Category Archives: Religion

Kneeling During the National Anthem

Is kneeling during the national anthem an acceptable form of protest for police brutality against people of color?

antipas2First of all, I ought to say that I have limited right to speak to this topic as a white man. However, I do support the issue they are protesting. I say that only because if I didn’t, I wouldn’t have any right to speak to the topic. Polls asking the public what they think about the protest are unfair. Those who disagree with the object of the protest will of course disagree with the form. How many people disapproved of the 1963 March on Washington that culminated in MLK’s “I Have A Dream” speech? 60 percent of Americans did, it turns out.

The primary objection to the kneeling protest is that it dishonors the American flag and the national anthem, and by inference, veterans. I think that these objections are a way, conscious or not, of diverting attention from the true subject.

They are calling America’s attention to the fact that the white stripes aren’t quite as pure and peaceful as they suggest, and the blue isn’t quite as just as it would like to be.

In reality, veterans are divided in their views of the protest. Many support it. And, as we now know, it’s an NFL veteran who changed Kaepernick’s protest from a sitting protest to a kneeling protest to show more respect. And moreover, it’s a little bit of a stretch to claim that there is a great dishonor to the flag or the anthem. The players are silent and respectful, just making a simple and unmistakable gesture. One could say that they are calling America’s attention to the fact that the white stripes aren’t quite as pure and peaceful as they suggest, and the blue isn’t quite as just as it would like to be.

A creative article in the NYT suggests that the form of the protest isn’t as effective as it could be, because it’s easily redirected. The author has an interesting point, but at the same time it’s possible that the outrage over it has amplified the message. The protest is now enormously more visible than it was before President Trump started making it a deal. The real danger is that it becomes a protest against Trump, rather than the single-issue protest it began as.

If Jesus isn’t with the victims of injustice, I’m not sure where he is.

This ought to be a cause that Christians support. One could say that Jesus was a friend to the marginalized, and that the Church has always been most at home on the margins of society. Jesus literally spoke about giving hope to the hopeless. If he isn’t with the victims of injustice, I’m not sure where he is. We ought to be very familiar with people speaking out for justice, and we ought to be listening. This is a key part of our calling on earth. Furthermore, as Christians we know that God’s banner is higher than our national patriotism. We ought not to elevate the American flag or national anthem above God or Christian values, one of which is justice. Thus we should feel compelled by Scripture to at least evaluate the subject of the protest before rejecting it outright.

As has been pointed out, it seems like virtually every form of protest that black people in this country take has been considered inappropriate. This is the most peaceful and least disruptive of any.

 – Antipas

Response from Aurelius

Nice post, Antipas. I didn’t know that 60% of Americans disapproved of the 1963 March on Washington. That figure helps contextualize today’s protests. For example, 57% of Americans disapprove of the Black Lives Matter movement. I wouldn’t have thought that the Black Lives Matter movement has better approval ratings than the March on Washington.

You’re right that Jesus made a point to befriend the marginalized and the victims of injustice. That’s a big deal in Christian teachings and should be a larger part of this conversation.

You mentioned that Christian values supersede nationalism and the flag, but there’s a dangerous way to interpret that to elevate God’s word above the Constitution. The Republican Senate candidate from Alabama, Roy Moore, campaigned openly on his belief that the Christian God’s supremacy overrules all, and he has no hestitations disregarding constitutional laws that conflict with his beliefs. His lead over the Democratic candidate has narrowed, but I’m worried for the state of our country if he and others like him are elected while a good portion of the country is more offended than inspired by NFL players’ respectful protests.

 

aureliusYes. Kneeling during the national anthem is an acceptable form of protest for police brutality against people of color. It is not a sign of disrespect to the flag or to the military as the president and countless others have misperceived.

Those victims do not have a voice anymore. These NFL players are using their position and platform to give them one.

First, kneeling in silence is respectful. To mirror how service members kneel before the graves of their fallen comrades, Nate Boyer, a Green Beret and NFL veteran, convinced Colin Kaepernick to take a knee instead of a seat as a more respectful form of protest. When an NFL player kneels during the national anthem, it is in recognition of unarmed victims of police brutality. Those victims do not have a voice anymore. These NFL players are using their position and platform to give them one, and they are doing so in a thoughtful and respectful way.

Second, protesting injustices  is an appropriate use of an athlete’s platform. There is a long history of black athletes protesting injustices, which are largely viewed favorably in hindsight. Years from now we will look back at these kneeling NFL players much the same way that we currently look back at John Carlos and Tommie Smith in that 1968 Olympics award ceremony where they raised their fists in the air. They were protesting the same injustices the NFL players are currently protesting. It is the duty of a responsible citizen to  take a stand against injustices.

Third, the unsung verses of our national anthem are unintentionally fitting as a backdrop to protesting unequal treatment. The opening verse  of the Star-Spangled Banner that we commonly sing today is about unexpected victory against a relentless enemy. Those words alone are fitting for a protest when there are injustices to address. The other lesser-known verses highlight the freemen vs. slave context of our country’s early years. The third verse in particular has the line, “No refuge could save the hireling and slave / From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave, And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave / O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.” Maybe not what you expected. The British gave American slaves the option of freedom in exchange for their support. This verse describes the flag gloriously flying over the land of the free while having just condemned slaves for choosing freedom. The values that we purport during the national anthem are silently countered by the conveniently-omitted verses.

When something is wrong, it is our responsibility to acknowledge it and do something about it.

Our society is far from perfect. When something is wrong, it is our responsibility to acknowledge it and do something about it. By taking a knee, NFL players respectfully invite conversation and action to make our society better and finally equal for all. If it makes you feel uncomfortable or even angry, then great, let’s talk about it.

-Aurelius

Response from Antipas

A great statement, my dear Aurelius. It’s a fun feature of this blog that we write independently, and sometimes find similar reasoning.

I’ll play devil’s advocate briefly, however. Some have pointed out, rightly, that it doesn’t matter what you call something, only how people interpret it. If I give you the middle finger and say, “Oh don’t worry, I mean it nicely,” then you would be justified in saying that I had lost my mind. It may not matter how much the protestors argue that their protest is polite and respectful and not about veterans; if people choose to interpret it that way then there’s nothing the protestors can do about it.

It can be a shame, but the witnesses of a protest have the right to interpret it. The fact that they are mis-interpreting it is their fault, but it’s still their right. It’s sad that we have to wait for history to redeem people like John Carlos, Tommie Smith, Muhammad Ali, and even Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks.

Today, American patriotism is like a religion (perplexingly strong among the actually religious), and those who show divergence from the mainstream can be harshly persecuted.

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Don’t Re-Church Us

Should young ex-Protestants go back to church?

Save the Mainline
Ross Douthat
April 15, 2017

Response from Aurelius

aurelius

“A large share of well-educated liberal America is post-Protestant…For the sake of their country, their culture and their very selves, liberal post-Protestants should find a mainline congregation and [start] attending every week.”

Not gonna happen for me. I respectfully decline.

My experience aligns with the premise that well-educated liberal America is post-Protestant, and the author links to supporting data as well. However, I don’t agree with the self-labeled implausible proposal that follows. The author is intending to provoke strong responses by lobbing a series of implausible proposals in his NYT column, such as “Trump Needs a Brain” and “Break up the Liberal City”. Akin to “A Modest Proposal” by Jonathan Swift, the real intention is to highlight real problems and promote real discussion on real solutions. So, let’s discuss.

“Liberal Protestantism without the Protestantism tends to gradually shed the liberalism as well, transforming into an illiberal cult of victimologies that burns heretics with vigor.”

Liberalism without Protestantism does not devolve into chaos. The 2017 college campus scene is an embarrassment to free speech, but Protestantism cannot reel this in. That’s a bizarre suggestion. Nor can Protestantism alter the apparent flippancy of liberal ideals. gjskkI believe this claim stems from Douthat’s flawed belief that liberalism is inherently unprincipled. Maybe it’s because liberals like to protest, and lately it’s often unclear what the unifying message of a particular protest is. I can agree with that, but just like the hypocrisy and sin of Christians do not nullify Christ, politically correct young liberals do not nullify liberalism. Furthermore, this assertion has a sub-claim that the alternative is principled. Today’s Republican party looks extremely different than a few years ago. Trump is not a principled man by any means. A phenomenon for sure, but terribly inconsistent in his stances. Republicans are not the unwaveringly principled party.

“Do it for your friends and neighbors, town and cities: Thriving congregations have spillover effects that even anti-Trump marches can’t match.”

I completely agree with Douthat’s supported point that institutions are needed to organize principles and build and sustain a sense of community. My biggest loss for me after becoming an atheist was leaving behind an omnipresent community. It’s lonely to leave the church. But, re-entering church is not the answer. Grassroots movements and political activism are how we should organize liberalism. The Democratic party has a tough job this next year before the 2018 midterm elections. Inserting religion is unnecessary bundling. While on that topic, I strongly believe that the bundling of Christianity with Republicanism and conservatism, while the status quo, is counterproductive and invites tremendous unnecessary divisiveness. Why is the Republican platform so accommodating to evangelical America? Why are Democrats not receptive to anti-abortion rights advocates?

“Do it for your family: Church is good for health and happiness, it’s a better place to meet a mate than Tinder, and even its most modernized form is still an ark of memory, a link between the living and the dead. I understand that there’s the minor problem of actual belief. But honestly, dear liberals, many of you do believe in the kind of open Gospel that a lot of mainline churches preach.”

There exist secular “churches” to satisfy this exact need of community and organizing liberal principles. They’re not nearly as popular as the religious variant, but I would suggest ex-Protestants go to a secular church such as Sunday Assembly over a denomination they’ve already rejected, probably for good reason. Get the benefits of going to church without the baggage of belief.

But maybe, the author assumes, most who slowly fade away wouldn’t be strongly opposed to re-entering those communities. Statistics aren’t in his favor here. A 2016 Pew study found that well over half of the previously-churched left because they do not believe or they dislike organized religion. Less than one third consider themselves on the fence or inactive believers, and it’s really only this latter category, about 10%, who are open to the notion of church.

“Finally, a brief word to the really hardened atheists: Oh, come on. Sure, all that beauty and ecstasy and astonishing mathematical order is because we’re part of a multiverse or a simulation or something; that’s the ticket. Sure, consciousness and free will are illusions, but human rights and gender identities are totally real. Sure, your flying spaghetti monster joke makes you a lot smarter than Aquinas, Karl Barth, Martin Luther King. Sure.”

Atheists have a bad stigma in this country, and it’s arguments like Douthat’s that perpetuate that perception. His argument here is pathetically straw manned. Yes, I’m sure the stereotypical neckbeard atheist with the FSM bumper sticker does exist, but that outdated meme is as uncommon as the Christians portrayed in the documentary Jesus Camp. What do his atheist friends think of that characterization? It describes exactly zero atheists that I know.

Finally, I counter that if you left Protestantism for good reason, then remind yourself of those reasons. Maybe even write them down. Seek out a secular church if you are wanting something similar but without the baggage of belief. Become politically active if you’re tired of incongruence in your party. But don’t proclaim Take Me To Church unless you are ready to re-explore your belief in Christ.

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Christians vs. The World

What is the deal with the “Culture Wars”?

antipas2

Christians often have a confrontational relationship with the culture around them. Some characterize this as Christians being “anti everything” and others just get annoyed by their insistence on things like traditional marriage, abortion, cultural Christian artifacts, and so forth.  People rightfully ask why it is that Christians seem to be so angry all the time.

There’s a great older book called Christ and Culture by H. Richard Niebuhr that details the different ways that Christians can interact with culture. You can be against culture, absorbed in culture, above culture, in paradox with it (we have a secular life and a spiritual life that continually intersect and diverge), or you can view Christ and the Christian as the transformer of culture. It’s very common for Christians to take one of the first two stances – at war with it, or just making Christian copies of things and consuming them. Some set themselves aloof with the third option and sort of ignore the world around them, but the author of the book has a respect for the paradox view and encourages the transformer view.

God created people as cultivators of a garden and I think that analogy can have value today.  You can’t cultivate a garden by being angry at it, or by embracing the weeds, or by viewing the soil as beneath you and unworthy of attention.   You’ve got to take what’s there and work to make it better, caring for it constantly and bringing great things out.

Does this approach minimize the bad things in the world and just accept them?  Not at all.  I think it’s disingenuous to our own faith to deny that there are things wrong with the world.  If the Bible is clear about a certain subject, then Christians ought to be similarly clear.  But this doesn’t mean you have to be confrontational about it.  You can believe, as I do, that abortion is wrong, and not picket in front of abortion clinics and criticize people who have had abortions.  You can maintain both your convictions and your love for others.  For example, you could quit yelling about making abortion illegal and start encouraging women to make different decisions.

There’s a lot of yelling in the world today.  Our semi-anonymous culture of internet communication and mass media makes it easy.  Solomon is wise when he says “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”  There’s a time for harsh words, and there’s a time for gentleness.  When Christians are known for their harsh words rather than for their love, they’ve missed the point.  There is no Christian nation, our USA not even being close, and much of the culture wars come about because Christians think that the USA is one.  We have to accept that and be glad for it.

If it’s not a Christian nation, then we can feel free to hold our own beliefs strong and not seek to impose them on the world around us, as if a non-Christian would want to live by Christian beliefs.  We can embrace the world, weeds and all, and take an attitude of seeking to leave this world better than we found it through loving cultivation.

 – Antipas

Response from Aurelius

Nice perspective. We tackled this prompt in markedly different ways. In those five responses to culture, I see many of today’s Christians taking a combination of the first and third approach: against and above culture, which is why many Christians come off as angry or culturally divisive. The person that I think best exemplifies the transformative approach is Mother Teresa. She viewed the world around her as a garden begging for love and compassion and therefore devoted her life to loving and helping others.

I agree with you that there is too much yelling in the world today. In my view, yelling, protesting, and picketing rarely produce the desired outcome. On the contrary, quiet fortitude can wake people up, just as Rosa Parks exemplified. We all probably know someone with this type of character. The loud voices of the room become noise after a while, but when the quiet person speaks, everyone listens.

I wish more Christians in the U.S. would share your perspective of accepting and even being glad that the country is not a Christian nation and not try to impose Christian beliefs onto others. Imposing your beliefs on others only perpetuates already-divided camps and comes off as foolish to those who believe otherwise, more eloquently stated by one of my favorite British actors, Stephen Fry, on one of my favorite TV shows, QI. “The myth of the Jewish people having manna dropped on their heads, that doesn’t actually matter… That’s like a Greek myth or any other myth. It’s when it gets to telling people how to behave is where we do draw the line.”

We can all agree on your last point. Let’s leave this world better than how we found it.

aurelius

If you live in the U.S. or keep up with U.S. news you are likely aware of the political atmosphere’s close connection with religious differences. Christian vs. non-Christian. Right-wing fundamentalist Christian vs. moderate Christian. Tea Party vs. moderate Republican. These divides played a huge role in this summer’s same-sex marriage ruling and they are a significant influence in many other cultural and moral issues.

“Culture war” only makes sense within the context of a single group with conflicting cultures, such as a non-homogeneous country. It’s important to note that every country has some unique culture war but in this post we are talking about the U.S. culture wars. The U.S. culture wars are predominantly religious, primarily between Christian and Other.

To understand the current culture wars requires an understanding of their influences and beginnings. I had to educate myself here, so here’s a recap. The culture wars became increasingly religious in the 80s and 90s even through today but they have more secular beginnings in the 60s. Early issues were civil rights, feminism, minority representation, and war vs. peace. Major issues then became abortion, homosexuality, religious discrimination, and again war vs. peace. Today’s media serve to propagate instead of mitigate the culture wars, with Fox News on one side and MSNBC and CNN in the opposing corner.

So, what can we do about the culture wars? How do they benefit and harm society?

The benefit of the culture wars is they can unite a large group of people into action based on beliefs they strongly support. It challenges people to examine their own beliefs to determine which they stand for and how strongly. Having to pick a side also promotes competition, and competition has many proven benefits and is one of the most natural human endeavors.

The major harm in culture wars is the creation and sustainment of the Us vs. Them mentality. We are all the same species and should embrace our humanity and endeavor to improve our collective existence, not highlight our differences. Even though we will naturally associate with one side based on our beliefs and upbringing, allying ourselves with one side makes it easy to dismiss the other side. We must resist the urge to be dismissive and divisive.

With the holiday season now here, instead of bickering with our loved ones, what if each week or two each of us read an opinion piece from the other side or tried to carry a conversation with someone with sharply different beliefs with the sole intent of respecting an opinion contrary to our own and understanding its premise? It’s not a farfetched idea, but we don’t take the time to do it. It would require just a small effort but the ripples would be long lasting. That is the primary intent of this blog because my coauthor and I believe in the power of respectful discourse. It is not hard to do and I can attest that it is remarkably refreshing to have your opinion respected by someone who disagrees with you while you are being enlightened by genuinely listening to their perspective. It’s a beautiful thing that we should all strive for. We don’t have to be divided.

-Aurelius

Response from Antipas

You’re right that this issue strikes at the heart of why we started the blog, so of course we’re going to have the same mind on it. There have been times that I have really enjoyed reading some academically-minded Tea Party literature, because sometimes once you get past the vitriol you find some logical arguments. I may find that I disagree with a premise, or think the argument leaves something out, but understanding the argument is key to understanding why I hold my own position.

The same is true of any issue, whether it’s homosexual marriage, allowing refugees and asylum-seekers into the country, or even something silly like red Starbucks cups. Our world would have a lot less yelling if, before anyone brought out their argument, they listened to and understood the logic from the other side. Your suggestion of carrying on conversations with those who disagree is a great one, and I hope more people do it.

Finally, thank you for pointing out the positive aspects of the “culture wars”. I glossed over these, but you make a great point. I may not like the angry and bitter conflicts that Christians sometimes pick, but this energy can also be harnessed for good – mobilizing to action, for example. I also know that I have rarely understood my own position so well as when I was forced to defend it against an onslaught. Let’s go out and manage the culture wars positively!

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Origins of the World

How did our world come to be?

antipas2There is a great deal of debate, even between Christians, over this issue of the origins of the world. Some maintain that if you don’t have a literal reading of Genesis 1-3, the whole of the Bible falls apart. Others maintain that Genesis 1-3 has been disproven by science and therefore we need to cling to science while still maintaining our faith. These people have all sorts of theories, from the account being mere fiction or poetry to re-reading terms like “day” to mean long ages.

We need not cling to the dogmatism that reading Genesis 1-3 figuratively destroys the whole framework of the Bible. There are plenty of Biblical passages that Christians read figuratively, because they were intended to be. I don’t believe that anyone, much less me, has a complete, non-contradictory, and accurate doctrine. We all get plenty of things wrong, and most of them don’t destroy the whole framework of the Bible (some do, however!). However, we also need not completely acquiesce to current scientific models.

I am very spiritual in my approach to the Bible. When Joshua records that the sun stood still, or Isaiah records that the sun moved backwards, or for that matter when Jesus heals a man, I see no reason to disagree with any of them. To me, God is God and He is all-powerful. If I didn’t believe so, I wouldn’t be a Christian. In the same way, when Moses writes that God created all that there is in six days, I see no reason to disagree. Some say the words are figurative, but most honest Biblical scholarship simply can’t agree. The writer certainly appears to believe that he is recording history.

How can this, then, be reconciled with scientific understandings? I subscribe to a view held by some that God created all that exists with age, with a history. Some argue that this makes God out to be a trickster or liar, but I don’t see how. God is, in some ways, a storyteller, and many storytellers understand backstories to their stories. Some, like J.R.R. Tolkien, were kind enough to write things like the collection we now call the Silmarillion, but others like George Lucas leave us to speculate. I believe that God wrote a history and left the signs there for us to discover in our own time.

I phrase it like this. Was Adam created as a one-day old fetus? Of course not. Was the earth devoid of trees, instead full only of tiny seedlings? Surely not. Did Adam have a belly-button, and did the trees have existing rings? Yes! Everything that exists was created with an age, a history that never actually happened. Not only were unimaginable numbers of stars created, but light was created already between them and us.

I believe this to be the most logically consistent understanding of the creation account in Genesis that also accepts the story as a literal divinely-inspired account. Not only did God create all that exists, he also created unbelievably complex scientific and physical processes and created the entire backstory. I think it makes Him more amazing, like a designer who leaves little secrets for admirers to discover later.

 – Antipas

Response from Aurelius

While a Christian I used to subscribe to a reasoning similar to yours. God may have created everything with a built-in age. For all we know, given his omnipotence, he could have created the universe on 01 Jan 2014 with all the signs and memories we believed to have existed beforehand. That is how, I reasoned, radiocarbon dating can show rocks to be tens of thousands of years old and we can see stars that by accurate scientific measures are billions of light-years away. Now that I’m not a Christian, those arguments seem to me no more than a farfetched justification of an extremely unlikely story.

Then, I started believing that evolution was sound and that the Genesis account must be figurative. That way, science isn’t lying to us. Why would god have created the earth just 6,000 years ago but leave tremendous evidence screaming for an earlier beginning? Why does evolution pass so many scientific tests if that’s not how things really are? For better or worse, carrying this reasoning further led me away from god entirely. A personal god like the Christian God made no sense to me because prayers went unanswered.

I’m straying a little from the point here, but to me the bible is just a book written by humans that carries some good wisdom and principles among many outdated practices. It’s worth reading to better understand politics, modern Christians, and history. However, considering the extreme beliefs of Christianity, I’m surprised it’s not a fringe religion.

aureliusThe universe as we know it began roughly 13.8 billion years ago with a rapid expansion following what is commonly known as the Big Bang. We know this because we can measure today precisely how quickly the universe is expanding based on the measured distance between galaxies that we have been observing since the 1920s. Tracing this expansion process backwards results in a hot dense beginning, which we currently don’t know much about, but there have been some recent breakthroughs.

Some progress in understanding these origins was made earlier this year through research in the cosmic microwave background, a signal that can still be measured today and is believed to have originated fractions of a second after the universe’s initial expansion. The findings seem to further confirm the expansion or inflation theory that has circulated for a few decades. In this overview lecture, Stephen Hawking discusses that space and time are not constant or even separate, but better explained by Einstein’s Theories of Relativity and, more recently, quantum theory. The General Theory of Relativity helps answer the question, “What happened before the Big Bang?” With time and space defined as relative constructs combined as spacetime, scientific evidence points to nothing happening before the event. Time itself began with the Big Bang. It doesn’t make sense to me, but that’s where the evidence leads at the moment. Further, quantum theory helps explain what happened at the moment of the Big Bang since Einstein’s theories do not work on that scale.

Our solar system, and consequently Earth, formed roughly 4.6 billion years ago. To keep this concise, there were gravitational clusters, accretion, and a slew of volcanic activity that gradually formed Earth. Heavy bombardment in this initial era could have seeded life on Earth and could have possibly wiped out then reinvigorated life multiple times over. We don’t know, but eventually life began.

Life in our world was made possible by a miracle of chemistry resulting in organic compounds that increased in complexity through the process of evolution. Carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen, four of the most abundant elements in the universe, can form organic molecules under conditions similar to early Earth, as was first discovered in the mid 20th century. That’s a leading theory on how life came to be if not seeded from an impact.

As a final note, I realize this question can prompt drastically different answers depending on one’s worldview and that my viewpoint is the minority in the U.S. Even while a Christian I believed in evolution. It’s a beautiful theory that explains so much of biology and is not necessarily counter to religion as many today suggest. Dawkins is vocally anti-creation and anti-religion, but he makes some good points about biological evolution in his books. For a Christian viewpoint encompassing evolution, see Francis Collins’ The Language of God. While some sources are cited above, the four main sources I used are Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time, Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Origins: Fourteen Billion Years of Cosmic Evolution, and Richard Dawkins’ The Greatest Show on Earth and The God Delusion. The first two detail cosmic evolution from world-renowned astrophysicists while the second two focus on biological evolution particularly when countered with a creation worldview. Crash Course, my favorite YouTube channel, now has a series on this topic.

-Aurelius

Response from Antipas

It’s pretty incredible to me how much the scientific community has been able to learn about our universe and our history.  They really embody what it means to stand on the shoulders of others to see further.  Learning from each other and building upon the discoveries of each other, they have really put together a remarkable understanding.  I have a great deal of respect for their processes and what they have uncovered.

It’s a bit frivolous for Christians to argue with this scientific understanding.  I’ve seen my fair share of them, and I think they’re all pretty goofy.  How it is that average people think they can outsmart these generations of scientists with an argument they read on the Internet is beyond me.  The methods and understandings that you’ve outlined above are pretty sound, and I think they tell a great tale of our history.  I’m sure there’s a great deal left to learn as well.

I stand by my belief that God wrote this history for us, and that it neither makes God nor science into liars.  Whether or not it “actually happened” is beside the point – it’s not like anyone witnessed it anyways.  It should not affect the scientific process’ ability to use the understanding whether it “actually happened” or God created it in our history.  For the process, it’s just as valid either way.

Take Me To Church

Hozier – Take Me To Church

A Response to a Noteworthy Song

[Verse 1]
My lover’s got humour
She’s the giggle at a funeral
Knows everybody’s disapproval
I should’ve worshipped her sooner
If the Heavens ever did speak
She’s the last true mouthpiece

Every Sunday’s getting more bleak
A fresh poison each week
‘We were born sick,’ you heard them say it
My church offers no absolutes
She tells me ‘worship in the bedroom’
The only heaven I’ll be sent to
Is when I’m alone with you

I was born sick, but I love it
Command me to be well
Amen. Amen. Amen

[Chorus x2]
Take me to church
I’ll worship like a dog at the shrine of your lies
I’ll tell you my sins and you can sharpen your knife
Offer me that deathless death
Good God, let me give you my life

[Verse 2]
If I’m a pagan of the good times
My lover’s the sunlight

To keep the Goddess on my side
She demands a sacrifice
To drain the whole sea
Get something shiny
Something meaty for the main course
That’s a fine looking high horse
What you got in the stable
?
We’ve a lot of starving faithful
That looks tasty
That looks plenty
This is hungry work

[Chorus x2]
Take me to church
I’ll worship like a dog at the shrine of your lies
I’ll tell you my sins so you can sharpen your knife
Offer me my deathless death
Good God, let me give you my life

[Bridge]
No masters or kings when the ritual begins
There is no sweeter innocence than our gentle sin
In the madness and soil of that sad earthly scene
Only then I am human
Only then I am clean

Amen. Amen. Amen

[Chorus x2]
Take me to church
I’ll worship like a dog at the shrine of your lies
I’ll tell you my sins so you can sharpen your knife
Offer me that deathless death
Good God, let me give you my life

We are trying something new here, responding to a noteworthy song. There is no prompt. Just the song, video, and lyrics.

antipas2I hadn’t heard this song before Aurelius pointed it out to me (yes, I live under a musical bridge). It’s hard to tell exactly what the song is about on the surface. It’s interesting, because the first time I listened to the song I didn’t watch the video, only read the lyrics. I couldn’t tell what it was about. Watching the video made it clear that it’s about homosexuality.

In the video about the song, he says it has to do with institutions that work against people’s humanity. That’s an interesting statement, because it takes as a given a certain definition of humanity. Elsewhere he seems like he’s focusing on sexuality as a very natural element of humanity, of course meaning to say that homosexuality is thoroughly natural. Moreover, I still have some confusion about the message. For example, is his lover and his Goddess one and the same? Hozier has written some very poetic lyrics, which I’ll applaud him for – thank you for not writing meaningless babble or another banal love song.

Anyways, I am both sympathetic toward his song and a bit critical. I am, of course, sympathetic toward the plight of homosexuals who feel persecuted and judged by Christians, or anyone. Nobody deserves to be mistreated and bullied. Everyone is a human being and deserves respect.  The Church, and Christians, have been very guilty of this over the years, and not just toward homosexuals.  For this, I’m ashamed.

However, I also feel like he (and others) can fall into the trap of stereotyping, which is the same thing they tend to be critical of the church for. For example, in his “story behind” video, he talks about how it’s been a very bad year and few hundred years for the Church. This is a bit one-sided. Of course the Church is guilty of plenty, but then again the negative news makes headlines more than the positive news. It’s rarely reported how many of the doctors in west Africa fighting Ebola are Christians doing it because they feel compelled by their faith to serve on the front lines of a dangerous fight. A small article appeared in the Dallas newspaper recently talking about what a remarkable work a local church had done during the Ebola situation there, welcoming and loving the family of the man who died. It’s been a bad year for the Church if you read the negative headlines. I think it’s sad that all the good that the Church does often gets ignored and overlooked.

As for the issue of homosexual rights, we’ll deal with this more in-depth in a future post, but I’ll go back to my earlier statement: nobody deserves the bullying that the video portrays, regardless of who they are. You treat people with respect, whether they are your friends, your enemies, or a hardened criminal. A big part of my moral compass consists of approaching people as people separate from their actions, so even if I disagree with someone’s actions (such as a homosexual couple), they are still deserving of my brotherly respect.  I reserve the right to disagree with their lifestyle choice while still valuing them and honoring their rights.

 – Antipas

Response from Aurelius

I had the same confusion you did about the song’s meaning and had to watch the music video and interviews with the author to better understand it. Some lines are still lost to me, e.g., “No masters or kings when the ritual begins…”

Good on NBC for reporting about Samaritan’s Purse’s response to and efforts in the Ebola outbreak. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that most mainstream media often shy away from religious topics in an unachievable effort to appear unbiased, and that’s a shame because there are a lot of newsworthy religious topics to report. The media tend to focus on negative events, which Jimmy Fallon humorously counters with his series, I’ve Got Good News and Good News.

To your last paragraph, I don’t think people can be wholly separated from their actions as you suggest, although I think this could easily spawn another prompt. Most actions are primarily driven by intentional thought, but there are some actions that are more driven by our instinct or personality. An alcoholic’s thoughts sometimes cannot drive him to the correct action of not drinking excessively. Alcoholism is a disease that is hereditary in part (also environmental and psychological), similar to our current understanding of homosexuality in that way. Fortunately, alcoholism can be treated with a moderate success rate, but the treatment can be drastic, involving rehab and detox programs. You cannot say the same about homosexuality. It is not treatable even with drastic treatment programs as I reference in my response. Today’s science shows that it is a part of who that person is just as my heterosexuality is part of who I am. I cannot choose to be gay or be treated into becoming gay.

Regarding sin, we won’t be able to converge on that point. Sin is a religious construct, but I do have a moral compass that differentiates right and wrong and contains a whole lot of gray area. With it, I see absolutely no problem with homosexuality. It’s not natural to me, but I have no doubt it is natural to others. For some context, a century ago American Christians argued that women voting was biblically wrong, and before that the bible was used to justify slavery. Times have changed, and they’re changing again.

aureliusThis song is incredible. I first heard it on the radio and found it musically intriguing. The singer is clearly passionate and the instruments are unobtrusive yet powerful. After listening to the lyrics I grew from liking to loving the song. I’m admittedly a sucker for deep lyrical songs, and this is now one of my favorites. I’ll start this response with thoughts from the artist then draw some conclusions.

From the Artist: There are a lot of interpretations available, many valid, but I prefer interviews with the artist. Hozier told New York magazine that the song is about sex and humanity, a “tongue-in-cheek attack at organizations that… would undermine humanity by successfully teaching shame about sexual orientation – that it is sinful, or that it offends God. The song is about asserting yourself and reclaiming your humanity through an act of love… choosing to worship and love something that is tangible and real. But it’s not an attack on faith.” The video is a specific example of this message, painfully portraying the state-allowed homophobic attacks in Russia. In the same interview, Hozier discusses his inspiration to write the song. “You grow up and recognize that in any educated secular society, there’s no excuse for ignorance. You have to recognize in yourself, and challenge yourself, that if you see racism or homophobia or misogyny in a secular society, as a member of that society, you should challenge it. You owe it to the betterment of society.”

Implications: Those who attend church have probably heard the saying, “Love the sinner, hate the sin,” which sounds sweet but forces faithful people to feel ashamed and lesser. Macklemore addresses this cultural discrimination of homosexuality in his song Same Love. The first verse of Hozier’s piece juxtaposes two figures. The female lover of the female narrator is introduced as “my lover,” a love that is real but shamed by the second figure, the church, introduced as “my church,” denying entry into Heaven because of homosexual sin. Homosexuals attending church often feel this way, but there are many homosexual Christians that have found accepting churches and communities. We need more of those communities.

Fear-based church is losing popularity as the public loses its belief in hell. Some church leaders are intentionally trying to rebrand hell. I’m not sure what will come of it, but the relevance here is that Hozier is calling out those who would shame others for their sexuality, not just the church, but the church is a big culprit here, oftentimes subtly but sometimes harshly. This is not love. Even saying homosexuals are inherently sinful but accepted in our communities is not love. Love is instead not differentiating or treating homosexuals any different than heterosexuals, believing the years of evidence that sexuality cannot be altered. There is still a lot of research to be done to determine how sexuality is determined and the public is still at odds on whether homosexuality is innate or acquired. Treating homosexuals different in any way does no good. In fact, as Hozier illustrates, it harms.

-Aurelius

Response from Antipas

Like I mentioned on the other side, there’s a line that needs to be walked.  I do agree with Hozier saying that if you see racism, homophobia, or misogyny in society, it’s the right thing to do to stand against it.  I don’t need a religious argument to know that I’m against those things.  People are people, and whether homosexuality is innate or acquired (I tend to think it could be either, depending on the person), it’s still not something to discriminate against.

However, I’m concerned about where you say that “love the sinner, hate the sin” is not real love.  Or that calling homosexuality a sin while welcoming them in church is not love.  That’s concerning to me, as a Christian, because it doesn’t even give us a chance.  Our set of beliefs, and the book we believe to be God-breathed, is unambiguous about homosexuality being a sin.  If we’re not allowed to love people without loving everything they do, then it’s impossible for a sincere Christian to be a member of society.

Furthermore, why can’t real love condemn the actions of a person?  If a husband cheats on a wife, and she loves him and forgives him and he works to restore himself, was it not real love on her part, even though she surely hated his actions?  If a child steals something at the grocery store, isn’t the parent’s love even more true if the parent condemns the action and makes the child return the shoplifted goods?  If I believe that homosexuality is a sin before God, why can’t I still love that person?  If love is a self-sacrificial desire for the best for another, I’d argue that it’d actually be less loving to overlook an action that you believe to be wrong.

In the end, I’d be disingenuous to my religion not to believe that homosexuality is a sin.  But this isn’t a finger-pointing exercise.  The Bible is clear that that all people are sinners, and equally separated from God.  The Bible is judgmental toward things that I’m plenty guilty of, such as looking lustfully at a woman (says I’m an adulterer), hating someone (says I’m a murderer), and gluttony (says poverty is coming).  Rather than finger-pointing at one particular sin, can’t we be clear that there are a variety of sins, of which we are all rather guilty?  It’s a shame that homosexuality has gotten such attention, at the expense of other things I believe are wrong.

Biblical Messages for Non-Christians

What messages from the Bible are most important for non-Christians?

antipas2One of my English teachers in school told the class on more than one occasion that it would be impossible to fully grasp a great deal of literature without a thorough understanding of the Bible. So much of literature, culture, and language, particularly in the Western world, has been informed by Biblical concepts and terminology. Whether it’s Shakespearean references to the Bible, “Good Samaritan” laws, or names of places and people, the Bible is full of source material for the world.

However, beyond the cultural importance of having at least some fluency in Biblical stories and terminology, there are Biblical themes that are very important for life, regardless of one’s belief system. As a Christian, I’d of course be the first to say that all people ought to read the Bible. I do believe that the Bible is divinely inspired (“God-breathed” is the term the Bible uses for itself), so to me the themes found in its pages take on an even more paramount significance. Yet I still believe that even if you disagree with that conclusion, anyone can still agree with much of what is written in the book.

For starters, there is the “wisdom” literature of the Bible. This commonly includes Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Job. Psalms and Song of Songs are sometimes also included in that category though they are musical/lyrical. The “apocryphal” (not considered divinely inspired and thus not included in most versions of the Bible) books of Wisdom of Solomon and Sirach are also wisdom literature. These books, though thoroughly seasoned with divine imagery and themes, are also full of philosophy, advice, and ways of viewing and understanding the world.

However, even the overarching stories and themes of the rest of the Bible can serve as beautiful imagery for anyone, including non-Christians. The Bible has a theme of describing God’s relationship to His people like a man and his wife. The image goes both ways to inform our understanding of marriage and also to illuminate our relationship with God. Themes that work this way are valuable to non-Christians. God’s relentless pursuit of his people like a man of his bride, regardless of his bride’s detours with prostitution and unrequited love, is a beautiful picture of love.

Time would exhaust us to look at all the themes and sayings that are wise for all people. However, I have to footnote my own response to say that I do believe that belief and full understanding of the Bible comes from the Holy Spirit. One has to be a Christian to have God’s spirit illuminating the Bible fully to him. So while I do believe that everyone has something to gain from reading the Bible, I also believe that reading it will lead someone to a split in the road: either the Bible becomes a book full of nonsense and unintelligible stories, or it becomes a divinely-inspired account of God and man that guides one in faith.

 – Antipas

Response from Aurelius

Great post. I like that you explained motifs and themes, while I took an alternate route of highlighting verses that capture biblical ideas I find universally applicable.

Sounds like you had a good English teacher. I often think I would have appreciated literature earlier if I had better English teachers. She’s right that so much of the Western world today is shaped by biblical principles. For better or worse, an understanding of the bible can help explain the world in which we live.

When I was a particularly devout Christian, one of my favorite songs to listen to and perform was Wedding Dress by Derek Webb. To me, these lyrics perfectly captured the struggling reality of the groom and bride metaphor that the bible, as you say, often uses in reference to God and his people. An understanding of this metaphor can also help non-Christian Westerners partially understand why the political right wants to preserve traditional man-woman marriage.

I think it’s worth pointing out that not all Christians reject the apocrypha. While the word literally translates to non-canonical, the books in that category are considered divine by Catholics today and weren’t removed from most versions of the bible until the Protestant reformation in the 16th century. The history of the bible is fascinating given its current prominence.

aurelius

While no longer a Christian, there are many bible passages I respect and try to follow. Here are a few of them under the English Standard Version.

James 1:19 “…Be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.” This is of course not just a biblical principle. Breathe and count to 10. Think before you speak. Don’t act out of anger. These are all part of the same message to listen to others, think, then act. Anger is good when used sparingly, but it must be used wisely.

Philippians 2:3-4 “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” This passage is really hard, but I believe in the philosophy that we should value others and avoid conceit. Where it is hard is in valuing others above me. This goes beyond just loving your neighbor as yourself, doing unto them as you would do unto yourself. I primarily look after myself and my family, which I don’t think is always bad. However, the philosophy of elevating the value of others above the value of oneself makes me rethink how I treat others, what I say, how I say it, what I do, and how I spend my time. It’s a great passage to dwell on during moments of self-reflection.

Proverbs 25:21 and Matthew 5:44 “If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat, and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink… Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” If you have an unforgiving personality, this message is extremely hard. It’s hard regardless, but it’s good practice to feel sympathy for those that might hate you and help them when possible. Hopefully all of our mothers taught us that two wrongs don’t make a right.

Proverbs 4:5 “Get wisdom, get understanding.” I’m a firm believer in being a lifelong learner. Never stop learning and being curious. This covers understanding because knowledge and understanding go hand in hand, but wisdom is on a separate plane. However, it can be obtained and sharpened through decision-making, reflection and analysis on oneself and others, and listening to those with age and experience. I would much rather follow a wise man than an erudite.

There are a lot more, but I hope you enjoyed these. To those that haven’t read the bible, firstly I hope you’re not Christian. If you’re a Christian and haven’t read the bible, those books are your holy scriptures in which you should be basking regularly. Christianity is an all-or-nothing religion if you actually believe what Jesus said. If you’re not a Christian, there is a lot of great stuff in the bible. There’s a lot of crazy stuff as well, but it’s worth reading for the gems.

-Aurelius

Response from Antipas

I love your conclusion – Christianity is an all-or-nothing religion. Such a true statement, and sometimes I think that it takes non-Christians to recognize that. Sometimes we Christians get way too complacent. Reading the whole Bible is quite the time commitment, but then again so is everything worth doing.

I like your quick picks of valuable Bible verses. You’ve got relationships with others and wisdom in there, two topics on which the Bible has a lot to say. The wisdom of the Bible is valuable for all people, as I wrote, but for the Christian there is a second level. Not just are there some great verses for life, but there are underlying truths behind them. Why do we value others, love our enemies, and practice being slow to anger? Because we are all created in the image of God. Thus, we are all equal, and further, we ought to be like God. These are God’s attributes, so we ought to emulate them.

It’s great that these Bible passages are approachable for anyone, and valuable for anyone. However, I believe that they point us to something deeper – a reason for these sorts of ideals. They’re not simple nuggets of wisdom and advice. They are reflections of God’s personality and love, and hold together as part of an overarching worldview with God at the center.