samedi, septembre 14, 2013

Words you might want to think about before you say them

I have a friend who is an all round good man.  He's intelligent, a great family guy, funny, and really good at what he does.

But he's got a habit that drives me crazy.  When I ask him how thing are going are home, he'll tell me: "We've really been blessed."

At that point, I have to do some quick mental gymnastics --  after all, that's a term of common use among Christians, particularly evangelical Christians.

Perhaps you also are "blessed."  You have elderly parents in good health.  Or your kids are all doing well in school.  You have babies on your schedule, not on someone else's. You met the love of your life in college, and things have been going just great ever since.

Of course, if you are a person of faith, you would ascribe this to God's good favor working in your family, your business, your love life, and even your, forgive me fertility cycle.

The only problem with this term?

The man next to you in church might be watching his sixty something mom die painfully of cancer.  The person three pews down could have a teenage boy who is hostile, distant and down most of the time -- every night she goes home from work afraid of what she's going to find.

The pastor preaching that upbeat sermon might be struggling with an alcohol addiction that threatens to take over his life -- it's a genetic thing in his family.

Wait... you mean that they aren't blessed? Well, what are they then? Cursed?

This isn't easy stuff.  At various times in my life, which has had some struggles and some frank tragedy, I have wondered why some people's lives seem to go without incident, and others are laced with horror.

People in Colorado: blessed or cursed?

People in Syria?


Bestselling authors? Brilliant writers whose manuscripts never get published?

I do believe that God works in this world.  But I admit that I'm not sure how, though I have experienced times of  feeling blessed in so many ways.

 I don't believe that God picks and chooses who will be given "normal" lives, and who will have to wrest meaning from them with tears and sadness and doubt.

Many of us have times of  normalcy, happiness and grief.

I have heard people who are terribly ill, or those who have lost someone they love say those words -- and been thankful that they can find grace and character and beauty in the twilight.

So I don't honestly have a theologically correct, nicely packaged answer to this dilemma.  My concern is mostly pastoral.

The next time you are exuberant, and those words are about to flow from your lips, please think at least once. Take a look at the person or people who will hear or read them.

And take care, my brothers and sisters, that your "blessing"  cannot be heard as their condemnation.

vendredi, septembre 13, 2013

Faith Fridays: "The Happy Atheist" A Review

There's a certain piquant, perhaps even slightly lurid quality about a woman of the cloth reviewing a tome by an atheist professor of biology (with a prize-winning science blog, yet!) 

In the old days, perhaps one might have even packed this reflection between brown-paper and sold it under cover of night at your local newsstand.  After all, weren't women clergy an impossibility?

But in an age in which aspiring politicians sext young women on Twitter and butlers steal documents from the Vatican bedchambers, alas, nothing seems astonishing. 

As long as there have been theists (going back at least as far as the epics of the ancient world), there have been atheists. History is threaded with the writings and lives of famous non-believers. 

But the explosion of electronic communication, the secularization of Western Europe, and the surging number of Americans who don't identify with an institutional religious practice has amplified the voice and perhaps the influence of the no-God party. 

Atheism (as much as a non-believer with a polemical edge like Sam Harris or Richard Dawkins would dislike this way of putting it) part of the dialogue about faith in the public square.

And if P Z Myers had his druthers, human beings would root out past errors, and give God, described as a "useless old fart"  and a "cranky old geezer" (metaphorically, of course, for God doesn't exist in Myersworld), his "pink slip."

In this series of sketches on such topics as "The Top Ten Reasons Religion Is Like Pornography"  Myers sets out to mock, rend, and generally deride the beliefs of any and every person of faith (except, of course, for those who have faith in science).

"Science and religion," he writes, "are two different ways of looking at the universe, and changing the world, and I believe that you must set one aside to follow the other. One works; the other doesn't."

Sometimes, however, Myers has sympathy for believers -- believers like Florida pastor (unlikely to be considered more than a huge nuisance, embarrassment or fraud by many Christians) Terry Jones, who has several times attempted to burn copies of the Koran.  After all, to Myers, the Koran and the Bible are only  books of superstitions and those who believe they are sacred texts ignorant dupes.

Myers writes scathingly of the misogynistic and patriarchal qualities of a faith born amidst ancient sheepherders and a God who is leader, master, commander.

In decimating this unreal, metaphorical God, those with no faith will realize that while they are alone in the universe, "we're all alone together."  That realization, and acceptance of the basics of evolution, will allow humans to be able to become free actors, able to choose to collaborate, and shoulder responsibilities far more weighty than that of fealty to a "trail boss."

There is much in this book that will outrage, and infuriate, many people of faith.  That's not a good reason to stay away from it, however.  If your beliefs cannot contend in the marketplace of ideas, are they really yours?

But it's hard to believe that this volume reveals Myers at his most convincing (here he sings to the choir).  Instead of "The Happy Atheist," this volume might more appropriately be called "The Snarky Atheist."

A bigger issue? We live in an age in which many have unlimited faith in both science and reason -- two disciplines that have let us down again and again. 

There are, as well, many scientists who see no contradiction between faith and science (it is difficult to think, for example,  of Dr. Francis Collins as a dupe or an idiot).

Far safe for Myers to dwell in the realm of parody than engage the messy realities that lie behind the puppet show he has set up.

For real exposure to a rigorous and nuanced atheism, turn to neuroscientist Sam Harris, or the late Christopher Hitchens. Hell, turn to Myers himself -- his blog, which explores all manner of topics scientific and (anti) religious, fascinates.

But unless you can take being annoyed, and only sporadically  enlightened, don't turn to him here.