30 June 2008

Mendel's Legacy

One of the things that people don't consider when they argue about science and religion is the history of science. Science and religion, were from the start, the same thing. If you were to ask an ancient Greek to explain lightening, you would learn about Zeus. By the time Christianity had been fully accepted, science was starting to come into its own, but was still not separated from the Church. Traveling through history, you would arrive at the Renaissance and meet several astronomers, all devoted Christians. Chief among them is Copernicus, both a cleric and the father of modern astronomy. At the start of the Enlightenment, there's Newton, the Christian alchemist and physicist, but also theologian and biblical scholar. Leeuvenhoek is an influential figure in microbiology and was a Dutch Calvinist.

By the nineteenth century, Christianity was...unpopular. Many philosophers and scientists saw it as a crutch for the weak. But the foundation of genetics studies was put in place by Gregor Mendel, an Augustinian monk.

Enter: This article from the Associated Press

I, for one, am glad to see people refusing to make science and religion mutually exclusive.

On an unrelated note, I'm not quite sure how to feel about this. Maybe I'll right more about this later.

Rock on.

Monday Graph Jam #1

I started this summer with a goal. Even though my class doesn't start until 2:15 in the afternoons, I wanted to wake up around eight to start the day off well - coffee, bagels, Bible - the usual Christian college kid gig.

This plan was derailed by day one by the internet and a roommate who has a near-obsession with internet memes. Seriously, for a while he carried around pictures of his favorite lolcats. So one night a few weeks ago, when he found a lolcat-related blog called Graph Jam, he showed me. And given my love of The Princess Bride and music, the site was an instant hit. I stayed up for two more hours going through the archives. And saving pictures.

I've got...ten, I think.

Here are the first two.
Disclaimer: I don't own these images. GraphJam does. Please don't sue.

29 June 2008

About Time

Just as President Bush is moving to have North Korea removed from the list of nations that support terrorism, Congress is working to remove Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress from the terror watch list.

Mandela's ANC party has been on the list for longer than I've been alive, being put on it during the Reagan administration, a decade before apartheid officially ended.

I can think of no reason that the US ever should have labeled the ANC, militant though it was, as a terrorist organization at the same time we were supporting the Iraqi Ba'ath regime and the Mujahideen in Afghanistan.

Just something to think about.

Rock on.

28 June 2008

I'd Pay To See This Movie

Coming soon...

Cracked.com Presents a Burton/Schumacher/Nolan Film

My money's on BatBale.

26 June 2008

Somebody Please Tell Me...

...why we're leveling sanctions against Iran as we lift sanctions against North Korea.

Yes, Iran has nuclear ambitions. Yes, Iran sponsors terrorist groups. No, Iran is not our ally.

But North Korea claims to have detonated nuclear weapons. The Kim regime has been engaged in a reign of terror since it took power. And North Korea is still at war with one of our allies.

I know, I know - North Korea is taking great steps towards ending its nuclear program. Just like they've done in the past.

Don't get me wrong. I'm glad North Korea is dismantling its nuclear program. But should a regime that has kidnapped and murdered people, both in North Korea and elsewhere, really be taken off of the terrorism blacklist?

Rock on.

23 June 2008

The Difference Between Interpreting and Picking (and Other Thoughts on Dawkins on NPR)

Today, I listened to Richard Dawkins on NPR during an episode of To the Best of our Knowledge entitled "Atheism & Its Critics".

The program opened with a discussion on faith. See my thoughts here.

One of the fundamental allegations Richard Dawkins levels against Christianity is that we (we being believers) pick and choose what we will accept as true from the Bible - Cafeteria Chrisitans, to borrow an old term. But I disagree with him on this. There is a fundamental difference between interpreting what you read and choosing what you read. Yes, some Christians avoid the more troubling part of the Bible. But many of the most sincere Christians are the same ones who take what they read and truly struggle with it. Yes, it bothers me to read about the mass killings committed in the Old Testament. But I have not rejected these stories. Instead, I have taken them as how the ancient Israelites saw God - as a god who loves his people and wants to protect them. Which is one of the recurring themes of the Bible, both Old and New Testaments. On the other hand, if an atheist is to go through and reject the teachings of love in the Bible - to say that these are present in all cultures and therefore not relevant to the Bible - and focus purely on the violent stories of the Tanakh, then that might just qualify as "picking and choosing".

Of course, Dawkins also has a fundamental misunderstanding of the sacrifice of Christ, claiming the crucifixion is a bloody sacrifice of an innocent man to satisfy God for the sins of Adam, a man who never existed. To this, I say he's half - no, a quarter - of the way there. Yes, the crucifixion was a bloody sacrifice of an innocent man. But it was also a self-sacrifice - God himself dying for our sins. And that's the point we should take - the love inherent in the self-sacrifice, not the gruesomeness of the act. Secondly, and one of the largest misunderstandings Dawkisn makes is to assume that the crucifixion was about Original Sin. And while this may be up to debate among theologians*, by no means should it be taken as the belief of all Christians. It is my belief that Christ died for the sins of all people, not for Original Sin.

"I am in favor of goodness," says Dawkins. He claims that he stands against the claim that you don't need religion to be good. To this, I say, define "good". If "good" is doing good things - feeding the hungry, helping the poor, and such - then yes, you can be good without religion. If "good" means never doing bad, if it means living a perfect utilitarian lifestyle - always causing more utility than harm - then we're in trouble. Because nobody can ever be good in this sense.

Oh, and if you get a chance, read what Brad Hirschfield has to say - "faith without fanaticism."

Rock on.

*Though I can't think of any groups that hold this belief. Perhaps someone can provide an example.

22 June 2008

Sobald der Gülden im Becken klingt / im huy die Seel im Himmel springt

"Metal bottom makes taking of offering NOISY! Listen to the change rattle in the pot and watch the giving momentum grow!"

I found this in a Christian resource magazine. A modern Christian resource magazine. And I very nearly died laughing.

Of course, this is not a new phenomenon. It's been happening for quite some time. A few examples:

The first is the reason we are all Roman Catholic. During the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, a Christian could give money to the Roman church and either earn a few years off of their own stay in Purgatory or free a deceased relative from the same. For those unfamiliar with European High Medieval/Renaissance history, this was the practice of selling Indulgences. It was based off of the theory that "the merits" of Christ, the Virgin Mary, and the saints were stored up and that the papacy had the authority to distribute them. For a generous donation, that is. One German monk, of the Augustinian order, took issue with this unfounded practice. He wrote on it and ended up changing the world. Forever. He challenged the pope, asking, if this unfounded teaching is true, why are the "merits" not given freely to all? His name was Martin Luther, and if you want to more, I would encourage you to watch the movie Luther. It's not the most accurate depiction in the world, but it does a great job of discussing the issue of indulgences.

But don't take my word for it...

Ok. Moving on after a delightful little flashback.

Another prime example comes from the Christ, and you probably already know where I'm going with this. In one of the stories mentioned in all four Gospels, Jesus goes into the Temple and drives out the money changers and those selling animals to be sacrificed - in other words, those trying to make money off of God. And it's not like when he drove out demons, where Christ simply commanded it and it happened. No, it's significantly more dramatic than that. Making a whip out of reeds and turning over tables - this is the stuff Indiana Jones was made for. As Jesus said, the Temple had been made "a den of thieves".

And today we have much the same thing going on. First and foremost, I think of the massive market of Christian books. And here I must be careful, because there are a lot of authors that I respect and admire. But at the same time, there are people selling "special editions" of books and Bibles, trying to come up with any reason for a new volume. The Five Languages of Love...for Young Men Between the Ages of 20 and 30 Who Enjoy Watching Men's Double Tennis During the British Open. Today's New International Version for Housewives Who Just Sent Their Fourth Child to Kindergarten for the First Day - Study Edition. Don't get me wrong. I understand books aimed at special audiences. But when you get tot he point of having five or more editions of the same book, something's gone horribly awry. CS Lewis, arguably one of the best Christian authors of the twentieth century, did not have Mere Christianity - For Singles. And yet Lee Strobel feels that if he doesn't publish seperate copies of The Case for... series for both teens and kids - well, I don't really know what will happen. Will the kids not understand the deep thoughts of the teen version? Will the younger half of a generation not fully love God? Will they be converted to atheism before the age of thirteen, never to go to church again?

And then there are the bullet point books. Joel Osteen guarantees that if you read his book, he can give you seven principles to being blessed by God. I'll hold my criticism of prosperity preachers for another day and focus more on the flawed idea of preaching that bullet points can change your life. First, I'll let Donald Miller explain it.

Second, I'll continue Luther's challenge. If the secret to living a better life is seven simple steps, why are these not given out freely? If everything can be reduced to a point-by-point list, why does it have to be bound and sold for $22 ($15 on Amazon)? Why not publish it on a website? Now, I know that this same argument applies to all books, and CDs, and movies, but how much more, then, does it apply to lists?

Yes, yes, I know it all comes down to money. I know that money drives people, even Christians.

But I also know one thing: God is not for sale.

We cannot sale religion. We cannot sale salvation. We cannot sale a better relationship with God.

And Christianity is not the only religion with this problem.

I'm currently in "Introduction to Religion in Native American Cultures". And the first thing we talked about in this class was the New Age attempt to mix Eastern and Native American religious traditions and sell them. Which is why you have wealthy fifty year old white men smoking "peace pipes" and going on "vision quests" and teaching that we are all one with Mother Earth and the Great Spirit*. This abduction of culture has driven some Native Americans to "declare war" on the perpetrators, boycotting bookstores and New Age shops.

Which makes me wonder.

If native people are offended by cultural/religious theft and are willing to protest the offenders, why are Christians so willing to let our faith be packaged and sold for twenty dollars per mountaintop experience? Why do we stand by as "Christian" toys (BibleMan would pwn Psalty in a cage match), "Christian" financial guides, and, among the more troubling, "Christian" patriotic clothing, continue to commercialize Christianity?

And even more important, once we've had enough, what do we do about it?

Rock on.

*The "peace pipe" comes from various traditions of the Sacred Pipe. Vision quests are not practiced by all cultures. Mother Earth is a Greek concept. And the Great Spirit is a translation of an Oglala Lakota (think Black Elk) belief used to make monotheistic Westerners more comfortable with polytheistic native beliefs.

Post Script: The title is Johann Tetzel's famous rhyme. Translated , it means "As soon as the gold in the pan rings, the soul in [to] Heaven jumps," or more commonly translated, "As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul to Heaven springs." Or, depending on the source, it could be "Die Seel aus dem Fegefeuer springt", which is, "the soul from Purgatory springs." There are a few other variations, but I won't go into them.

Updated: 28 June 2008

11 June 2008

Jean Valjean, my brother...

...you no longer belong to evil, but to good. It is your soul that I buy from you; I withdraw it from black thoughts and the spirit of perdition, and I give it to God."

So spoke Bishoph Myriel to Jean Valijean, and this after Jean had robbed the bishop.

Likewise, Kinetic Church in North Carolina was robbed. And by robbed, I don't mean a thief made off with the church silverware. They lost almost everything. And their response? They tried to get the thief's attention with billboards and then released a video on YouTube offering the thief a chance to go get lunch with the pastor.

Really. You can watch the video.

I...am in awe. I see this video and I see Christ, on the cross, saying, "Father, forgive them, they know not what they do."
I see this video and I see Christ saying, "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone."
I see this video, and above all else, I see Christ. I see his Church. I see what true belief really looks like.

And I pray that if I ever find myself in such a situation, that through the grace of God alone, I am able to put forth a response such as this.

Rock on.

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