Thursday, July 20, 2017

Quibbling with Richard Dawkins

Yesterday I used a quote from Richard Dawkins’ book, The God Delusion.  (Dawkins established the Foundation for Reason and Science in 2006 and is an avowed Atheist).The more I thought about what he wrote, the more I felt I needed to say something more about the Bible, (or was it simply a need to quibble with Dawkins?). “The God of the Old Testament,” he writes, “is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction.”  Dawkins implies that the Bible is fictional (meaning:  “The category of literature, drama, film, or other creative work whose content is imagined and is not necessarily based on fact” and/or “Narrative, explanatory material, or belief that is not true or has been imagined or fabricated”).  The Bible contains books of history, short stories, drama, love poems, philosophy, law codes, etc. It cannot be considered as entirely fictional, though certainly some of it is fiction.  The Bible is the story of a people searching for God in the midst of their “real” not “imagined” or “fabricated” historical experience.  Cyrus the Great and Nebuchadnezzar were real historical figures.  So, I’m not sure it is fair, nor accurate, for Dawkins or anyone else to call the Old Testament (or the Bible) a fictional account.

Now it is difficult for anyone to quibble with Dawkins about the kind of "God" he sees in the Old Testament, "jealous and proud of it, a petty, unjust, unforgiving, control freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser, a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, meglomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully."  But, I wonder if Dawkins included the God described in the Book of Hosea in his research, or the ever-growing conception of "one" God, a God of Love, in the writings of Amos, Isaiah, and Jeremiah?

The early conceptions of God in the Old Testament were and are crude, just as some conceptions of God in the modern day are crude.  Humankind has always shaped their gods into the kind of image that will support their "petty, unjust, unforgiving" nature and their ethnic cleansing, misogynistic, homophobic, racist, etc., propensities.  These propensities remain and are still acted out and ascribed to God's word!  The early writers of the Old Testament did the same.  The atrocities committed and ascribed to God are more in tune with their own human nature than that of the divine.  But if you read the Old Testament with care, openness and reason, you will find this theme throughout:
"My thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,"
declares the Lord.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The Bible

Each morning I write about whatever happens to come to mind.  Most often I write out of my own experience and understanding. Sometimes I rant and rave over something that rattles my mind or “irks my soul.”  Sometimes I seek out other informative and hopefully authoritative sources to support what I am trying to say.  I have learned that my experience and my understanding on any given subject is limited. If I know anything at all it is because I have been carried on the shoulders of the giants who have pondered, along with me, the imponderables.  

This morning, after reading (as I attempt to do each morning) a portion of the Bible, I found myself thinking about this book (actually 66 books) and how it has shaped my life and faith and the history of the world for thousands of years.  Since early childhood, when I first heard the story of Zaccheus climbing up a sycamore tree to get a view of Jesus passing by, the Bible has fascinated me.  I became an ardent student of the book at about the age of fourteen and that study  has continued for nearly sixty years.  At the age of 17, I read Robert McAfee Brown’s book, The Bible Speaks to You.  (This book is still available through Amazon and I highly recommend it to all).  It helped me deal with the Bible with intellectual integrity as well as with reverence. 

The Bible has been used in many foolish ways.  Some interpret it literally, others see it as a book of magic, still others as the actual “Word” of God.  These views have become a stumbling block for many and rightly so.  Such views are not intellectually sound and cannot stand up to close examination.  The story is told of a fellow who thought the Bible was a book of magic and one day in distress, he opened it to find God’s message for him.  He read, “And Judas went and hung himself.”  Not satisfied with this “word from God” he randomly opened the book again and read the following, “Go, and do thou likewise.”  The literal view cannot be rationally defended.  There are two stories of Creation in the book of Genesis.  Does God not remember correctly? There are still some in the modern world who believe the Bible demeans women, suggesting “If there is anything they (women) desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home.  For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church” (I Cor. 14:35).  But this is not the last word, for the Bible also says in Galatians 3:28, a letter written some years after the Letter to the Church in Corinth, “There is neither Jew nor Greek…slave nor free…neither male nor female..for you are all one….”  And there is much more that can be said….

The Bible is not a stumbling block if viewed properly. The stumbling blocks have been erected by those who misuse the Bible and abuse it!

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

“Either/Or” Vs. “And”

The polarization (division into two sharply contrasting groups or sets of opinions or beliefs) of our nation is self-evident—in politics, religion, science, in rural and urban life (red states vs. blue states) in human equality, and in the tension that exists in many minds between the needs of the individual and the needs of society.  Polarization is a form of paralysis.  This “Either/or” mentality tears asunder the ideas of compromise, brother and sisterhood, and community.  “My way or the highway,” —“love it or leave it” (spoken by any group) are slogans of the either/or nemesis which will, in time, destroy a democratic society.  In such a society as ours,  the “winner” cannot take all, nor can the winning side claim absolute control without taking into consideration the ideas of the losers and those out of power.    The divide is 47% on one side; maybe 53% on the other (my statistics). “Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater” is an expression that might fit this either/or divide.

There is nothing wrong with being a “Conservative,”  defined as “a person who is averse to change and holds to traditional values and attitudes, typically in relation to politics.”  There is nothing wrong with being a “Liberal,” defined as those “favoring reform, open to new ideas, and tolerant of the ideas and behavior of others; not bound by traditional thinking; broad-minded.”  It is not necessary to say that one is a Conservative or one is a Liberal.  All human beings happen to be both—that is, both conservative and liberal.  Everyone who is “intellectually and spiritually alive” is a Liberal, in the sense that he or she “seeks truth from any quarter, welcoming any evidence without the bondage of prejudgment.”  Everyone who is “intellectually and spiritually alive” is a Conservative, because he or she is unwilling to toss aside whatever has proved itself in the long experience of history.  It is not a matter of “Either/Or.”  The reality is (in me and in you) that we are both—Conservative and Liberal—by virtue of being thinking persons.  

What has occurred in our time, or so it seems to me, is that we have lost the true meaning of the terms and thus, misuse them.  The same is true in our use of the words, Fundamentalist, Conservative, Evangelical and Liberal, in matters of religion.   Wherever “Either/Or” becomes the basis of our thinking, we become something less than a “whole” person, indeed, we have made ourselves schizophrenic and paralyzed by limiting who we really are.  And what are we?  We are “many selves”—there is a conservative and a liberal in each of us—if we are rational and introspective beings.   It is destructive to us as persons to claim that we are one or the other; it is destructive to our democratic way of life to label one another as being one or the other.  WE ARE BOTH/AND if we but think about it.  “And” is an important conjunction!  Words have definitions and we ought to use words rightly rather than isolating such words as labels (an automatic either/or).

Empty chairs await us at a Greek Taverna...
Why don't we sit down together under the Bougainvillea and become whole?

Monday, July 17, 2017

The Cloud of Unknowing

I’ve read The Cloud of Unknowing numerous times since I first encountered Ira Progoff’s translation of this classic guide to spiritual experience written in the 14th century. The book occupies a special place among other spiritual classics in my library.  I have always found the title fascinating for I think it describes our human perplexity in all matters of life.  We just don’t know anything for sure!  Absolute proof, says A. N. Whitehead, is not given to finite minds. We live under the cloud of unknowing anything for sure.

Some will say that natural science provides certainty and absolute proof, but this, as Elton Trueblood writes, “is simply one of the superstitions of our age.  We have, of course, high probability, but that is a different matter.”  Blaise Pascal asked his fellow scientists, “Who has demonstrated that there will be a tomorrow, and that we shall die?”  He knew that all science depends upon assumptions which are incapable of proof. 

This lack of certainty doesn’t mean that we give up the effort to believe—whether we are considering the existence of God or the existence of atoms.  We can’t support anything perfectly, but we can gather significant evidence (the primary criterion and standard of evaluation of scientific theory is evidence, not proof).  Somewhere I read this quip, “Proofs are not the currency of science.”  The oft-stated phrase “God cannot be proved” suggests that reason (and evidence) have nothing to do with one's belief in the existence of God—it is simply a matter of faith.  We could also say,  “Global Warming cannot be proved,” or “the existence of atoms cannot be proved.” It is all a matter of what you believe (where you place your faith).  There is evidence for the existence of God, there is evidence of global warming, and evidence for the existence of atoms.  Whether we accept or believe the evidence available to us is another matter.  We do not possess, as finite beings, absolute proof or certainty about anything.

Aegean Paradise--a little Venice in Greece

Sunday, July 16, 2017


We all feel uneasy with the way things are (well, at least I do) both in our personal lives and in our society.  We are bewildered by what has been happening in our nation and in the world.  We struggle to know, even with the  24/7 barrage of information available to us, what is true and what is false.  It is extremely difficult these days to decipher the “facts.” This creates serious problems. There are moments when we feel that irrationality has triumphed over clear thinking.   We feel the problems, both personally and collectively, but we do not have the answers.  Some of us feel that we have been let down and betrayed.  Life hasn’t turned out the way we expected.  We fear the worst. No part of the human family is immune from the problems and the difficulties of life, whether personal or societal.

The Bible is helpful to me, as it has been to others in every generation, because it reflects the difficulties of life on almost every page.  The people of faith have never lived in a utopia!  Almost every Psalm in the Old Testament speaks of the hardships of life.  In the New Testament we readily see that faith is maintained not in the absence of problems, but in the midst of them.  “We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair” (2 Cor. 4:8).  Life is never easy, never has been, and never will be!  Difficulties abound!

Elton Trueblood reminds us that, “When, in the divine purpose, persons emerged, they brought a host of potential problems into existence, problems which do not appear in a pre-personal world.  Stones are not afflicted with envy and covetousness.  Clouds may be opaque, but they are never sinful; and they do not engage in the struggle for personal power.  The difficulties which we encounter are chiefly those not of nature, but of human nature.” 

This morning I am strengthened and encouraged as I read in Psalm 40, “I waited, waited for the Lord, he bent down to me and heard my cry.  He brought me up out of the muddy pit, out of the mire and the clay; he set my foot on a rock and gave me a firm footing; and on my lips he put a new song.”  I find it helpful in the midst of difficulties to read again Paul’s words to the Corinthians, “We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair.”

Plaka in Athens, Greece

Saturday, July 15, 2017

A Place to Stand

I’m engaged in a deep philosophical conversation this morning with my friend of the written word, whom I mentioned a few days ago:  Alfred North Whitehead.  He wrote in his book, Adventures in Ideas:  “You cannot consider wisdom or folly, progress or decadence, except in relation to some standard of judgment, some end in view.  Such standards, such ends, when widely diffused, constitute the driving force of ideas in the history of mankind.  They also guide the composition of historical narrative.”

What is my standard of judgment about what is going on in the world?  What end, what standard, what view do I hold that prompts and guides my dreams, thoughts, hopes; my political, scientific, religious, and social positions and questions?  What is my base of operation—is it unintellectual, unrealistic, or irrational?  If so, I need to change my standard. 

I do not know very much.  I do not know what tomorrow may bring for me, you, or our nation, or world.  I do not know why there is so much evil and suffering.  I do not understand why we do what we do.  I also know that I don’t really need to know these things.  But I do know that I must have some standard, some place to stand, some point of view by which to judge and consider what is “wisdom or folly, progress or decadence.”  In a secular way, with regard to our democracy, my standard for judgment in political, religious and social issues is the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States.  I subscribe to Martin Luther King’s view of those documents when he said, “The substance of the dream is expressed in these sublime words, words lifted to cosmic proportions…for they are God-given.”

Elton Trueblood wrote, “Christ can be accepted; he can be rejected; he cannot be reasonably ignored.”  Long ago I began to trust Jesus; trusting what he represented and trusting what he taught.  I made Him and His teachings my standard, my view, my base of operation for dealing with all things.  Trueblood wrote, “In this tremendously confused world, with so many, many voices, what do people really need?  They do not need answers to every question, because they will have to work out the answers for themselves.  What they need is some central point of intellectual and spiritual stability which will make them able to deal with the questions when they come, and to deal with the burdens as they are born.  Christ did not say that he would take away our burdens.  He did say, however, that he would give us a way of handling them.”  Jesus has been, for a long time now, my place to stand, the standard for my dreams, thoughts, hopes; my political, scientific, religious, and social positions and questions. I attempt to view all things from this perspective.

We must not become like windmills
--moved by whatever breeze
comes our way.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Climate Change

Climate change is not new. In fact, seven cycles of glacial advance and retreat have occurred over the last 650,000 years.  Most of these earlier climate changes were due to very small variations in the Earth’s orbit, changing the amount of solar energy received by our planet.  Today, however, the warming trend, which began in the mid-20th century and is increasing today at an unprecedented rate is the result of human activity, primarily the “heat-trapping nature of carbon dioxide and other gases (greenhouse gases).”  The scientific evidence for this warming trend is unequivocal. To ignore or deny it is an untenable position and such denial and inaction could result in future global genocide.

Global sea level rose 8 inches in the last century.  The rate in the last 20 years is nearly double that of the last century.   Earth’s average surface temperature has risen 2.0°F since the 19th century, a change driven by increased greenhouse gases and other human-made emissions into the atmosphere.  Most of this warming has occurred in the last 35 years, with 16 of the 17 warmest years on record occurring since 2001.  2016 was the warmest year on record.  Oceans have absorbed this increased heat, with the top 2,300 feet of ocean showing warming of 0.302°F since 1969.  The Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets have decreased—Greenland lost 36-60 cubic miles of ice between 2002-2006; Antarctica lost 36 cubic miles of ice from 2002-2005.  The extent and the thickness of Arctic sea ice has declined over the last several decades. Glaciers are retreating almost everywhere—the Alps, Himalayas, Andes, Rockies, Alaska and Africa.  High temperature events have been increasing in the U.S., while the number of record low temperature events have been decreasing since 1950.  The U.S. has also had increasing numbers of intense rainfall events. The acidity of surface ocean waters has increased by nearly 30%,  the result of humans emitting more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and thus, more being absorbed into the oceans.  The amount of carbon dioxide absorbed by the upper layer of the oceans is increasing by about 2 billion tons per year. (facts derived from NASA).

Some of the most stubborn Climate Change Deniers are alleged Christians who claim that it makes little difference what happens to the Earth because the Bible (Book of Revelation) promises a “new” one.  Jesus is coming again (and soon, some think) and that will resolve the issue. What a ludicrous notion!  It relieves us of all responsibility and stewardship for the Earth—and in fact, relieves us of any responsibility for anything at all (which is totally contrary to the Biblical message)—a real cop-out!

Flagstaff, AZ--2017