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Incapable of doubt, incapable of faithThe majority of mankind is lazy-minded, incurious, absorbed in vanities, and tepid in emotion, and is therefore incapable of either much doubt or much faith. -- T.S. Eliot, Introduction (1931), Pascal's "Pensees"
Wittgenstein on Kierkegaard
"Kierkegaard was by far the most profound thinker of the[nineteenth] century. Kierkegaard was a saint." - Ludwig Wittgenstein, to his friend Maurice Drury.
Read Wittgenstein and Kierkegaard: Religion, Individuality, and Philosophical Method by Charles L. Creegan free online.
Problem or Mystery?A problem is something which I meet, which I find completely before me, but which I can therefore lay siege to and reduce. But a mystery is something in which I am myself involved, and it can therefore only be thought of as a sphere where the distinction between what is in me and what is before me loses its meaning and initial validity. -- Gabriel Marcel
- One Tune Review: ‘Supernatural Lover’ by VanDeRocker March 5, 2014Keep your edge with The Latest News from indie bookstores, record stores, and short-film creators, only at BooksAndVinyl.com.In the late 1970s, when New Wave and punk had influenced enough bands, mainstream pop […]The post One Tune Review: ‘Supernatural Lover’ by VanDeRocker appeared first on Books And Vinyl.
- ‘The Following’ roundup — #TheFollowing on Twitter February 4, 2014Keep your edge with The Latest News from indie bookstores, record stores, and short-film creators, only at BooksAndVinyl.com.The coolest, funniest, smartest, and best-est comments from Twitter: How did they manage to make […]The post ‘The Following’ roundup — #TheFollowing on Twitter appeared first on Books And Vinyl.
- Bob Dylan, Lou Reed & Scott Simon are way cooler than Piers Morgan February 3, 2014Keep your edge with The Latest News from indie bookstores, record stores, and short-film creators, only at BooksAndVinyl.com.Apparently, Bob Dylan’s participation in a Chrysler ad damages his reputation. Horrible seeing a great […]The post Bob Dylan, Lou Reed & Scott Simon are way cooler than Piers Morgan appeared first on Books And Vinyl.
- One Tune Review: ‘Supernatural Lover’ by VanDeRocker March 5, 2014
- synergy: Dictionary.com Word of the Day March 9, 2014synergy: the interaction of elements that when combined produce a total effect that is greater than the sum of the individual elements.
- synergy: Dictionary.com Word of the Day March 9, 2014
- Poem of the Day: Market Forecast March 9, 2014Adjectives continue their downward spiral, with adverbs likely to follow. Wisdom, grace, and beauty can be had three for a dollar, as they head for a recession. Diaphanous, filigree, pearlescent, and love are now available at wholesale prices. Verbs are still blue-chip investments, but not many are willing to sell. The image market is still strong, but only […]Alexa Selph
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- Pig-In-A-Blanket by Matthew Rohrer March 9, 2014by Matthew Rohrer
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- Lady Damaris Masham March 8, 2014[Revised entry by Sarah Hutton on March 7, 2014. Changes to: Main text, Bibliography] Damaris Masham (1658-1708) was one of the earliest English woman philosophers. The main sources for her philosophy are two published books, A Discourse Concerning the Love of God (1696) and Occasional Thoughts in Reference to a Vertuous and Christian Life (1705), and her co […]Sarah Hutton
- Lady Anne Conway March 8, 2014[Revised entry by Sarah Hutton on March 7, 2014. Changes to: Bibliography] Lady Anne Conway (nee Anne Finch) was one of a tiny minority of seventeenth-century women who was able to pursue an interest in philosophy. She was associated with the Cambridge Platonists, particularly Henry More (1614-1687). Her only surviving treatise, Principles of the Most Ancien […]Sarah Hutton
- Leibniz's Philosophy of Physics March 8, 2014[Revised entry by Jeffrey K. McDonough on March 7, 2014. Changes to: Bibliography] Although better known today for his bold metaphysics and optimistic theodicy, Leibniz's intellectual contributions extended well beyond what is now generally thought of as philosophy or theology. Remarkably in an era that knew the likes of Galileo, Descartes, Huygens, Hoo […]Jeffrey K. McDonough
- Lady Damaris Masham March 8, 2014
- Nietzsche, Friedrich: Philosophy of History March 8, 2014Friedrich Nietzsche: Philosophy of History This article traces the context and evolution of Nietzsche’s philosophy of history throughout his career. Attention is also given to its reception by thinkers in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Nietzsche rejected grand architectonics whose purpose seemed only to convince people that they will someday soon […]
- Sadra February 19, 2014Mulla Sadra (c. 1572—1640) Mulla Sadra made major contributions to Islamic metaphysics and to Shi’i theology during the Safavid period (1501-1736) in Persia. He started his career in the context of a rising culture that combined elements from the Persian past with the newly institutionalized Shi’ism and Sufi teachings. Mulla Sadra was heir to a […]
- Zhang Junmai (Carsun Chang) February 8, 2014Zhang Junmai (Carsun Chang, 1877-1969) Zhang Junmai (Chang Chun-mai, 1877-1969), also known as Carsun Chang, was an important twentieth-century Chinese thinker and a representative of modern Chinese philosophy. Zhang’s participation in “The Debate between Metaphysicians and Scientists” of 1923, in which he defended his Neo-Confucian views against those of Ch […]
- Nietzsche, Friedrich: Philosophy of History March 8, 2014
- The Wit and Wisdom of Psychology Abstracts March 8, 2014The abstract to a scientific paper is a brief summary of the content. The start of an abstract, in turn, serves to introduce the subject of the research. This is fine for most kinds of science, but in the case of psychology (and parts of neuroscience) it can produce some rather odd results. In these […]The post The Wit and Wisdom of Psychology Abstracts appe […]
- Hormones and Women Voters: A Very Modern Scientific Controversy March 4, 2014A paper just out in the journal Psychological Science says that: Women Can Keep the Vote: No Evidence That Hormonal Changes During the Menstrual Cycle Impact Political and Religious Beliefs This eye-catching title heads up an article that’s interesting in more ways than you’d think. According to the paper, authors Christine Harris and Laura Mickes […]The pos […]
- Baby Brain Scans Predict Later Cognitive Development? March 1, 2014The shape of a newborn baby’s brain can predict its later cognitive development, according to a new study from New York neuroscientists Marisa Spann and colleagues. Here’s the paper: Morphological features of the neonatal brain support development of subsequent cognitive, language, and motor abilities Now, while the word ‘phrenology‘ gets banded around a lot […]
- The Wit and Wisdom of Psychology Abstracts March 8, 2014
- “The Language of God” Book Club–Chapter 5Does Collins show that Evangelicals have turned the corner on the scandal Noll brought to light, or does the continued resistance of the majority of Evangelicals to Collins’s work (about 75% reject human evolution) show that we as a collective group still do not take the life of the mind seriously?
- The Controversy at Bryan CollegeAlthough Bryan’s position differs from ours, we hope that dialogue with other positions can be renewed and encouraged rather than stifled going forward.
- Robert Boyle Speaks to Modern ChristiansWhat does it really tell us, to say that “nature abhors a vacuum” or that “nature does nothing in vain?” As long as men allow themselves so general and easy a way of rendering accounts of things that are difficult, as to attribute them to “nature,” shame will not reduce them to a more industrious scrutiny into the reasons of things and curiosity itself will […]
- “The Language of God” Book Club–Chapter 5
- Triple-Decker Weekly, 96 March 9, 2014We must realize that if Pop Art depersonalized, it does not make anonymousimp kerr
- Ambitious Conditions: Taiye Selasi’s “Ghana Must Go” March 8, 2014“Ambitious” is a back-handed criticism, a way of positioning Selasi as a promising writer who had written a flawed first novel.Aaron Bady
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- Beyond the Façade February 23, 2014Vladimir Putin's Fragile Empire Fragile Empire Ben Judah Yale University Press, 400 pages $30.00 As the Olympic festivities wind down in Sochi, western attention on Russia has been at levels unseen since the Cold War. As the most expensive Olympic games yet (the most recent estimate is $ 50-51 billion by the Washington Post), President Putin has in […]
- The End of the Line? September 26, 201325 years after Chrysler closed the AMC plant, how has Kenosha fared? The End of the Line? Twenty-five years ago, Chrysler closed its newly acquired plant in Kenosha, Wisconsin. The event made national headlines. Only a few months before, Chrysler chairman Lee Iacocca had announced that the company intended to buy out French automaker Renault’s control […]
- The Voice of Ireland June 15, 2013An Interview with Author Kevin Barry The Voice of Ireland My wife tossed The New Yorker on to the tabletop, You have to read this short story, she said. I did. And the rhythm of the language and the force of the story led me on the rampant search for more. The author was an Irish writer named Kevin Barry whose work consists of two short story collectio […]
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Patricia V Merrell on … CFB on Tyndale House Publishers or ML… Tyndale House Publis… on Tyndale House Publishers or Pu… Tyndale House Publis… on Tyndale House Publishers or Ch… CFB on Tyndale House Publishers or Ch…
Liturgy For The PeopleThe liturgy is essentially not the religion of the cultured, but the religion of the people. If the people are rightly instructed, and the liturgy is properly carried out, they display a simple and profound understanding of it. For the people do not analyze concepts, but contemplate. The people possess that inner integrity of being which corresponds perfectly with the symbolism of the liturgical language, imagery, action and ornaments. The cultured man has first of all to accustom himself to this attitude; but to the people it has always been inconceivable that religion should express itself by abstract ideas and logical developments, and not by being and action, by imagery and ritual. --Romano Guardini, "The Awakening of the Church in the Soul"
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Arts and humansArt is the signature of man. -G.K. Chesterton
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The Anguished QuestionIf you really enquire about God, not with mere curiosity, not, as it were, like a spiritual stamp collector, but as an anxious seeker, distressed in heart, anguished by the possibility that God might not exist and hence all life be vanity and one great madness -- if you ask in such a mood as the man who asks the doctor, "Tell me, will my wife live or will she die?"-- if you ask thus about God, then you know already that God exists; the anguished question bears witness that you know. -- Emil Brunner, "Our Faith"
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I explained my obsession with Pastor Mark Driscoll’s plagiarism to someone on Facebook today:
Admittedly it’s a foolhardy endeavor, like spitting in the wind. If enough people like a minister, he can be as dishonest as he wants to be and get away with it, just like our elected officials. So far, Driscoll’s “accountability team” and alleged Christian publishing house Tyndale are A-OK with breaking standards that would get me fired, or get any kid in my classes a failing grade and a permanent mark on his academic record. I shouldn’t be so worked up about it, though, considering in the Roman Catholic Church, priests can rape children and the worst that will happen is they’ll get moved to a new church. So that’s the power of Christian ministry for you: cheat or molest, because either way, your job is secure! Praise the Lord, who must be sleeping.
As it would happen, a little more than 3 hours ago (from the time I’m writing this), NorthlandsNewsCenter.com in Minnesota posted “Bishop Sirba releases names of 17 priests accused of sexual abuse in Duluth Diocese,” which read in part:
Duluth Bishop Paul Sirba has released the names of 17 priests who have been credibly accused of sexually abusing children in the [Roman Catholic] Duluth Diocese.
During a news conference, officials with the Duluth Diocese said the priests on the list have been removed from the church, are under investigation or were deceased before the accusations were known.
Officials also released the names of five other priests with ties to the area who have been accused while working in other ministries.
The Diocese says the the accusations of sexual abuse range from 1950 to 2013.
“The release of this information underscores a sad truth that must be acknowledged: Over the last 65 years, a number of clergy members in the Diocese of Duluth have violated the sacred trust placed in them by children, youth and their families,” says Bishop Sirba.
Read the entire article here.
Meanwhile, if you haven’t already seen it, more book publishers and authors might have been victims of Driscoll’s plagiarism.
- Duluth Diocese Releases Names Of Accused Priests (minnesota.cbslocal.com)
- Mark Driscoll Doesn’t Just Plagiarize Books, He Plagiarizes Tweets (zwingliusredivivus.wordpress.com)
Updated at 10 p.m. to include quotations from Robert Jay Lifton and Thomas Sowell, plus some rewriting and clarifying.
On December 10, Andy Crouch of Christianity Today wrote an article that gave readers the secret knowledge of what was really going on with the scandal surrounding Driscoll’s plagiarism.
The article, entitled “The Real Problems with Mark Driscoll’s ‘Citation Errors’,” revealed a frightening misunderstanding of plagiarism. I say frightening only because the misunderstanding was coming from Crouch, the executive editor of a magazine. He should know better.
The real problem, the article’s subhead told us, was not plagiarism. For the record, I have, and a far better scholar than me has, already argued that plagiarism is indeed a matter of fact in this controversy.
But that’s not the biggest problem, for me or for Crouch. Near the end of the article, Crouch says, “The real danger here is not plagiarism — it is idolatry.”
Stop. Carefully note this rhetorical move.
Crouch has moved us from a fact detectable by our senses (plagiarism) to an abstraction that can only be understood internally (idolatry).
Crouch has also claimed to reveal the inner motivations of Driscoll fans.
This quick, poorly defended move has historical and cultural precedent. It comes with the force of beliefs already firmly held by Crouch’s audience, and the force of assumptions long anchored in Western culture.
Like all good ideologies, evangelicalism depends upon its own special knowledge of inner motivations.
As the Brit historian Paul Johnson has noted, Marx and Freud (not normally heroes in evangelicalism) claimed special insight. Freud, Johnson wrote, “believed in the existence of a hidden structure of knowledge which, by using the techniques he was devising, could be discerned beneath the surface of things.”
Johnson continued to say Marxism “was another form of gnosticism claiming to peer through the empirically-perceived veneer of things to the hidden truth beneath.”
Or, as Thomas Sowell noted in Forbes magazine, Nov. 18, 1996, “Hannah Arendt said that the great achievement of 20th-century totalitarians was to turn questions of fact into questions of motive.”
Ever since, one-upping an opponent has never been easier.
Here’s a hyperbolic hypothetical example: “You don’t even know your own motives — but I do! Because I have the secret knowledge, the insight, the gnosis, and because you haven’t studied this or that theory, I can blindside you, throw you off balance, shut down your point of view with a dazzling insight that feels like argument and slays like hypnosis.”
Is Crouch completely wrong? I would not say so. Is idolatry a real danger? I would say yes, it is.
However, Crouch’s rhetorical move places, in text, evangelicalism’s observable problem of gnosticism.
You see, Crouch suggests the material reality of plagiarism isn’t the problem. To put it another way, the plain, obvious comparisons between the source texts and Driscoll’s texts are not the problem. Our darling young evangelical, our fundamentalist leader with a hipster wardrobe, certainly cannot possibly be the problem.
What’s the real problem? The unseen, abstract, volitional, arguable yet unprovable issue of idolatry in the “heart” is the problem. And it’s a problem we all could have.
And here’s how we could carry-on with that line of feeling:
Since we all could have this problem of idolatry, since we all really do, we cannot throw stones, we cannot situate the hard evidence, we cannot hold this leader accountable.
Now everyone is looking inward, everyone is considering what sinners they are because of these invisible, internal feelings — and no one is looking at facts or evidence or the law.
Gosh darn it, Andy Crouch, you’re right — we’re all sinners! How can I ever point out the evil in the world around me when I ought to be feeling the conviction of my own failings?
Questions of fact turned into questions of motive.
Abstractions are more easily managed than facts.
Consider Dr. Robert Jay Lifton’s Criteria for Thought Reform, a tool that has been used to understand “brainwashing” regimes like North Korea during the Korean War, and to analyze groups that seem “cultic.”
A section of the criteria is entitled, “Doctrine Over Person,” and it is in this section that both Crouch’s article and Driscoll’s early handling of plagiarism revelations return a faint echo.
Consider these points from “Doctrine Over Person” (the boldface sections are my emphases):
- Every issue in one’s life can be reduced to a single set of principles that have an inner coherence to the point that one can claim the experience of truth and feel it
- The pattern of doctrine over person occurs when there is a conflict between what one feels oneself experiencing and what the doctrine or ideology says one should experience
- If one questions the beliefs of the group or the leaders of the group, one is made to feel that there is something inherently wrong with them to even question — it is always “turned around” on them and the questioner/criticizer is questioned rather than the questions answered directly
- The underlying assumption is that doctrine/ideology is ultimately more valid, true and real than any aspect of actual human character or human experience and one must subject one’s experience to that “truth”
For example, go back and listen to the exchanges between Janet Mefferd and Mark Driscoll on the former’s radio show. Mefferd’s the one who kicked-off the big national fuss about Driscoll’s plagiarism. In fairness to Driscoll, he was caught off guard by Mefferd’s on-air confrontation. However, Driscoll certainly turned the questioning back on the questioner, saying she was grumpy and rude and not behaving in a spiritually appropriate manner.
Furthermore, “idolatry” has become a commonplace idea in evangelical and Reformed circles, to the point of becoming a thought-terminating cliche’. The idea has taken on a life of its own, has become everyone’s reflexive answer.
No, I don’t think evangelicalism is co-equal with Freudian thought or Marxism.
Except there’s one crucial way evangelicalism can be like other forms of ideology.
In Thank You for Arguing, Jay Heinrichs writes, ” ‘Ideology’ once meant the study of ideas; now it means a shared belief. Ideas become beliefs when people identify with them — when they help define the group itself.”
For a moment, consider a missionary ideology as a specific point of view held by a minority group that wants to convert the entire human race (it could be religious or political or something else).
Because of the lack of foothold this (or your or my) ideology has in this world, and because so few people have recognized The Truth, our leaders have to be right even when they’re wrong.
Our leaders have to be right, or else The Truth won’t go forward. It’s more important that The Truth carry on than the leader’s ethical lapse be properly adjudicated.
As many others have pointed out, the Soviet Union was for the people so much that it had to kill a few million people to make sure the people succeeded. (I know, right?)
The material reality of those political executions could not overcome the inner beliefs about The Truth of Soviet communism.
Inner beliefs overcame moral reflexes and basic human conscience and glaring, horrific evidence.
Beliefs were strong enough to allow atrocities to continue in the name of those beliefs.
Hey, I know, the Driscoll mess is just plagiarism and copyright infringement. Unethical, possibly illegal, but far from murder.
Crouch simply tried to draw attention away from plagiarism and to something he feels is more important.
Moral equivalence never was my point.
The move from facts to abstractions is treacherous — that’s my point.
Such a move can allow unchecked power to expand.
It’s an evil alchemy that takes place in the mind and causes people to submit, uncritically, to authority. The move from facts to abstractions is a treacherous move in little things as well as big things.
These days, you might argue, evangelicals are more likely to cut loose one of their own than to allow someone to get away with a moral lapse. You know what? You might be right.
(Although, so far, Tyndale House, and of course Mr. Andy Crouch of Christianity Today, and some mystical, so-called accountability bodies seem to be giving Driscoll a passport stamp and a big smile. “Write on, brother, write on!”)
Even so, big problems begin when alchemists turn facts into abstractions, when an iffy inner light, flicked on by presumptuous words, blinds the senses.
- Andy Crouch’s Tragic Minimalization of the Very Serious Offense of Plagiarism (zwingliusredivivus.wordpress.com)
- Will Christian Publishers Stand Behind Mars Hill’s Sketchy Legacy? (religiondispatches.org)
I was frustrated with Tim Keller following my exchange with him about textual criticism of the Bible in university classes.
However, in this post from April, scholar Peter Enns talks about the need for evangelicals (generalized) to re-evaluate how they read the Bible.
(I know — the post appeared in April. But my despair about American Christianity steers me from reading blogs that might deepen my despair. One must guard against crippling depression if one is to provide for a family. One can only meditate upon The Sickness Unto Death so many times.)
I’m sure some readers will miss the overlap between the two posts, but at least to my way of thinking, how someone reads an authoritative text, and how someone applies that authoritative text, equally sit at the center of Enns’ post and my post.
However, I don’t approach all this from seminary training.
I speak from 40 years of Christian faith and doubt,
4 Christian schools (kindergarten through 12th grade) of various affiliations,
6 churches of various evangelical and charismatic and mainline associations,
Intervarsity Christian Fellowship small group leader training,
Small group student leadership for NCSU’s IVCF,
Summit Ministries Worldview Camp,
A full term at L’Abri Fellowship in Greatham, England,
10 years in a formerly Knight Ridder-owned newspaper newsroom,
3 years of owning and operating a coffeehouse-used bookstore-performance space,
and now 5 years of teaching in a state university.
But, hey, everyone can show me the abstract mathematical reasons why my previous concerns and warnings were wrongheaded.
In the above-linked post, Enns uses the familiar metaphors of ear to the ground and finger on the pulse to describe Keller’s sensitive awareness of evangelical culture.
Here’s another metaphor for the evangelical situation: You can have complete awareness of what’s going on in your house, you can know it like the back of your hand, you can master interior decorating and all kinds of home repair, and still miss the approaching EF-5 tornado.
“Courage is almost a contradiction in terms. It means a strong desire to live taking the form of a readiness to die. ‘He that will lose his life, the same shall save it,’ is not a piece of mysticism for saints and heroes. It is a piece of everyday advice for sailors and mountaineers. It might be printed in an Alpine guide or a drill book. This paradox is the whole principle of courage; even of quite earthly or quite brutal courage. A man cut off by the sea may save his life if he will risk it on the precipice. He can only get away from death by continually stepping within an inch of it. A soldier surrounded by enemies, if he is to cut his way out, needs to combine a strong desire for living with a strange carelessness about dying. He must not merely cling to life, for then he will be a coward, and will not escape. He must seek his life in a spirit of furious indifference to it; he must desire life like water and yet drink death like wine. No philosopher, I fancy, has ever expressed this romantic riddle with adequate lucidity, and I certainly have not done so. But Christianity has done more: it has marked the limits of it in the awful graves of suicide and the hero, showing the distance between him who dies for the sake of living and him who dies for the sake of dying. And it has held up ever since above the European lances the banner of mystery and chivalry: the Christian courage, which is a disdain of death; not the Chinese courage, which is a disdain of life.” – G.K. Chesterton, in Orthodoxy
- Paradoxes for Better Living, 1 (liturgical.wordpress.com)
- Paradoxes for Better Living, 2 (liturgical.wordpress.com)
- Paradoxes for Better Living, 4 (liturgical.wordpress.com)
- Paradoxes for Better Living, 5 (liturgical.wordpress.com)
- Paradoxes for Better Living, 6 (liturgical.wordpress.com)
- Paradoxes for Better Living, 7 (liturgical.wordpress.com)
- Paradoxes for Better Living, 8 (liturgical.wordpress.com)
Just some interesting stats I discovered: Apparently, the high-water mark for Episcopalians — or membership in The Episcopal Church USA — was from 1959 to 1967. See the stats here. What’s strange, however, is the number of Episcopalian clergy continued … Continue reading
“Religious apologists today might mumble about the power of faith and the limits of reason, yet they are the first to protest when it is suggested that faith and reason might be in tension. Far from seeing religious faith as a special, bold kind of trust, religious apologists are now more likely to see atheism as requiring as much faith as religion. Kierkegaard saw clearly that that faith is not a kind of epistemic Polyfilla that closes the small cracks left by reason, but a mad leap across a chasm devoid of all reason.
“That is not because Kierkegaard was guilty of an anarchic irrationalism or relativistic subjectivism. It is only because he was so rigorous with his application of reason that he was able to push it to its limits. He went beyond reason only when reason could go no further, leaving logic behind only when logic refused to go on.”
– Julian Baggini, in “I Still Love Kierkegaard“
“Because of the doctrine of creation, historical locatedness is something good. The tradition we inherit is part of our location in history, and so in doing theology it is necessary to relate to the tradition.” — Stephen R. Holmes in Listening to the Past: The Place of Tradition in Theology
Notice the assumptions in the title of the book: Theology is somewhat abstract and intellectual, while tradition is somewhat tangible and embodied.
Also, consider what Holmes is saying, and I’ll put my own interpretative spin on it: even if you don’t believe in “sacred spaces,” you can appreciate that many people have worshipped within a certain place, and you can appreciate that all the symbolism within a place points to Christ or to the Trinity, and you can appreciate that someone, whether the craftsman or just the purchaser, cared that tangible things would be symbols for God, for Christ, and for the glory of God. After all, in Christian belief, the printed word “Jesus” is not the Incarnated God, yet the word stands as a symbol for the Incarnated God. If words can refer to God, than other symbols can, too, and a place with many symbols can be considered special without being considered idolatrous. We don’t fix a flood with a drought, as Thomas Howard said in a quotation I posted the other day.
“The clarity and cogency that philosophy brings is accordingly something that has a potentially positive role to play in every impartial area of human endeavor, Christianity by no means excluded. No church can exist in easy comfort with its intellectuals and theologians, but no church can be a thriving concern among thinking people if it dispenses with their services.” — Nicholas Rescher, in Philosophers Who Believe
But I don’t think that requires an attempt to wear smartness on one’s sleeve. I’m thinking this through with a few questions: I’m already in my church, but would I join it today? Is my church the kind of place where I would feel comfortable inviting my colleagues? What if answering both of those questions affirmatively did not involve a conference on apologetics or brainy sermons? So what would it involve?
“When the new way is considered the only way, there is no continuity, fads become the new Gospel and in Paul’s words, the church is ‘blown to and fro by every wind of doctrine’.” — Loren Mead, in The Once and Future Church
The historical continuity and connections have meant the most the me, regardless of changes in the liturgy over time. The changes within various liturgies are no where near as radical as the changes in approaches to worship. As Mead suggests, emotional highs have taken the place of both the solemnity and the education within the liturgical worship services.
One should ask why emotional highs are important to God, why emotional highs are important to individual spiritual growth, and why (for many churches) worship has become inextricably tangled with emotional highs.
Why is my rock concert experience worth duplicating in church? Why is my Super Bowl experience worth duplicating in church? Our emotions ebb and flow but God remains constant.
“The eye that sees the dangers of idolatry is a true one. But to correct a flood, one does not want a drought…. It is false to pit the visible world of solid objects against faith. We never do this in other realms of our experience. Indeed, we cannot, since we are physical creatures and not angels.” — Thomas Howard, in Evangelical Is Not Enough: Worship of God in Liturgy and Sacrament
- Liturgy, ritual, imagination, and worship (liturgical.wordpress.com)
- Revitalizing liturgical worship: C.S. Lewis on ritual (liturgical.wordpress.com)
Thoughts about ritual worship, shared with my friend Danny on Facebook, with updates (and paragraphing !):
As for ritual worship: I used to go to churches with two parts to the services: sing songs and then listen to the sermon. Since I’ve joined Trinity, I’ve been able to memorize portions of the liturgy because they are repeated week after week. These phrases from Scripture and our godly heritage have come back to me in difficult moments and sustained me.
Furthermore, I think the less-liturgical and less-ritualized services ignore the full human being. Our lives are run more by our emotions and our imaginations than by our rational, cognitive faculties.
By imaginations, I don’t mean daydreams but I mean the unique image-based structures of our thoughts and feelings [memories and expectations tend to be associated not with abstract thought but with sensory impressions, whether visual, auditory, smell, taste, touch].
Protestant worship, as noted elsewhere by Thomas Howard, tends to focus on the sermon because of the abstract, cognitive orientation of evangelicalism. The unstated message is, God is for the mind, reality is essentially Mind, and spiritual living is mind over matter. Get the ideas right and, supposedly, everything else will follow. This seems much like Descartes’ famous conclusions following his sensory-deprivation experiment.
When I was at L’Abri Fellowship, surely an evangelical outfit if there ever was one, Descartes took punches for too radically dividing the human being. God made humans as creatures within a Creation, and any part of our Protestant heritage that delegitimizes that doctrine ought to be left in the past. We are promised resurrected bodies, not glowing orbs of souls that float upward to heaven.
So, people try to *will* themselves into good Christian living and worshipful lives, but their feelings and imaginations are saturated with popular movies, music, TV and the never-ending bombardment of marketing and advertising prompts (which in many cases do more to create our assumptions of reality than anything else).
Much worship today imitates mass media instead of providing a counterpoint to it.
The stories of Scripture and sermons can help the imagination enormously, but unfortunately, our short-attention-span culture does not provide meditative time to soak these stories into our “hearts.” The regular ritual helps the meditative process by working good words and good images into our feelings and imaginations. There is really nothing else like it available.
Of course, ritual delivers content — some specific kind of content and meaning, so ritual should be focused around good things: at Christmas, maybe great-grandmother’s recipe; in church, around the Risen God.
All in all, the more I learn about current brain research and breakthroughs in neuroscience, the more I think our liturgical worship is best. Changes in liturgies don’t matter so much as their historical antecedents and the content delivered by the liturgical rituals. The brain makes connections in certain ways. Liturgical rituals correspond to the brain better than rock concert-style worship.
I can stand up for hope, faith, love
But while I’m getting over certainty
Stop helping God across the road like a little old lady — U2
With this blog during the past five years, I’ve tried to make the case that Protestant evangelicalism and its close cousins are intellectually problematic exercises in futility.
The available Reformed and fundamentalist views of God, humans, and the Bible never really work out, intellectually or experientially, without constant guess work and endless, tiny adjustments in the particulars of belief.
Unfortunately for me, this line of argument has been just as futile as evangelicalism.
Even when others have understood specific, concrete stories from my own life, they could not understand what brought me to the point of exasperation.
What can’t be explained is the aggregate of thousands of hours in conversations with friends, ministers, and psychologists.
What can’t be explained is the aggregate of thousands of hours of observations and, later, evaluation of those observations, the mulling over and over of words spoken and actions observed.
In other words, I don’t have arguments for or against evangelicalism. I have a life that offers deep and broad reasons why evangelicalism as a way of life does not work and couldn’t possibly.
When I found a church with candles and liturgy, I thought at least I could continue to believe in God and worship what T.S. Eliot called “the still point of the turning world,” which I took to be the Incarnation. That was the best I could do.
These days I see people going back in the same direction I came from, tempting the darker forces of religion to control congregations. But there is no way to bottle or package my experiences and my perspectives and present them concretely as a cautionary tale. Others are trying to bottle and package their experiences and their perspectives, and they carry more certainty than I do, maybe with fewer years, but with more zeal.
For them, “there’s one size for everyone.”
For me, “this particular size works for no one.”
Which is the more limited point of view?
G.K. Chesterton once contrasted the pagan circle with the Christian cross. The circle is closed, he said, with no expansion possible. The cross, however, extends infinitely in four directions, essentially in all directions.
I am sure my opposites would consider my point of view to be the circle, and their point of view to be the cross. Of course, I see it the other way around. The only thing I can say in response is that the liturgy and the candles — and, certainly, the bread and wine — enabled me to imagine the cross extending infinitely into past and future, while its crux remains firmly at “the still point of the turning world.”
The strange thing about the way sovereignty is assumed among Reformed, fundamentalist, and evangelical circles is this: there’s nothing to imagine. Only precision of abstract doctrine, none of the genuine mystery of the Baptized God and His universe as sensed and intuited by poets, novelists, and artists. Perhaps there’s nothing to imagine because the ministers feel certain they have grasped the mind of God.
The imaginations that drove Chesterton and J.R.R. Tolkien and Walker Percy and Flannery O’Connor were Roman Catholic. The imagination that drove T.S. Eliot was Anglo-Catholic. The imagination that drove Aleksander Solzhenitsyn was Russian Orthodox. The biggest imagination that was close to evangelicalism was C.S. Lewis, who was Anglican. Are there any evangelical, fundamentalist, or Reformed authors or poets of their caliber in the last 100 years? Perhaps in parts of Europe, but certainly not in the United States or the United Kingdom. I doubt the Reformed, evangelical, or fundamental crowds would claim John Updike or Garrison Keillor — they’re too liberal.
Elsewhere, others have said that our wills fail because the images in our subconscious minds undercut us. The imagination, as most deeply engrained in our minds, as most symbolically woven together with our beliefs, runs on stores of images. Those images must have a basic goodness to them if our wills are to accomplish what our rational minds say we want to achieve.
The Christian imagination ought to be broad and deep and it should buoy our wills toward good ends. The mindset that focuses on doctrinal precision and steps and methods and curricula and numerical growth in congregations only engages the rational mind. This is a failing mindset. As Chesterton said, “The mad man is not the man who has lost his reason. The mad man is the man who has lost everything except his reason.”
The late French Protestant leader Jacques Ellul in his book Living Faith: Belief and Doubt in a Perilous World –
“They comply unfailingly with the law and the commandments. They are unbending in their convictions, intolerant of any deviation. In the articulation of belief they press rigor and absolutism to their limits. They precisely delimit the frontiers between believers and unbelievers. They unceasingly refine the expression of their belief and seek to give it explicit intellectual formulation in a system as coherent and complete as possible. They insist on total orthodoxy. Ways of thinking and acting are rigidly codified.”
And a quotation from Daniel Taylor: “Legalism is one more expression of the human compulsion for security.”
1. I can admit I’m a sinner, and I can realize that a Holy God would demand recompense. I can even say I could not do anything to get myself into the presence of Absolute Goodness. I could easily say after my physical death there’s no good reason for my essence to continue on or for my body to return. For those reasons, I could easily say I need a Savior.
2. I can also say lectures, debates, books, and research from psychologists, neuroscientists, historians, and other thinkers seem to offer better explanations of human problems than the available Christian explanations, and better explanations of why Christianity captivates people.
Postscript: Oddly enough, when Christians hold up their hands at available information (see Sources section below) and refuse to wrestle with it, that refusal plays into the theories of social psychologists — in two ways. First, “social proof,” or the testimonies and beliefs of the people one knows, tends to weigh more heavily in decision-making than evidence-and-reason. Second, as research suggests, when confronted with strong reasons for an opposing point of view, people tend to redouble their dedication to their original point of view.
Valerie Tarico cites Flo Conway and Jim Siegelman in her video series; here are two quotations from them:
Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini
Prophetic Charisma: The Psychology of Revolutionary Religious Personalities by Len Oakes
Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomena by Daniel Dennett
Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength by Roy F. Baumeister and John Tierney
Psychologist Valerie Tarico’s video series, Christianity and Cognitive Science
Michael Shermer’s news feature on religious experiences and the brain, Out of the Body Experiment
Andy Thomson’s lecture, Why We Believe in Gods
Jill Bolte Taylor’s TED talk here.