Tag Archives: religion

On Religion and Goodness

Last time, I wrote about the false idea of religion and the suppression of innovation and truth, as exemplified by a reconsideration of the Galileo incident. Today, I want to consider another part of the atheistic meta-narrative that I find equally amusing and frustrating. The meta-narrative summarizes as, “nothing good ever came from religion,” and usually has a variant, “all wars came from religion.”

It’s difficult, in the extreme, to defend absolute statements such as these, especially when they involve interpretive elements. If it’s about winning the argument, I’m sure there are all kinds of websites out there that will give you all of the best, most defensible, responses to these. I want to address, instead, the statement behind the statement. Before that, I do want to give a reply to the second statement by suggesting that most (all) wars are usually related to land: control, ownership, and possession of land and the revenue that land generates. Certainly governments use religion as the rallying cry to motivate the masses to action, but when you boil it down it really comes down to land and resources.

In the end, wars happen because of money, or the love of it.

But to my point: the statement behind the statement of good and religion. I think the real question is a question of goodness. The atheist meta-narrative explicitly (and some would say rationally) denies the the concept of God and the necessity of God in connection to the concept of good. The implicit statement follows that we should discard the irrational God concept and embrace the rational concept of goodness.

Irrational = bad, rational = good.

Ironically, most atheists I know would espouse the goodness of medicine and education, putting these forth as examples of the pinnacle of rationality and enlightenment. I usually lean to my atheist associates and point out that both institutions came from religion. Seriously (there’s a reason why there are Baptist, Presbyterian, and/or Methodist hospitals in most North American cities). The western higher education system is based off of monastic education—to train priests—which in turn drew influence from the madrasa. Both birthed out of the (supposedly non-rational) callings put forth by religion inclinations and the (again, non-rational) pursuit of Godliness and (supposedly rational) goodness.

I think that the atheist meta-narrative question is really, “Is religion good?” My obligatory christian answer to that question is, “any man-made construct has inherent flaws because humanity is inherently flawed, but the object of religion is inherently good.” My real answer to that question is, “God is good, man is not.” Religions are systematic and rational, usually making a lot of sense and having a great deal of internal coherence. God, conceptually, is irrational and doesn’t work according to our categories. Actually, I reject the notion of God as a concept being irrational (I leave it to finer philosophical minds than mine to make the God argument but I hear William Lane Craig does a pretty good job), but I would agree that God as a concept fits outside of neat human construct.

Personally, I call that good.

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On Religion and Ignorance

I stumble across atheist rants every now and then, denouncing the evils of religion. Usually I smile in vague amusement and move on, but lately, something about the atheist anti-religious meta-narrative has bothered me. It took me a while to see it, but I think I’ve finally figured out what, exactly, has stuck in my craw.

The meta-narrative goes something like this: (1) those who practice religion/believe in a higher power are uneducated nut-jobs looking for a crutch to get themselves through life, (2) religion has brought nothing but pain and misery to the world, and (3) rational thinking would force people away from ritualistic reliance on revelation; reason should rule the roost (forgive my alliterative indulgence here). Therefore, we should divest ourselves of the fetters of religiosity and embrace the freedom of rationalism.

In short, theism breeds ignorance, but atheism brings enlightenment.

If you pay any attention to history, you probably spot several of the flaws in this line of thinking. To acknowledge the meta-narrative (and by “meta-narrative” I mean “bigger story being told”) truth, the commitment to a particular faith or value system has, at times, choked the pure exploration of knowledge for its own sake. The meta-narrative will point to the story of Galileo for an example of this. In one version of this tale, the evil religious establishment (the Roman Catholic Church) suppresses the truth of the valiant defender of science and truth, against all reasonable observation. Another version of this tale exists: that Galileo, having previously been wrong about the nature of comets while writing in support of the pope, pushed his agenda of changing the nature of scientific inquiry too far by invoking some hot-button political issues of his day. Galileo, in one of his salvos, actually argued against some of the greatest scientific minds of the time—the Jesuits.

In other words, Galileo thought he was right (although it turns out he was wrong about several things, such as the nature of the tides and circular orbits), and made a rhetorical argument that skewered one of the most powerful religious and political rulers of his day (the pope). That ruler responded with brute force, crushing any chance Galileo had of actually dealing with the scientific issues he’d attempted to address.

I will grant you that the pope was wrong in using the church as an instrument to enforce his will. As a dyed-in-the-wool American protestant christian, I have the same objections to the behavior of some of the pope’s and their ties to (and abuse of) political power as many atheists. I suggest, in contrast to the meta-narrative, that the problem with this is not an issue of religion, but rather an issue of people with power. When you look over history, I believe the more accurate story is not the one which speaks of religions suppression, but rather the story of an engine of economics driving the tools and institutions of power (most often centered in organized religion) to carry out the will of a few. For example, I encourage you to reconsider the actions of Urban VIII in light of the debt and dissension he dealt with at the time of the Galileo affair.

Maybe there’s some truth to the idea of money and evil.

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A Bedtime Blessing for my Son

Heavenly father,

Thank you for Luke’s life and ministry. I pray you would make him healthy and wise, and to continue to grow in wisdom and stature and to have favor with you and with other people. Grant us the wisdom to raise him up in the way he should go so that he would not depart from it when he is older. I pray you would prepare him for his future wife as you prepare him for her.

Establish a legacy of faith in him, and in his children, and in his children’s children—that they would come to faith early in life and live lives dedicated to you. Please bless those who bless him, and watch over his friends, family, and loved ones. Grant him restful slumber and peaceful dreams tonight, and keep him safe.

I ask this by the power of your spirit, and in the name of your son, Jesus.

Amen.

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On Bombings and Burials, part 1

According to some of the latest news for the Boston bombings, the funeral home who has prepped Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s body cannot find a cemetery willing to bury him. Evidently, his family cannot transport him to Russia due to some complications regarding his passport and citizenship. The city refuses to take responsibility for the body citing public interest and safety. Even someone who professes to be a member of his religion (while disagreeing with his actions) wishes to distance himself from Tsarnaev’s ideologies by remaining unwilling to bury him.

This seems to be a perfect opportunity for the Church to be the Church. Christian theology recognizes that all people, regardless of their actions and whether redeemed or unredeemed, bear the image of God. In that vein, our Judeo-Christian ethic requires that we treat human beings with a certain amount of dignity and respect, even in death. Consider: do we really want to make the argument that we can circumvent that dignity “if the crime is bad enough,” and if we do, then what is the standard of “bad enough”? Is it one body? Three? Ten? Only if children are involved? Where do we draw the line of treating someone else like a human being?

Granted, it’s easy for me to be idealistic when I have no loved one either maimed or killed by Tsarnaev. I admit that. I don’t know if I would feel differently about it. I pray I never have to find out. In this moment, however, I read some of the ugly comments (such as one person who suggested that they cremate his body and flush the ashes down the toilet) and shudder. Why?

Today they’re talking about a bomber. What if tomorrow, it’s a group of people who spout hate speech against a minority group. Like, maybe their sacred text has some nasty things to say about that minority group (such as telling them that their identity and lifestyle are an abomination to God). Maybe some of that group of people use that as an excuse to harm minority groups. As such, public opinion swings to protect the minority group, and disband the “hate-mongers.” After all, we need to protect the public good, right? Jesus addressed these issues pretty clearly (and, in my opinion, in a superior manner than other religions). Do to others what you would have them do to you. If you had grossly injured someone, whether maliciously or not, how would you wish they treat you?

So what if the Church did something radical, like foot the bill to have Tsarnaev shipped home for burial? Even better, what if we chose to bury him in one of our cemeteries? What might that say about Christians? How might that demonstrate that we truly follow Christ?
As we spread the good news, may we remember that evangelism involves our relationship between God and humanity, but it also involves the dignity of the individual. When Jesus summed the law, he stated first to love God, but he reminded them of the command like it: to love your neighbor. Tamerlan Tsarnaev is your neighbor; how will you love him?

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Racial Segregation and its Impact on Theological Education

Racial segregation continues to impact quality of education in Mississippi—and nationwide | Hechinger Report.

I thought this an interesting article by Alan Richard of the Hechinger Report, but it prompted some thoughts for me regarding our President and his religious views. Many of my religiously conservative (and incidentally, politically conservative) often decry more liberal theological views such as Black Liberation Theology. Consequently, they also tend to look down on those who hold to such views.

Let me point this out as a classic example of chickens coming home to roost. According to his wikipedia page, Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Wright Jr. earned a Master of Arts in the History of Religions from the University of Chicago. Considering he earned a bachelor’s degree in 1968 and his master’s in English in 1969, one might surmise that he earned the Religion master’s around that time.

Consider that my current school of choice, Dallas Theological Seminary (and a bastion of conservative theological views), did not open its doors to blacks until 1965 ; as I understand it, DTS was one of the first to desegregate. The University of Chicago must have desegregated soon considering that Wright’s mother also graduated from the University of Chicago. Wright likely followed in her footsteps and toward an place familiar to him through his studies at Howard University. In any case, Wright landed in Chicago at one of the only schools which would have accepted him—a seminary with theologically liberal leanings.

Wright’s story is not unique: the black students who had the academic credibility and the financial wherewithal to pursue graduate-level theological education often had to choose the Chicago Divinity Schools of the world. Conservative schools simply would not educate them. In fact, I’ve heard one story (unconfirmed) of a major conservative seminary’s registrar who would discard the applications of qualified black applicants so there was no record of discrimination. Still, these gifted future pastors attended liberal schools and went on to pastor churches. Wright accepted his pastorate around 1972.

For more than 30 years, Wright pastored, taught, and led his congregation based on the theology he learned at the University of Chicago and later from Union Theological Seminary under James Cone. Among his flock? One Barack Obama, a community organizer who worked in and around the south side of Chicago, Illinois, and who would have worked with many pastors (with similar educations as Wright) in the area in order to bring much-needed resources to bear on the problems of the African-American community.

In short (and to use another metaphor), the seeds of segregation—planted and watered by conservative seminaries—blossomed into pastors who chose liberal institutions for their training. Those pastors then sowed the seeds of their new-found theology into their congregants who now hold significant political, social, and economic positions. Those congregants are the Beyoncé’s, President Obama’s, Oprah Winfrey’s, and Tyra Banks’ of the world. So, theological conservative: when you wonder why some people hold the views they hold, consider your history, and know that when the opportunity to influence minds came, theological conservatives built a chicken roost.

Now the chickens are home, and hungry.

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