Monday, July 16, 2007

Are Christians As Inflexible As They Say We Are?

It is my contention that Christianity, when it is full-blooded, is simultaneously reflexive, reasonable and faithful. The tools of reason and analysis are actually built into and intended to be used by the faith system of Christianity. If God has given us intellectual tools such as reason, and if all truth is God’s truth, the Christian has nothing to fear by examining all things in pursuit of their faith.

In a recent column, Dinesh D'Souza cites Stanley Fish (whose NT Times blog requires subscription) and some recent comments of his critiquing the recent spate of atheist anti-Christian literature. A significant part of what they both have to say question the unflinching dogmatism of these popular authors as compared to the constant reflection of Christianity. Fish, while discussing their analysis of Bunyon’s Pilgrim’s Progress, notes that their indictments of inscrutability and intransigence upon Christianity fail. The text itself, and Christianity in general, contain the kind of reflection and even skepticism they say it doesn’t. D’Souza notes:

Fish comments, "What this shows is that the objections Harris, Dawkins and Hitchens make to religious thinking are themselves part of religious thinking. Rather than being swept under the rug of a seamless discourse, they are the very motor of that discourse."


Fish observes that while religious people over the centuries have dug deeply into the questions of life, along come our shallow atheists who present arguments as if they first thought of them, arguments that Christians have long examined with a seriousness and care that is missing in contemporary atheist discourse.

What seems to be lost on most critics of Christianity is that it contains a long and powerful tradition of theological and philosophical development. The dogma of Christianity necessarily includes the tools of self-analysis and reflection – if we are noetically broken creatures, our faith requires constant attention. The reigning dogma of popular atheism is apparently marked by self-satisfaction, inflexibility and myopia. I would not be surprised if it were true that no other tradition in human history has offered more to the advancement of the human mind than the Body of Christ.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Theocracy Ahead!

I did not know this (but am not surprised) that there is an organized effort to “Blog Against Theocracy.” One post in particular caught my attention this morning. In it the blogger is concerned that evangelicals are making their way into schools through biblical literacy initiatives and Intelligent Design. One of the blogger’s arguments against evangelicalism in schools is their stated goal of global evangelism. He even quotes from the doctrinal statement of my denomination, the Assemblies of God.

This growing criticism of “theocracy” is an interesting one to me. First of all, I don’t think the, “they evangelize people” argument carries any weight. Any group with serious convictions is trying to gain adherents, and the more they gain, the happier they will be. No doubt, Bloggers Against Theocracy would like more people to hold their views than fewer, and they are actively evangelizing them. As a consequence of their own argument, they should be legislated out of our schools.

On a much more interesting note is the claim that Christians in the public square constitutes a breech of the “separation of the church and state” doctrine. Since there is no such thing in our Constitution, this is a political/philosophical view. What are the presuppositions that lead to this view?

One might be the fact/value distinction which holds that religion is a private value that does not make truth claims about reality, and thus cannot be considered with seriousness in the public square. On the other hand, secularism has a grip on the facts of the world (science, etc.) and is the only serious contender for the public mind. This simple sweeping away of religion has been attacked on several levels, and when we learn what it means to know things and have them correspond with reality, there is nothing that excludes religious knowledge. Science (naturalistically understood) does not have privileged access to the world.

Another presupposition might be that religion – Christianity in particular – has been proven false. But this view would just be naivety and wishful thinking.

Another would be that religion is not open to thought, reflection, or even modification. As a result, a culture “ruled” by religion would be disastrous to open thought and dangerous to dissenters. And since we value an open and thinking society, religion needs to be relegated to the margins. But this again is a mistaken notion of Christianity. No doubt there are a plethora of examples where “fundamentalism” or other forms of Christianity have denied the life of the mind, but they would be the exceptions to the rule, not the rule. For example, the University system so prized by free-thinkers was established by the Church as an institution of innovation. It was Catholic universities that taught the sun was the center of the solar system; medieval universities constantly critiqued and analyzed doctrine and refined theology. One of the reasons we know Thomas Aquinas and not his predecessors was his innovation on their work.

Christianity, where it is allowed to flourish according to its own worldview, is currently less of a threat to free-thought than secularism. After all, who is trying to exclude whom from schools?

I think that when all the reasons for the separation of church and state (as opposed to this short list) are laid on the table, they all fail for good reasons. Religious views have just as much legitimate access to the public as do secularist views.

New Evangelical Political Litmus Test!

I am not against political involvement by evangelicals as such, but from time to time I wonder if certain segments of the evangelical world have their focus on the right targets. On a basic level, I believe the Christian faith necessarily has political consequences. But when explicitly Christian organizations exist only for lobbying purposes, I get a little uncomfortable.

The new head of the National Association of Evangelicals is moving in a direction probably deemed as mild heresy by the former president, Ted Haggard. (Ironically, during Haggard’s tenure as president of the NAE, their offices moved from D.C. to the campus of New Life Church.) Cizik’s policy matter de jur is global warming. It is so important to Cizik that:

Not content to merely repeat his mantra about global warming being "a moral and spiritual issue," he dropped a major political bombshell.

"The National Association of Evangelicals," he declared, "has every intention of making [global-warming legislation] a litmus test for evangelical support."

Not surprisingly several evangelical organizations have requested that the NAE reign in Cizik and his politicking. If this sounds too much like something that happens between political parties, don’t be too shocked. This is how the NAE, and its liberal doppelganger the NCC (National Council of Churches) have been set up. The article notes:

To counter the NCC’s influence, the NAE established its Washington office in the 1970s, and in the 1980s expanded its lobbying role. Cizik became vice president for government affairs in 1997. Groups belonging to the NCC were barred from joining the NAE.

The Kingdom of God here on earth is often a many-splendored thing!