Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Changing beliefs is not costless

Changing beliefs is not costless…..Eric Raymond

This quote reminds me of something I stumbled across not long ago. In the comment section of an article about what God expects from us when our spouse is wounding our marriage, a woman posted the following:

My husband of almost 20 yrs. decided this past year that he no longer believes in an eternal hell and has left our church.

She goes on to say that he was an elder in their church for 18 years and that that prior to him straying into new age beliefs,they agreed on spiritual things.

He is still committed to me and our 4 kids, but has wandered in new age thinking etc.

Apparently, “godly men from the church tried to reason with him to no avail.” She is depressed, anxious and tired of going to two different churches on Sunday mornings.

This change of heart has not been without cost for husband or wife.

Really? How sad that not believing in an eternal hell is such a game changer in a marriage. Where exactly is that verse in the Bible that declares we have to believe in eternal conscious torment forEVER to fit in at a church? Is that really such a deciding factor in our relationships with other Christians?

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Equal and Opposite Reactions....

From my last post:

……..because of the enlightenment and several subsequent movements that have “dissed” scripture, fundamentalists pushed back in a Newtons Law kind of way…...for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

Now that is a really interesting thought….this push back thing. When I first heard it (in the sermon by Adam Hamilton) the light bulb lit up. Isn’t that the truth! Yes, indeed, I have witnessed this, both at large in the whole wide world and specifically, in my own little corner.

At large, I have seen people take on a do or die attitude when an idea questions, threatens, or discredits one of their sacred cow beliefs. Ideas and beliefs that might not have seemed all that important become hills to die on or at least issues that merit taking a firm stand on. And of course, I have seen this same law at work up close and personal in my relationships, my job and within myself....

The birth of the Five Points of Calvinism, TULIP, comes to mind. What a great example of this push back.

The controversy between Arminianism and Calvinism arose in Holland in the early 1600’s. The founder of the Arminian party was Jacob Arminius (1560–1609). He studied under the strict Calvinist Theodore Beza at Geneva and became a professor of theology at the University of Leyden in 1603.  Gradually Arminius came to reject certain Calvinist teachings. The controversy spread all over Holland, where the Reformed Church was the overwhelming majority. The Arminians drew up their creed in Five Articles (written by Uytenbogaert), and laid them before the state authorities of Holland in 1610 under the name Remonstrance, signed by forty-six ministers.
The Calvinists responded with a Counter-Remonstrance. But the official Calvinistic response came from the Synod of Dort which was held to consider the Five Articles from November 13, 1618 to May 9, 1619. There were eighty-four members and eighteen secular commissioners. The Synod wrote what has come to be known as the Canons of Dort. These are still part of the church confession of the Reformed Church in America and the Christian Reformed Church. They state the Five Points of Calvinism in response to the Five Articles of the Arminian Remonstrants. (See Schaff, vol. 3, pp. 581–596).  

That rather longish quote above is from John Piper’s website, Desiring God….and hey, if anyone knows Calvinist doctrine and history, it is John Piper!!

The so-called Five Points were not coined by the Calvinists to clarify their beliefs for their own benefit and edification. They emerged as a response to the Arminians who chose five points of reformed doctrine to oppose.

Isn’t that interesting? The beliefs of Arminius were birthed, very likely, as a response to his ultra-calvinistic education. That led to the 5 point Remonstrance…..that initiated a response, the Counter-Remonstrance.

I’ve seen this “law” of Newton’s played out in real life….my own life and the lives of those around me. There are many things that affect and form our beliefs and behaviors. This is just one of many subtle, often unconscious, factors. Nature/nurture, cognitive biases, prejudice, cultural influences, maternal instinct, mimesis…..and so on and so forth....

Obviously, the formation of our opinions and beliefs cannot be oversimplified or “boiled down” to a theory of physics or to any ONE theory, bias or influencing factor. However, thinking outside our own personal box of beliefs can lead to introspection that can lead to a startling clarity also known as a wtf moment. Sometimes it can even lead to a change of mind/heart. But not necessarily because we tend to be very comfortable in our own state of "belief inertia."

I came upon that term while looking for interesting quotes from people wiser than me to beef up this blog post. I found two new to me blogs that struck my fancy.

Eric Raymond’s blog Armed and Dangerous and Less Wrong, a Community Blog devoted to refining the art of human rationality.

The temptation is always to claim the most points with the least effort. The temptation is to carefully integrate all incoming news in a way that lets us change our beliefs, and above all our actions, as little as possible. John Kenneth Galbraith said: "Faced with the choice of changing one's mind and proving that there is no need to do so, almost everyone gets busy on the proof." And the greater the inconvenience of changing one's mind, the more effort people will expend on the proof.

The effort people expend on the proof is the "equal and opposite reaction" part of Newton's Law.

In response, Eric Raymond opined that belief inertia (which happens to relate to another one of Newton’s Laws, the law of inertia) is also due to the fact that:

Changing beliefs is not costless, and may commit you to a decision procedure that is too heavyweight to be worth some very marginal gain in utility.
This post is getting long so I am going to end with another quote I found and continue with this same topic in my next post.
 If we watch ourselves honestly we shall often find that we have begun to argue against a new idea even before it has been completely stated. Wilfred Trotter

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Picking and Choosing Scripture - Err on the Side of Love.....

At the beginning of the year, in an effort to get my web meanderings in some kind of order, I decided (among other things) to focus on several “preacher-teachers” whose sermons resonate with where I am on my spiritual/human journey. Adam Hamilton was one of them. (also Nadia Bolz-Weber)  I know I’ve mentioned Adam Hamilton numerous times here on this blog.

At the Church of the Resurrection website, there are archives of all his sermons from the present to yesteryear, along with sermon resources etc. At the gym yesterday, I used a version of the “eenie, meenie, miney, moe” method to choose which sermon to listen to. It was entitled “Making Sense of the Bible.” That is also the title of his newest book. He has gotten some slack about it because it takes a good hard “look-see” at what evangelicals hold near and dear; perhaps nearest and dearest….the inerrancy and infallibility of Scripture.

In his opinion, because of the enlightenment and several subsequent movements that have “dissed” scripture, fundamentalists pushed back in a Newtons Law kind of way…...for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. As a result, many evangelical denominations have moved scripture up to the top slot on their faith statements. I googled some well known evangelical churches and found that the Church of God, the Free Methodists and the Baptists all mention scripture FIRST in their faith statements. They mention it before they mention God. They mention it before they mention Jesus. They mention it before they mention the Holy Spirit. I’m sure there are other churches who stick to this hierarchy.

The Bible is not the word of God. Jesus is the Word of God. (In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. John 1:1) The Bible CONTAINS the word of God and when we read it, listen to it, pray it and sing it, God speaks to us through it. When we pay attention, God uses the Bible as an instrument of his speaking.

Hamilton suggested using three “buckets”or categories to sort scripture.

The first, and by far the largest, bucket holds the sections of the Bible we read and know beyond a doubt “fit God.” They fit the image of God revealed to us in Jesus. There is no clearer image...no closer representation, no truer benchmark than Jesus. This bucket is easy to fill and the verses contained within console, convict, comfort, caution and clarify. They edify, enlighten and educate. These verses, stories and instructions are timeless. They reveal the heart of the Father that is exactly the same heart Jesus showed us.

The second bucket holds the scriptures that are clearly for another time, culture or situation. Keith had shrimp last night at Red Lobster. Uh-oh….abomination. My blouse was a polyester cotton blend. Uh-oh...abomination. He was sporting a haircut (He does have a beard but he often trims it) A lot of the abominations had to do with cleanliness. There was no Purell water-less hand sanitizer. No antibiotics. No thermometers to make sure food reached a safe temperature to kill bacteria and other nasties. Some of the abominations were to set Israel apart from other nations. Some abominations and OT directives have spiritual implications.

The third bucket is the sticking point for many “God said it, I believe it, That settles it” Christians. It is for scriptures you just don’t know what to do with. Oh, some folks try to explain them away, spiritualize them, justify them. Others ignore them. They are verses that don’t match the character and nature of God revealed in Jesus. They do not match up to any of the Gospel stories….nor to the “summation of the law” that Jesus gave us about loving our God and loving our neighbor. The passages that no how, no way fit the “golden rule” verse in the Bible….

“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets. Matthew 7:12.

Genocide, war, violence, stonings, beheadings, trickery. Everyone is familiar with those verses that just don’t make sense.  

Aaaaaaaah….but that is picking and choosing scripture, no? But we all pick and choose. Even those who deny picking and choosing do, in fact, pick and choose. We don’t stone our rebellious teenagers. We don’t stone the folks who commit adultery.  We allow remarried people to worship in our churches. We RE-marry couples in our churches that clearly do not fit the “biblical criteria” for divorce and remarriage. We cut our hair. We don’t cover our heads. Some of us get tattoos. We allow women to speak in church….some churches allow women to preach in church. We eat pork. We don’t banish menstruating women to the shed in the back yard. We all pick and choose.

I like this quote from Carl Gregg's blog

Second, we should not be surprised that everyone engages in “picking and choosing” because if you survey what the Bible has to say about, for example, anger, wealth, adultery, disobedient wives and children, marriage, and divorce it becomes clear that the Bible is simultaneously both contradictory and enormously demanding. In other words, it is essentially impossible to obey all that the Bible literally says because some parts of the Bible are mutually exclusive of other parts. Does this mean that we are free to choose willy-nilly which parts of the Bible to follow? To quote the apostle Paul’s repeated refrain from the epistle to the Romans, “By no means!” However, from the perspective of progressive Christianity, Jack Black as Jesus is right when he says, “If you pick and choose, why not choose love?”

Indeed….why not err on the side of love?

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Photo-Shopping Jesus....

I read an article this morning on the Relevant website about how many of us try to make Jesus into a more appropriate, acceptable....palatable Jesus....closer to our own tastes. Sometimes, even made in our own image. We do this by ignoring or adding to what we read in the gospels. The article compared it to airbrushing Jesus.

The Bible is not an easy read. There are many factors that make it difficult to understand. Contradictions, historical and cultural differences, translation bias, translation errors, denomination bias; especially the Old Testament. But there are four gospels that basically tell the same story. They are written from slightly different perspectives and to different "audiences" but all four agree on the big stuff, especially the synoptic gospels. The character of Jesus is consistent in all four of them. There are no schizophrenic exceptions, mood swings or inconsistent behavior. Anything that seems inconsistent just needs a closer look. And throughout the Gospels, Jesus bids us, "Follow me." How then do some of us get him so wrong?

There are some things he says that I really don't like much...like what he says about enemy love. I would rather he hadn't said that. I don't want to love my enemies or bless those who curse me. Not only did he tell us about enemy love, he showed us when he went to the cross praying for the forgiveness of those crucifying him. I am so totally not there yet, however, I KNOW he said it. I can't deny he said it and what he meant. He didn't really list any exceptions.  

How can anyone can read the Gospels and come away with the idea that Jesus taught anything but active nonviolent, sacrificial love? Not doormat love. Not pacifism. Nonviolence and pacifism are not the same thing. When I hear folks trying to present him as some kind of a "God Bless America Warrior" Jesus, I think they are totally missing the mark.

There has been a lot of controversy about the current American Sniper movie. Some say he was a hero...some say he was a glorified serial killer. I'm not weighing in on that discussion in this post but I did read a comment from a Fox movie critic, Todd Starnes, that I think is a great example of photoshopping Jesus.

In response to a comment by Michael Moore, Starnes said,

“Well, I’m no theologian, but I suspect Jesus would tell that God-fearing, red-blooded American sniper, ‘Well done, thou good and faithful servant for dispatching another Godless jihadist to the lake of fire,’ but then again I'm no theologian.”

Definitely NOT a theologian...and definitely not the Jesus presented in the four Gospels. But the Jesus that appeals to Starnes.

If we are too busy making Jesus look and act like us, doesn’t that it impede the process of theosis.

Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Word of God, of his boundless love, became what we are that he might make us what he himself is. (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, V.)   
“God rewards those who seek Him. Not those who seek doctrine of religion or systems or creeds. Many settle for these lesser passions, but the reward goes to those who settle for nothing less than Jesus himself. And what is the reward? What awaits those who seek Jesus? Nothing short of the heart of Jesus.”   ― Max Lucado, Just Like Jesus  

“Christ entered our world. As a result, we can enter His.” ― Max Lucado, God Came Near   

“What you think of Jesus Christ Will thoroughly color how you think about everything else.” ― Max Lucado

……………….but we know that when He is revealed, (to become known, to be plainly recognized, thoroughly understood--who and what one is) we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.


Sunday, March 1, 2015

Jimmy Kimmel on Vaccinating Your Children....

I came across an hilarious but enlightening segment from the Jimmy Kimmel show about vaccinations. His witty barbs were directed at the folks who are “more afraid of gluten than they are of smallpox.”

“If you are one of those anti vaccine people you probably aren’t going to take medical advice from a talk show host and I wouldn’t expect you to. I wouldn’t either. But I would expect you to take medical advice from….almost every doctor in the world.”

I did some online research for this blog post and I came across an article at the Atlantic website commemorating the 100th birthday of Jonas Salk, the inventor of the inactivated polio vaccine, The article is entitled, The Anti-Vaccine Movement Is Forgetting the Polio Epidemic.

The article begins:

It started out as a head cold. Then, the day before Halloween, 6-year-old Frankie Flood began gasping for breath. His parents rushed him to City Hospital in Syracuse, New York, where a spinal tap confirmed the diagnosis every parent feared most in 1953: poliomyelitis. He died on his way to the operating room. “Frankie could not swallow—he was literally drowning in his own secretions,” wrote his twin sister, Janice, decades later. “Dad cradled his only son as best he could while hampered by the fact that the only part of Frankie’s body that remained outside the iron lung was his head and neck.”

What a horrible scenario.

In the peak year of 1952, there were nearly 60,000 cases throughout America; 3,000 were fatal, and 21,000 left their victims paralyzed. In Frankie Flood’s first-grade classroom in Syracuse, New York, eight children out of 24 were hospitalized for polio over the course of a few days. Three of them died, and others, including Janice, spent years learning to walk again.

Then, in 1955, American children began lining up for Jonas Salk's new polio vaccine. By the early 1960s, the recurring epidemics were 97 percent gone.

I was born in 1956 at the tail end of the polio epidemic; a year after Dr. Salk’s vaccine was introduced and the number of polio cases dramatically declined. I don’t remember the polio epidemic firsthand because I was just a baby. Many (most?) of those opposed to vaccinations were born years, even decades, after the polio epidemic.  

And they….we... live in a country where many terrible, deadly diseases have been eradicated. We just don’t know or we forget what it was like to live with the fear of polio killing and maiming our children. Or how in desperate attempts to stop the spread of the disease, movie theaters closed, churches cancelled services and almost everyone avoided crowds. We are spoiled, privileged and complacent, even sneeringly ungrateful for the amazing progress medical science has made to improve our lives and to increase the average life span.

Having recently witnessed the complete freak out because of several cases of Ebola in the United States, I can imagine the reaction if eight children in a class of twenty four  were infected by the Ebola virus. And if a vaccine was available, parents would be lining up with their children just like parents did in 1955….thankful for a way to protect them.

But we just don’t know or we forget what it was like during the polio epidemic.

The Atlantic article also featured an interview by Peter Salk, the son of Jonas Salk. He had this to say about vaccinating his own son against pertussis:

When my own son Michael was born 31 years ago, the whole-cell vaccine was still in use. Whooping cough was essentially gone in this country by that time, so from one perspective, why should we take the risk of causing a high fever or other side effects in our own child? I know I certainly thought about this a lot. But I just couldn’t bring myself to take advantage of the good that other people had done by immunizing their kids—to take a free ride, so to speak. Michael did end up developing a fever. But I couldn’t have lived with my decision if we hadn’t given him the vaccine.

I thought long and hard about whether I should vaccinate Matthew. I lived in Iowa, then. It was all very holistic. My pregnancy had very few medical interventions (not even an ultrasound) The delivery was long and very close to a natural delivery.  I read Mothering magazine. I read Dr. Sears. I watched Penelope Leach. I was VERY reluctant to vaccinate him. But I researched (via the library) and thought and discussed and came to the conclusion that it was the right thing to do and the best decision for him and for society.

And I agree with Peter Salks. Anti-vaxers are taking a free ride on the risk that he took vaccinating his son and they are taking a free ride on the risk that I took vaccinating Matthew....and then Beth....and then Emily. Yes, it was to protect them but it was also to protect other children who cannot be vaccinated because of medical conditions or age. The herd immunity thing which is another way of demonstrating that I am my “brother’s keeper”

Now many states (20) allow an exemption not only for medical and religious reasons but also for reasons of conscience. My conscience dictates that I not only protect my own children from serious, potentially deadly diseases but that I protect other vulnerable children. And yes….that even includes those children whose parents opt out of overwhelmingly safe and effective vaccines because of misinformation and selfishness.