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Do You Pray Naturally?

In Devotional on December 29, 2013 at 9:05 pm

PrayerPrayer is Supernatural

The last book Bonhoeffer published in his lifetime was “The Prayerbook of the Bible.”  He writes this book while in prison for his participation in a plot to kill Hitler, and the subject of the book is the Psalms.  Remember, the Psalms of the Old Testament are Jewish literature.  You can bet that the Nazis weren’t all that thrilled with publishing books celebrating Jewish literature.  Apparently he was unaware that such material had to be submitted to the Board for the Regulation of Literature before publication.  Bonhoeffer was sticking it to The Third Reich at the same time he was teaching Christians how to come closer to Christ Jesus.

I read about Bonhoeffer’s thoughts on prayer in Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas, a book I received from my parents last Christmas.

In this book, Bonhoeffer suggests that we naturally wish, hope, sigh, lament and rejoice—but we should not confuse these things with prayer.  Unlike these internal and natural impulses, prayer is supernatural in that it must be initiated from outside of us, by God.  For this reason, he encourages Christians to pray the Psalms as Christ did.  Our own prayers would travel to heaven along with those of Christ.

Metaxas points out that praying the Psalms was much too Jewish for the Nazis, and probably too Catholic for the Protestants, who don’t go for recited prayers, but Bonhoeffer was insistent that Christians must pray the Psalms.

Because of this publication of this little book, he Bonhoeffer was forbidden to publish anything again.

Whether you accept Bonhoeffer’s imperative on the praying of the Psalms, it is important to understand that prayer is a supernatural activity.  My problem is that I usually forget this and do what comes naturally: “wishing, hoping, sighing, lamenting and rejoicing” (Metaxas 368).

Praying with the Psalms—which means praying with Christ (as well as the historical Church)—will at least externalize the source of my own prayers and once again remind me that my ability to approach God at all is his gift of grace.


 

Jesus, Zeus, Thor and the Kraken

In Rants, Worldview on December 23, 2013 at 12:22 am

FootballOne more thing about the Bill Maher video.

Consider this my Christmas post.

In the video, Maher equates faith in Jesus Christ with belief in Zeus, Thor and the Kraken and all the other “stuff that is not evidenced based.”

I love it when he gives us the circumstances by which he would become a believer. He challenges, “Show me a God and I will believe in him. If Jesus Christ comes down from the sky during the half time show at the super bowl” and starts doing miracles, then he will believe in God. Confidently he concludes, “But that’s not going to happen.”

But it did happen.

It is only in timing that God’s plan diverges from Maher’s. Other than that, the Incarnation of God on earth was exactly the sort of proof that he demands. If the Incarnation is what Christians proclaim, I don’t think that even Maher would insist that there ought to be some repeat performance just for his sake. The issue for Maher is that he doesn’t trust the first century Jews and Romans who saw, first hand, the events as recorded in the Gospels. For some reason, he doesn’t trust their testimony. Perhaps he doesn’t think they were as smart as he is, or at least rational–too easily duped.

A good argument can be made that first century Jews were less likely to believe that Jesus was the son of God than modern day atheists. They proclaimed every day that God is One–they refused to give up this tenet even in the fact of the most horrendous persecution by the likes of Antiochus Epiphanies. Still, they were convinced. Christianity started with a significant number of these very people willing to die equally horrible deaths at the hands of the Romans proclaiming what they had seen with their own eyes.

Granted, there were some who saw and did not believe. I wonder if Maher would be convinced even with his Super Bowl miracle. Then as now, to accept that God exists and that Jesus Christ is his son necessarily leads to submission to this God. For many, it’s this submission that is the issue, rather than the evidence.

Within Maher’s cynicism is an incredible testimony of how incredible an event the coming of Christ was. What actually happened, and convinced so many of the inconvincible, was much more wonderful than the trick of changing “nachos into loaves and fishes” at a football game. Instead of changing a modern snack food into the ancient equivalent, he fed the hungry, healed the sick, gave sight to the blind and made the lame to walk again; he offered forgiveness to all–shady businessmen, prostitutes and me. 0

Evidence aside, this is a God of a different category that Zeus or Thor or the Kraken?

Is Atheism a Religion?

In When Atheists are Right, Worldview on December 14, 2013 at 5:55 am

AthesismBill Maher sure doesn’t like it when religious people say that atheism is a religion.

In one sense, Maher is right; atheism is not a religion.  Atheism doesn’t have any explicit rituals or holy texts, nor does it believe in a deity.  When Maher restricts his  definition of religion to “this looney stuff” he can safely declare that “atheism is a religion like abstinence is a sex position.”

But if we were to broaden the definition of religion to something like–people who have faith in something that can’t be proven rationally.  Well, then it would be a little more legitimate to declare Maher a religious person because atheism is based on a belief that cannot be proven.  It requires a leap of faith to accept the claim that the whole of reality is strictly material.

A lot of discussion (argument) comes after we have agreed on this point.  For instance, we’d have to talk about upon whom the burden of truth rests, but it is important that we accept the fact that there is no belief that does not begin with a claim that cannot be proven rationally.

Maher claims it is only “idiots” who stand in the “grand intellectual tradition of ‘I know you are but what am I?'” who assert that atheism and theism are “two sides of the same coin.”  But this isn’t exactly true.  Fredrich Nietzsche, who on the continuum between idiocy and genius makes geniuses look like idiots, said exactly this.

In one sense, Nietzsche would lump Maher and the Christians who drive him crazy into the same category.  He that, just like religion, the rationalism and scientific optimism celebrated by Maher, is another attempt to set up an ideal to which we might aspire.  Maher’s transcendent ideal is an aggregate of equality, freedom of speech, science, democracy, etc.

There is nothing wrong with belief in transcendent meaning.  Nietzsche said that human beings have a hard time flourishing without something to believe in.  So it’s nothing to be ashamed of.

. . . the line between faith and reason

There are some pretty distinct lines between his “evidence based belief” and my “faith based malarkey” but it is not helpful to draw ones that don’t really exist.

Progressive Liberal Optimism

In False Dichotomies - the lines between, Worldview on December 8, 2013 at 8:35 pm

Eddie Izzard’s show is hysterical and historical.  His latest show, “Force Majeure,” gets a lot of laughs at the expense of the Religious and the Nazis.

When it comes to religion, he’s not as bad as many in the popular media.  He’s not nearly as bitter so there’s more comedy than mockery. He also distinguishes between different types of religious people: the ones that do charity and the ones that are ignorant bigots.

Izzard’s understanding of history is quite clear: in spite of some setbacks here and there, we are moving upward and that is the important thing.  One of the major setbacks was the Nazis, but they were merely an interruption in the upward trend.

In the Q&A after the show, a fan asked Eddie if he’d be changing any of his Nazi material when he toured Germany in the coming year.  He said that this wouldn’t be necessary.  He believes that the German people are like us, and that Hitler kidnapped Germany for 12 years.  Once the Nazis were removed the German people could get back onto that upward trajectory.

This interpretation of history is very popular–it is the modern story.  Mankind is basically good and freedom is the goal of history.  Over the last 500 years we have been gaining freedom–first from the Church, then from the monarch, then slavery, then God.  In the 20th century freedom spread through the civil rights movement and women’s liberation and it continues through all sorts of sexual freedoms.

For many, this optimistic view of history has filled the gap created by the loss of religion.  There is an almost supernatural faith in humanity to achieve its utopian ideals.  Like all worldviews…

One of the problems with Izzard’s view is that it divides people into them and us.  The “them” is the religious and the conservative, and the “us” is progressive and open-minded.  It is the later group that is responsible for the upward trend in history, and the former group that is largely impeding progress.

I don’t fault Eddie specifically for holding this view–we are all guilty of “them=bad/us=good” thinking now and again (all the time?).

But it is wrong.

The line that divides good and evil is not between individuals, but within each individual.

There aren’t good religious people (Izzard’s charitable Christians) and bad religious people (opponents to freedoms sought by the LGTB)–they are all bad.  Christians aren’t less evil than Muslims–news out of Central African Republic  is evidence of this.  Atheists have to accept Stalin and Hitler as theirs, and Christians have to accept the Spanish Inquisition and the Crusades as things that Christians did.

Because the human soul is divided, human flourishing will not inevitably increase over time.

The 20th century alone provides ample evidence of exactly this–incredible medical and technological advances, on the one hand, two devastating world wars on the other.  The United Nations was born and so was the Atomic Bomb.  The Olympics and the Holocaust.  Civil rights and Abortion.  The music of the 60’s and the music of the ’80s.

Humans are capable of tremendous good, so we may again have another Mandelas, but unless we recognize that the true impediment to human flourishing is the evil that lurks in every human soul, we will again face evils as great as any we’ve encountered in human history.

The solution to our plight is not for everyone to become a progressive liberal.  It’s to deal with the evil that exists within all humanity.