A thought experiment for your Tuesday afternoon.
Scenario A: You’ve been experiencing pain. Maybe it’s arthritic knees or chronic migraines or the fallout from an injury. You go to your local clinic. The building is sterile and clean. It is filled with all kinds of humming machines, urgent activities, and the myriad accoutrements of a modern, technologically advanced health care facility. Your doctor is well-groomed and wearing a white lab coat. On her office wall hang impressive-looking degrees from prestigious universities. She analyzes your symptoms, perhaps does an X-Ray or an ultrasound. Images are produced, diagnoses pronounced. Your doctor writes a prescription on official letterhead and sends you off to the pharmacy where you encounter a few more white lab coats, a bit more buzzing technological efficiency. Eventually, you depart with a sealed bottle of pills with detailed instructions on the label. Read more
There’s a well known scene in the 2006 cult classic Nacho Libre where Nacho, a hapless monk who aspires to be a Luchador, and Esqueleto, his emaciated unbaptized sidekick, are in conflict about life and religion and fame and fortune and why they’re so terrible in the wrestling ring. At one point, Nacho blurts out, “I’m not listening to you—you only believe in science. That’s probably why we never win!” The scene is funny because the characters are hilarious (it’s especially amusing to watch Nacho’s attempts to “baptize” his unsuspecting partner in the changing room before one of their matches). It’s also funny because I think many of us have a sense that even in popular discourse, science and religion debates often fail to attain much loftier heights of nuance and sophistication than the banter between Nacho and Esqueleto. “Science” and “religion” function like two bumbling Luchadors theatrically slugging it out in the ring before mostly ignorant throngs interested in little more than baying for blood. They are competitors for the same territory in our hearts and minds. One must win and one must lose. Read more
I am not in the habit of looking to the domain of theoretical physics for memorable images to aid in conceptualizing the nature of faith. This is because, a) I struggle to understand what theoretical physicists are talking about 90% of the time; and, b) Because of a), I console myself with the fiction that theoretical physicists are a mostly unimaginative lot who content themselves with equations and formulas and other math-y gibberish, and aren’t capable of producing metaphors that speak to the truth of people’s lived experience. And that I wouldn’t want to know what they’re talking about anyway. The fox and the grapes of Aesop’s fable and all that. 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
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
It’s Ash Wednesday, a day for sober reflection on, among other things, what it is to be a human being. And what better person to usher us into a conversation on this weighty and important matter than… Richard Dawkins. Wait, what? Richard Dawkins? As in the crusading evangelist for atheism? As in that famous biologist who holds any and all religious beliefs in utter contempt and never allows an opportunity to heap scorn upon supernatural belief to pass him by? As in the self-proclaimed champion of all things rational and scientific? That Richard Dawkins. Yes, that one. 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
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
I’ve been spending some time in the first two chapters of Genesis over the last few weeks as we make our way into a summer worship series on creation. And one cannot read very far in the literature about the first two chapters of the bible without at some point encountering the predictable, tendentious battles between evolutionary naturalism and creation, science and religion, etc. It seems to me that those who get the most excited about these issues often quite badly misunderstand either the nature of science or the nature of religion. Or both. And this tends to lead to a considerable amount of heat and not a great deal of light being generated in public discourse on this issue. Read more
Based on my own entirely unscientific observations, it seems that there is a burgeoning market for “recovering pastor who saw the godless light” stories these days. The genre is familiar enough by now, right? Fundamentalist pastor grows up in the church, uncritically swallows the whole religious package, devotes x number of years to serving as pastor in [insert small Bible belt American town here], gradually begins to have doubts, finally has the courage to leave his (it’s almost always a “he” so far) faith behind, is persecuted, scorned and rejected by his townsfolk and former parishioners still imprisoned by the shackles of fantasy and indoctrination he has so recently (and heroically) shed, and eventually staggers into the warm and compassionate embrace of this or that atheist group devoted to helping recovering clergy. And then, for the triumphant finale, our hero embarks on a life of spreading the good news of atheist liberation on [insert motivational speaking tour here] amassing inspiring (de)conversion narratives of other clergy that he has “helped” along the way. It’s not a bad gig if you can get it. Read more
If I ever do bite the bullet and buy a PVR it will almost be exclusively due to my hatred of television commercials. The prospect of skipping over every moronic attempt to sell me something is a delicious one indeed. But I’m also cheap. What to do? Such are the weighty conundrums of my life.
Anyway, I usually try to hit the mute button when the commercials come on, but I was a little slow on the draw the other night while the kids and I were watching the hockey game. And once this commercial started, well, there was no way the kids were letting me mute it. This comes to us courtesy of People for Good: Read more
Back in my university days I took an undergraduate philosophy course on the problem of evil. We had been through most of the well-rehearsed responses to the question of how evil can co-exist with an all-powerful, all-good, and all-knowing God. Each had their problems, of course. “But what happens if we just say that God is limited?” our professor asked, with evident glee. What if God’s kinda just making it up as he goes along? What if God’s a bit of a selfish jerk who isn’t nearly as concerned with human misery as we are? Or, what if he’s a nice enough guy, but he just can’t do much about evil? What if he’s doing the best he can with what he has to work with? What if he’s learning as he goes, just like the rest of us? Read more
Ever since I was a little kid, I have felt the pain of the world quite deeply (how’s that for a pretentious opening sentence?!). I don’t recall being an unhappy child—not by any means!—but I do quite distinctly remember being drawn toward more existential themes of pain and loss and identity and belonging, even as a relatively young person. Often the manifestation of these tendencies coincided with being dumped by a girlfriend (in grade 7-8!) or failing a test (mathematics and I are still sworn enemies) or some other utterly ordinary perceived injustice in the life of a kid. But I also remember wondering about and being saddened by some fairly big questions. Why do so many people suffer? Why do I have a mom and a dad who love and care for me while others do not? Why was I born in Canada and not Ethiopia? How does God expect us to live with joy and happiness when we see pain all around us and while we know that death is coming? If God is good and powerful, why does he allow so much horrific pain in his world? Read more
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
I watched part of the Grammy Awards last night. The decision-making process was a tortuous one. I had serious reservations about the worthiness of the Grammys to occupy my Sunday evening time due to, a) the overhyped, oversexed, undertalented spectacle it seems to have become; and b) the fact that I was far from convinced that I needed to spend over a third of the next few hours subjecting myself to mindless advertising. As it happens, the stasis produced by a fairly exhausting weekend full of church activities won out over my myriad principled objections to watching the Grammys. The best laid plans, and all that. Read more
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.
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