What a better way to begin the week than a debate on the existence of God? Actually, this is one of the better “dialogues” on the subject that I’ve ever seen. Quite frankly most of the “debates” that I’ve seen in both academic and non-academic venues have been two highly intelligent persons seeing who can get in the best dig on his or her opponent and isn’t the slightest bit informative to anyone seriously weighing the issue. Figures that two comedians on a comedy podcast would actually have a reasoned discussion. Crazy (and enjoy).
I can’t tell you how many times when I was working with frustrated sixth grade boys that I wished I could have directed their energies to something constructive, like playing music. I knew what it had done for me when I was in high school, but generally felt like it wasn’t my place to make the suggestion. Too bad. But I guess all of us need to find our own path. Lord knows my path toward music was anything but direct.
I just finished read/listening to Karen Armstrong’s The Case for God, and like waking with memories of a vivid dream, I want to get my thoughts down before they get pushed aside by the concerns of the day.
In Bad Faith, part 8: The Case for God – Not What You Think
I think that Armstrong did such a great job summarizing the book in her NPR/Fresh Air interview that the book feels a bit ponderous. What I mean is that this is a book that one really needs to pay attention to and no play as background music (ack, stupid multitasking lifestyle). Armstrong takes the reader from the very beginning evidences of “god thoughts” found in the pre-historic caves of Lascaux, to the new-atheists like Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins, spending a goodly bit of time going through the Greek, Asian, and post-medieval schools of thought that may not be familiar to the reader.
So, as a former Loyola Marymount religious studies major with a B.A. in Biblical Studies from Biola University and several quarters of study at Fuller Seminary toward an MA in Theology and a piss-pour background in the Greek and Latin Classics (no ones fault but my own), I greatly appreciated Armstrong’s academic, non-polemic, recitation of pre-history and history of religion on this planet. Yeah, that’s the scope of this book. I’m very interested in her other books on Islam and Buddhism to see how deep she dives into these religions where I’m greatly lacking in my own understanding.
Thoughts that struck me as I listened to the book, mainly how every generation and every great thinker felt compelled to re-interpret God based on their own recent history, cultural and personal, and their own cultural problems. For example, how different would modern Christianity be if Augustine had not had such a problem with his pre-conversion sexual appetites, how would the relationship between God and man be cast differently if Augustine hadn’t promoted the idea of Original Sin and demonized sexuality in general, making it a sin except for the purpose of conception? What would have happened if Emperor Constantine had not chosen to use Christianity as a unify force in his divided empire, thus forcing provincial Christianity to agree on which books belonged in the scriptures, the divinity of Jesus of Nazareth and what would be orthodox and what would be heretical? How differently would history have been had Christianity remained a Jewish sect instead of a world political power? And every time there was a political or natural disaster there seemed to be gigantic shifts in thought with conservatives abandoning the silent God and liberal’s looking for a literal simplistic God to find comfort from.
If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father who is in heaven give good things to them that ask him? (Matthew 7:11 ASV)
It shouldn’t be too surprising that in an era and place of unbridled abundance and wealth (that is the US in the 1970s and following) that these verses would be seen as part of the claim that we deserve good things and God has to give us what we want. Of the many mistakes I’ve made in my walk of faith, having a sense of entitlement, that God owes me something, was no small source of confusion and probably one of the worst ways that I could have envisioned a relationship with the Divine. Funny that I seem to get mostly what I needed, but almost never what I wanted.
In Bad Faith, Part 7: Entitlement
It might be interesting to see the tel-evangelist and the religious huckster try to preach this gospel of entitlement to villagers in a developing spot in the world where their village is routinely wiped out every year by monsoons and flooding. Or in some South American desert community where there’s no electricity or indoor plumbing, how would they spin their message there? How does this gospel of entitlement translate in parts of the world where children catch the measles and die or where they don’t have enough food to feed them and have to watch them slowly starve to death. Conversely, how about hard-working folk who are laid-off or fired because the CEO needs to cut the budget so that he can still get his quarter-million dollar. The CEO got what he wanted, but the thousands and possibly millions who are dependent on that paycheck for their daily bread certainly didn’t. Does God only listen to the prayers of CEOs, or rich Americans?
Some of my thinking lately has reminded me of this article that I wrote in the late 1980s about rediscovering the power and need to be emotionally alive. This article was part of a column that I wrote called “The Editor’s Wild Hair” for a little print newsletter that I inflicted upon friends and family called, “Air, Dirt & Ink.” [Sigh], the good ol’ days.
Journal Classic: Following the Logic of Feelings
Heart, why are you pounding like a hammer?
Heart, why are you beating like a drum?
Heart, why do you make such a commotion
when I’m waiting for my baby to come?
Oh heart, don’t do it if it’s not the real thing
Heart, I get so easily deceived
Heart, there is no other I can turn to
if not you, heart, then who can I believe?”
“Heart” by Nick Lowe
I vividly remember when it first happened. It was in the seventh grade when I walked up to Mary Hinck and said, “Hi,” and she said rather unfeelingly, “Oh, it’s you.” It’s like I didn’t even really know that it was there until it came crashing to the ground in front of God and everyone. Jesus, I thought, if this is what love feels like, I don’t want any part of it.
I didn’t mean that, of course, and have spent the intervening 17 years demonstrating it to no one in particular. But something very definitely changed after that first brush with emotional death.
Back at home, though I never once for a moment doubted my parent’s love for me or my siblings; emotions, especially anger, seemed to be like Steven Spielbergian pyrotechnics. Like the much-feared nuclear holocaust, there would be a blinding flash of emotional light: my father would explode over some such reality of living with five children. My mother would then deploy her tactical arsenal. Another flash, then children running in every direction, vainly hoping to avoid becoming part of the scorched landscape. Then just as quickly as it had begun, it would be over. Father would be about his business and mother would continue hers. It all seemed to my childish mind to be quite unnecessary.
So it only seems right that at one point in my life I hung around with a religious group that held to the philosophy that “feelings” could not be trusted. “Feelings, they come and go, but objective truth, now there’s the ticket.” Of course the objective truth that was being referred to here was the Bible, the Scoffield Reference Bible in the King James Version to be more specific. And Love, well that had something to do with some Greek word and God and Jesus dying and . . . (all of which of course made no sense whatsoever to my teenage mind, but who was I to scoff at the insights of my elders?).
I don’t know why I always seem to use this column to take pot‑shots at Evangelical Christianity (no doubt an unconscious attempt to pay them back for the emotional trauma and near fatal brain damage I experienced while getting my Bachelor of Arts degree in Biblical Studies). In fact, before this starts sounding too much like “Sex and the Single Brain Cell,” I have to question the wisdom of attempting an article that would argue following the logic of emotions. I mean, either you understand it or you don’t.
I’ve been sustaining myself via my almost daily listening to J. Vernon McGee’s Thru the Bible Radio biblestudy. Lots of good stuff, but, for me, it doesn’t seem to be doing it as far as maintaining my walk. Damn.