Tuesday, September 22, 2009
Monday, September 21, 2009
Friday, September 18, 2009
Greek mythology used to be called Greek religion. We forget oftentimes, but the characters of lore that we love so much, mighty Zeus, evil Hera, regal Apollo, beautiful Aphrodite, at one point they were gods. These gods were anthropomorphic, which means that they were modeled after humans. They ate and drank heavenly nectar, they slept, they fought each other, they bled when they were cut, they felt fear and jealousy, they exercised deceit. In short, they did all things humans did. And yet the humans, the real humans venerated them, prayed to them for prosperity, and offered sacrifices to them in fear.
The Greek gods were not all-powerful. They were not all-knowing. They were certainly not ever-present. They did not create the world. They all had weaknesses, they all suffered just like the people who invented their image. They lied to each other, kept secrets from each other, forgot things about the world and themselves. They left
And then there came a point in Greek history when the people became skeptical of their deities. They started noticing that the correlation between rich sacrifices and abundance in crops was of little statistical significance. They started realizing that their prayers went unheard, that no one they knew had ever actually seen one of these gods in person (of course, there were reasons for that. “A friend of a friend of a friend once told me that they saw the goddess Artemis in the woods, but he can’t really tell you because he got turned into a deer), and that those “Oracles” at Delphi were often wrong (my brother Andrew says to watch the end of this http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AuJY27kfqIc).
Also around this time, a man named Socrates wandered the streets of
The “unmoved mover” is a speculation necessitated by Aristotle’s metaphysical structure. Briefly explained, one of the varieties of arguments (the cosmological argument) goes as such:
Every finite being has a cause
Nothing finite can cause itself
There cannot be an infinite regress of causes
Therefore, “There must have been an uncaused causer that began everything else in the universe”
Whether we use ‘move’ or ‘cause’ is insignificant. What is significant is that there arose in the foundations of Western thought hints and a foreshadowing of a different kind of god. This god isn’t human and finite. It was all-powerful and responsible for the creation of the universe. If the original Greek gods arose out of a cosmic loneliness felt by humankind, this new god arose out of a reasoned, philosophical necessity. There needs to be something that explains why there isn’t just nothing. And therefore, a god must exist. If the original Greek gods were born out of deep, reflective wonderment of the stars above, this new god was constructed out of pen and paper, in the study-room of philosophical writers.
The founding fathers of Modernism picked up on these ideas and elaborated on them. They were concerned with rationally proving that God exists. “These are truths which we can agree upon. I will demonstrate that out of these truths arises the existence of God as a necessary conclusion.” Out of these were born the traditional arguments for God* (cosmological, ontological, teleological, etc).
Sounds all well and good, right? The problem is that, instead of reviving religion in their time, which is one of the aims of at least a few of these philosophers, what it did was create a god that was cold and absent, and very much NOT the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The god that they imagined was simply some being who got the whole world started and then sat back and relaxed. It wasn’t a god involved in the affairs of everyday humanity. If all the philosophers needed for their arguments to work is someone to wind the toy up and let it run, then that was all they got. Why not have a God that was sustaining the universe every second with his mighty hand? Because we don’t need one! We have science, causality, and the principles of natural law to explain that!
These two conceptions of god/gods dominated Western philosophy from its inception and to some extent, even now. You had to choose between either a god that was human, all too human, or a god that was absent, all too absent.
What of the God of Christianity?
Somewhere in between Aristotle and David Hume, a man was born in a small town in the backwater region of
When this young man turned thirty, he does something that was surprisingly popular back then in that region of the world. He claims he is the Messiah of Jewish prophecy. But he goes one step further and explains that he will not just save the Jews, but all of mankind.
A few months into his ministry, he acquires for himself twelve disciples. He continues to preach about the
Shaking off a yawn, and casually taking a moment to stretch, he gets up and speaks to the storm, “Quiet! Be still!” Immediately, the wind dies down sheepishly and the waves disappear, leaving the lake completely calm.
In the original text of this story, Mark 4.41, it says that the disciples “were terrified and asked each other, ‘who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!” It is at this moment in which the God of Christianity and his true nature is revealed. It is a revelation more powerful and more telling than countless hours of reflecting upon the wonders of the skies or frantic writing in one’s study. It is at the moment when the disciples realize exactly who Jesus is. Jesus is the God of heaven and earth. He is the creator of the universe. He is the ruler of every drop of water, every slight breeze, and every inch of metaphysical reality.
And yet was this not the same man who was napping in the bow not a minute before? Was this not the same man who preached earlier today with a nasally voice because he was battling a cold? Was this not the same man… who was a man?
This is who our God is. He is the unmoved mover; the Bible says he is the originator of the world. By exercising his infinite power and authority, he speaks a beautiful world into creation. And yet, he was a human! The Bible also says that he came down, was found in appearance as a man, humbled himself to death, even death on a cross! Our God is not just a manifestation of a human being like the Greek gods. He is wholly good, wholly perfect, and wholly competent. Our God is not impersonal, unconcerned, an absentee Father. He is wholly involved in the workings of his creation and the affairs of his dearly chosen people.
This is the God we worship.
*Necessary footnote: To be fair, the Enlightenment thinkers, Descartes, Leibniz, Hume, and so forth didn’t create these. They had their origin in Aquinas and scholastic philosophy. But they did make them into the monster that I described.
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
Saturday, September 12, 2009
There are some people whose greatest fear imaginable is to try their hardest at something and still fail. So they don't try. And there are some people who relish the opportunity to meet their limits and create new ones. They aren't satisfied with not failing; they must hit the wall and then push the wall farther back.
Which kind of person am I? After five and a half hours of biking I still don't really know. I just know there are uncomfortable hints in my life that point more towards one than the other. For one thing, my greatest fear isn't that I try my hardest and still fail; it's that I didn't try my hardest and that's why I fail. There was never a defeat in my life that I didn't attribute to my laziness or apathy or lack of discipline. Everywhere I am, intellectually, spiritually, musically, physically, I can be farther if not for my lack of effort.
I deeply fear that my greatest shortcoming is that I don't try.
What motivates me? The way a bike tour works is, if it's popular enough, loads of people sign up who aren't in the physical shape to actually complete it. So after everyone has taken off from the starting line, a few trucks lag behind in the back of the pack to pick up those who have thrown in the towel (or who've stopped for other reasons, like irreparable road damage or some other emergency). When I ride, I'm constantly pushing forward, trying to pass people and not letting them pass me. But what I realized today is that I wasn't doing it because I wanted to be first. I was doing it because I didn't want to be last. I was petrified that I would get left behind and have to ride that damn truck back to the festival and eat the free lunch that is supposed to be for the winners. There's a difference between someone who pushes forward because he's chasing something and someone who's doing it because he's being chased. What is that difference?
That's it for now. Oh, and biking in midtown sucks. Almost got T-boned by at least a dozen yellow taxis. Use your freakin' turn signal!
Tuesday, September 8, 2009
"The wages of the righteous bring them life,
but the income of the wicked brings them punishment."
Pastor Don preached on Pr. 10 this past Sunday. In light of this chapter, I've been wrestling a lot with coming to terms with the American economy and Capitalism. The American economy (very broadly speaking) is run on the assumption that if you are rich, it's because you worked hard for your money and if you are poor, it's because you didn't try enough and you deserved your poverty. In short, "everyone gets a fair chance". But today no one can look at the folly of our economic system and turn a blind eye to the people that fall through the cracks. Everyone knows someone who's hard-working and disciplined and smart but simply can't pull himself out of his circumstances.
"bill, i believe this is killing me"
as a smile ran away from his face
"well i'm sure that i could be a movie star
if I could get out of this place."
Likewise we are all too familiar with the rich boys riding of the coattails of their father's wealth; we've all heard stories of Asian parents who sacrificed so much to bring their kids to the U.S. and give them a better chance, a better education, and those kids who didn't understand how much their opportunities cost their parents.
But then there's Pr 10.4 "Lazy hands make a man poor, but diligent hands bring wealth." How do we understand money and finances in light of Proverbs wisdom? I think ultimately the Bible doesn't make any value judgments of any man-made economic system. Pr 10.16 acknowledges no correlation between righteousness and wealth or wickedness and poverty. All it says is, if you faithfully obey God, your money will bring you life. Likewise, no amount of gold or dollar bills will save the wicked from the ultimate wrath of God. Underlying all of the verses that we looked at on Sunday is the idea that righteous living far out-values monetary wealth. The bottom line is, regardless of wealth or poverty, the goal is to please God with whatever we have.
"Ill-gotten treasures are of no value,
but righteousness delivers from death" Pr 10.2