According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – anon
Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – anon
Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson

Friday, July 1, 2011

Ayn Rand Led Me to Christ

http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2011/june/aynrandled.html

How the anti-Christian philosopher prepared me to hear the gospel.

by Bishop Edward S. Little II
posted 6/29/2011 09:40AM


Ayn Rand changed my life. When I embraced her philosophy, Objectivism, the conversion was far more dramatic than my decision, several years later, to follow Jesus Christ—more dramatic, but in the end transitory. Yet Rand, the novelist, philosopher, and uncompromising atheist, inadvertently opened a door for the gospel. I don't believe dead people spin in their graves, but if they did and she could read these words, I imagine Rand would be twirling violently.

As many have noted, Rand's ethic of rational self-interest is incompatible with the gospel, and leads to social as well as spiritual disaster. "Most observers see Rand as a political and economic philosopher," wrote Gary Moore last year in Christianity Today. "I believe that she was first and foremost an anti-Christian philosopher." A six-foot dollar sign wreath towered over her casket, Moore pointed out, an icon of the false gospel she labored to proclaim. I agree entirely that Christianity and Objectivism are utterly incompatible. But my gratitude to Rand remains profound.

My First Conversion

In the spring of 1962, an awkward and philosophically oriented 15-year-old raised in an utterly secular home, I read The Fountainhead and then Atlas Shrugged. Those books triggered a philosophical (and, unknowingly, spiritual) revolution. One evening, immersed in Rand's writings, I listened on the radio to a re-broadcast of a lecture she had delivered a year earlier at the University of Wisconsin, during a symposium called "Ethics in Our Time." Even at a distance of 48 years, I can still hear her heavily accented voice as she quoted from John Galt's speech, the long and detailed summary of Objectivism that appears near the end of Atlas Shrugged: "Yes, this is an age of moral crisis. Yes, you are bearing punishment for your evil …. Your moral code has reached its climax, the blind alley at the end of its course. And if you wish to go on living, what you now need is not to return to morality … but to discover it."

For three years I followed Rand, read every word she published, studied Objectivism and its moral, political, and economic implications, and even tried to imitate the heroes in Rand's novels. Several times, the central character in The Fountainhead, Howard Roark, is accused of staring at people, his piercing eyes making the novel's villains feel judged and found wanting. And so I practiced widening my eyes and keeping them open for extended periods. No one, however, seemed daunted by my gaze.

Because my family lived in New York City, I was able to enroll in a 20-session "Basics of Objectivism" course at the Nathaniel Branden Institute. (Branden, an early Rand associate and a psychologist by training, spent many years teaching Objectivism in partnership with Rand.) The course included sessions on metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, aesthetics, and political and economic theory, with a heavy emphasis on laissez-faire capitalism. When Branden finished his lecture, Rand herself would often answer questions. Among the memorabilia from that period of my life is a scrap of paper with Rand's autograph, the letters sharp and angular. I also enrolled in "Objectivist Economics," taught by a very young Alan Greenspan.

My commitment to Rand and her philosophy, however, did not survive my early years in college. Two figures intervened.

The Unscrupulous God

The first was Plato. In Rand's teaching, Aristotle served as a kind of philosophical hero. Plato, with his tendency toward mysticism, represented philosophical depravity for Rand. So I entered college predisposed to reject Plato, and came armed with Objectivist and Aristotelian weapons for the battle. Then I actually read Plato in a philosophy class. I was shocked to find much to commend his vision of a Reality that is more than the reality we can see. "A young man who wishes to remain an Atheist," C. S. Lewis wrote in Surprised by Joy, "cannot be too careful of his reading. There are traps everywhere—'Bibles laid open, millions of surprises,' as Herbert says, 'fine nets and stratagems.' God is, if I may say it, very unscrupulous."

The Phaedo was particularly disturbing, as Plato's Socrates prepares to die and in the process comforts his friends with an admittedly non-Christian notion of the afterlife. What troubled me most was that it made sense, that the one-dimensional universe of Objectivism did not do justice to the facts. Could Rand be wrong? My certainty began to crumble. Much later I stumbled onto a hymn that points to Plato and Socrates as unwitting precursors of the gospel:

For Socrates who, phrase by phrase,
Talked men to truth, unshrinking,
And left for Plato's mighty grace
To mold our ways of thinking;
For all who wrestled, sane and free,
To win the unseen reality,
To God be thanks and glory.

I still remember my breathlessness as I read the Phaedo for the first time. But Plato merely set the stage for something, Someone, more profound.

The second figure was Jesus. In my sophomore year, I enrolled in a two-semester "Bible as Literature" course. I was majoring in ancient history, and biblical history figured into the wider picture. But the ground softened by Plato presented itself to the plow of the gospel, and I was changed forever.

The process, however, has its own bizarre twists and turns. These courses were taught by a former pastor turned agnostic, a delightful and humorous man who enjoyed introducing conservative Christians to historical-critical methods and shaking their faith. Students often emerged from Bible as Literature predictably unbiblical in their perspective. For reasons known only to the Holy Spirit, the system didn't work in my case. Reading the Bible for the first time, encountering the text and laying aside the professor's debunking attitude, I met a God who laid claim to my life, a Savior who invited (or, more precisely, demanded) my allegiance.

Over the course of two semesters, something happened. I can't precisely date it. But friends tell me that they noticed a change. By the time I was halfway through the New Testament course, I was referring to Jesus in the present rather than the past tense. Later, under the guidance of those same friends, I learned the vocabulary—about committing my life to Jesus, receiving him as Savior, following him as Lord. Paul describes the experience of his Corinthian converts, and my own experience, with overwhelming and almost inarticulate joy: "You were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God" (1 Cor. 6:11, RSV). But the deed was first done surreptitiously, as I read the Bible and met the One who is King of kings and Lord of lords. Lewis was right: God is indeed very unscrupulous.

The Truth of Ayn Rand

And what of Rand? I quickly relegated her to my intellectual and spiritual past. Friends from my Objectivist period drifted out of my life. As a new Christian, I immersed myself in the Bible, Christian literature, and the Christian community. Only occasionally, in the intervening decades, did Rand enter my consciousness—once again with the recent release of the movie Atlas Shrugged. In reflecting on how she inadvertently influenced me, I've seen God's hand work through her in a number of ways.

I - Ayn Rand taught me how to think. "Man cannot survive except through his mind," says Howard Roark in The Fountainhead." He comes on earth unarmed. His brain is his only weapon. Animals obtain food by force. Man has no claws, no fangs, no horns, no great strength of muscle. He must plant his food or hunt it. To plant, he needs a process of thought. To hunt, he needs weapons, and to make weapons—a process of thought. From this simplest necessity to the highest religious abstraction, from the wheel to the skyscraper, everything we are and we have comes from a single attribute of man—the function of his reasoning mind." And so Rand challenged me to reject sloppy thinking, to apply reason meticulously, not least when dealing with culturally mandated assumptions. But that very commitment to reason gave me tools that led, much to my surprise, to a critique of Objectivism itself. The unseen Reality to which Plato pointed made sense not simply as an alternative way of seeing the world, but also under the test of reason.

Indeed, that very test points to God himself. The order and complexity of creation, the fact, as C.S. Lewis notes in Mere Christianity, that there seems to be a moral law with a claim upon human beings ("right and wrong as a clue to the meaning of the universe," he calls it), all stand upon the foundation of the firm application of reason. Rigorous thought can set the stage for faith and demonstrate the reasonableness of the Christian claim that Jesus Christ is King of kings and Lord of lords. While reason cannot, unaided, present the fullness of Christian truth, it can support and undergird it.

II - Ayn Rand taught me that there is such a thing as objective reality. Three Aristotelian axioms—Non-Contradiction, Either-Or, and A is A—mark the three sections of Atlas Shrugged. "Contradictions do not exist," Francisco tells Dagny. "Whenever you think that you are facing a contradiction, check your premises. You will find that one of them is wrong." In other words, a thing is true (or false) regardless of what we think about it. This flies in the face of modernism (which tends to dismiss out of hand the supernatural and the miraculous, with no evidence beyond skepticism) and postmodernism (which doesn't so much reject the supernatural as completely relativize it). When a postmodernist says, "All truth is relative; you have your truth and I have mine," Rand, and I, might answer: Your very statement contains an inherent inner contradiction. You claim as objective truth an assertion that would, in effect, negate itself.

All of this, in the end, led me to the non-sentimental and objective claims of the gospel. The gospel is no mere preference. It is true, or it isn't. Jesus is who he says he is, or he is (again, Lewis) [either] a madman or a fraud. Christian doctrine—Creation, Fall, Incarnation, Redemption, Consummation, and our ultimate and beatific vision of the Trinity—is true, or false. It can't be both. Rand's view of objective reality is admittedly limited. She relies on the senses and goes no further. She dismisses faith as mysticism and its practitioners as witch doctors. But she is right in this: If something is true, it is so because it aligns with reality. Our desires neither confirm nor deny its validity. Our only choice is to say "Yes" to truth, or not. As a Christian, that "Yes" is to Truth incarnate, Jesus Christ.

III - Ayn Rand taught me to believe in moral absolutes. Gary Moore reserved his strongest criticism precisely for this aspect of her thought. Rational self-interest, taken to its logical conclusion, is ultimately destructive: "I am done with the monster of the 'We,' " the hero of Anthem says, "the word of serfdom, of plunder, of misery, falsehood and shame. And now I see the face of god, and I raise this god over the earth, this god whom men have sought since men came into being, this god who will grant them joy and peace and pride. This god, this one word: 'I.' " The golden calf of Exodus 32 hardly receives the adulation that Rand pours upon the individual and his or her moral autonomy.

John Galt's oath in Atlas Shrugged puts it more sharply: "I swear, by my life and my love of it, that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another to live for mine." Rand places each human being at the center of his or her own universe, and makes that human being absolute. This is, from a biblical perspective, monstrous, the very articulation of Adam and Eve's disastrous rebellion.

As destructive as her moral vision may be, however, it is a moral vision—and that is precisely the point. I came to believe, in my Objectivist years, that I would flourish if I lived my life in accordance with a set of clear and unmistakable moral precepts. Later, I realized that those precepts were wrong; they work precisely against the flourishing of human beings as God has designed us and are ultimately self-destructive.

But in rejecting Objectivist ethics, I discovered that the New Testament offers us a "more excellent way" (1 Cor. 12:31, RSV). The New Testament vision of discipleship involves the attempt (aided, empowered) to bring our lives in accord with God's revealed will and purpose. There are moral absolutes with which we must grapple, which we must obey, and about which (when we fail to obey) we must seek absolution. Just as there is objective reality, there is also right and wrong. The twisted moral vision of Rand prepared me, perhaps simply by contrast, for the values of the kingdom of God.

IV - Ayn Rand taught me about humanity's heroic destiny. Her four novels are dominated by great heroes: Kira Argounova, Howard Roark, Hank Reardon, Dagny Taggart, John Galt, and the unnamed narrator of Anthem who finally calls himself Prometheus. Critics dismiss these heroes as plastic, one-dimensional, unbelievable. They are probably right. Gary Cooper's version of Howard Roark in the movie rendition of The Fountainhead demonstrates how difficult it is to portray a hero with no flaws, no inner conflicts. Cooper simply couldn't pull it off, and the role is stilted. But as a young Objectivist, I had people to imitate, an ideal to live up to: "I want to be like that." Rand incarnated her moral precepts, defective as they are, in her heroes.

So, of course, do the Bible and Christian tradition. Unlike the heroes of Rand, the Bible rarely portrays its chief characters as relentlessly good. Abraham tried to pass off Sarah as his sister. David committed adultery and murdered his rival. Peter is [both] a coward and a rock, a thoughtful evangelist and an impulsive motor mouth. Paul's teaching provides for all time the essential infrastructure of our Christology, but his temper (to take one example) bursts out of his writings with disturbing power. Yet in all of these characters, flawed as they are, we see God at work, correcting them, calling them, drawing them to himself, transforming them. "I want to be like that."

Only and finally in Jesus do we see humanity as the Father intends it. And only and finally in Jesus can our humanity ultimately be transfigured. "It does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is" (1 John 3:2, RSV). Our heroic destiny is fulfilled in Christ, whom we shall gaze upon eternally. Even now, while our transformation is still incomplete, we have "put on the new nature, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator" (Col. 3:10, RSV).

There is little in Ayn Rand's philosophy or worldview that a Christian can endorse, even in small ways. Moore is right; Rand is "first and foremost an anti-Christian philosopher," and Objectivism stands in painfully stark contrast to the gospel. Yet I wonder if I am alone in offering thanks for Rand and her role, inadvertent as it was, in Christian conversion. God can use a donkey to chastise a prophet. Can he also use Rand as a kind of waystation on the road to Christ?

In my more hopeful moments, I find myself wondering if Rand, in her last moments, perceived her error and turned to the One she had rejected all her life. Or, as she slipped into eternity, if Jesus made a final, undeserved, and awe-full offer of grace. But that is speculation, and well beyond what God intends us to know. It is sufficient for my own purposes simply to say: Thank you, Ayn Rand.


Edward S. Little II is bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Northern Indiana, and author of Joy in Disguise: Meeting Jesus in the Dark Times (Morehouse, 2009).

 
Related Elsewhere

Gary Moore wrote earlier about why Christians should be wary of Ayn Rand and her disciples.

Previous articles on conversion or testimony include:
Testify! | In nightclubs, coffeehouses, and iPods, true first-person storytelling is becoming a cultural force as it borrows from Christian tradition. (January 7, 2011)

Bearing True Witness | Why we are tempted to embellish conversion stories. (June 28, 2010)

What Conversion Is and Is Not | Hint: It's not just about getting people 'saved.

********************

Amazon Books -
http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=ayn+rand&x=0&y=0

The Ayn Rand Institute -
http://www.aynrand.org/site/PageServer?pagename=index
Wikipedia Introduction
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ayn_Rand

Ayn Rand (play /ˈn ˈrænd/;[1] born Alisa Zinov'yevna Rosenbaum, February 2 [O.S. January 20] 1905 – March 6, 1982), was a Russian-American novelist, philosopher,[2] playwright and screenwriter. She is known for her two best-selling novels and for developing a philosophical system she called Objectivism.

Born and educated in Russia, Rand moved to the United States in 1926. She worked as a screenwriter in Hollywood and had a play produced on Broadway in 1935–1936. After two initially unsuccessful early novels, she achieved fame with her 1943 novel The Fountainhead. In 1957, she published her best-known work, the philosophical novel Atlas Shrugged. Afterward she turned to nonfiction to promote her philosophy, publishing her own magazines and releasing several collections of essays until her death in 1982.

In her philosophy of Objectivism, Rand advocated reason as the only means of acquiring knowledge and rejected all forms of faith and religion. She supported rational egoism and rejected ethical altruism. In politics, she condemned the initiation of force as immoral and opposed all forms of collectivism and statism, instead supporting laissez-faire capitalism, which she believed was the only social system that protected individual rights. She promoted romantic realism in art. She was sharply critical of most other philosophers and philosophical traditions.

The reception for Rand's fiction from literary critics was largely negative, and most academics have ignored or rejected her philosophy. Nonetheless she continues to have a popular following, and her political ideas have been influential among libertarians and some conservatives. The Objectivist movement attempts to spread her ideas, both to the public and in academic settings.

Beyonce Is Wrong: Girls Don't Run the World


Why her message of female power is hurting the African American community.

Natasha Robinson, guest blogger
beyonce.jpg
Beyonce has built a musical career based on girl empowerment and the seduction of men. In her efforts to empower women, though, she has endorsed a self-absorbed world where a false view of love reigns supreme. Her songs reveal a worldview where men and women indulge in lust, lavish spending, and fantasies of catering, upgrades, and joy rides. I don’t see much responsibility or empowerment of either sex in that kind of behavior.

Yet the lyrics of her recent single acknowledge the men who respect what she does. In her skimpy attire, she seduces them while singing we have "endless power, our love we can devour when you’ll do anything for me."

The question that haunts me and should arise from moral women of influence is: What type of power is Beyonce encouraging women to embrace? Is an average girl’s persuasion enhanced by flaunting her body, vanity, and money more than modesty, character, team building, and leadership that place the needs of others above themselves?

True persuasion and leadership elevates all people without sacrificing others along the way. That’s what alarms me with the “positive” messages in songs like “Run the World (Girls).” By elevating girls in a music video where they stand strong against an all-male army, Beyonce has subtly (or perhaps not so subtly) sent a message that devalues boys and men.

As an African American woman who is heartbroken over the current condition of African American boys, I find Beyonce’s message destructive and damaging to the Black community. The reality is that so many African American boys are being ignored in the classroom and other social arenas. These young men are dropping out of high school at an alarming rate. Many who graduate from high school cannot read with a significant level of comprehension or write a grammatically correct paragraph. Some sources say we now have more Black men in prison than in college. If Jesus' teachings concerning the Good Samaritan resonate at all, we should all share in these concerns. We cannot continue to ignore the plight of these young men while Beyonce is encouraging all the independent women to "throw their hands up."
boy.jpg
Does God value women? Certainly! Does he want them to be strong contributors to society? Absolutely!

Yet when considering how God supremely values women, we must remember other fundamental truths: that God is love and wants us to walk in love. We must also acknowledge that we were created for community. God said that it was not good for humankind to walk through life alone. He created women and men for a holy partnership that is not limited to marriage. Whenever one gender of God’s partnership is elevated above the other or is ignored, we all lose.

There is much work and community building for all of us to do. I want to see young girls grow up into God-honoring, intelligent, beautiful, and strong leaders. When they show up in the classroom, corporate boardroom, or sanctuary, I want individual lives touched and the environment changed by their very presence. I do not want these women believing, however, that they don’t need men. Not only do we need them, they need us, and both sexes should seek opportunities to value, honor, and lift up each other.

Just as we must take responsibility for the images that we affirm or reject as women, men must do the same. My brothers must stand strong and hold each other accountable so that they do not fall prey to the fantasies and lies presented by the world. We should hold godly men accountable for breaking the cycle of “no fathers in the home” by consistently fulfilling the roles of teachers and mentors in the lives of children being raised by single mothers. In this way, children can observe a healthy partnership between men and women. They can then affirm who real men are and what real men do.

If we do not commit to these changes, we will continue to raise young men who have no consistent male leaders, teachers, or mentors in their lives. Furthermore, these young men will have very little expectations of themselves, since everyone knows that girls run the world. Therefore, they can transfer residence from their mother's homes to their girlfriend’s, and let her take care of him since she’s the college grad making the paper.

Both genders need to stand firm and confident knowing that the other is there to partner, encourage, and help them carry the load. We do not have to bear our burdens alone. We can be present for each other. Together, we can live the example of God’s truth and love in the lives of others.

We stand to partner because God loves us and wants an army of codependent men and women to glory him by lovingly running this world together.

Natasha Robinson is a graduate of the United States Naval Academy (2002). She served six years active duty as an officer in the U.S. Marine Corps. Currently, she is co-director of the women’s mentoring ministry at Cornerstone Baptist Church in Greensboro, North Carolina, and founder, writer, and speaker for His Glory On Earth Ministries. She is a full-time student at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and a wife and mother. Check out her blog, A Sista's Journey, where she featured a five-part “Way Up for African-American Boys Series.” Twitter @asistasjourney.

The Lost Girls of China and India

Why so many baby girls are being killed in the world's two largest countries.

Amy Julia Becker

In India and China, the world’s two most populated nations, parents have chosen to abort hundreds of millions of baby girls.

According to Samanth Subramanian, writing for The National, “Indians are aborting more female foetuses (sic.) than at any time in their nation's history, with the practice growing fastest in the more affluent states. . . . There are now 914 girls for every 1,000 boys under the age of 6.”

Furthermore, the BBC News reports that in India, “activists fear eight million female foetuses may have been aborted in the past decade.” In addition to a large number of abortions using so-called “sex-selection,” the infant mortality rate is higher for girls than boys in India, probably due to a combination of neglect and infanticide.

This gender disparity has posed social problems for decades. In 1994, India's legislators made it illegal for ultrasound technicians to reveal babies’ sex in India, yet the disparity between births of girls and boys has only increased in recent years. The laws on the books are rarely enforced and pose minimal consequences, but even for doctors who obey the law, the problem remains. World Magazine recently reported on a hospital in Morena, a rural area with 825 girls to every 1,000 boys. The editors wrote, “The hospital insists it strictly obeys the law against using sonograms to reveal the gender of a baby. . . . The sex ratio at birth at [Dr. R.C. Bandil’s] hospital is as high as 940-945.” In other words, even when baby girls aren’t aborted, they die young: “An exhausted mother who faces neglect, poor nutrition, and blame for producing a daughter is likely to pass on that neglect, social workers say. For an infant, that can mean the difference between life and death.”

An even greater gender disparity exists in China, where “the ratio is 837 girls per 1,000 boys.” According to an Economist report last year, “The destruction of baby girls is a product of three forces: the ancient preference for sons; a modern desire for smaller families; and ultrasound scanning and other technologies that identify the sex of a fetus.” Furthermore, at least in India, parents still often pay a dowry when their daughters get married. Girls cost more and produce less. Ultrasound technology and abortion allow them to be treated as commodities, discarded like defective widgets on a production line.

In addition to the obvious and egregious ethical problems posed by widespread abortion and infanticide of baby girls, the Economist spells out pragmatic problems for such an imbalanced society: “the cumulative consequence for societies of such individual actions is catastrophic… In any country rootless young males spell trouble; in Asian societies, where marriage and children are the recognised routes into society, single men are almost like outlaws. Crime rates, bride trafficking, sexual violence, even female suicide rates are all rising and will rise further as the lopsided generations reach their maturity.”

The Economist cites South Korea as the only nation where the rates of sex-selective abortions have decreased dramatically: “In the 1990s South Korea had a sex ratio almost as skewed as China’s. Now, it is heading towards normality. It has achieved this not deliberately, but because the culture changed. Female education, anti-discrimination suits and equal-rights rulings made son preference seem old-fashioned and unnecessary. The forces of modernity first exacerbated prejudice — then overwhelmed it.” In addition to suggesting that China change its one-child policy, The Economist suggests a series of other measures to effect change: “encourage female education; abolish laws and customs that prevent daughters inheriting property; make examples of hospitals and clinics with impossible sex ratios; get women engaged in public life — using everything from television newsreaders to women traffic police.”
 
A fundamental Christian claim is the inherent worth of every human being. In Roman times, Christians contributed significantly to the end of infanticide. Contemporary notions of human rights alone are not the key to cultural change, nor is an appeal to the social necessity of men and women. Christians and non-Christians agree on the importance of changing attitudes toward women so that sex-selective abortions and infanticide cease, and a combination of governmental programs, law enforcement, and other social measures should help such change occur. Yet Christians have a key ethical foundation to offer to effect such cultural change. From Genesis 1:27 — “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them — ” to Psalm 139:13 — “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb" — Christians can attest that every human life is a valuable one with inherent dignity and worth regardless, of gender, race, age, or ability. The foundation on which gender equality lies is neither modernity nor pragmatism, but rather the truth about who we are as bearers of the imago Dei.


Succeeding on Schedule


by Laura Ziesel
posted June 30, 2011

Old Clockphoto © 2010 William Warby | more info (via: Wylio)
Do you ever feel like you're racing the clock to achieve something in life? Marriage, children, tenure, educational degrees, buying a house, or paying off student loans: These are all things I think many of us think need to be "checked off" the list by a certain age.

To be honest, I felt like I was making good progress ticking things off my list: I had a job doing something I was passionate about right out of college; we got married in our mid-20s; Josh and I were paying off his student loans; we decided to pursue his doctorate degree. We were moving in the "right direction." But then, about a year ago, everything started to move in (what felt like) the wrong direction. For a few months, we were both jobless. Not only did we have to dip into emergency savings to live, but we started accumulating more student loans for Josh's grad school. I starting freelancing to pay the bills, putting my own career goals on hold.

I don't know about most of you, but when I hear the word ageism I think first of discrimination against the elderly. There is no doubt in my mind that care of the aging is one of the greatest weaknesses in modern American culture. But recently, I've realized that I've been ageist toward myself, applying the standard of age to judge how far I've come or how many years I have left to contribute to Kingdom work, my 401k, and my family.

At my amazing church's 55th birthday celebration in November 2010, our pastor, Jim Miller, preached a great sermon on Jacob's adoption of Joseph's sons in Genesis 48. In it, he reminds us that retirement is not a biblical doctrine. In talking to the elderly people in the audience, he challenged them to remember that their greatest contributions and experiences in life could still be awaiting them.

Jim gave the example of Peter Drucker. Jim said that he visited a library where Drucker's books are lined up chronologically, with Drucker's first books on the far left and his newest books on the far right. Apparently, if you put your finger on the shelf representing the break between the books Drucker wrote before age 65 and after age 65, two-thirds of his books would be to the right of your finger. That means that he only produced one-third of his written works before the age of 65. Moreover, his most defining and influential books were written after the age of 65.

Jim's intention was to encourage the older people in our congregation with that fact. But surprisingly, when I heard those stats, I felt convicted.

I feel as if I need to figure out how I'm going to contribute to the world and do it soon. (I think a lot of this is driven by the fact that my parents had two kids and a stable income by the time they were 26. In fact, I think they bought their first house at 26.) I see a ticking clock and I think, "Okay, I only have about 40 good years of work in me. I need to figure out what I'm doing soon so that I don't spend 10 of those years doing something wasteful."

But there is so much flawed thinking at work in this.

To begin, perhaps my greatest contribution to the world has already come and gone; perhaps I discipled a student who will go on to be the next Billy Graham, Gary Haugen, or Beth Moore. If that is true and my greatest contribution is over, then I am forced into admitting that I am not the best or final arbiter of why I'm here; because I certainly feel as if I've done very little. But in God's Kingdom, I don't even know how much I've done or not done. And I might not even know the fruit of my past labor until That Day.

Moreover, I am working under the assumption that I have about 80 years of life to work with. I see my clock ticking and I want to make the most with the next 54 years that I have. But, only God knows the length of my days. I could live to be 110 or I could die tomorrow. The reality that I cannot plan the future continues to be a hard lesson to learn.

So here, today, I am repenting of my self-centered, flesh-driven attempts to succeed on schedule. Lord Jesus, help me simply follow You one step at a time. Give me this day my daily bread and save the rest for later. I trust You with it all.

First World Problems Rap

Here is a video entitled "First World Problems Rap" by a Gen XYZ'er in a satirical musical highlight to our very modern dilemmas, foibles, and shallowness (can we spell "narcissism?"). When compared to the larger issues of life all we can do is sadly laugh at ourselves and be reminded that technology has brought a world totally unlike any other ever experienced by mankind through its Millennias.
 
And if you've read any of the earlier "Deconstruction" articles by George Elerick you'll understand that the 21st Century's postmodernistic language is going to be as different to us as the 18th Century's enlightenment language was to its users and speakers.

- skinhead


June 23, 2011



Are you an evangelical? 1

 
by scotmcknight
posted July 1, 2011
 
 
The Pew Research Center published a major report recently after it interviewed “evangelical leaders” in the world, and the results are nothing less than stunning at times. I want to begin today with what evangelical leaders think is most important about evangelicalism.
 
Remember, this is a survey of both the South and the North, and the South is much more optimistic about evangelicalism than the North (making me think evangelicalism’s future is in the South [and in the East]) and not just a summary of “American” evangelicalism.
 
There are plenty of studies showing the shifting global momentums of evangelicalism, but the facts are clear: it is moving South. It is increasingly Pentecostal and conservative theologically (and morally).
 
What do you see in this chart and the summary? Where does this put you?
Here is their prose summary:

The survey finds nearly unanimous agreement among the global evangelical leaders on some key beliefs, such as that Christianity is the one, true faith leading to eternal life. They also hold traditional views on family and social issues. For example, more than nine-in-ten say abortion is usually wrong (45%) or always wrong (51%). About eight-in-ten say that society should discourage homosexuality (84%) and that men should serve as the religious leaders in the marriage and family (79%).

Virtually all the leaders surveyed (98%) also agree that the Bible is the word of God. But they are almost evenly divided between those who say the Bible should be read literally, word for word (50%), and those who do not think that everything in the Bible should be taken literally (48%). They are similarly split on whether it is necessary to believe in God in order to be a moral person (49% yes, 49% no), and whether drinking alcohol is compatible with being a good evangelical (42% yes, 52% no).

In a number of ways, leaders in the Global South are more conservative than those in the Global North. For instance, leaders in the Global South are more likely than those in the Global North to read the Bible literally (58% vs. 40%) and to favor making the Bible the official law of the land in their countries (58% vs. 28%). More evangelical leaders in the Global South than in the Global North take the position that abortion is always wrong (59% vs. 41%), and more say that a wife must always obey her husband (67% vs. 39%). Leaders in the Global South are also much more inclined than those in the Global North to say that consuming alcohol is incompatible with being a good evangelical (75% vs. 23%)

And here’s some more:

Virtually all the leaders surveyed (96%) say that Christianity is the one, true faith leading to eternal life, and 95% say that believing otherwise – taking the position that “Jesus Christ is NOT the only path to salvation” – is incompatible with being a good evangelical. There is also broad agreement among the leaders on the practices that are necessary to be “a good evangelical Christian.” Two broad types of behavior are almost unanimously seen as essential: Nearly all leaders (97%) say evangelicals must follow the teachings of Christ in their personal and family life, and 94% say working to lead others to Christ is essential for being a good evangelical Christian.

Majorities also agree on several other practices. About three-quarters (73%) say working to help the poor and needy is essential for being a good evangelical Christian; an additional 24% say helping the poor is important but not essential. In addition, tithing – giving at least a tenth of one’s income to the church – is deemed essential to being a good evangelical by 58% of the leaders. And nearly as many (56%) say that evangelicals are obliged to take a stand on social and political issues that conflict with moral and biblical principles. About a third (36%) say that working to protect the natural environment is essential to being a good evangelical (an additional 47% say protecting the environment is important but not essential). Leaders from the Global South are more inclined than leaders from the Global North to view environmental protection as essential to being a good evangelical.

There is also widespread agreement that practices associated with other religious traditions are incompatible with being a good evangelical Christian: More than 90% of the leaders say that engaging in yoga as a spiritual practice and believing in astrology or reincarnation are not compatible with evangelicalism. But evangelical leaders are divided over the consumption of alcohol. About four-in-ten (42%) say it is compatible with being a good evangelical, while 52% say it is incompatible. Leaders from sub-Saharan Africa are especially likely to oppose alcohol use; 78% of them say it is incompatible with being a good evangelical, as do 78% of evangelical leaders who live in Muslim-majority countries.


25 Things That Shouldn’t Scare Christians

http://rachelheldevans.com/25-things-that-shouldnt-scare-christians

by Rachel Held Evans
on June 28, 2011


Despite what some may say, these twenty-five things really shouldn’t scare Christians:

1. Someone leaving the phrase “under God” out of the pledge of allegiance before a golf game
2. Sharing civil rights with gays and lesbians
3. Scientists
4. Target employees that say “happy holidays” instead of “merry Christmas”
5. Mosques
6. The media
7. Missing God’s will and accidentally going to the wrong college
8. Theological differences
9. Suddenly getting asked to explain the religious symbolism in “Tree of Life”
10. Mormon presidential candidates
11. Yoga
12. Conflicting interpretations of Scripture
13. Bringing the worst maccaroni and cheese casserole to the church potluck (I've lived through this, believe it or not.)
14. Getting left behind
15. Not being “relevant”
16. Women with opinions
17. Nice atheists
18. Sharing the gospel
19. Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, Tea Partiers, Communists, Anarchists
20. Anabaptists
21. Statues of the Virgin Mary
22. Separation of church and state
23. The gay “agenda”
24. The removal of plastic, light-up manger scenes from courthouse lawns
25. Being a religious minority in the U.S….(especially when we’re not)

What would you add to the list?

**************************

Addendum

I’m sorry... While most readers seemed to enjoy today’s post, “25 Things That Shouldn’t Scare Christians,” I understand that some felt I was picking on conservatives disproportionately, insinuating that those who oppose gay marriage and “happy holiday” greetings do so solely out of fear. That was certainly not my intent. I tried to include a mix of issues (some serious, some silly) that are amplified by conservatives and liberals alike to appear more threatening than they really are, especially in light of our citizenship in God’s kingdom.

Looking over the post, I see how just a few adjustments could have perhaps improved the tone and spared us from some of the bickering that occurred in the comment section. I owe it to you guys to write the best post I can each day, so I’m sorry for not paying more attention to those little details that can make or break the "feel" of a post.

I stand by my opinion on this one…perhaps just not the way I delivered it.

Thanks for understanding.

- Rachel

 

Deconstructing Language

resurrection (I)(S) anarchy….

by George Elerick (theloverevolution)
posted May 19, 2011


IM LanguageSymbolic violence, finally, is inherent in the deployment and sustenance of language and its forms. There are two instantiations of this sort of violence, one of them “deeper” than the other. The first is the symbolic violence inherent in specific language; terms we use which may include hidden instantiations of domination. An obvious example of this sort of symbolic violence could be using the word “Man” when one is referring to the whole of mankind. But there, the violence inherent in that speech act has become quite visible and obvious over time (and thus it would be, realistically in many circles, subjective violence), and the point of making a delineation like symbolic violence is that it, like all objective violence, is invisible and sustains various structures of domination, subjugation or limitation unbeknownst to the user within the structure.

language is the thing that introduces us to the world in front of us. the word we experience. but it is this experience of the world that is mediated through language. this mediation is a violence of sorts. once we name something, we remove its autonomy; in that moment, the object enters into the world as something other than itself.

this same act of vioence occurs when we expend ourselves in attempting to label another. ‘Gay, straight, man, woman’, and even the word love is done violence to. put simply, language is a system to overcome. this does not mean we must never speak again, it means we must enter into language (the symbolic order; lacan) with the recognition of its inherent weakness. that language cannot ultimately meet our desires, but merely project the desires we think we need/want.

the other reality of language is that it creates untruths about reality and other people. it separates us and exiles us from the desires that inhabit us. linguistic/cultural anarchy seems to be the only option left for us to take seriously. this is the moment that we realize that once language inhibits us from meeting with the object of our desire then we must allow language to die.

isn’t the christian message about death and resurrection?

so why not apply this reality to how we interpret reality? this is not an easy stance to take, because to create new language means we have to follow after the words of jesus who once said: “you have heard it was said”(the established world; modernism; capitalism; religion and etc.) which represents the systematic expression of the world as we know it. it alludes to any idea that has been crystallized through habitual fetish and historical allegiance. and then jesus ends his introduction with: “but i say” – he revolutionizes the concept that systems are not what we need because truth inhabits us. truth enters reality when we realize that things don’t have to be the way they were. death is important here.

but resurrection (rebirth) is a sort of anarchy that defiantly proclaims that what has been established doesn’t have to be the prevailing object we all follow. in fact resurrection is an eradication of the notion of reality as being mediated by the historical. resurrection remains the hopeful kernel implanted within death itself, this is why death cannot be merely surpassed (ex: cryogenics) to sustain anything of the former is to leave traces of what was before in the wake of an ideological death. but resurrection proclaims an end to the idea that death has to have the last word.

resurrection is about new life. new perspective and paradigm.

each idea we encounter is embedded with a nuance of resurrection. ultimately if we sustain the life of an idea beyond its cultural space/time we are then at fault for supporting an already flawed system. we are then very much like the guards at the tomb who sat and watched for anything suspicious that came to steal away the body of jesus.

it is in the suspicious/unexpected act of resurrection that we find truth hibernating behind the symbolic order.

we must be willing to welcome the unexpected acts to arrive and usher in the rupture of resurrection. it is in the embodiment of resurrection that language and the future of it can find salvation….


Deconstructing the Church

paul’s dislocated mirror

by george elerick (theloverevolution)
posted June 13, 2011

you’re are many members, but one body. – Paul

(soma) – body (which casts a shadow as distinguished from the shadow itself )

(heis) – but one (universal)

(melos) – parts, members (neutered)

In Lacan’s presentation of the mirror stage, the infant experiences his or her body as uncoordinated, vulnerable, and insufficient. This sense of frustration with physical limitations propels the infant toward identification with the (apparently) unified and stable imago of the mirror reflection or of the caregiver.

“The propositional exactitude of a certain absence”
the whole notion of church predominantly stems from the notion that we all have a participatory role to play. we each have something to both give and gain. something to leave and something to take. in the west, the idea of church is quite heavily driven by identity. for example, some go to charismatic gatherings because this expression seems to fit for them ideologically. others visit in small houses with candles and guitars because they crave intimacy with the divine.

neither one excludes the other, although the manner in which we guard and defend each expression would make others think so. we defend our understanding and ideas over that which might be beneficial to each other as whole. we would rather demonstrate our allegiance to the belief in something that projects itself to be a community at the risk of the greater community.

the jungian notion of the shadow claims that “the shadow or “shadow aspect” is a part of the unconscious mind consisting of repressed weaknesses, shortcomings, and instincts.”* by over-asserting our individualism not only do we deny the idea of what it means to be the body of christ, we deny the very weaknesses we are meant to claim about ourselves. we hide our weaknesses when we seek the ‘perfect’ church. but why do we seek the perfect church if it does not exist? what drives us to seek out the whole self when in reality we are disjointed? we are plural. i think it is in the mis-recongnition of wholeness where the church has been lost for centuries.

wholeness is plurality.

wholeness is disjointed. it is not that one is different from the other or even that one needs the other. the ancient sage wisdom of the ying and the yang does not stand in true form here because individuality is not the opposite of the body, individuality is the very body itself. but when we embrace one over the other we become the ‘body’ we were never meant to be. notice the word paul uses for body and how it is defined. it is a shadow created by something that is not itself. the shadow is the other. the shadow is the defining factor, or in the case lacan’s mirror.
Kat1the body is the issue here. the body is the problem not the goal. the body isn’t represented by wholeness, the body hides the reality of dislocation. the body creates another shadow that is not the true nature of what we now call church. the body, remember, is not wholeness it is the facade of wholeness. it is the promise of something that can never come, not because it is impossible, but because as we earlier discovered it is in our disjointedness that we are already whole.

also notice that paul uses a neutered term here when he refers to parts or members. neutered. no gender. christ is a genderless entity. jesus was male. its important to remember in the ancient world that the term christ was used quite widely and wasn't as scarce as we would like to think. many would have used it. jesus’ last name was not christ. it was a title. a description. but the description does not define the gender of the title. christ the title held itself as a genderless descriptor.

this notion flies in the very face of fundamentalist paradigms that claim certain rules either about gender or sexuality. those that spend their time searching through libraries creating perverse theology centered around injunctions seek to engender more meaning to the christ descriptor than itself claims to be aligned with. to be a part of the genderless community is to claim freedom for all of those who might lie within the undefined cracks. i am very hesistant to use the postmodern term ‘other’ here because that would assume that this other resides outside of this disjointed body we claim as whole. and if it is ‘whole’ then it also includes everybody.

notice the next term paul uses here. the word for one. it’s universal. not specific. not tribal. it applies to the whole of not just the audience who would have heard/read this letter, but because of the circulated nature of such a letter it would have included a variegated number of listeners. this ‘specific universality’ i claim is a microcosm for the world in its entirety. to be the church is to include responsibility for each other, including ecosystems, animals, economies, beliefs and etc. but this goes beyond taking care of the poor and other social justice practices, sometimes these practices are the very things keeping us from fully embracing every one that we might not be comfortable with.

i think the redemption of the church lies in: (1) eradicating its current master signifiers and (2) redefining them. for most there are certain ideas that define the church, or communities and what it is centered around and what makes them tick. i think these are all the wrong questions. we need to push them beyond them all and began looking at other possibilities – in the end, the full eradication of any master-signifier (the word/idea that gives ultimate (whole) meaning to ideas) – (ex: the church is meant to be ‘perfect’) should be the goal. for me this is why the death and resurrection is so important. it is the cycle/direction that the church, ideology and even life is meant to take.

the church cannot be self-referential. otherwise it becomes valued only through itself. it must point to a reality beyond itself. this is the ultimate weakness of any master-signifier it can only end in and of itself. the church for centuries has only led to itself. this is why there is an aggressive exclusive kernel that still remains yet attractive even within the rhetoric of the new movements within. because those within it have become institutionalized no matter how much structure they might kick against. to redeem the church is to redeem the world. i think this is why jesus spent so much time talking/critiquing/praying for the church because once it got itself sorted out, the world (which according to paul is the church) would by relationship itself be sorted out.