Thursday, December 23, 2010

Ancient Horoscope Discovered

An ancient version of the horoscope has been discovered. Experts say it is frighteningly accurate.

Ariested
 (March 21 -
April 19) You will be arrested today or sometime soon, perhaps when your Taurus is caught travelling at a speed of greater the 90mph.

Taurust
 (April 20 -
May 20) Your car will rust and you will experience great difficulty trusting people.
Courtesy Veltzer Doron
by way of Wikimedia Commons

Gemmini 
(May 21 -
June 20) You will buy a very small diamond for your girlfriend.

Canker 
(June 21 -
July 22) You’ll get a mouth ulcer this year. No kissing Virgon.

LeoeL 
(July 23 -
August 22) You’ll vote for mama grizzly, Mrs. Palindrome.

Virgon
 (August 23 -
September 22) You will remain virtuous throughout the year. Avoid Piesces and Gemmini.

Librarian
 (September 23 -
October 22) You love every other books you read. Do not read autobiographies of LeoeLs.

Scorpion 
(October 23 -
November 21) You’re a mean SOB. Mortal enemies of Capricorny.

Saggingtarius 
(November 22 -
December 21) You’ll have back problems from waiting for Ariested.

Capricorny 
(December 22 -
January 19) You’ll wear cropped pants and tell bad jokes.

Aquarium 
(January 20 -
February 18) You’re in the fish tank. Befriend piesces.

Piesces
 (February 19 -
March 20) You’ll receive at least three cuts of each pizza served this year.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Ross Douthat's Christmas Worries

Ross Douthat opines for the New York Times that Christmas is especially hard for those "who actually believe in it." There is, he says, a ruinous interplay of materialism and multiculturalism. And then actual Christianity is held hostage, transmuted into a religion of entertainment.

This brief opinion primarily sets up a review of several recent books on American religion: Robert Putnam and David Campbell's American Grace and James Davidson Hunter's To Change the World. I have yet to read these books, but everything I have read about them suggests they should be stocking stuffers for your 'theological prescripts' friends! Get at it!

I'm more interested here, however, in Douthat's opening salvo. I have often wondered whether there is anything to the 'keep Christ in Christmas' crowd and have mused about the 'Christmas is pure materialism' rants of others. Frankly, neither claim moves me very much. My guess is that this is related to the religion of my youth.

Back in the day, the hellfire and brimstone Evangelical Christianity of my parents did little to move me, except to push me to a kind of juvenile depression, but Christmas was a magical time of year. I was a kid, and had a lot of wants, so materialism hit the right note. (A footnote: the incarnation is a materialistic a religious creed. The 'carne' is flesh.) Like all kids, I loved presents and wondered what would be under the tree for me. There was a sense of expectancy and hope.

Image, courtesy Osvaldo Gago
CC Attribution Share-Alike 3.0
via WikiCommons
How authentically Christian this all was--the tree is pagan, the 25th is the day of the birth of the Sun, yawn--didn't matter to me. It matters even less now. What did matter was that the town as a whole seemed to be recognizing something important. My town became Bethlehem. The town joined to sing at the Community Green, and the people actually became choirs of angels. In our family, my depression-era parents, my mother especially though with my dad's consent, overspent on us kids. Something in the air drove them to that. In retrospect, I see in those elements discernible Christian features, and not simply because the Christ child was being celebrated. Christianity suspends the normal and taken for granted and brings in a kind of gracious excess.

The multicultural element in Douthat's plaint also doesn't touch me. These days I'm careful to wish people Happy Holidays, unless I know they are Christian. How does that lessen the meaning of Christmas? It's worth recalling that the Three Wise Men (in some Christmas pageants at Church, I probably played one of them) were among the first multicultural attendees to the Christ child's birth. They weren't invited, either; they were beckoned by the stars. The other day my seven year-old pretty Gentile son was teaching me about the Menorah, how its shamash is used, and the like. He paused in the middle of his substantial discourse to ask, "So what are we going to do, like, to celebrate Kwanzaa?" Surely the Three Wise Men liked that. I know I did.

In sum, here's my Holiday Prescript: Give, receive, love family and friends, call to mind soldiers in distant lands, ask for a thousand Christs to bring peace on earth, eat/overeat, look for the divine in each moment, seek an enemy to forgive--and forgive. Pay your bills in January, and get to the gym, too.

Theology of the Amygdala?

Prescripts readers are invited to RITN, for a discussion of brain, body, soul--and reductionism: Theology of the Amygdala?

Saturday, December 18, 2010

When time runs out...

As I type, the battery indicator on my laptop is telling me that 21 minutes remain: after that, lights out, unless there's a recharging session. What of our life when time runs out? Luther once wrote a sermon 'On Preparing to Die.' For him, death was fearsome but could be faced down with the succor of faith.

Some proclaim in certain terms to know what's next: heaven or hell, rebirth, nothing. Their certainty is a thin veneer over palpable anxiety. The nothing-nexters say we're simply dead and gone. They may well be right, but we can't be certain of it, either.

Some counsel, just make sure you use your 21 minutes, 21 years, or 91 years with as much commitment and vigor as you can. Good advice, save that no one does this. We all have moments of regret, laziness, lack of commitment, and the like. Then perhaps we should simply settle for a good fraction: say 91 years at 90 percent. Alas, this approach also isn't very satisfying, since the lost 10 percent is, at least sometimes, the most important.

Whatever we say, death is tough news. If life is simply over for us, it's not over for those who see us into the ground. So much more remains to be said, but...times up. Really, 2 minutes to go. Alas.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Jesus and Siddhartha Gautama: were they to have met...

Leave aside that Siddhartha lived six centuries before Jesus, were they to have met, what would they have talked about?

I'm imagining the briefest encounter, say on the train, between stops. Four minutes for the Christ and Buddha-to-be to discuss the issue on the forefront of their minds.

Monday Night Football?
The Tax Bill?
How Obama is letting us down/inspiring us like no other?
Suicide bombings?
Afghanistan/Iraq?
Social Security?
Universal health care?

My guess is that one would ask the other, is Kendall Station the next stop?

Cliff Lee Runs Afoul of America's Religions

Cliff Lee has reportedly accepted a five-year $100 million offer to play for the Phillies, $50 million less than the Yankees had offered.

Lee is running afoul of two American religions: making money, wherein more is always better than less, regardless what else is at stake; and baseball, the American pastime/religion of summer months, wherein the Yankees almost always get their way.

That the money soaked Yankees could not purchase Lee shows that, while these religions often run together, there are moments when they do not. Everyone, the Yankees included, must feel good about that.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Plato's Internet

Plato's Republic offers the profound insight that the city-state can be studied as a projection of the soul. If you want to see justice in the soul, which is so small as to beggar the eyes, study it in the city-state, which is large and thus can be readily seen. Train your eyes to the larger frame, then look back to the soul. With some work, using this approach, you'll be able to see the soul's true nature.

Plato was concerned about justice and found that actual cities are feverish, driven by appetites, and thus do not reliably reveal the structure of justice. To see the structure of justice reliably, Plato sketches a conceptual Republic.

The feverish city is the one in which we live. Plato's understanding of knowledge and truth are quite different from Christian sources, but in translation his point is that sin dominates the city. If you want to understand justice, you really have to think about heaven or the kingdom of God.

If you want to understand sin, a term which might well be translated into other conceptual schemes, your best bet is to study 'the city.' A good focus nowadays is the Internet. The Internet is a double, a projection, of the 'unsaved soul.' It's all there: from the devotional and devout, to the hideous and harmful; from the loving and giving to the aggressive and destructive; from the high-minded to the pig pen.

What the Internet reveals about us, as a projection of our ad hoc interconnections, is less interesting than how it alters us over time. Every new projection includes, in lesser or greater measure, elements that derive from previous projections. There isn't an unprojected starting point; each moment is already conditioned by what is and what has been.

Plato thought that philosophers could escape this conditioning nexus but that most of us would need to die to be free from it. He believed that the body was more tied to feverish elements than the soul. The Internet seems to show that the soul is every bit as feverish as the body--and perhaps more so.

Plato's project in the Republic was to conceive a realm of justice, that of free citizens living according to justice. That is, he hoped to show how human beings could realize their full potential, the core of which he thought was essentially divine. This project should be rethought for the twenty-first century.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Wikileaks, G-d, and G-d's Kingdom

Wikileaks reveals many things, not least of which is how 'private' voice and 'public' claim are frequently at variance. All of the deep inhalations of exasperation testify against us, to discomfort with our own duplicity--that, too, was leaked. That our duality was already known is little comfort, for their was great comfort in publicly denying what was privately held, and privately mocking what was publicly heralded. There was great comfort in acting like the world of discourse was one. That comfort, though illusory, was a prayer.

Let's define G-d as that which anything can be said, and nothing need be leaked; as that which leaks nothing and is what she says; as that in which duality is privatio boni.

Let's define the Kingdom of G-d as the biggest Wikileak in history, that in which every hiding bursts forth into the light of day, and instead of doom and judgment, naught but grace remains.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Prayer

Prayer is the mind's work at becoming un-insane, to see self and world, and mind, apart from apparitional conjurings and aspirational projections.

'God' is, perhaps, the mind's most powerful tool for creating true consciousness, 'God' being an artifact excavated from the mind's hidden regions.

Ramblings on Weakness and Liberalism

A thread connecting Moses and Paul is that weakness serves as a foundation for strength--or manifestation of divine power. Moses' inability to speak positions him to speak for the Delivering One. Paul glories in weakness and foolishness through which divine power and wisdom are made known.

Nietzsche diagnosed and rejected this thread more clearly than anyone else. On his interpretation, this weakness derived from the debased and lowly, and served as the foundation for 'transvaluation,' that the values of nobles would be rendered diabolical. The elegance of Nietzsche's rejection is faith in its purest form, save that it is inverted and rejected. His anti-Christ is a mirror-wide avatar of Christ.

The (seeming) Pauline influence on the Gospel of Mark, and thus also Matthew and Luke, is such that power is rendered questionable, unless it is given in service of others. Here, too, Nietzsche was clear sighted, for he saw that latent within Christianity was proto-liberalism, which was coming to flower in his lifetime, along with a countercurrent of hideous fascism.

Arguably Nietzsche articulates (and rejects) the deepest element of the cultural genome on which we continue to rely. The ideas contained in these genes simultaneously question power (hence commending, albeit indirectly, liberalism) and also urge protection of the vulnerable (hence commending, also indirectly, the welfare state). These ideas also press forward a powerful, and often forgotten, existential element: that possessing power intensifies the likelihood that we will live enslaved to our false ideations of the world. This is the spirit (in Weber's sense) of political liberalism.

On awakening

I was roused from dogmatic slumber by Kant, much as he had been by Hume. I was jostled to consciousness by the Buddha: awake, awake, he said. I was nagged to alertness by my seven year old son, abetted in this by the two year old.

To the philosopher, the enlightened sage, and my boys, I have one thing to say: I need coffee.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

O Lord

The people just wanna know,
why are you so brooding and silent
inclined to speak through loons
if you speak at all?

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Speaking of valuation...

ἀλλὰ καὶ αἱ τρίχες τῆς κεφαλῆς ὑμῶν πᾶσαι ἠρίθμηνται. μὴ φοβεῖσθε: πολλῶν στρουθίων διαφέρετε

Lk. 12.7

Good to know!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Really Intelligent Design

image credit: Wikimedia Commons
Earlier on Theo. Prescripts, I opined that intelligent design makes no sense. ID is residual creationism, a view which is neither scientifically nor theologically satisfactory.  But if evidence can be supplied for really intelligent design (RID), I'll go for it.

Here are a few items that will convince me:

1. a planet (anywhere will do) where grass outgrows weeds.
2. humans with four lungs, two of which have cancer-resistant qualities and can tolerate cigarette smoke for 99 years.
3. an immune system that doesn't take its cues from being initially subdued by critters.
4. a jungle where the animals can actually sing "The Lion Sleeps Tonight."
5. a planet (again, anywhere will do) where everyone named Heisenberg designs GPS systems.
6. a planet where there is no death, nothing ever runs out, and happiness prevails.
7. a planet where oil is in tanks under the ground, simply waiting to be uncorked.
8. a planet in which weekend days are five hours longer than weekday days.
9. a planet that requires no eating, nothing of anything else.
10. a planet without advertisements and commercials.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The divine telescope

To further a theme of opening one's eyes as per a previous post: we use a microscope to see very small objects; we use a telescope to see very distant objects; we use concepts to grasp large or complexly organized patterns: world, cosmos, self. Immanuel Kant called these regulative ideas.

It may be that without some concepts our vision is impeded, just as we cannot see very small or very distant objects without a microscope or telescope. The concept of God commends the largest possible perspective to us, at least ideally. It's surely true that some concepts of God limit and restrict vision; that's the essential notion of an idol. A task, and perhaps the task, of theology is to develop a concept of God that enhances our seeing of self, neighbor, world, and cosmos.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

A Post-Halloween Reflection

Join Gregory Crofford and me, for a discussion of the meaning of Halloween.
A Post-Halloween Reflection

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Open your eyes

Some of the most important religious and philosophical visions tell us that our eyes are closed, that we're sleeping, missing out or ignoring the most important elements of reality. What does it take to see what's really happening in our world? To break free, Moses-like, from accepting the enslavement of others? To see, Buddha-like, the interconnected energies of choice, action, and emotion that shape, and are, our world? To see, with a pure heart, the blessedness of God?

Church of the...

You perhaps have heard of the Church of the Assumption. There are a lot of them. They may--you can decide it--be outnumbered by the Church of the Presumption.

Church of the Assumption, Merkine, Lithuania
Image credit: Phillip Capper from Wellington, New Zealand [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Monday, October 25, 2010

God's address

God may have created the world (starry heavens, etc),
but s/he lives in the city.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Humbug Variations

“My right to swing my fist ends where your nose begins,” said (methinks) Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes. Leave aside that I have often cited John Locke as the author of this witticism; I am more interested in humbug variations. To wit:

As recently announced on Facebook, and this in response to my needing-a-diaper-change two year-old: your right to stink your stink ends where my nose begins.

Speaking of stinkers: your right to a perfect world ends where my imperfection begins.

And thus also: your right to a perfect world ends where your imperfection begins.

Your identification of a perfect religion ends well before it begins to convince many others

And thus also: your right to persuade others of the perfect religion ends where their resistance begins.

Your right to hand out pamphlets, knock on doors, and offer unrequested prayers is matched by others’ right to say ‘get lost,’ ‘the baby’s sleeping,’ and ‘tell-da big guy I say yo.’ Your right to persist ends when they say it ends.

Your right to be wrong (by denying evolution, for example) ends where the education of my child begins; your right to be right (by proclaiming your revealed truth, say) ends there also. So let’s offer a curriculum that gives students skills, knowledge, and power.

Your right to deny global warming ends when my morning cereal boils before it enters the microwave.

Your right to be mean-spirited begins with your acceptance of isolation and your inability to believe, and ends when your isolation and loss of faith confine others and construe them falsely.

So this is not 30 variations. Your right to write variations, so long as they do no harm, never ends. Add some in the comments….



Monday, October 18, 2010

With nod to Letterman: 10 reasons why Intelligent Design makes no sense

1. Dragon Flies, esp. @ picnics
2. Mosquitoes, anywhere
3. Cancer, anywhere
4. The epiglottis: yikes, switch for air, now for food...
5. Predators: All we are saying is 'give peace a chance'
6. Sociopaths (human predators)
7. Drives: e're noticed that your life doesn't necessarily follow its direction book?
8. "My ways are not your ways..."
9. Leno
10. Flatus

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Excess and Kingdoms

Setting: restaurant, with family
Actions: eating, amusements, laughter
Qualifiers: too much, excess, boisterously, annoying those sitting nearby
Outcomes: bloated, loved, connected more

The kingdom of God is like this.
Priceless. For everything else, there's MasterCard.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Thirty Three Resurrections

All 33 miners rescued in Chile. If you're like me, you find the notion of resurrection a bit difficult to accept. A body, held by the earth, raised to new life? Unlikely you say? Yes, unlikely. Thirty three in one day? That's the news from Chile. The joy of the family members, however one might characterize it, is a joy of resurrection, of life renewed in spite of death's power.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Meanings

In the beauty of a New England fall, two lovers marry. Their love represents the glory of creation, and the blessings pronounced in the ceremony call this glory to awareness. This glory lingers in the mind, and then all at once the fullness of everything is clearer and more luminous than normal. In each moment, new glories abound, and the world--as a creation--shines forth with inexhaustible meanings.

We express these meanings in word, music, and dance. But each expression also creates new meanings, and most of what we should see, understand, and express is hidden from view, not understood, and not said.

God is that which gives and knows all meanings and expresses them in ever new glories. If this is not so--admittedly this is quite possible--some meanings are lost permanently. The hopes entailed in meaningful union rest in divine embrace.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Error...

The most significant religions find us to be in a state of intellectual, moral, or spiritual error. Kierkegaard made much of the distinction between Greek error and Christian sin, but if error is viewed as a malady in various types, there's no reason to insist on K's distinctions. Greek, Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, Islamic, Hebrew, Freudian, Marxist...on these accounts, we're getting the most important stuff profoundly wrong.

Far from being pessimistic accounts, these diagnoses are various forms of optimism. Each says, however off the track you are, here's a way to get back on the straight path. Wake up and see for the first time, they say in various ways.

It's far more desperate when individuals and collective entities insist on their purity. That entails an at-some-level-deliberate truncation of reality and consciousness. But this is not to say we should rush headlong into deliberate--but acknowledged--error.

The least likely course is honest self-appraisal, but our ability to do that is ensnared by the errors we do not perceive or do not have the courage to admit.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Endings, grace and death

When our strivings have trapped us, when our doings have failed us, when our fusions have frayed us...our endings can lead us to grace that is unexpectedly buoyant and life-giving, or they can lead us to the abyss from which no one returns. 'God' is fierce and incomprehensible; life closely mirrors 'him.'

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Proof of a sinister force

Some happy-go-lucky religionists--Unitarian Universalists, for example--and some 'born with two bottles of champagne to their credit' (Wm James) secular optimists dismiss the idea of a sinister force, one which constantly and in all things fights against the oh-so-subtle work of the divine. To them, I offer the following as conclusive proof that a sinister energy is at work in the cosmos: despite a multi-week slide, the cloven-footed Yankees have earned a playoff berth again this year.

Don't know about you, but I'm going to force my kids to give up Halloween. One shouldn't toy with these malign spiritual energies.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Giving while it hurts...

Samuel Freedman reports today for the New York Times that tithing and other forms of religious giving are in steep decline. Two reasons appear to be at the base of it: the national recession has led many to see religious giving as discretionary, and the Boomer generation is less inclined than the Greatest Generation to give to organized religious groups.
I can hear the New Atheists issuing woop woops and cat calls. This will confirm their view that the secularization hypothesis eventually will be vindicated. This view holds that as modernity advances, organized religion will decline. On the other side, I can almost see the hand-wringing of the church boards and deacons.
My hunch is that the recession will continue to impinge upon religious giving. It also seems likely that the Boomer generation will continue its navel gazing habits, with its lionizing of spirituality and disdain of organized religion. But I don’t think the secularization hypothesis is given further credence by either of these data points. Nor is that discussion the most interesting.
In the longer run, it will be interesting to see what becomes of the generation being born now, whose parents are being marked by the recession. Their lives are being altered by a tremendous force outside their control. The previous generation’s confidence that all is well, that America always wins, and that the world is their oyster has been forever shattered. What will happen to the children who are raised by this crestfallen group? Only time will tell, of course, but it’s interesting to contemplate the possibilities.
It’s also worth remembering in these tough times that the social contexts in which the Hebrew Bible and New Testament were written were not ones of pre-recession American-style dominance. Some parts of the Hebrew Bible, with its glorious celebration of divine power, can lead one to a very mistaken historical impression. It may seem as if Israel was a world power, but it was not. The New Testament context of social marginalization is more front and center, so harder to miss. The Roman state, with its immense power, looms as a diabolical and threatening presence. By comparison Jesus and his small group of disciples are a rag-tag bunch. The early Church was at odds with the Roman state. Christianity was a small, and illegal, new religion. Thus, its language and assumptions are crafted from the standpoint of social powerlessness.
What’s interesting for American Christianity is that these ancient texts, with their background of powerlessness, are read in a new context in which dominance prevails. The new assumptions shape how the texts themselves are read. Ancient meanings become reborn in the new context. A task of theology is to actively shape this process.
The recession and its implications will open up dimensions of these ancient texts that have remained hidden. Where this will take us is hard to say, but at the least we should be aware that the implications of the recession go far deeper than a dip in tithing.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Destructiveness

Looking for a way to understand the power of destructiveness--war, hatred, self-abasement--Freud referred to the death instinct. Whatever one thinks of Freud and of this particular idea, we have to admit that human beings have an astonishing capacity to destroy. We also have an astonishing capacity to create: city skyscrapers rise from nothing to "touch the face of God;" saints resolve their passions so completely they can love in the face of hellish despair; scientists can comprehend the biophysical properties that account for the possibility of life. But each of these creative capacities contains the seeds of its own destruction.

We should grapple with the various interpretations of this destructiveness. Especially important in our time is evolutionary naturalism, but it is worth pondering why other creatures lack the destructive range of human beings. Does not the human capacity for self-destruction and strictly wanton destruction point to the need for some sort of extra-natural account of destructiveness?

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Never and Always

Never say never.
Never say always.

But 'never' and 'always'
frequently are used to qualify purported actions of God.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

God, ancient mind

God might be more, but God is ancient mind. Deep, unconscious, darkness, in these God dwells. There is every activity of mind here, save consciousness. This is the ancient of days. Beware.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Jeffrey Johnson's Sonic Labyrinth

Readers/listeners, near and far, check out Jeffrey Johnson's "Joy, sent from above;" a song of complicated love from Die Tote Stadt."

Funny Religion

From Heather Abraham's religionerd.com.

FunnyReligion

Poetry

Belief in God is to see the world as poetry.

What effect would it have to live a Kantian 'as if'
in which we

read the world as a poem,
and lived to complete its rhyme.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Freedoms, ancient and modern

Join me at Creedible Freedoms, ancient and modern, wherein Paul's view of eating meat offered to idols is applied to burning the Quran and building a mosque near Ground Zero.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Perspectacles

I was at the park today: New England's most glorious weather enlivened God's handiwork. Cool, slightly crisp, low humidity, kids of all sizes and shapes were bubbling with joy. The sky seemed big.

At least a dozen adults kept their eyes glued to the 2x3" lcd screen of their handheld device. Some never seemed to look up.

Plato and Paul combined couldn't explain this startling captivity to digitized images, nuggets of information, when the real thing is there without mediation.

But we're happy and free! God Bless America!!

Saturday, September 4, 2010

A task for (theologically inclined) animals

Darwin's 1837 Sketch
Evolutionary Tree
About evolutionary science, there is little doubt; yet we have the 'just a theory' crowd...

About much else, such as what we should do to teach the inner-dog not to bark at night, to roll over and play dead, and to enter upon the path of saintliness, would that doubt were more abundant.

The beguilement of certainty lies deep but drowns us in the shallows.

In each moment, the ancient past lives, tugging and pulling, pushing, guiding, without being known or knowable. The dark parts of psyche contain the at-once fragmented, all-at-once single, cosmos; but the cosmos contains the psyche.

All-time might come rolling out as the Holy Spirit wherein every known and unknown tongue resounds; she might fiercely reveal the cosmos's end-point and fiery destruction; it might cool the embers of hate with unfathomable compassion.

Theology works to untangle the known but denied and unknown but proclaimed.

Two concluding meditations/riddles:

Denis Diderot: "Wandering in a vast forest at night, I have only a faint light to guide me. A stranger appears and says to me: 'My friend, you should blow out your candle in order to find your way more clearly.' This stranger is a theologian."

The Ramones:. "I wanna be sedated."

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The truth abides

No religion is more heartfelt than a religion forsaken, nor any more practiced than a youthful religion rejected.

Monday, August 30, 2010

A few more prophetic licks

Johnny Cash on San Quentin



Public Enemy's Fight the Power

Rage Against The Machine - Vietnow

This is what we would call 'Protestant' theology...

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Religious Revival?

August 28, 2010

Glenn Beck addressed three hundred thousand, and perhaps as many as a half million or as few as ninety thousand, like-minded souls today to issue a call to revival. Get back to God, he said. Restore the core values of America! Beck, who once claimed that Barack Obama has a "deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture," chose the 47th anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I have a Dream" speech to issue the call to revival. This is worthy of our attention.

Let's define revival as a return to God--a turning away from images of, or surrogates for, God's reality.

Let's define as a false prophet one who proposes a 'return to God' that leads instead to renewed commitment to false images of the divine.

Let's admit that discerning these matters is tricky business. Glenn Beck on the one side and Al Sharpton on the other see matters quite differently, yet both invoke God. And maybe the good Lord is glad to have them both over for tea.

Religious texts are filled with supremely confident calls upon God as if it is certain that God will ratify our wishes and denounce those of our enemies, but whence the certainity that the God who comes will share our views and grant our desires?

Abraham, a favorite of God's, once was called upon to sacrifice Isaac, his son of promise. Might not a revival lead to a similarly deep sacrifice? The Hebrew text contains an antidote to theological wish fulfillment. True revival would seem to be predicated upon an awareness that God may see things differently than we do.

If God is beyond our containments, then humility would signal awareness of God's presence, and such humility would qualify our claims about God's intentions. On the other side--here I am dependent on Reinhold Niebuhr--self-debasement would not signal God's presence. So what to think?

Does God prefer tax cuts, small government, and American exceptionalism more than concern for the poor, unemployed, and the increasingly sick ecosystem? Does God view governmental attempts to reduce misery as a malignancy? Does God want another deep tax cut?

Wonder what Isaac's view would be?

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Recipe for a new world

One cup of Islamic revelation.
One cup of Jesus' love.
One cup of Moses' staring down the Pharaoh.
One cup of the Buddha's compassion.
One cup of Chuang Tzu's wit.
One cup of Confucius' virtues.
One cup of Krishna-Vishnu's true form.

My cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.

Religious Violence

Christian girl burned during nationalist Hindu Orissa violence in 2008
Members of every religion have from time to time engaged in acts of violence. The religious literature of the world is remarkably candid about this. Yet when someone claims to be motivated by a religious view to act violently, we moderns tend to rush in with the 'the religion is not violent; this is a distortion of its meaning' defense. This defense, however well intended, misunderstands the power of religions to shape human life. The other modern voice, that religions should be banished or will wither in due course, misunderstands this power in equal, or greater, measure.

Religions are here to stay, for they articulate the deepest sensibilities of individuals and groups. Our task is not to seek the elimination of religion, nor to prepare for a world without it. Our task is to shape religions so as to minimize violence in the long run. This less lofty version of engaging religions may not satisfy our sense of sanctimony, but it more adequately grapples with our affinity with the brutes. We are more akin to the chimpanzee than angels dancing on the head of a pin.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

God, usages

God is the word we use when we are unsure.

God is the word we use when we are certain.

God is the word we use when we have absolutely no idea.

Is the same God being called upon?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Love and Hate

Love and hate are the strongest emotions, and both are in relationship to fear.

The author of 1 John put it this way: "There is no fear in love: but perfect love casteth out fear...".

Hate is consumed by fear.

Join me at creedible.com for a discussion related to fear and hate....

Monday, August 9, 2010

I feel good

Join me at creedible.com for a reflection on politics, economy, and culture entitled "I feel good."

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Summer Sun

St. Paul claimed in the Letter to the Romans that God's power is everywhere manifest; he also claimed that it goes unrecognized.

The summer sun, the flower, the sweet drizzling rain...

A traffic jam, a murder, a terror attack...

The winter solstice, the owl at night, snowflakes in Manhattan...

An act of vengeance, a harmful word, a deliberate malice...

God is everywhere and nowhere, everywhere we look and nowhere to be found.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Reinhold Niebuhr, we need you

Reinhold Niebuhr argued in The Nature and Destiny of Man that human beings are constantly tempted to prideful self-assertion or sensuous debasement. That is, either we demand too much for ourselves or claim too little. Niebuhr applied this insight (and his many others) to key issues in public life and politics.

Niebuhr's insights guided key public figures in the early and middle part of the twentieth century. Since that time no theologian of public life has filled his shoes. Reinhold Niebuhr, we miss you.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Norms, Self, and Unity

Every religion teaches norms of some kind, whether they are doctrinal, theological, philosophical, cultural, or ethical.

No human being can adhere completely to group-made norms, and very few can adhere to self-established norms (since we evolving bipeds tend to be a 'house of cards' held together with shaky but imperious norms). A saint might adhere to all of his or her true self energies, but only a fool adheres to all of a group's edicts.**

It remains a question whether divine agency can bridge these multiples and unify the self, and beyond that (in a bewildering multiple of multiples) bind groups that are tearing the world asunder. In the Christian religion, this question is answered in the affirmative under the designation Holy Spirit. Other religions also identify a ground of unity.

In philosophy, Hegel tried to articulate the unity of reason and worldly becoming. Having not lived to the end of history, I am unsure of the Christian hypothesis; having not read to end of Hegel, I am unsure of the success of his endeavor.

I dispositionally prefer Jamesean pluralism, but pluralism may be best guaranteed by a truly transcendent God. Mark Heim, a theologian at Andover Newton Theological School, argues that it is.

**A vague memory tells me that a variation on this idea was first said by someone else, but who it was, I know not.

Friday, July 30, 2010

What is human life?

Is human life a short story? a non-fiction essay? a boring book? a parable? a users guide? travel manual? encyclopedia? an aphorism? a remaindered promised-to-be bestseller that goes bust? (God forbid) a wikipedia entry? a diary? biography? an autobiography? a plagiarized term paper?

Some combination of these? A fictional autobiography? A plagiarized diary?

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Memories

Psychologists have shown that memories change over time, are affected by bias and interest, and can be revised to serve our changing self conceptions.

Should we hope that is true of God, or hope that it isn't?

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Human Nature? Full of bugs!

Tonight RITN considers a news report that opens up consideration of topics in theological anthropology. Human Nature? Full of bugs!

Join me over there.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Atheism and Experience

My argument with atheism is the argument I have with theism, where the latter is a term for proving God's existence. Immanuel Kant successfully demolished the classical proofs for God's existence, only to reinvent one of his own--the so-called moral proof.

I find William James' account of religious experience compelling on this point. In some ways, James is distantly Kantian, but his view of God is not a matter of argument but observation. His was a program of radical empiricism. By observing the actual experiences of people, James concluded that life is irreducibly plural. In religion, as in shoe size, one size does not fit all.

Join me at Creedible for a discussion of atheism. Also check out Chuck Redfern's comment in which he refers to religious experience.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Whimsical reflections on theology and economy

Do not worry about the morrow. I won't, Jesus. I'm too busy worrying about today.

We are inclined to see the prophets of Ba'al as fools who worshipped a false god. Some of the meanings of Ba'al--as a god of weather and fertility, for example--go to the heart of the ancient agricultural economy. How different is this from our focus on the economy? The GDP is our god, and tax is the new Satan.

Our recession is resulting from an upsurge of 'collective superego.' We feel guilty about all the fun we had during the economic boom. We know we overdid it. We feel unworthy of good things. We regret what the 'collective id' led us to do. There are only separate egos, no collective egos. Our reason cannot be collective, whereas our passions and self-remonstrances can be collective. This is why Republicans will always be resurgent after a period of self-remonstrance, and why they will always play to passion.

A recession is when your neighbor loses his job. A depression is when god loses his.

C'mon, America, spend. Catch a bad case of gimme now. Drive new wheels. Purchase an 80-inch plasma TV for the fifth bathroom. Refinance. Spend your negative equity again. Bundle it together in tranches. Sell them to the greedy blind bastards that are managing our retirement accounts.

Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. Sounds like a program for international relations....

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Prothero

Stephen Prothero has recently published God is Not One. In brief, he argues that religions are not all the same. They are motivated by essentially different views of the world, its core problems, and their proposed solutuions.

He's right about this, I think. No religion is one; taken together, they are a bewildering multitude.

The idea that 'religion' has a single essence and various manifestations is a creature of Romantic philosophy. Cool as reading, but misleading as social science or description.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Yes

There is an affirmation showing through or hiding within each moment.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Divine Violences

The violence of our time is the spiritual earthquake determining our future, and that of our children.

The known God knows this violence; the unknown God knows it not.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Humility and Transcendence

The highest transcendence is recognizing the superiority of another without denigrating oneself. God recognizes everyone's superiority in absolute self-possession.

Or God is an arm wrestler. With jacked up biceps.

Anonymous Christianity

No, it isn't a reference to Karl Rahner, my learned readers.

Check out the theologically inclined comments of an Anonymous reader over at RITN-Religion in the News. The topic is "Virginity and the Moral Worthiness of Religions." The comments are worth your attention. Post some of your own.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Stem Cells and Blindess

Stem cells are being used to restore sight of people who lost their sight after traumatic injury.

Most excellent.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Our Troubled Country

If you want to be troubled by the conversational drift of a certain segment of our country, read the comments posted in reply to Jon Voight's Open Letter to President Obama, published by the right-leaning Washington Times.

I disagree with much of Voight's letter, but he maintains a certain measure of decorum. Many of the comments, on the other hand, are repulsive. At some point, this blog will attempt to draw out the theology entailed in such comments. But first, two aspirin.

Monday, June 21, 2010

A yachting trip and Lazarus

A yachting trip? The 10 worst BP gaffes in Gulf oil spill.

Luke 16:19-31 "There was a rich man, who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Laz'arus, full of sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man's table; moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham's bosom. The rich man also died and was buried; and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes, and saw Abraham far off and Laz'arus in his bosom. And he called out, `Father Abraham, have mercy upon me, and send Laz'arus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in anguish in this flame.' But Abraham said, `Son, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Laz'arus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.' And he said, `Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father's house, for I have five brothers, so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.' But Abraham said, `They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.' And he said, `No, father Abraham; but if some one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.' He said to him, `If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced if some one should rise from the dead.'"

The parallels are there.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Certainties

Our certainty about how others should live their lives is testament to how little we live our own.**

**At least I think so.










"Truth and Falsehood"
Image Credit: Iza Bella

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

FBI file shows Ted Kennedy was death threat magnet - Boston.com

FBI file shows Ted Kennedy was death threat magnet - Boston.com

Ted Kennedy was a flawed person, but he turned the corner on his life. In his last years, he was a delight. He appeared to face death with courage, and his political convictions were heart-felt and real. To be sure, not everyone shared them.

It's hard to imagine what it was like to live (as the family's leader) after the assassinations of Jack and Bobby Kennedy. And now, this news comes out...

The cruelty of the human animal never ceases to stun and disappoint. In my mind, Kennedy's optimism and care for others is even more luminous.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

God is poetry

God is the poetry of the Universe, and the Universe is the poetry of God.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Friday, June 11, 2010

Chevrolet, Chevy, and Jesus

Join me at creedible.com to discuss implications of religious brands and identity: Chevrolet, Chevy, and Jesus.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Against the Death Penalty

Consider watching this Amnesty International video.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Yes-men

God doesn't want yes-men. Note that he once hired Lucifer to work overtime.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Book Review, invitation to theological thinking

Paul Bloom's New York Times book review of Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons's The Invisible Gorilla And Other Ways Our Intuitions Deceive Us calls up several themes worthy of theological reflection.

Our capacity for paying attention is finite. If we're asked to pay attention to one thing, we may very well miss or ignore something else that is quite important. Part of the strategy of prayer is to focus attention on God. Arguably that could lead us to ignore earthly things that are more urgent--and perhaps in terms of demanding our action, more important. It also could be argued that reflecting on God enhances our sensibilities when it comes to other things.

Our memories are quite plastic and prone to distortions in our favor. In the so-called Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 7:1f) Jesus says:
"Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. And why do you look at the speck in your brother's eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, "Let me remove the speck from your eye'; and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye.
If we pay attention to the flaws of another, our ability to perceive our own flaws is limited. By judging another, we become blind to ourselves.

Applying this insight is controversial and Matthew's structuring of the sayings does not make it any easier. The 'judge not' saying is followed by this 'judgment requiring' bumper sticker.
"Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces.

**with thanks to Justin Hume for linking to Bloom's review on Facebook.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Cats and Dogs

If dogs are Christian, cats are Hindu. Together, they rain.

See economy go

See economy stop.
See economy go.
See oil go.
See oil go faster.
Stop, oil, stop.
Go, economy, go.**

**with appreciation that See Spot Run did not feature oil and the economy.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Imperfections

Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga lost his chance to record a perfect game when MLB umpire Jim Joyce made a bad call. A perfect game for a MLB pitcher--for any pitcher in any league--is a breathtakingly rare accomplishment. We don't often think that the pitcher's perfect game requires that umpires also have perfect games, but here it is in our face.

The imperfection of the one brings imperfection on the others, and sheer individualism cannot account for it. This is as true in hamartiology as it is in baseball. The follow-on story also is quite profound. Apparently Galarraga quickly forgave Joyce, claiming that no one is perfect. Bud Selig refused to overturn the call; the imperfection of the field is part of the game. Good theology and great baseball are the work of imperfect people.

Selig did promise to consider the use of instant replay; I hope we do not go that route.

Aph. 5

New days do not arrive, they are claimed.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Aphs. 2-4

Theological Prescripts plays on (1) prescribe, (2) prescriptions, (3) 'before scripts,' that is, theological sketches and doodles that occur before major scripts are produced.

Theological Prescripts are written in the context described by Carr. They are flashes and do not require sustained attention.

Theological Prescripts cannot be abbreviated TP. Oy vey.

note: clearly my use of the term aphorism is equally vague! Take that.

Nicholas Carr's The Shallows

I'd like to my point my readers to Nicholas Carr's blog. Carr has recently published The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brain. I listened to Carr's discussion of the book with NPR's Robert Siegel, host of All Things Considered. I have yet to read the book but most certainly will. His discussion was excellent and provocative.

The book seems to be an expansion of Carr's excellent piece in The Atlantic, entitled "Is Google Making us Stupid?"

Theological Prescripts opines that Carr's topic is religiously significant. If our brains are altered by Internet use, and if such use diminishes our speculative capacity, it also quite likely will diminish (or alter, and perhaps in some ways heighten) our religious capacities. This is an inquiry we should undertake.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Aph. 1

God and the world are one flesh.

Fusions

31 May 2010
At the Memorial Day Parade today in Hamden, Conn., I noted fusions of:

  • patriotism and Christianity
  • kids and candy
  • young and old
  • Harley riding and hatred for bin Laden
  • militarism and love of peace
  • honor and silliness
  • tattooed arms and closely cropped hair
  • sadness and joy

Some fusions teetered toward confusion and may have passed over the line. Judgment of essential values strikes me as a daunting task, one to which we should commit our lives. Being on moral autopilot is dangerous.

Clay and Digitality

The J creation account in the Hebrew Bible (Gen. 2:4b-25) says that man was formed from dust of the ground. Creation of human beings from mud or clay is a quite common theme around the world. For Indians in the southwest, the clay bodies were dried in kilns. In our age of digitality, where the virtual is more real than the physical, we need to embrace our being clay and resist gnosticism. The virtue of justice, physical healing, and healthy meals are in service of clay.


Be clay today.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Whither God?

God. This is a small word and a large concept. To say God means that there is coherence, if not in the world, then somewhere. The where in somewhere may be nonphysical, as many insist. But to stress that too consistently leads many to believe that it's the where in nowhere.

I lift my eyes to the hills. From whence cometh my help?
Psalm 121:1

Theological Prescripts

This site will be dedicated to theological prescripts. Most entries will be short. Musings will dominate. Aphorisms will abound. The idea is that life is dynamic and ever-flowing and that theology also should be. Life doesn't wait for an essay to be written, let alone a journal article to be published.

One blink, and it's gone. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, "Don't worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will worry for itself." Stay tuned.

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