Archive for September, 2009

Orwell’s rules for English

imagesLorena left this comment on the post about William Lobdell’s book:

“In writing school I was taught that that’s the way to write [with simple language]. That there is no need to puff up the writing with long, obscure words to get your message across.”

I drafted the post below over five months ago and never posted it, so this is a good opportunity. It confirms what Lorena said.

For those of you who write… These rules have been helpful to me. They are found near the end of this essay, “Politics and the English Language“, by George Orwell in 1946. I use item 3 regularly for sentences and paragraphs as well. I probably break most of them most of the time…

1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
2. Never us a long word where a short one will do.
3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

These rules sound elementary, and so they are, but they demand a deep change of attitude in anyone who has grown used to writing in the style now fashionable.

I have not here been considering the literary use of language, but merely language as an instrument for expressing and not for concealing or preventing thought.

September 30, 2009 at 1:58 pm 8 comments

a kind of a cancer

healing

But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. James 1:6

I was looking at a map for a project at work yesterday and the name of a small town caught my eye. I had once had a business appointment there at the office of a woman running her own business. I got to chat with her a bit during several visits; she was under a lot of stress, her little boy was dying of cancer. As I recall, he had been in remission after undergoing chemotherapy and then the cancer came back. So infinitely sad, my heart still aches to remember.

She was a Christian and held out hope for God’s healing. But it was more than that, she was confident God was going to heal her child. She had been sold on a certain theology in which it is necessary to have full confidence in prayer for the requests to be answered. In fact, she had staked a lot in taking her boy to a healing service by a visiting evangelist who preached that message. Some of you may recognize that theology. The evangelist was the one and only Benny Hinn. I had not heard of him or the theology at the time. It was something that didn’t sound right, but what can you say to a mother whose boy is dying of cancer?

I recently read about the problems perpetrated by men like Hinn in William Lobdell’s book, Losing My Religion. An article he wrote on Hinn made it into the book (a lot of the book is from previously published articles). He writes about how despite investigations of people of like Hinn, despite revelations of misdeeds, corruption, and fraud, people still flock to hear them and give them money, holding out hope for miracles. Truly sickening.

“Sitting cross-legged in front of a big-screen TV, the 11-year-old squints through Coke-bottle glasses at a Miracle Crusade video made more than two years ago in which he starred as a boy who miraculously recovered from blindness. “I liked it at first because I thought I was being healed,” says William in the living room of his aunt and uncle’s home. On the screen, Hinn bends down to William, his hands on the child’s face. “Look at these tears,” says Hinn, peering into the child’s eyes. “William, baby, can you see me?”

Before more than 15,000 people in a Las Vegas arena, William nods. In a small voice, the boy says: “As soon as God healed me, I could see better.” Hinn, an arm wrapped around William, tells the audience that God has told him to pay the child’s medical expenses and education. People weep. Today William is still legally blind and says his sight never improved, and that his onstage comments were wishful thinking.

The woman’s little boy passed away not much later. I still think of them from time to time. I hope her difficult life was not made harsher through the experience of that “healing” ministry. I hope that it did not rob her of any comfort she and her husband and their boy had in his last days. I hope they have made peace with their God, and somehow found comfort in the midst of their tragedy.

Sitting back in his chair, Hinn shakes his head over how tough his job has become. He says being a pastor in the healing ministry is a profession he would never choose for himself, but he is called to it by God. “It’s not been a pleasant life,” Hinn says. “[People] think we’re in it for the money. They think that God doesn’t really heal, so these guys are just fooling the world. I’d be a fool to be in this for the money. If I did not believe God healed, I’d quit tomorrow and go get a job.”

September 29, 2009 at 10:27 pm 7 comments

the devil in dover

devilindover

“I don’t live in such a world. I look at my father and wonder how many other Americans are like him. Why are we so divided?

In Dover, those on the side of the truth weren’t the ones marching under a banner of biblical fundamentalism and traditional values. “You can’t lie for Jesus,” I remind my father. No, the ones on the side of truth were the eleven parents who stood up to their local school board and said teaching their children about religion was their right, and not the job of the educational system.

But my father has closed his eyes to such a worldview. Rather, he wraps himself in his religion, retreating into a cacoon of denial. To him, the only thing that matters is whether I believe, whether I am saved.”

This book has a lot going for it. Lauri Lebo is a reporter from York, Pennsylvania, near the town of Dover where the trial concerning teaching Intelligent Design in public schools took place. The book details the content of the trial well and in riviting fashion. I am reminded of how important these issues are, how important it is to take civil liberties seriously, and how admirable it is when individuals take a stand when push comes to shove. The book is very well written, but has a couple of particular strengths.

The story is very much about the author’s personal experience through the trial, autobiographical as well as documentary. Lebo worked through the issues deeply herself, and built real relationships with the people involved, both the plaintiffs and defendants. Lebo’s relationship with her father, a fundamentalist Christian, is central to the story in the way it was strained as she attempted to talk with him about the trial, as the above paragraphs show.

As a journalist, Lebo also writes about the challenges of the profession, walking the line between “fair and balanced” reporting, and reporting that deals honestly with the events. I highly recommend this book; to learn about the issues involved, but even more so to learn about the way personal relationships are strained by politics and beliefs, and the ways one person worked through them.

To read a real review (which prompted me to read the book), check out the Spanish Inquistor’s review HERE. But don’t check it out if you would not like to see the blasphemous and topless logo on his site.

“I thought about calling my father. I’d fought with him almost every day of the trial. I’d wanted him to condemn, as a Christian, what seemed obvious to me to be deception. But he refused. I’d grow angry and hang up on him. The next day, I’d pick up the phone and try again. How do I explain to my faither why this was so moving? How do I tell him we shouldn’t be afraid of this? How can I describe what I witnessed?

I wanted him to know the parents’ stories: Cyndi Sneath, who testified that she might not have a fancy education, but her eight-year-old son, Griffin, dreams of being an astronaut; of Bryan and Christy Rehm, who teach Bible school and sing in their church choir, but who are called atheists by their neghbors; and of Fred Callahan, a gentle, reserved man dismissed as intolerant. “What am I supposed to tolerate? he asked. “The small encroachment of my first Amendment rights? Well, I’m not going to.”

I wanted my father to understand Steve Harvey, one of the plaintiffs’ attorneys and a dutiful Catholic who says we can only try to believe in God. On the morning of that last day of trial, he nervously paced around the block, smoking cigarettes and praying “our Fathers.”

Surely if my father were here, I thought, I could convince him. But not wanted to risk a fight, I ddint’ reach for the phone. I thought there would be plenty of time to make my father understand.

Now, sitting in the Chinese restaurant, my father watching me from across the table, I realize that he never will.”

September 26, 2009 at 5:26 pm

losing my religion

lmr

I had changed in another way. I saw now that belief in God, no matter how grounded in logic and reason, requires a leap of faith. Either you have the gift of faith or you don’t. It’s not a choice. I used to think that you simply made a decision: to believe in Jesus or not. Collect the facts and then decide for yourself. But it’s not that simple. Faith is something that is triggered deep within your soul — influenced by upbringing, family, friends, experiences, and desires. It’s not like registering to vote.

Christians often talk to those who have fallen away from the faith as if they had made a choice to turn away from God. But as deeply as I missed my faith, as hard as I tried to keep it, my head could not command my gut. I know now that it was wishful thinking, not truth. I just didn’t believe in God anymore, despite my best attempts to hold on to my beliefs. Faith can’t be willed into existence. There’s no faking it if you’re honest about the state of your soul.

– from William Lobdell’s book, Losing My Religion: How I Lost My Faith Reporting on Religion in America — and Found Unexpected Peace.

September 25, 2009 at 2:25 pm 12 comments

supernatural beliefs

flameWhen I was an older teenager, a Christian friend told me about some miraculous way in which all the characters of the Hebrew alphabet could be combined three-dimensionally to form an image of a flame. This was said to be an evidence of the supernatural origin of the Hebrew script, imparted by God to his chosen people. This was someone I looked up to a lot, and I was coming to believe much of what he told me about God and the spiritual / spirit-filled world.

This Hebrew character thing didn’t convince me that Christianity was true, nor was it presented that way. But at the same time, because I was coming to believe a lot of things I had not believed previously, I was willing to believe this to be true as well. And I certainly did ascribe to it some sort of supernatural miraculous nature.

I find it strange now that I believed it at face value. To this day I have never seen this alleged image. The story I believed was based on hearsay from someone I trusted, not knowing where they obtained their information from. I don’t doubt this person believed what he said, but looking back I realize he was not a very discerning person in general, at least in certain areas. Who knows, maybe he just misheard something.

Another reason I find it strange is that something like that would enhance my perception of the validity of Christianity. While it didn’t make me become a Christian, it did add some weight to the whole package of supernatural beliefs. If God were to give letters to his people, wouldn’t it seem fitting that it would be in an amazing supernatural way which would not be discovered until later times? Well, actually yes, that would be amazing!

But call me a skeptic, I don’t have any reason to find that story to be true today. It is unsubstantiated information. And also it is very easy for me to believe an artist could manipulate Hebrew characters into the shape of a flame. Or something like that. Believing it was supernatural was naive at best. Not that it couldn’t be supernatural, but I think the evidence would need to be more compelling to believe it to be true. I’ll write it off as the foolishness of youth, but this kind of thinking had deeper implications as my belief set changed into Christian faith. The way I evaluate information has changed a lot since I was a teenager.

For an “alternate” perspective on the origin of the Hebrew alphabet, click HERE. It seems to likely have been derived from Phoenician script, though that doesn’t disprove the miracle flame image theory! Does anyone else out there remember any strange beliefs they once held?

September 9, 2009 at 9:19 pm 27 comments

I become a sermon illustration

prcher
A little while back I found out I had been used as a sermon illustration by a pastor I had recently become friends with (a pastor at a different church than the one I attended). Quite a surprise ! I was able to download the sermon to see what it was about.

His sermon generally spoke of being friends with someone who questions the bible, being gracious and understanding, really listening and respecting. It was a good message. I had previously met with this person while still in the process of leaving my old church and had spoken about some of the difficulties I had working through things there. The part where I came in was to illustrate how someone can be ostracized by Christians when they voice their questions.

The illustration needed a bit of clarification about how people treated me at the old church. I was afraid the pastor (at the new church) believed people had treated me badly at our old church (they had not). I tried to clear things up by sending the email below (minimally edited, and names have been changed):

Hi N.,

I heard through the grapevine that I was an illustration in a recent sermon of yours, which I just downloaded. On one hand, it is a bit embarrassing to be a sermon illustration, but on the other hand I’m honored, and deeply appreciate the way you care about these issues. And to be sure I have no objection with what you said in the sermon, you did an excellent job of conveying the need for compassion and care.

But after listening to your sermon, I do want to clear up something which I believe I miscommunicated to you, because I don’t want to misrepresent the church I just am leaving (Conservative Evangelical Church) by making it seem I was ostracized by them. The members of Conservative Evangelical Church do respect believers who question the faith, just as you taught in your sermon, and showed me nothing but love and charity. Working through my understanding of the bible there was difficult for me because in general the people there lack a framework to deal with those who question the bible.

I recently had a conversation with my pastor [at my old church]. He didn’t seem to be able to engage the questions I had, though I think tried to. For whatever reason, he couldn’t answer a question I thought was straightforward with a “yes” or “no,” it seemed to me he was dancing around the issue.

So while *feeling* ostracized, it has been more of a functional separation than an unwillingness of people to want to care for me. I wasn’t kicked out, but there doesn’t seem to be room there theologically for questions about the inerrancy of the bible. I see it as something built in to the fundamentalist/inerrantist view of the bible that prevents people from engaging in those kinds of questions, other than to seek to reinforce their own perspective. On top of that, there were certain dynamics in my relationship with my wife, and her relationship with the church, which certainly compounded those problems. And on top of that, I am sure my own anxiety and discomfort working though this whole process has contributed significantly.

Again, I have no problem with the sermon illustration personally. I just want to clear up any misconception I may have caused about Conservative Evangelical Church. Thanks for taking the time to read all this.

Regards,
J.

September 2, 2009 at 2:09 pm 15 comments


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