Before too much time gets away from me… I need to punch the blog clock and pen some pensees as it were. First, this piece by Caryn Rivadeneira over at Christianity Today is just awful. Not only because it isn’t cogent, but because it’s just plain wrong. I don’t even know where to begin: an aversion to kids praying in public school as a matter of public practice, bad generalizations made in bad faith, students can learn about God without actually talking about God, the denial of persecution, or a petty reference to truly bad theology that covers up the horrendous theology which pervades the article. As a matter of disclosure I am a public school teacher – and I’m all too aware of the thorny issues of Church-State relations. But just today, as in the past 12 hours, I witnessed open hostility from a student to See You at the Pole, one the last vestiges of anything remotely Christian that our public school students are allowed to do. How have we grown so dull? We’ve imbibed too much of the gospel of modernism, which adamantly proposes that our God is not for the public good. She says God has never left our public schools. My bet is that is that she missed the Ichabod scratched on every classroom door. Maybe she was too busy thinking about how those kids were finding God while reading Fifty Shades of Grey.
In other musings – a few words about the dust-up between Ben Affleck and Sam Harris. There is a very interesting conversation within American liberalism right now about whether it’s ok to criticize Islam. It reached fever pitch when the well-known pundit of HBO’s Real Time show, Bill Maher, came to the defense of Sam Harris (one of the “New Atheists”) when Affleck confronted Harris over his views on Islam. Affleck’s hostility towards Harris was very telling and I’ll post the video here, but I’m more concerned with what has happened in the aftermath.
The segment was actually supposed to concentrate on Harris’s new book, Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion. In the book Harris attempts to make a rational argument that the self, what Christians would call the soul, does not exist. There is only consciousness and it’s contents – there is no thinker of thoughts. That there is only consciousness is the key to Harris’s solution to suffering. Once one reduces experience to consciousness simply observing mental, emotional or physical pain, the idea of the self melts away and there is liberation from the trap of self and suffering. But Harris overlooks two things: intentionality and language. When consciousness is used to form thoughts intentionally (like when an author writes a book) those thoughts come from somewhere, somewhere or someone that can’t simply be reduced to nothing. But notice also the paradoxical use of language. Harris can’t avoid using personal pronouns when he talks about how certain methods help him realize that he’s not really there. For a neuroscientist to ignore this kind of cognitive dissonance is troubling. I’d write a letter trying to point these things out, but apparently nobody’s home. And for the life of me I still can’t tell the difference between what Harris calls a person and what we as Christians would call a living soul, but I digress to my main point.
Shortly after his appearance on Real Time two of Harris’s enemies, Reza Aslan and Glenn Greenwald, started smearing Harris on Twitter and television interviews calling him a fascist and a bigot. Now, at this point I should say I have high regard for Harris. He is much more clear and rational than his enemies (though I see some points that Greenwald makes). Unfortunately Harris has had to go on the defensive. Look at the following tweets:
Harris has fought back against the defamation of his enemies and rightfully so, but in the thickest of ironies Harris doesn’t really believe there is someone who is actually being defamed. There is no Sam Harris, only consciousness and it’s contents. The smears by Greenwald and Aslan have obviously bothered him, but why? By denying that there are thinkers, or to be more concise, souls, Harris has left his own thoughts and intentions and those of his enemies meaningless.
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As I sit here, listening to the voices swirling in my head, I realize the need isn’t for more information. An enthralling podcast. A good sermon. An even better book. The most experienced of us out there know those things can only take us so far. No, what’s needed is vision. We’re like victims of a shipwreck, jumping from life raft to life raft, thinking this one has better supplies or more comforts. What we need is a ship. A ship with a destination. We treat so much of our Christian life like we’re simply getting by – each church service is like a cold drink on a hot day. But then the hours and days, months and years go by and that frosty Coke, even if it comes in a cool-looking retro glass bottle, isn’t enough. Jesus constantly talked about the kingdom and what it looked like. He asked people to pursue it with all their hearts. He knew where He was headed. Do we?
A lot of us are tired of denominational squabbles, and we should be, scripture makes as much plain. But could it be there’s something to it, despite the disparagements and divisions? I’m not talking about a movement. I’ve grown to hate that word. A “movement” is a counterfeit vision. Something that plays on ill-informed biases and loyalties. It transcends for about 2.2 and then the emotions fade and your left with, what? Policy? Yuck. Nostalgia? Even worse. People don’t realize it, but I think we treat sermon series in this way. Or small group curriculums written by our best gurus. Those things aren’t bad, but what are they aiming at? Is there something bigger? Something that we live instead of digest and then…? You get the idea.
I guess what this amounts to is a plea to God – help me out here. I don’t live on dry land. My shipmates and I are out to sea, shipwrecked, floating amongst the jetsam of denominations and movements. We need a ship with a Vision. Destination: Kingdom of God. I’m thinking of becoming a shipbuilder. But I need some help. Can’t do this one alone…
As a side note – perhaps to continue with the theme: I’m putting up a flare. Hopefully the light will expose some dangers in the water, or help others see where we really are. Better yet – can I offer some food to stave off the delirium? Nothing is more counter-productive to the kind of vision I’m talking about than bad eschatology. You know, the kind that finds itself on the big screen. Nothing says, “I love you” more than “Man, can’t wait to leave my clothes behind while the rest of you perish in flames!” If people see we have nothing more to aspire to other than disappearing then the world may in fact call us out on cheap magic tricks and some cool fireworks at the end of the show. We need to convince the world that the offer is life in Jesus Christ, not Nicholas Cage. All satire aside, this is where we must start.
Do ethics have an ontological status? Is there such a thing as metaethics? Regardless of the answer ethics cannot be informed without referring to experience. In other words – ethics is meaningless without the people we love and love to hate.
Secularism is not anything in itself per se, though some challenge the assertion that secularism has no “position.” I take this to mean that they believe secularism itself is a stance, that is has substance in both a political and philosophical sense. But this obscures what secularism really is – it is a vacuum. It is a political and moral vacuum into which fly all sorts of ideologies and moral systems. The danger is that this secular vacuum takes the form of, morphs into, whatever zeitgeist holds sway. At one point it is a mostly homogeneous, Protestant, and white America; the next it is a heterogeneous, spiritually nebulous, and diverse America. The only meaningful way to talk about the failure of secularism is if the vacuum, the messiness of what we call the American experiment, takes a permanent form. And it does not matter if the permanence is theocratic or totalitarian – they are the same thing.
A strange convergence of medical ethics, the debate over abortion, and family rights has people talking in Texas. The New York Times is reporting the story of Marlise Munoz – a 33 year-old woman who is now brain dead after collapsing due to a blood clot in her lungs. Unfortunately she was pregnant at the time of the incident, but remarkably the baby is still alive, and is now being kept alive because Marlise is on life support. You can read the story for yourself, but here is a quote from Munoz’s father:
Mrs. Munoz’s father, Ernest Machado, 60, a former police officer and an Air Force veteran, put it even more bluntly. “All she is is a host for a fetus,” he said on Tuesday. “I get angry with the state. What business did they have delving into these areas? Why are they practicing medicine up in Austin?”
The complexity of this situation leaves one with more questions than answers and I feel for the family caught in this horrible situation. That being said I’m honestly shocked by the family’s stance on this – their grandchild, the only connection they will have left to their daughter is alive, yet they wish to end the pregnancy by taking their daughter off life support.
Despite my shock the issue is better left to the family to resolve. But does the state of Texas have a right to interfere is what is clearly a delicate and complicated family affair? In a state where abortion politics are a hot button issue it will be interesting to see what public opinion is on this horrendously sad situation.
At the end of my last post I mused openly about the nature of metaphysics (and the limitations therein), but I also mentioned something about revelation – which needs a bit more explanation.
Essentially (at least in my mind anyway) the gist of my argument is that all positions are essentially faith positions. But I add this caveat: some positions are more faith-based than others. While Coyne has to put some sort of faith in the legitimacy of his theory on altruism, so too does Douthat with his own justification (God as the explanation). But knowledge of God rests on revelation. I’ve noted that it’s secondhand. That doesn’t mean it isn’t true. It’s just that, for me, there is too much tension between revelation and more rational epistemological systems. Presuppositional apologetics have much to say on this subject (it’s been discussed here before) but in my humble opinion presuppositionalism rests on rationalism while at the same time expounds on its inadequacy.
For me faith is more existential, perhaps in a Kierkegaardian sense (without denying the importance of scripture).
This is a back-and-forth for me. I think openly and I’m not afraid of criticism. Whenever I try to adopt a system (theological or otherwise) I feel like I’m adopting an ideology, but I have too many questions to keep myself in a self-imposed box. So I’m just not going to do it anymore – the name of this blog is WaughThinks. I like to think about things, to explore them. I like to explore ideas and possibilities – and if it takes me off the reservation sometimes, so be it. At least I’ll be honest with myself and with others.
I think I need to change my theology page…