Friday, December 19, 2008

Divine Wrestling Match

This past week has had amazing ups and downs for me. Partly because I've been under the fog of a nasty cold, and my head is only finally clearing up today, and life always feels more dangerous when your head aches and your body isn't fully functional. But in the past week we celebrated our one year anniversary of having Glen as a foster son by taking him out to a fancy restaurant, which he loved! We have entered a new phase in our relationship in which the teenage rebellion of months 7 through 11 of our relationship petered out and has resolved itself into steady growth. I think Glen finally believes that we are there for him, come hell or high water. The social worker who placed Glen with us has resigned her position so she could move to Utah to be closer to her grandkids, which entailed great sadness for all of us (we will very much miss having her steady and supportive presence!), but also a sense of transition and the healthy passage of time, and an opportunity to be grateful for what she brought into our lives (a kid!) and reflect on how our sense of family has evolved in the past year as a result of becoming foster parents.

But through this all, as my head cleared itself of my cold, and as I shook off residual resentments from the whole Prop 8 nastiness, some renewed understandings crystallized for me.

1) I am and always will be a Latter-day Saint. My faith commitment is grounded in a living relationship with God, and the on-going gift of revelation. In my daily prayer life it is evident to me that the place where I belong is my local ward, the Lake Nokomis Ward. When I attend there, I am blessed with outpourings of the Spirit that give me strength and clarity for everything I need to accomplish in my life as a father, as a husband, and as a teacher. The fact of my excommunication (and my inability to be reinstated so long as I remain committed to and care for my family); the lack of understanding many Saints have about homosexuality; the Church's destructive and demoralizing political engagements on this front; all of these are mere mortal contingencies that will eventually be worked out to the eternal joy and satisfaction of me, my family, and all who turn in faith to God, our father and the author of creation and of our eternal destinies. This is a time of probation, so mistakes will be made. I am a sinner, and am too much in need of forgiveness to cling to judgment or resentment. I am loved, and my sole obligation in life is to offer that same love to all I encounter.

2) My family is eternal. I am a child born to Heavenly Parents whose love for me is eternal. I am sealed to earthly parents in the eternal pattern of Heaven. I love and cling with my whole heart to an earthly husband, who reciprocally loves and clings to me, and in this relationship I have listened to and obeyed the promptings of the Holy Spirit, and so live in hope of greater things than have been presently revealed. I have, at the prompting of the Spirit, accepted the task of parenting and have put my whole heart into that task, parenting our son with all the love and passion I would parent with if he had been born to our flesh and sealed to us in the temple. Any child of God deserves no less. I'm proceeding under the assumption that, if you want something eternal, you have to believe it and live it and abide by eternal principles. And we have been blessed, beyond my words to describe. I have no earthly promises: no church approbation, no temple sealings, our names not written in any earthly ecclesiastical books; not even sure if the marriage certificate hanging framed on our bedroom wall is legally valid in the wake of events in California. All I have is a voice in the dark, whispering in the quiet of my heart from beyond the veil, encouraging me to keep going, and promising me good if I do.

Strangely, that is enough.

3) One of the basic, fundamental, unalterable conditions of our existence within this mortal coil is that if we want a blessing, we must wrestle God for it. It's why we are here. It's the only way we will advance. If we think that blessings will come to us just because somebody -- a parent, a prophet, an institution -- hands it to us on a silver platter, we are in for a painful education. This is why God is masked to us in this life; this is why the unclear, mixed messages; the confusing contradictory commandments, commandments impossible to obey: Adam being forced to decide whether to obey the commandment to be fruitful and multiply or whether to obey the commandment to abstain from the fruit of the tree, Abraham being asked to sacrifice the child of the promise on an altar of cruelty; this is why, in the deepest, darkest most painful dilemmas we face in life, none of the advice offered ultimately helps; because God put us here to let us see what we are made of; to let us decide what we really want, and then fight him for it. He knows this is the only way we can grow, the only we have have any hope of becoming the kind of being he is, the kind of being he hopes each and every one of us will become.

We can get pissed off and throw a tantrum and turn away from God, pretend he doesn't exist for us. That won't ultimately help us. It will leave us disconnected and lost, trying to make do without hope, not really knowing who we are. OR, we can surrender, "stifle" our "self," mortify the flesh, acknowledge God's unalterable decree, and then spend the rest of our lives in warfare against ourselves. But that's merely a different kind of abandonment, a different kind of faithlessness. That is mistaking the mask of God for God himself. That's burying the one talent in the ground out of fear, instead of investing it in something having worth. God gave us the gift of a living soul so that it could grow, become something amazing and eternal, become like him!

The only way we can help ourselves is to turn back, face the darkness, face the unknown, take the leap of faith, and then live, love, engage! Get our hands dirty. Get our face bloody. Live! And find God! Take no one's word. Be satisfied with no one's doctrine. Tear away every mask, denounce every idolatry, not be satisfied until we have found him, true and living and real, more real by far than the flesh and matter we think we can take for granted because we see and feel and taste it. When you are in the presence of God, you will know how far more, surpassingly real the world of spirit we come from is than all of this.

4) Truth is in the testing of it. Alma was right: we only know if the seed is good by planting it in our heart. And then we don't even see it grow. We feel it. We feel the sprouts pushing up, the roots deepening. Eventually it bears fruit. This much is true: from the planting of the seed on, no matter what the pain of the cultivation, things only get better and better. Life only tastes sweeter and sweeter. We just need patience!

Patience and infinite quantities of love, quantities only possible if we go to the eternal Source of Love!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Gathered around the Great Unknowable

I like The Religious Case against Belief by James P. Carse (The Penguin Press, 2008). In my last post, I explored one of his key arguments about the nature of argument, and what happens when the advocates of different belief systems clash. Here I will explore the central theme of the book, namely that there is a difference between "belief" and "religion" and that there is a "religious case against belief."

I first learned of Carse's religious case against belief by reading an interview between Steve Paulson and James Carse about his book on I was, of course, already familiar with a religious case against belief that comes from within my own faith, and from within the Bible. That religious case was made most succinctly by a different James, and goes something like this:
What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him? If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, and one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works. Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble. (James 2:14-18)

The term that I prefer to describe what Carse calls "religion" is "faith."1 As a young, naive child, I easily confused "belief" and "faith." This is natural, since when people discuss religion they almost always focus first on the distinctive belief systems of people who adhere to those religions. Thus, what people "believe" becomes synonymous with their "faith." This is also natural, because in general parlance, many people use the terms "belief" and "faith" interchangeably (e.g., "I believe in Christ" and "I have faith in Christ."). But the terms are actually quite different in meaning. Understanding the difference is crucial, because, I have learned from hard experience, confusing "belief" and "faith" leads to severe distortions, misunderstandings and, more significantly, bad behavior.

As I have come to understand these terms as a mature adult, I understand "belief" to consist of intellectual assent to some proposition. "I believe that the earth is in orbit around the sun." Or, "I believe that Jesus Christ was an actual historical personage." Or, "I believe that Jesus Christ is the son of God." All three of these statements are statements of something that I accept as true in some objective sense, but that I cannot personally attest to based on direct observation. I do not, in practice, differentiate much between knowledge that comes through personal observation as opposed to many things I know by some other way. Most things that form my reservoir of beliefs about the world are things I have not directly observed myself.2

In the LDS community, we frequently also use the term "know" interchangeably with the term "believe," depending upon the source of our "knowledge" or "belief" and the relative strength with which we hold it. Since Mormons hold direct revelation of spiritual truth through visionary experience or through the testimony of the Holy Spirit as the most reliable source of knowledge, when we assent to some proposition as the result of that kind of testimony or witness, we almost always say, "I know." But as I will emphasize later, in terms of the function played by belief in our lives, there is no significant difference between "belief" and this kind of "knowledge." From the viewpoint of those who have difficulty experiencing the kinds of spiritual gifts that permit "knowledge" of this sort, this is good news because what it says is you are not seriously disadvantaged in relation to those who have such gifts. From the viewpoint of those who claim such "higher," "more spiritual" knowledge, it suggests the need for humility.

If belief is intellectual assent, faith on the other hand, is the ability to apply what we "believe" or "know" in the real world. Faith is where the rubber of belief hits the road of the world. This is more than to say simply "faith is belief in action." That truism is applicable if we also accept that faith is where the validity of belief is put to the test. Faith is where we learn that certain beliefs don't hold up. Belief is the road map. Faith is the journey itself. As I learned getting lost in Iowa last summer, road maps don't always give us the whole picture, even fancy, high tech, GPS-based road maps! Belief tells me who Jesus Christ is. But it is only through faith that I come to know Jesus Christ. Again, the support from within my faith tradition and from within scripture for this understanding of faith is ample, but one of the most commonly cited formulations comes from the book of Hebrews: "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen" (11:1, emphasis is mine).

Faith, it should be clear by these working definitions, is far superior to belief or "knowledge." But now here's the rub: is it possible to have faith without belief? Faith without knowledge? Can I profess that I do not "know" if Jesus Christ is the son of God and still walk faithfully in his footsteps? And the answer of course is yes. We always walk by faith. Belief is nothing in comparison to faith. Belief is sitting around and jabber-jawing. Faith is getting up off your ass (pardon my French) and going somewhere. The only value of belief/knowledge is if it somehow sparks in us the desire to get up and "practice" what we know. And we always engage in that "walk" more or less in the dark, more or less having to feel our way along and learn by experience what is right and what is wrong. We're always putting belief to the test through faith.

OK, so back to Carse. Now Carse is concerned about the more destructive manifestations of "belief." Carse points out that not only are "belief" and what he calls "religion" not the same thing, but belief can actually be corrosive of religion. Belief can undermine and destroy religion. Carse makes no attempt anywhere to distinguish between "true belief" and "false belief" or "true religion" and "false religion." That is because whether the proposition being believed in is in some sense objectively true or false bears no relation to its destructive force. What matters is the extent to which the upholding of a proposition requires us to suppress doubt in ourselves, and to project that suppression of doubt on the world around us. In other words, belief becomes destructive when we refuse to approach it in the open-ended fashion that is enjoined by the walk of faith. It is when we treat belief as a closed system which must be defended at all costs, when we treat it as a given that cannot be questioned or explored or subject to the on-going verification of the walk of faith, that belief becomes a bane and a curse, the source of all the most bloody and destructive conflicts in the world, both past and present.

Carse's approach to religion is interesting, and potentially off putting if you focus on the surface definitions he puts forward. But I find his approach fundamentally sound. Carse posits that it is actually impossible to truly "define" religion, because religion is always built up around some great mystery, some "unknowable." Because religion is defined by this relation to the "unknowable," it is itself in some significant sense undefinable. Knowing that his readers will get impatient with a refusal to define religion in a book that has as its core concept the differentiation between "belief" and "religion," he takes a stab at it by suggesting that, like great art, we might not be able to "define" religion but we will know it when we see it. He offers some clues as to when what we're looking at is religion.

He suggests, for instance, unlike "belief systems" which come and go in relatively short time frames, a religion will be very old, its age measured in millennia rather than years or decades. That is because only a truly powerful and engaging mystery can hold the attention of believers long enough for their interest to last thousands of years. A religion will never be defined by the boundaries of a single community, because even when believers divide into rival sects or excommunicate one another, the larger mystery always draws them back into a common path. Interest groups and communities of scholars not sponsored by the official hierarchies of religious communities or institutions will form on the margins of every great religion. A religion spawns numerous educational institutions and communities, as people of faith and intellect seek to explore the great mystery to which that religion points. Religion attracts great poets and artists, who find it grounding them in a source of untiring fascination and inspiration. In fact, religion itself is, Carse suggests, a kind of poetry. Like great art, religion defies singular definitions.

Mormons might be annoyed to learn that James Carse is not sure whether Mormonism is actually a religion. That despite the fact that it seems to display all of the classic "signs" of a true religion (by his definition) except great antiquity. It is not that he does not think Mormonism is a religion, but simply that he does not know if Mormonism is a religion yet, since as an organized community it has only existed for slightly less than two centuries. But that should not be off-putting to those of us Mormons who, in relation to "the Restored Gospel," confess with Peter, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life..." (John 6:68). For myself, despite the fact that I am gay and excommunicated, and stand little chance of full acceptance in the LDS Church for as long as I live, I cannot turn away or deny my testimony. So let that stand for what it may.

I love Carse's book because, in a time when there is so much violence, conflict and confusion between believers, Carse encourages us to dig deeply within the riches of faith in order to respond. The solution to the problem of religious violence is not the denial of religion, but the right application of religion. Denial only digs us more deeply into the conflict we're trying to avoid. In other words, we can't get out of this mess going backward, only by moving forward. But even more, I love this little book for what it reminds us of the nature of our life journeys, pointing out that we are never truly lost until we refuse to take in and enjoy and be grateful for life's inexhaustible wonders.

1. Carse prefers the term "religion" because it is more applicable to systems like Buddhism or Hinduism in which the term "faith" is rarely used, or seems inapplicable. I use it because I am speaking from within my own tradition, where it makes eminent sense to use the term "faith" as a synonym for "religion."

2. Even knowledge acquired through direct observation, as the philosophers warn, can be suspect. How do we know what our observation is actually telling us? What if we're only seeing part of the picture? Furthermore, what we observe is always interpreted by us. So it may not relate to the "truth" that we think it relates to. Knowledge based on observation always depends on what kinds of observation we consider to be authoritative and convincing. We usually bring to our observations a set of rules that tell us how to differentiate between an authoritative observation and one that is not authoritative, so, it could be argued, it is our epistemological rules that tell us what we "know" as much as what we observe.

Science provides us with a set of epistemological rules that has proven very powerful. Those rules include experiment (ability to verify a proposition through tests), objectivity (verifiability from more than one point of view), and reproducibility (the same circumstances will produce the same observations every time). But even these epistemological rules run up against limits in situations, for instance, where we have learned that observation itself has an impact on what is being observed, and that observation may have an effect on an experiment's objectivity. Also, as Thomas Kuhn has argued, scientists operate with a set of assumptions (or "paradigms") that govern what they count as valid observations, and what they consider to be "anomalies." Scientific paradigms typically change, he points out, when what was once assumed to be an "anomaly" is considered as data requiring explanation.

Nevertheless, this is not to undermine the validity of science as a source of knowledge vis-a-vis religion. All of the difficulties that apply to the acquisition of knowledge within a scientific paradigm apply with equal force to knowledge aquired within a spiritual or religious paradigm. Rather, such an awareness of the problems inherent in "observation" should caution us to be humble in relation to all knowledge, no matter what the source.

As a Latter-day Saint, I trust that eventually all sources of truth will converge into an appreciation of the truth as one great whole, in which there will be no meaningful distinction between scientific and religious truth.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Holy Argument

I've been reading a remarkable little book lately, by James P. Carse, entitled The Religious Case Against Belief (The Penguin Press, 2008). I may eventually publish a fuller review. But I wanted to comment on a key insight in the book, especially given its relevance to those of us who have been caught, in one way or another, in the debate over Proposition 8. The relevant insight has to do with his examination of the nature of belief, and the impact of conflict or opposition on belief.

Carse convincingly demonstrates how belief is not only immune to debate, but how it literally thrives on it. Anyone who has engaged in a passionate argument with somebody else knows from experience how this works. Each combatant has their own strong beliefs about a subject -- no matter what the topic -- and enters the debate firmly convinced that their opponent is wrong and that, by the light of reason, they will be convinced of their error. The debate is thorough-going. Each side rehearses all the multitude of reasons why their position is right and their opponent is wrong. Any one of these reasons, they think, should convince a rational person. How much more will they be convinced by this veritable arsenal of reasons?

But is anyone convinced? Of course not! At a certain point in the debate, the combatants begin to repeat what they feel are their most convincing arguments again and again and again. Neither side is really talking to the other any more, just re-stating their arguments with ever-increasing loudness and passion. Finally the debate not so much ends as it is cut off, with each side furious that the other side won't see the light of reason, each side more convinced than ever that their side is right and the other side is wrong.

Within the LDS tradition, there is a strong ethic against debate. The scriptural basis, cited frequently by Latter-day Saints, are the words of Jesus Christ himself as recorded in 3 Nephi: "For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another" (11:29). But apart from this scriptural admonition against contention, a central spiritual practice of Mormonism is conducive to the reduction of debate, namely the practice of encouraging the believer to seek wisdom from God on his or her own.

Mormons believe that God is the ultimate source of all wisdom and authority. In a significant sense, the founding text of Mormonism is James 1:5: "If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him." This is of course the admonition that led Joseph Smith to ask God himself which of all the "contending" religious parties of his day was right. And God's answer to Joseph: None of them. All the combatants were wrong.

Joseph himself attracted followers not by browbeating them or seeking to prove the wrongness of their ways, but by encouraging them to do the same thing he did: Go ask God yourself! Don't listen to me. Study it, think about it, and then ask God and listen to what the Holy Spirit tells you, if anything. The Book of Mormon is remarkable among the world's religious texts for doing the same thing in writing that Joseph did in person: literally inviting its readers not just to believe the book on its own authority, but to ask God if it is true: "And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost" (Moroni 10:4). For many, many Latter-day Saints (including me), the acceptance of that challenge was one of the most significant events in our spiritual biographies.

Because Mormons are wary of contention, which they see as emanating from the Evil One, and because of their bedrock foundation that every human being has direct access to the One Source of All Truth, which will ultimately be the only way anybody can or should be convinced of religious truth, they are rarely willing to enter into vigorous debate over spiritual matters. Thus the notoriously dull and boring Mormon Sunday School lessons and Priesthood and Relief Society meetings, where nobody dares offer a peep of disagreement with whatever is being presented. But, when we read James Carse's account of all the evils that have flowed from religious contention and war, we might find in that at least some validation of the Mormon ethic of avoiding all contention as the product of the Devil.

Yet, one of the things that has always fascinated me about the Jewish tradition is the commitment of Jews to the opposite. Jews love lively debate! When I taught my religious history class last spring and encouraged my students to attend worship in a religious community they were unfamiliar with, a few of my students attended meetings at a Jewish synagogue, where they reported the presence of a spirit of very wide-ranging, open dialogue in which members of the community were encouraged to disagree not only with each other but with their own rabbi! The rabbi wanted her congregants to argue with her! Remarkable! For it seems that within the Jewish tradition, unlike the Mormon tradition, it is believed that the best way to weed truth out from falsehood is to put it to the test of argument. Is this, from the Mormon point of view, somehow evil? Or is it possible for there to exist a kind of holy argument, a sacred debate through which God can reveal truth to us?

Everything, I think, hinges on the way in which argument is conducted. A careful reading of 3 Nephi 11:29 shows that it is not argument itself which is evil, but "the spirit of contention." In other words, contention for contention's sake. Or, applying the insights of James Carse, contention in which the contenders have no interest in or willingness to listen to those arguing with them and are unwilling to reconsider their own opinions. A debate will proceed very differently if the debaters enter it thinking, "Well, I think I'm right, and I have some good reasons for feeling right, but I might be wrong and, well, it will be interesting to see what the other guy has to say. Maybe I'll learn something new!" In such a debate, each side actively listens by trying to put themselves in their opponent's shoes. A good exercise in such a debate would be for each contender to state, in his own words, what he believes his opponent is arguing, and then asking for confirmation from their opponent. Ultimately, in such "sacred argument," it is necessary for each debater to be fully committed to the humanity, rationality, and decency of their opponents. The moment we begin to suspect (much less say!) that disagreement equals irrationality, stupidity, or maliciousness, we have lost the debate.

In a sense we must enter a debate like the ancient Roman Gladiators, with the motto: "We who are about to die salute you!" We who are about to be proven wrong, enter the arena where our assumptions will be challenged and perhaps shattered.

I'm not advocating that Mormons start debating in Sunday School; nor am I suggesting that Mormons ought to change their ethic of avoiding "contention." It has served us well, and trying to argue more might be disastrous if we don't have a strong culture (like Jews) that supports the right kind of argument. Nevertheless, in those situations where Mormons do argue -- as they have over Proposition 8 -- it might be worthwhile to ask, first of all, Why have Mormons abandoned their traditional insistence on avoiding debate on this particular issue? And second, If we must debate, can we do it in a way that does not banish the Holy Spirit from our hearts and from our communities?

Is there a way to make our arguments a sacred opportunity for the Holy Spirit to enter and convince us not of the other's error, but of our own?

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Why I Like Atheist Morality

In my review of the Hitchens-Wilson debate I said that I liked Douglas Wilson's argument about how Christianity provides a narrative framework for concepts of good and evil. Christopher Hitchens chose not to take this argument on directly, except by reiterating several times throughout the debate his belief that human beings had evolved an innate moral sense which might stand us in good stead if it were not periodically hijacked and perverted by organized religion.

After reading and reviewing the debate, I learned a bit more about the morality of Douglas Wilson. I posted a link to an account of Wilson's biblical defense of slavery, and the divisive effect his fundamentalist church has had on the small Idaho community where they are located. Among other things, I learned of Douglas Wilson's commitment to the literal extermination of people like me. I felt sick to my stomach. I felt sick for a couple of days actually, sick and depressed. On the basis of my reading of the Hitchens-Wilson debate, I had concluded that Douglas Wilson was a decent man, a man of "passion and compassion." I'd like to go on record saying I don't think that any more.

Part of me wants to be able to separate the man from the argument, the man from the affirmation of Christian faith. The most generous thing I could think to say on that score, however, is that Douglas Wilson has very skillfully co-opted Christian language about love and morality in order to promote an agenda of profound hate. At best he's a wolf in sheep's clothing. He certainly had me fooled. But what does the vicious agenda of the man say about the arguments he used? Does it say anything about faith in general? Is Douglas Wilson living, walking proof that Christianity is in fact very bad for the world?

I was exposed to atheist philosophy in a significant way for the first time at, of all places, Brigham Young University, in a modern French literature course. A unit of that course was devoted to the existentialists Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus. These men came face to face with the terrible fact that they could no longer believe in God. Not that they did not wish to believe or would not believe, but that they could not believe. The angst in their works is driven, in large part, by the collapse of the over-arching narrative that Christianity had provided, which offered the framework for notions of good, evil, and meaning. Camus compared the task of modern man in the absence of God to the fate of Sisyphus, damned to roll a boulder up the mountainside each day, only to find the next morning that it had returned to its place at the bottom of the mountain. Atheists had to continue to be good even in a world where they could no longer find any overarching justification for goodness. On what could they rely as a moral guide? Only the innate sense of compassion and morality that Hitchens (and Dawkins, and other modern-day apologists for atheism) insist on.

That innate sense is what Christians call "conscience" and what Mormons call "the light of Christ." Within the Christian/Latter-day Saint framework, that conscience is guided by "the still small voice" of the Spirit, which speaks to us not outwardly in strident, stentorian, coercive tones, but inwardly and quietly, so quietly we can miss it if we pay too much attention to the "earthquake and the fire" (I Kings 19:12). It is those quiet, inward sources of morality that move all human beings, regardless of religious affiliation or non-affiliation.

In the LDS framework, human beings are believed to be children of God living in an amnesiac exile. Why the veil of forgetfulness? Because God is testing us to see what kind of beings we are in his absence, with nothing but the light of conscience to guide us. In other words, from a Mormon perspective we might say that atheists who strive for moral conduct in the absence of God have accurately perceived and are "faithfully" responding to the best of their ability to the human condition as understood in Latter-day Saint theology.

LDS scripture warns that in the "last days" "there shall also arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders, insomuch, that, if possible, they shall deceive the very elect, who are the elect according to the covenant" (JS-M vs. 22). A false Christ or a false prophet would be not someone denouncing Christ, but someone putting Christ on falsely, someone exploiting people's faith in Christ in order to lead them down dangerous paths. Someone, say, using the overarching Christian narrative of good and evil in order to pervert people's native sense of compassion and fairness, and enlist them in campaigns of hate.

I personally do not reside in a world where God is absent. God is very much present in my daily life, in a way that guides, strengthens, and comforts me, and in a way that opens my heart, that strengthens my commitment to love and fairness for all. I choose to disarm, to walk with nothing but faith and love. This is a dangerous path, a vulnerable path. I am especially aware of how dangerous and vulnerable it is in the face of wolves who believe -- no, who know -- that God sanctions slavery and commands the extermination of infidels.

I believe in some sort of cosmic good and evil. I trust that good will eventually triumph. But I am willing to say that this overarching narrative bequeathed to us by religion cannot, should not be used as an excuse to banish pity and compassion from our hearts. We can find comfort in belief, we can let it sustain us through the hard times, but we should always, always follow the light of Christ first, listen to the still, small voice that leads us slowly and steadily, one step at a time, down the path of unconditional love.

Monday, December 1, 2008

"Is Christianity Good for the World": Addendum

More on the "Christian" views of Douglas Wilson.

Check this out this article about his views on slavery.

I confess, I feel a bit duped by his self-presentation in the framework of the Christianity Today debate I reviewed yesterday. (I'm also rather shocked that Christopher Hitchens failed to call him on this!) What I said in my essay yesterday applies, I suppose doubly, to this fellow who has advocated the mass extermination of homosexuals: "The category of 'those who do not know the Christian God' could include many who label themselves as Christian."