Something every Christian should read

August 8, 2009

As I’ve noted before, this space is mostly empty – I keep here because I want to be able to look back and see what I have said, some of which I still agree with. I don’t feel the need to update regularly here anymore; the Christian Cynic part of me is mostly inert at this point.

But when I read this post by Richard Beck at Experimental Theology, I knew I had to break my silence – even if only for a moment.

Dr. Beck is 100% correct in his claim that contemporary Christianity has become less about being a good person and more about doing certain kinds of things. (His list includes some explicitly religious things like attending church, reading the Bible, and praying, as well as some more political items such as “Voting Republican”, “Arguing with evolutionists”, and “Not reading Harry Potter.”) His claim has support in how Christians act regularly – I commented that the phenomenon of Christians leaving tracts in lieu of money for tips at restaurants is one example of how some Christians (certainly not all – I don’t think that most Christians do this) replace a moral action (providing a tip to someone who served you, especially given that servers in most restaurants are paid less than minimum wage and only make up that income in tips) with a supposedly “Christian” action (evangelizing – although as I noted, leaving a tract is about the most impersonal form of evangelism I can think of, maybe besides a billboard or a flyer in the mail).

Maybe there’s a presumption in churches that people who come to church are good people by virtue of desiring (or at least consenting) to come, but I think that this presumption would only show the naiveté of contemporary Christianity. Being religious doesn’t make you good, that much is clear. What churches ought to do is to tell our congregations, “Listen, we want you to be good people because that’s what God calls us to do, and that’s the example Jesus Christ set for us while he was here on earth – not reading the Bible, not attending church, not even necessarily praying or fasting or baptism or taking Communion. We think all those other things are important, but if you want to be a Christian, you need to work on becoming a good person first. We absolutely do not want you to think that spending time in prayer, in church, or in any other religious activity is a substitute for loving your neighbor and for living a good, moral life that shows respect for all humans.”

But then again, piety is often easier than living the moral life.


On cognitive shortcuts

March 28, 2009

Okay, the hiatus is over – sort of. This won’t indicate any sort of regular posting, but I have a subject that I think fits best under this banner rather that my Docere Est Discere blog (even though it deals in a very broad sense with education).

In my interim as a student teacher – which is coming to a close in the next few weeks – I have tried to stay apprised of what is happening with the blogs that I have been following for quite some time (many of which are on this site’s blogroll). One of those which I have come to enjoy greatly is Ed Brayton’s Dispatches from the Culture Wars, which I find interesting and enlightening on a number of topics (despite disagreeing personally with Brayton on a number of matters).

Recently, Brayton wrote about Chris Mooney ripping George Will apart for his uninformed and flawed piece on global warming in the Washington Post (both pieces were printed in the Post, actually), and in discussing the issue, he brought up the idea of cognitive shortcuts:

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On correct meanings and “dusty old words”

July 10, 2008

As any frequent reader here should have picked up on by now, I hate false etymologies. I hate to say it, but the study of word origins has been co-opted for so many ill purposes (the infamous argumentum ad etymologia), and I despise that given that I enjoy the study so much.

So I’m especially irritated to see Graham Kendrick, a well-known Christian worship songwriter, make a statement like this:

Orthodoxy sounds like a dusty old word, but actually it means right glory, in other words representing God as he actually is.

There may be a nugget of truth in here: the Greek doxa, from which the word is derived (along with ortho, “correct”), is sometimes translated as “glory” or “praise” (c.f. Matthew 4:8). And in a sense, I think I can give Kendrick a little bit of poetic license, since orthodoxy may have at its roots a desire to glorify God by accurately representing Him. That’s fine, but the word “orthodox” doesn’t mean that – it means “correct belief.”

The OED says this regarding etymology:

[< post-classical Latin orthodoxus, ortodoxus, adjective and noun (4th cent.; freq. in Jerome) and its etymon Hellenistic or Byzantine Greek òρθóδοξος right in opinion (see note), person holding a right opinion < ancient Greek òοθο- ORTHO- comb. form + δóξα opinion, glory (see DOXOLOGY n.). In English perhaps partly via Middle French, French orthodoxe (1431 as adjective, a1565 as noun). Compare Italian ortodosso (1478 as adjective).
Ancient Greek òρθοδοξεîν ‘to have a right opinion’ appears first in Aristotle Nicomachean Ethics, but remains rare. The cognate noun òρθοδοξíα appears first in Origen; the adjective óρθóδοξος does not appear until the late 3rd, or early 4th cent. With the exception of uses in commentaries on Nicomachean Ethics the group of words is restricted almost entirely to Christian writers.] [Ed. Greek characters should now display correctly]

So the usage existed prior to the Greek writings of the NT, and certainly one cannot say that orthodoxy does not today refer to belief, not to glory of praise.

Finally, a note: words, like books, don’t get dusty if they are used, and orthodox has been in great use for centuries now, thanks in large part to the insistence of religious organizations’ desire to see correct belief (i.e. adherence to their doctrines) among those who associate themselves with the organization. What Kendrick seems to be doing here is setting up orthodox as an elitist word, high and lofty and out of the comprehension of the common man. This is of course untrue; orthodoxy is easily understood by anyone who has been introduced to the idea of believing in the right things.

Putting ignorance in its place

June 25, 2008

You won’t see me link to Pharyngula often, but this response posted on P.Z. Myers’ blog is too good not to refer to, even given my often unfavorable opinion of his statements on religion: Lenski gives Conservapædia a lesson. Lenski here is Richard Lenski, one of the authors of a recent study showing a very interesting novel evolution in a population of E. coli, and he’s responding to the Wiki site Conservapedia, which is fairly well known for being a refuge for – how should I put this? – very right-wing, authoritarian sorts of individuals. (The fact that, in a thread there, Michael Behe – the posterchild for the Intelligent Design movement – was denigrated for adhering to common descent, evolution, and an old earth – as well as for not being a “Creation Scientist”! – should speak volumes.)

Most of it requires no comment – Lenski is clearly being very level-headed, given the sorts of criticism (if you can even call it that) that he is getting from the Cons. people – but the last two postscripts to the letter are worth noting:

P.P.P.S. You may be unable to understand, or unwilling to accept, that evolution occurs. And yet, life evolves! [] From the content on your website, it is clear that you, like many others, view God as the Creator of the Universe. I respect that view. I find it baffling, however, that someone can worship God as the all-mighty Creator while, at the same time, denying even the possibility (not to mention the overwhelming evidence) that God’s Creation involved evolution. It is as though a person thinks that God must have the same limitations when it comes to creation as a person who is unable to understand, or even attempt to understand, the world in which we live. Isn’t that view insulting to God?

P.P.P.P.S. I noticed that you say that one of your favorite articles on your website is the one on “Deceit.” That article begins as follows: “Deceit is the deliberate distortion or denial of the truth with an intent to trick or fool another. Christianity and Judaism teach that deceit is wrong. For example, the Old Testament says, ‘Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.'” You really should think more carefully about what that commandment means before you go around bearing false witness against others.

Lessons that all well-meaning Christians should consider when bashing others’ points of view.

Hard question of the day: Church discipline

April 7, 2008

Pen and Parchment recently had a very interesting entry about what to do in a specific hypothetical case where a church member in leadership is acting wrongly and needs correction. It’s a difficult question to answer, and I can’t honestly answer the question, although there are some excellent ideas by commenters. Go check out the discussion, which has been left fairly open-ended.

Give your life to Mani!

February 27, 2008

In a strange twist, given my reference to the Manichees in the last post, Fred Sanders at the Scriptorium has posted some (concocted) Manichean evangelical literature. If you have read St. Augustine’s Confessions (and shame on you if you haven’t), you will find the cartoons and text very amusing. I know I did.

Fides derelinquens intellectum: A flawed view of faith

January 16, 2008

[Note: All errors in Latin conjugation/declension/usage/etc. are my own. I am admittedly a novice, but I try my hardest.]

I have written on faith several times, mostly from an etymological perspective and against those who would claim that faith is defined as “belief without evidence”. More recently, I saw a Christian arguing against a fine-tuning argument, citing part of Hebrews 11:1 in connection with his objections. It is now time for me to admit that much of the problem in the conception of faith is not simply from the New Atheists and their ilk but also from Christians who have an incorrect way of looking at the subject.

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