Sunday, November 25, 2012

Broken Walls

I apologize for how I write here.  I come back days later and read something I've written and I'm horrified by the typos, some so bad that you loose the meaning of what I'm trying to say.

So, back to my topic. I was thinking of the dangers of walls.  If you could recreate the medieval Marrakesh, which I had been talking about, then the fortress mentality might work.  As I said, I would be a bit envious of it. I wouldn't have to think, or to struggle but simply accept the obvious (which may or may not be true).  It would be a simple, child-like, view of the world.  Now I'm sure that in the new earth to come, it will be that way as our perfect reason will always lead us safe and sound to truth every time . . . and the truth to us would be obvious.  But the great danger of this fortification mentality in this present world view is that your microcosm might be wrong, and indeed a good chance it is wrong, so you would be condemned to error because you live in a world that is is entirely wrong.  Precisely, I think that's what I think the children of medieval Marrakesh because I, of course, don't believe that the Islamic narrative is true.

So, the walls pose a real danger.  You are taken captive by your culture and your life experiences (who you met to persuade you to believe a certain way.)  Now, if they are right, then it is great. Go ahead and build the walls around truth.  But if they are wrong, you are sealing untruth inside like sealing bacteria inside the canning jar along with the pork. It is the great gamble. It is also a great error that we teach inside the walls that our answers are the only logical ones. That the people on the outside are dumb and that is the only reason they don't believe like we do inside the walls.

If you maintain the porous wall, like many Christians, including the Amish must do in this electronic age, then you reap the worst situation. It is where you imagine or teach your children not to go out, yet the outside world is being bombarded inside, and then you will almost always end up rejecting the "truth" inside the walls because you know that they were deceiving you.  Sooner are later those who are exposed to the outside narratives finally realize that those people aren't simply dumb or immoral.  When (those inside the wall) figure out that they have been deceived, they either quickly grasp an outside truth in rebellion or reach a point of total confusion as if there are no answers.  I can think of several evangelical kids who quickly converted to Buddhism  or at least a comfortable American version of Buddhism, without a second thought as soon as they learned that they had been deceived by their evangelical culture.

So it is my opinion that your best route is to tear down the walls and encounter the outside world in a full frontal exposure of the mind and emotions.  Yes, this is dangerous too . . . very dangerous.  But no less dangerous than trying to maintain the porous walls, or taking a gamble that the non-porous holds real truth.  It is the red pill  Vs blue pill dilemma.  I'm a red pill person.  Yes, it is true that like my old evangelical friends proclaimed, if you allow exposure to the outside world (they just say "the world" speaking dualistically) that one of the "isms" of the world will grab them.  That is a real danger especially if they exchange one walled in world for another.

But the greatest danger is a form of nihilism or hopelessness of knowing.  Once deceived  they feel that they can never trust any truth again.  They end up in a kind of hopeless nihilism (just mentioned) or a illogical, somewhat existential, giddiness.  In that later sense (I honestly think most Americans under 30 are at this place) is that true-truth isn't knowable and that isn't a problem. I can still love, hate, enjoy, and live as if something does matter.  But like cashing in the evangelical walled world of intellectual dishonesty they also exchange the evangelical world of pretend  moral purity to a world of pretend meaning.

So, what is the solution?  I may be from a different generation, but I have not given up hope.  While the bridge of reason doesn't reach all the way across the abyss, it is not without merit.  It does point us towards the other side.  With every possible approach to finding meaning, there is a step at the end. As I've said before, we all start in the bottom of a crater of absurdity and there is no easy way out.  Each way, including pure empiricistic atheism or the blah of not caring, all have their difficulties.

I am a Christian and I don't water that down.  I'm not a conformist to the American version of Evangelicalism of this age.  I do allow myself to read and study with vigor all the world views because   I want to know truth at all cost.  This process has strengthened my faith, but it has to be all or none.  You can't just flirt with other world views or you will be enthralled by their deceptions the same way that you were with Christianity's.

I must go. I do want to come back and talk about Craig Thompson again.  I just finished his Carnet de Voyage.  I enjoy his work so much for several reasons including his great candor and talent.  I will talk about that next time but he does represent the majority of those people who left Christianity for that uncertain world of baseless hope.

Once again I am late and will have to come back to proof read.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Life on Mars

I've always thought that we would find life on Mars.  I expect that even fossils will be found, and to shake up everyone's (young earth creationists' and pure materialistic evolutionists') paradigm, the fossils will be similar to those on earth.  So, in the next few weeks you will be hearing about confirmation of life on Mars. I expect that both philosophical slants (above) will use this to prove their possitions

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Belief Outside the Walls

Do you ever have these really meaningful thoughts and your brain struggles to translate those into English words and syntax? I'm talking about more than writer's block, at least I think.

I want to continue this thought about the walls of intellectual protection.  In my evangelical days, we believed, and heavily promoted, the concept that we must protect our families and ourselves from "philosophies of this world."  I mentioned how may of our friends got rid of their TVs, home schooled their kids, send them to Bible college and etc.  They didn't allow books of the devil (anything but the Bible and the "Left Behind" series) into their house and etc.

I don't have hard data on this particular attitude, but in general, we know that over 80% of kids raised in Christian homes . . . leave Christianity.  I have the feeling that those raised in these strict walled-in worlds, are no different . . . or maybe worse.

In the beginning of my last post, I speculated on how being a child in medieval Marrakesh would have been so simple, as far as coming to belief, and sometimes I do envy that.  Their world was literally walled in and isolated.  Everyone they knew were Muslims.

It reminds me of 1981 when I was working in the desert of Abu Dhabi.  We were visiting remote villages in the desert of Oman.  The people there, many had never been outside their villages, assumed that we were just really stupid because we were adults and only spoke a few Arabic words . . . and we weren't Muslims.  They had never met anyone like us because their entire world was sand, date palms  goats, Arabic and Islam.  They naturally assumed that there was no world outside.

But there is a problem with the walled-in effect here in America and among evangelicals. The biggest problem, which the medieval Marrakeshites didn't have to contend with, is the "leakage" of culture.  It is like being in a lake in a canoe made of pop-sickle sticks and duct tape.  In our culture, even the Amish can't avoid our culture.

So here is where the great harm comes in.  When you try to isolate your kids from the primary culture, but you can't, then they get just enough to poison themselves.  This is where it is hard to express but I will try.

So when you tell your kids that the earth is 6,000 years old and all the scientist who say otherwise are really so stupid that they would create an entire theory on one pig tooth, but then they start to see enough of the outside world to see that isn't really true, then they pitch the entire Christian paradigm as lies.  The leaky walls are shattered when they meet that really intelligent, and very nice professor who has far, far, far more evidence of an old earth than what Ken Ham had been saying.  Why should they believe anything they were told?

So, if we can't have that pure walled-in world, they I think it is much better if we bath ourselves and our families in information.  The walls have to be decimated because if they are porous  the tend to only work as a filter, keeping in the lies but letting the truth escape.

I will try to finish this next time. I'm running out of time again and my thoughts are not clear.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Walls of Marrakesh -- A Metaphor on Belief

Two weeks ago I was sitting on the roof of our Riad (palace) in the old city of Marrakesh, Morocco.  It was dusk and the prayer call went out.  I counted five mosques within earshot.  Of course when you have five loud calls going off, using different words, at the same time, it is really hard to tell if it was five, six or . . . ten.

In the background I could hear the bustling down in the narrow labyrinth of medieval streets, streets that never sleep, or pause for prayer.  These streets have not changed, but only became more crowded since their founding a millennium ago.

I sipped my shay aswad (black tea) and thought. I put myself in the place of children who had grown up here, more than a hundred years ago. Before the days that Marrakesh was discovered and her nomadic  remote, desert world was pierced by two iron rails and the people started to come.  Then the tarmac and the fair skinned people rode in on the breezes from Europe.

But imagine that ancient world, where those pink adobe walls were the boundaries of your world and the world of your parents, your grand parents and your great grand parents.  Five times a day the call would go out and in those generations (before secularization) you did stop in your tracks, unroll your prayer rug and face east to Mecca.  In that world, the faith of the children would be a given.  It would be automatic to believe in the Islamic narrative, as there was no competing ideas in the souk.

Some days I envy that world because faith is easy, as easy as drinking a cup of water.  The little minds didn't have to contemplate the mysteries of a 14 billion light-year wide universe with the bizarre quantum playground.  They didn't have to consider pantheism, atheism . . . or Christianity. There was no discussion.

But it comes back to that concept of the blue pill verses the red pill.  There is bliss in the blue, not knowing, not caring to know but to pretend that what you believe is the whole of reality.  But I've been cursed with an appetite for the red.  I want to know.  I ache for truth, even truth that is unpalatable.

So, I was thinking about this idea of belief.  I know I've said this before, but I've heard so many times that it is like a mantra within evangelicalism, "I've never doubted God for a second!"  People say this with pride and fellow Christians look on them in envy (as I sometimes do).

From that same notion comes the concept of building the walls, like Marrakesh.  These are cultural walls not of adobe.  They are in the mind set of; put you kids in Christian schools, don't let them play with non-Christians, don't let them watch TV (signals coming in from outside the walls) and then you will keep your children safe from evil.

I know someone who practiced the culture walls with their seven children.  Now, several are hooked on Oxycontin, a couple on alcohol, at least one is wife abusing (physically), a couple practice adultery, and the girl . . . now with her own porn site.  What went wrong with the walls?  The parents believe that they should have made the walls higher and tougher and this would never have happened.

In our early married years, we were wall builders. But why my kids were still quite young, I went through my great disillusionment with evangelicalism and I began to tear down walls.  Eventually our kids were of the world, reading all they could get their hands on and deeply engrossed in our own (non evangelical) culture.

The aforementioned family use to criticize me harshly for the way I was raising my kids.  But I look at my kids now.  Three (out of five) are working on PhDs.  One happily married and stable with two boys.  A girl doing mission work with inner-city poor and one who is a great kid and a house painter.  Their faith?  Let me say that they are in their healthy exportation stage.  I believe that in the end they will be in a good place and if they still believe in Christianity then (and I think they will) it will be a faith that they own not inherited.

I want to talk more about this but now I'm out of time. But I will re-visit this at least once.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Reflections on an Election Part II

I am already regretting walking into the shallow waters of this topic, primarily because I'm not any kind of political historian nor claim to be.  I am someone who is naturally interested in culture and in finding the ultimate truth through humble means (not meaning that I'm humble but that I am open to the idea that I am wrong some of the time if not all).

So here is the point I was trying to make.  Pure Christianity is simple and bare. I think of Micah 6:8 where it says, in my paraphrase, "What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God."  That's it.  But because we are human, around any nugget of orientation grows a huge quagmire of  convoluted culture.  The humble part of Micah says that you are open to being wrong on which parts of your culture are good, which are bad and which are simply amoral.

So, my argument is that the American version of evangelicalism has this complex culture and at this point in history part of that culture is being a Republican.  I want to try and cut between the bone and marrow and try to point out why the results of this past election are seen by the evangelicals as the part of the Apocalypse . . . or at least another sign that America is in decline.

I am not sure about this, and at this point it would be nice to have an expert in political science or history chime in, but the political shape of the present evangelical seemed to be formed starting in the early eighties if not the seventies.

I will have to say that my idol Francis Schaeffer has something to do with it (and his son Frank thinks that his dad was the cornerstone to this political movement).  But at the same time, I think that Francis is turning over in his grave when he sees what this has become.

Francis was the first to bring attention to the face that abortion was one great travesties of the de-christianization of the west.  Through his movies and public appearances (not to mention his writings) he pushed for the Christians to stand up and to resist (as salt preserving fish) these immoral directions of our nation as a whole.

You would have to read Frank's book "Crazy for God" to see the historical account how this anti-abortion along with concerns about euthanasia was adopted by the Republican party. But they saw an opportunity to connect with, what was at that time and as Jerry Falwell described it, the Silent Majority.  So the Republican party sided with the pro-life movement of the Christian right.

Now, there is no harm in what I've described.  I will also state at this juncture that I'm not anti-Republican.  I could vote Republican if the right candidate was nominated. But what happened next is what I find discouraging.

As the Republican party became the bulwark of the religious right, there was a cross-pollination between the two.  The Republican ideals of freedom of market forces, strong defense and etc. became evangelical ideals.  But they will argue until the cows come home that these ideals are Biblical and that's why they believe them ( remember Jesus taught social and economic communism more than any other political view).

Moving along, after a couple of decades into this, two major things have happened. For one, what Francis Schaeffer saw the process of de-Christianization of the West is now past-tense.  The West has been dechristianized.  It is finished. Not to say that Christians don't have an influence or a voice. But take America for example. For one, it was never a so-called "Christian country."  It had a strong Christian culture influence in the past. But that is now passed.  So this changes our stance on issues.  The silent majority is more likely to be those who are the totally unchurched fighting for same-sex marriage and the legalization of pop and the evangelicals, like it or not, are the loud minority.  The American culture as a whole has just a memory of a Christian culture (still celebrating Christmas and Easter).  So the ideas that Schaeffer promoted, the purification of the country or acting as salt, is no longer relevant.  I've heard close personal friends of Schaeffer say this same thing.

Things haven't always been this way.  Franklin Graham remarked during his interview (mentioned in the last post) that his father, who turned 94 yesterday, has been a life-long democrat. Now, in the 50s and 60s, it was more common to be a democrat as a deeply convicted Christian, because of the democrat's emphasis on social and economic justice (see LBJ).  Evangelicals now believe in a imaginary narrative that the Republicans have always been "Christian" since Lincoln.

But if this were a theocracy and a Christian was elected Christian King, then he or she could mandate the banning of abortion.  But it is a democracy.  So the majority view should lead and us with a minority view cannot dictate our moral views on the majority.  This does not weaken what I do think is a Biblical concept of the value of human life and I'm not talking about moral relativism. But we lost the culture wars and now cannot be the deciders on those issues.  We can speak against them in the same way that Bonhoeffer did against the Nazis.

But I have really digressed now.

Here is my main point.  The vast majority of evangelicals now believe that the Republicans are God's party and the Democrats are the part of Satan.  But the bad part, evangelicals have adopted other Republican philosophies as part of their faith, or Christian culture including America having a strong defense and continue to dominate world, free-markets and less government . . . to name a few. Now, I can't say that these are bad ideals (meaning ideals not ideas).  I don't agree with them but I can respect those who do.

So, to not adopt all the Republican platform and to be a Christian seems contradictory in the evangelical culture.  So for us who are not Republicans, like my friend Carl, you have to swim against the current to keep a humble and open mind about issues.

Romney lost the election because the majority of Americans are 1. war weary and don't like the Republican saber rattling,  2. don't trust unregulated market forces, because the very rich will stack the deck, as they did in the great economic downturn 4 years ago, 3. aren't against same-sex marriage, 4. do see a role for the government in serving social and economic justice.

But I want to add one last point of why the evangelicals did adopt Romney as their personal choice and this is where I will find myself most vulnerable.  It is my humble opinion that evangelicals are always concerned more about appearance than reality.  They would never admit this.  I would never admit it when I was an evangelical.  So, while historically evangelicals have seen Mormons as a cult and despised them . . . in another way, they are deeply envious of the Mormons.  The Mormons are much better at the charade than even the evangelicals. They have their perfect little (actually big) families of tie-wearing, clean cut boys and girls who are the epitome of "goodness."  I'm sure it is a farce. Every perfect little family I've ever met . . . I ended up finding some real dragons in their closet.  It is human nature. But evangelicalism is all about pretending and the Mormons are real professionals at it.

So now the Evangelicals are dining with the devil  . . . or in bed with their arch enemies. Parts of me want to break out in laughter. I'm sure that it would make some great satire if it weren't so complicated.

So, what is the conclusion to all of this political rambling?  It is taking Christianity as its simple essence . . . seeing justice and kindness and walking humbling with God. Then, as a human, enjoying the freedom to have different political views based on your personality, your personal philosophy and experiences but never declaring your complex narrative as the "Christian way" and certainly not the Republicans as the "Christian party." So, I'm optimistic.  Obama is a decent man and not the usher of the end-times as my Facebook friends are proclaiming.

I will be silent now.  I do want to move on and talk about something I know much more about. It is the faith of the doubters. So I will do a series about that next.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Reflections on an Election

I know that in this post-election environment that the papers, TV shows, blogs and neighborhood barbershops are a buzz with what went right and what went wrong.  I didn't even want to walk into those waters but there is some type of microcosm playing out here that has lessons written within.

I joined Facebook a couple of years ago to see photos of my grandson.  I don't make a lot of use of it.  In the very beginning I was amazed how it could conjurer up so many lost friends like some type of seance of the living.  That's its gift. You make a connection to one friend and then the web is spun from that friend to other old friends on and on trice removed.

So, my Facebook "family" is made up of many friends from my evangelical days . . . and many friends that I never knew in Christian context as well as my real family.  Of course these friends can't see each other's posts unless the two of them are also friends.

But I watched how this played out over the last few weeks as a simply observer.  I am often surprised (and I shouldn't be) how my old Christian friends are still in the same place I was a couple of decades ago . . . still fighting the culture wars and seeing that the Republican party is by default . . . God's party.

So I will make a clarification before I jump into this.  As Leonard Cohen said, "I'm neither left or right . . . I just want to be home tonight."  Politically speaking, and if you are very honest about it, you could support virtually any position from a "Christian perspective."  I remember a high school philosophy teacher Mr. Murphy (yes, oddly they had a philosophy course in high school in Appalachia) who use to badger the students because they were deep in the Bible belt (the county school still had a mandatory Bible class) and he was a self-proclaimed atheists.  He almost lost his job when he stated that the political system which was most aligned with the teachings of Jesus was communism.  Think about it, he said this in 1973 . . .  right in the middle of the Cold War . . . so you can why he was "canned."

But factually, he was right.  Now, of course we are not talking about the Soviet-style communism where you were spied upon and imprisoned for thinking differently than the way allowed. But the point was true on an economic justice side of things

Right now in American, evangelicalism has embraced a narrative that is woven right into the fabric of the Republican platform.  I, being the cynic that I am, have a sense that this was planned this way.  Years ago in a smokey room in Washington, so I presume, some Carl Rove-types suggested that the evangelicals were leaning in their direction, but to really capture them, they need to either add evangelical agenda to their own . . . or . . . convince the evangelicals that the Republican platform is what God wants.

So I watched as my old evangelical friends assumed that all good Christians would vote for Romney.  I stay out of most of these discussions.  A dear old Air Force Christian friend did comment that he was going to vote for Obama.  Carl (my friend not Rove) is a breath of fresh air among my old evangelical friends for two reasons. Paramount is the fact that he lived in Germany, on the local economy, for about a decade.  He also went through a very humbling experience a few years ago as a Christian.

But then I watched as his Christian friends attacked him.  I don't know any of them as my circle and this circle of Carl's only touches at one point . . . and that is with Carl.  But I had to come to his defense. I simply said that Carl was someone that seemed to create a Christianity that is "Jesus + 0."  I added that Carl, I think due to his living abroad, has been able to separate the the Christ wheat from the "American-Evangelical-Republican" chaff.  I think his friends quickly despised me in the same way that most of my Christian friends do.

I was also struck with an interview with Franklin Graham on election eve.  He made the statement (and please forgive my paraphrase) that we are at a serious crossroads. That if Obama is elected then all of America is going to be in despair and God will allow America to fail.  He hinted at an apocalyptic end in the near future.

The interviewer, to play devil's advocate, said, "You listed Mormonism as a cult on your web page. So you are willing to vote for a Mormon now?"

I was expecting Franklin to be at least pragmatic and say something like this, "Well, we do believe that Mormonism is a cult. But, because Governor Romney supports our agenda, such as banning same-sex marriage, fighting the Muslims throughout the world (the new Crusade) and banning abortion we are willing to support him despite of his religious beliefs."

But what Franklin said, and this was profound, "Oh, I didn't know that Mormonism was listed as a cult on my web page.  You know, I have people writing much of the material on that page.  As soon as I discovered that it was there . . . I immediately deleted it."

So what does this mean?  Do the evangelicals now accept Mormonism as just another facet of Biblical Christianity?  That is a titanic shift in thinking! But I think they are willing to make that compromise for the sake of the evangelical culture.

This is getting long and I must end. But I haven't gotten to my main point yet, so I will be back for a part II.  In this day  of not only tolerance but relativism, my words could easily (even though so far they have been tangential at best) twisted to  make me a Mormon hater.  I won't go there.  I have many dear friends who are Mormons. I go to Mormon doctor.  I respect all people. Some of my best friends are Muslims. Yet, I can love them, respect them, but still hold to the fundamentals of original Christianity and reject their doctrines as false.

I didn't vote for Romney but it had nothing to do with his Mormonism.  It had more to do with his racism against Arabs, saber rattling in a world that has war-fatigue and supporting economic injustices.  But Obama wasn't an easy choice either and I ended up voting for a libertarian for the first time in my life. 

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Lying for Jesus . . . Just Confuses Me

Another topic I've talked about ad nauseam is this tradition of causal lying within the Church.  It is hard for me to get  my head around.  Not that I'm above lying, but this marriage between serving the Creator, who must be the God of truth . . . or no god at all . . . and feeling no guilt about "white lies" puzzles me.

I recently heard a missionary speaker. I won't go into details. He is a man of great respect and I respect him as well. He is an excellent speaker. But during this message, he told a blatant (but quite trivial) lie.  He knew I was in the audience and I'm sure he knew that I  knew he was lying.  But it really made his story a little better.  Now here is my point. This type of lying is causal as if it doesn't matter . . . when I think it does.

Indeed I bounced this off my wife.  She feels I'm just being a little judgmental because it was so trivial. She also try to excuse it by saying he may have accidentally gotten his facts wrong.  Nope. Couldn't be an accident . . . unless he has a form of dementia.  My wife also sees this as a type of arrogance in me, or hypocrisy.  No one knows your own lies as well as your spouse or your family.

I knew a girl in college who's father was a big Baptist minister.  He had a huge regional TV ministry.  She became very disillusioned with Christianity because of the trivial lying he did.  He would, on the spot, make up conversations he had had with his kids that had never happened, just to illustrate a point.  But to her, and rightly so, if he lied about things like that, maybe he is lying about  this whole Jesus is the messiah thing.

Now, I am a liar too, so I don't mean to should pious.  I've been know to exaggerate things, especially when I get emotional (saying that the trail I was walking was 4 inches wide on top of the cliff rather than 8 inches wide).  But I'm speaking philosophically here. It is a sad state of affairs when you can collect so many more brownie points within Evangelicalism by lying.  When I was a Navigator, we all lied and we lied frequently.  We lied about how many hours we spent in Bible study. We lied about our motives constantly. But if we didn't lie, we would be seen as spiritually inferior.  There is something to this.  A real cancer within the Church.

Speaking of which, I think TV evangelists are some of the worst liars in the world.  They are drowning in lies.  So this time last week I was in the Muslim world.  I also had access to limited satellite TV.  I noticed the listing of the channels.  It was BBC, VOA, local and a long, long list of Muslim evangelist and US-liar TV evangelists like Daystar people. Oh, yeah, a lot of pay for Arab porn (seriously, "Hot Arab Babes"  or "Hot Chicks of Iran"). You know. Those who set on these bizarre and hideous platforms of gold plated, poorly done Baroque or French Provincial styles and giant hairdos.  This is the face of Christianity to the majority of the un-Christianized world. And we wonder what they aren't taking us seriously?