Richard Rohr on the Common Depiction of God

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My gears have been grinding over this passage for a couple of months now. From The Naked Now: Learning to See As the Mystics See (Kindle ed; chap 10, section “The Two Heels of a Christian Achilles”):

This all-or-nothing thinking is a cancer at the heart of our preached message, and it takes two major forms: 

1. The individual Christian is told to love unconditionally, but the God who commands this is depicted as having a very conditional and quite exclusive love himself or herself! The believer is told to love his enemies, but “God” clearly does not; in fact, God punishes them for all eternity. This stifles and paralyzes many believers at the conscious or unconscious level, and it should. Such a message will not save the world and surely will not produce many great or loving people. The many loving Christians I have met in my life usually have had at least one unconditionally loving parent or friend along the way, and God was then able to second the motion. There are remarkable exceptions to this, however. I have met a few humanly unloved people whose need for divine love was so great that they surrendered to it utterly. The Gospel worked for them. 

2. Under the message that most of us have heard, we end up being more loving than God, and then not taking God very seriously. Even my less-than-saintly friends, the ordinary Joes on the block, would usually give a guy a break, overlook some mistakes, and even on their worst days would not imagine torturing people who do not like them, worship them, or believe in them. “God” ends up looking rather petty, needy, narcissistic, and easily offended. God’s offended justice is clearly much stronger than God’s mercy, it seems. Why would anyone trust or love such a God, or want to be alone with Him or Her? Much less spend eternity with such a Being? I wouldn’t. We must come to recognize that this perspective, conscious or unconscious, is at the basis of much agnosticism and atheism in the West today.

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Parables (Science & Religion 2)

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How the Bible Does (and Doesn’t) Work I

Imagine that you live in a place where people think the world is flat.  Part of their evidence for believing this is that the Bible says that the world is flat.

Well, actually, that’s NOT what the Bible says.  In a few places, it refers to “the four corners” of the earth: Ezekiel 7.2, Revelation 7.1 and 20.8.

I’ve never actually met any Christian who wants to argue that the earth is flat, but if one exists, I imagine that these passages are part of his argument.  “The Bible says the world has four corners.  It can’t be a globe, because globes don’t have four corners.  Gotta be flat.”

So: you’re part of the “the Bible says that the earth is flat” club, and you win a ticket to ride on the space shuttle.  What’s going to happen when you see with your own eyes that the earth isn’t flat?

You can react in several different ways.

  1. The Bible is obviously wrong.  I can see with my own eyes that the earth isn’t flat.
  2. My eyes are obviously wrong.  My own eyes seem to be telling me that the earth isn’t flat, but the Bible says that it is, so my eyes must be wrong.
  3. My understanding of what the Bible was saying on the topic must adjust.  Maybe the passages that I thought were teaching that the earth was flat aren’t teaching that at all.  (As Inigo Montoya says: “I do not think it means what you think it means.”)

Obviously, I think that the third option–circular as it is–is the best.

The application to the Genesis debate is clear.  Many loud voices in our culture say that there’s only ONE WAY TO READ Genesis 1, and if you read it in any other way you are not respecting the authority & supernatural nature of the Bible.

My response: I do not think it means what you think it means.

My position: the Bible and science don’t contradict, except insofar as the Bible is from prescientific cultures.  (That’s a faith statement.  I can’t prove it.)

An example of the prescientific-ness of the Bible is the “firmament” in Genesis 1, the barrier that separated the waters above the earth from the waters on the earth.

When Genesis 1 talks about God placing a barrier there, it’s using a primitive, pre-scientific description of the precipitation cycle, the fact that there are waters above and waters below.  It’s not making a scientific statement; quit looking for some canopy that covered the earth until the flood, that’s not the point.

 

Parables (Science & Religion 1)

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I’ve been thinking a lot about the intersection of science (particularly evolution and the Big Bang) and Genesis 1.  I’ve taught Old Testament Survey several times lately, and that (among other things) keeps the topic in mind.

I’ve been trying to think of parables (explanatory stories) that I could use to illustrate good and bad approaches to the topic.  Here’s what I have so far; can you add to my list?


How Science Works I

Imagine with me that you’re sitting in your living room, watching TV.  A baseball crashes through the window on the north side of your house.  What story do you compose in your mind to explain what has happened?

Well, if you live in a neighborhood where the kids play catch in their yards, you probably assemble a story based on things you’ve seen (kids playing ball) and things you know about people (Billy, the neighbor boy to the north, is always running into things and breaking things.)

You take something you observe (a baseball breaking glass on the north side of your house and landing on your living room floor) and combine it with previous knowledge (a neighborhood full of kids, Billy’s predilections, the fact that his house is on the north side of your house) to explain what happened.

THAT’S WHAT SCIENCE DOES.

  1. Scientists observe stuff.
  2. Then they mix what they observe with previous knowledge (knowledge from previous observations) to form hypotheses about what happened.

Then (3) they test their hypotheses.  For example: what happens if you go next door and find out that Billy has been away at a relative’s house all week, and was not in the same zip code with you when the ball crashed through your window?  You adjust your explanation / hypothesis.

How does this apply to the discussion of Genesis 1 and the Big Bang?  

When scientists say that the universe is 13.77 billion years old, they are (for the most part) not trying to attack Genesis 1.  They’re stating the results of a whole bunch of complex observations, and a whole bunch of extremely complicated math.

They’ve observed the presence and prevalence of different elements in the galaxy; the distance from earth of the cosmic background radiation that appears to be the most distance phenomenon we can observe, etc.

And based on all those observations, and a whole lot more math than I want to think about, they say (in essence): “What I see makes sense IF the universe is 13.77 billion years old, and it began with the explosion of a singularity that initially contained all space-time, …”

Which is a lot like dusting the broken glass off the baseball, picking it up and taking it next door, and saying to Billy’s dad, “What I see makes sense if Billy is in town, and he and his friends were playing baseball in the side yard.”

The Party of Reagan Is Dead …

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… long live the principles of Reagan.

Witness the greatness of @jimgeraghty, in today’s Morning Jolt.

Considering the Circumstances, Why Shouldn’t We See a Revolt at the Convention? 

Why is anyone surprised that talk of a delegate revolt at the convention in Cleveland is picking up? Donald Trump isn’t doing the basic tasks a presidential candidate is supposed to do.

He isn’t hiring staff; he has about 30 paid staff around the country while Hillary Clinton has something in the neighborhood of 700.

He’s refusing to spend any money on ads:

The Clinton campaign and its allies are airing just over $23 million in television ads in eight potential battleground states: Nevada, Colorado, Iowa, Ohio, Florida, North Carolina, Virginia and New Hampshire, according to data released by NBC News.

The Trump campaign? Zero.

Either Trump is illiquid, or he doesn’t have the money.

He’s either refusing to fundraise, or seriously slacking in this key component of a presidential campaign:

While Trump had promised Priebus that he would call two dozen top GOP donors, when RNC chief of staff Katie Walsh recently presented Trump with a list of more than 20 donors, he called only three before stopping, according to two sources familiar with the situation. It’s unclear whether he resumed the donor calls later.

He’s destroyed existing relationships between the Republican party and corporate America that previously had been beyond the realm of policy differences:

Apple has told Republican leaders it will not provide funding or other support for the party’s 2016 presidential convention, as it’s done in the past, citing Donald Trump’s controversial comments about women, immigrants and minorities.

Unlike Facebook, Google and Microsoft, which have all said they will provide some support to the GOP event in Cleveland next month, Apple decided against donating technology or cash to the effort, according to two sources familiar with the iPhone maker’s plans.

He’s getting less popular and he’s only creating more headaches for everyone else in the party. He’s trailing in Kansastied in Utah, and Arizona looks shaky.

Republican primary voters selected a candidate with very little appeal to the broader electorate. So which is worse? Alienating the 13.8 million voters who selected him in the primary? Or alienating a majority of the 120 million to130 million who will vote in November? There’s no good option left; which one is less bad?

For those arguing the delegates have no business overruling primary voters . . . What are delegates for if not to avert a disaster like this? If they aren’t there to use their judgment and conscience, we might as well replace them with programmable robots.

Say this for a ticket out of any two other Republican lawmakers: that ticket will not destroy the party. It’s first act after a terror attack will not be to congratulate itself. It will not suddenly call the troops thieves. It will not call an Indiana-born judge “the Mexican.” An Anybody-Anybody ticket will stop creating problems for other Republicans and start solving them.

I’ve said all along that Trump was trolling the GOP and had no intention of being elected or serving as President.

Chalk all this up to confirmation bias if you wish, BUT: after Trump loses to Hillary in proportions McGovernesque / Mondaleseque, and goes laughing back to his casinos and cocktail parties and dalliances with his friends’ wives and daughters, remember: he’s laughing at you.

He’s laughing at the gullible GOP primary voters, the gullible Evangelicals who hated Obama and Clinton more than they cared about following Jesus, and the GOPe who thought they could use him for their purposes.

He’s laughing at everyone who took him seriously.

Play Manchurian candidate with me for a moment: if the Clintons ( or the Illuminati) had plotted to ruin the GOP by taking it over from the inside, would it have played out much differently from this?  (Chalk that one up to paranoia, I guess.)

Like the scorpion said to the fox: “You knew what I was before you let me climb on your back.”  Republicans: you knew what he was.

This is the death of the GOP as we know it.  Good riddance.  And the death of a whole bunch of GOP careers: even better riddance.

I pray a more principled, disciplined center of gravity for conservatism develops in the GOP’s wake.  The party of Reagan is dead; long live the principles of Reagan.

Dead & Company, Cincinnati, 2016-6-16

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You want to see & hear what I partook in last night?  Here’s a link to the recap, setlist, and audience recording of the show.

My memories of the show:

  • Mayer was great.  His vocals were great.  He played “Jerry-style”–the pins-and-needles major key arpeggios and modal stuff, always bending up to the major instead of the minor (which is more SRV), but on the jams–especially Viola Lee Blues, where he played an old SG–he played more of the SRV-shaped stuff I’m used to hearing from him.
  • Weir is a hoss.  He’s sixty-eight years old, and he stood toe-to-toe with John Mayer for 3 hours 40 minutes.
  • Kreutzmann and Hart are amazing, too.  Drums > Space > Viola Lee redux was awesome, even though it felt like they kept trying to dovetail into a different song.
  • Maybe it was just the adrenalin of being at the show, but I remember EVERY song being tight and excellent.
  • The jams and dovetailing were not super-smooth or telepathic.  There were a half-dozen or so clunky moments where one song was finished and they wanted to go somewhere else, but didn’t quite know how to get there smoothly.
  • Two disappointments:
    • FIRST, they didn’t play any of the rare gems (although the triumphal Box of Rain was amazing.)  I didn’t expect Dark Star, but a St Stephen? Or Scarlet > Fire.  Or Playing in the Band. Or (dare I dream it?) a Terrapin Station.
    • SECOND, Oteil Burbridge is an incredible bass player, and he brought a lot of energy and personality even without taking the microphone.  But I’d really love to see Phil Lesh.
  • The highlight of the night, and one of the greatest musical experiences of my life, was Jack Straw.  The vocals (Weir and Mayer) were smooth and strong, and the jams at the end were simply furious.

It was the perfect evening with my beautiful daughter, and the best Father’s Day gift ever.

Oh, and I got a really cool t-shirt.  I haven’t worn tie-dye since the 7th grade.

On Monogamy and Sexuality

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A question for “Ask Science Mike“:

I have a question about monogamy and sexuality.

There appear to be many reasons that monogamy is preferable to promiscuity. Families are more likely to be stable, which makes society more likely to be stable. Sexually transmitted diseases. Strengthening commitment between partners. Plus there’s that whole, “thou shalt not commit adultery” thing, which–even with the differences between ancient Israel and the modern West–still holds a great deal of authority and brings numerous benefits.

But monogamy does not appear to be natural. I’m an evangelical Christian, married, heterosexual, fifty-something-white-guy.  From experience and observation, it’s clear that most heterosexual males are naturally interested in more than one partner–biological imperative, whatever.

But for a variety of reasons, I and many people like me don’t seek out or cultivate opportunities to be with other partners. Christianity teaches me that my desire for other partners is from the ego / flesh, is sinful, etc. In addition to wanting stable families and stable societies, and to avoid sexually transmitted diseases, etc., I don’t want to betray God that way.

So: the best thing for me and men like me to do is to fight that part of our sexual nature, deny and discipline it.

How then is the opposite argument–“it’s their nature, you can’t fight against or judge acts (to say nothing of judging people) that are according to nature”–used to legitimize same sex attraction? I sense that in some ways, I’m comparing apples and oranges. Help me suss this out.

P in Dallas