Friday, April 30, 2010

A Reason Nietzsche Rejected Christianity

Mark Vance sent me this one.

“I never saw the members of my father’s church enjoying themselves.”
Quoted in Current Thoughts and Trends, June 2001, page 4.

Reminded me of this quote I cited earlier from Thus Spake Zarathustra:
And he who lives in their (the priests) neighborhood lives in the neighborhood of black pools, from out of which the toad that prophet of evil, sings its song with sweet melancholy. They would have to sing better songs to make me believe in their Redeemer: his disciples would have to look more redeemed!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Are You a Critic or Creative?

I've been thinking recently about myself and my sinful tendencies. I have a unique ability to take criticism to an art form. But I think criticism as a concept is value neutral. In my opinion, people tend to be creatives or critics. And each group has its unique set of temptations.

Creatives are optimistic. They are the type of people who spend most of their energies in thinking how something can be done, not whether it should. Creatives tend to see technology as basically good; they thrive on innovation. They seek to assess the current situation, work with it, and do what works. In short, creatives actually do things. But the creative person struggles with pride in thinking "it can be done" or "it will be done this way" or "God wants to do great things through me." Sometimes they think that they know how to do things; they think they have good ideas. They can be immature, not considering the other factors...long term prognosis, individual culture/church, etc. Can be very idealistic instead of realistic. Sometimes if doesn't work and they fall hard. Sometimes it does work. Creative people don't always listen well and aren't always wise. They don't always listen to counsel very well.

Critics are pessimistic. They think about why something shouldn't be done the way it is being done. They may look on technology with caution or pine for the way it used to be. They want to assess and reassess before actually doing anything. The critic seems to think that he knows better (and maybe he's right) than the creative person. Often he does know better. Often it is the critic's caution which saves any endeavor from major failure. In the theological world, the critics are the ones trying to bring out the unintended consequences of the more pragmatic creative people. But often in this there is some pride and self-righteousness. Often, this person has thought through outside factors or has been through some failure/bad situations. Often older people and thinkers seem to be more of critics. They might not be trusting God to do big things in the future. They might be living in the past. Otherwise, there could be a feeling of perfectionism. God's work can only be done a certain way or shouldn't be done at all. Paul didn't agree with this (whether is pretense or in truth). Also, the critic could be struggling with fear or fear of failure.

Which do you tend to be?

(ht: Amy Hatfield for fleshing out the categories)

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Quotable: William Lane Craig

Andy Naselli posts recent article which just came out by William Lane Craig outlining the five arguments for God. I've not read through the whole argument yet, but I had to comment on the first paragraph.
It’s perhaps something of a surprise that almost none of the so-called New Atheists has anything to say about arguments for God’s existence. Instead, they do tend to focus on the social effects of religion and question whether religious belief is good for society. One might justifiably doubt that the social impact of an idea for good or ill is an adequate measure of its truth, especially when there are reasons being offered to think that the idea in question really is true. Darwinism, for example, has certainly had at least some negative social influences, but that’s hardly grounds for thinking the theory to be false and simply ignoring the biological evidence in its favor.

It seems to me that Craig is underestimating the force of their argument. Their argument is to criticize Christianity on the basis of taste. It sounds like a pragmatic argument about social impact. But the real point is about a moral/aesthetic argument, which I am calling taste. I think that the average person makes most of his decisions concerning metaphysical beliefs on the basis of moral/aesthetic reasons (taste). I think the New Atheists intuitively get this and attack along these lines. The New Atheism is a movement directed toward average people to be sure.

Let me illustrate, in a recent debate Christopher Hitchens attacked the Bible on the grounds that God's test of Abraham in sacrificing Isaac was morally reprehensible. Obviously one could ask Hitchens on what does he base this view of morality? But that would be to miss the point. Moral intuitions actually exist whether or not Hitchens can give a basis for them. As with Nietzsche, criticizing Christianity on the basis of taste is precisely the point. What Hitchens fails to see is that Christianity is most beautiful (in a moral sense and otherwise). The reason he fails to see this is because he fails to see how giving over his personal sovereignty to God could be good/beautiful.

See also

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Dr. Lawson on ESPN

My "Teaching in Higher Christian Education" professor.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

After Prayers, Lie Cold

ht: Kevin Bauder

After Prayers, Lie Cold
C. S. Lewis (1898-1963)

Arise my body, my small body, we have striven
Enough, and He is merciful; we are forgiven.
Arise small body, puppet-like and pale, and go,
White as the bed-clothes into bed, and cold as snow,
Undress with small, cold fingers and put out the light,
And be alone, hush’d mortal, in the sacred night,
—A meadow whipt flat with the rain, a cup
Emptied and clean, a garment washed and folded up,
Faded in colour, thinned almost to raggedness
By dirt and by the washing of that dirtiness.
Be not too quickly warm again. Lie cold; consent
To weariness’ and pardon’s watery element.
Drink up the bitter water, breathe the chilly death;
Soon enough comes the riot of our blood and breath.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Abandon politics, change the world

This one is worth reading. A couple quotes from Rod Dreher's blog:

From Andrew Sullivan quoting James Davison Hunter
The tragedy is that in the name of resisting the internal deterioration of faith and the corruption of the world around them, many Christians--and Christian conservatives most significantly--unwittingly embrace some of the most corrosive aspects of the cultural disintegration they decry. By nurturing its resentments, sustaining them through a discourse of negation toward outsiders, and in cases, pursuing their will to power, they become functional Nietzscheans, participating in the very cultural breakdown they so ardently strive to resist.

More from an interview with JDH on his Amazon page:
Q: Why did you write To Change the World?

Hunter: I wrote this book because I saw a disjunction between how Christians talk about changing the world, how they try to change the world, and how worlds --that is culture--actually change. These disparities needed to be clarified.

Q: How does this build on your previous work?

Hunter: One way it builds on my earlier work is that it provides a bigger picture of the nature of cultural conflict, why Christians seem to be neck deep in it, and why the approaches that they take in cultural conflict are so counterproductive. This is a response to some of the earlier work that I have done on the nature of culture wars and alternatives to them.

Q: Who do you hope reads this book?

Hunter: The audience I had in mind was the diverse communities that make up American Christians and their institutional leaders--those who think about the world we live in today and how best to engage it. Those who think about these matters will find here a useful guide.

Q: What three things do you want readers to take away from reading this book?

Hunter: The primary ways of thinking about the world and how it changes in our society are mainly incorrect. There is an answer to the question of how to change the world, but how it actually changes is different from how most people think.

Most people believe that politics is a large part of the answer to the problems that we face in the world, and so a second insight would be the limitations of politics. Political strategies are not only counter-productive to the ends that faith communities have in mind, but are antithetical to the ends that they seek to achieve.

A third thing that I would like for readers to take away is that there are alternative ways of thinking about the world we live in, and engaging it, that are constructive and draw upon resources within the Christian tradition. In the end, these strategies are not first and foremost about changing the world, but living toward the flourishing of others.

Also, an interview with Barbara Nicolosi-Harrington:

Q: How do you perceive your vocation and what God might accomplish through it?

My vocation is to be a storyteller to the people of my time -- and if I create a good enough story, stories have a way of transcending time. I'm very preoccupied with creating a story and characters that will haunt people in a way that sends them on a journey of introspection.

I am a political animal in many ways. It's a big hobby for me. But I have, with the rest of my generation, almost completely lost confidence that real good in society can be achieved through politics. I don't think that's the pathway to lasting good. I think that politics can clear the field for good to be done, but I don't think it actually achieves anything. I think culture is what creates good in the world. That's the realm of the artist: the storyteller, the musician, the poet. And I see myself as a storyteller.

Q: You have a quotation standing above your blog, from a 1930s film critic, that says: "Theaters are the new Church of the Masses -- where people sit huddled in the dark listening to people in the light tell them what it is to be human." What does that quotation mean to you?

It means that the Church has lost its distinctive voice of authority in the contemporary moment. That quotation was written in the 1930s, but it's even more true today. The Church, which had been the primary teaching voice in human history, has lost its voice of authority. It's just another competing voice out there now -- and to tell you the truth, because the Church has shunned using the modern media, it's not even a very compelling voice.

So if you're not going into a Church, you're not hearing the Church's voice. But the Church used to be an authority that would stand up in the culture and say to you, "This is what virtue is. This is what meaning is. This is what the point of your life is. This is good and this is bad."

Where do people find those things now? They listen to television and the movies. They go to the media, and the media will tell them what the point of their life is. I don't know that that's a good thing. It's not a bad thing in every case. There are some people writing who seek very responsibly and seriously to help people discern what matters in life. I know a lot of them in Hollywood. But for many other people, their whole preoccupation in making movies and television is to keep people distracted for 22 minutes, 47 minutes, or 2 hours. For those people, there's no interest at all in doing good, or no concern with doing harm.

Dostoevsky said that man, in the end, will be saved by beauty -- or nothing. In other words, the last voice of authority will be the Beautiful. The Beautiful is the last voice that will be compelling for people. So the question is, if we have become a society that no longer produces the Beautiful, and we're no longer in an agrarian society so people no longer have regular access to natural beauty, then there will in fact be no compelling voice of authority. When there is no ultimate voice of authority in the world, then everyone is his own authority. Then you have moral and cultural anarchy.

Q: How ought the Church to respond?

The Church needs to get back into the work of the Beautiful. It needs to get back into the work of subsidizing and training and mentoring artists and guilds. It needs to feed people who can sing and write music, and commission their works. In a previous day, we would have commissioned statues and paintings. Today's Church should commission novels and movies and screenplays.

The fact that there is not a single Christian university in the top twenty film programs in the world is a sign that the Church has lost its way in modernity. We are not seeing ourselves as people of this moment.

The saddest realities to look at are not Hustler magazine and Big Love. Much more tragic is what you find on EWTN and CBN, because these things are devoid of creativity and devoid of respect for the audience. They are banal. They may be produced with the best of intentions, but they have no sense of the appropriateness of the art form, of using the medium to its full potential.

Sad though it is, you would never call the Church the patron of the arts today. Never. You would be laughed down. I know that to be true. I used the phrase with a class of undergrads. A young woman raised her hand and said, "Who is the 'patron of the arts'?" I asked the students who they thought the patron of the arts is. They looked at me for a while, and finally one kid raised his hand and said, "The Bravo Channel?"

"Patron of the arts" used to be the moniker of the Christian Church. But this generation has no experience of the Church being a patron of the arts. We are so far behind in being a compelling voice in the culture. We have allowed our voice in culture to disappear.

John Paul II said that this generation of Christians will have to atone for its failure to use the media to spread the gospel of life. This generation of Christians will be called to account for its failure to use these powerful gifts we have in our hands to create global community and to move people to tears. Others will be asked why they did not recognize Jesus. We will be asked why we did not make television shows.
Q: Many perceive a tension between "heartland" and "Hollywood" values. Is that a legitimate perception?

Again, not to get myself burned in effigy, but Christians feel as alienated from Hollywood as Hollywood people feel watching EWTN or CBN. Hollywood has a value of excellent production value, of talent, and the pagan world absolutely believes in talent, this mysterious gift that comes from they-know-not-where. We know where it comes from; they don't know where it comes from, but they believe in it.

The Church does not believe in talent anymore. We think the most important thing is that everyone feels welcome. So we sit at church and suffer through Doris and Stan, who can't sing, because we don't want to be mean. They would never get a job in Hollywood, because Hollywood has integrity about the beautiful. Or if it's not "the Beautiful" in the classical sense, at least, they value the non-lame.

So when you speak of a tension of values, well, there is the value of the Beautiful, which Hollywood understands and the Church does not, and then there are the values specifically of what is good for human beings. What is it that leads them to their fulfillment, their ultimate destiny, fulfilling their nature? Those things are missing, content-wise, in what you're seeing in a lot of the media.

But in the end, which is more harmful: true words cast in an ugly frame, or untrue words cast in a beautiful frame? I think Hollywood will get people into heaven faster. Even if they have the message wrong, people in the end will turn off some of that. What will really impact them will be the harmony, the wholeness, the completeness of a work.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Quotable: Rod Dreher

I've mentioned in this space before that one of the most striking interviews I ever did as an arts journalist was with the actor John Hurt, who gave a stunning performance in a small indie film called "Love and Death on Long Island." I sat up late on the night before the interview coming up with questions for the actor about his character. They were pretty philosophical.

I ended up making a fool of myself, and inadvertently embarrassing Hurt. He struggled to answer my queries, and finally said, "I think maybe you understand the character better than I do." Well, no, he was just being polite. I think what happened was that I understood the character's philosophical intricacies better than Hurt did, but Hurt could not have played that part so breathtakingly well without a profound grasp of the emotional contours of the character's life. I learned from that interview that there is a great difference between cognitive intelligence and emotional intelligence. Hurt is a brilliant actor, but not much of a philosopher, so to speak. My error was assuming that Hurt had to be consciously aware of the meaning of his character in order to play him so well.


Thursday, April 08, 2010

To Blog, or not to Blog...

That is the question. I realize about 5 people read this regularly, which is fine by me. I mostly blog for my own benefit. But even when 5 people read the blog, one always feels an phantom pressure to put something up regularly enough that the 5 who do read it don't get bored with it or think it's not worth their time to check it. It is a strange phenomenon. I think it perhaps reveals that I do this not only for my own benefit, but also hope that others will be benefited. At any rate, for you 5... I've been working on this and this, which I think would be radically uninteresting for anyone not in seminary. But these are why I've not found much else interesting to write about/post recently.


Tuesday, April 06, 2010

I couldn't resist...

I own a Mac. But this article is really funny.

Slate/Life With iPad: Do you have what it takes to own this magic and revolutionary product?
While the company's previous offerings in this genre have typically featured Apple Store employees in a neutral space, the iPad videos take us into a model home of an iPad user. It's a pristine environment, fit for an IKEA showroom, with lots of coffee around. This is how Steve Jobs wants us to use his revolutionary device. Let's take a tour through Apple's tour of how an enlightened iPad user lives.
Our iPad user, a man, is reclining on a chair, and he props the iPad on his knee with his legs crossed. This is the start of a theme. iPad users prefer the couch and the lounge chair. Should an iPadder have the unfortunate experience of sitting at a desk, he will immediately put his feet up on the desk and rest the iPad on his thighs to type. The iPad world is like an opium den, where one is always reclining, the better to enjoy its strange, new, vivid wonders.

Next, the voice-over begins. It promises us that, with a "multi-touch display this large … you feel like you're actually holding the Web right in the palm of your hand." When I hear that, my first reaction is to drop whatever I'm holding. Our iPad man is reading the following article from the Times: "Happy 1,300th to Nara, Japan." Naturally, he would love to go visit a meticulously restored palace in an ancient city that helped the spread of Buddhism. As an iPad owner, his soul exists on a higher plane.
In the "Mail" video, you're greeted with the promise that you can "see and touch your e-mail like never before." Kinky! Our iPad user here is invited to a "Day at the Beach!" and is also informed of a meeting delay. He looks at a "Final Sales Report." Then he learns that salary increases for "his team" were approved today. After that, he decides to join a friend on a trip to Joshua Tree National Park. Then he checks the location for a surprise birthday dinner at the Slanted Door in San Francisco. The message here is that in iPad-land your e-mail inbox is not a torture chamber of obligation, undone tasks, and spam. It's full of bright, crisp photos and groovy reports!
On to "Photos," where our iPad user is a woman. She, of course, immediately sits down on the couch and puts her feet up. The photos show good-looking friends, adorable children holding umbrellas in Paris, and the like. Thanks to the iPad, we can have the novel experience of holding our pictures "right in our hands." Uh, thanks. Haven't done that before.
The "iBooks" segment contains the guided tour's most shameless attempt to gull us. A mother is reading Winnie-the-Pooh to her Vans-wearing son. On the table is a recently abandoned crayon drawing and a reference book showing illustrations of elephants. The boy points to something on the screen. They are "discovering the joy of reading all over again." Don't worry, the iPad won't replace books in your house, but will live peacefully among them. Your son won't use the device to play Shrek Kart; he'll nest beside you on the couch and then go outside for a game of Pooh sticks. And, if he gets bored, just change the font size! The "iBooks" app also animates the pages being turned, a cute idea that creates a delay that will quickly become intolerable.

The final three videos—"Keynote," "Pages," and "Numbers"—can be lumped together. These apps are Apple's versions of PowerPoint, Word, and Excel. The "Keynote" one was so complicated that I could barely follow the action. "Pages" shows that the iPad will be excellent if you're writing an Earth science textbook for fourth graders filled with photos of giraffes that need to be moved around a lot. In "Numbers," the iPad man seems to be using a spreadsheet to cruelly rank the various players on a girls' youth soccer team. The not-so-subtle message in these productivity-app videos is that you can use your iPad like a laptop. Just make sure that you don't need to do anything silly, like print something out.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

His Resurrection will Mean Our Own

“Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.

Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “all things are put in subjection,” it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him. When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all.

Otherwise, what do people mean by being baptized on behalf of the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized on their behalf? Why are we in danger every hour? I protest, brothers, by my pride in you, which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die every day! What do I gain if, humanly speaking, I fought with beasts at Ephesus? If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” Do not be deceived: “Bad company ruins good morals.”Wake up from your drunken stupor, as is right, and do not go on sinning. For some have no knowledge of God. I say this to your shame.

But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” You foolish person! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body. For not all flesh is the same, but there is one kind for humans, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish. There are heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is of one kind, and the glory of the earthly is of another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory.

So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”;the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.

I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.”
(1 Corinthians 15:1–58 ESV)

Thursday, April 01, 2010

There are some things you probably shouldn't joke about...

Like the number of children you are allowed to have. #60 on top 100 April Fools day jokes.

#60: PhDs Exempt From China’s One-Child Policy
1993: The China Youth Daily, an official state newspaper of China, announced on its front page that the government had decided to make Ph.D. holders exempt from the state-imposed one-child limit. The logic behind this decision was that it would eventually reduce the need to invite as many foreign experts into the country to help with the state's modernization effort. Despite a disclaimer beneath the story identifying it as a joke, the report was repeated as fact by Hong Kong's New Evening News and by Agence France-Presse, an international news agency. Apparently what made the hoax seem credible to many was that intellectuals in Singapore are encouraged to marry each other and have children, and China's leaders are known to have great respect for the Singapore system. The Chinese government responded to the hoax by condemning April Fool's Day as a dangerous Western tradition. The Guangming Daily, Beijing's main newspaper for intellectuals, ran an editorial stating that April Fool's jokes "are an extremely bad influence." It went on to declare that, "Put plainly, April Fool's Day is Liar's Day."

Amazing New Discovery: The Flying Penguin