Monday, March 15, 2010

The Intellectual Green Zone and The "Dangers" Lurking Outside

Three things brought this to my mind over the week end. It all started Friday night when I came out of the gym and was listening to Terry Gross' Fresh Air.

The first part of her program had Bible scholar and author, Bart Ehrman (Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible ). I didn't know anything about him and still know very little. But apparently he was a conservative evangelical, graduate from Moody Bible College . . . who then, step by step slid away. He now considers himself to be an agnostic, but he talks like an atheist. What I mean, is he speaks with great confidence that God is not there nor is there an after life.

The thing that caught my attention and gave me a reason to ponder was something Mr. Ehrman said. While he was an evangelical, he allowed himself to question the "Christian un-questionables" such as, is the Bible true. This open-mindedness is what eventually led him to his present position.

The very next segment of Fresh Air was about the movie "The Green Zone." I didn't listen to that interview because I was on my way up to the high school where I was meeting my wife and son to watch a school musical, "The Wedding Singer." But I started thinking about this concept of a "Green Zone" of thinking, outside of which lurks incredible dangers (just like in Iraq's worst days).

I remember after my first great disillusionment with Christianity (and was a momentary-agnostic) I told my missionary boss that, "I want to go back home and think through my faith."

I remember sitting in his living room in Nicosia, Cyrpus. He was stroking his goatee and sipping some wine and he gave me this stern warning, "That's a very dangerous thing to do. I knew another missionary who tried to think his way through his faith and now he is an atheist."

But, I really had no choice. I was at a point that if I just simply stopped thinking altogether I would have been an Evangel-zombie for the rest of my life, or stayed in an agnostic purgatory.

But is there an intellectual Green Zone outside which, we should not allow ourselves even to ponder or disaster will come? I honestly don’t think so because the denial of knowledge never seems like the best way to preserve our faith. But I’m open to thinking about it.

The next event, which is connected to (loosely) to the above comments, was the play itself. I knew very little about the play except that is was a musical and based on the same story as the movie by the same name (staring Alan Sandler). As we entered, there was a sign that said on the door, “Warning. Content Rated PG.”

I have to say, the play surprised me by the sexual content and language. I wasn’t offended. But I did feel uncomfortable hearing high school students taking God’s name in vain as part of their script. The dancing was provocative too. Especially one number performed right in front of us (as we were near the front row) where a girl had the main character on a bed and did a song and dance that was just shy of a pole dance and wearing a little more than panties.

Okay, I’m speaking honestly here (and I am candid in what I write here) that I wasn’t tempted personally, but just felt awkward. I would be horrified to see my daughter performing that number. But we sat through the whole musical and I focused on the fantastic talent that the kids exhibited and I thought about the tremendous work to memorize the lines of dialog and the choreography. But even though I felt awkward, the thoughts of walking out never crossed my mind. I’m not sure what the point of that would have been.

However, it became a topic of conversation at our church yesterday. A couple of church members had family in the play (mostly playing music). Some church members walked out. They didn’t walk out at the G-D words or the pole dance, but much earlier than that. They walked out when a very brief dance number had two boys dancing together and then (as each dancing pair did) one drop down on his knee and propose to the other. There was another gay scene later in the play (just where one of the main characters confessed to being gay).

So, when it comes to behavior and tolerance of behavior is there a Green Zone, outside of which we are in trouble? I'm not talking about doing the behavior (pole dancing) but watching a movie or play with those things in it. The people who confessed to walking out on the school play were esteemed as doing the right thing and having greater than average integrity, such as ours (no one said that and they didn’t even know we stayed, but speaking in general terms).

My boundary has always been things that could make me, personally (or those with me) stumble. Nudity is the obvious one for most men. But I could imagine that if someone had been abused as a child, it would be outside the “Green Zone” for them to go to a movie or play that glorified (or even dealt with) child abuse.

But is there a “Green Zone” besides this?

I have more thoughts that I wanted to throw out but this is getting long and I have more patients to see.

I will mention that the third related topic was about our pastor doing a discussion on the book The Shack last night. He (which didn’t surprise me) opposed the book on most accounts . . . while he could see some benefit in extreme situations. He had three issues about the book that would put it on his black list. One of them was that the author, William P Young, has a very low view of the local church (not sure what he wrote that suggested that) and the pastor warned that “Anyone with a low view of the local church is dangerous, because God has a very high view of the church.”

His opinion left me thinking that the pastor probably thinks (and if he knew what I really thought) would consider me as a very, very dangerous man (outside the Green Zone). But I have a deep love for the Church. I long for the Church. That’s why imitations frustrate me so much.


PRS & ALS said...

The process of pondering our faith or looking at those difficult questions that arise has actually deepened my faith in God. It is more authentic and intimate now than it was in the years when I wouldn't allow myself to even consider those things that were in my heart and mind. I have found people with whom I can be honest about my questions, who love me and help me struggle with those doubts. I've heard it said that it takes more faith to deal with your doubts. That has been true in my life. But there are some books that I have picked up and begun to read that I decide are not good for me. (The Shack is not one of them). I think we all must be discerning and it helps to have people around us who are on spiritual journies as well and aren't closed off to the Christian life being a journey.

MJ said...

It certainly is a journey isn't it? Although these days are sometimes filled with uncertainty . . . it is far better than the days when I was certain in all things.

Don said...

MJ, very provocative and interesting post. I too suffered through a great dissapointment over 10 years ago that caused me to rethink my faith and positions, and it has been rich for me. I have no desire to follow where Bart Erhmans has gone, and feel that it will not happen. Maybe I still observe a Green Zone in my thinking. I think walking out on the play was petty grandstanding but that is my opinion.

The Shack is a book that opens closed minds to the compassion of the Trinitarian God in the midst of a very broken world. I pity the pastor who tries to shield his flock from that book. He will not be able to do it.