Posted in Religion, tagged Bible, Culture, Envy, Evangelical Christianity, Knoxville, Language, Lexicography, Mormonism, Phrases, Scripture, Tennessee, Words, Youth on July 17, 2014 |
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I grew up in Knoxville, Tennessee, which meant that I had very few Mormon friends and many if not most of the people I went to school with were some kind of evangelical Christian. I often secretly envied them.
Even so the words and phrases they used to talk about their faith often really bugged me. It was so alien, and so off-putting.
Turns out those words and phrases were almost always actually from the Bible.
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Posted in Religion, tagged C. S. Lewis, Christian Ethics, Christianity, Christians, Commandments, Culture, Ethics, God's Law, Individual Rights, Law, Morality, Paganism, Psalms, Quote, Reason, Reflections on the Psalms, Religion, Rights, Spirituality on January 31, 2014 |
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Christians increasingly live on a spiritual island; new and rival ways of life surround it in all directions and their tides come further up the beach every time. None of these new ways is yet so filthy or cruel as some Semitic Paganism. But many of them ignore all individual rights and are already cruel enough. Some give morality a wholly new meaning which we cannot accept, some deny its possibility. Perhaps we shall all learn, sharply enough, to value the clean air and ‘sweet reasonableness’ of the Christian ethics which in a more Christian age we might have taken for granted.
C.S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms
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Posted in Religion, tagged Bible, Christianity, Cultural Norms, Culture, God, Hebrew, Jesus, Jesus Christ, Norms, Old Testament, Patheos, Religion, Roger E. Olson, Texts of Terror, Theology on July 17, 2013 |
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Roger E. Olson has written an interesting post compiling what he believes to be “Every Known Theistic Approach to Old Testament ‘Texts of Terror’“:
The phrase “texts of terror” usually refers to stories in the historical books of the Hebrew Bible that describe God as commanding his people to slaughter groups of men, women and children and “show them no mercy” (to quote on such command).
Here I will lay out all the theistic approaches to interpreting these texts I am aware of. Every “other” approach I know about seems to me to fall under one of these—as a version of it. You may be aware of others. Feel free to post them here.
As you can see, in my opinion, all have serious problems. This is almost certainly a question that will have to wait for answer until paradise or the eschaton.
(Go to his blog to see what the approaches are)
I can’t think of any other approaches than the ones he lists, and I think he does a good job of succintly summarizing the problems with each approach. For myself, I don’t know where I come down on the issue (maybe Olson’s “wait and see” approach is the best after all), but I do feel strongly that it is important to seriously grapple with the Bible’s difficult passages. Although I am not necessarily advocating for Biblical inerrantism, I think we fall into an immediate and serious error when we simply discard the passages that make us uncomfortable (whether they are these “texts of terror” or any other passage that conflicts with our modern cultural sensibilities). I think we are obligated to seriously grapple with every word of the Bible. Yes, it is difficult. But to do otherwise means subordinating the Bible, and ultimately God, to our modern cultural sensibilities. If we want to do that, nobody’s going to stop us, but we’ll be building a house on a sandy foundation, and in any case we shouldn’t keep kidding ourselves about being Christians.
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Posted in Music, tagged Accidental Racist, America, Art, Brad Paisley, Christ and Pop Culture, Christianity, Country Music, Culture, Grace, LL Cool J, Love, Mainstream Country, Music, Nashville, Nick Rynerson, Patheos, Race, Sarcasm, Wheelhouse on April 10, 2013 |
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I posted a critical comment on Nick Rynerson’s post about the new and controversial Brad Paisley/LL Cool J song “Accidental Racist” on the Christ and Pop Culture blog at Patheos and it apparently got yanked for moderation. I’m not happy about that at all, so I’m re-posting it here, verbatim:
What a ridiculous hit piece. You should seriously be ashamed of yourself, not just as a Christian but as a decent person.
Yes, the song is clumsy. No, musically, it’s not the best song ever. But you know what? The sentiment comes from a genuine place. The intentions were good.
Consider Brad Paisley’s audience and ask yourself which is better, clumsy dialogue or no dialogue? Do you realize that by jumping on the bandwagon and blasting this song, you are contributing to an environment where racial dialogue is basically impossible? The reactions to this song across the internet send a clear message: “Talking about race is an impossible minefield. Don’t bother trying, because you’re going to do it wrong and people will turn on you like a pack of rabid dogs.” If you are going to mock, ridicule or castigate everyone who makes a good-faith attempt at talking about race because they don’t meet some ill-defined standard for cultural studies, you are essentially silencing the conversation. Is that really what you want?
And yes, we know you sneer at and look down on mainstream country. To be honest, I strongly suspect that’s what’s actually the big motivator for this blog post, as opposed to a real honest to God bone to pick about race in America.
Obviously the song is not perfect. Obviously even the sentiment has flaws: you don’t have to be cloistered in an Ivory Tower to realize race in America is more complicated than Paisley makes it out to be. Fine. The song is a first step and an honest one. How does responding to it with nastiness and sarcasm help things? How does jumping on the derision bandwagon correct the course? How does using sarcasm and scorn to chill good-faith efforts–even boneheaded ones–to talk about race improve race relations and foster real, productive dialogue?
And to Christians I ask, is Rynerson’s pieced a grace-filled respose? Is it filled with love? Rynerson thinks humility is a part of the solution? He’s sure not displaying any with this post.
I maintain that a significant part of the motivation–not just on Rynerson’s part, but all over the internet and news media–for the nastiness and scorn heaped on this song is really just nastiness and scorn for mainstream country. The level of vitriol would be nowhere this bad if Paisley were not a Nashville musician.
Edit to add: Thomas L. McDonald at God and the Machine, another Patheos blog but on the Catholic channel, says it all very well.
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Posted in Spirituality, tagged Aphrodite, Ares, Art, Athena, Birth, Christianity, Courage, Cowardice, Culture, Death, Delphic Maxims, Dionysus, Ethics, Family, Hellenic Polytheism, Hellenismos, History, Human Experience, Humanity, Love, Manhood, Manliness, Marriage, Mars, Masculinity, Men, Mental Conflict, Military, Moral Courage, Morality, Mythology, Myths, Nature, Neopaganism, Pacifism, Paganism, Peace, Philosophy, Physical Courage, Physical Exertion, Polytheism, Sex, Society, Soldier, Spirituality, Strength, Symbolism, Theology, Utopia, Virility, Virtue, War, Warrior, Women, Zeus on August 23, 2011 |
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Paganism is about honoring the fundamental aspects of authentic human experience. It’s about looking at the parts of existence that are terrifying and overwhelming and trying to figure out what they mean: things like birth, death, sex, war, love, art, and even the powerful, capricious, and unpredictable forces of the natural world. The gods give rise to these essential facets of human experience (and/or are themselves born from them), and to deny one or more of the gods because there is no place in your life or your worldview or your schema for the things they represent is to deny a fundamental part of who you are.
War is a part of being human. It may be ugly, brutal, and horrifying, but it is omnipresent. To be truly human is to know war. To reject Ares because you reject war is to reject a part of what it means to be you. And to reject Ares because you reject war means also rejecting warlike aspects of many of the other gods as well: Athena, Aphrodite, Zeus, Dionyus just off the top of my head.
Who would Ares be without war? A god of mental conflict? A god of physical exertion? We already have those gods. Ares is a god of a lot of things, and there are a lot of lenses through which to view Ares, but he is primarily a god of war. Trying to edit the war out of Ares is like trying to edit the sex out of Aphrodite. I don’t know what you’re left with, but it isn’t the real deal. That kind of selective approach to the gods is apparently pretty popular among neopagans, but I honestly don’t think it’s a road that is going to take you anywhere worth being.
Think about it: the soldier knows both war and peace, but the pacifist tries to know only peace. The pacifist is rejecting an entire part of human existence because it does not suit him or her. Whether that’s a thing worth doing, or a thing we should be doing, is not actually the issue. But I would maintain that trying to edit human existence to remove the bits we don’t like is just not what any kind of real paganism is about. Christianity does that, with its vision of a new heaven and a new earth. Not paganism.
I also don’t think, with regards to Ares, that it’s a question of whether violence is necessary or justified, but merely whether it is an essential facet of human existence. Violence IS. War IS. We can play at quasi-Christianity if we want and imagine a utopia where violence no longer exists, but even in Christianity that requires massive divine intervention. The overwhelming, unanimous weight of human history tells us in no uncertain terms and with no exceptions that war and violence are fundamentally a part of the human condition.
Whether or not this reality is morally acceptable is a question that is, in my opinion, not even on paganism’s radar. Violence is a part of human reality, and paganism is about how we honor and respond to human reality. The ethics of paganism ask not whether a violent society is morally acceptable, but instead ask “given that violence and war exist as a part of the human condition, how do you respond virtuously?”
Look to the epics, the philosophers, and the myths. Look to the maxims. Tell me what the answer is. The world is violent–we honor that when we honor Ares. The question is how you respond with virtue when presented with that violence, whether you’re a kid in the hall at school getting beaten up by bullies, a young man who just got his draft notice, or a parent whose family is threatened.
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Posted in Religion, tagged Adaptation, Ancestor Worship, Atheism, Birth Control, Body Mutilation, Cermony, Change, Charity, Christianity, Community, Culture, Dance, Economics, Education, Endorphins, environment, Euphoria, Fear, Gods, Greco-Roman Paganism, Greek Mythology, Health, Hellenic Polytheism, Holidays, Idiosyncracy, Initiation, Kate Douglas, Learning, Life, Localism, Modernism, Mystery, Mysticism, Myths, Nature, Nature Spirits, New Scientist, Pacifism, Paganism, Philanthropy, Polytheism, Progress, Reason, Religion, Ritual, Rodney Stark, Roman Polytheism, Saints, schism, School, Science, Secularity, Sex, Sexuality, Society, Therapy, Tolerance on April 4, 2011 |
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Kate Douglas has written an article for the New Scientist on what the “ideal religion” would look like:
What form would the ideal religion take? Some might argue that instead of redesigning religion, we should get rid of it. But it is good for some things: religious people are happier and healthier, and religion offers community. Besides, secularism has passed its zenith, according to Jon Lanman, who studies atheism at the University of Oxford. In a globalised world, he says, migrations and economic instability breed fear, and when people’s values feel under threat, religion thrives.
Jacobs lists off four categories or basic functions of religion (sacred party, therapy, mystical quest, and school) and describes how most of the existing world religions do one of these very well and ignore or fail to excel at the others. Jacobs’s ideal religion would excel at all four:
While each appeals to a different sort of person, they all tap into basic human needs and desires, so a new world religion would have a harmonious blend of them all: the euphoria and sensual trappings of a sacred party, the sympathy and soothing balms of therapy, the mysteries and revelations of an eternal journey and the nurturing, didactic atmosphere of a school.
Numerous festivals, holidays and rituals would keep followers hooked. “Rites of terror” such as body mutilation are out – although they bind people together very intensely, they are not usually compatible with world religions (New Scientist, 19 December 2009, p 62). Still, highly rousing, traumatic rituals might still feature as initiation ceremonies, because people tend to be more committed to a religion and tolerant of its failings after paying a high price for entry.
The everyday rituals will focus on rhythmic dancing and chanting to stimulate the release of endorphins, which Robin Dunbar, also at Oxford, says are key to social cohesion. To keep people coming back, he also prescribes “some myths that break the laws of physics, but not too much”, and no extreme mysticism, as it tends to lead to schisms.
With many gods and great tolerance of idiosyncratic local practices, the new religion will be highly adaptable to the needs of different congregations without losing its unifying identity. The religion will also emphasise worldly affairs – it would promote the use of contraceptives and small families and be big on environmental issues, philanthropy, pacifism and cooperation.
I’m not sure about downplaying the value of mysticism or the necessity of pacifism, but the interesting thing (as pointed out by Sannion over at the House of Vines) is that Jacobs has basically described ancient Greco-Roman pagan religion.
As Apuleius Platonicus pointed out, Jacobs’s description is lacking in a few other areas as well. Such an ideal religion ought to honor human sexuality and celebrate reason and learning.
But these are honestly quibbles that could be worked out in the long run, or better yet, there would just be room within this kind of big-tent religion for different viewpoints. Most importantly, however, as pointed out by paosirdjhutmosu is that this kind of article and this kind of thinking undermines the notion of religions progress that people like Rodney Stark sell so hard, and that so many people seem to accept as a given, the idea that the course of human religious history has somehow been a linear progression from a darker mirror to a clearer one, and that therefore modern religions are necessarily better than older ones. Like all notions of progress, this is an extremely suspect assumption, with very little to back it up other than plain-old-fashioned massive bias in favor of the current status quo. Now must be better because it’s now. That’s nonsense. Social and cultural change happen for a host of reasons, and there’s nothing in the process that makes sure that the end-product is more functional or healthier for human beings.
I don’t think articles like this are going to turn people towards the old gods in massive numbers or anything, but I like that we see this kind of thinking more and more.
I also definitely want to point out that while this “ideal religion” describes ancient Greco-Roman polytheism fairly well, it wound not specifically have to be Greco-Roman polytheism. I for one would gladly welcome an open, mystical, transcendental, green Christianity with room to give proper honor to saints, angels, ancestors and local kindred spirits of the earth.
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