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« Women, Work and Weblogs | Main | God's in Charge »

29 July 2007

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Christopher Sowers

"It would be as equally unkind for me to say that you obviously have deep seated childhood issues which result in arrested development as is evidenced in your faith. I would not be genuine in my concern when I say that, and your assumption that I must have open wounds doesn't strike me as being genuine either."

I'm not entirely sure that would in fact be unkind, as it is probably true (in some way or another). As I tend to share openly and freely with people about my own hang ups, most usually figure out my "deep seated" issues. And, whether or not you choose to interpret anything as genuine is beside the point. I meant what I said and I will do what I promised.

"I wasn't aware that there was "a" Christian teaching about the Holy Spirit. Did God make a press release and I missed it? I don't believe that God is exclusively the property of any one particular "Jesus Club" or "church club", nor do I believe that any god that I would respect would only have connections with those who made it into the Club. Christianity must be about more than a marketing campaign to increase membership, dues, influence and power. "

Ah, sarcasm, yummy! I'm glad that I was able to make you aware of the Christian teaching on the Holy Spirit. God has revealed everything we need to know about him in his Word, the scriptures of the Old & New Testaments. This is why a press release was unnecessary. And, it is not that God is the exclusive property of any one particular "Jesus Club," as it is that the followers of Christ, the particular "Jesus Club," is the property of God. As the soveriegn ruler over all creation, all things belong to him and some more particularly so. Finally, God doesn't need your or my respect.

"In reference to the common reference to Nazis as being evil, bad,whatever, as proof that there is absolute wrong, . . . ."

Let's be clear. I wasn't using the Nazis as proof of absolute right and wrong. I was using them to illustrate that without an objective moral standard by which to judge their (or anyone's behavior), it is impossible to describe what they did (and do) as good or bad in any true sense, for such a judgment would simply be the product of a person's (or a nation's) sentiment. To put it simply: you have yet to demonstrate by what standard you can judge anything as being good or bad, right or wrong. All you have succeeded in doing, thus far, is prove my point. Namely, when we disregard the objective standard of God and his will, we are left with a mess of ethical equivocation and pontifications of sentiment.

"I also think you are confusing "civil" with "respectful." My comments have consistently been about respect -- about really listening to the other person, looking for areas of big picture agreement and determining if the small picture details are sufficient to be divisionary. I can be civil without being respectful, and they are not the same thing."

I'm afraid I don't understand. How is a person not rude but not respectful? Is it not respectful to adhere in a satisfactory way to social usages and conventions when conversing with another person? How is that disrespectful? It seems to me that you are dealing in semantics.

Regardless, R, thanks for the feisty comments. They were just what I needed to push me through the slowest part of the day.

R

Alright gentlemen, I've never been one to back down from a fight, at least not on these subjects.

Christopher: Not to be prickley, but please don't be arrogant enough to presume that because I told a personal story that it opens me up to personal criticism. It would be as equally unkind for me to say that you obviously have deep seated childhood issues which result in arrested development as is evidenced in your faith. I would not be genuine in my concern when I say that, and your assumption that I must have open wounds doesn't strike me as being genuine either. I don't have Stephen's consent to disagree with him in public, and my focus is relational, which is much of the basis of my spirituality.

In response to your post, I wasn't aware that there was "a" Christian teaching about the Holy Spirit. Did God make a press release and I missed it? I don't believe that God is exclusively the property of any one particular "Jesus Club" or "church club", nor do I believe that any god that I would respect would only have connections with those who made it into the Club. Christianity must be about more than a marketing campaign to increase membership, dues, influence and power.

In reference to the common reference to Nazis as being evil, bad,whatever, as proof that there is absolute wrong, it would be more accurate to say that the principles employed by Nazis were wrong according to my truth about what I believe to be appropriate beliefs and behavior, and ultimately enough people thought that to achieve a military victory. Before we get self-satisfied and congratulatory about how we know the truth and "they" were not it, we need to examine our own behavior. Our truth was that the behavior of the Nazis was wrong. What actions did we, in this case, the United States, or other political entities, take when we saw wrong behavior being done? Not a whole lot for a long time, which contributed to the acquisition of power and control causing harm. The example doesn't demonstrate the existence of absolute right or wrong, only situational right or wrong, and in differing degrees.

I also think you are confusing "civil" with "respectful." My comments have consistently been about respect -- about really listening to the other person, looking for areas of big picture agreement and determining if the small picture details are sufficient to be divisionary. I can be civil without being respectful, and they are not the same thing.

Stephen: I'm assuming your posting is giving me permission to disagree with you in public. If my assumption is wrong, I apologize in advance, because the relationship is more important than the discussion. You think I'm wrong, and that my beliefs don't work for you. OK, I think you are wrong, and that your beliefs in the critical nature of the Triune are the result of hundreds of years of political maneuvering for power within the Roman Empire, and then the Church. Where does that get us? I'm just more polite that you are about not telling you that I think you are wrong. I read recently that right does not mean holy, and that the church doesn't need to be right, the church needs to be holy. I suggest that the wisedom of those words also apply to the individual. The problem is that in your paradigm, in order for you to be right, everyone else has to be wrong. Not different, but wrong. It's the wrong discussion to be having (word choice intended).

The substance of your post focuses on the meaning of the Trinity, and what makes sense to you. My belief is that the concept of the trinity was created in response to a need for the deification of Jesus, which was very controversial in the first few hundred years. The concept of the Trinity allowed there to be political agreement between the jewish concept of God, and the distinction of the impact of Jesus' teachings. There were several competing views of the Trinity, and for political power reasons, both as a state, and the power of the church function within the state, the concept of a horizonal trinity emmerged. The Gnostic gospels obviously show that there was not universal thought on this, and it is questionable how much was genuine spiritual inquiry and how much was about power. The Russian Orthodox Church does not believe in a horizonal Trinity, but rather a vertical trinity. I attended several services and was struck by the sense of connection to their faith, their church and themselves. In a country where 65% of the population attends church on a regular basis after decades of religion being banned, I will not say that their spiritual belief in a vertical trinity is wrong. It is meaningful, and a guidepost to God for them. BTW, if you want reference material, I would be happy to share...

As a final note before I go off to real life battle, although your comment about me going in small circles without coherence was probably meant to prove that I must be wrong because you don't understand my point of view, have you ever seen a whirling dervish? I have when in Istanbul. When you watch them perform, you don't clap afterwards, you are silent because the act of dancing is a meditation to God, and the dancer is sharing his spirituality with you. In the same vein, circling the same problem, looking at it in different ways and different view points, brings clarity for me. If you are not understanding my viewpoint, and you are truly interested in what I have to say, then stop and let me know. I'm open to discussion.

Stephen Grant

Wow, I'm away from my computer for a day and see what I find... Chris and R thanks for posting....

R, I don't think I was disrespectful of your "spiritual blob" I know that you find hope in the good that you see in people and you call that spirit of goodness God... That doesn't work for me... There has to be a reason that good is good and bad is bad... For me it can't be good simply because someone decided it was good or bad...

The Trinity is the explanation. This discussion has been very helpful for me for I have been content in the past to define the Trinity as perfect relationship, but the Trinity has to be more than that. It is perfect relationship between three distinct persons. The reason I need to add this to my declared belief is that God must be a personal God for me to have personal relationships. (That is one of the reasons I am grateful for a civil discussion, here.)

Too often people claiming to follow Jesus have fallen short of the holiness of God (I define His holiness as His perfect relationship )and when we violate relationships we violate his very nature...

Luther made the obnoxiously true statement that "Reason is a whore!" He was right... You and I start at different places with different a priori assumptions. You start with humanity and what you know. That makes sense, but in this world it is becoming clear to me that I can know so little...

I start with God revealing Himself because He is himself love. I have found through trial and error (a lot more error than I care to admit) that I do much better when I am simply willing to acknowledge that God knows better than me... He hasn't let me down yet... He makes more sense of my life than I could or did... I f@#$ed up my life. He makes sense of it... So I we start a different points and use the same logic and end up at different places.

Now it seems to me that your response to that is, "Why can't we both be right?" Methinks an example of two airplanes would be in order. If they are in different spots in the sky they cannot follow the same flight plan and expect to both land safely... Or one airplane pilot cannot say to ground control, "I know you are telling me that I need to do such and such but let me do it my way..." I for one am glad that none of my pilots have ever said that... There is only one safe flight path to land safely. There are a bunch that don't work though... It is very possible that I am wrong... It has happened many times before. However, we can't both be right, and be less than a friend if I didn't point that out...

Christopher Sowers

I certainly didn't want to give the impression that I wasn't interested in your responses to my comment. I was merely trying to open the conversation up to include those things that Stephan discussed in his post. I was afraid that we would slide too far off topic.

But, it seems from your comment that you have decided that not much more can come from continue dialogue. It's a shame, really. I thought our conversation was moving along smashingly. Regardless, I will be praying for you. I didn't mean to re-open wounds that are trying to heal or to provoke you.

R

I do have feedback to your comment, however, I'll be responsive to what you want to hear, and not comment!

In regards to my feelings and thoughts on Stephen's post, let me answer by way of antedote. My foster dad was a minister and when he and I would have theological discussions, he would often brush off my comments, and then respond to the comments in a serman, where he knew that I would never publicly say or do anything that would be unsupportive of him. My feelings and thoughts about Stephen's post fall into much the same category, except that I don't have a pastoring relationship or a parental relationship with him. I hope we're friends, and that we have a dialogue which is two-directional. If you have a specific comment of Stephen's you would like me to respond to, I will, but beyond that, my general reaction is private, or more specifically any public comment is going to be less than fully honest or complete, which defeats the purpose of having the conversation. I've enjoyed your viewpoint, however!

Christopher Sowers

Rlh, thanks for the reply.

"What Stephen refers to as a spiritual blob is what I refer to as a sense of spirit, in the Christian context, it would be the Holy Spirit, that connects us as human beings, that compels us to do good, not because an external legalism requires us to, but because it is right."

I'm afraid this discussion is going to have to begin with "I respect your right to believe that, but it is wrong." You see, the Holy Spirit is not equivalent to your "sense of spirit." Here I think you have been mistaken in your understanding of the Christian teachings about the Spirit of God. The Holy Spirit doesn't connect us as human beings, but it does connect fellow believers. The Holy Spirit does compel believers to do good, but calls unbelievers to repentance. Furthermore, as the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit is a person, not a feeling or a sense or some non-personal entity. So, while you might choose to describe this "spiritual blob" (does it have a name?) as "a sense of spirit", this doesn't translate into the Christian context as the Holy Spirit.

"Ultimately, the existence of truth and what truth is are merely points along a scale of what is ultimately knowable."

I'm afraid this is not complete accurate as well. Yes, one could describe our epistemological situation as consisting of a scale of know-ability. But, existence of truth is either a priori a positive assertion or a negative assertion before we even get moving along the scale. Furthermore, the definition of truth is also a priori. Now, we may possess more or less amounts of truth and have better or worse definitions of it, as the scale analogy illustrates, but these qualities are distinct from Truth.

"And we do excuse people who kill our family members in the name of their truth -- it's called war, and we excuse it in the name of our truth."

Here, I think we need to some more precise definitions. I was not talking about excuses. I was talking about our emotional responses and our capacities to judge the behavior, either good or bad, right or wrong. If there is no standard of truth, then there is no standard for judgment. Therefore, me getting upset at a guy who breaks into my house and kills family because he is acting "according to his truth" despite it conflicting with my truth, makes as much as sense the pot getting upset because the kettle is black. This is why I used the Nazis as an example. If truth is completely relative, then we were wrong to condemn them and wrong to continue to treat individuals who describe themselves as such with disdain. A position in which there is independent truth for each person makes ethics, not to mention a whole host of other things, meaningless.

"There may not be any way to come to an agreement, but there needs to be respect for the other person and the other person's viewpoint, beyond a flippant "I respect your right to be completely wrong". At that point discussion stops, and everyone retreats into their "own kind" reenforcing the recitation of shared truths, with no room for growth, or moving beyond the polarization that now exists between religious groups. The discussion must be above that level."

I'm glad that we agree that discussions should be civil and polite. But, why need the discussion be above the level of one person being wrong and the other person being right? Is it not possible for a person to be right and another to be wrong and for the discussion to still be civil and polite? Right and wrong do exist. And, at a certain point, discussions will and do stop. So, I fail to see why this is so important. Unless, this is important because it is a necessary way of protecting an ego easily bruised by a little word like "No" (which could be a possibility given how little we actually here that word anymore) or the discussion needs to be above this level because such things as right and wrong don't actually exist (another possibility if we accept a "truth in the eye of the beholder" approach and remove any sort of standard to judge such things).

While I'm sure you will have some feedback to this comment, I would be interested to hear more about what you think regarding what Stephen has written in his post.

rlh

Perhaps the discussion begins with definitions. What Stephen refers to as a spiritual blob is what I refer to as a sense of spirit, in the Christian context, it would be the Holy Spirit, that connects us as human beings, that compels us to do good, not because an external legalism requires us to, but because it is right. We search for truth because we are compelled to do so as part of our nature as human beings. And I'm going to let Stephen off the hook here, because he deserves it. I don't think Stephen is disrespectful of me, and he has been a good friend, someone that I respect.

The existence of absolute truth, just like the existence of an absolute external monotheistic deity, is one of those essential starting points from which logic begins. Ultimately, the existence of truth and what truth is are merely points along a scale of what is ultimately knowable. It's a repetition on the old question of what is reality, which doesn't particularly have meaning without context. And we do excuse people who kill our family members in the name of their truth -- it's called war, and we excuse it in the name of our truth.

I agree that understanding of different viewpoints does not necessitate equivacation of your own beliefs. There may not be any way to come to an agreement, but there needs to be respect for the other person and the other person's viewpoint, beyond a flippant "I respect your right to be completely wrong". At that point discussion stops, and everyone retreats into their "own kind" reenforcing the recitation of shared truths, with no room for growth, or moving beyond the polarization that now exists between religious groups. The discussion must be above that level.

Thanks for the comments!

Christopher Sowers

Describing something as a "spiritual blob" is not disrespectful, if no definitive description can be given for that ultimate something. It is merely pointing out a fact based upon the information received.

And, there is a difference between humility and an inability or unwillingness to acknowledge truth. Humility is a willingness to acknowledge a lack of possession of the whole truth. An unwillingness to acknowledge the existence of truth, trans-viewpoints, is more akin to arrogance. For the person is not willing to acknowledge that something exists and has a claim on their lives beyond themselves.

This idea that truth is in the eye of the beholder only gets a person so far. For example, if truth is really so disjointed that it is different for everyone, then we can hardly be upset if someone kills one of our family members because they are following "their truth." After all, if truth is different for everybody, then I or anyone else have no way of deciding between right and wrong or good and bad.

I'm not sure what Stephen's answer to your question will be, but let me take a stab at it.

As God is an absolute, by definition, then God is the same person for every person, even if they can't understand him, know him, or see his attributes clearly. Regardless of whether I acknowledge God as God, is irrelevant to the existence and qualities of God. God's existence is not dependent upon my understanding or my knowledge. If this weren't so, then God wouldn't be the absolute and hence, not be God.

Now, I agree that it is important to understand each person's point of view. But, we mustn't mistake this for an equivocation of viewpoints. While it is worth while to understand each person's viewpoint, this doesn't mean that each person's viewpoint is right or accurate. If this weren't the case, we would have no grounds upon which to critic the Nazis or the those members of the Flat Earth Society.

rlh

Hey, be respectful of other people's spiritual beliefs that are different than your own! A better definition of spiritual blog would be an acknowledgment that you don't have all of the answers for yourself, much less all the answers of what is absolutely true for everyone else. Which defines spiritual humility better? Does your understanding of God mean that the reality of God, as an absolute, changes with each person? And does asking questions in rapid circles address the clarity of the questions or the clarity of the understanding?

Nevertheless, I appreciate very much the thoughtfulness and spiritual integrity that you bring to your own reality. It adds very much to each person's struggle to define their own spiritual reality. In trying to understand another point of view, even if the intitial reaction is a raised eyebrow, wondering if you even inhabit the same universe, much less the same reality, perhaps there can be less of an us v. them understanding above the level of discourse in traditional religious structure.

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