Friday, September 25, 2009

Will Christianity Evolve?

(I read an interesting R World posting about the decline and fall of the medieval church. It got me thinking about the state of Christian churches today, so I wrote a comment that became so long that I decided to post it here.)

I'm wondering if a radical move away from fundamentalist Christianity is not too far away, due to the aging of its adherents and the blossoming of many new information sources that challenge many of its long held precepts.

I recently read that membership in the Southern Baptist Convention, which has been growing for many years, has fallen for the first time. This follows major declines in the mainline protestant churches. If you visit any one of these churches you are likely to see a lot of grey hair. The younger folks are not buying into the religious message.

At the same time, the youth seem to be responding to sources that advocate peace, justice, and care for the earth and its inhabitants of all species - all of which have been part of the Christian outlook for centuries. So, it may not be the message but the messenger that's the problem. Old fashioned liturgies and hymns, or even more contemporary dreamy-eyed "praise" services just aren't cutting it. The kids seem to want "reality" shows, and churches haven't yet identified the new approach that will bring them in.

While the churches are faltering, audiences for The Science Channel, The Discovery Channel, and similar educational sources are growing rapidly. Evidence supporting evolution, and clear explanations of the formation and development of the universe are now commonplace. Humanity's short tenure in the overall scheme of things is becoming common knowledge. Given this information, it's hard to believe that God is homo-centric.

At bottom, one must believe either that there is a purpose to creation, or not. Understanding the workings of the universe does not shed much light on this question - it is a matter of faith. Will the Christian church evolve such that it can deal with this mystery and attract the next generation to a new understanding of what practicing religion should be? I hope so.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Idiocy Lives On!

Some of us were once of the mind that the incredible explosion of information in today's electronic world would free us from idiocy. After all, the answers to lots of questions would be at our fingertips!

And, to some extent we were right. Any number of facts are at my fingertips now. I think of a question, type some keystrokes, and there it is - the answer. What is the population of South Carolina's capital? Got it. But it turns out that most of the important questions don't relate to easily retrievable facts. So, idiocy can still thrive in this modern era.

After church on Sunday I stopped to talk with a young man whose primary claim to fame is that he's a veteran of the first Gulf War. Almost immediately he informed me that he had been placed on a "terrorist watch list". I was shocked, and I asked, "How do you know that?". He replied with a straight face, "Because Glenn Beck said that the government believes Iraq War veterans are potential terrorists!" Actually, I think the guy was a bit proud of his new status as a potential enemy of the Obama administration, but I digress.

I'll be seeing the young man again, soon, and I plan to continue the discussion about "How do you know that?" There are any number of good reasons why putting all Gulf War veterans on a terrorist watch list would become general knowledge in a very short time. There are also some good reasons why doing such a thing would be preposterous from a management standpoint. In other words, it would be a dumb idea that would be almost immediately on the front page of every newspaper in the country if it was implemented. But this guy believed it because Glenn Beck said it, maybe. Beck-speak is more artful than the thinking process of most who listen to him.

In summary, having lots of information at our fingertips does not keep us from being idiots. Critical thinking is still a basic human requirement if one is to avoid living in an Oz-like world or being subject to the whims of every manipulative person who makes one a target. Testing assertions that seem important - such as being put on a terrorist watch list - is something that I'd put in the "critical thinking" bucket. Back to Critical Thinking 101, young man.

As an afterthought, I'd like to close by saying that having the ability to change your mind when presented with new facts is a most valuable quality. People who are not embarassed by new information that affects a previously held position, but who embrace the new and change their behavior or their plans as a result of it, have a competitive advantage over those who don't. When I say, "Thanks for letting me know", I mean it. Information is power, after all.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Disappointed in America

I admit it. I've lived a sheltered life. Although my parents struggled hard to get started and raise five kids, I grew up in a great community and school system, and I was taught mainstream Christian values. After maturing a little in the Army and a little more after being married and having children, I settled down to work in another great community and found a church home filled with bright, caring people. Slowly my religious and social views moderated as I took more seriously what I read in the gospels; "love God, and your neighbor as yourself".

All that happened before the new flavor of self-professed "Christian" leaders took over much of middle America in 1994. From the start, they preached a different gospel from mine. They turned introspective church services into rock concerts. They preached "believe, and get get rich!" rather than "don't take thought of tomorrow". They did a lot of judging, but little confessing, and a few of them did major whoring. Their educational institutions turned their backs on science, and they ridiculed academic learning. But, worst of all, these leaders taught people to turn their backs on the poor, the weak, and the different. And they reveled as the money rolled in and their converts elected ignorance to government.

Now it's 2009. A new man is president, a non-white man who has prompted more "Christian" racism than I could ever have imagined in America. That man has put forward a vision that forwards the historically Christian concepts of responsibility and compassion, but he is being shunned by the new false Christians whose Gods are money or racial pride, and who follow those who appeal to these base interests. Sadly, these latter folks through their electoral power are now able to stand in the way of a new day for America.

Obama is not perfect, but he is more perfect than I. He's the president, but he now understands the limits of presidential power. In our democracy a lot of people must be on board to do anything important, and, probably need the prompting of an emergency as well. FDR, for example, needed Pearl Harbor to get the isolationist Republicans on board. At the present time, we have impending calamities but not yet emergencies in health care, social security, financial regulation, and overall federal and state spending. Obama is capable of leading bi-partisan solutions to these vexing issues, but the false Christians stand in the way because he does not look like them and has more education than they do. Who could have predicted this when I was growing up in America?

I'm disappointed in what's happened to America. We glorify our history but so many of us forget we were founded on the principles of religious and personal freedom. Too many of us have more pride in our colleges' football teams than in the scholars they were founded to produce. Too many of us overlook our own immigrant backgrounds when we spurn those who have immigrated later. Too many of us claim to be Christians but espouse selfish views that Jesus rejected. When the consequences of our foolishness finally overwhelm us, I hope it will be clear that we allowed the worst of us to have power over us. Even God will not save us from this folly.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Feeling Sorry for South Carolina

Representative Joe Wilson of South Carolina yesterday provided the latest evidence that his state lives by a different set of rules. He forgot that congressmen are supposed to respect the office of the president even when they disagree with the president himself. He called out, "You lie!", when the president said illegal aliens would not get health care benefits under his health care reform recommendations. This outburst will improve his status on right wing radio and Fauxnews, where he'll get plenty of opportunities to explain that, although he apologized for his lack of respect, he was right to call out the president for what he still considers to be a lie.

Wilson's embarassment follows South Carolina's governor Mark Sanford's exposure as a hypocrite for making several trips to Brazil to visit his mistress despite his campaigning as a religious "family values" man. Sanford continues to argue that the controversy is overblown, although the state he represents is proud to claim it's one of the most conservative in the nation.

Neither of these incidents is surprising. The deep south is well known for its double standards. Those in power often behave like scions of Arab monarchies, who jet off to London and Monaco to indulge in activities that would warrant capital punishment in their own countries. Their conduct is normally kept under wraps because it is so common; to convict one would be to jeopardize many. So it is in South Carolina, except that front page exposure forces the power structure to join together in protest that their leaders' gaffes are exceptions.

One could argue that South Carolinians can't be blamed for making the mistakes of electing people like Wilson and Sanford. These are the people who take pride in Bob Jones University, where students learn that people coexisted with dinosaurs. A place so isolated, poor, and provincial as South Carolina resembles Afganistan more than North Carolina. Perhaps we should give the people a break for simply being true to their culture. It would be a kind act to recognize the sad state of the place and feel sorry for those must live in the land of the double standard.

So, I feel sorry for South Carolina and the majority of the people who live there. They've been conditioned to believe that backwardness is a virtue. As with Afganistan, fixing the structural problems of their society is a task fraught with uncertainty, a task with no end in sight. In the meantime, stay tuned for the next headline from Columbia (that's the capital, in case you hadn't heard of it. Population, 116,000; a major metropolis.).

Sunday, September 06, 2009

A Wonderful Summer - No Local Warming!

Summer is almost over. Even during the mid-day, today, we had a cooling breeze along with the bright sun. The hummingbird feeder became deserted this week, Ma and Pa hummingbird now fleeing to somewhere in South America. One of the maples in the churchyard is just beginning to turn yellow. There's football on TV, and the golfers are winding up their competitive year. I can't say I'm happy about this, because I love to feel the sun's warmth and sweat on my brow. But summer comes and goes, and fall foliage has unforgettable beauty here in western New York.

Every day or two I hear some new outcry about global warming, and I take the news seriously even though I won't be around to suffer its consequences. But weather is more local for each of us, not global. And local weather this summer in Rochester has been cooler and wetter than normal.

My middle son, who grew up here before becoming a denizen of Phoenix, came home to a place he described as a jungle. Our air conditioning bills have been anemic compared to most years, and not once did I get a "burned out" spot in my yard. I heard plenty of complaints from lake cottage owners, though; "not enough rays!" All in all, a very pleasant summer.

At my age it doesn't take much to please me. Seeing a friend, enjoying a cold beer, watching a pretty girl walk by, hitting a solid golf shot, having supper in the sun room with Good Witch while watching the birds at the feeder, or reading a good book... A comfortable summer is a bonus!

Friday, September 04, 2009

A Death in the Family

The family cat got cancer and slowly faded away. The family took heroic measures to prolong the cat's life while shielding it from too much pain. But the end was sure to come, and one day it was time to let the cat go, peacefully.

The vet and her helper came to the house. Mom and dad and the two young children sat down together with the dear old cat. I imagine they talked of life, and love, and the end of life. Then, the cat was eased out of the life that no longer held interest for her...and the cat was no longer the cat, anymore.

It was a sad day in some respects, but a day to learn about realities that even a child can understand at some level and later come to understand more deeply.

My child and his wife are much smarter about some things than I am.