What materialists take on faith is too reductive. The abuse of Occam’s Razor is problematic on a philosophical and practical level. And if it doesn’t work out in the mundane why should I assume it does in matters of “ultimate concern?”
Andy Newberg lays out the scientific philosophical issues:
Occam’s Razor tells us not to assume more than what is needed to explain something. But this of course is an assumption and one that places substantial importance upon the word, “necessity.” After all, there is a grand assumption as to what actually constitutes necessity in the context of trying to explain something. This is particularly the case when considering the existence of God. For example, many religious individuals cannot conceive of a universe without God. For them, God is absolutely necessary. A scientist might argue that physical laws explain the phenomena that make up the universe, and, therefore, God is not necessary. For one person, what constitutes necessity is completely different than for another person.
There are even broader problems with the notion of necessity when one considers the “why questions” that may be outside the purview of science. Take the law of gravity mentioned above. Science can explain how gravity works between two objects, but why should it be based on the exact equations we find rather than others? In fact, why should gravity exist at all? Answering the “why” questions sometimes stretches necessity to its limits. For example, many cosmologists are now entertaining the hypothesis that the universe is actually a multiverse with an infinite number of possible universes, some of which have gravity while others do not. These cosmologists have argued that there is an absolute necessity to have an infinite number of possible universes in order to explain why our universe is the way that it is. They argue that if there is an infinite number of universes, then one of them, by pure chance, would have gravity and all of the other laws of nature exactly as they are. But if we apply Occam’s Razor, is it more likely that there is an infinite multitude of universes that we can never measure, or is it more likely that there is a God that we can never measure? Which answer satisfies necessity?
I read the Gospels to get to know Jesus Christ, my Lord and Savior. For a long time I would basically gloss over or outright reject the miracles in the story as legendary accounts, particularly the birth narratives. I was deeply interested in Jesus of Nazareth the man first, because that is how he become known. I wanted insight into he who “made our hearts burn” and sparked a faith that has lasted millenia. It seemed to me that miracles and such obscured who he was: more ignorance from my post-Enlightenment indoctrination. I won’t make that mistake again.
As Bart Ehrman writes:
The Christian Gospels
The Gospels are best seen as ancient biographies of Jesus
Ancient biographies had several distinctive characteristics:
They were usually based on oral and written sources (sometimes biographers showed a preference for the oral).
They were less concerned with relating historical events than with showing the character of the main figure through his or her words, deeds, and interactions.
They did not utilize “character development,” since most ancient people believed that a person’s character was relatively constant throughout his or her life.
They often portrayed the main figure’s character at the very outset of the narrative.
But one thing to keep in mind is there is no real penalty for respectable lying in our world of intellectual discourse. Ferguson will almost certainly continue to have a field for his thoughts, regardless of how little effort he puts into stringing them together. The Krugman rebuttal in which Ferguson claims he was only talking about the insurance end (it’s detailed in Weisenthal’s piece) is not a debatable opinion, but the sort of thing that would raise a red-flag for any fact-checker worth their weight.
When I first started wading my way into the world of ideas, I thought having a big university on your C.V. along a PhD held said something about your trustworthiness. I would have seen that Ferguson was a historian at Harvard and thought, “No way he’d fudge facts. He’s a Harvard big-shot who publishes in big magazines.” I would have been, of course, dead wrong.
Dishonesty of this sort is insidious. It can’t be dismissed with the ease of plagiarism or manufactured evidence. As long you’re not egregious, you can actually make a career as respectable public intellectual, and occasionally lie. No one will stop you. Almost no one cares.
Recently there has been some controversy over Dan Cathy’s anti-gay statements and his support for organizations that target our LBGT brothers and sisters. I have very little to add to the controversy other than to support my LBGT brothers and sisters who have been targeted by organizations, e.g. the Family Research Council, that Cathy supports via donations from Chick-Fil-A; and to make some biblical observations.
Because of debates with my fellow Christians who oppose the LBGT communities equality agenda, I would question whether my view of how the Bible treats gays for fear I was being self-serving and imposing myself on the Word. And then I see the following and I wonder how I could have ever questioned God whispering to my conscience. Any so-called Christian movement that inspires the following nuggets, pun intended, is a debasement of the values Christ stood for and ultimately died for.
Gabriel Aguiniga, a gay employee at a Chick-fil-A in Colorado, also said the hardest part hasn’t been hearing Cathy’s comments. Instead, “[it’s] constantly having people come up to you and say, ‘I support your company, because your company hates the gays,’” Aguiniga, 18, wrote in an email. “It really takes a toll on me.”
On the one hand, there is the customer who came in and said he supported Dan Cathy and then “continues to say something truly homophobic, e.g. ‘I’m so glad you don’t support the queers, I can eat in peace,’” the employee, who is 23 and has worked for Chick-fil-A since he was 16, wrote in an email.
Last week, when [Andrew Mullen] went out to the parking lot to help a trucker (not directly employed by Chick-fil-A) unload a shipment of goods, the trucker turned to Andrew confidentially and said, “If I see one more faggot at a Chick-fil-A protesting, I’m going to be sick.”
Obviously these are some pretty nasty comments and you might be inclined to say they don’t reflect the general sentiment of the folks who came out in droves to appreciate Chick-Fil-A. And you would be right to a degree. But what is inescapable is that the people who made these comments felt at peace and at home in this so-called movement. More directly, their hatred found joy and comfort. That for me is the truest indictment of this movement. Christ does not inspire or welcome hatred.
A Tree Known by Its Fruit.
Luke 6:43 “A good tree does not bear rotten fruit, nor does a rotten tree bear good fruit. 44 For every tree is known by its own fruit. For people do not pick figs from thornbushes, nor do they gather grapes from brambles. 45 A good person out of the store of goodness in his heart produces good, but an evil person out of a store of evil produces evil; for from the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks.”
The God I believe in is hard to describe, at once inscrutable but very close to us on a personal and intimate level. The Jesuits “define” God thus:
God–Various titles or names are given to the Mystery underlying all that exists–e.g., the Divine, Supreme Being, the Absolute, the Transcendent, the All Holy-but all of these are only “pointers” to a Reality beyond human naming and beyond our limited human comprehension. Still, some conceptions are taken to be less inadequate than others within a given tradition grounded in revelation.
Jesuit spirituality encourages us to be aware of the images of God we have in our heads and to jettison childish, destructive, hurtful images, e.g. an accountant of good and evil waiting to damn or redeem based on your account balance, while cultivating adult images that help us to love God more deeply (and consequently humanity). So these are the images that inform how I apprehend God. Let me be clear, these images are not God.
No image fully captures who God is. We naturally try to put our experience of God into words, but all words will be inadequate because we are dealing with God, who is Ultimate Mystery. We must be careful not to turn our images of God into idols. Instead, we let God reveal Godself to us, gently and naturally.
Ground of Being – God doesn’t exist within a set of dimensions. Existence and essence have their root, so to speak, in God. (Thanks to Tillich for this.)
Love – God is not loving. God IS love.
Mind – The God of physicists, e.g. Einstein, and mathematicians who see the way our universe works under the precise laws of physics, who cannot help but see how they point to a Mind that constructed them.
Person – Being brought up in a western tradition, I relate to God personally. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said it best on how God relates to us personally in our deepest (and sometimes darkest) moments.
Trinity – I must admit I was very hostile to this doctrine back in the day. Learning the sordid history behind the Arian Controversy, I judged it (unfairly) by the at times ugly process that led to its authorship. But as I learned more about mysticism and theologies that teach that paradox can be powerful for disciplining against our idol making tendencies, I saw the beauty it holds. Three Persons in One God is indeed non-rational, even nonsensical (especially to those who worship rationality) but apt since we Christians experience God as all three.
Good/Hope – Eschatologically speaking, God is my hope that on the cosmic scale, the Good prevails, despite the horror of the present.
Truth – God for me is True in every sense including the objective.
Jesus – The Master and example of what a human being looks like who is in intimate communion with God. So much so that we Christians make the audacious claim that he is God.
Justice/Blackness – As a black man, God is intimately connected with both justice and my racial identity. Jews, Christians and Muslims worship the God of Abraham. Well, God for me is also the God of the Negro spiritual, of singing instructions to runaway enslaved people for the Underground Railroad under the nose of the Overseer, the God of enslaved people who read Exodus under pain of death while “Pharaoh” preached St. Paul’s slave theology, a God who “makes a way out of no-way,” a God who is “good all the time and all the time God is good,” who “may not come when you want Him but is always right on time,” the God who inspired King to exclaim on the night before he was murdered, “I’ve been to the mountain top!” and “I just want to do God’s will!” This by far is the most powerful image because it has been and continues to be lived by necessity. The relentless onslaught this world has made on us for centuries make it so.
So there is my list. That’s the God I believe in so to speak.
Matthew 18:21 Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times [or seventy times seven which is my preferred translation].
The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant
23 “For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. 24 When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; 25 and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold,
together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. 26 So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything. ’ 27 And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. 28 But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, ‘Pay what you owe. ’ 29 Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you. ’ 30 But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt. 31 When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. 32 Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you? ’ 34 And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. 35 So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”
Obviously, the general theme here is straightforward. God forgives us far more than we could ever forgive each other. And it’s important that we should respond to such grace by spreading the wealth. But the reason I love this parable is because it is a powerful reminder of how we as Kingdom people are to forgive. Continue reading “Grabbed by the Throat Forgiveness”
I’ve read and heard atheist critics who claim that parents who are believers are “indoctrinating” their kids with their religion and this is an unfair, intellectual crime. Parents should “give their children the chance to make a choice” by letting them decide their religious beliefs as adults. The obvious point of all this is the assertion that religion would disappear within a generation if parents followed this sage advice. After all, religion is nothing more than a delusional illusion buttressed by culture, a virus passed from parent to child. They could be right…too right. As per usual with any bigotry or prejudice, it’s the idea of indoctrination is more emotional, the primary emotion being hate, than reasonable. If one generation doesn’t pass on its culture, which includes beliefs and values, to the next generation their culture would die out in a generation along with any religion.
But let’s take it back to parenting since I want to address this question of so-called indoctrination. I have a son and must steward him into a well-adjusted adult who can contribute positively to this screwy, sometimes dark and forbidding world. And our world has lots of issues which I must help him navigate as he grows up. Ch1ldren Now is “the leading, nonpartisan, multi-issue research, policy development, and advocacy organization dedicated to promoting children’s health and education in California and creating national media policies that support child development.” The present on their website a list of tough issues for which they provide parents tips for discussing them with their children:
Whew! Not exactly “How to Deal with Teasing” I know! But what struck me was the list of general tips on how to work through these topics. It perfectly highlights why this idea of “waiting until your child is an adult”, “indoctrination” is pure bullsh–err, foolishness. Pay attention to the items emphasized.
Initiate conversations with your child.
…Even about sex and sexuality.
Create an open environment.
Communicate your own values.
Listen to your child.
Try to be honest.
Use everyday opportunities to talk.
Talk about it again. And, again.
Now I try my best to be an intellectually honest person and more importantly a good father to my son. My faith has direct implications on how I deal almost all of the tough topics above. How am I supposed to talk about sickness and death with my child that doesn’t include God, the afterlife, etc.? How do I communicate my values around questions of heaven or hell? And remember what I do is probably as much if not more important as what I say. If I behave as if my faith doesn’t impact on how I deal with sickness and death, I’m sending precisely the message those atheist critics want me to send: that my faith is unimportant in life and can be discarded. What I find truly despicable is that those critics claim I’m abusing my child by doing my job as a parent: communicating my own values, honestly, every day, again and again.
Verse One: Remember back in the days, when niggaz had waves
Gazelle shades, and corn braids
Pitchin pennies, honies had the high top jellies
Shootin skelly, motherfuckers was all friendly
Loungin at the barbeques, drinkin brews
With the neighborhood crews, hangin on the avenues
Turn your pages, to nineteen ninety three
Niggaz is gettin smoked G, believe me
Talk slick, you get your neck slit quick
Cause real street niggaz ain’t havin that shit
Totin techs for rep, smokin blunts in the project
Hallways, shootin dice all day
Waitin for niggaz to step up on some fightin shit
We get hype and shit and start lifin shit
So step away with your fist fight ways
Motherfucker this ain’t back in the days, but you don’t hear me though
Verse Two: No more cocoa leave-io, one two three
One two three, all of this to me, is a mystery
I hear you motherfuckers talk about it
But I stay seein bodies with the motherfuckin chalk around it
And I’m down with the shit too
For the stupid motherfuckers wanna try to use Kung-Fu
Instead of a Mac-10 he tried scrappin
Slugs in his back and, that’s what the fuck happens
When you sleep on the street
Little motherfuckers with heat, want ta leave a nigga six feet deep
And we comin to the wake
To make sure the cryin and commotion ain’t a motherfuckin fake
Back in the days, our parents used to take care of us
Look at em now, they even fuckin scared of us
Callin the city for help because they can’t maintain
Damn, shit done changed
Verse Three: If I wasn’t in the rap game I’d probably have a key knee deep in the crack game Because the streets is a short stop Either you’re slingin crack rock or you got a wicked jumpshot Shit, it’s hard being young from the slums Eatin five cent gums not knowin where your meals comin from And now the shit’s gettin crazier and major Kids younger than me, they got the Sky Grand Pagers Goin outta town, blowin up Six months later all the dead bodies showin up It make me wanna grab the nine and the shottie But I gotta go identify the body Damn, what happened to the summertime cookouts? Everytime I turn around a nigga gettin took out Shit, my momma got cancer in her breast Don’t ask me why I’m motherfuckin stressed, things done changed