A Reader Sends Me a New iPod Touch 32 GB! Plus: Shape-Shifting Christianity.

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I sincerely wish to thank the reader of mine who brought and shipped to me a new iPod Touch 32GB. She knows I’m often Blogger on the Go; she wanted to help me work; voila: new iPod 32GB for John.

Having received the gift yesterday, I can today report with confidence that I’ll never write again. I can’t take my hands off the thing. Now my erstwhile beloved MacBook seems to me like a wheezing and clacking IBM Selectric typewriter. Plus, does my MacBook offer me so many apps that with surprising facility I can fashion it into practically an externalized, pocket-sized replication of my entire nervous system?

I don’t think so.

I don’t think I think so. I’m not sure. Let me launch my new iPod app, “Be Sure You’re Sure When You’re Sure.”

Yeah, that’s what I thought: my MacBook is trash. From now on, if I can’t write it with my thumbs it gets a thumbs-down from me.

Thanks for the iPod 32, super-generous reader! Way to put your money where my big fat thumbs are!

Seriously: thanks. It’s touching that you so care for what I do.

Speaking of which, lately (with, An Atheist (And Her Atheist Husband) Visit Her Evangelical Family, and, “Is the Devil Making Me Believe in a ‘Liberal’ God Who Isn’t the True God?) we’ve been talking about pretty radically varying concepts of Christianity. No big news there: Christians have been arguing about Christianity since Christ’s disciples were bitching at each other about which one of them he liked best.

We can go to church; we can attend Christian adult education classes and/or Bible studies; we can hire a court reporter to sit next to us in church and record every word our pastor says. We can spend our lives becoming Bible scholars. We can order tapes and DVD’s from ministers, pastors, preachers, professors, theologians, mystics, linguists, authors. We can change denominations of Christianity once a month (and not get through half of them before we die). We can do everything possible to become as knowledgeable as possible about the only book in our religion that matters.

And if three thousand different people did that, when they were finished what would we have? You know: we’d have three thousand different sets of fully informed opinions about what Christianity really is, means, was, and should be.

What does that say about us? What does it mean? Is there a true Christianity? Moreover, what might it say about God, and/or his relationship with us? Does it tell us anything important? Anything real?

Anything any of us should be losing sleep over?

Very much related to this post is my “We Get the God We Can Handle.”

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About John Shore

John Shore (who, fwiw, is straight) is the author of UNFAIR: Christians and the LGBT Question, and three other great books. He is founder of Unfundamentalist Christians (on Facebook here), and executive editor of the Unfundamentalist Christians group blog.  (In total John's two blogs receive some 250,000 views per month.) John is also co-founder of The NALT Christians Project, which was written about by TIME,  The Washington Post, and others. His website is JohnShore.com. John is a pastor ordained by The Progressive Christian Alliance. You're invited to like John's Facebook page. And don't forget to sign up for his mucho awesome monthly newsletter.

  • https://questionablemotives.wordpress.com tildeb

    I think it says that we're searching for wisdom, that this quest undertaken through religious metaphysics is a Sisyphusian task. And, like all true wisdom, we'll find that it was right here in front of us all along.

    • http://dianer.blogspot.com/ DR

      Did you just call me a sissy?

      • http://www.johnshore.wordpress.com John Shore

        HAR!!!

        • http://dianer.blogspot.com/ DR

          Did you just call me fat?

    • http://www.johnshore.wordpress.com John Shore

      Cool. So full knowledge and understanding of God is just like my cell phone and/or wallet when it's lost. Awesome.

      • https://questionablemotives.wordpress.com tildeb

        Like art, you only get out of life what you put into understanding it. As absurd as our lives may be, it is still a heroic and meaningful undertaking if we make it so.

        As for full knowledge and understanding of god, I'll leave that up to you metaphysicians who disagree widely about the divine diagnosis but have little reluctance to stating its symptoms.

  • http://www.whitenoisemetal.com Brian Shields

    That reader is nicer than I am. Which ain't saying much!

    • http://www.johnshore.wordpress.com John Shore

      Don't look at the gift of the iPod I got as better or more than the $50.00 you once kindly sent me, Brian. Look at it as motivation for you to send me $300.00 dollars so you'll be back on top.

      • Kim

        *snort*!

  • Diana A.

    From "The Source," by James A. Michener:

    Tabiri: "…John, you've heard what they say about Jews? Two Jews get together, they build three synagogues. 'You go to yours, I'll go to mine, and we'll both boycott that son of a bitch on the hill.'"

    In other words, sounds like this is the universal condition for all religions, not just Christianity. And probably for people in general.

    Great post, John. As always.

    • http://www.johnshore.wordpress.com John Shore

      Awesome quote.

  • gooseberrybush

    I love my iPod touch. Someday I'm going to write an entire blog post about the apps on my iPod touch. My iPod touch rocks. Have you downloaded the WordPress and HuffPost apps yet? They're free.

    • http://www.johnshore.wordpress.com John Shore

      I haven’t yet snagged either the WP or HP apps yet–but thanks for heads-up. So far I’ve downloaded a couple for finding wifi spots, a Mapquest one, a recipes-on-the-go one, one that makes beats, Yelp, and … I think that’s it. Now my book won’t get to my agent on time and the entire last thirteen years of my writing life will have been a waste, but at least I’ll be able to locate the nearest Target anywhere I ever am!

  • http://Sisterfriends-together.org Anita

    Oh, silly me. I was so distracted by bright and shiny objects, that being an iPod touch with 32 GB (sisterfriends-together.org) that I failed to notice the rest of your post. John, the questions you ask are important ones and my initial reaction is that maybe they all point to what we say is at the heart of Chrisitianity but that we then hide under all our bells and whistles, that being that Chrisitianity is about a personal relationship with God though Christ Jesus. Because it's personal and we're all different perhaps that's the simple and most obvious reason of why we so often collide on what our faith means and how it's to be lived out. And if that's the case does true Chrisitianity have to look like just one thing? And that seems to be the greater problem because there are a number within the Chrisitian faith who would argue that yes, there is only ONE true Christianity, which coincidentally always just so happens to be their Christianity.

  • Gina Powers

    HELLS no, we have nothing to worry about, because 1) what good will worrying do any of us, and 2) God is God no matter who pontificates what about what to whom. That made sense, didn't it? A little?

    Gotta go entertain the masses, please to be sending me your poor, unloved Mac book…:P.

  • A'isha

    You know, I attend one of those churches. You know the kind where the members believe, REALLY believe that their way of worshiping, believing, living, etc is the one true way because, after all, they read it in the Bible and can back up most of it in the Bible. I've struggled with this for a very long time, still am struggling. It's the church I was raised in although I didn't attend it for most of my teens and 20s. Well heck, even most of my 30s. Of course most of the time I didn't live here, so it would have been pretty tough to attend…but that's beside the point. The point that I do have somewhere in here. Oh yeah, after the basics (God is God, Jesus is God, the Holy Spirit is God, Jesus died for us, He was resurrected and lives, along with loving God and each other with everything we have and are) the rest is gravy.

    God is personal. Anita pointed that out up a few comments…"Chrisitianity is about a personal relationship with God though Christ Jesus." Because God relates to us personally, each of our individual experiences with God are different. I like that. I like that my relationship with the Great Almighty is not the same as yours or hers or Joe's from down the street. That's just about the coolest thing about God.

    • Velvet

      "Oh yeah, after the basics (God is God, Jesus is God, the Holy Spirit is God, Jesus died for us, He was resurrected and lives, along with loving God and each other with everything we have and are) the rest is gravy."

      So right on A'isha! This speaks to the denomination vs. denomination wars that prevail. Why do so many major in the minors? The rest IS gravy, tradition, preference, or non-essential.

      • http://www.johnshore.wordpress.com John Shore

        Unless you're gay.

        • A'isha

          Funny, John! :)

        • http://dianer.blogspot.com/ DR

          Oh no you didn’t.

    • http://www.johnshore.wordpress.com John Shore

      Very nice. I love this, A’isha.

    • Gina Powers

      I’m with John, VERY cool, A’isha!

    • Patty

      As a parent I find my relationships with each of my children are very different, mostly due to their personal needs. I love them with blind devotion, but their needs for parenting and love have always ranged widely.

      My relationship with God is very different from that of a fundamentalist Christian, Buddhist or Jew, but I have no doubt my benevolent Father loves us all with blind devotion.

  • A'isha

    I forgot to say, John, I'm totally jealous. You have serious connections, man!

    • http://www.johnshore.wordpress.com John Shore

      Yes, and they're all wireless. I like it that way, because I think it really ups my chance for a brain tumor, which would FINALLY use up all that extra space I have in my freakishly giant head. (Um: just in case:
      http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/2010/08/08/my-giant-baby-hea… )

      • A'isha

        I didn't want to mention that freakishly large head of yours, but now that you've brought it up… :D

  • http://www.barnmaven.com Barnmaven

    People like to have things in nice neat little boxes, don't they? And I'm not speaking of shiny gadgets in nice neat boxes, although dammit, those are awfully nice too.

    Because we are individuals, or concepts and understanding and even the way we process what we read and here are going to be different. My relationship with God is just that: Mine. Not yours. Not his and not hers. Just as I suspect each of my children sees me in a different light and just as I see each of them as individual people and not replicas of one another.

    When I'm driving to work through the Horse Heaven Hills and I see the tops of Mt. Rainier and Mt. Adams and sometimes St. Helens and Hood, when I think of the vastness of this world that we live in and the billions of people who inhabit it, when I consider this, it flattens me, absolutely FLATTENS me that God sees are recognizes each and every one of us. And not just those of us that are here today, everyone that has ever been and ever will be. And I can't breathe just trying to imagine the nature of God that He can do this and still keep the planets spinning and rotating and be above all of everything. Cannot. Breathe.

    And yet, we still keep trying to fit Him into nice, neat, sewn up little boxes. As if we could.

    • http://www.barnmaven.com Barnmaven

      Apologies for the typos in my post above.

      Our* concepts, not 'or' concepts

      Hear*

      God sees and* recognizes

      Good heavens, I really need to proofread before I click on the 'submit comment' button.

      • http://www.johnshore.wordpress.com John Shore

        No worries on the typos, of course. Not when you write anything that great.

      • http://none Don Rappe

        I second that.

        • A'isha

          Definitely ditto! I live on the other side of the mountains from you, Barnmaven, but even over here in Eastern WA the mountains and, well, all of nature awes me. There's nothing like it. I'm very fortunate to live only 15 minutes from the mountains…literally, a 15 minute drive and I'm smack dab in the middle of beautiful Cascade forests…it takes my breath away. We go camping frequently and at night, sitting around the fire after my kids are asleep (because that's when it really is quiet!) I marvel at the perfection around me. It's the time I feel closest to God.

          • http://www.barnmaven.com Barnmaven

            Actually, you're not that far away from me at all…I drive to work from Pasco to Paterson through the Horse Heaven Hills. I can barely see the tops of those mountains on a clear day, but when they're out, they amaze me. You must be in E-burg or so?

          • A'isha

            Oh, I didn't know where the Horse Heaven Hills were. Actually, I'm way up north in Omak. (Stampede country!) I make it down your way a lot though since my sister lives in Walla Walla.

          • http://www.johnshore.wordpress.com John Shore

            Whoa. I used to work for a man who ended his extremely interesting career as a newspaper publisher as the publisher of the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin.

  • Tony Masinelli

    LOL…neat toy, and I would totally accept a free one, but I'm not going to spend money on an iPad until it has more memory than a glorified thumb drive, has at least two USB ports, has a camera, and doesn't have to be slaved to a real computer. In other words, I'm looking/hoping for an iPad that will actually replace a laptop. That would be great!

    With regard to shape-shifting…I'd say (just my 2 cents) that the existence of multiple opinions (about anything) doesn't inherently validate those opinions, nor does it inherently validate the underlying assumption that there may be more than one correct opinion about a given thing. It simply means there are multiple opinions, and nothing more. The common fallacy is to equate opinion with truth and assume that because there are multiple opinions, there must be multiple truths. That's where we run into trouble.

    • http://www.johnshore.wordpress.com John Shore

      Very nicely said.

  • Diana A.

    The Secret Sits

    By Robert Frost

    We dance round in a ring and suppose

    But the Secret sits in the middle and knows.

    • http://dianer.blogspot.com/ DR

      ooh.

  • http://thinkhebrew.wordpress.com/ James Prather

    Anita wrote: "at the heart of Chrisitianity but that we then hide under all our bells and whistles, that being that Chrisitianity is about a personal relationship with God though Christ Jesus."

    I know you have good intentions here, but this "personal relationship" thing is just not the biblical focus of Christianity. In the Bible the focus is always in regard to "national" salvation. By "national", I don't mean any one earthly nation, but rather the people of God. In the Tanakh it was Israel and we see that while there were good people all throughout, when the nation turned away, God turned away. It's very much like "we're all in this together". The same is true now for the New Testament believer in God – it's all about building up the body of Christ and presenting all of us together as a radiant bride for Christ. Now, don't get me wrong…God does desire a personal relationship with everyone. But I think until we realize that God is *more* concerned about the salvation of the community than the individual then we will still stumble over what "I" want instead of submitting to one another in love. This focus on "me, me, me" in the Christian world is blinding us to greater acceptance of the community at-large and thus the problems we face about making others conform to our version of the faith.

    Peace,

    James

    P.S. For more on this subject, see this blog post (especially points #6 and #7) by Dr. Chip Kooi, professor Biblical studies.

    • Diana A.

      You raise some good points here and I think there is a lot of truth to what you say, but I also think that God is just as interested in relating personally to each person (and perhaps each created entity) as s/he is in relating to the whole. The thing that I believe about God is that s/he sees both the big picture and all the little pictures. That's what makes God who s/he is and not like us (who are lucky to be able to get our noses out of our navels and our heads out of our….)

      • Gina Powers

        Yeah, I'm with Diana…and what did Jesus say about a shepherd going after one lost sheep….? Just sayin'…..

    • http://Sisterfriends-together.org Anita

      James,

      I actually believe that the Biblical record emphasizes God's intention to relate to us personally AND as God's people, so essentially, I agree with part of what you're saying. The Hebrew record is filled with men and women who walked in a personal relationship with God and while that one individual was often a contact point for God's interplay with all humanity (go tell my people….) there was also a profoundly personal relationship happening between these individuals and THEIR God. In the Christian testament God's love and care for the individual was assured in a number of Jesus' teachings.

      James, I don't think emphasizing a personal relationship with God creates a "me me me" focus on all. I mean, I have to begin first with my life because this is the only one I really know and live in (and there is an intimacy in relationship with God that I can only experienece in my interior life BUT in realizing God is accessible to me personally, cares about me personally, has made promises to me personally, that automatically leads me to the wider understanding that God desires and is interacting in the lives of every other human being in similar ways. I'm nothing special in that I have a personal relationship with God but I become one of many (all) who do. Therefore I'd argue that seeing relationship with God as personal and equally available to all does the very opposite of what you suggest, but is instead drawing each of us beyond ourselves to humanity where we are called to live out our personal relationships with God in the wider context of the world and God's relationship with all humanity.

      • http://thinkhebrew.wordpress.com/ James Prather

        Anita,

        Thanks for the reply! Maybe I was a bit too hasty in my words. I do believe in a personal relationship with God through Messiah and it is essential for people to come to grips with that first, which is what you also said just now. So we agree in that regard. I guess my point, relating to John's original question is this: I think too often we stop at "personal relationship with Jesus" and do not follow-through to looking at our communal salvation as the people of God. I think if we had more focus on this aspect of salvation there would be less bickering and shenanigans with people trying to make other people conform to their understanding of the faith.

        Peace,

        James

        • http://Sisterfriends-together.org Anita

          I read ya James and maybe what we're actually doing here is targeting in on two distinctive but related issues at play inJohn's questions and how at least some of the Christian headbanging could be minimized.

          1. Understand that every Christian has a personal(particular, distinct, unique) relationship with God so that we can all be freed from requiring that every other Christian alive and death conform to our personal understanding of Christianity and how we understand and have chosen to flesh that out in the world.

          2. Understand that the overarching relationship of God with all humankind binds us together, and requires that we put aside our bickering and shenanigans as people of a shared faith in respect to our communal relationship with God and in our hope of being a witness to the presence of God in the world.

          I'm not sure I'm getting at what I really mean but what I'm finding interesting is that I think much of what John was asking directs us to examine our understanding of the divine – human relationship, both personally and as God's people.

          Maybe my thinking is so muddled because I'm still distracted by the fact that someone sent John a new iPod Touch….there are some things beyond human understanding.

          • http://www.johnshore.wordpress.com John Shore

            Exsqueeze me?

          • http://etaya.wordpress.com Etaya

            I totally understand what you are saying Anita and I think that you are right. But of course, my mind is still rather muddled by John's new iPod touch as well

    • Matthew Tweedell

      Deeply insightful and so very true, Mr. Prather!

      @Diana: God has no interest in what is impure, in evil and sin, and in what is profane. God knows a world quite different from the one we see, and then He knows this one too, through the Son. The Son would love to dwell in us, but He accepts only that from among us which dwells in Him, that which constitutes the body of Christ. God sees the little pictures… wander off the edge of the cliff and fall into the bottomless pit. And he sees the bigger pictures; He sees that it is good; and none is good, save God alone.

      @Ms. Powers: Does the shepherd always find his lost sheep? If he did, he wouldn't be so overjoyed when he did. I think the parable is meant to explain why God may take those who once were so lost and hold them so near to Him, while this might seem unfair to those who have stuck by God for ages.

      We must admit, people tend to take what they feel God is saying to them as the Gospel. So the more personal one's tradition of faith is, the more personalized faith becomes. This is why America the Individual–sorry, I mean Indivisible–has a thousand denominations proclaiming personal relationship with Christ, while Mexico has one predominant Catholic church. And division within the body of Christ is not a good thing, and certainly not the way to draw near the Resurrection and the Kingdom (which, by the way, would not seem like the right word to use for individual enlightenment, but rather the dominion of certain nation).

      Thinking that God can be found within oneself is quite prideful. This is why many find that (in the words of DR's ex, which she recently shared with us: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/2010/08/10/an-atheist-and-he… "There is this profound inability within the Christians I’ve interacted with to focus on something other than themselves."

      It is the same sort of error as many of those drawn to Buddhism (as the Pope has also argued) and New Age Spirituality (as John Shore has also argued) are making. In the end, too much of this is just a waste of time.

      Relationship is not found in isolation but in fellowship, in Communion, with the body and blood of Jesus Christ. If you want to see the face of God, look first upon your brother; if you want to know where God’s hands may be found, they are whatever hands God happens to be using in the world!

      It's a personal spiritual thing, but that Person, that Spirit, is One—the same for all and in all places and times—and spirits are to be found in the relationships *among* material things.

      A similar error in understanding the reality gives rise to unfettered capitalism, and Ayn Rand and Karl Marx, both, overlooked a HUGELY important part of the human element: Empathy.

      "Communism forgets that life is individual. Capitalism forgets that life is social. And the kingdom of brotherhood is found neither in the thesis of communism nor the antithesis of capitalism but in a higher synthesis. It is found in a higher synthesis that combines the truths of both." — Rev. Dr. M.L. King Jr.

      • Diana A.

        The blood runs from my mouth as I bite down hard on my tongue.

        • Matthew Tweedell

          That's not good…

          • Diana A.

            No, it really isn't.

  • kim

    A new Ipod touch, and 32GB no less! Cool.

    So here is the problem God has when he speaks – people don't listen carefully and when they listen they don't understand, and when they understand they don't remember correctly. I had the same trouble, albeit on the least consequential stage, when I taught. OK, the subject was chemistry, an area many find abstract and difficult, but how hard is it to remember to stop drawing structures with a pentavalent carbon atom, or to include the formal charge on a structure or to make sure the number of carbons is the same in the reactants as in the products? I saw these and many similar egregious errors on every exam I gave, even after I had pointed out these errors over and over again.

    When God spoke the people who wrote down what he or she said filtered the information through their own perceptions or made transcription errors or maybe wrote down what they believed instead of what God meant. Perhaps they thought "what is so bad with a pentavalent carbon after all?" Consequently the Bible is riddled with contradictions, inconsistencies and the like. Hundreds of thousands have died in arguments over the answer to the question "Is Jesus the same as God or less than God?" In John 10:30 he is reported to have said "I and my Father are one" but in John 14:28 we find out he said "Ye have heard how I said unto you, I go away, and come again unto you. If ye loved me, ye would rejoice, because I said, I go unto the Father: for my Father is greater than I".

    All of the people I used to hang around with found pentavalent carbon atoms an anathema, but were not going to kill those who did not. Perhaps if we adopted the same posture toward those with different interpretations of what God said we would all be better off. At least we wouldn't be flying planes into buildings or setting up concentration camps to kill those who didn't agree with our interpretations.

    What do you say?

    • Diana A.

      I love this! However, I do think that for Hitler, the issue was less one of religious differences with the Jewish people than that he needed a handy scapegoat to whip the rest of the German people into a nationalistic frenzy, so that they'd back him and go along with his plans.

    • http://none Don Rappe

      Still, we may wish to be cautious about hiring some of these guys as organic chemists. I believe the horrific sorts of events stem from political differences aggravated by demonic possession more than mere differences of opinion. The most shocking thing to me about 9/11 was the scene of the good little old Palestinian ladies dancing in the streets. I finally came to believe this had more to do with our nation's 50 year history of paying for and providing modern weapons of destruction to the foreign invaders who were dispossessing them from their homeland, than with any differences in religion. The way this originated with powerful antisemitic desires to not accept Jewish displaced persons here and then mix our military industrial profits with genuine Zionist beliefs keeps me believing that the old evil foe still means deadly woe.

  • http://dianer.blogspot.com/ DR

    I hate to brag, but I'm designing an App called iOpinion – it's a virtual alter where everyone comes and throw their opinion at one another about what salvation is and who gets it. Of course the final opinion will be up to me, as I imagine I'm now the most prolific, annoying commenter on this site.

    If you'd like to know what salvation really is and who has since earned the gift of it, it will soon be available in iTunes for $2.99 Updates will include ongoing revelation based on my blood sugar levels and carb intake.

    • http://etaya.wordpress.com Etaya

      Prolific? Probably. Annoying? Not really. I prolly get that distinction because I am always tossing in personal stories from my life to help prove my point. You make a lot of fun and good points and help to keep the debates going. :-) But we will allow the final opinion to go to you as it will be your ap.

    • http://www.johnshore.wordpress.com John Shore

      Dig it. I'm in.

      • http://dianer.blogspot.com/ DR

        For you, the cost is 5.99. And that's because I've just eaten a doughnut and I'm slightly crabby.

        (See how this works?)

  • Tim

    I think that 3,000 different Christians will certainly have at least 3,000 varying interpretations on some points of Christianity. But I don't think I would qualify that as 3,000 different, "opinions about what Christianity really is, means, was, and should be."

    I think a huge percentage of the Church can agree on the central message of the gospel…"For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life."

    That verse encapsulates a lot if you really meditate on the words. It speaks of a Messiah that is born of God. It speaks of a God who offered Himself as a sacrifice to save us from the penalty of our own sin. It speaks of a Messiah whose power goes beyond mortal death and judgment, and possesses the sovereignty and authority to forgive, restore and grant eternal life. It also speaks of the disposition of our sin. By belief…trusting in that sovereign authority, we can take Him at His word regardless of our own guilt, shame or ability to recognize or overcome our sin. I get all of that from one verse. I would guess out of 3,000 believers in Christ, maybe 300 would come away with a completely different opinion about what Christianity really is, means, was, and should be. IMO, 300 is a generous estimate.

    • http://none Don Rappe

      I wonder if you could find 30 who could take seriously the question: What would it mean to say a man is the Son of God? Is it like being Superman where you rip off your shirt to reveal wonder working powers?

      • http://none Don Rappe

        I apologize for my smart ass tone, but I mean to agree with the idea that the questions are not so simple and distinct answers are possible. I think the NT must suggest at least half a dozen answers. No two of God's snowflakes are alike either, right?

        • Tim

          No apologies needed. But I would like to ask 30 people what their definition of the Son of God is.

          We are certainly all unique…maybe more flake than snow. But God/Jesus/Holy Spirit is the same yesterday, today and forever. Everything we need to know about His love, His character, and His desire for our lives are contained in the pages of the BIble. Whether you believe that the Bible is without flaw or not, I believe that, "all scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:" (2Tim 3:16)

  • Don Gollahon

    I think it was St. Augustine who said, "In essentials, unity. In non-essentials, liberty. In all things, love."

    What are the essentials? Early on, in the very first decade of the Church in Acts, it became evident that a basic set of beliefs needed to be defined because there were so many ideas going around. The first conflict was between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians. So in Acts 15 a decision was made on what "rules" to hold the Gentiles to.

    Later on it was the Gnostic beliefs that were going around which First John deals with directly. Gnostics were saying things like, "When I sin it is my body, my flesh that is doing it. My spirit is still pure and clean." John wanted to correct that avenue of thought.

    Then later, the standard creeds were created, the most common of which is named "The Apostle's Creed". This laid the foundation for the essentials of the New Testament church. Having a basis of faith helps to be able to discern truth from falsehood, what would be considered heresy.

    The Apostles Creed

    I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.

    And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; he descended into hell; the third day he rose again from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

    I believe in the Holy Ghost; the holy catholic Church; the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting. Amen.

    (See http://www.creeds.net/)

    • http://none Don Rappe

      But does the Holy Ghost proceed from the Father or from the Father and the Son?

      • Matthew Tweedell

        yes.

        • Matthew Tweedell

          If you want a serious answer, it depends on what you mean by “proceed”. In the Latin and Greek creeds, the words translated as such have slightly different shades of meaning, and in English the word is in general quite vague. Different understandings of proceeding allow then for differences of emphasis: are we combating Arian heresy or asserting the Father’s unique position as the ultimate Source?

      • Diana A.

        Oh you would have to bring that up again!

      • http://etaya.wordpress.com Etaya

        That is really only an issue for those people who believe in the creed.

        Personally, my view of the Holy Trinity can be demonstrated best thusly:

        I as a person have different sides to myself: wife, mother, artist, and so on. Each part of my personality comes out at different times and has different traits. Each is a part of me, but is somewhat individual as well.

        All (Father, Son, Holy Spirit) are one and the same yet individual. All 3 existed from before the beginning and will continue on until beyond the end. For God, each aspect has different manifestations.

        Not sure if this makes sense…kids are driving me nuts at the moment, but it is just how I view the Trinity.

    • http://dianer.blogspot.com/ DR

      I actually used this Augustine quote in a presentation at work this morning, I loved it that much. And I work for a technology company which makes it even more awesome.

  • http://Sisterfriends-together.org Anita

    Did I fail to catch your blog on the day of your “Send me really cool stuff now and I’ll love you forever!” post?

    No, seriously John, I think that’s great. Good for you. Really.

    Signed,

    Anita, who blogs over at sisterfriends-together.org. That’s sisterfriends-together.org. And for those who went off to grab a pencil I’ll repeat that once again……sisterfriends-together.org. Just in case any of your readers, though I’m thinking of none in particular would like to stop by for a visit.

    • http://etaya.wordpress.com Etaya

      "Did I fail to catch your blog on the day of your “Send me really cool stuff now and I’ll love you forever!” post?"

      Lol Anita. Don't you realize that YOU started this with those delish cookies of yours? It is because of You that he wrote the "Send me really cool stuff and I'll love you forever" post.

      :-)

    • http://www.johnshore.wordpress.com John Shore

      Oh, Anita. You're so much fun when you take a break from the kitchen where you're making me all those cookies.

  • Matthew Tweedell

    True Christianity must be Christianity that is true. There is but one Truth; of course I recognize many different manners of expressing it, but I must insist that there is but one Way by which to come to the Truth. The Christian or anyone else who agrees and seeks earnestly to understand these things, being truly fundamentalist by not glossing over fundamental questions, and truly liberal by seeking the truth that sets men free, is my true brother or sister! And if they claim to know Christ, then they're a Christian too.

    Now, if true Christianity should imply having faith in the Christ of the Bible as one's Savior, allow me to share what the Bible says to the religion that searches therein for religious truth: "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world." (James 1:27)

    So do that, and you've got the real deal, call it what you will.

    But I must point out that to keep oneself from being polluted by the world is more a feat of mind than matter. ("Nothing outside a man can make him unclean….")

    So "… be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is…." For when the mind is transformatively renewed, from its very core—when we dare to ask seriously the question Pilate posed sarcastically—"What is truth?"—it is then that we find true Christ's discipleship—that of the Way, the Truth, and the Life—the religion that God who is Love can accept as pure and unpolluted.

    That's the reality, which lives in the Light, not the shadow of His body—the flesh of substance, not the shell of superstition—mythos and logos, and the Truth is One!

    • Tim

      Hi Matthew—

      Yes. Caring for those who are without help (widows and orphans) seems simple enough, but like you said, keeping yourself from being corrupted/polluted/tainted by the influences of the world IS a feat of mind more than matter. Definitely the rub, IMO. We lust in our heart and we are undone. We THINK about getting even, and it's as if we have committed vengeance. Lots of people would rather believe that we are judged on a balance scale. Good ol' blind justice. Will our good thoughts, words, and deeds outweigh our bad ones? Man I'd hate to be subject to that kind of scoring. Seems like the more I try to be good, the more bad I do. Certainly doesn't work in reverse. When I set out to be bad, I don't accidentally end up doing good instead.

      It seems as though you question whether we really need a Savior. You write about "true Christ's discipleship—that of the Way, the truth, and the life", as possibly being a model or method in achieving the "pure and undefiled religion" spoken of in James. If that is something you've reconciled as truth, I don't think I would be able to convince you otherwise. But John 14:6 quotes Jesus as saying, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." Just to be clear, I don't think that just following Jesus' example or method is the way to pure and undefiled religion. I desperately need a Savior because I have come to the conclusion that I will never achieve that state of pure religion without Christ as my Savior.

      Cheers

      • Matthew Tweedell

        I am absolutely in agreement with all you wrote here, except that it's not the case that I am questioning whether we need a Savior (unless that's to say that we don't really "need" life and don't technically *have* to go to heaven).

        I was in fact quoting that very verse (John 14:6), which tells us who the Christ is, and thus allows us to conclude what discipleship of Christ is really discipleship of. Now, the Father is the Source, and it is totally true that apart from the Way that is Logos and the Light of men, apart from the Truth He reveals (which also is the Father, even as It is the Son, just as the Father is in the Son, and the Son—in Him), and apart from Life (these three, BTW, relating to Son, Father, and Holy Spirit respectively), there is no way to know God. If you want any of those things — I agree, Tim — you have got to have a Savior. But how do you recognize who and what and where He is?

        Peace.

      • Matthew Tweedell

        Oh… I see now how you got the impression that I was questioning the need for a Savior. That statement was rather the grounds on which I introduce Biblical authority into the issue of defining true Christianity. I didn't mean to contradict the need for the Savior in Christianity, but rather to introduce what seems to me a sensible definition of Christianity as faith in the Savior we know from the Bible as the Christ.

  • soulmentor

    ******Does it tell us anything important? Anything real?**********

    Seems inescapable to me that it tells us that God is made in OUR image, not the reverse. Hmmm?

  • Old Stuff

    [I shoulda posted this here instead of the previous essay]

    John said

    And if three thousand different people [fully studied theology], when they were finished what would we have? You know: we’d have three thousand different sets of fully informed opinions about what Christianity really is, means, was, and should be.

    He is spot on here. For what it is worth; after thousands of years, that study should be leading toward some narrower and narrower truth with less and less variation. (Such study, I maintain, is more about eliminating wrong answers than isolating final solutions). To my mind; the inability to make inroads toward a more accurate picture of God is symptomatic of there simply not being a god.

    Literalists claim to know the unknowable…which is deluded, primitive and dangerous. Liberals seem to allow Christianity to be pretty much any freaking thing that makes them comfortable…which seems self-serving.

    The fact that we haven’t gotten closer to a more accurate depiction of God (actually we have gotten farther IMO) should not be dismissed. The vast disparity in theological interpretations, to me, says that Christianity is 100% subjective and lacking in any substantive truths.

    • http://none Don Rappe

      As far as I know making a "depiction" of God "accurately" has never really been an object of theology. There is some elementary theological thought which might explain why this kind of approach would be senseless. Nor do I think your inability to find straw men to blow down is in itself a substantial criticism of liberal theology. You might like to read Walter Kaufman's book "Faith of a Heretic" to see what substantial criticism of theology is like. You seem to want to confuse religious thought with science. I know a lot more science than I do religious thought. In science I look for the myths and symbols which have the most predictive power about the elements and structures in "the creation". The language of math has proven very strong for telling these stories. But my religious inquiries focus on something quite different. They are not about depicting the Creator but about how should I live in the creation as I have found it. The sacred stories and symbols of religion, and in particular, the ones that have played a role in forming me, which is the Christian religion, seem to help me with this analysis.

      • Matthew Tweedell

        Very well said, Mr. Rappe!

        I was just today thinking in fact about the way many atheists expect religion to be either a science—telling us material facts about the world—or a superstition—having no understandable relationship to the way things actually work in our world. Yet neither of these is what religion truly is. Religion is about very real matters of the spirit. It is the substance of faith, manifest in inductive reasoning, supplementing naturalism, yielding a teleonomy—an end-goal nominated as the function of causation—convenient for expressing the nature of a thing we call change and helpful to us in our thinking about it. It is furthermore the substance of hope, expressed in those changes for which we strive, providing the teleology—the true end-goal—for the much-needed narrative ark of our bigger picture, filling a niche in the soul that really only a higher power can—thereby helping to quit bad habits and to provide moral fortitude and purpose by filling a hole in the heart, made for Love. This it does by being as well the substance that binds in synthesis rationalism and humanism, which by themselves are, respectively, meaningless and baseless.

        And that's just religion. God Himself is greater still!

        • https://questionablemotives.wordpress.com tildeb

          Yet neither of these is what religion truly is.

          Religion is an a priori argument, hence the number and scope of religions with competing truth claims and no way to verify or falsify the central tenets of any.

          • Matthew Tweedell

            Religion is not an argument; it is an approach, a tradition.

            Particular doctrines, such as the existence of God, are arguments. And they are not necessarily a priori (though there have to be some postulates somewhere that are, to have a productive model for reality, and they’ll continue to be assumed so long as there’s no reason to abandon them, like the postulates of Euclid {though radically different axiomatizations for the same application can & have been developed}).

      • http://fvthinker.blogspot.com Mike Burns

        I erred greatly in my phrasing with "haven’t gotten closer to a more accurate depiction of God ". Depiction is an act of subjectively defining a subject/character. We can depict the likes of Harry Potter and Richard Nixon infinitum in many different ways, but it says nothing about the actual reality of that subject/character. The matter of reality is the only thing that concerns me. There is no amount of nuance in the character of the biblical god that makes any inroads into supporting the actual existence of the biblical god…a position I share (shared?) with Albert Einstein.

        The depiction of God is built on the assumption of God. In these discussions believers and non-believers often talk past one-another. One side is justifying their belief by describing their interpretation of a loving, all-powerful, mysterious deity when the non-believer could not care less what the other believes about the subject/character. First we must establish that this god is likely to exist. Establishing that reality does, in an important way, fall to the scientific method …and the scientific method, to this point, has yielded no reason to think that any god or gods are/were at work. Indeed the scientific method has crushed innumerable aspects of conventional/historical theology and created the God Of The Gaps where people believe god has done everything until proved otherwise. It should be obvious obvious to the casual observer how childish this is.

        I do not "confuse religious thought with science" …not even a little.

        • https://questionablemotives.wordpress.com tildeb

          First we must establish that this god is likely to exist. And this point is just as valid I think if we change the words 'likely to' to 'does'. This raises the thorny question of how can we know? John, as well as others, assert that a personal experience offers all the evidence necessary. But all of know that any personal experience undergoes an interpretation. Is that interpretation correct? How can we know? Unless we can test our interpretation and verify it against the natural world, I don't see how we can. The argument that god is beyond the natural world yet part of it (or Karen Armstrong's argument that god is the god beyond the god most people believe in) rings hollow to me without evidence in nature to back it up. Thus claims about nature attributed to a causal god must remain nothing more than a depiction of the starting assumption: god is. And that's why I say religion is based on an a priori argument.

          • http://fvthinker.blogspot.com Mike Burns

            I contemplated "likely" or "does" but opted for the less absolutist version. I could envision scenarios where some compelling (yet inconclusive) evidence might warrant our proceeding as though the biblical god existed. Of course we are nowhere near that nor to I expect that, but I thought the less absolute turn of phrase didn't compromise the point.

          • https://questionablemotives.wordpress.com tildeb

            I understand and agree: what's true is often best described by probabilities, so the word 'likely' is a good choice. My point was simply to address the notion of how can we know what's (more likely to be) true if we exempt the necessity for evidence from the natural universe.

          • http://fvthinker.blogspot.com Mike Burns

            "[H]ow can we know what’s (more likely to be) true if we exempt the necessity for evidence from the natural universe[?]"

            We can't know what's true without evidence. An individual may experience something they believe to be true and it may be absolutely true. An individual may experience something they believe to be true and it may be absolutely false/erroneous. Anyone even casually familiar with brain science knows that personal experience is fraught with error and inconsistency. Without evidence; there is no way to tell whether an individual's experience was true or erroneous.

          • Diana A.

            "Without evidence; there is no way to tell whether an individual’s experience was true or erroneous."

            Here's where I stand, though–as long as my experience does not leading to me causing physical harm to the person or property of a non-consenting other, it doesn't matter if someone else considers my experience to be true or false–I should be permitted to follow my own path regardless. If I do cause physical harm to the person or property of a non-consenting other, than it is in the best interests of society that I should be stopped. Otherwise, I should be permitted the dignity of finding my own way, false as that way might appear to another.

          • http://fvthinker.blogspot.com Mike Burns

            @Diana

            "I should be permitted the dignity of finding my own way, false as that way might appear to another."

            I agree 110% Diana. I will vigorously defend freedom of thought. The rub comes in that, depending on the belief, the believer is poorly qualified to judge what is good or bad for society. We have very personal beliefs being vigorously forwarded in public policy and public education because the believers are sure they good for society…when in fact there is no evidence of that being true. (and often evidence to the contrary).

            To take low hanging fruit…let's look at embryonic stem cell research. There are, indeed, valid public policy debates to be had on the matter. But those discussions should not invoke evidence devoid gods. Arguments must be valid in the natural world and supported by evidence to contribute to genuinely contribute to the debate. If one cannot argue against stem cell research without invoking God; then one has lost the debate.

            It is the utter majestic brilliance of our founding fathers that separated church and state that allows us to create policy based on evidence in lieu of dogma.

          • https://questionablemotives.wordpress.com tildeb

            Diana A, you write that I should be permitted to follow my own path regardless (whether or not some belief is true or false).

            It is the follow my own path that can be such a problem when it means acting on.

            If you are suggesting that it is up to someone else to prove harm for your actions motivated by your particular religious beliefs, then how practical is that idea if you do not necessarily need to accept any counter-claims. For example, I'm thinking of the teaching in biology class of the 'controversy' about creationism (in whatever garb), which in my opinion may harm a child's science education. But you may think otherwise. Are you suggesting that it is up to me to prove that harm? I can see that would be very difficult and highly controversial.

            I lean more towards the idea of proving benefit. If one wishes to introduce actions based on a theological justification, I would like to see evidence for its benefit that outweighs the associated costs. But that too would be very difficult to do and equally controversial.

            So where does that leave us?

            I think it best to err on the side of caution and assume that religious beliefs properly belong in the private domain where people can then inform their personal lives with these beliefs… for good or for ill. But I think the line needs to be placed right there. Extending actions based on religious beliefs beyond the personal and on to others and into the world seem to me to be a never-ending source of unnecessary conflict and strife, which is where I find so much of the harm you mention.

          • Diana A.

            @ Mike Burns & tildeb: I'm not in disagreement with either of you in terms of your response to what I have said. In fact, I agree with much of it. I am wary of the viewpoint I've heard floated in some atheistic circles that religious people should have less say in society than nonreligious folks, just as I am wary of hyper religious fanatics of any stripe who believe that those who are in disagreement with their religious viewpoints should not be permitted a say. If I seem to be arguing with you on some issues it is probably this wariness that is motivating my arguments.

          • Diana A.

            Thanks, Mike. I agree with you that "arguments should stand on their own and not need to invoke the supernatural," especially when it comes to determining governmental policy.

          • Matthew Tweedell

            @Mike Burns:

            In what way is the parallel postulate, for example, along with all the theorems that result from it, established through evidence?

            If someone experiences something, it is true that he/she experienced it. What remains debatable is that experience's relation to the objective outer world—its causes and origins there—of which the physical brain, too, is a part.

            What sort of evidence exists but for that which has been accepted by the mind as such? Is it not then that you would just rather that we use the power of our collective minds—coupling them through sympathetic vibrations, so to speak, tuning them with empathy, looking at the eyes and hands instead of lips and tongue?

            @tildeb & Mike Burns:

            However, religion is a corporate tradition. I find more "unnecessary conflict and strife" arise in societies where people consider religion a highly personal matter. You won't be able to stop the faithful from doing what they believe God is telling them to do, regardless of whom it might interfere with. Whatever noble attempts to do so will prove futile and likely only to inflame the situation. I suggest rather to teach believers to better discern the true will of God. Though it may seem to you in theory that if one cannot make an argument without invoking God, one has already lost the debate, I submit that in practice there is much historical evidence to the contrary. Rather it seems that, in public policy especially, if a reasonable argument cannot be made that *does* invoke God in some way, one's position automatically loses.

          • http://fvthinker.blogspot.com Mike Burns

            @Diana

            “I am wary of the viewpoint I’ve heard floated in some atheistic circles that religious people should have less say in society than nonreligious folks”

            I nor nobody I know says anything like that. I merely say the argument should be secular (at least in terms of public policy. Everyone can and should participate in public discourse, but when it comes to defining policy, arguments should stand on their own and not need to invoke the supernatural.

            In some cases (i.e. embryonic stem cell research), that restriction may seem to just shut down a portion of the religious population entirely. In other cases (i.e. abortion); the arguments can be made without invoking the supernatural. A great way to achieve fewer abortions is to promote contraception and comprehensive sex education. (Of course that could push the issue back to another intractable religious issue of “not spilling seed”)

          • http://fvthinker.blogspot.com Mike Burns

            @Matthew

            "I find more “unnecessary conflict and strife” arise in societies where people consider religion a highly personal matter. "

            This is why I don't typically respond to you Matthew. You say thinks like this.

            Again; you are entitled to your own opinions, but not your own facts. Remember the Creighton University study that showed the least overtly religious countries to be the most dysfunctional.

            You also say so many non-specific and tangential things that one doesn't have a clear statement to respond to. I do read what you write (with some effort), but don't expect me to engage.

          • https://questionablemotives.wordpress.com tildeb

            @Matthew,

            See here, here, here, and for the relationship by state rankings go here.

            If you're interested in the facts, that is.

          • Matthew Tweedell

            @Mike

            However, developed democracies with a less religious population also enjoy lower rates of societal dysfunction than others. So taken together with the Creighton University study you mention, we can conclude that — as I said — it is the personalization, as opposed to overt recognition, of religion, which likely correlates with personalization of just about everything else, that is the root of the problem. You don't see so much religious controversy in public policy in nations with an official established church/religion. What was that about me not being entitled to my own facts? The fact of the matter is that you are not entitled to *ignore* the facts (such as the fact of God's existence).

          • Diana A.

            Matthew Tweedell: "The fact of the matter is that you are not entitled to *ignore* the facts (such as the fact of God’s existence)."

            As one who does believe in God, I hate to bring up these questions but…1) Is God's existence a fact? 2) If so, what is the evidence?

          • Matthew Tweedell

            @Diana A.

            This conversation was already begun below, where there's more room for responses. See my comment below where I was quite excited to discuss this matter; now — not so much. Atheists have been found once again to disbelieve in a god they cannot define. Depending on your definition of God (and existence) it may or may not be fact that God exists. I, however, see no point in believing in a god whom I could say doesn't exist. (I frankly don't see much point in religion at all; such is my sinful nature.) I could give you probably half a dozen definitions of God off the top of my head by which I am convicted of His existence. How about this one: God is the source and sustainer of truth—that is, the set of all that's ultimately true—that property that is capital-T Truth itself—the whole out of which takes form all that is seen and all that is (yet) unseen. So as for evidence, find me anything that is "true", then that God exists is true.

          • Matthew Tweedell

            @tildeb

            It's no fair posting your links into the middle of the conversation like that ;) How did that get there? The time on it says yesterday morning, but it didn't come in until last night. I guess it went to spam or whatever :/

            Of the links you posted, the 1st and 3rd are regarding the same study, which is a Creighton University study that appears to contradict the Creighton University study that Mike Burns referred to.

            It seems there as though the Unites States is a bit of an outlier, consistently (being included every single time, while most other countries are included in some data sets and left out in others) weighing tipping results away from what would otherwise be correlations ranging from weak and inconclusive to non-existent, except for homicide and abortion rates where there's still decent correlation.

            Anyway, correlation does not tell us about causation. I find it highly unlikely that being a deeply religious individual makes one more likely to get an abortion or to commit murder, while on the other hand perhaps living in a society as dysfunctional as America would make one be more inclined to seek the comfort of some heavenly Kingdom. (While the Netherlands (or California), by comparison, basically *is* one.) Or, more likely, both are informed by other underlying values.

            It's interesting to note that other English speaking countries have higher rates of weekly prayer than the United States, and that these negative trends correlate most strongly with Biblical literalism. So perhaps the problem is that certain Christian are talking the talk (with their Bibles) but not walking the walk (with the Holy Spirit).

            Now let us consider the other countries surveyed.

            In France, as for issues that religion, at least in part, truly does stand at the source of, the state's relationship with the Muslim inhabitants is certainly more of a problem than we have with any group associated with a religious affiliation that we have in the U.S. Anyhow, though there is no state religion, the people are indeed much more uniform there than in the U.S.: basically, Catholics who don't believe in God.

            The same may be said of Japan, a fairly uniform atheistic Shinto society.

            Austria too has a relatively homogenous national religious spirit.

            And the Netherlands is fairly uniformly secular; their common faith appears placed in progressive liberalism and secular humanism.

            Switzerland too has some inter-religious issues: In 2009, Swiss voters passed a resolution banning the construction of minarets. Despite there being nationally no state religion, however, most cantons have official tax-funded churches.

            Great Britain and Denmark both have official state churches.

            Ireland, though lacking an official religion, is predominantly Catholic. However, it is Northern Ireland, where you have large numbers of both Catholics and Protestants where you get the kind of "unnecessary conflict and strife" that we're really talking about.

            Portugal, Italy, and Spain are also by their national character, Catholic nations.

            Norway and Sweden too have national (and until recently state) churches.

            You're best example, I'd say, where faith is somewhat diverse, and government stays out of it, and everyone gets along well, is Germany. Indeed, it is a good example for us all.

            Australia has a similar situation, but as religiously inspired ideas seem to be the root of a bit more controversy down under, I would say it might as good of an example for my point as yours.

            New Zealand too lacks any official religious expressions as well as homogeneity, and there religion's influence in politics is indeed a fairly frequent issue.

            Canada, though a religiously pluralistic society, overtly mentions God in their Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the national anthem, and the Thanksgiving Day declaration, and their Queen is the Defender of the Faith.

            Now, as for the 2nd link, the correlation of religious practice (not merely belief) with particular crimes of a sexual nature is well known. Yet this was a study among those who *had* committed such crimes. What percentage of regular practitioners of the national faith (which for Australia, I'd consider Anglo-Catholic) compared with the irreligious have committed any of these sort of crimes at all?

            About your 4th link, if you insist, I could attempt a detailed analysis of the numbers, but it appears to me as though religiousness may not be the best predictor of the other categories, but rather one (or more) of the others could be more predictive of religiousness and all the rest. I should point out, however, in regards to the point that I'm actually arguing, this isn't highly relevant, as in none of those places does the state hold any sway over the religious character of its citizens—faith is a private affair in the USA.

            I don’t see the point in arguing this, however. The facts are as they are: people's personal "religious" beliefs are screwing up the United States. So what are we to do about it?

          • Matthew Tweedell

            About other English-speaking countries praying more, on second thought, I think they did their chart incorrectly.

            (And by spam, I was referring to blog-site filters, not mine.)

          • https://questionablemotives.wordpress.com tildeb

            MT writes So taken together with the Creighton University study you mention, we can conclude that — as I said — it is the personalization, as opposed to overt recognition, of religion, which likely correlates with personalization of just about everything else, that is the root of the problem.

            No, Matthew, we cannot conclude that. We can conclude that the higher the rate of religiosity, the higher the rate of some negative social correlates. This is important because it directly and soundly contradicts the notion that religion leads to better (more pro-social) behaviour. If this were true, the results should indicate the opposite of what was found. Your notion of ‘personalization’ has no relevance.

            Let’s seee if there is a problem with your line of reasoning about what you consider evidence: Grandmother Unicorn is the source and sustainer of truth—that is, the set of all that’s ultimately true—that property that is capital-T Truth itself—the whole out of which takes form all that is seen and all that is (yet) unseen. So as for evidence, find me anything that is “true”, then that Grandmother Unicorn exists is true.

            See a problem with that yet?

          • Matthew Tweedell

            "We can conclude that the higher the rate of religiosity, the higher the rate of some negative social correlates."

            But remember the Creighton University study: the least overtly religious countries are the most dysfunctional.

            So we must conclude that the most overtly religious countries are–perhaps despite *some* negative social correlates–the most functional.

            "See a problem with that yet?"

            Only problem I see is that I really don't think that's a normative definition for "Grandmother Unicorn". But whatever floats your boat, tildeb.

          • https://questionablemotives.wordpress.com tildeb

            Sorry, Matthew. You've got it backwards: the countries with the highest level of religiosity (which you are, for some unknown reason calling 'overt') have the highest levels of negative social behaviours.

            You then introduce this term 'functional' to be at a higher level in countries with the highest reported levels of religiosity.

            Are you so busy trying to prove your prior position that you are failing to comprehend whatever disagrees with it?

            You'll notice that in my example I simply substituted whatever noun I wished to 'prove' – in this case Grandmother Unicorn – to show why your 'evidence' was no such thing because it doesn't matter what noun I use so it's not 'evidence' for any particular noun… in your case, god. So the fact that you took issue with my noun but not your own reveals to me that your reasoning is in trouble… or, rather, merely a smokescreen for something else.

          • Matthew Tweedell

            Ummm… those are not terms that *I* introduced. And if anyone has something backwards, it’s not I. “Are you so busy trying to prove your prior position that you are failing to” follow the conversation?

            Now, I never said that it was evidence! I gave a definition, and then asked the reader to decide whether there be any evidence. Furthermore, I clearly indicated that I do *not* take issue with the noun you used! I’m only pointing out that in using that term for it, others will have no clue what you are talking about then. (For *me*, that’s undesirable, but for you, well, it’s up to you to judge.)

        • Matthew Tweedell

          Yay! Now we get to talk about the fact of God's existence. First, it seems to me that *you* are creating a God-of-the-gaps, not we. It *is* childish. Let’s all put a stop to it. We can still say that god(s) did everything, which you can never prove wrong (because it's true), since all you are talking about is *how* they did it and *what* it was that they did. Second, we need to come up with some working definition of God by which scientifically to conclude He's unlikely to exist, and we'll also be able then to look at the validity of tildeb's claim that it's an unverifiable a priori assumption. So what does "God" mean to you?

          • https://questionablemotives.wordpress.com tildeb

            My point, MT, is trying to get a handle on how we can know something that has no corroborating evidence (direct or indirect) in the natural world. Any suggestions?

          • Matthew Tweedell

            I think that would be definition, when we define a relationship between terms so that we know what they mean before then turning to the natural world to discover where (or even if) such things may be found (and so such terms meaningfully applied). First we build a shell—so the form is already known—then we fill in the substance—so then the reality (if any) of it is known also (though only ever as well as the form's definition is refined, with the flesh beneath the surface remaining actually hidden from us). And so it is that I seek some sort of initial common definition of God.

          • http://fvthinker.blogspot.com Mike Burns

            Poe's Law is coming into play here Matthew. What you wrote is either frightfully stupid or quite funny.

          • Diana A.

            Matthew Tweedell: The fact of the matter is that you are not entitled to *ignore* the facts (such as the fact of God’s existence).

            Diana A.: As one who does believe in God, I hate to bring up these questions but…1) Is God’s existence a fact? 2) If so, what is the evidence?

            Matthew Tweedell: 1) Atheists have been found once again to disbelieve in a god they cannot define. 2) Depending on your definition of God (and existence) it may or may not be fact that God exists. 3) I could give you probably half a dozen definitions of God off the top of my head by which I am convicted of His existence.

            Diana A.: So, you accuse the atheists of “ignoring facts,” stating that God’s existence is a fact. Then, when asked if that is really true–and if it’s true, what evidence do you have of that truth, you accuse the atheists of disbelieving in a God that they cannot define, state that “the fact” of God’s existence is dependent upon how one defines God, and then bring up your own definition of God by which you’ve come to believe.

            Speaking strictly for myself, this type of convoluted argument seems long on arrogant accusations and short on evidence. I don’t think you do the cause of faith any favors by making such arguments. In fact, I can see how an atheist reading these arguments could view them as further evidence that theism is not worth taking seriously, given that it drives people to make these kinds of arguments. Now, maybe I’m missing something here. If you could point out what it is that I’m not seeing that makes what you’re saying a valid argument for theism, I would be grateful.

          • http://dianer.blogspot.com/ DR

            Thank you for articulating this so beautifully.

            Matthew, for you to suggest that there are “facts” supporting the evidence of a supernatural God – particularly a supernatural God with the form and character that Christians assert “Him” to have? It’s ridiculous. There is simply no evidence that can be seen, replicated, proven, etc. that God exists or even that Jesus was the Son of God. This is all faith – this is all a CHOICE of what we believe based on our experiences, our exposure, our receptiveness to the idea of a supernatural being, our relationships that validate that belief being a positive thing. For me it was actually a supernatural experience by myself in a cabin that caused me to “believe”, but that could easily be the result of an overly-developed God spot on my brain or a number of different psychological and/or emotional factors of which I’m unaware. Who knows.

            Please, please. Stop trying to turn faith in something unseen into something one can prove. It’s not only irrational, it’s pointless. You are someone who clearly values logic and science, but you don’t need to win the battle of fact with an atheist – to do so would suggest that they enter into the possibility that something that is unseen can be real. that’s not reasonable.

          • Matthew Tweedell

            “It’s ridiculous.”

            And you are godless. You believe in a big fat nothing then. And what’s worse, you are superstitious, claiming belief in things about which you reject any real (i.e. grounded in objective reality) understanding of!

            “that’s not reasonable.”

            To say as you do, you must really not know and—what’s worse—not care, not only about God, but about the nature of reality at all (unless you’re just trying for some sort of win by being bombastically polemic).

          • Matthew Tweedell

            Diana, I believe you mischaracterize my arguments in a way that shows intent to be divisive. Aren’t we attempting to work out the issues that arise from our differences, not to create more?

            As far as I am able to understand such terms, with all definitions I’ve received as standard (save perhaps the atypical understanding of the Cappadocian Fathers), there is no reason to think of God’s existence as anything other than fact. You are implying that my response on the question of whether that is so what to turn the tables and point at the atheists, when that was in context the explanation of why I’m no longer very interested in wasting time on what would be a dead-end conversation, while also pointing out that discussion of this matter left off in need of a definition, an example of which I went on to provide.

            Then, you imply that my definitions are my own and arbitrary, when in reality they are shaped by my socio-linguistic environment and heritage. You further imply that the fact that definitions of things are needed to establish their reality makes their reality less of a fact! Toads exist; of course, if you have no idea how to define one—that is, what a “toad” would be like if you saw one—you would have no idea of “toads’” existence (though you might know of some unusual frogs). Then you act as though such an argument brings negative accusations against someone, and furthermore that the whole idea of arguing from definition (the basis of much of everything from geometry to physics) is convoluted.

            I do apologize for any misunderstanding my arguments might have caused.

          • http://thefakejohnshore.wordpress.com thefakejohnshore

            Matthew, you get a lot of consistent feedback on your content, tone, approach, perception and style. yet it always seems to be everyone else’s issue.

            Are you open to considering that something about you might be at play here? Or are you not able to examine your own contributions with the intent of self-improvement? That is a serious question, some people can’t do that well.

          • http://thefakejohnshore.wordpress.com thefakejohnshore

            I say that as one who has no need to analyze my own offerings, as I know they are accurate and reflect the true nature of God. But for you, perhaps my evaluation of your apparent lack of self-evaluation will help in your edification.

            Think about it.

            Blessings,

            FJS

          • http://thefakejohnshore.wordpress.com thefakejohnshore

            @Diana

            As one who has been given the gift of teaching, Diana, it's my experience that some simply aren't humble enough or self-aware enough – whatever you want to call it, maybe even smart enough – to take my instruction and correction verbatim and move immediately into application.

            In my younger days this used to frustrate me to no end, but I've since learned the value of building relationships. Making connections, Diana, real connections, that serve as a means to an end. Imagine my warmth as the doctor telling a child, "Hey what's that scary monster behind the door?" in order to distract the wee one from the vaccination needle.

            For the Christisn, always remember that being kind – extending our hand in concern and support without any kind of edification agenda behind it – well, it's just wasted time. I call that Prodigal Son time, just wandering around squandering the love in your heart on silly relationships that don't go anywhere. Don't be the Prodigal Son, Diana.

            I hope this helped.

            Blessings,

            FJS

          • Matthew Tweedell

            I get a lot of consistent feedback regarding my content—yes—namely, that it is largely incorrect. If that's the case, then the rest, about which I don't actually have very consistent feedback overall and which I frequently change radically—tone, approach, perception, style—doesn't really matter anyway.

            In tone, I usually imitate the tone of whoever I have most recently been addressed by. In style—the same, but usually slightly more formal.

            In approach, I constantly struggle to find the shortest path to getting the point across. And perception generally depends on people's disposition in regards to my point—that is, whether one wants to hear, to perceive, & to understand it or whether one would rather just escalate the tone (in which case, my escalator is even faster, should I employ it, but there are times when I will put up with a lot of nonsense if my own perception is that the point is still getting through).

            As for me, obviously, it takes two to tango, and if I'm always so far from being right, then the whole argument is always my own fault anyway. But to stay so consistently far from the truth, I can't show any admission of that being the case, for then I'd be right, and anyone could disagreed with me and be the one who's wrong, thus proving that I'm wrong right now, which I surely am. And THAT's a convoluted argument. But I digress.

            I am indeed considering and experimenting with improving the efficiency and efficacy of my communication. I feel that that is in fact a major part of why I do this. So, DR—oops… I mean… FJS—what would you suggest? It is quite difficult to answer people's challenges where really chapters would need to be written to be thorough and rigorous, without resulting in something that seems erratic, flimsy, and crude in the time and space I can allow myself for writing it. And to be convincing of any actual point at all, that point will end up having an authoritative tone. And when people respond with their own tone often less than respectful, which is natural if one doesn't fully understand it (in my abridged style)—as Thomas Jefferson once remarked, "Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions"—then I see no good purpose best served wasting time on niceties when I need only to defend the supposed holes one sought to breech in my argument, by pointing out, in no uncertain terms, the problems in their own. In any case, it can get quite time consuming, and I'd rather keep it brief, especially if no progress seems possible, yet leaving little impression for the reader of any weakness in my underlying argument when it comes to matters so critical for the soul.

            So I am quite conservative in my approach, though my conclusions are actually quite liberal, typically. That being the case, why do we argue over such issues of the mind, when the only things worth fighting for are those with practical consequences in our common exterior world—including consequences like alienation, hate, and despair (which are real whether seen or not, and which must be combated at their root, which *is* in the mind—this being my own answer on this question)?

          • Diana A.

            Thank you for staying in character, FJS! The internet would not be the same without you.

          • http://dianer.blogspot.com/ DR

            I’m the fake John Shore? AWESOME! Bring on the hookers and the blow! The religious variety of course.

    • Matthew Tweedell

      Well, Mr. Burns, I'll tell you a mystery: the simplest thing is the most complex thing.

      (And John, the answer is vodka+espresso.)

  • Leslie

    When we were in Egypt, one thing that really struck me was that all the Muslims belonged to the same religion. Our tour guide talked a lot about being Muslim, and she told me that she could walk into any mosque in the world, and it would be the same religion as hers. She stated that the Sunni and Shiite divisions were political divisions, not religious ones. I realize that there are many, many different ways that Muslims interpret their religion and how they should live their lives around it, some which I prefer over others. I am also by no means an expert on Islam, and I may be mistaken about the degree of unity of Islam. However, I was envious that, as far as I could tell, there were no divisions among them religiously. I can’t even go into churches in my neighborhood without feeling that this is not my religion. The divisions between Christians are so deep that I can’t even discuss religion with many of my Christian friends. I have thought since then that if Islam does take over the world, it will be because it has managed to preserve its unity, while we become more splintered every day.

    • Diana A.

      There is this. But then again, I can’t think of an alternative that would have been better.

      My understanding is that the Christian religion was fairly unified until 1000 CE (give or take.) Then there was the major split between the Orthodox Christians and the Roman Catholic Christians. “We’re excommunicating you.” “No, we’re excommunicating you.” “You’re just a bunch of heretics.” “No, you’re the heretics. We’re the real church!” and so on.

      Then about 500 years after that, Martin Luther came along with his list of “95 Reasons Why the Catholic Church Sucks” (not the actual title–but it might as well have been, given the ensuing controversy), thus causing the next major split.

      After that, it became like the joke I quoted above: Two Christians get together, they build three churches. “You go to yours, I’ll go to mine, and we’ll both boycott that heretic on the hill.”

      Still, I’d rather have it be this way than a forced conformity to one view of God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, etc. We’ve tried that before and the results have been less than pretty.

      • Don Gollahon

        Yes, there are many denominations today. It seems a bit confusing but I don't think it is all that confusing. I don't know any Christian church that does not accept and teach the basic beliefs of the Apostle's Creed. Yes, each church has it's own peculiarities where they emphasize one particular area over the others, or they worship in their own way with/without music or using hymns or contemporary music, or whatever. But when you get down to their core they still stand on the basic beliefs of the Apostle's Creed. I personally like this because it means I can look and find a Christian, Bible Believing church that I am fairly comfortable with and so I am not forced to into someone else's mold.

        That's why I like St. Augustine's quote I used earlier. We can be at unity and get along with each other by stressing the essentials of the faith but let people be free to express themselves however they want in worship (loudly, quietly, dancing, or whatever) and in how they feel God moving them to emphasize a particular area of their faith, giving them freedom in the non-essentials.

        One example for me personally is this: The scriptures say there will be no death in heaven. It also says we will eat in heaven and that there will be trees that bear 12 manner of fruit monthly (awesome in my opinion). I can't imagine being at the banquet table in heaven and calling it a good meal if all there is is veggies and fruit! What, no meat because there is no death? So I choose to believe, even though there is no proof, that there will be trees that also grow sirloin steaks, and all manner of other meat as well! Therefore meat without death! Ahhh, yes, that is heaven!

        My wife and I have this saying we use often, "Is it a salvation issue? If not then don't waste your time arguing over it."

        Too many people argue over things that just really don't matter.

        And I'm not saying there are other things that are not important. I'm just saying that we need to spend more time focusing on what unifies us and less on what divides us.

        Jesus prayer in St. John 17 is a good example of what he wanted of his followers. A big part of that prayer was for unity. And that unity doesn't mean we all believe exactly the same things, nor that we all worship in the same way. It means we get along in spite of our differences.

        • Diana A.

          Yes, I agree with what you've said on this.

    • http://none Don Rappe

      The only Muslim I have ever discussed religion with was a well educated Urdu (now American) woman co-worker from many tears ago. She was Sunni and her understanding of the difference with Shia had to do with whether or not more prophets like Mohamed (blessed be his name) would come. I would categorize her understanding of the difference to be an important religious one.


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