Wednesday, November 30, 2005

The Current Notion of Faith

This one isn't extremely deep, but it has been bugging me for a while.

The other week i was watching an episode of Firefly on Sci-Fi. If you haven't seen it it's about like 8 people on a private ship in the future, wandering the universe trying to make money and avoid entanglement with the corrupt Alliance government.

Anyway, like most tv shows it had multiple plot lines. One of them involved Jayne, as he and several other crew members visit a planet where Jayne had escaped from some time before. Jayne tried to avoid being recognized, since the last thing he had done before escaping was rob the local magistrate. Unfortunately for Jayne, he ended up having to dump all the money he stole as he left. Unbeknownst to him, the slave laborers on the planet found the money he dumped and thought that Jayne had intentionally given it to them. Ever since then, Jayne had been a hero, and the laborers even put up a statue of him. When Jayne and his crewmates show up on the planet, the laborers give him a hero's welcome, but eventually it comes out that he was trying to steal the money for himself, and that he had actually abandoned his partner in his efforts to escape. Jayne told the people they had been foolish for believing that anyone would be so selfless, and then pushes over the statue of himself.

Back on the ship, Jayne speculated that the laborers were probably putting his statue back up, dispite what they knew about him. The captain replies that maybe it wasn't about who Jayne really was, it was about who they needed him to be.

Plot line 2: There's actually a preacher on this ship (although he has a mysterious past), which i guess balances out the fact that there's also a prostitute. Anyway, there is also a teenage girl, a genius. One day the girl gets a hold of the preacher's Bible, and the preacher finds her writing in it and tearing out pages. When asked why, she replies that she's "fixing" it. She edits the story of creation to make it fit with evolution, and comments that "Noah's ark is a problem," since there's no way that samples from thousands of species would all fit in one boat. She tears that page out.

The preacher stops her and states that you can't "fix" the Bible. His comments are something to the effect of "It's about having faith in something beyond yourself." Essentially he was saying that the point is not whether or not these things make sense, but just that you believe them. Unless i misunderstood him, he meant that it doesn't matter whether they actually happened, just that you believe in something bigger than yourself.

I didn't notice it immediately as i was watching the show, but now i cant help thinking these two plotlines were not put together randomly. Both have to do with faith. But both seem to conclude: it's not about what really happened, it's about what we need to believe in. And i think this is the new faith.

Faith itself seems to be relatively popular. Everyone likes believing in something beyond the physical and scientific. Santa Claus, perfect virtue, miracles. Even the moral lesssons of Bible stories. But it stops short of believing that there is a God big enough to do the impossible. It just likes hearing about the impossible. The ark is a good story to believe in, not something that actually happened, in this kind of faith.

I suppose it's better than nothing. But it is so far short of the glorious faith that is more than a sentimental hope, but the affirmation that real things happened in a real world and made a real difference.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

A Suffering-Centered Theology

Yesterday i got to thinking, and once again i've made the realization that much of my theology is centered, not around Christ, but around the avoidance of suffering. Let me say up front that i know this is not a good thing and the thoughts that follow are not intended to convince anyone to think this way. But maybe you are more like me than you realize.

Like many people, my main motivation for accepting Christ in the first place was to escape hell. Essentially, to avoid suffering. Of course, a secondary motivation for my Christian life was the knowledge that God blesses his people in this current life, and punishes sin in this current life as well. Once again, avoid suffering, take the path of blessing and comfort.

Then as a Christian, i discover that it is my job to help other people find salvation in Christ, too. Why? So they can be spared the suffering of God's wrath in this life and the next, and can enjoy the benefits of God's blessing and provision in this life and the next.

I'm also told i'm supposed to help others in material and temporal ways. We are to encourage those who need it, provide physical assistance to those who need it, be kind and generous. Why? To spare them from suffering.

If i'm not careful, it's extremely easy for every act of obedience, every expression of devotion, every effort of ministry and compassion, every reasoning about ethics, to become completely centered around suffering and the avoidance therof. That which is good is that which spares the most humans from the most suffering.

Where is God in all this? He is both friend and foe. He is the source of comfort as well as the judge whose wrath we seek to escape. But obviously he agrees that human suffering is the highest evil because He sent His Son to suffer on our behalf, so we could escape it. We recognize Jesus' sacrifice as great because He endured the worst the world had to offer - suffering.

I hope by now you can see how dreadfully deficient a theology this is. God is not someone who is loved because He is wonderful, he is someone who is obeyed because He is powerful. And this kind of theology doesn't help us when we discover that part of serving God is suffering for him. What are we to do, when, having entered this life to escape suffering, we discover that it involves suffering? Surely there is a better answer than just "we suffer in this life to escape a greater suffering in the next."

But the problem is that this theology is so hard to escape. Because it's all based on fact. God does punish. Hell is real. And the Christian life and afterlife as a whole does involve much less suffering than that of unbelievers. So it's hard to break out of this mindset once you get it, because you cannot deny the facts it is based on.

Somehow i need to recognize that God is more than punishment and blessing. Somehow i need to learn to value His glory just for it's own sake. That doesn't make any sense to me yet, but i know it's real. Somehow i need to discover that God is worth loving for reasons other than just that He gives us things and spares us some trouble.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Officially a Scholar?

Hello again. I just wanted to state that, this weekend i'm visiting some friends, and i packed more books than i did clothes:
3 library books to be returned to my alma matter
2 Bibles
2 commentaries
1 book on youth ministry
1 textbook for a class i'm in

Compared to:
1 extra sweater
1 hat
Socks, etc.

I know there are other (probably better) ways to judge a scholar, but this surely must be one way.

While I'm not being too philosophical i might as well go ahead and say that today I'm visiting the library at Concordia University. It's a small school so it's a small library, but it sure is nice to be in a Christian college library again. It is a neat library, though - a nice place to read. And i got to laminate my own library card :)

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Is Music a Drug?

I wish it was safe to assume music was real. Not real in the sense of actually existing or happening, but real in the sense that it connects you to something real. If you're like me, there is a huge difference between the way you feel in a quiet room, and in one where music is playing, even if everything else about the setting is the same. Some music makes me feel hopeful, or energetic, or like i can feel God's presence, or like the world really is beautiful. And although music isn't the only thing that makes me feel those things, it is perhaps the most effective method.

Which leads me to a troubling thought: music might be a drug. Drugs make you feel or see things that are not grounded in reality - it's just a chemical reaction. Is music nothing more than something that causes us to hallucinate feelings? Are the things we feel when the music is playing, that go away when the music stops, fake?

It seems the only other option is that music is a portal to something real. That the singers and the musicians are participating in a metaphysical act that helps us to "see" something that was always there but we couldn't feel it. Perhaps they are giving voice to a spiritual energy that is all around us but we didn't notice. Anger, fear, hope, joy - what if these are not suggested by music but actually given voice through music? What if it's more than just the physics of vibrating air, but actually something - real?

But, of course, don't Christians believe that the world itself is not just physical matter and electrical energy, but powered by spiritual forces as well?

Monday, November 07, 2005

Why I Love Star Trek (and am learning to love Stargate SG-1)

Ok, so any of you who know me can probably skip this one since you've probably heard this speech a hundred times before. But it seemed like a record of my philosophical musings would be incomplete without it. In fact, i think Star Trek is probably one of the reasons i ended up being an attempted philosopher.

The thing that makes star trek so incredible (especially the older series like Next Generation) is that it's not just about the drama or the action, but it's about thoughts and ideas. it doesn't just play with your emotions, it makes you think. But setting itself in the future, among alien races on other planets (or in the case of SG-1, in a compound that doesn't actually exist and is completely different from our daily realities, and also dealing with aliens and distant planets), sci fi allows us to look at ethical and philosophical isues from a new perspective. They address the same issues we face daily, war, justice, racial relations, even personal relationships - but they take them out of the settings we're used to seeing them in. They don't talk about Blacks and Whites, they talk about Cardassians and Bajorans, or Klingons and Romulans. So I, as a white person, can look at the racism issue from a more objective standpoint - taking myself out of the picture. It's not about us and them anymore. I can forget for a minute my personal experiences and concerns and look from the outside at two other groups dealing with the issue. And it makes us all think more clearly about both sides.

Of course, i'm postmodern enough to admit that completely objective thought is impossible. I can't completely forget about my experiences as i watch the experiences of others. But it brings me a lot closer.

Capital punishment looks a lot different when we see it in a world so far removed from our own that we don't have a vested intrest in who wins or loses. It's not my relative who was the victim nor my relative who is the condemned. So it looks different.

Sci fi also helps us think about ethical issues we don't have to face yet. What about time travel? I really don't think that will ever be possible, but if it is one day, we will be better prepared to make decisions about it because sci fi has for decades already been making us think about what might happen. How much worse for us if we only started thinking about it once the situation was upon us? How many mistakes would we make that could have been avoided if we had just had more time to think before we had the power to act? You can probably see how this same concept applies to other things that are not possible for us yet, but may be in the future. Human cloning keeps getting closer, but Star Trek was dealing with it decades ago. (i think? Maybe not decades . . . I'm not sure. I know they talked about it in TNG but i'm not sure which season)

Anyway, that's why i love star trek. Although, i don't hardly watch it anymore. Kind of like star wars or even Lord of the Rings. You watch it a few times and it impacts you and you talk about it forever.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Real Femininity

Ok, so here's one that's been bugging me for a while now - what does it really mean to be a woman? Or what should it mean? Or i guess maybe the real question is: what is real and appropriate femininity?

First, let me explain what i usually think of as feminine things: frills, fancy clothes, jewelry, makeup, perfume, trying to look pretty, and avoiding things like dirt, active sports, and assertiveness. And i've always thought of these traits as useless. In fact, i usually think of them as counterproductive to leading a meaningful life.

And here you can see why i think of myself as a philosopher. While most women, even women i respect, have no qualms about wearing makeup, i'm always hesistant about it because i ask "what does this mean?" We are changing our appearance to earn more approval from people. does this make sense? I mean, every culture does it. It just seems like more of a vice than a virtue. But i still wear it sometimes, but i still don't really know what to think of it. Of course makeup itself isn't that big of a deal - but what are we really saying when we wear it?

Frills, fancy clothes, jewelry: although i have some jewelry i really like and like some nice clothes, any more than a minimum of these thing seems like a waste of money. Money that could be helping other people or buying practical things that we enjoy - like skis. Plus, the nicer you dress, the harder it is to do anything physical. You're more afraid of spilling things on yourself. You can't touch anything messy without a second thought, whether it be a kitchen counter or a child. When we dress up, we become decorative, not functional. Is that what we want? But of course i do it some. But i wonder.

The thing is, it seems that everything "feminine" is geared toward this idea of a nice, pleasant, decorative woman who is incapable of doing a lot of important things. You can't cry - ruins your makeup. You can't play tag or catch without changing clothes into something less "feminine," and shedding your excess jewelry.

Of course i've been influenced by many things. My religious and family background emphasized wise use of money and inward beauty over outward beauty. Two strikes against expensive clothes, jewelry, and makeup. However, i did end up with a really good self-esteem and body image idea. :) I felt beautiful, even without makeup. but now i'm not sure what to do in a world where not wearing makeup isn't so much a bad fashion choice, as much as just "weird."

Leadership also isn't thought of in feminine terms. Just think about the words "man of God" and "woman of God." At least to me, they bring up two completely different images. A man of God was like David, bold, and faithful. He fought wars and danced madly in worship. His faithfulness set the example for all of Israel. Or John the baptist, preaching in the wilderness and living off locusts (i don't really know why he did this. Did he not have anything else to eat or was this some weird spiritual discipline.)

Woman of God? Sweet sister sue who dresses in long skirts and teaches the kids in sunday school. Always has a soft voice. Would never be expected to lead the church in a new direction. She just keeps things running smoothly, does her job quietly, doesn't shake up the status quo.

Manhood is identified with bravery, courage, willingness to make sacrifices, strength. Womanhood: pretty, dainty, pleasant.

Can you see why it's difficult to understand what i should grow up to be? I'm not a man, i'm not supposed to be a man. But I really don't like the idea of femininity as this culture defines it. So what do i have? Lots of women reject stereotypical "femininity," womeon who work in traditionally male professions, join the military, or play sports. But most of us still have this idea that as women we have a lot of work to do to take care of our appearance.

I guess what i'm asking is, is my only alternative to a poor idea of femininity to copy masculine traits? Or were those traits really masculine to start with? Have we just ascribed strenth and valor to men? Am i as a woman supposed to be different from men in cultural ways - not just biological? and if so, what are those ways? Or is there a noble lifestyle both men and women can work toward, without being thought of as less of a man or less of a woman?

If there is, i hope it doesn't involve makeup.

Things I Might Post About One Day

So, this is partly a memo to myself to remind me of potential future topics, and maybe a "teaser" for the rest of you. Feel free to comment and suggest additions. :)

-Real/appropriate patriotism.

-my obsession with any new "toys" i get and how i always think everyone else wants to hear about them

- when do you start to "feel" like an adult

- why i believe in happy endings

Attempted Philosophy

Welcome to my new blog! I've developed a tendency to think of myself as a philosopher since i'm always thinking and questioning things. Usually the people around me say i think too deep, but that's ok i guess. But I'm more of a philosophy student than someone who's earned the right to teach. So it's becoming obvious that calling myself a philosopher sounds like i think i know more and am a lot wiser than i really am. So, "attempted philosophy" seems like a better term for what i do. Kind of like "attempted murder" :)