The World Wide (Religious) Web for Monday, July 18, 2011


“The Confessions of a Cage Fighter: Masculinity, Misogyny, and the Fear of Losing Control”: In which Matt Morin offers some Augustinian reflections on Mark Driscoll and churches who use Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) in a misguided effort to reach out to men.

I have tried to give an account of masculinity and mixed martial arts that doesn’t exclude the sport’s enthusiasts from dialogue, and that is because I think MMA has picked up on something good with its insistence on embodied masculinity, its description of intimate masculinity that borders on homoeroticism, and its exemplification of the fighter’s utter dependence on his gym and complete lack of control over outcomes.

And yet, a curious futility emerges when the practice of MMA is observed: the body is rejected, some fighters and fans do not interpret intimacy in the sport, and the observation that the fighter is not in control seems lost on almost everyone involved. Just like the state that defines peace by waging  perpetual warfare, freedom by separating and isolating neighbors, and equality by ignoring obvious disparities, MMA is powerless to produce what it promises, because it does not possess the proper means to bring it about.

Of course, there is no reason to expect that observing MMA’s powerlessness to develop Christian disciples will dissuade some churches from bundling so-called men’s ministry with MMA. The sport is hot right now, and MMA is an effective “outreach” tool, so it will remain in churches for the foreseeable future. Idols may be powerless to form faithful Christians, but as fund-raisers and recruitment tools, they are effective as hell. This is what happens when, in the words of Stanley Hauerwas, the church tries to “make the Gospel intelligible to the world rather than to help the world understand why it cannot be intelligible without the Gospel.”

Faced with the growing popularity of the Christian MMA movement, the church must return to its source of life and proclaim a masculinity rooted in the self-giving and Other-receiving perichoresis of the Trinity and revealed in the flesh and blood of the God-Man whose strength is made perfect in kenotic weakness. Only here, I believe, can the church’s men find courage to resist therapeutic misogyny and church-growth schemes; only here can we begin to become true disciples who, with Augustine, joyfully proclaim, “You touched me, and I burned for your peace.”

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In “Geek Theologian,” Christianity Today interviews Kevin Kelly of Wired magazine. Here’s my favorite question and answer:

You are working on a catechism for robots. Why?

We are made in the image of God; God is a creator, and God created free-will beings. So, I believe we will create free-will beings in the form of robots. And I believe they will have increasing degrees of autonomy. We will need to educate them about the difference between good and evil, about who made them (and who made us), what to do when they do something wrong. And at some point, one of them will come to us and say, “I am a child of God.” When [that happens], how will we respond? Does Jesus’ salvation cover them? This is a question I’ve been asking theologians. They shrug their shoulders.

When we begin to make robots, I think the secular scientific world will appreciate what Christians have been talking about for a long time. If you make something with its own purpose, you need to give it moral guidance. If you give it moral guidance, what values are you going to give it? Teaching technology is like teaching children. At the point we make autonomous robots, Christians can step forward and say, “We know about this.”

He also talks about the pros and cons of the Amish. It’s an eclectic interview.

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“Vatican’s battle with China over church control heats up.” Three cheers for the Vatican! An officially atheist government should not be appointing bishops in any church. It’s none of their business. In related news: “Obama meets with Dalai Lama”: “China spoke out strongly Sunday against a meeting between U.S. President Barack Obama and the Dalai Lama, saying it ‘hurt the feelings of the Chinese people and harmed Sino-U.S. relations.’” Oh boo hoo! My take: Never give in to bullies. And next time, Mr. President, wear a suit and tie for your meeting.

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Check out Adam Omelianchuk’s review of The Moral Landscape by Sam Harris, who argues that “science can determine human values” better than religion. Omelianchuk begs to differ. I like this part in particular:

This brings us to the most devastating problem for Harris’s “moral landscape.” Consider the following argument:

[4] If the property of moral goodness is identical with the property of neurobiological well-being, then one inhabits the peaks of the moral landscape when and only when one experiences neurobiological well-being.

[5] Moral saints experience neurobiological well-being when they help others.

[6] Psychopaths experience neurobiological well-being when they harm others (this much is admitted by Harris).

[7] Therefore, moral saints inhabit the peaks of the moral landscape. [4] and [5]

[8] Therefore, psychopaths inhabit the peaks of the moral landscape. [4] and [6]

[9] Yet it is possible that [7] and [8] are incompatible.

[10] Premise [9] violates the necessity of the law of identity stated in [4]

[11] Therefore, the the property of moral goodness is not identical with the property of neurobiological well-being.

This seems fatal to Harris argument. If psychopaths and moral saints can exist on the same moral level, then morality is meaningless.

Omelianchuck takes this argument from William Lane Craig, the relevant portion of whose debate with Sam Harris can be viewed here.

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“So you think you understand the cosmological argument?” Well, I thought I did, but after reading this article, it’s evident that I have much to learn. But after reading this article, it’s also evident that I have much, much less to learn than just about any prominent New Atheist author.

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“Humans ‘Predisposed’ to Believe in Gods and the Afterlife”: Well, it must be true ‘cuz some scientists say so, right? It always cracks me up when scientists “prove” what religious believers have always known: We’re predisposed to believe in God because we’re created in his image.

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“Is Scientology a religion?” That depends on what you mean by religion, I suppose. The better question is whether or not it’s true, and in that regard, the answer is almost certainly, “No!” Regardless, I perused a copy of Janet Reitman’s new book, Inside Scientology, at my local B&N, and it looks like a real blockbuster.

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“Republicanity—The GOP Transformation Is Nearly Complete”: In which Gary Laderman hysterically argues that “The Republican Party is no longer a political party—it’s a full-fledged religious movement. The political ideology fueling this movement is religious to the core; and while it might be easiest to label the religious element ‘Christian,’ that designation is too broad and generous for the true complexities at work here.” How bad is the argument? Well, if you think every Republican reads Wallbuilders publications; supports Palin, Bachmann, or Santorum; hates the “rule” part of the Golden Rule, while loving the gold; or relies on Christian Reconstructionism for ideological underpinnings, then this little screed makes perfect sense. On the other hand, if Mitt Romney is the GOP frontrunner—and he’s not even mentioned in the article, making me wonder if the author isn’t practicing a little selection bias—then the article simply falls apart. Also missing from this article: Tim Pawlenty and Ron Paul. The latter’s libertarianism makes any charge of “theo-fascism” highly suspect.

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“How the Gospel Makes Us Generous and Content with Our Money.”

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“Go Ahead, Kiss Your Spouse.” Umm, if you needed to be told that, you really need to see a therapist. On the other hand, this is a good interview with Jim Burns about “the power of a loving marriage.” My rule of thumb: Happy wife, happy life. My rule of thumb’s fingernail: The best thing you can do for your children is love their mother.

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“My take: Casey Anthony and the challenge of forgiveness.”

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Christianity Today recommends Winnie the Pooh for families. As the father of an almost-three-year-old boy, I’m glad to hear the movie is a kid-friendly 68-minutes long. Oh, and stick around for a “treat” after the credits have rolled.

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“Sacred colanders [sic] and religious freedom”: About some Australian dude wearing a colander on his head for his driver’s license photo, Pastafarianism, the Flying Spaghetti Monster, and how some reporters don’t understand the difference between freedom of religion and freedom from religion.

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