Sunday, February 25, 2007

good quote...

"Truth isn't evolving - but our understanding of it and receptivity to it must, for this is the only way to come closer to the heart of God." - Richard Dahlstrom

In other words, if you think you've got it all figured out, even as a Christian, you're kidding yourself. I think most of us deep down know that we don't have all the answers, but we sure like to act as though we do, don't we? Especially when it comes to our faith. Aah... irony. :-)

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

listen to the atheist...

Although I've only read (and heard) bits about/by Slavoj Zizek, one of today's "hip" European political philosophers, this section of a recent NY Times editorial written by him serves as an instructive reminder that God can use that which we least expect to draw Christians back to the truth...

"... during the 7th crusade, Yves le Breton reported how he once encountered an old woman who wandered down the street with a dish full of fire in her right hand and a bowl full of water in her left hand. Asked why she carried the two bowls, she answered that with the fire she would burn up Paradise until nothing remained of it, and with the water she would put out the fires of Hell until nothing remained of them: 'Because I want no one to do good in order to receive the reward of Paradise, or from fear of Hell; but solely out of love for God.' Today, this properly Christian ethical stance survives mostly in atheism."

While I disagree with Zizek's final statement, his point is, I think, well taken: How far has Christianity drifted from what should be our primary motivation - love for God - and how much of our faith is predicated upon either a selfish desire for a heavenly reward or a desperate fear of hell? To drift into either of these as a way of living is, for the Christian, a denial of what our faith is supposed to be founded upon: the love of God expressed in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Is it really necessary for an atheist to remind us of this fact? If so, it shows how very far we have drifted... Lord, guide us back to you.

Monday, February 19, 2007

where I'm headed...

Well, slowly but surely I'm narrowing down my fields of interest (for possible Ph.D studies) to either philosophical theology and/or ethics. The two seem closely connected to me. In any case, now I have to start looking at what area(s) within those two fields resonate most deeply with me, and what I have to say about them. And, of course, what schools might be a good fit with my desired pursuit (to eventually teach at the college or seminary level). Prayers and any advice are always appreciated!

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Abortion: Is there a bigger issue?

Last week in my Christian Ethics class, the prof discussed abortion and the immense problem it poses. Sure, it's obvious that if an unborn child is a human life, we should not kill it. But as we talked, it became clear that if the Church is to speak against abortion with integrity, there must be a dramatic shift in our understanding of the value of life.

What I mean is this: What are we, as Christians, doing to encourage women to not have abortions? Are the only tools we possess picketing, name-calling, and legislation? If so, we are fighting a losing battle -- unless we really believe that we can turn the United States into a "Christian" version of Iran or Saudi Arabia. Which is, I'm afraid, what some Americans desire.

But is there another way? One answer may be found in the way the Church deals with children who have been born. Two stories in particular drove this point home in class. One woman spoke of her struggle with fertility and attempt to adopt. She tried for over two years, unsuccessfully, to adopt a child, and then, mercifully, became pregnant. She was extremely frustrated at the way adoptions are handled, both in the U.S. and in foreign countries.

But then, another student spoke up, and explained that one reason adoptions, especially of foreign children, remain so difficult, is because of the number of people who plan to adopt and then never follow through. He told of a seven-year-old in an orphanage his parents ran as missionaries to Indonesia who committed suicide after hearing that the "Christian" parents who planned to adopt him had turned around and gone back to the U.S. upon finding out they were expecting a child of their own.

In the U.S., adopting a white baby is 3x more expensive than adopting a black baby. Why? Because many parents are more concerned with skin color than simply loving a child, and there are far fewer white babies available. Which may say something about the racial factors in abortion and adoption, but that's another topic.

This leads me to ask: What is our theology of life? In an age where so many children are born without adequate parental care, how does this affect our understanding of "be fruitful and multiply?" Is that mandate meant to refer only to the children who are genetically ours, or should it be applied more broadly?

What would it look like if Christians really began to care for ALL children, not just their own biological children? Perhaps if people recognized that having a child was possible with the support of their church community, many more women would decide against abortion. But have we, as Christians, really given them that option? Or have we, selfishly, declared that women who get pregnant should have the child and then "deal with it on their own"? Do we think we need to punish women for getting pregnant? How is that Christ-like? These are some of the questions and considerations that surround the issue of abortion and, for me at least, have caused me to reassess what my response, as a follower of Christ, should be when dealing with this issue.

I hope that, as the Church, we can reach out to pregnant women instead of making them feel more guilty and estranged, and will show our willingness to love children not only before they are born, but afterward as well.

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

it's tax season... and something is very wrong!

(from an article by Bill Moyers)

Consider this: In 2001, 397,000 people who applied for the Earned Income Tax Credit were audited, one out of every 47 returns. That’s a rate eight times higher than the rate for people earning $100,000 or more. Only one out of every 366 returns of wealthy households was audited. Over the previous 11 years, in fact, audit rates for the poor increased by a third, while the wealthiest enjoyed a 90 percent decline in IRS scrutiny. Of all the 744,000 tax returns audited by the IRS in 2002, more than half, David Cay Johnston finds, were filed by the working poor. More than half of IRS audits targeted people who account for less than 20 percent of taxpayers, the poorest 20 percent.

Now take at look at the 1998 tax return of President George W. Bush, when he was part-owner of the Texas Rangers baseball team. Never mind that he was also Governor of Texas at the time. He reported income of $18.4 million that year, $15 million of which was a capital gain from his Rangers’ stake when the team was sold. In fact, based on his investment, he was only entitled to a $2.2 million capital gain, but he was given a performance bonus for his work as a team executive. This was considered part of his capital gain and not counted as income, however, and so it was taxed at the then-20 percent rate for capital gains (now lowered to 15 percent) instead of at the then-top income tax rate of 39.6 percent. A perfectly legal sleight-of-hand that netted him an extra $3 million dollars in foregone taxes on top of the eight-figure gift conferred by his partners.

It doesn’t add up, does it? Spend $100 million a year of taxpayer money to audit the working poor, while actively foregoing billions in revenue from the wealthy who hide or defer their income as capital gains. But of course the government piles much, much more onto the rich man’s side of the scale: every year, as much as $70 billion is legally sheltered from taxation in off-shore trusts and other financial devices. Big accounting firms like Ernst & Young actually sell tax shelters for a good share of their own huge profits. One of their “products” costs $5 million and, in exchange, the client gets up to $20 million in tax obligations wiped out.

It’s stunning. All told, we have a “tax gap” - the difference between taxes owed and taxes paid - of more than $345 billion a year, more than nine times our entire homeland security budget. There’s an entire new cottage industry devoted to making tax obligations disappear. In other words, helping the rich get richer at the expense of those who have no choice but to pay their fair share - and mostly feel obligated to do so anyway. And make no mistake; every foregone dollar the rich owe is one you ultimately pay for in either higher taxes or fewer services down the road. When our tax code permits such public larceny, you know who writes the laws in this country.

And even those who break the law have less and less to fear: last summer the IRS quietly moved to eliminate the jobs of nearly half of its estate tax auditors, a move that one IRS lawyer described as a “backdoor way for the Bush administration to achieve what it cannot get from Congress, which is repeal of the estate tax.”

Friday, February 2, 2007

thoughts on the "new secularism"...

There appears to be a "resurgence" of secularism among some Americans, in part as a response to the "religious right" and the 9-11 attacks. Of course, the most popular book related to this movement - if that is indeed what it is - has been Sam Harris' "The End of Faith." Having only read excerpts and reviews of the book, I can't and won't comment extensively. Others - even some from the atheist camp - have already criticized the book's oversimplifications. But I will just say this:

For someone like Harris to say that all religion is bigoted, hateful and destructive, and those of us who aren't "fundamentalists" are just fooling ourselves, is to make a generalization that can be easily refuted. Harris asserts that Hitler and the Nazis were primarily promoting a Christian anti-Semitic agenda. The fact of the matter is there are plenty of scholars who have pointed out over and over Hitler's atheistic tendencies and manipulation of religion for his own twisted purposes. Then there is the fact that other non-religious leaders (Stalin, Pol Pot, etc.) were/are just as cruel and manipulative as Hitler, if not moreso.

Granted, history is littered with atrocious examples of religious abuse and corruption. But to say that religion is the problem is to ignore the bigger point: Humans are the problem. And since Harris is a human, he's in the same boat as the religious people he's attacking. Does he really think if "secularists" held sway over the minds of the people that many of them would not turn out to be just as corrupt and cruel as the supposed "religious" powers which currently control much of the world?

Not to mention the obvious fact that Harris' infamous statement "Certainty about the next life is simply incompatible with tolerance in this one." is a false dichotomy. There is no reason to assume that belief in an afterlife results in intolerance and fundamentalism. IT CAN -- but that has more to do with the type of belief (a belief based in fear) rather than belief itself. And, in fact, most of the early Christians, and many Christians throughout history (and especially in the last 50 years) have rejected the type of intolerant fundamentalism Harris fears, while maintaining a strong sense of dogmatic and Scriptural integrity. Unless Harris wants to say that people like MLK and Desmond Tutu aren't really Christians.

And, on top of all that, Harris and those who agree with his reasoning are appealing to fear just as much as the fundamentalists appeal to fear in their attacks against atheism, infidels, etc. The two sides seem cut from the same cloth to me. There are clearly problems with religion, and problems with human interaction. But spreading a message of fear is not the way to begin solving them.