Sunday, November 22, 2009

Squash Fundamentalism Wherever it Rears Its Ugly Head

Go for the jugular of fundamentalist mindsets. It is the enemy of freedom of thought. It is plagued by the disease of black-and-white thinking. It divides and often conquers. Yet, fundamentalism is harder to detect than one might realize. It's easy to see it when someone on the Religious Right discriminates against women or gays or promotes a controlling morality based on literalist views of the Bible. It's harder to see when held by progressive secularlists who rightly critique right-wing fundamentalism but succumb to black-and-white thinking in their response.

Years ago I was wrong about atheists. I rejected their world view and their motivation. I wrongly believed they chose to deny God because of their selfish desire to live autonomously in a universe free from moral restraints. I since learned that there are varieties of atheists, just like there are varieties of theists, and many atheists are moral and upright individuals. In fact, one of my heroes these days is an atheist: Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who wrote Infidel, and fights for the rights of Muslim women. But I also learned that some atheists are fundamentalists. Like fundy religionists, they don't fight fair, have an ax to grind, and refuse to go where the evidence leads.

Richard Dawkins, who regularly calls believers delusional, falls in the fundy-atheist category, I would say, along with others among "the new atheists." Atheist Michael Ruse said Dawkin's book, The God Delusion, makes him embarrassed to be an atheist. I respect Ruse for his candor. Antony Flew, the most famous atheist in Europe, changed his position and became a deist. When I read why in his book (There is a God), I gained a new respect for him and his position, even during the time he was an atheist. According to Frank Schaeffer in his new book, Patience with God, atheist Daniel Dennett argues decently and is no fundamentalist. (Dennett, author of Breaking the Spell is one of "the-gang-of-four" new atheists along with Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Sam Harris).

There is such a thing as atheistic fundamentalism. I've learned there is a balanced way to approach religious arguments--in fact any controversial argument--that respects the facts over dogma and always attempts to go where the evidence and one's honest life reflection leads. This leads me to want to squash fundamentalism wherever it rears its ugly head--including inside myself--and pursue this balanced path instead. Care to join me?

Friday, September 25, 2009

Shameless Sex

I applaud Keith Graber Miller’s call for a balanced sexual counterculture (Sojourners Magazine - Sept-Oct. 2009, Sex Without Shame) that exults sex-positivism in light of God’s gift of sexuality and exposes sexual irresponsibility and exploitation. It’s refreshing to see a reasoned view on masturbation, homosexuality, and youth sexuality coming from a serious Biblicist. While the church has a long way to go to shed its sex negativism, popular culture often promotes free love without responsible limits. Miller hits on two important distinctives the church and society need to hear: (1) God is more concerned that people demonstrate genuine unselfish love, respect, and care in relationships, than in what bodily interactions they pursue, and (2) good sex that is life-affirming comes after we get what we really need—a powerful intimate connection that guards against hurt, jealousy, and brokenness.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Conference Writes the Book on Writing

I'm at the Pacific Northwest Writer's Association annual conference as I write this and it's been a wonderful experience. They have great sessions for people in every stage of writing and particularly for folks who are ready or are currently pitching their book and searching for an agent. Yesterday I pitched my book, Confessions of a Bible Thumper, to an editor and an agent and will meet more agents today. For any other aspiring writers out there, a writer's conference such as this one is the place to go to get grounded in book writing best practices. As is joining a writer's group and reading books like Anne LaMott's Bird by Bird or Stephen King's On Writing. The biggest lesson for me is that writing a book or any noteworthy piece goes way beyond writing the crappy first draft but is a long process of writing, rewriting, and having your work reviewed and critiqued by a variety of people to get your transforming ideas out there in a succinct, understandable, humorous, and highly engaging form.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Getting Intelligent Design Straight

I finished a draft of the chapter on Last Days Delusions, but true to form, I just have to start another chapter before cleaning the last one up. I love multi-tasking, hence the way I read 5 books at a time and write the same way. I was having a conversation with my father--a kind of ID-controversy guru--and asked him about Michael Behe (a leading ID proponent) and some of the things he said in his newest book, The Edge of Evolution. Behe is roundly attacked by staunch evolutionists, but guess what? What I suspected is true. He is officially a theistic evolutionist! Not of the Darwinian variety, of course, since that is what ID theorists critique--and in my mind, rightly so. Nevertheless, I found an interview of him on the Internet (during my conversation--I just love how quickly we can find stuff these days), and he said common design is not as good as an explanation of common descent as an evolutionary model is. He's not a Darwinist, but he still believes in evolution! What's the difference? I explain that in the chapter in my book. Point is that most of his ID colleagues disagree with him. You can be an ID theorist and still be an evolutionist (for that matter, you can be agnostic too, like David Berlinski). The media doesn't get it.

So, why don't all the other theistic evolutionists (Ken Miller, Brown U., Francis Collins, Head of Genome Project) applaud people like Behe? It appears it's not evolution per se, that is the god of science, but Darwinism. I will explore this later.

Friday, June 26, 2009

The Writing-Researching-Publishing Process

Anyone who wants to follow my experience writing, researching, promoting, and publishing my book (Working title: Confessions of a Bible Thumper - My Sojourn as an Evangelical, Why I Left the Fold, and How I Discovered a More Reasoned Faith), follow me on Twitter:

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Paul the Egalitarian

I knew Jesus was an egalitarian in the way he respected women in the first century's male-dominated society, but Paul? His infamous passages denigrating women made me shudder, along with every feminist on the planet. In my more moderate evangelical circles, we dealt with those passages as culturally conditioned anomalies of first century bias that were not applicable to our modern cultural context. But what if those passages were never in the original Greek text? That was something I never considered because the possibility was never allowed inside the narrow confines of the theologically-conservative churches I attended.

Well, you learn something new every day. In reading Bart Ehrman's Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why, I learned just how reasonable the case is that the I Cor. 14:34-35 passage ("It is shameful for a woman to speak in church..." That one.) is bogus. What a breath of fresh air. But the real shocker for me is that my old friend Gordon Fee (not literally--I'm a long time fan of one of his books on how to interpret the Bible), put forth this case way back in 1987 in his commentary on I Corinthians! Where the hell was I? I didn't get the memo. Ehrman cited Fee in his book. I feel slighted. All these years Fee taught part of the Bible was altered and the evangelical church never bought it. And the Bible hasn't been revised (or footnoted as far as I know) in any modern translations to reflect it.

The case is strong. Take verses 33b to 35 out and read the passage and see how much more it makes sense. And, how suddenly Paul isn't contradicting his great line "...there is no male or female in Christ... all are one," or what he says elsewhere, or contradicting Jesus and his welcoming of women. Ehrman reveals how additions to texts were not uncommon by scribes who had theologically biased reasons to alter things. Some of them never made it into our modern Bibles but some did! Ehrman (and Garry Wills) also makes the case that Paul didn't write I Timothy. Guess where the other anti-feminist verse is attributed to Paul? You got it. I Timothy.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Universal Life

Two books I recently read have helped shape my rethinking of the traditional evangelical view of salvation. The Inescapable Love of God by Thomas Talbot and The Evangelical Universalist by Gregory MacDonald (a psuedonym) make a near impenetrable case that universal reconciliation was the original intent of the apostle Paul and Jesus. How could the church be teaching exclusivism all these years and never have disclosed this fact? My theory is that traditionalism is so strong in evangelicalism and other conservative Christian movements that any diversion from it is suppressed. For example, how many evangelicals were ever taught that the church fathers Origen, Gregory of Nyassa, and several others were universalists? How many know that universliasts have included such prominent people as President John Adams and George MacDonald (a favorite author of C.S. Lewis)? How many people know that the word "everlasting" in Jesus' famous Sheep and the Goats passage is more accurately translated as "pertaining to an age" and that Jesus wasn't talking about a never-ending punishment but a punishment that pertained to the coming age? How many recognize that Paul made several statements that strongly support universalism including "as in one man, Adam, all sinned, so through one man, Jesus, all will be reconciled?" No, most aren't aware of these facts because they don't fit the traditional view and teachers and Bible commentators are either ignorant of them or are deliberately overlooking them. I bring these details and much more out in one of the chapters in my book, Confessions of a Bible Thumper.