Photos and text from 16 May 1999, originally “published” as part of a newsletter I created for friends in the States while I was in Poland from 1996-1999. Interesting to read something eleven years old and not see much of yourself in it.
The window decorations began appearing early last week — colored paper cut-outs in the shapes of crosses, madonnas, and various religious symbols (doves, chalaces, candles, etc.). By Thursday, 99% of the houses here had something in the windows. Then the roadside streamers began appear, tied to pieces of twine stretched between wooden stakes nailed into the shoulder of the road. The reason for all this: “Some image of significance — a madonna or somethin — is coming,” a friend informed me after having talked to Jola, a friend of who lives across the street. By the time we left Friday for Nowy Targ, a nearby city, the whole of Lipnica “centrum” was covered with decorations. And my suspicions had been confirmed — the Black Madonna of Czestachowa, the “queen of Poland.”
When I came back from Nowy Targ Saturday afternoon the whole area was incredibly crowded — nuns, grandmothers, children, all milling about with the volunteer firemen in uniform and trying to keep everyone off the road itself. I went to the apartment, got my camera, and met [Susan] and [Mrs. Nowak] on the roadside. By that time, the fire department’s band had joined the crowd, as well as a group of traditional musicians decked out in traditional Orawian “strój” (costume). A procession of altar boys came down from the church, followed shortly by archbishop of Kraków and at least fifty priests.
This whole time, I kept thinking, “This is all for a picture!” The Black Madonna certainly has an almost mythical air, and it bends the knees of even the most “secular” Pole. For Protestants, it’s sometimes difficult for me to tell the difference between the Catholic notions of “adoration,” “veneration,” and “worship.” They pray to Mary, but they don’t worship her. They cross themselves when they see the Black Madonna, and kneel before statues of Mary and Christ, but don’t consider this idolatry because they don’t see it as worship. Veneration, they say, or adoration.
After a few moments, the sound of a siren announced the coming of the the madonna. It was housed in a Mercedes, the interior of which had been decorated with rosaries and other symbols of worship. A priest got out, walked to the back, and pressed a button set above the taillight of the van. The back hatch of the van began rising silently, and the madonna began sliding out — all automated, all very professional (and expensive, I’d assume). The priest/driver then nodded to the priests of Lipnica who approached the madonna, knelt, and kissed it after crossing themselves.
The madonna itself was housed on a special frame from which protruded two poles (much like the famed Ark of the Covenant) which were used to carry the queen of Poland. She was hoisted on firemen’s shoulders, and the crowd began singing, “Swięta Maryja, Matka Boże, witamy ciebie.” (Holy Mary, Mother of God, we welcome you.) They carried the madonna down to the church and all went inside for a special two hour mass.
All this was very curious. It seems impossible for them to deny at the very least that they are within a hair’s breadth of worshiping this thing. All the decoration, the pomp and displays of devotion. Of course all this was for the sake of the fifty or so priests from outside the village that came along with the madonna, but I would argue that the inhabitants did this to show the priests how devoted they are to the madonna. Anyway, all this was for a picture.
And I’ve saved the real irony of the situation for the end: I found out at the beginning of the processional that it’s not even the original, but a replica! The real queen of Poland sits in her shrine in Czestachowa, where other people are bowing down to the real picture, worshipping it and not some impostor. A friend assured me: “But there’s only one copy! This is the only copy!” Still, a fake is a fake . . .
Just a few moments ago, there was a report on the radio about the madonna’s visit to Lipnica. The vicar of Lipnica got quite a bit of radio time to talk about the significance of this (which had been in the works since September). He said something about being able to see the results of the visit, seeing how long the people will remember why Mary (he referred to the painting constantly and consistantly as if it were a person) came to Lipnica. Or rather, why the replica of the painting of Mary was brought to Lipnica.
We’re reliving the past in more ways than one. Promised sun disappears; plans change.
We end up visiting the outdoor ethnographic museum in Zubrzyca Gorna — for probably the fifth time.
Certainly it was a different age altogether. Survival was at stake; comfort was an after-thought. That was what Christmas and Easter were for: a few creature comforts.
We wind through the museum, seeing how Polish highlanders kept bees in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries,
how they made fences (theoretically without nails, but in this particular case, clearly with modern intervention),
and how they forced oil out of flax seeds long before electricity and hydraulics made the task simpler.
In many ways, such a life is enviable. Sure, no Facebook and cell phones, but the slower pace and rough, subsistence living created in everyone an appreciation for what was, and a realistic understanding of the difference between wants and needs.
A roof over one’s head, windows and doors to keep out the cold:
Things we take for granted as we reach for more and more were, at the time, the goal.
Visible caption: “Cook — after amputation of leg”
Leisure was a thing for the relatively rich. Even then, simple pleasures: reading a month-old newspaper by lamplight.
The same might be said of the soul: spirituality was not something to be squeezed in between recovering from a hang-over and watching the afternoon football game.
I used to be horribly offended at the reality of beautiful churches built in the midst of poverty. “Think how many mouths those resources could feed,” I’d say, as if the body is the only thing that needs nourishment. In the last few years, I’ve come to understand a couple of things: first, these churches were not built at the expense of the poor: usually, the rich subsidized the construction (probably with mixed motivation).
Second, these churches served to provide something of an aesthetic oasis for many. Finally, if one believes in the doctrine of the Real Presence, wouldn’t one want to create the most beautiful house possible?
In France last October, a court determined that the Church of Scientology guilty of fraud. It was only through a loophole, the BBC reported, that the organization didn’t get banned outright.
The case came after complaints from two women, one of whom said she was manipulated into paying more than 20,000 euros (£18,100) in the 1990s.
A Scientology spokesman told the BBC the verdict was “all bark and no bite”.
France regards Scientology as a sect, not a religion.
Prosecutors had asked for the group’s French operations to be dissolved and more heavily fined, but a legal loophole prevented any ban.
Instead, a Paris judge ordered the Church’s Celebrity Centre and a bookshop to pay a 600,000-euro fine. (BBC News)
It seems to me a little like suing a casino for fraud. Indeed, “fraud” charges could be leveled against most religions: all believers are able to interpret religion’s promises (its product) as they wish, and thus they are able to claim fraud.
The difference in Scientology and other religious groups is the payment system. Scientology requires payment before rendering its services: teaching followers how to deal with their engrams and eventually reach the clear state with its accompanying realization that they are Thetans. Most Christian denominations work on a different model. They provide the service and hope you’ll pay at the end. It seems to indicate traditional Christian churches have a greater confidence in their product.
This analogy doesn’t go very far, though, for while religions might have differences in their payment plans, there is one commonality: they all lack a money-back guarantee. But that’s simply because all organized religions are a gamble. Theists call that gamble “faith,” but it’s still essentially a bet: if I live my life in this way, constantly seeking advice from fellow travelers and ministers, I will get something for it in the end, or even in the present.
And so from that point of view, the ruling in France is ridiculous. All religions are open to claims of fraud, because all religions have disillusioned apostates.
All of this begs the question, though, of whether or not religion is a product. A commodity. Watch Benny Hinn and others warning about the dangers of necromancy, and it seems like they’re simply dealing with the competition, especially when you then watch Derren Brown do the ultimate cold reading. (Very much worth watching is Richard Dawkins’ interview with Brown, in which Brown explains exactly how to do a cold reading.)
What would be the nature of the product being sold? Security. We know what happens when you die, and with our help, you can control that. You don’t have to be caught in a cycle of never-ending rebirths; you don’t have to spend eternity writhing in agony: we can offer you a way out.
Religion is the ultimate, inverted COD: pay now, take delivery upon death. In that sense, it’s fraud-proof.
If you’re the leader of a sect that believes in one-man (very much “man”), top-down leadership, how do you get your biography written?
Simple: you tell your staff to do it.
David C. Pack has held a variety of leadership roles throughout his dynamic, event-filled life: author of more than 20 books, scores of booklets and a vast array of articles—Pastor General of The Restored Church of God—voice of The World to Come program—founder of Ambassador Training Center—publisher/editor-in-chief of three magazines. The Authorized Biography of David C. Pack tells the life story of a man who was carefully prepared by God for a unique position. (RCG)
We can read the details of the life of David Pack, the Restored Church of God’s Pastor General, in painful detail: Volume One is a whopping 615 pages to cover 1948 through 1995! Volume Two is an additional 608 pages. It’s tempting to ask, “What did you leave out, Dave?”
He seems to have anticipated this:
Since an unusually wide range of experiences has enriched my life, a certain problem was created for the writers: which stories and encounters should be included in the biography. Of course, there were certain ones that had to be incorporated because of their transcending influence or impact on my life. The biography would fail in purpose if it did not contain them, coupled with an explanation of why they were important. This alone meant a lot of material needed to be included.
There was also a desire to relate stories that are of lesser importance, but that have had a role in shaping me nonetheless. It is not the biography’s purpose to make every one of these seem overly important or to present them as in every case having brought dramatic transformations in my thinking. Of course, some did. Both I and the many writers who participated struggled with how many, and which, stories to include, as well as when to cut off stories with the overall length of the biography in mind!
It was not the goal to bring in every story in my life, or every experience I have had. But, we believe that every one chosen adds to the overall picture of what shaped me, and it is my hope that the reader benefits and is left motivated, better informed and even inspired for having read them.
I can’t imagine pretending to be humble and appearing to all others to be exactly the opposite. Of course, if I thought I was, literally, the most significant person on the Earth, I might include the details about the time I sneezed and panicked at not having a tissue, or the time I thought I might ask a girl out but then wondered whether she would reject me.
The Sins of Scripture: Exposing the Bible’s Texts of Hate to Reveal the God of Love is Shelby Spong’s 2005 effort to deal with several problematic themes in the Bible. Divided into sections, each section contains several chapters dealing with:
The Bible and the Environment (Overpopulation and the Catholic imperative to procreate)
The Bible and Women (Misogyny in the Bible)
The Bible and Homosexuality
The Bible and Children
The Bible and Anti-Semitism
The Bible and Certainty
Reading Scripture as Epic History
Spong flip-flops on how to explain these problematic passages. Sometimes, he seems to say “We’ve been misinterpreting this all along”; with other passages, he seems to say, “Well, primitive times, backwards thinking.” But with certain core items, he simply disregards them as being unscientific and unable to teach us anything.
He deals with the major passages about homosexuality in the first manner. The command in Leviticus not to lie with another man as one would a woman has been misinterpreted throughout the millenia. What it means, Spong explains, is not to treat men in a subservient manner, not to treat a man like a woman. In explaining it this way, Spong is essentially saying, “This is not a homophobic text; it’s a misogynistic text!” Whew — what a relief. Apparently, the writer of Leviticus just meant “Don’t treat your lover as if he’s lower than you” or “Don’t treat him like a woman.”
The other method of dealing with troubling texts is to employ the “they didn’t know better; they were primitive people back then” argument. He does this with the misogynistic passages. He gives great detail about all the double standards in the Old and New Testament for women (women are ceremonially unclean longer when giving birth to girls; woman are not to hold positions of authority or even ask questions in church; when are to be sequestered when menstruating), and he seems simply to brush it aside by saying, “Well, we know God couldn’t be misogynistic, so these texts represent the times and culture they’re written in.”
Yet Spong occasionally dismisses whole episodes in the Bible because they simply can’t be true. For instance, the core of traditional Christianity is wrong:
Let me state this boldly and succinctly: Jesus did not die for your sins or my sins. That proclamation is theological nonsense. It only breeds more violence as we seek to justify the negativity that religious people dump on others because we can no longer carry its load. […]
We are not fallen, sinful people who deserve to be punished. We are frightened, insecure people who have achieved the enormous breakthrough into self-consciousness that marks no other creature that has yet emerged from the evolutionary cycle. (173, 4)
One reads this and thinks, “Well, what’s the point then.” The logical guess is that Spong will explain, “It’s not Jesus; it’s what he taught.” Yet many of the says of Jesus — particularly the “I am” statements in John — didn’t happen:
Of course, Jesus never literally said any of these things. For someone to wander around the Jewish state in the first century, announcing himself to be the bread of life, the resurrection or the light of the world would have brought out people in white coats with butterfly nets to take him away. (234)
There are so many problems with that that it’s difficult to know where to start. At the most basic level, this shows a profound ignorance of the nature of first century notions of mental health. We only have to look at other passages in the Bible to realize there were none. It was all attributable to demons and mystery. And there certainly wasn’t anything resembling a “funny farm,” even if we strip away the nineteenth century cliches of Spong’s metaphor. Unless Spong has some archeological evidence he’s keeping hidden, it just doesn’t have any credibility whatsoever.
If it almost seems like Spong rejects the existence of a personal God, it’s because he does.
Whoa! Spong doesn’t believe in a personal God, the kind of God that the monotheistic religions have been preaching for millenia? That’s fine — I don’t particularly believe in that God either, but what’s the point of rooting around in scripture to explain this or that when Spong doesn’t even believe in the God most theists hold to be, in one way or another, the author of that scripture?
That’s why reading this causes a certain sense of cognitive whiplash — and I’d assume it’s an experience common to most of his books. “We don’t have to throw out the Bible because of the homophobia that drips from its pages because those passages have been misunderstood for so long; but we do need to throw out the God who supposedly wrote the Bible because no one ever comes back from the dead.” Isn’t faith in that very thing the heart of Christianity?
Spong isn’t trying to revise Christianity as much as he’s attempting to create an entirely new religious system, one that puts all holy books on the same level as the Iliad or the Odyssey. I’m fine what that; that’s the level I put most holy books: instructive, but in no way more authoritative than any other book. But then to insist on calling oneself a Christian seems ridiculous.
And what’s the point of it all? No Christian who believes in the bodily resurrection of Jesus, the actual existence of Adam and Eve, and the need to be saved from Original Sin is going to say, “Hey, Shelby — good point. I’m convinced.” The only people who will be convinced are fence-riders like Spong himself, people who want the cultural comforts of belonging to a religion without any of the bothersome necessities of believing in God, Jesus, etc.
Additionally, no atheist is going to be convinced. To non-theists, Shelby seems to be taking a Trans-Am, gutting it, moving the engine to the back, and turning it into a boat and yet insisting on calling it a Trans-Am. It’s not a Trans-Am, and Spong’s creation is not Christianity.
Spong hints at what he’s after:
Creation must now be seen as an unfinished process. God cannot accurately be portrayed as resting from divine labors which are unending. There was no original perfection from which human life could fall into sin. Life has always been evolving. The Psalmist was wrong: we were not created “a little lower than the angels” (Ps. 8:5, KJV). Rather, we have evolved into a status that we judge to be only a little higher than the ape’s.
This is a very different perspective. There is a vast contrast between the definition of being fallen creatures and that of being incomplete creatures. […] We do not need some divine rescue accomplished by an invasive deity to lift us from a fall that never happened and to restore us to a status we never possessed. The idea that Jesus had to pay the price of our sinfulness is an idea that is bankrupt. When that idea collapses, so do all of those violent, controlling and guilt-producing tactics that are so deeply part of traditional Christianity.
It is like an unstoppable waterfall. Baptism, understood as the sacramental act designed to wash from the newborn baby the stain of that original fall into sin, becomes inoperative. The Eucharist, developed as a liturgical attempt to reenact the sacrifice that Jesus made on the cross that paid the price of our sinfulness, becomes empty of meaning. [...]
The first step is found, I believe, in acknowledging our evolutionary origins and dispensing with any suggestion that sin, inadequacy and guilt are the definitions into which we are born. […] We might be a dead end in the evolutionary process, a creature like the dinosaur, destined for extinction. We might instead be the bridge to a brilliant future that none of us can yet imagine. (177-9)
Basically, Spong is talking more Arthur C. Clarke/2001: A Space Odyssey than anything else. Yet recall that the sequel, 2010, ends with a very Garden of Eden-esque situation:
“ALL THESE WORLDS
ARE YOURS EXCEPT
USE THEM TOGETHER
USE THEM IN PEACE”
Or maybe Spong has something else in mind. Maybe Spong doesn’t really know what he has in mind. Except that he’s a Christian, but only insofar as he reads the Bible and thinks Jesus was damn fine man (in as much as we can tell from his sayings, after we scrape away everything he obviously never said).
Spong calls himself a Christian, but it leaves me wondering what kind? It’s seems that, having been an Episcopal priest and bishop for so long, he simply can’t let go.
Sam Harris, author of the excellent The End of Faith, has an op-ed in the New York Times about Obama’s selection of Dr. Francis Collins to head the National Institutes of Health.
Collins is famous for his work leading the Human Genome project as well as his stance that there exists “a consistent and profoundly satisfying harmony” between science and Christianity. While he is not a proponent of Intelligent Design, Dr. Collins believes both Genesis and Darwin. Harris explained it thus:
What follows are a series of slides, presented in order, from a lecture on science and belief that Dr. Collins gave at the University of California, Berkeley, in 2008:
Slide 1: “Almighty God, who is not limited in space or time, created a universe 13.7 billion years ago with its parameters precisely tuned to allow the development of complexity over long periods of time.”
Slide 2: “God’s plan included the mechanism of evolution to create the marvelous diversity of living things on our planet. Most especially, that creative plan included human beings.”
Slide 3: “After evolution had prepared a sufficiently advanced ‘house’ (the human brain), God gifted humanity with the knowledge of good and evil (the moral law), with free will, and with an immortal soul.”
Slide 4: “We humans used our free will to break the moral law, leading to our estrangement from God. For Christians, Jesus is the solution to that estrangement.”
Slide 5: “If the moral law is just a side effect of evolution, then there is no such thing as good or evil. It’s all an illusion. We’ve been hoodwinked. Are any of us, especially the strong atheists, really prepared to live our lives within that worldview?” (Source)
Harris is concerned about this blending of religion and science. He writes that when Collins is
challenged with alternative accounts of these phenomena — or with evidence that suggests that God might be unloving, illogical, inconsistent or, indeed, absent — Dr. Collins will say that God stands outside of Nature, and thus science cannot address the question of his existence at all.
Similarly, Dr. Collins insists that our moral intuitions attest to God’s existence, to his perfectly moral character and to his desire to have fellowship with every member of our species. But when our moral intuitions recoil at the casual destruction of innocents by, say, a tidal wave or earthquake, Dr. Collins assures us that our time-bound notions of good and evil can’t be trusted and that God’s will is a mystery.
In short, Harris is worried about the fact that, when it comes to the moral dimension of the universe, Collins ceases being a scientist and becomes a theologian. Certainly the statement “God’s will is a mystery” is not something that can be tested scientifically, Harris rightly points out.
But Harris is up to more, though. He rightly points out that this view of creation — evolution to one point, divine spark-of-morality injection at another — recreates an age-old problem: the mind-body problem.
Just how is the mind/soul connected to the body? Where does one end and the other begin? Things we’ve traditionally thought of as part of the mind/soul (such as personality) are oddly susceptible to influence through physical media. The most famous example is Phineas Gage, a railway who, through a series of unfortunate events, had a railroad stake placed in his skull. He survived, but was never the same. He changed. Instead of the kind, fun-loving Gage, he became a foul-mouthed, short-tempered jerk. His personality changed through violent manipulation of his brain. It kind of indicates that personality is not an aspect of the soul.
Contemporary examples abound. As a teacher, I see it every day: Ritalin. Over-medicate a child on Ritalin and you’ll get a somber, introverted, sleepy individual; get it just right, and you’ll get a “normal” person; under-medicate and you’ll get someone almost bouncing off the walls. When I was in school, this would have all been chalked up to “personality.”
This is exactly what Harris has in mind when he writes,
Most scientists who study the human mind are convinced that minds are the products of brains, and brains are the products of evolution. Dr. Collins takes a different approach: he insists that at some moment in the development of our species God inserted crucial components — including an immortal soul, free will, the moral law, spiritual hunger, genuine altruism, etc.
As someone who believes that our understanding of human nature can be derived from neuroscience, psychology, cognitive science and behavioral economics, among others, I am troubled by Dr. Collins’s line of thinking. I also believe it would seriously undercut fields like neuroscience and our growing understanding of the human mind. If we must look to religion to explain our moral sense, what should we make of the deficits of moral reasoning associated with conditions like frontal lobe syndrome and psychopathy? Are these disorders best addressed by theology?
Dr. Collins sees morality as an element of the soul; Harris points out that this is untestable and amounts to a re-introduction of the mind/body problem into contemporary science. It’s an insightful point, and Harris builds to this point very effectively.
It’s a tricky issue. Religious beliefs are often bedrock beliefs: they inform and shape other beliefs. Would we want a Christian Scientist in the role, someone who believes that all ailments are spiritual, figments of an unenlightened imagination?
But will Collins’ religious beliefs affect his scientific reasoning? I’m not convinced, like Harris, that it will. It didn’t when he was director of the Human Genome Project. Then again, Sam Harris is a long-tailed atheist in a Christian rocking chair country: he’s more than a little skittish, and often justifiably so.
Any fair study of the scriptures coupled with the study of the signs of the times will convince almost anybody with a modicum of intelligence that the end of the world is drawing nigh. [...] Barack Obama is the Antichrist, and is leading doomed america [sic] to her final destruction and the destruction of the world! We’re not talking some vague, nebulus [sic] postulation, we’re talking plain, straight BIble [sic] talk backed up by an overwhelming amount of real evidence – on the ground! Watch this fascinating, three-part documentary and check out the rest of the site for Bible perspective on the rise of Antichrist in the last hours of these last, dark days.
Anyone who is not familiar with Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church would do well to watch this BBC documentary.
One might wonder what someone is hoping to accomplish by insulting its readers by suggesting that those who disagree (or who are not yet convinced) don’t even have a “modicum of intelligence.” Yet once it’s clear that this is one of Westboro Baptist Church’s many web sites, all is clear.
What’s interesting about this is the time line Phelps is setting up for himself here. By calling Obama the Antichrist, Phelps is painting himself into a corner; it is a definitive claim about prophecy.
When Obama leaves office and not a single thing has happened, what will happen? Will Phelps admit he was wrong and at last quiet his irrationally bigoted voice?
Doubtful — false prophets always have a way of reinventing themselves.
It’s rare that we read something that makes us say “ah!” I’m not quite talking about epiphanies, but something very similar. Take the following passage from Sam Harris’ The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason:
It is a truism to say that people of faith have created almost everything of value in our world, because nearly every person who has ever swung a hammer or trimmed a sail has been a devout member of one or another religious culture. There has been simply no one else to do the job. We can also say that every human achievement prior to the twentieth century was accomplished by men and women who were perfectly ignorant of the molecular basis of life. Does this suggest that a nineteenth-century view of biology would have been worth maintaining? There is no telling what our world would be like had someone great kingdom of Reason emerged at the time of the Crusades and pacified the credulous multitudes of Europe and the Middle East. We might have had modern democracy and the Internet by the year 1600.
A kick to the head when I first read that.
Simply put, there is no difference between the Earth today and the Earth when Shakespeare was was writing Julius Caesar, Much Ado About Nothing, or As You Like It (all possibly written around 1600, give or take a few). Granted, we’ve depleted many resources since then, but the no new elements have been created (except a few radioactive ones in the lab).
More tellingly, nothing has changed about the physiology of humans. Our brains haven’t become more efficient; our general intelligence hasn’t really increased; our bodies haven’t become necessarily more adept at anything. Granted, we do live longer and are stronger, but that’s due to improved living conditions, which has been brought about by improved technology — the whole point of this.
But as far as resources and intelligence go, it is, at first blush, difficult to understand why we haven’t had “modern” technology for centuries.
What could have held the human race back? Only the human race itself.
How? Simple: unrelenting, unbending dogma.
Take away all the restrictions of dogma, all the assurances that slaughtering animals will somehow help us after death, all the certainty that initially unexplainable experiences (pestilences, plagues, diseases, seizures, and the like) can only be explained supernaturally, take away the fear that someone’s different thoughts pose an existential threat to us as individuals, and what do you have left? Free inquiry: the liberty to pursue questions to their end no matter how uncomfortable. It is this, above all, that leads to technological development.
Yet there is always a push against it — a reaction from the powers that be, because those powers understand that their authority is based on a presumption of never-changing Truth. Because eternal Truth and new, contrary evidence are in conflict, one or the other must be crushed. Usually it’s the new, contrary evidence.
Progress undermines Truth, and history is replete with examples:
The printing press was invented in fifteenth century, but Bibles in the vernacular were banned many decades afterward. Why?
Someone looked at nature and came up with an explanation for its diversity that differed from that which had been delivered in a book written in pre-scientific times; many people wanted (and still desire) to muzzle the theorist.
A gentleman provided reproducible, mathematical evidence that an earlier gentleman’s suggestion might in fact be correct: the motions of the planets might better be explained by placing the sun at the center of our planet’s rotation instead of the opposite. The gentleman was condemned as a heretic.
And “heresy” is a useful term here, for its Greek root means “choice.” Choice historically has been stifled in the name of salvation and homogeny between what individuals see and what those with metaphysical authority say must be say. In short, dogma, in its many forms, stifles choice, and in turn, stifles curiosity, and in turn, stifles progress. Without people constantly looking over their intellectual shoulders for centuries, we might have achieved a much greater technological development much earlier.
Really, the only thing that stopped us was ourselves. And that is perhaps the most tragic legacy I can imagine delivering to our progeny.
A sobering question is whether or not we’ve rid ourselves of this dogma. The simple answer is, “No.” And why?
Because dogma cannot change. Dogma cannot even admit the possiblity of change. Development — of any kind — depends on the ability and (more importantly, for humanity has the ability) the willigness to change our ideas when new evidence emerges. Dogma prevents this. Dogma says, “What is true is true, for all times.” Dogma instists on its own veracity and because Truth never changes, dogma never changes.
Could we have had the Internet in 1600? Certainly, but we didn’t give ourselves the necessary freedom.
Obama is looking for a church in Washington. If he were Catholic or Eastern Orthodox, it might be a little easier. As it is, every church in town is vying for presidential membership.
But this is not a Jones-move-to-Knoxville type of search. There’s more at stake here: the irony is that what’s at stake is political, not religious.
Mr. Obama’s search for a church home has touched off a frenzied competition among ministers of various colors and creeds who are wooing the first family. The president, in turn, has sent emissaries to observe worship services, interview congregants and scrutinize pastors. (His aides even searched YouTube to vet one local minister.) [...]
Apparently, Obama is eager to avoid another Wright, and I suppose he’s wise to do so. No one wants to be explaining the racial comments of his pastor while trying to pass an enormous budget, working to get banks lending, or deciding which CEO to fire next — all the traditional jobs of a president.
There are many things to consider: the racial and economic demographics of the church are among the most important, according to some.
But the president’s spiritual quest has also revived the awkward questions that often simmer in a city where blacks and whites, rich and poor still live in largely separate worlds: Will the nation’s first black president join a predominantly black church or a predominantly white one? Will he pray in a wealthy community or in a neighborhood that is less prosperous?
“He is anxious to bridge those divides,” said Terry Lynch, director of the Downtown Cluster of Congregations here. “But it’s a difficult process. Wherever he goes to church is going to be a public issue.”
Maybe being a non-believer is the best option. It wouldn’t have nearly the political baggage.