I am now blogging at a new blog: erdman31.com

If you post comments here at Theos Project, please know that I will respond and engage your thoughts in a timely manner.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

A Blogging Apologia

This post continues my thinking on blogoneutics...

For most of us our relationships seem rather random. We gravitate towards people with whom we share common understanding, or with people who we "connect with." That is, we find some common ground. Geography is important. We tend to meet and develop friendships with those who are in close proximity with us. There is a personal connection that is irreplaceable.

Pockets of bloggers develop who share commonalities. I think that often these are deeper connections of mind and spirit than we might otherwise encounter in the "real" world. We connect through the ideas and expressions that we put into our posting or our commenting. We can take some time to think the topics through, or we might choose a more stream-of-consciousness, shotgun-style response. The medium of writing and responding seems to offer a superior opportunity for exchange and dialogue. In the past written correspondence was prominent for this kind of exchange. Blogging expands the person-to-person correspondence into a community correspondence.

Ideas at the speed of broadband.

Friday, June 29, 2007

"Run, Jen-ny"

We are all familiar with the phrase, "Run, Forrest! Run!!" Running is one of the primary motifs in the film. But one question that I've never quite been able to get straight about the movie, Forrest Gump, is why Jenny runs. Remember what triggers Forrest's famous coast-to-coast run? He needed time to think: "Mostly I thought about Jen-ny." Recall that Forrest asks Jenny to marry him saying that he would be a good husband. Jenny agrees, but hesitates. Forrest replies by saying, "I may not be a smart man, but I know what love is." Jenny shows up in Forrest's room later that night and the two sleep together (amongst other things). Jenny tells Forrest that she really does love him. But in the morning she is gone. Gone without a trace.

So, that's what triggers Forrest's run, but why did Jenny run??? She calls a cab in the early morning and the cabby asks her where she is running off to. Jenny replies, "I'm not running."

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Paris Bytes

The Paris Hilton interview ends. Immediately the next show begins. No commercial break, go right into Anderson Cooper 360. And what is the topic? Paris Hilton, of course. Analysis of the interview. No sooner has the interview ended and we must shape it into what it will be.

All things considered it was a rather bland and boring interview. Paris reflected on life while she was in prison. Paris had a hard time of it. Paris is a new person.

So, Paris analyzes herself. Larry King analyzes Paris. The news pundits analyze the analysis. And now I analyze all of the analyzing.

What I find interesting about all of the analysis is that for all of the analyzing there seems to be very little real reflection. How much real introspection takes place in the midst of the spin and the hype?

What passes as "analysis" these days is, in all reality, simply an endless stream of sound bytes.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Online Street Preaching

What do we think of the on-line street preachers? That is the topic of this post.

When John Doyle went offline for a few weeks I recently joked that perhaps he had taken up The End is Near slogans:

Not all street preaching fit the above mode. In fact, I believe I generally support the street preaching movement. What I am interested in is the effectiveness of the various online street preaching sites. The following is an example:


A few things to note.

Most of these sites are not information oriented. So, there is little done to make the site look interesting. (It is almost as if they just picked a color for the background and fonts that would "stand out.") The content, then is the focus. Content = Scripture displayed in the form of proof texting. That is, one verse after another after another. Presumably, the philosophy is that the more Scripture the better. Here is the logic, as I see it:
Scripture is true
The Holy Spirit will use Scripture to change people
Hence, the more Scripture a person hears the better

So, if you go to the "Has God Saved You" page you will find a list of Bible verses with brief explanations.

I'm not necessarily criticizing these approaches. Neither do I want to become a Christian elitist who says, "I've got the best way to reach the lost." All I want to do is evaluate these approaches in light of current culture.

One thing I note is that the internet is already a place of information overload. How is one more voice suppossed to resonate amongst the cacophony of ideas all screaming for our attention? Again, I believe this would probably refer back to the above mentioned philosophy that centers on proclaiming the Scriptures. And I do think there is something to this - the bare proclamation of Word. For me there is something romantic about it, quite honestly. On the other hand, one must wonder about the ability to truly contextualize the Word for the contemporary wo/man on the street.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Qohelet, God and Meaning

I recently had a bit of a disagreement with fellow blogger and OT professor, Dr. Mariottini that I wondered if you all could weigh in on. (You can find it here.) The disagreement concerned the interpretation of Qohelet (the voice in the book of Ecclesiastes). These days it seems that the standard Conservative/Evangelical interpretation of Qohelet is as follows: Without God there is no meaning in life, but with God a person can experience a meaningful life.

Here is the problem as I see it: The following statement is not found in Qohelet, nor is anything that even resembles it.

There are a few verses that Dr. M used to rebut my point:

For to the man who pleases him God gives wisdom and knowledge and joy; but to the sinner he gives the work of gathering and heaping, only to give to one who pleases God, 2:26

That everyone may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all his toil-- this is the gift of God, 3:13

Moreover, when God gives any man wealth and possessions, and enables him to enjoy them, to accept his lot and be happy in his work-- this is a gift of God, 5:19

Go, eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart, for it is now that God favors what you do, 9:7

I suggest that a close reading of the text shows that in context these are references to God's sovereignty. God is in control of meaning/satisfaction, and one should be happy if God grants to you the good life and the ability to enjoy it.

I realize that this upsets the typical interpretation of Qohelet. However, as I suggested to Dr. M, I believe that much of this interpretation has been driven by a desire to refute Nietzsche, Sartre, and other non-Christian existentialists who seem to promote the meaninglessness of life. As such, Qohelet became a useful god-of-the-gaps, and we used him to win an artificial battle with non-Christian philosophy.

I suggest that the point of Qohelet is not to use God as a variable in an equation. Ever seen the bumper sticker, "Know God, know peace. No God, no peace"? Qohelet is not saying, "Know God, know meaning. No God, no meaning." Rather, Qohelet's point is that meaning can never, (ever!) be found at the end of a simple equation. Rather, meaning is something that is something one is fortunate to find. All of life is hebel. Hebel is the Hebrew word that is often translated as "meaningless," and in my opinion it is incorrect to do so, for hebel is the situation of life that destabilizes all of our efforts to attain meaning.

What say you? Can we find in Qohelet a formula for the meaningful life, whereby God is the missing variable???

Notes, etc.:
For a more technical discussion of some of the themes in this post see my essay
Nothing new under the Sun: An exegetical analysis of hebel as a deconstruction of the human experience
Dr. Claude Mariottini's post "The book of Ecclesiastes: Vanity of Vanities"

Obviously I need to blog more

Got a long way to go. I'm only 78% addicted to blogging. I need to up that another 22%.

78%How Addicted to Blogging Are You?

Mingle2 -


1996 was the year I graduated from high school. Naturally, when I saw that there was a quiz regarding my 1996 theme song I enthusiastically subjected myself to the rigorous process of inquiry, which consisted of about 5 questions. It seems ironic that one of my greatest biblical research interests is Qohelet, the most ironic book in the Bible. A little too ironic? Yea, I really do think.

Your 1996 Theme Song Is: Ironic by Alanis Morisette

It's like rain on your wedding day
It's a free ride when you've already paid
It's the good advice that you just didn't take
Who would've thought ... it figures

Thursday, June 21, 2007


I think not.

Somethings do NOT belong together. I like cake - it is sweet and good on my birthday. I also like mushrooms - they are good on pizza and salads. But I don't like mushroom cake.

In our culture there are violinists and there are Playboy models. But only in our culture could there be such a thing as a Playboy Bunny Violinist. Any more these days it's hard to find anyone who has not modeled for Playbody.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Whence goeth the self?

So, I'm watching Oprah - uh, no comments/laughter/snickering/etc, please...It's a re-run, "Oprah's Bad Hair Day" (2005), and this lady is getting a makeover. I must confess, she looks fantastic after the makeover, and from the initial picture I truly did not see any possible hope.

What happened?

It seems that the makeover artist was able to tap into something authentic and genuine about the subject. It was more than simply a matter of now being "in style", rather, she was now more herself. Authenticity.

Interestingly enough she now has the opportunity to grow as an authentic person. Looking better and more genuine will affect the way people see and perceive her and interact with her. She can now develop, if she would so choose, into someone more real.

Is all of this psycho-babble? Have I been Oprahized?


What really fascinates me, however, is the issue of authenticity. I am also fascinated by how people can become more or less authentic over time. That something as superficial and trivial as how we look can affect our personal authenticity. Being authentic is not a one time deal. It is a process. It is connected with our experience of interaction with others and with ourselves through the moments of time. Time is a key element in this (crf. Heidegger). We must think in terms of process.

Augustine made an interesting connection between the self and God: You have made us for yourself and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.

We could examine the above quotation ceaselessly for hours on end and still find ourselves thirsty for more, but I bring Augustine into Oprah's studio for sake of suggesting the simple logical connection between the self and God: If we were created for God then authenticity will only be achieved through the Encounter with the Theos.

I hestitate with the Augustine connection because in many ways it seems completely worthless. After all, this idea has been completely butchered by 20th century pop-evangelism. I think we need to wait another hundred years or so before serious discussion can begin - until the corroding, pseudo-Christian elements have been flushed from the culture.

Encounter and authenticity was cheapened. In short, the process of the self was removed from the equation and in its place was substituted a generic theology of "mankind." But Augustine realized this truth personally. In our haste to make converts we lost touch with the individual. We lost touch with the struggle and the angst that is so evident in Augustine's life - the process that made Augustine genuine. We decided that it was too much trouble to truly take care with the self, like the care of the artistic stylist from Oprah's studio who took the time to draw out the real person - that real person who had been allowed herself to develop a confused/cheapened/unauthentic external appearance that did not resonate with her true self.

I think we developed templates and we got sloppy. It became one-size-fits-all.

Did we gain the whole world and lose our souls, only to find out that in the end we also lost the world?

Monday, June 18, 2007

Market, Brand, and Sacrament

"Attitude branding" and "brand energy" are two terms used in marketing that focus on promoting a product or service by selling a meaningful life and meaningful life experiences.

Abercrombie ads typically focus on sexy social connections tapping into the good vibes we get from hanging out with good friends. Abercrombie, of course, always has a strong sex appeal, so those good-time friends are also smokin' hot and there is always plenty of sexual playfulness. In this sense, they create something of a fantasy world. After all, most of us are average people with average-looking friends. But A&F is marketing a meaningful life; a life of happy, sensual relationships.

Another example. Nike+ commercial. This is rare, but here we explicitly hear the phrase, "Plugging in to a higher purpose." Running takes on spiritual connotations. Nike is marketing a meaningful life-style.

This counter-cultural movie clip from Fight Club illustrates the rebellion against a system of marketing and advertising where meaning and purpose is determined by the products we consume and the brands we invest in.

Tyler states the following:
advertising has us chasing cars and clothes
working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don't need
we're the middle children of history
no purpose or place
we have no great war no great depression
our great war is a spiritual war
our great depression is our lives

My point in this post is to note how we determine meaning in our society.

As Tyler says, our culture's (and I am thinking primarily U.S./American) great war is a spiritual war, and the primary battlefield is one for meaning, purpose and happiness. But we no longer look to philosophy, religion, learning, G/god, or other traditional sources. Our meaning is determined by the marketplace. We now need Corporate brand marketing to invest our lives with significance and meaning. The shorts I buy from Abercrombie are part of a meaningful lifestyle of connectedness and sensuality. My running shoes and accessories connect me with a higher calling. The meaning of these products is detached from functionality. The product must no longer function, but it must be associated with a greater network of meaning that is predetermined by the images and music and multi-media that I receive via brand marketing. In this sense, the priesthood is now in the hands of the marketing departments of Corporate America, which, not coincidentally, have billions and billions of dollars set aside for the express purpose of creating media that provides us with meaningful lives. The product, of course, is our sacrament.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Top Ten Signs That Paris Hilton Has Found God

Very funny. Some of these are inappropriate for a God-blog, but I just had to post them:

Top Ten Signs that Paris Hilton has found God
10 Instead of pretending to read newspapers, now pretending to read the Bible
9 Been exchanging text messages with Pope Benedict XVI
8 New catchphrase? "That's holy!"
7 Begins each day with a prayer to Santa
6 Spent the last 10 hours trying to turn water into cosmopolitans
5 Vowed to give up all earthly possessions that are no longer in style
4 Changed chihuahua's name from Tinkerbell to Ezekiel
3 Now, only time she gets on her knees is to pray
2 Latest sex tape sponsored by the National Council of Churches
1 Often asks herself: "Where would Jesus shop?"

Corporate Glory

The Corporation was founded to produce the Product and service the Customer. It was young and hungry. It's founders were visionaries - energetic and eager to make a difference in the market of Products. And so the Corporation produced the best Product, and worked hard to market, price, and distribute the Product such that it was embraced by the marketplace.

The Corporation existed for the sake of the Product.

At some point along the way, and we truly do not know when, something of a reversal happened. The Corporation gained momentum and developed a synergy all its own. The original founders, visionaries in their own right, no longer had the necessary vision or leadership to guide the new and emerging entity. The Corporation became greater than the sum of its parts. As we said, at some point a reversal has taken place.

The Product now exists for the sake of the Corporation.

The above statement is clearly seen even in the development of the catch-phrases used in the marketing and advertising departments. Products are now called "cash cow" or "loss leader", all indicating their distinct place in serving the missions, values, goals, and telos of the Corporation. Corporate synergy is at work, and who is really in control?

Image and symbol is now the greater good. The terms "damage control" and "Corporate image" have now taken something of a sacred connotation. Corporate perception proceeds essence. That is, we are no longer what we are, rather, we are what you think we are. The latter is the necessary focus of our concentration.

The above is something of a parable in our consumer/corporate-driven society. And yet, ironically, one might apply this parable to the American church. The local church once existed to glorify and serve God. Yet at some point, and we know not when, God now exists to serve and glorify the church. Image and symbol trump essence and action. Corporate synergy is at work. And who is really in control?

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Trauma and the Sensus Divinitatis - That's hot!

Generally speaking, there are certain life cycles that most all of us experience. When we are in junior high and high school we need the approval and companionship of our peers. When we are in college or post-high school we focus on developing self-identity and starting on some sort of career path. In our 20's we start down that path and some time in our 20's or 30's we usually switch courses at least once.

Another natural life experience is to find God. Such is the case for Paris Hilton:

After spending three days in jail last week, Hilton was briefly released to electronically monitored home confinement Thursday for an undisclosed medical condition.
An outraged judge sent her back to jail Friday.
The call came over the weekend after Hilton's mother, Kathy, phoned Walters. Paris Hilton called her mother on another line, found out her mother was talking to Walters, and then called Walters collect. All inmates must call collect.
Hilton reiterated assertions that jail has changed her: "Now, I would like to make a difference. ... God has given me this new chance."
Daily Breeze

PARIS Hilton believes her jail sentence was a message from God to change her party-loving lifestyle and become a positive role model for people who look up to her.
In her first interview since she was dramatically sent back to jail on the weekend, Hilton said her imprisonment had been a life-changing wake-up call.
"I used to act dumb -- it was an act," she said.
Herald Sun

Paris found God. Or else her PR guy did. But whatever, let's roll with it. A tragic event triggers a deeper spiritual sense. The self-absorbed socialite has to stay in a small cage, eat bad food, and can't wear make up. That's basically my daily life, but for Paris it is a major shock to the system.

Might we correlate this with the sensus divinitatis that we have been discussing? Is this part of the way we were wired? Traumatic events trigger a deeper focus on the most meaningful things in life and most often this involves God in some way or another: Plead to God, repent before God, get angry with God, question God, vow to live a different life, etc.

Why is it that we puny mortals turn to God in crisis? Is it the last, desparate hope? If all else fails call on God? Perhaps. But this is not the case in all instances, and even in the instance of the last-ditch-effort crowd there is at least some sense that there is a God and that he has the power to do something and that he just might be merciful enough to help.

The scenarios for the Traumatic-Event-God-Seeker are very diverse. But amidst all of them there seems to be some sense that God is real, that God has the power to make a difference, and that God might (or should) do something to intercede.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Qohelet and the Sopranos?

Did I miss it? Did Qohelet make a guest appearance on the Sopranos last night? I have no HBO so I did not see the finale. However, like everyone else in America I know the ending.

Jeremy McCarter suggests that Qohelet showed up:

We should have seen this coming. For 86 episodes, David Chase has shown us characters absorbed in the picayune little details of life, even as threats of violence and catastrophe lurk around every corner (and jukebox). Had Chase killed off Tony or his family, or shown them riding triumphant in the sunshine, he would have put a limit on that view of the world: "Life is messy and dangerous... and then it kills you in the end," or "Life is messy and dangerous... but things turn out okay in the end." The series has shown too large a spirit to be pinned down that way. After all the tense references to Revelations and the end times this season, the finale is pure Ecclesiastes: The whole point is that there is no end, even when it comes time to say "The End" — or, in this case, "Whaddya gonna do?"


I like it.

The powerful rule the world. We must bow to the Tony Sopranos of the world who pull the strings of the puppets - and we dance. But even at the top can the Tony Sopranos find meaning? Or are they even more paranoid/depressed/confused/angry/fearful than the rest of us?

A meaningful life. There is no guarantee.

Much dreaming and many words are meaningless. Therefore stand in awe of God.

It seems that contentment, satisfaction, and gladness of heart come to the blessed few:

Then I realized that it is good and proper for a man to eat and drink, and to find satisfaction in his toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given him—for this is his lot. Moreover, when God gives any man wealth and possessions, and enables him to enjoy them, to accept his lot and be happy in his work—this is a gift of God. He seldom reflects on the days of his life, because God keeps him occupied with gladness of heart. 5:18-20

Miriam - A leader in Israel

Dr. Claude Mariottini has an interesting post on Miriam. Here are a few clips:

Feminist hermeneutic has made an impact on biblical scholarship because it has demonstrated to interpreters that the biblical text reflects the patriarchal views of the society which gave birth to the text. In addition, feminist interpreters have shown that some of these same patriarchal values and concerns have affected biblical translations...

...Reading and interpreting the biblical text is not easy. At times, a translator, in order to make sense of a text, applies methods of interpretation that may reflect cultural and theological biases.

The NIV diminishes Miriam by omitting her name twice. Furthermore, the addition of the word “also” by the translators of the NIV and TNIV gives a slant to the text that serves to undervalue the role of Miriam as a leader in Israel. I do not know whether this addition to the text was intentional. However, the resulting translation has a strong theological overtone, one which may reflect an undercurrent of patriarchy.

In my judgment, the translation of Micah 6:4 in the NIV and the TNIV is not acceptable.


Sunday, June 10, 2007

The Naked Table

I want to give a shout out to a new blog by a friend of mine from college days, Chris.

Check him out at: http://thenakedtable.blogspot.com/

The opening post discusses the God-spoke-to-me theology. Christ thinks its anti-intellectual. I left my two-cents (per the usual).

Friday, June 08, 2007

Wheelchair ride

Jason sent me an email on this. Quite the story. Taken from Yahoo.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. - A 21-year-old man got the ride of a lifetime when his electric wheelchair became lodged in the grille of a semitrailer and was pushed down a highway for several miles at about 50 mph.

Ben Carpenter was unharmed but was taken to a hospital as a precaution. He had been secured to his wheelchair by a seat belt. Carpenter, who has muscular dystrophy, told a television station that he thought he might not make it through the ride...

Ben Carpenter's father, Donald, told The Associated Press that his son had started to cross at an intersection Wednesday afternoon in Paw Paw, about 140 miles west of Detroit. The light changed to green while his son was in front of a semi, which started moving.

The wheelchair's handles became lodged in the grille, the father said, and the wild ride started.

Motorists called 911 on their cell phones, and a pair of undercover police officers who happened to be nearby saw what was happening. They pulled the truck over and told the disbelieving driver, Donald Carpenter said.

Birth, Family, and the sensus divinitatis

The following is a long quote on families and religious inclinations from Hoover Institution. The general line of thought being that the experience of birth and family draws human beings into a transcendental frame of mind.

The conventional causal chain runs something like this. One by one, and thanks mostly to the Enlightenment, a few brave souls in Europe came to recognize the charlatanry of the continent’s historic Jewish and Christian faiths. As they did, it became clear that more and more people would eventually come to their point of view — that such a transformation is ultimately inevitable and, once widespread enough, would usher in a new and better era of history. (“There never was a greater event — and on account of it, all who are born after us belong to a higher history than any history hitherto!”)

To begin sketching an explanation of religious belief complementary to this one, one must answer this question: What could it be about the experience of the natural family that might make an individual more disposed toward religion than he is without it? Though merely a preliminary attempt at an answer, several lines of explanation suggest themselves.

First, there is the phenomenological fact of what birth itself does to many fathers and just about every mother. That moment — for some now, even that first glimpse on a sonogram — is routinely experienced by a great many people as an event transcendental as no other. This hardly means that pregnancy and birth ipso facto convert participants into zealots. But the sequence of events culminating in birth is nearly universally interpreted as a moment of communion with something larger than oneself, larger even than oneself and the infant. It is an elemental bond that is cross-cultural as perhaps no other — a formulation to which most parents on the planet would quickly agree....

Thus does a complementary religious anthropology begin to emerge, grounded on the primal fact that the mother-child and father-child bond, as no other, appears to push at least some people toward an intensity of purpose they might never otherwise have experienced. And it’s not as if birth is the only familial experience that has this transcendental effect. So do other common family events that defy ordinary, atomized human pleasure-seeking, including, say, the selfless care of an ailing family member, the financial sacrifices made for those whose adulthood one may never live to see, even the incredible human feat of staying married for a very long time. Further, in binding those alive to relatives both past and yet to come, family is literally death-defying — another feature that might make it easier for those living in families to make related transcendental leaps of the religious variety. Third, families and especially children also transform people in other ways — and not just by clipping adult wings, turning the former midnight rover into a man in slippers watching O’Reilly at 8 pm, but also in what may be the deepest way of all. All men and women fear death; but only mothers and fathers, and perhaps some husbands and wives, can generally be counted upon to fear another’s death more than their own. To put the point another way, if 9/11 drove to church for weeks on end millions of Americans who had not darkened that doorstep in years — as it did — imagine the even deeper impact on ordinary mothers and fathers of a sick child or the similarly powerful desire of a devoted spouse on the brink of losing the other. Just as there are no atheists in a foxhole, so too would there appear to be few in the nursery or critical care unit, at least most of the time.

In sum, because it treats belief as an atomistic decision taken piecemeal by individuals rather than a holistic response to family life, Nietzsche’s madman and his offspring, secularization theory, appear to present an incomplete version of how some considerable portion of human beings actually come to think and behave about things religious — not one by one and all on their own, but rather mediated through the elemental connections of husband, wife, child, aunt, great-grandfather, and the rest.
[All bolding is mine]

I tie this in with our recent discussions on the sensus divinitatis (SD for short), the idea that human beings have the capacity to experience a sense of God through their interaction in the world and with the creation. Typically I think of SD in terms of experiencing awe in viewing a grand scene of nature. Or a sense of accountability to a higher power when we do something wrong. I had not thought about the experience of family and birth as something that might trigger SD, but the more I think about it the more it seems to fit the God-sense that human beings seem to posses.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Sunday School Answers

Listening to Kelly Clarkson inverview with someone is always fun. You kind of get the impression that she has no cpu (central processing unit) and that even she never really knows what is going to proceed from her mouth. She's like a glazed Krispy Kreme doughnut: Very sweet and tasty, but nothing in the center. I don't mean that in a completely negative way. After all, she's an entertainer. She is a celebrity. She could never become her own person. She is our slave, and the product of marketing, advertisement, and commercialization. She is more an image than a person. And I don't mean to be judgmental. After all, who would I be if Kelly and I switched places? Much the same, I imagine.

I'm a bit off topic here.

What I mean to do in this post is exegete one of the lyrics to one of Kelly's recent songs, "Never Again." There is an interesting line about "that sunday school answer":

I hope the ring you gave to her
Turns her finger green
I hope when you’re in bed with her
you think of me
I would never wish bad things
But I don’t wish you well
Could you tell
By the flames that burned your words
I never read your letter
Cause I knew what you’d say
Give me that Sunday school answer
Try make it all okay

What, exactly, is a sunday school answer? This question is fertile ground for much interesting discussion. Sunday school answers are typically nice, neat, clean, and easy. In many cases the answers tend to be a bit out of touch with reality. The answers make us feel good while in Sunday School, but when we enter into the real world of life they have little currency. The result of this is that sunday school becomes a very surreal place. They become something of a simulacrum. Sunday school purports to describe life and the way we should live, however, it rarely coincides with the more difficult or complicated life issues. As long as your life stays simple and fits the ideal then the sunday school answers work. But as soon as life throws a curve ball things can break down very quickly.

From a psychological perspective there is the concept of "group think." No one wants to really argue or disagree with someone else. After all, we are all in church and church is certainly not a place to get frustrated or angry with a person. Much easier to nod and agree with the first neat-and-tidy answer that someone submits.

Little wonder, then, how sunday school could die in this day and age. Life is complicated. Simple answers simply don't work. When sunday school becomes inauthentic and disingenuous it disconnects God from the stream of life. Many in our culture (of the "keep it real" variety) see sunday school as a sham and a hoax.

On the other hand, creating a religious church-bubble does provide an escape for many, and as such it will always be around. Once a week we can put on our sunday clothes and exit the complications of our world to enter into a temple where reality vanishes and we float amongst the clouds for a little while. In this regard church differs little from smoking marijuana and watching old kung-fu movies with some buddies on the weekend. Stress, dissappointment, heartache, insecurity, fear, confusion and underachievement all vanish in a cloud of smoke. In church-bubbles the problems vanish as soon as we step through the doors. Humanity will always create a market for churches that create unreal religion: Disconnect church/religion/god from how I live. Let me do religion for an hour or two each week. Make it surreal.

And so humankind spoke and said, "Let us create a simulacrum in our image." It will be our own little getaway.

Monday, June 04, 2007


Living in a porn-saturated culture naturally produces a larger proportion of addicts. It also, perhaps, produces quite the opposite - a general populace for whom porn is simply no big deal. Sexuality becomes akin to a desire for an afternoon snack or the need to sleep 6-8 hours in a night. Hence the following point:

Therefore, I don’t accept “the thesis of an increasingly pornographic logic of social relations and poltical conditions.” To the contrary: there is nothing exceptional, central, or privileged about pornography and the “pornographic” today. Pornography simply conforms to the same protocols and political conditions, the same commodity logic, as do all other forms of production, circulation, and consumption. Porn today isn’t the least bit different from cars, or mobile phones, or running shoes. It embodies a logic of indifferent equivalence, even as it holds out the thrilling promise of transgression and transcendence — a promise that, of course, it never actually fulfills. [from The Pinocchio Theory]

Getting online Porn is the equivalent today of getting a value meal at the drive through. Then comes along we Christians. We project the immorality of our culture through the megaphones and denounce and decry the degradation and depravity. But would we have just as much luck proposing the immorality of a trip through one's local McDonald's?

What is the latest count on the amount of customers served at McDonald's? And is this any longer a staple of its success? McDonald's used to use it's volume of customers served as a marketing tool. The number of customers served displayed prominently somewhere below the glowing golden arches. Anymore may regard the billions of people served as a badge of shame. And the folks at McDonald's marketing know it too. What's one of the first things you will see these days on the McDonald's website? A link to the page on corporate responsibility.

I have no moral objection to the McDonald's corporation, it's food, it's folks or it's fun. (Remember that old jingle, "Food, folks and fun. You know the one, its McDonald's. For food, folks and fun.") Heck, I worked at McDonald's for a whole year in high school. But while I don't renounce the corporation I do know that food was not meant to be McFood. You don't have to have a job at McD's to realize that the "fast food" at McDonald's is more "fast" and less "food." A steady diet will lead to an early grave, and there's a reason for it.

So, that brings us to McSex. Fast food, cyber-sex. Quick and easy. Get it on the go. These days you can even find it advertised for about the price of a value meal, and there's a meal-deal for every taste and appetite. This brings us back to the moral question. Whether we produce it or serve it or consume it we are now all a part of a McSex Machine, which either produces addiction or boredom. In this scenario mystery and beauty are gone. We know we ought to eat less junk food, but to break out of a fast food diet is greater than a diet, it is a complete counter-cultural change of lifestyle. This kind of a break is too either too radical, too inconvenient, or just too different. And even if we break out for a while we'll be back. Back to the same routine. Back to the familiar old drive through window.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Mommy, it's Princess Leia!

As the orchestra closed the pops concert this afternoon with one of John William's Star Wars themes I heard a little girl say, "Mommy, that's Princess Leia!" The music had triggered some sort of association between the sound and the movie. Because of a recent post on John Calvin's sensus divinitatis (or SD for short) I had been ruminating on the nature of the SD. So, when I heard the little girl react the way she did methinks to myself, "Ah, that's a great example of SD!"

SD is the Latin for "sense of the divine" or perhaps we might say, "God-sense".

We are configured such that we make associations between sounds and experiences. Hence, the little girl can be easily conditioned to think of Princess Leia when she hears music from the Star Wars movies. This is something of the same thing that goes on with SD: God designs us such that certain circumstances should (if all things are working properly) produce in us some sort of notion or understanding of God. Hence, a majestic mountain top can trigger a sense of awe of God's power. Or committing wrong-doings can trigger a sense of accountability and culpability to the Ultimate Judge.

The two questions that arise in my mind as I think about SD are these:
1) What if someone has no sense of God? Is it possible that the SD can be defective?
2) Is it also possible that SD might just be some kind of cultural, religious conditioning? If Pavlov can condition his dogs to salivate when he rings a bell, then perhaps we can train ourselves to think about God in certain circumstances.

According to SD we are created to respond to the experiences of life in a way that either: produces belief in God, gives us a sense of God's nature and/or presence, or somehow reveals something about ourselves in relation to God (i.e. guilt when we do evil). Hence SD is something intrinsic to the design of human beings, something within us. (Crf. Romans 1:18) But one might argue that this is simply something we are conditioned with, and that, in fact, we might be conditioned to do just the opposite. A person might be conditioned to scoff at the very idea of God when s/he views a breathtaking scene of nature! Or a person might be conditioned to think that when s/he does something evil that God is actually the one who is accountable!

But these scenarios seem awkward to me. They do not seem very human to me, at all. They actually seem very unnatural and inhuman. There seems to be something very primordial about the response that humans have to God. The God question seems to permeate cultures and societies in a way that seems more than superstition. Who and what God is seems to penetrate each individual at a very deep and personal level. Whether we like it or not many of our most basic questions have to do with God. This strikes me as something that is more basic than rational. After all, what do I need God for if I want to make a million dollars and drive a sweet car and build a vacation home in Miami? The God-question nags at us at a more soulish and personal level. This is what the theory of SD attempts to discuss.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Dr. No

I was able to watch the first James Bond movie from start to finish this weekend. I guess there is a reason why so many people say that Sean Connery is the best Bond of them all.

This clip is the first sighting of Bond, as played by Sean Connery. As we get our first facial shot we hear the familiar introduction, "Bond. James Bond."

Friday, June 01, 2007

Presuppositions - Van Til and Philosophical Hermeneutics

Vern Poythress (left) is a Professor of New Testament at Westminster Theological Seminary. I came across his review of Anthony Thiselton's Two Horizons. This is one of Thiselton's major works and one of his more widely read and accessible books where he analyzes the hermeneutics of Wittgenstein, Gadamer, and Heidegger in relationship to New Testament interpretation. It is an excellent work.

Here is an excerpt from Poythresses review (The bold type is mine):

Now, it seems to me, we need a further book that will integrate Cornelius Van Til’s work with the developments delineated by Thiselton. Why do I mention Van Til? Well, Van Til’s idea of presuppositions is in fact closely related to Heidegger’s “pre-understanding” and Wittgenstein’s “scaffolding of our thoughts,” “form of life,” “grammatical utterances.” Van Til focuses on only one area of pre-understanding: religious commitment. By contrast Heidegger, Gadamer, and Wittgenstein are interested in the entire spectrum of presuppositions, basic commitments, assumed verities, priorities of interest, attitudes, and tone of life. Both Van Til and the others stress how basic commitments, many times unconscious, pervasively influence interpretation. In one sense, then, Van Til represents only a special case of the problem. Superficially he seems to be aware of only one aspect of the interpretive horizon. But this one aspect is also the “one thing needful.” The crucial missing element in the hermeneutical spectrum that Thiselton covers is a stable, transcendent, personal, accessible source of authority. Without this, Heidegger, Gadamer, Wittgenstein, and the lot are one step away from pure relativism. One can always point out that their own analysis of the entire hermeneutical circle is rooted in their historical and cultural horizon. They are, of course, well aware of this. But how can they know that they are right about anything? They must presuppose (arbitrarily?) the possibility of finding truth by autonomous reflection within their own horizon. And how can they claim to be descriptive and not evaluative? What they put forth as descriptive rather than evaluative contains an implicit negative evaluation of (say) positivism, Platonism, animism, Islamic fate, Christian science, out-of-body experiences, and the disappearance of stable world and ego in the writings of Philip Dick and Jorge Borges. They presuppose a cultural horizon that has excluded or made marginal such “forms of life.” On what grounds do they give these evaluations? By what authority? Within their own “forms of life,” there is no genuine transcendent reference point, hence no answer to these questions.

The above quotation is of interest to me because some of my first philosophical reflections several years back were on Cornelius Van Til's Presuppositional Christian Philosophy. From there my interests eventually gravitated to hermeneutical philosophy, and from there I quickly found myself reading the above book by Thiselton (Two Horizons) that Poythress has reviewed.

As Poythress indicates Van Til's idea of "presuppositions" does show similarities to Heidegger/Gadamer/Wittgenstein. In this sense, I always thought that Van Til was close to being something of a Christian forerunner to postmodern thought. But then Van Til makes a very rationalistic (small "r") move, what some refer to as Onto-Theology. For Van Til what we need to make sense of all of our experiences is a transcendent ground. That transcendent is God, and even more specifically the revelation of Scripture. We must ground the cause-and-effect in the character of God or else we have no assurance of its ongoing reliability. We take things like cause-and-effect or "truth" for granted - we are presupposing their reliability. For Van Til, only the Christian worldview has the presuppositions that can bring rationality or make any sense of any aspect of human experience. We presuppose a transcendent Creator that binds it all together, even if we do not acknowledge the transcendent Creator.

"I thank God everyday..."

These were the words spoken by NBA super-phenom, Lebron James, after he carried a rag-tap group of basketball misfits over and above the team favored to win this series.

When Lebron said it I believed it. And so I asked my buddy if he believed Lebron.
"'Bout what?" he asks.
"Do you really think Lebron thanks God everyday?"
"Well," he replied matter-of-factly, "It's kind of a cliche."
My buddy thinks for a few seconds and then adds, "I mean, the guy is like a machine. He should be thankful...." And then my buddy keeps going on about how much Lebron has to be thankful for: muscle, speed, power...they all kind of go together...
So, I challenge back.
"But for most NBA players it is the opposite. For most NBA players they are completely self-absorbed and self-centered." I pause and think about it, not really noticing that my buddy doesn't really care to ruminate or further speculate on the theological significance of Lebron James or any other NBA players for that matter. As I begin to realize I have lost my audience I add one more final thought: "Most NBA players come to believe that they deserve everything they have."

I don't know what your particular position is on the God question. Or who you think he is or who you think you are in relation to him. But I simply want to say that I feel very thankful at this particular moment in time. Gratitude is something I have felt little of in recent days. And this due to a wide variety of circumstances, many of which are completely unrelated to each other.

A grateful perspective transforms a person. To view everything we have as being gifted to us. That we are stewards for the Master; caretakers of the beautiful. To lose sight of this is nothing less than a catastrophe. Losing sight of gratitude and the giftedness of all things we possess and come into contact with invites darkness because the beautiful is now a thing for consumption rather than sacrament. Beauty becomes twisted and perverted.

I wish I could stay thankful for every moment, but each moment that passes seems to pull me back into a survival mode - the world seems to demand that I protect and advance myself, or else I will be completely lost to the world. What does it mean to pour out my life as a drink offering? Or to give my life as a sacrifice for many? In some way it is connected to whether I am grateful and thankful caregiver.