Tuesday, October 31, 2006
Sunday, October 29, 2006
More interesting is the 6th district, which pits Democrat Patty Wetterling against Republican Michele Bachmann. Bachmann has long been the standard-bearer for the religious right in the Minnesota Legislature, where she fought the "homosexual agenda" tooth-and-nail. This involved leading a "prayer circle around the desk of an openly gay state senator" and spying on a gay-rights rally at the Capitol while hiding behind a bush. She has also made it clear that God told her to run for Congress and intends for her to win (of course, such statements have become de rigeur for Republicans these days, so we shouldn't be too surprised).
Interestingly, Bachmann is a Wisconsin Synod Lutheran, which prompted this snippet from the Minneapolis Star-Tribune Opinion page:
Much has been made of Democratic Fifth District House candidate Keith Ellison's alleged ties to the Nation of Islam -- or, as Scott at [the Power Line blog] put it, his "long, enthusiastic and devoted service to the Nation of Islam as the acolyte of a hate cult." Conservative bloggers have made candidates' ties to religious groups an issue, but now a liberal blog -- Faithful Democrats -- has adopted the same tactic regarding GOP Sixth District House candidate Michele Bachmann's church. It is affiliated with the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, which regards the Roman Catholic papacy as the Antichrist. "It's tantamount to hate speech," said Dennis McGrath, spokesman for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.
The blog asked, "Can a congressional candidate whose faith says Catholics follow Satan win in a district that's 30 percent Catholic? ... This statement is one of only nine core doctrines listed on WELS's website, suggesting it is particularly important to the denomination. Might Bachmann disagree with this rabid anti-Catholicism? Perhaps, but WELS insists that members and congregations agree on the fundamental doctrines of the church in order to remain in communion with it."
After reading this, I visited the WELS website and, sure enough, their feelings about the papacy are loud and clear: "We reject the teaching that Christians should look for one individual to arise in the end times as the great Antichrist. The characteristics of the Antichrist as presented in Scripture have been and are being fulfilled in the institution of the papacy (2 Thessalonians 2:4-10). We reject the opinion that the identification of the papacy with the Antichrist was merely a historical judgment valid only at the time of the Reformation." In their defense, WELS does make a distinction between the institution of pope and individual Catholics, but it's a very slight distinction:
We thank God, that even within the outward kingdom of Antichrist, there will be some (the precise number known only to God) who escape the fate of the Antichrist because they believe the Scripture's teaching about Christ rather than Antichrist's lies. It was just such Christians within "Babylon" that made up much of the Invisible Church in the days before the Reformation.
Apparently, Bachmann has not visited the WELS website, because she claimed in a debate that her Synod says no such thing about the pope. I guess her particular church has done a poor job of teaching her the "right doctrine". Perhaps, for political purposes, she should quickly transfer to the ELCA (God forbid!) or the Missouri Synod, which, according to the WELS website, has gone soft on the Antichrist.
Some political experts think this issue has the potential to hurt Bachmann, and I hope it does. It would be delicious irony if Bachmann's over-the-top religiosity manages to alienate other conservative Christians, thereby costing her this very close election. Poor Michele. She thought only liberals and gays followed the Antichrist.
Monday, October 16, 2006
"All explanations come to an end somewhere. The real opposition between Dawkins's physicalist naturalism and the God hypothesis is a disagreement over whether this end point is physical, extensional, and purposeless, or mental, intentional, and purposive. On either view, the ultimate explanation is not itself explained. The God hypothesis does not explain the existence of God, and naturalistic physicalism does not explain the laws of physics."
Dawkins, like many of his contemporaries, is hobbled by the assumption that the only alternative to religion is to insist that the ultimate explanation of everything must lie in particle physics, string theory, or whatever purely extensional laws govern the elements of which the material world is composed.This reductionist dream is nourished by the extraordinary success of the physical sciences in our time, not least in their recent application to the understanding of life through molecular biology. It is natural to try to take any successful intellectual method as far as it will go. Yet the impulse to find an explanation of everything in physics has over the last fifty years gotten out of control. The concepts of physical science provide a very special, and partial, description of the world that experience reveals to us. It is the world with all subjective consciousness, sensory appearances, thought, value, purpose, and will left out. What remains is the mathematically describable order of things and events in space and time.That conceptual purification launched the extraordinary development of physics and chemistry that has taken place since the seventeenth century. But reductive physicalism turns this description into an exclusive ontology. The reductionist project usually tries to reclaim some of the originally excluded aspects of the world, by analyzing them in physical--that is, behavioral or neurophysiological--terms; but it denies reality to what cannot be so reduced. I believe the project is doomed--that conscious experience, thought, value, and so forth are not illusions, even though they cannot be identified with physical facts.
Dawkins fails to realize that science will never be able to provide an adequate basis for a complete understanding of human existence. It can only give us abstractions which, however useful they may be, are not the substance of life. What Johann Hamann says of historical events is also true of scientific theories and the law of nature; they "are like that wide valley full of dry bones - and lo, they were very dry. No one but a prophet could presage that veins and flesh would grow on these bones and that skin would cover them. As yet there is no breath in them, until the prophet prophesies unto the wind and the word of the Lord speaks..."
Sunday, October 15, 2006
"I guess it's obvious that Santa Claus is the kid's version of God. If you get to your twenties and you're still believing in God, which I was, I feel it's a state of arrested development, as if a child was twelve and still believed in Santa Claus." -- Julia Sweeney, as heard on NPR's To the Best of our Knowledge.
Monday, October 09, 2006
In the wake of the Amish school shooting, much has been written about the willingness of the Amish community to forgive the perpetrator and his family. Before the bodies of the children were even buried, the Amish "sent words of forgiveness to the family of the killer who had executed their children", and representatives of the community even attended the murder's funeral - not to vent their anger, but to forgive and mourn for the troubled man who has caused them so much grief. Needless to say, the eagerness of the Amish to forgive has surprised and confounded most Americans, who tend to view revenge as a perfectly natural, and even beneficial, response to such injustices. We have grown accustomed to the sight of victims' families testifying in favor of the death penalty – a practice supported by a majority of Americans. The Amish, however, have set a very different example.
Indeed, the Amish response to this tragedy is so outside the norm that it has sent the media scurrying to finds its source in their theology and way of life. What is it about these simple people that allows them to forgive so freely and so quickly? Donald B. Kraybill, an expert on Amish life, does a good job of answering these questions in an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer:
Amish roots stretch back to the Anabaptist movement at the time of the Protestant Reformation in 16th-century Europe. Hundreds of Anabaptists were burned at the stake, decapitated and tortured because they contended that individuals should have the freedom to make voluntary decisions about religion... The martyr voice still rings loudly in Amish ears with the message of forgiveness of those who tortured them and burned their bodies at the stake.
The martyr testimony springs from the example of Jesus, the cornerstone of Amish faith. As do other Anabaptists, the Amish take the life and teachings of Jesus seriously. Without formal creeds, their simple (but not simplistic) faith accents living in the way of Jesus rather than comprehending the complexities of religious doctrine. Their model is the suffering Jesus who carried his cross without complaint. And who, hanging on the cross, extended forgiveness to his tormentors: "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." Beyond his example, the Amish try to practice Jesus' admonitions to turn the other cheek, to love one's enemies, to forgive 70 times seven times, and to leave vengeance to the Lord. Retaliation and revenge are not part of their vocabulary.
For me, Kraybill’s analysis is somewhat unsettling, as it begs the question: why don’t other Christians, myself included, behave like the Amish? Why is the media so impressed, and so surprised, by the radical forgiveness exhibited by this isolated community? Could it be that the willingness to “turn the other cheek” is not often seen, even in this supposedly Christian nation? Could it be that most Christians, unlike the Amish, fail to “take the life and teachings of Jesus seriously”? In a nation whose foreign policy has been motivated by a spirit of vengeance ever since 9/11, a tiny group of pre-modern farmers has shamed us by its extraordinary example.
We “conventional” Christians should be quite worried that, for many non-believers, the forgiveness exhibited by the Amish is considered a peculiar quirk of their brand of Christianity, and not of Christianity in general. That they could think such a thing is proof that they have not witnessed enough forgiveness from the rest of us.