Monday, July 30, 2018

TTT #20 Some Things Have to be Believed in Order to be Seen

This article, based on the 20th chapter of Thirty True Things . . . (TTT), is closely related to my previous article posted five days ago. But this article starts with reference to a delightful fictional story rather than the thought of a noted sociologist.
The Secret of the “Little Prince”
One of my favorite books is The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint Exupéry, and one of my favorite quotes is this one from that delightful little book: the fox says to the Little Prince, 
It is in this vein that I suggest that some things have to be believed in order to be seen.
That affirmation has sometimes been hard for this Missouri boy to affirm. Missouri is the “Show-Me State,” and we Missourians like to have visual proof of something before we believe it.
The desire for proof is not a bad one. Such a desire keeps us from being gullible, and that is good. Even though it is fairly common, gullibility is not a good thing.
Michael Moore, the social critic who is well-liked by some and maligned by others, once said, “There’s a gullible side to the American people. They can be easily misled. Religion is the best device used to mislead them.”
It is never good, though, to be misled by religion—or by anything else. Seeking proof or sufficient evidence before believing something, thus, is usually a very good thing. But that is not always possible.
In fact, it is not possible for the most foundational aspects of our existence. As the fox wisely said, “Anything essential is invisible to the eyes.”
The Insight of Pascal
Let’s move now from a charming book by a French writer to the ideas of another, more famous, Frenchman, Blaise Pascal, about whom I wrote a whole article last October (see here).
Pascal believed that true religion must be the free choice of the human heart and will. Thus, he suggests that God wishes “to appear openly to those who seek him with all their heart and hidden from those who shun him with all their heart.”
Consequently, God “has qualified our knowledge of him by giving signs which can be seen by those who seek him and not by those who do not.” On the basis of that understanding, Pascal makes this frequently quoted aphorism:
There is enough light for those who desire only to see, and enough darkness for those of a contrary disposition.
If God and the things of God were so plainly visible that there was no question about their existence, humans would have no freedom except to believe. But if God were completely hidden and unknowable, then no one could believe.
Naturally, most atheists object to Pascal’s statement—and to faith in general. They use the words blind faith to criticize the believer’s position. But it has been suggested that blind is a rude word that people who do not have faith stick on to the faith of those who have it.
Of course, theology, which is “faith seeking understanding,” is an important discipline that endeavors to counter blind faith. As Kierkegaard recognized, faith may begin as a leap, for it obviously is not based on sight from the outset.
Nevertheless, rigorous thinking, critical analysis, and careful investigation (i.e., deliberate theological activities) are certainly incumbent upon any serious person of faith.
But all of that does not change the fact that some things have to be believed in order to be seen.

[This article is from the first and last sections of Chapter 20 in TTT. Click here to access the entire chapter.]

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

There Really Are "Alternative Facts"

This article was prompted by the death of Peter Berger a year ago. Berger was not only a world-renowned sociologist but also a notable lay Lutheran theologian. He is best known for The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge (1966), which he co-authored with Thomas Luckmann.
A Bit about Berger
Born in Vienna, Austria, in 1929, Berger immigrated with his family to the U.S. when he was 17. Although he attended a Lutheran seminary, he ended up becoming a sociologist rather than a minister. 
In 1981 Berger began teaching at Boston University and was the founding director of BU’s Institute on Culture, Religion, and World Affairs from 1985 until his retirement in 2009.
An early and vocal opponent of the “God is dead” movement in the 1960s, Berger was much appreciated by evangelical Christians, as is attested to in this Christianity Today article posted two days after his death on June 27, 2017.
A Bit about Plausibility Structures
According to Berger (and Luckmann), knowledge—and people’s conceptions/beliefs of what reality is—is socially constructed.
There is an objective and a subjective aspect to reality, and the society in which one lives, one’s culture or subculture, by necessity interprets/constructs objective reality subjectively. That interpretation/construction forms one’s plausibility structure.
Lesslie Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society (1989)
“Plausible” is an adjective that means “seeming reasonable or probable.” Synonyms include such terms as “believable,” “credible,” “logical,” and “rational.” 
All interpretations of reality are not equally plausible, of course. There is, for example, pronounced differences between what is considered plausible by the dominant “white” culture in the U.S. and by the traditional culture of American Indians.
And more and more there seem to be pronounced differences in the plausibility structures of devoted Democrats and fervent Republicans in this country.
Because of the distinctly different plausibility structures, there really are “alternative facts,”—for “facts” are only what the society one belongs to agrees upon as being real or true.
Why Is This Important?
Consider a couple of examples.
Most Christians believe that God created the world and that at least some of the miracles as reported in the Bible, especially the Resurrection, are true. For those of us who grew up in the church and with belief in the message of the Bible, Creation and Resurrection are “facts” (although even among Christians now those facts are not interpreted in exactly the same way).
But for those with a completely “scientific worldview,” that is, with a belief system that only accepts that which can be proved by the scientific method, the creation of the universe by God and miracles cannot be factually true. Their plausibility structure rules out all “supranatural” causes.
Or, consider the matters of abortion and homosexual activity. If one’s plausibility structure holds it to be factually true that all abortion is murder of preborn humans and all homosexual activity as an abomination and a sin against God, then there must necessarily be ongoing opposition to abortion and such practices as same-sex marriage.
Consequently, those with that plausibility structure see Christians who are pro-choice (= pro-abortion in their understanding) and/or who affirm LGBT rights as having defective faith and perhaps as not being real Christians.
Moreover, with that worldview, there is no way one could vote for a political candidate who is pro-choice and/or who favors same-sex marriage. Such is just not plausible. (This matter is well described in this 7/21 Washington Post article.)

This article just scratches the surface of an extremely important topic, but perhaps it is becoming clear why it can truly be said that because of diversely different plausibility structures, there really are alternative facts.

Friday, July 20, 2018

TTT #19 One Doesn’t Have to be a Liberal to Reject Fundamentalism

In my 7/10 blog article (and Chapter 18 of Thirty True Things . . .), I asserted that one doesn’t have to be a fundamentalist in order to be a good Christian. I am convinced that that is the case. But does opposing fundamentalism make one a liberal? Not necessarily, and that is the main point of this article (and Chapter 19 of TTT).
It Is Not Necessary To Go from One Extreme to the Other
My distaste for Christian fundamentalism is so strong that, as most of know, I wrote an entire book published under the title Fed Up with Fundamentalism (2007). Consequently, some people have assumed that I must be a liberal. One of my Facebook friends once referred to me as a “proud liberal.”
But does opposing fundamentalism make one a liberal? No, one doesn’t have to be/become a liberal to reject fundamentalism.
Coincidentally, the very week I was working on the first draft of the 19th chapter of TTT, I received the first shipment of my second book, The Limits of Liberalism (2010). In that book I call for finding a position between the extremes of staunch fundamentalism and thoroughgoing liberalism.
The Difficulty of Finding the Middle Position
In The Limits of Liberalism I wrote about how in ancient Greek mythology, Scylla and Charybdis were the names of two sea monsters situated on opposite sides of the Strait of Messina between Sicily and Italy.
Those fearful monsters, representing a hazardous whirlpool and a dangerous reef, were located close enough to each other that they posed an inescapable threat to sailors who sought to pass between them: avoiding Charybdis usually meant passing too close to Scylla and vice versa. 
I certainly agree with those who seek to escape the “monster” called fundamentalism, as evidenced by the content of my book Fed Up with Fundamentalism. Still, I see the danger of fleeing the “monster” on the right only to be gobbled up by liberalism, the “monster” on the left.
Unfortunately, some have been so intent on escaping Charybdis (fundamentalism) that they have sailed straight into the jaws of Scylla (liberalism).
Seeking the Radiant Center
While working on The Limits of Liberalism, I came across a delightful book by Adam Hamilton. He is the dynamic pastor of Church of the Resurrection, a Methodist megachurch here in the greater Kansas City metropolitan area. The book is titled Seeing Gray in a World of Black and White (2008).
While I largely agree with the centrist position Hamilton takes on most issues, I decided I did not like to talk about that position as being gray, for generally gray is not a very appealing color. So I went on to suggest that perhaps we can seek a position “between the extremes” of black and white, one that is a brilliant blue, a gorgeous green, or a rousing red.
Even though I like Hamilton’s position and found his calling for a “radical center” appealing, I decided to call my vision for the desired middle position the radiant center.
The radiant center is the gathering/rallying place for those who reject fundamentalism as well as for those who recognize the limits of liberalism.
It is the between-the-extremes place for all who realize that one doesn’t have to be a fundamentalist to be a good Christian as well as for all who recognize that one doesn’t have to be a liberal to reject fundamentalism.

[Here is the link to the entire Chapter 19 of TTT, which amplifies and gives examples related to this brief blog article.]

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Nice Isn’t Enough

Brett Kavanaugh seems like a nice guy. That is the impression I got Monday evening listening to DJT’s flowery introduction of his new nominee for the Supreme Court and from Judge Kavanaugh’s own remarks.  
BK, as he is already being called, seems to be a good family man and the kind of neighbor you would like to have. A family friend wrote in the Washington Post (here) that “Kavanaugh the carpool dad is one great guy.” Probably so.
Kavanaugh is also a civic-minded citizen and active Christian. He has tutored children at a D.C. elementary school, volunteered for charity groups, and is a regular participant in services at his Catholic church in Chevy Chase, Md., where he lives.
Being a nice guy, though, is not adequate reason for supporting Senate approval for his sitting on the high court. Please consider the following matters of serious concern.
(1) BK’s Position on Presidential Power
Perhaps the biggest problem with DJT’s pick of Kavanaugh is that, as Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said in a press conference on Tuesday, the President “chose the candidate who he thought would best protect him from the Mueller investigation.”
While there may be some exaggerated statements regarding BK’s likely protection of DJT against indictment while in office (see this Fact Checker article), there is adequate reason to think that Schumer’s statement is basically correct.
It is also questionable whether any new nomination of a Supreme Court justice should be considered by the Senate as long as the President is under investigation with aspects of that investigation possibly being brought before the high court at some point.
(2) BK’s Position on Health Care and Women’s Reproductive Rights
In a statement following Kavanaugh’s nomination, Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) declared, “He's demonstrated a hostility to the Affordable Care Act that the Trump administration is continually working to undermine.” (Remember, the ACA is a law passed by Congress and upheld by the Supreme Court to this point.)
At the same press conference mentioned above, Senator Schumer also said that Kavanaugh's selection would put healthcare protections in the ACA, such as protections for people with preexisting conditions, “at grave, grave risk.”
In addition, as the official blog of the Democratic Party says, “a vote for Kavanaugh would be a vote to . . .  deny women their constitutional right to make their own health care decisions.”
(3) BK’s Position on Church and State
On July 10, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State (AU), an organization I have supported for decades, publically declared that Kavanaugh is “the wrong choice for the Supreme Court.” That was because of their perception that BK was not committed to the concept of separation of church and state. They wrote (here),
The separation of church and state is the linchpin of religious freedom. We can’t afford to have a Supreme Court that would undermine it. By nominating Kavanaugh to the court, Trump threatens the vision of religious freedom for which Americans United has fought over the last 70 years. That’s why Americans United must oppose him.
On the same day, AU issued a five-page report (see here) on BK’s record and stated that he is a “threat to church-state separation and religious freedom.” 
For these, and other, reasons I insist that Brett Kavanaugh being a nice guy is by no means reason enough to support his appointment to the Supreme Court.
Many of you who live in States with one or both Senators possibly inclined to vote to approve Kavanaugh for the Supreme Court may likely want to contact those Senators and express your reservations about his suitability.
His being nice isn’t enough reason for approving him for the SCOTUS!

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

TTT #18 One Doesn’t Have to be a Fundamentalist to be a Good Christian

This article is mostly from the first page of the 18th chapter of Thirty True Things . . . (TTT) with a bit of updating. So this introductory part of the topic introduced in the title is largely about an interesting person named Anne Rice.
Who Is Anne Rice?
Those who have heard of Anne Rice know that she has been an author for quite a long time, first achieving acclaim as the writer of vampire novels. Between 1976 and 2003 she wrote 18 books about vampires and witches—and I don’t regret not having read any of those books.
Anne Rice in 2010
Rice (b. 1941) was raised, and educated, as a Roman Catholic, but she became an atheist as a young woman and was estranged from the Catholic Church for some 30 years. In 1998 she returned to the Church and to a deep faith in God. 
In 2004 Rice announced in a Newsweek article that from then on she would “write only for the Lord.” Consequently, her next book was Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt (2005) and followed by Christ the Lord: The Road to Cana (2008).
Just two years ago “The Young Messiah,” a movie based on Rice’s 2005 book, was released, and June and I enjoyed watching it for the first time this past Friday night.
Rice’s spiritual autobiography was also published in 2008 under the title Called Out of Darkness: A Spiritual Confession. The one-page first chapter begins, “This book is about faith in God.” Rice goes on to say in that short chapter that her story has a happy ending, for, she says, “I have found the Transcendent God both intellectually and emotionally.”
Anne Rice’s Startling Statements
As one who has read and enjoyed Rice’s stimulating books about the life of Jesus, finding them to be insightful and reverent, I was surprised and somewhat dismayed in July 2010 to learn that she had (on Facebook of all places!) publically renounced Christianity. 
Here is what she posted on Facebook on July 28, 2010: 
For those who care, and I understand if you don’t: Today I quit being a Christian. I’m out. I remain committed to Christ as always but not to being “Christian” or to being part of Christianity. It’s simply impossible for me to “belong” to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group. For ten years, I’ve tried. I’ve failed. I’m an outsider. My conscience will allow nothing else.
Five minutes later, she wrote this on her Facebook wall (as it was called then):
As I said below, I quit being a Christian. I’m out. In the name of Christ, I refuse to be anti-gay. I refuse to be anti-feminist. I refuse to be anti-artificial birth control. I refuse to be anti-Democrat. I refuse to be anti-secular humanism. I refuse to be anti-science. I refuse to be anti-life. In the name of Christ, I quit Christianity and being Christian. Amen.
The above quotes are given in their entirety to indicate how one public person has embraced Christ and Christianity and then rejected the latter because of her faith in Christ. But it seems mainly to be the fundamentalist form of the Christian faith, and the traditional form of Catholicism, that she has rejected.
That is why I wrote on my Facebook page back then that I wish Rice had read my book Fed Up with Fundamentalism, for I firmly believe it is not necessary for one to be a fundamentalist, or a traditional Roman Catholic, in order to be a Christian, and a good one at that.
And, certainly, not all Christians are “quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious,” although, unfortunately, some (or many) are.
[More than for most of the previous articles based on TTT, I encourage you to click here and read the entire 18th chapter—especially if you haven’t read my book Fed Up . . . .]

Thursday, July 5, 2018

"Lift Every Voice and Sing"

As yesterday, July 4, was Independence Day here in the U.S., “The Star-Spangled Banner,” the official national anthem since 1931, has been sung and played often in the past few days, including at many churches on this past Sunday. But this article is about what has often been called the “Black National Anthem.”
Introducing the Johnson Brothers
James Weldon Johnson was a premier African-American author, educator, songwriter, and civil rights activist who died 80 years ago at the age of 67 in a tragic car/train accident on June 26, 1938.
His brother, J. Rosamond Johnson, two years younger, was born 145 years ago in 1873 and died at the age of 81 in 1954.
The Johnson brothers were born in Jacksonville, Florida, but as young men they moved to New York and in the 1920s became leaders in the Harlem Renaissance. Prior to that, James was appointed by President Theodore Roosevelt as the U.S. counsel to Venezuela (1906-08). He then served as counsel to Nicaragua from 1909 to 1913.
Six years after its founding in 1910, James began working for the NAACP. In 1920 he was chosen as the first black executive secretary of that organization.
Rosamond was trained at the New England Conservatory and then studied in London. He also was actively involved in the work of the NAACP, but he is mainly known as a composer and singer who had a successful show business career.  
James W. and J. Rosamond Johnson
Introducing “Lift Every Voice . . .”
As a young man, James Johnson was the principal of the segregated Stanton School in Jacksonville. In 1900, Booker T. Washington was coming to his school as part of the celebration of the 91st anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birth.
To introduce the honored guest, the Johnson brothers decided to write a song for the occasion. James penned the lyrics and Rosamond wrote the stirring music for the song “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”
At that February 1900 celebration, a chorus of 500 “colored school children,” as James later wrote, sang their song at the school where he was principal. Within 20 years it was being sung across the South and in some other parts of the country—and was adopted as the official song of the NAACP.
Click here to read the words of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” or even better click here to see/hear it sung on YouTube by the (mostly white) Mormon Tabernacle Choir in May of this year.
Introducing the Rationale
Some USAmericans, including some African-Americans, question the validity or propriety of referring to “Lift Every Voice” as the “Black National Anthem.” They say, for example, that to call it that suggests that black people are separatists and want to have their own nation.
There are many, though, who think it is appropriate for African-Americans to have an alternative to the anthem that was penned in 1812, more than a half-century before the emancipation of the enslaved black people in the U.S.
They, and I am one of them, think it is hypocritical to sing a song about “the land of the free” that was written when there were millions of people in the land who were by no means free.
Even though freedom in the U.S. was theoretically bestowed upon all blacks soon after the Civil War, in reality to be “free at last” was still a part of MLK’s dream in 1963.
Every year at the MLK birthday celebration held in William Jewell College’s Gano Chapel, a highlight of the service is when all participants join hands and strongly sing “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”
Let's continue to join hands and work together "till victory [freedom/equality/mutual respect] is won" for all.