Wednesday, August 29, 2007

God's Warriors

If, like me, you missed CNN's documentary God's Warriors, Nathaniel Peters has a good review at First Things:

In truth, the whole of God’s Warriors shows that being God’s warrior means very different things to Jews, Muslims, and Christians. No Christian on the program ever says that being God’s warrior should involve killing an enemy, while many of the Jews and Muslims interviewed see violence as an acceptable part of doing God’s work.
HT: Thinking Christian

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

What's in a Joke

What makes you laugh? It seems like a silly question, but if you think about it, the answer is rather strange. Is it not precisely imperfection that we find funny? Does not all humor imply some form of criticism? Whether it’s a blond joke, a political cartoon, or your half-crazy uncle, it’s what’s wrong with the situation that is funny. Think of your own funniest memories, are they not in fact your most painful and embarrassing moments? Perfection is not humorous; the gap between ideal and reality is the realm of comedy.

Yet why should this be; why should what’s wrong with the world give us pleasure? Is comedy just a coping mechanism? Do we merely laugh at what we cannot fix? No, because humor is also an agent for change. Ridicule is a powerful weapon for those otherwise weak, and many enemies who could not be defeated by direct attack have fallen to a well-placed insult. Humor does not just mask evil behind a laugh (though it can be abused that way); it can also unmask it, by forcing its contradictions into the open.

For if humor depends on recognizing the imperfection of a situation, does it not also depend on an audience who knows better? When we laugh at someone like Homer Simpson it’s because we think we are better than him in some way, or know we should be. In either case, it is not just the imperfections that makes us laugh, but also our awareness of what the situation should be, but isn’t. In order to “get” the joke, you need knowledge – ignorance is only funny to those who are not ignorant.

This suggests that the closer one gets to the ideal, the better a position they are in to find comedy in even the worst tragedy. If that is true, then is God himself the ultimate humorist, the one who can truly bring good out of evil? Perhaps part of the joy of eternity will be to finally hear the punch-line to this whole cosmic joke?

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Something for Sunday - Billy Graham

This week, Billy Graham (88 years old) was admitted to the hospital for intestinal bleeding. On Friday, he received a personal call from President Bush himself, yet another reminder of how well he has managed to navigate the treacherous relationship between religion and politics. In case you missed it, TIME magazine recently ran a cover story on this very aspect of his remarkable career. Here are some excerpts, but I encourage you to read the whole thing:

At a time when the country was bitterly debating the role of religion in public life, we thought Graham's 50-year courtship of--and courtship by--11 Presidents was a story that needed to be told. Perhaps more than anyone else, he had shaped the contours of American public religion and had seen close up how the Oval Office affects people....

Billy Graham radiates qualities a president seldom encounters during office hours: innocence, guilelessness, sincerity strong as paint stripper. "I'm not an analyzer," he told us. "I've got a son that analyzes everything and everybody. But I don't analyze people." His critics called him gullible, naive to the point of self-delusion; his defenders, of which there were a great many more, called him trusting, always seeing the best in powerful people and frequently eliciting it as a result....

A fiercely partisan Democrat told us that Graham, a registered Democrat all his life, wasn't complicated once you realized he was actually just a Republican. But that's too simple an explanation. Graham liked all the Presidents and regarded them first and foremost as his friends--with the intriguing exception of Jimmy Carter. The fellow born-again Southern Baptist was the only President ever to organize a local Graham crusade. But on the heels of Graham's crushing experience with the Nixon Administration, the evangelist recalibrated his relationship with the White House and kept his distance....

From then on, Graham operated below the radar as three old friends--Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton--took their turns in the Oval Office. To his critics, the pastoral was political. The left deplored his spending the night with Bush on the day the Gulf War began; the right objected to his praying at Clinton's Inaugural. But Graham stood by them all, including his old charge George W. Bush, whom he publicly embraced on the final Sunday before the 2000 election--in Florida, of all places....

Graham recalled these friendships with the humility that comes with experience. "As I look back, I feel even more unqualified--to think I sat there and talked to the President of the United States," he said. "I can only explain that God was planning it in some ways, but I didn't understand it." He doesn't expect to make it back to the White House anytime soon, but he watches out for its occupant the best way he knows how. He does daily devotions, and whoever sits in the Oval Office will always have a place in his prayers.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Hope and Sacrifice in The Shawshank Redemption

My all time favorite movie is The Shawshank Redemption. It’s a tale of hope in the midst of despair, of salvation on the other side of suffering. It’s the story of Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins), a successful banker condemned to Shawshank prison for the murder of his wife and her lover.

It’s a hard movie to watch, and certainly not for children. It doesn’t blink at the horrors of incarceration, but because of that, it offers a powerful exploration of human nature. From the depths of depravity when Andy faces gang rape by “the sisters,” to the heights of redemption when he teaches “Red” (Morgan Freeman) the meaning of hope, in all this we get a glimpse into what it means to be human.

Hope. That is the center around which this film revolves. Shawshank is a terrible place, but worse than the corrupt warden and sadistic guards, worse even than “the sisters” (they aren’t homosexual, Red notes, “they’d have to be human first”), its real danger is the power to dehumanize. For its walls and bars do more than just keep men inside, they change those they contain. “First you hate them, then you get used to them,” Red explains, “enough time passes, you get so you depend on them.” He calls it being “institutionalized” – spend enough time in prison and it no longer matters why you’re there; guilty or innocent, there comes a time when you no longer have an identity except as an inmate. You lose your autonomy, and by then even release leaves nothing but the broken shell of a man. “They send you here for life, and that’s exactly what they take.”

There is only one thing that can save a man in Shawshank – hope. Yet what is hope? Is it just a pipe dream, a delusion, a refusal to accept reality and thus ultimately hopeless. That’s what Red thinks, but Andy knows better. He knows that, whatever men may do to the body, they can never kill the soul. Referring specifically to music, he says you need it to remember “there’s something inside that they can’t get to, they can’t touch.” Even so, Andy is not content to ignore the world and hide in his mind. Twice, he risks his life and position to show his friends what hope means. In one case, he gladly accepts two weeks of solitary confinement for broadcasting opera over the prison loudspeakers. “Easiest time I ever did.”

For what Andy realized – and this is where the movie really shines - is that real hope is not about closing your eyes to the evil around you, stopping your ears and dreaming. No, true hope, paradoxically, comes by actively dying to yourself. “Get busy living, or get busy dying,” he tells Red, for it’s only when you willingly risk everything, that freedom becomes possible. That’s what Andy learned in Shawshank prison, and hope springs eternal.

“For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 16:25)

Thursday, August 23, 2007

"Practical" Christianity

A common reason people reject or abandon Christianity is a feeling that it simply isn’t practical. For many in the average church, there is no obvious connection between what is preached on Sunday morning, and what they actually do the rest of the week. Talk of grace and eternal salvation, however uplifting, is often perceived as irrelevant to everyday life.

The problem is that we have shied away from the one aspect of Christianity that really is applicable – its moral teaching. Actually, that isn’t quite correct. The church hasn’t abandoned its moral teaching, but too often it has distorted it. Publicly, at least here in America, we have focused ever more attention on berating the surrounding culture for its sexual practices and selfishness, while paying ever less attention to the state of our own lives. Thus, the non-Christian world sees in Christian morality only a collection of harsh and unnecessary rules, because that is how many of our loudest advocates announce it.

Privately, countless churches do a wonderful job of living out the love of Christ, but as a whole, the Church in America has done a poor job of expressing its moral viewpoint to the outside world. How rarely do non-Christians hear that the heart of the gospel is actually a call to die to yourself, that you might live? How often do we show this by our actions?

The trouble is that we too often accept the assumption that the value of a thing lies in its utility. Dying to yourself is not practical; it doesn’t pay the bills or get you ahead on the ladder of success. Quite the contrary, it might even mean paying other people's bills and letting them go ahead. In the long run, this results in community, love, and mutual encouragement, but in the short run, it is hard, so we avoid it. Instead of dying to ourselves, we rest content in our cheap grace or pile harsh condemnation on those around us. In all that, we forget that Christian morality is intended to be a lively and liberating way of life, the outlines of what it means to be truly human. As N.T. Wright puts it in Simply Christian (by the way, Matt, I’ve changed my view of this book; the second half is excellent):

Only when we have set all that out quite clearly can we ever speak of “rules.” There are rules, of course. The New Testament has plenty of them. Always give alms in secret. Never sue a fellow Christian. Never take private vengeance. Be kind. Always show hospitality. Give away money cheerfully. Don’t be anxious. Don’t judge another Christian over a matter of conscience. Always forgive. And so on. And the worrying thing about that randomly selected list is that most Christians ignore most of them most of the time. It isn’t so much that we lack clear rules; we lack, I fear, the teaching that will draw attention to what is in fact there in our primary documents, not least in the teaching of Jesus himself.

The rules are to be understood, not as arbitrary laws thought up by a distant God to stop us from having fun (or to set us some ethical hoops to jump through as a kind of moral examination), but as the signposts to a way of life in which heaven and earth overlap, in which God’s future breaks into the present, in which we discover what genuine humanness looks and feels like in practice. (pg. 224-25)
If we want to change our culture, we must start by changing ourselves.

Three Dollars Worth of Gospel

From D. A. Carson's Basics for Believers: An Exposition of Philippians:

I would like to buy about three dollars worth of gospel, please.

Not too much – just enough to make me happy, but not so much that I get addicted.

I don’t want so much gospel that I learn to really hate covetousness and lust.

I certainly don’t want so much that I start to love my enemies, cherish self-denial, and contemplate missionary service in some alien culture

I want ecstasy, not repentance;

I want transcendence, not transformation.

I would like to be cherished by some nice, forgiving, broad-minded people, but I myself don’t want to love those from different races – especially if they smell.

I would like enough gospel to make my family secure and my children well behaved, but not so much that I find my ambitions redirected or my giving too greatly enlarged.

I would like about three dollars worth of the gospel, please. (pp. 12-13)
HT: Between Two Worlds

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Points to Ponder – The Brothers Karamazov

I am sorry to say, this is true of me more often than I would like to admit:

The more I love humanity in general the less I love man in particular. In my dreams, I often make plans for the service of humanity, and perhaps I might actually face crucifixion if it were suddenly necessary. Yet I am incapable of living in the same room with anyone for two days together. I know from experience. As soon as anyone is near me, his personality disturbs me and restricts my freedom. In twenty-four hours I begin to hate the best of men: one because he’s too long over his dinner, another because he has a cold and keeps on blowing his nose. I become hostile to people the moment they come close to me. But it has always happened that the more I hate men individually the more I love humanity.
Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

Monday, August 20, 2007

Creation and Evolution

In the relationship between Christianity and contemporary culture, few issues are more contentious than the debate over creation and evolution. The trouble lies not just in the numerous disagreements over the science of evolution, but also in the way that question has become tied to so many other concerns – from the age of the earth, to public school policies, to moral relativism and even the existence of God – that have only tangential relation to evolution itself.

The result, as should be obvious to anyone who has considered the matter, is a debate that constantly shifts from science to politics to theology, and back again, with little concern for consistency or clarification. This is a culture war in which even those on the same “sides” often disagree on all manner of fundamental principles, and spend more time misunderstanding and vilifying their opponents than reasoning with them.

Given this sorry state of affairs, I’m tempted to avoid talking about the issue altogether, especially as I am not, myself, a scientist or even a philosopher. But how can I do so? If I am going to talk about Christianity and contemporary culture at all, I cannot ignore this elephant in the room. However, to limit confusion as much as possible, I will simply begin by stating my current views as succinctly as I can, and hopefully over time I will be able to explain why I accept these positions:

  • I believe the existence of the universe is entirely contingent upon the will of God; it had a beginning and is not self-existent.
  • I believe the universe is somewhere around 13 or 14 billion years old, and the earth is approximately 4.54 billion years old.
  • I believe that life on earth is irreducibly complex and no blind processes alone can explain its origin.
  • I believe all human and animal life on earth has descended from one or a few common ancestors.
  • I believe that while natural selection explains many odd features of life, its power has been grossly exaggerated.
  • I believe it is an open question whether and how God has actively guided and propelled the continuing evolution of life.
  • I believe that, however they came about, the essential features of humanity – including morality, reason, society, etc. – are intended by God to reflect his image.


  • I believe morality is properly grounded in God’s own character, not created by humanity or inferred from evolution.
  • I believe that while atheism itself implies a meaningless and amoral universe, acceptance of evolution does not require acceptance of atheism or its implications.
  • I believe the Bible, including the first chapters of Genesis, is intended to reveal the character of God and shape us to reflect it, not to provide us with arcane details of history or science.
  • I believe that, ideally, public school science classes should only teach established science, but that, practically, parents and local school districts should have the right to decide for themselves what their students need to learn.
  • I believe that the relationship between Christianity and mainstream science is, and will remain, a complex one, but there is no unbridgeable chasm between them.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Something for Sunday - Held

I have long been skeptical of “Contemporary Christian Music” as overly sentimental kitsch (whether unfairly or not, I don’t know), but every so often I’ll hear something on our local station that makes me reconsider. Held by Natalie Grant is a particularly poignant song I heard yesterday. It well maintains the tension between honest sorrow and unflinching faith that many of the psalms explore. I don’t like the music video, but I love the tune and think it's a good example of what Christian art should be:

Held by Natalie Grant

Two months is too little.
They let him go.
They had no sudden healing.
To think that providence would
Take a child from his mother while she prays
Is appalling.

Who told us we'd be rescued?
What has changed and why should we be saved from nightmares?
We're asking why this happens
To us who have died to live?
It's unfair.

This is what it means to be held.
How it feels when the sacred is torn from your life
And you survive.
This is what it is to be loved.
And to know that the promise was
When everything fell we'd be held.

This hand is bitterness
We want to taste it and
Let the hatred numb our sorrows
The wise hand opens slowly
To lilies of the valley and tomorrow

This is what it means to be held.
How it feels when the sacred is torn from your life
And you survive.
This is what it is to be loved.
And to know that the promise was
When everything fell we'd be held.

If hope is born of suffering.
If this is only the beginning.
Can we not wait for one hour
Watching for our Savior?

This is what it means to be held.
How it feels when the sacred is torn from your life
And you survive.
This is what it is to be loved.
And to know that the promise was
When everything fell we'd be held.

Friday, August 17, 2007

The Sickness Unto Death

I’m finally reading Kierkegaard’s classic treatment of human nature, and the following lines stood out as a perfect description of American pop-culture:

The man of immediacy does not know himself, he quite literally identifies himself only by the clothes he wears, he identifies having a self by externalities (here again the infinitely comical). There is hardly a more ludicrous mistake, for a self is indeed infinitely distinct from an externality. So when the externals have completely changed for the person of immediacy and he has despaired, he goes one step further; he thinks something like this, it becomes his wish: What if I became someone else, got myself a new self. Well, what if he did become someone else? I wonder if he would recognize himself. (The Sickness Unto Death, pg 53)
The tendency to define, and redefine, oneself according to external appearance has become so common that it’s almost a cliché, but what is really surprising is how often this is now embraced as a positive good. We can see this especially in the rise of virtual worlds like Second Life (on which I have much more to say in Salvo 3, due out this month). Here we find thousands of people who really believe that if they can just find the right look, or the right environment, it will somehow reveal their true self. Yet is it not instead the self, the real person beneath all appearances, which is lost in the shuffle?

Thursday, August 16, 2007

First Things First

Here’s another of my favorites, First Things First. I post it mainly because I need the reminder:

My daughter was born almost a month ago, and I could easily spend all day just watching her sleep (she returns the favor by keeping me up all night).* Of course, that’s not very practical -- there are more pressing concerns in life. And yet, it’s funny how easily far less important things end up filling my time. A couple weeks back, I wrote about an upcoming video game called Left Behind: Eternal Forces. Thinking about that game, and its similarities and differences to other games I own, really opened up my eyes and reminded me just how much time I waste on mindless and forgettable pursuits. I haven’t played a computer game since.

Stephen Covey (The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, First Things First, etc.) categorizes all activities into four types based on whether they are “important or not important” and “urgent or not urgent,” and urges us to analyze all our activities by these two criteria.

You might expect him to advise focusing on the “important and urgent” activities, but he actually suggests focusing on those things that are “important but not urgent,” while cutting out the “not important and not urgent” ones. The natural practice of forever focusing on what is most urgent (interspersed with “breaks” filled with meaningless activities) may seem productive, but really prevents us from controlling our overall direction in life, and cuts out all the most worthwhile pursuits. While we’re busy putting out fires left and right, we find that there’s no time left for things like poetry.

But my interest today is on those “not important and not urgent” activities. With the countless distractions modern technology has provided us, it's easy to start to feel that we risk burnout if we fail to take time for such trivia. We get the idea that occasional breaks for sitcoms or video games actually help our productivity as a whole, and feel justified in “vegging out” every now and then.

Unfortunately, this simply isn’t true. The problem is when you start thinking you need to do these things, they steadily eat up more and more of your time, especially if -- like me -- you work from home. At first, maybe you can work a whole day before feeling like you need to “check out” for a half hour. Pretty soon every three hours you need an hour break. Before long, you hardly get much done even when you are working; you feel like you always need a break.

But a funny thing happens when you stop and say: I really don’t need to be playing these games in the first place. You feel really bored for a day or two, and then suddenly you find that you can be productive for longer and longer stretches without any “brain breaks” at all. I know from personal experience (and not just from the past couple weeks -- though my drastically increased blogging is a product of that -- but because in the past I have sworn off TV and video games for months, and saw similar results): it's shocking how little such activities are missed once you get away from them, and how much more you can get done once they're gone.

And the best part is: cutting out such “not important and not urgent” activities doesn’t just let you be more effective at accomplishing the urgent activities, it also (and primarily) frees up your time for all those (“important but not urgent”) things that you always want to do, but never find the time for. When you cut out meaningless leisure activities, you suddenly have the freedom to pursue the ones that are truly satisfying: hobbies, sports, viewing/reading/listening to art (which can include good movies and television, though it probably can’t justify an afternoon of Friends reruns), deep thinking and reading, meaningful conversation and -- my personal favorite –- watching your baby girl sleep.

*This was first written last June; my daughter is now 15 months, and while she no longer keeps me up at night, she's still a wonderful distraction.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Hell is Other People

G.K. Chesterton (whom, as my masthead suggests, I’m liable to quote rather often) once claimed that Original Sin is “the only part of Christian theology that can really be proved.” Criticizing the modern tendency to reject this doctrine, he argues:

The strongest saints and the strongest skeptics alike took positive evil as the starting-point of their argument. If it be true (as it certainly is) that a man can feel exquisite happiness in skinning a cat, then the religious philosopher can only draw one of two deductions. He must either deny the existence of God, as all atheists do; or he must deny the present union between God and man, as all Christians do. The new theologians seem to think it a highly rationalistic solution to deny the cat. (Orthodoxy, p. 19)
How anyone can look at our world and claim that the average human is “basically good” is beyond me, but however indisputable, the universality of human evil remains an exceptionally difficult doctrine. If God is just, how can it be that he punishes us for the sins of our forebears? So what if our ancestors sinned, why should that affect us?

And yet, could it really have been otherwise? Theoretically, perhaps, God could have created a world of isolated individuals each with no power to harm another, but such would have been more like a cosmic prison than a good creation. As soon as God choose to create a world of freedom and society, he accepted the risk that we would use that freedom to destroy that society, and one another.

This leads to an alternate understanding of the concept of Original Sin. Such is not an arbitrary punishment God imposed on us because of our ancestors’ rebellion, as though he were spitefully getting back at our parents by cursing us. Not at all.

The doctrine of Original Sin instead recognizes the obvious truth that our actions as individuals always impact the society in which we live, the society in which our children are born. Our children are “born into sin,” not because God creates them sinful, but precisely because they are born into a community of sinful people – selfish people, prideful people, prejudiced people, people like you and me.

And that is why the fall of our ancient forebears was such a disaster, for it established a culture of sin which affects all aspects of human society. Such was the cost of the gift of freedom, such is the dark side of community.

A Dissertation Upon Dissertations

In case any of my readers are also graduate students, you might enjoy these excerpts from Fordham University’s very tongue-in-cheek “A Dissertation Upon Dissertations” (HT: Evangelical Outpost):

What Is not a Dissertation
The set of all-things-not-doctoral-dissertations, as a logician might say, has a vast and varied membership. Ocean liners, the square root of minus one, and pickled herring spring to mind. There is in general little chance of mistaking most of these things for a doctoral thesis, even in dim light. There are, indeed, a few things that bear a superficial resemblance to dissertations—telephone books, for example—but the clever observer will soon learn to distinguish them. (In the case of the telephone book, for instance, one will quickly note a strict logical progression in its contents that sets it apart from all but a few dissertations.)...

Audience. You may one day turn your dissertation into a book, during the many leisure hours you can expect to enjoy as a well-paid and pampered junior faculty member at the fortunate college or university that you select from the many that will vie for your services. You will then bask in the admiration of the theological world and the less critically grounded adulation of the general public, while living luxuriously on your vast royalties. Perhaps there will even be a lump sum for the movie rights....

Style. A dissertation should naturally be written well. On the most basic level, this means using proper grammar and being acquainted with the elements of style. Many students write run-on sentences, they join independent clauses with a comma or even with no punctuation at all they should instead use a conjunction between the clauses or separate them by a semicolon or a period. Also, incomplete sentences. They sometimes fail to place a comma before conjunctions introducing dependent clauses for they are not well acquainted with the rules of grammar. Being graduate students, there is a tendency to use dangling participial phrases; as inexperienced writers, adjectival phrases are treated in the same way. It is fortuitous that most students do not fall into the lacuna of improper word usage. But in a sea of mixed metaphors, their writing sometimes fails to bear fruit of ironclad perfection. Be very careful of this, as well as using pronouns with no clear referent, speling, and that parallel construction is used to express correlative ideas. After all, it can be embarrassing when the first question from the readers at your defense is,"Did you ever go to high school?" If you use this document as your model and proofread carefully, especially if you use a word processor to alter your text, and you will have no difficulties.

Accuracy, conciseness, and clarity are more important in a dissertation than elegant phraseology. This is not the place to wax poetic or--even worse--homiletic. Humor is of course totally out of place in the Grove of Academe.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Dawkins' Fawlty Logic

As I begin this new blog, it seems appropriate to highlight a few of the best posts I've written for Signs of the Times. On that note, here is one of my favorites, Dawkins' Fawlty Logic:

Every year, Edge magazine asks numerous people of interest a single question (HT: Telic Thoughts). This year's question: "What is your dangerous idea?" Richard Dawkins' answer: Determinism.

Not very unique, I know, but his explanation is noteworthy. According to him, "science" has dismantled the illusion of free will by reducing us to the blind interactions of our physical particles.

The result? A fantastic British comedy, apparently:

Basil Fawlty, British television's hotelier from hell created by the immortal John Cleese, was at the end of his tether when his car broke down and wouldn't start. He gave it fair warning, counted to three, gave it one more chance, and then acted. "Right! I warned you. You've had this coming to you!" He got out of the car, seized a tree branch and set about thrashing the car within an inch of its life. Of course we laugh at his irrationality. Instead of beating the car, we would investigate the problem. Is the carburettor flooded? Are the sparking plugs or distributor points damp? Has it simply run out of gas? Why do we not react in the same way to a defective man: a murderer, say, or a rapist? Why don't we laugh at a judge who punishes a criminal, just as heartily as we laugh at Basil Fawlty?

[D]oesn't a truly scientific, mechanistic view of the nervous system make nonsense of the very idea of responsibility, whether diminished or not? Any crime, however heinous, is in principle to be blamed on antecedent conditions acting through the accused's physiology, heredity and environment. Don't judicial hearings to decide questions of blame or diminished responsibility make as little sense for a faulty man as for a Fawlty car?

Dawkins’ is right about one thing: this truly is a dangerous idea. But he is quite mistaken about where that danger lies. He only sees in it an end to retributive justice, but much more is at stake than that.

Consider: Basil becomes so angry at his car precisely because it was not doing what it was supposed to. Yet cars can only be "faulty" because they are built for a purpose. A rock cannot be faulty; it can only be itself, for it was not made for any purpose. But according to Dawkins, people are more like rocks than cars. Their design is only apparent, not real, and they have no more purpose than a rock does (nor are they any more capable of determining their own behavior than a rock is).

But in that case, we have not only thrown out moral responsibility, we have also thrown out morality itself. We have not just destroyed the justification for punishing crime, we have also destroyed justification itself. All actions would then be just as right as all others (and just as wrong, since these words lose all meaning), and it is no longer possible to call anything faulty.

Ironically, while such a view wouldn’t prevent anyone from punishing a criminal for their "sins" (any more than it stops Basil from beating his car), it would prevent anyone from rehabilitating the criminal. For you can’t rehabilitate a man unless you have some idea of what man is supposed to be, and this is precisely what Dawkins has declared to be impossible for the science-savy to accept.

If we carried this Fawlty logic to its end, Basil would not only be irrational for beating his car, he would be irrational even to think there was a problem with it. No wonder Dawkins finds it unlikely that even he "shall ever reach that level of enlightenment."

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Welcome to C.Orthodoxy

People have fallen into a foolish habit of speaking of orthodoxy as something heavy, humdrum and safe. There never was anything so perilous or so exciting as orthodoxy.

-G.K. Chesterton

We live in a post-modern, post-Christian world. Everything we do and think is colored by this fact, but where does that leave those of us who remain, after everything, Christians? Must we close out the world, cling tooth and nail to a parochial understanding of our faith, and pray not to be lost in the deluge? Or do we give in, allow the secular world to dictate the terms of our thinking, and steadily abandon all that we hold most dear?

Neither of these strategies is tenable. The first rejects the future in nostalgia for the past; the second ignores our history in awe of the present. I believe that if this ancient faith is to play any substantial role in our contemporary world, it will not result from either ignoring, or uncritically embracing, the changes modernity has wrought.

So this blog is my clearing floor. Here I might discuss anything from art to anthropology, evolution to epistemology, society to soteriology. I might ponder history, theology, philosophy, science, ethics, politics, or just the latest TV show. My interests are wide-ranging, but beneath it all lies a simple question: How can Historic Christian Orthodoxy move into the 21st century without abandoning either its soul or its mind?

I do not profess to know the answer to this question, but I want the freedom to consider it. Doing so may carry me far afield, and even I do not know where it will lead, but that is half the fun. For I seek nothing less than a full engagement between post-modern culture in all its diversity, and historic Christianity in all its grandeur. I have no delusions that I will reach that goal, but I hope the journey itself will be worth the effort.

I believe that Christian orthodoxy embraces all aspects of life, but how it does so will remain an open question on this blog. Be certain, I have many opinions, some dearly held, but I am not so convinced of myself that I am unwilling to consider other views. No avenue will be too profane to explore. No doctrine will be too sacred to question.

Save one. I take it as a given that all which exists depends on the self-sacrifice of God. All goodness and love, order and justice, freedom and power flow from Him. He who had the power to control everything, has instead given us freedom. He who needed nothing, gave up everything. I believe that all Christian doctrine hangs on this single point: That God has accepted any cost, even death on a cross, to give us life.

The death of God. There is no more impenetrable paradox than this. That the source of all life could die; this cannot be fathomed, much less explained. It is like the sun – impossible to look steadily upon, yet necessary to view anything else. If false, it is the greatest farce ever conceived by man. If true, it is the most important thing that ever happened. I may not be able to encapsulate it, but I will not hesitate to examine the world by its light.

That said, I am willing to discuss it, and I am happy to converse with those who reject it. I welcome any question thoughtfully presented and will acknowledge any objection respectfully raised. But the self-giving love of God is my premise. All thinking must begin somewhere, no matter where it ends. For every journey, there must be a first step. This is mine.

I call this blog C.Orthodoxy, because, though I hope I am orthodox, I have no finished system. If you are looking for something stable and secure, you will not find it here. If you are looking for the freedom to explore God’s truth wherever it leads (or wherever I find it interesting!), then you have found a kindred spirit. I value honesty and love above all things, but I remain a human being, and a young and naïve one at that. I may get things wrong, sometimes painfully so, but I believe the surest way to find what is true, is to abandon any fear of being false.

All that is gold does not glitter,

Not all those who wander are lost;

The old that is strong does not wither,

Deep roots are not reached by the frost.

-J.R.R. Tolkien