Thursday, December 18, 2014

Caputo on Derrida and Travel, Journey and Truth

I've enjoyed reading several of John Caputo's books.  My favorite is What Would Jesus Deconstruct. The following is an excerpt from a Dec 17, 2014 interview by Amy Frykholm with Caputo that appears in the Christian Century.

When Jacques Derrida would come to Philadelphia, I would say to him, “Let me take you on a tour. Let me show  you the Liberty Bell or Valley Forge.” But he didn’t want to go. His way to explore a city was to walk until he got lost and then try to find his way back. In the process, he would discover all kinds of things. Both personally and as a philosopher, he thought that being genuinely lost and seeking something is a crucial part of the journey. We expose ourselves to the unknown and the unforeseeable. Truth is like that.
Travel can be a spiritual discipline.  This is great advice.

Friday, December 05, 2014

from "Process and Reality": Process Versus Fact

Jack Whelan at his After the Future blog has been talking about the future and a forward looking Christianity as opposed to the all prevalent, yes dominant, "rear-view mirror" kinds of Christianity. See his post on Sacramental Semiotics here.  So in the last few days I've directed my reading along this line of thought.  Both of us are influenced by the thought of Teilhard du Chardin.  And me by some of his current explicators like Ilia Delio and John Haught.  But last night I picked up my copy of Alfred North Whitehead's "Process and Reality".   I believe he adds to this view.

In chapter 1, he divides philosophy into two contrasting approaches.

One side makes process ultimate; the other side makes fact ultimate.*

Facts are static.  Life is motion, flux, process; however.  Reminds me of something I've heard from Phyllis Tickle in You Tube videos.  She says today's Emergents believe the Bible is actual not factual.  I think I know what she is getting at.

Later, in Chapter 10, entitled "Process", he recounts that he had to search for a poetical and memorable phrase to summarize these contrasting approaches.  He found it in that beautiful traditional hymn that I have sung many times.

                                                  Abide with me:                                                                                                 Fast falls the eventide.                                                              
Here the first line expresses the permanences 'abide,' 'me' and the 'Being' addressed; and the second line sets these permanences amid the inescapable flux. Here at length we find the complete problem of metaphysics. Those philosophers who start with the first line have given us the metaphysics of 'substance'; and those who start with the second line have developed the metaphysics of 'flux'. **

To me, part of the meaning of the word 'process' implies that something is happening for a purpose and towards an end.  In this postmodern era, we are seeing even in science a move away from concentrating on the 'substance' side of things and more to the relational.  This is where we need to go.

*p. 7,  P&R The Free Press, NY, NY ISBN 0-02-934570-7

** p 209.

Monday, October 27, 2014

What Goethe has to say about Boomers and Millenials

A great thing about digital readers such as Kindle is that one can download all manner of older works for free or a very small fee.  So, I recently downloaded a work by Goethe:  Autobiography:  Truth and Fiction Relating to My Life.  Below is a clipping of interest.

Autobiography: Truth and Fiction Relating to My Life (Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe)
- Highlight Loc. 484-87 | Added on Saturday, October 18, 2014, 05:14 AM 
But for this is required what is scarcely attainable; namely, that the individual should know himself and his age,—himself, so far as he has remained the same under all circumstances; his age, as that which carries along with it, determines and fashions, both the willing and the unwilling: so that one may venture to pronounce, that any person born ten years earlier or later would have been quite a different being, both as regards his own culture and his influence on others. 

Amazingly, this insight by Goethe several centuries ago comports with one of the most fascinating and pertinent things I ever learned.  Back in the mid-eighties when I was in my mid-thirties, at work they showed a number of videos by Morris Massey with the title of something like:  You Are What You Were When.  The main thesis is that a young person, any young person, is programmed at the gut level by the age of ten.  The way that life is when one is ten years old is how one thinks life has always been and how it should be.   Massey said that in the twentieth century generally people in successive approximately ten year groupings had the same views.  Little did I know that Goethe had the same observation about the fashions of one's time and ten year cycles. People who came of age ten during the Depression had one set of views.  The In-Between generation coming of age in the forties had another.  Then the boomers another set of views about how life should be.  He gave us pointers on what the differences were but stopped there and later generations like Gen X and the Millenials were not covered.  Massey's goal was in helping the various generations in large companies better understand each other and work together by promoting understanding of how each group sees the world, what they expect from work, and how to work better together.  While I was growing up there were several things that I could not understand.  One thing that amazed me was the fear and loathing about hair length.  I was thirteen when the Beatles arrived and in concert with my cohort I thought the music and their hair were great.  Why did the older crowd get so upset at that?    I recall James Michenor saying in a Reader's Digest article that some people in Kent, Ohio thought that people who went barefooted deserved to be shot.  That is what we Boomers experienced. Now no one seems to care that much.  In fact I've heard that nowadays long hair is favored by people who are conservative.  Whether or not that is true, younger folks have no idea the consternation that long hair caused in the sixties.  When I went to my very conservative Christian college and walked into the library, I saw pictures of 19th century heroes like James Harding for whom the school was named.  He had a beard despite the fact that his namesake school banned beards.  And  their were others with long hair as well as a beard.  If it was ok for Presidents and Civil War Generals to have long hair why was it not OK for us? Well, Massey explains the origin of this.  Technology around the turn of the century provided better razors.  Then, our soldiers discovered by spending weeks in the trenches of World War 1 the advantage of having their hair shorn very short.  It made a lot of sense in that situation.  Good for them.  Morris said that when the WW1 soldiers returned from Europe, they were looked up to and admired.  Short hair became the norm and short hair became part of how one was supposed to be and going against that was rebellion against God and Country and a rejection of all that is good.

This has been one of the main lenses through which I have viewed the Liberal / Conservative divide.  When in the early nineties Rush Limbaugh came out with his book "The Way Things Ought To Be" I couldn't help but think of what I'd learned from Morris Massey.  Amazingly, both Massey and Goethe agree that one should be aware of the forces of society and the fashions of ones age and how they exert a formative influence on a person that one should be aware of it.  I hope I've been conscious of this through my life and constantly seeking to correct past errors and not holding too long onto my views that lack substantiation.  Sure would be nice if I could rely on gut level programming and tradition.  That would make things easier I sometimes think.  But I try not to.

Goethe says it is scarcely attainable.  But I'm glad he has redirected me at that goal.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Recalling my Birth and First Three Years

My first memory is of complete and absolute bliss.  I perceive a warm bluish light, an orb which vibrates with an assuring comfortable hum.  I'm grasping for words to properly express this.  I have some sense that I feel I'm in the presence of and with God.

Then later there is discomfort.  Something is not right.  I'm experiencing a change and I want to go back to how it was.  This lasts for a while.  I want to go back to God.  Finally, I'm out and I'm in the light of the external world.  I feel that I'm smiling and thinking "Here I Am".   Of course I did't know English but that is the translation of the feeling that I had. 


One Sunday in the 1980's we were having our Sunday dinner at my parents home.  The subject of trains was being discussed.  I turned to my Mom who was sitting next to me.  I said to her that I recall climbing onto a train with her when I was very little.  Her jaw dropped and she said that one train ride was when I was about 19 months old.  It was late June 1952.  We were living in Comanche, Oklahoma at the time and she was pregnant with my brother.  Dad, a minister, had six weeks of Gospel Meetings (Revivals) lined up and would be out of town continuously.  Mom and I rode the train on our way to Pontiac, MI. where she could stay with her Mom and have the baby.  Also, I remember that as we walked down the aisle, there was a high pitched sound that I heard and by which I was puzzled.  I thought of it as a man singing hi and somehow injured or altered.  The closest thing I have ever heard since then has been the opening notes of a song called "Cattle Call".  The song was originally due to Tex Owen's in the thirties but sung by many since.   I don't know if this song was what was playing or if it was just some high pitched sound due to equipment and machinery.  Here is a link to the song as performed by Eddy Arnold.  The opening "ou ou" is what I remember. 

Several months later, we begin to drive back to Oklahoma from Michigan.  We stop at a restaurant and the waitress pays a lot of attention to me as the new big brother.  Everyone was very kind to me.  As we leave I'm encouraged to pick out some candy.  I don't know what anything is and I don't know what to choose.  I feel pressure to make a decision.  The waitress points to something and I nod that it is what I want.  But I really did not.  It was one of those round, pinkish peanut brittle type things.  

I was barely two when Christmas comes.  We went to Pocahontas, AR for that.  It is where my Dad and I were born.  We stay with his parents.  Aunt Edna dresses up light Santa Claus and enters the front door.  The Christmas tree is in the room that would later be cousin Dennis' room.  

Some time later, probably in the summer.  We are back in that house and Dennis and I are running and jumping onto a bed which is next to a window.  At one point I jump onto the bed and turn a flip and hit my head on the window sill.  I bleed.  My parents take me to Doctor.  It is night time and I recall a white house.  I suppose I still have the scar.  

We live across the street from a lumber mill.  I can still hear the high pitched whining of the saws that were on incessantly.  Mom has a red plastic radio she listens to.  I look through the window and see kids playing between our house and the next.  When they go inside I go out and find they have left a catcher's mask lying on the ground.  I know that it goes on the face and try to put it on but I could not figure out how to do that.   The inside of our church has wood paneling.  I want to say knotty pine but not sure of that detail.  Kind of darker.  

About two months before my 3rd birthday, we prepare to move to Velma, OK.  The moving van comes to the house and begin to move the household items.  I am worried they will not take my little rocking chair.  I take it and place it on the back of the moving truck and rock back and forth.

On my third birthday my Mom tries to teach me how to say "three" but it is so much easier to say "free".  I recall at church tapping someone from behind and looking up I put up three fingers and say I'm "free".  

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Archtypal Abraham

The career of Abraham has been simmering in my mind the past couple of days.  It is well known that the land of Canaan, later the land of Israel, Judah, Palestine etc was often like a soccer ball kicked around by the power to the Southeast, Egypt, and from the other side from which ever state of Mesopotamia was in power, variously Babylonia, Assyria, Persia, etc. How were the people of  Israel to view their origins? Pedigree and genealogy was important to ancient people. Still is today to some extent.  I've looked into my own and I like it when I find stories about my progenitors and not just their names.  We all desire to know who we are and how we arrived to where we are.  And we think genealogy will tell us about that. So in 8th or 9th century Kingdom of Judah, when the writings that would eventually find their way into the early parts of the Bible were written, what could they have known about their origin from a wandering Chaldean?  At that point, about a thousand years separated them from father Abraham.  Of course they would feel a special connection to the North and East because their Semitic languages were similar.  And so, likewise they would share religious and cultural similarities.  And this in contrast to Egypt.  However, there was commerce with Egypt and other countries to the south and east, Ethiopians were common in Jerusalem. What could the authors of the travels of Abraham have really known about him and why did they choose to write what they did?

I'm sure others have written about Abraham from the perspective of the Hero's Journey.   I read Joseph Campbell's Hero of a Thousand Faces many years ago in which he describes the archetypal journey of the Hero.  I will not go into this in detail because I did not want to do a research project but speak from my memory and impressions.  I think Abraham's life journey bears similarities to the archetype hero's journey.  First there is the call to the journey.  Then the travels and adventures commence and it is critical that while on the way he learns certain things and passes certain tests.  He travels to Egypt.  It is fitting for the story and his descendants that he receive the friendship and sanction from the Pharoah. This is important to establishing his status.  His ultimate test is the ordeal of the sacrifice of his son Isaac.  (sidebar - the story also is for the purpose of ending human sacrifice in general).  Finally he achieves his goals, wealth and numerous progeny and a fine burial and he receives the Boon: all nations are to be blessed because of him.  It was fitting to have him originate from a place like the Ur of Chaldees, at the far eastern end of Mespotamia, so that his journeys take him, as the picture above illustrates, across the whole of the known civilized world.   This is meant to convey that his descendants are also first class citizens of the world, not hicks from the edge of civilization.   

Now the rationalist in me continues to think about the fact that for any person, the number of their ancestors going back a thousand years just about equals the population of the earth.  This is not actually the case because of cousins marrying and geographic barriers like the oceans, deserts, and mountains. but the point is that any enterprising person leaving home in Mesopotamia to seek their fortune in Canaan and who had descendants would be their ancestor.  Some who did that would not have passed the tests, dying early, giving up, continuing elsewhere. Some of the others may have. Abraham is the archetype.  He is not one person but many.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

CSC Phyllis Tickle - 6/5/14

I've read her two books on Emergence and viewed/listened to several of her youtube videos.  This is the best produced video.  Sound is crisp and clear.  Very enjoyable.  The occasion was the Thomas Olbricht Christians Scholars Conference held on the campus of Lipscomb University.  I think that in general outline her observation that Christianity goes through upheaval every 500 years and we are on the cusp of a new one is valid, whether or not the term Emergence continues.  A change in mode of communication changes how people think and act.  The Reformation/Enlightenment followed the printing press and universal literacy.  Our digital era is now changing us.  She talks about some of the changes going on, noting how the younger generations already think differently than us oldsters.

Monday, September 08, 2014

Brian McLaren Interview: We Make the Road by Walking

 I enjoy listening to Brian McLaren when I'm on the road and driving a long distance. Here is one of his latest videos. He speaks with a couple from the Raven Foundation. They seek to explore and apply Rene Girard's mimetic theory of violence. And Brian has been studying that as well.  It is something that I want to learn more about.  Mimetic violence is what killed Jesus.  I see it in action in our contemporary world as well.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

After the Future: Grace in the Wilderness

After the Future: Grace in the Wilderness

Because this is the difference between the Nietzschean and the Christian. For the first, the world is radically open-ended and any human future is a possibility. The Christian would also acknowledge that because humans are no longer fated by the gods and determined by outside forces in the way they were, that a wide range of futures is a possibility, but however it is attained the future has a goal, a telos,  an Omega point.  And the striving toward that endpoint is what gives meaning and significance to what we do now. 

Underlining is my emphasis

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Sack cartoon: Climate-change denial | Star Tribune

Sack cartoon: Climate-change denial | Star Tribune

Deviant and Proud

Last night I stopped by the site of George Monbiot, an author who writes for the Guardian in the UK.  I was thinking to myself that I had not been there in a number of months.  He's a thoughtful guy.  I was so glad I did as he provides a critique of what is called neoliberalism in Europe which he interprets as free market fundamentalism.  Below is much but not all of the article.  Please go the site and read the whole thing.  I have never bought the idea that unfettered greed is good.  I admit there is value in competition but can't believe it stands by itself as the key to everything.  

Do you feel left out? Perhaps it’s because you refuse to succumb to the competition, envy and fear neoliberalism  breeds

By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 6th August 2014 
To be at peace with a troubled world: this is not a reasonable aim. It can be achieved only through a disavowal of what surrounds you. To be at peace with yourself within a troubled world: that, by contrast, is an honourable aspiration. This column is for those who feel at odds with life. It calls on you not to be ashamed. 
I was prompted to write it by a remarkable book, just published in English, by a Belgian professor of psychoanalysis, Paul Verhaeghe(1). What About Me?: The Struggle for Identity in a Market-Based Society is one of those books that, by making connections between apparently distinct phenomena, permits sudden new insights into what is happening to us and why. 
We are social animals, Verhaeghe argues, and our identity is shaped by the norms and values we absorb from other people. Every society defines and shapes its own normality – and its own abnormality – according to dominant narratives, and seeks either to make people comply or to exclude them if they don’t.

The same forces afflict those who can’t find work. They must now contend, alongside the other humiliations of unemployment, with a whole new level of snooping and monitoring. All this, Verhaeghe points out, is fundamental to the neoliberal model, which everywhere insists on comparison, evaluation and quantification. We find ourselves technically free but powerless. Whether in work or out of work, we must live by the same rules or perish. All the major political parties promote them, so we have no political power either. In the name of autonomy and freedom we have ended up controlled by a grinding, faceless bureaucracy. 
These shifts have been accompanied, Verhaeghe writes, by a spectacular rise in certain psychiatric conditions: self-harm, eating disorders, depression and personality disorders. Of the personality disorders, the most common are performance anxiety and social phobia; both of which reflect a fear of other people, who are perceived as both evaluators and competitors, the only roles for society that market fundamentalism admits. Depression and loneliness plague us. The infantilising diktats of the workplace destroy our self-respect. Those who end up at the bottom of the pile are assailed by guilt and shame. The self-attribution fallacy cuts both ways(5): just as we congratulate ourselves for our successes,we blame ourselves for our failures, even if we had little to do with it. 
So if you don’t fit in; if you feel at odds with the world; if your identity is troubled and frayed; if you feel lost and ashamed, it could be because you have retained the human values you were supposed to have discarded. You are a deviant. Be proud. 

Saturday, August 09, 2014

Antarctic and Greenland Ice Mass Change

I downloaded data from this NASA site and plotted it up.  I combined the data into one plot as shown below.  Data is from the Grace Satellite and here is the reference.

Quoted from the NASA site:
Data from NASA's Grace satellites show that the land ice sheets in both Antarctica and Greenland are losing mass. The continent of Antarctica ... has been losing more than 100 cubic kilometers (24 cubic miles) of ice per year since 2002.

Along the same lines, here's an article Putting Antarctica Sea Ice Loss Into Perspective.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Creation Has Not Stopped

In recent years I’ve been reading John Haught and Ilia Delio.  They are associated wth Georgetown University and each has written several  books that take seriously the writings of Teilhard du Chardin and seek to interpret and build on what he said.  The first quote is from a John Haught book, Deeper Than Darwin, and the remainder from a compilation of different authors, including John and Delia, titled From Teilhard to Omega: Co-creating an Unfinished Universe.  Of course these are things I’ve highlighted and then downloaded from my Kindle and the Highlight locations are given. I find these writings comforting and exciting.

Deeper Than Darwin: The Prospect For Religion In The Age Of Evolution (John Haught)
- Highlight Loc. 785-86 | Added on Saturday, May 17, 2014, 06:03 AM 
By our best  reckoning, the universe is a story in the process of being told. Evolutionary  narrative clearly implies that the cosmos is still coming into being.
 From Teilhard to Omega: Co-creating an Unfinished Universe (Ilia Delio)
- Highlight Loc. 184-87 | Added on Wednesday, May 21, 2014, 07:12 AM 
He found the basis for spiritual renewal in the awareness that “creation has never stopped.” “The creative act,” he concluded, “is one huge continual gesture, drawn out over the totality of time. It is still going on; and incessantly even if imperceptibly, the world is constantly emerging a little farther above nothingness” (PU 120–21).
 From Teilhard to Omega: Co-creating an Unfinished Universe (Ilia Delio)
- Highlight Loc. 203-4 | Added on Wednesday, May 21, 2014, 07:17 AM 
With rare exceptions, Christian thought has not yet looked carefully at the dramatic implications of evolutionary biology and astrophysics for our understanding of God and the world.
 From Teilhard to Omega: Co-creating an Unfinished Universe (Ilia Delio)
- Highlight Loc. 272-74 | Added on Thursday, May 22, 2014, 10:34 PM 
Lack of interest by theologians in the new scientific cosmic story only weakens their intellectual opposition to the current academic cult of cosmic pessimism. Cosmic pessimism is the belief that nature has no purpose and that whatever meaning exists in the world is our own human creation. the ancient Hebrew discovery of the future can hardly object.

From Teilhard to Omega: Co-creating an Unfinished Universe (Ilia Delio)
- Highlight Loc. 313-15 | Added on Saturday, May 24, 2014, 07:31 AM
 Those who dwell within a worldview rooted in the motifs of promise and hope will rightly suspect that Platonic, Aristotelian, Thomistic, and most modern philosophies have blunted the futuristic edge and thrust of early Christian life and thought. 
From Teilhard to Omega: Co-creating an Unfinished Universe (Ilia Delio)
- Highlight Loc. 321-23 | Added on Saturday, May 24, 2014, 07:33 AM
 A sense of darkness, a realization that the intelligibility we seek is always partly obscured by shadows, is inevitable in any universe that is still in via. As long as the universe is not yet fully actualized it cannot possibly be fully intelligible to those who journey along with it (CE, 79–86; 131–32).

From Teilhard to Omega: Co-creating an Unfinished Universe (Ilia Delio)
- Highlight Loc. 324-25 | Added on Saturday, May 24, 2014, 07:34 AM
 Like truth, intelligibility is something for which we must wait, since—if it is to be a continuous source of nourishment—we can never possess it.

From Teilhard to Omega: Co-creating an Unfinished Universe (Ilia Delio)
- Highlight Loc. 351-52 | Added on Saturday, May 24, 2014, 07:40 AM
 That is, contemporary physicalism and its attendant cosmic pessimism are based on the uncritical belief that only through breaking things down into their subordinate parts can we finally satisfy the human craving to understand the world.

From Teilhard to Omega: Co-creating an Unfinished Universe (Ilia Delio)
- Highlight Loc. 385-86 | Added on Saturday, May 24, 2014, 08:10 AM
 it leads Christian educators and ministers to ignore both the dramatic, emergent character of the universe and the promissory thrust of biblical faith.

From Teilhard to Omega: Co-creating an Unfinished Universe (Ilia Delio)
- Highlight Loc. 398-99 | Added on Saturday, May 24, 2014, 08:13 AM
 Teilhard’s search for a grounding of solidity and consistency, therefore, led him eventually to claim that the universe leans on the future as its true foundation (AE, 139, 239).

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

A New Church

We have been in the Memphis area, Collierville actually, since last September.  This is the longest I've ever gone in my life not affiliated with a particular church.  I have visited 11 churches so far.  Only five have been of the Churches of Christ which is my heritage and where I've been all my life.  It has been interesting seeing how others handle their worship.  We've been to traditional and contemporary.  Conservative and liberal. What I don't like about the contemporary ones is that they are basically concerts and you sit or stand passively.  Some of the time no one or just a few people in the pews will sing along.  When there is congregational singing, often the instrumentation drowns out the singing.   Another thing I noticed is how the services are more complicated.  There may be a march into the auditorium by participants all dressed up, maybe carrying a banner.  There is reading and response by the crowd.  There is more popping up and down than I'm used to.    After all these years reading about mainline Protestant liberal churches, it was a surprise to see how much they talk about their love for God and Jesus and what God has done for them and how Jesus is important.  

I've been wondering about what kind of church I might invent if I could.  Here are some off the cuff thoughts. It would be on Friday or Saturday night so as not to interfere with Sunday churches.

The Mysteries of the Universe Church 
1.  Welcome to everyone and a few announcements.  Background music is played but not loudly.  Instrumental contemporary but not obtrusive.  Something that builds up and leads one to think that something good will be coming along. 5 minutes. 
2.  A short message and video that relates to Art and Beauty.  10 to 15 minutes 
3.  A short message and/or video that will be known as the Science Moment.  5 to 10 minutes.
A break to visit.  5 to 10 minutes 
4.  A message from our Christian and Spiritual Heritage and History.  This may be the closest thing to a sermon.  A Biblical passage may be highlighted or a story from subsequent Christian History.  10 to 15 minutes. 
5.  Practical News and Service.  What has everyone learned this week that we can use.  Some new health tip, recipe, investment advice, shopping recommendation, whatever.  Discussion about how to help others and status of various projects.  5-10 minutes 
6.  Food .  Not sure if to do a meal or snack.  
Need to add music in between segments.  External and participatory.

Friday, July 04, 2014

The Point of Writing

I have not been writing enough lately.  Been to London, UK and Raleigh, NC recently.  Lot going on.  Still getting settled with our new life here just outside of Memphis.  Need to get back to this.  Why write?  I took on my trip and read on the plane over the Atlantic Kevin Hart's book titled "Postmodernism".  Originally read it five or so years ago. Here's a nugget.  Kevin is describing what Maurice Blanchot said:

he declared that the point of writing is not self-expression but meeting risks that will change the writer.

and a few sentences later.....

In outline, the claim is not a new one:  St. Augustine testifies in one of his letters that he comes upon new ideas only by writing.

Even in my technical writing, I find this is true.  One takes data and in the act of analyzing and gathering up background and supporting information, one always learns.  I enjoy that exploration.

I was in London on business but did have time to stop by the British Museum to see the Rosetta Stone and other wonderful ancient things.

Thursday, May 08, 2014

James Joyce Quote

I loved this James Joyce quote that popped up on my screen a few days ago.  

“The spirit which proceeds out of truth and beauty is the holy spirit of joy. These are realities and these alone give and sustain life.”

Hit me at just the right time.  Noticed on David Dark's Facebook post of his article at the web site On Faith.  The article is titled, "Top Ten Reasons We Are Glad a Catholic Colbert is taking over Letterman's Late Show". 

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."
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.

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 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. 


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. 

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