Archive for June, 2009

front lines of fundamentalism

Anne Applebaum on the role women are playing in the Iranian election protests:

“…their presence matters. For at the heart of the ideology of the Islamic republic is its claim to divine inspiration: The leadership is legitimate, and in particular its harsh repression of women is legitimate, because God has decreed that it is so. The outright rejection of this creed by tens of thousands of women, not just over the last weekend but over the last decade, has to weaken the Islamic republic’s claim to invincibility in Iran and across the Middle East.”

“…regimes that repress the civil and human rights of half their population are inherently unstable. Sooner or later, there has to be a backlash. In Iran, we’re watching one unfold.”

It is amazing to see the photographs of women in their head scarves standing up to the powers that be. Inspiring slideshow here. Also, a CNN article here.

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June 24, 2009 at 5:12 pm 2 comments

God always wins

edwards sinnersKids “backyard bible school” this week, kind of like a mini-VBS. I have opted out of the activities. One child came home telling me about his roll in a skit, in which he plunged forward as he died, a smitten first born son of Egypt. I asked him if he thought it was a good idea to make fun of people being killed like that and asked him what the lesson of the story was. The lesson was, “God always wins.”

I guess it kind of fits in with a literalistic reading of the bible. When you take the historicity as fact, you are left with accepting the lessons at face value and seeing them all as good. Which can lead to this perspective:

“…given the huge disparity in the scale, intent, nature, and effects of these two actions (the Tenth Plague, Pharaoh’s death-labor and infanticide programs), and in light of the universal principles of moral governance, delayed judgment, and reciprocal morality, I have to conclude that God was acting well within the bounds of propriety in this action, and indeed, was ‘unreasonably’ lenient in this judgment on Pharaoh and Egypt.”

Of course there are so many theological directions to go with that stuff, even reading it as allegory. Who hardened Pharaoh’s heart? What price did Pharaoh pay in all this? But mostly I am saddened that backyard bible school is focusing on this side of God, when there are much better sides to present, especially to children. Is that the message of Jesus, “God always wins?” Wouldn’t they be better off with caring for God’s down trodden, or something like that?

A view something like this:

Jesus spent his life talking about God and helping people, forgiving his disciples for the stupid things they did, telling stories, healing people, and being an amazing, selfless person. He gave up everything to go out and give. He challenged the religious institution, materialism, and people’s lack of faith. There’s a lot of stuff in the gospels, but the short of it is: Jesus was amazing and he was killed; his disciples would not defend him at his crucifixion; he knew his situation, he did not defend himself, and he died on the cross.

That’s not such bad stuff whether read as historical fact or allegory. It gets back to what you want from your religion, acquiesence to a set of beliefs and rules, or a better way of living. Seems like a sad missed opportunity, and I don’t like the feeling of working against what they are learning.

June 23, 2009 at 8:54 am 10 comments

The Year of Living Biblically

yolbI’m not a book review kind of blogger. The problem is a proper book review takes a lot of time going back over the book, finding some nice quotes, thinking about it for a long time. And if you are using a library book it is that much harder not having the benefit of dog eared pages and underlined sentences. I would like to do that, but don’t have time.

That being said, I like recommending books. I hearby recommend The Year of Living Biblically, by A.J. Jacobs to anyone, Christian, agnostic, searcher, atheist. In this book, Jacobs attempts to live an entire year following all the rules of the bible. In his own words:

The Year of Living Biblically is about my quest to live the ultimate biblical life. To follow every single rule in the Bible – as literally as possible. I obey the famous ones:

  • The Ten Commandments
  • Love thy neighbor
  • Be fruitful and multiply

But also, the hundreds of oft-ignored ones.

  • Do not wear clothes of mixed fibers.
  • Do not shave your beard
  • Stone adulterers

Jacobs is a very funny guy and the book is highly entertaining. I especially liked the thoughful treatment he gives religion. While not shying away from discussing the absurdities of the religion, he really tries to live it and looks for the silver lining in a lot of the crazy practices. Which is interesting, especially as he considers what it would take to really believe the religion. In some places he gets to the point where he can see himself on the edge of possibly being able to believe. He describes his experience like having an alter-ego, who he calls “Jacob.”

Jacobs asks himself why try to do all this. I would be pretty certain a big part of it was to write a book, since he is a writer. But I am sure there is truth in how he answers the question as well:

Why? Well, I grew up in a very secular home (I’m officially Jewish but I’m Jewish in the same way the Olive Garden is an Italian restaurant). I’d always assumed religion would just wither away and we’d live in a neo-Enlightenment world. I was, of course, spectacularly wrong. So was I missing something essential to being a human? Or was half the world deluded?

I decided to dive in headfirst. To try to experience the Bible myself and find out what’s good in it, and what’s maybe not so relevant to the 21st century.

Most of the book relates to the Hebrew Bible, (or Old Testament), but he also spends a portion of the year incorporating New Testament rules as well.

Again, a very enjoyable book, easy read, and crazy funny. It really has helped me to be less quick to throw out the babies of the bible with the bathwater. Philosphers Without Gods went unread because of this book usurping it’s place on my bedside table.

shofarcreation museumajj sheep

June 17, 2009 at 3:41 pm 8 comments

touched by a miracle

imagesHad a conversation with an old friend today who is very concerned for my soul. He believes in a lot of miracles which are for today, so we can see God at work. A lot of people get healed, prophesies are fulfilled, the power of God is known in amazing ways, often in Africa, but other places too. You really only deny them as miracles if you do not want to believe them in the first place, which is Satan’s plan, if you understand the spiritual realm it’s pretty undeniable. Think Todd Bentley kind of stuff. I would have listened with a lot more credulity and interest when I was in college, which may have been the last time I listened to this kind of talk at any great length. I quickly remembered why it had been so long, and why I had been happier with a more concrete kind of conservative theology.

I’m not new to this stuff, didn’t need to create new filters to process it through. But it still wore me out. And there is no satisfaction to be had in trying to poke holes in the stories. All that would accomplish is confirming in the other person’s eyes that you are hardened to the truth and deceived. I thanked him for his concern for my soul. I would have enjoyed catching up on things instead of talking about the benefits of supernatural beliefs and eternal separation from God, but that’s just me.

June 16, 2009 at 9:47 am 38 comments

my heart is hard

stone heartFor in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame.
Hebrews 6:4-6 (NASB)

I attended church this past weekend. I was not initially unhappy to go, but walking into the service I realized I was not as happy to go as I had thought. As I sat unmoved by an actually lovely sounding song, I thought about what it means to have a hardened heart. And tried to consider if my heart could really be hardened, my conscience seared to the truth of the gospel…

I am frequently warned by Christians to guard against hardening my heart to God. They feel that though I may be in a dangerous place spiritually, things will turn out OK as long as I don’t harden my heart. The problem is this tricky definition of hardening my heart. What is hardening of the heart? How can one believe differently than what orthodox Christian doctrine teaches? I think a lot of unorthodox thoughts now, so my heart must be hard, right?

And there are signs of my hardening everywhere. If I don’t spend time with my Christian friends, it couldn’t be because I make them uncomfortable and they make me uncomfortable, I must be hardening my heart towards them. If I don’t want to read the bible during my “quiet time” in the morning, it couldn’t be a due to a rational decision about its content, I must have hardened my heart to God. And if it would be as difficult for me to believe the bible is literal history as to believe Aesops’ fables are literal history, well, that might be OK, as long as it doesn’t affect my belief in the “essential core doctrines” of the bible. But if I question those core doctrines? Right, hard hearted…

What other reason could there be to reject the clear and obvious revelations God has provided? I think that is the only logical conclusion left for conservative Christian doctrine. That’s why Christian doctrine equates disbelief and doubt with moral failure. If the bible really is all true, and you are going to hell if you don’t believe it, rejecting it it couldn’t be a rational thought process. Could it?

I do not think it really is a process of hardening my heart. Rather, it is a process of allowing my mind to rationally process things on my own, not being forced to interpret things through the lens of certain presuppositions. Conservative Christians maintain it is essential to have the presupposition that the bible is all true, and that presupposition must supersede and dictate all other thought, any examination of evidence. They can be quite proud of maintaining that presupposition without wavering.

Over time, as I have cast off that presupposition, yes, I have become more convinced of what I believe. But it is not accurate or fair to call it a hardening of the heart. If it is the only way conservative Christians allow themselves to think, it would appear they have hardened their hearts (or minds) by making a choice to only consider themselves correct.

For a OneSmallStep’s take on a cold, dark heart, click HERE.

June 10, 2009 at 9:57 pm 38 comments

more books (Jhumpa Lahiri)…

imagesAn interlude from the angst of deconversion, and a reflection on one of life’s small pleasures.

I can’t believe I forgot to include these on my page of books I read during the last year:
Short stories by Jhumpa Lahiri:
Interpreter of Maladies (re-read for the nth time)
Unaccustomed Earth

I also read Lahiri’s novel, The Namesake, a couple of years ago and enjoyed it, but not as much as her short stories. I love short stories though, so I’m biased. If you haven’t read her work I would definitely recommend starting with Interpreter of Maladies. I heard her read part of a story from there on the radio a few years ago and was immediately hooked.

Lahiri writes mostly, but not entirely, about the experience of immigrants from India and their children’s experiences growing up as first-generation people in their new countries. Her stories are wonderful and she writes perfectly. I could go on and on. She writes with an amazing attention to detail to bring her fictional characters to life. Lots of odd little details and thoughts that somehow communicate subtle nuances of human experience very well. You end up feeling you know the characters better than people in real life.

June 8, 2009 at 10:55 am 4 comments

it takes courage…

philoPicked up new books at the library tonight;
Philosophers Without Gods, by Louise Antony,
Why Intelligent Design Fails, edited by Matt Young and Taner Edis,
The Year of Living Biblically, by AJ Jacobs.

I was feeling pretty good about myself thinking, I don’t have to feel like I’m hiding these books anymore. I can just bring them home and read them, yep, that’s what I’m going to do. I don’t need to walk with them hinden under my arm because I’m becoming comfortable with my beliefs. And if I see someone I know, I’ll just talk about the books with them. Yep, that’s what I’d do…

At that moment, walking over to get my kids, I saw they were talking with someone from the church, my pastor. Someone who I am meeting with next week to talk about where things are going for me. Now I’m not afraid of meeting him and talking through things, but…

These books under my arm won’t make a good introduction to the upcoming meeting, better to talk with him first. But on the other hand, I should just be honest and now is a good time to… Hmmm, how convenient there is bookshelf right here, I think I’ll just shove them there for a moment…

Really, discretion is the better part of valor, right?

Getting there slowly… (wimp…)

June 4, 2009 at 9:50 pm 14 comments

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