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Showing posts with label #Faith. Show all posts
Showing posts with label #Faith. Show all posts

21 November 2016

Questioning authority.

Which I do. Which we all should do. Regardless of how much it irritates the authority.

I’m a trained skeptic.

Seriously. I have degrees in both journalism and theology. In both fields, we’re taught to ask the question, “Is that really true?” Don’t swallow whole what anyone tells you. Anyone. Fact-check it.

In journalism, that’s done by finding a valid authority on the subject, and a second source to corroborate the first one. (I know; internet “journalists” seldom bother to find that second source, but they never went to journalism school, and it shows.) In theology, find a proof text, and make sure you quote it in context. One will do; more is better.

Problem is, people are very, very used to having their every statement accepted without question. So when I ask “Is that really true?”—just doing my duty as both a journalist and theologian—they take offense. What, don’t I trust them? Why not? What’s my problem?

Since I give most people the benefit of the doubt, no I actually don’t think they’re lying. (Usually.) But I know how human nature works. I know how gossip spreads. People spread stories because they’re interesting, not because they’re true. People believe stories when they confirm what they already believe, and reject ’em when they don’t. Good people can unintentionally be very, very wrong. Happens all the time. Happens to me.

Hey, humans aren’t all-knowing; they aren’t God. And some of us actually are evil. Like politicos who deliberately spread lies about their opponents. Like kids who bully their enemies. Some Christians have a political axe to grind, so their teachings are always skewed to suit their views. If I just met someone, I don’t automatically assume this is why they’re wrong: Give me time, and I’ll recognize the pattern of partisanship, overzealousness, anger, and other fleshly motives. But most folks are just honestly mistaken.

Still, that self-preservation instinct kicks in, and people are quick to attack my simple doubts as if they’re frontal assaults: “What, d’you think I’m lying to you?”

04 October 2016

Postmodernism: Why we can’t take “truths” for granted.

It’s a worldview whose starting point is doubt. And it’s everywhere. Heck, I have it.

Postmodern /poʊs(t)'mɑd.ərn/ adj. Reflecting an attitude of skepticism and distrust of “modern” grand theories and ideologies.
2. Anti-modern.
[Pomo /'poʊ.moʊ/ abbr., postmodernism /poʊs(t)'mɑd.ərn.iz.əm/ n, postmodernist /poʊs(t)'mɑd.ərn.ist/ adj., postmodernity /poʊs(t).moʊd'ər.nə.di/ n.]

I grew up postmodern. I just didn’t know it had a name. I also didn’t realize it scared the heebie-jeebies out of Christian apologists.

The label’s not new. It first cropped up in the 1950s. Artists and architects started using it to describe the hip, exciting things they were doing. The current scene was “modern,” but they claimed they were beyond that; they were post-modern. Whatever modern was, they were no longer that. “Pomo” is the popular abbreviation.

Gradually people began to claim postmodernism was their worldview, their interpretation of the society we live in. Like the artists, they didn’t have a precise definition. They just figured whatever they were, they weren’t modern.

Now if you wanna talk the modern worldview, that’s actually been defined. Modernism is the way people have been looking at the world since the French Enlightenment in the 1700s: Humanity’s destiny is to achieve greatness by mastering (or conquering) our environment through the use of reason, logic, math, and science. With effort we can learn the universal truths behind everything, harness the great natural forces, and solve every problem. We can figure out the best way for everyone to live, and achieve peace and harmony and prosperity. You know, like Star Trek.

Whereas we postmoderns are entirely sure that’s just a pipe dream.

Nope, it’s neither cynicism nor nihilism. It’s doubt. That’s the one thing which defines postmodernism best: Postmoderns doubt. Doubt it’s our destiny to achieve greatness. Doubt we can master our environment; doubt it’s a good thing to conquer it. Doubt humanity’s reason and logic (or certainly your reason and logic) are sound. Doubt math and science will always be used towards good ends. Doubt we can learn universal truths, or that such truths even exist. Doubt we can solve every problem; doubt there’s a “best way” for everyone. Doubt utopian science fiction: Our technology may improve, but apart from the Holy Spirit, human nature never does.

30 August 2016

God must be our first resort. Never our last.

“When all else fails, try God” is not how Christianity works.

Let me reiterate: There’s nothing at all wrong with asking God for things. Jesus teaches us to do so in the Lord’s Prayer: It’s all prayer requests. (Even the parts Christians claim are “praise before the requests.” Asking that God’s name be blessed, his kingdom come, his will be done, are meant to be stuff we want.) When we need something, God expects us and invites us to turn to him for help.

In contrast, our culture encourages us to be independent. Do for ourselves, then ask for help. And you wanna avoid asking for help as long as possible. The world isn’t kind. They don’t help you without first asking, “What’s in it for me?” Strings get attached. They expect cash, or a quid pro quo… or at least a pizza.

As a result, a lot of Christians only turn to God when we need help with big things. The stuff we can’t handle. The stuff we need help with—and other people aren’t willing to give it, so in desperation we turn to God as a last resort. Or a long shot. A “hail-Mary,” as it’s called in football. (And that saying implies they still haven’t turned to God yet: They’re calling on Mary first!)

Pagans in particular. When things are going fine, they tend to ignore God. When things are dire, suddenly they “get religion” and try to bargain with God. And to many pagans’ surprise—’cause we’d never offer ’em grace on those terms—God regularly takes ’em up on it, and brings ’em into his kingdom as a result. How many testimonies have you heard where people came to Jesus because of a crisis?

But even Christians have a bad habit of only calling upon God when it’s a crisis. God was a last resort when we were pagans; God’s still the last person we turn to when we’re totally stuck.

When we’re shopping for phones, we don’t pray. When we’re buying a house (assuming we’re not so wealthy, such transactions are no big deal) we pray a ton. When we have an ache or pain, we pop an aspirin and go on. When it’s cancer, we’re calling the elders of our church to lay hands on us. Jm 5.14

Heck, I’ve heard Christians teach this. In church. “When there’s no one else to turn to, you have God.” Isn’t that nice? He’s our safety net.

He doesn’t wanna be our safety net. He wants to be our support. He wants to carry us. Help us. Love us. Provide for us. Our first resort.

03 August 2016

Discernment: Use your noggin!

God gives us wisdom. Use it to detect when people are leading us astray.

I’ve written previously, briefly, on supernatural discernment. I’ll have to get further into it another time. But today I get to the usual kind: The ability to judge between true and false.

Yeah, there’s regular discernment and supernatural discernment. There are Christians who insist there’s only one kind of discernment, and it ain’t supernatural: We deduce between good and evil, and God heightens our ability by spelling out good and evil in the scriptures. Study your bible and you’ll learn to immediately recognize evil.

And yeah, that’s pretty much how ordinary discernment works.

Trouble is, in practice a lot of these Christians confuse their knee-jerk reactions, their unthinking responses, their prejudices, with discernment. They’re not comfortable with something, so they leap to the easy conclusion it’s evil. That’s why so many old-timers in the 1950s and ’60s just presumed rock and roll was evil; that’s why so many old-timers in the present day just presume Harry Potter is evil. (“It’s about magic? Yep, that’s evil.”)

Regular discernment means we gotta think. We gotta figure things out. We gotta look at people’s motives. We gotta look for the things the scriptures instruct us to: Fruit of the Spirit, or works of the flesh. Good or bad character. Motives. Self-sacrificing or self-serving deeds. There’s a difference, and we gotta detect this difference.

Sometimes discernment’s called wisdom, and the Old Testament frequently uses wisdom as a synonym. Dt 32.29, 1Ki 3.12, Pr 16.21, Is 44.18 ’Cause discernment is part of wisdom. Wisdom is knowing what we oughta do, and doing it; it’s also knowing what we ought not do, and not doing that. We gotta recognize the difference between good and evil before we do what’s good. Otherwise we’ll get tricked into evil. We’ll do what looks wise, but is really self-deception, the product of shallow thinking… or a fraud set up by evil people.

Give you an example. Lots of people assume “natural” is always good, and “artificial” is always bad. In food, in fabric, in cleaning products, in building materials, in personality traits—doesn’t matter; what comes “natural” is good. If nature made it, eat plenty. If humans made it in a lab, avoid.

And here’s where that rationale falls apart: Tobacco is natural, but it’s awful for you. Pasteurized milk, processed in a lab, is far safer to drink than untreated raw milk. There are plenty of examples where “natural” is dangerous, and “artificial” is best. But you try telling that to some stay-at-home mom who read four websites and is now convinced vaccines are deadly.

Yep, people don’t bother with discernment. Christians included.

It’s why we fall for every Christian fad people try to sell us. Why we spread Christian-sounding sayings around, yet never double-check ’em against the scriptures. Why we embrace interesting “wisdom” but never ask “Is that from God?” Whatever makes us feel good, affirmed, righteous, excited, inspired, clever, positive—if we’re happy and we know it, we shout Amen.

As if the devil doesn’t know how to manufacture happiness.

No, it won’t be lasting happiness. The devil can’t do joy. But the fake joy only has to last long enough to lead us astray or exploit us. And if we’re foolish enough, we’re ensnared by something else long before we notice the problems in the first con. That’s precisely why we’ve gotta learn discernment: We gotta extricate ourselves from our current mess, and learn to stay away from future messes.

03 May 2016

We don’t just “have faith.” We have faith in stuff.

Faith can’t stand alone. It always needs a person or thing to have faith in.

You know what a transitive verb is? You might remember, from high school; most don’t. Transitive means you can’t use the verb by itself: There’s gotta be someone or something you’re doing the verb to. You can’t just say, “I wet”—you gotta indicate what you wet. A towel? Your whistle? The bed? Your pants? “I wet” (unless you mean “I [am] wet,” in which case wet isn’t the verb) doesn’t work otherwise. You need an object.

Well, that’s how faith works. Faith is transitive. You can’t just say, “I have faith” or “I trust”—you gotta indicate what you have faith in, you gotta indicate whom you trust.

True, plenty of people don’t realize this, and say “I have faith” anyway. But when they don’t indicate where they’ve placed their faith, it turns into a meaningless phrase. There’s a missing object. It’s like saying “I wet,” but not what you wet.

Complete trust or confidence based on what? Dependent on whom? Well, nobody’s ever asked them that. But if they think about it a moment, they can usually tell us where their faith is placed: “I think everything’s gonna be just fine because I have faith in humanity.” Or “I believe in karma; I have faith in that.” Okay, fine. Their faith comes from the belief people are good, or the belief the universe is good. We might debate those beliefs; Christians sure will. But at least we know the basis of their faith.

Still, there are a number of people who don’t know the basis of their faith. They just “have faith.” They have faith because… well, because they have faith. For them, faith isn’t complete trust or confidence in someone or something. It’s having complete trust or confidence. Period. Full stop. They believe… because they believe.

When that’s the case, there is no basis for their belief. “I have faith” is simply a synonym for “I wish. Really, really hard.”

This is why skeptics tend to mock people who “have faith.” We put our faith in things. But they don’t believe in the things we do: Don’t believe in God, Jesus, prophecy, miracles, apostles, the bible, nor Christianity. None of those things are real, they insist, so there’s no basis for our belief: Functionally, we’re just wishing. Really, really hard.

04 February 2016

When faith gets shaken. (Not if. When.)

Every Christian goes through the crisis of faith. It’s not the time to numb one’s mind.

Part of normal, healthy Christian growth is discovering we’re wrong. ’Cause we are.

I’m wrong, you’re wrong; every Christian is wrong. We all have incorrect beliefs about the universe, God, Christ, the bible, salvation, how Christians oughta behave, everything. We learned them from other messed-up Christians. Or we learned them from our messed-up world, but assume they’re still correct, ’cause our fellow Christians believe ’em too. Or even despite what our fellow Christians insist.

Fr’instance when a pagan comes to Jesus, she figures now she’s gotta give up all her porn. (Or any other frowned-upon activity.) She’s heard good Christians don’t get mixed up in that. But then she discovers all her Christian friends are super into porn, and she’s so relieved: It’s no problem! And that’s what she’ll believe from now on. If her pastor rails against it, doesn’t matter. She’ll keep her opinion, and keep it to herself.

Well, the Holy Spirit’s working on us, pulling us towards truth. But that’s gonna take time. Sometimes we’re resistant, or too distracted by all the porn. Either way, the Spirit has things to teach us, and we’re not gonna grow any further as Christians till we learned them. Because they’re just that important.

The problem is when this new information or revelation is too much. It’s really not; the Spirit knows what he’s doing. But we don’t trust him enough. We lack faith. So we hit a crisis. We either have to accept what the Spirit’s teaching us and keep moving, or we have to stop.

And by stop, I mean stop. We quit Christianity.

Which takes a few different forms. The most common one is not, as you’d suspect, leaving God and embracing atheism, or some other religion. Much easier to embrace Christianism. We stop following the Holy Spirit and start following a system. Might be the system we’re already dabbling in: We decide to get knee-deep in Christian apologetics, or Calvinism, dispensationalism, Fundamentalism, Methodism—pick any -ism. Might get heavily involved in the Christian Left or the Christian Right: Christianity becomes all about abolishing the death penalty, or same-sex marriage. Might quit church and try the go-it-alone route. Or might find a like-minded church which preaches about how the world needs to change… but us? Doin’ just fine.

We take the ideas we’ve embraced thus far, enshrine them and establish them as our system or denomination… and live in its rotting carcass, and pretend it doesn’t stink. Because once you’ve stopped growing, you’re dead.

Or, ideally, we don’t stop. We accept where the Spirit’s taking us, tough it out, and keep growing.

This is the crisis of faith. It’s a point every Christian reaches. No exceptions. You will hit the crisis at some point in your Christian life. We all do. And not just once either: Many, many times. We have a lot of wrong beliefs in us. The Spirit wants to root out every single one of them.

17 December 2015

Doubt is our friend.

The opposite of faith isn’t doubt. It’s unbelief. Doubt means we kinda believe. It’s a start.

Matthew 21.21 KWL
In reply Jesus told them, “Amen, I promise you:
When you have faith, and don’t waver,
not only will you do the miracle of the fig tree:
If you tell this hill, ‘Be raised and thrown into the sea,’ it’ll happen.”

Because of bible verses like this one, where Jesus contrasts ékhite pístin/“[maybe] have faith” with mi diakrithíte/“don’t waver,” people assume he’s comparing opposites. Wavering, or doubting, is the opposite of faith. Either we have faith, or we have doubt. So have faith, and never doubt. Doubt is bad. Doubt is evil. Doubt is how the devil gets us to never do what the Spirit wants.

But because I studied logic in school, I learned a lot of supposed “opposites” aren’t really. What’s the opposite of big? It isn’t small. Those are contrasts, not opposites. Same with hot and cold, black and white, young and old, male and female. Especially male and female.

The opposite of anything is its absence. The opposite of big is, simply, “not big.” The opposite of black is not-black, the opposite of young is not-young, the opposite of hot is not-hot, and the opposite of faith is not-faith.

Does doubt mean not-faith? No; it means not enough faith. There’s still a little faith in there. Just not enough. Sometimes for no good reason: We must put our trust in God way more than we do.

And sometimes for very good reason: God’s not in this. It’s not his deal. He’s not involved. In fact the reason we doubt is because the Holy Spirit is making us hesitate. The Christianese phrase is “a check in my spirit,” a nudge from God that we really oughta look before we leap. To be fair, some of these “checks” aren’t from God at all. But some of ’em are definitely from him, forbidding us and blocking us Ac 16.6-7 lest we go wrong.

So while it’s a great thing to have the sort of mountain-moving faith Jesus tells us of, it’s just as much a great thing to pay attention to our doubts lest we attempt to move the wrong mountains. Doubt is not always our opponent. Often doubt is our friend.

I’ve found Christians rarely understand this. They think—’cause we’re taught—Christians should never, ever doubt. Shove all those doubts out of your mind. Turn ’em off like a lightswitch. Suppress them. Fight them. Psyche yourself into believing.

In other words, denial. And because denial is a lie, it doesn’t legitimately get rid of our doubts. Instead, denial unravels our faith. It turns us into hypocrites.

Whenever we Christians doubt, we’re meant to investigate. Find out whether those doubts are real. Find out whether our beliefs have anything solid at the back of them. If they’re of God, they will. If they’re not, they don’t. Find the evidence before you believe. Use those doubts to get solid about your beliefs, and get closer to God.

28 November 2015

Santa Claus and misplaced, misunderstood faith.

It’s not Christian to trick children.

Years ago round Christmastime, one of my 9-year-old students asked me, “Mr. Leslie, is Santa real?” Oh good Lord, I thought, her parents haven’t had the Santa talk with her? I punted. “Ask your mom.”

This girl’s mom was one of those people with the common misconception that the way you keep your kids innocent is by keeping them ignorant. Of course this doesn’t work. You know this from when you were a kid: When you had serious questions, you sought answers, and if your parents didn’t have ’em, you’d go elsewhere. Usually to school friends (who don’t know anything either). Sometimes authority figures, like teachers (i.e. me), or pastors or mentors or people the kids believe are experts. Which is why I got all the questions about Santa. And God. And why people are so terrible. And how babies are made. And the definitions to certain terms the children’s dictionaries correctly didn’t include. And that’s just fourth grade; you should see what junior highers and high schoolers ask. (On the rare occasions they don’t assume they know it all.)

I taught at a Christian school, so parents were usually okay with my answering God questions. That is, so long that my answers didn’t undermine their favorite assumptions. But some of ’em put their kids in Christian school to shelter them—another common misconception—so they were not okay with answers about baby-making. I told one persistent girl, whose mom wouldn’t have “the talk” with her, “Tell her, ‘If I don’t know how they’re made, what if I make a baby by accident?’” That worked. And I knew from experience that parents definitely didn’t want me exposing their Santa game. I knew I’d hear it from her mom—because I definitely heard it from my dad after I spilled the beans to my sister.

Problem is, this question wasn’t part of a private conversation. She asked me in the middle of class. Everybody overheard. So some of ’em decided to answer her question before her mom could: “Santa’s not real.”

“He’s not?” asked the girl.

“He’s real…” I fumbled, thinking specifically of St. Nicholas of Myra, “but maybe not in the way you’re thinking.”

“Which means,” insisted one of my very literal-minded students, “that he’s not real.”

Kids know a wishy-washy answer when they hear it.

30 October 2015

The Fear.

Seems appropriate for the day before Halloween to talk about the Fear.

The main reason why Christians don’t act in faith?

Why we won’t share Jesus with our neighbors and coworkers? Why we won’t pray for people to be healed? Why we won’t ask God for miracles? Why we won’t prophesy, even though we’re sure God is talking to us right this instant? Why we don’t start ministries, don’t offer help, don’t encourage, don’t anything?

The Fear.

You’ve likely met Christians who’re the most friendly, outgoing, outspoken, extroverted people you’ve ever seen. Got no trouble with public speaking. No trouble sharing their opinions—even when you’d rather they didn’t. No trouble talking about their favorite movies, teams, products, politics. Maybe a little initial stage fright, but they shake it off quickly.

Then, when it comes to acting in faith, these very same Christians seize right up, and never snap out of it. It’s like someone cut the power. Someone crimped the hose. The meds wore off. Pick your favorite simile.

As outgoing as they might be, they immediately imagine the worst-case scenario. “If I act, they’ll…” followed by the most awful thing we can picture. Not, as people usually do, with a shake of the head and a “No thank you; not interested.” (Nor, as what usually happens in a country where four out of five of us consider ourselves Christian, “Um… okay.”) No no. It’s the worst-case scenario. The worst they can possibly come up with.

20 October 2015

Faith. Real, legitimate, not-imaginary faith.

As opposed to the unreal, imaginary sort.

FAITH /feɪθ/ n. Complete trust or confidence in someone/something.
2. Religion: A system of beliefs and practices about God.
3. A strongly-held belief or theory, maintained despite a lack of proof.
4. A name Christians like to give their daughters. My niece, fr’instance.
[Faithful /'feɪθ.fəl/ adj.]

“Faith,” wrote Mark Twain in his travelogue book Following the Equator, “is believing what you know ain’t so.” Nontheists consider this their very favorite definition of faith. It’s the definition your average pagan also holds to. And, sad to say, many a Christian. “Faith” is the magical power to believe in goofy rubbish.

According to them, if I “have faith,” I have the power to believe in everything. I can believe in God, in angels, in fairies and elves and leprechauns, and I can fly like Peter Pan. I can believe in TV preachers, in pastors with bad comb-overs, in politicians with bad comb-overs, in giving all my money to some nonprofit which doesn’t actually do anything useful. I can believe in UFOs and space aliens, in the Left Behind novels, in conspiracy theories, in the same things as “truthers” and “birthers” and Holocaust-deniers and Objectivists. I can believe in ghosts, poltergeists, mediums, psychics, and faith healers. I can believe climate change isn’t real, that dinosaurs and cavemen co-existed Flintstones-style, that the earth is flat, that the moon landings were faked, that the stars are glued to the back wall of the cosmos. I can believe in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, monsters under the bed, unicorns, fairytale endings, and that racism was cured in the 1960s.

All you gotta do is believe really, really hard. You’ve read The Velveteen Rabbit and Pinocchio. Wishes do come true! That’s faith.

But as Christianity defines faith, no it’s not. The writer of Hebrews defined it thisaway.

Hebrews 11.1 KWL
Faith is the solid basis of hope, the proof of actions we’ve not seen.