words for the week :: evolution and reformation

Father Stephen wrote a challenging essay on what he calls the “myth” of reformation–including the poignant quip, “Semper Reformanda is not Scripture, it’s just modernism with a Latin motto.” He urges humility in our relationship to the church, and offers a reminder that we do not save the church, the church saves us. Plenty to think about, even if one would like to argue.

Avery Cardinal Dulles has an excellent article in First Things, available online, which gives a brief history of growing Roman Catholic openness toward Darwinian evolution, a typology of three coherent Christian positions on evolution, and a call for dogmatic anti-theists to interact with theologians better versed than the straw-man portrayals of faith that they lampoon.

did god really say? :: from adam’s apple to achan’s stones [part one]

Forbidden Fruit The serpent’s first question to Eve is an attempt to get under her skin, fomenting second thoughts about God’s gift and command. “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” The serpent calls the content of God’s speech into question by twisting the command and putting a harsher edict in its place. Eve is sharp enough to set that twisted serpent straight–for the most part. “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say…”

The story is centered on controversy among God’s creatures as to what God actually said, and what was meant when he said it. The snake and the human bring different versions of God’s command–and different gods. The god of the serpent is a restrictive fellow who hoards all the garden’s fruit to himself (even though there is plenty to go around) and threatens transgressors with death (even though he doesn’t really mean it). Adam and Eve have another God’s breath in their veins; they know his generosity and his character, but in their naivete they act on the serpent’s sermon and fall into the serpent’s world. Adam and Eve claim the fruit for themselves, and awake to find themselves shamefully bent. This story is our story.

This post, however, is not about Adam and Eve per se. I want to look at a few other Old Testament representations of God’s speech, and eventually raise a few questions about the nature of revelation, inspiration, and our relationship to scripture.
Continue reading “did god really say? :: from adam’s apple to achan’s stones [part one]”

where do we stand? :: Bonhoeffer and Lewis on ethical ground

C.S. Lewis makes several impassioned pleas for the universality of moral instinct in his writings. I’m most familiar with his appeal to the sense of “fairness” in an argument for God’s existence in Mere Christianity, along with his defence of what he calls the “Tao” in The Abolition of Man. At any rate, in both locations, Lewis is appealing to something like conscience or intuition as the ground of ethics. Ethics are built-in. Right and wrong find their foundation in some innate sense within us. That sense is God’s gift, and is ultimately grounded in God’s own moral character.

Of course, acknowledging the lingering wastes of sin in humanity, Lewis argues that our consciences, as well as our inclination to listen to them, are “bent.” We are not whole and healthy, but twisted and shadowy representations of what we were meant to be.

Working on Bonhoeffer’s moral epistemology, it struck me how different the picture that he describes is. For Bonhoeffer, conscience is only the voice of self-defence. Conscience is the tool by which we usurp God’s judgment, and employ it against ourselves and others. With our consciences–our personal knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 3)–we alternately declare ourselves righteous and then cast ourselves on to the dung pile. Either way, this is an attempt to shield ourselves from God’s voice rather than God’s voice itself. The natural knowledge of good and evil, is nothing less than captivity to death in Bonhoeffer’s estimation. Continue reading “where do we stand? :: Bonhoeffer and Lewis on ethical ground”

creation is bigger than nature

Reading Jurgen Moltmann’s, God in Creation I came across another way (probably a better way) of saying what I was trying to get at the other day. Once we have a sense of our independence from the world around us, we have a proclivity to wield that independence over our surroundings in relationships of control and domination.

Creation is bigger than nature.

By “nature” we can signify all that is subject to scientific study and, on some level, to human control. The concept of nature is strongly tied to “natural law” so that nature is everything that follows predictable patterns of behavior. Over the last few century’s “nature” has expanded to include not only physical laws like gravity, but (viaDarwin and friends) biological development and behavior. The development of psychology aims to incorporate the human mind into nature as well–the “experimental” and “philosophical” branches attempting to account for the neurological (objective) and existential (subjective) aspects of the mind, respectively. Continue reading “creation is bigger than nature”

ecology and consumption :: the “nimby” effect

Here is a list of ten places you will not see on the cover of any travel magazine for the next few…hundred years. For the second year running, the Blacksmith Institute has released a list of the most polluted places on the planet. Needless to say, there was an unfortunate amount of competition for the honor.

Factory in Azerbaijan

What is remarkable (but not necessarily surprising) is the concentration of sites on the map. North America (North of Mexico), Western Europe (West of Belarus), and Australia are scot free. None of the top ten, not even the top thirty most polluted sites are to be found in our backyards. What does this mean? Should we “developed folk” congratulate ourselves on the success of our environmental regulations and efforts at conservation? We’ve realized our errors and are cleaning up our messes. We are taking good care of the planet. Being stewards of what we’re given. Those backwards folks in the third world have yet to get on the ecological bandwagon.

I would not be too hasty with the laud. It rests on an answer (“Not In My Back Yard!”) too facile to function for long. Continue reading “ecology and consumption :: the “nimby” effect”

nature and civilization :: of dirt and dangerous divisions

Scraped together out of dirt, humanity is creation rearranged. Our atoms are interchangable with those of birds, bees, monkeys and mollusks. Theologically, no less than biologically or chemically, humanity is continuous with creation. Whatever is going on in the show here, humanity is a part of the scenery.

Some complexity is introduced when God leans down to breathe into the muddled mud-ling he’s put together. Dirt that shows something about God, “images” Him. Humanity has a unique role on the planet we are a part of.

Somewhere along the line, we became civilized. This is mostly measured by the fact that we are no longer dependent on nature in our day to day lives. Signs of civilization include the light bulbs that enable us to read late into the night (a much more convenient form of light than fire…), and the fact that we can live in rediculously uninhabitable places like Antarctica or Alberta. If you are a human being reading this, give your self a pat on the back–you are civilized!

As wealthy Westerners, it is tempting to interpret this functional impervious-ness from “nature” as independence, as a mark of real distinction between us and the rest of the planet’s inhabitants. I will be the last one to deride technology and all the benefits of human creativity. That said, independence from nature is a destructive myth, dangerous both ecologically and theologically. Our “civilization” fuels this myth and enables a noxious self-misunderstanding. Continue reading “nature and civilization :: of dirt and dangerous divisions”

summer update

Stanton Peak
Hello all. My noted absence in the electronic realm lately is due to my much needed presence off in the Sierra Nevada. I’ve just finished leading two separate trips (with Carolyn) for Sierra Treks.

The first was an eight day trip for alumni of an off-campus program in Oregon – The Oregon Extension. The OE, as it is called, is home to a handful of wonderfully eccentric professors, one of whom was on the trip with us to lead us in bible study and contemplative practices. John Linton is a wonderful fellow to get into a long conversation with. He’s deeply interested in questions of violence, and especially religious violence. Continue reading “summer update”

summer road trip :: stage two

Carolyn and I just returned from a week with my family at Lake Powell – that ecological abomination in the desert. It was a real treat to get to see everyone for a few days – aunts, uncles, friends, brothers, sisters, and a grandma – coming from all over the country. Like most Meyer vacations, we left more sore, tired, and bruised than we arrived. The highlight of the Lake Powell trip is the “dawn patrol.” This means getting up at 5:30 to throw yourself out of the ski boat while the water is still glassy smooth. Here are a few pictures for you. Continue reading “summer road trip :: stage two”

a new low for the species :: Evian Atomizer :: (re)made in whose image?

I hate to give it attention (even disdain is a form of advertisement), but I came across a product so mindless today that I’m having trouble imagining the person who would actually spend $15.50 on something so inane. After we tried an odor-less, color-less free sample, the friend I was with captured it in a single phrase: “For people with more money than brains.” In fact, I’m pretty sure that the only possible use for this product is to show other people just how much money you have to waste on something that you can get elsewhere for free.

So what is the offending product?

In a double lined, pressure treated, painted, labeled, aluminum aerosol can sitting in a prominent cardboard and plastic display (featuring a beautiful young woman who is obviously deriving meaning and purpose in life from her use of the product), is well… um… water. Continue reading “a new low for the species :: Evian Atomizer :: (re)made in whose image?”

zimbabwe :: worse and worse

I have a soft spot in my heart for the southern African nation being mismanaged into shambles by an octogenarian autocrat who has been in power for far too long. In the 1980’s Robert Mugabe helped to lead the people of “Rhodesia” to Western-style self-rule, distancing the country from the legacy of diamond-guru Cecil John Rhodes and the lingering imperial presence of the British. He has been in office ever since.

The soft spot in my heart has begun to tear in the last few weeks as almost daily I read some new bit of news on the BBC about the state of the country. Here are a few links:

— The country with the world’s highest rate of inflation (previously 2,200% per year), now has a rate of 3,791%. I’ll give you an idea of what that means. Average inflation in the States hangs around 4%. That means that the milk you buy this year for $2.50 will cost $2.60 next year. If you were to buy a half-gallon of milk in Zimbabwe today for $2.50 (keep in mind that inflation has been running at rates in the thousands for years now), a year from now, that milk would cost you just shy of $95 dollars. Your employer can’t afford to give you a 3,000% percent raise annually, so you are trying to buy this milk on the same salary you’ve had for as long as you’ve been lucky enough to have a job. Money isn’t even worth carrying as toilet paper in Zimbabwe. Thousand dollar bills are literally worth less than the shiny bit of aluminum wrapped around your chewing gum. Continue reading “zimbabwe :: worse and worse”

words matter :: physicality and meaning

We think of words as non-physical things, unattached and uncommitted to location or time. Words are transient, the same word may pop up on a dozen different tongues and refer to a dozen different things.

Our common-sense way of thinking about words misses out on an important aspect of word-iness. There is no such thing as a pure word without physical mediation.

Think about it, we never meet words except where we meet them in the context of meeting something (or someone) physical. Whether that mediation comes in the form of a computer screen, a sheet of paper, a friend’s face, or a loudspeaker, words are always intrinsically rooted in tangible encounters. Spoken words rely on the vibration of molecules, written words rely on their arrangement in some opaque surface, and even the words in your mind are inseparable from the firing of little neurons in complex networks. Where there is no matter, there are no words. Continue reading “words matter :: physicality and meaning”

Auden and Bonhoeffer :: scientists and theologians

Art is compatible with polytheism and with Christianity, but not with philosophical materialism; science is compatible with philosophical materialism and with Chritianity, but not with polythesim. No artist or scientist, however, can feel comfortable as a Christian; every artist who happens also to be a Christian wishes he could be a polytheist; every scientist in the same position what he could be a philosophical materialist. And with good reason. In a polytheist society, the artists are its theologians; in a materialist society, its theologians are the scientists. To a Christian, unfortunately, both art and science are secular activities, that is to say, small beer.
— W.H. Auden

Continue reading “Auden and Bonhoeffer :: scientists and theologians”