Friday, January 30, 2009

You Can't Judge the Truth by its Cover

The truth is like a great book with a bad cover. It is easy to see, but not easy to understand.

It’s like a great leader who is a bad communicator.

It’s like a great product with bad marketing.

It’s like a great weatherman with bad hair, a great movie with bad actors, a great joke heard out of context, gold in a pig’s snout, a Stradivarius in the hands of a novice, a treasured vase in the hands of a toddler, profound prose in the ears of kindergarteners…

Sorry, but I was on a roll.

I’m always telling my readers to ask “what” until you get to “why” and to ask “why” until you get to “who”. The problem with truth is it is so easily misunderstood because so many people have this proclivity to not dig deep enough for it.
This is especially problematic living in a media culture that thrives on the three-second sound bite.

If you reads my recent posting entitled, “Partisan Convergence and Just War Theory”, you have been exposed to a position that justifies war which can be easily misunderstood on the surface, to be one that is advocated by war-mongers. After all, such a lie fits in the sound bite. Look how long of a posting it took me to explain the position at a deeper level. And notice that at a deeper level, the position’s motivations are 180 degrees in the opposite direction.

So what is to be done? Isn’t the best method of persuasion to be found in the form of a question? Which makes us think more, spoon-fed answers or questions?

Although it is tempting to help a bird hatchling out of its egg, doing so ensures its death. It actually builds the critical strength needed to survive through the struggle. I guess truth looks like a baby bird neglector as well.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Plumbing the Depths of Contemporary Churches

The web site has a section called "The Mystery Worshiper". Like a mystery shopper, the mystery worshipper visits a church and secretly reviews it, posting their thoughts on this site.

One review of a contemporary church, had this line in it:

"Churches like [CHURCH NAME REMOVED] downplay the transcendence of God in favor of the immediacy of one's personal experience of God."

If you've ever visited a contemporary church, abandoning traditionalism, they use more modern styles of music and often invoke cultural references (movies, television, news events) to communicate their message.

As one who is a contemporary worship leader and church musician, I have done a lot of thinking about this subject. As is a characteristic of truth in general, a shallow face value look at these practices is misleading.

Truth is like a book who's cover says one thing, but its contents say something totally different. If you don't examine it, you will be mislead. I think this is why liberals often misunderstand conservatism, but that's another blog.

At face value, contemporary churches look like they are adopting contemporary music to make people feel good. It can appear that they are too casual in their approach to worshiping God. These churches appear to simply want to be thought of as "cool" and "hip". They can seem to be wanting to win a "popularity contest".

But examined deeper, the opposite emerges.

Jesus' harshest (and only) criticisms were targeted at the religious people of His day. They had the externals right but the internals were all wrong. He said of them:

Matthew 15:7-9
7"You hypocrites, rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you:
8'These people honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far away from Me.
9'They worship Me in vain,
teaching as the doctrines the precepts of men.'"

Its easy to judge something by looking at its externals, but it takes work to judge its internals.

Truth is easily seen, but not easily examined.

On one hand, there are a lot of contemporary churches that are all about style and have no substance. These churches should be condemned for their shallowness.

However, there are depths to be plumbed in a contemporary approach, and that is what I intend to do in this post.

Psalm 51:16-17
16 You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart,
O God, you will not despise.

God looks at our hearts, not on whether or not we did some religious activity.

I Samuel 16:7
7 But the LORD said to Samuel, Do not look on his face, nor on his height, because I have refused him. For He does not see as man sees. For man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.

A traditional approach to worship gets hung up on the externals. If the altar boys don't start the service by walking the aisle and lighting the candles, if we don't sing songs that hundreds of years old in an ancient style using a pipe organ, if we sing a different lyric than the one in the hymn book and if we don't partake of communion, we are not worshiping God.

But one can get all of these things right, but their heart can be totally far from God. I can tell my wife that I love her but my heart can be captured by another.

A contemporary approach is casual about the externals. In regards to music (which is probably the most controversial element of contemporary Christian worship), it says that styles are spiritually irrelevant. Therefore we have the freedom to choose style based upon practicality. This freedom begs the question as to why we should be singing music that's outdated and hundreds of years old?

A contemporary church screams this message:

"We're not hung up on styles. We're not religious (religion being defined as being hung up on "churchy" externals). We're all about getting our hearts right before the God that we worship. We worship Him by loving Him with our hearts and NOT with our deeds. If this is our focus, the good deeds will naturally flow as an inevitable result."

The use of contemporary worship music acknowledges contemporary culture as being valid medium for the church's message. When done right, it is the approach of adopting to a changing culture to communicate a timeless, unchanged message.

Jesus did this by preaching the Gospel in the language of His culture. Paul did this in Acts 17 by quoting an inscription from a statue that he had seen in the city, using it as an entry point (medium) to preach the Gospel.

Christ was even criticized by the religious people of His day as being, what we might say is "too worldly" for being too friendly with prostitutes and tax collectors (tax collectors were seen as traitors in that day). His response confirms my point that truth will often appear different on its cover than when it is examined:

Matthew 9:11-13
11When the Pharisees saw this, they said to His disciples, "Why is your Teacher eating with the tax collectors and sinners?"

12But when Jesus heard this, He said, "It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick.

13"But go and learn what this means: 'I DESIRE COMPASSION, AND NOT SACRIFICE (religious externals),' for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners."

Even so, there are pitfalls and concerns.

A casual approach to the externals of religiosity, can lead to a casual approach to God. The best prevention that I can prescribe is to preserve and cultivate the reverence of God within the message being communicated. In other words, the style is casual, but the substance of the message should be reverent and deep. Where contemporary Christian music fails in this area, it should be criticized. And yes, there is plenty of contemporary Christian music that is too casual in its approach to God. Much of it is shallow.

The largest impediment that I've seen amongst traditionalists is that they hold to their traditionalism like a child holds on to a security blanket. They subscribe to traditionalism in the name of nostalgia, attempting to relive the past. After all, the past, however good or bad, is at least known. A changing future is unknown.

So if you examine traditionalism, you'll find a fear of risk taking and a lack of boldness. This is a head wound to faith because faith is nothing if it is not risk taking.

The traditionalist's attempts at faith are therefore akin to the chicken farmer's obsession with protecting his eggs, causing him to hold on to them so tightly that he ends up breaking them. If you love something, set it free!

The bottom line is that I'm not a religious person. I don't worship God by focusing on the externals. But I might appear to be otherwise if you only judge this book by its cover. And so it is with contemporary churches. Look at the substance of the message, not simply the style. Plumb those depths!

P.S. Here is a great site to read more about the pitfalls of religion:

Strong Logic Can Fool Us

I have blogged extensively about our desires skewing our perceptions of truth, however I have also found that our logic can do the same if we're not careful.

Just because something is logical doesn't mean it is true. I give you two examples.

The first is based on the discovery of non-euclidean geometry. For centuries euclidean geometry was seen as a perfect system of logic that explained the known physical world. An example of euclidean goemetry would be the theorem that states that all the angles in a triangle add up to 180 degrees.

Later non-euclidean forms of geometry were discovered. Non-euclidean geometry allows for the angels of triangles to NOT add up to 180 degrees.

Both euclidean and non-euclidean geometries are logical. They are simply based upon different assumptions (axioms).

This is SO important. The test of truth isn't simply whether or not something is logical. One has to then try and test the assumptions that the logic is built up on.

For instance, although I do believe in the humane treatment of animals, I don't take it as far as a PETA extremist might and object to even eating meat because it might be unethical. However, I agree that the PETA extremist is being logical based upon their evolutionary assumptions. If we all came from animals, then they are essentially equal to us in value. They are our ancestors. The logical conclusion one should draw from this assumption is to treat animals and humans the same.

One option is to experiment, cage, eat and kill humans just as we do animals in the name of this equality. Of course no one outside of a few maniac dictators throughout history subscribes to such a conclusion, so the more acceptable alternative is found in the animal rights movement.

I would therefore conclude that anyone who believes in evolution but does NOT subscribe to such an ethic is logically inconsistent. I would object to the PETA extremist's views on the grounds of an examination of their evolutionary assumptions.

Of course at this presuppositional level, I can only object so far. There is a level of depth with presuppositions, where one cannot simply rely on logical consistency to consider the possible validity of an assumption. There is a point where faith and our volition has to bridge the gaps of interpretations on both sides of an argument.

However I do not object to evolution merely on faith. I only bring faith into the picture to say that I require it (as does the evolutionist) in the sense that I reject evolution because given what I know, it is not probable to be true. In my opinion, it is possible, but not as likely given the facts. That is the faith that I talk about.

The second example that I would give of something being logical but not necessary true is taken from G.K. Chesterton's classic, "Orthodoxy". In the chapter called "The Maniac", he talks about people who have lost their minds and have been put away in mental asylums:

"The madman is not the man who has lost his reason. The madman is the man who has lost everything except his reason."

The paranoid person actually USES logic. If you tell the paranoid person that everyone is NOT out to get him, he might disagree on the grounds that your telling him this is exactly what he'd expect if YOU were also out to get him.

Such a person hasn't lost their ability to reason. Their problem is that all they have left is their reasoning capacity. The problem with their reasoning capacity is that their world is too small. The paranoid person thinks every person walking past them is focused on their small world. The paranoid person fails to consider the possibility that the person walking past them might live in a world that is too large to be consumed with the paranoid.

Chesterton says it this way:

"The lunatic’s theory
explains a large number of things, but it does not explain them in a large way. I mean that if you
or I were dealing with a mind that was growing morbid, we should be chiefly concerned not so
much to give it arguments as to give it air, to convince it that there was something cleaner and
cooler outside the suffocation of a single argument."

It is interesting that with this example, the key to truth is whether or not the reasoner is applying reason to something larger than himself. I would therefore argue that the materialist, the humanist, the agnostic and the atheist, all live in a world that is too small. Like the paranoid, they live in a world where they are the center of gravity. In a nutshell, this is what Chesterton called "The suicide of thought."

The other thing I have learned from this line of thinking is that the presence or absence of logic can fool us. If we're not careful, we can be convinced of something's truthfulness because the argument for it is logical. Sometimes something is logical but untrue.

Also, sometimes we can't form logic to justify something NOT because it is false, but simply because we don't have enough information to fill in the gaps of logic.

Logic, in its most raw form, is "If x, then y".

A practical example: "What goes up must come down". Gravity is x and "coming down" is y.

Sometimes we have y (usually an observation) but haven't found x.

For instance, if an ancient were to see a helicopter hovering over their tent and then fly away, they wouldn't be able to apply logic to their observation because they wouldn't have sufficient information to understand what was happening. However, their inability to apply logic simply means that they don't have all the information necessary. It does NOT mean that the observation wasn't logical.

I believe everything has a purpose and therefore everything is logical. However I do NOT believe that any one of us can explain everything. Therefore my logic, when applied to our human limitations, leads me to also embrace mystery and therefore faith.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Partisan Convergence and Just War Theory

I have found it interesting that liberals are using the same arguments against torture, that conservatives use against abortion.

The liberal says that torture is immoral. The ends do not justify the means.

The conservative says that abortion is immoral. The ends do not justify the means.

I'd love to offer answers, but I can only float two divergent theories:

Theory 1: Both practices are immoral and both sides are inconsistent for supporting one and objecting to the other practice.

The ends never justify the means so such an argument cannot be used to support either side.

The pro-choicer often gives allowances to abortion in the name of preventing unwanted pregnancies and abused or neglected children as a result.

The torture sympathizer often gives allowances for it because it is in our country's best interests to glean the valuable intelligence gained by any means necessary in the name of national security.

But both practices are immoral. The question would then become, WHY are both practices immoral? Why is it wrong to torture and kill? And as one attempts to answer such a question, consider that it can't simply be wrong because man or a
government says it is. It can't simply be wrong because we don't like it. After
all, sometimes these entities will want to engage in these practices because it might be argued that it serves their best interests.

Theory 2. Pacificism is a moral practice meant to be applied individually, but never
nationally. This argument flows from Thomas Aquinas' "Just War" theory.

This theory is a reasonable interpretation of the Bible in the sense that it
reconciles an otherwise contradiction. The scriptures on one hand say that we
are to "turn the other cheek" (pacificism) but on the other hand say that
governing powers are free to use the "sword" to execute justice and protect the
people (Romans 13).

If you're the type that is suspicious of anything written by the Apostle Paul, then consider Jesus' words in Luke 3:14 where He tells a soldier to do no violence to any man but to be content with his pay that he received from soldiering....

Just War theory reconciles this otherwise contradiction. If you still disagree, then propose another theory that better reconciles it.

Whether or not you agree with this interpretation, it certainly demonstrates a
logical consistency among conservative Christians who might on one hand object
to abortion, but not to torture.

I don't post this blog to propose answers, but rather questions....

Monday, January 19, 2009

Is Faith Make-Believe for the Childish?

Can I say something that I don't often hear in any dialogues between religious and nonreligious people?

Many religious people actually believe that their faith is TRUE. I don't simply mean "true for them" (philosophical relativism). They actually believe that its true for EVERYONE. Many of them don't simply use faith as a story to get them through life.

But many non-religious folks assume religion to only be a crutch. Granted, for many religious people, their faith IS a crutch.

But what muddies the waters is that nonreligious people engage the religious people with these assumptions left unspoken!

“There are two ways to slide easily through life; to believe everything or to doubt everything. Both ways save us from thinking.
- Alfred Korzybski

Assuming religion to be a crutch essentially absolves the nonreligious person from having to seriously examine its claims.

This assumption often causes both sides to speak past each other.

In the movie Galaxy Quest, a group of washed up science fiction television actors are abducted (sort of) by aliens. The aliens affirm full faith in the abilities of the actors because they have studied the earth's "historical documents" (past television episodes). When the actors try to explain to the aliens the earthly concept of entertainment and television, it doesn't stick. The aliens have nothing to compare such a thing to and associate such behavior as lying.

Religious people, like the Galaxy Quest aliens, are often seen to be a people who mistake a fictitious story for being true.

Now on the other side, there are many religious people who ALSO see their faith as merely a crutch. They don't even look for truth. They are only looking for a story that comforts them and gives their life a purpose. They're looking for meaning that makes them good people.

But as a Christian, let me challenge many of you to examine Christianity based upon its claims. It actually claims to be true. The Greeks were offended by Christianity because the resurrection that it professed was not simply a metaphorical, allegorical, spiritual resurrection, but was actually a physical resurrection. If you know anything about Greek philosophy and culture, they believed in a philosophical dualism. They believed that there were essentially two worlds. One was the physical and the other was a perfect world of ideals (read the writings of Plato). The idea of a physical resurrection repulsed them.

They would NOT have expressed this objection if the Apostles were preaching the allegorical/figurative spirituality that is sometimes assumed today.

Christianity makes historical claims. It claims that Jesus Christ was a real man who lived and breathed on this earth. It doesn't just claim that He was God in the flesh who died and came back to life, it presents us proof. The very writers who knew Him, who walked and talked with Him, were so convinced that they died for this faith. If you haven't thought about this deeply, you'll probably say, "Lots of people have had been so sincere in their faiths, as to give their lives for it." Yes, but none of these people had the ability to authenticate their claims. Today's martyrs die for beliefs in claims that were carried out hundreds or even thousands of years before their times.

But all the Apostles had to do was go to the Christ's tomb and see if He was still there. All the Romans had to do to squash this insurgent new religion was produce the body of Christ. Why didn't they do this? Why couldn't they do this?

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

A Discontent that Satisfies

Today's blog will weave us thru 4 aphorisms.

1. Technology authenticates science.

"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." - Arthur C. Clarke

You can say that a particular scientific interpretation is correct, but technology weeds out the good, bad and ugly scientific interpretations.

Consider exhibit A: E=MC2, Einstein's famous formula essentially says that matter and energy are different forms of the same thing. This hypothesis was proven when the atom bomb was invented.

A more recent example: Scientists were recently able to levitate tiny balls using Quantum Mechanics:,2933,478664,00.html

I'll let you read the details.

2. A miracle authenticates a prophet.

Jesus Christ, when He encountered a bed-ridden man turned to him, in front of a watching public and said, "Your sins are foregiven." When the religious leaders of His day asked who can forgive sins, but God Himself, Christ turned to the man and healed him, telling him to rise up and walk for all to see. Only God could do such a thing.

3. I don't protest WHAT people think. I sometimes protest HOW people think.

Now this is not to say that I have all the answers, but I have found that HOW I think is continuously authenticated in my music. I have been blessed to have excelled in my knowledge of music. As someone who does not hold a formal music degree, I'm able to think about it in ways that most musicians can't. That understanding has greatly helped me to advance even to the point that without a formal degree, I teach as an adjunct professor at a local university.

And HOW do I think? I take you back to an repeating, thematic aphorism of this blog:

4. Ask what, until you get to why and ask why until you get to who.

If I would have been happy to have simply been shown a C major chord on the piano, without asking questions, I would have never have grown like I have in music. Instead, I asked questions like:

What is a C major chord?
What makes it major?
What IS a major chord?
Why does it sound good in this song?
Why does it sound bad in this song?
What would happen if I inverted it? etc, etc......

I am confident that any of you who have excelled in a field, art or craft, etc., will find that you have excelled because of this type of thinking.

Don't be satisfied with the distractions of life. Don't be pacified with the shallow. Go as deep as you can. Turn over every rock. And guard your motives so that you will know the answers when they are staring right back at you.

That's what I strive to do. I see it validated every day of my life, in music and beyond...

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Speaking the words of a god

How many times have you either said or heard a response like this to an unattractive statement of faith?

"Oh, I could never go for that!"

I've heard such responses to various claims of Christianity. Christianity calls certain behaviors sin. It states that sometimes human suffering will occur as a test. It speaks of eternal damnation (a doctrine that I despise the most, yet believe in).

Many people will express such rejections because they see religious faith, merely as a narrative that gives the possessor enough purpose to get through life. I will address this perspective in a future blog.

But oh to be a person who could will in truth. Imagine a world that exists merely because you want it to. Imagine a world that has qualities simply because you like them. You are imagining that you are a god because only a god's volition equals reality.

Only a divine being possessing omnipotence can say something exists because he/she likes it and something does NOT exist because he/she finds it unappealing. If you and I were omnipotent, we'd do nothing because we had to. Everything that we did, we'd do only because we wanted to. And the world that we lived in, could be the figment of our imagination. Being omnipotent, we wouldn't just wish truths, since there would be nothing to prevent our wishes from becoming reality. Unfortunately, many finite human beings, speak with infinite assumptions.

There are three axioms of life, three undeniable truths that we can all agree upon. They are taxes, suffering and death. These things happen to us all. Notice that these axioms are all negative. None of us like the existence of these things, but our dislike doesn't make them go away.

If your worldview, if your faith, if your spirituality, contains nothing unattractive in its claims, rest assured it is an idol and you are its god.