We Saw Someone Doing Journalism In Your Name…

amc

So this kind of came out of nowhere for me, but Ana Marie Cox of Wonkette fame is a Christian and said as much in the Daily Beast piece I linked. I don’t think I’d ever contemplated what her religious beliefs were or if she had any. It’s not something I try to do too often with public figures, mainly because my sense is we often project our grid of what someone who believes X or Y ought to be like onto those people and force our information about them into that grid. And we end up making stupid assumptions by virtue of this practice. (I read a story once where a French journalist interviewing U2 insisted to them that their songwriting was repressed by their Catholic upbringings – even though three of them, including the principle lyricist, were raised Protestant.)

I suppose all this is to say that if Ana Marie Cox announced that she was an atheist or a Buddhist or Jewish or had some New Age practice she followed I would have been equally reacting with a sense of, “Oh, okay” much like I did to this article – at least for the most part. I don’t know Ms. Cox and so it’s not like I have anything to base my perception on other than her journalism, which I often enjoy but which, you know, didn’t scream anything to me about religion particularly. There were a couple things that stuck out to me, and I think that her reluctance about even writing on this topic was the most significant:

“My hesitancy to flaunt my faith has nothing to do with fear of judgment by non-believers. My mother was an angry, agnostic ex-Baptist; my father is a casual atheist. (I asked him once why he didn’t believe in God, and he replied easily, “Because He doesn’t exist.”)

I am not smart enough to argue with those that cling to disbelief. Centuries of philosophers have made better arguments than I could, and I am comfortable with just pointing in their direction if an acquaintance insists, “If there is a God, then why [insert atrocity]?” For me, belief didn’t come after I had the answer to that question. Belief came when I stopped needing the answer.

No, I’m nervous to come out as a Christian because I worry I’m not good enough of one. I’m not scared that non-believers will make me feel an outcast. I’m scared that Christians will.” [emphasis mine]

This should not sit well with anyone else who calls themselves a Christian. Yes, I think it’s fine that many Christians, particularly of the evangelical ilk will still insist that she change her views on any number of social or political issues, just as I think it’s fine that she insist the same of them. I hope however that I do not see an onslaught of people insisting that she is not really a Christian until thinks and acts like Sarah Palin or Michelle Duggar or whatever public figure is the celebrity Christian of the moment. Ms. Cox has also made it clear on her Twitter account that she’s not going to jump on the religion beat all of sudden. This is not religion as a career move, this is someone simply declaring her ordinary, simple faith in Jesus.

Go read the full article.

What is Best In Life?

Permit me a bit of amateur psychology. I think we in the Western world would have to try very hard to miss that a lot of us spend time seeking a handful of things. We pursue goods that are easy to reach. Food and alcohol, sex, contest, and music are the most obvious examples.

Food and alcohol do their work immediately, with the taste, and then with the feelings of satiety and/or relaxation.

Assuming one is not starving or dying of thirst, it is fairly common knowledge that the strongest of physical passions is the sexual. Basically everyone thinks sex is good. Just the thought of it can cause people to obsess, and even the lacking of it can satisfy in other ways (e.g., the feelings of having a “crush” can themselves be pleasant). We seek and give sex, broadly considered, in various ways. A good number of regular Western pastimes involve indulging in this, if not always with the intent of actually having sexual intercourse, then at least with the intent of enjoying the sensations that imagination brings. Romance movies generate “crush” feelings; pornography more directly aims at sexual titillation. Advertisements often play on one or both pleasures. The lyrics of much music uses these tropes. The general habits of the clubbing world are obviously all circling around this particular passion.

People also enjoy defeating threats. The hope of victory, the risk of failure, and the adrenaline rush that drives us to seek the first in the face of the second. The two most obvious instruments for creating this sensation are sports events and action films.

Then there’s the good of music. I’ve quoted Richard Hooker before on this blog on the power of music, but here he is again:

The reason hereof is an admirable facility which music hath to express and represent to the mind, more inwardly than any other sensible mean, the very standing, rising, and falling, the very steps and inflections every way, the turns and varieties of all passions whereunto the mind is subject; yea so to imitate them, that whether it resemble unto us the same state wherein our minds already are, or a clean contrary, we are not more contentedly by the one confirmed, than changed and led away by the other.

Music is so beloved because it has the power to alter our moods in a very direct way. Though we may lack a certain good in reality, music can still make a chimera dance on our mind’s stage.  Pop music is certainly not an exception here. As Roger Scruton notes:

This surely accurately describes the way in which contemporary pop—from Crystal Castles to Lady Gaga—is received by its devotees. I am not talking of the words. I am talking about the musical experience. It is surely right to speak of a new kind of listening, maybe a kind of listening that is not listening at all, when there is no melody to speak of, when the rhythm is machine made, and when the only invitation to dance is an invitation to dance with oneself. And it is easier to imagine a kind of pop that is not like that: pop that is with the listener and not at him. … The externalized beat of pop is shoved at us. You cannot easily move with it, but you can submit to it. … And the dance is not something that you do, but something that happens to you—a pulse on which you are suspended.

This aspect of pop music might be one of its main attractions: in its common forms, it overwhelms with the passions. It forces people to feel. Of course, a great deal of it aims at producing one or both of the previously mentioned passions: sexual euphoria or something like what the Greeks would have called thumos.

These goods are the easiest to reach, and so become the highest end for many. As Wittgenstein said in another context, people are captured by an image, a picture of something within their grasp, and often lose desire for any others beyond their immediate reach. But there are other kinds of goods, ones that often have more of a slow burn than a quick sizzle. Yet these kinds of goods can provide a more deep and lasting enjoyment of life than the ones above.

Imagine accomplishing a difficult objective. You decide to do something that seems like a good idea,  you eventually face opposition from nature or other people, you persevere and reach the goal. How do you feel? Bored? Of course not. The experience is often more pleasant than it would have been had there been no resistance at all. The victory through struggle gives knowledge of self as adequate to overcome difficulties, and to know this is to know something good. Further, you will have the good you originally sought.

Another good difficult to reach, but which provides much deeper and lasting satisfaction, is friendship. Knowing and loving another human being in a significant way. Human beings are the height of creation. Their strength, compassion, intelligence, creativity, beauty, humour, quirkiness, majesty, and piety, both in combination and separately, when deeply appreciated, can bring much joy to the people who experience them. But these are things that can only be discovered with time and effort; one must decide to sacrifice time and comfort and, instead of seeking directly pleasurable pursuits, to endure boredom, awkward moments, moral flaws and injuries, weaknesses and insecurities, and any number of other things that make people unattractive. Yet when another person is deeply known and loved, the happiness is almost incomparable.

Then there are intellectual goods. The human capacity to understand reality abstractly, as a coherent whole, to ask and answer the question “why?”, is arguably what distinguishes us most from the kingdom of nature. And curious people fulfill this potential when they encounter an intriguing but difficult question, and then pursue the answer with determination. When they reach their destination, a deeper understanding of the “why?” produces a sensation that artists and poets have long compared to elemental forces of nature: fire, light, electricity, and even a kind of intoxication. To seek and to find wisdom is one of the most exquisite pleasures human beings know.

But the highest good is not any of these things in themselves. It is nothing other than God. The most pleasurable good that human beings can pursue is understanding of the Creator, the ultimate answer to “why?”, and friendship with this being, the one who contains every good quality in its most perfect form. But of all pleasures, this is the hardest one to reach, and it cannot initially be reached through the kind of effort to accomplish that I mentioned above. Indeed, Jesus taught that it was impossible unless God gave us a taste for it first: “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” “Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.” God rescues the soul by giving an experience of God’s goodness: “For God … has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” Once this gift has been given, effort to see it more clearly is also given, and when increased clarity is achieved, the root of joy sinks ever deeper. But that gift is laid on a foundation of the first one; to want to pursue God further one must first have seen why he is indeed worth pursuing. The darkened character of our intellects will prevent us from seeing this until God opens our eyes to do so. When he does, we will forever want to see things in the aura of his light.

Why You Need To Know About The Epistle to Diognetus

You need to know about this because a common refrain of some critics of the faith is that major Christian doctrines were not present in the earliest years of the church. They were accoutrements that developed over time. The full divinity of Jesus? Not till Nicea. A substitutionary atonement? Not until Anselm rigged the jury in the middle ages.

There are of course many ways to respond to this. One way that Dr. Michael Kruger has pointed out is to appeal to the Epistle to Diognetus, a second century work of Christian apologetics. It’s clear that the author of this Epistle had a high Christology and affirmed a robust view of substitionary atonement and even imputation.

No early evidence of the divinity of Jesus? Consider this:

But the truly all-powerful God himself, creator of all and invisible, set up and established in their [Christians’] hearts the truth and the holy word from heaven, which cannot be comprehended by humans.  To do so, he did not, as one might suppose, send them one of his servants or an angel or a ruler…but he sent the craftsman and maker of all things himself, by whom he created the heavens, by whom he encloses the sea within its own boundaries, whose mysteries all the elements of creation guard faithfully, from whom the sun was appointed to guard the courses that it runs during the day, whom the moon obeys when he commands it to shine at night, whom the stars obey by following the course of the moon, by whom all things are set in order and arranged and put into subjection, the heavens and the things in the heavens, the earth and the things in the earth, the sea and all the things in the sea, fire, air, the abyss, creatures in the heights, creatures in the depths, and creatures in between–this is the one he sent to them. (7.2)

So, then, did he [God], as one might suppose, send him [his Son] to rule in tyranny, fear, and terror? Not at all.  But with gentleness and meekness, as a king sending his own son, he sent him as a king; he sent him as God; he sent him as a human to humans.  So that he might bring salvation. (7.3-4).

The Word appeared to them [the apostles] and revealed things, speaking to them openly.  Even though he was not understood by unbelievers, he told these things to his disciples, who after being considered faithful by him came to know the mysteries of the Father.  For this reason he sent his Word, that it might be manifest to the world. This Word was dishonored by the people but proclaimed by the apostles and believed by the nations. For this is the one who was from the beginning who appeared to be recent but was discovered to be ancient, who is always being born anew in the hearts of the saints.  This is the eternal one who “today” is considered to be the Son, through whom the church is enriched and the unfolding grace is multiplied among the saints. (11:2-4).

No substitutionary atonement?

But [God] was patient, he bore with us, and out of pity for us took our sins upon himself. He gave up his own Son as a ransom for us, the holy one for the lawless, the innocent one for the wicked, the righteous one for the unrighteous, the  imperishable one for the perishable, the immortal one for the mortal. (9.2).

For what else could hide our sins but the righteousness of that one? How could we who were lawless and impious be made upright except by the son of God alone? Oh the sweet exchange!…That the lawless deeds of many should be hidden by the one who was upright, and the righteousness of one should make upright the many who were lawless!

If you read the comments section of the post, there’s a fairly developed interaction between Dr. Kruger and a commenter named John S that some might find helpful if they want to see this point developed further.

 

 

Just Lights and Clockwork

One of our culture’s most brilliant contemporary non-Luddite critics of our use of technology must be Nicholas Carr, author of The Shallows and more recently The Glass Cage. At the close of a chapter dubbed “White-Collar Computer” he pinpoints the special danger that automation might pose to culture by way of undermining the distinctive feature of philosophical thinking: Wonder. 1

If we’re not careful, the automation of mental labor, by changing the nature and focus of intellectual endeavor, may end up eroding one of the foundations of culture itself: our desire to understand the world. Predictive algorithms may be supernaturally skilled at discovering correlations, but they’re indifferent to the underlying causes of traits and phenomena. Yet it’s the deciphering of causation–the meticulous untangling of how and why things work the way they do–that extends the reach of human understanding and ultimately gives meaning to our search for knowledge. If we come to see automated calculations of probability as sufficient for our professional and social purposes, we risk losing or at least weakening our desire and motivation to seek explanations, to venture down the circuitous paths that lead toward wisdom and wonder. Why bother, if a computer can spit out “the answer” in a millisecond or two?

In his 1947 essay “Rationalism in Politics,” the British philosopher Michael Oakeshott provided a vivid description of the modern rationalist: “His mind has no atmosphere, no changes of season and temperature; his intellectual processes, so far as possible, are insulated from all external influence and go on in the void.” The rationalist has no concern for culture or history; he neither cultivates nor displays a personal perspective. His thinking is notable only for “the rapidity with which he reduces the tangle and variety of experience” into “a formula.” Oakeshott’s words also provide us with a perfect description of computer intelligence: eminently practical and productive and entirely lacking in curiosity, imagination, and worldliness. [The Glass Cage, 123-124]

Notes:

  1. For those who might imagine that a computer could someday replicate even this aspect of human nature, I would suggest reading Edward Feser’s review of Ray Kurzweil’s How to Create a Mind.

How Reading The Chronicles Of Narnia Can Help With Your Doubts

One of the most helpful disciplines a Christian can develop is to learn how to chase down their doubts. I first learned this from JP Moreland. A danger zone for a believer is when their vision becomes clouded with vague and ethereal doubts. The solution is to get specific. Write them down and list them in order of importance. And then chase them down, one by one. Talk to people. Research. Keep chipping away at it. I’ve practiced this in my own life and I’ve found the solution to be a strengthened and weathered faith. One of the benefits of such an approach is that it builds confidence. Once you’ve worked through the process a couple of times, you’re not flummoxed by every doubt that shows up at your door for tea.

With that being said, not all doubts are intellectual. And the solutions to some doubts aren’t intellectual. Joe Rigney, of Bethlehem College & Seminary, tells of how reading and rereading the Chronicles of Narnia helped him deal with periods of doubt and depression in his life:

Over the years I’ve had a handful of bouts with significant questions, anxieties, and doubts about the Christian faith. Being somewhat of a bookish guy, my doubts are usually sparked by intellectual or theological questions, which then spiral into emotional upheaval and panic. During those seasons, I get lost in my own head, unable to break out of the prison of my own mind. It’s like there’s this incessant accusing voice in my head, and I end up in endless debates with him which rob me of joy and life (and sleep).

One of the things that has helped me when my sense of God and myself and my place in this world is so fragile has been a strong dose of what Lewis called “quiddity,” or the “realness” of things. For me, quiddity has usually hit me as the experience of deep beauty and desire, like when I can’t help but find the way that the sun hits storm clouds on the horizon to be beautiful.

Lewis himself once said that his apologetic “argument from desire” was a kind of spell that might be used to break us from deadly modern enchantments. The Narnian stories, and the way that my soul cries “Yes!” when I read them, have helped to anchor me in those uncertain times. When I’m overwhelmed by intellectual doubts, it is profoundly helpful to me to experience the undeniable and insatiable desire for the glorious vision of reality that Lewis depicts in Narnia.

I’ve come to think of it in this way. We often talk about the classical triad of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. What I’ve come to see is that these three are so interwoven that when one of them falters or grows dim in our eyes, the others can be used to keep us hanging on. When the Truth about Christ and the gospel feels shaky, the Beauty and Goodness of the Christian vision of life can shore up its weaknesses.

In other words, to continue to hold on to the gospel in the dark valley of intellectual doubt because you find it irresistibly beautiful is a good and gracious thing, a gift from God. Narnia has that sense of irresistible beauty, and so I’ve been enormously helped by the grace of God through it.

I’m ashamed to admit that I’m just reading through the Chronicles of Narnia for the first time myself, but providentially, I’ve been going through a period of doubt and have found myself similarly blessed as Joe Rigney.

No Heroes III

“They were right when they said / we should never meet our heroes / when they bowed at their feet / in the end it wasn’t me.”

-Metric

I’m going to keep going on the theme I had last post, this is significant because there are people who will use the church as their personal ego-trip playground, and while most of them will never have the prominence of a C. J. Mahaney or a Mark Driscoll, or a John Howard Yoder, or yes, even of a Tony Jones, they are out there and they have the resources – both in terms of personal abilities and in terms of networks of enablers – to get away with whatever it is they want to get away with.

There is a lot to link to here, particularly as it relates to Tony Jones. I am, if anything the most progressive-friendly writer on this site here, so I feel, in that regard that I am the one most credible here to take him and his enablers to task. I know, more than I can I explain here, what it feels like to find out that someone important to you is being accused of something very serious, I know what it’s like to have to square those sorts of things with what I thought I knew. So I say this with sympathy for the idea that you have to kill off your old impression of that person, with an understanding that all of us like to think that we are good judges of character. I know I can be fooled, likely so can you. Constrain your ego a bit and let yourself believe that you too can be fooled.

“As a general rule, people, even the wicked, are much more naive and simple-hearted than we supposed. And we ourselves are, too.” – Dostoevsky

Rachel, Nadia it’s okay to admit that you’ve been naive and simple-hearted about your friend. But in the face of significant evidence, what do you do?

Read this post.

Also this and this by the naked pastor (who is only naked metaphorically – I think).

I will repost the naked pastor’s Žižek quote too:

“A dispassionate conceptual development of the typology of violence must by definition ignore its traumatic impact. Yet there is a sense in which a cold analysis of violence somehow reproduces and participates in its horror. A distinction needs to be made, as well, between (factual) truth and truthfulness: what renders a report of a raped woman (or any other narrative of a trauma) truthful is its very factual unreliability, its confusion, its inconsistency. If the victim were able to report on her painful and humiliating experience in a clear manner, with all the data arranged in a consistent order, this very quality would make us suspicious of its truth.”

So don’t expect an abuse victim to be a smooth talker who has their story straight. Be prepared to at least listen, be prepared to believe what they might have to say, however it might upset you.

No Heroes Redux

Destruction_of_icons

Three and-a-half years ago I wrote about the problems of a church star system, and while some of the characters find themselves in different roles, many of them have remained stubbornly on the scene. The more we have the ability, through different media platforms, the more we find out that people we might have admired are actually pretty rotten characters. If you are not careful, your big name Christian superstars (be they Reformed or Anabaptist or Emergent) become your idols. Nothing more, nothing less.

I am, at this stage of my life, too old and too tired to have much concern for defending the powerful, just because some of them might have said something I once found agreeable. Maybe some of these people have written or said things of value at one time or another, certainly scoundrels are capable of great observation. If you want to work off of their ideas, okay, fine, quote them as opposed to giving them platforms to stroke their egos. And do me a favour: stop defending their indefensible behaviour.

Êtes-vous Charlie Hebdo?

charliehebdo1

Thoughts about yesterday:

There is no good reason to massacre cartoonists. For anything they have written or drawn. Ever. You don’t need to be a radical libertarian to espouse this view even.

There is also no inverse rule that says that we conversely are not allowed to criticize people for drawing or writing things that we don’t like, free speech includes the right to say that one doesn’t like Charlie Hebdo or that one found those Danish cartoons crude. If that criticism extends though to the idea that Charb and his people somehow “brought this on themselves” or deserved what they got though, you’ve rather missed the point.

Those ideas that are likely to come under some kind of special attack are the ones that are most in need of protection:

It will be cheap and easy for any number of obscure bloggers like me to post or repost those images that might have offended the attackers of Charlie Hebdo, none of us wear the target that someone like Neil MacDonald would speaking his opinions on national TV as a news correspondent (it is for this reason that I tried to be ecumenical in the header I posted here). I would instead challenge those who would defend satire to post images of their own religion or philosophy or values being satirized, to lead by example:

In my mind it is significant that the first victim of the Charlie Hebdo attack was a police officer who was himself a Muslim, and that we do not need any Muslim leader to specifically denounce these kinds of attacks. It is said that Voltaire claimed that he would defend to the death your right to say something he found disagreeable. Whether or not he actually said that, Ahmed Merabet did it. Have some respect for that.

That Pastor From Mars Hill

It’s so weird, standing on the cusp of a new year, thinking back to how he was perceived even just a decade or so ago, a fresh new voice emerging out evangelical Protestantism to reinvigorate the faithful and bring the Good News out of the drab Christian subculture and back into the lives of millions. While there were critics from the very beginning, the initial feeling was that, whatever his shortcomings, his charismatic speaking style and his embrace of the arts and popular culture were undeniably effective. It’s so strange to wake up in 2015 and realize that his pastoring days are well behind him. We aren’t sure whether or not we should welcome his new attempt to build a media empire on his personal brand without the constraints of having to run an actual faith community, but that’s what he’s setting off to do this year.

Wait…

What?

What do you mean which one?

One More Gift Under The Tree…

…But it might not be one that too many people want to open. I’ve wondered for a while how much a role World War I played in the decline of European Christianity. I don’t know that it’s something that we look at a whole lot, but surely all the commemorations of the 1914 Christmas truce bear an examination. Here it is nicely packaged up by Sainsbury’s (who hope to remind you to buy chocolate from them as well) for a Christmas advertising campaign:

It’s impossible to imagine two groups of predominantly Protestant soldiers from northern Europe (the Germans who participated in the Christmas truce were mostly Saxons no less!) singing the same hymn on the same night to the same God and then being told by the horrified senior officer corps on each side to get back to killing each other in the name of, among other things, God, not having some impact on how they think about God. In the winter of 1914 perhaps a sizeable number of them still believed that the war would be a short-term affair, perhaps in those brief moments in no-man’s land they thought that this little gesture would hasten the conclusion of the war.

This little clip reminds me of how I learned about this story in school and how it is generally repeated in popular culture, that there was this brief, almost magical moment of truce and then war had to recommence because, well, because there was a war on and that hideous circular argument was enough. That Europe would destroy itself in such way at a moment when European civilization dominated the world surely has to have been as corrosive to Christianity as any argument by any philosopher, as any discovery in science or anything else that has been thought to shaken the foundations of Christendom.