Thursday, November 20, 2014

A Question of Epistemology Part II

To conclude my argument about the Grand Canyon, before moving on to the bigger question, I must mention a couple of  convincing arguments about the complexity and age.

Stromatolites (see the photo on the right of the few living colonies left on earth)  are a type of limestone/shale formation that comes from a thick layer of columnar bacteria colonies that grow in shallow warm seas. It can take hundreds of  years to form a layer, not to mention the very thick layer that is found about a 1/4 way up in the Grand Canyon (see photo below).  I touched these just a few days ago.

I will add one more photo  below of a drawing of the rock formations in the canyon just as a glimpse into this complex story.

But I have only scraped the surface, no pun intended. My point is, the evidence of a very complex and very old Grand Canyon is overwhelming to any one who will take the time to look with their own eyes and listen.

So here is on to my real question.  How can men (I don't know of any women who are part of ICR), who have PhDs, who are very bright, come up with a explanation that rational child would reject? Look at the canyon with your own eyes. It is not anything like the ash "canyons" at Mount Saint Helens (I've climbed that mountain and have had my share of that slippery fine stuff).  If the Grand Canyon was made up of layers of similar shale (mud turn to stone) then you might make the crazy argument that it was formed in a matter of weeks under a catastrophic flood. But it is not.

I'm about to digress into one more argument about the particulars (in this case the age of the Grand Canyon) before I get back on track with the philosophical issue of epistemology. Sorry, but I can't help myself.

The other explanation that ICR made bout the fossil record (life forms) was that different creatures swam upward during the flood and died at different levels of mud.  Are you kidding me?  So, if the world was covered by water, who would drown first and sink, a trilobite (a very early marine anthropoid, who could swim very well thank you, as well as "breath" under water) or lizards? Why would a fern fossil be found near the top of the "mud layers" and the good swimmers at the bottom?  If the earth was flooded then covered with mud before eroding away, the ferns should be at the bottom and the trilobites at the top.

Now, finally to my main argument and concern.  God speaks truth to us through his inspired word that was written by real people living in history in this real material world. Since God is the creator of this material world and deemed it spectacular, we can also learn truth through His creation. 

There is a third "truth" that I find dubious and that is the gnostic truth that many modern evangelicals teach. This is a truth that just comes "into your heart" directly from the Holy Spirit.  While that sounds neat, it is a gross neglect of the fallen nature of our emotions. 

The emotional self is what most evangelicals re-label (under the Platonic rather than Biblical view of the psyche or soul) as our spiritual self, unfallen and pure (in their belief system).  However, I know people who are 100% certain, based on this gnostic type of truth, that the CIA has implanted probes into their brains. I have known people and known of people (per historical accounts) that were 100% sure that God had spoken to their spiritual places to convince them that he wanted them to have sex with 14 year old girls, or to blow themselves up and kill everyone in a nursery school, or ask for money on TV to buy yourself a Lear jet with leather seats and the list goes on and on.  Now, I don't mean to totally disregard human intuition. There is value there but my point is that it cannot be totally trusted.

But this gnostic approach to truth is made more palatable  in Billy Graham movies or in church testimonials when we say that "God spoke to my heart."  This is where, in the small group I attend, I got the weebie jeebies when one of the elders said that one day the  Holy Spirit might speak to him from a verse that has nothing to do with the original intentions of the verse, and later the Holy Spirit might tell him to do the opposite form the same verse.  This is when the Bible stops being the Bible of Church history and becomes an evangelical book of charms and magic.

So when we go back to the original forms of revealed truth, the scriptures and creation, there should be agreement.  I don't believe that true Christians can accept the post-modern notion of the synthesis of truth, where opposites can both be true. In traditional logic . . . they can not. So when these two forms of truth are in conflict, as in the Grand Canyon view of ICR, then the problem has to be with interpretation by the fallen person making the assumption.

In this one case, there is overwhelming support that the Grand Canyon reveals an earth that is very old and complex as observed in the material world. I see much more freedom in the creation story of scripture in how that came about. As I've asked again, please show the passage in scripture where God is emphatic that he created the universe six thousand years ago?

I know that this is getting long and I'm about to conclude this thought, but hang in there.

So why do the smart ICR scientists look at the obvious material world and come up with conclusions that a third grader would reject? It is because of the "branding" of truth.  This is a sociological and psychological phenomenon that is portrayed as an epistemological one. Just study the history of the modern evangelical movement and you will see when this sociological event takes place. As the liberal (meaning real, philosophical "liberal" not the liberal in the current use to describe a democrat) theologians in Europe during the late 1800s began to question the authenticity of the Bible, the "fundamentalist" created a fundamental set of beliefs that they would not yield on and unfortunately many of them pick a six thousand year old earth as one of those.

I saw an interview with John Stewart recently (can't remember where) and they played a clip where he was interviewing a cabinet member of the Obama administration. He chuckled and said that he hated to interview politicians because it was like talking to a robot. You can not ask them any question that doesn't come back with the branded answer that we all know. Because, if they were to step into their own human-ness and give a candid answer, they would be fired the next morning. At least, he said, when he talks to a salesman he knows what they are going to say to promote their brand, but sometimes they will become human, at least off camera, and wink and say, "yeah, actually our competitors are making a better product than us right now."  But the politician is rigid and "stays in character" 24/7 . . . to the point they start to believe their own lies. 

So in search of a true epistemology, we need to be humble, call the branding of truth for what it is, and understand the weakness of our own psychological self, without projecting that as a weakness of God or the Christian essentials.

My brief vacation is ending and I may be back in the grind of an intense work schedule and disappear again, but I hope not. Sorry again for any typos but I'm being summoned again and I don't have time to proof-read.


Tuesday, November 18, 2014

An Atheist and an Evangelical Walk into a Grand Canyon --An Exercise in Epistemology Part I

I've spent the past three days here on the south rim of the Grand Canyon. This is my third trip here and the first for my wife. While she branched off today to do some hiking, I wanted to focus an entire day on the geological history of this area.  I'm extremely inquisitive and I love to learn things I don't know, and there is a lot of those things.  While I've heard the entire story of the Grand Canyon before, I wanted to hear it again and in detail. 

Jumping ahead, I've always said that there is a serious (intellectual) problem that we all share in and that is one of existence. There are no easy answers. The Atheists-evolutionists have huge problems . . . but the Christians do too. When they say, I know the answer because the Holy Spirit has revealed truth directly to my heart, then, in my humble opinion, that is a lazy cop-out.

So imagine that two cars enter this fine national park and drive up to the south rim and stop at the Mather overlook. While they both are standing side by side, here are some problems that they must face.

I will only quickly address the problem with the Atheist. He (or she) will look out over the incredible scene and feel something overwhelming, which is almost a universal human feeling. I only say "almost" because some of the early white explorers saw the canyon in a frame of disgust (for interfering with their travel plans and having no value to feed cattle or raise crops). But the atheist has to suddenly do some form of mental calisthenics to soak in that moment. They may think of these feelings as an evolutionary development that causes us to feel pleasure in such sights . . . for no clear reason. Some of the more dishonest ones will come up with terms like "feeling energy" at the sight of amazing things.  They hint at spirituality like Sagan habitually did.

The honest atheist (which are very difficult to find) must reduce the experience to a clump of material (him or herself) standing in close proximity to another clump of material . . . or in the case of the Grand Canyon . . . the absence of material. That is all. It is final. You can add no other meaning to the experience if you are a faithful atheist.

Now to the Evangelical. But I will define them as the typical young-earth creationist to be clear.  They will have even greater problems, which they would rarely admit.

I realize that not everyone cares for science like some of us do. For some don't care about how geological features are formed. But this issue goes beyond geology to one of epistemology, or the whole process of finding truth.

In my early days, soon after I suffered a great disillusionment with Christianity, I was trying to answer my questions about creation and discovered The Institute of Creation Research (ICR). I got quite involved with them. I attended a week-end seminar. Then I gave them money and a year later volunteered to help them put on another seminar. It was while I was in the middle of the second seminar, that I had an eureka moment and realized all the things they were saying was . . . well crap.  Here were smart scientists (not in earth sciences) who had a specific belief (the earth was six thousand years old) and therefore were forcing their interpretation of science to conform to that model. It was a broken epistemology.

Back to the Grand Canyon.

ICR uses the Grand Canyon to prove that the earth is very young.  They chose this incredible geological feature because the old-earth geologists (or I could just say geologists) use this place as a well-written history book of a very old earth.

When Mount Saint Helens exploded in 1980, many feet of light ash fell around its base and inches fell for hundreds of miles to the east. The ash also damned up natural streams (and new water form rapidly melted glaciers) high on the mountain into makeshift lakes.  When the dams broke, then water plummeted down the mountain side and created small canyons of layered ash. Because the ash was laid down in layers, with a slightly different composition over hours and days, the appearance resembled a Grand Canyon in a microcosm.

ICR used the rapid (weeks) formation of ash "canyons" to prove their interpretation of the Grand Canyon, as a geological feature formed in weeks by Noah's world wide flood. In their view, the world wide flood laid down huge layers of mud (looking out my window right now, I estimate that mud would have to have been 6,000 feet  thick) then the sudden retreat of the flood waters washed out this magnificent canyon in a matter of days or weeks.

To the Christian who has no training in the physical sciences, especially the earth sciences, they could accept this theory comfortable as the true Christion view.  I'm not here to criticize people for not knowing or caring about science. However, part of me wonders how can you say you love God but not have a passion for knowing as much about his creation as possible. But I know that people have different reasons for not caring about science. I don't know much about being a collector, you know, those people who have 100,000 different thimbles and could tell you everything you could possibly know about them.

The problem is, and I will try to quickly summarize here, the real Grand Canyon formation is very complex. It is made up of layers upon layers of complex rock formations, not layers and layers of simple shales (mud that has turned to rock).  Some of the rocks are formed from a type of limestone that is made by bacteria in shallow, warm seas. Some of the rocks are formed from desert sands, which have been compressed. Some are from lava flows. I'm here to say that the relationship between the real Grand Canyon and layers of light weight volcanic ash is nil.

I'm not being brainwashed by the liberal-evolutionists, as a friend at my old church use to tell me. He would always start to tell me how those liberal god-haters had intentionally used a mixture of monkey and human bones to create "missing links."  I would smile and walk away.

But there is a more serious point I want to make about epistemology and I will try to do that in part II. This goes far beyond the young earth vs old earth controversy to how we know truth. 

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Simple Church: Unity Within Diversity - A New Book Worth Your Time

Once again I've found myself overwhelmed with work. I have a brief, two-day respite, here on the south rim of the Grand Canyon, before attending a meeting in Phoenix. I wanted to take a minute to mention a book that twenty of us collaborated on this year. I think it will be an important discussion point for many who have been discouraged by the complexities, may I add extraneous complexities in my opinion, and want a simpler way to express the Christian community. I had the opportunity to write the chapter on justice, a favorite topic of mine.

You can pre-order the book at Amazon at this time, prior to its official release.

I hope to be back on my feet in a week or so and out from under this overwhelming demand on my schedule.


Sunday, November 9, 2014

Christianistan Part II--Why a Christian Society/Country is Usually not a Good Idea

I’ve spent a lot of time this week thinking about this concept. The contemplation wasn’t whether or not a Christian country would be a good thing or not. I already know it would be a horrible idea. But, my scrutiny was about the why of this.

When I was a young Christian, I lived and studied within a Christian subculture (a small parachurch organization that was almost a commune) and it was our aspirations to create an even more defined society.  One of our members, Art, did leave for such well-defined commune, one outside of normal society.  We, on the other hand, lived together, and spent every day together, had a very clear hierarchy of authority, but we still functioned within the broader American society. We went to a state college and worked regular secular jobs.

I did spend four days living in Art’s real commune, with a serious consideration about joining one like that once I had finished college. For Art’s commune, it was different than our parachurch group for several reasons. They all worked at the commune business (a chain of restaurants). The individuals weren’t paid, but all the income went into the commune pot and was shared according to need (so a commune in the official definition of the term).  In that commune, the leaders made all decisions. If you wanted to take a bus to go home and see your family, they would have to approve that trip and provide the funds for the ticket.

In our group, we also had to get permission to go home (which was usually denied) but we didn’t have to ask for money from the communal pot.  However, all of us had an idealism that a mircro or macro Christianistan would be a utopia.

So Art’s commune collapsed a few years later, as they all do, due to the leadership’s abuse of the members, misuse of money, teaching authoritarian doctrines.  I down know how the “elders” ended up abusing the members but it typically involves psychological and sexual abuse.

After we got back from the mission field, my wife and I had a great desire to return to live overseas.  We actually loved living abroad.  I looked for several opportunities and couldn’t find one, except for the military. I did join the Air Force.

Evangelical friends used to ask me, “If you love living overseas, why not go back as a missionary?”  I would tell them, (before even I understood what I was saying), I would never serve with a Christian organization again because they could tell you to do terrible things and then stake the claim that it was “God’s will” for your life.  A secular company couldn’t do that. Even the military, as much as an authoritarian hierarchy that they practice, couldn’t do that.

I do see the ideal society, being the Christian society built around true Christian ideals.  Don’t steal. Put the needs of others first. Be good, responsible parents. Don’t hate. Don’t murder. Love your neighbor. These are all great Christian ideals that would lead to a certain utopian society.  If a real theocracy could exist, and in the new heaven and new earth it will, it will be beautiful.

The problem with how things are, rather than how we could only dream then to be, I think has to do with our misunderstanding of sanctification.

In our old evangelical way of thinking, we saw a world where we came into the Christian fold as blank slates.  Our moral selves were written in the thin air of the spiritual world, so it was very fluid and subject to immediate changes. It was all moral. No matter what had happened prior to moment of conversion, the only thing that mattered was following a set of principles which would cause us to grow into mature Christians. Once you were mature, it was assumed that you only had God’s will at the center of your being and everything you said and done could be trusted as from God. If you were a leader, others could trust you with their lives.

But in reality, our character is written deeply in the sulci of our brains, in the material.  If we were abused as children and had baggage from that, or if we were born with the genetics of a personality disorder, those things are not changing very easily.  So, the myth becomes an illusion. We start to pretend that we are better than we really are because our erroneous theology says that we should be maturing quickly (or we are slackers).  Those who migrate into leadership roles, often do so because they are manipulators, not because of their selfless wisdom.

So this sets up a dystopian world. Humility is lost. There are only a few Christian leaders of large mega ministries who caution people to be careful of them. These few know that they stand on grace alone. There are only a wise few that insist on checks and balances to watch them because they know that the only thing that separates them now, from the awful person they were before they became a Christian, is wet tissue paper.

I didn’t understand that thirty years ago.  I was totally shocked when a good friend of mine, who had been the drug culture of high school and early college, after one bad day . . . returned to that culture. This was after she had spent five years in a hard-core Christian discipleship group.  She had been one of the few chosen to go on staff because she was so godly. Then she had one horribly bad day and the tissue barrier broke.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014


Part I

The Republican Party took back the Senate last night. This brings me back to the 1980s through the early 1990s, when I, as an evangelical, thought that society could be redeemed through the political process. I, like my evangelical peers, was a staunch Republican. It was so clear to all of us that the Republican party was God's party that it was assumed that to be a good Christian, you must also be a good Republican.

I was taken back in 1994 when I saw on my good Christian friend's Subaru a bumper sticker supporting Bill Clinton. How could that be?  I asked this question to myself and then to my friend directly. While he was on board with main evangelical social issues, anti-abortion, pro gun, anti-gay, prayer in schools and etc. he was a Democrat because of his view of issues of social justice.  As a Christian, he saw the government having the responsibility of supporting the poor, bringing them good health care and meals.  I became tolerant of this friend (doubting his "double standard" at the same time) while my other friends, true Rush Limbaugh Republicans, were brutal to him. I'm talking "middle school meanness" here.

Augustine wrote his City of God as the Roman Empire was falling and the hopes of the Christian for a earthly kingdom (assumed to be the post-Constantine Roman Empire) was being dashed on the stones of the fallen walls across Italy.  In his book, he attempted to reassure the Christian that the kingdom of God was not earthly, but heavenly and therefore the hope should be eternal.

So, I don't agree with either side anymore.  Augustine was a Platonic-Dualist (his words not mine) where he saw this material world as un-important so only the heavenly mattered. I don't agree with that. But I also don't agree that a political party will be our salvation here in the material world.

Back in the 1980s and early 1990s, we, evangelicals, were all hoodwinked. If you read Frank Schaeffer's books, such as Crazy for God, he describes how the Republican Party saw an opportunity to cash in on the rising evangelical majority (there was a brief revival going on during that time). He and his dad were sucked into the middle of this. To bring this large voting block into the Republican Party, they deliberately  included Christian, emotional language in their platform. It is the same way that political parties court any other social block, such as emigrants.  I'm not saying that none of the Republicans really believed in stopping abortions and etc. but many did it for personal political aspirations and no other reasons.  Politicians, as a group, are up there with TV evangelists, as people who are the most phonies (to borrow a term from Caulfield--Catcher in the Rye).

Imagine for a moment that Christians decided to create their own country called Christianistan. This is not so far fetched as this has been attempted many times in history, including the Jonestown disaster. Would I want to be part of it?  Hell no!!!  Now, in my idealism of the 1980s and definitely in my brainwashed psuedo-utopian world of the 1970s I would have said, absolutely!  So this change begs some interesting questions. Why would, in my opinion, a country run by evangelicals be so bad?  Okay, I have patients coming in the door and I have to go, so I will give this some more thought and be back with Part II.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

The Christian in the Age of Ebola

It will only be a matter of time before some TV evangelist publishes a book about how Ebola is a sign of Jesus second coming.  On the surface this may seem innocent to many Christians, but to the eyes of some of us, it is the most hideous form opportunism. If you take it at face value it is someone trying make money off the suffering of the many, mostly poor, in western Africa. This very behavior is anti-Christ (meaning here as against the nature of Christ) who gave himself for the suffering.

If you do a search for "Ebola + Christian" or "Ebola + End Times" you will see the discussion has already started.  For a direct link you can go here or listen to the video below.

I wish that I had time to do a scholarly article here but I do not. I'm confident that in the midst of each human tragedy in history there have been those wonderful Christian saints who exhibited the Christ-like selfless care for the suffering. I think of the priest and nuns who sacrificed their own lives during the black death of the Middle Ages by being the only ones willing to care for the sick and dying. I think of those saints who gave themselves to care for AIDS patients in the 1980s when they were shunned by many, including many evangelicals who saw their plight as God's judgment for a "homosexual lifestyle."

While I'm often critical, I do recognize that there are many wonderful saints out there who get it right. Even now, we hear of many brave volunteers going to help in west Africa, many are going from a humanist standpoint (MSF) and not a Christian conviction. Yet, I'm sure that many Christian groups are going or are missionaries who are there now. They give selflessly of their gifts and time.

I had a call from the relief organization that I've served with before. It is not a Christian group but somewhat like MSF.  They wanted volunteers for the Ebola outbreak.  I felt deeply torn.  I do see it as my "job" as a Christian to fight to help the suffering and to fight against the brokenness of this world and I'm very willing to risk my life to do it. The problem was that this time, they need at least a six week commitment in country, plus another four weeks of quarantine once back in the states.  I own a medical practice an am basically the sole medical provider.  Since our opening day four years ago we have struggled to avoid going bankrupt despite an overflowing schedule of patients. So, being gone from the practice for even two weeks would be a death sentence to the practice. It would be bankrupt by the time I returned. Not only would the practice be bankrupted, but I would personally be bankrupt by the time I got back. The reason is, our bills average $1,000 / day. This is for rent, malpractice insurance, software licenses (only about $2500/month), plus there are many other expenses.  If I were gone for 10 weeks, this would mean that I would personally owe $70,000 upon my return. 

But I ask myself daily, am I just making excuses?  In my old evangelical days, I might say that God is mysteriously "calling me to go" or maybe he was "calling me not to go." But if I believed the emotional voice that he was calling me, then I would assume that he would provide the income to keep the practice alive. But I don't believe in that kind of magic anymore. The priests and nuns of the Middle Ages trusted God, but they also knew that they had buried many other faithful brothers and sisters and it was more likely they would die from their service and they served anyway.

So, I do pray that it would be clear what I should do personally. But the bigger picture is how will the Church view the Ebola outbreak?  I'm afraid that the pop-Christian culture will see it only as proof that we are on the fast track to Jesus' return and their eyes completely miss the eyes of those suffering.

Christians often get it wrong when mass hysteria hits our general culture.  I remember like it was yesterday when Y-2K was approaching.  A group in my old church in Minnesota formed to prepare for the event. They became convinced that it would be the beginning of the end. So, their response was to hoard up food, generators, guns, ammo and water.  It made me sick to my stomach, because at the same time there was a terrible famine in Darfur. Bono got it right about Darfur. I lost a lot of good friends over that issue when I vented my disgust towards what they were doing.  There is something narcissistic about only thinking of yourself when others are suffering. Sometimes I wonder if I'm doing the same.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Follow UP - And Response to HUG

HUG, nice to know you are still around. I was going to respond in the comment section but decided to bring up here.

1. Yes, my crushing workload of the past 3 years is lightening up a bit along with the stress.
2. As usual, I agree with most of your comments.
3. Yes, the manuscript is the one that I use to have linked to this blog, but it has gone through a huge transformation through rewrites and editing.
4. Yes, I still have the same email address and always count it a pleasure to read your writing.

Follow Up:

I completed my sermon/talk on Sunday and met my goals. My goal was simply to face the most terrifying thing I could think of, knowing that exposure mends phobias. I don't know if anything I said made a difference as most sermons do not make a difference.

We attended the small group on Monday.  Afterwards I felt frankly depressed and awaken with depression the next morning and have felt depressed since.  I'm trying to get my head around why a Christian small group would make me feel so sad. It think it is because, almost on a subconscious level, I sense that, this is as good as it gets. When I was one of them, it was quite wonderful, but that was decades ago.

It appears in order to have a really good group of friends, there needs to be mutual respect. I could be best friends with an atheist and have been best friends with Muslims, but we had to reach that point of respect to have a really deep friendship.

In the Christian context, it should be simpler . . . right? We all share a common goal and orientation to life?  Or do we?

The problem, the way I see it, is that while we do share the fundamentals, it is the extraneous that make it virtually impossible to meet, or at least us who are disenfranchised to meet with the franchised. Yes, we can agree that God is there, that sin separated us from God (and fractured the universe away from its ideal) and that Jesus, God in the flesh, came to restore that brokenness.  We can further agree that the Bible is God's message to humanity. If it stopped there, it would be wonderful.

The problem is the American Evangelism is wrapped in many, many layers of specific extra-Biblical culture.  Differences in culture should not separate people either.  I mean, I've been great friends with fundamentalist Muslims, Chinese, Nepalese and you name it. Here is where the problem lies.  American, Evangelicalism have the simple essentials of the faith, wrapped with layers and layers of cultural beliefs and then it has been forged into a monolith. They see the whole thing as essential. So, to not agree with any part makes you suspect.

My Nepalese friends would never expect me to agree with all of their viewpoints but would celebrate our diversity. Christians treat other Christians very differently. We have this high standard (made up of many cultural, non essential parts) that our Christian friends must confirm to. If not, we must view them as a danger to themselves or to all of us.  I'm not saying this is how I think now, but how I use to think and how many still think.

American Evangelicals have forged the cultural beliefs (below) onto the simple essentials.  If I say anything in the group that is not consistent with these additional beliefs, then I know (from experience) that I will not be respected and immediately seen as a "liberal." So friendships must exist where the majority of yourself is hidden.

America is God's Country, like His new-chosen people.

America was a Christian country from the beginning and only recently did people, usually Democrats, start to put us on a godless path.

America, as a country, is always rights. All of her wars are justified, us-the good guys, against them-the bad, godless guys.

God is in the Republican party, not the Democratic party.

God wants us all to have guns.

Jesus is coming back any day.

The world is a terrible place and getting worse each day. We are on a path of total destruction of the world and it is not worth saving. Gays and gay marriage is proof that the world is becoming garbage.

Everything is divided between good and evil and we are on the good side.

God loves the grunt, because the wars they fought were God's wars.

Israel is in God's plan to be the chosen people through which we are all saved in the end. Therefore, those who oppose Israel (Arabs) are sub-human and do not deserve justice.

God hates the environmentalists because he hates the material world in general.

Miracles (meaning those things totally impossible within the laws of nature) happen all the time to people whom God loves, like the other people in the group. If miracles are not happening to you, you are an nonspiritual person. There is no concept of psychological self-deception.

Mature Christians never doubt or ask question but believe all the crap of their subculture.

Godliness is obtainable (while only a mirage) so we must loose touch with our own manipulative selves.

This is only about 10% of the things that come to mind.

So in closing, as I've made this too long, the people in our small group are great people. They don't realize the origins of their thinking. But how do you exist where you are not respected?  Do you sit in silence night after night smiling and pretending while people are saying things that are totally against your beliefs?  That is the choice that no one should be forced to make. It is the reason that young people are leaving the church in droves.

Friday, October 17, 2014

A Day in the Pulpit - and Other Thoughts

Page 1: Years ago, it wasn't that uncommon to find me in the pulpit of a church. Rarely did I do a morning service but often as a guest speaker in an evening service or at a missions conference. But I haven't been in a pulpit in a genuine way (to actually do the sermon) in 20 years, but this Sunday I am. It is a strange event how this came about. I knew that I had to find common ground with this church to say things and to say them in a way that I would not be misunderstood.

Probably the major reason I accepted the opportunity is for personal reasons not to make some great point in the message. I suffer from speaker's anxiety and when I don't do it, it gets worse. When I was asked to speak this Sunday, there was nothing on this earth I would find more terrifying.  I mean, about six years ago I was laying in a pup tent in NW Pakistan (came to help in an earthquake) surrounded by Taliban-types screaming, in English, "Death to the Americans!"  My own body guard abandoned me because he was afraid. But that wasn't nearly as terrifying as speaking to a large group, especially a church group and I'm serious about that. But so far, with some prayer, deep breathing, cognitive thinking, I'm handling this rather well. There have been times in the past that I didn't sleep for days before a talk. I slept like a baby the night when the Taliban-types were threatening to cut my throat in my sleep.

But to deal with fears requires exposure and exposure it will be. But I do want to gently talk about the metaphysical problems that Christians can have when they see this material world as junk ( a Platonic idea) and only the "spiritual" has value.  The talk is about stewardship of time and our metaphysical view has a major impact on how we approach that topic. If this material world is junk, as I was taught during my first 15 years of Christianity, then only time spend in matters of the "spiritual," prayer, Bible study and evangelism are significant. But if this material world is of great significance, then the matters of this world are of great value. Things like feeding the poor, fighting Ebola, helping in earthquakes, listening to the hurting non-Christian because we really care about them, not because they are an object of evangelism.

Page 2: Speaking of Plato, many people have encouraged me to read NT Wright. I had never until now. I'm in the middle of Surprised by Hope. It is strange and reassuring how I reached the same conclusions as he has through my years of personal study (the influence of Plato on the current Christian view of the cosmos).  We do disagree, which is not a big deal, it seems,(as I'm not finished yet), about the future. I'm post-mil, believing that the Church will eventually succeed and then Christ will return.  It appears that he is saying that my type of optimism is misplaced rational optimist of the old modernity (thinking that science and reason will solve all of our problems).  I don't think that is my position. I love science and reason, but they each are wanting in the area of morals.

Page 3: I was listening to the end of an NPR program yesterday. They were talking about new type of pastors or chaplains.  I will have to cut to the chase to say this new generation of chaplains blend religious orientations. One young man, who is finishing up his ministry degree, shared that he started out as a Lutheran, then atheist and finally a Buddhist. However, he declared, all three positions rest comfortable within his mind and he can reassure people with each orientation.  Then he went on to add that this generation (people under 35 I assume) are comfortable with believing several ideologies at the same time, even if some of them have contradictory views.

I was thinking that we were in the post-post modernism age or what some call "The Age of Authenticism." In philosophical orientations humans always swing back and forth to the extremes.  I had assumed that that philosophical (logical) synthesis (see Hegel) was over and the pendulum starting to swing back to the other direction.  I thought it had reached its apogee by 1991 when there was an investigation of Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas.  In the hearing, Anita Hill (work colleague) accused him of saying sexually explicit things to her. He denied ever saying sexual things to her, not one word. I remember a news anchor saying (because it was so confusing) that both were probably telling the truth (synthesis). It is clear one of them were lying, possibly both. But both can't be true. It is a metaphysical impossibility.

But this new generation was born in that world of thinking so it may seem natural, while totally illogical.  I hope that the pendulum starts to loose its momentum and return to the truth that would be obvious to a typical person for most of the past 35,000 years . . . opposites both can't be true at the same time . . . quantum mechanics as the only exception, perhaps.  This age needs to doubt more, both Christian and non-Christian. 

Last Page:  The book I've been working on for 10 years is much nearer completion. I'm working with an outstanding editor who works for Penguin Books and she has helped me to hammer the book into shape (and to shave 3,000 words from the manuscript).  I'm excited to see the light at the end of the very long tunnel.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Back Through The Looking Glass . . . Once Again

This will be of those difficult post, like I use to do. The feelings are as real as any feelings can be, but the words to describe them are allusive.

Us, post-evangelicals, are a lonely bunch.  We fit (speaking for myself) better in non-Christian groups than within evangelical ones . . . but to a point. We also find an impasse with the non-Christians eventually.

I've struggled on how to place my hand. I found comfort within a mainline church but out in the periphery.  There is constant calling for those needing warm bodies for all the programs for me to become more involved. But to do so would eventually mean a nasty conflict of cultures.  I choose my involvement carefully, mostly where the exchange of ideas would be limited, such as manual labor or work projects.

My wife and I made the decision to become part of a small group.  We knew we needed a platform on which to nurture relationships better.  It was a real "small" group with only five of us at max. Then one of the other individuals dropped out leaving it as two couples.  We enjoyed the group very much.  Of course we didn't see eye-to-eye with everything as no two people do. The other couple were thinkers and had been around LAbri. The major disagreement (which was almost never an issue) is that the other man considered himself an intellectual-charismatic.  So, when I hear the word "charismatic" I get a cold chill up my spine as I've been there, done that and it was ugly in my experience.  But, he never made an issue of it or even spoke in tongues during our group time.

Then our group was combined with a much larger group of about 15 people.  Suddenly, like boarding a time machine, I'm plucked back to my early evangelical days.

Here is where wording is difficult.  I hate this new group.  I do like the people and I think they are fine people, but when they are put together, like putting nuclear fuel rods together, an energy is created that is ugly (in my humble opinion).  I mean, standing in the kitchen eating cake and talking one on one is great. Like I said, they are fine people . .  probably much better people that I am. But when they enter the living room and take up their Bibles something dramatic happens and they warp into someone totally different.

I will try to describe what I feel but I know I will get it wrong.  In the Bible study a couple of verses are read then people start to share about that verse.  I sense I'm at a puppet show where the characters on stage are not real but the real operators are behind the curtain.  First of all, the speaker shares a short speech and then another shares a short speech. Several of the group are big talkers. But the 'speeches" are so stereotypical evangelical that I know exactly the words the person is going to say before their mouths open.  It appears to me that each person (working the puppet) is trying to give the illusion that God is great but what they are really want to communicate is that they, the person behind the curtain, is great.  Each one seems to be desperate to unveil their great spiritual attributes. I also sense a desperate effort to conform to evangelical mores of speech, which of course is trying to say that God is great. No one can argue with that so that seals the deal on the comment.  This is exactly why a ISIL fighter screams "God is Great" when he fires a mortar into a school.  Who can argue with him about his moral actions. Of course we can but not his peers because he punctuates his actions with the undeniable statement.

So here is an example.  A verse is read that says that there should be no immoral deeds among you and then there is a pause.

The first person tells a story about how people around them at work were cursing and using God's name in vain and how that grieved them so much because they (the speaker) have such heart for God. But then, over time, that person (who was "swearing") saw how the (speaker) was reacting to difficulties, by praying and not cursing God so they eventually stopped swearing.  They even invited that swearer to church.

Then the next person adds another long story along the same lines that communicates that they were a saint and the nasty non-Christians around them were bad people. But they always smile and then say at the end, "God is great isn't he?"  Which of course the whole group smiles and gives them positive reinforcement that what they just said was wonderful. Then there is the constant suggestion of supernatural miracles around them . . . puny stuff . . . not real miracles, as if we need miracles.

I, at that time, feel like my head is about to cave in from lack of content.

Again, these are good people but are only following the norms of evangelical "Bible study."

I finally spoke up when I kept hearing that we Christians have our act together because, unlike the evil non-Christians, we study the Bible, which purifies us.  I said that this concept of "godliness" is a myth because we, in my old days, studied the Bible non-stop and thought we were the most godly people on the planet . . . but then did awful things to one another, hateful things.  My comment was met with stares.  I forgot to end it with a big smile and say, "God is great isn't he?"

So, I don't know what we are going to do.  If there was a silver lining to this, it was on the way home in the car.  My wife, who previously wouldn't have seen a problem with such a "discussion" commented that the discussion made her feel physically ill and totally unsatisfying. I think I've rubbed off on her over these years.

But I'm not sure where this leaves us. Do we sit week after week tolerating the "God did this miracle and that miracle and I'm such a good Christian" talk just so we can have friends?  Is the trade off worth it?  My thoughts are trying to create a new small group.  I just don't know how many people I could find in the Church (a very good church in comparison) that has not drank from the Kool Aid bowl.  I just don't know. Being a Christian who is no longer an evangelical is a lonely place without an address.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Christian and the Statistician Walked into a Bar-Graph

Facebook, love it or hate it, gives me a cross section of my life. I joined it only to see photos of my grandsons. But quickly I met old friends from virtually each epoch of my life. There are people from high school, several from my evangelical days and then friends I'm met more recently.

I don't post that often. However, I have been bombarded by postings from old Christian friends. Some of them post about five times per day. I've had to "un-friend" many. The thing I notice the most evangelical posts (and I suspect that this is the backbone of the pop-side of the Internet) is the dissemination of "information" with quotes intended. This "information" is usually concerning political issues, such as "the lie of global warming." Recently it has been about the evil people in Gaza or the Soviet invasion of the Ukraine is proof that Jesus is coming soon (eyes roll here).  Regarding the situation in Gaza, if I've heard it once, I have heard it . . . well a hundred times at least, "Arabs believe only in death, Christians and Jews in life."  This is propaganda at its best.  But I digress.

Of course of late everything is about Isis. Their extreme violence makes them an easy "evil empire."  No doubt that they are evil and there is no excuse for that extreme evil, but the problems is, in the Christian domain at least, the discussion becomes very simplistic, dualistic and somehow points to the end times. We, the good guys are opposed to the bad guys.  No discussion of the political-social situation that breeds such groups as Isis.  To even bring up US foreign policy, as if were not perfect, would be an outrage. It did bother me that the greatest outrage of Isis' evil from my Christian friends came when they started killing Christians as if the tens of thousands of non-Christians of Isis' heinous crimes don't matter.

The topic that I'm the most expert in is medicine. Constantly cures are promoted on FB along with warnings against vaccinations, pasteurized milk, poisons in our food or the evils of prescription pills.  It seems that this "non-western medicine" has not only gripped the Post Modern society, but the Evangelicals as well and maybe more so. I remember when I was on staff with an Evangelical group that our insurance rates went sky high (like everyone's but more so) because the employees of the organization were extremely high-uses or non-western medicine.  If 20% of your company is going to the chiropractor twice a week it can be very expensive for insurance companies.

The evangelicals of course don't have the insight that they are just one small part of the present post-post modern culture. I work in what the lay people call "Western Medicine."  This is not an accurate title because most of the medical practitioners in China, India or any country practice the same type of medicine that I do. So the much better descriptive term is "Evidence-based Medicine."  This is what separates us out from the other side, which doesn't do studies or look for evidence but follow particular philosophical views about the body and health. It is a Gnostic knowledge, meaning in this case a spontaneous knowledge without supporting research.

I am not here to argue all the merits of Evidence-based Medicine because, like all things in this fallen world, it too is messed up.  I wish I had the time to tell the stories of how, what is best for the patient, is at the lowest end of the priorities in our present system. The top end is the war between insurance companies and providers and the constant fear of being sued. But I digress again but there are legitimate ethical questions that need to be asked about our system as well.

In Evidence-based medicine, as the name implies, the real dividing point is simple statistics and acknowledgement of the placebo (as well as the nocebo, imaginary negative effects) of treatments. In our form of treatment, we can not (or at least should not) promote a treatment unless it has been proven, statistically, to be superior to a placebo.  Our placebo is our gold standard because the placebo negates the physiological influence of the imaginary.

The backbone of evidence-based medicine is the well developed statistical method.  This is where this argument becomes philosophical as all mathematical arguments eventually do when you take them to their ultimate point. Statistics have worked out carefully the laws of probability and real effect. Math is the language of nature, meaning of all that is there in the physical world. I also am convinced that math explores the fabric upon which God as perched reality. I do believe that math is a "god-thing" to borrow an overused term from the evangelical. I've debated in my mind if I can say that math is infallible . . . and I think it is. It is my humble opinion that mathematics is spared from the Fall of Adam . . . but NOT the mathematician. So even in evidence-based medicine, the "mathematician" can get it wrong, either by poor calculations or by intent . . . in order to make something look better than it is.  As I understand, Mark Twain said that there are "Lies, Damn Likes and Statistics."  While I do believe, unlike Aristotle, that human reason is fallen and can't be trusted, the reason I believe that math is perfect, is because it is the echo of the creator Himself.

So, I do say that I believe that evidence-based medicine is more godly than that which is not because of the science behind it. It is based on statistical proof of effect and not just emotional placebo. I think you should expand this topic to the general way that Evangelicals approach truth. They don't consider the math  and they don't respect to how we can so easily deceive ourselves psychologically.

The key support of non-evidence based medicine is the testimony. From a mathematical side, and understanding human psychology (and economics) this is a very weak body of evidence.  back to the case of medicine, the testing where 1,000 patients are treated for y disease with x treatment and another 1,000 are treated for y disease with a placebo and neither the patients nor the investigators know who got the real, x, (double blind) can statistics be fulling trusted  . . .  but at that point it can be fully trusted due to the perfection of pure math.

Sorry, once again I only had time to type once and not proof-read. I dream of a day when I can think and type and proof-read what I type.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Friendships Across Philosophical Lines

It has been awhile since I've been here as of course I've been busy. Not only don't I have time to write, but sadly, I don't have time to think.  But there is something that has been on my mind and I wanted to air it out here.

I think men tend to be lonely by nature. So some of us, are far more lonely than others.  It isn't like I'm not around people. I sit all day long and listen to the most intimate stories of heartbreak and suffering and my job, by definition, is to console and comfort them. I even have my own therapist that I'm seeing right now to help me process my stress and deal with my natural anxieties. But neither of those are the same as friendships of course.

I asked my wife today why am I one of the loneliest men I know?  I, like a scientist, was seeking some common denominator that would explain it. I don't want to be alone.  I loved my years in college when I had many close friends. I loved to seek them out and to spend time together. But we were part of a cult and we shared one brain among us.

I know that one factor is my lack of time.  For example, I sometimes come here to Starbucks early in the morning, say 6 AM, and people I know come in. They say "hi."  But I'm here either to work on bill paying for my company or dealing with patient's requests for medication refills.  I know if I don't get all of this work done before 8 AM that I will behind all day. So I say "hi" back but I give body language that I don't want to sit and chat.

Today Denise, as we were driving home, said one of my problems is that I keep looking for people who think like I do.  She is partially correct.  But I'm old enough, however, to have given up the idealism that once had that I could be part of a Christian group where we all thought alike.

But I do find it hard to be close to someone who often brings up their views, such as the Democrats are Satan's tool for destroying America. Or that the Arabs should all be bombed. When Christian "friends" say things like that, I have no desire to be around them anymore.

I think one of the reasons . . . backtracking for a moment . . . that men in general are lonely is that men are more insecure than women.  We put up layers and layers of protection, hiding the true self.

I went to a dinner party last night at one of Denise's fellow employee's houses.  I knew no one, but I determined that I would make the best of it.  There were two other men and I tried stand in a circle and talk with them with some red wine in hand  However, they constantly talked of their accomplishments and how much money they had.  I was quite miserable until I stumbled onto a group of women in conversation, where I quite enjoyed the exchange. But, I can't have women as friends.

So, now back to my main point.  Recently we became part of a small group through our church. I do like it quite well.  It seemed like a good match as one of the couples had some experience through a LAbri  ministry. They were quite bright and understood philosophical  and theological issues quite well and didn't seem to be pretentious. The other person is a physician, so not an dumb person either.

As we have gotten closer to the first couple, the  man reveled to us that he was somewhat of a misfit in our church and within Christianity, because he considered himself as an intellectual mystic.  To be more precise, he is charismatic and speaks in tongues on a regular basis.  My heart sank.  I've been there and done that. I think, personally, that 99% if not 100% of so-called charismatic experiences are emotional and not spiritual. In my personal opinion it is the Christian equivalent of New Age spirituality, where the emotions are reinterpreted as supernatural spiritual experiences.

So, while I was disappointed,  I know that I can still be this man's friend.  Denise argues with me at this point that it is all my fault. But, my concern isn't that I can't accept someone who thinks different than I do, but I fear what is coming.  I've been told by so many charismatics over the years that my problem is that I haven't had x,y or z experience so therefore I am not a "spiritual person."  But they don't get it that I did drink of that Kool Aide once a long time ago and those years were the most dishonest of my life (and I think for everyone in our group). I never have a desire to go back there again.

I'm not the kind of person that tries to impose his views on other people. I'm quiet about my views. I only speak up when the pressure is being applied to me from the other side to believe like they do.

So we will see where this relationship will take me.

I'm being summoned so I must go once again before I can proof-read.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Problem of Certainty - Frank Says it Better

I've talked about this many times here, the issue of certainty being a delusion in both the Christian and Atheist's camps.  My son shared this interview with Frank Schaeffer where he says it better.  Do I agree with all of his views?  Probably not. But then again possibly . . . depending on how they are framed.

You can go here for the pod cast.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

The Question of Miracles

When I raise questions about mysticism or so-called supernatural events, I'm often misunderstood as a pure materialist.  That is the belief that miracles are impossible . . . even for God.  That is not true at all.

I don't like using the term "miracle" because it is loaded with connotations and emotions that I would like to avoid. Let's use an emotionally neutral word (made up word of course) of "outside-the-material-laws."  Do I think that God, in history, has stepped outside the laws of the material to do things?  Yes I do.  The Bible records some of those events. The fact that we and the material universe exist is a testimony to one of these events (creation). However, when you look at human history it appears that God very rarely works outside the beautiful laws of "nature" (actually laws of God). These actions are in unique times in history and for special purposes.  That leaves about 99.99999999999% of the time that God works within the beautiful laws, which He has created.

The real problem is, and the whole theme of this blog, is that in our historical past, we have become confused.  Due to the philosophical pressures from outside the Church, we have come to have a very distorted view of reality.  While we talk about the beauty of God's creation, in our deep places (underlying philosophical and emotional slant) we have the feeling that this material world is inferior.  Some of the old Gnostics expressed it most honestly when they claimed that the God of the Old Testament, the one who created the material universe and all of its laws, was an inferior god . . . maybe a "blue-collar" god.  He had to get dirty to make the material things.  Their God of the New Testament was only "spiritual" or non-material and the only way to know him was via the non-material.

We have adopted this into our Christian thinking that only the non-material is of significance.  Sure, we might like a sunset over the Grand Canyon and praise God for it. But we feel that we must re-label the emotional as "spiritual" or the works of the Holy Spirit to have any merit.

The other problem becomes emotional dishonesty.  If we live in a material world, one that God created and adores, yet we believe that events that are not explained by the material laws have value, then we seek the non-material. How many times have I heard pastors, on TV and in person, say things in closing like "Expect a Miracle."  We start to imagine that we see the non-material as a common occurrence.  We start to live in reality less and less.  Most of the TV evangelists are so far removed from reality that they might as well be living on a different planet.

My Christian friends often use the term "God thing."  What they are implying is that certain events happened only because God stepped in and did something outside of the material laws that He has so fondly created.

 "Sandra got the job!  It was clearly a God thing!" However, in that case, imagine that Sandra got the job because she was the most qualified and aced the interview.  But if you put it in those latter terms for your Christian friends they will not be nearly as impressed with you as if you had called it "clearly a God thing."

When I talk this way, my Christian friends feel a bit offended.  They sense that some how I'm trying to discredit God.  Holy cow (no pun intended) that is the total opposite of what I'm trying to do.  It is God who has created this material universe with all of its laws of physics, human psychology and human physiology.  It is glorious. It was made of out of nothing and therefore the whole damn thing is really "supernatural."  As Einstein said, either everything is a miracle or nothing is a miracle.  You can't  have a Dualistic universe where everything you see, the laws of physics, the laws of human behavior are all crap and the immaterial (the Holy Spirit speaking into my heart these special words) is far better.

I spent 20 years lying about miracles and my Christian friends did too. I know they did. I was there and witnessed the same reality that they did, but then they dressed it up as a supernatural event. Lying, all lying, is evil and separates us from the God who lives in reality.  We lie to ourselves more than anyone else. This is the human dilemma that, at its worse, becomes mental illness.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Brain . . . Meet the Soul

Throughout human history, philosophers, theologians and the common person have speculated on the resting place of the soul. This has been a huge metaphysical question. I think Plato did more thinking and writing about this than almost anyone else. It is far beyond this short posting between patients to give this idea any scholarly work.

I do want to bring one thought, continuing with my previous post, about this endeavor.  It is basically about the roles of emotion and rational thinking.

God has given us truth via His scripture and by His creative act of what is (or reality in other words).  When reality (creation) comes in conflict with scripture, one of them must be wrongly interpreted (if you follow the rules of logic).

We have come a long ways in our understanding of who we are.  The research is not complete. If the human mind was a city, we know the streets, the buildings, the infrastructure . . . while we may not know, yet, the names of each person residing in each of the buildings (cellular level). This evidence has come from decades of scientific investigation.  While it started with gross observation (looking at the brain), then moved into the mechanical (stimulating different parts of the brain with electrodes) now our examinations are far more complex using instruments such as Functional MRI and PET scans.

In very simple, high school, terms, it is within the cortex that higher reasoning takes place. This is the computational part of the brain. It is at this level that you could say "reason" resides. "Wired" into the cortex (as well as other places) are the senses of hearing, seeing, touching, tasting and smelling.  At this level language and memory are also a key component.

Beneath the cortex is another complex array of connections, which makes up the limbic system. Within the limbic system lies the seat of the emotions, sadness, fear, elation, excitement, hate and love.  Along with those emotional components lies also some aspects of long-term memory and the sense of smell.  We know these things with certainty. To steer away from theological or philosophical arguments about the source of the soul, this neuro-physiological reality is well established and trusted.

The purpose of our cortex is to explore the world around us (via sensory input) and to make sense of it through reason.  The purpose of our limbic system is to interpret the information organized and presented via the cortex. Due to both genetics and life experiences (nature and nurture) both the cognitive organization and the limbic interpretations can make mistakes.  The best example is with the paranoid schizophrenic.  They can see two people whispering (via the senses) but then interpret it as them talking about themselves. Then, via their limbic system, feel fear and threatened.

It really seems to fit well that God designed us and blessed us with the cortex of our brain as the part of us which finds knowledge about the created world around us.  Reason, as the method of that thinking, too is God's gift to us to find truth. It is our emotions, which God has also blessed us with, that can enjoy that knowledge once discovered.

Because of the powerful influence of Gnostic Dualism upon the Church and the western world (as well as the eastern world via other historical vectors) we have this warped economy of spirituality.  That which is physical, the earth, the product of human endeavors and the human mind have been relegated by his system, into the insignificant as compared to the grandeur of the invisible and subjective (what some would call mystical).

Sit in any Christian circle of sharing. The person who says, "I was driving home today and the sun broke through the clouds, forming a rainbow in the spray of the fountain by the lake and I heard clearly the voice of the Holy Spirit saying to me loud and clear that I should quit my job."  No one in the group would question your gnostic truth.  I know about this because I lived in this world for 20 years.  It wins you many brownie points among other Christians and makes you look spiritual.  Most of the time it is very emotionally dishonest. We would share things like that even if we didn't see a rainbow in the fountain but just make it up.  I'm speaking very candidly here and honest.

Now, imagine that you say, "I've thought long and hard about my job.  My talents are not being used properly, I don't like going to work, and I figured that I should change jobs. It is logical. I assume that God wants me to be fulfilled and that I use my talents, which He has given me, to their fullest."

Which of the two seems most spiritual in our present system?  I think it would be the first one. However, in reality, I think it is the second which is most spiritual. The reason is, if God is there, he exist within reality. The more we make stuff up and live in a magical world that is not really there, the less contact we have with real world where God dwells.

We now have created a system where we use emotions as our system for finding truth. This has been very dangerous and has often led us astray.  Our logical minds, married with our senses, is our real, God-given instrument for knowing truth. Our emotions make up our God-given ability to enjoy that truth.  It is the icing on the cake. It provides no nourishment, but pleasure or, in the case or terror, keeps us safe.

The position that I'm making is extremely unpopular in this present age where signs and wonders are considered the hallmarks of true christian spiritual experience. Frankly it is threatening to people.  However, it is a voice that is needed.  We now live in a post-Christian world and I do believe that one of the major reasons that we are now post-Christian is the failure of the Church to teach people to love God with their minds and to appreciate the material and wonderful world, which God has made . . . and made good.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

God the Mystic . . . or not so?

There is something about human nature that makes it very hard for us to avoid the extremes. When it comes to the issue of our approach to God being via reason or non-reason, the dance has followed the same pattern over the centuries.

You could say that the Christian journey began towards the direction of reason is the ultimate source of knowledge and truth, as advocated by the Greek society and Aristotle.  However, before that swing of the pendulum reached its zenith, it quickly moved back in the non-reason direction under the auspices of Augustine giving the voice of Plato.  This movement did continue until the zenith during the dark ages when reason was eventually despised and God was only known through the mystical (non-reason) approaches.

Then, a few hundred years later, with the Renaissance gaining full momentum, the pendulum began to swing in the opposite direction, towards the belief of an unfallen reason that we can have confidence in to lead to truth every time.  It is hard to know when this swing reached the end as the end was expressed in different times and different ways.  Surely Empiricism in Great Britain and  the Enlightenment of the European mainland represented two of the higher points of reason.  I see the zenith of this swing being in Descartes' statement Cogito ergo sum.  It was the ultimate beginning point of pure reason alone.

This movement of course didn't suddenly fizzle and start the swing in the opposite direction. But when the whole of society caught up with the Enlightenment, we had the birth of modernism.  Within it the hope that reason and science would solve all of our problems, including the problem of knowing God.  Knowing God became a technique.

But of course that became empty for both the Christian and the secularist.  The pendulum began to swing back towards non-reason two hundred years ago among the elite of society (the thinkers and writers) but didn't reach pop culture until the sixties.

Then, as the pendulum moved back to the direction of the non-reason and eventually to the anti-reason we had post-modernism among the secularists and the mysticism of the charismatic movement and the age of signs and wonders, which penetrated, in some form, all of evangelicalism and brought in a new mysticism within Catholicism.

While the height of Christian mysticism may have subsided a bit, I now find Christendom having great difficulty inserting proper reason back into the picture. Like I said in the beginning, we humans have great difficulty finding balance.

I now go to a well-educated church, and I like that. This is a thinking church.  Yet, at the same time, I'm finding that many of the people, like is true throughout this age, cannot find spirituality without defining it as an anti-rational mysticism.  Our main Sunday school class is now studying the "Great Christian Mystics."  The approach is, these people of history, who had strange experiences, have a key to being spiritual.

I'm also in a small group Bible study.  I'm enjoying it a great deal. Yet, once again, I have noticed that the conversation cannot be spiritual without being irrational.  The best example is where scripture is used as a magic book.  Rather than trying to know the history of the writer and what they intended to say, in their context, we are asked to feel the spirit take the words (like magic) and make it personal.  Those words may have nothing to do with the original intent.

This was the norm during my evangelical days.  We often threw opened the Bible, like a lucky charm, and looked at the first verse that we saw. We would take the words of that verse, like a whisper from God, totally divorced from the content, and make major life decisions on the perceived meaning.

Tonight I'm leading the group.  We are studying Psalms and I'll trying my best to do my research on the background of that particular writing and the original intent of the author.  I can draw from that story principles that apply to all of us.  I can also visit the human emotions of the author and draw major life lessons from that. But I will not venture into the magical of taking a few words, scrambling them, and allowing them to conjure up meanings for me personally that was not intended.

There has to be a balance. I do want to speak the voice of reason, but not the unfallen reason of the Empiricists, but a limited reason.  A reason that can take you most of the way to truth, but not always the whole way.

The universe is filled to brim with the mystical God of scriptures. But is should not be based on emotional feelings or psychological phenomena.  The mysteries of God include the fact we are here.  All the systems of life are a mystery. Dark matter, dark energy, the hugeness of the universe, the complexities of all that is.  This is the mystery of God.

I really think it is time to try and turn the pendulum back, but to avoid the extremes.  Can God work outside the natural laws of physics and psychology?  He could, but why would he want to?  Is this real universe not a glorious place in itself?  Why is it seen as nonspiritual to find the rational answer to the things of life?  God is the author of logic, reason and the mind. These are His gifts and not the domain of the lord of darkness.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

In Search of Authentic Christianity

I've been thinking more about how this present age has been labeled by some the age of authenticity. It is not that the people born after 1980 are more authentic than those from the "Mad Men" generation, but the point is that being authentic is the aspiration of this generation while it was not even on the radar in the 50s.  It is still an unfulfilled aspiration in my opinion.

I also ask myself constantly what would an authentic Christianity look like?  I remember in my Evangelical days that we would use the words "authentic Christian" but the connotation was totally different from what I mean here.  To us, it meant someone or substance (book, lecture, building, etc.) that was totally conformed to our particular brand of Christianity. We were the only correct Christians, so we thought, therefore you were authentic if you had drank from the same Kool Aid tank as we had.

But here is how I define authentic now, that which is most congruent with reality.  It is where people are very, very honest.  Not projecting theirselves as they want to be interpreted by others. It is not playing the game of promoting an agenda of truth that is truth to their brand (like the Kool Aid tank).  It is promoting an agenda of seeking truth wherever it may lie.  Yet, having the humility to know that with the fallen mind, we can never find all truth through reason.

My wife is now attending my church.  I never pressured her to but gave her space to reach her own conclusions. It was a difficult three years where she remained loyal to a pastor who considered me the devil. I was the devil to him, simply because I choose to leave his fold.

But now that my wife is part of my church, it gives us the opportunity to move deeper into it. While I've acknowledged that this church is the best church experience of my life, I still know that it is not perfect nor is any church.  It is still the product of 2,000 years of western civilization. But as I move from being an outsider to insider, I sense the same way of thinking that I've seen with most church people.  It is a very narrow and awkward (in my opinion) view of spirituality.  Being consistent with this whole blog, I could argue that this culture has more to do with Plato, than Biblical Christianity.  It is that division, which I don't think is Biblical, between the seen and unseen. The mysterious, unseen, always trumps the seen in this tradition.

This leads, in my opinion, a very deep emotional dishonestly.  Suddenly your daily life is filled with signs and wonders (from your imagination) because to be supernatural, is to be spiritual because the laws of nature aren't spiritual in this way of thinking.

So, I'm part of a small group.  It is made up of really good people, whom I like a lot. They are also highly educated people and somewhat deep thinkers. However, the mores of this group are consistent with those throughout Christianity.  People still define their spiritually by their supernatural experiences.  They would be taken back to hear me say this.  But I'm quite sensitive to this kind of talk and it does permeate the conversation.

I now feel very uncomfortable and un-authentic, if I were to say that "God spoke clearly to me today to do such and such." I would also not feel at ease to say that an eagle (which flew by last night) was sent by God to our group as a message. I think that our psychological selves are far too broken to know truth via these mystical experiences.  I've had patients who believed that they were pregnant (and they were not) to the point their bellies protruded (sub-consciously pushing it out).  Yet, they maintained, being 100% sure they were pregnant, for years.  Our minds cannot be full trusted.  For that reason, I am a skeptic.

I'm not here to change how others see the world. But I do want to create space where us skeptics can co-exist with the typical Christian and not be evaluated spiritually, by our spiritual talk. I'm happy to talk about scripture, about theology, philosophy and even more happy to talk about our psychological challenges of daily living in a fallen world. But I don't like to be in a situation where, unless you relate what you say to supernatural events, they have no merit.

I tried to have this conversation last night with my wife.  I must have done a terrible job trying to explain it as she got a little mad at me.  She thought I was simply being critical of a group of wonderful people. They are wonderful people, more so than myself. But still there has to be a place for total, intellectual honestly.  At times like this I feel that I'm from a different planet.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

When God Doesn't "Bless"

This is one of those topics that you can't really discuss in the evangelical sub-culture.  If you do, you instantly create this aura of awkwardness. After all, if you live right, God always blesses . . . right? While I was thinking of a personal story, I will start with one of a friend.

About seven years ago, a good friend (and Christian) of mine was diagnoses with leukemia. I will never forget when he first broke the news to me.  We were the same age and same vulnerability, so his cancer was really close to home.  He smiled and said, "Don't worry. My doctor says it is the best kind of leukemia to have.  At least ninety percent of victims have a full recovery."

To make a long story short, within two weeks he was hospitalized.  He was very, very sick.  Every treatment known was tried on him, including several experimental treatments.  All failed. Three weeks later he was sent home to die and he did. He died less than 24 hours after he was sent home.

His wife told me that the oncologist told her that my friend's cancer had taken the most horrible course possible.  Even though I knew them within a church setting, I'm glad that I never heard anyone trying to spiritualize things, like we use to in my evangelical days. You know the narrative, "God did this for a reason."  Or maybe, "This was straight from Satan because he knew he was a great guy."

But their situation led to silence. No one spoke about it period.  How could you?  God allowing a good man to have the 10% worst outcome?  It would beg the questions of if God was there and if He is, then does He really love us?

I don't want to talk about my situation too much so I don't sound like a whiner. But I'm own a medical practice that is incredibly successful, with schedules packed with patients.  Yet, for reasons that neither I or the crowd of experts I've had looking at it can figure out, we have been terrifying close to bankruptcy for three years.  Yeah, I feel frustrated, depressed and most of all, exhausted.  I could easily be drawn into self-pity.

But defying the odds of business, I'm failing.

The question far transcends my own personal journey and one huge "dark matter" of the spiritual universe.  What happens when you defile the odds and fail?  When it goes the other way, 10% chance of success and you succeed, you have a lot of self-praise and God-praise.  It is easy to say, "God blessed."  But what do you say when the plane crashed with two hundred people on board and your loved one, a great person, is the ONLY one harmed?

I know of no meta narrative that makes sense of this except for the laws of probability.  If there is just a 1% chance of failure, then when one hundred people are involved, one will fail.

I think we need to discuss failure much more often in our Christian circles. Failure must be part of the Christian lexicon. If you don't believe that it is, then you will be surprised, in a negative way, when it comes to you.  Then God becomes detached from your person.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Christianity in the Age of Authenticism Part I

I began this week, a possible futile, mental exercise of preparation for a class I want to do in the fall of this year.  It could be a short Sunday school class or an evening class. I prefer the evening context but I'm doubtful if many would come if not herded into the room by such a long tradition as Sunday school.

This class would be on the Renaissance.  Part of my introduction is to examine why it is important that we study culture and the history thereof. My opening statement would be that to understand this present culture, we have to understand the previous and the one before that and the one before that.  But what is the name of the present western cultural trend? I knew that we were no longer "Post-Modern."

As I did my real (not just a mental exercise) research I came across one important opinion on the matter from Prospect Magazine.  The author believes that the best title of this age is the "Age of Authenticity."

I understand where the author is coming from.  I have heard the mantra a thousand times, coming from the mouths of the 20-something generation, of "be true to yourself."  More directly, I have heard of, and actually heard people in this age talking about they want to chuck everything and simply search for the truth.  I, of course, deeply respect that.  After-all, that is exactly what I did about twenty years ago.

While this course of thought, seeking authenticity, is at least honorable, I suspect that there is a nativity that will eventually haunt many of these pilgrims. I picture it like the scene from A. I. where the robot-boy (with real artificial intelligence), played by Haley Joel Osment, is being led by robo-gigolo, played by Jude Law into this adult world of obsession and entertainment.  It is no coincidence that this place is congures up vivid memories of  Pleasure Island from Pinocchio. After all, A.I. is simply a re-telling of the same story. But as the boy, with his stuffed robotic Teddy Bear, wanders the streets, you see the conniving eyes of countless people who want to take advantage of him.

As people search for a pure truth, there are many impostors. The real problem is that we can never know pure truth due to our own limitations.  As a Christian I see the limitation as the Fall of Adam on our sense of reason.  But some will say that if you can't absolutely know pure truth, what's the point?  Why not give up and fall into a form of hopeless nihilism or an existentialism where you create your own truth. Of course that latter course is a nostalgic movement back the post-modernism.  The reason that this generation has moved beyond post-modernism is because it didn't work. When you create truth from nothing, within your own head, it is like creating paper money from nothing. It quickly has no value for even yourself.

So this brings me back to Christianity.  The Church, like all human institutions, is a chameleon, strongly reflecting the colors of the culture in which it lives. The problem with Christianity, more so than other institutions, is that they have never fully accepted one of their basic tenants, the fall of Adam on our reason and ability to know truth. So, The Church has always thought of itself as the barer of absolute and specific truth.

I will now bring this down to a personal level before having to pause. I'm very different that I was when I was an evangelical.  In the past three weeks I had several opportunities to interact with people from my past.  I sense from things said, but also I must admit, from my own projections of what I think they are thinking, that I'm either with them (just like I use to be) or I have fallen off the wagon so far, that I dare not consider myself Christian.

No, I find this strange because I still adhere, without compromise, to the fundamentals of the faith. I do believe that God is there. I believe that the Biblical scriptures are true, although not always meant to be literal. I certainly do believe that Christ came to save us and humanity is saved through him alone.

But I diverge from my friends on many cultural items.  Each of them seems to have segmented into certain sects. Some have become Catholic. Some one branch of the Presbyterian Church, some another. Some became Lutheran, some Orthodox.  The problem with that, is each seem to believe that they have settled into the one and only true church.  They seem to believe that you can know specific truth and know it absolutely.  So they know that the specific tenants of their denomination are the ones closes to the early Church.  But should the early Church be our standard?  It was a total mess.

I am certainly not a relativist. Truth matters and two opposites both can't be true. However, there are many unknowables. But, beyond the unknowing, is the intentional (by God) freedom of expression.

After visiting Istuanbul a few weeks ago and spending months studying the history of that fair city, I've fallen in love with Sophia (the church building, as in Hagia) and the Greek culture of Christianity (Orthodox) around her. But I can admire that culture in the same way I admire the Romantic Catholics of central Italy.  None of course are pure and perfect, but with their own glory and admiration.

My old friends, and I know this because I use to think the same way, that it is all or none.  You either believe that Sunday morning worship is exactly the way it should be (and the way your particular denomination does it), that contemporary Christian music is God's music, that God wanted us to bomb Iraq and elect Republicans, that Jesus is constantly doing supra-natural things around us, that there is a conspiracy of Muslims wanted to steal our babies, and that we are all emotionally perfect (so intense denial) because we are good Christians.  If you don't swallow the entire American-Evangelical-subculture, then you are lost.

But it is at this juncture the present church becomes incapable of offering those in the age of authenticity any safe-harbor. It is because the Church has lost interest in knowing the best truth that we can find, in order to support its false narratives, it is not a place for the authentic.  But it must change. I hope that this makes some sense.

I will be back if I can find a window of time again.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

A Brief Word on Miracles

I was thinking about a personal situation this week and how it relates to the topic of miracles.

I've shared before how I have become totally consumed with the task of starting and maintaining a medical clinic over the past three years.  While our patient schedule has been as full as it can be and our cost, such as salaries, is cut to the bone, we have three very close encounters with bankruptcy.  The problem has been getting paid for our services.    

In this last crisis, the worst of them all, we were near bankruptcy for three months.  I was under tremendous emotional strain during this time, working night and day to try and figure out why we weren't being paid.  I had shared with my Christian friends about the distress I was experiencing.  For example, this week, I had $20,000 in bills due.  Three weeks ago I had a neg $721 in my books.

I am now poised to complete this narrative when I see my Christian friends today.  You see, last weekend, over $20,000 suddenly came in. This is after three months where our weekly collections were 3-4 thousand dollars with bills of $6,000 per week also coming in.

So that was a simple introduction and I want to move on to a much more important topic and that is of miracles. The old Mike would, without hesitation, tell the narrative that God, working outside of natural laws, brought the money in just in the nick of time. I would even embellish the story a bit by saying I needed exactly $20,000 and exactly $20,000 came in. But that is not true and it is not that simple.  I would also cut out of the narrative all the human activities that led up to the money coming in as not to distract from the notion that this was a miracle.

We are addicted to miracles in the same way that a vulnerable person could be addicted to heroin.  It is reassuring to us and the narrative that our Christian culture demands.

In my story that I just told. We had three months of low collections and a growing debt of $20,000 that was due this week, then suddenly $20,000 came in just in the nick of time.  It does sound like a miracle.  While I verbally praised God from the moment I opened the mail box and walked back to my office, with sincerity and passion, I know in my heart of hearts that this was within the natural laws. The full narrative has the fact that my biller was working tirelessly over the previous two weeks trying to find some of the money owed us.  She found it and knew that it was on its way.

But I thought a lot as I start to encounter my Christian friends and they, who thankfully had been praying for me, ask about what happened.  Was it an answer to prayer?  Sure, I can accept that.  So, while I see it as an answer to prayer, I don't see it as a miracle.  A true miracle is where God chooses, and He rarely does, to do something completely outside of natural laws.

The reason we seek miracles, the same reason that people at the time of Jesus sought miracles.  It starts with the premise that the natural laws are other-than-God, or outside of God.  Therefore, for something to be of-God, they have to miracles.  To give credit to my biller's work, seems to take away the glory that belongs to God alone. But it was God who created my biller and it was God who created the cause and effects of human behavior.

So now, I will happily tell those who were praying for me that this problem, for now, was solved. But I will give credit where credit is due.  It would also be insulting to my biller for me to say that that the funds that came in had nothing to do with her work.

We must find comfort in the notion that God works in glorious ways through the natural laws and the rules of cause and effect through the universe, which He has made.  That these physical things, these actions of man, are indeed of significance. We must know we can think this and share these honest narratives without guilt as if we have betrayed Go.

The harm?  The harm of embellishment and miracle boasting is that at that juncture we step off the curb of reality you enter the world of smoke and mirrors and then nothing has value anymore.  As Christians me must insist that we live in reality because if God is there, and I believe that He is, then He exist within reality and not outside of it.