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Posts from the ‘Epistemology’ Category

Give Me an Answer… Now!

Among the lessons we are learning with each large-scale tragedy in the digital age, is that our insatiable appetite for “news,” for answers, for solutions can and does lead to some fairly shoddy journalism. In a world where traditional news sources must compete with social media and public journalism, the only thing worse than not getting the story right is not getting the story first. And so we see predictable results like the ones that have been on display since the bombing in Boston on Monday (and which will no doubt continue with today’s tragedy in Texas). We have a suspect… No, wait, we don’t… The suspect is of x ethnicity… No, wait, that was inaccurate… There were x number of people killed… No, wait, that’s not exactly true… And on and on it goes. Read more

Word Games

I had one of those semi-awkward, overly familiar God-talk conversations today… You know the ones right?  Conversations punctuated by words about “what God is doing” and breathless declarations that “it was such a God thing” and “God just showed up” and “it’s so amazing how God is just moving.”  Now that I am a pastor, these kinds of conversations are even more awkward than they once were because, rightly or wrongly, I get the overwhelming sense that I am supposed to be eagerly expressing my approval of such language.  Kinda like a professional requirement or something—like if I don’t understand and affirm the words and the experiences, then I get a failing grade as a pastor.  I usually mostly smile and nod while inside I am rehearsing a thousand objections and criticisms and mostly wishing my interlocutor would just take their enthusiastic fervour somewhere else.  Read more

Why Do I Have Faith?

Last week, I found a message from a reader of this blog buried off in some dark corner of Facebook-land that I hadn’t noticed for at least a month. It was a message that was both encouraging on a personal level, as well as provocative in the best sense of the word. As it happens, the powers that be in Facebook have thus far prevented me from responding to this message. Every time I try to reply, I get a message telling me that I cannot do so due to some setting in one of our accounts (I don’t have an email address for the person who wrote to me, so I’m at the mercy of Facebook). Rather than wading through the labyrinth of Facebook’s privacy settings, I decided to do the only rational thing and simply write a blog post in response :). Read more

If Christ Has Not Been Raised — Pity Us All

I spent the morning after the triumph of life over death reading about the triumph of death over life.

Well, that sounds a little more dramatic than it actually was. What I was in fact reading was a fairly ordinary little book by David Webster called Dispirited: How Contemporary Spirituality Makes Us Stupid, Selfish and Unhappy. It’s hard to imagine a book with a subtitle that catchy being almost a complete waste of time, but it was. I was really looking forward to reading Dispirited after hearing an interview with Webster on the radio (he made some intriguing comments about contemporary spirituality and how it perpetuates selfishness, individualism, consumerism, etc.), but the book turned out to be a rather poorly written, sloppily edited collection of loosely connected rants against the increasing prominence of the (admittedly irritating) “I’m spiritual but not religious” claim.  Read more

The Training of Doubt

One hears a lot, these days, about the virtues of doubt. There is much talk about creating space for doubt, encouraging doubt, dignifying doubt, about how doubt is preferable to the illusory certainties of faith, about how doubt can even be an important part of faith. We have doubts about whether or not there is a God, whether freedom is real and meaningful, about the possibility of things like absolute truth and objective value. This is all fine, as far as it goes. It is good to acknowledge that we don’t know as much as we think we know or as much as we would like to know. I think that at its best, a willingness to live with doubt can engender a humility and patience with others that is quite obviously preferable to the wearisome alternatives that we are all too familiar with.

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The World We (Don’t) Want

Our daughter belongs to a swim club, and swim clubs mean—hooray!—fundraising. Bingo, specifically. I have discovered that one of the (very few) benefits of spending five hours at the Bingo hall on a Thursday evening is the opportunity to catch up on a bit of reading (I was the “pay runner” last week, which meant that I basically sat around waiting for people to yell, “Bingo!” before springing enthusiastically into action). Last Thursday, I brought along a book that had regrettably slipped to the bottom of the veritable mountain of unread books on my desk—Jim Holt’s Why Does the World Exist? Read more

Who Sees Clearly?

The problem of evil is frequently cited as one of the most powerful arguments against religious faith. The existence of suffering, whether on the micro or macro level is seen as evidence against the existence of a benevolent and powerful deity. And yet, the empirical data around suffering and religious faith stubbornly refuses to fit into this view of how and why human beings believe what they believe about the world. Religious faith seems to be the highest in contexts where suffering is the greatest. Read more

A Place for Religion

So, this one has been making the rounds in the social media universe… Apparently, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, has “defeated” the world’s leading atheist evangelist Richard Dawkins in a recent debate at Cambridge University. Quite handily, in fact—324 votes to 136. The resolution under discussion was “religion has no place in the 21st century.” Apparently it still does. Rowan Williams has saved the 21st century… or at least the day. We can all take a deep breath and relax. Religion will be around for a while.

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The Choice is Ours

One commonly hears some version or other of the refrain that faith is difficult here in the twilight of modernity. How can we possibly believe in the God of Christianity in light of modern science? Or in light of an understanding of the history and composition of Scripture? Or in the context of such astonishing religious diversity and all of mutually exclusive truth claims therein? Or given the amount and variety of suffering in our world? Or given how much we know about the sociobiological basis of all of our thinking and believing as human beings? Or _____?

The impression often given is that faith is uniquely improbable or challenging or implausible here in our current cultural moment. All we are left with, it seems, is some vestige of faith as an individually chosen, privately held, subjective  collection of beliefs which may provide psychological comfort or a kind of illusory meaning for our lives, but has little bearing on the real world. Read more


In response to the previous post, Tyler asks a question about why my writing here has shifted away from more philosophical interests and toward more of an emphasis on faith.  I actually haven’t noticed a pronounced shift in my writing, to be honest, but I am not always the most reliable or accurate assessor of myself, so I will happily leave such questions to others.  I provided a long-ish answer to Tyler’s question in the comment thread of the previous post, but I think the shorter answer just walked out of my office door. Read more

Jesus is Weird

Have you ever thought about how utterly weird the Christian message about Jesus is?

The hope of the world, Christians claim, is a crucified Jew who was born of a virgin over two thousand years ago, lived a very peculiar and provocative life, taught and modeled a bizarre mixture of love, compassion, and peace alongside jarring and bewildering words of judgment and warning, was executed by a predictable combination of religious and imperial power while simultaneously paying the price for human sin and absorbing the evil of the whole world, cheated death (so his followers say) by rising from the dead, and claimed, in this whole package, to be the fulfillment of the very old, strange story about a very strange group of people whose mode of relating to God scarcely resembles anything we would recognize or welcome today.

On top of all this, his rag-tag band of followers subsequently tramped all over the known world proclaiming that this Jesus was (presently) alive and well, thank you very much, that his kingdom was at hand, that his church was called to invite all people to follow him, and that he would one day return to as the judge and Lord of history with the keys to eternal life.

Um. Ok. Read more

Secularly Spiritual? Spiritually Secular? (Gil Dueck)

Over the last few days, my commutes have been spent listening to the 7 part CBC Ideas series called “The Myth of the Secular.” I’m not finished the series yet, but it’s been very interesting thus far. Is “the secular” simply the absence of religion? Or does it require religion and lean heavily on versions of religious eschatology in its vision of the future? Is religion a private exercise in a kind of generic, value-free public square or is it public truth with private implications? Basically, what I’ve picked up from the series thus far as that “the secular” owes considerably more to religion than it often cares to acknowledge and religion is often fundamentally secular in its presuppositions and expectations. The lines are often very blurry indeed. Read more

What Kind of God is This?!

Those who know me well will attest to the fact that the question of how we think about the nature of God is important to me. Like, really important. Like, it’s the fundamental reality behind almost every significant theological, anthropological, exegetical, hermeneutical issue we get excited about. Like, it’s implicitly or explicitly operative behind nearly every pressing existential question we spend time agonizing over. Like, it affects how we relate to and understand others (especially those who are different from us!), how we understand and exercise power, how we parent, worship, pray… How we think about who God is, what God is like, and how God relates to human beings matters. A lot.  Read more

“Our Idea of What a Human Being is Has Grown Oppressively Small and Dull”

I finished Marilynne Robinson’s excellent book When I Was a Child I Read Books over the course of a weekend trip to Edmonton. Amidst a wonderful collection of very stimulating essays, one in particular stood out, and I wanted to record a few of the more interesting passages here. The essay is called “The Human Spirit and the Good Society” and deals with the perennially contentious issue of human nature. What does it mean to be a human being? What, if anything is a human being for? What are our origins and our destiny? Amidst the many competing religious and secular narratives out there, and all of the possibilities these narratives open and close for us, where do we go to hear the truth about these vital questions? Which narratives do we trust to describe us to ourselves. Read more

Why (Not) Me?

As I mentioned in the previous post, our church is spending the month of October in the book of Job, looking at themes of suffering, lament, protest, repentance, and the motivations for faith. As it happens, Job was the subject of conversation on the most recent edition of “Tapestry,” the weekly spirituality program on CBC Radio. More particularly, the theme of the program was “coping” and explored the question: “How do we cope with the suffering that inevitably comes our way?” A number of appropriately diverse perspectives were explored (this is Canada, after all!), each of which contributed to what was a fascinating program. Read more

The Formula of Faith

I’ve been thinking a lot about carrots, sticks, and formulaic faith over the last little while. I spent a good chunk of last week wrestling with the well-known (and often abused) “pray and you will be healed” passage from James. Among the questions I explored were, Is there a one to one correspondence between (the correct kind of) prayer and the experience of healing/blessing? Is faith a kind of formula where the input of leads to the output of y? And, of course, lurking behind these questions are even bigger ones: What is the motivation for our faith? Do we follow Jesus because of what we can get out of the deal? Is our faith contingent upon the experience of blessing/goodness? Read more


Why do people believe and behave as they do? Especially people who believe and behave differently than we do. Or who believe and behave in ways that we think are dangerous, imprudent, confusing, stupid, or just plain irritating. There are so many people who believe such strange things, after all. Why? Read more

The Adolescent Squabble of Science vs. Religion

One of the books that I have been looking forward to reading for some time is Marilynne Robinson’s recent collection of essays called When I Was a Child I Read Books. Happily, a little brown package arrived in the mail today! I have enjoyed Robinson’s fiction immensely (Gilead and Home obviously come to mind), but haven’t had a chance to read her nonfiction just yet. I am very glad for the opportunity to correct this regrettable deficiency. Read more