About Me

Phoenix, AZ, United States

Wednesday, November 3, 2010


You've probably heard at one time or another something to the effect: Not religion, but relationship. This is a common slogan I hear a lot these days. I think it stems from a misunderstanding of the term religion. Another related platitude is, "I don't do organized religion." But what is religion? What does it mean to be religious? It seems to me that we can strip all sorts of things from common notions of religion and find that most essentially religion is a system or set of beliefs. Or to be religious is to hold to a set of beliefs that have a particular relationship to one another. So where does this notion that religion or being religious is something intrinsically undesirable come from?

People throughout history have done atrocious things, this is a fact. Of course they continue to do so and often in groups. Moreover, coteries have philosophies, that is, they share some common interests which involve shared beliefs. Some of these groups profess belief in transcendent entities. Some of them promulgate belief in God. And some of these persons even do horrendous things in the name of God. Clumsy critics point to the beliefs or sets of beliefs for what the people do with them. Even in the case that atrocities are inconsistent with the professed beliefs, these critics take such occasions as something wrong with the belief systems intrinsically. But this of course is nothing more than a mistake. I mean just because Bob says he believes in Zeus and kills babies because he believes that Zeus wants him to, does not mean that belief in Zeus itself is problematic. We have a missing premise to get to that conclusion. Something about how belief in Zeus logically entails the carrying out of infanticide. Or even perhaps some level of scientific correlation between the holding of a particular set of beliefs and the act of baby killing.

I don't know too much about how other religions have responded to this attack on Religion as a whole. I do know that Christians have responded by rejecting the term "religion" and I think this is a mistake. Two wrongs don't make a right. If critics have made a poor assessment in identifying the behavior of some to be constitutive of Religion as a whole and thereby have condemned belief systems, then we ought not respond by assenting to their mistake. What we should do is point out where the mistake is and correct it. If you define religion by considering what some people have done with it, then you've done a poor job in your defining. The holding of certain beliefs does not by itself lead to evil; that is too broad a brush stroke. This is the line of thinking that people have bought into. Why don't we press our critics to define just what they mean by religion and not let them get away with poor categories and definitions. And anyway, running from a word or replacing it with a euphemism may only create an illusion and solve very little. My point of course is not to say that all religions are good, or that all persons whom are religious are good. My point is that it makes little sense to categorically deny religion because at root it is a system of beliefs.  That would be to act in haste.

One other aspect to consider is this: in Christian circles, being religious has become synonymous to something like, being legalistic. But these are not two ways of saying the same thing. Legalism is to do things out of duty without understanding the meaning/significance of it. You can do anything, habitually, and devoid of significance. That is to say, you can do anything like robot. Many have responded by denying religiosity. But again this is to make a similar mistake as the aforementioned. You are mistaking a system of beliefs with doing things like an android.

I say be religious, have a system of beliefs (everyone already does anyway). Just be intent about examining them and critical about how you live and judge each system of beliefs by its constituent beliefs and their relations. Hating on Religion itself, is essentially hating on any body of interrelated beliefs and that is unclear thinking.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Creator and the created.

It is a beautiful Sunday afternoon. We got home from service, had some lunch and now I am sitting on the patio trying to take a moment to sit quietly, think, and perhaps speak 'a few reasonable words' (to borrow from Goethe). We are still learning (and very slowly) what it means to make the most of such a day. At church we often discuss the purpose of observing the sabbath and I am glad for it. The last thing I want it to become is another set of rules to follow for the sake of following them. I have a tendency to lose the meaning of things quickly and to settle into perfunctory motions. Mostly though I find myself still far from keeping the day holy probably because I am not fully convinced of its importance quite yet...

Today, I feel the tiredness of another week having passed. My statement is at once quite natural and odd. Natural because we often speak of time as something passing. As if it were a speeding train or river hurrying by. Of course, if it is a moving body of water, it is most certainly carrying us along for the ride. Despite the ease with which we talk about time, and the extent to which our lives are governed by it, I don't think many people think much about the nature of time. And this is why I have said my statement of the 'week passing' is odd. Consider for a moment this question: 'what is time?' Obviously it isn't the sort of thing you can bump into, taste, touch, or smell. On the other hand it doesn't seem quite like it is nothing either. I mean what can you say about nothing? Certainly not that it flows, or that it passes.

On one view, time is a relationship between events; this is what Aristotle believed. It is not that time is a thing or substance out there in the world (loosely the Newtonian picture), but rather a measure of change. On such a view, at least something must move, grow, speed up, slow down, be born, die, bounce, or roll in a word, something must change for there to be such a thing as time. In other words, without change it would be senseless to talk about time as a real. Imagine for a moment if everything in the universe were to suddenly freeze. There would be no new events (i.e., until everything were again unfrozen). There are other views regarding time's nature, but at least most agree that there is this intimate relationship between change and time.

It is interesting that according to Christian Theism, God is eternal, and unchanging. Provided we accept the relational view, we can conceive of time beginning to exist only with the first appearance of an event. This would mean that God would not be ignorant of time, but that he is also not constrained by it. Of course this is not true of us or anything in the material world. Everything is changing... and so we are confronted with the fundamental distinction between creation and the Creator.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Christian Delusion

This post finds me at my local corporate bookstore. I happened across a book titled, The Christian Delusion edited by John Loftus (author of Why I Became An Atheist). The book is a compilation of essays by various scholars (of various fields) about the implausibility of Christian belief. I have worked through the introduction and the first two essays in a semi-comfy green striped chair. I will have to return to my studies shortly, but the book has provided a good intermission. I also thought I might post a short blog about the book. What caught my attention about this work is that the so many of its contributors would consider themselves to have been at one time "believers."

The first essay was by an anthropologist and the second by a psychologist. To be honest, the former didn't peak much interest in me. The author essentially argued that some religions become cultures in that doctrines infiltrate every part of a persons life. This in turn is thought to make it more difficult for adherents of such coteries to obtain any amount of objectivity when assessing their beliefs. Instead of viewing religion as a crutch, the writer argued that religion is the very lens through which people interact with reality. I honestly can't understand how this was much of a contribution to academia. Ok, so people tend to be biased. No kidding... Perhaps I was hoping for too much from this guy...

The second essay on the other hand was a bit more intriguing. Its author considers a psychological explanation to the phenomena of "religious experiences" and "born again encounters." To be fair, he doesn't provide much scientific data, but rather recounts anecdotal evidence.

But before he gets into the gist of his argument some time is spent talking about just how irrational people tend to be according to the field of psychology. Again this is merely anecdotal, but it isn't very difficult for me to believe him. More specifically he points out that people will tend to accept beliefs based on feelings or sentiments rather than for good reasons (and often despite). In other words, people tend to express an irrational epistemology. Of course, this is a general statement that applies to all. Further it isn't a claim of necessity (that is people aren't necessarily always going to be irrational).

The next point was more interesting and had to do with "religious experiences." When believers are pressed for justification for their belief in an invisible God they often report having some personal, supernatural encounter. These experiences are phenomenal in that they are "felt" and such subjectivity is thought to be proof enough. The psychologist offers an interesting argument to repudiate such a view which is that these phenomenal experiences can be explained another way. What is more, he argues that a simpler psychological explanation can suffice to account for such experiences. In the philosophical and scientific communities there is such a thing called the principle of Parsimony. It is often overstated and presumptive but the general idea isn't super controversial. In essence, parsimony requires that when provided with two proposed explanations for a phenomena all things considered (that is, provided that the two proposals account for the phenomena equally well) then we ought to go with the simpler of the two. This often means that we shouldn't multiply entities beyond necessity. I have my qualms about parsimony but I think when applied well it is useful. Maybe an illustration of its application may help.

Suppose I hear a knocking sound on my front door which is not possible to see through. Not being able to see the cause of the sound I can hypothesize that a person is on the other side of the door causing the noise or I can posit that a mystical creature like an elf from some clandestine land is the cause. The latter requires me to make a further ontological commitment namely, the existence of some mystical being while the former does not (presumably people do exist). Both could equally explain the noise on my door of course, but one is simpler than the other. It is by this principle that the author of the essay in question concludes that "religious experiences" should not be accepted as proof in the existence of God. I think this is a strong argument against anyone who argues from religious experience alone to the existence of God. Such an argument would go something like this (and should make you cringe):

1) I had a esoteric, out of this world experience of God's presence.
2) Therefore, God must exist.

It is by all accounts a pretty terrible argument but I am sorry to say I hear it a lot among believers.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Dwelling in Darkness

I should be asleep, but I am restless for some reason. I stayed up all evening into the early morning working on a paper for my History of Modern Philosophy class and thus I am going on very few hours of sleep. I suppose the writing of this blog, the subtle hum of the hard drive mixed with the sound of the tiny clicks that result from my key strokes and the silence of another day turning over will soon make heavy my eyelids...

I went outside to write on the patio because I thought it would be perfect on a night like this. But that lasted about 2 minutes. It was too cold outside. The idea of it was better than the actuality and I suppose that much of our lives are this way. We romanticize things, pursue them with all our might only to find that we are met with disappointment. Perhaps it is for this reason that some have resorted to enjoying the anticipation of an event more than the actual event; like the preparation of a trip over the trip itself.

This evening ended with a conversation that I had with my friend Chad. We talked a bit about how it is that we as humans tend to imprison ourselves. He likened it to a prisoner that find himself in Alcatraz today; despite the open cells and the constant visiting of tourists, such a person is deluded into thinking that he cannot leave. I thought that was an interesting metaphor; a true one. I have been thinking a great deal about the reason why such phenomenon occur, that is, why do we continue to keep ourselves shackled to our old, desparate ways of life? Or why are we so slow to change for the good?

At church our pastor often teaches about the reality of self deception and self justification in our lives. Scripture is saturated with examples. That is to say:

"The heart above all things is deceitful and desperately wicked." - Jeremiah 17:9

In our conversation we talked about how we hate the light just like it says in the prologue to John's gospel. Katie and I had a discussion about this the other day also. The gospel writer says that the word became flesh and dwelt among us, and that it was the light of nature. Further, those in darkness hated this light because of what it exposed. I have this picture in my mind of cave dwellers who know of nothing better than their dark, dingy, holes of earth. Then as light is shined upon them, it exposes just what a hole it is that they are living in. But instead of heading toward the truth (the light), it is as if the inhabitants simply shut their eyes, turn around and move only further into the depths of their depravity... but it just doesn't make sense why we respond in this manner. It is after all, a cave. It might be a different matter if we were flourishing; but we aren't.

It is incredible that I continue to hate the light and that I run from it. To add insult to injury, what I run to is worthless. This is our nature the depravity of sin in our lives. We are disgusted by what is beautiful and enticed by what is foul. Who can save us from this body of death?

Friday, April 2, 2010


It is Good Friday. It is the day that we believers commemorate the trial and death of our Lord. I woke up this morning as if it were any other Friday barely getting myself out of bed. I went about my routine and attended class and nothing was too far out of the ordinary. I returned home this afternoon and fell asleep for a time as a result of the lack of sleep I have experienced for much of this week. As I woke, I realized that it was in fact a special day and found myself upset that I had so easily forgotten.

I brewed some coffee and went for a short drive only to get out of the apartment for a while and upon my return began reading Matthew’s gospel beginning in Christ’s last teachings before he is brought before the Sanhedrian. Here is the picture: Jesus has just shared a number of parables with his followers, all of which seem to be centered on being watchful and prepared for things to come. Then they proceed to Simon's house just before the last supper when an unidentified woman (John records her as Mary) anoints Christ with costly perfume. The disciples grumble that she has wasted money, which is something that I could easily imagine myself saying in their place. John records that it was Judas in fact that led this charge interestingly enough. The Lord’s response is instructive as usual; he challenges the disciple’s narrow pragmatism; they are missing something of vital importance.

Christ's explanation cut me like a knife. Matthew recounts the savior's words as thus: “When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial…” It seems then that she knows and believes what is to come, something even the disciples will struggle to understand. Christ must be crucified to fulfill the prophecies, to save the world; she fully anticipates it. John provides us the further detail that she washed his feet with her hair and I think this is a beautiful picture of her adoration for Jesus. She knows that he must die at the hands of men, that he must leave her and I don't imagine this was easy for her but perhaps she has the will of God in mind something that Peter will soon wrestle with. Again it appears that Mary has paid close attention to the details putting the disciples to shame. If you will recall this is the same Mary that sat at foot of Christ in a previous episode, listening intently to his words while her sister Martha was busy with preparations. Mary is said to have chosen the more valuable...

I missed the bulk of Good Friday because I was busy with business as usual. I am most interested in what this might reveal about my divided heart these days. Am I seeking to know God above all else? Is He my portion? No, I continue to wrestle with God. I continue to get entangled in the vain things of this world. I am more like the disciples at the garden of Gethsamane who in light of the fact that their Lord is in deep distress, and in light of all that is to come, with heavy eyelids keep falling asleep...

"Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak." - Matthew 26:41

Saturday, January 16, 2010


“Twenty -four failures, twenty-four tries…” -Switchfoot

The last year and a half have been a time of some significant changes. I have gotten engaged, left music for academia, and as I have previously mentioned Katie and I have started attending a new church. These are the apparent changes, but more remain under the surface and these I believe to be far more substantial. For one, I have been on a spiritual journey having left what was for so many years comfortable for me in exchange for the unknown. In some minor way I am reminded of the scriptures: Abraham was called by God to leave his home and travel to Ur, Moses from Egypt to the promised land and the apostles from Jerusalem to the Gentile nations.

I suppose we may all be called at some time to abandon that which is most familiar to us in order to sojourn to the beyond. Unfortunately, though we may leave our past surroundings toward the call it is often not without baggage. The manner in which we have previously grown creates for us certain paradigms, ways of thinking and acting, sometimes perfunctory patterns and as we venture out we find a collision of spheres: New wine and old wine skins. Thus, the journey is long and arduous with great obstacles. We encounter a battle within ourselves and all of our:

“twenty-four parts…”

According to biblical tradition, the Israelites essentially walked around in a circle for 40 years because their hearts required immense change; they had to be broken of their former ways of existence and it wasn’t pretty and I guess I feel as though I have been and continue on a similar path.

I have been a child in the spiritual sense for years. I have survived off of only milk.. I have had zeal without knowledge and have thought like a child. But I am trying to move ahead toward the Zion; to put off childish ways and to reason like a man only I continue to crawl on the floor dribbling at the chin.

“There’s twenty-four reasons to admit that I’m wrong, with all my excuses still twenty-four strong…"

In Deuteronomy 2, it is written that God had to humble the hearts of his people during the exhausting exodus to the land of the promise. Through their complaining and nostalgia for Egypt they had to press on, but they had to be transformed in the process and this could be done no other way than through constant failures, which I suppose could bring one to their knees.

I was thinking about all of this when I turned to the book of Hebrews a moment ago. Here is sort of the outline of the epistle: Paul exhorts believers not to neglect the word of God (Ch 2); warns the church about regressing in learning and instead exhorts us to progress from immaturity to solid food (Ch 5 and 6); commands us to abstain from willful sinning which he equates to “trampling on the Son of God”, regarding “profane the blood of Christ”, and “insulting the Spirit of Grace” all of which are to bring judgment (Ch 10:26-31). Furthermore, the apostle calls us to endure (Ch 12) in light of the groundwork that has been laid by our parents in the faith (mentioned in Ch 11). This is then followed by a section on God’s discipline of those he calls children. Struggling against sin and enduring in the faith (against the odds) appear to be the context of the "fatherly discipline."

Tonight I was also thinking about some of my recent conversations with others of the faith. There remains great division within the church and substantive discussions too often confront us with this fact. Thus, as I venture out beyond- as I journey away from what has been comfortable and familiar, I encounter disparities with previous mentors and friends and this is not without some degree of pain. How interesting though that I am also struggling with the disparities within my self and I’d imagine that I am not alone in this. In fact, St. Augustine spends much of his Confession on this very issue. The apostle Paul in similar spirit wrote: “The good I want to do I don’t do and that which I don’t want to do I end up doing.” As I look at my journey I continue to discover my failings, inadequacies, depravity, and in short, the lack of unity within myself. I am a house divided against itself and at times I get pretty weary of encountering this reality. How many crappy things do I have to learn about myself each day and why do I keep failing?

"But I want to be one today, centered in truth…”

I'm glad I kept reading as I found these words towards the end of the letter to the Hebrews:

“No discipline seems enjoyable at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it yields the fruit of peace and righteousness to those who have been trained by it. Therefore strengthen your tired hands and weakened knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be dislocated, but healed instead.” Hebrews 12:11-12

One day "the lion will lay with the lamb" (Isaiah 11:6) and the church will be united as the bride of Christ (Rev 19:7) and along the way I suppose I will by his grace, pull my twenty-four pieces together.