Monthly Archives: April 2012
There’s an excellent quote by Isaac Asimov: “Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.’”
We’re in a day where democracy is seen to be the epitome of civilization – and yet we struggle with how to do it. How do we honour the humanity of each person – even their right to think what they will – and yet to discern truths that can stand for all of us, giving each person the ‘benefit of the doubt,’ as it were? In many ways, this is the challenge of the legal system. Truth, at least in part, has to do with determining right from wrong, and fair and just ways of relating.
It was said recently, after the Alberta election, that ‘city folk’ did not have the common sense of those living in rural areas. (A witty response to that Alberta election comment quoted Steven Pinker saying that common sense is anything but common…) Might it be that certain ‘common’ things and certain things that have ‘sense’ about them are actually determined, at least in part, by location? Certainly we trust our neighbour differently depending on how well we know them; and we know our neighbour through interactions that may include leisure time or working together. To me, it’s a gross generalization to make a statement about common sense and urban versus rural interpretations of that.
So how do we determine what is correct and what is false? How do we determine right and wrong? How do we determine what is sensible and nonsensical?
It seems to me that there is a general need for openness. Yes, we have certain standards set by certain institutions – we trust what accredited university professors who have published their research in established journals say! But we also must be open to the traditions out of which stem so many of our cultural sensibilities and ‘basic assumptions’ (eg. we all know that it’s wrong to kill another person).
The need for openness requires giving another person the respect due simply by virtue of their being another person. So: “I’m a person; my experience makes sense to me; I have worth, and therefore so do my ideas.” The need for openness also requires seeking the good of all, which will keep in check ideas that begin to tread on the basic humanity of others. This needs to influence how we build a democratic society, as well.
If the church is to evolve into something new, or perhaps even die so something new can come into being, what kinds of things will be part of that new life? I’d like to think that – while there’s lots that’s out-dated, perhaps even lacking in relevance, in the church – there are still parts that would be every bit of use in faith-community in the future.
Has the church become simply a set of dogmatic “dos and don’ts” and “believe this and don’t believe that”? Perhaps the return to a way of life is biggest, single-piece of Christian living that we might re-embrace.
It’s key that there be regular gatherings. Community is essential to keeping people honest in their inter-personal relating. It is important to have inter-generational groups, as well. At the time of the Reformation (1530s, roughly), there was a return to including participation from the congregation in the liturgy. Perhaps our liturgy would benefit from more participation, yet – sometimes using scripted words, sometimes leaving an opening for conversation.
It’s key that there be openness. Jesus got into hot water for dining with the ritually impure, according to Jewish custom. He got into trouble with the Roman Empire for empowering oppressed people. These actions of Jesus were indicative of a radical openness to others – people not like him or the majority, or powerful. Churches have become places of homogeneity, and we would do better to invite diversity again.
There needs to be vulnerability. Perhaps you’ve heard me say, or write, it before: when we sing together, when we eat together, when we share stories together, we are vulnerable with each other. Faith community needs to be a place that fosters and supports creative and probing endeavour – and we do it together, laying ourselves bare in front of each other!
What about the institution? It’s true that, as soon as we begin to put anything into writing (or even talk about it in detail), we limit the thing’s ability to ‘breathe.’ On the one hand, we struggle with grace in an institution that has created rules out of a hospitable and generous way of being. On the other hand, we need some rules and criteria simply for standards, and an outline as to determining what and who we are, as followers of the way. Perhaps what we need is a constant invitation to gracious dealing with one another – giving all the benefit of the doubt, so to speak.
All of this invites us into an alternative way. If anything, faith community needs to draw us out of ourselves. While we may become self-absorbed, we are invited to see the needs of others. While culture may tell us that ‘bigger is better,’ we are reminded that not all things are to be measured the same way. While politicians tell us that they have the answers to our communal questions, we step back and look at the common good and the communal need through grace-tinted lenses.
Let me say that I do not put this blog out there as a final product, but a piece in the broad conversation of who we are and who we might be. This blog is always an ongoing conversation. What do you see as essential in life together? (…I intentionally use that ‘life together’ expression, conscious of the commemoration of Bonhoeffer this week, and his very deep reflections on life together and living the Christian faith.)
Now that we’re past Easter Sunday, I can take a moment to write a blog (eg. get on a soap-box, as the case may be…).
It strikes me that, with the new atheist movement, most of its ‘legs’ are based on out-dated, stereotype-based conceptions of what Christianity is. A recent example of this, in my experience, is of a posting on Facebook where a ‘demotivational poster’ with a picture of a crucifix, has the caption: “Easter: a day when we convince ourselves that someone with the ability to come back to life is actually making a sacrifice when they die.” Now, had this been posted by someone with no knowledge of a more progressive view of the faith, I could have understood it; but it was posted by someone who knows that there are other views, and still defended their posting of it. So, I take it as perpetuating poor stereotypes (which is ignorance), or an outright offensive slight to people who don’t believe that way (including myself).
To my mind, if we’re to work at dispelling poor stereotypes and dismantling ignorance, we need to let go of our previously-held notions. There is no excuse.
If I knew better and still were to say something racist, for example, and have someone call me on it, and then justify my action by saying, “well, there are lots of people who believe that, or who have believed that” – wouldn’t that simply be an offensive and ignorant thing to do? (In effect, wouldn’t I simply be justifying a racist behaviour?) Say nothing of how it actually works against a desire that people not be so ignorant.
Anyway… that is my rant for today. A point that I would like to make, and something into which I would like to invite our church, is that we must find new and intentional ways of articulating what we believe. There are many out there who want to be more enlightened; there may even be some who are receptive to a faith-perspective that is theologically-sound. When it comes to dialogue with our atheist neighbours, I think we need to be able to speak about what we believe, how that affects our living, and even call them on their perpetuating of ignorance when they do it.