Friday, May 29, 2009

Each In Their Own Tongues

And then, he started to speak in tongues. I turn to my friend, Sandy. We exchanged looks, which translated meant that we were not in our Presbyterian church anymore. We had attended the pentecostal church as invited guests. I, maybe, was her Toto in a strange adventure. The land was strange to us mainline Christians. The service started with different music than we were used to in our services. The musical beat inspired the courage to dance like wild lions. We were used to the quiet hymns of meditation. Then the minister talked in strange tongue, which even he didn't understand. The congregation followed the minister down his road, and broke out in different languages. A woman in a yellow dress fell down on her knees and spoke some unknown words. She melted in a spiritual trance. The friend, John who invited us was playing a guitar in the band. His head flowed from side to side as he looked upward. I was in a whirlwind of thoughts. How did we find ourselves here in this land of Pentecostals?

I had met John in my duties as a manager of a thrift shop in Edwards, Co. He knew Sandy from his work. When he found out that I went to church with Sandy, he asked me to his church and demanded I ask Sandy as well. He had been asking Sandy to come to his church for years. Sandy had come out of the sixties and had been attending our small Presbyterian church for a few years. Earlier in her life, she had been involved with Buddhism and had traveled to Tibet alone to find enlightenment. She looked the part of the accountant, but her life history was anything but stale. Still, John's church frightened and intrigued her. I too was a recent convert to Christianity of only a few years. I had moved from an agnostic position to believer, but that is another story. There is power in numbers; so Sandy and I went to John's church one Sunday. I doubt that either of us would attend alone.

When we arrive, I notice that most of the congregants were my clients at the thrift shop. Most are the underappreciate backbone of Vail. They were the construction workers, housekeepers, and line cooks. When I say my job was serving the poor of the Vail Valley, I have had to answer the claim that Vail lack poor people. The poor are always with us. The poor lived in the outlining areas and took the bus or drove beat-up cars. They lived in Leadville, Edwards mobile home park, and they lived as the invisible. At Church, they came to matter.

They attended the church to feel the fire of the Holy Spirit. They again came to know that God, indeed, still cared about them, even as the world around ignored them. I grew to respect them as a true expression of the Holy Spirit. They shared food at the fellowship hour with Sandy and me. I caught up with what was going on in there lives. They asked us to return. I came to understand my own poverty. I return to my home church, and though I still have not spoken in tongues, I have heard others speak in tongues. I have seen in their eyes love, kindness and compassion. I know God is still present in both Churches.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Penetcost, Church and the Holy Spirit

The Holy Spirit is the wind, the breath of God. It is the movement over the waters in the Old Testament and leads Jesus into the wilderness in the New. The Church marks its birthday with tongues of fire, when the Spirit moved among the early believers. It is headwaters and flowing stream of life. Yet, we think of it as strange, a power out of the ordinary. In the last article of the Nicene creed deals with the Church universal, and it comes after the article on the Holy Spirit. This is as it should be as the Church comes out of the Spirit's manifestation. The Church is under the authority of Jesus in worship of the Father, and empowered by the moving of the Spirit.

I had a professor at Fuller that use to make us call the Holy Spirit the Holy Breath. Why? I think he wants us to think of it less as a mysterious enigmatic force and more movement common to life. The movement of life starts with birth and it is as common as spring flowers. It is we who make it about feelings and experiences. Ruah unfolds before our eyes as we look for the extraordinary. When the Ruah does breathe into our world, things do change. It is not surprising that the fight against the Slave Trade in England was waged by people in the glow of a Holy Spirit movement. Nor is it surprising that the push to abolition of Slavery in this country came on the heels of the Second Great Awakening. The Holy Spirit moves us beyond our culture into community. During the Asuza Street revival, it was common to see women, men, black and white all worshiping together, a rarity in those days. Many critics of the revival pointed to this breakdown in social boundaries as reason why it was so dangerous. Holy Sprit is dangerous, because it breathes life back into the lifeless. It makes the dead alive, and makes the live move.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Poem for my son

Baby Boy's Milk

A voice calls out in the night. Answer the cry
with milk. Answer the call with love. Answer
the cry with fear and trembling. Time
will move us beyond this stage of being small. He
is small, not yet ten pounds. I am small,
not yet confident. The night unfolds. My boy
searches for questions to his hunger. Feeding
in my arms, I wonder if am holding him
right. A way moves through our space.
He is old in his wisdom as I am young in fear.
Prayer comes at the end of us, circling
us like a dark bee in search of nectar.
I think about God and address God.
What is there to do in the darkness
of a late night feeding? I wonder,
Then I change his diaper...

Faith and Life

Why is the church less interested in life and more in ideas? God is interested in the fruits of the spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Faith unfolds in life, and yet we are more interested in propositions. We think in terms of getting the right answers, as if life were a pop-quiz. God wraps us in a cloak of his breath, filling our nostrils, and this gives us life. It is when we turn to God's waiting arms that we discover God. We discover ourselves in all our weakness. We discover life, and questions. Turning to God makes me a beginner in life, full more of questions than of answers. My son cries when he doesn't understand the world around him. Am I any different? Maybe prayer is the acknowledgment of our weakness and turning to God in pleas. Power in prayer then becomes learning to listen.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Richard Dawkins and the rise of Fundamental Atheism

Sam Schulman had it right. The new Atheists are angry. Why? Buried in the debates about Richard Dawkins's The God Delusion is his call to return to modernity. Old school Modernity fuels his brand of fundamentalism. He says we should use our reason, do science, and believe in progress. All part of the modernism project as is the siren call to liberate man from the shackles of superstition. It is the foundation of his argument against Religion.

In 2000, Karen Armstrong published The Battle for God, which looked at the rise of fundamentalism in the three major Abrahamic faiths. She limited to these faiths while noting the phenomena of fundamentalism in other faith traditions. What I want to do is look at is the rise of fundamentalism in Atheism in light Armstrong's work. At the start I want to make it clear and say like Christianity, Islam, Judaism, not all Atheists are fundamentalistic in their thinking. I believe that actually most Atheists and people of faith are not fundamentalistic thinkers. I do think Dawkins, and many new Atheists are fundamentalists. Before I go on, it is best to give a quick list of distinctions that I will use.

Fundamentalism- a strict adherence to a set of simple propositions in reaction to perceived threat arising from the world at large. It is by nature a call to return to the past, when those set of propositions were pure. It views any opposing system of thinking as dangerous, and which should be fought against.

Modernity- a historic period from 1637 (Descartes Discourse on the Method of Rightly Conducting the Reason, and Searching for Truth in the Sciences) to 1918 (The end of WWI). The modern project was characterized by a belief in progress, rationality, science, and the power of the human mind to free itself from the chains of the past. Modernity collapsed by the combined weight of disasters of the early twentieth century and the challenges by Wittgenstein (Language, Reason and Logic are useless in themselves to understand the world), Godel (Mathematics will always be incomplete), and Modern Physics (The lack of a unified field theory).

Post-modernity- The age that followed modernity down to one we are living in. It is not so much a movement, but what happened after the collapse of Modernity. It can be characterized by a search for certainty features include the fragmentation of authority, and the commoditization of knowledge.

For Armstrong, fundamentalism is a reaction to modernity. The three faiths she looks at are reacting to a perceived threat from the modern secular world. She makes the point its thinking uses modernity as a basis, truth has to be literal. Here, I would quibble her work, as I think that it is a reaction not to modernity, but to post-modernity. It is an attempt to find the objective in a world that seems to subjective. Of all the fundamentalistic movements, only the Christian could be said to have started in modern period, and even then it at the tail end. Most of the fundamentalists from the turn of the twentieth century share little with the ones today.I think a case can be made that it too came as a reaction to post-modernity. It is a claim absolute knowledge in the face of uncertainty.

For the new Atheists, 911 and its aftermath becomes the rallying point. It becomes evidence of Religion's inherent evil. Followed by other terrorist attacks in London and Spain, the attempts to get Creationism into science courses in Kansas and the Religious Right gain in political power, the world look far more frightening to a large group of people. The time became ripe for a new generation of atheists to revive the modernist critique of religion. Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and Christopher Hitchens led this new movement under the banner of reason, science, and freedom. They hope to storm the bastille of ignorance of the Abrahamic religions. Yet, since at the movements source is fear; it has shown the same fundamental tendencies that it says it stand against.
Parents who teach their children religion are not just mistaken; they are child abusers.
Christianity is defined by the most horrible actions of people who call themselves Christian. Any action by a Christian that is deem good is dismissed having as having an another source.
Sam Harris claims that the Christians who supported Slavery were the ones with the correct biblical theology. A claim that flies in the face historical evidence. (Most apologist for Slavery did try to use Biblical sources to justify Slavery, though they also used the science of their day. They use those sciences more than they did the Bible to justify Slavery. Slaveholders were afraid of the Bible, as the Exodus story is dangerous to tell a slave. Most sociologists see Slavery caused by economic factors and not religious ones. One thing historically certain is that the main push for first the Abolition of the Slave trade and then of Slavery itself was a predominately Christian affair.)

Agree with simple propositions. Manichean view of good guys (Atheists) and bad guys (Theists). Aprior rejection of positions other than the party line. When Antony Flew converted to a type pantheism, Dawkins attacked him, and attacked as if Flew was a heretic. So much for free thinking among the new Atheists. The irony is that Flew converted to a similar position that Einstein held, which Dawkins declared as Atheism. Dawkins reaction was fundamenalistic thinking tour du force.

Is it any wonder as Sam Schulman pointed in his piece for the Wall Street Journal (January 5 2007) that the new atheists were angry. Anger is the flip side of fear. Fear and a call to return to modernity fuel the New Atheist. So what is wrong with a return to Modernity? More on that later.

I will take a break to write a piece on the Holy Spirit as part CCBlogs network.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Richard Dawkins and his failure to understand reason.

"There are crimes of passion and crimes of logic. The boundary between them is not clearly defined."

Albert Camus pen these words in his 1951, The Rebel. He was responding to the horrendous blooding letting of first half of the twentieth century. Almost a quarter of billion humans lost their lives violently within those fifty years through man-made catastrophes like WWI, WWII, the Russian and Chinese Revolutions, and the Holocaust. No other period in Human history could even come close to the nightmares of those years. It should be pointed out that none of these of events had a Religious cause. It was the darkest winter of human history, and faith played only a small roll of mostly a spectator. What Camus noticed was how each of the major murders of these years went to great length to make their crimes reasonable. They claimed to follow modernity. Most of the major ideologies such as Fascism and Communism claimed science as the basis. The scientist of their culture went with these ideologies. German scientist followed the racial claims of the Nazis. Communistic scientists went on to justify Marx's worldview. These ideologies never attempted to be a religion, and were at best condescendly tolerant of religion or at worse murderously hostile to it. Those fifty years put an end to the modernist quest of rational enlightenment. Post-modernity arose out of the ashes of modernity. The flapping about looking for a direction that is post-modernity from coming out of the collapse of modernity.

What most of the architect of these events were unaware of is that reason was also being dealt intellectual blows as well. Kurt Godel, Ludwig Wittgenstein, and modern Physics made the dream of finding objective truth also a dream. Mathematics will always have inconsistencies. Language has limits in describing the world. Physics has to account for the observer. Reason can be manipulated. So why bring this up in my review of Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion? One of the unexamined assumption of Dawkins is a call to return to modernity. We are called to abandon religion for a rational life of evidence. Yet, as we have found out in the blood of millions, evidence is not so easy to obtain.

It seems that Richard Dawkins ignores this history. He promotes ideas that this history and intelligence have already rejected. He wants us to be good scientists and use reason, evidence, and the methodology of hypothesis and testing as the basis of life. Except such a worldview fails to see reason for what it is, a method to process information. Like a computer, we always need input before we can do the computation, garbage in garbage out. Rationality falls victim to preconceived notions. Stephen Jay Gould wrote so many good essays cataloging what he called the Idea Fixed, which led many a scientist down the wrong path. Dr. Dawkins has his own Idea Fixed. His hostility to religion and to God makes him blind to any benefit to religion. Religion becomes Dawkins's great Satan. His opening chapter his Idea Fixed is displayed in its full glory. Since he is advocating science and makes science opposed to theism, he has a problem since Einstein (a patron saint of science) used God language. He solves this by saying Einstein's concept of God is not a personal God, but more a Pantheistic concept, which is true. He then pronounces Pantheism as a form of Atheism, which is false. Can a view of God be a denial of God? Dawkins seems to thinks so. He then says the personal God of Faith that rewards the good and punishes the bad of Christianity is not what Einstein meant. Dawkins is correct, pantheism is not like Trinity of Classical Christian theology, but it is still in the camp of Theism. Atheism denies God, as Dawkins does throughout his book. Pantheism is a view of what God, and not a sexed up atheism. If he held the same standard to this pantheism, where would the problem of theodicy fit in? If God is everything then God also is good and evil. The second point is that he does understand the Christian idea of God either. The Christian concept of God holds God is both immanent and transcendent. Pantheism sees only God as immanent. If he were serious in looking at God, then he would put Pantheism to the same test. If God is everything, then God is both good and evil and would also have as much trouble answering the theodicy question of suffering as Christian theology. The only value for Dawkins in the theodicy question is its utility in denying Abrahamic God. Once he rejects God, the question of suffering disappears.

The final point in this section is how Dawkins accounts for religion. Religion, for most modernist, arises either as out of a projection of values or as an explanation of the unknown. Dawkins uses his own unproved theory of meme to say the religion is like a virus of the meme. Meme is a simple idea that operates like a gene in biology. Dawkins claims that the religion meme passes from parent to child. (Reason and his worldview is not a meme for Dawkins. So in review his thinking is good, and anyone who thinks differently has a virus like mind meme. Nice. Such narrow thinking would be welcome in the Wahhabi school. And Dawkins gets angry when he s called a fundamentalist.) The funny thing is that he begins his book with the story of chaplain at his school, whose faith arose out his wonder. Both reason and wonder need wonder.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Richard Dawkins's unreasonable rant against God, Part I.

"Now lets be reasonable." Most of us have heard this statement at one time or another, usually at the end of a heated debate or argument. The phrase is meant to put an end to the argument, as the unspoken assumption that if the you use reason, then the you would agree with the other. Such a assumption is at the heart of Richard Dawkins "The God Delusion."Richard declares that science and rationality are opposed to faith, as such faith should be rejected.

The book is a polemic against religion and does not pretend to be fair. The outline is fairly simple. First, he takes God as a hypothesis. He then surveys the classical proofs of God, zeroing in on the proof by design. Then he makes the case that science is superior to religion in explaining the world. God fails as a hypothesis. Most of his arguments are nothing new and are better expressed by Bertrand Russell's "Why I am not a Christian." His novelty comes in the second half of the book as he uses his own theory of memes to explain the reality and origins of religion. He ends by looking at morality and how atheist not only can be moral, but are superior morally to a theist.

So, where to begin with Dr Dawkins? First is his assumptions have either little awareness or outright ignoring of the philosophy of science and the philosophy of religion. His declaration in the second edition of his book that he had no obligation to engage with theology or theological giants in order not belief in God agrues for his ignoring the two different fields. He is right that he does not need to read theology if he just choses not to believe, but he should under intellectual honesty to engage theology if he is going to publicly denouce it. He still doesn't revealing him to be a coward. His underlining gambit of making science and religion opposing sides is just taken as self-evident proposition. Science is a methodology, while Religion is believe system, each with their own rules by which they play. As thinkers as diverse as Ludwig Wittengstien, Richard Rorty and Steven Jay Gould have argued that religion and science occupy different spaces. Dawkins brand of scentific materialism is extreme and hard to defend from either side of the divide. Does science provide a object truth or does it provide a series of progressive models of how Nature and the Universe function: Newtonian physics replaced by Einstein physics replaced by maybe string theory? It seems like it is the latter. It can get better at describing the world but can never get to objective truth as there maybe a better model down the road. Religion makes a claim about the ultimate reality. It deals with questions of Life, Death, God, Love and Man and his purpose in the universe. It never proposes to be a hypothesis of explaintion; it is not a scientific theory or hypothesis. When Dawkins trys to make it one and puts it to the test like a one, he is like the fool who returns a hammer to the store with the complaint that it a rotten screwdriver. He shares the same worldview as the fundementalist who return the screwdrive with complaint that it does not work in hammering nails. Tomorrow a look at reason and logic as they fit within his argument's structure and what he fails to take into account, which turns his book into a joke with unrealized punchline. Ironies abound for him like Alice through the looking glass.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Atheism, Reason, and Lingistics

God exists. Is this reasonable? Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens would have you believe that faith and reason are on opposite side. I have been meditating on the rise of militant atheism. Many of their arguments rest on weakness of words. God as all powerful is shown to have internal contradictions, which then they claim prooves God could not possibly exist. While it is easy to bring out a Wittenstein and show that most of those arguments simply violate the use of langauge... ie if the concept all powerful pushed to its literaral end always invokes a contradiction, then the problem is with the concept of all powerful and not with God's existence. Logicians have long known these problems with language. "A white horse in not a horse," Barber paradox and a host of others point to what can called the limits of language. The facts that the above writers use such arguments and that they found such a large audience makes wonder why has theism been laid so low. I will be writing these thoughts in the next few days. For now let us look at what is reason.

Many simply go along with them in thinking that reason in and by itself is opposed with faith, shows a misuderstanding of what reason is and how it functions. I can a reasonable Christian as they can be a reasonable Atheists. While this seems to be a contradiction, it is not. If I believe in the Gospel of Jesus, I organize my live accordingly. If I assume Jesus is God, and God wants his followers to pray, then I pray to Jesus. If I don't believe that Jesus is god, then I should not pray to God. Both stances are reasonable, as reason is an operation done after premises are made. As for the premises, they are made outside of reason. Most attempts to found knowledge on reason have been unsuccessful.

The most famous case has to be Logical Positivism's attempt to base knowledge on science with Verification prinicple: "Only propositions that are verified are valid." Verification prinicple seem to be simple and straight forward, except that it cannot be verified and by its own rules void. The answer that was given then is that is the starting point, because you have to start somewhere. Agian, everyone has to start with a premise. I say God exist, and I can be reasonable human being.