Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Deeper Questions from 13.7 Blog

I'm always blogging about the deeper questions... here is someone else blogging about the same subject:

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Reconciling Faith With Reason

In his book, “Holy Ignorance”, Olivier Roy laments how religion has been privatized, weaned from the public life. The secular worldview, when divorced from faith, leaves us disenchanted, as it treats us like orphans of God, left in a morass of consumerism, every person reduced down to dollars.

Science has replaced our narrative with propositions and our faith with technology.

He describes how religion has become fanatical as it has come to divorce itself from culture. Such a religion, once unhinged from the world, becomes an antagonist to all that is alien to its self-conjured reality. Mr. Roy explains the modern trends within the church as it markets itself in creating church services that are more like productions, and with its emphasis on a “therapeutic” message, as being the symptoms of this cleavage.

We now live in the digital age. The computer screen or smart phone which you are using to view this blog, was produced by digital technology. Such technology was birthed from science. Science is governed by reason. It is from such reason that Einstein discovered E=MC2, giving us the power and threat we now face with Japan’s nuclear reactor meltdowns. Reason has authenticated itself through the power of the technology that envelopes us.

It is out of this same reasoning process that we are left with interpreting the universe as being approximately 13.7 billion years old, governed by a system of processes that produced the earthquake and subsequent tsunami that shook and swallowed so much of Japan. It is because of this reasoning process that we are able to predict lunar eclipses and the most recent super moon.

I see two ways to reconcile reason with faith. One is to separate scientific thought from its metaphysical assumptions, weeding out fact from fiction by discerning between its pragmatism and its philosophical assumptions. Here is an example that I have used before (and will probably use again):

Two men look at the Grand Canyon. One says, “Wow, look what a lot of time and a little water can do to create such a wonder”. The other says, “Wow, look what a lot of water and a little time can do to create such a wonder”.

Both observers have the same facts but different presuppositions. The presuppositions can sometimes be tested, but many times can not. When they can’t, they fall into the metaphysical category. The facts are certain, but the assumptions require faith to accept or reject.

Let me stress that all these models of the development of the universe from nothing ... from some point [like the primordial atom of the Big Bang models]... have to be seen for what they are: models, devoid of compelling experimental verification. The scenarios we develop from them are possible, and they illustrate various features we can follow up on, but none is ultimately persuasive. —Nothingness: The Science of Empty Space p296

The second way that I see to reconcile faith with reason is to hold some of my faith assumptions with less dogma. I see Christ constantly confronting literal interpretations, not allegorical ones. For instance, in John 6, Christ tells His followers that unless they eat of His flesh and drink of His blood, they cannot become His disciples. Many of His disciples deliberately turn away from Him. Why wasn’t Christ more careful about His wording? Was He not purposefully trying to provoke by separating out the literalists from those who could see the allegorical nature of His words?

I could point to other examples like when Christ stood in front of the temple and told His audience that in three days He would build up the temple (talking about His body, and not the literal temple in which He was standing in front of). Or how about when Christ was ministering to the woman at the well in John 4 and told His disciples who were concerned that He had not eaten in a while, that He had food to eat that they knew nothing about (John 4:32), talking not about physical food but about doing His Father’s will? Such allegorical interpretations free the Christian to believe that the world could be billions of years old.

I’m not sure how far to take this allegorical approach. For instance, I certainly do believe that Christ was and is a literal person. And on the subject of the age of the earth and humanity, I suspect that Dr. Russell Humphreys is on the right track by suggesting that if time is relative, we could be living on a young earth in an old universe….

The point is that I believe in a logical faith. Reason necessitates its own limitations. Faith compensates for them. Reason finds that there are limitations to what we can know. It is the reason people ask, “if a tree falls in a forest and no one is around, does it still make a sound?” As soon as we allow for even the possibility of things existing beyond our empirical knowledge, we open the door to faith.

If reason necessitates faith, faith rejects certainty. Show me someone who is certain, and I’ll show you someone that is faithless. Christ would often ask people, “where is your faith?” But if He really wanted to drive people toward the extreme of belief, why did He not ask, “where is your certainty?”

I am certain that I do not know what I think I know. I have faith that at least some of what I am certain about is wrong. Perhaps if scientists were less dogmatic about their reason, and religious people were less dogmatic about their faith, the reconciliation could be clear.

Here is the book review that inspired this blog posting:

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Questions Lie in Wait

Reason (like death) robs a man of the delusion of His divinity. Throw out reason and man is free to create reality in his own image. Perception is the only reality the non-discerning may know.

We seem to live in a non-discerning world. It seems that hypersensitivity to being judgmental, bigoted, racist, homophobic, and xenophobic, calls us to throw out our minds in the name of a mindless religious faith known as “political correctness”.

Technology is an affront to this disposition. Science births technology by drawing a line delineating truth from falsehood. Many people explain this as a dichotomy. They see the world as being divided. After all, some truth is quantitative and others are qualitative.

Two plus two equals four. There is no room for argument. But we have no such formulas for determining a suspected universal, transcendent morality. Many people don’t even believe such a thing exists, however they will moralize against those of us who do.

In his book, “God Is Not Great”, Christopher Hitchens moralizes against the church, claiming that organized religion is violent, irrational, intolerant, racist, etc… But what is wrong with those things if God doesn’t exist? WHY are these things wrong in an atheist’s world? Says who?

What if reason is transcendent? What if life’s mysteries are only the limitations of our empirical reach or our presuppositions? What if the mysteries of the world are not an excuse for us to throw our brains out the window, but rather a call to explore?

Imagine if Albert Einstein would have never asked himself why the speed of light was observed to violate Newton’s physics. He would have never discovered E=MC2. Imagine if Kepler would have never asked questions about the anomalies in the Ptolemaic cosmological model. He would never have discovered that the orbits of the celestial bodies are elliptical instead of perfect circles.

I am a music teacher. When I teach creativity to students, I teach them that the key is to ask questions. I challenge them to question a scale and ask, “What can I possibly do with those seven notes?” I then challenge them to explore the possibilities. This curiosity and sense of exploration inevitably leads to creativity.

Creativity breathes life into what is otherwise simply meaningless exercises. When I teach scales, intervals, arpeggios, chords and music theory, my students' eyes glaze over. But when I coax them to be creative with these objects by questioning their possibilities, these things come to life in the dynamic we call music. 

Christianity says that the Word became flesh and came to live among us. All the rules and ritual, the sometimes mindless traditionalism, the cleansings, religious ceremonies, sacrifices and duties, came alive in the form of Jesus Christ. Faith, with all of its ambiguity and mystery, breathes life into a dead Word.

Rock beats scissors...

What discoveries in life lie in wait because of questions you are not asking?

Monday, March 14, 2011

Resurrecting Hope

Why does God allow bad things to happen? That’s the question on many of our minds when we see tragedies like this.

You and I are not immune to such tragedies:

"I never imagined we would be in such a situation" Watanabe said. "I had a good life before. Now we have nothing. No gas, no electricity, no water."

The best answer my faith provides is that we broke the world but God identified with our pain when Christ suffered. If this stopped at His suffering, I’d have no hope, but it is in His resurrection where the real power is.

During this lent and Easter season, I encourage you to think about the message in the story of Christ and in the stories developing in the world around us today.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Learning to Live

I received a mailer yesterday from a local church announcing evangelistic meetings. I'm sure they mean well... Their mailer went something like this:

You are a sinner- Romans 3:23 says "All have sinned and fallen short of the Glory of God."
Sin leads to death - Romans 6:23 says "The wages of sin is death..."
You need a savior  - The rest of Romans 6:23 "But the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord."
Christ died for you - Romans 5:28 says "God demonstrates His own love for us, in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us!"
 Believe upon Jesus and you too can be saved - Romans 10:17 says "Whoever will call on the name of the Lord  will be saved!"
The above is called the Romans road and is a common evangelism technique. Often this approach will go on to give a formulaic prayer that the person can say in order to get saved.

I'm a Christ follower. I believe in salvation. But I have some serious problems with the above message. So it makes sense that I might quote from an atheist right? :-)

"What can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence."- Christopher Hitchens.

And of course Carl Sagan...

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

I would love to reply to such an approach as so:

"Whoever goes aright, for his own soul he goes aright; and whoever goes astray, to his own detriment he goes astray. And no bearer of a burden bears another's burden..." (Koran 53:38)
"Mohammad... is the messenger of God and the Khatam [seal, closure, end, or last] of the prophets..." (Koran 33:40)
"The Messiah, Jesus the son of Mary, was no more than Allah's apostle and His Word which He cast to Mary; a spirit from Him. So believe in Allah and His apostles and do not say: 'Three.' ...Allah is but one God...." (Koran 4:171)
...Allah forbid that He should have a son." (Koran 4:171)
 Those who "believe not in Allah and His Messenger, He has prepared, for those who reject Allah, a Blazing Fire!" (Koran 48:13)

*See for more information.

I am not a Muslim. But I would hope such a reply would garner this response from the well-intended Christian. "But the Koran is just a book and it is not the Word of God." I would hope that this well meaning Christian would see the folly of simply throwing out quotes from a religious text and expecting the reader/listener to accept their authority without reason.

I am a Christian. My faith starts with Christ and the evidence for who He is in the historical records of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. You can say those books aren't inspired by God, but even if you do, you can't say they are the products of some human conspiracy, forgeries or collective delusion, given the historical evidence. What are you left to say about these books and their claims? How else would you explain four independent witnesses of Christ's life and ministry?

I also believe in Christ because I have found that when I obey His teachings, it benefits the Spiritual health of my life. I believe it is actually easier for man to measure health than to discern truth.

" is not enough that the unhappy man should desire truth; he must desire health." - G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy, pg 11
And yes, I DO believe in the discernment of truth... But it is easier for me to say that following Christ will bring one blessing than it is for me to say that following Christ is true even though I believe in both and can make a case for both...

Notice how this proselytizing church focuses on "fire insurance". One quote I saw from them made this extraordinary claim:

You can know the truth about eternity!

What an extraordinary claim. Does it not make sense that when Christ taught that probably His first words in His first sermon were probably the most important ones?

Christ's "inaugural speech" is found in Luke 4:18-19:

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
   because he has anointed me
   to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
   and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
   19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
I don't see anything explicitly about eternity in His statement. Christ is quoting from Isaiah 61. He establishes His authority, then uses that authority to proclaim the good news. The content of that good news is to set people free and to proclaim the "year of the Lord's favor."

The sermon on the mount is generally believed to be Christ's first public sermon. If you read Matthew 5-6, Christ's emphasis, is on blessing (spiritual health). Here is just an excerpt:

 3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit,
   for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are those who mourn,
   for they will be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek,
   for they will inherit the earth.
6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
   for they will be filled.
7 Blessed are the merciful,
   for they will be shown mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart,
   for they will see God. "
Notice that Christ doesn't focus on behavior but rather attitude and mindset. He also doesn't focus on escape from hell and having eternal assurance of a heavenly afterlife. I believe in heaven and hell but it is very interesting how Christ doesn't simply reduce the good news down to the afterlife. Notice the FOCUS of His message.

Instead Christ capitalizes on our innate, often unspoken assumptions of "What is in this for me?" He leverages this human predisposition by presenting the good news in a transactional framework.

There are extremes found in reductionism. Christ's message should not be reduced down to simply "You can be blessed if you become a Christian" (the prosperity Gospel). But it should also not be reduced to "You can have a security blanket that helps you deal with death".

I appreciate the evangelistic church that I described because they have a heart for souls. I lament the fact that they have reduced the good news down to something that teaches us how to die but does not teach us how to live.

I am not ashamed of Christ but sometimes ashamed of other Christians. Dear reader, if you are not a Christ follower, I pray that you look at Him and His teachings DESPITE what you might see and hear sometimes from those of us who try to to follow Him. As a favorite preacher of mine, Steve Brown says, "We are just beggars showing people where we have found bread."