Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Scientist provides evidence that God does not exist

Scientist provides evidence that God does not exist:
"... After evaluating all the scientific evidence—the studies done by reputable institutions on the power of prayer; the writings of philosophers who have puzzled over the problem of God and of good and evil; the efforts of biblical scholars to prove the accuracy of holy scriptures; and the work of biologists, geologists, and astronomers looking for clues to a creator on Earth and in the cosmos—Stenger concludes that beyond a reasonable doubt the universe and life appear exactly as we might expect if there were no God. He convincingly shows that not only is there no evidence for the existence of God, but scientific observations actually point to his nonexistence. ..."

This is quoted from a book blurb from Prometheus Books, and one should read it through one's "marketing hype" filters.

Still, though, it all boils down to another scientist making statements about something that falls completely outside the methods of science. He is entitled to his opinion, but he should not be identifying it as the outcome of scientific inquiry. By its very nature it cannot be.

You cannot logically prove a negative. This author shows his blind faith by attempting to do so.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Monday Dog Photo and Culture Quiz

"... [a] vulture's eye of a cold pale blue .."

I'm a mainly a cat person, but every so often there is a dog that worms her way into my life. Dally has been with us for two months and has striking eyes -- one blue, one amber.

Here's a cultural quiz:

  1. The caption to the photo is from a 1976 song. Name the artist, album, and song.
  2. To what 19th century literary work does it allude?
It may be possible to get the second question without knowing the first, but if you know the answer to the first, you can't possibly miss the second.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Found Through Translation -

Found Through Translation -
"Most Christians search for the meaning of the New Testament. But for Alpheaus Zobule, the quest wasn't remotely metaphorical.

Growing up on a South Pacific island where life stops twice daily for church, he knew Christianity -- or thought he did. Yet he hadn't read the Bible; few people on his wave-whipped island had. They speak an oral language, Lungga, making them largely reliant on Methodist missionaries and lightly trained preachers to translate their faith.

Until recently, that is. Driven to make the Bible available to the 5,000-plus people who live on Ranonga in the Solomon Islands, the 37-year-old son of subsistence farmers came to the United States, earned master's degrees in linguistics and theology and spent six years figuring out how to write down Lungga -- all so he could translate the New Testament. ..."

Michelle Boorstein's article in today's Washington Post tells a story about a man whose thirst for God's Word compelled him to take a path that few western Christians have taken -- or even need to take. (On my laptop I have the full text of the NIV, NRSV, KJV, NASB and some other, lesser known translations -- as well as commentaries, dictionaries, and other resources. The browser can synchronize bible text and commentaries, and allow me to look up the meaning of the underlying Hebrew and Greek -- courtesy of the Zondervan Bible Study Library Leader's Edition 5.0. It boggles my mind to realize the extent to which this man has gone to achieve what is literally at my fingertips)

The task was complicated by the fact that Lungaa, like so many languages in the world, is not a written language. In fact, according to Wycliffe International, of the approximately 2000 current bible translation projects, the majority involve non-written languages.

Much is being discussed about the strength and growth of Christianity in the "Global South" -- it's stories like these that help to explain why.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Sunrise on Moloka'i

Just another reminder that somewhere the weather is balmy.

4 days till Susan returns....

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

New York Times: Furor over 12-year-old actress’s rape scene

New York Times:
"LOS ANGELES, Jan. 19 — [D. F.] will turn 13 next month, and she has a short answer for anyone who questions her decision to play a 1950s girl who gyrates in her underwear, wakes up as her naked father climbs into her bed, demands that a prepubescent boy expose himself to her in exchange for a kiss and, finally, is raped by a teenager who lures her with tickets to an Elvis concert:

She’s growing up. Get used to it.

Ms. [F], best known for leading roles in children’s movies like “Dreamer” and “Charlotte’s Web,” thrillers like “Man on Fire” and “War of the Worlds,” and the horror film “Hide and Seek,” now is starring in “Hounddog,” an independent film that is to have its premiere on Monday at the Sundance Film Festival. It has already won attention far out of proportion to its budget of less than $4 million. ..."

This story was linked in PresbyWeb (subscription required, but a free trial period is offered) and it raises serious and disturbing issues.

This is not the first time that child actors have taken on roles that are questionable.

The young girl who played Regan in The Exorcist had a difficult time during her adolescent years involving living with her boyfriend at age 15 and serious drug charges in the late 1970's. Eventually she started making better choices, and while her film career was not anything like the heady days of The Exorcist, where she was in the running for an Oscar, she has done found fulfilment as an advocate for animal cruelty issues.

In the years following The Exorcist, Pretty Baby (1977) and The Blue Lagoon (1980 remake), both starring the same child actress/model, raised issues of propriety and child pornography. To be fair, this actress took four years off from her film and modeling career and earned a degree in French Literature at Princeton University and did not seem to have the issues with drugs as the girl who acted in The Exorcist.

Reading the New York Times article on the 12-year-old who acts in Hounddog, and the answers she gave to interviewers, I have to question whether any child of that age can give informed consent to play such roles. Who is making the decisions here?

Child actors have a hard time just being normal children without dealing with issues that they should not have to deal with at their age. I sincerely hope that the actress in Hounddog does not go the way of many of her predecessors.

Still, it is strangely comforting that people who have been treated to some pretty raw stuff on television and at the movies, are still capable of being offended.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Seven Days...

... and Susan will return. In the meantime, here are two more images of Moloka'i:

A path through an evergreen forest on the north side of Moloka'i

The peninsula on which the leper colony was situated
as seen from the above evergreen forest.

This peninsula is virtually inaccessible from land, which no doubt influenced its choice of location for the leper colony where Fr. Damien performed his ministry, and eventually died of leprosy.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

GPS devices lead to suspects' home - Yahoo! News

GPS devices lead to suspects' home - Yahoo! News:
"LINDENHURST, N.Y. - Three thieves who allegedly stole 14 global positioning system devices didn't get away with their crime for long. The devices led police right to their home.

Town officials said the thieves didn't even know what they had: they thought the GPS devices were cell phones, which they planned to sell. ..."

Sometimes you just gotta smile...

Friday, January 19, 2007

This is 911. Please upload your video

CNET: This is 911. Please upload your video:
"New York City will install new technology to allow 911 centers to receive images from cell phones. Citizens will be able to send still images or videos from camera phones or computers, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said.

The city joins several other municipalities that are testing similar services, though it is probably the largest to try such a project. ..."

This sounds like an idea that could really make a positive difference. Thomas Friedman might see it as yet another world-flattener.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

The View From The Condo

My wife sent a picture a few days ago of a sunset over the ocean channel between Moloka'i and Lana'i. This is a view looking toward the mountains (4500'). If I understand her correctly, the distance from the tallest peak to the beach isn't really that far.

The flora and fauna include a lot of introduced species including various sparrows, cardinals, mongooses, and so forth. The animal life is not particularly forthcoming about having their pictures taken. I'm hoping she can get some pictures of native plants and animals.

The pollinations are about to ramp up in a big way. It seems that the two plantings, which ordinarily would have spread themselves out over a couple weeks, are maturing at about the same time, so Susan and her boss are going to have to cram a lot into next week.

There were initial delays in getting the corn to the stage where they were tasselling out and shedding pollen. Graduate students had to be back on campus, so Susan was drafted for this dirty, unpleasant job in surroundings that leave much to be desired.

Yeah, right...

On the down side, the cell service is spotty, resulting in many dropped signals, and internet isn't much better. Would I trade reliable internet and cell service for a chance to do some sightseeing in Moloka'i? In a heartbeat.

Monday, January 15, 2007

AP News | The Columbia Daily Tribune: Science and Faith Join Forces

AP News | The Columbia Daily Tribune Science and Faith Join Forces:
BOSTON (AP) -- Some leading scientists and evangelical Christian leaders have agreed to put aside their fierce differences over the origin of life and work together to fight global warming.

Representatives met recently in Georgia and agreed on the need for urgent action. Details on the talks will be disclosed in Washington on Wednesday.

"Whether God created the Earth in a millisecond or whether it evolved over billions of years, the issue we agree on is that it needs to be cared for today," said Rich Cizik, vice president of government relations for the National Association of Evangelicals, which represents 45,000 churches.

Eric Chivian, director of the Center for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard Medical School, agreed, saying: "Scientists and evangelicals have discovered that we share a deeply felt common concern and sense of urgency about threats to life on Earth and that we must speak with one voice to protect it." ...

It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

Last year the former president of the National Association of Evangelicals, Ted Haggard, declined to sign a statement of concern on behalf of the organization because he did not feel it was the consensus of the NAE. This was in spite of his personal beliefs that there was an environmental crisis and that it needed to be addressed.

Now we see the vice president for governmental relations of the NAE quoted prominently in this story. Hopefully this signals a new willingness to engage the problem.

Granted, there is a legitimate scientific debate as to the extent of global warming, and whether we are looking at natural cyclical changes. It is true, however, that Scripture clearly requires stewardship of God's creation. Lowering "greenhouse emissions" will do no harm, and will likely do a great deal of good.

Mike Kruse tagged me

Mike Kruse tagged me this morning, and now I have to come up with 5 odd facts about me that people are not likely to know already. Hmmmmm.

1. By the time I was 16 I had spent approximately 8 years living outside the United States -- Japan and Okinawa in the 1950s and Germany in the latter 1960s.

2. While in Heidelberg, Germany, I attended a University of Maryland overseas graduation ceremony and had the opportunity to meet the then governor of Maryland, Spiro Agnew. I also met Kurt Georg Kiesinger, the Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany, who gave the commencement address.

3. Also, while living in Germany, I was a member of the Protestant Chapel Choir, which teamed up on a regular basis with the Hockenheim Evangelical Church choir to form a group known as the Deutsche-Amerikanische Kantorei. Every October while I lived in Germany (1966-1969) we participated in the annual Reformation Service at the Evangelical (Lutheran) church in Worms.

4. As an undergraduate at Colorado State University, I attended a lecture in Boulder by the renowned paleontologist Louis Leakey. This was shortly before his death in 1972.

5. I appeared on the stage at Constitution Hall in Washington D.C. -- My high school graduation was held there.

I suppose I need to tag some people. How about Beau Weston and Jody Harrington? Email will follow....

A Mission of Understanding -

A Mission of Understanding -
"Danny Leydorf's world was about to be turned upside down, and he couldn't wait.

The extroverted teenager had shined at the mostly evangelical Annapolis Area Christian School since kindergarten, but now he wanted to test his faith in a more diverse world. With hopes of becoming a lawyer or politician, he badly wanted to understand people who didn't think like him.

"I feel like I exist to be interacting," the lanky, towheaded 19-year-old said eagerly one day last summer, shortly after his graduation, "and part of that is just getting out there."

So he'd deliberately picked a large, secular college: the University of Maryland. But the week before he was to leave, the wider world dealt him a blow.

"I hate evangelical Christians," read the profile of his roommate-to-be, who had seemed so perfect on the phone. He loved politics and "The Simpsons," like Leydorf, and they even had the same views about how to set up the room. Could it still work? ..."

Here is an informative, fairly well written (and a bit rambling in spots), article on how a young man went from a private Christian school to a state university. He had deliberately sought out opportunities to engage with people whose world views differed from his own, including an internship with Charles Schumer (D New York), whose politics had little in common with his own. This was while he was still in high school. In college, he sought out public forums and debates to learn what people of different backgrounds thought.

Much of this article goes into the background of the evangelical movement, and the different ways in which believers approach engagement with the world around them. The author of this article, Michelle Boorstein, seems to have done her homework, correctly pointing out that the American evangelical movement began as a response to the separatism advocated by American fundamentalists in the 20th century, This movement, known as neo-evangelicalism, is associated with such people and institutions as Billy Graham, Christianity Today magazine, and Wheaton College.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

C.S. Lewis -- The Problem of Pain

I resumed reading The Problem of Pain, by C.S. Lewis after a several week hiatus, and after I read couple more chapters I came across a passage that really hit me. In chapter 6, Human Pain, Lewis speaks of the illusion of self sufficiency -- That human attitude that "find[s] God an interruption". Or as Lewis suggests a few lines further in the chapter:
"...Now God, who has made us, knows what we are and that our happiness lies in Him. Yet we will not seek it in Him as long as He leaves us any other resort where it can even plausibly be looked for. While what we call 'our own life' remains agreeable we will not surrender it to Him. What then can God do in our interests but make 'our own life' less agreeable to us, and take away the plausible source of false happiness. It is just here where God's providence seems at first to be most cruel, that the Divine humility, the stooping down of the Highest, most deserves praise. ..."

I was not particularly happy to read this, as the idea of God deliberately inflicting pain to make a point makes me very uncomfortable. But was Lewis referring to the choices that we humans make that are at odds with God's will for our lives? Are those choices what result in pain? And if so, how do they fit into God's providence? A couple pages later in this chapter, Lewis has this to say (and this is what jolted me):
"...The dangers of apparent self-sufficiency explain why our Lord regards the vices of the feckless and dissipated so much more leniently that the vices that lead to worldly success. Prostitutes are in no danger of finding their present life so satisfactory that they cannot turn to God: The proud, the avaricious, the self-righteous are in that danger. ..."

The Roman Catholics include pride and avarice on the list of Seven Deadly Sins, and a case might be made for self-righteousness to be placed under pride. I wonder if Tolkien's Roman Catholic faith influenced Lewis here?

In any event, it seems to me that sin has consequences, and that such consequences cause pain. This is true whether the sinner feels the pain or victims feel the pain. Lewis makes a key point here that where sinners are aware that their lives leave much to be desired, that they can turn to God more easily. In contrast, those whose desire for material gain leaves a trail of hurting people, but whose lives are, superficially at least, what they want, have a far longer way to go before it even occurs to them to call on God.

Perhaps this is why the tears of the woman who anointed Jesus' feet with costly ointment (Luke 7:36-50) meant more to Jesus than the sorrow of the rich young man who just couldn't give up his wealth to follow the Lord (Matthew 19:16-30). Both the sinful woman and the rich man felt pain. Whose pain presented the opportunity to turn to God and repent?

Icebound in Columbia

[UPDATE 4:46 PM] Here is a screen shot of the regional radar. Columbia is midway between Kansas City and Saint Louis. It looks worse than it really is, but my planned trip to Starbucks may have to wait....

Most of the churches in Columbia canceled services today.

We have been in the grip of a three day series of ice storms The first wave came Friday afternoon and went overnight, leaving about an inch and a half of freezing rain and sleet on the ground. Saturday morning and afternoon provided a short respite, allowing me go go out and get people food, dog food, and some miscellaneous supplies. The second wave started in the late afternoon and added another inch or so of sleet. The third wave is just beginning as I write this. It should last through the evening, and then we should get some better weather for the next week.

We can count ourselves fortunate that most of the precipitation was sleet instead of freezing rain. Columbia, thus far, has not endured power outages like Saint Louis, and I sure hope that continues.

I have had some time to catch up on my reading, and I picked up C.S. Lewis' The Problem of Pain (which I started several weeks ago, but put aside in favor of my Christmas book haul). It is a short book, but one that does not lend itself to fast reading. It's more like read a section, reflect, reread the section scratch my head a little, then maybe have a flash of insight. One such insight will be the subject of my next blog entry.

I am glad to have had this opportunity to relax and read, (in between blogging, feeling trapped in my home, and logging into the servers at work to make sure they are working properly.)

Columbia Tribune: Boys' case stands out among abductions

KIRKWOOD, Mo. (AP) -- The safe return of two kidnapped boys - one missing for four days, the other for four years - is being heralded as nothing short of a miracle by their families.

Parents of the now-15-year-old Shawn Hornbeck and 13-year-old Ben Ownby on Saturday told of their tearful reunions, hugs and the almost unbelievable discovery of the boys in a tiny apartment in a St. Louis suburb on Friday.

News in Missouri over the past week has focussed on the kidnapping of a 13-year-old boy. An "Amber Alert" was published and tips were received by law enforcement agencies, including a description of a white pickup truck that was seen driving driving at high speed near the time of the kidnapping. When a pickup matching the description was spotted in Kirkwood, Missouri while police were serving a search warrant on a nearby apartment, they returned the next day and found not only the recent victim, but a boy who had been kidnapped 4 1/2 years ago.

Bill McClellan, and St Louis Post-Dispatch columnist titled his column today "Uplifting news captivates us and grabs headlines", and related how the family of the boy taken in 2002 kept their son's disappearance in the public eye, and devoted their time to helping others in similar situations.

The Washington Post had an article, "Family's Ordeal Ends as Missing Son Comes Home", which told of hope kept alive and prayers answered.

It sure it nice when stories can end this way. These two families have a lot to deal with, but their children are safe and at home. And as Bill McClellan pointed out, this news was powerful enough to shunt aside, for the moment, the major ice storm that is crippling the state of Missouri and other states in the nation's midsection.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Going in religion-news circles

Going in religion-news circles:
"Journalists may not know the precise meaning of the word "theodicy," but, year after year, they know a good "theodicy" story when they see one.

The American Heritage Dictionary defines this term as a "vindication of God's goodness and justice in the face of the existence of evil." Wikipedia calls it a "branch of theology ... that attempts to reconcile the existence of evil in the world with the assumption of a benevolent God."

There were three "theodicy" events in 2005, so the Religion Newswriters Association combined them into one item in its top-10 story list. What linked Hurricane Katrina, the Southeast Asia tsunami and another earthquake in Pakistan? Each time, journalists asked the timeless question: What role did God play in these disasters?

Last year, it was the schoolhouse massacre of five Amish girls in Bart Township, Pa. The stunning words of forgiveness offered by the families of the victims added yet another layer of drama to the story. ..."

Terry Mattingly, who also blogs at, is especially interested in how religion is covered in the various media. He quotes Richard Ostling, the recently retired Associated Press religion reporter, as saying "Every year there is going to be some great tragedy or disaster and that causes people to ask, 'Where was God?' These events may not seem like religion stories, but they almost always turn into religion stories because of the way people respond to them."

Because of the pervasiveness of religious faith in people's lives all over the world, it is difficult to separate religion from politics whether it be in the recent US election or the violence that characterizes much of the Middle East. The result is that, according to Ostling, people tend to react to the same stories (or what seem to be the same stories) that come up year after year.

This is complicated by the fact that there are stories within stories, and events that are directly and indirectly related -- or maybe only coincidental. Ostling sees the election of a woman as the Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop to be important, but not particularly surprising. He feels that the larger story is the nationwide revolt by individual Episcopal congregations to be far more difficult to cover. Mattingly points out that the Ted Haggard story was big, but that every year seems to find at least one high-profile sex scandal involving a religious leader.

I wonder what the theodicy stories will be for 2007? And will the news media get it right?

Thursday, January 11, 2007

An Email From Moloka'i

My wife has a real hard job. While I am wrestling recalcitrant computer clusters here in mid-Missouri, she is in Hawai'i for three weeks attending to the winter research corn crop. The temperature highs are in the upper 70s with the overnight lows in the upper 60s. They can count on rain every day, but it hasn't been overly soggy.

Last night she found a coffee shop with wireless internet and emailed me this image of yesterday's sunset over the channel between Moloka'i and Lana'i.

She promises some images of Hawaiian birds and more scenery, and I'll post them as they come in.

She asked what she could bring back, and I wistfully mentioned that Kona coffee was $25/pound at our local coffee shop and that it sure would be nice if it were a little cheaper closer to the source. It is, by about $5... So she will bring me a pound of 100% Kona beans from Hawai'i.

In the meantime my son and I are living the bachelor life. Thus far this week he has made it out the door in time to walk to school, the dog has been walked regularly, and the house looks more or less organized. But I don't want her to think we can get along without her.

Well, it's off to work for me...

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Quotidian Grace: Separating the Viable from the Non-Viable Church

Quotidian Grace: Separating the Viable from the Non-Viable Church

QG has hosted a really interesting discussion on her blog regarding the viability of congregations.

Thanks to Mike Kruse for pointing me there.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Columbia Tribune: Charitable groups find providence after storm

Columbia Tribune: Charitable groups find providence after storm
"About a month before Christmas, it didn’t look good for the Central Missouri Food Bank. The 40,000-square-foot Vandiver Drive food storage area was less than one-fourth full, donations weren’t coming in and the agency was about $250,000 in debt.

Then people learned about its plight.

"I just call it a miracle," said Peggy Kirkpatrick, the food bank’s executive director. "Everything just started pouring in, literally."

The agency distributed more than 20.5 million pounds of food in 2006 to the 33 counties it serves - a 14 percent increase over 2005. The agency helped feed more than 80,000 people per month - a 7 percent increase over 2005. The warehouse is full, and the bills are paid. ..."

In the two months before Christmas 80 food drives were held, and while this article is not explicit about funding, it seems that enough money also came in to meet expenses.

The pastor at my church often says that the Church's reserve account is in the members' wallets. When there is a need, people come through on a regular basis to help meet those needs.

It is nice to see that the observations from our local congregation can be extended to the other congregations in mid-Missouri, as well as other organizations and individuals that find themselves called to help alleviate hunger in our community.

Still, it would be nice if organizations such as the Central Missouri Food Bank did not have to enter crisis mode to cause the release of the wallet reserve accounts...

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Worship, Websites, Conflict Affect Growth in Congregations

Worship, Websites, Conflict Affect Growth in Congregations:

The Presbyterian News Service picked up this report in an article titled "Study says conflict, race influence church growth" while The Christian Science Monitor, describing the same research report, titled their article "From US churches that are growing, a sound of drums."

I went over to the Hartford Institute for Religion Research, affiliated with Hartford Seminary, and read their summary report which listed the following as their main findings:
  • Congregations that change worship format and style are more likely to grow. More than half the congregations that use contemporary styles of worship have experienced substantial growth since 2000. Frequency is important as well: The more worship services a congregation holds, the more likely it is to have grown.
  • Congregations located in new suburbs are more likely to experience growth. But surprisingly the second best area for growth is the downtown of metropolitan areas.
  • Congregations that have experienced major conflict are quite likely to have declined in attendance. The strongest correlate of growth is the absence of serious conflict.
  • Congregations that have started or maintained a website in the past year are most likely to grow. The effort to have a website indicates that the congregation is outward looking and willing to change by non-traditional means.
  • While most congregations in America are composed of a single racial/ethnic group, those that are multi-racial are most likely to have experienced strong growth in worship attendance.
  • More important than theological orientation is the religious character of the congregation and clarity of mission and purpose. Growing churches are clear about why they exist and about what they are to be doing – “purpose-driven growth.”
  • Congregations that involve children in worship are more likely to experience significant growth. Also, important to growth is the ability of congregations to attract young adults and children with families.
  • Almost all congregations say they want to grow, but it takes intentionality and action for growth to occur. Congregations that developed a plan to recruit members in the last year were more likely to grow than congregations that had not. Particularly helpful in achieving growth are sponsorship of a program or event to attract non-members or the existence of support groups.
Since these main points do not mention a percussion section, I would have to give the nod to the Presbyterian News Service version as being a little more accurate, if not complete in their assessment of the report.

To be sure, the actual report DOES mention that drums are a stronger factor than even multimedia in their correlation with growing churches, but it appears that even stronger are the clarity of mission and expectations of members that characterize growing churches.

The report acknowledges that, in general, mainline protestant denominations are in a decline while evangelical protestant denominations are growing, but is reluctant to propose theological conservatism as the reason. Fair enough. It seems to be generally true that such congregations also have a strong sense of purpose, and that IS a strong factor in church growth.

Beau Weston, who has studied such trends in the PC(USA), sees clarity of beliefs along with clear expectations of church members as characterizing growing congregations. (I hope I haven't oversimplified his findings, but I'm sure he'll correct me if I'm wrong).

The full report is available in pdf and is titled "FACTs on Growth".

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Presbyterian Outlook: Presbyterian mission in a flat world, part 3

Presbyterian Outlook: Presbyterian mission in a flat world, part 3

Scott Sunquist ends his three part series on mission in a "flat world by summarizing the issues and posing questions that the Presbyterian Church needs to answer:
1. Is it possible to harness the flattening agents to develop a more “flat” mission: a missional capability that shares openly, cooperates globally, and fosters dynamic and ongoing creativity?

2. How do we now promote Presbyterian mission recognizing the flat (mostly) non-western mission of God in the world?

3. Can we follow other mainline churches in multiple sending agencies, but do better in building mutual trust and coordination that allows for ongoing adjustments as with “work-flow software?”

4. How do we develop a new missional direction that reflects more a meritocracy than a bureaucracy, more open sharing than central planning, and more cooperation and trust than competition?

5. When so many of our Presbyterian friends are disillusioned and tired, how do we help to unleash the energy, confidence, and creativity in our young people, our
church leaders and our lay people to “come on board” God’s global mission?

In a world where we have an unprecedented and ever increasing ability to acquire and process information, and have the ability to collaborate with others on the other side of the world as they were around the same table, Sundquist suggests that we need to develop new ways of carrying out God's mission. And it looks like we need to learn to follow, rather than lead, considering the directions in which mission is growing around the world.

Index to Sundquist's series:
The Presbyterian Outlook allows one to read the full articles upon completion of the free registration process.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Humanity is keeping the faith, despite its doubters

The Herald: Humanity is keeping the faith, despite its doubters
"This was supposed to be the era when it would disappear, laughed out of sight, drowned under the weight of its own absurdity. It would be exposed as a sham, a con trick; it would also be shown to be responsible for most of the evils of the world.

It's religion I'm talking about. But far from lying still in its grave, the corpse is walking around, creating mayhem and misery while also bringing consolation and delight. Institutional religion may be faltering in western Europe, but it is flourishing in many other parts of the world. How can this be?..."
Here is a perspective from Ron Ferguson about the persistence of religion in the face a concerted attempt by many to destroy people's faith. Ferguson points out that, while many evil things are done in the name of religion, so is much that is good.

The "new atheists" typified by Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, and others worldwide tend to view religion as a disease organism that must be eradicated for the sake of humankind. Ferguson notes that these people characterize themselves as the "Brights".
"...No theologian would defend some of the things that go on in the name of Christianity. In fact, some of the most searing critiques come from theologians. (But the Olympian Professor Dawkins sees no need to read theology.) One searches The God Delusion in vain for full and generous acknowledgement of the fact that most parish churches are not full of raging terrorists or hate-filled zealots, or of the reality that down through the ages churches have built hospitals and schools, and have nurtured and supported vast amounts of caring work. ..."
This is something that is not always considered by those who would destroy people's faith in the name of saving humanity. And Ferguson presents another thing that should be acknowledged:
"...The mass murderers of the twentieth century - Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Mao - were atheists. Are we to conclude that atheism is dangerous? Science has given us eugenics and weapons of mass destruction. Do we, therefore, insist that scientists are evil? The Brights can't have this argument both ways. ..."
Ferguson answers his initial question "How can this be?" that religion persists in the face of the attacks against it by these words:
"...Why does religion persist into the year 2007? Because humanity persists, that's why. Religions are human creations and, therefore, constantly in need of reformation. Their ancient scriptures contain glories, but also toxic texts. (That's why Dawkins prefers dealing with fundamentalists.)

But the truly interesting question is whether religions are responding to something real or not. As creatures facing our own mortality, we rightly ask about the significance of our lives, about whether there is an eternal dimension to our living, and about the possibility of life beyond physical death. Any answers inevitably will be provisional and trembling; but thank the Lord that the dogmas of belligerent Brights and bombastic believers are not the only choices to be made."
I'm not sure what Ferguson's connection with religion is, but he sounds fairly reformed here. I imagine I could find points of disagreement with him, but his analysis of the manner in which the "Brights" try to convince others that their faith is a sham and actually harmful is well-reasoned. I am glad his voice is heard.