Saturday, September 30, 2006

Religion or Relationship?

It has been pointed out to me that the description under the title of this blog is inaccurate in that Christianity is not a religion but a relationship. In defense of the present description, let me say a few words. First, I am fully aware of this popular aphorism, but I chose to use the word religion because this word – so unpopular among evangelicals – still packs more truth and has more depth than its faddish competitor. Secondly, the relationship that we have with God the Father through Jesus His Son is quite unlike anything that we experience in any earthly relationship. So much so that to continue using the word ‘relationship’ is to follow a path that is dangerously misleading and could result in faith’s novices falling into confusion.

But why does religion pack more truth? To begin with, religion by definition encompasses all the things that humans have normally associated with devotion to a supernatural entity or realm. Religions is natural to us; it is divinely patterned in the hearts of all people. As such, to be religious is to be correctly responding to the imago dei within us. Religion connotes the use of symbolic formalities such as the Lord’s Supper or Baptism. Prayer or meditation is recognized as an essential part of any religious life. Historically it can be shown that a prayer life can be greatly facilitated by a symbolic environment that captures the essence of the respective religion. Thus, the rise of church buildings. Religions have dogma and are recognized by the fostering of a community of like-minded individuals. In these things, Christianity is very much a religion. It uses symbols and metaphors to describe the otherwise un-describable. And, while prayer can theoretically be conducted anywhere, religious architecture devoted to the life of the soul has generally been first choice. Man is a symbolic being – divinely so. It is the restoration of the biblical view of these things that this site seeks.

In contrast, the word relationship does not even remotely imply any of these things – excepting, of course, that everything is in a relationship of some sort. But this is not what evangelicals mean. To them it connotes something akin to friendship or marriage. Now, to be sure, these metaphors exist in Christianity, but again, not in any exact earthly sense. They are metaphors. Christ is truly our friend, but we are not likely to have a beer together any time soon. We are the bride of Christ, but we are unlikely to lose our virginity in the relationship. (I write as a man.)
However, the part most worthy of disgust is the deceit. For along with the evangelical’s use of such canards is the dishonest implication that something of a certain nature is going on when in fact it is not i.e., they are trying to convince unbelievers that Jesus and they are chums, if you will. But in doing so they imply a level of familiarity that on closer inspection is absent, uninformed and blasphemous.

Lastly, there is an irony evident in the evangelical’s employment of this obvious wrangle. It is this. When the proper understanding of a word becomes critical to the maintaining fellowship in any supernatural enterprise, than that word becomes a shibboleth or right of passage. In other words, it attains to the status of a religious word. Therefore, in their misguided piousness they are being religious - but erroneously so.

In closing, let us realize this, that Jesus was a carpenter, but He is now LORD. That is the meaning and implication of the resurrection. This is why people fell at His feet. That is why Saul was blinded by the light. That is why the seven sons of Sceva discovered the embarrassment of public nudity. It does not pay to be cavalier with eternity’s foundation. Perhaps this is why the world finds the evangelical’s god so non-enticing and unworthy of worship - very few people acknowledge the open worship of their buddy. Nor should they.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

The Boredom that is Atheism

I’m sitting at Borders reading several apologetic books (and one magazine, Free Inquiry) for atheism. It is strangely eerie how religious they all are. They all have their tenants of ‘faith’ (Listed usually in the front or back) and their shibboleths for entry (You had better say the password: "Homosexuality is just fine!"). They caricaturize their opponents (Yes, it’s not just an evangelical habit!); they are consumed by their own sense of martyrdom (Atheists "are the nations most unwelcome minority."); and they are vehemently ‘evangelical’ about their need to 'convert' all those in error. They are, in fact, so possessed by their evangelicalism, that even in their magazines (Free Inquiry, in this case) they are hard-pressed to speak of anything else except how irrational all those religious folk are; there are no articles on the arts, nothing on great literature, and sculpture, forget it! Oh, they mention and even extol the terms, but actual discussion length articles are more elusive than a garden gopher. Instead we find just one long screed, article after article on how insane it is to explain the world supernaturally. "No reliable empirical evidence" is repeated ad nauseum by writer after writer. It would be a waste of time repeating the canards and downright babble; I would recommend folks read Lewis and Chesterton, as they are quite good about presenting their opponents position in its most resilient form - quite unlike the atheists themselves, I might add.

What drives these folks, I ask. If there is no purpose in the universe, why should they care what anyone believes? Why not be satisfied with knowing that people are happy even if they are deluded? I suspect that what really drives them is far more tragic and sinister, but that’s for another time.

The Editor and Chief of Free Inquiry is Paul Kurtz, former professor of philosophy at the State University of New York. He does not come across as a professor as he strains one's confidence in his philisophical abilities with silly strawman arguments. When he tries to present and explaination as to why religion persists, the only answers he can come up with in the article I read are (my paraphrase) that folks are bombarded from childhood with religious concepts and have no chance to escape into the arms of a caring atheist, or, and this ‘or’ is downright hilarious, they suffer from a quasi-genetic problem. Here he resurrects the theory of Richard Dawkins, which says in scientific-sounding speech exactly what his first supposition stated: We are religious because of so-called "memes" - those habits of repetition and imitation that bring us all into conformity to our various cultures. In other words, we are raised that way. He thinks that if we study the causes of belief and explain them to folks that they will then understand the illusion and skip happily into atheism. Funny, the now defunct Soviet Union did just that to no avail.

Still, they all seem at their wits end in their attempts to reproduce authentic human community based on their secular humanism. Perhaps this is because of the intellectual prison which they have constructed for themselves. While they are shouting "Free Inquiry!", they vilify the believer if he opens his mind to entertaining non-empirical causes. Apparently 'free' to them is synonomous with empiricism.

Sadly, the attempt to explain grand things with small ideas has been the pentient of those folks in the asylum. Alas, those tragic folks have nothing on the atheist. The atheist's dogmatism is perplexing considering their anger with all things dogmatic. While Jesus’ life was a struggle to get folks to think outside the box when conceptualizing the true God, the atheist’s box is never to small. And woe to you if you peek.

The hardest thing for me (and them, apparently) to get over is their struggles to establish any kind of convincing moral judgments or standards. But when one says that "human values are relative to human experience, interests, and needs…", what prevents a society from welcoming pedophilia when, after societal "evolution," it begins to satisfy this criteria? Again, Kurts speaks of the "the right of dissent." Where did this right come from? What gene can explain it? Maybe he should look to Dawkin’s meme for an answer.

Outside of ‘might makes right’ I don’t believe he has any other explanation for morality – here at least Nitzsche was honest. The tragic truth is that all committed atheistic societies, like the Soviet Union or the cocky and cowardly French, have resorted to just this sort of principle to guarantee the "fraternity" of the people. There has never been more bloodier revolutions than those of these two despotic and atheistic regimes. Despite the atheist’s cry of how horrible were the times of the Inquisition, this particular period in Church history was mere child’s play when compared to the nightmare of the Russian Kommissars or Robespierre. I would wager that the crimes of atheism would break the scales against any crimes committed by religion (with the possible exception of Islam).

In the end, Kurtz’ answer to building atheistic communities amounts to such paltry suggestions as teaching folks to deal with the "weltschmertz," the "blows of outrageous fortunes", and to "marshal a stoic attitude."

Atheism. What an interminable bore.