2013-12-23

The Bostian Bunch 2013


Everybody is happy on Santa's lap. Well, almost everybody.
Greetings from the Texas Hill Country,

Can you believe another year has come and gone?  We surely cannot.  We have now called San Antonio home for nearly four years.  Our children are getting so spoiled by all that this great city has to offer (the mild winters, rivers, parks, hills and culture).  I didn't realize how accustom they had become to the area till the children thought that 45 degrees was too chilly to be outside, at the same time our Dallas friends and family were experiencing "Icemageddon 2013".  This year we have enjoyed the outdoors, especially as Vera has begun to get more mobile and enjoys her backpack carrier.

2013-12-22

Miracles and Minds, Science Fiction and Scientific Probability

Dr. Manhattan ponders the possibility of miracles by reading this absurdly long essay.
For years I have wanted to deal with one of the greatest philosophical and pragmatic objections to the idea of "revealed" religion. This objection is second only, in my opinion, to the question of "theodicy": How can a supposedly loving and powerful Creator allow his creation to suffer and die in such excruciating and wasteful ways? I will briefly return to this "greatest of all" objections at the end of the essay.

This "second greatest" objection makes "revealed religion" of any type-- whether Christian or non-Christian-- appear foolish, hokey, folksy, credulous, silly, superstitious, and fundamentally ignorant of the way the world works. This, of course, is the objection against miracles. Because if miracles are impossible, and therefore false, it renders any kind of Divine intervention or communication impossible and false. And if there is no Divine communication, then all religions that claim to be based on it are fundamentally flawed.

I would like to deal with this objection from my unique threefold perspective: First of all, as someone who has grown up in the fastest era of technological change known to humanity. Second of all, as someone whose favorite genre of literature is science fiction. And thirdly, as a committed if somewhat progressive follower of the Risen Lord Jesus Christ. I think these perspectives can help us understand the issue in a way that avoids the pitfalls of merely rejecting miracles on one hand, and accepting illogical and impossible claims of the miraculous on the other.

2013-12-20

Jesus is not Superman: Virgin Conception and the full humanity of Christ

Tanner's painting of the Annunciation, which is may favorite artistic depiction.

When I posted elsewhere on a discussion of the Virgin Conception, one responder had a very unique take on the matter. Since Jesus had to do miracles and eventually rise from the dead, the responder reasoned, then Jesus had to be something other than human: Something super-human. And so he wrote: "The virgin birth establishes that Jesus is not really a human."

I can see how someone might get there, if they were positing that Jesus is essentially some kind of "superman" who merely appears to be human but is really invincible. The interesting thing is that this is not the direction that either Matthew nor Luke take the Virgin Conception, and a "superman" version of the Incarnation was sternly rejected by all seven of the original Ecumenical Councils.

2013-12-19

On the Virgin Conception of Christ

One of my favorite classical paintings of the Annunciation.

Tis the Season to bring up the perennial question of whether or not Jesus was in fact conceived by a literal, physical virgin upon his first Advent among us. Every year this question gets raised. And every year no decisive answer is given which will convince all sides, including atheists, skeptics, liberal Christians, conservative Christians, and religious others.

And, by the way: The miracle was not the Virgin BIRTH, which is merely the physical act of activating certain muscles and pushing the infant out. Rather, the miracle at stake is the Virgin CONCEPTION: Becoming pregnant without any male sperm present in the first place. This is the context of what we are actually talking about.

So, I will proffer my answer among the cacophony of voices, knowing it will probably only convince the convinced. If you are tired of this question, I will give you the spoiler: I think that the most probable explanatory hypothesis is that Mary was indeed a physical virgin when she conceived Jesus. My faith would not be shattered if this was not the case, and I think there are other ways we could affirm the Divinity of Jesus without virgin conception. But given the rather sparse evidence we have on the matter, in light of the rather large amount of data (proportionally) we can draw on to assert Jesus' Divinity, I am inclined to say Jesus was "born of the Virgin Mary" as the Creed says.

Yet, I have often heard five criticisms of the Virgin Conception:

1. Virgin Conception is physically impossible, and we live in a closed system where miracles cannot happen, therefore Jesus could not have been born of a Virgin.

2. Virgin Conception is tied to a theory of "original sin" which is preposterous and states that we are literally guilty for what Adam did, and therefore Jesus had to be born free of "Adam's curse" in order to be sinless, without the stain of original sin.

3. Virgin Conception is tied to Jesus being the Incarnation of God, and since we know God cannot enter into human form (see #1 above), the whole idea of virgin conception is misguided from the start.

4. Virgin Conception is only mentioned in Matthew and Luke, based on a dubious read of the Hebrew text of Isaiah 7.14. Since other New Testament documents do not mention the Virgin Conception, it must be an invention of Matthew and Luke.

5. Virgin Conception is found prior to Jesus in Pagan , Hindu, and Buddhist myths. Since it seems like a derivative story, it must therefore be false.

Let's deal with them one by one.

2013-12-17

Is God necessary for Adult Morality?

The Paper Sack Kant could not write himself out of.

It is with quite some regularity that I read or hear a well meaning Christian say "If you don't have God, then anything is permitted! God is necessary as a basis of morality!" This quote is often attributed to Dostoyevsky  in "The Brothers Karamazov", although he never exactly wrote it. Rather, it is a helpful summary of the moral outlook of Ivan Karamazov in the early chapters of the book.

Now, as a Christian I think that positing an Infinite Source of Love at the core of the Universe-- the Triune God-- is the most satisfying metaphysical grounding for why altruistic Love and Compassion are essentially good. And furthermore, I find it incredibly instructive to posit that this Love became incarnate in a particular life, so we could see this Love embodied and exemplified.

But that is one of many possible coherent groundings for why Love, altruism, and compassion are moral goods. There are other explanations-- Buddhist explanations, Hindu explanations, and Secular explanations-- that do not posit a personal metaphysical Grounding of Love's "goodness", and yet lead their adherents to practice Love and compassion in a compelling way.

2013-12-16

Why Epistemology could help save or damn us all

A Weather Map: Not helpful in driving from Dallas to Chicago. You will see why this is important later on.

There are many ways to divide and categorize human groupings. Some of the major ways to group humans these days are "religious" versus "secular" and "conservative" versus "liberal". And then much ink and many words are spilt over how these types of divisions are absolute and share nothing in common with each other. Hence the "culture wars".

I actually think that these divisions tell us very little about how people in these groups actually function.

I think a far better dividing line-- at least at this juncture in history-- is to look at how people do epistemology, and divide people into two epistemic tendencies: Probablists versus Infallibilists.

2013-12-15

On Religious Monuments in Public Places

Paul among the philosophers in the open market of religious ideas in Acts 17.

This weekend Mark Silk editorialized on some of the recent hubbub over erecting religious monuments in public places. This endless back and forth battle over secular spaces raises the question for me: Where would be the dividing line between displays of religion and displays of ideology, and displays of, say, remembrance.

For instance, regarding ideology: If I wanted to erect statues of prominent American deists who signed the Declaration of Independence, as a testament to how deism contributed to American constitutionalism, would that be in violation? Or, even weirder, if I wanted to construct a giant right triangle to celebrate the contributions of Pythagoras to mathematics, would that be a violation (especially since he did found his own religion)?

An Offensive Sermon

Bansky's family picnic: As offensive as Jesus' meals, for the opposite reasons.

For Third Advent, Year A. Based on Luke 1:46-55 (the Magnificat), James 5:7-10, and Matthew 11:2-11.

And Jesus said "Blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me." To which someone in the crowd immediately mumbled under their breath "Who does this guy think he is anyway? The Son of God?"

Today I want to deliver an offensive sermon. No, not in the sense that I want to offend you. I don't want to offend anyone here. And if you are offended by what I say today, please, blame it on Fr. Chuck. But, instead of being offensive myself, I want to talk about the kinds of things that offend US, and what on earth people could possibly find offensive about JESUS.

2013-12-14

A Christmas Blessing

I gave this blessing at our wonderful TMI choir and band concert, right before we sang silent night. I liked it so I thought I would share:

And so, from the TMI family to your family: May God our Father grant to you and yours a blessed Christmas season; May the peace and joy of the Christ child make your holidays bright; And may the very Spirit of Christmas fill your heart and home, and give you Joyful days and Silent nights.

Amen. 

2013-12-11

Unique among the Religions?


Today I preached a sermon on the "Seven Gifts of the Christian Faith". In it I outlined seven core ideas of the Christian Faith, which bring a rich depth to thinking about God, morality and spirituality, and which are unique among worldviews. These seven ideas form the basis of a robust Christian systematic theology, which link together Biblical and Historical ideas in a cohesive, consistent, constructive explanation of why the world is the way it is.

At some point in the future, I will turn these seven ideas into a series of essays or perhaps even a book. But for summary's sake, here is a brief description of these seven unique ideas (you can also see how they are linked in the chart above):

TRINITY: God is an eternal community of shared Love between the Father, Son, and Spirit, in infinite goodness, truth, and beauty.

AGAPE LOVE: Unconditional Love is the reason for our creation, why we are given freedom, and why God heals us when we misuse our freedom.

INCARNATION: To show us the depth of God's Love and heal us, God empties Godself and becomes human in the person of Jesus the Messiah.

SUBSTITUTION: In Jesus, God takes into Godself the full consequences of our sin, suffering, and death, by suffering with humans, for humans, as a human.

RESURRECTION: The Love of God is stronger than death, shown in Jesus' return from the grave, which guarantees the promise of our own resurrection.

SACRAMENT: The Holy Spirit shares Christ's life with us through tangible activities that continue the mission of the Incarnation in the world today.

ATONEMENT: God's ultimate desire is to make us at-one with God, through Jesus, in the Spirit, as we share fully in the eternal life of the Trinity.

After preaching the sermon, a close friend of mine noted that it is a "terrific summary of Christian theology", yet that "the individual items are not all unique, but the combination of the seven certainly is". This is a great observation that raises the question: Just how unique is the Christian worldview anyway? Are these concepts completely without parallel in other religions and worldviews?

2013-12-05

Faith and Hope and the Tightrope of Love


Love is dangerous, risky, and infinitely costly to the self. Precisely because it is the giving of self away to the Other, for the Other, in the Other. Why should we give ourselves away in this manner? Why is Love worth the risk? Why would it not be better to act in self-interest, rather than loose yourself in what may in the end be a futile effort?

Is there a good reason we should sing with the Song of Solomon:

"Love is as strong as death, its jealousy unyielding as the grave. It burns like blazing fire, like a mighty flame. Many waters cannot quench love; rivers cannot sweep it away. If one were to give all the wealth of one’s house for love, it would be utterly scorned." [Song 8.6-7]

2013-12-02

Two Christian Views on Same-Sex Relationships

It's a "Modern Family", but is it a "Biblical" family? Depends on how you read the Bible! 

I wrote both of the following mini-essays at various times in my journey with Jesus. They reflect two different viewpoints on the same issue held by one person over time. There are thoughtful, Christ-centered, Biblical Christians on both sides of this issue. Those who support gays and lesbians may find the first essay offensive, while those who challenge them may feel the same about the second essay. I will begin with a brief look at the only Scripture passages which deal with the issue of same-sex intercourse.

After that, I will move on to present two different Christian interpretations, derived from Scripture and attempting to be faithful to Scripture. The first challenges gays and lesbians on the issue of sexuality and sin, while welcoming them in faith to support them in their struggle. The second welcomes our gay brothers and lesbian sisters in the faith, and sees their sexuality as a gift from God that is as different from heterosexuality as celibacy is. This second essay is a concise summary of research I explored more deeply in another essay on Homosexuality and the Christian Faith.

2013-11-29

Homosexual Activity and Christian Faith: On the issue of Gay and Lesbian Inclusion

A helpful infographic summarizing marriage laws in the Old Testament.

INTRODUCTION: TWO SIMPLISTIC ANSWERS

In my ministry to young adults and college students, I get into the conversation at least once a month about two "big" issues: First, people ask me all the time "Who is going to hell?" (which is actually a deeper question about the love of God). Second, people ask me "What does the Bible say about homosexuality?" (which is also a deeper question about God's love and purpose for creation). I have found these questions are at the tip of the iceberg for a whole complex of deeper issues beneath the surface. And they are actually tied together in a deep way, because the Church has been going through "hell" in our constant arguments about what the proper Christian response is to the struggles of gays and lesbians.

Although I deal with the issue of hell in other places, I will attempt to answer the homosexuality question right now. Until recently, the answer to this question has often fallen on one of two "simplistic" sides: The "conservative" side and the "liberal" side. On the conservative side have been people who claim to take the Bible seriously, and thus do exactly what it says, as if it were some kind of legal textbook. And, in most English translations, the Bible seems to clearly condemn same-sex intercourse, therefore gays and lesbians must be condemned if they act on their sexual orientation. On the liberal side have been people who claim to take social justice and inclusion seriously, and therefore they deny, ignore, or simply explain away as "outdated" those Scripture passages which seem to contradict their pursuit of inclusion. Thus, in this (false!) dichotomy, the conservatives are guilty of failing to show love and mercy to actual people, and the liberals are guilty of failing to take seriously God's revelation of Godself in Scripture.

But what if there is a way to take Scripture seriously, and also fully include gays and lesbians in the Church? In fact, what if taking Scripture seriously- even literally- actually led to the full inclusion of gays and lesbians in the life of God's people? That is what I intend to explore.

A fair word of warning: This essay is quite long and tries to take into account a huge swath of relevant Scriptural, historical and theological data. If you would like something a bit short, see my essay on Two Christian Views on Same Sex Relationships, or even more concise (but a bit simplified) is this five minute video by Matthew Vines. With that said, let us begin:

2013-11-24

Divine Infinity and Human Epektasis

Jacob's Ladder: A common symbol for the ascent into God's Infinity (epektasis)

If God is infinite, how can we relate to such a God? How does the infinity of God relate to our ultimate growth and development as sentient beings "made in God's image"? Does the infinity of God, the boundless depths of Divine Love, open for us any surprising developments for our own spiritual progress? If God is in some sense a field of infinite potential that invites us ever-deeper, what implication does this have for spiritual projects that stress the "unchanging" nature of God and spiritual truth? Can one hold any "unchanging" ideas about God and still embrace a universe that is characterized by change and flow and evolution?

All of these questions have been swirling around my head for a couple of years now. And I want try and connect the Triune God, Divine Infinity, Change and Development, Cosmic Evolution, and Epektasis (the continual pursuit of God by the human soul). The following essay will seek to elucidate a systemic connection between these ideas based upon material in Scripture and Christian Theology, while touching upon certain themes in philosophy, biology, and physics. And we shall start by postulating that the God revealed in Jesus Christ is Infinite:

2013-11-22

On gods and Aesthetics, Psalms and Theosis

Happy heavenly birthday Jack! Pray for us down here!

Today in honor of the 50th anniversary of CS Lewis' transposition from earthly life into the greater life of God, I preached a sermon on the idea of humans becoming "gods" which is found in several of CS Lewis' writings, but most especially in his sermon "The Weight of Glory". The texts I chose to speak on were the following:

1Corinthians 4.6-18: "For it is God who... has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ... For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure..."

Psalm 82.6: I say, "You are gods, children of the Most High, all of you..."

John 10.34-36: Jesus answered [his opponents], "Is it not written in your Law, 'I said you are gods'"? If he called them ‘gods,’ to whom the word of God came—and Scripture cannot be broken— what about the one whom the Father set apart as his very own and sent into the world?

2013-11-18

Textual Evidence for Scriptural Reliability

Click to see a chart comparing the NT to other ancient texts.
These are my lecture notes on the question of how reliable the New Testament texts are, and a layman's introduction to textual criticism of the Bible.

It is often popular to claim that the NT text was corrupted by centuries of hand copying, and to point out the thousands of small differences between ancient copies as evidence of this. This is the claim often made by Mythicists (who claim that Jesus was wholly invented by early Christians) as well as more revisionist scholars (such as Bart Ehrman or "The Jesus Seminar"). But is this the case? It turns out, upon deeper inspection, that the Bible, especially the NT, is the most reliably copied book before the Printing Press (and the most printed after). Jewish and Christian Scriptoriums had meticulous standards to ensure copyist accuracy, and produced far more copies than any ancient book.

2013-11-15

Sermon Archive, Ministry Portfolio and Resume


The Rev. Nate Bostian resides in San Antonio Texas with his wife Kim, and three children: Elise, Taggart, and Vera. Since 2010, Fr. Nate has served as head chaplain at TMI - The Episcopal School of Texas. Prior to that, he was Episcopal Chaplain at Southern Methodist University and director of young adult ministry at Saint Michael and All Angels in Dallas.

Fr. Nate is a veteran of a decade of parish ministry with families, youth, and young adults, as well as nearly seven years as a Social Worker, ministering primarily to runaway and abused children. He received his Master's of Divinity from Perkins School of Theology in 2008, and his Bachelor's degree in history from Texas A&M in 1996. Nate enjoys hiking, lifting weights, good coffee, science fiction, and Monty Python. You can contact Fr. Nate or view his blog at natebostian.blogspot.com.

Fr. Nate's life and ministry philosophy can be summarized by two commandments: First, to Love the Lord incarnate in Christ Jesus, who is Love embodied, sharing God's welcome and healing with everyone. No exceptions. Second, to Love God's children and see them healed. All of them. No exceptions.

Resume and Profile: Click here for Nate's Resume / Curricula Vitae, including Ministry philosophy and OTM profile.

Sermon Archive: Most of these sermons are from my stint at Saint Michael and All Angels from 2008-2010. When I get access to some more recent sermons from the Diocese of West Texas, I will also put them here. [go to sermons or read them in text on the blog]

Teaching Materials and Curriculum: This page includes links to syllabi, class documents, handouts, and interactive surveys. [click here for teaching materials]

Articles on Chaplaincy: This includes articles on spiritual formation, ministry philosophy and program design for TMI- The Episcopal School of Texas [click here for TMI Spirituality pages]

YouTube Multimedia: Just for fun, here are some multimedia projects I have written and performed for teaching and chaplaincy.
Bible Memory Rap
Fr. Nate raps at Camp Capers
Religious not Spiritual (spoken word)
Fr. Nate photoshopped by TMI students

Photos and Headshots of Fr. Nate and family.

You can contact Fr. Nate at natebostian [at] gmail [dot] com or call or text at two one zero three seven zero seven five seven nine.

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2013-11-05

The Golden Rule across cultures

Ummm. Not THAT Golden Rule.

The following are some lecture notes for a discussion on "The Golden Rule" as Jesus presents it in the "Sermon on the Mount" (Matthew 5-7). In this lecture, I am trying to connect the ethics of Jesus with the central concerns of other world cultures:

Most cultures and religions have ethical systems that, at their core, are based on an idea of equality and reciprocity. This idea was first delivered to me in earnest by CS Lewis in his little book "The Abolition of Man". In the appendix, Lewis put a cross cultural sampling of moral teachings he labelled "The Tao" (a Chinese word meaning "The Way" or more appropriately "The Way to be Good or Moral"). The central section of "The Tao" for me was what Lewis calls "The Law of Reciprocity", which is often better known as "The Golden Rule".

2013-11-02

Why Studying Theology is good for EVERYONE



A colleague recently sent me a great article from the Atlantic on why everyone should "Study Theology, Even If You Don't Believe in God". I think it made several great points which I agree with wholly. I read it and it is very much in line with what I frequently tell people who ask me about theology and religious studies.

However, there are a couple of things I would also like to add about why Theology is for everyone, because everyone is a theologian (a point first brought home to me by Stanley Grenz in his book "Who Needs Theology?"). My standard schtick on the study of theology is this:

2013-10-29

On beauty after becoming gods


"Napalm" by Banksy. Is even this art? Read the end of the essay.
I will take a stab at a theory of postmodern aesthetics, although I haven't read aesthetics intentionally nor can I name names. Nevertheless, I have thought about issues of meaning, power, ideology, semiotics, and representation from folks like Baudrillard and Zizek on the left, to Tolkien-esque mythopoetic folks on the right. And my job lends itself to dealing with aesthetics and "pop culture" on a regular basis as a sort of mediator between the worlds of the sacred and the mundane; Between the dimensions of the "real" (everyday human experience), the "hyper-real" (or virtual, or representational), and the "hypo-real" (the "ground of being", or founding Reality).

For me the contemporary aesthetic question can be summed up as: "What is beauty now that we are gods?"

2013-10-23

Jesus and Mythology: Three Views

The following are my lecture notes on the issue of "Jesus and Mythology". They are somewhat fragmentary and could be filled out in great detail if I had time to write a book. But I don't. So here are my notes on the question: How is the Jesus of the Bible related to the Mythology found in ancient cultures?

One of the earliest theological views of the relationship of Jesus to what we would now call "world religions" was surprisingly positive. Greek theologians such as Justin Martyr, Clement, and Origen consistently taught that the Spirit of God has planted "seeds" of the Word of God (Greek: "logoi spermatikoi") in all people, all cultures, and thus all religions.

2013-10-22

Bible Memorization Rap



Click above to see a Rap Song I wrote to help students memorize the Bible, its major and minor divisions, and the major types of literature found in the Bible. Copyright (c) 2013 Nathan L. Bostian

Here are the lyrics:

2013-10-09

God of the Gaps or God as Singularity?



Many skeptics (and thoughtful Christians) find problems with the model of God as a "God of the Gaps". By this, they mean a God who periodically invades history to keep the universe running when the complexity of the physics gets beyond our current ability to model. I agree that "God of the gaps" is a bad idea, both because of what it does to our image of God and what it does to human learning. However, I would also caution against understanding the universe as such a closed-system that it rules out interactions with other dimensions in an "a priori" manner irrespective of the evidence.

2013-10-06

Ethics precedes Metaphysics and constitutes Epistemology



The following mediation uses quite a bit of philosophical jargon. It is based on two propositions I have been playing with for a while in my mind, which seek to provide a relation between three major area of philosophy: Ethics (how we act), Metaphysics (what we know about Ultimate Reality), and Epistemology (how we know). I'm not entirely sure what I think about these propositions, or how they relate to my theology as a whole. And the only way to figure it out is to write it out. So, here is attempt #1.

Proposition 1: Ethics precedes Metaphysics and constitutes Epistemology.

Proposition 2: We choose therefore we are, and our choices shape how and what we can know.

2013-10-05

On Sharing Faith with Mormons



A friend of mine recently wrote me and asked for some advice on "witnessing" with some Mormon missionaries who had come to his home several times. I want to share what I shared with him, because it represents what I find to be the central flaws in Latter Day Saint theology.

However, I must preface this by saying that I have the utmost respect for many Mormons I have known and worked with for their commitment to their faith, to Jesus, to their families, and to moral integrity. They set a lifestyle example that many Christians should learn from. In terms of many moral issues, you would find me in total agreement with Mormons. Yes, I differ with them when I drink coffee and have beer with dinner. And yes, I would expand the definition of family beyond what Mormons would, to include families with two dads or two moms. But as far as core moral values of integrity, love, compassion, justice, and commitment to sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ: I would be in full agreement.

Where we differ is in the explanation of WHY these moral values are core to life. We may agree on the practice of moral integrity. And we may agree on many details of Old Testament and New Testament history. But we differ as to the theory of history and view of God that upholds this moral practice and this Biblical narrative.

2013-09-22

Scriptural Resources for Ecological Stewardship



A science teacher who I work with asked me to compile some Biblical resources on the stewardship of Creation. Since there are few good lists on this topic on the Internet (they usually include sparse Biblical references and LOTS of commentary), I decided to post this. It's kind of a bare-bones, "just the facts ma'am" list of Biblical resources on ecology, along with some prayers from the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer. I hope you find it useful for sermon or lesson prep.

2013-09-11

Creation and Evolution, Science and Scripture




The following is an introductory essay I use in many of my classes to approach the questions raised by Science and Scripture. At the end I have included discussion questions based on the essay.

When studying the Story of God written in Scripture, one of the major questions that is often raised is: How does this Story relate to other stories that try to explain the world we live in? There are many stories found in other worldviews that seek to explain the world. But there is one other really big Story that has been accepted by most of the world since the 1800's: The Story of Evolution as told by scientific investigation. Both scripture and science speak of how humanity came to be, but they use different language to talk about it. Thus, what they say often sounds very different.

2013-09-02

We greet God in the Face of "The Other"



Over the past couple of years I have been thinking about how to integrate some of the major themes of postmodern ethical theory into a genuinely Trinitarian, Incarnational worldview. Although I know whole forests of trees have been cut down to make books which (over)analyze these concepts, I would like to put forward some short and sweet recommendations about how to integrate these concepts into a Classically Christian spirituality.

My meditation will center around concepts of welcome, embrace, inclusion, tolerance, difference, "other"-ness (le autre), and "the face of the other" as popularized by thinkers such as Jacques Derrida, Jack Caputo, and Emmanuel Lévinas, and expanded and critiqued by theorists like Slavoj Žižek.

2013-08-16

What does prayer do?


This is a theological meditation on something that I have been pondering for a while now: How can we conceive of prayer working if we operate within a contemporary scientific understanding of physics? Can a physicist- or anyone else- really pray and mean it? Or is prayer simply a form of talking to ourselves at a deep level?

2013-06-17

The Good Old Days were not so good



The other day my dad sent me an email that reminisces about how good, and simple, and inexpensive things were when he was a boy in 1955. Some of the list is sentimental and cute, harkening back to an idyllic age that people remember as children (precisely because they were children and were not aware of the complexities and contradictions of adult life). But much of the list is politically charged in a "let's turn back the clock" kind of way.

So, I sent my dad back an email that said this:

2013-06-03

The Perfectly Imperfect Journey



"Although Christ was in the form of God, he did not regard equality with God as something to be held onto, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant..." [Philippians 2:6-7]

The perfect journey. The perfect meal. The perfect destination. We throw the word "perfect" around a great deal to signify our search for something or someone that is without flaw, without taint, without regret. At the very heart of human existence is a yearning for a transcendent experience or relationship that will somehow complete us and leave us without yearning or need. One of the reasons why we journey, in fact, is to seek such an experience. We want to leave the mundane, imperfect world we inhabit and find somewhere that is, well, perfect.

But what we often find is that our journeys are not perfect.

2013-05-17

A Definition and Application of "Religion"



As we come to the end of my third academic year, I am doing a mental review of what I can change and improve for next year. As chaplain and religion teacher, one of the conversations I quite frequently get into is exactly what is religion, and what counts as the study of religion. In particular, certain vexing questions are often asked:

Does religion require positing a God or other Divine Beings? If so, what do we do with religions that do not have an explicit place for Divine Beings, such as various forms of Buddhism or Confucianism?

If we are going to define religion in such a way that we include "religions" that do not have God(s), what stops anything from becoming a religion? If I have an ultimate concern for finding the ultimate grilled cheese sandwich, and I pursue this concern "religiously", does that then make me an adherent of the religion "Grilled Cheese Sandwichism"?

2013-04-16

Theodicy in Outline



In light of the recent Boston Bombings, I thought I would publish the following notes on the problem of Theodicy. This is, admittedly, an academic rather than pastoral treatment of the problem of suffering. I figure many people will be doing pastoral works over the next few days and weeks. I thought I would instead publish something that is both academic and readable by the average person.

The following is a teaching outline for discussing the problem of suffering in the light of a God who is said to be both all-good (desiring the full flourishing of all persons made in God's image) and all-powerful (able to bring about the full flourishing of those he desires good for). Thus experiences of suffering and tragedy cause us to question the goodness, power, and existence of God. This is a skeletal outline intended mainly as lecture notes.

2013-04-03

On Miracles, Hubris, and Arthur C. Clarke's Third Law



Today in chapel I preached on resurrection. And in speaking of the miracle of the resurrection, I invoked Arthur C. Clarke's Third Law of Technology to talk about the events which we describe as miracles. Clarke's Law states:

"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic (or miracle)."

I went on to talk about how the miracle of the resurrection perfects nature, not by working against nature, but by working through the "laws" of physics. I used the analogy of all the technology we use today, that works WITH the "laws" of nature, which would seem like magic or miracle to earlier humans. I continued by saying:

"If there is a Ultimate Source of Intelligence, Love and Life, who is in harmony with the laws of the universe and wants to show this Love to us, why would it be impossible that this Source might enter a human life and rise from the dead?"

A friend of mine who teaches math got into a conversation with me later about this part of the sermon. He said, very politely, that this argument seemed to smack of hubris: A sort of over-estimate of human ability in comparing our technology to God. Furthermore, he said, that it seemed to fall right into the trap of the empiricist David Hume in talking about miracles in an empirical way. So I wrote to him:

I am very sensitive to the aesthetics of an argument, when the aesthetic observation is done by someone like yourself who is good at identifying arguments. And an aesthetic feeling of hubris intrigues me.

I don't think you need to feel like you have to be "armed" to discuss this with me. I'm much friendlier than that! And in all honesty, your observation does not threaten me in the least. I view it more as a striving for the common good rather than a competition.

I think the main aesthetic problem with that part of the sermon was that I hit on it, and went on to a more important point. And in retrospect, perhaps I shouldn't have even broached the argument. It was probably both too "big" and too "controversial" to hit-and-run. And, like you said, probably better suited to a classroom.

As far as the substance of the argument, to tag off of your last comment, I think I am actually trying to avoid Hume rather than fall into Hume's trap. Hume, at least in my reading of him several years ago, seems to hold two important points about reality: (a) The most real events- or only real events- in the universe are empirical events subject to predictable laws of nature (i.e. Hume's Principle of Uniformity in Nature); (b) Miracles are defined as violations of the laws of nature, and thus literally impossible events (cf. Hume's "On Miracles" - "But it is a miracle, that a dead man should come to life; because that has never been observed in any age or country").

I may be wrong on Hume, but that is the read I remember of him.

However, if one changes the definition of miracle, then Hume's criticism is undermined.

For instance, I would want to re-frame the whole idea of miracle- or to use Biblical terms "signs, wonders, and powerful deeds" (cf. John 4.48; Acts 2.19, 22, 43; 4.30; 5.12; 6.8; 7.36; 14.3; 15.12; Rom 15.19; 2 Cor 12.12; 2 Th 2.9; Heb 2.4).

A sign (Greek seemion) is some event that points beyond itself to a Signifier or Purpose or Meaning that transcends the deed itself.

A wonder (Greek teras) is some event that triggers a sense of awe or "the Numinous", a sense that something from another dimension of Reality has entered our reality.

A powerful deed (Greek dunamis - often translated as "miracle") simply means a deed that shows great power or ability.

These three terms really get at the heart of what we mean by "miracle" in a Christian sense. If I were to combine these three into a single definition, while keeping Hume's critique in mind, I might say this:

A Miracle is an event in which an Transcendent Intelligence works within the "laws" and dimensions of Reality to produce an event which would be infinitely improbable without conscious, intelligent design and ability (cf. dunamis); This event signifies, or points to, this source of Transcendent Intelligence in such a way as to communicate its will to us (cf. seemion), thereby causing an aesthetic response of awe and wonder at being in the presence of such a Transcendent Reality (cf. teras).

I think the finite awe we experience in the presence of new technology is thus an analogue of the infinite awe we experience when we encounter a "miracle" from the Infinite Source of Reality. It's kind of a sliding scale of awe that increases exponentially as we encounter greater and greater intelligence and power.

So, we feel a little bit of awe the first time we see a drone strike on a suspected terrorist, or encounter a gizmo like an iPhone or a Computer than can play chess.

We feel moderate awe when we realize that satellites can see into our buildings, or when we finally create nanobots that can kill cancer cells, and we cure someone of cancer by just injecting them with nanobots.

We feel a great amount of awe when a nuclear bomb obliterates a city, or when we achieve faster than light speed transport (or teleportation).

And we feel infinite awe when the Transcendent reaches into our lives in unexpected ways to do highly improbable things, such as raise someone from the dead in such a way that he is both physical, and yet is able to make a more full use of the dimensions of reality than we are currently able to do (cf. Jesus' appearance in locked rooms in a couple of the resurrection narratives).

Yet, to those 2000 years ago- or even 200 years ago- all of these things would seem like magic or miracle. All of these things would seem like they violate the laws of physics. None of these things would have been reduplicable in whole or even in part with earlier levels of technology (cf. Clarke's third law).

And speaking from sheer probability, none of the things I have listed above could happen if nature was simply left to its own entropy. It takes intelligent beings creatively working within the possibilities provided by the laws of physics to create events and technologies that can't exist any other way. And our finite abilities provide analogy to what an infinite, transcendent Intelligence could be able to do.

I understand that this can be interpreted as hubris- Icarus flying too close to the sun and so forth. But I think this analogy between human "technology" and divine "miracle" is invited by the idea that humans are made "in the image of God" and "after the likeness" of God (the Hebrew of Genesis 1:26-30 could even be read "as an analogy to God"). We mirror God in our creativity. In our ability to grasp the ideal world of mathematics, for instance, and apply that ideal world to the empirical world in discovering the physical "laws" of the universe (note: I KNOW that these are not actual laws, but more like observed constants and ratios that tend to be universal in observation, but if I had to say that every time, it would take forever... so I stick with "laws" in quotes).

So I'm not sure it is hubris to see an analogy between finite human technology and infinite divine ability. I think it is invited.

Where I would locate hubris is in human MOTIVATION for how we use technology. If you note what I said above on the "sliding scale" of awe, I intentionally listed a life-taking, and a life-giving, use of human technology at every point. While the divine use of "miracle" seems to be always for the virtuous purpose of giving life, sharing compassion, and in some cases preventing evil, this is not the case with human technology.

Human technology at this point in our development is often plagued by (a) moral malevolence and (b) systemic short-sightedness. First of all, we tend to use technology to selfishly increase our own pleasure, power or pride, often at the expense of harming or oppressing others. Thus, to compare our moral use of technology with divine ability, as if we are always acting from the Good for the Good, is the height of hubris.

Second of all, we are only beginning to grasp the systemic effects of our technology. We are only at the beginnings of understanding how the unintended pollution and collateral damage of our technology- even when that technology is used for virtuous intentions- can impact whole systems. It is not God that tends to do "miracles" against the best interests of the systems of nature. It is us. And unless we progress in our ability to use technology "with the grain of nature" instead of "against the grain", it could put our race and our ecosystems in jeopardy. Correction: IS putting us in danger.

Thus, to compare our current level of finite systemic understanding to infinite divine understanding is also hubris.

So, I think ultimately technological progress will have to be wedded to moral progress- empiricism wedded to spirituality- for humans to attain our true potential. And I think that the shorthand term for moral progress would be to say that we increase in Christlikeness- the ability to selflessly love other sentient beings and give ourselves so that we all attain to our full inherent God-given potential for life, wisdom, and beauty.

I actually have another essay about evolution and Christian spirituality in which I talk a bit about what "moral progress" might look like given an "evolutionary Christian theology". But, back to the point: I think this understanding of "miracle" using the analogy of finite human technology actually gets us out of the trap of Hume and later empiricists.

We know Reality is made of more than the standard "four" dimensions we typically think of as "empirical" or rather "Newtonian" (length, height, width, space/time). I've heard Quantum thought talk of 11 to 27 dimensions (or "pocket dimensions"). I can easily see that whatever dimensionality or realm that pure maths (and logics) fit into is something that transcends the empirical, yet inhabits the empirical.

You have talked about how we are not at all sure that the physical "laws" we have in this part of the universe hold true across the entire fabric of space-time. So already, given the implications of Relativistic and Quantum thought, we understand that what Hume would count as "going against" the "laws" of nature is on wobbly ground.

And with all the wobble room that space-time dimensionality and quantum fuzziness opens up, it simply does not make sense to me to think that a divine "miracle" (even a resurrection!) is ultimately a violation of nature. It seems to me that it is more of a intelligent fulfillment of nature. Thus a miracle is not something that works against nature or destroys nature (contra Hume). Rather a miracle is an act of grace that works through and with nature, intelligently, to bring about the perfection of nature (vis a vis Augustine and Aquinas "Grace perfects Nature").

And as humans grow in both technical ability and moral virtue, I think that we will learn to model Christ in giving sight to the blind, release to the prisoners, justice to the oppressed, food to the hungry, healing to the sick, and even life to the dead (cf. Luke 4.18-19; John 14.12). And increasingly, our technical ability to do these things would appear as unfathomable magic to those who lived in ages past (cf. Clarke's 3rd law).

Either that, or we will increase in technical ability and devolve morally, which will surely destroy us all. Because power to heal is also power to kill, depending on how we use it. I guess it is our corporate choice.

2013-03-30

On Soul as Emergent and Eternal



Once I had a conversation with a friend of mine who teaches science and who is agnostic. We were talking about whether or not the soul was an emergent property that arises from our biology, or an eternal "substance" implanted in us by God. I tried to explicate that the soul was both-and, a sort of di-polar entity, in which both the Transcendent and the Empirical were necessary and sufficient causes.  The conversation about souls got me thinking about what exactly I meant. and didn't mean, by calling the "soul" an "emergent property" of complex systems. So, if you will indulge me, I would like to explain.

On Christ's Descent to Hell



A friend asked me over Christmas break in 2012 about the meaning of "Christ's descent to hell" alluded to in 1Peter 3.18-20. It is only appropriate that I should post this today, on Holy Saturday, which yearly commemorates Jesus' "harrowing of hell". The text in question is one of the many Scriptures that is used to assert that Jesus "descended to the dead" or "descended to hell" during the time of his death, to release those in bondage in the realm of the dead.

On "The Theological Turn in Youth Ministry"



The Theological Turn in Youth Ministry is actually a pretty huge topic, and I don't have all night to write on it! I think that this book is a great step in the right direction. Kids who are actually still coming to Church in our culture are doing so because they want to find something different than the prevailing culture of consumerism. That something different may be genuine agape-based relationships with caring peers and adult mentors. But often along with that (or because of that) there comes a hunger for WHY Christian life is (or should be) so different from the prevailing culture. This WHY question is precisely theology: Helping people think in a God-centered way that is well-ordered and rational (i.e. theo-logical).

This is what we used to call Christian formation or even discipleship (at least the cognitive, worldview portion of it). But it's tricky. And there are at least 4 reasons why theological formation with youth is tricky:

1. There is a general lack of Biblical literacy among Americans in general and youth in particular. Since theologizing, for Christians, takes place upon the basis of the Grand Narrative found in the narratives of Scripture, it is essential to teach these stories. But...

2. The Churches that are often strongest on teaching the Bible are also often the most legalistic, fundamentalist, and least inclusive and justice oriented. They tell the story, but they tell it with a slant toward individualism and exclusivism. So we must develop a way of teaching the Bible just as strongly, except emphasizing the inclusion and social justice found in Scripture. Which means...

3. We need to develop a lexicon of basic concepts and strategies to get these stories across in a way that avoids the fundamentalist extreme, while staying faithful to Scripture and the best of the Christian tradition. The genius of fundamentalism is that is hones in on a few basic, easily remembered concepts and just hammers them into people. We need to find a way to present the message and theology of Scripture in a way that is equally winsome and easily remembered. However...

4. The massive failure of fundamentalism, other than it's appalling lack of Christlike Love for "The Other", is that its concepts have such narrow boundaries that they crack when challenged by science and rational learning. Thus, kids raised in fundamentalist environments often "loose faith" in college when their legalistic, foundationalist faith gets destroyed. Thus, when we theologically form people, we must do so in a way that the concepts we teach them can grow with them as they grow intellectually.

To give a negative and positive example: Negatively, when kids are taught some form of creationism (often literal, 6-day versions) as an attempt to help them believe in God as "Creator", they often go to college and find this shattered by the facts of evolutionary science. Then they loose faith in God's creative role altogether. Better to teach them a version of creation that welcomes evolution as one mode of God's creativity unfolding across history. This type of concept can grow with them, where as "Six Day Creationism" cannot.

Or, another example: Fundamentalists are rightly taught the centrality of Jesus and his saving work, but they learn it in an exclusivistic way that most postmoderns find unbelievable. When confronted with their virtuous Hindu, Muslim, and Agnostic friends at school, they find it hard to believe that Jesus would send them to hell for eternity, while the (often asshole) Evangelicals get to live forever. Thus, they jettison Christ altogether.

Better to teach them that yes, Jesus is the Incarnation of God, and yes, Jesus is the Way of Salvation, BUT that Jesus fulfills instead of rejects all that is good, true, and beautiful in other religions and cultures. When we meet God face to face, we will see the face of Jesus, and he will fulfill and confirm all that is right in our lives, while also judging and healing all that is wrong in our lives. So that the virtuous Christian, Jew, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, or Agnostic will find that all they have done good has been done in Christ, especially when they reached out to "the least of these" not knowing it was Christ himself that they were ministering to (cf. Mat. 25.31-46).

That is probably more than you wanted to know. But that is a brief outline of the challenge as I see it.

On Ritual and Relationship


Recently, I taught in chapel on the Story of Mary and Martha, in which Jesus ends by helping Martha to re-focus her perspective to see the necessity of BOTH action AND contemplation in her journey with Jesus:

Luke 10.38–42 [38] Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. [39] She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. [40] But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” [41] But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; [42] there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”

Based on this teaching, one of my students wrote and asked me:

"Martha gets upset that Mary will not participate in the activities of preparing food/ cleaning up yet Jesus tells Martha that she is missing the point. My question is: couldn't the same be said about us in chapel? We go through the actions of repeating, rehearsing, sitting, and standing, but if you don't do those things, you're looked upon as Mary in the story."

And so I answered:

Great question and one that I have pondered for years. I wish I could give you a simple answer, but your question hits on a wide-ranging topic of how we worship as Christians. So please allow me to give a bit of background to the answer:

I think what you have hit upon is the constant tension of what we do FOR Jesus versus being present WITH Jesus. When used rightly, most rituals and activities can be used as a tool to become more aware of Jesus and present with Jesus. The catch is that most people- myself included- are not very good at being mindful of Jesus while doing activities.

Regarding specifically religious rituals, I have been a Christian in several different Christian traditions before I came to the Episcopal tradition. I have spent a great deal of time in Evangelical/ Bible Church/ Non-Denominational Churches, as well as Pentecostal and Charismatic Churches. I've also been a part of services in a wide variety of other Christian traditions: Orthodox, Catholic, etc.

So I will say that every Christian tradition has its own pattern of worship with expected rituals and patterns for prayers. For instance, think of the "sinner's prayer" used when someone gets saved in an Evangelical Church. It has a standard pattern: Confession of sin, need for Jesus, acceptance of Jesus as Lord and Savior, giving praise to Jesus.

Or the typical pattern in a non-denominational worship service or youth worship service: Typically you have a welcome, then gathering prayer, then upbeat worship songs, then a Bible reading, a message, a call to conversion, often ending in slower, more emotional worship songs while people come forward to receive Christ, and then finally a dismissal by the pastor.

Or if you go to a healing service in a charismatic or Pentecostal Church, there is a pattern for when to raise your hands in praise, how you offer healing prayers, or when (and how) it is proper to speak in tongues, and even when it is proper to faint (or be "slain in the spirit").

So, that's all to say that whether you are at Community Bible Church, First Pentecostal, Oak Hills, Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church, chapel at TMI or chapel at SACS, you are going to find regular repeated pattern of certain kinds of rituals and certain kinds of prayers. In fact you find references to patterns of ritual in the Bible in places like Leviticus, Psalms, and even the patterns of worship we find with Jesus and the early disciples (cf. 1Co 10-11).

I think that any of these rituals can be good, if they are done with Jesus while being mindful of Jesus. And I think any of these rituals can be bad or useless if they are done for their own sake, or to impress others, or just out of habit. So the trick is to use rituals mindfully to connect with Jesus.

So, if raising my hands is a meaningful act of worship to me that draws me near to Christ, I should do that. If crossing yourself and kneeling is a meaningful way of drawing near to Christ for you, you should do that. However, I should not compel you to raise your hands if that is not helpful for you. And likewise, you should not compel me to cross myself.

But, it is even more complex than that. Because of we are going to practice the type of hospitality that Christ calls us to, by which we become "all things to all people" (in St. Paul's words) then we should be willing to try and use spiritual practices that are meaningful to thousands or millions of other brothers and sisters in Christ. So, while I should not be compelled to cross myself (or raise my hands, or bow) as an act of worship, I should probably be willing to practice it voluntarily if I am around many other Christians who do find it meaningful. If I do, I might also come to find it has meaning for me as well.

Whew. I know this is a long and complex set of arguments, but you find somewhat similar discussions of how to worship, and what to eat, or do, or not do, to please Christ in places like Romans ch. 14-15 and 1Co ch. 10-14.

Anyway, as for which "pattern" of ritual you use, that will depend on the context you are in. If you are in a Catholic context and you use Pentecostal practices (such as speaking in tongues) you are going to make people uncomfortable and they will not understand you. Likewise, if you are at the non-denominational Bible Church and use Catholic rituals (such as bowing and crossing yourself) people probably wouldn't receive you too well.

And anytime you have a group of several hundred people who gather on a regular basis (such as chapel) then most of the time you need to have a predictable pattern that everyone can use to worship. Granted, some people will mentally check out or be distracted or just ignore what is going on. That happens at Catholic masses and Pentecostal tent revivals and Episcopal Schools. But for those who choose to use the ritual framework to connect with Jesus, it allows for that capacity on a daily basis.

One thing that I miss sometimes are the things you can do in a smaller setting (such as summer camp or a youth retreat) that you can't do with several hundred people on a daily basis. For instance, times of silence, singing around a camp fire, and really intimate personal times of prayer. These rituals and practices work great with a small group of people. But when transposed into a huge group, what you wind up with is a lot of people who get really freaked out and uncomfortable, and a very few insiders who really like it. You can actually see this happen sometimes when guitar based songs are played in chapel. The students who have been to happening or sing these songs in their youth group like it. And many others- students and faculty- either don't get it or are uncomfortable with it. In fact, for every person I have ask me to do something in chapel (such as sing camp songs), I usually have at least one other person (if not more) who will complain that we did it. No kidding!

So, most of the time I use prayers and rituals that have been meaningful to most Christians through most of Christian history. That means a lot of prayers and rituals that have Catholic and Anglican roots. It's not everyone's cup of tea. But then again no style of worship is everyone's cup of tea. But it is a pattern that has been shown to shape and develop the spiritual lives of Christians through most of Christian history. And Jesus will use it, if you let him, to remind you of his presence and help you hear his Word.

And that leads me to the bottom line answer: It's all in how you use it.

Every relationship has rituals. My relationship with my wife has many rituals that involve speaking, listening, special names we use, sitting, standing, working and resting. Likewise, my relationship with Jesus has many rituals that involve speaking, listening, special names, sitting, standing, working and resting. I can use these rituals to connect with Jesus (or my wife). Or I can use the same rituals to ignore either of them and check out mentally. It's all in how I use them.

Martha's problem was that she was using her work instead of being present with Christ, and perhaps at the wrong time when Jesus may have been calling her to do something else. My hope is that we learn to use our work and rest, ritual and spontaneity, in the right way at the right time to draw us all closer to Christ.

I know that's a complex answer. But I think life with Jesus is complex, multifaceted and beautiful. It is easy to say "Love Jesus!"  But it takes a lifetime- and beyond- to explore how to love Jesus in the manifold contexts we find ourselves in.

2013-03-26

Why Biblical Christians need Biological Evolution


Over the last few years in educational ministry, I have continually had questions asked about, discussions over, and even debates because of the topic evolution and faith. Can one believe in the Bible AND in evolution? Is it possible for a faithful Christian to have an evolutionary worldview? And even if it is possible, is it permissible within the limits of classic Christian orthodoxy? And after all of this, I think it is finally time to move beyond asking whether it is merely permissible for faithful, Biblical, Christ-loving Christians to have an evolutionary view of how God is at work in creation.

Biblical Christians need to think in evolutionary terms to be faithful to Christ.

2013-03-24

On teaching evolution in a world of creationism



A friend of mine who teaches science recently expressed, once again, his legitimate exasperation at people who want to grant creationism equal time with evolution in science classrooms. His frustration has all to do with the differences between repeatable, empirical claims of science, versus the moral, existential claims of ideology. He believes creationism is an ideology, not a science. And, actually, I have to agree with him. Ideology, philosophy and theology are real academic subjects (along with history, literature, art, etc.). And there is a place in the world to discuss and debate ideology, but that is not in a science classroom.

In the Bible belt, I think our cultural uneasiness with evolutionary thought ultimately has to do with emotions and existential angst and a feeling of seasickness while being set adrift in a universe of flux and change.

At a base emotional level, I think we under-estimate how scary evolutionary thought in general is, without reference to any particular version or theory of evolution (whether biological evolution, evolution of ideas, evolution of social systems, etc.).

I know the objective, empirical view of the matter is that evolution is "just the facts, ma'am". And it is. Whether one studies the change and development of DNA, or the change and development of civic architecture, or the change and development of our ideas of Ultimate Reality, it is clear and objective that evolution happens in all spheres of human existence. But the heart has reasons that reason cannot understand. (Hat tip: Pascal).

The objective and empirical does not correspond to the subjective and existential. Both are dimensions of truth about the human condition that cannot be reduced to one another (I know that is a huge philosophical debate in itself, but I hold that consciousness is not fully reduced to an epiphenomenon of the physical brain, although the brain is one of the necessary preconditions for human consciousness).

Anyway, if we posit that the objective/empirical and subjective/existential are distinct but overlapping dimensions of human reality, then I think that we can see how those who deny evolution are taking their subjective/existential fears and angst, and projecting it on to objective/physical reality, in order to impose order, and control, and a feeling of safety, upon the world around them.

And I don't think current scientific education is very good at dealing with the emotional side of what it means to discover, grow, and evolve. This stuff brings up visceral and predictable emotional reactions. There are two valid emotional reactions to Evolutionary thought:

First evolution can be seen as opening the door to freedom and creativity that is unknown in other systems of thought. If the world is growing and developing, then no ultimate limits can be set to the human condition. We are free to create new worlds, new modes of being, without being un-necessarily constrained by the limits of the past. It is understandably beautiful.

But also, evolution can be seen as the "destroyer of worlds", because to bring about this new, un-predictable world, it means the destruction of the old world. If everything is in flux, then nothing is dependable. Nothing is predictable. We cannot count on the fact that what we currently understand will hold true in the future. The things and people we love will die, and possibly be transformed into new things. It is understandably scary.

I meet many "pro-science" folks who have no idea how evolution could ever be scary to anyone. They look at those who are scared as retrograde simpletons who merely want to live in the past, instead of trying to understand how these facts can shatter emotional security.

I meet even more "pro-Bible" (and "pro-Quran" and "pro-Vedas") folks who use literalist religion as the bulwark to stave off the corrosive effect of this "destroyer of worlds". They have no idea how evolution could ever be beautiful to anyone. And they look upon those who find evolution as beautiful as either tools or slaves of evil.

And here is how the emotional logic seems to work for evolution-deniers:
1. They are deeply and viscerally afraid of the instability of the evolutionary worldview.
2. They read these fears into texts written long ago that never were intended to deal with these issues (or the fears they cause).
3. They produce a worldview (or theology) which ensures stability, thereby mollifying fears, at the cost of denying evidence of evolution.
4. They demonize evolutionary thought and those who support it.
5. They create a societal movement to take back culture from the "world destroying" forces of evolution.

I have advice for those who teach evolution in science classrooms (and those cultural critics like myself who encourage a fruitful and creative religious engagement with evolution). My advice is this:

- We need to be more emotionally winsome to those we teach, especially when what we teach can elicit legitimate fears. We need to do a good job of walking them through the fears that these ideas cause, and then gently leading them into the beauty these ideas hold.

- We need to gently and politely refute the false ideas and ways of evaluating and weighing evidence. We need to remember that satire and snark can also be effective, but only after trust has been established with those we teach. Otherwise, we just come off as arrogant and condescending.

- Above all, we must establish trust with our students. We must show them that we are reliable people who have their best interest at heart, and who are willing to sacrifice our time and effort to help them. Unless there is trust there, they will not be willing to make the emotional investment to be open to the new ideas we bring to them.

In the end, teaching evolution can be a bit like helping someone leave an adulterous spouse. No body wants to think that their beloved spouse is cheating on them. And in order for them to piece together the facts about a cheating spouse, they have to come to an emotional realization of (a) how harmful it is to be with someone who is unfaithful; and (b) a vision that life can actually be better when not attached to someone who is unfaithful. Unless they reach this emotional realization, they may always deny or re-interpret the facts they find about their spouse's betrayal.

In a similar way, the "static" view of the universe (which underlies literal creationism and Biblical fundamentalism) is an adulterous spouse of the mind. We have to help people emotionally envision that (a) it is harmful to hold a view of reality that is not in line with the actual facts of reality; and (b) life can be freer, more creative, and more beautiful within the framework of evolutionary thought. Only then will they be able to move past the legitimate fears that an evolutionary view brings with it.

This is a bunch of stuff to make us think hard about our incredible love affair with the God of the universe, our astounding infidelities against him, and his incredible grace to heal and restore us through Christ. Everything on this site is copyright © 1996-2015 by Nathan L. Bostian so if you use it, cite me... otherwise you break the 8th commandment, and make God unhappy. You can contact the author by posting a comment.