Just jotting down thoughts here for lack of a better place to put them. Recently there was a bit of a kerfuffle in certain Protestant circles when Hank Hanegraaff (I’d never heard of him, but he is or was a major player in American Protestantism, apparently) converted to my own faith, Eastern Orthodoxy. The general response of Protestants was that he had “left Christianity,” and there’s been a lot of back-and-forth about incense and idolatry and whatnot.
Most of this is tiresome and impossible to resolve because of Protestants’ and Orthodox Christians’ radically different beliefs concerning the ultimate source of “authority” for Christians. I’m not going to go into the sola this-and-that rabbit hole. However, the concept of “penal substitution” did get brought up, and that seems worth discussion.
I’m probably going to be too busy to do this regularly, but for old times’ sake here’s another. I’m not trying to take any position on the gay marriage fight in this post; that would take a much longer post, and everybody’s made up their mind on that already.
Is there anything sillier, or more painful to watch, than an amateur trying to show up an expert by citing cherry-picked information from the expert’s own subject of expertise? For example, creationists trying to “disprove” evolution by pointing to some trivial anomaly in the body of research. Much of the time it isn’t even a real anomaly, and reflects only the creationist’s ignorance of how evolution is supposed to work. My favorite: “If people evolved from apes, why do we still have apes?” The creationist smiles smugly; every educated person listening to or reading him winces, sighs, and decides it simply isn’t worth the effort of even beginning to correct this rube. Continue reading →
Ancient Athens, at the height of its power, commanded an empire of millions, covering most of the Eastern Mediterranean. Nominally, they were the foremost city of an alliance, but in practice, they dominated and extracted tribute from settlements in the Cyclades, Ionia on the west coast of Asia Minor, Italy, Sicily, Cyprus, and various points on the north coast of Africa. They even had a couple of colonies in Spain. This whole maritime empire was held together by the trireme, a 120-foot warship alternately propelled by sails or three banks of rowers, with a vicious battering ram on its tip. I’ve mentioned the trireme before, in my Darkened Ages post. It was a mighty weapon, but it had its limitations; it was strictly a coastal vessel, which had to make landfall every night to restock with food and water. Also, very expensive. At its aforementioned height, Athens could only build three or four triremes per year. Usually this was done by selecting one of the city’s richest citizens for the “honor” of funding it, in the form of a charitable endowment called a liturgy (lit. “work for the people”; also an apt term for our religious service, but one wonders exactly how the term got transferred!).
Anyway, suppose you were to go to one of Athens’s busiest shipyards and tell them that, at some point in the past, a man and his three sons, possibly assisted by their wives, had built a ship three times the length of a trireme, and far wider–a boat the size of a modern American football field. That these men had then loaded down said ship with massive amounts of heavy cargo–live animals, and plenty of fodder–and kept it afloat through forty days of nonstop storm conditions, plus an indeterminate period of calm afterwards. Continue reading →
Before I start this post, a quick apology or proviso of sorts: in my last post, I held up typical Christian children’s books as an example of flawed “Christian” culture. I do believe it is true that presenting the world as divided between “Christian” and “Secular” cultural spheres, with the “Christian” as ostensibly superior (but really just a whitewashed imitation of the secular), is a losing bet. However, the problem confronting Christian children’s books is much the same as that confronting children’s books, and especially very young children’s books, in general: people tend to believe that, because small children are not mentally and emotionally sophisticated, you can foist off whatever doggerel you like on them, and they’ll love it. On the contrary, small children are as challenging an audience as any–perhaps more than others, even, because of their limitations–and people like Dr. Seuss and Shel Silverstein are their Shakespeares and Mark Twains. Little children only continue to have crummy fiction dumped on them because they are a largely captive audience, with little input into which books are purchased for them. But this is not an exclusively Christian, or “Christian” problem. See also Sturgeon’s Law.
With that said: there is a second major reason, in my opinion, why religiosity is fading in America today. Like the first, I think it grew out of the Sexual Revolution. Specifically, it developed in reaction to the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision. As I understand it, what we now call “socially conservative” religious leaders, fired up by a seven-judge majority essentially steamrolling over conventional morality, offered a pledge of mutual support to Reagan and other GOP leaders. The result was the prolonged disaster we know as the Religious Right. Continue reading →
Religion in the United States isn’t doing so hot; study after study finds “unaffiliated” to be the fastest-growing religious belief here, especially among young people like (technically, sorta) myself. And there’s been plenty of hand-wringing about it too, on site after site. But I’ve never seen an honest attempt to understand just why this happened, from a religious or specifically Christian point of view: what went wrong? This is puzzling to me, because in retrospect, it seems rather obvious. We asked for this.
I think–I’m not certain, but I think–it was C.S. Lewis who coined the term “chronological snobbery.” It refers to our curious modern tendency to assume that, because our ancestors were less technologically, politically, and economically sophisticated than we are, they were necessarily quite stupid. I should add that we tend to apply similar reasoning, albeit unconsciously, to people in poor countries, and most of all to tribal peoples. Of course, there’s nothing logical about this assumption; if anything, it is substantially more difficult to survive in a low-tech, unstable society than in modern times, and so one would expect successful members of those societies to be more intelligent than our own elites, at least in terms of raw capacity. Continue reading →
. . . to yesterday’s post, since I likely won’t have time to write a substantial post today. I left off a final point: that atheism, or naturalism, not only does not require any advanced science to support it–the ancient world had plenty of nontheistic philosophies, like the Stoics and (alas) the original Cynics–but is likely more ancient than theism, or even belief in the supernatural as such.