God Supports My Football Team!

Okay, no He doesn’t or else the Colts would have brought home another Super Bowl trophy. He couldn’t even throw me a bone and give me an Eagles/Steelers Bowl. Now, right before the Super Bowl, Mike Pereira, the N.F.L.’s outgoing head of officials , came out with a ruling related to end zone demonstrations:

The whole issue is, you can’t go to the ground on your knees or with your hand or anything. There’s only one time that you’re going to be allowed to go on your knee after you score like this, and that’s when you want to praise the Lord. If you do that, then I’m going to allow that, because I do not want to be struck by lightning, I promise you that. We will allow that.

Santonio Holmes’ use of the football as a prop after his spectacular catch aside, one can’t help but think of how many players point to the sky or drop to their knee after scoring a touchdown or making a spectacular play. For some reason, it always brings to mind hip hop artists who thank God when they win an award. It’s the cynical me: I wonder how much of that praise is more about the praiser rather than the praisee, giving lip service to image-control rather than a profession of faith.

I think part of our natural jadedness with such professions comes from the stench of hypocrisy that usually accompanies them. After all, it’s easy to wear a cross necklass, sport a bumper sticker, of have a catchy T-shirt … none of which matters when you’re caught drunk at a strip club. With Kurt Warner and Tim Tebow, we have the tale of two football players who are professing Christians. Both of whom have come under some fire under the auspices of what’s appropriate for declarations of faith while at work.

Kurt Warner, embraced by Evangelicals, celebrates his faith by helping others through charities. He gives freely of his time, started the Sunshine Foundation which serves the seriously ill and physically challenged and abused children. Interestingly enough, even he’s aware of how he comes across, as he’s been known to say “you know it’s coming” right before he thanks God.
Our other case study is Tim Tebow, the son of Christian missionaries. He drew tons of criticism for putting Bible verse references in his eye black (although, part of me suspects that some people were mad they didn’t think of how to sell that space as advertising first). Proselytizing is part of the faith tradition, the interpretation of what it means to “go forth and make disciples”. Tony Dungy, another man of faith, as been very conscious about using the NFL to build a bigger pulpit from which to spread his message and better do God’s kingdom work.

Sure, we could have the discussion about what constitutes appropriate displays of faith at your workplace. [Sometimes I think people expect some sort of bait and switch out of my stories (sample plot: imperiled teens are cornered by a serial killer. Luckily, one teen stops and prays and leads the killer to salvation.)] I’m more interested in the way they choose to go about their brands of proclaiming the faith. Personally, I’ve always leaned toward the non-intrusive, least-offensive (because, let’s face it, the gospel message alone is offensive to some) and, most importantly, develops from the natural course of the relationship brand of evangelism.

Regardless, I believe the true offense is when folks are being inauthentic and hypocritical about their faith. If it’s an extension of who they are, honestly, I have no problem with it. I just keep in mind this quote from the movie The Big Kahuna:

“It doesn’t matter whether you’re selling Jesus or Buddha or civil rights or ‘How to Make Money in Real Estate With No Money Down.’ That doesn’t make you a human being; it makes you a marketing rep. If you want to talk to somebody honestly, as a human being, ask him about his kids. Find out what his dreams are – just to find out, for no other reason. Because as soon as you lay your hands on a conversation to steer it, it’s not a conversation anymore; it’s a pitch. And you’re not a human being; you’re a marketing rep. “

***
If you want to make sure that I see your comment or just want to stop by and say “hi”, feel free to stop by my message board. We always welcome new voices to the conversation.

An Atheist and a “Pastor” Go Into a Convention Part V

[Bringing you up to speed, here’s Part I, Part II, Part III, and Part IV]

To say that the conversation went off the rails would be a mild understatement. Something got under B’s skin.

Sorry, Maurice. But I think we may need to take a break. I’m not enjoying this. And neither are you, it appears.

[“To be compatible with secularism, we would have to remove any sense of mystery, any sense of the transcendent, and to do so would remove the essence of faith.”] – Faith is not an end unto itself. Faith is not its own justification. Faith does not justify faith. Faith does not justify ignoring and dismissing relevant information that shows the faith isn’t justified.

Yes, “faith” sounds romantic and at times like a “beautiful” thing (ministers are great at making “faith” sound like a wonderful thing), but using “faith” as a justification in promoting a “lie” makes “faith” dishonest. It makes “faith” ugly.

“Good works” don’t change that. “Good works” don’t make God and Jesus *Christ* realities.

For myself, when I went looking for “answers,” I decided that I had to embrace all the relevant information, from both sides. What I wanted, first and foremost, was to know the truth. All those things that you talk about with regard to personal experiences may provide motivation, but they don’t determine what is really true. I decided for myself that I was going to put knowing and speaking the truth first. All that other stuff you talk about serves only to blur the lens and it’s morally impure to use those things as justifications for promoting a lie.

I didn’t dismiss all the historical, cultural, and environmental information that shows Christianity’s roots in Greek, Roman, and Egyptian culture and pre-1st century religion. Some of what I’m talking about are the Egyptian gods and religious beliefs as well as Greek/Roman gods and beliefs – where they intersect with Christianity and where they diverge…how these things influenced Christianity. What about the pre- 1st century Essenes and their documents? I’m also talking about the relationships of the non-canonical gospels and their relationship to the 4 gospels of the canonical new testament. I’m talking about making an honest attempt to know the truth – instead of sitting contently with a popular and comforting lie.

The Jesus you think you know didn’t exist. Was there a Jesus of some sort, yes. Are the gospels his story? No. You don’t do apologetics. Fine, do you want to know what there is to know? To ignore the historical and cultural environment that Christianity grew out of is no honest attempt to learn the truth.

That my “message” rubs you the wrong way isn’t a surprise. I consider it a normal consequence of my message. I’m bascially saying “you’re wrong.” And no, it’s not acceptable for me to simply keep this to myself and leave you unchallenged. There are too many negative consequences of Christian “faith” for the non-believer. I know you don’t want to “own” any of those consequences. You don’t feel you’re promoting discrimination and mistreatment of others – but it’s the message of Christianity that those that don’t believe are inferior. You’re promoting “faith” in Christianity. You’re promoting the “lie.” You don’t have the power to cut that message out of the Bible. You don’t have the power to cut that message out of popular Christianity. You don’t have the power to stop those that discriminate because they feel justified by “faith.”

I’ll place my “faith” in telling the truth based on the whole of the information, not just looking at the slice of information that appeals to me.

-B

If it sounds like I don’t “respect” your beliefs, it’s because I don’t respect your beliefs. I respect you as a person who wants to be a good person and wants to do what is good and right. But your “beliefs” support the promotion of a lie. Your “beliefs” are unjustified and hurtful to people like me. Your “beliefs” I will NOT tolerate.

Again, I don’t know if B was engaging “me”, per se, or generic Christian/religious guy. I get disrespected from many of my fellow Christians, so getting an e-mail where I’m told how wrong I am, well, it’s like the sun greeting me in the morning. To be honest, all I was interested in was B, the person. What he believed didn’t concern me as much as me wanting to know how he believed intersected with his life. I wanted to know and understand HIS story. I sense a lot of (probably justified) anger at Christianity, but I don’t think that I got to the “why?”s of it.

Still, I think he had some interesting points for me to think about. I’ll hopefully re-visit some of them before too long.

***
If you want to make sure that I see your comment or just want to stop by and say “hi”, feel free to stop by my message board. We always welcome new voices to the conversation.

An Atheist and a “Pastor” Go Into a Convention Part IV

[Bringing you up to speed, here’s Part I, Part II, and Part III – I now respond to B]

Sadly, I’m quite used to the tone.

Atheists constantly try to convert me and whether they realize it or not, usually with a chip on their shoulder. I know (or at least try to remember) where it comes from. Many of their stories follow similar trajectories. Many were burned by the church. We have burned a lot of people, literally and figuratively; and frankly, as much as one person can apologize for other’s history of mistakes, I’m sorry. If for nothing else, my participation in that history of mistakes. We, as the church, fall short of who we ought to be and what we ought to be doing.

Many have been burned (or enlightened) by their own faith, as in they asked questions and didn’t get answers that made sense to them and it led to them becoming disconnected with the historic Christian faith and led them down other paths.

Overlapping those two trajectories of stories are those who, due to their re-experience with members of the Christian faith, walk into conversations with Christians anticipating certain reactions. In other words, it takes a while for their guard to drop.

However, the tone does rub me the wrong way when it’s not just enough for you to not believe, but you want to spread the “truth” or, more on point, when anyone who doesn’t believe like you is stupid. It smacks of not respecting the beliefs of others and, in truth, you become everything you don’t like about religion and/or Christian folks.

So let’s just be careful that the tone doesn’t end the conversation.

Let me tell you where I’m coming from. Whenever anyone is trying to convert me (or even engage me in an agenda driven conversation), their message is only as good as the messenger. It forces me to constantly be evaluating my life and faith. If my life isn’t marked by me loving others and taking care of the poor, my faith (or whatever I profess to believe) is meaningless. If I’m not being formed into the kind of person my faith claims to make, then all of the logical arguments in the world is not going to convince anyone of anything.

Of course what I believe is foolishness. Faith often is. Look, I’m basically saying I believe there was a guy running around 2000 years ago claiming to be God (a claim which would get folks committed these days). Whose life impacted those around him. Who was crucified, like so many others were, but then folks said he rose from the dead. And that’s before the 3-in-1 God I believe in or even the idea of God incarnating and becoming a man.

There are days when I’m not feeling it. Days when I wake up and go wtf? Days when my prayer feels like me talking to my imaginary friend. So folks wanting to convince me of “the truth” probably aren’t going to share anything I haven’t thought about.

Is there a God isn’t necessarily a good question. A better question would be if He does exist, has He revealed himself in a way we understand but not exhaust? After all, if He hasn’t revealed Himself, He might as well not exist. (In my faith paradigm, He has revealed Himself truly and fully in Christ). To be compatible with secularism, we would have to remove any sense of mystery, any sense of the transcendent, and to do so would remove the essence of faith.

Faith isn’t an epistemology, but it is how you know what you know. It’s meant to shape you, to create a relationship, what could be described as a mystical knowing of God or the supernatural. Which is what I would describe as the role of the Bible in my life.

The Bible is a collection of stories. Not a history book, not a science text, not even a series of dogmatic propositions. To treat it as such is a failed proposition, reducing and misusing the canon. It’s a collection of stories I’ve chosen to let shape my life. It is a tool for spiritual transformation and formation, not necessarily given as a “Christian epistemology.” In short, I use it to affect my life. The idea of the Bible as a story especially appeals to me as a writer as I firmly believe that stories convey truths propositions can’t, or rather, fall short in being able to do it. Stories can be grasped in any age, by any culture. And a story doesn’t have to be totally true in its details for it to be true.

The only thing analogous to faith that I can think of is the act of “falling in love”. Falling in love isn’t rational. We can pretty it up to where “the practical information outweighs the romantic notions to the point where the romantic notions are meaningless.” Is love an evolved response to protect our genes being passing on? A biological imperative dressed up, given more meaning that it has? That kind of answer is sure to crimp ones dating life.

Since it can’t be quantified, I measure my faith experientially. Though there are days when it doesn’t make sense, there are many more days when it does. If only to me. And when all is said and done, all faith is personal and experienced individually.

***
If you want to make sure that I see your comment or just want to stop by and say “hi”, feel free to stop by my message board. We always welcome new voices to the conversation.

An Atheist and a “Pastor” Go Into a Convention Part III

Click here for Part I and Part II. At this point in our conversation, I got the feeling B was talking at me or rather at the person he expected me to be. It was like he was engaging the Christian response he was used to getting rather than engaging me. But maybe that’s just my reading of his response:

I apologize for the “tone”. I’m continually criticized for having an attacking style of writing…but my primary goal is simply to be honest.

[“Cold embrace”] – yes, the laws of nature are indifferent to our feelings and emotions. However, people are not. I still have feelings. I have family I care about and who care about me. I spend a lot of time with friends. We grow, we learn. I develop attachments and affections. I continue to experience joy and sorrow because of life events. My life isn’t lifeless, very much the opposite.

[Are you left with only becoming a humanist or a nihilist?] I certainly don’t agree with nihilist attitudes. My life has meaning to me. My life has the purpose I recognize and that I choose to give it. There are things that are worth doing. There are still goals and challenges. There is satisfaction. I still empathize with others. I still want to lessen pain and increase satisfaction and happiness for myself and for others. I recognize the patterns of life. Doing things with friends is fun and is a good thing. Our lives are better because of our caring for each other and accepting each other. I don’t struggle with the meaning of life. I accept life.

[Humanism:] I don’t feel constrained by Humanism which seems to be what you’re inferring. Humanism is about having positive values and a positive outlook. Humanism recognizes the things I’ve been talking about in the proceeding paragraphs. But by itself, humanism isn’t limiting.

Non-belief is not inherently negative or sub-standard to belief which your “tone” of questions suggests. Non-belief does not preclude happiness or satisfaction or love…we’re all still human. But even if non-belief were less “joyful,” Are you going to choose to promote fictions because accepting the truth appears to be unattractive? How does integrity apply?

[Is telling the truth about reality just a “different precept?”] Consistently in your writings, you attempt to equate faith and belief as being equally dependable as the known truths of our reality. They are not on equal footing. As I have said before, no one can produce any practical evidence for the existence of the Christian God. I have plenty of evidence for the existence of natural law. The Christian God and Jesus as “Christ” easily fall in the category of human invention. Gravity is not a human invention. The Earth, the solar system and the Universe are not a human invention. Subatomic particles are not a human invention. The laws of probability are not a human invention. And there is solid evidence for all these things. The Christian God, by definition is “super-natural.” Yet, no practical evidence of a “super-natural” being, active and participating is shown. Human feelings, human desires, and human emotions don’t make the Christian God a reality – a truth.

[although i’m curious, i would think that being an atheist would be enough. everyone’s beliefs are their own and folks tend to get prickly with religious/social movements when they seek to convert. how is your “spread the message” about “what the truth is” make you any different from any other evangelistic religion except with differing precepts.]

“everyone’s beliefs are their own.” Really? That’s not the approach I see the typical Christian taking. How many atheists have come knocking at your door to preach atheism? I get Christians knocking pretty regularly. I find their leaflets in my front door. In my personal experience, dealing with Christian family and Christian friends, my non-belief is NOT considered acceptable, nor is it respected. For me to discuss anything that seems to contradict Christian teachings is “unseemly” and “distasteful” in these Christian dominated groups. And yet, all I’m presenting is presenting something that is part of our reality…the only reason it’s “unseemly” or “distasteful” is because of Christian teachings…which are based on what? Certainly not the hard evidence that shows evolution to be true…and by the way, when I talk about evolution, I’m talking about Common Descent. Christians like to argue about “survival of the fittest” and the relative merits of what steers evolution…but the key issue is really Common Descent. Common Descent has been shown to be a truth. We share common ancestry with other animals…to this point, no living entity can be ruled out as not sharing common descent with humans…maybe there is something, but to this point, we either find that a living entity does share common descent or it’s inconclusive. My point being that common descent is simply the way it is. Why does (public) school stop for an hour on Wednesday’s in my county for Weekday Religious Education? And why are children of non-believers separated out and sent to the library? Is it ok for the majority to isolate the minority socially? What ways are acceptable and what ways are unacceptable?

I was at the Brickyard 400 last Sunday. There was an invocation prayer given before the race that prayed to the Christian God and referred to Jesus Christ, lord and savior. Now, understanding my “take” on Christianity, it would be hypocritical for me to take off my hat and bow. Yet, that is what is expected of me by the Christian majority. We are on opposite sides of a gap…what is there to bridge that gap? I would say God if there were any chance that God were real. But God isn’t real. What’s left? The information that describes the truth of reality is what is left. Those things that show how nature and natural law really work…and they consistently show no involvement by the Christian God.

The reality is that people, in groups, discriminate against others outside that group. Are they justified? My interpretation of Christian teachings, and I think this is more than fair, is that if you’re a “believer” you’re acceptable to the Christian group and a “non believer” is unacceptable as a full and complete participant in society. The “non believer” is marginalized. As an atheist, if Christians on the whole were truly accepting of me and respected me, then I wouldn’t have any (meaningful) problem with Christians. I wouldn’t focus my attention on them. But that’s not the way it is. So I am fighting back and I’m fighting back with the truth of our reality.

Because, eventually, in the end, the truth of reality shows itself for what it is and, in my opinion, it’s the best possible common denominator for us to share. I’m trying to help that process along to what I hope is its inevitable conclusion. It’s very sad for me to think that humanity ultimately allows fiction to win out over the truth of reality. Humans don’t always put telling the truth as their highest priority.

-B

Any takers on responding to B’s points?

***
If you want to make sure that I see your comment or just want to stop by and say “hi”, feel free to stop by my message board. We always welcome new voices to the conversation.

An Atheist and a Pastor Go Into a Convention Part II

Okay, to catch us up from last time, I started this e-mail exchange with a gentleman (named for the purposes of this blog, B) who attended a panel I was on at InConjunction about whether science and religion can peacefully coexist. My answer, in short, was I hope so since I’m both a scientist and a hack theologian. Both need to give the other room to do what they do as well as allow one to inform the other as needed. There will be times when science will clarify matters of faith just like there will be times when faith can temper our sometimes irrational admiration for the rational.

And yes, I realize that as the constant skeptic and the black guy, we’d be the first two people killed in a horror movie.

Anyway, here was my response to the initial e-mail. I basically try to get at where the person is coming from and see if there is any common ground that we might share:

there are “word games” i may seem to play. for example, i know you are probably going to react poorly when i use faith and certainty, but i truly don’t mean them in a strictly supernatural/spiritual sense. for example, i truly believe all quest journeys begin with a leap of faith, that is, what we choose to put our trust in. for some, it is ourselves (the individual or humanity). for some, it is science (the determination of our senses). for some, it is the spiritual (under the assumption that there is more to this life than presented, both in terms of the spiritual and in terms of after this life). and there is/can be some overlap.

the other is with certainty. i know we seemed to cross swords on that one. i think there are things that we can know for certain (eg, how photosynthesis works) but that’s different from having an attitude of certainty. when i say that true spirituality and true science abhor certainty, it is because an attitude of certainty stops you from questioning. once you’re certain, you “know” and not only do you close your mind to further conversations, but there is no point in further investigation.

ceding to the cold embrace of science as our epistemology, i guess that would only leave me with a couple of choices in terms of my world view: become a humanist or become a nihilist (if i were to remove God from the equation of my life, i’m pretty much left with these options if i am being intellectually honest). would that be a fair assessment?

although i’m curious, i would think that being an atheist would be enough. everyone’s beliefs are their own and folks tend to get prickly with religious/social movements when they seek to convert. how is your need to “spread the message” about “what the truth is” make you any different from any other evangelistic religion except with differing precepts?

Actually, B’s e-mail also led to more thoughts about why and how Wrath and I manage to get along. We have a mutual respect for one another. I also have come to believe that we’re more alike than not or at least cut from similar cloth. We actually want similar end results in people. We want them living up to their full potential, and see the lack of it—not living up to what we were created to be—as a “sin”. That might be either me couching my faith as a form of Christian humanism or me couching humanism in spiritual language. Either way, I see it as a logical extension of my faith to move outward and be a blessing to others. I believe that faith or any truth claim is only as real as I see it lived out in the proclaimers life. In other words, is how you are anything that I’m interested in being? Because if it’s not, and if my life isn’t anything anyone else would be interested in, all of the words in the dictionary isn’t going to convince anyone of the truth of your faith.

***
If you want to make sure that I see your comment or just want to stop by and say “hi”, feel free to stop by my message board. We always welcome new voices to the conversation.

An Atheist and a “Pastor” Go to a Convention Part I

Folks often ask me about the kind of conversations I get into, so I thought I’d begin a bit of an on-going series involving one. With B’s permission, I am reprinting parts of our conversation. My question to you is how would you respond to B’s questions and the issues he brings up? (Be warned, I’ll probably make a blog out of the more interesting responses).

Hello Maurice!

I am the atheist, B, that you met last Friday evening at the InConjunction session titled “Religion and Science – Can there ever be peace between the two?”

You had told me during the panel discussion last Friday, and then again when I bought your book, that I’d like Wrath. And I assume I will. I would like to meet Mr. White or see him in action in your suggested “debate” type of event. But, at the risk of always focusing on the negative, I’m a little surprised at what you and he both write in the foreword and afterword of your book.

You write, “We’re both men of faith.” This would be a major insult to me as an atheist. But it’s not for Mr. White? I think that’s surprising given the atheists I know. I find that Christian believers are constantly trying to bring the atheist down to their level when it comes to standards for establishing the truth of our reality. You did the same during the session last Friday by saying atheists have “faith.” I do not have “faith” according to how Christians use the word. I’d like to think that if you give me solid evidence to the contrary, I’ll back down on even the propositions that I hold to be the most certain. Please try to understand that my attempting to maintain an open mind is not the same as lacking certainty.

“We each are on our own spiritual journey…” I consider myself spiritual in a loose definition of the word, but it’s not the definition for the word “spiritual” that believers in the supernatural use. Again, I’m surprised that you feel comfortable in describing Mr. White that way – inferring that he accepts this.

And then, in the afterword, Mr. White writes “Or, we could do the honorable thing and admit that neither of us know anything about these big cosmological questions with anything approaching absolute certainty…” This again brings me back to the panel discussion last Friday where persons repeatedly tried to infer that we, as humans, cannot know anything with confidence or “certainty” thus putting religious propositions on equal footing with known physical realities. Is that honest?

I’m ready to state that after my investigations, I am certain the Christian God and Jesus as “Christ” are not realities. There is no practical evidence that the Christian God participates in our reality. There’s no practical evidence that a man can lie dead and decaying for 2.5 days and be resurrected. Nature, as shown through science, doesn’t provide for these things to have happened. In addition, the known history of the world, of mankind, of religions in general and the history of Christianity, in particular, shows that it’s very common that man creates god and that people, for their own reasons, buy into it. The history of the Christian Bible, the history of Christianity, shows man’s fingerprints, not God’s.

And the human race has only been around for a very short time compared to the history of the universe, the history of the Earth and the history of life on Earth. And a lot of what is known today, wasn’t known very long ago – especially in relation to the history of the human race. Galileo only publicized that the Earth was not the center of the Earth in 1610. Newton published his theories of motion and gravity in 1687. Einstein published his theory of relativity in 1917. Hubble “discovered” the universe outside of the Milky Way in 1930 when he”saw” less than a handful of galaxies. Now we can “see” billions of galaxies, with an average of 1 billion stars per galaxy. It’s only been in the last 10-15 years that the human genome has been mapped and compared to other animals. We now have genetics to show the underlying processes that result in the evolution of life. Genetic analysis in combination with archaeology has given us some good information on the migration of the human race around the world (everyone alive today shares a common male ancestor who lived some 60,000-80,000 years ago in Africa). Only recently has the background microwave radiation of the universe been mapped to help show the pattern of the universe’s formation and its development. And research into quantum electrodynamic mechanics is helping to describe the mechanisms that provide all matter and energy.

Amid all this, Christians expect the Bible, a collection of letters and stories written by men thousands of years ago (The first independent evidence for the NT gospels is Justin Martyr in 150AD) to supercede what we know as the truth of our reality – the truths we know about nature. I won’t pretend that we “know” everything. I won’t pretend that some of what we know may need refining and maybe some of it is just plain wrong. But we know enough with enough confidence that I know the Christian Bible is wrong about God and Jesus as “Christ.”

And we haven’t even touched the subject of human psychology and human motivations that result in “belief” despite the evidence to the contrary. If the Christian God does exist, then he’s provided me with so much proof that he doesn’t exist, it’s so completely one-sided, that I can’t possibly think he’s a reality without giving up my honesty and personal integrity or my sanity.

Just so you know, I don’t write all of this solely to be antagonistic – but rather, to provide you the ability to compare my perspectives to what you’ve gotten from Mr. White. And you seem to be open to at least hearing other perspectives. Perhaps, if the opportunity presents itself, I will have a role to play in future events involving Mr. White. I’m not much in the way of a polished public speaker, but I have studied and thought through a lot of relevant information.

-B

to be continued …

Part II
Part III
Part IV
Part V

***
If you want to make sure that I see your comment or just want to stop by and say “hi”, feel free to stop by my message board. We always welcome new voices to the conversation.