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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Karen Armstrong in conversation

So, if religion is not about believing things, what is it about? What I’ve found is that, across the board, religion is about behaving differently. Instead of deciding whether or not you believe in God, first you do something, you behave in a committed way, and then you begin to understand the truths of religion. And religious doctrines are meant to be summons to action: you only understand them when you put them into practice. Karen Armstrong on SOF

Theology is poetry

I suggest we discuss the above conversation. Karen Armstrong is a prolific author and articulate speaker on comparative religion. She describes herself as "a freelance monotheist," and believes that "all the great traditions are saying the same thing in much the same way, despite their surface differences." She centers religion on compassion and ethics: "I say that religion isn’t about believing things. It's about what you do. It’s ethical alchemy. It’s about behaving in a way that changes you, that gives you intimations of holiness and sacredness.” [see wiki article]

What did I like, you ask?

I like Armstrong's comments about the fact that the Bible can't answer your questions. I think Armstrong rightly puts her finger on the fact that many fundamentalists and atheists have both erred in expecting the Bible to be a book of answers. Hence, either the Bible has life's answers (fundamentalist) or it doesn't (atheists). Of course, that's painting with rather broad strokes. (Not all atheists are reacting against fundamentalism, for example.)

Armstrong suggests that the Bible is "like weights in a gym" that we "struggle with." I like that. It reminds me when the book of Hebrews speaks of the "mature" approach to "the Word." The mature "by constant use have learned to distinguish good and evil." The idea in Hebrews (chapter four, is it?) seems to be of training, not by learning rules of behavior or true propositions that one applies to life; rather, I think the idea is that interaction with "the Word" (which probably should not be restricted to the written text) should result in a certain transformative effect that carries over into the lived life.

Armstrong talked about how the Bible can be (for many) an answer book that "with the click of a mouse the answers come up."

Also......what did I like....let me see here....

Okay, I really really appreciated her thoughts that the religious should develop a "counter narrative" to that of the "extremists." I like the positive movement. Armstrong talks about "an exegetical effort." In other words, engage the text.....deeply.....rigorously. I like it. Armstrong doesn't want to shy away from the text. For example, she suggests that there is "far more violence in the Bible than in the Koran," but that this is not something that a Christian should hide from.

On the negative side.....

I am always a bit cautious of those who suggest that all religions are generally the same, with only surface differences. I do appreciate and sympathize with the perspective. Extremists throughout history have exaggerated differences and exploited many. However, there are differences in religions, and the degree to which a religion differs depends largely on what one calls the "core," "essence," or "fundamentals" of the religion. And what one calls the essence of a religion is largely a matter of interpretation. In other words, religions like Isalm or Christianity have harsh words for non-believers or infidels, and as such it is easy to see how one could locate the essence of the religion in an us-versus-them frame of mind. I personally think that this is a mistake, but it is a matter of emphasis, isn't it? A matter of interpretation that has to do not just with the text or the tradition, but also with the interpreter's own vision for the world.


daniel hutchinson said...

I read a little of K.A. "A History of God", and was genuinely beguiled but ultimately unimpressed.

Maybe fundamentalism is in my blood. I'm attracted to extremists in every sphere.

None of that wishy-washy lukewarm stuff for me. I have great respect for Judaism, Islam and other great religions... no that's completely wrong...

I have great respect for Jews, Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Secularists and other great PEOPLE.

samlcarr said...

"all the great traditions are saying the same thing in much the same way, despite their surface differences." Now, I'm no comparitive religion scholar, but that sounds hokey to me.

The problem centers on whether behaviour is actually related to ethics/philosophy/religion in any very meaningful way. I see persons from many traditions who behave atypical in a "love one another..." sort of way. Another problem is that religion and its philosophies cannot be extracted very easily from the cultural manifestation.

What does strike me as unique in Jesus ethical teaching, is the strand of loving others more than one loves oneself...

Jonathan Erdman said...


Is it possible that Jesus and Christianity can create a false dichotomy between loving self and loving others? As such, loving others can come to mean not loving myself. Or, if I don't love myself, then I'm on my way to loving others.

It seems, on the contrary, that self-hatred often results in hatred toward others. Or, at the very least, it seems that how we view ourselves (how we interpret ourselves) is interconnected with how we view and relate with others.

samlcarr said...

Yes indeed, and it is eisegesis to see self denigration as a part of Jesus ethic. Jesus never says hating oneself is right. In fact the opposite is obviously more true. Only if we love ourselves will we be meaningfully able to love others MORE...

Part of the confusion arises from our reading of Paul, who sometimes uses rhetoric that can be misunderstood in a self negating way, but we tend to forget that it is only, for Paul, when one is 'in Christ', that one can truly love at all.

samlcarr said...

And Paul has a very high opinion of himself!

daniel hutchinson said...

Sam, you mean where he says he's the "chief of sinners"?

amy said...

I really appreciate your (the Bible's) distinction between interaction with the Word (sometimes written) that produces maturity and transformation, and parsing and "application" of the Word (only written) that's supposed to produce behavioral change but usually doesn't. Thanks.

I have a hard time with the concept of "applying the Bible to my life." If I "apply it to my life," it's still my life underneath, like honey spread over moldy bread. There's no real death or redemption that occurs; I just look glossy and taste sweeter.

The "problem" with what Hebrews (4? I didn't look it up either) prescribes (irony intended) is that I can't see it. At least when I give money to a needy person, I look less greedy. Transformation so isn't easy to measure.

All the same, I'm glad to let go of Bible-honey. It's too much work to keep covering up the mold (is my metaphor breaking down yet?).

Melody said...


You asked, Is it possible that Jesus and Christianity can create a false dichotomy between loving self and loving others?

I think it's possible that modern Christianity does that, but nothing Jesus said asks us to hate ourselves - especially not in the pursuit of loving others. Jesus assumes that we DO love ourselves and asks us to love others the same way.

Its more of a call to eschew selfishness, but if we hated ourselves you can see how that would mess with the intentions of Jesus' command.

Just a side thought - it seems like most of the times when people "hate" themselves...they may hate things about themselves, but really they're angry because they don't have things they think they deserve (friend, a good job, good looks, significant other, marriage, respect, cooler talents etc.).

And that DOES make said persons mean to other people, but it's because they're not satisfied with what they have and (often) angry that the other person has something they want - but they don't really hate themselves.

I think that is the type of attitude that we are repeatedly warned against in the NT.

I notice in my own life that when I let go of these "grievances" that I like myself and other people much better - all at the same time. And I think when we're not being selfish about it that Jesus delights in us enjoying who we are rather than who we think we deserve to be.

Ok. Rabbit Trail over.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Good point, Melody.

And thinking along those lines....the term "selfishness" might even be misleading.

Here's the shortened Merriam Webster def:

1: concerned excessively or exclusively with oneself : seeking or concentrating on one's own advantage, pleasure, or well-being without regard for others
2: arising from concern with one's own welfare or advantage in disregard of others.

So when one is "selfish" in the above fashion--concerned or consumed with one's self in disregard for others--then this usually is, in fact, the most detrimental thing to self......Perhaps we should start using the term "self-destructive-ish"......hhhmmm....mightbe too much.

Jonathan Erdman said...


Yes, good thoughts....the metaphor was stretched, bent, crinkled, and creased....but it did not break! Nicely done!

Jonathan Erdman said...


What are your thoughts on fundamentalist extremists if they decide they want your head?

samlcarr said...

Daniel, certainly as the chief of sinners Paul would have received more than his fair share of grace. but actually I was thinking more of Paul's assertions that he himself is an excellent example to follow as well as the general tone of many of his epistles. There's little doubt that even when contrasting himself to the other apostles he generally felt free to feel himself in the right.

Jon, I think it's quite remarkable that despite fundamentalism's presence or absence in a Christian's life, individuals are still drawn to Jesus himself and certainly so as their lives will bear witness, if not their rhetoric.

daniel hutchinson said...

Jon, I don't quite understand the question, but I think it's important to moderate healthy fanaticism with a good sense of humour and respect for other people.

I think the equation of fundamentalism with murder and mayhem is a political diversion; the idea for eg. that the Crusades or 9/11 or Zionism or Tamil Tigers (etc.) is a result of fundamentalism, when it is really manipulation of people's pride and will to power (usually by some very selfish individuals higher up in the hierarchy) - in fact the very opposite of what the Bible (or Torah, or Koran, or life of Buddha) implies.

As an aside, we see the dillemma clearly in the life of the Islamic prophet Mohamed, who resorted to waging war to further the aims of his wife and her father and business associates, under the pre-text of sunduing and unifying the tribes and destroying the idol-worship. This was probably against his better judgement, but rationalised as a good idea for Islam anyway.

It is very clear that the prophet Mohamed was manipulated, or at best Islam was used by others for their own purposes, and the same pattern continues today.

(I said Mohamed was manipulated, but please, no disrespect intended, so no fatwa ok!)

daniel hutchinson said...

Sam, I wholeheartedly agree, it's not about rhetoric but about the fruit. I believe that Paul was suitably confident in this regard, and certainly his life would have by necessity demonstrated the "power of the Gospel"... otherwise what's the point?

The "chief of sinners" comment was just a joke... but it is true that a dose of self-deprecation never hurt anybody, or for that matter, a sober minded assessment of self. "No-one whould think of himself higher than he ought" (Romans 12:3, look it up if you like Jon!).

It's not so much about hating the self, as being aware of its limitations, and loving it in good proportion.

There is a danger when Christian ethics focusses on the principle of loving others and you love yourself and leaves out the first part of that sentence - "Love the Lord your God". Only in loving God first, with all your heart, mind, and strength, can you love others and love yourself in an effective way. Primarily, I believe, because God is Love, so He must first become your source.

I've taught a bit of piano in a school which has included the rule "love others as you love yourself" in the code of conduct, as a guiding principle, but with no mention of loving God with all your heart, mind, and strength. It just doesn't happen.

daniel hutchinson said...

Amy, I like your metaphor.

These metaphors - the word becomes flesh, the scroll becomes bread and honey (In Ezekiel), the water becomes wine, logos becomes rhema, tells me that somehow there are antibodies in that divine honey spread on the moldy bread of life, that when we are doers of the word (smearing it on), these antibodies destroy the mold and restore the bread to life.

daniel hutchinson said...

But he answered, "It is written, One must not live on bread alone, but on every word coming out of the mouth of God". (Matthew 4:4)

Jonathan Erdman said...

Daniel: There is a danger when Christian ethics focusses on the principle of loving others and you love yourself and leaves out the first part of that sentence - "Love the Lord your God". Only in loving God first, with all your heart, mind, and strength, can you love others and love yourself in an effective way. Primarily, I believe, because God is Love, so He must first become your source.

Daniel....could you expand this thought a bit....I'm curious--in your life and in the lives of others as you've observed them, how does love of God connect with love for others.

Presumably, one can love others without loving God....or so it seems....and it also seems that one can love God and still not love others. At the beginning of Nietzsche's Thus Spake Zarathustra, Zarathustra comes upon an old saint. Z tells the saint of his plans to enter again into the community of humanity. The old saint discourages it: I used to love man, but now I live alone and sing songs and psalms to God. Well, says Zarathustra, I must be on my way so that you can get back to your songs!

Melody said...

Presumably, one can love others without loving God....or so it seems....and it also seems that one can love God and still not love others.

Not according to 1 John

"Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in Him, and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit...If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also."

1 John 4:7-13, 20-21
Emphasis mine.

amy said...

Dan, I think...I hope it's more like the honey slowly devouring and destroying the spoiled bread until there's nothing but honey left. (This metaphor is on shaky ground, I know, but I can't think of a better description. Any suggestions?)

I think I'm pushing back against any notion of the Bible being used as a "magic" book full of cures to the ills of my fallenness—"recite these verses in this order this many times a day and you'll be good as new!" If God is going to make anything good out of me, he's going to have to tear me down first. This whole reading-what-the-Bible-says-and-then-trying-really-really-hard-to-do-it thing just isn't working out very well for me. I suck at being perfect even as my heavenly father is perfect. There's just got to be more to it than "read-pray-do." If there's not, I may be screwed.

daniel hutchinson said...

Hi Jon, would you believe in a moment of fanaticism I once burned a first edition copy of Thus Spoke Zarathustra?

I read it as an impressionabe 15 year old. Years later, a girlfriend gave me the first edition. It sat on my bookshelf, and I read it occasionaly. After becoming a Christian, for some reason, I burnt it.

Not a very loving or wise act, and I would not repeat that. I still have a mental image of the number stamped on the inside cover.

I think Nietzche had the completely opposite view of God to what I do. But that doesn't warrant burning his book.

Anyway, on your question, the only example is really in my own life. When I didn't know God, I thought I was the most loving person on the planet. I thought my love was superior to the love found in the Church. After the Holy Spirit convicted me of pride and persuaded me to begin a love relationship with Jesus, I realised that what I thought was love, was self-seeking.

I realize this does not qualify as any kind of proof that one must love God before loving one's neighbour as oneself, but that is my own experience. You can think of it whatever you will, and even though I am by no means perfect I would never go back to trying to love in my own strength and according to my own conception, now that I have shared in what God has.

Think about it Jon - God is love. Yes/No? If yes, if you want to love, you must go to God. Otherwise you will have some kind of counterfeit love - or not?

If God is not love, than there would be something greater than God, for love is the greatest of all. Than, truly, we wouldn't need God; like the madman in Zarathustra.

But look at Nietzche's own personal life: no love. Tragic consequence of no God.

Admittedly this answer hinging on my personal testimony, the Bible, and Nietzche might not convince you. I haven't interviewed others on this point or observed others through this lens, although I have known many converts who have left there old lives solidly behind, for one main reason: the love of God is incomparable to anything else on offer.

daniel hutchinson said...

Amy, there is more.

I like the idea of only honey, but there will always be bread. We will never completely transcend this world, at least on this side of the grave. The sweet is always mixed with the sweat, blood and tears of life.

Acceptance. We are dust. God is great. Worship.

In my reply, I don't mean to come across as prescriptive. It's not that simple, and it's certainly not magic. There is a path:

Information -> Illumination -> Application -> Revelation -> Wisdom

One can structure a fruitful interaction with the Bible, but it can also be seemingly random inspiration to act. Life is a series of choices, acted out (not just mental assent).

All the writing, talking, blogging, chatting, does not add up to one God-inspired act like.

tamie said...

I'm just now entering the conversation, so I'm commenting on Jon's original post.

I do think it's simplistic to say that all religions are saying the same thing. But perhaps it would be feasible to claim--as James Finley has done--that if you go very deeply into your own tradition, you will meet up with those in other traditions who go very deeply into their own traditions. You will understand each other in some profound, perhaps ultimately undefinable way, even if your practices don't look the same, even if the wisdom you have learned is not identical. But the wisdom will be complimentary; it won't be contradictory--there will most likely be an emphasis on, and experience of, humility, compassion, joy, etc.

Of course one must ask what it means to go very deeply into one's own tradition because certainly the extremists in all traditions believe themselves to have gone most deeply into those traditions. I would disagree with them...

Anyway, I can really understand the impetus of making these claims--the impetus being, I assume, to try to convince people not to slaughter each other over differences that are being used as excuses to rape and kill and whatnot. There is the attempt to convince people that ultimately the founders of their religions would not have disagreed with each other. That, while the traditions do have differences and distinctions, they are not fundamentally *opposed* to each other.

But of course, many people disagree with this! Many people think that the whole point about Christianity is that there are insiders (people who have "accepted Christ") and there are outsiders, and our whole purpose on earth is to win as many souls to Christ as possible. Or, with Islam, there's a similar insider-outsider thing. Both have resulted in extreme violence.

I do not know what the answer is. I can't imagine that someone like Karen Armstrong will really reach the fundamentalists--of any religion. But perhaps part of the answer (to the question, "How do we get extremists to stop hating and doing violence?") is that that kind of dialogue has to arise from *within* each tradition. It has to be Muslims talking with other Muslims, Christians talking with other Christians--trying to convince their brethren, from within the tradition, that violence is not what is truest to that tradition.

daniel hutchinson said...

Tamie, I agree with your point about going "deeply into the tradition", and having common ground with others in terms of value for humility, compassion, joy, patience, and all the other wisdom you didn't mention.

It's like John (the apostle) talks about the love of God. There are many people, who are not Christians, who genuinely love God.

However, your discussion gets hazy when you talk about fundamentalists, extremists, and violence. Equating fundamentalism with violence is propaganda. Using these terms interchangeably and uncritically is exactly what Bush et al have inculcated in political discourse.

The majority of people with extreme and fundamental viewpoints do not want to impose their views on others by violent means. However this does not mean they are any less radical, persuaded or convinced that what they believe is true.

The people behind the violence have the following qualities in common: greed, power-hungry, unthinking, unbelieving.

tamie said...

Daniel--I did not mean to equate fundamentalism with violence. I do not make that equation in my mind. Of course there are many people who believe they are right and all others are wrong, but still do not wish to impose those opinions by violent means.

On the other hand, I think that there is a tendency toward subtle forms of violence or manipulation that are subtly caught up in the kind of fundamentalism with which I am most familiar: the Christian, American, evangelical-conservative kind. For example, the kind of fundamentalism that wishes to deny services like hospital visitation to homosexual couples--I find this kind of thing to be bigoted intolerance that, although not explicitly violence, is nevertheless cruel.

It's very tricky! I really know this. Because I want to really support others' rights to hold strong beliefs that are not the same as mine.

I don't have the answers for how to avoid violence on all levels. Perhaps identifying the more subtle parts of the problem are part of the solution.

daniel hutchinson said...

My favourite vague scripture:

"The Kingdom of Heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force." (Matt 11:12b)

You make an interesting point Tamie.

Violence is unavoidable at the level you address.

It's like the violence between purple and yellow, or green and red. Mix them, and you'll get the same brown.

Or is this a good picture? Do we not insist that there is "one way"?

This is how I resolve the apparent dillemma. Jesus said, "there is one way to the father". Christianity is about getting to God the father. Other ways to God, get to God the creator, God the covenant maker, God the enlightenment, God the higher power, God the Universe, God the rational mind, God the warrior, etc. etc.

I know of no other proposition of God the father, except through Jesus, the son.

So that kind of simplifies it for me. I want to know God the father. I want to know God the son. I want to know God the Holy Spirit. The trinity is the answer.

Others have different searches, so why should I judge them based on my own? I'm satisfied I've got the answer to the question in my heart - and if you have the same question, I'll share what I've found!

But if you looking for God in the sense of Judaism, Islam, Buddhism etc., then Jesus isn't the way.

There are multiple ways, and multiple destinations?

Ok somebody shoot down my hot air balloon!

samlcarr said...

Daniel, if you know the tree by its fruit, then I think one can't avoid concluding that correct theology in any tradition has precious little to do with knowing, loving, or following God. That sword, unfortunately, cuts both ways!

I think my feeling about fundamentalism and its relation to violence is that it sometimes is used as a justification for violence, or for the perpetration of injustice, and one doesn't need to look very far for that in today's world. The recent happenings in Gaza are a good example, where regardless of the immediate provocations, the American religious right were cheering on Israel's onslaught.

Recently, here in India, a group of Hindu extremists were caught planting bombs in mosques and pretending that they were Moslems. The implication being that they thought they could get Moslems of one type to suspect that it was Moslems of another faction that were targeting them while at the same time convincing the Indian nation that Moslems were generally dangerous and so needed to be treated as potential terrorists. Many birds with just a few small bombs...

daniel hutchinson said...

Yes, one's theology can be correct and there's still no fruit - the demons believe and tremble! What a desperate situation.

Regarding Gaza, the insertion of fundamentalism as justification for acts of violence (from both sides) is besides the point; if it weren't for Muslims making it a Jihad issue, and Jews making it a Zionist cause, the fight would be seen simply for what it is, a war over land. More people would probably get involved, certainly on the side of the Palestinians, if it weren't for the propaganda.

Actually, this is already happening (people ignoring the propaganda) with the EU for example pumping billions of Euros every year into reconstructing the Gaza territory and the USA promising more money to Palestine, not to speak of the money puring in from the secular Arab world (Qatar, UAE, Egypt). So you see a lot of people paying for the aftermath motivated by apparently humanist and humanitarian concern - a lot more people than are directly sponsoring the conflict.

The media picks up on the support for the Isreali invasion by religious groups, or support for Hamas rockets by religious groups, just to fuel the fire. This kind of thing probably also happens in the Indian media.

The stories of the Hindus dressed as Muslims, represented in the media, serves someone's interests. It's a media war.

On the first day of Isreali bombing in Gaza, over 500 people were massacred in Uganda but it didn't even make the news. Atrocities continue to be perpetrated in Sudan, Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka, and elsewhere but get no media attention.

Religious differences are mobilized in most (but not all) of these conflicts, as a way of manipulating people, and exploiting their fear of the other.

When it's not religious difference, it might be race or another false category of difference.

I think Karen Armstrong is asking, as we do with race, is there really any difference between different religions?

Politically motivated and distorted fundamentalism of any sort ultimately does itself a disservice, by confining its base of support through its exclusivism. The consequence is always ultimately isolation and failure. I think the best example is Apartheid in South Africa, the use of white supremacy as a cover-up fundamentalism for a few people's greed and political domination.

tamie said...

Daniel--I think you make a very interesting point, that Jesus/Christianity is the answer to a particular question, but not everyone has that question. I've never heard it put quite that way before.

tamie said...

Daniel--you make about 13 good points in your most recent comment. I especially appreciate what you said about 500 Ugandans dying on the first day of the Gaza crisis. It is indeed a media war--which deaths the media deems we will find interesting (and thus increase their ratings), which deaths we'll find irrelevant. And so the media determines which suffering they can capitalize on the most. It's hard to say whether it's better or worse for the media to cover a particular conflict.

Perhaps consistently/passively consuming others' suffering (via TV or other media outlets), particularly when we can't do anything about it, or don't intend to, is as indictable act as any.

daniel hutchinson said...

tamie said...

Daniel--I think you make a very interesting point, that Jesus/Christianity is the answer to a particular question, but not everyone has that question. I've never heard it put quite that way before.

At the same time, the Lord is one. There is no God besides Jehovah ("the existing one"). The genuine seeker will always find him, will always find the question that leads to God on their quest for the truth. Other paths turn out to be dead ends... religion always promises the answers, but Jesus said I am the way the truth and the life! Not Christianity! So in this important sense, all religion is the same, it is man's effort to reach God, and it frustrates the genuine seeker who is looking for God.

Jesus is God reaching man. It's the revelation (the rock) upon which Jesus said he would build his Church (his ekklesia).

There are some attractive things about religion, but in the end it's all a "whitewashed tomb".

samlcarr said...

But Daniel, therein is the very heart of the issue.

Does historic fundamental Christianity show any evidence of knowing Christ?

Perhaps more to the point of this post, "Are there dimensions to Jesus that are in fact expressed more clearly by God in traditions other than the Christian one?"

daniel hutchinson said...

Good question Sam. I don't know - let's think about it.

Jonathan Erdman said...

"Are there dimensions to Jesus that are in fact expressed more clearly by God in traditions other than the Christian one?"

My quick thought:

I would answer "yes"...and I don't think that I find that threatening at all to Jesus or to the faith....for one thing, I think that the New Testament did a fine job beginning to grapple with the implications of the life, teachings, and death/resurrection of Jesus. But to my knowledge, the New Testament nowhere suggests that it is an end in itself. Quite the contrary, the suggestion seems to be that we should continue to work out and explore the many ramifications of dimensions of faith in Christ. What this implies to me is that other religions have truths that can aid in the process of exploring the unfolding working of God through the Word.

samlcarr said...

I should admit that I was at one point an ardent fundamentalist. I'm still very conservative and particular about how exegesis is to be done and in some ways so too in my own personal beliefs, but I have come to question how well 'Christianity' has done in exploring scripture, and in exploring truth.

Surely an approach that derives sets of rules from a person such as Jesus is somehow missing the point. Even more surely, our defensiveness, being willing to defend what one believes to be 'the truth' with violence, shows us the nature of the pudding that we have become.

I'd agree with Jon (that we should be free to explore) and I don't think that we have to do so in the fear of offending God. God and the Holy Spirit are quite capable of continuing the conversation with us and of revealing themselves to us especially if they are anything like what Jesus believed them to be.

Ultimately I am certain that God does indeed "stand at the door and knock".

daniel hutchinson said...

It's all about a love relationship with Jesus. I wonder if all traditions are not anathema, or for that matter tradition itself... are love and tradition compatible?

Is it not the case that we easily begin worshipping tradition, loving religion, trusting in ritual, relishing comfort, and so doing lose our connection with the living God?

daniel hutchinson said...

The reason I mentioned the burning of books, is because I was inspired by an extremist fervour, and it is not a very large step from burning books to burning people as demonstrated by the Nazis.

I see the relevance of the assumption that extremism/fundamentalism equates to violence, and acknowledge this in my own life. But I also associate it with a kind of immaturity, insecurity, and spiritual orphan mentality. At least, I burnt the book before / in the process of / becoming the believer that I am today.

I also remember destroying a statue, breaking CDs etc. This kind of action is not necessarily wrong, there is a place to tear down "asherah poles" as the heroes in the Bible did.

But when Paul went to the Gentiles he didn't take a hammer to their idols - he in fact looked for what could be used to preach the gospel.

Excuse me thinking out loud. I don't feel guilty about burning a book or a statue, but I don't feel justified either. It's a weird assessment of my own extremism or lack thereof maybe.