I don't think this will affect philosophical theism. Surely he's not wanting to claim that atheists don't kill people who believe in God, since they surely have, with the worst atrocities in history being committed by atheists in the 20th century. See, e.g., atheist David Berlinski who writes about atheistic evil-atrocities as compared to theistic atrocities.  
  • Gervais then steals from right out of atheistic internet chat rooms when he says: "Next time someone tells me they believe in God, I’ll say “Oh which one? Zeus? Hades? Jupiter? Mars? Odin? Thor? Krishna? Vishnu? Ra?…” If they say “Just God. I only believe in the one God”, I’ll point out that they are nearly as atheistic as me. I don’t believe in 2,870 gods, and they don’t believe in 2,869." In the dialogue and debate among philosophical theists and philosophical atheists the interest is in: Is theism true. "Theism" is then defined as: belief in an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-good, personal agent who created the universe. On that definition multiple gods are not needed. And, of course, less-than-omni-deities are not needed, either. Gervais's comeback-questions here are irrelevant to the discussion of the God of theism. Again, philosophical theism posits one God with omni-attributes. Philosophical atheism is concerned to defeat the statement "The God of theism exists." Philosophical theism is concerned to defend this statement. The fact that others have believed in different ideas of God is sociologically interesting but irrelevant to the discussion of theism.
  • You have to read for yourself Gervais's description of when, as a child, he left belief in Jesus and became an atheist in just one hour's time. Gervais is sitting at home with his mother. His big brother comes in. Gervais writes: "I was happily drawing my hero [Jesus?] when my big brother Bob asked, “Why do you believe in God?” Just a simple question. But my mum panicked. “Bob” she said in a tone that I knew meant, “Shut up.” Why was that a bad thing to ask? If there was a God and my faith was strong it didn’t matter what people said. Oh … hang on. There is no God. He knows it, and she knows it deep down. It was as simple as that. I started thinking about it and asking more questions, and within an hour, I was an atheist." Wow! And this... is rational? I don't think so. In my philosophy classes all questions are not only welcomed but required.
  • Now watch this. Gervais reasons: "75 percent of Americans are God-­‐fearing Christians; 75 percent of prisoners are God-­‐fearing Christians. 10 percent of Americans are atheists; 0.2 percent of prisoners are atheists." First, I don't know where he gets any of these figures from. Most probably, they are all wrong. Secondly, as a pastor I've visited many people in prison, and can tell you that of those who claim to believe in God not all are interested in following after Jesus. If this kind of reasoning is exemplary of atheistic reason, then all atheists should immediately convert to theism just to disassociate with Gervaistic thinking.
  • Gervais: "So what does the question “Why don’t you believe in God?” really mean. I think when someone asks that; they are really questioning their own belief. In a way they are asking “what makes you so special? “How come you weren’t brainwashed with the rest of us?”" This, apparently, is Gervais the psychologist who can read the minds of all us theists. I ask people "Why don't you believe in God?" And I never think such things. I must mightily resist the psychoanalysis of Gervais and why he writes things like this, and thinks thereby he has made some relevant point.
  • Finally, and for some logical fun, consider this: "Let’s be honest, if one person believed in God he would be considered pretty strange. But because it’s a very popular view it’s accepted. And why is it such a popular view? That’s obvious. It’s an attractive proposition. Believe in me and live forever." I might want to use this in my logic classes as an example of how not to think. And fortunately, my philosophy of religion text contains no such sophomorisms from the atheists represented. OF COURSE if only one person believed in God he would be considered "strange." But this does nothing to discount theism. One makes a logical mistake in rejecting a theroetical explanation on the basis of "strangeness" alone (see the logic text I use - Vaughn, ch. 9, on "Inference to the Best explanation"). But the real beauty of Gervais's fallacious reasoning appears here. Watch closely: 1) Belief in God is accepted because it's a popular view. 2) It's a popular view because it's an attractive proposition." Now that's the fallacy of begging the question. It's also a mistake to conclude that of a belief is popular then it is false or should be questioned simply on the basis of its popularity. For example, the statement The earth is circular is popular. So we see that it is quite possible for a belief to be popular and true at the same time. The philosophical issue is always one of truth. 
I don't think Gervais has a lot of logic going for him, at least not the kind of logic we teach in our philosophy department. Since, therefore, his atheism is rooted in so much illogical thinking, perhaps he should reconsider God?

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Fushigi Ball

I just received a spam-mail about something called "Fushigi - The Magic Anti-Gravity Ball."

Instead of pressing an immediate "spam" I went to the Fushigi website. Here's what I found, with some philosophical comments attached.
  • "Fushigi." The very word connotes mystery.
  • "Fushigi is a brand new, dynamically designed ball use in the mysterious art of contact juggling." Note this sentence. "Brand new" = which means "never before, until now." "Dynamically designed ball" = which denotes... what? "Mysterious art of contact juggling." There's that word "mystery," which connotes "unknownness," "darkness" (as in: "shrouded in mystery"). Just plain astounding inexplicable weirdness.
  • "Fushigi is an incredible form of therapeutic relaxation." Incredible? Now think of this conversation. "John, you seem stressed out." John: "Yes, I am. I need to spend a few extra hours with my Fushigi ball."
  • "The art of maneuvering a reflective sphere through mind and body isolation and manipulation creates the illusion that the sphere may be defying the laws of gravity." This is quite a claim, even acknowledging the word "illusion." "Reflective sphere?" The thing is just a ball! But when it comes to "mind isolation," I've seen a lot of that in my philosophy students, so that doesn't impress me. What would impress me in my logic classes would be to see a student in the middle of serious mind isolation whip out a Fushigi ball and do a "Prayer Cross" (I'm not kidding).
  • "Fushigi is strictly recommended for ages 12 and up." I assume this is because, at age 12, kids enter puberty, which is clinically defined as a 10-year period of mind and body isolation. If the Fushigi ball can heal the struggles of adolescence then I'll support it.
  • It is recommended to begin with the 3-inch Fushigi, and then advance to the 4-inch Fushigi. These things are dangerous!
  • Store your Fushigi in its protective pouch. Like a baby kangaroo.
  • "Everyone loves Fushigi." That's quite a claim. I think it's false. I don't love Fushigi; therefore everyone does not love Fushigi. As Karl Popper taught us, all it takes to falsify a univeral claim like "All crows are black" is to find one non-black crow. This is Popper's falsifiability criterion. I therefore utilize Popper's criterion to falsify the claim "Everyone loves Fushigi."
  • "Fushigi is sweeping the nation." I guess so, because it just came to my laptop tonight.
  • Finally, re. the BIG QUESTION, does Fushigi actually defy the laws of gravity and float? The official Fushigi-answer is: No. And a good thing too, because if it did we'd have to rewrite all the laws of physics, which would create so much stress and economic disaster that we'd all be institutionalized and in big-time Fushigi-therapy.
$19.99

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Overcoming Depression & Suicide

This Friday night at Newport Beach Cafe RMS graduate Val Fowler will share about God's heart for the suicidal and depressed, and how to respond to and love persons who are struggling with these things.

Newport Beach Cafe

9 PM

The evening starts off with worship!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

MP3s From the 2010 EPS Apologetics Conference

Monroe County
Audio downloads of the recent Evangelical Philosophical Society's annual conference are available here for $1.99 apiece.

Some of the titles that especially interest me are:
  • "Natural Rights and the New Atheists," by Francis Beckwith. "Most people believe that human beings have certain rights by nature, that is, rights that do not depend on governments for their legitimacy. The New Atheists, such as Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins, seem to believe this as well. However, unlike the American Founders as well as those thinkers in the natural law tradition, the New Atheists deny that natural rights are grounded in a natural moral law whose source is God. They believe that naturalistic evolution can account for this natural moral law. This talk responds to the New Atheists and explains why the natural moral law is best accounted for by a Divine Law Giver."

  • "Before the Gospels were written, How Reliable Were the Oral Traditions About Jesus?" by Craig Keener. "Careful learning and remembering characterized ancient education and especially disciples learning from teachers. Why would anyone today assume Jesus’ disciples to be different, apart from modern biases against Jesus’ teachings? This session explores ancient examples of memory and their implications for the reliability of the Gospels."
  • "Jesus Under Fire: 12 Reasons We Can Trust the Canonical Gospels," by Craig Blomberg. "Today, many in our culture, and even some scholars, place little credence in the picture of Jesus that emerges from the New Testament Gospels. Some even argue that the later apocryphal, and especially the Gnostic Gospels, should be preferred. The larger percentage of historical Jesus scholarship meanwhile has been accumulating an unprecedented amount of support for the trustworthiness of the main contours of the canonical texts, especially the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. This talk surveys twelve of the most important reasons for this growing confidence in what is often called the third quest of the historical Jesus."
  • "God and the Genocide of the Canaanites," by Matthew Flannagan. "How could a just and loving God command Joshua to genocide the Canaanites as is apparently taught in the Old Testament? Is God really a moral monster as Christianity’s critics use these passages to claim? Matthew will re-examine these passages in light of the context they were written in showing that the skeptics' case against God relies on a questionable reading of the Old Testament."
  • "Assessing Brian McLaren's Emerging Theology," by R. Scott Smith. "Brian McLaren probably is the leading person in "emergent" Christianity. He focuses especially on how Christians should live faithfully in postmodern times, and to help address this, he has developed an "emerging" version of the gospel. By looking closely at this, we can discern his stands on many crucial issues, like: How does God’s kingdom advance? What is evil all about? What was the nature of Jesus’ work on the cross? Who will be in the kingdom, who won’t, and why? Is there a hell? Then I will assess his positions."
  • "Religion & Science: Where the Conflict Really Lies," by Alvin Plantinga. "This talk argues (1) that contemporary evolutionary theory is not incompatible with theistic belief, (2) that the main antitheistic arguments involving evolution together with other premises also fail, and (3) that naturalism, the thought that there is no such thing as the God of theistic religion or anything like him, is an essential element in the naturalistic worldview (a sort of quasi-religion in the sense that it plays some of the most important roles of religion) and that the naturalistic worldview is in fact incompatible with evolution. Hence there is a science/religion (or science/quasi-religion) conflict, all right, but it is a conflict between naturalism and science, not theistic religion and science."
  • "Reason Cannot be Located in a Materialist World," by Angus Menuge. "Any satisfactory account of human beings must locate human reasoning, by showing how it arises from the accounts underlying ontology (its theory of what exists). For materialism to be successful, human reasoning must be located in a world consisting of particles and undirected forces. The so-called "argument from reason" is a family of arguments designed to show that materialism cannot satisfy this demand. Most fundamentally, materialism fails because rational deliberation presupposes the existence of persistent, unified selves with libertarian free will. This requires an ontology of substantial agent causes, characterized by active power, teleology and downward causation, none of which can plausibly be located in a materialist world. Reason itself also has a number of characteristics (including intentionality, teleology, normativity and prescriptivity) that do not reduce to materialist categories. Finally, materialist attempts to explain human reasoning by appeal to Darwinian evolution imply that our reason cannot be trusted, especially in science and philosophy. Moreover, while not the only alternative to materialism, Judeo-Christian Theism is well-equipped to locate human reasoning because the ontology of human reasoning is exemplified by God, and therefore implausible materialist reductions of this ontology are not required. The argument from reason can be developed into a defense of scripture’s claim that human beings are made in the image of God."
  • "How to Handle Different Arguments from Evil for God's Non-Existence," by Christopher Weaver. "Contemporary arguments from evil for God’s non-existence can be accurately divided into those which attempt to show that God's existence is somehow incompatible with the real presence of evil in the world, and those which attempt to show that evil in the world somehow shows that God's existence is highly unlikely or improbable. Arguments resembling the former description are sometimes called deductive or logical problems of evil, whereas arguments like the latter kind are often referred to as evidential or inductive arguments from evil. In my short presentation, I will explore what I think are several lines of plausible responses to arguments of the evidential or inductive sort. The first such reply leans upon the work of Thomas Crisp, and attempts to show that particular premises of evidential arguments are recondite philosophical theses and can be objected to by an appeal to what's called the "evolutionary argument against evil". The second type of response to evidential arguments suggests that several of the premises of evidential arguments from evil can be parried by an appeal to what scholars call "Skeptical Theism". The last plausible rejoinder to evidential arguments I will present involves an appropriation of an argument for the controversial thesis that "God is the good", and that as the transcendental source of good, any appeal to objective moral value in the world (including instances of radical evil) materially implies God's existence."
  • "Challenging the Zeitgeist Movie: Alleged Parallels between Jesus and Ancient Pagan Religions," by Mark Foreman. "In 2007 the ZEITGEIST movie appeared on the internet and had over 50 million viewers in the first three weeks. ZEITGEIST is a two hour documentary film that attempts to argue, among other things, that Christianity is a non-historical myth based purely on teachings and ideas from earlier pagan myths. The primary evidence used to support this claim is the number of parallels between Christianity and other religions. This presentation assess both the claim and the methodology of this argument noting a number of fallacies with this kind of reasoning."
Regarding "Zeitgeist," see this post I made a few years ago.

Contemplation Is a Creative State of Being

Bangkok
Thomas Merton write: "The poet enters into himself in order to create. The contemplative enters into God in order to be created." (New Seeds of Contemplation)

"Contemplation," in Christian spirituality, is revelatory closeness with God. In contemplation one beholds the beauty of the Lord. The contemplative place is a loving union with God; a unity of love (note: not a metaphysical unity of being, even though certain Christian contemplatives come close to asserting that).

When we dwell in Christ so close that it can be described as a unitive condition, then "change" and meta-morphe (Romans 12:2) is the norm. Within one's heart the creative work of God is happening. One cannot consistently dwell in the preence of God and remain unchanged or, in Merton's language, uncreated.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Evangelism In the Early Church

We've left the 4 gospels after 5 years of preaching through them and are now preaching on The Christology of the Book of Acts; viz., those Acts-passages that especially speak of Christ.

One of the things that now stands out to me is that the early church had no "evangelism program." They didn't read books on evangelism - they didn't even have the gospels yet! They didn't pay money to attend evangelism seminars. And they didn't hold scheduled evangelism meetings. Yet the news about the Real Jesus spread like crazy. How did that happen? This way, I think.

The early Jesus-followers:
  1. Stayed tight with Jesus, abiding in him as he instructed in John ch.s 14-16.
  2. They were empowered with the Spirit of God, given to them, and dwelling within them. God had come to make his home in them. Now, they were "temples," "portable sanctuaries," hosting the presence of God.
  3. They heard from God, either directly or indirectly (as, e.g., through angels).
  4. A good part of that "hearing from God" had to do with receiving directions about where to go, what to do, and what to say.
  5. They obeyed.
And... the thing exploded!

This is what the biblical book of Acts is about. These first Jesus-followers are always hearing from God. Even non-Jesus followers are hearing from God. We saw this in our church two weeks ago with Philip the evangelist, last week with Paul and Ananias, and we'll see it again this coming Sunday with Cornelius and Peter.

At Redeemer we're taking the weirdness out of hearing from God and putting this forth as part of the normal Christian life. The normal Christian life includes: hearing from God, then obeying if called to. The results include: the message of Jesus gets disseminated. And, from, my pastor-POV, no more teeth-pulling-guilt-producing-low-turnout "evangelism classes" - Yay! My task is to: 1) teach people how to abide in Jesus; and then 2) teach them how to discern whether that voice they hear is God's or not. As for obedience, I can do little about that, since it says in Hezekiah 1:1 "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make them drink."

The past two Sundays we've had a lot of good, ordinary, powerful Jesus-followers at Redeemer share stories where they heard God call them to do something, they obeyed, and very cool things happened. So - if you're part of our Redeemer family - we're having another chance to share "hearing God + obeying" stories this coming Sunday. I look forward to these, which already have been encouraging and strengthening a lot of our people!

(If you're the academic type and want to read something about this check out U. of Southern California Prof. of Philosophy Dallas Willard's book Hearing God: Developing a Conversational Relationship with God.)

Muslims and Christians Are Not Both "People of the Book"

Inside the Blue Mosque in Istanbul
A year ago I met with a prominent Muslim leader who kept referring to us both as "People of the Book." He was hosting me at his mosque, and I was there to learn from him. I did learn a number of things that day, but one was not that Muslims and Christians are both "People of the Book." "We really believe the same things," he told me. I held my disagreement in. Because mostly, and essentially, we do not.

This Muslim leader would do well to read Stephen Prothero's excellent God Is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions That Run the World--and Why Their Differences Matter. Prothero writes: "While I do not believe we are witnessing a "clash of civilizations" between Christianity and Islam, it is a fantasy to imagine that the world's two largest religions are in any meaningful sense the same, or that interfaith dialogue between Christians and Muslims will magically bridge the gap." (K 247-55)

My Muslim leader-friend is a champion of "interfaith dialogue," by which I think he means things like: 1) we arereally all the same; 2) we really believe the same things because we are alike in that we are "People of the Book; and 3) we therefore need not try to convert one another. But Prothero is correct, as many scholars have pointed out, that such talk with solve little since it is rooted in a basic untruth. I love to talk with Muslims about our differences, and do so with gentleness and respect.

Friendship With God As the Antidote to Loneliness

I'm spending time today reading and responding to spiritual journals sent to me from Payne Theological Seminary students in my Spiritual Formation class.

One student writes of their loneliness. I respond to them:
  • As you continue to spend these times with God you will discover “friendship with God.” “Friendship with God” is the antidote to loneliness. Even people in marriage need friendship with God since many married people are lonely and feel alone.
  • There's a deep aching in the human heart that causes many people to anyone or anything that will heal it. Our answer is: God made you in his image; you will fnd your completeness and ultimate companionship in him.
  • So, continue to abide in Jesus. Abide now. Abide tomorrow.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Our Furiously Religious Planet

While others are watching TV tonight I have been reading. For several hours. Earlier today the Lions won. That's all the TV I need for one day.

Besides, its snowy, windy, and cold outside, and I have a cup of coffee. And some books on my Kindle.

I've read Boston U professor Stephen Prothero before (I read American Jesus), and am now reading God Is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions That Run the World--and Why Their Differences Matter. Prothero is not making a metaphysical claim about the being of God (as, God is, in his being, "one"). Rather, he critiques the naive and unstudied-yet-popular idea that all religions are "really saying the same thing." Which is false, as anyone who has actually read the various religious scriptures can attest to.

Prothero writes: "Religion is receding in many Western European countries [I think Philip Jenkins would dispute this, or at the very least want to discuss this]. But more than nine out of every ten Americans believe in God, and, with the notable exception of Western Europe, the rest of the world is furiously religious." (K 168-76)

The world religions are mostly different. To acknowledge this is good, to DaVinci-code this is bad. Prothero writes: "As my colleague Adam Seligman has argued, the notion of religious tolerance assumes differences, since there is no need to tolerate a religion that is essentially the same as your own. We pretend these differences are trivial because it makes us feel safer, or more moral. But pretending that the world's religions are the same does not make our world safer. Like all forms of ignorance, it makes our world more dangerous. What we need on this furiously religious planet is a realistic view of where religious rivals clash and where they can cooperate... [B]oth tolerance and respect are empty virtues until we actually know something about whomever it is we are supposed to be tolerating or respecting." (Ib., K 120-36)

Ours is a furiously religious planet. In this regard the prototypical Enlightenment-apes in "Planet of the Apes" had it wrong.

To B.C. & A.D., or To B.C.E. & C.E.?

Stephen Prothero, in God Is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions That Run the World--and Why Their Differences Matter, explains his use of B.C.E. & C.E. rather than B.C. & A.D.

"Religious Studies scholars typically date events either as C.E. (Common Era) or B.C.E. (before the Common Era), in an effort to avoid the Christian bias inherent in A.D. (Anno Domini, "in the year of our Lord") and B.C. ("before Christ"). This is sleight of hand since these dates continue to mark events in relation to the life of Jesus whether or not those events are said to have occurred in C.E. or A.D. However, since the use of A.D. and B.C. indirectly imply belief in Jesus as both "Lord" and "Christ," I use C.E. and B.C.E. here." (K, 58-65)

I have no big problem with this.

And, Merry Christmas.

I Love the Chinese; Therefore I Study Confucius

In NYC
Twenty years ago I traveled with Linda and my sons Dan and Josh to Singapore, where I taught at Asia Theological College for twenty days. I had, as students, Chinese Jesus-followers who were heading towards becoming leaders in Singapore's Christian community. I taught two courses: my Spiritual Formation class, and a class on cross-cultural evangelism. Those twenty days with my family and many new Chinese friends and students were life-changing.

I also became friends with a number of Chinese pastors who attended my doctoral classes in spiritual formation. One of them, Dr. Paul Chan, invited Linda and I to come to Vancouver to be the speaker at their annual conference. They called the conference "Being and Doing," with the idea that what one does ("doing") should come out of one's being. In this ay one's doing would then be "authentic." Lnda went with me and we spend six wonderful days in the beautiful Vancouver area. And my love for and interest in Chinese culture and Chinese Christianity was increasing.

At Palmer Seminary one of my students was Dr. John Hao who is, in my mind, one of today's great leaders in God's Kingdom. John and his wonderful wife Rosie invited me to teach at Faith Bible Seminary in Queens, and speak at their church. Over the past seven years I have been with them multiple times, and will go again to teach and speak this coming January.

I think it is a good think to continue to learn and grow, so I'm reading Paul Wasserstrom's recent China In the 21st Century. Part I explains the "Historical Legacies" of China, with a major section on Confucious and Confucianism. As I'm reading this I think of the statues of Confucius and the Confucian culture we saw in Singapore. I've got a copy of Confucius's Analects, and think I'll read some before my NYC trip. I've never deeply studied thse things, and now feel it will add to my understanding of all things Chinese.

I got a mild shock when I began reading about Chiang Kai-shek's part in a Confucian revival in China in the 20th century. I remember hearing about Chiang on tv, but knowing nothing about him. Wasserstrom writes: "Despite being a Christian, Chiang elevated [Confucius's] birthday to the status of a state holiday. He argued that the emphasis on tradition, family, social order, and clearly delineated hierarchies in Confucianism could go hand in hand with the teachings of the Bible." What? So many rabbit trails, so little time to follow them all. I want to know more about Chiang's Christianity!

"Ironically, the period of rule by the Christian Chiang Kai-shek was a time in which Confucius was revered, as, even more ironically, is the current rule by the allegedly still atheist Communist Party." (Wasserstrom, K 365-73)

October 1, 1949 - The Communist Party drives Chiang into exile in Taiwan. The birthday of Confucius immediately stops being celebrated. "The anti-Confucius campaign of the early 1970s was just the most radical and focused expression of an anti-Confucian viewpoint that predominated throughout the Mao years and that continued during the brief post-Mao period." (Ib., K 373-80)

Today, Confucius is once more venerated in China. This "fits in with a general tendency by the current regime to emphasize continuity with the past." (Ib., K 380-89)

So what did Confucius say?
  • He wrote on how a "true gentleman" behaves in his daily life.
  • He wrote about how a ruler should govern.
  • He placed a high value on education.
  • He stressed "the meritocratic aspect of the Chinese political tradition, [which] is that people are pretty much alike at birth but become differentiated via learning." (Ib., K 240-48)
  • The Analects emphasize the importance of three things: "education, ritual, and relationships that re hierarchical yet provide benefits to both superior and inferior." (Ib., K 248-56)
  • The study of classical texts was important "because it was by studying [them] that a person could learn about and begin to emulate the actions of the most virtuous figures of the past ages." (Ib., K 248-56)
  • "Ritual was important because it was a physical acting out of the best practices of earlier ages." (Ib.)
  • He emphasized four relationships in particular: ruler and minister, father and son, elder brother and younger brother, and husband and wife. All of these are reciprocal and involve combinations of benevolence coming from one party and deference from the other.
  • The former parties were expected to protect the latter, and in return the latter were expected to be obedient to the former. "The social order was threatened whenever people failed to act according to their prescribed roles." (Ib., K 264-72)
When I was teaching in Singapore my students, during lunch time, began asking if I was hungry. I said "Yes." And they would take me to a restaurant and pay for my lunch. One day one of the seminary leaders told me that my students liked treating me to lunch but were expecting some reciprocity. Which I gladly did, feeling somewhat embarrassed that I did not know more about the Confucian culture I was in.