Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Due Diligence

This blog post is my response to a series of questions my friend raised regarding my criticism of Creationism. I felt this would be a better fit for my answers than the platform of our original conversation. 

1. Why do you think the debate regarding creationism (and its offshoots and various understandings - which according to your earlier blog about offshoots being at a point closest to true revelation, there seem to be more offshoots from creationist thought than evolutionist thought (perhaps unity of a theory/belief represents truth more?) - and evolution, continues today?

Firstly, I think Christian creationism is better contrasted to Non-Christian creationism (to explain how variance equates closer truth in this case), rather than evolution. Eg., Who is the creator god, Yahweh or Brahma, and how did creation come about?

I found a great summary of the varied offshoots of Creationism, which does an excellent job of explaining this further. Understanding this, we can see that Christianity has been more reluctant to drop biblical allegories in favor of evolution, and has in effect, retrofitted evolutionary explanations into biblical fundamentals to create the various offshoots we see present.

I think the debate continues to happen when we eisegete scripture, taking liberties based on its presupposed inerrancy. The debate is unfruitful, not because discussion about our origins shouldn't happen, but because we enter the discussion from an unfounded reverence for the prooftexts. I believe the Bible is a collection of books, supernaturally infallible for the purpose of pointing us to Jesus. If someone wants to make it a textbook of science, which it was never intended to be, we have warnings against such practice and should not be so ignorant.

2. Does which side one person falls on matter?

Yes, but I think this is better understood in a different way.

3. If yes, why?
Watch out for false prophets! They dress up like sheep, but inside they are wolves who have come to attack you.
- Matthew 7:15
Looking at the continuum, I think it is evident where Young Earth Creationists fail to contribute to any discussion on the matter of Origin. Eg.,You will never get a Philosophical Materialistic Evolutionist to consider the earth as flat, or the centre of our galaxy, so why would they consider it to be 6,000 years old? Besides the recession of logic, this does not expound any scientific mystery.

The following are held by members of the Board of Answers in Genesis to be either consistent with Scripture or implied by Scripture:
  • Scripture teaches a recent origin for man and the whole creation, spanning approximately 4,000 years from creation to Christ.
  • The days in Genesis do not correspond to geologic ages, but are six [6] consecutive twenty-four [24] hour days of creation.
  • The Noachian Flood was a significant geological event and much (but not all) fossiliferous sediment originated at that time.
  • The gap theory has no basis in Scripture.
  • The view, commonly used to evade the implications or the authority of biblical teaching, that knowledge and/or truth may be divided into secular and religious, is rejected.
  • By definition, no apparent, perceived or claimed evidence in any field, including history and chronology, can be valid if it contradicts the scriptural record. Of primary importance is the fact that evidence is always subject to interpretation by fallible people who do not possess all information.
Young Earth Creation apologists believe the Origin of Life is narrated in Genesis, and any evidence must fit into the narrative to be considered valid. This is a classic example of a doctrine as the central ideal fallacy, and is also the reason why discerning bad theology matters. Christianity has to reflect reality—not the other way around.

4. Why do you think non-christians bring this matter up? Do they really care or is it just to justify not believing?
Invoking the supernatural is the dead-end to further inquiry.
- Anonymous
I think non-christians do care for the most part, otherwise they wouldn't ask. Creationism is not an easy (or necessary) hurdle, and there are more important things at stake if Jesus is who he says he is. But to the seeker who asks for evidence of 6 day creation, I would rather answer "No, I don't believe the Bible was written to be a book of science." If they have any more questions, they'll ask.

5. How do you think a creationist world view versus an evolutionist world view (or Big Bang theorist's view) affects [a Christian's] own narrrative framework for interpretting life? (more sucinctly: What does a belief in creationism or evolution look like through the eyes of [a Christian] interpreting life...do they really differ in perspective enough for this view to matter?)

I think Theistic Evolutionists have a better worldview than Young Earth Creationists for two reasons:
  1. Their faith is informed by the reality around them, which permeates everything from the way they read scripture to how they respond to scepticism, ultimately leading to a fuller appreciation for God's creation.
  2. They do not get overwhelmed by defending Old Testament paradoxes; they generally get asked better questions by non-christians.
St. Anselm described theology as "Faith seeking understanding" and theistic evolutionists believe that this search for understanding extends to scientific understanding. 'Young Earthers' also make this claim, but they are either lying (to themselves), or they don't understand the process.
I am sending you like lambs into a pack of wolves. So be as wise as snakes and as innocent as doves.
- Matthew 10:16

6. If the debate was to be settled, what do you hope it looks like? Where do you think this should lead? What are you hoping changes/stays the same in Christianity with respect to the interpretation and application of Genesis? (What does your vision of the future of Christianity look like?)

I think the only way to settle the debate is to concede that if you look around, creation itself tells us the universe is more than 6,000 years old.

It should lead to repentance, thus producing a change in the handling of scripture. Presupposition is not welcome, and is never helpful for theology or apologetics.

In short, I think the future of Christianity needs to drop the presupposition of Biblical inerrancy.

7. We can point out flaws better than most I think, but can we imagine something better? 
When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I didn’t come preaching God’s secrets to you like I was an expert in speech or wisdom.  I had made up my mind not to think about anything while I was with you except Jesus Christ, and to preach him as crucified.
- 1 Corinthians 2:1-2
Ultimately, we should not claim anything at all. Science and scripture inform our worldview, but Jesus is the essence of our worldview. However, claiming nothing cannot be our true contrition if we maintain a Young Earth perspective, if you concede that the stars are visible, for example.

That said, I imagine a kind of Christianity where Jesus is the only controversy worth talking about, debating over, or dying for. I want nothing less to be a hinderance for a questioning mind.

8. This is the heart of my questions...what can/should the church of tomorrow look like? 

I think my purpose (and the purpose of this blog) is to inspire the church to keep asking that very question.

Some of the questions I have for the "church of tomorrow" are:
  • Can we find God in a Methodological or Philosophical Materialistic worldview?
  • Should we study and explain the natural world, without assuming the existence or nonexistence of the supernatural?
  • Could science lead us to a greater understanding and appreciation for our creator?
  • When does God interact with creation, and can we define these interactions as supernatural?
  • What are the problems for anti-theists?
  • What can we learn from Progressive-Christianity (questioning traditions) and Christian Existentialism (choice constitutes your existence)?
  • Are we using proof-texts to support any other theology? Are there other ways we misuse scripture?
  • How is social media best used as a platform for discussion?
  • What are the fruits (good or bad) of memes, rage comics, or trolling?
  • Do we need to keep repeating the mistakes of our past in order to engage culture appropriately?

9. What is the potential good that can occur/be achieved (in church and in the world)?

I found that Young Earth Creationism (even when I never talked about it publicly) limited my ability to test scripture against the reality it claimed to have relevance for. Giving up this presupposition allowed me to ask myself the questions that really troubled me, and allowed me to discover the answers that exist in reality, and not just believe them because the Bible told me so. It helped my faith.

10. I ask these because I'm curious. There is a lot of pointing of fingers, labeling, disagreements, etc. but repeatedly I find myself frustrated because while we point, we do little to imagine (or if we do, to explain) a different way / a better way... The Bible says that without vision the people perish... Where is the vision?.... What's your vision?

No-one is asking which god created the universe anymore, and the world has bigger questions than how God did it. So turning a stumbling block into a stepping stone is, in my opinion, the best use of our time.

What did Paul learn from the pagans in Mars Hill? The pagans worshipped an unknown god, by making sacrifices to idols of gold and silver. Paul taught them that God made us in His image, so these things have no resemblance. Today, our challenge is humanism (go figure). Science worships the unknown, but they have dropped the god.

My vision is to see Christianity cater to this mystery.

I think the Gospel needs to be presented the way Jesus presented it, as a hidden pearl: easily trampled, often overlooked—but, once found, worth selling everything you own.
- Matthew 7:6, 13:45-46

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Existential Compass

In the world of science, a paradigm is used to understand concepts. Paradigms are found anywhere a concept is unclear or requires greater understanding. Democracy, for example, is a paradigm that allows us to best understand governance, but there are many ways to govern. Perfection of government has long been an interest for humanity. How do we measure potential perfection? One tool in use today is the "political compass".

The political compass is a multi-axis model, used to label or organize political thought on two dimensions. This helps us grasp the "centrist's" idealistic goal as we navigate the extremes, and see what is needed to bring correction.

Economic and Personal Liberties vs Securities are being measured in this example. It is how we determine where political thought falls in relation to the centrist, or the ideal. Of course, there are different opinions about what the ideal looks like, and there have been both great and terrible leaders representing all walks of life. But I think the closer we are to the centre, the better our leaders tend to be. In trying to achieve that, the recursive action we take is to vote counter to the political norm, swinging the pendulum the opposite way. The political compass can help us measure and possibly predict the outcome for the counterbalance. I am sure you can find other scenarios where this compass could be useful.

To SIN means "to miss the mark". What is this mark? What is the centrist's ideal that we define sin according to? What are the axis on this compass? What are the extremes?

In the pursuit of bringing people to truth, the ongoing discussion revolves around what we believe to be true. But we are bound to come across people with a difference of opinion, perhaps even a polarizing conflict. Mapping this typology on a compass should help us determine what side we err on, but I think we attempt this by placing doctrine as the ideal, because this is the paradigm by which we understand truth.
The biggest reason why this compass isn't helpful is because it doesn't help us understand where Republicans are in the reality paradigm, as much as it helps you understand where realities are in relation to the Republican. This is the definition of 'relative truth', and this is what defines denominations. I believe that recognizing this flaw is central to understanding the diversity that is Christianity.

When a deviation from a common rule is found to be true, we call this an Anomaly. Enough of these can throw our paradigm into a state of crisis, which in turn produces a Paradigm shift. In a Christian context, this is known as a denominational divide. But the reasons that divide us are bigger than doctrine alone. For instance, the Great Schism was a political and cultural issue; it had nothing to do with faith or practice. Alternatively, the Reformation was a doctrinal divide, but it could only gain legs because of the recent common language translation of the Bible. This puts culture into perspective for us; ie., the society that influences how we appropriate truth is varied.

Paradigm shifts should not be associated with a theory of relativism. The idea is not that truth is changing, but that further study is changing our understanding of truth.- Donald Miller, When Truth is the Enemy of Truth
Further study of truth changes our understanding of truth. That is, truth is not relative to a greater experience, so much as experiences are relative to a greater truth.

Science offers us an explanation of how complexity (the difficult) arose out of simplicity (the easy). The hypothesis of God offers no worthwhile explanation for anything, for it simply postulates what we are trying to explain.- Richard Dawkins
Our existential compass has the way of attaining the meaning of life or "The Way of True Life" as the centrist's ideal when we are trying to find purpose beyond ourselves, or such an elusive character as God. We find purpose on a spiritual level and on a cultural level, and express meaning by living liberally or confiding in security. To hold this in perfect balance would mean to have a significant understanding of how our universe works, and how we can partner with, and perpetuate it further. So I think that by studying where cultural and spiritual securities and liberties intersect, we can map which experiences are less healthy and which are more beneficial to discovering meaning. In theory, more anomalies within the central sphere should reflect thought that holistically brings us closer to understanding the universal meaning of life.
Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but through me."
John 14:6
There is a vast difference in opinion/experience within the Christian faith, and I believe it is the result of being closer to the greatest complexity that the world is trying to understand.

If the compass could be used for securities and liberties being measured spiritually and culturally, with "The Way of True Life" being the ideal, this is what I think it would look like:

"The Existential Compass"

The way I would interpret this is that the 'Way of True Life ideal' incorporates all of spiritual and cultural liberty and security to the fullest. I've placed some things on the compass, do you agree with my interpretation? Would you change the axis?

The questions I ask myself to determine how I place thought on these axes:
  • What is the spiritual posture toward cultural engagement?
  • What is the cultural posture toward spiritual engagement?
  • Are you seeking to engage in culture or spirituality?
  • Do you seek to be influential in secular or religious circles?
  • Do you achieve this in a primarily passive or aggressive tone?
  • What are your extremes or preferences?

Friday, March 09, 2012

Learning Christianese

* I must confess, I began this post as a rant of sorts, but I've restructured it to be more helpful to conversation.
Defining Christianese
Christianese is an in-group jargon used most notably by members of “low” Church denominations—usually Charismatics and Evangelicals. David Martin defines this discourse as “a lens for concentrating a particular angle of vision” (9). Like any in-group language, Christianese developed out of prolonged contact between people who subscribed to similar beliefs. It is characterized by the common usage of certain words, theological terms, and catchphrases. These words and phrases are usually found in standard English but with different meanings; without an understanding of the Bible or evangelical culture, the listener has no context to understand what is being said. For example, a Christianese phrase like, “set me on fire” is a request for God to renew religious passion. However, without an understanding of common Christian metaphor which equates God’s power with fire, this statement could seem like a suicidal request.
You may have heard or seen some Christian slogans in your lifetime.............. They are often created as jpeg images, T-shirts, billboards, or bumper stickers. A common trend has been to alter popular logos and trademarks by changing the wording to reflect a cryptic message referencing God, grace, and the like. Capitalizing on the successes of large corporations—often at the risk of federal trademark infringement, can seem rather dangerous for a small organization such as a church, IMO.

To be fair, Christians aren't the only ones doing this. It's an easy way for small businesses or activist groups to gain attention as well. But Christian culture rips off anything; even if the reference isn't clear or relevant. Paired with using Christianese, it's become an inside joke, really. These become the T-shirts that stay in our closets, only to come out for a church gathering.

Christian slogans are designed objectively to implement the 'Great Reversal' of Jesus—that is, the reconciliation of secular culture. We are infatuated with the way Jesus communicates: the surprising morals of his stories, his unconventional healing ministry, his quick wit when chastising hypocrites. But the difference between hijacking trademarks and the message Jesus' intended is simple: we cannot expect anyone to find truth in a counterfeit.

Counterfeits are imitations of superior value. It's not difficult to see how this method of evangelism is confusing for people. Infringements aside, anything that causes people to question the integrity of the product you're pushing is a sin, regardless of a clever acronym. This transcends the lousy T-shirt; it has ineffectually created an entire culture of apathy.

South Park, S07 E09
The way Christians have infiltrated the music industry has been nothing short of embarrassing. Christianese lyrics carry double meaning or no meaning for most listeners, while maintaining an uncomfortably positive vibe throughout. On iTunes it dominates the Inspirational genre, while blurring the line of what it means to be inspirational. This is clear because of the negative way many talent-privy listeners (Christian and non-Christian) have reacted. When Christian music labels arent infamously employing musicians to play Top 40's cover songs, they're making worship music. This serves a purpose, I concede, but I'm criticizing the tendency to produce songs that celebrate an ideological standard versus honest reality.

The Christian film industry would be the same way, save for its non-existence. Films are expensive to make, so the most prevalent content that any Christian film companies produce is Sunday School curriculum and infomercials. Any feature films that do get produced are revolving around an exasperly overt 'rebirth' plot, thus preaching to the choir, as it were—and include homework. This is just more Sunday School curriculum.

Putting ourselves through self-inflicted persecution that has nothing to do with Jesus' message of grace is a dangerous mistake, which I believe should be taken very seriously.

The goal in multimedia creation should be nothing more than to simply start a dialogue with people who notice. This is done by connecting with them on a level of familiarity, yet subtly (or unsubtly) presenting an ideology to a potential spiritual seeker. Sociologically, it's possibly the most effective way of evangelism, but sadly, it's been poorly executed. Who is your target audience? Will only church-goers understand the obscure Jesus-connection and cultural references? The question is, how do we accomplish this goal without looking like turds?
Knowing you are good at something requires precisely the same skills you need to be good at it, so people who are horrible at something tend to have no idea they are horrible at all.
- John Cleese
The Dunning-Kruger Effect is a cross-cultural study that tends to focus on American subjects. It concludes that many of them, at least sometimes and under some conditions, have a tendency to inflate their worth.

Why is this important? Most Christian propaganda, paraphernalia and multimedia is produced in America, for starters. Secondly, the companies creating this content are structured so that their strategic focus is largely dictated by non-creatives (John Cleese also talks about this). Thirdly, scripture is misappropriated to reason away communication error.
E.g., this string of arguments:

For I am the Lord, I do not change.
- Malachi 3:6
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.
- Hebrews 13:8
"When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all men to myself." - Jesus
- John 12:32
So we don't need to worry, because, 
We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
- Romans 8:28
Christians can use scripture to excuse their efforts in partnering with God to produce good work. Incidentally, the number of Christians in church communities who possess creative abilities but are disengaged is astronomical. The 'Church collective' is a resource for this very purpose.
Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men
- Colossians 3:23
With regards to creating meaningful content, I think it is important to recognize the value of communication science. The human mind connects messages on a subliminal level that, if used properly, can communicate positive undertones combined with core values, etc. Of course, this can be manipulated. However, by not paying attention to these subliminal connection being made, you are more than likely sending a confusing, or worse, conflicting message. After all, living in the Information Age, we are doing Christ a disservice by not communicating to the highest level of our ability. Looking at early Christianity, it was evident that communication methodology was carefully considered when sharing the simplest of truths. I think we can especially draw from the parabolic method of Jesus.

Foot Washing (leading by serving)
Workers in the Vineyard (unfair wages)
The Widow's Offering (giving what you don't have)
The Good Samaritan (loving people who hate you)

The list goes on.

Jesus was a revolutionary communicator, who used palatable concepts and universal language. Everything He said challenged the way we live our lives, and did nothing short of flip our world upside down to help us understand how backwards his message was. Above many things, I think what we can take from this as storytellers, artists and designers is one guiding principle: Your theme cannot be more important than how you communicate it. Whether that's a story, a song, or a bumper sticker, if you do not allow yourself time to be creative, and your screening process does not involve test subject criticism, you may not be the right person for the job, and you will never realize that.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Is Jesus The Enemy of Enlightenment?

There is a high amount of bitterness about the level of scientific advancement achieved thus far, namely due to Christianity.
The so-called Christian nations are the most enlightened and progressive...but in spite of their religion, not because of it. The Church has opposed every innovation and discovery from the day of Galileo down to our own time, when the use of anesthetic in childbirth was regarded as a sin because it avoided the biblical curse pronounced against Eve. And every step in astronomy and geology ever taken has been opposed by bigotry and superstition. The Greeks surpassed us in artistic culture and in architecture five hundred years before Christian religion was born.
- Mark Twain
This tragedy has left scientific minds questioning where we could have been by now if God hadn't held us back.

It's a fair question that deserves recognition. As I mentioned in my last blog post, I do believe God's desire is for us to advance in science. Unfortunately, the Dark Ages was a magnificent example of  manipulation of scripture to oppress the illiterate (fair summary?).

But today, Christians could be guilty on another level.

By correlating Darwinian Evolution Acceptance with the Percentage of Educated Religious People, we can see that the more educated people there are within a group, the more they tended to accept evolution as the best explanation of our origin. The three highest scoring were Buddhists, Jews, and Hindus. Besides being inclined to pursue higher education, they happen to be the oldest religions.
At the bottom of the spectrum, we have Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, and Evangelicals. It's also interesting to note which religions have less than 20% educated. This bunch is fully contributing to the bell curve.

Does Jesus have anything to do with this? Does Jesus prey on the uneducated? Or could this graph just prove the effects of the education system?

Let's take a look at what Creationism teaches.

    noun /krēˈāSHəˌnizəm/ 

    1. The belief that the universe and living organisms originate from specific acts of divine creation, as in the biblical account, rather than by natural processes such as evolution

This is the common belief for most people who cannot accept evolution as fact.

Jewish views on evolution includes a continuum of views about evolution, creationism, and the origin of life. Today, many Jews accept the science of evolutionary theory and do not see it as incompatible with traditional Judaism, thus endorsing theistic evolution.
The vast majority of classical Rabbis hold that God created the world close to 6,000 years ago, and created Adam and Eve from clay. Modern Rabbis who came out of this view based their conclusions on verses in the Talmud or in the midrash. For example:
  • Talmud Chaggiga 13b-14a states that there were 974 generations before God created Adam.
  • The Midrash says: God created many worlds but was not satisfied, and left the world he was satisfied with.
  • Rabbi Moshe Ben Nacman (1194–1270) writes: In the first day God created the energy (כח) "matter" (חומר) of all things, and then he was finished with the main creation. After that God created all other things from that energy.
  • Some midrashim state that the "first week" of Creation lasted for extremely long periods of time. See Anafim on Rabbenu Bachya's Sefer Ikkarim 2:18; Midrash Bereshit Rabbah 9.
  • In Psalms it says "A thousand years is like a day in Your sight" (Psalm 90:4)
- Wikipedia

My question is, if Jews find no qualm with evolution because it simply doesn't offer any problems for them morally, what are the obstacles for Christians? Is it problematic for Jesus? Why are we only interested in what Christians have to offer science? Is a God who created the universe in 6 days bigger than a God who took more time?
What you don't see with your eyes, don't invent with your mouth.
- Jewish Proverb