I found this an interesting read, especially the stuff regarding doubt & humility.
Link: Essay on Christianism
Zach, Thursday, 5-11-06 11:33 PM
re: Politics
I have to say I think that the author of the Time article is engaging in some fairly serious equivocation.
That is, there are a lot of political issues wherein there is no uniquely defined Christian position. For instance, reasonable and devout Christians can disagree as to the proper limits of immigration, the optimal policy for laying Caesar's tax burden on the shoulders of the citizenry, the way that medical care should be distributed, the proper application of American political/military/economic power to problems outside our borders, and the like. The Bible specifies man's proper relation to God, and man's relation to man, but it doesn't specify much in the way of an economic or political system.
That much of the author's position, in my opinion, is true.

However the author is quite apparently attempting to smuggle this position of "reasonable Christians can hold radically different positions" outside its proper scope. It is very difficult, for instance, to support the idea of abortion being anything other than murder within a Christian worldview, or, for that matter, to find any support for this within the orthodox Christian historical tradition. From the author's copious other writings, it is pretty clear that the societal acceptance (not tolerance, and there is a substantial difference)of homosexual behavior is also high up on his list of priorities. Frequently he and many similar advocates of same-sex marriage will raise the point that why do Christians spend so much energy opposing them while spending so much less energy opposing divorce, adultery, and the other behaviors under the general banner of "poernia".
It is certainly true that the Church needs to do more to combat these other scourges, which cause tremendous damage to society both within and without the body of Christ, but there is one key difference between the two cases:

Pretty much only the advocates of acceptance of homosexual behavior are seriously attempting to amend the definition in the minds of society as a whole and within the church of their behavior as sinful and contrary to the will of God. The adulterer is certainly a sinner, and probably just as much in peril of damnation as the homosexual, but the adulterer at least has not formed a political, social, and legal movement to advance the claim that their behavior is in any way normative. One does not love their brother by telling him that a behavior is good and proper when that behavior is condemned by God.
David, Friday, 5-12-06 1:31 AM
re: Politics
Having two Davids on this site, we should probably differentiate in some manner.
David, Friday, 5-12-06 2:30 AM
re: Politics
Oh, I think it's much more interesting this way. ;)

Seriously, though, while I certainly find myself more or less in agreement with David #1, I would like to respond to the article itself at greater length - probably later this evening.
ROUS  Annette Collins, Friday, 5-12-06 3:20 PM
re: Politics
I would differ with the author on his position that God is unknowable. It is, and historically has been, the Christian view that God is in fact knowable. We understand God through what He has made, His action in history, and the Scriptures He has given us. This doesn't mean that we can know everything about God, of course. It doesn't reduce His mystery or power in the slightest. In fact, I believe most professing Christians need a strong dose of the humility that comes from realizing that we don't have God "figured out." But the key issue is whether or not God has clearly communicated to us regarding moral issues. The author (I would guess) doesn't view Scripture as authoritative communication from God. And that opens up several large cannisters of annaelids.

I have more to say about this, but maybe we can discuss it some Wednesday or Sunday evening.
Dan (1), Saturday, 5-13-06 5:02 PM
re: Politics
I wasn't sure whether or not to respond or to do an original post, or to do a prayer letter - it's about that time again - ugh! So I think I'll do all three. The alternative is cleaning my room.

I would like to say that faith mixed with doubt is, in fact, doubt. This is particularly true of this author's faith because it involves no real commitment. I am not sure commitment to tolerance can be labeled commitment - (thoughts?) If I only half believe what you are saying, I am not really that committed to the truth of what is being said. In our society that is so tolerant, we spend a lot of time defining things that are obvious. I think this level of confusion is one of the repercussions of rejecting God, the knowable God who has chosen to reveal Himself, and creating our own systems without Him - whether they are political, religious, social or economic (see tower of Babel incident).

My views are changing - it's a thought provoking article. The truth is that most people are afraid, with good reason, of a God who intervenes. It tends to make one feel pretty small. The good news is that His most powerful intervention was on our behalf - to save us from ourselves. Now honestly who would not want to know this God?
Katy, Monday, 5-15-06 9:39 AM
re: Politics
My thoughts on the article (no, I don't agree with everything he wrote):

I think the point on humility is important for a couple of reasons. First of all, its true that we don't have God all figured out. It's hard (at least for me) to be in awe of a God that I can totally understand – part of the wonder & amazement of God who is that He is beyond my understanding. That doesn't mean I don't try to understand Him, but it means that I am willing to accept that I might be wrong on some of my beliefs. Also, I think its important for people to see Christians as humble as that is a trait that tends to point people toward Him instead of away.

As far as doubt – it has been important in strengthening my faith. This may sound a little backwards, but doubt has encouraged me to look for deeper answers. Stealing a little from author Brian McLaren, doubt is kind of like guilt – it's a signal that something is wrong. It can either be like true guilt (which should prompt us to make a change) or false guilt (Annette?). In a similar way, doubt has caused me to investigate further, to dig a little deeper, to explore why something doesn't sit right with me. I feel like faith without any doubt whatsoever (at least for me) would be a little superficial. To me, doubt is related to humility in that it means I accept that I don't have it all figured out, and that there's still more to discover about God (which is very exciting!).

As far as the relationship between faith & politics, we don't live under a Christian government – we live under a secular government which allows freedom to worship Christ (or freedom to worship whomever/whatever). In other words, just because I believe that certain things are morally good or bad does not necessarily mean that I think these things should be written into our law. Our government legislates some things that Christians believe are wrong (murder for example), but not others (adultery for example). So immorality alone should not make something illegal, as our government has to work with a different set of standards.

I know there has been some discussion lately about how we need to stop being afraid of offending people. I am going to respectfully disagree for two reasons. First, I think humility draws people toward Christ. Second, I think we have good reason to be humble – what if we’re wrong? And that is really my main point – what if we are wrong in how we approach political issues, because we have inadvertently emphasized certain parts of the Bible at the omission of other parts? What if "Christian" was more associated with the Katrina cleanup than it was with gay marriage? I think that we should care when Chevron’s CEO is paid a ridiculous bonus while gas is $3/gallon. I think we should care if we are destroying the earth, especially since we were commanded to care for it. I think issues like poverty, health care, disease, crime, prostitution, violence and drug abuse are all related – and that as Christians perhaps these should be our focus just as much as whether the Ten Commandments is in a courtroom.

Ok, I’m going to stop now, this is long enough. And yes, I know I'm an idealist :)
Zach, Tuesday, 5-16-06 10:11 PM
re: Politics
I don't believe that anyone professes to totally understand God. Even Moses, who was clearly one of the greatest of the prophets and as near to God's heart as a fallen human can be could not look upon the face of God and live (therefore he got to see God's back as He passed). Many aspects of God's plan aren't made transparent to us, for reasons known only to God---this is much of the theme of Job as I understand it. For instance, why God choose to create this reality when He knew what would come of it (the Fall, the Atonement, Final Judgment, etc) is one of the great mysteries of God. Similarly how free will coexists with omniscience and divine sovereignty outside of time as we understand it is a question we speculate on, but will probably never fully know until we see God face to face. Whether and how predestination and election operate is yet another such question.
However his commands to us are quite clear, if nearly impossible to fulfill except through divine grace. Mr. Sullivan is not speaking of the mysteries of God as in the previous paragraph, but rather attempting to overthrow the particular and specific commands of God as handed down to us through the Bible and the church fathers throughout history. Specifically, he seeks to shrink the definition of poernia. One might ask, so what if he succeeds?
The problem is, it is not my judgment of whether a person is in a state of unrepentant sin, or Mr. Sullivan's for that matter that actually matters. Nor does any worldly consensus or Zogby poll make one iota of difference. The is only one Authority that matters in such cases, and obscuring His statutes from future generations is most definitely not quite cricket.

On the question of politics, I'm going to have to disagree as to the notion of "legislating morality". I used to use this line a lot myself, and what I (and most that use it as well :->) really meant was don't go legislating your morality, legislate mine instead :-> Pretty much all laws are based on either naked self or group interest or someone's morality. We as Christians are obligated to render up unto Caesar that which is Caesar's, and we live in a democratic republic. Part of the duties of a citizen under our system of government include the judicious use of our power via the ballot. What I suspect escapes most is that there is a huge gulf between tolerating something while believing that said something is a positive evil (perhaps because suppression of it by legal means would foreseably lead to greater evils) and accepting it as normative behavior. Coming up with a coherent moral system that answers the question of why someone SHOULD not do something they perceive as in their interest if they can expect to get away with it without invocation of a moral God is left as an exercise for the reader :->

I recognize that most folks in America today have a mortal fear of offending others. Imagine the notion of trying to evangelize a group of manifest public sinners that are proud of their particular sin :-> No doubt we'd be tempted to just emphasize that Jesus loves them and leave out the fact that He also condemns their behavior. But I believe this betrays the fact that we do not trust our "commanding officer" anywhere near as much as we should. He has promised to give the increase if we but plant the seeds. Let us not remove half the seeds (or worse yet, fail to distribute them at all) because we believe we know better than He what the grand strategy should be.

David C, Tuesday, 5-16-06 11:08 PM
re: Politics
Ok, you lost me a little, David. Can you flesh this out a little?

"What I suspect escapes most is that there is a huge gulf between tolerating something while believing that said something is a positive evil (perhaps because suppression of it by legal means would foreseably lead to greater evils) and accepting it as normative behavior. Coming up with a coherent moral system that answers the question of why someone SHOULD not do something they perceive as in their interest if they can expect to get away with it without invocation of a moral God is left as an exercise for the reader"
Zach, Tuesday, 5-16-06 11:24 PM
re: Politics
Certainly. Tolerance basically implies the absence of legal coercion, but not necessarily the lack of moral condemnation. Acceptance requires the belief that the behavior in question is normative.
When deciding political questions from a Christian worldview, there are several things that need to be considered. The first obviously is, is the behavior condemned by God in an unambigious manner? This is necessary but not sufficient for morally based laws (some laws aren't morally based and are outside of the scope of this discussion).
The second question is, does the use of legal force create a greater evil than it solves in this case?
One example might be the moral evil of promoting heresy. Various religious and temporal rulers have previously advocated the penalty of death for such offenses, but one has to ask---who benefits from a dead heretic? The only answer I can honestly give for that is, the devil. Christians do not advocate seriously in any significant numbers for laws forbidding many behaviors that orthodox belief clearly understand to be evil because they believe that the use of the sword via the magistrate (who does not bear the sword in vain) would in those cases create more evils than it would solve or deter.
There are however cases wherein unless one is prepared to argue that the denial of the right to life (i.e., murder) should not be illegal, it borders on the absurd for a Christian to argue that the behavior should be legal. Even on several college campuses, I've never seen anyone advance the argument that murder should not be against the law :->

However the decision to not seek legal sanction against a behavior does not mean that we are obligated to grant any sort of moral sanction to it. Indeed, I'm arguing that we are obligated to do precisely the opposite, as I'm making the charitable inference that our decision to avoid the use of legal sanction is motivated by our belief that reaching the one who is punished by the behavior is best accomplished from outside the penal system---rather than simply sloth, insufficient conviction, or moral confusion.

David C, Tuesday, 5-16-06 11:54 PM
re: Politics
Oh, forgot that you might have a question on the exercise for the reader :->
A vast number of authors and philosophers have attempted to construct coherent moral systems without reference to a moral God. Nietzsche is probably the best known attempter, and his sanity met a rather unfortunate end. The real problem in this is not explaining why humans behave as they do---all manner of chemical and biological explanations can be marshalled for that, but rather why a given individual SHOULD do something (or "Ought" if you prefer). Someone who could succeed in describing such a system, without essentially levitating over a religious foundation (or smuggling it in through the back door under an assumed name) would have their name assured forever to reside in "Great Books" collections :-> I however, am not holding my breath for this achievement :->

David C, Wednesday, 5-17-06 12:00 AM
re: Politics
I had a eureka moment last night on what's really bugging me about all of this. I think it's because I believe the Christian life is as much about doing good as it is not doing evil. I don't disagree that we need to "legislate morality". Its just that it irks me when Christianity is associated so much with what we don't do, and so little with what we do. Thoughts?
Zach, Wednesday, 5-17-06 9:56 AM
re: Politics
I think it's because we're afraid to step out sometimes, and so we become a weird group of people characterized by their desire to both "stay within the lines" and keep other people within those lines. I usually don't know what stepping out really means, but I think it may have something to do with really caring about people, no matter what they look like or how much they misuse you, and really seeing them in the context of how God sees them - sometimes it's a fight and can be draining. And then we retreat into the safety of just "doing the right thing". I speak entirely for myself - only I unabashedly use the word "we". Oops!
Katy, Friday, 5-19-06 10:24 PM
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