TagWorldview

Why no honour cords?

McElspeth / Pixabay

Not too long ago at my school, the graduates who had a GPA higher than a 3.6 wore gold chords around their necks at the graduation ceremony.

Ridiculous idea, I know, but we’ve remedied that now.

Some students continue to ask why we discontinued the practice.  They, and sometimes their parents, feel they have worked very hard to earn a good GPA and ought to be recognized as a reward for their effort and persistence.  They think it’s stupid that to abandoned honour cords just to spare the feelings of those who did not earn them.

Here’s what I tell them:

We got rid of the honour cords because they go against the philosophy of our Christian school.

Some people worked very hard to get above a 3.6 GPA, others hardly worked for it at all. And we did not get rid of honour cords to spare anybody's feelings.Click To Tweet

Essential Skills and Unique Gifts

One of the purposes of every school is to develop important skills and abilities.  We want students to have acquired the essential skills by the time they graduate, whether they are naturally gifted with them or not.

But just as important, perhaps more, is we want to help students discover and develop the unique gifts that God has given them.

Some receive a few gifts, others, many.  The number of gifts or their quality has nothing to do with merit.  It’s all grace.  All gifts are free and all gifts are valuable.

Our Father in Heaven gives his children many gifts. Some receive gifts that make them good with people, others make them creative or athletic.  The list is very long.  Some of God’s gifts help students to be very successful academically.

If all gifts come from God why would we honour just the few that help a student to get high marks?

Honour cords do exactly this.

All of the Student

The school is also interested in the growth and development of the whole student.   not just their minds.  Human beings are multifaceted–one whole, many parts.  Jesus names the parts in Mark 12:30-31 (NKJV): heart, soul, mind, and strength. 

The whole student matters to God.  The whole student matters to the parents who send these kids to our school.  The whole student, then, is what the school seeks to nurture and challenge.

If the school’s focus is the whole student, why would we celebrate just one aspect of a students at the graduation ceremony?

Honour cords do exactly this.

All of the Students

We seek to nurture every student.

This is why we offer such a wide variety of programs and extra-curricular activities: Textiles and Mechanics, Art and Music, Sports teams and Drama productions, and this is just the beginning. Yes, and we offer a wide variety of traditionally academic classes, every student is challenged in a lot of different directions.  Students work very hard in all of these areas.

Does it make sense to celebrate just the hard work of some?

We celebrate the hard work of all students, regularly and in many ways.

But we don’t do it at the graduation ceremony.

The graduation ceremony is not about individual recognition.  It is, rather, the celebration of the class as a whole.  The graduation ceremony is a community celebration.  The community gathers, not just to see “their grad” cross the stage, but to celebrate “Our Grads” as we mark this important moment in their lives.

The uniform of caps and gowns appropriately balances the attention on the individuals and the Class of 20– as a whole.

It doesn’t make much sense to add an accessory to the graduation uniform that draws attention to the hard work of just some of the students, honouring just one narrow set of gifts, relating to only one part of the student.

It doesn't make much sense to add an accessory to the graduation uniform that draws attention to the hard work of just some of the students, honouring just one gift, relating to only one aspect of the student. Click To Tweet

This is why we’ve done away with honour cords.

Dystopian Literature and Film: A Christian Perspective

Trixieliko / Pixabay

There has been an increase in the popularity of dystopian fiction, especially in the number of books targeting young adults. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, The Divergent by Veronica Roth, and The Maze Runner by James Dashner are but a few examples.

Because so many of my students have read these books, I often teach a unit on dystopian literature and film.  In this unit, we read Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four.  Some students also read Brave New World by Aldous Huxley.  Still others read FEED by M. T. Anderson.  We analyze portions of films like Logan’s Run, Bladerunner, Minority Report, Gattaca, Brazil, The Island, and I, Robot.  Students are often inspired to head to our library and check out other books in this genre, including Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, The Road by Cormac McCarthy and The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood.

Dystopian Literature in a Christian School

I am sure there are many schools in North America that teach a unit like this, but in a Christian school, a particular kind of Christian school, it is taught a little differently.  I organize the unit around the questions, “What aspect of our culture is being critiqued in the novel or film?” and “Are these critiques legitimate?” Through our investigation, students discover that each author/film-maker places a high value on the human being and being human.  The central purpose of each novel/film is to critique the subversion of human value to some other value–some other aspect of creation.

Dystopian fiction and film is essentially a prophetic genre--it uncovers and condemns idolatry.Click To Tweet

This inversion is the essence of the Biblical notion of idolatry.  Human beings have value because they are created in the image of God.  Humanity has been placed at the top of creation and given the responsibility to take care of it.  When God is replaced by some good thing he created, humanity too is replaced from its position above all that was created.  Idol worship always degrades humanity.  Thus, this unit is actually an exploration of the Biblical teachings on human identity and value, and idolatry.

The creators of dystopian literature and film are proclaiming the evil of sacrificing humanity to our cultural idols:

  • the idols of power (1984)
  • pleasure (Logan’s Run and Brave New World)
  • technology (Bladerunner and Feed),
  • genetic perfection (Gattaca),
  • a longer life (The Island), etc.

The presence and popularity of these narratives are encouraging.  They indicate that there still is a large segment of our society that accepts the premise of human value.

I will rue the day when dystopian literature and film are no longer popular--it will mean that we've stepped off the edge.Click To Tweet

The Term — Worldview

I’d like to make two points about the term “worldview.”

First, many Christians refer to a “Christian Worldview” but they do so in error.

And second, most people don’t realize that the term is a bad one.  It is a manifestation of a particular worldview that is in opposition to a “Christian worldview.”

Worldview: What it isn’t

Some Christian preachers, bloggers, and authors use the term “Christian worldview” to mean social conservatism.  They seem to imply that having a Christian worldview means practicing abstinence until in a heterosexual marriage and, also, to not getting an abortion or smoking.  Many others believe a Christian worldview means having a social consciousness that leads you to help the homeless, the refugee, or the at-risk teen.  Others reduce the Christian worldview to purchasing decisions–-they have a hybrid car and eat free-range chickens.

Christian morality, social activism, and purchasing decisions may be manifestations of a Christian worldview, but they don’t constitute the worldview.   Our worldview is much bigger and much deeper than that.

Janes Sire’s definition of worldview is a good one.

A set of presuppositions or assumptions held consciously or unconsciously, consistently or inconsistently, about the basic make up of reality. — James Sire

A Christian Worldview

The term “Christian” worldview can be problematic because, some argue, that there is not one “Christian worldview.”  But I don’t think there are as many as some suppose. There aren’t as many Christian worldviews as there are denominations, for instance.  Most of the things that differentiate one denomination from another are more superficial than worldviews, which are in deeper regions.

Riffing off of the four worldview questions offered by Brian Walsh and Richard Middleton in The Transforming Vision: Shaping a Christian Worldview,

    • Who are we?
    • Where are we?
    • What is wrong?
    • What is the solution?

N. T. Wright offers a summary of how the early church answered these questions:

Who are we? We are a new group, a new movement, and yet not new, because we claim to be the true people of the god of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the creator of the world. We are the people for whom the creator god was preparing the way through his dealings with Israel. To that extent, we are like Israel; we are emphatically monotheists, not pagan polytheists, marked out from the pagan world by our adherence to the traditions of Israel, and yet distinguished from the Jewish world in virtue of the crucified Jesus and the divine spirit, and by our fellowship in which the traditional Jewish and pagan boundary-markers are transcended.

Where are we? We are living in the world that was made by the god we worship, the world that does not yet acknowledge this true and only god. We are thus surrounded by neighbours who worship idols that are, at best, parodies of the truth, and who thus catch glimpses of reality but continually distort it. Humans in general remain in bondage to their own gods, who drag them into a variety of degrading and dehumanizing behavior-patterns. As a result, we are persecuted, because we remind the present power-structures of what they dimly know, that there is a different way to be human, and that in the message of the true god concerning his son, Jesus, notice has been served on them that their own claim to absolute power is called into question.

What is wrong? The powers of paganism still rule the world, and from time to time even find their way into the church. Persecutions arise from outside, heresies and schisms from within. These evils can sometimes be attributed to supernatural agency, whether ‘Satan’ or various demons. Even within the individual Christian there remain forces at work that need to be subdued, lusts which need to be put to death, party-spirit which needs to learn humility.

What is the solution? Israel’s hope has bee realized; the true god has acted decisively to defeat the pagan gods, and to create a new people, through whom he is to rescue the world from evil. This he has done through the true King, Jesus, the Jewish Messiah, in particular through his death and resurrection. The process of implementing this victory, by means of the same god continuing to act through his own spirit in his people, is not yet complete. One day the King will return to judge the world, and to set up a kingdom which is on a different level to the kingdoms of the present world order. When this happens those who have died as Christians will be raised to a new physical life. The present powers will be forded to acknowledge Jesus as Lord, and justice and peace will triumph at last.

[From N. T. WrightThe New Testament and the People of God (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1992), 369-70.]

These, according to N. T. Wright, are the basics of THE Christian worldview–it was the understanding of the original authors and audience of the New Testament gospels and letters.  Let’s assume for the sake of argument that Wright is right.  Not every Christian holds to this worldview.  This is largely because we are always influenced by other worldviews–pagan ones.  The Medieval church was shaped by non-biblical ideas.  The Reformers were influenced by Renaissance values.  Today, the dominant worldviews are Modernism or the ideas lumped under the moniker, “post-modernism.”  The influence of these is all over the church.

The Emergent church is influenced by the pagan ideas lumped under the moniker, 'post-modernism.' Mainstream evangelicalism is very suspicious of the emergent movement because evangelicalism is heavily influenced by pagan Modernism. Click To Tweet

How do we purge the idolatrous ideas of our worldview?  For one thing, we need to read, or at least have pastors who read.    In “On the Reading of Old Books, C. S. Lewis says

It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between. If that is too much for you, you should at least
read one old one to every three new ones.

Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books.

And of the modern books, some of them should be written by N. T. Wright.

The Problem with the Term Worldview

The term “worldview” is a Modern term.  Although Modernism is waning, it is still very influential in our culture, especially in conservative Christian circles.  Modernism puts a lot of stock in human Reason.

When Reason is the measure of all things, it is separated out from everything else and then elevated.   From this height, detached Reason will analyze and judge all other things.  It is the subject, and everything else is the object of its scrutiny.

The term “worldview”  is decidedly Modern.  Notice the implied subject “viewing” the named object–the world.

The term “worldview” suggests a radical separation between subject and object.  Built into the term is the implication that one can view the world as an objective detached observer–an observer who is uninfluenced by the forces of worldview.  This is impossible.

So the term is a bad one, but what do we use instead?

Canadian philosopher, Charles Taylor uses the term “social imaginary.”  This is much more descriptive, but it’s not nearly as catchy as “worldview.”

So, I suggest you do what I do.  Use the term worldview, but always accompany its use with a wince.

Truth and Poetry

Photo by Patrick Brinksma on Unsplash

The first discussion we have in the English 12 Poetry Unit is about truth.

Too many people consider poetry to be something that exists on a continuum between fluff and falsehood. This drives us Humanities types batty. Many hold to the mistaken idea that a thing is true if it is factual.  And thus, since poetry isn’t usually factual, it isn’t usually  true.

Just because poetry isn’t factual does not mean poetry isn’t true.Click To Tweet

Whoa-ness of Eagles

Perrine’s Literature, a textbook we used to use, talks about the difference between encyclopedic facts of eagles with Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem “The Eagle” to make the point that poetry offers a different experience than do facts.

A lot more can be made of this comparison.

I have my students collect a bunch of facts about bald eagles and we fill a whiteboard with them. Here’s a sample of what they find:

  • The female bald eagle is 35 to 37 inches, slightly larger than the male.
  • Wingspan ranges from 72 to 90 inches.
  • Bald eagles can fly to an altitude of 10,000 feet. During level flight, they can achieve speeds of about 48 to 55 km per hour.
  • The beak, talons, and feathers are made of keratin.
  • Bald eagles have 7,000 feathers.
  • Wild bald eagles may live as long as thirty years.
  • Lifting power is about 4 pounds.
  • All eagles are renowned for their excellent eyesight.
  • Once paired, bald eagles remain together until one dies.
  • Bald eagles lay from one to three eggs at a time.

These items gleaned from online encyclopedias are factual and they are true.

Then we look at Tennyson’s poem.

THE EAGLE

He clasps the crag with crooked hands;
Close to the sun in lonely lands,
Ringed with the azure world, he stands.

The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls;
He watches from his mountain walls,
And like a thunderbolt he falls.

In this simple, six-line poem, Tennyson attempts to communicate that eagles are, in a word, awesome. But awesome doesn’t really capture it, nor does formidable or magnificent.

When I was 8 or so, I went with my class to a bird sanctuary. After viewing crows, seagulls and owls recovering from various injuries, I came face-to-face with a bald eagle—close up! It looked at me, and then looked away. I was awed by his size, his talons, his beak, his eyes—I remember my reaction; I whispered, “Whoa!”

Tennyson attempts to communicate the “whoa-ness” of eagles.

Beyond the facts

We fill another whiteboard with notes about of Tennyson’s poem, unpacking the figurative language, sound devices, imagery, and allusions. In the words and between the lines of this poem, readers experience the power and strength of this majestic bird as it is metaphorically compared to a wise and solitary king whose power is absolute.

I ask my students which is truer—the list of facts on the first whiteboard or the poem that we’ve annotated on the second. Many, perhaps most, confidently say the list of facts is “truer.” Some are uncertain. Eventually, someone calls out, “both are true but in different ways.

There we go!

“The Eagle” communicates a truth about eagles that go beyond the encyclopedic facts. A truth that is best communicated with poetry. Our culture has been resistant to this broader understanding of truth for a long time, to its detriment.

How much of the Bible becomes inaccessible when we reduce truth to fact?Click To Tweet

Things get even more interesting when I suggest, in line with C. S. Lewis in Abolition of Man, that “whoa-ness” is a quality inherent to the eagle, and not just a description of my subjective reaction to it. I’ll spare you the details, but this is often an enlightening discussion.

The next poem we look at is A. E. Houseman’s “Is My Team Ploughing,” a conversation between a dead man and his still-living friend. I ask my class, is this a true poem? This time, less than half say, “No.” Some are still uncertain.

But many, reflecting on the central idea of the poem, declare it to be true.

Truth is a Fad

On a recent trip to downtown Vancouver, my wife and I popped into Christ Church Cathedral on the corner of Georgia and Burrard.  I find it hard to resist a cathedral and always try the doors to see if I can get a look inside.  The door was unlocked and a pleasant woman offered to answer our questions.  I asked about the beautiful interior and she was delighted to tell us about the recent renovations.  There was even a photo album.

The original church was filled with local cedar, but in a previous renovation, the original wood had been covered.  The red cedar ceiling had been covered by fiber-board.  It was the same story with the floor.  With this new renovation, the foul fiber-board and hideous carpeting had been removed and the original red and yellow cedar, covered up for decades is once again gracing parishioners and visitors with its beauty.

Why had the natural wood of the ceiling and floor been covered in the previous renovation?  It seems preposterous that anyone could think that fiber-board and carpeting were an improvement on the natural cedar, but they apparently did.

Changing Fashions, Changing Ideas

This got me thinking about change, more specifically, changing tastes.  It’s a truism that fashions change, but they don’t just change; they change radically–what is all the rage in one time, is hideous and vile in another age.  This is true whether we are talking about clothing, church interiors or ideas.

The second truism is that we are completely aware of the first truism.  We are somehow convinced that the way we think at the present moment is, at long last, the end of changing “truth”–with today’s thinking, we have arrived.

Previous generations had it wrong, but we have figured it out.  As dumb as it seems now, there was a time when it was generally thought that wood ought to be covered by synthetic materials, and in fifty years the congregation will likely vote to cover the wood with synthetic polar bear fur.  So goes fashion.  So also go our ideas.

The Fashion of Truth

I look at some of the ideas that are spreading throughout culture, replacing the old ones, and I think they are beautiful changes.  Others are more like ghastly fiberboard and anemic pink carpeting obscuring beautiful red and yellow cedar.   And we take these new ways of thinking as absolute truth.  Consequently, in our conversations and disagreements, we condemn those with whom we disagree as bigots and freaks and ogres.  Given that our most recent truth is just a phase, perhaps we ought to be a little less certain about everything–a little less venomous.

In our conversations and disagreements, we must remember that the way we think today, is a fad. Consequently, we ought to be a little less certain about everything--a little less venomous.Click To Tweet

Doomed to Relativism?

I believe that there is something under the intellectual fads and whims of our culture that never changes.  Core ideas like courage is better than cowardice and it’s evil to harm a child for one’s own pleasure and the ocean is sublime.

Just because it’s new and in fashion, doesn’t mean it’s objectively true.  I say objectively because, although I’m not entirely sure which ideas are cedar and which are fiber-board, I firmly believe that there is an objective truth.  We will continue down our slide of subjectivism for a time, we will continue to believe that we create our own reality, but I hope at some point we will look back and wonder what the heck we were thinking.  And rip up the pasty carpet to expose the rich wood beneath.

We will continue down our slide of subjectivism for a time, but at some point, we will look back and wonder what the heck we were thinking.Click To Tweet

Are All Other Religions Wrong?

Christians are not as intolerant as you might think.

Are atheists more tolerant than religious people?  Are Christians intolerant of other faiths?

On a site called Hubpages, a person that calls themselves “kittythedreamer” asked the following question:

Why is it that Christians believe that Buddhists, Hindus, Pagans, Native Americans, etc. are all wrong in their beliefs?

It generated quite a bit of discussion.

This question makes a lot of sense in our culture.  We find Christians, indeed all those who take their faith seriously, as judgmental.  When we accept that there is no God, as many in our culture have; tend to also abandon the idea that there is a universal purpose and meaning–we are uncomfortable with, or reject, the idea of objective truth.  We’d rather create our own truth.

That’s why Christians baffle people like kittythedreamer (“kitty”).  Christians have this old fashioned idea that truth is objective, rather than subjective.  We believe that some things are true, or moral, or good, or just, whether we like it or not.  It follows then that some things are false, immoral, evil, unjust.

In our culture, saying someone’s views are wrong is the same as telling them that they have the wrong favourite ice cream.

“kitty” is right; Christians do say others are wrong. They do so because when they claim that some things are true, they can’t also accept the opposing idea as also true.   To do so requires a mental dexterity possessed only by those who don’t believe in objective truth–those who create their own meaning.

But “kitty” is wrong in another way.   Christians do not believe that other religions are wrong, at least not entirely so.  We believe other religions are right in some very important ways.  Here’s a list of some of the ways that other religions are right:

[tweetshare tweet=”Christians do not believe that other religions are wrong, They are are right in some very important ways. Here’s a list of some of the ways that other religions are right:” username=”Dryb0nz”]

  1. We’ve already covered the first one.  All, or very nearly all, of the world’s religions believe that truth resides outside of the individual.  They don’t entirely agree on what that truth is, but it’s external.  External often means universal–that means it’s true for everyone, everywhere, for all time.  One of the things that humans are supposed to do is conform themselves to that external truth.  So rather than thinking everybody is wrong, Christians believe that, in this respect, that these religions are right.
  2. Another thing that nearly all religions believe is that behind the natural world there is a mystical and/or spiritual reality.
  3. Most of the religions of the world, past and present, believe in transcendent gods or a God. Christians believe that, in this respect, all those religions are right.
  4. Most religions believe that God or the gods is/are occasionally active in the lives of humans. Christians believe that, in this respect, all those religions are right.
  5. Many religions believe that God is interested in human flourishing. Christians believe it and any other religion that believes it too are considered to be right.
  6. All religions believe that human beings must contend with evil in their lives. Christians believe this and they agree with any religion that believes it too.
  7.  Many religions believe that other religions possess truth.  Some are closer to “The Truth” than others.

Obviously, Christians don’t believe that other religions are wrong. There is tremendous agreement among religious adherents.  This is not to say that the differences aren’t significant, but the points at which all, or most, religions agree might give one pause.

So who is more open-minded?  Does the atheist say, “You are all correct”?

Atheists usually say of religious believers, “You are all wrong!”

I know it feels like there is a lot of conflict between Christians and others in our society.  Not all of it can be reduced to closed mindedness and bigotry–some of it has to do with the fact that people of faith look to a source of truth outside themselves.  Their claims might not be true, but it must be admitted that the idea that all meaning is necessarily internal also has some significant drawbacks that make it hard to believe.

This is where the dialogue should begin, not with kitty’s question.

Why read 1984?

1984 may be the most important novel for our time.

I feel vindicated.

I have been asked countless times, “Do you still teach that?  I read it when I was in school.”  This past week George Orwell’s dystopian novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four, topped Amazon’s bestseller list.  There is so much that recommends it.  One of the reasons everyone should read Nineteen Eighty-Four is that it is a relevant warning.  It is so masterfully articulated that the terms Orwellian, Big Brother and double-think evoke and almost visceral response in those who’ve read it.  Consequently, these terms are powerful weapons against the abuse of power.

This week, Kellyanne Conway was accused of double-think when she used the phrase “alternative facts” in defence of President Trump’s press secretary’s assertion that 500 000 is greater than 1.8 million.

[tweetshare tweet=”We have entered an age where doublethink is possible #Orwell #1984 #alternativefacts” username=”Dryb0nz”]One of the reasons I am so committed to teaching Nineteen Eighty-Four every year, is to explore with students the necessary conditions that make double-think possible.  These conditions are, apparently, present in our “post truth” culture right now–as is evidenced by the phrase, “alternative fact.”

What are these conditions?

[Spoiler Alert]

One of the main ones is articulated by O’Brian in Part 3 of the novel.  O’Brian’s task is to “cure” Winston from his mistaken view of reality.  Winston’s error?  A belief in objective reality.  In a very early session, Winston objects to O’Brian’s assertion that “we, The Party, control . . . all memories.”  Winston challenges, “It is outside oneself.  How can you control memory?”  Winston is appealing to the existence of an external reality.  O’Brian counters,

But I tell you, Winston, that reality is not external.  Reality exists in the human mind and no where else.  Not in the individual mind, which can make mistakes . . . only in the mind of the Party.  . . .  Whatever the Party holds to be truth, is the truth.”

(Sound familiar?)

Winston has a hard time understanding this; he argues that the Party doesn’t control the climate or gravity.  O’Brian’s response:

We control matter, because we control the mind.  Reality is inside the skull. . . .  There is nothing we could not do.  Invisibility, levitation–anything.  I could float off this floor like a soap bubble if I wished to.  . . .   You must get rid of those nineteenth-century ideas about the laws of Nature.  We make the laws of Nature.

O’Brian is simply saying that reality or truth is defined by human minds, it is not a thing in itself.   Consequently, if one controls human minds, then one controls reality.

[tweetshare tweet=”If truth and reality are defined by human minds, then one need only control human minds to determine truth and control reality. #1984 #Orwell” username=”Dryb0nz”]For this conclusion to be true, O’Brian’s first premise must be true.  Is reality defined by human minds or is Winston right, does reality or truth exist outside the skull?

Human beings have always believed that reality or truth exist outside the human–the Ancient Greeks called it the kosmos, Taoists and Buddhists think of it as a transcendent truth, the Jews and Muslims understand it to be in a transcendent God, Christians find it in the person of Jesus Christ  (this is another majority view held by all religions).

Recently, within the last 150 years or so, something changed in our culture–in the West.  We broke with the rest of humanity and began to consider the possibility that the universe might be made up of just material.  This meant that there is no God or gods or transcendent truth.  Objective reality had not place to live but in matter.

All this has lead to a different way of talking about truth.  Truth and fact used to mean different things.  You used to be able to call all sorts of things true, not just things like,

  • water is made up of two hydrogen and one oxygen atom
  • the Battle of Hastings was in 1066
  • 2+2=4

but sentiments could also fall under the heading of “truth”:

  • the waterfall is sublime
  • the Parthenon is beautiful
  • courage is better than cowardice

In a world of only matter, truth is reduced to fact.  The rest of what used to be truth has to find a different place to live–it did.  It took up residence in individual human minds.  The truths in the second list are now “just” opinions–or are said to be merely subjective.

We’ve been going along quite happily so far with our separation of fact and opinion, but it couldn’t last.  As Orwell warned, without an external objective reality, rational facts will eventually go the way of rational sentiments.  If the truth is in the mind, then the, so called, facts have no more chance than did true sentiments.  This is how O’Brian can state with confidence that 2+2=5 if Big Brother says it does.

This is what happened this past week on Meet The Press.  It was officially declared by a representative of the President of the United States of America that 500 000 was greater than 1.8 million.

When we separated the mind from the world outside the mind, the first casualty was the loss of true sentiments, but it was only a matter of time till the facts themselves fell victim to the denial of objective reality.

The only way to get back to reality is to recover the pre-modern idea of objective truth. Objective truth, not only links reason to reality, but grounds sentiment as well. This is expressed in The Abolition of Man, where C. S. Lewis argues that emotions are not “in themselves contrary to reason” (19).   Some sentiments are reasonable or unreasonable only as they conform, or fail to conform, to something else–to some external standard.  He said that “a philosophy which does not accept value as eternal and objective can only lead to ruin” for it “has nothing, in the long run, to divide it from devil worship” (“Poison” 80-81).

It is appropriate to be alarmed by the “double-speak” coming from the White House this past week, but we oughtn’t be surprised–Orwell warned us in Nineteen Eighty-Four that this was coming.  It has apparently arrived.

The Modern Malaise

Free-Photos / Pixabay

Do you ever feel that life is a little flat?

If you do, you are not alone according to Canadian philosopher, Charles Taylor.  He calls it “the modern malaise.”

Taylor says that the experience of living in a secular age is one of “flatness.”

This feeling comes about because of a new view of reality which affects how we experience reality. The view goes by various names–Naturalism, Physicalism, Philosophical Materialism, or Exclusive Humanism.  It is the belief that there is nothing over and above the physical.  There is no spiritual dimension to reality.

“Nature has no doors, and no reality outside herself for doors to open on”

C. S. Lewis, Miracles.

This loss of the transcendent results in a malaise. Without God, the world lost the enchantment it derived from his presence; meaning is more difficult to come by; it’s not so easy to anchor truth to anything absolute, the same goes for the good and the beautiful.

In the absence of a transcendent source of meaning, where do we look for it?

Other Sources of Meaning

The Romantics looked for it in Nature and the Modern thinkers in Reason.  In the postmodern context, these have become inadequate.  In our current context, we look for meaning within the individual mind, says Taylor.

Well, that’s cool!

Is it?

Any meaning to be found in the universe is to be found in my head. I get to decide if a thing is good or true or beautiful. I don’t know; I feel inadequate to the task.

“I told you once you’d made a God of yourself, and the insufficiency of it forced you to become an atheist.”

— Robertson Davies

Without the higher things, our experience of reality is flattened. Hence, the malaise of modernity.

The symptoms for the modern malaise:

  • We ask, “Does anything have meaning?”
  • We seek “an over-arching significance” in life.
  • We tend to commemorate important life events, but feel as if these efforts were all for naught.
  • We have a sense of the “utter flatness, emptiness of the ordinary.”

People are obscenities. . . . A mass of tubes squeezing semisolids around itself for a few decades before becoming so dribblesome it’ll no longer function.”

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

So how do we bring some fullness into our experience to counter the flatness?

  • Family
  • Membership
  • Sports
  • Toys
  • Vacations
  • Parties
  • Halloween
  • Etc.

These can sometimes mask the symptoms, but fail to cure the real illness.

A Prescription for the Modern Malaise

  1. A broader conception of time.
  2. The recovery of objective reality.
  3. The re-enchantment of the cosmos.
  4. Recovery of the transcendent.

I’ve covered the first in previous posts, the first of which is here.

The other three will be addressed in the posts which follow.

 

Microwave Chicken Teriyaki Jesus

I really liked Bryan F. Hurlbutt’s book Tasty Jesus. In it he asserts that Western Christianity holds to various cameos of Christ that aren’t accurate. This is because we tend to reconfigure Jesus to suit our personal preferences. In order to make complex cultural and philosophical ideas accessible, Hurlbutt uses food analogies to illustrate the shortcomings of five most significant “christological malformations” in the Western church. His analysis of these is thorough and nuanced.  But I’m wondering if, perhaps, there is not a configuration that might be added to his list, and a food analogy that would challenge the view of Christ held by many of the readers of this book: Modern evangelicals.

Hurlbutt’s 5 Predilections

First, here are Hurlbutt’s five predilections that wield a lot of power in the Christian West:

  1. Theological liberalism has largely naturalistic roots and, consequently, has stripped Jesus of his deity. This is the “creampuff Jesus,” tasty, but of no nutritional value at all.
  2. Fundamentalism is a response to theological liberalism. It tosses out the creampuff, but keeps crossing things off the menu–out with the potatoes, pasta and bread. This no-carb approach eliminates important parts of a balanced diet.  Ultimately, this approach is  spiritually toxic.
  3. More recently, postmodern ideas have influenced ideas of Christ–the core of this stance is relativism. Like a meal at a smorgasbord, this version of Christ can appeal to many diners because it makes no absolute claims. Have some pork chops, top them with ice cream and vegetable soup–whatever.
  4. Gourmet Jesus is the Christ of those who believe in the prosperity gospel–God wants you to be rich. The Biblical promises of spiritual or eternal flourishing are understood to mean material prosperity–God’s wants you to eat lobster thermidor. He clearly says so in the Bible, if you take a few verses out of context.
  5. Pop-culture Jesus–this is a “shallow and spurious” Jesus. Gastronomically, this is the homogenized Jesus, heated to the point where anything dangerous or confusing has been eradicated.  It’s the opposite of the delicious unpasteurized cheese you can buy in Europe.

These are Hurlbutt’s five. There might be a sixth cameo of Christ that is significant enough to be added to this list. It is the view toward which many of the readers of this book might lean.

My Sixth Cameo of Christ

I called this group Modern Evangelicals.  That’s Modern, with a capital ‘M’–it’s the church that is highly influenced by Modernism.

These terms are so overused that their meaning has become unclear, so let me explain who I’m talking about.

They aren’t like the traditional mainline churches for they have left behind traditional liturgies and no longer hold strictly to their traditional theologies.

They are, like Hurlbutt, critical of the Emergent church because it adopts post-Modern idolatries.

But they are conservative, meaning they resist change.  But in their resistance to post-Modern idolatries, they hold on to Modern idols.

4 ways which Evangelicals Worshiping Modern Idols:

  1. Rationalism: They take a rational approach to reading the Bible.  They tend to talk about the Bible in terms of inerrancy rather than inspiration.  They have a tendency to think of truth in the narrow sense, of fact, rather than in broader terms.
  2. Materialism:  They think of Communion as a meal of literal bread and juice through which we remember the sacrifice of Christ.  There is no supernatural encounter through the physical materials.  There is no mystery.  Jesus does not interact with his people through communion.
  3. Individualism: There is a strong emphasis in the role of the individual.  It is the individual who decides to follow Jesus.  This decision is celebrated in believer baptism.  This emphasis places the role of the community and that of God in the background.
  4. Secularism: They do not deny the transcendent, of course, but they tend to see a radical separation between the transcendent and the immanent.  For example, they will emphasize the the divine authorship of the Bible at the expense of the  human authorship.

They will be quite happy with Hurlbutt’s five cameos because they are not particularly guilty of any of these. Just as it’s easy for Canadians to see peculiarities in the American view of the world (and vice versa), to which they are themselves blind, so too Modern evangelicals can easily see problems in the Liberal or Fundamentalists stance, but fail to see the plank in their own eye.

What is the gastronomic analogy that might get at some of the limitations of the Modern evangelical take on Jesus?

A microwave Teriyaki Chicken dinner.

It is an individual serving, efficiently prepared with the modern convenience of a microwave. It’s slightly exotic–it’s teriyaki, after all–but it’s largely Westernized. The ingredients are theoretically tasty and nutritious, but the effects of mass production and microwaving have removed most of their structure, taste and probably nutrients. It’s convenient, only requiring a few minutes to prepare and eat–ideal for busy people on the run. Even if you ate it every day, you could do worse–it’s probably healthier than any of the other five diets.

Now, I know plenty of evangelicals that do not have the microwave teriyaki chicken image of Christ. For these, the analogy would be more like a healthy, well-balanced dinner–an herb-roasted chicken with mashed potatoes, steamed asparagus and a  small, sweet dainty for dessert. But I think even this more robust and balanced picture, as compared to the microwave meal, reveals the limitations of the evangelical Christ.

The best gastric analogy for the Real Jesus

I think it would be a family meal, something Middle Eastern. My daughter told me about the meals she ate in Israel. These were family meals. They ate fresh pita and hummus, tzatziki, olives of course, lentils, roasted vegetables, lamb on skewers, lamb in grape leaves. Importantly, this is a balanced meal. But the contents, especially the spices–cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, thyme–were strange to her western palate. She had to humbly look to her hosts, even the children, for some indication of how to eat it and what to put with what. She was not confident,  uncertain. She was repeatedly surprised–sometimes delightfully, at other times, unpleasantly by the flavour combinations. This meal was full of grace and love–the family that prepared it, pulled out all the stops because there were guests at the table. My daughter felt so blessed that such a sacrifice would be made for her.

No analogy can ever begin to capture the true Jesus, but I do think that even evangelicals need to think, not only about other, clearly problematic predilections, but also their own reconfigurations of Christ.

Radical Individualism–The End of Our Quest for Freedom

nastya_gepp / Pixabay

Where do we find Truth and Meaning?

Truth and Meaning reside in the individual mind.  It wasn’t always so.

The idea that meaning resides in the individual human mind, has been a long time in development.  500 years ago, meaning was external–context mattered.

In the Medieval world and before, the human self was understood in terms of three key relationships. That between God, other people, and the world.  These relationships were understood in terms of hierarchies.  The most spiritual things were on the top and the most physical things were on the bottom. Angels were at the top, with humans just underneath, then animals, birds, plants, planets, and the purely physical elements.

Each of these categories were ordered in their own hierarchies–the animal hierarchy was headed by a lion with the oyster at the bottom.  The elements were framed by gold and lead.  The planets from sun, to moon, to the other “spheres” to lowly earth.  And every human lived between the king at the top and the insane beggar at the bottom.

One’s identity, and the meaning of all things, had everything to do with where it fit within all these hierarchies.  Meaning and truth were external, sought and discovered in their context.

Freedom From Hierarchies

Then came a series of events that would free the individual from all these hierarchies.

  • Religious Freedom came about with the Protestant Reformation which began in 1517 with Martin Luther nailing his Ninety-Five Theses to the door of All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg. This event was the catalyst to a movement that would allow individuals to read a the Holy Scriptures in their own language and interpret the content for themselves.
  • Political Freedom came in a series of revolutions. The English Revolution in 1649, the American Revolution in 1776 and the French Revolution 1789 seriously limited or eliminated the hereditary position of king.
  • Freedom from the Transcendent/Divine. When did we stop believing in God? Some of us haven’t, but let’s just say that it was in 1882 with Friedrich Nietzsche’s The Gay Science. In it we find those famous lines, “God is dead. . . . And we have killed him.”
  • Racial Freedom continues to be clarified, but two significant events are worth mentioning: the Abolition of slavery and America’s Civil War in the 1860 and the Civil Rights Movements of the 1960s.
  • Freedom for Women – In the first have of the 1900s women won the right to vote in many Western countries. Countries. Progress in even more equality were won in the 1960s.
  • Sexual Freedom was also a part of the 1960s.
  • Freedoms related to Sexual Orientation have been won in many jurisdictions in the last decade.
  • Freedom from Biology – 2015?  The latest emancipation seems to be from our biology. Caitlyn Jenner and Rachel Dolezal are representative of this new-found freedom against biological gender and race respectively.

Total Freedom, Increasing Isolation

This is where we are now.  For the modern self, context doesn’t matter–meaning is internal, within the individual human mind. There is no authority higher than the self. The modern human is an autonomous human, not to be ruled by God, pope, king, or biology.

There are some consequences to this shift from external to internal meaning.  Just one effect is our isolation from other people and things.

We aren’t as engaged in our world as we once were: In his book, Bowling Alone Robert Putnam points out that civic engagement has been in steady decline in the last third of the century. What is the evidence?  We don’t do a bunch of things as much as we used to, things that Putnam suggests are indicators of civic engagement.

  • newspaper reading;
  • TV news watching;
  • attending political meetings;
  • petition signing;
  • running for public office;
  • attending public meetings;
  • serving as an officer or committee member in any local clubs or organizations;
  • writing letters to the editor;
  • participating in local meetings of national organizations;
  • attending religious services;
  • socializing informally with friends, relatives or neighbors;
  • attending club meetings;
  • joining unions;
  • entertaining friends at home;
  • participating in picnics;
  • eating the super with the whole family;
  • going out to bars, nightclubs or taverns;
  • playing cards;
  • sending greeting cards;
  • attending parties;
  • playing sports;
  • donating money as a percentage of income;
  • working on community projects;
  • giving blood.

As far as I know, there is no proof that civic disengagement is a result of the radical individualism I have described, but it seems to follow.

Freedom and Individuality are good things, but they are not ultimate things.  We’ve made them ultimate things–we judge everything based on the degree to which it aligns with the worship Individual Freedom.  But good things cannot fulfill the demands made of them when we put them into the place of God. They will become very cruel gods before too long, but before that, they will move us away from the other.  That they move us away from relationships, suggests their inadequacy as gods, for we find we are most fully human within our relationships–the purpose for which we were made.

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