Thursday, June 18, 2009

Does everything have to have a beginning?

Pascal once wrote that belief in God is incomprehensible and disbelief in God is inconceivable.

The same can be said about the infinite/eternal, but I think of it in different wording. Imagining something or someone to not have a beginning is difficult to comprehend, but not as difficult to imagine.

Imagining something to not have a beginning or end, might be difficult because of our finite point of reference. Everything we humans observe in this world has a beginning, even the universe (see below). However just because everything we know has a beginning doesn't mean that everything HAS to have one.

Science has confirmed that the universe has a beginning. The logic goes that because of the doppler effect found in cosmic background radiation, we know that space is expanding. If space is expanding, then it must had a starting expansion point.

Science has also confirmed that the universe has an end. Our telescopes find dying stars all the time. Our sun has a very definite lifespan. When the sun goes, life on earth as we know it will cease as well.

This confirmation of the finiteness of the known universe begs the question: "What caused it all?" After all, if the universe were eternal, such a question wouldn't be necessary. But we know that finite things have causes/sources.

I only know of two possibilities. Either an eternal process caused it, or an eternal being.

Belief in an eternal being is a simpler explanation than belief in an eternal process. After all, belief in an eternal being also explains the order found in the universe. Order always comes from intelligence. No exceptions have ever been found.

Something else that Pascal observes is that God has revealed Himself with enough clues in creation to know of His existence, but He also hides Himself enough so that we may sense our unworthiness of Him.

If Creation testifies of this, then this begs the question: What can save us from this condition?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Faith and Creativity

Have you ever noticed the lack of creativity within the Christian church? Just look at how the average church names itself. Often, they are named after the street name or town/city where they are located.

And I can't tell you how many creative types say that the church has NOT made a home for them. Creative people "think outside the box" and this often makes religious people feel uncomfortable. No wonder the church has a reputation of being boring.

Everything is often so predictable. Even churches that put on a show by adding productional elements, are still so predictable, formulaic and often unimaginative. And please don't get me started on the creativity drought found in Contemporary Christian music.

Why do I suggest that people of faith should value creativity? Is it simply because of my personal bias as a creative type or is there a deeper reason?

Like creativity, doesn't faith require us to use our imaginations and to visualize? A creative sculptor has to visualize what they want to sculpt as they create their art. A musician has to exercise great imagination to create music. When faith tells us that there is a God, a heaven, a hell, does it not require us to do the same?

Secondly, and perhaps a foreign concept to many of us, what is faith if it doesn't challenge us to critical thinking, just like creativity does? No wonder this is a foreign concept. People of faith aren't exactly known for critical thinking. I left a particular Christian denomination years ago because I found that they inherently rejected critical thinking and couldn't provide answers to my questions.

I've watched the church view critical thinking as a threat to core doctrine. But I have always believed that if a doctrine is true, than it can survive all critical thinking as long as our we are objective. I instinctively believe that the truth will withstand all assaults if we are open to it. I don't deny my biases and can't eliminate them, but do everything that I can to minimize them.

Perhaps some of you don't see the connection between critical thinking and creativity. This is best seen via illustration. I teach guitar as an adjunct professor and private instructor. When I give my students a scale, I ask them to question it. I challenge them to ask, "What can possibly be done with this set of notes?" The result of such critical thinking is that they will try ordering the notes of a scale in creative ways that yield all sorts of melodies, phrases and patterns. They end up coming up with things that are new. So, while it is not often said, creativity is directly tied to critical thinking.

A simpler example, that non-musicians can better appreciate, is to take the game of Scrabble. Each player is given seven letters. Success requires the player to question the letters they possess asking, "What words can be formed??" This type of critical thinking will yield the fruits of creativity.

Another reason that everyone, whether religious or not, should value creativity is simply because creativity allows for repetition. I can endure, and even enjoy repetition, if it is done with creativity. I need to remind myself of truths that I have known for years, but if those truths aren't presented to me with the freshness that creativity provides, I'm not going to be able to receive them. A church that can't present old truth creatively, will be challenged to endure boring repetitions and grow stale with traditionalism. The only alternative is for it to find "new truth", which is not exactly an inherent quality within religious faith, and is a back door to heretical teaching.

Something else that is interesting about creativity, is its connection to propositions and systems. In the above two examples, creativity has to be applied to propositions (think black and white). I ask the musician to apply creativity to a scale, which is born out of the system of music theory. The Scrabble player applies creativity to letters to form words.

Christianity echos this truth when it says:

"Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God." Romans 10:17

"The word became flesh and made his dwelling among us." John 1:14

Computers are even examples of this connection. The fruits of digital creativity are found in Youtube, Itunes, MySpace, and even at a more rudimentary level in the graphics of the operating system (GUI for you computer geeks). Yet, all of it boils down to the binary propositions of 0's and 1's (black and white, right and wrong).

So I'm not simply advocating that people of faith should make things up. The creativity that is faith is hinged to the propositions that we commonly call theology and Divine revelation.

So given all of the above, why is it that people of faith so often lack creativity and imagination? I would expect people of faith to have the most profound imaginations. Could this be the consequence of centuries of institutional religion that has produced a top down hierarchy of compliance as opposed to the critical thinking process of considering other's perspectives via the dynamics of a true community?

Have you ever noticed how often Jesus engaged people with questions?

Monday, June 1, 2009

Faith Balances the Extremes

Faith is belief in moderation, the opposite of extremes, the antithesis of the "one-ended stick".

It is obvious that faith can't exist without belief. Whenever Jesus encountered someone who struggled with belief, He would commonly ask, "Where is your faith"?

But notice that He also never asked, "Where is your certainty?"

Just as faith is impossible without belief, it is equally impossible without the presence of doubt.

If you are absolutely 100% certain of any belief, it can NOT be defined as faith. No one has FAITH that they are going to die. No one has faith that the sun will come up tomorrow (although it IS possible, but extremely unlikely that it will NOT come up).

If faith is a belief that is the mean between doubt and certainty, than it appears to in the middle between two extremes.

So why is it that people of faith so often find themselves at the fringes of life?

If you do NOT have faith, then what are you left with except to believe only in that which can be proven with certainty (which is very little) or with a perpetual skepticism that leaves your mind unhinged.

"Let beliefs fade fast and frequently, if you wish institutions to remain the same. The more the life of the mind is unhinged, the more the machinery of matter will be left to itself." - G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy, pg 60.

Such thinking changes nothing, not even its adherent.

I once heard a local pastor say it this way: "If your faith hasn't changed you, then you need to change your faith."