The most boring question you can ask of any religion is whether it is true.
So says Alain de Botton, philosopher, writer, and founder of an organization called “The School of Life,” a kind of church for atheists. de Botton started the school out of a conviction that religions have a few useful traditions, rituals, and practices that are worth borrowing and adapting in the ongoing project of becoming kind and fulfilled and generally decent human beings. The truth of the matter doesn’t really matter. What does matter is whether there might be some useful things to salvage from these historical traditions as we continue the steady march of secular progress. Read more
Confirmation bias: the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms one’s beliefs or hypotheses, while giving disproportionately less consideration to alternative possibilities
I’m going to go out on a limb and assume that the past few weeks have afforded you a few opportunities to observe humans behaving badly on the Internet. Maybe even more than a few. The Syrian refugee crisis has polarized people—particularly Christian people, sadly—in a way that few issues that I can recall have. Ever since, “the post” and the many unpleasant responses it generated, I have a rapidly expanding email folder full of often very kind messages from people around the world that often begin with something like, “I’ve been so discouraged lately by the things I’ve been reading about the refugee crisis online…” Read more
I got into the car this morning in a bit of a surly mood. A few things hadn’t gone as I had anticipated the previous day, I had received an unwelcome email that morning, and I was behind on sermon prep. Again. I stabbed the key into the ignition only to be greeted by the ear-splitting strains of the local top 40 station that my wife and daughter were, evidently, listening to on the way home from their evening activities last night. The part of the song that I was forcibly subjected to heard before frantically locating the combination of knobs that could lower the volume and/or change the station went something like, This is my fight song, take back my life song… Read more
I’ve been thinking about doubt over the past few days. It started when I read a recent piece over at Pete Enns’ blog about a pastor who confessed his doubts about the existence of God in front of his congregation. It continued when a friend pointed me in the direction of The Liturgists podcast, and particularly the episodes where the host (Michael Gungor) and co-host (Mike McHargue, or “Science Mike”) discussed their de-conversion and reconversion narratives. Especially interesting was the shape of the faith that was eventually returned to. Gone was the black and white faith of their evangelical upbringings. In its place was a postmodern faith more comfortable with grey, increasingly open to mystery, and less certain about the doctrinal content of orthodox Christianity.
Even more interesting were the “axioms about faith” that Science Mike had come up with as the “scaffolding” for this new approach to faith. Read more
After one of the warmest winters I can recall in southern Alberta, we were greeted on Easter Sunday with snow. So much for the springtime resurrection metaphors, I suppose.
Which is fine. I’ve never had much use for the resurrection of Jesus as a metaphor anyway. At least not as just a metaphor. As I read through the four gospel accounts of the resurrection last week, again and again I was struck by how utterly unprepared and bewildered and terrified the first witnesses were by this turn in the story. The early church was literally shocked into existence, dragged reluctantly and confusedly from an empty tomb into the landscape of new creation. I think those first witnesses would find all of our enlightened “resurrection as hopeful metaphor” language rather amusing. At best. Hope was something they had pretty much abandoned, until it showed up, wounds and all, and stared them in the face. Read more
This morning, I’m shaking out the cobwebs after a delightful week spent out in Winnipeg with the students, staff, and faculty at Canadian Mennonite University as pastor in residence. It was a week full of chapel talks and forums and lunchtime discussions and devotionals and informal conversations with students in the campus cafe and a whole host of other interactions and opportunities that have gotten all jumbled together in my weary brain. I feel a bit like a wrung-out rag, but in a contented, satisfied, grateful sort of way. It’s good to spend oneself in good ways with good people.
During my last chapel talk, I reflected a bit on the experience of being back on a university campus, about the memories it triggered, and about what advice, if any, I might give my younger university self from the vantage point that I now occupy a few years down the road. The following is a lightly edited version of some of what I said yesterday morning. Read more
Religious fanaticism is, regrettably, front and center in our collective consciousness again in this the summer of bad news. Whether it is Iraq or Israel/Palestine or other places around the globe, many people are quick to point to the role that religion plays in stoking the flames of violence and hatred.
And whenever there is violence associated with religion in the news, we can expect to see articles like “The God Effect” over at Aeon Magazine. The piece, written by Patrick McNamara, seeks to locate the religious impulse in dopamine levels in the brain. There is, according to McNamara, a fine line between “benevolent saints” and “murderous fanatics.” And dopamine, apparently, is one of the main triggers for when this line is crossed. Read more
In Jesus Christ God has promised to every human being a new horizon of possibilities— new life into which each of us is called to grow in our own way and ultimately a new world freed from all enmity, a world of love. To be a Christian means that new possibilities are defined by that promise, not by any past experience, however devastating.
— Miroslav Volf, The End of Memory
I have many conversations with people who find it difficult to believe or people who barely believe or people who want to believe but can’t or people who are embarrassed to believe or people who look down in condescension at those who believe or people who are just bewildered that anyone could believe in something like God or resurrection or hope or any kind of future that is radically dissimilar to the present. This is the shape of our life and imagination in the post-Christian west. Read more
I spent last night at Tuesday L’Arche prayer night. It was a celebratory night in honour of a new leader taking over here in the Lethbridge community, so there was lots of food and laughter, singing and smiles. I don’t get out to these prayer nights nearly as often as I would like to, but whenever I do, I am struck in a new way by the simple profundity of this community of people of all kinds of abilities who are committed to living together, sharing life and love, participating in the good news of the gospel of peace and hope. Read more
Over the last few months, I’ve been following a blog by former Seventh Day Adventist pastor Ryan Bell. The blog is called Year Without God, and chronicles Bell’s decision to take a break from God, walk away from the church, and try living like an atheist for a year. I have more than a few reservations about the project itself (I’ve written about them here), but it has been very interesting to ride along with Bell in the post-church, post-God landscape. Read more
Hockey is Canada’s Religion! So blared the headlines yesterday after the second of our nation’s triumphs with skates and sticks on the Sochi stage. For much of yesterday, Canadian media outlets were aglow with videos and tweets and updates about brave, patriotic Canadians getting up at ungodly hours of the morning and braving frigid temperatures to heroically make their way to the pub (sometimes, without even the lure of alcohol, if you can believe it!) to watch the big game. There were even heartwarming video clips of mosques and churches that decided to show the game before morning worship. The overall mood was exultant. This is what it means to be Canadian, we rehearsed to ourselves over and over again in myriad ways. Read more
So, this one is generating a bit of discussion online today. Apparently Ryan Bell, an American pastor (or former pastor), is going to give atheism a try for a year. He has found himself, over the last number of years, following the well-worn ecclesial trail from orthodoxy to heterodoxy and has arrived at the point where he’s just not sure he can do the whole God thing any longer. He’s not sure what he believes any more, so he’s going to play the field.
Starting with atheism: Read more
Reading David Bentley Hart makes me happy to be a Christian. The closing few pages of The Experience of God are simply a joy to read. Hart’s diagnosis of our present cultural moment with all of its lightly informed and category-confusing debates about atheism and religious belief is penetrating and razor-sharp (not to mention more than a little unsettling!). More importantly, though, his call to return to wonder at the very heart of existence and gratitude toward its source, is welcome and necessary.
It’s easy to gloss over long-ish quotes, I know. But resist the urge in this case. Hart has much to say that is worth thinking about. And he says it, as usual, in truly arresting ways. Read more
A meeting cancellation last night left me with the delightful predicament of how to fill a few an unexpected few free hours. Option A was parking myself on the couch and watching a hockey game, but that space was, lamentably, already occupied by my wife and daughter who were engrossed in a movie. So, naturally, I decided to pick up a book by David Bentley Hart 🙂 (I’ve written before about the delights and challenges of reading Hart before here). The Experience of God is not quite the test of one’s vocabulary (and the blow to one’s pride) as some of Hart’s other works, but it’s still not exactly the shallow end of the pool. Read more
“There are no atheists in foxholes,” goes the famous aphorism. It’s meant, I suppose, to get at the idea that when you’re face to face with darkness and death and horror and suffering, atheism suddenly becomes a less credible option. The reality of death makes believers, or at least desperate hopers out of us all. When our lives are under threat, God seems more palatable. That’s the idea, as I understand it at least. Read more
I’ve mentioned this before here, but one of the first books I tend to reach for when the well of inspiration is running dry and Sunday is approaching distressingly quickly is Frederick Buechner’s Secrets in the Dark. It’s a risky endeavour, to be sure, for reading Buechner’s sermons can either be an experience of inspiration and wonder at the sheer beauty of words and of the skill and poetic brilliance of a finely crafted sermon or one enormous exercise in crashing, at breakneck speed, back down to earth from whatever modest heights I had previously been pleased to imagine I occupied. I usually console myself by imagining that I am only reading the “greatest hits.” Even Buechner must have preached a few lousy, or at least ordinary sermons, even if I haven’t come across one yet… Right? Read more
Every human society is, in the last resort, men banded together in the face of death. The power of religion depends, in the last resort, upon the credibility of the banners it puts in the hands of men as they stand before death, or more accurately, as they walk, inevitably, toward it.
Peter Berger, The Sacred Canopy
I’ve written a lot of posts about death here over the years. Usually these are reflections upon the pain and the longing that accompany death, or about what the existence of death and our reaction to its inevitability might say about what it means to be human or about the nature of God and God’s promise. Or these posts represent a personal encounter with death—they are reflections about what it’s like to walk with people through death, or the experience of grief, or whatever. Read more
We were sitting around the table on Saturday night with some good friends, and the conversation turned to philosophy. “Philosophy is kinda interesting,” one friend said, “but it can get frustrating. You can never prove anything. You just talk endlessly and go round and round in circles, but never come to any conclusions.” My wife then offered her customary response that tends to appear whenever the conversation veers into philosophical territory—a response borne out of years of laboured conversations with a husband only too eager to drift off into stratospheres of wild abstraction and impossibility: “Why don’t you just go beat your heads against the wall for a few minutes?! It would be about as productive as talking about philosophy.” Ah, my wife. A pragmatist, to the core. Read more