Archive for May, 2007

A cautionary tale

Turns out blogging really does take over your brain. Due to a busy weekend, I didn’t get to church on Sunday. Sunday night, I had a very odd dream involving being sort of lost at the beach (a friend of mine was nearby, but I couldn’t find her) and being accosted by a weird, red-headed, bearded man who wanted to tell me all about Jesus. He followed me as I looked for Julie, and although I can’t remember anything he said, I know he was trying to convince me to become a Christian. When I asked him his name, he said, “You can call me Patriot.”

The moral of the story? In the dream, I remember thinking: “Well, I didn’t get to church, but I can blog about this.” True story. Blogging takes over even your subconscious.

Living in poverty

Richard Dawkins has already managed to annoy me in The God Delusion. His first chapter covers, among other things, “the poverty of agnosticism.” He distinguishes between the kind of agnostic who says, “I don’t know, but when the facts are in I will,” from the kind who says, “I don’t know and there is no way to know,” but he condemns the latter as wishy-washy fence-riding. Although now that I write that, it actually makes sense. That’s annoying too.

His point is that the existence of God is something that can be proven or disproven scientifically, and that therefore the question of God’s existence should not be reserved to the theologians and denied to the scientists. He asks why scientists shouldn’t be allowed to hold forth on this question, since their business is the nature of the universe and obviously, whether the universe contains a God is an important question about its nature.

It’s an okay read so far, and he’s asking questions that require pondering about normally accepted givens. That’s the kind of book I like – the kind that stretches my tiny agnostic brain and makes it do jumping-jacks. More as it becomes relevant.

Books and more books

Ever since I rode a bus from Chicago to Minneapolis, I’ve been reading like the wind. I’m still working (very slowly) on Karen Armstrong’s The Great Transformation, but I also just bought Richard Dawkins’s The God Delusion.

Delusion

And for good measure I’m reading A Crack in the Edge of the World (about the San Francisco earthquake in 1906) and The Omnivore’s Dilemma (food and how it comes to us).

Crack Omnivore

And finally, I’m still working on Constantine’s Sword: The Church and the Jews. I’m between books when it comes to fiction, but I suppose if I were reading even one more book my head might explode.

What am I learning from all of this? The Crack book is underrated, and hasn’t done as well as the author’s previous book about Krakatoa, judging by the fact that I found it in bargain books. It’s a very cool explanation of continental drift, volcanic activity, and how the entire world works – geologically, anyway. I’ve just barely started Omnivore’s, but I do gather that corn is in a lot more foods than we realize.

Constantine’s Sword, as I’ve discussed before, is an extremely detailed examination of the way hatred of Jews, helped along in ways by the doctrines of the Catholic Church, led to the Holocaust. But I had to start over because I haven’t read it since Christmas, so nothing new on that. But The Great Transformation is just amazing. Armstrong starts out by explaining the history of each region before the Axial Age, and that helps you to understand where the ideas of the Axial Age came from. My best love in reading is history, but not just for the sake of knowing what happened Back When. I love history because it often explains how we got Where We Are Now. It may be part of my agnosticism that I treat religion the same way, but before I subscribe to a religious tradition, I want to understand it – not just what it says, but where it comes from.

The God Delusion is exactly what it sounds like, but I’m not reading it so I can avoid believing in God. So far, what he says squares with what I believe, oddly, except that his conclusion is that there is no God and my conclusion is that I don’t know. It also sharpens my understanding of why I believe what I believe, which is surprising from a book about why someone doesn’t believe at all.

 And now I have to stop typing because my hands hurt. This is pitiful, but I helped friends lay sod yesterday and the only part of me that’s sore is my hands, from picking up the rolls of sod. Who knew?

Also…

…I’m finding it instructive how radical the differences are in the theology of those who have kindly posted here. Some think there’s no hell at all; others say there is, but it’s a state of mind, not a place; and others say, of course there’s a hell, how could you think there isn’t?

It would be a shame if all Christians did agree on this and other topics. What would be more boring than a religion with no internal differences? And less human, since nothing is so human as variety?

Later on, I think I’ll post about sin, since it came up in the comments earlier. That should be a good time. Everyone got their flak jackets? 🙂

An example

And no doubt an extreme one, but especially disturbing given that it was perpetrated by employees of the U.S. Government.

http://www.navytimes.com/news/2007/05/navy_conversion_070513w/

If you don’t feel like clicking through, it’s an article about an Orthodox Jewish veteran who was repeatedly proselytized by military chaplains while he was being treated for kidney stones and who was even denied kosher food because “staff” (it doesn’t get specific) refused to contact his rabbi, who could have handled that request. Zowie.

Where am I going? And why am I in this handbasket?

I’ll do one more post on this one, and then I’m moving on because I don’t want to ruin a perfectly good discussion by getting all repetitive. I’m just a little agnostic in a big world, and my viewpoint is all I have to offer here. Past a certain point of explaining it, I’m defending it – which I don’t need to do. I hope that folks who read my opinions here are able to see that, argue or not, this is the perspective of someone who doesn’t subscribe to any organized religion.

Anyhoo, ila’s comment helps me to illustrate something that may not be clear to folks with a different take than mine on religion. She compares sharing the Gospel with stopping someone from walking off a cliff. In both cases, she seems to be saying (and ila, step in if I’m wildly overinterpreting!) that the one person is saving another from an obvious danger and that doing so in no way implies judgment.

I would love to agree, but think about this: To someone who is not Christian, only the cliff is such a clear case. Based on the widely shared assumption that everyone wants to live, warning someone in this case would be the only thing to do.

But only Christian faith makes the second case – sharing the Gospel to prevent hell – comparable. Only Christian faith states that hell is the danger on the other end of not believing. To a non-Christian, the second case is not a demonstrable danger with assumptions shared by both. Not only that, but avoiding the danger that the Christian postulates requires more than a single, simple act, like stopping. Avoiding the danger – which you do not see – means changing certain beliefs and activities and even feelings. That’s much more complicated than just not stepping off a cliff. And it may be simple, but it’s not easy, and it’s especially not easy if you’re not positive that it’s necessary.

It’s also a matter of judgement. You have to believe that the other person is right and can see something you can’t, and that their assessment of your behavior is correct. That’s accepting someone else’s judgement in place of your own, judgement about what’s right, what’s wrong, what’s safe, and what’s not. And this is how it looks to someone who isn’t Christian. It may not feel like it, but judgment is part and parcel of evangelizing if you’ve decided you’re saving others from hell. It’s a difficult conflict and it sounds like it’s a Scriptural one. And with the authority vested in me as a self-described agnostic with the Biblical knowledge of a second-grader (if that), I’m not sure how you can resolve it without dropping the hellbound thing.

New header

On a more visual than spiritual note, what does everybody think of my new header? The good folks at Outreach designed it, so I can’t take credit for it, but let me know what you think.