Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Answering the Neo-Atheists

Just because the smart atheists get more press than the brilliant Christians doesn't mean they aren't out there fighting the good fight. In fact, I'd argue the media is hungry for smart Christians who are willing to argue over subjects besides theology.

Case in point: Novelist Marilynne Robinson. The Sunday Times of Britian calls her the finest novelist of prose today (they ought to know), but she's quite adept at arguing science as well. Her latest book, Absence of Mind, is a collection of lectures on the problems with neo-atheism that is getting respectful-to-rave reviews as she dismantles their arguments while also proclaiming the reality of a living God.

The National (from the UAE) states:
"Likewise, Robinson argues that the materialist case for “reductionist” views of human consciousness and life hinges largely on a gross caricature of religious ideas and “the exclusion of the testimonies of culture and history”. It’s striking, Robinson observes, that the case against religious belief has remained so essentially stagnant since the rationalists of the 18th century began to depict faith as a primitive superstition, a fearful retreat from the cold, hard facts of life. This portrait, she writes, “resembles nothing I have come across in my nonspecialist perusals of the last five hundred years”. To the contrary, she says, religious thinkers going all the way back to the 4th-century Christian theologian Gregory of Nyssa have contemplated “the ontological unlikeness of God to the categories to which the human mind has recourse is at the center of theological reflection” –they have, in other words, tarried with the unknowable rather than retreated.

Canada's Globe and Mail tells us:
The power of imagination that makes a novelist seldom goes together with the analytical abilities needed to be a philosopher. George Santayana wrote The Last Puritan (1935), a bestseller and also a fine novel, but in this as in many other respects the Spanish-American philosopher was highly unusual. There have been very few novelist-philosophers, and in recent times most of that small number – the business-class Nietzschean Ayn Rand, for example – have been noteworthy for the childishly primitive quality of their thinking.

One of the great writers of fiction, Pulitzer Prize-winner Marilynne Robinson (for Gilead, in 2005) may be the only living novelist who has made a genuine contribution to philosophical reflection. Comprising four closely reasoned and richly imaginative chapters based on a distinguished lecture series at Yale, Absence of Mind is one of the most thought-stirring inquiries into fundamental questions that has appeared in many years.

The Globe & Mail also offers a fascinating interview. Be sure to read the comments, as the critics accuse her of delusion without much engaging this point, for instance:

G&M: You seem to fault the likes of Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett for a failure of imagination, for failing to grasp complex individual behaviours of the sort that had us thinking about gods, or first causes, to begin with. Though they do construct stories, they're stories that seem to discount subjective experience in favour of an overarching master narrative. Is this a novelist's criticism of the scientific mind?

MR: I am a great admirer of the scientific mind. I may have a special definition, one that ranks physicists and cosmologists very far above entomologists, animal anthropologists, linguists. I believe Dennett is a philosopher, which puts him off the scale altogether. I love grand hypotheses. I love the excitement that runs through any real (by my definition) scientific community when something is observed that overturns established assumption. New thinking is precisely what is never found among these new atheists. All their books repeat one argument, which could have been written in 1890. Their emendations, for example that famous “selfish gene,” are conservative strategies for shoring up old ideas. There is rarely a hint that they proceed from data or observation, and never a sign that anything can surprise them. Dogmatists are not given to flights of imagination or to the creation of new syntheses. Scientists are. The human mind, wonderful and terrible, is the great fact. To minimize its power, its complexity, its loneliness and radical individuation, is to evade every essential question.

If you want accessible Robinson, try out her Orange Prize-winning Home. If you want lyrical Robinson, try her Pultizer Prize-winning Gilead. If you want a dense but absorbing read, read Absence of Mind - it'll make you proud of another smart, articulate Christian.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

This may not be the place to say it.....But i'll say it anyways

I found my future wife. Okay, maybe I didn't find her. But i found just one more prerequisite for her to gain my affection (if she is ever to come) . It's that she must love Flannery O'Connor.

Usually this blog is about contemporary issues. Well this post, is a 1940's and 50's issue. You see two weeks ago, I was reading a book that dedicated an entire chapter to Flannery. I was familiar with the name (and had thought She was a He up until that chapter), and saw that she was primarily a short-story author and a Christian who aims to find grace in the most wretched corners of existence.

I was sold.

The first short story I read was her most famous, "A Good Man is Hard to Find."

I read the story for a half hour.

I then literally sat after the story was over stunned for a good hour to two reflecting on the story and it's implications (I have since spent another three hours or so in various conversations about it).

Needless to say my life would never be the same. But every time I mention O'Connor to someone now, the one's who have read her go "duh!" As if they were living their entire existence under the assumption that the entire world had read Flannery because it was a prerequisite to ever live.

But no one told me, and thus I had to stumble through the first 24 years of existence in ignorance of her writing.

So I shout to you dear reader as to not offend my own ethic, if you have any analytical skills in regards to literature whatsoever, read Flannery O'Connor as soon as possible (note that I have been living off of Flannary in the few short stories that are available online. Most seem to be only available in print because of copyright law).

(And i apologize that this was a literature post on a blog that really doesn't focus on such a category at all).

Saturday, July 24, 2010

The American Scholar Rocks!

I love poking through the magazine shelves of the local book superstore because there's always treasure to be found. At present, it's The American Scholar, a tough-minded left-leaning quarterly that doesn't flinch from covering academic, political, literary, and religious topics from unpopular vantage points if the facts undergird it. This issue has just about everything:

  • The cover article declares: "The Earth Doesn't Care if You Drive a Hybrid," while Robert B. Laughlin talks about current climate issues through the lens of geologic time--and comes up with some surprising insights:
"Common sense tells us that damaging a thing (Earth) this old is somewhat easier to imagine than it is to accomplish—like invading Russia. The earth has suffered mass volcanic explosions, floods, meteor impacts, mountain formation, and all manner of other abuses greater than anything people could inflict, and it’s still here. It’s a survivor. We don’t know exactly how the earth recovered from these devastations, because the rocks don’t say very much about that, but we do know that it did recover—the proof of it being that we are here."
  • Poet Christian Wiman, who grew up Southern Baptist before turning to atheism before returning to a full-fledged faith, writes about "Hive of Nerves," which is described as: "To be alive spiritually is to feel the ultimate anxiety of existence within the trivial anxieties of everyday life." I heard his presentation on this topic at Calvin College's Festival of Faith and Writing, and it was candid, penetrating, and reaffirming.
  • An essay on how the writers of the early-to-mid 19th century struggled to find who Americans actually were. Then they foundthe unique literary voice of America.
  • New fiction by short story master Charles Baxter.
If you've never braved an academic quarterly, this is the one to start with. You won't regret it.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Conspiracy or Reality?

So before I give the following link, know that I can't stand conspiracy theories. I find them absurd and more so built in order that people may provide order and explanation to seemingly simply absurd tragedies. In other words conspiracy theories are wrought out of a desire to bring order to the tragedy of chaos.

19 foreign Muslims getting together and hijacking 4 planes and wreaking havoc on an entire nation by bringing down 3 of the country's most beloved structures and killing thousands in the process doesn't make as much sense as claiming the government orchestrated the events.

But that said in my aimless web browsing last night i came across a link that I initially laughed at because of it's absurd allegations of conspiracy. In short, Google and the government are in cahoots to maintain control of the internet. Joseph Lieberman even has a bill in the house right now that allows for the government to put a freeze on the internet during wartime. I assumed I was reading conspiracies of a madman. But the dude has some legitimate evidence and there are countless articles he points to that seem to make things a little erie. I have not made any conclusions whatsoever, and will retain skepticism. But the paranoia of Big Brother grew a little bit in me last night.

Read the link here 

Wednesday, July 21, 2010


I generally hate poetry. It's too abstract for me. However, through high school and college there were a few poems here and there that really woke me up at the awesome power of poetry and how it can reach places in our soul that would otherwise have been left hollow drab.

"Howl" by Allen Ginsberg (pictured) was one of those poems which did captivate my soul. It had me at it's very first line, " I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by
              madness, starving hysterical naked"...

Last week I read a redux of the poem except with my generation in mind and it's dependence on technology.

Read it here. I hope you like it as much as I do.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Young Jesus Chronicles

"He gets if from his Father's side."

Strolling through a nearby B&N, I came across a book of one-panel comics called The Young Jesus Chronicles. Mostly good-natured spoofs of famous moments in Scripture, or current society, it's quite funny. Yes, they overplay a couple themes, but the payoff is still quite large as you thumb through the book.

Take a look!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Walter Hawkins RIP

Gospel Great Walter Hawkins died earlier this week. The New York Times captures the mood well in their obit.

You can't listen to his Love Alive (with the unmatchable "Goin Up Yonder") and Love Alive II albums without getting goose bumps.

Public Airwaves: Taking the Lord's Name in Vain

NPR argues back and forth for allowing the Lord's name to be taken in vain on the public airwaves.

What's especially interesting is how sensitive they are to complaints from listeners. (The article references one - and only one - caller complaining in CT.) If we make efforts to call or email, they take that very seriously.

Another example of staying alert to our responsibilities as Christians.

Girl Scout Strangeness

Will this new logo stop you from buying their cookies?

More importantly, why do large organizations spend untold money to get their logos barely changed?

Monday, July 12, 2010

Get Goosebumps....Concentration Camp Dancing

The below video is of three generations of Jews dancing around various concentration camps and historical Nazi buildings. They dance to "I will Survive" by Gloria Gaynor. The eldest generation that dances, the old man was an actual holocaust survivor.

Score one more point to the "celebration of life" category over and against that ever receding "genocide and oppression of the human spirit" category.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

UGST is Fully Accredited!

Congratulations to the Urshan School of Theology on earning their full accreditation! That's a huge step forward for the Apostolic Pentecostal movement!

Friday, July 09, 2010

Mark Twain fans...get pumped

In November, volume one of Mark Twain's autobiography will be published for the first time. That is 100 years after Twain's death. Until now, the autobiography has been sitting in a vault in UCAL-Berkeley. Why the delay? Because Twain was worried about the material he included in the autobiography as being too controversial to be released. And thus willed the book's release exactly 100 years after his death...

His criticism of Christianity is sharp in the book (which if you have read any of his other books, this should be no surprise). He also criticizes then president Teddy Roosevelt as well which was taboo.

I'm usually not the guy who looks forward to upcoming book releases. But as Mark Twain was the only author I actually enjoyed reading in middle school because of such lines as, "Now and then we had a hope that if we lived and were good, God would permit us to be pirates," I will be eagerly awaiting it's release

Read more about the autobiography here, which also include a news segment about it

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Is this real life?

Warning: You are about to observe a generational anomaly.

And by that I mean, a video of senior saints in a church choir singing (or rapping) the the past decade's most popular hip hop songs.

I suppose this will mean more to younger readers (who know the songs), than it will older readers. But even if you don't recognize the songs, the video is quite illuminating in it's awkwardness as the close-ups of the choir members faces are priceless as some seem to be thinking "what in the world is happening to my life? What am I even singing right now?" While others seem to be thinking quite the opposite and proud of their new found ability to relate to the younger generations.

(Some of you may have already seen this as it seems to have many hits on youtube)

Friday, July 02, 2010

Michelangelo Surprises (Again)!

Michelangelo is one of the few people in history who seems to fascinate nearly everyone in all walks of life. He should.

Some scholars now believe he painted a brain (controversial for that day) into the beauty of the Sistine Chapel.

Decide for yourself.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

This is Fun!

Sometime contributor Cylinda Nickels offers "Jesus on a Job Interview"!