Sunday, April 20, 2014

The End of Apologetics Chapter 4 - The Politics of Witness

"We are not going to be able to reason ourselves back to paradise."

That is one of the closing sentences from Penner's book The End of Apologetics.  The book as a whole is a critique of using an over reliance on expert reasoning as the primary means of combating skepticism and atheism in defense Christianity. 
 
"... I cannot use the objective truths of Christianity to tear down others and think that I am thereby communicating the truth of the gospel."

He looks to the prophets for example of effective, fitting and appropriate witness:
"What is also true of prophets, then, is that while they challenge and even speak against their traditions, they are also more deeply committed to them than those who are comfortable in the status quo.  It is precisely because they are so committed to their tradition and believe in its deepest impulses that prophets sometimes attack it.  The prophetic call is always to a deeper fidelity to the founding event of the tradition, but not in such a way that controls it or even tries to make it into a univocal, monochromatic tradition."

And he looks to Paul whose approach is an example for us of what prophetic witness should be. 

"Paul engages believers and unbelivers, Jews and Greeks, men and women, slaves and free, all patiently and carefully in terms of their concrete, particular identities within the context of their actual situations.  He lives with those to whom he preaches.  He eats with them.  He works and worships with them.  Consequently, his theological categories do not blind him to the particularities of those to whom he witnesses - to the point where Paul does not even think of others in terms of a "universal human condition,"  Paul's preaching calls the people of the nations not to be conformed to the theological categories he inherited from Jewish orthodoxy (e.g., "circumcision"), but to faithful confession of Jesus as Lord within their cultural forms, whatever they may be.  It is as if for Paul, as missiologist Andrew Walls observes, Christianity "has no fixed cultural element" and is therefore "infinitely transferable."  For not only can the Christian gospel be translated into new cultural and linguistic thought forms, but given the missionary imperative explicit in Paul's letters (and the entire biblical narrative", there is a sense in which the truth of the gospel requires this kind of translation:  'It is as though Christ himself actually grows through the work of mission.'"

And this, after Penner has initiated the chapter by conveying that the social dimension of Christian witness and states that "edification is taken to be the primary act of witness." 

In closing out my comments about this interesting and, for me, difficult book, I direct your attention below to a page from The Book of Knowledge Encyclopedia 1952 edition.  I grew up with this set and it helped to form me.  This page shows the development of the pen from Roman times to the middle of the last century.  You see that it has changed drastically as the medium upon which it writes has changed.  This is a metaphor for Christian witness and even for Christian belief, in my opinion.  Change will happen and we do not help ourselves if we become obsessed with using exclusively the tools that have outlived their usefulness. 


Saturday, April 12, 2014

Truth Is That Which Edifies


From Chapter 4 "Witness and Truth" of The End of Apologetics, Penner says:

The modern concern with truth marks a sharp departure from the premodern focus on natural substances that make the world what it is and, in turn, make it possible for our words or thoughts about them to be true.  It is because things are already true to themselves that premoderns believe we can perceive, think, or talk about them truly.  Prior to modernity, just as with reason and rationality, it is the cosmos and its being - the it is - that make our thoughts and our words about it possible.  It is because things have forms or essences that are identical to themselves, as it were, that our minds and our words can ever have any thruth in them.  This is not the case, however, for moderns who reject the old-world cosmology.  Modern thinkers tend to believe that our thoughts and statements can be true when the things we speak and think about are self-evidently the same as our words and thoughts.

We are at the beginning of a new era where we are moving beyond this modern way of doing truth.  It seems to work well when trying to do science and technology.  This is the domain of simple inanimate things or simple biological creatures.  When it involves creatures with consciousness then things get sticky.  How we know or think we know truth matters.  Penner suggests we move from a "correspondence" theory of truth, the modern conception, to consider that truth is that which edifies.

When we speak about edification and witness, we are never talking about a purely private relation to anything......There is something of an intrapersonal and public element to truth, and because we are social beings, the edification of an individual person necessarily takes place within a community of other persons wo share (very nearly) the same commitments, values, and vocabularies.  



Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Is Reality Ironic?

Irony generally involves an incongruity between how we act in, talk about, or think about a situation and the usual expectations for that situation - between what is formally presented in a statement or situation and what is obviously true about it.   
The above is another quote from Chapter 3 of The End of Apologetics by Myron Penner.  For some things irony is the best way to communicate.  Irony is indirect.  Jesus ministry is full of the indirect.  He often uses reverse wisdom like in "the first shall be last".  Have you ever wished that Jesus would just come right out and say it sometimes.  Why did he use parable?  Are you or aren't you?  Speak to us with what we think are words of common sense. Say it like it is?   But he often does not.  He replies with a question or story.  His life was the ultimate irony.  God and Man.

This is the supreme irony, as Kierkegaard would say: that God was a human being and there were people who lived with him, spoke with him, ate with him, and heard him speak, and yet did not realize they were in the presence of God.......God, to put it another way, is a master ironist whose Word comes to us in a form that is not directly identical to the message.

I don't seem to be able to bring anything up inside me so I continue to quote.

The nature of reality, the world, and God himself is such that truthful speech about them - the kind of speech that communicates what is most important - ultimately is ironic.  

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Chapter 3 of The End of Apologetics - How We Believe

Chapter 3 starts out with the author and a professional acquaintance who has lost his faith.  They are having lunch.  Though he has lost his faith, it is with regrets and he realizes he desires a return to it in some manner. He is open to receiving help in this regard.  Along come two young Christian apologists who figuratively bash him over the head and punch him in the gut with their supposedly rational and unyielding arguments.  What do you think happens?  Instant conversion?  Nope.  Did they help?  

No.  According to Myron, belief should not be just rationally coherent but it also must be existentially coherent.  It is not enough or even required that we have an airtight, logical, scientific, philosophically sophisticated up-to-date justification.

Myron next considers the apostles and the prophets.  Do Amos and Jeremiah provide crafty knock'em out arguments?  No, they proclaim a direct message for the specific audience that is what they need to hear, what they need to do, and appeals to what they are doing and acting out.  That is prophetic speech.  Myron says:


"faith is tied to often-unacknowledged background values, assumptions and practices that give shape to our perspectives and meaning to our lives."  
"When I witness, I do not take up a self-centered, asymmetrical stance closed off to the needs, wants, desires, goals, dreams, story, or insights of the person to whom I witness."
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Sidebar:  This brings to my mind one reason it has been so hard for many people to accept the overwhelming evidence that we humans by our actions are affecting the climate and that the buildup of CO2 in the atmosphere and ocean is something to have great concern about.  On the one hand I recognize that climate science is difficult and complex.  It has taken awhile for the story to unfold and there is much more to be learned.  There are legitimate questions on various aspects.  But the above also tells me that no amount of science however good is going to convince those who have a perceived existential investment in it being wrong.  In the long run, I think it is an erroneous perception.
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Myron also asks what is the purpose of belief anyway?  According to him, there is a purpose and that is to build the person up.  It is to edify.  
To put it another way, when we take prophetic speech as the basis for apologetic witness, we move from an abstract epistemology of belief to an ethics of belief.  When I speak of an ethics of belief, I mean a focus not just on what one believes but also on how one believes.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

More Quotes From Chapter Two of the End of Apologetics


Here are some quotes from Chapter Two.

One of the serious problems for modern apologetics is that it treats Christianity as if it were an objective "something" (e.g., a set of propositions or doctrines) that can be explained, proven, and cognitively mastered.
Well, Christianity does seem to have some of that, propositions and doctrines, but I am coming around to a belief that Christianity is not one thing but a moving, shape-shifting, adaptive, progressing, thing that is growing and changing with those who live in it.
Kierkegaard's favorite response is to point out that being a Christian is far less a matter of knowing the truth than that of becoming the truth - that is, of being truly rather than thinking truly
Everyone would agree with this.  It seems that one should be able to figure things out mentally.  The Enlightenment inside me would agree with this.  But this statement does not support that.  One can only know the true if one practices truly. There is something about that which rings true.  I can intuit that but I wish I knew better how to put it in words, coming up with a rational explanation for it.
In order to accommodate this, we will need to shift from an epistemological approach to something like a hermeneutical one.
The next quote expands on this.  We have a text and a tradition that we have received.  It is a reality that is here and now.  Myron says that it is the Word from God.
The pressing issue is not solving an abstract set of theoretical problems but interpreting the symbols and texts of a received tradition in order to understand their meaning and significance in relation to a concrete set of problems and exigencies that we encounter.
This is how many Jewish thinkers have approached the scriptures through the centuries and that now makes a lot more sense to me than it did when I was younger.
Reason is useful to us when employed to understand where and how we live, but is "suspended" (or limited) in this paradigm, as it does not plumb the depths of reality, nor is it capable of functioning as a context-free judge or standard for human belief and action.
Important to the developing narrative in Myron's book is that "reason" is limited.  It has a gaping wound. He says in one place.
We are in some respects, then, caught between the rock of modernity and the hard place of the premodern worldview.  Premodernity, with its hierarchical universe and naive picture of the world, is simply no longer viable, but we are also far too aware of the problems of the modern paradigm to find its program tenable.  A shift to a hermeneutical approach to Christian faith, like the kind I propose, carefully negotiates faith in reference to the texts and traditions out of which we hear the apostles and prohets speak.

Next to chapter 3

Friday, February 14, 2014

Thoughts on Chapter 2 of The End of Apologetics: Apologetics, Suspicion, and Faith

This was the most difficult chapter to comprehend and summarize.  Here Penner draws from S. Kierkegaard for an insight and critique of our present situation.  In the time before the modern era, that is, before the Reformation, appeal to tradition and supernatural revelation provided the guidance and authority for how things are to be done and life is to be lived.  Kierkegaard observed even in his time, the mid-nineteenth century, that this had changed and this was replaced by something he called "genius" though Penner states that what K is getting at may better for us be described as "expertise".  And K looks to someone different than that, one whom he calls an "apostle", one who is called and who appeals not to reason but to revelation.  To quote Penner

The apostolic message does not have authority because it is demonstrably rational or exceptionally brilliant but because it is a word from God.  God's word does not come to us as the result of human calculation or brilliance and cannot be improved upon, nor will it ever become obsolete.  The truths of revelation are not realities humans will inevitably discover through their research projects, nor will they be able to assimilate them into their collective potential.  

Aside #1.  It is not discussed in this chapter how we know what is revelation and what is not.  That is not the subject here but is a question I had.  I think it is indirectly addressed later.

Aside #2.   I'm thinking that in K's day and even way far back in the mid-twentieth century when I was starting out, there were fewer experts and they were held in higher respect and awe than today.  Right here and now everyone is a specialist in something.  We recognize that we have to call on experts every day for help to fix our car, plan our finances, cure our ailments, buy and sell a house, choose our paint, etc. To keep a job we all have to become experts in something,   For this reason, in our current situation we do not ascribe the same respect that earlier generations of the modern period did to the smart, the intelligent, the expert.  And when we are in our right mind, we do not accept everything the expert tells us without asking questions and making sure we communicate with each other properly and that there are no hidden agendas or misunderstandings.  Life has become so complicated and there are so many possibilities and contingencies that it is best if we partner with the expert and develop a relationship when possible.

Now back to the book, Penner recounts that for Kierkegaard,

the claims of revelation are what Kierkegaard describes as a "paradox" to human reason, because they seemingly eclipse the rational reach of any human epistemic community - yet, as genuine truth claims, they are not utter nonsense to reason either.

Penner states that reason is always conditioned and that it ultimately, because of sin, deteriorates to an ideology because of the spirit of the times, the age, the crowd.  Human reason often turns out to be the product of bias and prejudice and a battle of power relations. That is basically the postmodern critique, that reason has no external reference point, there is no absolutely fair and unbiased location from which to stand and announce the absolute truth.  Penner connects this to nihilism and that others like Nietsche and K saw this coming.

The problem that both Penner and Kierkegaard have with modern apologetics is that it bases apologetics on secular reason and "genius" to ground the faith.  They are on the same page with the new atheists, playing the same game and with the same drawbacks.  It devalues what it is trying to prove.

The paradoxical result of the modern apologetic defense of Christianity, then is that when God's existence is established according to modern secular reason, all that really is demonstrated is the dispensability of anything that resembles belief in God.........so belief must be coaxed and cajoled from the crowd in terms they find acceptable and appealing.

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Thoughts on Chapter 1 of The End of Apologetics

Here are some quotes from Chapter One, Apologetic Amnesia of The End of Apologetics by Myron Penner.

Philosophical modernism and the Enlightenment is marked by an attempt to free human thought from its dependence on external sources - such as traditions, assumptions, or other authorities - for the grounds of belief.
...
In the modern philosophical paradigm, then reason forms what I will call the "objective-universal-neutral complex".  ....No longer is reason thought of as the structuring feature of the world external to the human mind, as in the premodern view.  Instead, reason is internal to (and possessed only by) human beings in a way that is universal, objective, and neutral.
...
It is true that postmodern perspectives usually understand human consciousness and rationality as the product of the cultural, social, linguistic, psychological, and other historical forces at work in a person's concrete situation.
.....
For my part, I believe postmodernism functions as a genuine critique of modernity and its atheistic impulses.  This means that postmodernism has a relative value to Christians who are trying to think in different categories than the inherited modern values and assumptions that shape our culture. 

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Postmodernism makes the point which is undeniable to me that we are deeply dependent on our environment and personal history etc.  Up until ten years ago, I still held to the belief that a person could, if they were disciplined and honest enough, be objective and neutral.  I still think that is what a person should try to be.  It is a goal to strive toward.  It seems to me that to a large extent science, engineering and technology are based on it.  To properly practice these one has to do that.  If you design a bridge or a medical device and it does not work properly it could lead to human suffering on the part of others as well as oneself.  Such consequences aid mental honesty and discipline.  When it comes to religion and politics however, one can state just about any thing and there are no direct consequences of this type.  It seems there are financial and personal incentives to do and say almost anything from whichever perspective, however extreme. 

Sunday, February 02, 2014

The End of Apologetics

We are finally settled in to our new home and now I'm ready to resume blogging as a useful form of discipline.  I have been reading "The End of Apologetics;  Christian Witness in a Postmodern World" by Myron Penner.  Gave it to myself for Christmas and am reading it a second time.  When I read books that involve postmodernism I usually think as I go that I comprehend it, or most of it, and am ready for the next one.  But I have always realized that when I'm laying awake at night in my bed and I rehearse the arguments and thinking, I cannot explain it to myself satisfactorily.  The few times I've attempted to communicate to close friends and family, I haven't been able to do it as well as I wanted.  It is my new year's resolution to improve upon this.  Hence my second time through this book I'm underlining important points because it helps me when going back and forth.  I may go through it a 3rd time. 

By the phrase 'the end of apologetics', Penner means that the main approach to apologetics that is advertised, marketed, and conducted through debates and in books is misguided.  To quote:

So it is that many attempts to articulate the reasonableness of Christian faith in our context paradoxically end up doing something different than defending genuine Christianity.

I agree.  I did not find them helpful when I was in college and undergoing a change in my thinking.  In my twenties I read Francis Schaeffer and heard Josh McDowell but did not find in them what I'd hoped.  C. S. Lewis' Mere Christianity was the best thing but it was not enough to satisfy my struggles.  

Penner goes back to the mid-19th century Christian writer, Soren Kierkegaard, for guidance and builds upon his insights.  Kierkegaard diagnosed some of the same problems even in his day and time.  An aside here, it is my impression that K is written off by many conservative/evangelical Christians because he is identified as an existentialist and is hence basically wrong.  I was briefly introduced to K in the spring of 1971 when I took a Philosophy of Religion course at Harding University.  We discussed him and I remember the teacher saying that reading him was a boring and good for putting one to sleep.  That colored my thinking about K till the last decade.  I still haven't tackled his writings but his name and influence keep coming up in meaningful and insightful things I'm reading. I keep coming across pithy quotes that capture and convey wonderful insights.  And then he provides inspiration for wonderful books such as this one. 

I'll close this post with another quote from the introduction.

I begin by noting that the goal of traditional apologetics is to justify the objective truth of the propositions of Christian doctrine.  Christianity, the "essentially Christian," is therefore assumed, implicitly or explicitly, to be captured in these propositions.  The Christian truths defended by such modern apologetics are taken to be ahistorical, unsituated, abstract, and universal.  I then use Kierkegaard's concept of truth as subjectivity to launch a critique on apologetic propositionalism and to provide an alternative way to think about Christian truth. 


Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Apocatastasis - An Interesting Article

I came across an interesting article titled "Apocatastasis in Patristic Theology" by John R. Sachs, S. J. published in Theological Studies 54(4), 617-640, 1993.  Here is a link to the pdf file.  Apocatastasis is related to the concept of the restoration of all things and is connected to the concept of universal salvation.  He says:
Within the limits of Catholic "orthodoxy" what is encouraged by most is a strong and active hope that all will be saved.
I take this to mean that it is perceived that there is a possibility that this is the case and it is approved to believe in this possibility.
To some, such a change in perspective may seem to be merely another example of modernity's relentless dilution of the gospel, a superficial optimism that refuses to acknowledge the power of evil in our world and our responsibility for it. In fact an ancient Christian instinct or sensibility for the power of divine grace, precisely in the face of the grim reality of human evil, lies at the hear of this "new" attitude.
John gives the examples of Clement of Alexandria, Origen, and two of the Cappadocian fathers and indicates there are others.  He says that 
According to Clement, God's absolute goodness implies that punishment can only have a pedagogical, purifying, and healing function, not only in this life, but after death as well. God does not take vengeance, for that would be simply to return evil for evil. But in loving providence God "chastens with a view to the good" of all, much as a father or teacher disciplines a child.
With regard to Origen, according to Wikipedia, though he has been considered through the ages to have been a proponent of this, recent analysis of his extant writings are not conclusive. Nonetheless, John shows that Origen wrote much that provides support for this outlook.  I suppose he was wrestling with the cruelty of everlasting punishment and his views evolved over his lifetime and that assuming a consistency of thought on his part does not capture the situation. How did Origen engage the usual passages regarding punishment of Hell's fire?  According to John:
Can such a fire really burn eternally? The answer to this question is of central importance for understanding Origen on the subject of apocatastasis. A number of different perspectives emerge in his thought. First, simply with respect to the word and concept of the eternal, Origen often notes the ambiguity of the word "eternal," pointing out that aiôn and aiönios can mean duration without end or simply a very long period of time, an "age" or an "aeon," which would have an end. 
This is a topic I come back to from time to time.  That's it for now.  




Wednesday, October 23, 2013

While Unpacking Books at Our New Home - Thoughts from Hermann Hesse

After six weeks of living with family, we are finally in our home in Collierville, TN and we unpacking and arranging things.  I've kept some of my books for forty years now and am once again wondering about throwing some of them away.  I picked up one by Hermann Hesse just now.  He won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1946.  The book is Magister Ludi, which originally I read in 1973. Had not looked at it since then and as it was about to be tossed into the recycle pile I accidentally noticed a few things I'd underlined back when I was 22 years old.  Late in the book the main character describes a man he knew who I think fits with a model human from Hesse's perspective.

Granted there are those among us who are to easily satisfied, who enjoy a sham serenity; but in contrast to them we also have men and generations of men whose serenity is not playful shallowness, but earnest depth.  ..  In the last years of his life this man possessed the virtue of serenity to such a degree that it radiated from him like the light from a star; so much that it was transmitted to all in the form of benevolence, enjoyment of life, good humor, trust and confidence.  It continued to radiate outward from all who received it, all who had absorbed its brightness.... 
Even though whole peoples and languages have attempted to fathom the depths of the universe in myths, cosmogonies, and religions, their supreme, their ultimate attainment has been this cheerfulness.

I think I'll hold onto this book and give it another read.  Don't remember my 22 year old self being impressed with that but I'm glad to have come across it now.  There is something of value there. Previously on this blog I quoted extensively from something Hesse wrote about trees.  That one has stayed with me consciously for all these years.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

A Month Away from Knoxville

We've been living out of a suitcase for over a month since leaving Knoxville.  We are bouncing around between family members.  Haven't had much time to read.  One more week to go.  Ready to get settled.  Life is different.  How does where you live affect who you are and what you believe?  I've attended several churches recently.  I plan to visit a lot of churches.  There are a zillion here in Memphis with all kinds of cool names like "Truth and Grace" , "Heartsong", "Ram in the Bush", etc.  Churches are changing and life is changing from what it was even in the early 2000's and we often do not realize it.  Personal computers are a thing of the past, they are on the way out.  My tower sitting below me is a fossil now.  And I have less control than I did of my computer.  It decides when and how to upgrade and add "security."  In my smart phone I cannot tell when an application is closed and when it is not.  In its browser I cannot go back and then forward.  Things changing so fast it is hard to keep up.  I've got a Tumblr account.  Just getting started with it and not sure how it works.  I'll try this link:

http://www.tumblr.com/blog/swallison50

Which contains this from the Tumblr microblog by emergentdigitalpractices.


“I’ve come up with a set of rules that describe our reactions to technologies:
1. Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works.
2. Anything that’s invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it.
3. Anything invented after you’re thirty-five is against the natural order of things.”

― Douglas Adams, The Salmon of Doubt
(Hat Tip to Lynn Schofield Clark)

And my response is that this has been one of the ongoing themes of my life.  I noticed it while I was young, how older folks had a problem with new things, and promised myself I would not be like that.  Well, I have caught myself reacting as in number 3 from time to time.  I try to recognize it and overcome it.  It is a constant battle.


Sunday, September 22, 2013

Equations are like Sonnets

Lifted the paragraph below from Krita Tippet's On Being.  It is about the joy of math.  I recall struggling in the first and second grade with it.  Then mid-way through the 3rd grade we began working on our multiplication tables and I perceived its patterns and rhythms. From then on I've loved it.

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The Joy of Math: Keith Devlin on Learning and What It Means To Be Human
Mathematical equations are like sonnets says Keith Devlin. What most of us learn in school, he says, doesn’t begin to convey what mathematics is. And technology may free more of us to discover the wonder of mathematical thinking — as a reflection of the inner world of our minds.
- See more at: 
http://www.onbeing.org/program/the-joy-of-math-keith-devlin-on-learning-and-what-it-means-to-be-human/5946

Monday, September 02, 2013

On the Way to Memphis

We arrived in the Knoxville-Oak Ridge area of East Tennessee in Dec of 1978.  It is where we have lived for nearly 35 years.  We did take a one year interlude to Charlottesville, VA when I was a visiting research professor at the U of VA in the 89-90 school year. Now, we are headed to the Memphis, TN area.  We will be close to our families.

Haven't been reading much.  All I can do to keep up with my work and pack the house too.  And there have been frequent trips to Memphis.  Downloaded another Richard Rohr book some time ago and what I've read so far is great and a help.  The other book I've read by him is falling upward.  A recent review by Carl McColman is here and a quote from it follows:

I think, especially for those who might be a little uncomfortable with concepts like mysticism or contemplation, Immortal Diamond can be a wonderful introduction to the visionary and optimistic of Richard Rohr’s teaching. Even long-standing fans of his work will enjoy this book, if for no other reason than to see his profoundly spiritual insights presented in a new way. If this is your first book by Rohr. You’re in for a treat. Follow up with either Everything Belongs or The Naked Now (and if you’re over 40 years old, Falling Upward as well).

Friday, August 23, 2013

New Book about Jacques Ellul

Jacques Ellul is one of those writers whose name I've seen here and there through the years.  But the passing references never piqued my curiosity, until now.  He is perceived as anti-technology and that is how I make my living.  I came to consciousness just as he published his 1954 work on the Technological Society.  The 1950's TV shows about space travel and the wonders that were appearing everyday defined my person.  Probably based on the following I'd written him off because I was given a wrong view of him.  Thanks to Len at Next Reformation summarizing and linking to a review over at Cardus.  The book is Understanding Jacques Ellul and it claims that he is misunderstood.  Seems he was perceived as a Luddite.  Perhaps he was patiently working through the implications and diagnosing our present situation. I liked this snippet from the Cardus review:
Thinking a bit more broadly, though, we might also observe that in setting forth ideas over the unexpected scale of several books, Ellul follows in the footsteps of other prominent thinkers, including Socrates/Plato, Jesus, and Kierkegaard, who have each in different ways recognized that pursuing the truth often requires a certain obliqueness in approach. And herein we glimpse an important strategy for doing public theology in this present technological society.
I discussed this indirectness  here in a summary of previous blogs. And a commenter gave the contra case, also very edifying for me.

Great to read the thoughtful comments to the Cardus article, clicked up on each of them.  One of them sent me to the Jesus Radicals web site.  Ummm. Interesting.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Evolution Moves Us to the Hyperpersonal and Ultrahumanity - Ilia Delio and Teilard de Chardin

Downloaded to my Kindle a third book by Ilia Delio, The Unbearable Wholeness of Being:  God, Evolution and the Power of Love.  I'm liking it.  She continues in this book to refer to the writings of Teilhard de Chardin as she did in the others.  I slogged through the Phenomenon of Man by him and it was rough going.  I picked up on some of it and it was profound.  It is a great thing that Ilia has lived with his writings and like John Haught can interpret and show how Teilhard's thinking and ideas are applicable to our times.  Below is from the chapter on Technology and Noogenesis.

She says:
Evolution is progress toward more being and technology is the new means:  "It is not well being but a hunger for more-being which, of psychological necessity, can alone preserve the thinking earth from the taedium vitae."  quotation from The Future of Man 317 (kindle loc 3530)
She gives this quote from The Human Phenomenon p185:
It is a mistake to look for the extension of our being or of the noosphere in the impersonal. The future universal cannot be anything else but the hyperpersonal.
and follows with this:

                                                                     Ultrahumanity
Teilhard’s vision of evolution is not based on personal enhancement (like the transhumanists) but on community and creativity. He sees the convergence of human and machine intelligence as completing the material and cerebral sphere of collective thought. His hopeful vision of transhumanism is a richer and more complex domain through the connectedness of minds joined together, a collective or global mind for the forward movement of cosmic evolution. He imagines psychic energy in a continually more reflective state, giving rise to “ultrahumanity,” by which he means the need for humanity to enter into a new phase of its own evolution. The value of science, according to Teilhard, can only be for the deepening of spirituality, since knowledge increases mind and mind deepens spirit. (kindle loc 3550)
  Long before the internet I was in a Philosophy of Religion class where the concept of the Omega Point and the noosphere were discussed.  At the time it made no sense at all to me.  But now that we are almost 20 years into the internet era and with our smartphones connecting us to each other and soon, via medical technology, to our insides; it is clear that he was a visionary and what he said is coming to us.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Thoughts on "The Marriage of Sense and Soul" by Ken Wilber

The Marriage of Sense and Soul: Integrating Science and ReligionThe Marriage of Sense and Soul: Integrating Science and Religion by Ken Wilber

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

 I read this book in the fall of 1999, the first time, and it still holds up. His explanation of the Great Chain of Being and what others call Emergence has been a great help to me in reconciling science (which I live with everyday as a R&D professional and in which I have confidence)and religion (which I also have intimacy with by virtue of family, place, and personality).

We have names for different eras of time such as the Dark Ages, the Medieval Period, etc.  The age from the 18th to the 20th is generally considered to be the Modern Period and also the Age of Enlightenment.  It is the Enlightenment that gave us industrialization, the explosion of science, the movement of societies from religious to secular, and many other things.  But in recent decades there has been a recognition by many that we are at the beginning of the next stage.  Wilber begins by explaining and critiquing the Modern as an age that is emotionally and spiritually a "flatland", an era where enchantment and meaning have been negated.  Wilber also has critiques for critiques of modernism and works to arrive at synthesizing both in an intellectually and emotionally satisfying way.  Some call the new era the Postmodern.  I don't recall if he used that term or not.  But times are definitely different now and we have continued to move and develop into the Postmodern in the 14 years since he wrote the book. 

Another reason this book is important to me is that it prepared me to understand Brian McLaren's A New Kind of Christian which I read three years later.  It was then that my inward life turned around and I could finally say I'd found what I'd been looking for since my early twenties.

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Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Manichaens, the World, Beauty and God

Have been enjoying on my Kindle Voices of Gnosticism: Interviews with Elaine Pagels, Marvin Meyer, Bart Ehrman, Bruce Chilton and Other Leading Scholars (Miguel Conner)

Here is an interesting quotation by Jason BeDuhn of Northern Arizona University on the Manichaens.  This is in response to the meme that the Manichaens had a pessimistic, life-denying view of earthly existence.


And so, if you look at the Manichaean hymns, as apparently you have, you’ll see this poetry, a lot of affirmation of the natural world as the manifestation of God. And there’s even the claim in the later Islamic tradition, when it is trying to suppress certain radical forms of Sufism, the claim is made that the Sufis have learnt from the Manichaeans how to meditate on beauty as a form of drawing close to God. And of course that’s everything from meditating on a flower to meditating on the face of a beautiful woman. So, for more conservative Islamic forces, this kind of religious devotion to material forms is antithetical to the values they’re trying to cultivate. But it fits perfectly the Manichaean view that God is tangible in what is beautiful, is tangible in what affects the senses in a positive way. So God smells sweetly and God is light as opposed to darkness. These very sensory ways of talking about the divine which are the very things that Augustine and others criticised as too materialistic are actually ways in which you can see Manichaeans affirming the world as being permeated with divinity in a way that you miss in many other forms of spirituality.

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

The Secular Age by Charles Taylor continues to attract attention

It was my Christmas present shortly after it was published.  It takes a long time for him to say things, like so much that philosophers write.  It is densely packed with a lot of interesting information.  Shortly after it was published, the blogging world had a lot to say about it.  But since then, every once in a while, I see reference to it.  That is a testament to its value.  Just came across this interesting article in the NYT by David Brooks.  The comments are just as insightful.  The culture has  moved from an enchanted world in which it was easy and obvious for anyone in the year, say, 1500 to believe in God to the modern world where such is not the case.  Charles Taylor argues, according to Brooks, that it is not a matter of a secular view replacing a religious one, but that there are multiple expressions of the spiritual living along side secularism within the same people.  






Saturday, June 29, 2013

Quotes from "Scarred Faith" by Josh Ross


Lifted by Kindle from “Scarred Faith:  This is a story about how Honesty, Grief, a Cursing Toddler, Risk-Taking, AIDS, Hope, Brokenness, Doubts, and Memphis Ignited Adventurous Faith” by Josh Ross

Deep faith is scarred faith. Faith isn’t something that is downloaded into a brain like antivirus software onto a desktop. It is about lived experiences. Faith doesn’t run deep because one is stuffed with right answers. It is cultivated by asking the right questions. Faith is about journey, experience, movement, and process. It is about adventure. And one thing we know about adventure is that there are moments of pain, regret, wounds, suspense, and questioning. - Highlight Loc. 139-42
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But most of us have a love/hate relationship with adventures. Adventures involve sacrifice, time, and commitment. - Highlight Loc. 169-70
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To strip adventure and risk taking from faith and spirituality causes immense oppression, injustice, and brokenness throughout our world, - Highlight Loc. 180-81
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A storytelling community can’t ignore the scars and wounds that have shaped us. It’s who we are. We can’t hide the grief under the rug. We can’t scrape the baggage from our identity. We can’t remove the unanswered questions we’ve carried for years. So, God, in his infinite wisdom, created community, because stories are meant to bear witness to something. They are meant to link us to all of humanity. - Highlight Loc. 1482-85
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Few people do community better than pain-ridden people. - Highlight Loc. 1371
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May God forgive us for taking better care of our buildings than we do our neighbors. - Highlight Loc. 1510

Sunday, May 26, 2013

The scientific debate on climate change




The scientific debate on climate change

It is my opinion that this cartoon makes an important point.  A sober and rational view of our situation will contemplate the seriousness of this.

Thursday, May 02, 2013

The times are not a-changin'




Lifted this from Crystal Downing's Book Changing Signs of Truth.  Sounds very familiar.


Summarizing contemporary culture in an essay titled "Signs of the Times,"  one cultural critic put it this way:

"public principle is gone; private honesty is  going; society, in short, is fast falling in pieces; and a time of unmixed evil is  come on us."

This apt statement appeared, however, in 1829, describing the  English culture of its author, Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881).   With apologies  to Bob Dylan, it would seem that the times are not a-changin'.


Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Taking Semiotics to Church

I just came across a review titled Taking Semiotics to Church in the Other Journal by Carl Raschke of Crystal Downing's new book Changing Signs of Truth:  A Christian Introduction to the Semiotics of Communication.  The last two paragraphs are below.  I highlighted the next to the last sentence because it strikes a chord with me.   I decided to download the book to my Kindle.  Carl wrote "Next Reformation." A book I found very helpful.  I also read Crystal's other book How Postmodernism Serves My Faith It was great.


Changing Signs of Truth is a valuable contribution to the academic and semi-academic literature on cultural semiotics, if only because it portrays in a thorough and engaging way the glaring problem of how language is intertwined with culture and, more importantly, how language evolves over time. Interestingly, the same kinds of points Downing makes about contemporary Western culture would be a no-brainer for missiologists having to contend with the challenges of making the gospel intelligible to non-Westerners. It is a genuine sign of our current age that the controversy over language and culture has come down to whether the meanings of religious terms are somehow set in stone, as the more orthodox instinctively assume, or whether they are simply episodic types of language games, conditioned and rendered contingent by present-day attitudes and practices.
The view that these meanings are set in stone, as I have remarked extensively in my earlier work The Next Reformation (2004), relies on a pseudo-universalistic and hyperrationalistic version of epistemology that is neither biblical nor ancient but thoroughly modern, dating no later than the late eighteenth century. The notion that they are merely historically contingent amounts to an uncritical and inconsistent form of intellectual laissez-faire fostered during the late industrial era by social scientists who somehow fell under the delusion that they were in the business of solving classical problems of theoretical knowledge, when in fact they were merely substituting a naive descriptivism for what used to count as a philosophy of knowledge.
God will undoubtedly not allow the future of Christianity to endure as an interminable mud fight between shallow inerrantists and smug liberals. But in the meantime, readers will take away from this little book some genuine insights in how to rise above the fray.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

gender, God, and spirituality

This is deep and profound.  An article from last year by Richard Rohr. 

Do men approach spirituality differently than women, have different starting places and different symbols? My studied opinion is that we do have quite different entrance points, but nevertheless end up much the same, because the goal is identical -- union, divine union, where we are being guided by One who is neither male nor female, but "all in all" (1 Corinthians 15:28). 
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Anthropologists suggest that the majority of male initiation rites were concerned with leading the young male on journeys of powerlessness, whereas female fertility and puberty rites had the exact opposite function: to sign the young girl with emblems of power and dignity. The rites gave them both what they needed to get started, but from opposite starting places. The male could not be trusted with power unless he had made journeys of powerlessness; the female would not even know she had power unless she was taught and encouraged to trust it.

This could seem shocking, but read the four Gospels and note Jesus' consistently distinctive attitude toward the two genders. He is invariably calling the woman upward: "Go your way; your faith has restored you to health!" (Luke 8:48) and "Neither do I condemn you" (John 8:11). To a woman who has just spoken "up" and "back" to Jesus, he says, "Woman you have great faith!" (Matthew 15:28).

Conversely, he is steadily calling the males downward: "Zacchaeus, come down!" (Luke 19:5); "If anyone wants to be first, he must be last" to the Twelve (Mark 9:35); and "Get behind me, Satan" to "the prince of the apostles" who wants to avoid suffering (Mark 8:33). Our selective memory is really rather amazing, that we have not noted this clear pattern in the Scriptures. Could that be what we mean by patriarchy?
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This is the unique area of male and female spirituality, as I see it: the differing symbols, stories, images, rituals and metaphors that get us to enter the temple. We must honor the need for action, movement, building, repairing, rescuing and heroic hardship that men love. We must honor the community, relationships, empathy, intimacy, healing and caring that women value. We know, however, that the final spiritual question, and the goal, is to get men and women to love and live both of these.

All things being on course, the genders tend to be much more alike than different by the second half of life. This illustrates much of my lived experience: men start hard and get softer, whereas women start soft and get harder. It can often be a quite difficult dance of missteps, misinterpretation and mutual hurt until we meet somewhere in the middle. 

I learned of this from the excellent blog of Len Hjalmarson  Next Reformation.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Interesting Site: The Governance Lab and “Participation is Law”

Just discovered The Governance Lab


GovLab Research convenes an interdisciplinary network of thought leaders across academia, government, and industry to analyze novel forms of collaborative problem-solving in public and private institutions.  Despite advances in collaborative governance, there has been little systematic study of what approaches work best under varied conditions. We produce scholarly research and map real-world developments to create a robust understanding of how scientific and technological advances can be harnessed to improve 21st century governance.
GovLab Academy inspires, trains and catalyzes the next generation of leaders, entrepreneurs, and problem-solvers in collaborative governance. Through project-based work, multidisciplinary teams of graduate students hone their analytical, empirical and design skills by developing, iterating on and implementing innovative platforms and projects. Members of the Academy take charge of their own learning and develop new and diverse skills under the mentorship of a wide-ranging network of professional advisors.  Members will also have access to a unique curriculum that synthesizes insights from social and behavioral sciences, history, public policy, design and engineering to inform the project-based learning experience.

And here is a recent blog post.

“Participation is Law”


Cyborg Selves III


Excerpts from the Chapter "The Cyborg Manifesto"  by J. Thweat-Bates

Her (Donna Haraway) interest in cyborgs is driven, not out of a desire to conceptually define what is human (and not), but to encourage the creation of alternative social practices – “for responsibility in[ boundary] construction.
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Haraway’s posthuman discourse is organized around the central figure of the cyborg, a simultaneously epistemological, ontological, political, and moral position deliberately taken up outside the categorical boundaries of nature and culture, science and politics, man and woman, human and nonhuman.  This posthuman figure is a harbinger of the dissolution of those boundaries, a reality both threatening and hopeful.  Haraway’s hope lies in the possibility of transgressive power and potential agency of the cyborg and its posthuman kin, the threat lies in the possibility of the continuing exploitation of those who find themselves already out-of-bounds with respect to the powerful discourses defining identity with technoscience.  


We will not be able to turn back the clock.  The postmodern world will continue to push us in directions that many will fear.  At the same time medical science helps us to live longer and well, it will be by becoming cyborgian.  But it will be at the cost of altering how we look, how we live, and what is inside us.  New capabilities will transgress boundaries we thought were clear and distinct and make us uncomfortable.   We think we know who we are and we do not want to change that.  "This is not how it oughta be" we will tell ourselves.   There will be a new normal and before we are acclimated to that another one and another one. 

Friday, April 12, 2013

Quote from Dorothee Sölle

from Theology for Skeptics Chapter 6

Jesus' attitude toward life was that it cannot be possessed, hoarded, safeguarded.  What we can do with life is to share it, pass it along, get it as a gift and give it on.


Friday, March 29, 2013

The Provisional Nature of Truth As Illustrated by Fashion

From an insightful post by Rachel K. Ward over at The Church and Postmodern Culture.   I bolded two sentences that especially applied to me.

Postmodernity has continued a clash of absolute truth with relativism. Relativism, or varying perspectives on variable truth, dominates media...........We are now viewing the world provisionally, embracing a stream of teasers of what may be true, without responsibility to understand a matter or its implications because we expect it to change.

The provisional view is to consider something, without conclusion. It is diplomatic, and free of allegiance. It is the most fashionable perspective today because it has the permissiveness of relativism but without the weight of accountability.  
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A teaser is a glimpse into a story. It is the ultimate provisional view that entices a viewer to screen a full film or buy a product. The teaser is pure suspense, the initial look at a love affair or drama to unfold........Reading a full article, getting the whole story, is less and less possible or interesting. We prefer the provisional, since tomorrow there will be more.

The fashion industry is made of teasers, not just in film shorts but editorials that do not preview something to come but simply glimpse a fantasy. Fashion stories propose a narrative, but they never conclude.
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Perhaps our current stage of advanced relativism known as the provisional is a teaser for the return for the unspoken absolute. While our ongoing interest in mere glimpses can rest on nothing, it can also open to the eternal.

I've been conservative and I've been liberal.  And both at the same time in certain ways.  It seems to me that conservatives tend more to shoehorn all events into their pre-determined view.  Events and comments must be interpreted within that framework.  I think my framework is more provisional in the same way as the author relates.  I do note that oft times in recent years, when an event or statement is made that seems clear cut to me to validate my view or my guy, the other side surprises me with an interpretation or new facts that have to be considered.  After I dig into the issue further for more information and answer that objection and look at how the other side responds, I find there is more information that needs to be considered.  This goes on and on and back and forth till I get exhausted and give up for the time being.  So quite often I do not go that far.  It just takes too much time.  I just hit the high spots.  This illustrates the provisional nature of some of my opinion/feelings. 

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Pithy Quote for Today from Andre Gide

“One does not discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time.” - Andre Gide

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Yes, Aliens Do Exist, in My Opinion

In my own thought experiments about life on other planets, I arrived at the opinion that yes, there must be life on other planets. As I grew up there was no proof that other stars had planets. I was in my forties when we received the first indications and I excitedly relayed the information to my sons.  It was the X-Files era and they were interested in the possibility of whether aliens really existed.  Now it is clear that there are many within our range of observation. There is now evidence though it is definitely not yet positively established that simple life may have once existed on Mars. Life evolved here in our solar system, so, why should not there be evolving life out there in others? And if so, and there is sentient life on some of these planets then will they not evolve along the same paths? The capability for flight developed at least three times on earth here in the past. First insects, then reptiles (birds), and then mammals (bats). So then it was meant to be and therefore it must be God’s will. It is part of That-Which-Brings-About's plan that nature unfolds to achieve flying creatures. And the same could be hypothesized for the movement of sentient beings from being pack animals to, after verbal communication becomes possible, tribal culture. Will they not arrive at culture, religion, politics and the whole wonderful expression that brings. I cannot imagine that they will not have their Christ. This line of reasoning helps me to believe, to believe in the cosmic Christ.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

That Which Causes to Be

This is from an interesting article by Ray Waddle in the March 16 issue of The Tennessean, the Nashville newspaper.  He quotes a new book by Richard E. Friedman.  I highlighted in red what struck me as poignant.   Richard takes up a theme that is apparently similar to that of Jack Miles' God A Biography.

In both the Exodus and the Resurrection stories, God intervenes at a crucial public moment on behalf of embattled people in a dusty corner of the world. In both cases, unpromising human material is forged into a band of believers who change global history, succeeding against all common sense and sociological norms.
And in both cases, decisive actions of God are never repeated again, not in the same way. In his book “The Disappearance of God,” Richard Elliott Friedman argues that God slowly removes himself from the Hebrew Scriptures. Friedman is not attacking the Bible. He argues that public contact with the divine recedes in order to give human beings room to come of age. After the birth of modern science and skepticism, the “death of God” triggered a crisis for Western civilization. But Friedman resists despair. Contemporary physics, cosmology and Big Bang theories suggest mystical new points of divine contact, a restoration with God. “The name Yahweh probably means ‘that which causes to be,’ ” Friedman writes. “And that which causes to be is what we are seeking. It is what we have been seeking all along. We may be very close to it. There is some likelihood that, as some of the conscious matter of the universe, we are created more in the divine image than we have suspected. There is some likelihood that the universe is the hidden face of God.”

God as that which causes to be.  I like that. That is a definition to sink one's teeth into. We are here.  No doubt about that.  How did we get here and why?  Well, science has told us quite a bit about that story.  The Big Bang.  Galaxy formation.  The development of the different generations of stars.  Then the planets.  Ocean life.  Land life.  Emergence.  Consciousness.  Most of that narrative is from the past two hundred years and opaque to previous generations.  We are lucky to be here now to become aware of it.  But however it happened, we give a name to that which is behind the process and call that name God. 

It fits with a growing interest of mine in Process Theology.  I've got to delve further into it.  And that is the topic of Rob Bell's new book What We Talk About When We Talk About God which I learned about from Homebrewed Christianity:  Rob Bell:  Out of the Process (Tillichian) Closet.  I've gotta get that one and maybe Friedman's too.

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