Category Archives: Christianity

Liber(al)ating

There was a fair bit of conjecture during the Presidential campaign over what Obama actually believes – is he a Christian (one of his senate speeches)? Is he a Muslim (urban legends)? Is he the Messiah (slate.com)? Is he the antichrist (snopes.com)?

Back when Obama was just a senate nominee he conducted a lengthy interview on his beliefs which has just been republished here. Interesting reading – there’s a fair bit of extra-biblical doctrine in his thinking – but he’s certainly no Muslim. He also doesn’t really subscribe to a belief in hell, thinks all roads lead to God etc – and professes a personal faith in Jesus. He’s a classic liberal Christian – a bit wishy washy for my liking, and biblically wrong on a few issues. I don’t have time to go into the whole church v state issues regarding flashpoint topics like abortion and gay marriage – but this seems to be the dominant doctrine for Obama.

“Alongside my own deep personal faith, I am a follower, as well, of our civic religion. I am a big believer in the separation of church and state. I am a big believer in our constitutional structure. I mean, I’m a law professor at the University of Chicago teaching constitutional law. I am a great admirer of our founding charter, and its resolve to prevent theocracies from forming, and its resolve to prevent disruptive strains of fundamentalism from taking root ion this country.
As I said before, in my own public policy, I’m very suspicious of religious certainty expressing itself in politics.
Now, that’s different form a belief that values have to inform our public policy. I think it’s perfectly consistent to say that I want my government to be operating for all faiths and all peoples, including atheists and agnostics, while also insisting that there are values tha tinform my politics that are appropriate to talk about.”

So – I’ve had arguments with my Christian friends and non Christian friends over how people of faith should act when in office – and it’s a fundamental question that goes back to your views on what the “representative” means in representative government – is the individual elected to act as a representive of the views of their electorate – ie take all views into account and form a balanced position, or is the individual elected as an individual who best represents what people want (that’s a clumsy definition) – ie the person is elected and then should act in good conscience (which seems to be limited to, and by party lines).

I tend to think government as a whole should fall into the former category – and the best way for it to do that is through the diversity offered in the latter. Your thoughts?

Edit: I think the whole Messianic cult of Obama thing, perpetuated basically by his campaign team and the media is interesingly idolatorous. I think Obama, like many of us, is guilty of trying to craft God in his own image – not the other way around. Particularly these sections from that interview:

On Hell:

I find it hard to believe that my God would consign four-fifths of the world to hell.
I can’t imagine that my God would allow some little Hindu kid in India who never interacts with the Christian faith to somehow burn for all eternity.
That’s just not part of my religious makeup.
Part of the reason I think it’s always difficult for public figures to talk about this is that the nature of politics is that you want to have everybody like you and project the best possible traits onto you. Oftentimes that’s by being as vague as possible, or appealing to the lowest commong denominators. The more specific and detailed you are on issues as personal and fundamental as your faith, the more potentially dangerous it is.

On Heaven:

“What I believe in is that if I live my life as well as I can, that I will be rewarded. I don’t presume to have knowledge of what happens after I die. But I feel very strongly that whether the reward is in the here and now or in the hereafter, the aligning myself to my faith and my values is a good thing.
When I tuck in my daughters at night and I feel like I’ve been a good father to them, and I see in them that I am transferring values that I got from my mother and that they’re kind people and that they’re honest people, and they’re curious people, that’s a little piece of heaven.”

On Sin:

FALSANI:
Do you believe in sin?

OBAMA:
Yes.

FALSANI:
What is sin?

OBAMA:Being out of alignment with my values.

I think it’s the same thing as the question about heaven. In the same way that if I’m true to myself and my faith that that is its own reward, when I’m not true to it, it’s its own punishment.

None of those positions are consistent with what God actually says about himself in the Bible – they’re more pictures of how Obama would like God to be. Dangerous stuff really.

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Odds on God’s on

British betting agency Paddy Power are taking bets on the existance of God.

Current odds are 4-1 that God exists – down from 33-1 at the opening of betting.

Unfortunately scientific proof is required prior to a payout being made.

Perhaps Dawkins will pull a Satan from South Park and bet on himself then throw the fight…

From the article:

“Interest in the wager has increased greatly following the recent launch of a campaign to have atheist adverts placed on London buses declaring that “there’s probably no God”.

As a result of a flurry of small bets Paddy Power, which also runs books on who will be the next Pope and the head of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales, has cut the odds on proof being found of God’s existence to just 4-1.”

“The atheists’ planned advertising campaign seems to have renewed the debate in pubs and around office water-coolers as to whether there is a God and we’ve seen some of that being transferred into bets.

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Sign of the times

If there’s one thing I hate more than atheists advertising on buses (actually I don’t hate that – “probably no God” – where’s the commitment…) – it’s so called “Christians” doing nutty things to give the rest of us a bad name.

The Westboro Baptist church systematically protests at the funerals of dead US soldiers becaues they believe the US system’s lax stance on homosexuality. I don’t think they read the bits in the bible where Jesus hangs out with sinners, prostitutes and tax collectors… anyway, kudos to this guy for his funny sign campaign. If you can’t beat them – join them.

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The love god

I was listening to ABC radio last night at around 11pm. As you do. And I heard an insightful interview with Australian social commentator Hugh Mackay. Mackay is widely regarded as having his finger on the pulse of Australian culture and society – along with futurist Clive Hamilton he’s one of the media’s most widely quoted sociologists. His views are pretty widely respected. Mackay was speaking on his own personal views on spirituality and religion – his criticisms of the “organised religion” and “the church” were the same we hear trotted out time and time again – too focused on sex etc – which are probably true in some ways. The church is portrayed as being hung up on church – largely because that’s where the greatest distinctions between Christians and the world express themselves. Mackay was anti-church but pro “God”, pro spirituality and anti militant atheism in a refreshing way – he suggested that Dawkins in the God Delusion takes the best of science and compares it with the worst of religion with unsurprising results. 

Mackay is a smart man. He forms a compelling argument based on his unique knowledge of culture. However, he misses the boat when it comes to the following statement:

“love is God”

This conclusion was the result of much thinking and reflection – and some interaction with the church in the past. While it’s almost exciting to hear the “intellectual left” moving away from the aforementioned secular humanism – this represents a more insidious misconstruing of any theological or logical understanding of a creative force – people keep turning abstract nouns like “science” and “love” into God.

This new intellectual position on “god” takes humanity’s most powerful emotion and deifies it essentially reinventing God in an airy fairy palatable package. While it sounds nice it doesn’t really make sense. It’s really essentially a bastardisation of the biblical position of “God is love” so it sounds right – but it really only considers one element of “God”. What does this love centric theology do with issues like the existence of suffering and bad stuff? I don’t know – I didn’t hear the rest of the interview. But if you’re so inclined you can hear it here.

 

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It’s the end of the world as we know it…

So the large Hadron Collider has been turned on. While I may have spent yesterday running around yelling “Panic Panic!!!” and singing Muse’s Supermassive Black Hole… they’re not actually colliding any serious particles until later this year.  

The idea, for the unconcerned among you, is to recreate the conditions of the big bang by colliding particles travelling at close to the speed of light. The intention is to find the Higgs Boson or the “God Particle” – how Mr Peter Higgs name became synonymous with God is beyond me.

When you perform a task of this magnitude a lot of nut cases come out of the wood works – there’s a group convinced the experiment will create black holes which will destroy the world. They made a youtube video – which I haven’t seen so won’t link to. There are crazy Christians who seem a little concerned this will somehow “disprove God” or help atheists in their thinking. And then there are the stupid, ignorant atheists – perhaps my favourite group in this situation who provide comments like this on the news.com.au forum:

“I love how 99% of the negative comments about the LHC are all from Christians. I’ll Believe Physics, thats been proven, over christianity, which hasnt been proven, anyday…Christians: Look at it from a ignorant christian perspective. They are spending 11billion to prove that God created the earth. Meanwhile i dont see Christians spending money to prove that Science didnt create the earth..” – Alex from Adelaide.

Thanks Alex for your valuable insight.

Christians do not argue that science didn’t create the earth because to do so would elevate science from a study of observable phenomena to a sentient being able to perform the act of “creation”.

My other favourite was this one:

“The church must be soiling itself waiting for the day that scientists proove there is no god and that we were created from the big bang and they have the hard and fast proof. The biggest business in the world “the church” will be bankrupted. Unless of course religion can actually proove god exists. Science will have the hard and fast proof very soon. Posted by: Andrew of Australia

Andrew is obviously pretty angry at the church – angry enough to make a claim about science’s ability to prove or disprove the metaphysical.

Atheists, in the main, are a fairly ignorant lot, often influenced by militant atheists to “believe in science” as some form of religion. Here’s the thing Alex, and other atheists out there, us Christians also believe in science. Some Christians even engage science as a weapon (think Creation Science Ministries or whatever those guys call themselves). Scientific outcomes are driven by starting hypotheses – and these are driven by the organisations funding the research. Science is not an objective entity. Science is a broad church. The reality is that science is now driven by ideology and commercial imperatives more than any church I know. Throw money into the mix and see what sort of “scientific findings” we can come up with. Most churches are driven by a goal to spread the gospel – for free. Most churches I know are “not for profits” and their “wealth” is tied up in physical assets used for the cause. Would you have churches meet in our “public” school buildings Andrew?

Not if the Sydney Morning Herald has its way. I’m no Hillsong apologist – in fact I have massive problems with their “prosperity” theology and their music, and and endless list of other gripes that I won’t go into. But this article on public schools as secular institutions being no place for any form of religion is dangerous and stupid. It’s also the worst piece of ideologically driven journalism I’ve seen for a long time, and it belongs in the opinion pages – not the news.

Quotes from the article below:

“A teacher at one public school said students had returned to class after an Exo day concert complaining about attempts to convert them, while the Federation of Parents and Citizens’ Associations says it is an attempt to sneak evangelism into schools and reveals the need for new laws.”

“The NSW Education Act says that “instruction” at public schools must be non-sectarian and secular except in designated religious education classes.”

“A spokeswoman for the Federation of Parents and Citizens’ Association said religious recruitment in schools was inappropriate. “We need to ensure that children when they go to school aren’t exposed to discreet evangelism,” she said.”

I would think that an opt in program clearly run by a church group openly trying to promote the bible is hardly “discreet evangelism” or “instruction” or an attempt to “sneak” evangelize.

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On secular humanism

In my continued reflections on the debate I’m having with my e-friends (ok, so they’re friends in real life – but the tyranny of distance means I see them maybe once a year) I find myself increasingly frustrated with the “secular humanism” movement. It’s really a quasi-religion set up to give atheists a framework to debate from. Secular humanists see their beliefs as the default “logical position”. 

The definition of humanism from Wikipedia:
“Humanism is a democratic and ethical life stance, which affirms that human beings have the right and responsibility to give meaning and shape to their own lives. It stands for the building of a more humane society through an ethic based on human and other natural values in the spirit of reason and free inquiry through human capabilities. It is not theistic, and it does not accept supernatural views of reality.”

My problems are as follows:
1. Humanism describes itself as optimistic on the human race’s ability to save itself. Human nature is seen as inherently good – but slightly selfish. This is how they reconcile survival of the fittest with external factors like our social “herd” instincts (best epitomised by Facebook), good and charitable acts without external motivation (which is how they dismiss the good and social acts of religious adherents), and the chaos obviously occurring between humans (Russia v Georgia is the latest example).
2. Humanism holds itself on a pedestal – and humanists look down on those who need the “crutch of religion” or the “imaginary sky friend” to get them through day to day life.
3. Humanists, in relying on reason, dismiss the notion of the supernatural – and will not debate on the possibility of anything supernatural existing without first seeing the evidence. This makes even approaching a discussion on religion almost futile.
4. Humanists rely on faulty evidence when dismissing Christianity – eg inaccuracy of scriptural translations.
5. Humanists are sold on postmodern thinking – which is yesterday’s news – rather than the modernist view of truth as verifiable, actual and objective.
6. Humanists are generally pretty smart – and generally blinkered by confidence in their own ability to reason. Human intelligence has limits. Humanists, in relying on their own prowess and dismissing the opinions of others as “subjective” and influenced by wants, desires and needs – are limited to their own capabilities. Some of the world’s most revered scientists – perhaps by nature of their positions as revered scientists are secular humanists – eg Einstein.
7. Further, humanism fails to recognise the limits of human capabilities – what if one day God is scientifically demonstrable? What happens to the current humanists? Human knowledge and understanding is in a constant state of flux – to pin a philosophy down to “what we currently think we know” or “what we can currently test” is dangerous.
8. Ethical living is not a natural response to atheism – nor is it the common response. Because secular humanists have realised the shortcomings of their position (slippery slope of morality) they seek to massage their philosophy to include this concept of “ethics based decision making.” Anarchy and hedonism are more logically consistent results of atheism.

Some key highlights from Wikipedia:

“In certain areas of the world, secular humanism finds itself in conflict with religious fundamentalism, especially over the issue of the separation of church and state. A faction of secular humanists may judge religions as superstitious, regressive, and/or closed-minded, while the majority of religious fundamentalists see secular humanism as a threat to the values they say are set out in religious texts, such as the Bible and the Qur’an.”

“Some criticize the philosophy of secular humanism because it offers no eternal truths nor a relationship with the divine. Critics allege that a philosophy bereft of these beliefs leaves humanity adrift in a foggy sea of postmodern cynicism and anomie. Some argue that this philosophy has always been antireligious and it is often used in connection with atheism.Humanists respond that such criticisms reflect a failure to look at the actual content of humanist philosophy, which far from being cynical and postmodern, is rooted in optimistic, idealistic attitudes about the future of human society that trace back to the Enlightenment, or further, back to Pre-Socratic Greek philosophers and Chinese Confucianism.

“Secular humanism describes a world view with the following elements and principles:

  • Need to test beliefs – A conviction that dogmas, ideologies and traditions, whether religious, political or social, must be weighed and tested by each individual and not simply accepted on faith.
  • Reason, evidence, scientific method – A commitment to the use of critical reason, factual evidence and scientific methods of inquiry, rather than faith and mysticism, in seeking solutions to human problems and answers to important human questions.
  • Fulfillment, growth, creativity – A primary concern with fulfillment, growth and creativity for both the individual and humankind in general.
  • Search for truth – A constant search for objective truth, with the understanding that new knowledge and experience constantly alter our imperfect perception of it.
  • This life – A concern for this life and a commitment to making it meaningful through better understanding of ourselves, our history, our intellectual and artistic achievements, and the outlooks of those who differ from us.
  • Ethics – A search for viable individual, social and political principles of ethical conduct, judging them on their ability to enhance human well-being and individual responsibility.
  • Building a better world – A conviction that with reason, an open exchange of ideas, good will, and tolerance, progress can be made in building a better world for ourselves and our children.”

You can’t really argue with someone holding these beliefs that a supernatural being exists – it runs counter to the tenets of their “faith.”

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On dialogue with atheists

I have some friends who are atheists – not just soft agnostics like most of society – but reasoned, secular humanists who think Dawkins lacks objectivity and is a rabid fundamentalist. You know, the logical type of atheists who have thought through life and made their own conclusions on the basis of the evidence they see around them. The type who make “moral judgements” based on empathy and reason. I’ve spent the last couple of weeks in pretty intense debate with them via email. The discussion has been protracted and mostly frustrating. I’ve also been feeling pretty outnumbered – it was three to one and then they introduced these two guys I’ve never met into the email circle. One of them is pretty much the only person who now reads this blog – so hi. I actually don’t know where he sits on the issue because he just commentates on the debate – and how much he hates analogies. 

This debate has made me question – not my beliefs – but my response to having them attacked. Pride is something I struggle with. I want to be right, I want to engage in the debate in an intellectual sense and essentially prove my faith* and convince these guys they should convert – and be just like me. Which again, kind of misses the point of Christianity – because I should be trying to convince people to be just like Christ. Here’s the rub – the Bible promises that the world’s wisdom will see Christianity and its message of a capitally punished God as foolishness (1 Corinthians) – so I can’t expect to be convincing, nor can I mention this in some kind of argumentative context – because to argue the veracity of something using that thing doesn’t really stack up. I can’t say “the Bible is true because it says it is.” Nor can I say “the Bible is true because I have experienced that it is” – because that is subjective. I also can’t say – “the Bible is true because all the observable evidence (ie pain and suffering) suggest it is” – because all the observable evidence is observed, and compartmentalised based on the starting hypothesis – ie if God is not there it’s all just chance and coincidence. My basic instinct in this debate is to debate. To apologise (in the “mount a defence for” sense) for my beliefs. Is this the right way to respond? I’m not convinced that it is – not in the frames of science and philosophy.

Science is limited. Science has merit, and a place in the world. Science answers questions of cause and effect, and makes observations to test and demonstrate hypotheses – science is good at what it does. What it can’t do is test that which can not be observed – and it is limited to the theories and subjective whims of those testing them through hypothesis. I can observe “facts” and essentially plug them into my frame of reference to demonstrate a theory. The theory always comes first.

History also has limits – postmodern criticism has merit – but to rob any text of the chance of being true and accurate objective history does a disservice to our understanding of human history and anthropology. Why can’t we trust the accounts of a number of people recorded in the one book – from very separate original documents – to reveal truth? This exercise also taught me that those who are passionately disinterested – or dispassionately interested – in Christianity have very little knowledge of the actual text of the Bible – and its history. Instead relying on years of inaccuracies and insipid, purposeful lies. “The bible has been changed over time” is one of those half truths that misses the point – it hasn’t been changed by whim – but by desire to bring it closer to the original text based on rigourous academic scholarship. It has been used as a political tool in the past – and those who most stridently opposed that were the Christian church – and these men were martyred for the cause. This sort of shoddy criticism has no grounding in anything but what my atheist friend told me in primary school so I believed it.

I think it’s unhelpful to present this debate (theism v atheism) in the sphere of the rational, observable or philosophical. To do so puts the existence of God on our terms – a God by nature transcends the rational and observable. God sets the rules for this debate – not humans. To move God into these realms, and into our terms is not rational or reasonable – if God exists then there is no reason for him to conform to our experience of the world – or human conventions of understanding – anymore than there is reason for us to bark when communicating to dogs. We do not do this when interacting with our subordinates (the animal kingdom).

Thanks to Dawkins, Atheists now tackle these arguments by realigning the burden of proof and changing the terminology – now we, “theists” have to demonstrate why God must exist – before even tackling which God they should believe in. Therefore the Bible is dismissed as an authority (partly because post-modern literary criticism means nothing can be trusted as true anymore), Christians can’t claim any unique authority on the debate on the basis of the historicity of Jesus – particularly because any of the eye-witness accounts to his life must now be ignored or disputed, any third party accounts of Christianity – and the leaders of the early church – are not as valuable as “modern science” and observation – and the default position is now that the complexity of life is a product of randomness and an infinite spectrum of time. I don’t really understand that being the default. Atheists are now critical of the “watchmaker” assumption – ie when you see a wristwatch in a field you assume based on complexity the watch was designed and placed there. I think that’s something that’s been slowly indoctrinated. Atheists are now taught to proselytize in the same way they accuse Christians of brainwashing their children and others.

One of these guys scoffed at my suggestion that his lifestyle is the result of his atheism – and vice versa. He suggested the two were not linked. The atheist point of view by definition dismisses the idea of God – and hence questions regarding whether their atheism influences the way they live are flawed – theism v atheism is still the fundamental question that ultimately shapes the worldview of the individual – morals, ethics, philosophy and conduct all stem from this fundamental position – whether we (or they) like it or not.

The “church” has been responsible for some terrible injustices over time – or at least these have been conducted in the name of the church – ignoring the wildly publicised misdemeanours and wars, in a broader sense the church has failed to adequately educate casual church attendees. Both these atheists had backgrounds including church attendance. Both had strong – and in my opinion inaccurate – understandings of the “teachings of the church” and felt adequately qualified to make assessments on the basis of their childhood experiences. This may be unfairly representing their opinions and positions – but in my opinion something as serious as religion – and the underlying foundation we build our lives on – should be considered by adult minds. Both in the case of people who have always been Christians – and in the case of people who have chosen not to be. In either case I’d hate to think this is the kind of decision you make at 10 and never revisit.

It’s been a pretty interesting discussion all told – and I’d love any readers input on the issue. This post ended up being much longer than I planned.

*Not technically scientifically possible because faith is the belief in something that can’t be observed.

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Evening the scores

Well humble reader it has been some time since I’ve posted here – some would say too long – others would not have noticed the gap. I’ve been posting with growing irregularity since being burdened with an extra workload at work – and an extra load of work outside of work.

Those of you who are now my Facebook “friends” – as if that somehow gives you more status than my real life friends – will know that I haven’t been idle when it comes to maintaining an online presence. And I’m happy to report I now have more than 100 fb buddies… it seems I came to that party pretty late.

The extended gap between posts means that I now actually have some news to report. Last Saturday we were approved for a lease on a nice little 3 bedroom townhouse in Pimlico – it’s pretty functional and has its own access gate to the shared pool.

This followed a hectic week of house drive bys, inspections and robust discussions. Our favourite place – at first – was a nice, modern Queenslander. We both inspected this house prior to applying and even bumped into the owner as he did his gardening – we were confident that we’d get the nod. However, we were looking for a 12 month lease – and the owner was only really prepared to give 6 months. He was also planning to build in underneath the house in that period. This house was advertised as having two garages – which would have disappeared within weeks due to a money hungry landlord who basically wanted to fund his rennovations via tenant. We were offered the house yesterday and turned it down. Stupid real estate agents.

So K-Rudd got down and dirty in New York on the tax payer’s dime. Farbeit from me to let an opportunity to dig the boot in to either side of politics – particularly on such a public indiscretion. I won’t tear strip(er)s off Kevin Rudd for his nocturnal dalliance – I note the Australian Christian Lobby was also eager to affirm the fact that we all are in fact fallen and sinful. I will however point out that the media’s eagerness to feed off the situation – whether it be Glenn Milne’s initial condemnation or the chorus of defenders who surfaced on the left’s side of the debate – perfectly demonstrates the point Jim Wallace from ACL made. On one side you’ve got stone throwers eager to beat K-Rudd down in a hail of self-righteous rage – on the other you’ve got those overly eager to associate themselves with whatever wrongdoings possible in order to diminish the perception of misconduct everywhere. Paradoxically, when it comes to commenting on this situation you’re damned if you do – and damned if you don’t.

Personally, I think when it comes to elected represenatives we’re probably entitled to throw a few stones. At that point we’re not judging the man himself – but his ability to do that which he was elected to do – that is present the country in the best light possible. Evidently not something he’s achieved here, or here.

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The crux of it

How is it that some people can so comprehensively miss the point? Sometimes you discover things that you can only hope are some elaborate hoax, satire or cheap parody. LarkNews is one of my favourite websites – it harmlessly pokes fun at church culture with articles like this one, or this one. So when I clicked on a banner ad on their main page taking me through to this site – I expected to be met with more merciless parody. Unfortunately this seems genuine. How is it that these “Christians” can completely and utterly miss the point of the cross.

This is prosperity doctrine gone mad. For those who haven’t clicked the link:

“The Nazareth Cross Project aims to build the world’s largest and most impressive cross, standing at 60 meters tall, housing a magnificent church in its center. The cross will be decorated by some 7.2 million brilliant mosaic tiles of varying sizes, each one with a personal engraving. These tiles will be made of stone from Nazareth, or platinum, silver or gold.”

But that’s not all – you too can be part of this monumental project.

“7.2 million tiles will cover this majestic structure, each one engraved with a name. The purchaser will be able to choose both the material and location of the tile on the cross. By acquiring a tile with your inscription, you are connecting to the Holy Land in a most unique and profound manner. In the very heart of Nazareth, where the Virgin Mary heard that she had found favor with God, you will declare your belief in God’s mercy towards you or a loved one for generations to come.”

But wait, there’s more.


“The breathtaking Church with its panoramic view will be located at the intersection of the arms of the cross, 15 stories high, and will contain over 4500 square feet of floor space.In the 2.5 square miles (5 km2) surrounding this monumental cross, a visitor center will be built to offer a unique inspirational experience as well as a world-class educational and leisure center.”


“The central location of the church together with a circular monorail transportation system will provide pilgrims easy access to and from the historic Christian churches, the Fountain of Mary and the city’s central bazaars.”

Once you’ve paid up for your platinum tile it’d be a shame not to visit this spectacular eyesore, and they’ve thought it out so that those unable to travel can enjoy the decadence and “inspiration” on offer…

“This church will provide a stunning 360° panorama and an inspirational worship setting… This Church will serve Christian groups, both pilgrims and locals, with a setting for special services, such as Baptism, Dedications, and Matrimony. The services within the Church can be arranged to be broadcast over the Internet so that family and friends who are unable to attend can share in the experience of Nazareth.”

Sounds just as humble and austere as Jesus wanted people to be when he told us to “take up the cross and follow him.”

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God will be God and you will know it

God has been getting a bit of publicity lately – and not much of it is good. This is likely to continue as long as his representatives (the church) keep screwing up their key messages. Public Relations strategy centres on sticking to a key message – and not straying to the peripherals. Andrew Denton’s balanced “God on My Side” was screened on the ABC last night and showed the American Religious Right for what it is – a mixture of crazy zealots hoping to bring about Armageddon through war in Israel and a group of well intentioned Christians keen to spread the gospel through whatever mean necessary. As Christians we are called to preach Christ crucified. To proclaim the “good news” that Jesus is the key to forgiveness for our inability and refusal to live life God’s way, using puppets is fine for that. We are not called to get on TV and promise new pancreases to diabetics. While the concept of judgement is a pillar of Christianity there is no biblical text to support the idea that we should be acting to hasten judgement – instead we’re called to make hay while the sun shines (John 4:35). The church’s inability to stay on message sees it getting bogged down in debates it doesn’t belong in. Obscure theological debates (premillenialism v postmillenialism etc) should be played out in bible colleges and published journals – not fought out in public between churches or Christians. The issues of sexuality and sin – which the bible is quite clear on – need to be presented in the light of the gospel – yes, the bible clearly says God is against homosexuality, but he’s also against lying, any sex outside of marriage, pornography and any form of theft. People who indulge in any of these areas are unfit for ministry – but are more than acceptable to God if they repent. There is no sin that God won’t forgive (except final and absolute rejection of him). When the church publicly condemns sexual sin it opens itself up for accusations of hypocrisy. It is not the church’s place to judge – or condemn anyone – there but for the grace of God we all go. While a belief in Christianity fundamentally (and logically) renders every other religion false – that does not mean that we should hate – or want to nuke – followers of other religions.
The intersection of Christianity and politics is one that has raised the ire of many over the years – and interestingly the separation of church and state is not really constitutionally enshrined – the role of Christians in parliament is something Ben and I have fiercely debated all year. Non-Christians should not be worried that Christians will impose their system of morals and beliefs onto everybody as law – Christians are called to be counter cultural – not to set the culture. We should be lights to the world – we can’t do that if everybody is doing the same thing.
The scary reality is that God is real, he’s in control. If God is God – we can not dictate how he should rule, or make him in our own image. We can’t stand here and shake our fists at perceived injustices.That’s not how the philosophical concept of God works – nor is it how the God of the Bible works. People who have problems with God have a problem. People who have a problem with the behaviour of the church I can sympathise with. There have been terrible atrocities committed in God’s name. There are people around with a terrible understanding of how the Bible fits together. But I can’t help but lack tolerance for this guy. Dawkins is the pin up boy for atheists. He has written a number of books criticising belief in God. He is to atheism what terrorists are to Islam and what the crazy eyed fundamentalists from the American far right are to Christianity. But he’s also widely respected as a scholar and an intellectual. Dawkin’s extremes make his fellow atheists so uncomfortable they feel compelled to explain his statements – in the same way that Muslims dealt with the uncovered meat statements from Hilaly. While I’m not sure I completely agree with the idea of persuading people based on the odds – Pascal had a logical argument or wager supporting belief in God.
Being a Christian isn’t the latest intellectual trend – but the church does itself a disservice whenever it strays from its calling and into the murk and mire of stupid debates. Let God worry about when the world is going to end. Let God worry about bringing punishment to sinners. The more we focus on what divides the church, and what divides society, the less people are inclined to listen to what we’re saying and the more likely we are to do something stupid like invading the Middle East under the pretext of a holy war. In conclusion – Dawkins is an idiot but then the wider church is full of them.

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Once upon a time…

Fairy Tales and fantasies have been the staple fictional diet of children for many years. I caught the Brothers Grimm flick in one of my rare moments sitting in front of the TV without watching sport (including wrestling) the other day. The Brothers Grimm were a couple of oddball German professors who spent their time collecting and documenting folk tales and fairy stories for the amusement of the masses. The movie suggests the Grimms were always pursuing these tales in the hope of striking some truth – when in fact they were collecting stories for the entertainment of children.

It seems to me that Titanic director James Cameron is a modern day Grimm. Cameron who made his name directing the “true story” of a sinking ship is currently promoting his latest project – a documentary – on the discovery of the coffin of Jesus Christ. Fact and fiction are difficult to disentangle – particularly through the filters of history and science. Cameron was quick to jump on the Dan Brown bandwagon fueling speculation that Jesus had a family with Mary Magdalene based on fragments of the gnostic gospels.

In my discussions the other day on philosophy, religion and the meaning of life I argued with some intellectual atheists (which is almost a contradiction in terms – intellectually it’s much safer to be agnostic) that my faith hinges not on the science behind the bible but its historicity. There’s an old question meant to encourage liberal theological thought – “If the bones of Jesus were discovered – would this change your faith?” The politically correct answer to that question is “no” – the theologically correct answer is of course yes. The resurrection of Jesus is of fundamental importance to orthodox Christian belief. The Christian faith depends on its historical credentials. Authenticating “history” is an incredibly difficult task – we need to analyse what we read with archeological findings and historical context. The fact is, we really can’t be sure about what happened hundreds of years ago – let alone thousands. We weren’t there to see it, feel it, hear it, smell it, or touch it. Whenever we’re told of something that happened outside our “experience” it should be questioned, poked, prodded and examined. One of my favourite novelists, Robert Rankin wrote a book called the Witches of Chiswick about a powerful group of witches who decided to completely rewrite history at the turn of the 19th century. This idea is clearly fiction – or is it? We can’t afford to rule out every theory or every piece of documented history simply because we weren’t there. Context is king. When considering a claim it’s important to consider motives, underlying social factors… all these tests need to be applied not just to the bible but to every crackpot theory that comes up questioning its veracity. When it comes to the bible – the disciples and early leaders of the church were prepared to die pretty horrible deaths (not just your run of the mill death but you know, being burned alive or eaten by lions) for their beliefs – I’d like to see James Cameron put his money where his mouth is at this point. Neither Buddha or Muhammad – founders of two of the other “great” (numerically) religions of the world were forced to die for their convictions and nobody is out there in public questioning the historicity of their lives. It’s hard to find a genuinely accepted religion where the founder has received material benefit from their teaching (Scientologists and Mormons are no exceptions to this rule). So it strikes me that the assessment of the Israeli archaeologist who investigated the original discovery is probably worth listening to…

“It’s a beautiful story but without any proof whatsoever.”


Although I guess Christianity’s critics would say the same thing…