Archive for April, 2012

The Demon of the Practical

Posted in Uncategorized on April 23, 2012 by ancienthopes

In our last post we discussed the first “lens” of enlightenment pagan thought; that of “critical thinking.” There is, of course, a “bright side” to critical thinking in that the questioning of ideas, systems of thought, and authority structures is a good and healthy use of our God-given reason. We need to do this prayerfully so as to grow out of our own little “boxes” and grow into the vast territories of spiritual realities that God invites us to. However, critical thinking can so easily be tinged with a non-believing spirit, an incredulity, that can keep us in our own little boxes of though and experience. It is very subtle, and can even pass for right Christian thinking. For instance, we can so easily block out the study of the great mystical literature of Christian thought, such as St. John of the Cross or Theresa of Avila, purely on the basis of our critical mindset biased against even the term “mysticism.” Our critical thinking keeps us from expanding out of our modes of thought conditioned by our culture.

This introduces us to the second lens of enlightenment thinking, that of “practicality.” The 18th century enlightenment philosophers tended to be deists, agnostics, or atheists. Whatever they were, they were materialists who rejected all the energy of previous centuries that was devoted to theological reflection on the basis that it was all impractical. They were enamored by all the scientific discoveries of the time, and valued only those things that had immediate practical results. This attitude seems so innocent, but it is dangerous, for it undermines deep spiritual development. It has thoroughly made its way into contemporary Christian mindset, and even exulted as a virtue. We hear it in the saying “He is so heavenly minded that he is no earthly good.” Our demand for immediate results is non biblical and pagan in origin. It is, in fact, a demon that drives us into frenzy and promotes superficiality.

Of course, there is a bright side to the practical as there is to critical thinking. A spirituality that does not produce fruit is condemned by the Bible. However, the fruit of the spirit most often comes from long periods of contemplation, prayer, reading, and meditating over what has been read. Sometimes, this process takes years before anything seems to come of it. It is deemed totally impractical by our western mindset. We have become too impatient for these spiritual disciples, and throw ourselves into programs, corporation models for success, and whatever else to yield assured and quick results. The truth of the matter is that if we become truly heavenly minded, it is only then that we are of any earthly good. We have to take the long journey inside before we can go outside and change the world.

It is a curious fact of the spiritual life that those who have gone off into the desert or have sought prayerful isolation so as to come to a deep understanding of themselves and to meet God, that people come to seek them out for both practical and spiritual advice. (Take a look at Peter France’s “Hermits: The Insights of Solitude” [St. Martin’s Press, 1996] for examples of this phenomenon.)

Any thoughts on this? Do you agree that practicality is promoted as a virtue in a way that it undermines deep Christian spirituality? Yes, no, maybe?

The Lens of Critical Thinking: The Revolt against Reason

Posted in Uncategorized on April 16, 2012 by ancienthopes

We often tend to think of our culture, whether popular or intellectual, as being “rationalistic.” The truth of the matter is that our modern culture as a whole is not so much rationalistic as it is “critical” in the way we think. In fact, we might even see our culture in revolt against reason. One of the most fundamental tasks of the18th Century Enlightenment was to narrow the use of reason to the realm of scientific inquiry. In other words, we can make statements that are universally true with our reason only in the scientific and mathematical spheres. We cannot as “moderns” or “post-moderns” say anything is universally true in the realm of theology, or even philosophy for that matter. On the other hand, we have become “critical” of applying our minds to invisible realities or the realm of the supernatural. What I mean by “critical” is to have a knee-jerk reaction to doubt things that cannot be verified by our senses or our own personal experience.

We may think that we are not affected by such an attitude as Christians, but we are. Let us consider some of them. Jesus said that we are to love Him with everything we have, including our minds. Since we view the world through our modern lens, we tend not to apply our minds and reason in our relationship with God. We no longer believe in “doing theology” where we study the great theological minds of past. We simply do not believe they have anything of worth to say to us in our present situation. We no longer study ancient culture, History, or languages to become a student of humanity, and we are no longer rooted in the past. We, along with our culture, have become anti-intellectual with regard to our faith. What has become real to us is our own emotions and subjective experience of God.

This anti-intellectual attitude is so interwoven in our faith that we actually think that we are being spiritual by our critical attitude towards reason and the use of our minds in constructing a world view that truly integrates all facets of our lives, both physical and spiritual, into a meaningful whole. We do not believe this is possible because our culture has told us so. We are part of the revolt against reason that the godless philosophers of the 18th Century Enlightenment started, but we cannot see it because it is through the lens they have manufactured we see the world.

S. Kierkegaard tells us that the opposite of faith is not doubt, but rebellion. He saw that at the heart of the Enlightenment was critical thinking in the way explained above. To doubt in our culture has become equivalent to intellectual honesty. For instance, it is not reasonable that Jesus is God-man incarnate. Any thinking person would doubt such a thing, and no one who is intellectually honest can hold to it. We Christians, of course, embrace this doctrine by faith. However, we do not employ our minds to this mystery and study all the implications of the incarnation for our lives because we doubt that this will do us any good. We have become complicit with the Enlightenment’s rebellion against reason and the intellect, justifying it by our “religion of the heart,” and setting it in contrast to “head knowledge.”

Does any of this make sense?

Cosmology; An Introduction

Posted in Uncategorized on April 11, 2012 by ancienthopes

I remember trying on my first pair of contact lenses when I was a college student. Up to that time I was wearing an old, scratched up pair of glasses. I was vaguely aware that my sight was not 100%, but for the most part, I got along and thought that I saw things just fine, or at least well enough. It was my sister, I believe, that convinced me to try contacts. When I put them on, it was as if I was looking at the world in a whole new way. How exciting it was to see all the detail that I had been missing for years! The high definition of the leaves on the trees struck me most immediately.

I have come to believe that each one of us has been given a pair of glasses by the culture we live in, and that in spite of our relationship with the Lord, sometimes dramatic conversions, and intense study of the Bible, we simply do not see that we are looking through eye glasses that are deeply tinged by our secular culture. Like me with my old glasses, we might be vaguely aware that our sight is not 100%, but for the most part, we get along and think that we see just fine, or at least well enough.

I read a great book last winter by Peter Gay titled “The Enlightenment, An Interpretation: The Rise of Modern Paganism.” It helped me to put words and definition to things that have been rattling around in my mind for a long while. In short, we live by a cosmology, or a way of looking at the world, that is not biblical at all, but is foundationally pagan. It was built a long time ago by the ancient Greco-Roman philosophers. The Church rejected it in the 6th century by closing down the academy in Athens, but this pagan cosmology re-emerged in the 18th Century Enlightenment, and now is so much a part our lives that we take for granted that it is true. There are six lenses of this world view which we all, as modern or “post modern” people, see the world. They are 1) critical thinking, 2) practical thinking, 3) autonomy, 4) tolerance, 5) eclecticism, and 6) relativism. Each one of us is deeply influenced by these 6 lenses, and it takes an intentional act on our part to take them off and get a new pair of contacts biblically manufactured.

We may not think that cosmology, or the way we see and process the world around us, as all that critical. However, it is of deep moral and spiritual importance. We cannot avoid this issue and be right before God. We therefore devote the next posts on each of these cosmological lenses.

Blessed are you when they revile you … Rejoice and be exceedingly glad …

Posted in Uncategorized on April 2, 2012 by ancienthopes

We now come to the last beatitude. We see that it is an expansion of the previous beatitude of persecution for righteousness sake. There the reward is the Kingdom of Heaven. The closer we are to persecution that is brought about by our walk with Jesus, the closer we are to the Kingdom and the more real it becomes to us. Here in this last beatitude, two things stand out. First, Jesus makes this last beatitude personal. He is, so to speak, turning His face directly towards us and addresses us with a personal “Blessed are you.” He is telling you (me!) directly that if you (I!) take to heart the beatitudes and live by them, you (I) will not escape persecution. Second, He promises great joy that is commensurate with the persecution. I have seen Christians from Israel and Pakistan who know more persecution than anyone else I have ever met. They have truer deep down joy than those Christians that manage to escape persecution. They live closer to the Kingdom though they live with incredible oppression. It is in the things we fear the most that we find Jesus and the Kingdom of God!

I have often wondered over the irony of the first beatitude and the last. They form a parenthesis around the rest in the middle (this is called an inclusio). In the first, those who are truly poor in spirit believe with all of their hearts that they are not spiritual. They feel their spiritual poverty and neediness, and are not impressed with their own righteousness (from within). In the last, they are considered spiritually warped and unrighteous by their persecutors (from without)! The irony is that both they and their persecutors believe that they are not righteous! Yet Christians that consciously live by the beatitudes do not despair because they know that their righteousness is in Christ. Moreover, in some hidden place in the darkened hearts of their persecutors, they know they are persecuting someone more righteous than they are out of envy, fear, and hatred. Jesus wants to touch that darkened part of the hearts of persecutors by the sacrifice of His disciples. After all, none of us are very far from being persecutors! Have you ever felt envious of those who are more righteous than you are? I have!

Brothers and sisters, we have worked through the beatitudes together. May Jesus give us all a heart to actually live by them!

Any comments?