Conservative Theology

April 10, 2009

General / Ghosts


Ghosts are not anything I regularly put in a lot of intellectual time on, but Parchment and Pen recently did a very interesting overview of the relationship between concepts of "ghosts" and the Bible.  

March 25, 2009

Religion and Politics / It Takes a Family


Rick Santorum has an excellent book out called It Takes a Family: Conservatism and the Common Good.  While many of us have grown up with an intuitive understanding of the importance of conservative principles, I think Rick Santorum has done a fabulous job of making the intellectual case for it in terms of living in community for the common good.  I'm not finished with it yet, but this book is awesome.

March 19, 2009

Religion and Science / The Mind and Computer AIs


UncommonDescent has posted an interesting article about the relationship between artificial intelligence and the human mind.

March 17, 2009

General / Leadership Practicum for New Leadership Styles

Getting Away from Command and Control


Mark Riddle is hosting a leadership training seminar for new styles of leadership which are different from the command and control model, but which focus on helping the Church grow as a community of gifted people.

If Church leadership is your thing - check it out!

March 14, 2009

Religion and Politics / My Love Affair with a Buddhist Nun


've been reading Sister Chan Kong's Learning True Love: Practicing Buddhism in a Time of War for a class.  It is a very interesting first-person look at the Vietnam war from a Buddhist perspective.  Reading the book, I've grown to like Sister Chan more and more.  There are several reasons for this:


  • Unlike modern people in the "peace movement", Sister Chan's desire for peace was truly apolitical.  She took the time to look at the war from everyone's perspective, and to try to understand why different groups believed the way they did.
  • Unlike many modern people who want "universal health care", Sister Chan actually worked to provide real health care to real people.
  • Unlike many modern people who are concerned about jobs, Sister Chan actually worked to create real jobs for real people, and create new income streams and real productivity for the poor, and not makework jobs just to keep people busy.  At the end of the day, the people that Sister Chan helped were whole - they didn't depend on Sister Chan for their daily needs, but instead were able to provide for them themselves
  • Sister Chan worked almost exclusively through volunteer organizations.  That is, she never forced anyone to give anything, but instead allowed people to give generously to make a difference in people's lives.  


In the end, though she would never consider to label herself as such, I think Sister Chan is pretty much a model citizen of "compassionate conservatism" (NOTE - I am not talking about GWB's compassionate conservatism, which was often times a soft socialism).  She sees a need, she gets it met by working with others to achieve a common goal, and she works with people who give generously rather than forcing things from everyone.


It's also interesting that, while Sister Chan's organization had many problems with their Nationalist government (i.e. South Vietnam before the communists took over), it was nothing compared to their complete inability to operate under the communist government.  


This is also interesting because it seems, simply from the facts presented in the book (though I am certain Sister Chan would not argue this way), that there was indeed a justification for the Vietnam war - and that those fighting for the South knew exactly what the problems would be if the communists took over, and that those fears actually came true when they did.  I think a careful reading of Sister Chan's book reveals that the communist/socialist mentality actually squashed the ability for real improvement and real community to take place, rather than empower it.  Sister Chan was able to be compassionate before the communist takeover, and was basically forbidden to be compassionate afterwards.


So, while I respect and agree to some extent with the many criticisms of capitalism offered by many of its opponents, I think that they miss the big picture.  Compassion only works when it is done from the heart - which is another way to say "voluntarily".  Compassion is equivalent to oppression when it is mandated, because how could you mandate compassion?  As soon as you try, it becomes something else - namely, oppression.


Should capitalists be more compassionate?  Absolutely.  Should we work towards peace and understanding? Certainly.  Should we help the poor in any way we can? Without a doubt.  But to turn these excellent ideals into forced, governmental programs is to create oppression from compassion, and to exterminate all real compassion from society.

Anyway, the book is really good, although slow in parts.  It really offers a different perspective on the war than you will find from pretty much anyone in the United States on the right or the left.

February 26, 2009

Religion and Politics / Misinterpretation or Disagreement?


In class today we had a discussion about social context and Jeremiah Wright's speech.  The claim was made that the problem was that white America didn't understand the black prophetic tradition, and therefore completely misunderstood what Wright said.  I think, however, was that, even if white America took Wright's views to be more extreme than they really are, that, for the most part, the problem was not misinterpretation, it was disagreement.

To emphasize the point, I'll examine both Wright's speech after 9/11 as well as another speech by Jerry Falwell.  Here's what Jerry Falwell had to say about 9/11:

And, I know that I'll hear from them for this. But, throwing God out successfully with the help of the federal court system, throwing God out of the public square, out of the schools. The abortionists have got to bear some burden for this because God will not be mocked. And when we destroy 40 million little innocent babies, we make God mad. I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way -- all of them who have tried to secularize America -- I point the finger in their face and say "you helped this happen."

Here's what Jeremiah Wright had to say about 9/11 (see full sermon here):

Governments fail. The government in this text comprised of Caesar, Cornelius, Pontus Pilot – Pontius Pilate – the Roman government failed. The British government used to rule from east to west. The British government had a Union Jack. She colonised Kenya, Guana, Nigeria, Jamaica, Barbados, Trinidad and Hong Kong. Her navies ruled the seven seas all the way down to the tip of Argentina in the Falklands, but the British failed. The Russian government failed. The Japanese government failed. The German government failed. And the United States of America government, when it came to treating her citizens of Indian decent fairly, she failed. She put them on reservations. When it came to treating her citizens of Japanese decent fairly, she failed. She put them in internment prison camps. When it came to treating her citizens of African decent fairly, America failed. She put them in chains. The government put them in slave quarters, put them on auction blocks, put them in cotton fields, put them in inferior schools, put them in substandard housing, put them in scientific experiments, put them in the lowest paying jobs, put them outside the equal protection of the law, kept them out of their racist bastions of higher education and locked them into position of hopelessness and helplessness. The government gives them the drugs, builds bigger prisons, passes a three-strike law, and then wants us to sing “God Bless America.” No, no, no. Not “God Bless America”; God Damn America! That’s in the Bible, for killing innocent people. God Damn America for treating her citizen as less than human. God Damn America as long as she keeps trying to act like she is God and she is supreme!

The fact is, despite claims of misquoting and whatnot, these people do mean what they actually say.  It is true that Falwell did not put the whole weight of 9/11 on gays and lesbians, and if you understand his theology it's based not on these specific social categories as much as them being indicative of a larger move away from God's foundation, and more towards the organizations and institutions than the individual people themselves.  But so what?  With or without the nuances, the basics are the same.

It is also true that Jeremiah Wright wants what is best for America - in the general sense of "america", and that there is a long tradition of black preachers going overboard in claims.  But so what?  With or without the nuances, the basics are the same.

What Jeremiah Wright was saying is that we shouldn't ask God to bless America, but we should ask God to damn America.  He didn't say that we should watch out because that is what God is going to do (although he said that as well), he explicitly contrasted "God bless America" with "God damn America", saying that we should be asking God for America's destruction.  Wright was saying that the system of America is fundamentally bad and needs replacing.  Is that in line with the black prophetic tradition?  Sure it is, precisely because that's what a majority of the black prophetic tradition think.

The reason why some people are outraged at Falwell but not Wright, or Wright but not Falwell, or perhaps at both or neither, is not because they misunderstand the cultures, but precisely because they understand them very well.  Fundamentalist Christians tend to agree with Falwell and disagree with Wright.  This is not cultural miscommunication, this is a straightforward disagreement.

The problems people had with Obama attending Wright's church are the same types of problems that other people would have if a candidate was a member of Jerry Falwell's Church - in fact, the same kind of issues were presented against Palin for her Church affiliation and membership - it just didn't matter as much because she was the VP candidate.

Anyway, it annoys me when people say that we just need to "understand" Wright better - no, that's not the problem.  It's a disagreement.  If you want to present your argument to persuade, that's great.  But don't pretend that he's not a radical with fairly radical views - he is.  I think people need to accept that most of America fundamentally disagrees with Wright's view of the world.  To say it's a problem of "understanding" is to just dance around the real issues we need to be talking about, rather than address them directly.

For the record, I have some amount of agreement and disagreement with both statements.

February 20, 2009

The Bible / The Problem of the "Original Text"


This post over at ETC shares a lot of my issues with the notion of a single "original text".  Check it out!  It's wierd that so little of this nature of multiple authorial texts is discussed in seminary.  Even at a liberal seminary, the operating assumption is that there is a single "original text".  If you imagine the process of handwriting each copy, its actually possible (though remote) that _all_ variants are actually part of some "original text".

January 28, 2009

General / Christian Rock Radio


A friend just sent me this link -- I'd thought I'd share it with you:

January 25, 2009

Religion and Science / The Darwin 2009 Project at the University of Oklahoma


As a resident Oklahoman, I'm sending in a letter to OU president Boren about the Darwin 2009 Project, and I encourage you to do the same.

January 14, 2009

General / The Terribly Irritating Thing about Liberal Theology


The one thing about liberalism that I find terribly, terribly irritating is that they seem to have this constant, almost dizzying, switch that goes back and forth between materialism and supernaturalism.  On the one hand, they take everything "science" says about materialism as if it were the gospel, and then, apparently wherever they feel like, they make assertions about how the will acts, or God's action in the world.  It is absolutely dizzying.

There's a constant need to redefine everything from truly spiritual terms to more physical terms - like redefining spirituality as "inner transformation" (note that inner transformation leaves God entirely out of the picture), making all behavior the product of genetics, and other things.  And then, somewhere out of the blue, in pops God and free will.  But of course, only for a brief moment, and there is no way to discern why we should be thinking in terms of God and free will in those isolated instances when every other association with them has been broken using materialism.