Friday, September 02, 2011

HT Andrew at City of God: Wedgewords--Partisan Anxiety, Extremism & Fight Club

http://wedgewords.wordpress.com/2011/08/22/partisan-anxiety-extremism-and-fight-club/
I excerpt at some length here:

This definitely applies to certain personalities that are attracted to religious extremism. It really isn’t even correct to call it religious extremism, because, as we saw in the case of Breivik, they can routinely admit to not being very religious at all. So let’s call it cultural extremism. Cultural extremists are on a quest, and they are trying to solve a deep problem in their lives. They are disaffected with modernity and long for another era where the men were men and the living was authentic. Whether it be some notion of medieval Europe, the golden age of Islam, or even the American founding, a nearly utopian world is created in which the cultural extremist can find his new identity. He may or may not cease to be active out in the “real world” (his local community and the public square), but he certainly devotes the majority of his interests to the alternative world.

This isn’t just a sampling of silly hobbies that accompany religious ideologies. This is actually part of wider condition throughout modernity which transcends the various ideologies under discussion, and we do have a relatively recent portrayal of this disposition in popular American culture: Fight Club.

...

First a book and then a popular movie (though as a cult classic, which is more appropriate for the topic at hand), Fight Club is a portrait of a man jilted by modernity and in search of something more authentic and primal in his life. He begins a secret club where men can regain their true identities by fighting. This eventually becomes a terrorist organization with the goal of bringing down modern corporate America. Sound familiar? There’s no religion in Fight Club because the phenomenon is its own issue. We could say that it is its own religion. And what I’d like to propose is that radical Islam and right-wing nationalism have more in common with each other than they do with their own purported cultural and religious histories. They are Fight Club.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I am not willing to say that there’s nothing to worry about with Islam. But I am insisting that what there is to worry about with Islam is totally different than what the majority of the media and mainstream press get worked up over. What they’re always on about is either something worth considering (the idea that religion and culture might actually impact each other) or it’s just the Fight Club phenomenon. And when dealing with this latter issue, we don’t need to be fooled into thinking that it’s primarily a political or theological issue. It’s a personal issue. People attracted to real-life RPGs in the form of partisan hostility do not need so much to be combated on the intellectual level, but on the existential one. They are having trouble with “reentry” and need to come back to reality.


A few things for consideration.


The part I didn't excerpt is still pertinent. Baptists who become Presbyterians, as the jocular observation goes, go watch Braveheart and get bagpipe music and if they live below the Mason-Dixon line affect an affection for the antebellum South (except for Douglas Wilson and his ilk, who are pretty affectionate toward the antebellum South despite being pretty far north of the Mason-Dixon line).

Now I cannot resist some sideways comments. Earlier this year I wrote about a certain pastor who made the sweeping declaration that video games are stupid and are the pursuit of vicarious victories that don't matter. I said at the time that one flaw in this categorical declaration is that baseball is also obviously a time-wasting pursuit in victories that don't matter. This is even more true for people who waste hours and days and years of their lives following the game but not playing it. At least the athletes get physical conditioning out of it, I grant that. Still, since I own every episode of Powerpuff Girls far be it from me to just say something someone else likes is plain old dumb. Everything we love is stupid in the eyes of at least one other person on earth. That's just part of being human.

But what holds true is that whatever movement you choose to join or choose to start, even the movements you leave behind, they are all in their own ways providing vicarious victories. Hitch your wagon to a star and all that. Join the cool kids and you will be cool if they'll take you. Join the free thinkers and you will think freely. Everyone promises a salvation they can't attain for themselves but you surely will never obtain it yourself.


Wedgeworth points out that Breivik was into dress up. He was into role playing games. Lest people look down on this as a sign that gamers are weird proto-fascist murderers in the making Wedgeworth points out that the what of the role playing game constitutes an emotional script, an alternate world in which young men who are otherwise rootless and lacking vocation and influence can find an outlet and a catalyst for creativity. Partisan conflict confers upon a person an identity and vocation that may be missing somewhere else. To the most salient and potentially awkward point Wedgeworth points out that a Christian right wing culture warrior gunning for men to be manly men is not that different from the Muslim who believes that if sharia gets put in place things will improve. These partisan enterprises are real life role-playing games that have defined the lives of young men.


All of Wedgeworth's observations dovetail with themes I have been considering here as an unemployed man in his later 30s. I'm stuck. I've got no job. I'm not sure what I can do that is also sufficiently useful enough to other people that they will pay me to do that. I am on food stamps and have failed to reintegrate back into "normal" working society. I am unmarried and have become aware of just how disposable unmarried men are in any given society. Even married men are in many respects disposable and Roy Baumeister's observation that the importance of men as creators of and contributors to culture is in their inherent disposability. The existential crisis Wedgeworth points out for a young man radicalized into Islamic extremism or Christian right-wing reconstructionism perhaps is that a young man with no prospects and seemingly few options embraces a narrative and a group that provide identity.


Let me be particular, I met a lot of guys in their 20s like me ten years ago. Mars Hill promised a place where we could have a legacy, where we could develop social capital. We could network for work and network in the quest for a spouse. That not only was encouraged but was often explicitly lined out as the reason the Church exists. My friend J. S. Bangs has a banner quote from Eve Tushnet that says that "realism" for people whose worldviews are accepted as realistic; the rest of us must make do with genre.


This is to say, in this context, that the people who look down on people who are into role playing games or other games as the pursuit of victories that don't matter tend to be those who have figured out their role in the role-playing game called life. They are certain of their role, the rules, and their objective. They see a game as a victory that doesn't matter because they have decided which victories matter and because of this they also decide that those victories that don't matter can't even be victories.

But it's not as though one church were unique in this. There is an accepted script, often alluded to but not examined, which holds that men become useful when they produce more than they consume and produce enough to support new lives they have preferrably spawned in settings where those new lives do not henceforth become wards of the state.


As I wrote earlier this year men who get into their 30s and have not paired off into a marriage or some semi-steady sexual partnership are ripe for transforming into ideologues. I have written extensively on how single guys discover their moment of disposability as an existential crisis. It is often in the midst of this crisis a man may either more desperately seek salvation in the form of a sexual bond or, perhaps more often now, denounce marriage as a rite and social bond. In its place? Partisan politics of any and every kind of the embrace of either a religious or secular fanaticism. Or, as we have begun to see, the immersive alternate universe of games.


To suggest that one of these options is inherently more or less consumeristic than the other is to entirely miss the reality of the emotional and existential function of the vocation, for vocation is what these things sare. A man who immerses himself in World of Warcraft is not so different from a man who spends his spare time contemplating baseball scores and leadership principles to be gleaned from watching one of the most tedious activities created by fallen man.

Partisan anxiety and aggression define humanity. This may seem like a grim, relentless and unnecessary way of looking at the human condition but it is as true as it is to say that humans display great capacity for empathy, depth of thought and reason. But it is this capacity, when once committed to the quest for both the self and community, that permits precisely those things to be broken. We are paradoxically slain by the things we devote ourselves to. Whoever loves money never has money enough, the eye never has enough of seeing, nor the ear of hearing, and better what the eye sees than the desires in the heart.


Particularly having observed fellow single guys if we don't manage to "settle down" we become defined by what we choose to fight for or, as is too often the case with a great many men (and women, I might add) what we choose to fight against. Negation becomes necessary to define who is not with us and who is with us. So, at the risk of rambling and repeating myself, those young, restless Reformed Calvinist Baptist types are not really different from the old cranky Calvinists who disapprove of them. MacArthur fans and Driscoll fans may look upon each other with suspicion or a tempered admiration but the roles the fans play are exactly the same, and the roles the men play are not quite so far removed from each other. The ideal is to give young men something to fight for, the ideal is to "get the young men" because if you get them you get "everything".


It's easy to see this with a guy like Mark Driscoll who states it up front. Credit him for his bluntness. MacArthur and Piper and various others want the same thing but are not quite so forward in their ambitions. It has stuck with me for some time that Drew G. I. Hart pointed out that the Piper/Bell fracas is basically two white guys having a disagreement over who will win the hearts of the 20-something white guys who are supposed to guide the future of American white Christianity. Fortunately global Christianity is ultimately not so white that this battle matters! Thanks be to God. Even as a guy who's pretty white I can be grateful for that.


It's good to realize that the Fight Club is its own religion. We can dress it up and comb its hair and give it a fancy suit and say it is in the service of this or that cause and for authentic masculinity but it is, ultimately, its own religion with its own goals. To the extent that the story of Fight Club matters it's that it shows how a man deludes himself into becoming a terrorist on the basis of feeling like he's not the right kind of man. There's the axiom that if God is a father and our fathers left us what does that say about God? Well, that would say a great deal in its way but we know some people don't believe in any gods and not all gods are seen as fathers. Furthermore, as the eventual revelation of Jack's delusion arrives we can see that the substitute provided is not a significant improvement. Even among Christians there's room for error. Are men following the man Jesus or the Jesus who makes them feel like men? Only one of these Jesus is actually savior. The others are Jesus that we can enlist as banners for which to fight for cultural enterprises and to give us victories that ultimiately don't matter.

Orthocuban: Baby Boomers and the Crime rate

http://www.orthocuban.com/2011/09/baby-boomers-and-the-crime-rate/

Huh ... so if the only pattern correlating to a steady rise and fall in crime is the physical viability and age of Baby Boomers does this mean that the end to an age of crime will be when the last Baby Boomer has died off and stops collecting Social Security? Maybe the patriotic duty of Baby Boomers is to commit ritual suicide to stop living parasitically off of the government welfare programs they created so that they can make life easier for the children they thought they would make the world a safer, better place for? I don't really know, but it's curious that FBI stats indicate crime went up with the rise of Baby Boomers and has been going down as they become old people.

Could it be that Eric Cartman is right about hippies? I guess we'll see. Of course as the proverb puts it correlation is not proof of causation. A kinist will say the uptick in crime is due to black people pushing for privileges and hand-outs to usurp the white race. Others might look to the emergence of the deleterious influence of rock and roll or communism blooming in the 1960s. If it turns out the ONLY correlation is the generation of Baby Boomers coming of age into crime then this wouldn't manage to explain "why" this correlation is happening. Various people have been trying to read the wind on that for generations. It may be that there is nothing to read.

Sure, as someone who grew up in the 1980s and became an official adult just after the end of the Cold War I got the impression that Baby Boomers were the most preening, self-congratulatory generation on earth. My grandparents' generation fought in World War 2 and grew up weathering the Great Depression; my parents' generation smoked a lot of weed, went to college and took credit for "changing the world" but it's hard to tell what changed. After all, if you think about it policy changes in place about race relations done during the Eisenhower or Kennedy years were not done by the 20-year old hippies in the 1960s but by the generation of people who shed blood in World War 2, and in some cases maybe even World War 1.

So in terms of policies and their effects the Baby Boomers could be seen as doing their activism thing, but the people who ultimately implemented the policies that "changed the world" were the ones who had already changed the world by battling the Axis. Yeah, I'm being deliberately polemical here but the Baby Boomers seem to have gone through life being able to take for granted as their own victories that were obtained by the previous generation. Of course they played a role but the idea that one generation can take credit for changing the world is one that is impossible.

about that recent Mars Hill article in the Seattle Times

http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2016059736_marshill31m.html
http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2016065964_apwamarshillchurch.html

A few people asked me if I saw this week's article about Mars Hill in The Seattle Times. I used to go there and I was at one point a journalism student. I have been asked,implicitly, if I have thoughts about the article. I read it over and having been, well, anyway I know a puff piece when I read one. So there's nothing particularly bursting forth within my bosom about the article itself.

No, dear reader, I direct your attention to the Associated Press regurgitation and streamlining of the original article. Go read the original and then read the AP version. The differences are obvious enough but they defy expression in mere words. I could blankly describe the differences but you have to go see for yourself! Or not. Carry on.



Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Illusion of Asymmetric Insight between theists and atheists

http://youarenotsosmart.com/2011/08/21/the-illusion-of-asymmetric-insight/#more-1369

There is no subject on which the illusion of asymmetric insight could be more relevant than the ways in which religious and non-religious people presume insights into each others minds. The religious person, and most famously in the West the Calvinist presuppositionalist apologist of the Van Til/Bahnsen variety, works on the assumption that the following two statements declare the truth about atheists.

1) there are no atheists because anyone who is an atheist is deluded about the reality of God
2) Any other atheists are only atheists because they constantly lie to themselves and others about reality.

Then there's the atheists who return the favor given them by presuppositionalist Christian apologists
1) any theists are simply deluded about what reality is by believing there is any kind of god
2) any theists who aren't covered in category 1 are just knowingly lying and suppressing the truth about the reality that no gods exist.

Both groups profess a knowledge and insight into the other that not only supercedes the insight the other group may bring to the table about them, but both groups also profess a knowledge and insight into the other which, by their own reckoning, the assessed group isn't capable of making about itself. This, I suggest, could be seen as how the social cognitive bias of the illusion of asymmetric insight continuously plays out between theists and atheists.

Both groups will steadfastly deny that they themselves are capable of exercising this social cognitive bias. Why? Well, obviously because if I'm right then I can't possibly be bringing a social cognitive bias to the discussion, can I? If my metaphysical position and methodology are right then it's simply impossible for me to display a social cognitive bias in how I denounce some other group. Would it not seem that the definition of a cognitive bias in social assessment is defined by having trouble to observe it in myself when I can so readily observe it in others. As a certain website might put it, you think that you are more generous to others than they are to you, and you think that you don't make categorically positive or negative judgments about others, and you may think you aren't employing a cognitive bias in assessing an entire people group ... but you are not so smart. HT, of course, to You Are Not So Smart.

Of course the sticky wicket here is that simply because you are absolutely sure that your metaphysical position is right does not mean you can't/don't/won't/aren't operating with a social cognitive bias in assessing other people. Having seen how theists and atheists go back and forth it has struck me in the last twenty years that both sides employ arguments within the illusion of asymmetric insight with gusto.

At a sort of subliminal but visible market level this is why theists and atheists have such cottage industries invested in promoting and selling the wares of converts and apostates. See, they exclaim, that this person switched sides is proof that even if you grew up thinking A then you can discover B is the truth over against the upbringing you got with family and peer pressure. Well, all right, but this sort of marketing gimmick employed by both sides is a kind of concession to an awareness that asymmetric insight is a risk. This is why atheists like to pitch books by ex-preachers particularly, just as Christians like to pitch the conversion of an atheist into a theist, even if that atheist "converts" to some deistic form of theism that has nothing to do with the faith claims the theist is really interested in defending.

I admit here I have what some would call a low anthropology. I have not observed that the greatest and highest virtue of humanity is its intellect or capacity to reason. Sure, technically humans can and do reason but even the most ardent materialistic naturalist committed to both methodological and philosophical naturalism would be hard-pressed to say that in the last 24 pack of millenia that human progress has suggested we are getting that much "better". So the Enlightenment happened. At length the Enlightenment led to the Industrial Age and the Industrial led to the Age of Imperialism and then into the 20th century.

We have greater advances is science and technology now than ever before and now we have so many people that people fret about the inability of the biosphere to sustain all the human life our amazing technology has permitted to live. There's a whole field of medical practice of which I am a grateful beneficiary that has not existed as a viable medical practice for even about fifty years, so far as I know. We developed nuclear weapons that hippies and doves feared would obliterate all life on the planet for five decades, a dread that the Cold War could only end in a Hot Death for the planet unless everyone united for multilateral disarmament. And yet here the planet is.

For all the shrieking and screeching about how insane and made and terrible other people are, you know, the people who don't think exactly the same way we do, it appears the planet is still around and humans are still breeding (even though, apparently, they shouldn't but it would appear the laws of nature has not-quite-designed humans to be eager beavers in the breeding department and sex, so I'm told, is apparently enough fun for people to overcome all sorts of trial and error of "doing it right". But if the planet has too many people why don't people just, you know, resist the urge to get laid? Oh ... perhaps that would be because much of the world is rather broadly straight and desire cannot be denied or something like that? I have sometimes wondered why secularist overpopulation types don't advocate celibacy more. It would seem to make sense ... .

But at any rate, what does it matter if free thinkers can tell Christians the Church is anti-sex while the Church has so many voices speaking against birth control because sex naturally tends to lead to babies. Well, we can't have that and people should have sex because it's a natural drive ... but there are too many babies being born and there should be fewer of them ... but if there is a danger of overpopulation then the whole desire to have sex in itself must be both irrational and destructive to the biosphere and we should instead consider curtailing the sex drive to prevent overpopulation rather than constantly attempt to employ sex in a recreational fashion. When I have stepped back further and further to try to get a sense of what might be reasonable or unreasonable on either side I began to realize that reason wasn't really looking like a whole lot of what was important to any human position. Humanity is capable of remarkable but selective reason. We're geniuses at making cases for what we want or feel we need but it would seem that our strengthes have corresponding weaknesses.

Consider a recent idea in brain research and psychology, the proposal that belief in a god can be construed as an extension of what is known as "theory of mind". "Theory of mind" is essentially our capacity, as humans, to imagine what it is like to think and feel as someone else does. If someone is otherwise completely functional but unable to conceive of what it is like for another person to think and feel differently than the individual does that is called Asperger's syndrome. it's consider on the low end of autism spectrum disorders. A failure to grasp how another person thinks and feels leads to all sorts of social disorder.

On the other hand, if a person has a highly developed capacity to imagine the thoughts and feelings of others but has a sensory deintegration this person hears voices that do not correspond to a sentient being outside the individual's head. Auditory hallucinations and the like indicate, colloquially, that the person be crazy. These used to be the sorts of people who were having conversations with no one you could see back before cellular phones were invented. When I was a kid it was a foregone conclusion that any person walking around seeming to talk to nobody was nuts. Now, well, they could just be using a wireless headset so you aren't quite sure. Either way that person still seems to be not entirely aware of what's going on around them.

But, say some philosophers and scientist, the tricky part about our capacity to imagine the thoughts and feelings of others is that we are capable of imagining the thoughts and feelings of someone who doesn't exist. Ergo, God exists in our minds because we have conflated our capacity to imagine and empathize with real people into a belief that sentient beings we can't observe also exist.

But this is not all, we can also anthropomorphise creatures that don't really display any comparable intellect or capacity for linguistic communication. Take the Pixar film WALL-E. Take any of the Apes movies. There's no way an army of non-human primates is going to conquer the human race with it's six billion population, firearms, nuclear weapons, biological weapons and collosal capacity for conceptual and linguistic communication. The only beings that can imagine that such a primate conquest of humanity are folks who go by names like Gorilla Grodd ... or Mojo Jojo. I think I'd rather have dinner with Mojo Jojo all things considered. He seems to have better taste in music.

Now I know atheists and theists alike may think I'm completely wrong in putting things this way. That's part of what prompted me to write this. It seems as though the theist and the atheist habitually work from the illusion of asymmetric insight while imputing the cognitive bias entirely to the other team. It also appears that so long as you are convinced that your metaphysical position is most likely the really true one you get a pass on even being capable of cognitive biases.

But if the recent theory that humanity evolved the capacity to reason NOT to discover the truth but primarily to win arguments in social settings gains any traction (and it might not, I don't know) ... then both the theologian and the free-thinker/philosopher might turn out to have been guilty of the same cognitive bias without realizing they had something in common. They may turn out to have labored for millenia to prove that reason and logic prove them right categorically when reason and logic don't prove anything so much by themselves.

And despite various appeals to the Laws of Nature the temptation to rework the Laws of Nature where we don't like them seems to be an impulse that crosses a theistic/atheistic divide. Christians want to make gays no longer gay, Dawkins has at points suggested that maybe eugenics is okay to bring back on the table after all, apparently. There are those who think that genetically modified crops are playing god yet if humanity has advanced to the point where we can more directly manipulate genetic outcomes than our history of breeding specific kinds of dogs then it seems that "reason" is always put in the service of other things. Humans seem to be brilliant at rationalizing a lot of decisions that are not as rational as we keep telling ourselves they are.

Links from Orthocuban: Southerners cohabitating, divorcing, and remarrying

http://www.orthocuban.com/2011/08/highest-divorce-rates-from-2009/

http://www.orthocuban.com/2011/08/highest-cohabitation-rates-from-2009/

http://www.orthocuban.com/2011/08/divorce-the-south-and-culture/

http://www.orthocuban.com/2011/09/culture-of-honor-the-south-and-understanding/


There's a lot I could write about this but I may just save it for later.

City of God: A Problem with Young Ministers (is that young ministers grow old and then second guess the wisdom of letting guys like them run things)

http://www.civitatedei.com/2011/08/a-problem-with-young-ministers/

It seems to be a law within human nature but especially men in pastoral offices to succumb to a certain temptation to advise others to do as they say the Bible says and not as they did. Linked via City of God, Douglas Wilson makes a case that younger men with young children should not, perhaps, be considered pastoral candidates. A pastor who is willing to pastor when his kids are two or six years old, he writes, should be willing to step down in resignation from pastoral work if his kid(s) have spent two to six years in a jail. That sounds witty and insightful on paper but then there's the problem of the Old Testament and what that says about the Lord's approach to leadership.

If Wilson's right then the measure for getting admitted to the job should be tough. He may even be right that it should be even tougher to lose the job than to get the job. But that gets us back to Abraham. Was Abraham appointed to be the father of many nations and our forebear in the faith because of his unflagging faithfulness? Was Jacob the chosen one through whom the promise would be fulfilled on Abraham's behalf despite his being a schemer and a trickster? Why was Esau described as unfit for the promise because he sold his birthright for a bowl of soup when Jacob himself was a lying mama's boy who, nevertheless, was favored by God? What about Samson? Why was Jephthah considered a hero of the fiath by the author of Hebrews when his conspicuous act of obedience to the Lord mentioned in Judges was fulfilling a vow to sacrifice the first living thing that came before him in thanks for a military victory and then ended up sacrificing his own daughter?

What about Eli? He was not removed from his position except by death. Okay, fair enough, Eli was considered a bad leader. Saul was a bad king yet his son Jonathan was a solid guy. Then there's David. As I have noted over the years in private reading, it would appear that being a polygamist and a man capable of deceit and genocide wasn't made unqualified to be the annointed king of Israel. As V Phillips Long once put it in some lectures I heard via a friend, David's life is definitely troubling for those who consider what Christian ethical teaching is and consider David's actual life. God didn't depose David from his position of leadership. This is both a sobering observation that not all those God raises up to lead within His people are good men (Saul arguably didn't even have regard for the Lord at all and was one of the conspicuous "unbelievers" in Israelite leadership).

Some of the men God raises up to a position of power and influence are positively terrible like Babylonian leaders. Still others, like David or Solomon, may have been appointed by the Lord but not necessarily in the way their sales pitches about themselves would have us believe. That, too, can be gleaned over time from the scriptures themselves. And David was not permamently shut out from being king because he failed to discipline Amnon for raping his half sister or for asking for leniency toward Absalom when Absalom staged an insurrection against his father. If WIlson's case is to be considered seriously we must nonetheless remember that the Lord tends to pick those who are nothing in this world and of no account even among God's people. David was not the man that even Samuel would have picked if he had gone by what he saw.

As with Driscoll 0n sexual ethics, so perhaps with Wilson on youthfulness and pastoral investment. Christ Church in Moscow Idaho got started when Wilson was, what, 22? There's this pattern that is not unique to the "new Calvinists" or the "young, restless and Reformed". The pattern seems to be "Do as I say the Bible teaches, not as I actually did." We can discuss the pertinent biblical texts and that will be a fruitful discussion, but I do feel obliged to ask how it is that a pastor can find it so easy to exhort people from a text to do something he hasn't done. I heard a pastor explain ten years ago how if his daughter fell away from the faith he'd drop everything and try to win her back.

That sounds compelling and virtuous coming from a twenty-something idealist pastor who thinks that his qualification to lead comes from whether or not he has successfully programmed his children to be obedient to the Lord but Samuel didn't lose his job as priest and judge because his sons were so wicked Israel wanted a king to rule over them instead of taking their chances on Samuel's sons. You would think the real lesson pastors should glean from the scriptures is that nepotism is an evil way to qualify people for the ministry, whatever that ministry is, whether it be a kingly position, a prophetic position ("I am not a prophet nor the son of a prophet" so to speak), or a priestly position.

It is not entirely without cause that many Christians look back on the lives of saints and notice a pattern that those most fit to have important and difficult positions of leadership in God's people were those who did not seek that work, did not want that work, and did not by their estimation see that as a job to go do. When once they were called they did not even always like the work, but they stuck with it out of loyalty to the Lord.

Of course new Calvinists won't really subscribe to the idea that a man, to be a pastor, must have already raised his children to be obedient (or even obedient in the Lord). There'd have been no young, restless and Reformed movement if all the good new Calvinists had waited until their kids were obedient teenagers. Of course by now I have made it clear I think that metric is a bit silly. It's not like John Stott was somehow never fit to be a pastor because he died at the age of 90, a bachelor. But I suppose new Calvinist leaders has wisdom that is justified by, er, her children.

Monday, August 29, 2011

my personal spit-take about open theism so far

The general impression I have had from open theists is that they propose that if God does not know the future then our dignity is preserved. It isn't because the question as to what constitutes the nature of human dignity is obviously something that is hard to establish even amongsts all variations of theists. Just because the god you believe in doesn't know the future doesn't make that god able to confer more dignity and freedom to you, or make it easier for you relate to that concept of god because you're still not interacting with that god any more directly than anyone else.

No, my impression about open theists, indulge in a massive stereotype about the open theists I've met over the last twenty years, is that these are generally able-bodied people who can only relate to a conception of god who has as many options in life as they feel they have been given. They don't usually truly feel that their body itself constitutes a physical weakness. I have met other fellow Christians with substantial disabilities and I have not noticed, as a general rule, that these disabled Christians take huge solace or encouragement in the idea that because God can't possibly know the future He is in the adventure with us.

No, last I checked most Christians with substantial disabilities put their hope in something God has promised us in the age to come, the resurrection from the dead and new bodies. It's strange that an open theist would wish to hinge so much of our Christian hope on the inability of a god to know the future since a god who is completely incapable of knowing the future can't truly know that he/she will be able to keep his promises. After all, if God knows something WILL happen human freedom is harmed. Now I know an open theist would say that promises God makes within His character He can and does keep, but when Paul writes that God has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to God's plan and the grace given us in Jesus Christ before the beginning of time ... well, that has to get interpreted by an open theist quite a bit. If you don't believe Paul wrote that then either you don't think Paul wrote 2 Timothy 1:9-10 (and I grant it's possible for you to conclude that) or you think that the statement itself, regardeless of apostolic pedigree, must be taken as an implementation of the Divine Guess. God didn't really know humanity was going to turn from Him and so Jesus was the great ultimate Contingency Plan set up before time began in case God discovered humanity actually wouldn't continue to walk in fellowship with Him. Oh, yeah, that's totally awesome.

I'm not trying particularly to be insulting in suggesting that open theists tend to be affluent white folks who have benefited from the luxury of imagining a God who is as uncertain about the values of the things He pursues as they have been but that's my spit-take on open theism. Poor people and people with disabilities realize that the Holy Spirit in an open theist conception isn't able to be the same kind of Comforter the scriptures and our Lord says the Spirit is because an open theist Spirit does not know the future and we must cooperate with God to make sure the right future comes about, which suggests that we know the right future as much as God Himself, and since nobody knows the future anyway, there you go. It's sort of like the xkcd about Macs and PCs: Hi, I'm a Mac. Hi, I'm a PC. And since we both make you do everything through a browser these days there's basically no difference between us. The browser is the constraint of time and our inability to know the future because we exist within it. A person with a handicap can see that an able bodied person who advocates open theism would like God to have the handicap of being unable to know the future despite knowing everything that can be known.

Guess what, a person with a disability already appreciates how a body has limits so for us the Incarnation is full of mystery, wonder, and hope that too many able-bodied Christians are apt to ignore. When Jesus said "Before Abraham was I am" did that suggested Jesus existed inside or outside of time? Why would a person assume a binary answer to a question about a statement in which Jesus employs the past and present to refer to a simultaneous state of being? Before Abraham was I am. The present tense "I am" is positioned ostentatiously in relationship to "Before Abraham was". If you insist on saying this can't mean that Jesus describes Himself as simultaneosly existing inside and outside of time then, well, obviously nothing I could say or mention about a biblical text would convince you anyway. I have met a few Christians over the years in person via internet who have been pretty good at saying they take Jesus seriously until the possibility that He said something they feel uncomfortable with makes them decide the evangelists didn't accurately record Jesus' words. So Jesus will bless the poor but not predict the annihilation of Jerusalem. Jesus will speak up against religious authorities but not curse a fig tree. Jesus will heal the man born blind but not call a Syrophoenician woman a dog. You know, that kind of stuff.

My beef with open theism is that it is one of the more obvious and self-involved ways in which mostly affluent white Americans want to project their own anxiety and uncertainty onto the Trinitarian god. I'm not saying open theists are worse people than others, everybody sins, I'm just saying as someone who has lived with a disability for a while that if an open theist finds no comfort in the Incarnation or the Crucifixion then that open theist has probably taken his or her body for granted more than his or her intellect. It's not that I can't understand why someone would like open theism, it's because having lived with limitations myself I can very easily understand the gist of open theism, which is to imagine that God the Father, Son and Spirit are as limited within time as I myself notice I am. Since God's ways are not my ways and God's thoughts are not my thoughts I'm willing to roll with the idea that God can exist inside and outside of time simultaneously while I can't. God the Son can be said to exist inside and outside time by virtue of the Incarnation. But I've rambled enough on that subject for the day.