Sam Harris

1 02 2007

Here is a working link for the video.

Sam is one of my favorite public atheists. He makes some really salient points amongt Steve’s brilliant humor (which supports Sam’s thesis btw). I like Sam, and he definitely is not the enemy. We Christians who do not live up to our creed our the problem. I think that if the Christianity that Tony is talking about below was the one most clearly followed and demonstrated, that Sam would not have a problem with us.

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Andrew Sullivan

24 10 2006

Andrew Sullivan, author of, The Conservative Soul and senior editor of The New Republic is speaking at Oberlin College tonight at 8 pm. I have been reading Andrew’s editorials in TNR and elsewhere since the early ’90s. I like him, but I have been pretty upset with him and the other neocons out there for creating the apologetic that swept us into the war on Iraq. He is now back into my good graces since I heard him give a very sincere mea culpa during an interview with Brian Lamb on CSpan’s Booknotes for supporting the war at its onset and clearly admitting that he was wrong.

What is interesting about Andrew is that he holds within himself opposing principles, ideals, and values. He is a practicing homosexual, but he is also a very devout pro-life Catholic who takes the teachings of Jesus seriously. And he is a diehard supply-side conservative, but he supported Kerry in the last presidential election (he could not vote because he is not a citizen of the U.S.).

I have always saw Andrew as a sort of best friend that I never met because in many ways I hold the similar opposing views within myself too. I am a Bible thumping, Jesus-is-the-only-way Christian, but I strongly believe in pluralism and I am against prayer in public schools. Along with Andrew, I am against abortion after the first trimester, and I agree with him that we have to allow it during the first trimester. I feel this way because only people of faith like me and Andrew see a zygote and a blastula as being fully human.

Ultimately, what I like about Andrew is the humility in which he holds his beliefs. He does not feel comfortable pushing his beliefs on others. This is why I like the guy. He is a great conversationalist because he has a lot of ideas, but more importantly he is willing to listen to ideas of others, even those ideas that he do not agree with his own.





Contra Benedict II: The Scriptural Basis for Multi-Culturalism & Pluralism

23 09 2006

For those of you who have been waiting with baited breath for the next installment of this series, you wait is over (yes, I am a legend in my own mind). First, I want to again make it clear that I deplore those who want to kill the Pope because of a quotation he made from a 14th century emperor critiquing Islam for converting people through the point of a sword. This is madness. God does not need a defender, and it is a sin of the highest order to kill another human being who is made in God’s image. Only God has the right to take life. We demonstrate the veracity of our faith by loving others sacrificially, not by killing those we consider to be infidels. Violent religious extremists of whatever stripe hurt the cause of religion for everyone.

That said, let us move on to the biblical basis for multi-culturalism & plurality. If you listen to the Pope, he would like to make you believe that the postmodern moment that we swim in is just a fad and a phase. That once we get past it, we need to return to the modernistic methods of rationality and reason to prove our faith is reasonable, rational, and true. And that we need to get back to the specific brand of Platonic/Cartesian understandings of rationalism to do this right.

I say this is wrong, and it is wrong on biblical grounds. First, as I said before, God can, and has spoken to each and every culture and social system known to humankind. God is not in a box. We see in Genesis 11 that God is the creator of culture. Yes, he wants unity (more on this later) but at the expense of diversity. God is too big for to squeeze in to just one culture or ethnic group. He wants to be known and glorified in each and every ethnic group.

Second, both the letters to the Romans and Galatians demonstrate to us that you don’t have to become a Jew to become a Christian, but we are all sons of Abraham (including women) no matter where we come from. I think that it would be fair to say that if you don’t have to become a Jew to be a Christian, then you don’t have to become Greek to become a Christian. Nor do you have to become white to get close to God, and so on.

Third, according to 1Corinthians 9:19-23: “19Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. 23I do all this for the sake of the gospel…”

It is clear to me from this passage that it is dangerous for the Gospel to be soley be tied to any particular culture. Yes, Christianity is a Western religion, but it is an Eastern one too. The Gospel is for all, it is not only for the West. Truth be told, I am sure that those in the East “get” aspects of the Gospel that those in the West don’t.

Jesus did not come to save only Greeks and Jews, He came to save the world, and to redeem each and every human culture and society that is out there. His image is borne by every person who has ever lived, and hence, He is present in every culture there ever has been or ever will be.

Fourth, it is not human reason that leads men to God, but God Himself. Listen to Paul again in 1Corinthians 2:

1When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. 2For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 3I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. 4My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, 5so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power.

And in the first chapter of the same epistle:

18For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19For it is written:
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;
the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”

20Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. 22Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.

26Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29so that no one may boast before him. 30It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. 31Therefore, as it is written: “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.”

Again, it is clear from me in these passages that the wisdom of humanity is not what brings us to God, but rather, it is God Himself who demonstrates His reality to us. It is not reason or rationalism that wins the day, but revelation, and that is something that only God can do.

Finally, as I said, God wants unity, but not uniformity. Genesis 11 demonstrates that God is the creator of diverse human cultures. Culture is not a dirty word to God. God is not against diversity, He is all for it, and He is the initiator of it. But at the same time, God’s ultimate plan is for all these human cultures to eventually form into another God-ordained culture that we see in Revelations 7, a vast human throng made up of peple of every ethnicity, hue and tongue, praising God in a new song with a new rhythm, in a new style, that is shaped by all the different songs and cultures and personalities that are standing before God’s throne.

This is the point of Pentecost in Acts 2. The diverse languages that were created the day the tower of Babel was tossed down by God, has now turned into a new language that all can understand. God has created unity out of diversity, and through it all, a new humanity.





Contra Benedict: Taking Issue With the Pope on Postmodernity

20 09 2006

I am not a scholar, merely a campus minister with a modicum of gumption. So I take on the Pope with some trepidation, who no doubt is no mean scholar and only the leader of the largest Christian denomination in the world. He knows several languages, I know only one. He can read the Bible in its original languages, well, at least I know the Greek and Hebrew alphabets. That said, with regard to his recent talk that has created such a flap, I boldy and baldly say that he is flat out wrong.

Contrary to what many people think, the Pope was really not trying to take on Islam (though I think he meant what he said about Islam, even if he was quoting Byzantine emperor from the latter part of the 14th century). No, what he was really taking on was postmodernity. The Pope essentially believes that Christian theology needs to be made on an equal footing with empirical sciences. Along with this, he is arguing that Greek thought needs to be exalted too, because he believes that it was no accident that the New Testament was written in Greek, and that the first non-Jewish believers were Greek. So he does not see a disjuncture between the rationalism of the Greek mind and Christian faith. He of course is against the gnosticism that comes from Greek thought, but nonetheless, he sees the rationalism and reason arising out of the Greek philosophy as being necessary for faith that is based on reason.

On its face, this sounds good, but the problem with this thinking is that it is necessarilly chauvinistic, narrow and downright untrue in my humblest opion. It is chauvinistic in the sense that he does not recognize God’s ability to speak to all cultures everywhere. He unwittingly exalts the Greeks, but what about the Jews who actually were the carriers of Holy Writ for centuries? He says nothing about Jewish thought and philosophy, but exalts Greek thought. And what about Native American culture, where many tribes believed in the Great Creator, respected the land, and lived without avarice and an overweening selfish ambition.

But no, the Pope wants us to exalt not only Platonic philosophy, but also Cartesian thought, that quite frankly is too self-focused, and even helps to undergird the worst of Greek docetism. In this sense, is not Christ not more clearly seen amongst the Cherokee than the European? This view would suggest that the European was not only the possessor of the Gospel, but the possessor of a superior civilization. Now I do not believe that all cultures are equal. There are some cultures that are truly brutal and dehumanizing. However, I would assert that European culture in the time of slavery and colonization was the most brutal, dehumanizing, barbaric, and uncivilized culture of the day. The Native Americans tribes were by no means perfect (hey, everybody needs Jesus), but they were not subjugating and destroying whole groups of people like the English, the Spanish, the French, et al.

So my main beef with Pope Benedict XVI is with is lack of historical context when he made his remarks. Surely he understands that Catholicism has just as much blood on its hands historically as the Muslims do? What, does he forget the Spanish Inquisition and the Counter Reformation? We do not even have to go that far back, how about the Clergy abuse scandal of the 1990s that is still rocking the Church? In light of all of this, I just think that his comments are off base.

Tomorrow, I will show how the Bible refutes his claims.