Me with my lovely wife, Kathy:

Thursday, May 6, 2010

If you agree with me, I'll be glad to listen:

I read a post today on Rod Dreher's blog, that jogged several things in my mind. They settled back in what seems to be a pattern that clarifies some things for me. Maybe this will help you see some things more clearly, as well.
Dreher's post is about epistemic closure--what we mere mortals would call closed-mindedness--and how to avoid it. Embedded in the post is a video by David Logan that is worth watching. It is part of what helped things gel in my mind.
The video is about tribes--not exactly Navajo or Apache, though in a sense these people-groups would fit the definition, but tribes in the postmodern sense--the clumping together of people to protect one an others mutual interests under the pressure of living in a culture where there is no overarching morality that provides security.
There is no need to repeat his stuff, I encourage you to watch the video, but looking at things through his paradigm there are the Timothy McVeys of the world--thankfully a distinct minority--the people who truly love life and bless others, and three other gradations in between. There is kind of a social inertia in these groups. Upward mobility is hard, partly because of isolation, much of it self imposed.
The video, though, is not the main point of Dreher's post. He gives a summary of a list by Will Salitan about keeping a properly open mind. He has a link to the original list of 10 points. Dreher picks four. Since the list by Salitan was published on SLATE it isn't surprising that it is critical of political conservatives. The point is basically that conservatives choose to only allow input that would confirm what they already believe. Not only is it true about some (many?) conservatives, it is a syndrome that is applies to a great many of us in a variety of realms.
I'll comment on some ways this filter-the-input mentality affects my realm:
We are instructed in scripture to guard our hearts. Proverbs 4:23, Matthew 15:18, but that cannot mean to never entertain a thought that challenges our mental status quo. The Apostle Paul for instance was knowledgeable of the pagan philosophers of his day. Peter's command to be ready to give an answer for the reason of the hope . . . (1 Peter 3:15) implies a dialogue with those who hold another view. Yet, many evangelicals live in a world in which every element of their lives is hyphenated with "Christian." They listen to Christian-radio, shop in Christian-stores, wear Christian T-shirts or ties, etc, etc.
In our fear of not being polluted are we failing to influence? And, just perhaps, are we failing to learn some things that might be good to know?

Some other quickies:
I've read a number of criticisms of John Piper for inviting Rick Warren to speak at his conference. Maybe we should cut them some slack. Could it be that the contact will be profitable?
Many specialists in "discernment" seem to major on rationale that sounds an awful lot like:
We know that buzzards sit on eggs. This activity results in the proliferation of buzzards, an obnoxious bird, covered with germs, declared unclean by the Old Testament. A recent article in a well known periodical documented Daisy the beagle-hound incubating a clutch of eggs. Buzzards were seen circling above Daisy--clear evidence that these were buzzard eggs--at the least, Daisy showed a lack of proper regard for decency by appearing to contribute to the buzzard population. Howard Merrell once owned a beagle. Clearly he is a buzzard-sympathizer--if not a vulture in disguise.

I understand the need for proper separation, but could it be that in our fear of being exposed to something bad that we fail to be challenged to learn something greater?
There is a tendency to ridicule, or be dismissive about that, and those, with which, or with whom, we disagree. I'm somewhat of a fan of a very well-done blog, Front Porch Republic. Reading the thoughts of the ladies and gentlemen there helps keep my epistemic door open. My measurement of the discussion on FPR is "how far over my head is it this time?" Yet for all of the intellect on display, on the site, there is an unfortunate tendency to caricature and make-fun-of folk who hold views that the learned authors there choose to not consider. Sarah Palin is called a sex-pot, and evangelicals are presented as buffoons.
I would be amiss if I did not confess my own tendencies in this regard:
Yesterday I had to stifle an urge. In a magazine I saw an ad for a big gathering of Christians featuring well-known preachers. There on the page was a gentleman who a few years, ago if memory serves me well, did Fundamentalism a great disservice by doing a very good job presenting a very wrong concept. He was one of the best known proponents of the King James Only Movement. There on the same page was a man I admire greatly. I almost went into the guilt by association mode. Thankfully, I stopped--As Barney Fife used to say, "Nipped it in the bud." A practice I hope to practice more.


Brantley said...

Whenever we have to ask and then rationalize whether something we are being exposed to is "bad" or not, we are on dangerous ground of defining our life choices by extrinsic involvement rather than intrinsic self meditation. People like the McVey's and that recent radical group Hutaree let themselves be defined by extrinsic forces, I mean there are a lot of writings in the bible that tell you to kill non-believers, and when you advocate bible infallibility then you result in situations like that.

I do not think Evangelicals for the most part are buffoons, most I have known were quite intelligent, until you bring up the inconsistencies in their faith based rhetoric. Folks like Rick Warren promote intolerance and closed minds,and oddly enough they don't cite a lot of biblical evidence for such claims.

Want to blow a bible believing fundamentalists mind? Start referring to God as a she, and watch their grasp on what you are saying dissolve. It's very Freudian, and quite interesting.

Howard Merrell said...

Hey, Brantley,

Thanks for reading and commenting. Your comment ought to be a post by itself. Where is your blog? I won't comment on each of your points, but here are a couple to continue the conversation:
Actually, I think there is a danger of reliance on too much "self meditation," not to mention self-medication--another issue. Extremists like Mc. & Hut. listened to the wrong external influences. They have mechanisms for tuning out external voices that point out the erroneous nature of their internal . . .
I don't think you can find any Bible passages that tell me (I assume that is who you referred to using "you") to kill unbelivers. You can find many passages where particular people are told to kill particular people--often they were unbelievers. It is a herring of some color to claim or imply that a high view of the Bible gives universal commands of that nature. I just read a command in the Bible to throw a woman out of the window. Hardly a universal.

I would say that Bible believers are bothered by God being referred to as a "she" not because of Freud, but because the Bible they believe in refers to Him in masculine terms--one would assume for a reason.
I think if you will look at Warren's record you will find he is quite a tolerant fellow. He became well known in some circles for his position (which wasn't as clear as some wish it were) on a ballot issue in California. People look at the headlines of that incident and wrongly judge his record. Actually, the problem that some fans of Piper had with Warren being invited to the big meeting, likely had more to do with Rick being too tolerant, rather than not open enough.

Brantley said...

There is no such thing as too much self meditation, without it your filling out a checklist about life, I think it was ol' Bill Shakespeare that said "To thing own self be true."

Bible verses that advocate killing? I think I can find a few.

Suppose you hear in one of the towns the LORD your God is giving you that some worthless rabble among you have led their fellow citizens astray by encouraging them to worship foreign gods. In such cases, you must examine the facts carefully. If you find it is true and can prove that such a detestable act has occurred among you, you must attack that town and completely destroy all its inhabitants, as well as all the livestock. (Deuteronomy 13:13-19 NLT)

Cursed be he who does the Lords work remissly, cursed he who holds back his sword from blood. (Jeremiah 48:10 NAB)

You should not let a sorceress live. (Exodus 22:17 NAB)

"If a man lies with a male as with a women, both of them shall be put to death for their abominable deed; they have forfeited their lives." (Leviticus 20:13 NAB)

A man or a woman who acts as a medium or fortuneteller shall be put to death by stoning; they have no one but themselves to blame for their death. (Leviticus 20:27 NAB)

If a man commits adultery with another man's wife, both the man and the woman must be put to death. (Leviticus 20:10 NLT)

A priest's daughter who loses her honor by committing fornication and thereby dishonors her father also, shall be burned to death. (Leviticus 21:9 NAB)

Just to name a few that seem to be in pretty black and white.

Yes he is referred to as a male, because when this book was written, people would have laughed them off the street corners for referring to an omnipresent being as a female, because after all its all politics and special pleading.

Rick Warren tolerant?? HAHA oh Howard, this man is quite terrible, a fascist, nihilist and a seller of false information. He pretty much went on national television and compared Homosexuality to pedophilia, and incest... doesen't sound very tolerant to me.

Brantley said...

Freud did not invent a complex, merely define it, therefore it existed before him, and I am not implying he was the cause of anything. Freud would say the same things about the writers of the gospels that he would say about modern day theists. Freud said that we imagine God as watching over us, protecting us, having the answers to give us, setting the rules for us to follow; all because we are neurotically fixated on the illusion that our parents could provide these securities, these assurances. Life has shown us that our parents, mere human beings, are not up to the challenge. We ought to reduce our expectations, accept the limitations of our parents as mere humans, and more importantly, the limits of our own existence as human beings with all the contingency and uncertainty that implies. But we can't bear to do that. So instead we elevate nostalgia to divinity and believe in heavenly parents who will guarantee eternal life and providential protection, We want guardian angels and gods who will come to us in the midst of the cold night and rock us back to sleep with promises that everything is alright.

Howard Merrell said...

Thanks for the refresher on Freud. I'm not sure what it has to do with this discussion. But since you don't think Evangelicals are bufoons, I'll cut you some slack.

You really ought to get your own blog, though.

I never doubted that there are passages of scripture that advocate killing. Thanks for finding real examples, though. What I said was I am not aware of any that sanction or command me to kill. (I'll leave out law-enforcement, or warfare, since neither applies to me. Self-defence is a worthwhile discussion, but one that will have to wait, for me at least.) I don't sacrifice lambs, I think my lunch was non-kosher, and I have eaten horse, turtle, catfish, pork and shrimp. There is no fence around my roof. And I travelled more than a Sabbath Day's journey last night, which was the beginning of theb Sabbath. It is bigger than I'm prepared to get into now, especially here, but Acts 15, Galatians, and Hebrews have to be considered before one makes application of Old-Testament commands, etc. Romans 13 tells me to obey the ruling authorities.
They tend to frown on killing.
I'm not sure what you mean--other than these are obviously insults--when you call Rick Warren a fascist and a nihilist. In particular, in relation to the later word, he does believe something. I assume it is because of what he believes that you don't like him.

I would encourage you to do some more investigation on Warren. His philanthropic efforts have caused some of us, who have not been involved in such acts of kindness to check our own hearts and practices.

The point of my original post had to do with being closed to input from others who would challenge that with which I am comfortable. Ad hominem is one of the oldest ways of doing that.

Thanks, again.

A system of government marked by centralization of authority under a dictator, stringent socioeconomic controls, suppression of the opposition through terror and censorship, and typically a policy of belligerent nationalism and racism.
A political philosophy or movement based on or advocating such a system of government.
Oppressive, dictatorial control.

Nihilism: total rejection of established laws and institutions.
2.anarchy, terrorism, or other revolutionary activity. and absolute destructiveness, esp. toward the world at large and including oneself: the power-mad nihilism that marked Hitler's last years.
4.Philosophy. extreme form of skepticism: the denial of all real existence or the possibility of an objective basis for truth.
b.nothingness or nonexistence.

Brantley said...

Yes, Rick Warren believes in something, and that is that Rick Warren is god. I have read his books and he gives his opinion on issues laced with some obscure biblical references taken out of context. Many of the issues he addresses the bible has nothing to say on, and the ones that do are a cacophony of competing theories. The core of the issue being: evangelicals now days have the essential fanatical position that their view is god's view, so every bible reader is an infallible pope. Then they get the strange oblivious arrogance of religious humility; "That's not just my opinion, that's God's opinion!"

Warren plays to that good old group of self-haters that make up a lot of fundamentalist Christianity. I am no good, and I am a miserable worm... unless god accepts me. Their slogan being "God don't make no junk!" so deductively I must be worth something. That is nihilism at it's finest...

As far as being a fascist, take a look at the part of your definition that talks about advocating oppressive control.

brgingerich said...


A couple of clarifications.

-Freud is universally regarded as "bunk" in the psychological/psychiatrical community. In fact, he was "bunk" almost as soon as he finished his work and defined his complexes by one of his own students, Carl Jung, in the early twentieth century. Freud is only useful in the trade of literary criticism, and then only in distinct moderation.

-You should probably reevaluate your usage of the terms fascist, nihilist, tolerance, and advocacy. They all have precise meanings--which you have avoided.

-Referring to God as a "she" is an interesting and obnoxious tactic by latter-day feminists to call attention to the fact that, until we were enlightened about three decades ago, the totality of humanity languished under a patriarchal, heteronormative hierarchy. Of course, most of the academic establishment accepts this claim as God-given truth, and it does contain the tiniest modicum of truth--but you should consider well and know better.

God is referred to as a "he" and as "father" for a reason. But if you spend some time in foundational theology--I am speaking specifically of the Patristics, those who founded the Church--you will find that divine nomenclature is not arbitrary, not simplistic, and not "patriarchal oppression" (much less Freudian angst). Furthermore, you will be delighted to discover that these early theologians--much more intelligent and thoughtful than you and I, by the way--quite happily ascribed various gendered characteristics to different expressions of God; namely the different persons of the trinity. Gender is not a social construct (as many now believe). Rather, it is embedded in the very fabric of the universe, and in the very person of God himself. Thus, the Father quite obviously (and for reasons that need no explanation here) is "male." The Son, too, is "male", but in a relationally distinct sense. The Holy Spirit, however, expresses the attributes of femininity: compassion, care, sensitivity, etc. The Christian God encompasses and precedes all that it is to be human, including gender. You may now commence disparaging such "attributes" as further patriarchal stereotypification, but at least be aware that theology is more subtle than the crude tyrannical social constructs you depict.


brgingerich said...

On the actual point of this post, I also have a few words for Brantley.

You should probably note that the there is no such thing as the detached, tabula rasa self-meditating person who thereby achieves the truth unadulterated and unmediated. We are all inextricably bound in various "extrinsic" discourses that in part (or even in whole, if you ask some people) determine who we are, what we say, how we say it, and how we think about things.

And it is quite obvious what "communities of discourse" are shaping your very comments on this blog. You did not reach these conclusions by "intrinsic self-meditation." Nor did I reach mine in that fashion.

Howard Merrell said...

A confession and a tweak:
One of the gaps in my education--at least as big as the one in my teeth--is the study of the church fathers. Most of my knowledge of them--limited--comes from what others have said.
It is interesting that when I read your comments I was in the midst of reading some of their statements about the hypostatic union--council of Chalcedon, etc.
Keeping in mind that confession of my limited knowledge, I don't think the church fathers--at least those in the orthodox stream--regarded themselves as founding the church. From a Biblical point of view Jesus was the founder of the church, Matt.16:18, Acts 4:11, 1 Cor. 3:11. In Eph. 2:20 Paul spoke of the foundation as having been . . . before the fathers.
The Church Fathers defined the Faith which was delivered and thus defined the church. The process by which they came to clarity on Christology is exemplary. They dealt with what had already been given.

Thanks for the reminder to use words with as much accuracy as possible--especially those that carry a lot of freight.

Enjoy your summer.

brgingerich said...

Point taken, and I agree with you. My use of "founded" was careless.

Brantley said...

Very nice Rob. Since you are already completely familiar with my communities of discourse however, I won't waste your time with a response.