Saturday, August 15, 2015

Les Années Folles

I started a process of reading novels (somewhat for the first time) about six years ago. I am working my way through the top 100 English novels of all times. A number of these novels were written by the likes of Hemingway, Joyce and Fitzgerald.  I'm now reading a contemporary of theirs,  Saul Bellow.  I'm not sure if Bellow's path ever crossed the aforementioned authors as they were part of the Les Années Folles (the crazy years) in Paris and he was not.  However, all of these authors, plus others like Lowry, wrote of similar experiences and those experiences must have been reflective of their own lives.

As an Evangelical I would look at these people as an example of the hideousness of sin.  Each book is written with the ink of alcohol, depression, divorce, murder, incest and more than a few wars and old fashioned fist-fights.  They were people, often rich people, adrift on a sea of chaos and confusion.

Sometimes, while I don't envy these people . . . or at least I don't think so . . . I really wonder as an evangelical if I really stood on a higher ground.

It reminds me of a poem a patient wrote called An Ode to Prozac.  The  first line of her poem was "The question is to feel . . . or not to feel."

The people living in Les Années Folles of Paris in the 1930s felt.  They felt deeply.  They felt music, art, love, grief, the effects of alcohol and ruin. But they felt.

As an evangelical we were taught not to feel.  Feeling meant we were human and a good Christian, so we thought, were transfigured humans. That of course wasn't true but we had to pretend that it was.  We couldn't feel sad. We couldn't feel pain. We couldn't feel ruin.

While I may not long for the chaos of  all that was there within the lives and worlds of Les Années Folles . . . but maybe enjoy feeling and long for all those years I missed feeling.


Sunday, July 26, 2015

Kierkegaard a Prophet f or the Times—Sadly So


We finished our Sunday school class today on Kierkegaard. The class was taught by a son of one of our members, a young man of 24 who grew up in this church. I will be honest and say that his personal opinions, like the writings of Kierkegaard himself, appear opaque at best. There was not a lot of discussion as I think the most in the class had never heard of Kierkegaard.  But as we finished he did seem to support the ideal that Kierkegaard has the answer that this generation is looking for . . . however, I beg to differ.  I did voice my opinion in the class.

Kierkegaard came of age just as the philosophical dystopia of post-rationality begin to emerge.  Descartes and Hegal suns were setting without resolution of the big questions.  The ground was fertile for a new approach to the answers and Kierkegaard answered that call.  As I have pointed out before, it wasn’t that reason was at fault, but the Aristotelian perfect reason, based on pure empiricism, was at fault an impotent of finding truth. 

Søren Kierkegaard

So now, two hundred years later, the pendulum has reached it further most point from the center, or so we hope.  We live in an age of un-reason. By disengaging in reason, many of the paradoxes of life’s big questions are resolved. This is why eastern religions are so attractive to this age.

So, coming back to Kierkegaard, he really promoted the idea that the existence or the state of being is where faith is realized and it must be disengaged from the finite mind . . . or reason.  It is based in experience and experience alone in other words. 

In his book Frygt og Bæven (Fear and Trembling) he tries to paint the ideal faith, the faith of Abraham, as being played out on the stage of the absurd (sacrificing Isaac, which God was commanding to do, but doing so would be in direct violation of what God said not to do . . . murder).  He tries to make the point that this is how faith or true Christianity must be played out . . . without reason in the bizarre.  My point today in class was that Abraham was acting rationally because he knew God and had walked with God and trusted Him completely, even on a human level may not make sense.

This faith of Kierkegaard is very attractive to this age because it solves so many complexities, 1) The Christian story and the 13 billion year old universe, 2) The seeking of justice and respect for the gay community in the face of hard words in the New Testament that suggest that behavior is sin, 3) The evidence of evolution with the story of Eden and I could on and on. But when you disengage the mind you can find a faith that brings peace. But the peace that faith brings is not the peace of humanity, but the absence of conflict within a question.


On the flip side of Kierkegaardian faith, is that is has no substance.  What does the Kierkegaardian Christian have to say to the Muslim? To the Buddhist? To the pedophile for that matter?  Nothing.  For, those in the different view of life can make the same claim of certainty as the Christian if that certainty is based on the experience of existence within the cloud of the absurd. 

We need to understand that reason is a God-given attribute.  But like love and justice, it is all broken and incomplete but not obsolete. 

Once again not time for proof-reading.  Mike

Monday, July 13, 2015

Is there a Rational Christianity Still Out There . . . Somewhere?

I feel that I live in a world where you can only be a Post-Modern, mystical Christian or not one at all. I realize that the mainstream of secular society has now moved past Post-Modernism into an ill-defined Post-Post Modernism.  However, throughout history, the Church, unfortunately lags behind the mainstream by at least 50 years.

My church is having a class right now on Soren Kierkegaard. The good news is that they are having the class. Few churches would have the insight that the man is worth the time to study . . . and he is. The bad news, I think as it has only met for one week, is that he will be framed as a hero.  Speaking of heroes, my personal one, Francis Schaeffer, saw Kierkegaard as a little less than the philosophical devil.  I can still hear Dr. Schaeffer's voice echoing in my head about the "Kierkegaardian, existentialist leap."  I do believe that Soren was the first step of the Church on the path that eventually led it to mirror what was happening in the post-rationalist in secular society.

Here is how I frame the problem and as always my time is limited.  My hyperactive Saint Bernard (the dog not the man) is in an open top Jeep that I'm watching from across the street at Starbucks. It would only take one poodle to get him to spring out the top and terrorize that town like Cujo.  So I'm sure I will have little (or big) typos that I will not have time to fix.

Western civilization has been defined by Plato and Aristotle. We have been riding on a pendulum, back and forth, for 2500 years.  So we are in a market where there are only two brands of milk. We have the dualism that states this material world is insignificant (from Plato). That is the breeding ground for mysticism because if this world is crap, then all you have is mysticism.  On the other side you have the rationalism of Aristotle.  The Dark Ages were a 1,000 year love affair between the Church and Plato. The enlightenment was a much shorter courtship between western society (the French mostly) and Aristotle.  

Aristotelian rationalism failed (gradually throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries). So, because it had no where else to go, the pendulum flew back to transcendent mysticism. Kierkegaard gave the pendulum its first push.

My argument is that Biblical Christianity is neither of the above. It is time that we mature past the Greeks for our metaphysical foundations.  Aristotelian rationalism (if your read his works) was based in empiricism + logic. Empiricism, by definition, limits truth to the material and what our senses can tell us about the material. If the senses can't perceive it, it is not real.  This is the great tension and why most Church thinking has been dominated by Platonism.

Let's take Christianity at face value and try to shed our Greek presuppositions. Imagine that God was there and he was real.  He didn't exist in an inferior place (as Aristotle would see Him) or a superior place (as Plato would see Him) but in the reality of that which is there, both the seen and unseen.  Since God is the author of our rational brains (as an organ) and reason itself (as an abstract mathematical construct) then we could embrace it fully. However, we would not put the limits of Aristotle on our reason that it has to obey the rules of our senses.  That is a true Christianity. But now what we have is this terrible place were to be spiritual we must be mystical and irrational. 

There is tremendous mystery in the universe and there, in that place, is a form of true mysticism. It is not a shapeless mysticism (being defined by our psychological minds for our own benefit) but is has definite boundaries. We just can see those boundaries with our material eyes. Metaphysically I'm talking about things like dark matter and dark energy. But it is far beyond that to things like the mind-boggling size of the universe and then it goes on to ideas such as how God can be the way He is.  He loves us each, knows us well and yet we dwell in a space were we are less than the size of an atom. That is mystery, that is a form of real mysticism. But in this more Biblical way of thinking, truth comes through learning, reading, studying, our senses and our reason. It does not come from rolling your eyes in the back of your head and drifting off into nothingness.

I cannot have a conversation with a modern Christian without them quickly combining psychological magic with Christian spirituality.  They say things like "God spoke to me this morning to do such and such."  Really?  Was it an audible voice?  Was it a feeling?  Does objective truth come though feeling?  I've met many people whose emotions have told them all kinds of lies. Virtually all of this subjective "truth,"  if you deconstruct it, is always narcissistic.  "God spoke to me this morning and told me how wonderful I am and how I'm better than everyone who is different from me.
  

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Chruch and Khurch

I know that I don’t come here often anymore. My absence isn’t due to any lack of interest but to an overwhelming demand on me of keeping a medical practice alive.  It is this strange world created by the Affordable Care Act where I am faced with an incredible demand for my services but no one pays us. So I work as hard as I possibly can ever day seeing patients, some who have waited months to get in. I start early, I work through lunch, I take no breaks and finish in the evening.  At the same time, while not paying myself at times, we are constantly facing bankruptcy, which drains what life is left in me out. I know that I can’t continue like this and I hope that I can have a life again. Completely market driven health care or totally (European style) socialized medicine is far better than the current hybrid.  To get the insurance companies to sign to ACA, they were given the freedom to brutalize small independent medical practices and to pay us nothing for doing excellent and hard work. But I digress.

I have noticed that any time I talk about church here, a lot of people come to visit.  So, in this brief moment I have to myself, I wanted to say a few more words.

I want to first make sure I distinguish between the body of Christ and the human institution and enterprise of church business.  To tell them apart I will use Church for the body of Christian and Khurch for the human production.

I realize that many supporters of the Khurch believe Church and Khurch are one and the same.  I beg to differ and maybe I will talk about later.

I will also say that I am part of a Khurch right now and plan on staying part as far as I can see.  I also realize that there are many Christians for whom Khurch is essential to the way they live out their Christianity.  There is nothing wrong with that and I support them whole-heartedly. I would never suggest that they leave. However, many more Christians have completely left the Khurch and feel so guilty about it that they feel they must also leave Christianity too. It is to those people I speak here.
My main point, if there is one, is that there is freedom to leave and to still be a Christian.  I also want to be realistic and say that leaving the Khurch is not easy nor is it safe.  It is a little like diving off a sinking, burning ship, into waters that are filled with sharks.

The sharks in the water are individuals, many of whom I think have some sort of mental illness such as a personality disorder, who want to create their own brand of Christianity that puts them in the center. These types are dynamic leaders who attract people and then abuse them.  It is the same thing that has happened inside the Khurch for centuries but it is unfettered outside the discipline of a good Khurch.  Be weary of them.  I started a house church once, or maybe I should say house Khurch?  Five couples came and four had a devious agenda of a perverted Christianity.  It is here that I do appreciate those early Khurch fathers who tried to watch these wolves in sheep clothing and . . .  stone them maybe.

I’m going to jump to another barely related point and that is the strange phenomenon of the deintellectualization of the Khurch.  For a very long time, thanks to Plato, it was believed that true spiritual form for a Christian exist outside the material. The material included the brain and human factors such as science and history.  After I attended a group at my present Khurch that was charismatic, seeing everything in black or white, demons or angels, I decided to create a group that thinks and deals with the reality of the real world.  I led this group for most of this year.  I am happy that someone came. It drifted between 3 and 10 people.  But my point is, this small group was seen as quite strange. We took on topics such as the history of western civilization and what do Christians do with that now.  Lastly we took on mental illness and the proper Christian response.  In the old small group they would have said that all mental illness is personal sin or demons.  In my group I divided it into the three pronouns of personal, second and third person.  The first person is where I do make choices that lead to mental illness. There are not many examples of this except to say, out of the blue I decide to become a substance abuser.  The second person (more common) is where someone abuses the hell out of you when you were a kid. Then as an adult, you are left with a lot of baggage. The third person is the sin of Adam (fall of man) and how it has impacted nature with flaws . . . including genetic flaws that make our brains work in harmful ways, such as depression or intense anxiety (that was not caused by second person sin as mentioned above).  My time is up and I must go.



Thursday, May 21, 2015

Is Church Extraneous?

I just got back from a scientific research meeting in Spain. While in Spain, I had the opportunity to take the train from Valencia (where I was staying) up to Madrid to spend a day with an old friend. Antonio is a Spaniard and was my roommate and best man in my wedding.  I’ve visited him three times in Spain, each time about a decade apart.  He was a missionary (although natural born Spaniard) to Spain for many years, just stepping down five years ago.

I listened carefully to some of the ideas that he brings to the table as a non-American.  He was Americanized during his 15 years of living in the states.  I think his wife, Helena, who has never lived outside of Spain, has had a great influence on him.  She is the typical Spaniard, classified as Catholic, but never darkening the doors of a cathedral except for very special occasions.  She because a Christians in her twenties, but never plugged into an American-type Protestant church.

Antonio, even though he was a missionary, never goes to church and has not been involved with a church since leaving the states in 1985.  He considered it when he got back to Spain, after all he was involved with protestant churches in the U.S. and was being sent by churches as a missionary.

Helena was the first to question him.  She thought it was very strange that anyone, especially Christians, would want to get involved with the organized church. She, like most Spaniards, considers it as a black hole of sucking in your time and energy with no clear purpose.

Of course, over the ages it has been argued that a good Christians is very involved with the church.  But we must divide Church (the body of Christ) from the human organization we know as “church.”  When you think about it, Jesus was unchurched.

Antonio asked me why I go.  I am a very honest person, which always gets me into trouble and keeps me on the low end of the popularity list, especially among Christians.  I go for two reasons. First of all, I do want at least some Christian friends and in the American society, to have Christian friends you must be involved with a church. Secondly, my wife expects it from me.  If I were to stop going it would be a scandal within her entire family and it would create a lot of friction in our marriage. It was the same when I stopped going to her church.  Lastly, I go because I do still retain some enjoyment of the Sunday morning service, but not much. I mean if the talk (sermon) is decent and they have some good music, I’m fine with that.

True church, in my opinion, is what I’m about to do in ten minutes . . . go to a small group of Christian friends and do some honest sharing and praying for each other.

But I do think I’m drawing close to point that my next choice, if I don’t stay in my present church, is to become unchurched.  I would have to out-live my wife to reach that point, and I hope that never happens.


I may come back to this topic as I do think it is important.  I do think the present generation needs “permission” to leave the organized church and still be a Christian. Right now it is swallow the whole thing or leave the faith entirely.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

A Real Applogetic

I just have to make a comment about this, even if time doesn't permit.  There is a cycle for honest searchers. They start out from within Evangelicalism asking questions. They are pointed to . . . what I will call cheap apologetics.  These are tracts and books put out by evangelicals to suggest that any reasonable person would have to come to the conclusion that Christianity is the only possible answer. They assumed that all non-Christian thinkers are either stupid or immoral, but most likely both.

Then, if you are a real thinker, one day you realize that is not a true apologetic, but propaganda. The arguments are the same you could make for Mormonism, Islam or atheism for that matter.  That’s when many give up and depart the faith.

I probably would not put C.S. Lewis in that category, but somewhere between the cheap apologetics and the real.  The real is where in the deepest places of honestly, you are confronted with a problem that cannot be easily answered without God.  This is far removed from the cheapest apologetic (which I hear most common within Evangelism) that I know God is there, and Christianity is true because I can “feel it in my heart,” or “because the Holy Spirit spoke to me,” or “there is a God-shaped void in my heart.”

I came across a real apologetic this week.  No, Christianity is not mentioned by name and I don’t even think that God is mentioned. But an honest thinker cannot come away from this (it is a Nova episode) presentation without being closer to the position that God is there. It is the same apologetic that comes for a wonderful piece of classical music (complex) being played by a highly skilled orchestra.

If you are in need of a mature apologetic, as I am often in need of, find this episode on TV or buy this Nova episode on DVD: ( http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/physics/great-math-mystery.html )  If you watch it and don’t see the connection, then maybe the cheaper versions are suffice for you.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

I'm Here

It was thoughtful of you, Nestus, to ask if I was alright and for you Dana to give me Easter greeting.  Yes, I'm fine.  

I think that I've taken a reprieve from writing here for several reasons.  For one, my life is so busy that every time I write here, it is usually a quick typing while in line for coffee or between patients. I never have time to proof-read and sometimes the quality is not very good. I wish I had the luxury to sit at a desk with a cup of coffee and focus on writing a quality piece over 1-2 hours but it just can’t happen.

Also, it seems like everyone has a blog out there and most of them do have the time to do quality work and I wasn’t sure I had a voice that was unique. I am in the middle of a total rewriting of my manuscript after an editor that works with Penguin Books helped me a great deal.  So when I do have a minute to write, I’m working on that (and am quite behind).


I am thinking of coming back.  There must be another voice for out there to let people know, those who are disillusioned with the way evangelicalism is run today, there is a place for honest, thinking Christians.  Time will tell if I’m coming back.