If You Love America, What Is It That You Love?

I’ve heard it said that when someone loves America, they love what the idea of it stands for. They love the people in it. They love what the founders were after. But when it comes down to what the government does, these same will criticize it to the point of a nagging spouse who resents everything the offending spouse stands for. In fact, they’re ready for divorce. What gives? Why this discrepancy between ideal and actuality?

It is interesting that people do not hold this ideal/actuality distinction when referring to other countries. When these people say they wouldn’t want to live in Canada, France, Britain, Djibouti, South Africa, Japan, Laos, Australia, or Brazil, I don’t think they’re talking about what idea these countries stand for, the general populace in these countries, or what their founders were after. They say they wouldn’t want to live there because of the current laws there, the regimes in place, the underlying socio/economic/political climate is. So whence the inconsistency when talking about America? Maybe it is because this is their home. Maybe if they were from one of the aforementioned countries, they would make the distinction ideal/actuality distinction there as they do here.

If it comes down to what we have in place, I both love and despise this country. I love that there is at least the constitutional possibility of free speech, press, religion, assembly, petition, bearing of arms, against quartering troops, all that supposed legal protection (provided you’re loaded enough to defend yourself), etc. I despise the fact that there are so many laws, one is near being a criminal for existing. I despise that many constitutional guarantees are “legally” (not constitutionally of course, unless we also get to get bent over by the corruption within some judges who interpret the constitution/laws against their pretty plain meaning) run over by 3 letter agencies, because they have standing armies to justify their actions and we don’t. I love that my political enemies are generally content not to literally eviscerate my family or me. I hate that we are polarized so deeply because the people can’t realize there might be more than 2 options on the table at any time. But if we come down to it, where we judge our love for something by a government’s actions, then I can’t stand America. I can’t stand the silent slavery of the majority to the secret few. The government knows too well not to be too overt in its coercion or oppression, or people might actually wake up from their yawning stupor, their contentment with bread and circuses, and revolt. Or at least change something drastically. I’m ready for change. Not empty promises. Change. Change toward freedom.

Unconditional love? You really, deep down, unconditionally believe that?

Greetings my lovelies. Sorry I’ve been gone for awhile. I know you’ve been ravenously awaiting my next entry, so here goes.

I wonder if unconditional love is more of a wish than a reality. Some claim God has unconditional love for humanity. Some say that they unconditionally love their spouse or children. Others claim it is something people should exhibit toward others, so that these others can reach their full potential. Maybe I’m weird, but I call this whole concept malarkey. Unconditional? Really? Out of Jesus’ own mouth (well, depending on what you think of the Gospel of John) come these words: “If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love” (15.10 NIV). That’s a pretty blatant conditional statement. One could easily read that and understand, “If you don’t obey my commands, you won’t remain in my love…and probably my Father’s love either.” In fact, you remember that hell thing? This next thing will cover unconditional love and free will. If there were truly a free choice in the matter, one could live one’s life as one chose and there wouldn’t be any repercussions, like a guy asking a girl out, she says no, and the guy, though heartbroken because she’s awesome, let’s her go because he wants her to be happy and understands she won’t be happy if he forces her to be with him or gives her an ultimatum, “Go out with me, or I will torture you for a very long time.” When put like that, it kind of sounds like that Ariel Castro guy, tyrannical, and nothing like a freely chosen relationship. Hell is that thing you get for not choosing God, and definitely puts an eternal conditional on his love for people. I’m sure there are theological ways out of the seeming disparity between God’s unconditional love and the concept of a choice between eternity with God and that without him in burning darkness, but I’m horrifically ignorant of its resolution. My betters can counsel me in the way of light.

Let’s go to the unconditional love people say they hold for their families. Let’s say you’ve been in a committed relationship with your spouse since you were in your teens, and you are now in your fifties. Let’s say you just find out that not only has your spouse been sexually abusing children since he was in his teens, but has also been doing the same thing to your own kids their entire lives, and has been exceptionally good at hiding it until, say, yesterday for some reason. Rather than unconditional positive regard for this person, is not rather your blood going to curdle? Will not rage ejaculate in unrelenting passion? Will you not see justice to its end, if not by a judge and jury, at your own hands? Probably. Unless you hate children and enjoy seeing them suffer at your unconditionally loved’s whim. Or let’s say you’ve been with your spouse since your teens, you’re in your fifties, your children are out of the house, out of college. Let’s say one day you come home, only to find your eldest carving on your dead spouse’s corpse while painting his face with her blood and laughing hysterically. Let’s say this is also incredibly out of character for your eldest, that he was a good student, popular with everyone, and involved in his youth and college groups heavily. Would you be standing there, waiting with open arms to say, “I understand. This isn’t like you. We’re going to get through this because I love you. Sure, you took away the light of my life, the mother of my children, but I’ve still got you, right?” The cold, lifeless universe cries a resounding, “No, no you wouldn’t.”

Granted, these are rather radical examples, maybe too ridiculous to be taken seriously. But if they did happen, would this person hold unconditional love in high regard? Maybe it exists, just not with all people, and not at all times. Perhaps. Or perhaps it is entirely dependent on the other person at least not being a maniac. And them probably exhibiting at least an ounce of reciprocity in love. Or maybe I’m just a dark, negative ninny who needs to find happier things to write about. You’re a reader. You judge for yourself, and figure what I totally left out of the conversation.

The Difference between a Monologuer and a Dialoguer

I was talking with my dad last week about the benefits of dialogue and its difference from a culture of monologuers. What I mean by that is that many merely pontificate without any thought that they could be wrong. It’s like a choir with everyone singing their own parts dissonantly at fortissimo. This sets up a barrier around the person who sees himself as right and the search for truth. Of the few things I believe in, one doctrine is that no one has life all together, all figured out. If there are two people pursuing truth together and one lone person speaking on a topic, I will typically pick the former. Does that mean I always do that? No, two people can be twice as dumb as just one person. But I think if attitudes are checked, and one wants truth, I believe it is best to do that in a community where presuppositions can be laid bare and analyzed, where systems can be constructed from the ground up, little by little in dialogue and debate. The dialoguer is also different from the typical debater. Essentially the debate consists of two monologuers talking at each other, trying to persuade an audience to one’s side. However, they are not generally known for recognizing strengths in the other’s position or weaknesses in their own. That sets personality above truth, and I have a problem with that. True dialogue consists of two capable minds who respect the other’s contributions, respect their own capabilities, and love to see the sparks fly as they test, rebut, retry, poke, prod, whittle, polish, fell, or sand a topic.

I guess where I’m coming from is my life story of talking with people about theology. A typical conversation would go like this. One person starts with a theological position. Another would say, “That’s dumb. I believe this.” “Oh yah? That’s wrong. I believe thus.” It was a closed circle of argumentation. I don’t know if I could call it argumentation. Systems weren’t tried on for size to see what results might emerge. Weaknesses in logic weren’t recognized, generally because the ability of each was wanting. There wasn’t conversational intercourse. It was a circle jerk but with everyone looking away. Maybe that conjures the wrong picture. But I think it makes the point that most of my experiences with theological conversations were anything but mature adults being honest. Each essentially came to the table with the question, “Does this other person read the Bible the way I do, or think like I think?” If the answer was a negatory, that person had nothing of note to say. They could effectively be pushed to the margins as a heretic or ignoranti (I really don’t think this is a word, but it sounds smart. I don’t feel up to looking it up. Booyah). I was there once. I feel I’m much more open to talking through things with people. There are times, though, when my defenses are up, particularly with someone who is subconsciously other than me. Only when they smack me in the face or say something off-putting do I get snapped back to reality and realize my fallibility. Then I have the opportunity to stop and consider my similarities with the other, and see what we can build together. Maybe that’s a hippie notion, but I think it’s beautiful, and I’m caring less what others think of my opinions these days.

So How about That Fall (not the season)?

I’ve been thinking about the Christian doctrine of “The Fall” off and on again since my post on the problem of evil. As I grew up, Jack Chick (remember those comic book style evangelistic tracts?) had a pretty big influence on my 10 year old budding theology. According to him, and many others, evil entered the world after Adam and Eve disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden. Through that act, the universally human propensity to sin, humanity’s total depravity from birth, the corruption of creation, the relational strife between all people, etc. came into being. I’d like to hone in on the corruption of creation. Maybe another question might help clear up this corruption nuance: why is “Mother” nature such a raging bitch?

For the sake of discussion, I’m laying out how I see my former Evangelicalism portraying the corruption of creation, and then list some questions I have for it. We are told in the Genesis account that there was no death before Adam’s and Eve’s disobedience. We are told that God saw his creation as good. Humankind, the apex of God’s creation and the last entity created, was called “very good.” Supposedly (this is never explicitly stated, but a pretty safe assumption based on what’s said in Genesis), every creature was vegetarian, because there was no death.

Now, once disobedience entered the world, evil did, too. Death and decay entered in the wake of perfection. The favorite verse of misogynists states that there would be pain for women in childbearing. Man was cursed to work the ground by the sweat of his brow (some have attempted to work out a theology of work pre-fall. You can look it up. I have no desire to spell that out here, and I find it terribly unconvincing). There would be gender wars, wars between family members, clothing had to be made by butchering animals (hehe, or fig leaves if you prefer). Now the following is never stated in the Genesis or other accounts, but I have heard it promulgated in enough places to consider it an Evangelical/Christian belief: all natural evil stems from the Fall. By natural evil, I mean natural disasters, sickness/disease, survival of the fittest among animals, and other unnecessary pain that is part of nature.

Here’s a bit of a detour. What is evil? I have heard it said by Augustine that evil is the privation of good. That probably applies most easily to moral evils. Theft would be the privation of the good of ownership. Murder would be the privation of the good of life. Dishonesty would be the privation of honesty. Allegedly, that makes evil a nonentity so that God is absolved from creating evil, given that he is the creator of all that exists. But what does that definition do to the very real entity of natural evil, like boiling hot magma enveloping the city of Pompeii? Let’s say God isn’t involved in every natural disaster that happened, but just lets it happen because that’s just the way things are after the Fall; does that indicate that he deprived his earlier creation of its intrinsic goodness? Or to put it another way, did tornados/earthquakes/volcanoes/floods/hurricanes/famines exist before or after the Fall? Did the very good creation contain those natural disasters intrinsically? Did God create these phenomena afterward to teach humanity a lesson, so that there were actually two creations, one very good and the other also very good, but good at being bad?

Some, like John Hick (soul-making theodicy [defense of God’s justice in the face of evil] here), have brought up the fact that gravity most certainly existed before the Fall. And if cliffs just happened to exist, and there was hard ground 200 feet below them, a tumble might take its toll on one’s self-actualization. The potentiality of toe-stubbing also probably existed pre-Fall, too (I don’t recall if these are his exact examples, but if not, booyah). But again, such instances have to do with someone’s clumsiness or obliviousness. Let’s say Adam and Eve built a shanty on the edge of the Nile. Would it be destroyed by the yearly flood cycles, or would floods simply not have existed yet in a perfect world?

What I’m aiming at is did God create natural evil (I guess before or after doesn’t really matter), or does the notion of natural “evil” tend to speak against the existence of God as we understand him—all powerful, knowledgeable, and benevolent? To put it ambiguously clearly, should we change “God” to “god”? Or a third option, does he put it there to test people? Or does he have some unstated purpose in this, and we just have to float through life making up meaning as we go? Or is he not all that benevolent? When I had a kid, I wanted to make the world the best I can for him. That world I speak of is limited to my sphere of influence, in that I can only do so much toward it, by providing an income, sagely advice (hehe, we’ll see how sagely I am when I have to deal with his probably hellion ways), loving acceptance, direction, and just being there. Enter my broken record: where’s the all powerful, wise, and good God in this world that extends beyond the one I control? Do I need to redefine things as they pertain to God? For that matter, is God even extra-linguistic, have an existence outside language games?

I discussed the existence of tornados with one of my friends, and asked him if they came from creation or after the fall. He said they aren’t really considered evil until human beings start getting (enter my putting words in his mouth) impaled by foreign objects. I’ll grant that. Let’s say all natural disasters existed before the Fall, floods, volcanoes, earthquakes, blizzards, tsunamis, what have you. Adam and Eve simply didn’t care because none of those (save maybe floods) would have touched their existence in the Ancient Near East. But what about the carnivorousness that seems intrinsic to lions, and the herbivoreness that seems intrinsic to gazelles; why were the poor latter created with nerve endings? It honestly serves no purpose than to give them horrendous feeling while they’re being eviscerated by the former. Did pain receptors only magically appear after said Fall? What about cognitive bias? What about the ability to drown? Were lions intrinsically motivated not to eat our only human parents alive at the time? In fact, if carnivorousness existed from creation, and God created all the species that exist now (which isn’t the case), how many species died per day after creation? Shouldn’t there have been a pretty quick mass extinction through food shortage? And why the hell were mosquitoes created? There’s no way they weren’t annoying everything in existence before the Fall. If God exists, at best he has a sense of humor at others’ expense. I’ll admit, it’s pretty funny to witness someone swatting at “nothing” as they walk through cobwebs and attempt to fling good Charlotte from her body, but why do such insidious beasts exist at all in a very good creation? Maybe evolution is a result of the fall, and that’s where all the annoying and terrible creatures came from!

There are a few possible answers to all of these questions. One of the possibilities would be adjusting our definitions of the Western concept of God from being all good, powerful, and wise, to not being all or some of those to the nth degree. Process theism has done this to some degree. Another option is that he exists, but chooses to hide very convincingly. Another option is that our senses and everything derived from them (i.e., science) are misleading. Another possibility could be admitting ignorance/agnosticism, and not engage in conjecture about things which are unseen from those that are. Perhaps God will, as Robert M. Price has stated it (I forgot if it was here or here), put on a seminar on the other side about how and why things really are, particularly for those curious jokerpantses like me.

As always, if you got something to say drop a line in the comments section or my email at ilostmyprayerhanky AT mail to the g DOT com. I like conversing. I don’t gots all the answers. You probably don’t either. If you do, I’ll save you some time: you’re a moron and there is no point in us shouting each other down, or each of us bending over to have a pooping contest to see who gets stained first. However, in dialogue, we get more than we had before. It’s like steak and beans, but better.

What’s Faith For?

In conversations with some close family and a close friend, I have heard mentioned the necessity and importance of faith in approaching god. When I have proposed that god is utterly absent from my experience, and then stated that it’s rather hard to base my life off of something or live in submission to someone for which there is not more than dubious evidence (in my experience and studies), they assert that faith is required. Why is it required? What makes god special in this instance that faith is required and not direct relationship?

When my car is broken, I don’t take it to someone who doesn’t for sure know how to work on cars, or has faith to fix it but no credentials; I take it to ASE certified mechanics. When I make a decision to attend a school, I consult counsel: career counselors, professors, friends, students. I do have inner monologue, but I attribute that to self-talk, not prayer/consultation with some entity who at best communicates to me through my own thoughts. Faith just seems an utterly weak position when there are more concrete options to consider. In every decision I come to, no, I do not make it with bird’s eye objectivity. But neither does the person who consults his or her god. They are just as embedded in their context as I am. I fail to understand how the element of faith adds to or diminishes vitality, wisdom, or direction in my life. Yes there are times where I make decisions without all the evidence at my disposal. Who doesn’t? I don’t call that faith. I call that life. We walk about in the dark, because that’s what life is. We don’t have all the information at hand. We don’t always make the best choices. We are human beings. If god spoke through much less convoluted means, I would grant faith more credence. However, as the word is presented to me, it is used as something differentiated from the faculties of reason and experience, a move I feel very uncomfortable with.

Here’s something of my experience with faith. There was a used van for sale. I asked the seller what was wrong with it besides the mileage. He said there was nothing wrong with the vehicle except its mileage. So I trusted him on that, not knowing the man, and foolishly, not taking it for a test drive. I trusted this man whom I did not know. What I got was a faulty electrical system, a right-at-the-end-of-its-life transmission, a near dead battery. That’s what I got for faith.

I’ve learned my lesson. A wiser person would have asked more questions than I did, ran it for a test drive, and taken it to a mechanic to check it out because we don’t take peoples’ word for things. We have to confirm things. We don’t accept colleges’ and universities’ claims to being reliable institutions; we run them through the gauntlet of accreditation. Continually. Where’s god’s accreditation process? Where’s his test drive? Why do people accept what the bible says with sometimes the level of trust that I had in the sleezy van salesman? Why does that seem to be the only area where we don’t bring our intellectual muscle to bear?

Another, more personal example. Growing up in a time and place where the distance between puberty and marriage continues to widen, I shared the experience of many Christian men in trying to maintain sexual purity in the modern age. The same Spirit who raised Christ from the dead was available to me to give life to my mortal body. In Christ’s absence, he left his Spirit to guide me into all truth and righteousness. So when there was temptation to look at pornography or do anything else, God would not let me be tempted beyond what I could bear. Sometimes I would/could resist. The temptation’d be there, but I’d be abstinent for months. Other times no. I guess I thought the power of god would show up more powerfully than it did, calming the raging sea of my hormones. I expected the grandeur of what is present in the biblical account. Where was this power? Was there more to this thing than words on a page?

I think the way in which the word “faith” is used today is far different than how it was used in the bible. Faith was used in places like Hebrews 11 as “trust” based on the past acts of god in history. The Israelites had their Exodus. The earliest Christians had Jesus’ direct life to appeal to. What happens, though, when I’m a Westerner, gentile, around 1900 years removed from the latest supposed revelation, and have no experience of this god whatsoever? Do I trust the murky historical and literary evidence at hand, ignoring or playing gymnastics with all the critical issues that exist? Do I downplay my own reason and experience in light of Christian tradition? I don’t see how that makes sense. I hold out hope for some reason, that if god exists, god will reveal something to me that would excite me to exhibit trust. Otherwise, the god of the bible is just another salesman with a used van, a degree mill with no accreditation.

Though some of my writing may come off as if I am static in my position or unwilling to change, it’s just a place I’m in at the moment. I desire fellowship and counsel in this lonely place. What has the God of the Bible done in your life that prompts you to trust him? What feeds your daily faith in him? If you have dealt with the critical difficulties surrounding using the Bible as a source of faith and theology, what are some ways you have done so? I’m at a place where I don’t trust Jesus, the Bible, or the God handed down. I’d like to, but I don’t. If you have help to offer, I’m all ears. Mind you, I will ask a lot of questions, but not because I’m combative. It’s just, after certain experiences, I can “never see with virgin eyes again” (Missy Higgins lyric; and, no, I’m not calling people who haven’t had my experiences “virgins”; never mind what I mean because now I don’t know what I mean lol).

What Is Religion?

I used to find this an easy question to answer: people worship their own god(s) with various ceremonies and rituals, think about him/her/them within a certain community of interpretation, and plan their lives according to the dictates of their god’s/gods’ commands. The first stumbling block to that definition is the atheistic strains of Buddhism. If I consider Buddhism a religion, do I merely need to hack off a significant portion of my definition, or go back to the drawing board? My working assumption now is so nebulous as to be almost useless. Religion is what people do in response to their understanding of transcendence, whether that involves divinities or not. This can involve the atheist who muses upon her meaning in life or the devout nun who considers her life under the umbrella of tradition. Religion as I see it transcends the self; if it involves merely the self, I attribute that more to a personal mission statement or philosophy. And the language I use still might preclude other religious understandings. I am one man on his way, trying to understand a lot of data out there. Religion is active, religion does, religion thinks. I won’t merely say that religion is. Mere nominal associations do not make a lot of sense to me. If someone does not act or think like X religion, they are probably a weak representation or non-representative of faith X. While I do have to account for the cultural expressions of religion, I tend to relegate these more to accidents than to essential elements of a religion. Again, these are working assumptions. I look forward to my time at MSU and elsewhere in developing my views toward religion and the religions of the world.

Religion and Neurology

Source: Wikipedia
Source: Wikipedia

These notes come from my reading of William James’s The Varieties of Religious Experience. It is the first “classic” read I have endeavored on in quite some time. I look forward to interacting with it and seeing what possibilities it opens. Perhaps it’ll be crap, but things tend to be classics for a reason. We’ll see.

The Nature of His Inquiry

William James indicates from the beginning of his lectures on The Varieties of Religious Experience that they will not proceed through the methods of theological, anthropological, or comparative religions inquiry, but through that of psychology, a description of religious propensities (2-3).

What are religious propensities? James asserts that inquiry is broken down into two necessary and indissoluble categories. The first he terms the “existential” by which he means a topic’s origins, history, and nature/composition. Today we might term this category “naturalistic” or “critical.” The second, what today we might call “existential,” he termed “spiritual” (his terms, hereafter, in italics). By this he means a topic’s meaning, significance, or importance (4-6). These two, he says, should not detract from one another (6). It seems that he will primarily focus on the first order of inquiry, since the second order tends to toward the theological and philosophical. I’m not sure; I’ve only read the first lecture/chapter

As James operates in classifying a religious topic with something else (for that is what one does in classification), some might be offended at his attempt to classify something held to be unique. But such is the nature of inquiry (9). James argues that once one understands the similarities between multiple religious phenomena, one is more able to appreciate the uniqueness of each item in that comparison (24). Many have had the experience of having the spiritual side of inquiry upended by the existential (10). This was done in his day by those he called medical materialists. These tried to reduce all religious phenomena to bodily functions, so that that’s all religion was: a sensory illusion (11-12).

Does an existential explanation of something preclude its spiritual import? For example, some try to explain religion away as a result of biological processes or personality malfunctions. James contends that not only can religion be explained by bodily processes but the whole of human existence: its beliefs in science, theism and atheism, literature—all of it (14). Most will not contend that the whole of human being is meaningless. Concerning religious founders being unhinged, many have called their entire systems into question accordingly. But that might be too quick. Some have offered real “light” to humanity. Consider a non-religiously affiliated, but unhinged person such as Van Gogh: do we judge his paintings by his mental state or by the work he put forth? No one ever offers this type of criticism toward those in the natural sciences, so why other fields (17; his reasoning, not mine)?

Religious Genius

James wishes to focus on the religious “geniuses,” the trend-setters—rather than “ordinary” believers—“for whom religion exists not as a dull habit, but as an acute fever rather” (6). These types tend to be unstable persons, prone to depression and other pathologies (6-7). He finds these the most fascinating to study (16-17; I agree- milk toast don’t make for no fast paced readin’). The spiritual criteria James offers for evaluating such gurus are:

  1. ”immediate luminousness”
  2. ”philosophical reasonableness,” and
  3. ”moral helpfulness” (18)

The more exaggerative and extreme representations of religious experience tend to “isolate special factors of the mental life” (22), or remove impediment of the “normal.” It gives context to the thing’s significance, to what normalcy even means.

Gut Reactions

My first reaction was to James’s argument about the two orders of inquiry. I’ll use my language instead of his. He argues that nothing that can be called inquiry is complete without escaping both critical and existential questions. In considering religious phenomena, I had always assumed that the critical enterprise necessarily undermined the existential importance of the subject: if one is always and ever questioning the origins, institutions, history, etc. of a subject, how can one base one’s life around it without an ever present anxiety because of constant change? Perhaps his standpoint allows for questions to be asked while, at the same time, allowing a sort of grounding to exist as one engages the critical quest. Let’s take Jesus for example. Let’s say our critical examination turned up that he never existed. What would that do to the existential questions? Would the literary figure’s teachings still hold significance? Would giving someone a second, third, and many chances be automatically null and void? Perhaps it would affect some of the metaphysical teachings of Jesus, but certainly not the moral, for the voice/values of the author would still come through.

Secondly, I wondered again about my use of Occam’s Razor. I think it is a useful tool. It simplifies things into workable explanations. But maybe I’ve invariable cut off a torso, or some important organ, in trying to save the body from cancer (untruth, incoherence, etc.). What if I have gone too far in using it? Have I gone far enough? I think only time will tell. When I considered James’s argument that all experiences could be reduced to bodily dispositions, it did give me pause. Is everything merely chemical reactions in my brain? I don’t know if I’m that nihilistic. Yet 🙂

Lastly, I had the most fun with his talk on religious geniuses and their general instability. It does tend to be true. John the Baptist wore a camel’s hair tunic and his diet consisted of bugs. Jesus was a single white Jewish male who roamed around in the desert not eating much, extolling the virtue of eunuchs. But does that weirdness, that instability make everything that came out of their mouths bunk? I knew a famous guy from the modern age who wrote a bit about gravity….and was an alchemist, but we don’t throw away the awesomeness he put forth concerning science.

Maybe I’m being too easy on the religious guys, but certainly, at least some of the things they said are worth considering. I’ll let the atheists who read my blog for the first time be the judge of that.

Thoughts? I’m excited for them.
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Source: William James. The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature. Ed. by Martin E. Marty. New York: Penguin Books, 1982 (original 1902).

Why Do You Attend Church Services?


This poll is simple. I want to see what reasons people have for attending church services. There are no right or wrong answers. You can select as many answers as you wish. Eventually (after taking some research and stats courses) I’d like to do a massive survey on why people attend church in America. It could be eventually become a longitudinal study. Who knows?

A Wrinkle in Time, and Non-Intervention

I just finished reading A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle, the first in a series of five books. It finally grabbed my attention when they arrived on the planet Camazotz (about half way through the book, particularly chs 7- The Man with Red Eyes and 8- The Transparent Column). On this planet, everyone has given up their individuality, difference, or freedom, for all conflict and calamity is said to arise from these elements. When the children play, they all bounce balls and skip rope in cadence. Mothers open their doors and call their children in at the same time. Paper boys deliver papers while others are inside their houses. Any deviance from this is grounds for pain. Oh yah, this planet is devoid of pain, suffering, war, etc. because they have all sacrificed their individuality, difference, and freedom.

What would I trade to mitigate or eliminate evil? Would I give up my individuality, difference, and freedom? Color me selfish, but probably not. I REALLY like those things. Of course, on Camazotz, the people live in fear, because expressed individuality (e.g., bouncing a ball out of sync with others) means being turned over to the authorities for “processing.” All the people are asked to do is submit to “IT,” that ominous entity which hovers in the background (IT is power “incarnated” in a disembodied brain). Conform, and all your problems will evaporate. Don’t ask questions, because that edges one closer to individuality, difference, and freedom. I forgot to mention, that there are earthling children who visit this planet in order to find the father of two of them, but also fight evil which is pictured as a darkness that can be felt. It exists throughout the universe, enveloping some planets, and having a real fight put to it on others. Also, these children have been left on their own by the trinity of ethereal beings, Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which.

This got me thinking back to my post on the problem of evil. Let’s say I was god, and didn’t have to trade anything to eliminate unnecessary pain, suffering, and evil. Why would I relent? Might I have a purpose in allowing it to exist? Perhaps it gives people room to grow. Without room for theft, there is no opportunity to demonstrate honesty. Without the chance for revenge and murder, there is no opportunity for mercy and forgiveness. Without despair being a possibility, there is no understanding of unrelenting joy. But I have left people to develop their moral goodness on their own. Their good response in the opportunity of potential evil is their own, not mine. What do they need me for, then? Isn’t this free will defense, this soul-building theodicy, actually atheistic at its core? Or are there things behind the scenes of which humans are oblivious? The trinity leaves the children in fear for their mission and safety. This almost seems to be open theism before it existed 30 years later (i.e., of course, if these ghosts are taken to be the Judeo-Christian god)!

SPOILER ALERT: everything works out. Well, one of the children gets possessed by IT, the other two children and the father are transported to another planet, the trinity of ethereal beings decides to help send Meg back to Camazotz, unassisted but for a riddle to help her, and then she’s back to saving herself. Are we left on earth to save ourselves, work out our own moral goodness, and die well without god’s help? At least the children and father had direct relationship with the trinity of ethereal beings for a little. What does actual humanity have? I look forward to all comments, if you gots them.

Transcendence, Worship, Openness, and Empathy

I have this severe desire to encounter god unmediatedly. Not attributable to mental state. Not attributable to something I do, say, believe, or think. Not attributable to social construct, be it ritual, theology, ceremony. Not attributable to my sleep patterns and resultant moods. Subject to transcendent subject encounter. Is that just not how it works and I need to come to terms with that? If god is transcendent, I believe he’s doing a good job at that. I long for the deity’s immanence. Would I be unable to handle it, and that’s why it doesn’t happen? Is theology actually non-essentialist, and therefore, convoluted word play? If that is so, is my quest futile to begin with. I will admit this: I am clueless.

This morning we had a worship set in chapel that was refreshing. I sang the songs. Some familiar. Some not. It was refreshing. It was not what I would call an encounter on my part. I was very aware of my surroundings. But I won’t speak of my inner experience so much as what I witnessed on their faces. Maybe reverie isn’t the right word. Bliss might be closer to it. Just people lost in pleasure in their experience of god. It was quite soothing to me. People in surrender to what was happening to them. I miss that state. Is there any going back? Maybe I can go through the motions until the worship experience becomes “real” again. I mused on what they were thinking about. Undoubtedly, some were probably focusing on god’s love for them and others. Others were probably thinking about his mercy bestowed on their circumstance, and thankfulness for it. Some may have been merely caught up in the music, which I don’t tend to believe to be evil. A mighty few may have been checked out, thinking on their tasks for the day.

What would it be like to trade minds for a day? What if I picked a handful of people from that chapel setting, have us all experience a similar worship set again, but this time we thought with each others’ cognitions? Would they worship the same? With some of the verses I pointed out here, notably Isa 45.7, Lam 3.37-38, Amo 3.6, would others still be able to worship? Might they have an experience, belief matrix, or understanding that would allow me to worship again as they? I can’t cavalierly dismiss those verses with a “You need to check the context,” when the

Source: Virgin Media
Source: Virgin Media
context sort of reinforces what the “proof texts” are saying. But maybe it is that simple. Maybe I’m a touch rash when it comes to expected Evangelical responses. It may turn out that some of those explanations are true. I just don’t think so at the moment from my experiences and study. Back to worship. Would we grow closer if doubts were raised in the open, truly heard, and issues wrestled with to give constructive responses, or would that process do what many fear, and the Church would crumble like a deck of cards? If the latter, how fragile an institution to belong to. To me that’s like the poor Chinese government thinking it will topple if its people remember Tiananmen Square.

Maybe that’s a pipe-dream. Many people aren’t willing to share their feelings or thoughts with their significant others, much less the public. Many have been hurt by virtue of their raw authenticity. They share, only to have their faces shoved down in it until they choke. Some fear that definitely real possibility. But I think there is much to be gleaned from open sharing. It reduces what I guess I would call “others-idolatry,” where others are put on pedestals as gods, to the humans that they are, beings in process and imperfection. It opens up at least the opportunity for help in moving beyond what has kept one burdened in the past. What if I had opened up today when we huddled for prayer, really letting loose? What if, instead of playing it safe, asking for prayer for sleep because of my newborn son, I let fly with the father from the old story, “I believe. Help me overcome my unbelief”? Would I receive sympathy in my questioning, or lame attempts

Source: counselor.org
Source: counselor.org
at answering during what is supposed to be a time of prayer? Are some things only safe to share with some but not others, so it’s best to pick which occasions to be open? Is that authentic? Would shotgun openness build moral courage, or merely be narcissistic, masturbatory self-aggrandizement? What if when we heard someone question an established practice, we let them voice it, probe them for more, and then left them with some sort of affirming bodily gesture? I think still others are afraid of openness because they feel they have to have an answer (of which they happen to be ignorant) to the question/issue, missing the point that sometimes sharing is just a feeler put out for connection, not answer-time. Maybe some are afraid of openness because they have never asked such questions, and now they have anxiety, because, man, those are some good questions. And maybe I’m in the vast minority, and some think faith has nothing to do with questions, but with the naked exertion of belief against all odds. I’ve heard these people exist, and they probably do in great numbers; I’ve just never encountered them.

In church language, I covet your thoughts. Drop a line. If you don’t feel like putting it all out there for others to see, email me at ilostmyprayerhanky at gmail dot com. I’d love to correspond with you.