Friday, April 18, 2008

Saint Paul the Subjugator?

I was helping out at church the other day, preparing supper in the kitchen. Opening the door to get some cups I was confronted by a paragraph from the book of First Corinthians, chapter 12.
The verses included were less than the following, but for sake of clarity here are more:

1 Cor 12 says:
14Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. 15If the foot should say, "Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body," it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. 16And if the ear should say, "Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body," it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. 17If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20As it is, there are many parts, but one body.

21The eye cannot say to the hand, "I don't need you!" And the head cannot say to the feet, "I don't need you!" 22On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, 24while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.
27Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.


It occurred to me how often I have heard this chapter preached at the door-minders, letter stuffers, dish washers, garbage handlers, and floor sweepers of the church by Ministers who delegate these positions of community-servanthood away from their busy schedule of sermonising. (I'll take this chance to exclude my current Pastor who does as good a job of trying to 'get it right' as I might hope for.)
I would be a fool not to concede that in any healthy community not everybody can perform identical roles at any one time. But the first-will-be-last/last-shall-be-first argument only holds so much water when so many Pastors seem, in reality, to use scripture to justify elevating themselves functionally to the top of the heap in their own little theocratic fiefdom.

Sick of washing dishes? Take heart, your work is indispensable! After all, should the eye say to the hand, "I don't need you"?
Want a shot at preaching? Sorry, but I mean, if the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? If we were all one part, where would the body be? You wouldn't want that, now would you?

When people do this subjugating theology with the contrasting biblical context being the highly ranked nature of Roman society it seems they don't quite so easily notice the replica Emperors in their own midst.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

An Answer to Nihilism

Ecclesiastes 9:2-3,10
2It is the same for all There is one fate for the righteous and for the wicked; for the good, for the clean and for the unclean; for the man who offers a sacrifice and for the one who does not sacrifice. As the good man is, so is the sinner; as the swearer is, so is the one who is afraid to swear.
3This is an evil in all that is done under the sun, that there is one fate for all men Furthermore, the hearts of the sons of men are full of evil and insanity is in their hearts throughout their lives. Afterwards they go to the dead.

10Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might; for there is no activity or planning or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol where you are going.
In about 5 Billion years time our Sun will burn low on its essential fuels, flowering like the desperate bloom of a parched plant, while its heart cools and withers into a tiny pearl at the centre of its new, planetary nebula. We, should we still exist, will die.

In about 3 Billion years time the Andromeda galaxy will collide with our own, the Milky Way, entwining itself in a chaotic dance of destruction that will last another Billion years as it forges a new galaxy. We, should we still exist, will die.

Nothing we do now will matter when this happens; if the sky rains with fire or if the sun fades in its final sunset.

But does it matter now that it won't matter in 3 Billion years?

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Atheism & the art of reasonableness

Rationality

1. the state or quality of being rational
2. the possession or exercise of reason
3. agreeableness to reason; reasonableness.


Reason

1. a statement presented in justification or explanation of a belief or action
2. sound judgement; good sense
3. normal powers of a sound mind; sanity
4. Logic. the premise of an argument
5. Philosophy.
a. the faculty or power of acquiring intellectual knowledge, either by direct understanding of first principles or by argument.
b. the power of intelligent and dispassionate thought, or of conduct influenced by such thought.

I would like to be able to say that I believe the existence of a god or of, in fact, a supernatural component to the universe at all, but I would be lying if I said so for sure.

I don't think that having a certain and solid belief in God is an unpleasant place to be. On the contrary, it is quite comforting and generally quite a nice way to exist. Unfortunately, however, finding myself part of a warm and accepting social group - such as within a church or a home group - tells me little more than acceptance from other people is nice.

I find myself asking questions about God and bouncing around the topics of faith, belief, evidence and rationality. Some people warn against the idea of being too rational, saying that faith (as defined by a belief without or despite evidence) is the only reliable final step towards finding God. That doesn't sit well with me. Sure, in the purely philosophical sense of 'rationality' it would be untenable to commit every minute facet of life to a full blown Dr Dana Scully autopsy before we acted upon it or believed it.
What I am asking for is simply that I want to use the exercise of sane reason and understanding to see something tangible about God that is a good basis for the justification & explanation of the claims of Christianity. As Saint Paul would say, I'm looking for a message,

"not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that [my] faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God" (1 Cor 2:4-5)

It occurred to me years ago that a fairly good indicator that psychics and spiritualists were a bunch of con-artists was that if somebody actually possessed reliable supernatural abilities that would become very rich, very famous, and very powerful in a very short space of time. Look at the absolute obsession we get over a TV series like Heroes, or fictional characters like the X-Men. If a person really was able to read somebody's mind like Professor X, use telekinesis like Jean Grey, or predict the future like Isaac Mendez, wouldn't they get a better spot on television than Ghost Whisperer, Haunted Homes, and Sensing Murder. Wouldn't they get a better place in society than the strange booth in the local market?

But can't the same criticism be levelled of preachers and their prophesies and crusades with their faith healers?

Why does faith seem to comprise wrestling with verbally dextrous wording and ambiguous facts in order to try and make the statistically insignificant become the be all and end all?

Something that comes up with regularity in my conversations about God with others is that they refer to their 'relationship with Jesus'. I'm no stranger to this concept, having considered myself a Christian all my life and a passionate one for at least the last 10 years. Right now, however, this kind of wording mostly feels like a clever way of saying precisely nothing; conveying nothing, at least.

If the James Randi Educational Foundation - with their $1,000,000 challenge to paranormal, supernatural, or occult powers - had some Christians step up to the plate I wonder what would happen. According to the words of Jesus in John 14:12-14, we should be seeing an awful lot.