Saturday, February 15, 2014

A Christian View of Nature

I'm sure that volumes have been written on this topic over the ages, by men far better than me.  The only reason that I bring it up at this time is what I see as a disturbing trend. I have also used "A Christian View" rather than "The Christian View" because I recognize that other Christian views might exist. 

Throughout history he Church has always adopted and absorbed non-Christian ideologies.  It is human nature, no pun intended.  Many of these ideologist are not bad in themselves. Some of them can be, especially if the individual doesn't understand the roots to the beliefs that they hold and worse if they assume those beliefs are Christian. When belief becomes actions it the becomes fads or cultural mores. Mores place intense pressure on all people to conform.

 I'm bombarded by pop American culture, including Christians, who promote a view of nature that I don't think is Christian in its roots.

The most popular view of nature at this time in America and the West in general, is Rosseauian. In a gross summary, it is the belief that nature, it its raw form, is good . . . actually perfect.   Additionally, any intrusion into nature by humans is always, and intrinsically, evil. For example, in my line of work (medicine) these people who follow this popular philosophy believe that if their disease cannot be treated with herbs, food and vitamins, then you leave the disease alone and the suffering was what nature intended for you.  You would never use medications (Jesus wouldn't use medications would he . . . so they think) because that is human intervention.  I don't know why processing and bottling herbs is not human intervention but in their view it is not.  Part of the reason they draw this distinction is the manipulation by the billion dollar supplement industry.  The billion dollar pharmaceutical industry can likewise over-promote medications.

So I want to briefly look at the basic of Christian beliefs when it comes to nature.

1) God created nature and humans and said that it was all good.  In that good state, God gave man domination over nature.  That role was not to harm nature (and a pre-fallen man would never harm nature) but to manage, use and nurture it.

2) Sin entered the universe and both man and nature suffered the consequences.  Neither were decimated but tainted.  There is still much good in nature and in humans. Also, different than a view expressed by Plato an adopted by much of the early Church, God didn't create nature as inferior to the spiritual realm but along side it. Scripture teaches that our future is not in a mystical Heaven, but a real, physical new universe.  This not a totally new, as created totally different from the one we see now, but a "fixed" earth and universe. This isn't some far out idea but is part of the traditional protestant and catholic views.

3) Now, nature in its raw state is good, but not completely good.  Nature can cause great evil (earthquakes, floods and etc.). Nature is not safe. Think about the fact that 99.99% of all human suffering comes directly from nature. In the case of cancer, less than ,01% comes from :man-made sources, such as toxins in our "industrial society." Instead it is natural forces such as genetic defects, background (natural) radiation from our own sun and the breakdown of elements in the ground (radon) and from plants such as tobacco.

4) Fallen humans can also cause great evil (wars, abuse of people and nature).  Humans still have domination over nature but humans can't be completely trusted with it.  But that doesn't mean (like Rousseau believed) that every time humans influence nature, they harm it.  Humans can and do improve nature and are capable of doing great good.

I will add two other view points of nature other than Christian. I will make these distinctions simple.

Atheistic View: Nature is a freak of Nature, pun intended.  All that is, came out of a complete accidental freakish event without intention or purpose. There is no meaning. There can be no value. Destroying all of nature with a toxic explosion is just as meaningful as preserving nature in a pristine condition. Both actions are meaningless. Anytime an atheist injects meaning into nature, they are being disingenuous and escaping their own philosophical orientation through emotional gymnastics.

Pantheistic: Western cultures, as well as the Christians within those cultures (in error in my opinion), also draw from pantheistic ideologies. The true pantheist sees nature as not a created substance outside of God, but part of God Himself.  Therefore all that nature is, is good.  You can't shake your fist at an earthquake (unless you practice the same emotional and irrational mental gymnastics as the atheist) and scream because the earthquake is part of God.  So while the warm and fuzzy feelings might be felt when you think a mountain or tree is part of the being of God, but you must accept that a tsunami that kills tens of thousands and leaves a million homeless, is part of God. 

Friday, February 14, 2014

Branded "Truth"

This is somewhat related to the previous discuss on the great debate.

Recently I was in discussions with a couple of people. Both times I quickly realized that I was no long talking to a person, but to a brand. When someone has bought-into a system of truth, then you don't need to have a substantive conversation with them any more because you already know everything they are going to say about every topic. It is written in the brand's program.  It is automatic.  They stopped thinking for themselves a long time of go.

I remember when I was of the Evangelical brand.  When I was in a deep discussion with someone, especially someone outside my brand, I can remember a strange thing happening in the deepest places of my mind. In this place is where thoughts are formed before they are launched up to the mouth. I would sit and study the brand answer and my own true thoughts.

For example, someone would ask, "Do you ever have doubts?"

In this private place of my mind the brand answer would come up, "Never!  Jesus is so real to me, more real than the ground I walk on. So I've never doubted him for moment."

But at the same time the real Mike's mind would hand me another answer. "Yeah, I doubt a lot. But I know it is wrong to doubt so I don't want to talk or think about it."

So I have two friends who have converted to Catholicism, one to Lutheranism, others have stuck to their Evangelical roots.  In the cases of each of these friend, not to imply for a  moment that all Catholics, Evangelicals or all Lutherans think this way, they defend their denominations views to the ultimate end.  One of my Catholic friends won't even admit that there was a problem with sexual abuse within the church and even deny the atrocities that the Church committed in the historic past (think inquisition as one example).

My point isn't to tear down each of these fine institutions.  My point is that branded ideology neuters logic and the quest for truth.

A better example is to talk to a Democrat or a Republican and you will know what the are going to say before they say it.  Why watch a debate like the Ham and Nye one, we know their brands? There is no evidence on the earth that would rattle each of their thinking.

I've mentioned before that I went to a "Indy Music Festival" to hear my son's band play.  I was trying to understand the theme of that culture.  My son laughed at me when I questioned him (he usually laughs at my questions) and he tried to point out that they have no "theme" or culture.  That is what is meant by independent . . . they have no rules for music. They play music for the sake of music with no genre.

However, I tried to point out that there is no escaping culture.  Even us who are disenfranchised from parts of mainstream culture,  create our own mirco culture or brand.

I've was warned many times in the past about not questioning the Evangelical brand.  My old missionary leader told me that he had a friend who started to question his faith but was no longer a Christian anymore.  I bet his problem was that he really didn't question it enough.  When you only half way question your faith, you end up in this no-man's lad of nihilism (no way to know anything) or switching to the opposite brand out of despite (atheism). But you have to keep on questioning and not stop there.  You have to question the total nonsense and emptiness of Nihilism.  You have to question the charade of living well under atheism and the allusion of, "We don't know the answers with any certainty . . . but we know for certain that God can't be one of them."

I know that I too fall into brands.  I hope not.  I hope that there is no question that I can not embrace.  I hope that I'm pragmatic in the real definition of the term.  Truth is only found when there is an honest freedom to search for it.


Saturday, February 8, 2014

The Great Debate Part II

As usual, I didn't have the couple of hours needed to put my thoughts into words.  So I searched for a surrogate.  I found one of sorts in the form of this article by science writer Michael Schulson. He addresses the lack of an intelligent response to Ham. But I must "adapt it" (as in a screenplay adaptation) for my audience and theme by adding my preface.

I will speak of general principles about epistemology, which I think is the real disaster in these kinds of debates. In my view, it is simple.  If God is there, and I believe that He is, then he must reside at the bulls-eye of truth.  I can not know that God is there for sure UNLESS I have at times considered the possibility of Him not being there. Now what I mean by "truth" is real truth, that which is.  It is not a religious "truth," which is just another word for doctrine.

In the honest search for truth, you must have a humble honesty and a rational mind to look at the evidence.  When you reach a position of "truth," before you honestly search, then your desire for truth will forever be thwarted.

In this debate, Ham, made it clear that NOTHING could change his mind.  Bill Nye alluded to the same.  When asked what came before the Big Bang, Bill was honest that he did not know. But he also suggested whatever came prior to the Big Bang, it certainly wasn't God.

This is the tragedy of both the Evangelicals and the Atheists. They are two peas in the same pod.  I could have a cup of coffee with a humble agnostic and enjoy it a great deal.  I understand the agnostic.  But there is also a militant form of agnosticism that can fall into the same class as the Evangelicals and the Atheists.  In the eyes of these agnostics, they are 100% sure that knowing anything is impossible.

While I see the world getting better in general, I sense a level of hopelessness for the Evangelical movement.  Even now, 80% of Evangelical kids (Katy Perry as the archetype) abandoned their faith by the time they are 25.  Ken Ham will be a major player in the loss of the youth because when you teach a kid that to know God you must believe in nonsense . . . eventually you will no longer be able to believe in God anymore. Okay, you can if, due to peer pressure (family, church), you suppress your mind so much that you believe in God at the sake of living in reality or thinking at all.

Who knows why Ken Ham believes in a 6,000 year-old earth.  I tried to research his formative years and didn't come up with much, except for the fact that his original Christian ministry in Australia sued him and settled out of court for "dishonest practices motivated by financial interest and  arrogance."  But now he is a brand.  Once a brand the chances of changing are short of nothing than a road to Damascus experience because he is so invested in his position.  Branded people are never good sources for real knowledge, it doesn't matter if they are selling anti-aging facial cream . . . or a young earth.

With all of that said, certainly you are welcome to view the earth as a young earth and just having those opinions is not the problem.  My wife does and I respect her. If you ever hear me saying that you must believe in a 14 billion year old creation is essential for being a good Christian, then run for the hills. But the problem comes when you say viewing the earth as 6,000 years old is essential to knowing God, then it is a disaster. 

Friday, February 7, 2014

The Great Debate Part I

It was brought to my attention this week by one of my Facebook evangelical friends that the great debate between Ken Ham and Bill Nye.  It was billed as a huge event for Christians.  I had the moment to tune in and listen to it . . . all of it.

Without sounding cynical, which I often do, the debate--as most debates--was not of substance.  It was evango-entertainment.  Both men speak fluently and both are entertainers.  Bill Nye is an engineer by training, but quickly became a science educator and entertainer.  I would love to hear a good debate between two knowledgeable people who had only one objective, to know the truth.  These men had objectives but neither had knowing the truth as one.

But the debate raises some important issues and questions, but not about the content of what they were saying.

1) Ken Ham is setting the agenda for the protestant church that believing in a 6,000 year old earth is a fundamental of beliefs.  Without this view, you can not call yourself a Christian.  It was for this issue (as a last straw) I left my last church.  I had been told twice that I could not be a Christian and believe that the earth was older than 6,000 years.

This is historic.  Never before in the history of the Church has it been mandated that you believe in a young earth. This is a new development in 20th century America (and Ham is Australian but from a American-Evangelical movement within Australia). Even when the Catholic Church was  mandating that the earth was the center of the universe, they were not putting dates on the earth.

I will continue this thought but for now I'm out of time.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Honestly as a Theological Concept Part II

 A wonderful fact to reflect upon, that every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other. A solemn consideration, when I enter a great city by night, that every one of those darkly clustered houses encloses its own secret; that every room in every one of them encloses its own secret; that every beating heart in the hundreds of thousands of breasts there, is, in some of its imaginings, a secret to the heart nearest it! Something of the awfulness, even of Death itself, is referable to this. No more can I turn the leaves of this dear book that I loved, and vainly hope in time to read it all. No more can I look into the depths of this unfathomable water, wherein, as momentary lights glanced into it, I have had glimpses of buried treasure and other things submerged. It was appointed that the book should shut with a spring, for ever and for ever, when I had read but a page. It was appointed that the water should be locked in an eternal frost, when the light was playing on its surface, and I stood in ignorance on the shore. My friend is dead, my neighbour is dead, my love, the darling of my soul, is dead; it is the inexorable consolidation and perpetuation of the secret that was always in that individuality, and which I shall carry in mine to my life’s end. In any of the burial-places of this city through which I pass, is there a sleeper more inscrutable than its busy inhabitants are, in their innermost personality, to me, or than I am to them?

No one, that I know of, has captured it better than Dickens in 1859, in this quote from A Tale of Two Cities. What am I talking about?  It is that disconnect between the surface of who we say we are and the honest reality of who we really are.  We are all enshrouded in secrecy. 

The late Francis Schaeffer (my personal hero) talked of the effects of the Fall of Adam, on us as an alienation.  We are not only alienated from God, but we are alienated from nature, from each other and even from ourselves. None of us truly know our own hearts, some much less than others. We also don't really know one another because between us, as Dickens alludes to, are layers and layers of oughts.  So we say the things that we ought to say, and do the things that we ought to do, as society mandates, but not necessarily what we really think or feel.

In the new, perfect world, we will speak with total candidness and it will not be offensive.  But now, when we try to speak about how we really think or feel, it is often taken offensively . But where do we strive to live now? This is the boundary where I've struggled. I find that by speaking more honestly, we are often alienated from others more. 

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Honesty as a Theological Concept Part I

In my office I have an employee who is very skilled in proof-reading. I now send all my documents through her fingertips. I respect her and never question her suggestions. I do have lots of trouble with seeing typos as you will notice here. I'm confident that I have dyslexia as I've tested out that way. I was a star student in all areas except when it came to spelling and some language use.

Beyond the spelling and homophone transpositions, it is typical that she marks a big red X through whole paragraphs in my letters and office web site postings. Beside the Xs she writes, "You can't say that!"

The other night I sat down with her after she had edited a new website posting and once again had huge marks of deletions with those same comments. I reassured her that I was not doubting her views for a minute, but was wanting to understand why those particular words were in the "you can't say that" category. I often feel my social-correctness radar doesn't function the way it should.

She pointed out to me that I always say too much and give too much personal information. This is especially true when it comes to expressing feelings, because medical professionals are not suppose to reveal personal feelings. "The more information you give people," she said, "the higher the likelihood the reader will misunderstand you and will be offended." She also added that while I'm being very honest in what I say, it makes me look vulnerable and it is not socially acceptable to appear vulnerable or show less that total confidence in what you think.

So what does this have to do with being a Christian? I find it fundamental. The more honest we are, the closer we are to reality. If God is really there, and I think He is, it should mean that the closer we are to reality the closer we are to God. Or does it?

The type of honestly that I'm not talking about isn't the kind that a friend of mine's roommate exhibited. This guy suffered from Tourette's Syndrome and use to say things to complete strangers such as yelling, "You are very, very fat!"  He couldn't help it, but this type of honestly is more cruel than honest.

I will share an example where my honestly leads me to social blunders and talk about it on the other side (part II).

So I really like my church, but I'm not in the inner circles and that is due to my own fault of not doing a lot of activities with this church outside of Sunday morning worship. I did recently attend a church-sponsored dinner. Across from me were two church members a man and a woman I will call "Jane" and "Jack." I respect this couple but don't know them that well. Jack is a former pastor himself.

With totally good intentions, they started an ice-breaker conversation with me. Since I'm known as the "movie-club guy," they quickly brought up films. We recently showed the French film, Amour. While neither of them came to my movie club, they had seen the movie. Jane commented that the message of the movie, in her opinion, was how lonely that non-Christians are when they are in need. Christians, on the other hand, have a large community who is there for them whenever they are in crisis.

I thought for a moment. I don't think I had an agenda but only to speak honestly. I shared the story of my mother (92) and my aunt (87) who live together in Tennessee. This past year, they simultaneously developed dementia. It has been a huge problem for my siblings and myself because they need help, but they refuse to come live with us or to get help such as in assisted living. Since we live hundreds of miles away we have needed help from their own community.

My mom and aunt have been lifetime members of a small Missionary Baptist Church. They have had no help from that church, even though they had served that church tirelessly for all those years. One of the deacons of that church lives two doors down but has offered no help, even when we have asked him for help.

However, the gay couple (men) who live next door have been saints. I've worked closely with them and they have faithfully visited them twice a day. They give my aunt her insulin and take them to get groceries and any thing they need.

When I finished my story, Jane and Jack looked stunned and offended, as if I had intentionally insulted the Church (capital C). I had no intentions of that. If I had a subconsciousness agenda, it was simply to illustrate that Christians do not have a corner on hospitality and kindness. The story I told was completely true, although it doesn't support the Christian narrative. So, how does this type of honestly fit? I remember in my evangelical days being told things such as, "For the sake of the kingdom, don't mention this (something that really happened) to anyone." This post is too long already, so I will pause here and try to come back and discuss it later . . . if I have the time.