May 28, 2009

“Inclusiveness” an excuse for condoning sin?

Posted in Musings tagged , , at 11:29 am by myrlinn

During Bible Study this week, the focus was on the incident of the Golden Calf (Exodus 32). And one of the issues we discussed was how Aaron was quick to shift the blame with excuses along the lines “it’s the people who wanted it”, “you were gone so long, Moses”.

What gave me real food for thought was one of the responses when we were talking about the kinds of excuses people make today to justify wrongs or sins. Someone suggested, “inclusiveness” citing the recent Aware controversies. [ Background: The organisation was accused of promoting homosexuality in certain activities/programmes. One example cited by critics: the labelling of homosexuals as “neutral” in a sex education programme for schools developed by Aware. One of the arguments used by those supportive of Aware activities was the need for “inclusiveness”. ]

However, in the context of a discussion on whether inclusiveness is a modern-day excuse for condoning sin, I think it’s important that “inclusiveness” not be confused with “going along with the crowd” (which was what Aaron did in Exodus). Inclusiveness is about treating others, particularly those at the margins of society, particularly those who are not like you, with respect and love, without judgment.  If you look at Jesus’ life, he demonstrates inclusiveness – he conversed and dined with outcasts, with sinners, with those considered unclean. He had love for those who faced rejection and contempt by society. Surely, then, the Christian view should not be a rejection of “inclusiveness”, but rather an embracing of inclusiveness as a way to guard against being unloving towards your neighbour in the service of “righteousness” (and thus being like the Pharisees and Sadducees of Jesus’ time).

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March 26, 2009

Value of religion relative to individual?

Posted in Books, Musings tagged , , at 9:51 am by myrlinn

I’m currently reading Becoming Enlightened by the Dalai Lama (translated by Jeffrey Hopkins) – an excellent primer on Buddhism, with easily digestible explanations on central Buddhist precepts and beliefs — and the Dalai Lama’s thoughts on the different religions and the need to respect them and see their value caught my eye (and mind, of course). He writes:

The value of a religion is relative to each individual. A religion’s philosophical view may be the most profound and comprehensive, but still it can be inappropriate for a particular individual. As I mentioned above, even to his followers, Buddha did not always teach the most profound perspective. Rather than trying to force the deepest view on everyone, he taught according to individual interests and dispositions.

Further on, he elaborates thus:

The question of value depends on the frame of reference, which for religious systems is primarily whether it helps or harms the practitioner… People need a sysem which fits them. This is why it is very important to value all religious sytems

Can partial truths or partially right teachings lead to good results? I think that’s debatable.

For example,

  • what if a church teaches that God wants everyone to live a life of plenty (including having lots of money)?
  • what if a church teaches that God wants everyone to be healed, and casts doubt on a person’s faith if they aren’t healed after prayer?
  • what about when a church teaches that when you contribute freely to the Church’s coffers, God will reward you with more material riches?

Do these teachings help followers to grow spiritually? You would think not. How can it when the view of religion and God, is so transactional? You give, you get something back. Self-interest and self-preservation still prevail in this kind of view.

But pondering on the issue from the perspective that the Dalai Lama takes, that people need a form of religion that fits them, that they are ready to hear, then I can see their value. Those teachings engage people who are not ready to be totally non-materialistic, who are focused on pursuing  wealth and high positions. They keep people going go to church, keeps them listening to the teachings on love, compassion, sin. Looking at it from this perspective makes it easier to genuinely accept and respect forms of religion I find “wrong”. It goes some way towards solving one of my dilemmas — the fact that I hate all the “them” and “us”, yet I find some teachings just plain unpalatable.

March 18, 2009

Trying to make sense of God, and Church…

Posted in Books, Musings tagged , , , at 10:27 am by myrlinn

This week, I read two books that are quite interesting for the authors having somewhat opposite journeys:

Bart Ehrman’s Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why (Plus) published 2005

and Josh McDowell’s More Than A Carpenter published 1977.

Bart Ehrman began his journey as a Christian believing staunchly in the inerrancy of the bible. But, by the time he wrote Misquoting Jesus, because of his study of the New Testament through the years, he’s come to see the books of the New Testament as being a product of the authors’ worldviews as well as those of the scribes who sometimes added, subtracted or changed the words of the bible.  He also talks about the unintentional copying errors which made its way into the bible as we know it today.

Josh McDowell, on the other hand, started out as a sceptic and a non-believer who accepted Jesus after as he says failing to prove to himself that Jesus was not who he claimed he was (the book More Than a Carpenter has McDowell setting out his arguments for Jesus being exactly who said he he was/is).

My main thought after reading both, and pondering over their journeys as seekers of truth: It’s not possible to prove the bible to be completely bogus (as Josh McDowell found out); and it’s not possible to prove that the bible is completely true either (as Bart Ehrman found out). Which makes it all so confusing.

What I do feel confident about: that God works in those who ask, seek and listen. How do I know this? Because I have asked, sought and listened and found what I needed. Which is why I think the best part of Josh McDowell’s book is not his “rational” arguments for Jesus being thihe Christ, but “Chapter 11: He Changed My Life” where he talked about praying to God, becoming to a Christian, and how that changed his life within six months to a year. He talked about changes in inner attitudes, in personality, in being able to love and forgive, in being able to touch others with that loving-kindness. That, to me, is the essence of faith, not all the nitty-gritty arguments about which specific beliefs are right, which specific practices are right, which specific words are right.

And, right there, it brings me back to what I state in my last blog post here, that it’s easier to believe in God than to be a member of a particular church. One of the reasons this is at the top of my mind is that I’m now going to a church which emphasises that to be a Christian is to be a changed person, and I find it very useful to go. However, it is also a church which believes in biblical inerrancy and other “fundamentals” which I find extremely difficult to completely believe in.  Somewhat of a dilemma, right? Do I have a right to be in that church because I am a true seeker? Or don’t I have a right because I don’t subscribe to some of their fundamental beliefs? What do you think?

March 10, 2009

A personal reaction to McGrath’s The Dawkins Delusion

Posted in Books tagged , , , , , at 10:08 am by myrlinn

I’ve always found it easier to believe in God than to be a member of a religious group. Mostly because I have always been uncomfortable with how religious teachings tend to emphasise divisiveness, particularly those religions which believe in just one God.

Many religious groups promote a black-and-white view of the world; where the world is divided into the saved and unsaved, the faithful and the infidels, the believers and the non-believers, the people of God and the people under the influence of Satan. For example, I was introduced to someone at a church gathering recently, and the first question she asked me was: are you a Christian? It’s as if she needs to put everyone she meets in a neat box.

Also, look at history, and you’ll find plenty of evidence of religion being used to argue for wars, invasions, colonisation, and more recently, terrorism; and persuade the faithful to fight and die for the cause.

Thus, I was intrigued by Alister McGrath’s argument in The Dawkins Delusion?. In his discussion of the relationship between religion and violence, he cites a survey by Roger Pape (Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism) which indicated that “religious belief is neither necessary nor sufficient to create suicide bombers”. McGrath argues that when religion is taken out the equation, people tend to use ideals such as liberty and equality to play out human conflicts. He gives the example of the French Revolution.

Another point he makes which caught my attention: that divisions are social constructs. He brings up the discussion of ‘binary oppositions’ (male-female, white-black, Christian-Muslim, Protestant-Catholic, etc.) in shaping perceptions of identity. Do binary oppositions determine and shape human thought, or are the outcome of human thought? (citing Kathy Mills, ‘Deconstruction binary oppositions in literacy discourse and pedagogy’, Australian Journal of Language and Literacy, vol. 28 (2005): 67-82). It makes sense that they do both.

His arguments certainly gave me a different perspective on my long-held beliefs. I’m still convinced that religion remains a very powerful means of influencing and motivating people towards exclusionary attitudes and behaviour (for example, looking in contempt on non-believers), which results, in extreme cases, in violence; but his argument has made me more comfortable with the idea of identifying myself with specific religious groups. I can take the view now, that yes, exclusionary behaviour does still go on, but I can see it now as something that arises because of fundamental human social behaviour, rather than something that arises out of faith. Although I don’t think I’m ready yet to align myself with any particular religious group (such as a specific church), this has removed a considerable mental barrier for me.

You may be asking: so I read Alister McGrath’s The Dawkins Delusion? What do I think of it? Is it a worthwhile read? I think so. It’s a short volume which makes for interesting reading for those like me who are unfamiliar with theological arguments. I suspect though that it is coloured by the writer’s own view of Christianity which his writing leads me to believe is liberal (which doesn’t quite gel with my own actual experiences of church which have a tendency to emphasise that to be Christian is to be different from others, to be better and better off than others). So, just keep an open mind when reading it.

I should also point out that the book is a rebuttal of Richard Dawkin’s The God Delusion. I haven’t actually read Dawkin’s book, so I can’t comment on how good a job McGrath does in his rebuttal. I found it interesting though that he labels Dawkins an “atheist fundamentalist”. I hadn’t thought of there being atheist versions of fundamentalists before, but I guess that it stands to reason that every viewpoint has its own extremist proponents.

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