Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Theology in the news

A few items of theological interest in las noticias caught my eye in the past few days. The theology in some cases is very bad; one is very good.

Huckabee's Christmas ad: Yes, Mike, we get it. You're a Christian, and, just like Mitt Romney, you want Christians to vote for you. You're a warrior in the *cough* War on Christmas (Ain't it nice that when there's a real war(s) going on that you'd pick the one that doesn't have any risk or casualties?). And while it seems like a nice message and all ("Let's forget about politics and just have a MerryChristmas with your loved ones"), it'd be nicer if you weren't pimping Baby Jesus for campaign purposes. But hey, you must know what you're doing, you've got a theology degree ... oh wait, you don't! Yes, I know, you've got a B.A. in biblical studies; I've got a B.A. in religious studies, myself, but I wouldn't call that a theology degree. But I got my sheepskin at a secular university and you got yours at a Baptist university, so I'll grant that maybe you're closer to it that I am. We didn't get to study much theology at CrimsonU (well, I did, but it was independent work). But surely as an ordained Baptist minister you've got a seminary degree ... oh wait, you were only in seminary 1 year? Well, seminary's tough. I've just finished my first year, and it's kicking my butt on a daily basis.

More Christmas warriors: So the OKC city manager sent out a memo reminding city workers not to publicly display religious decor during the holidays, to ensure that there would be no church-state crossover problems. And wouldn't you know it, two workers decided that their First Amendment right to religious expression was being oppressed, and they're suing the city. Yet another case of people confusing public square with government, and confusing a privilege with a right. Let's clear it up: you can do whatever you want in non-government public space, especially if you own it. You can decorate the snot out of your office, if you own your office. You can put a big-ass lighted cross on the side of your skyscraper that can be seen for miles and miles, if you own the skyscraper. You can even wish your customers "Merry Christmas" if it's your store. But if you work for someone else, your office is not your office; thus you can't surf for porn on your work computer, and you really shouldn't send e-mails to your co-workers about how bad your boss' B.O. is. There are lots of things that you can't do at work that you can do at home, in your car and put on your person if it meets your dress code. The government has these rules even moreso, because it's not just guarding the integrity of the office space, but the whole damn country. And it has these rules to protect your religious rights (and anyone who's ever looked at the reason why we have an establishment code would understand this: Aren't we all glad that we don't have to be Anglicans? Aren't we all glad that no one forces us to go to a specific, government-approved church? Don't you want it to stay that way? Then stop being a dick.). A loss of the privilege of getting to put your Baby Jesus creche on your computer monitor is not the same thing as having your rights trampled on. The reason why we work so well is that we give a little to get a little. So give a little.

Evolutionary theology: I stumbled across this article on Salon and it just blew me away. And, of course, it's the comments from the so-called progressive atheists who really ended up pissing me off. Sam Harris' book The End of Faith was one of the factors that made me turn away from stepping over the line to become an atheist, simply because I didn't want to be that much of a smug jerk. Harris, Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens all take the worst, most hateful and most closed-minded theologies and hold them up as examples of the true faith, and they write off examples like Oscar Romero, Fannie Lou Hamer, Malcolm X, Mother Theresa (well, Hitchens wrote an article about her loss of faith with the glee of a bully pulling the wings off flies) and so many more. Theologian John Haught's new book, God and the New Atheism, takes on these guys and takes them to the mat. His basic theme: Theology is not static, and we cannot keep relying on 1,000-2,000-year-old ideas of how the world works to frame how we see our world. Theology is faith seeking understanding, and that understanding is grounded in the real world. As that understanding continues to change and, yes, evolve, so must our theology. And of course it does! Like I said when I was snarking on Huckabee, seminary is hard. It'd be a crapload easier without theology, without having to think about the things we think about, which because we're all crazy about religion tends to be about religion. But there's theologies upon theologies upon theologies, all crafted as people try to understand why the world is as it is. I'm hoping maybe to create one myself. Anyone who thinks that we all have one theology and it's all based on Aristotle hasn't been keeping up with the trends.

I'm not exactly sure that I agree with Haught's position that science will never achieve ultimate meaningful answers -- like Ghosthunters before they started believing their own press and started calling all the weird shit they encountered "ghosts" instead of "unexplained phenomenon," I honestly believe that the things we don't understand are not understood because we don't have the science yet, but someday we will -- but I do agree with him that a statement like this is a faith principle, not a scientific one. And, like the good nontheist, quasi-apatheist that I am, I'm good with waiting to see if I'm right or wrong. That's a faith statement, too, that someday I might get an answer. Anyway, I'm glad to see someone taking on the atheist blowhards, who are just as bad as the fundamentalists and, judging from the comments attached to the article, are all over the damn place.

(What I'm listening to as I blog: Aterciopelados' Oye


drlobojo said...

Every time I've thought that science has true insight the next scientific development blows away a previous "truth" and off we go again. Example: like the concept that the cosmos is expanding from the big bang and will expand so far and then collapse back to the singularity (very Maya/Hinduish). Wait no, no it won't because what we were measuring (all of the vi sable((stars planets light gases etc.)) matter and energy)turns out to be only 3.9% of the total mass of the cosmos. So now the concept is that it will expand forever. Oh by the way we really have no frickin idea what that other 96% is, so let's call it dark matter and dark energy. (Lucas' Dark Side comes to mind here.)

Paul's gnostic insight that only love can persist comes into play here. Whether we suffer dissolution, transformation, or continuation at the end of "life", our knowledge may be gone or upgraded, but our love will live on.
It may be the only thing that can transcend that border between now and now.

Truth in discussion, my testament classes, aforementioned, were like Huckabee's, undergraduate and at a Baptist college.

Thought: anyone who can handle the memebership of a Southern Baptist Church and the Government of Arkansas might actually have skills to govern. Better he than the street bully from New York. Besides the irony of a little town named Hope having created two poor boy American Presidents is just too sweet. Kinda 19th century.

Geoffrey Kruse-Safford said...

I have written pretty extensively on how full of crap both Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris are. Harris, in particular, I find egregiously awful, the kind of person who thinks that, having discovered Nietzsche, Marx, and Freud (what my own systematic theology professor at Wesley Theological Seminary called "The Great Deniers"), he has found the key to reality that everyone else in the world has missed.

Plus, he endorses the torture of Muslims because they are Muslims. He is a hate-filled human being.

Richard Dawkins was dressed down at a symposium on his work by scientists, one of whom said that anyone who believes that religion will disappear from the world is living in a fantasy world.

Me, I always thought Bertrand Russell was a better writer; his arguments are just recycled by Dawkins and Harris (and Hitchens, although Hitchens is a better writer) in a less palatable form.

Erudite Redneck said...

Oh, no!

Huckabee's misldeading statements about his education aside, his politics aside, the myth of the "war on Christmas" aside ...

There is now, I think, a rhetorical war over Christmas, started, like the two OKC city employees, in overreaction to a perceived slight. And just like the war in Iraq, which started with distortion and lies and mock Christianity, now we actually are saddled with: 1., a war in Iraq, and 2., a war over Christmas, what it means, how it should be expressed, etc. The righties started it, as far as I'm concerned; but we have it, for whatever reason.

And in the war over Christmas, the Huckabee ad was a classic feint, a draw play, if you will -- and his opponents rushed into nothing -- and will be left scratching their heads wondering how Hucakbee made so much gain over what, really, is something that should be expected from a Southern Baptist PREACHER who is running for president.

Score one, a big one, for the religious right, because the Left doesn't know anything about tactics in war, and can't read a draw play.

That and $3.49 will get you a venti nonfat one-Splenda latte at the Starbucks.

HapaThealogy said...

Drlobojo: My favorite comment on science comes from South Park's Trey Parker: "Basically...out of all the ridiculous religion stories—which are greatly, wonderfully ridiculous—the silliest one I've ever heard is, "Yeah...there's this big giant universe and it's expanding, it's all gonna collapse on itself and we're all just here just 'cause...just cause." That, to me, is the most ridiculous explanation ever." I agree. Pretty dull, silly story.

As for Huckabee's degree: it's not that he has a biblical studies degree from a Baptist college that bugs me as much as he's poofs it up by calling it a "theology degree." Theology ain't the same thing as biblical studies or religious studies, but it sure sounds cooler, don't it? He should just own that he has the bible degree, which is cool enough.

HapaThealogy said...

Geoffrey: Aw, man, now I have to read Bertrand Russell.

HapaThealogy said...

ER: Could be that Huckabee really is a nice guy (which I'm sure he is) and just wanted to send out some Xmas greetings -- which very much makes him just like Charlton Heston who didn't realize there was some homoerotic subtext to his character in Ben-Hur.

I would say that it's only a draw play because the liberals don't know what the hell they're doing with religion. Or anything, really. Which is the problem with being a liberal or a Democrat.

Geoffrey Kruse-Safford said...

Hapa, the book is called Why I Am Not A Christian, and most of it should sound familiar, because every public atheist uses it as a template. Don't let that get you down, though, because Russell has a good sense of humor, and his writing moves right along.

I really can't stomach Mike Huckabee. Or the WoC crap. I ignore it so my holidays aren't ruined.

Erudite Redneck said...

Re, "a draw play because the liberals don't know what the hell they're doing with religion."

That's partly what I meant. Another part is the secular Left's hostility to matters of faith in general. But the biggest part is the hostility the Left, secular and religious, rightly has toward fundamentalism; often they react reasonably; but I think they overreacted to this ad.

drlobojo said...

It is the water man. It is just the difference in the water.
When I watch this "Who the hell is Huckabee" stuff, it ain't the liberals alone, it is anyone from the east coast. Maybe it is because that is the bastion of the European born "Bishops are always right" crowd of denominations and religions. So far as I can tell the "priesthood of the believer" concept hasn't ever been able to survive long east of the Appalachins. They just don't understand how the south and the mid-west and much of the west see the individual in religion.
Naw, it is the difference between the sprinkles of the brackish tide waters and the muddy Mississippi water in which 2/3rds of the Nation get their big dip of a Baptism. It is all in the water.

HapaThealogy said...

If the Left were savvy about matters religiosa, they would have been able to call Huck on what was really wrong with his ad, which is what I snarked off on in my post: he's pimping Baby Jesus to get votes; he's sullying his faith for filthy campaign lucre. Now, he may not think so, and he might honestly be a nice guy who's sending nice friendly loving Xmas wishes out to people (well, only who are voting/caucusing in early January). And he might really have thought it was a bookcase in the background and not a cross. But he'd be the dumbest, most politically unsavvy candidate in the world if he's that guy. Politics is nasty, dirty business, and everything you do is done to get the most visceral reaction from the people you want voting for you. Even if he meant his Xmas greetings in the nicest of ways, they're dirtied by the arena in which he's put them, and he's a fool if he thinks he can keep them out of the mud.

drlobojo said...

Take a look at this one.

Erudite Redneck said...

For what it's worth: I see nothing wrong with either ad. Nada. They are no more wrong than if one of them pimped his love for summertime if the primaries were held in July. These are political ads. Of course they're political. The question is: Are they dishonest depictions of the men they represent? I can't say. And I honestly didn't see the allegeld "subliminal" cross in the Huckabee ad until it was pointed out to me. There is nothing subliminal about the cross in the McCais ad; it's the centerpiece of it. ... Sigh. I'm reminded of the false hoo-ha over Jimmy Carter's revelation that he'd been born again. I didn't get the hoo-ha then, and I don't get the hoo-ha now.

drlobojo said...

Ah, Jimmy Carter, the best ex-President in American history. Carter was a good and rightous man.
But he put lessor people around him and expected to serve him with loyality they didn't have. Buy me some Dickle, ER and I'll tell you some Carter "rosegarden" and "Whitehouse softball" team stories that make Carter Bradley's stuff seem tame.