The World Wide (Religious) Web for Tuesday, August 9, 2011


COLD COMFORT: “Is That All There Is? Secularism and Its Discontents.”

Sometimes one feels that the center might be a little too serene. The emphasis on “joy” and “fullness” inevitably asks secularism to provide what Bruce Robbins calls an improvement story—to bring the good news about the consolations of secularism. Yet Lily Briscoe’s (or Terrence Malick’s, or my philosopher friend’s) tormented metaphysical questions remain, and cannot be answered by secularism any more effectively than by religion. There are days when Philip Larkin’s line about life being “first boredom, then fear” seems unpleasantly accurate, and on those days I might be more likely to turn to a tragic Christian theology like Donald M. MacKinnon’s than to this book, in which the tragic or absurd vision is not much entertained. Thirty years ago, Thomas Nagel wrote a shrewd essay entitled “The Absurd,” in which he argued that, just as we can “step back from the purposes of individual life and doubt their point, we can step back also from the progress of human history, or of science, or the success of a society, or the kingdom, power, and glory of God, and put all these things into question in the same way.” Secularism can seem as meaningless as religion when such doubt strikes. Nagel went on to conclude, calmly, that we shouldn’t worry too much, because if, under the eye of eternity, nothing matters “then that doesn’t matter either, and we can approach our absurd lives with irony instead of heroism or despair.” This is impeccably logical, and impishly offers a kind of secular deconstruction of secularism, but it is fairly cold comfort in the middle of the night.

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INTERESTING: “Let’s Talk About Sex, Baby! (…And Consumerism).”

Friends, we can bang on about sexual ethics all we want. But what if so-called sexual liberation is a symptom of a much bigger problem of covetousness and consumerism in our world? Would we not then be just as guilty? Would it not be hypocritical for us to attack those who consume sex while we consume the earth, material goods and industry products?

In this culture sexual “liberation” is the predictable standard and marriage the radical stance of commitment, just as unsustainable and high-consumptive living is the predictable standard, and harmony with God’s earth and consumptive limits are the radical stance.

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THIS TROUBLES ONLY CONSERVATIVES? “Family given permission to extract eggs from ovaries of dead daughter in world first.”

The family of Chen Aida Ayash, a 17-year-old schoolgirl who died after being hit by a car last week, was granted a petition to have her eggs harvested and frozen, Israel’s Haaretz newspaper reported.

The ruling raises the possibility that, for the first time, a mother could give birth after her death, a development that raises legal and ethical questions that are likely to trouble conservatives in Israel and elsewhere in the world.

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REST IN PEACE: “Mark Hatfield, Maverick Evangelical Politician, Dies at 89.”

Still, he steadfastly maintained that his political work was thoroughly Christian. “My goal as a senator is the same as my goal in life,” he said. “Whatever role I may have, it is all part of my goal of helping build the kingdom. I am striving to help trigger a spiritual revolution. … I haven’t changed the world or transformed American society, and I doubt if I will. But I think there has been an impact, a voice raised when maybe other voices have not been raised, and an ability to stand in the breach, make up the hedge on occasion.”

Hatfield’s is worthy goal for all Christian politicians, it seems to me.

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WHO IS RON PAUL? “Father of the Tea Party.”

At the New Hampshire GOP presidential debate in June, Paul received cheers when the moderator asked him about bringing troops out of Afghanistan: “I’d bring them home as quickly as possible. And I would get them out of Iraq as well. And I wouldn’t start a war in Libya. I’d quit bombing Yemen. And I’d quit bombing Pakistan. I’d start taking care of people here at home because we could save hundreds of billions of dollars.” Military personnel contributed more to Paul in 2008 than to any other Republican candidate, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Paul supports international commerce and trade but opposes all wars, unless they are what he considers defensive. He would cut all U.S. governmental aid to Pakistan, to Israel, and to the nations in Africa where the United States has made big investments in addressing the HIV/AIDS epidemic. He argues that Christians in the Middle East, particularly in Iraq, are worse off due to U.S. intervention there: “Christians have lived there since the time of Christ. They survived. And yet the one consequence of this war is that Christians have had to become refugees and actually leave Iraq.”

Like most libertarians, Ron Paul is difficult to peg on a traditional left-right spectrum.

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A CONTROVERSIAL OPINION: “An Interracial Fix for Black Marriage.”

Black women confront the worst relationship market of any group because of economic and cultural forces that are not of their own making; and they have needlessly worsened their situation by limiting themselves to black men. I also arrived at a startling conclusion: Black women can best promote black marriage by opening themselves to relationships with men of other races.

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FROM MY MAGAZINE: “Defeating Pharisaism: Jesus’ Critique of Pseudo-Holiness.”

There is an elephant in the room evangelicals (and Pentecostals) need to deal with. If we are not careful, our approach to the pursuit of holiness can, like that of the ancient Pharisees, focus too much on external rather than internal issues, be driven more by our fear of God than our love for Him, focus too much on vices we need to avoid rather than virtues we need to acquire, mandate that we separate ourselves from those to whom Jesus would have us reveal His love, and serve to push people away from the church rather than draw them toward it. This is a crucially important ecclesiastical issue.

I am convinced that the presence of Pharisaism in many evangelical and Pentecostal churches is hindering their ability to be missionally effective in an increasingly post-Christian world. May God help us become the kind of Christian leaders who are both able and willing to help our parishioners avoid the lure of a Pharisaic pseudo-holiness.

If you like the article, check out the author’s book, Defeating Pharisaism. He just released Christ’s Empowering Presence, which also looks like a good read.  (Full disclosure: The author is a personal friend.)

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OPPOSITION TO CRISIS PREGNANCY CENTERS: “All ‘advice’ must include abortion.”

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SUPPORT PRISON FELLOWSHIP! “States scramble to find prison chaplains after cuts.”

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FROM THE THEMELIOS ARCHIVES: “Biblical Interpretation, Yesterday and Today.”

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