The two word response of my gym trainer at the university gym at which I am a chaplain, in response to an evolution-friendly comment by me. :)
Category Archives: theology
“All we are is dust in the wind”, said Socrates.
In reading about sin and human nature for my mini-thesis, I’ve dipped into the nature/nurture and determinism/free-will discussions. I tend to think that the biblical view of humans takes both sides of these conversations quite seriously. We are limited by our nature/genetics in what we are capable of, and yet we are capable somehow of transcending our current neuro/bio/physio-logical states.
In other words, the biblical view of humans is that we are continually taken from pretty raw material (the dust of the ground) and formed and freed to be human by the Spirit (the breath of life). Perhaps Socrates would agree.
A quick reflection and question as I dig into my Master’s mini-thesis which will use sociological methodology to discover how non-religious people think about ‘wrongdoing’ or ‘sin’, both in terms of what they believe about wrongdoing, and what they ‘hear’ when Christians talk about it.
At any rate, one secular book I’m flipping through is Faith No More: Why People Reject Religion by Phil Zuckerman. He repeats the familiar line about non-religious people being as-good-as (or better than! p. 122) religious people. This is supported (over and against the detached-from-reality musings of C.S. Lewis “between his sips of tea”) by the empirical testimony of a series of post-religious-now-secular people.
All talk of “how unhelpful the word ‘religion’ is in conversations like this” aside, I want to reflect on the socially-constructed aspects to ethics. Yes I just said that. Whatever anyone thinks, positively or negatively about God’s ability to break into the human discourse and direct, dictate, shepherd, shove, manipulate, move, coax or command it this way or that way, we all acknowledge that ethics is at least a human conversation. There is a moral Zeitgeist.
In light of this obvious reality, it would seem methodologically problematic to be comparing the ethics of a) Christians, who are deeply immersed in the moral Zeitgeist of western – or in this case American – culture, with b) post-Christians, who remain influenced by the previous immersion in the ‘religious’ moral conversation which, at least in principle, has Christ and Scripture as it’s locus and telos. In short, because (in this case) American Christians are more influenced by American culture than many realise, and American post-Christians are more influenced by Christian teaching (of a very particular kind of authoritarian, moralistic flavour, I suspect) than some may realise, the comparison seems problematic.
To really prove the thesis that non-religion maketh man more moral than religion (granting this problematic usage of the term ‘religion’), wouldn’t you have to find a specimen that was living in a religion-free context, so that the specimen was fully free of religious motivations, assumptions, habits and practices and that the pure, untainted non-religious ethic could shine in all it’s unadulterated glory? Rather than compare Christian to post-Christian, I think the thesis would find better data if it compared Christian to pre-Christian.
Thus concludes my rambling on this thought. Back to reading!
I’m currently doing a research essay on how the parable of the Good Samaritan has been preached in different times and contexts. Interpretation and preaching have traditionally centred on how the story presents three characters, one of who is the exemplary Samaritan.
But in the research, I’ve found that some rightly point out that the Innkeeper is a fourth. Apparently innkeepers were known to at times over-charge, and so the greed of the innkeeper provides another contrast to the generosity of the Samaritan who offers to repay any expense the innkeeper incurs in caring for the man (whose nationality or race are – deliberately? – never revealed).
Now, I’m probably not the first to see yet another person in the story, and I’ll have to check the commentaries, but the following lines suggest it to me:
On the next day [most MSS include 'when he departed'], he took out two denarii, and gave them to the innkeeper, and said to him, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I come again, I will repay you.”
It is the phrase “when I come again” that tipped me off. Was that a glimpse of the parousia just there tucked away? I wonder it we glimpse Jesus himself in the person of the Samaritan; and by implication the church in the Innkeeper. The ministry of the church is indeed (among other things) to welcome the lonely, to clothe the naked, to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, to visit the imprisoned. Do we glimpse Jesus here, equipping the Church (giving of the Spirit?) to do their work, and promise a ‘repayment’ (reward according to deeds?) for how much extra they do?
http://thomism.wordpress.com/2013/04/04/the-finality-of-death-and-christian-faith/ Quite interesting.
All is/ought distinctions and naturalistic fallacies aside, whilst monogamy does occur in some non-human species, apparently humans have a evolutionary and biological predisposition of sorts to polygamy.
But is this really newsworthy? Even the most prudish of “just lay there and think of the queen” conservatives would admit off the record to the fact that being married to one person doesn’t remove all attraction to all other potential mating partners. Yet again, science is giving us technical and detailed accounts of what we already knew. We like sex. We like sex a lot. We like a lot of sex. Which is good news for the pornography and prostitution industries, though perhaps not for monogamy.
If both the above science and near-universal human experience is correct, then monogamy necessarily always involves a kind of saying ‘no’ to a desire that is as natural and normative as it gets. There are two interesting points of relevance here for the current global discussion of same-sex marriage.
1) Legal same-sex marriage and legal multi-marriage are logically related. It is hardly ‘scaremongering’ to point out that polygamy is the next step in the current progression, if not one of the next steps. There is no shortage of online pro-polygamy groups which have been arguing for its legality for years (and plenty of challenging of other ‘no-marriage-for-you’ lines un-challenged in the currently proposed legislation). Methinks that those pushing for the law change don’t want to talk for too long on this point, so they play the ‘scaremongering’ (or religious ‘fear’) card as quickly as possible.
2) Saying no to sexual desires may not be so inhumane after all. If indeed the natural tendency toward polygamy is there in the vast majority of humans, then the widespread monogamous habit of routinely dousing of the flames of desire for multiple sex-partners is infinitely more backwards and sexually repressive in scope and number than expecting a relatively small percentage of the population to do the same with (homosexual) desires which are arguably just as natural, though incredibly less common.
But of course I do not think that sexual self-control is repressive or backwards. Neither do I think that sexual expression (or marriage for that matter) is some kind of thing that makes you human – and therefore is a ‘right’. All this goes directly against messages both implicit and explicit in movies, media and advertising whose suggestion is hardly a gentle one: namely that to err is virgin, and to get it on is divine.
And the church doesn’t help much either. Marriage is on such a pedestal that single people feel like unfortunate, illegitimate, inconvenient accessories accompanying we normal married folk. We need to affirm those who are both single and celibate as being just as human as any other.
Because it is.
There’s the infamous ‘hymns’ versus ‘choruses’ debate that still echoes around the church. But I think the new issue will be ‘liturgical’ v. ‘non-liturgical’ (or ‘free’?) debate.
I just preached a sermon which discussed ‘worship’ and suggested that we (Baptists) may need to review our approach. I made reference to some ‘liturgical’ forms of worship and briefly sketched how and why those forms are meaningful and not just empty ‘rituals’1.
I was approached by two people after the service. The first, with glowing eyes and face, told me how much she loved what I was saying. The first words of the second person couldn’t have been more opposite: they suggested that if I wanted to be Anglican perhaps I should switch denominations.
I stuck with the conversation and it got better. But I was reminded once again that when it comes to worship, be prepared for very strong opinions!
- I find it annoying that the word ritual is often associated with meaninglessness. [↑]
Even given the doctrine of God’s self-disclosure or revelation, and given the Wesleyan Quadrilateral (Scripture, Reason, Tradition and Experience)… You will never, in your lifetime, know everything about God.
Or… see the doctrine of ineffability.
A true swordsman is recognised not simply by ability to swing the largest of swords with great speed and strength, but by the skill and agility to wield any sword in the best way. Likewise, the vision of God in Christian Scripture (not only in the NT – explicitly in passages like Philippians 2:5-11 – but in the OT) is of a God who does not mindlessly brandish the sword of omnipotence around like a brute or side-show stuntman, but rather wisely wields it in ways that are not about mere strength but intent, skill and purpose.
It is becoming increasingly clear to me that basically no Christian doctrine about God makes any sense at all if God’s omnipotence is not seen in this particular way. Just as a skilled swordsman most probably indeed could swing a sword quite fast and powerfully, but would only do so at rare occasions or perhaps only once, so also there are many things that an omnipotent God is able to do, but not willing.
The kenotic, or ‘self-emptying’, God is not shackled to ‘logical’ expectations for what omnipotence would do. God both a) refrains from doing things he has capacity to do, as well as b) does things he does not need to do. God could have not created. It’s not as though there could be any force or person or will ‘above’ God that caused God to create. But create he did – and does. To venture into the conversation of sovereignty and process theology and ‘free will’, etc., God could have chosen to have a very deterministic and micro-managerial rule over the world. It’s not as though that would be un-fitting or impossible for omnipotence. But his sovereign rule is far more respecting of freedom, and what we have is a mixture of inability to do many things (i.e. breathe in space, fly, etc.), and ability to direct our own courses of action. We are dependent enough upon the world and each other such that the degree of indifference we can fall to has limits, yet we are also independent enough from it and others such that an annoyingly persistent responsibility for our actions is perpetually ensured.