Saturday, June 28, 2008

Living with Questions in 4th printing

Just a little news update that I received the first copy of the fourth printing of Living with Questions last week. Keep spreading the word.

This book isn't just good for teens and college students (though that is the intended audience). It is also good for adults, especially those who

1) are new to apologetics and want something accessible but also see how it pertains to real life and

2) want to better understands assumptions of our culture (yes, even better understanding today's youth) about God, spirituality, and a healthy soul.

If you've read Living with Questions and have an honest opinion of how it has helped you or someone you care about, do write a review over at!

And if you are ready to teach on it, follow the study guide links in the right margin.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Pagans, Wall•E, Religion & Atheism, gender...

When I have time to blog about these individually, they may be older news... so a few brief comments on some links to check out.

C. S. Lewis said that if monotheism wasn't true, he thinks the best explanation of the world is some sort of paganism. The universe so filled with wonder, the ancients peopled the sky and the rivers and the elements with gods.

Check out Krista Tippett's NPR show, "Speaking of Faith," on this topic. Paganism is growing in the world (which is not new news) but our understanding it, how to get into the shoes of those who believe it, and how to gently navigate those ideas with others may be new to some of us. Here's the link:

Pagans Ancient and Modern

In other news, CT published a beautiful interview with Andrew Stanton, director of the new Pixar release, WallE. Stanton also produced the animated cinematic wonder, Finding Nemo. I appreciate Stanton's perspective. And I think his interview is one many evagelicals need to read to understand how art & imagination is approached by artists. Being an stage artist, people have often viewed me as 'drama guy' and want me to be involved in their church drama programs, which usually means a 5-minute spiritualesqe SNL-style sketch that leads to a sermon.

Well, when I use drama these days it is storytelling or monologue. And contrary to many evangelical church's use of drama, I think the story IS the sermon... not just a fun entertaining bit to help illustrate the sermon. Stanton's interview shows that, hitting theatres soon, is a sermon, Jesus-style, designed to draw us in and look at ourselves without being "preachy." It's worth your reflection.

The Little Robot that Could

And, finally, many of you may have already read that a Pew survey shows 92% of Americans believe in God while many of them think any sincerely chosen spiritual path is equally valid. This shouldn't be new news either, at least not among those paying attention to people on the street. With so much spirituality talk today, we should expect this.

What I do think is noteworthy is that the New Atheism isn't making much, if any, ground. Of all of philosophical naturalisms claims that God cannot be part of the human equation, they aren't convincing many people. Or, if they are, people hold that belief alongside their private spirituality. When reason dies, so do all our human treasures.

The survey also noted that many are cutting ties with organized religion. I'm still trying to figure out what this means... "organized" as in "going to the building on Sunday" or "not following a coherent set of beliefs of any spiritual leader" or are "both" included?

Here's the LA Times take on it.

Update: Okay, so one more thing you need to see since I posted the above. CT published a couple of articles on the gender debate between complementarians and egalitarians. Each is written by someone within each camp, criticizing their own camp.

Wounds of a Friend: Complementarian by John Koessler
Wounds of a Friend: Egalitarian by Sarah Sumner

Feel free to comment on any of the above topics... I would love some discussion.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Science is happy to be wrong

Last month I read a well-written, intriguing article by Michael Hanlon called "Science is Golden." He writes that if we're going to preserve knowledge of the natural world, preserve our achievements, we must continue to endeavor in honest scientific practice.

He decrys so much of scientific inquiry has turned to the practical when he writes:
There is the growing belief in some countries, including Britain, that the purpose of science should be primarily utilitarian. This is a dangerous argument because it is so superficially seductive. Forget all that ivory-tower, blue-sky nonsense: go away to your labs and make us a new iPod or better toaster or more drugs. Poll after poll shows that the public demands that science be more “relevant”.
Consumerism affects more than an assault on the soul with noise and gimmickry. Money is often a deterrant to truth, both in religion as well as in science.

Hanlon's article is worth reading, though he is anti-religious. He thinks the purpose of humans "is probably closer to 'eat, reproduce and die' than anything glorious concerning God’s purpose or some grand design."

And he assumes religion gets in the way:
Science says, “we don’t know, but maybe we can find out”. It is the ultimate deterrent against ignorance, and the antidote to intellectual fatalism: “it’s a mystery”, “it’s God’s will”, “it’s magic”.
Yet I have found we sensible Westerners who have learned the integration of the disciplines finds no problem with scientific inquiry as long as it isn't fueled by dogma, including naturalistic philosophy. Religion and science have never been at odds in my mind. They serve as a check and balance of motivation and conclusion. That the world isn't an illusion, Christianity and science are bedfellows, much more than say Buddhism, which says it is. Even astute readers of the Bible will not be dogmatic about a certain interpretation unless it also lines up with reason and experience. I've seen plenty of people abusing the Bible by takign out of context, Christians and atheists alike. And this has less to do with the Bible and more to do with the people reading it.

The same can be true of science. Reading it with certain interpretations not checked by reason and experience and other sources of knowledge can lead to a vacuum. This is a common complaint about the university these days: each department becomes so specialized they no longer talk to people in other fields of study. Thus psychologists and neuroscientists do not talk about the soul. Neuroscience pulls the 'science' card and claims it has figured out the human mind based on electric corrolations in the brain (usually exploited as fact in popular magazines and newspapers). Meanwhile psychologists discovered complications with the human psyche that is not explained by neuroscience. If the two would talk, check and balance one another, then the world would be better off. And while they are at it, invite different views of philosophy of mind to the table who add even more issues about the mystery of consciousness. The historian would help as would the priest.

All that to say, science is a wonderful tool to be celebrated as an achievement. Science should not be held in suspicion by religion and vice versa. However, science is never done with pure objectivity. Once people enter the fray, just like in every discipline, it is prone to error, poor motivation, and philosophical agenda. Thus, Hanlon is overstating the case when he says Science "is the only belief system we have found that says it is happy to be proved wrong: science’s greatest strength." I would give that designation to any field of inquiry, religion included, explored with humility. We want truth, not our pre-consceived ideas of truth.

Science may like to be proved wrong, but not as much an be said for scientists.
Bloomberg published an article yesterday showing that very problem. Science can easily be abused and much "research" is actually fabricated for money and recognition.

Elizabeth Lopatto, "Scientific Fraud May Be More Widespread Than Thought, Poll Says".

These issues are good to be aware of, they serve as an apologetic when someone gets on a high-horse tirade about the evils of religion and the purity of science. It helps level the discussion when we can all acknowledge that humans are prone to corruption and error, if not held in check, and that even our most promising intellectual adventures may be lured, not by knowledge, but by a pot of gold.

We may work in science for a better world. Let us also pray for it too. And above all, let us examine like Socrates our own lives and careers to see if, indeed, we seek to be appropriately human.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Too Much Faith in Faith - more for the new atheism

When I see an article by Alan Jacobs, I always pause. He's another one of those voices out there that 'gets it' more than many do, both in the larger cultural arena as well as in the church.'

His recent article in the Wall Street Journal called, "Too Much Faith in Faith," is an uncommon challenge at the major voices of the "New Atheism" movement. Jacobs says that calling "religion" the problem, when it is often used as a thin veneer over deeper, darker motivations, is an anti-intellectual approach of many intelligentsia on these matters. Here's sampling paragraph:
Most of today's leading critics of religion are remarkably trusting in these matters. Card-carrying members of the intelligentsia like Mr. Hitchens, Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris would surely be doubtful, even incredulous, if a politician who had illegally seized power claimed that his motives for doing so were purely patriotic; or if a CEO of a drug company explained a sudden drop in prices by professing her undying compassion for those unable to afford her company's products. Discerning a difference between people's professed aims and their real aims is just what intellectuals do.
I would add that it should be strangely suspicious to the thinking-class that the New Atheism is fueled by other motivations besides reason, virtue, and doing Westerners a favor. They are doing less to enlighten the public as they are to propagate a certain point of view with evangelistic fervor. Philosopher and atheist, Thomas Nagel, pinpointed the motivation when he wrote, "I do not WANT God to exist!" (The Last Word, 1997, emphasis mine).

Alan Jacobs article points beyond the religious veneer into darker places of the human heart. His new book on Original Sin is on my summer reading list!

Friday, June 6, 2008

The "Millenials" are Coming.... speak out!

CBS News republished an updated edition of their assessment of the new generation entering the workforce. It's called "The 'Millenials' are Coming," a sound similar to the alarming cry of Paul Revere.

This is a risk on my part to see who will comment on an article like this. But I'd love to hear from those age 15-28 (and those who work with them) and throw your ideas about this generation into the mix.

In many ways, some of the aspects of this article are welcoming to me. That modernity has treated the workplace like a dehumanizing machine, I like these ideas of putting a human touch back into resourcefulness. The financial bottom-line may not be the only bottom-line necessary to call it 'productivity.'

I understand the concern as well (the delayed moving out on one's own, the demand for easy-going work, the lack of urgency to find work, etc) and the comparison to the Greatest Generation. After WW2, America emerged as a world-power and we've used it to develop technology and consumerism. So the habits of consumerism are all over the Millenials, whether they know it or not. Plus, I think the problem is deeper and involves more than a Mr. Rogers approach (as the article points out).

I work with teens all the time all over the country (and my book is an engagement into their questions, written in ways they understand). They talk to me and my wife, when we are at speaking events, and many write us emails about their daily struggles and questions. We've seen a wide-spectrum of the Millenials in high school and college, but I want to hear your take on it.

Is the "Coming" of the Millenials a good thing, bad thing, something we should be worried about, something we should celebrate? If you are a Millenial, are you frustrated with your peers, find the concern no big deal, think you are ready for the wider world (and why)?

I know the article is a little long. But read what you can and post some comments. You can even make it anonymous, if you don't want anybody to attach you with your opinion! :)

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Human Monologues

Anna Deavere Smith has interviewed a couple thousand people and then turns some of them into monologues. This is a proper example of using theatre to create awareness. No propaganda here. Just insight into the everyday world of the quirkiness and despair the human soul finds itself. Well performed.

Four monologues fill this 23 minute recording. The second monologue is hard to swallow but the best of the four. Sit in it. Notice the thought process of Paulette Jenkins, the convict, and how quickly things go dark--a victim who becomes a perpetrator.

I like the use of 'human touch' in the first monologue and turning perceptions of racism around in the third monologue. An honest cowboy in the last....

Sunday, June 1, 2008

God designed the soul of a MAN for adventure?

My wife received an advanced review copy of Rich Wagner's new book, The Expeditionary Man: The Adventure a Man Wants, the Leader His Family Needs. There are some helpful insights in this book that is broader than the typical "new masculinity" resources available.

Yet still packaged and assuming too much about males--and this is partly to win an audience--is the overstated idea that men are made for adventure. Adventure is well and good. It's the exclusivity that only males are made for this that is irksome and reinforces the sexist idea that this is built only into a male soul.

Today's Zondervan inspiration draws from Wagner's book. See here.

A paragraph is not enough to develop a point, I'll grant that. But the title ("God designed the soul of a man for adventure") unnecessarily reinforces the already stagnant assumption in men's literature that a woman's soul was not.

Of the verses used in the inspiration to point out this adventure, only one refers to MALES and that pertains to how men are to love in marriage. This kind of loving, however, is also assigned to FEMALES in the Scripture as members of the body of Christ rendering others more important then oneself.

Adventure is not a gendered category. It is not a male category. It is a HUMAN category. Though other books, like Wild at Heart, signify that a man is made for adventure (and a woman, in Captivating, are designed to "join a man" in adventure) that is unjustifiable. Women like adventure too (google "women adventure," here's a sample site). Living in CO, it doesn't take any effort to see women as well as men climbing mountains, kayaking rivers (see picture at top...yes, a woman), running marathons, fishing (see picture at left), and offroading--not because they want to be men but because they want to enjoy the habitat God created for humans. If you take up traveling, you'll find women backpacking, staying in hostiles, and exploring the world. You'll also find them on relief missions, bringing life to the needy.

Adventuring of a wide sort is a well versed concept in the female mind (on Wagner's model, a woman adventures by being faithful to her husband and kids, making disciples of Jesus, etc) but among those who have been told it is not 'feminine' or have some unhealthy fears. Wagner is trying to make responsibility respectable again.

He must be careful butting up against the "new masculinity" movement, for many of qualities he lists are part of the diagnosis of why the church is "feminine" in the first place. Uh oh!

When you hear people say that men were made for adventure, as a man, I ask you to kindly mention that women were made for adventure too. All this adventure talk is actually less inspiring to men as it is harmful to women and many of our smuggled in false-perceptions of women.

All that said, I do think many men need a reminder that practicing virtue is a wholly human activity and that re-deconstructing our idea of "masculinity" needs to be done (as Wagner is partly attempting to do). Loving family, taking care of kids, standing for the oppressed are all adventurous and strenuous things, often more so than scaling a Colorado 14er.

I'd like to see the church lead the way in the culture to unite both men and women under the banner of 'adventurer,' rather robbing a healthy word and tainting it with exclusive maleness. Wasn't it a joint-call to adventure when God originally told both humans to "be fruiltful and multiply and have dominion over the earth"?