Friday, June 24, 2011
Saturday, July 25, 2009
Monday, July 20, 2009
A Christian friend told me that he would like to pin something akin to Martin Luther's 95 Theses to the doors of the church. If there were just one church, then his mission would be easy. However, the Church has more sects, or denominations, than there are Hindu Gods, so whose door is he going to waste his nail and paper on.
Even a child who has never so much as step into the shadow of a church could probably list 10 different church denominations, and probably because he saw them all on his ride home from school. Right off the top my head, I can list several: Orthodox, Presbyterian, Episcopal, Methodist, Lutheran, Baptist, Church of God, Church of Christ, Alliance, Covenant, Reformed, Church of America, Christian Reformed, Assembly God, Seven Day Adventist, Unitarians, Catholics, and more that I could mention, but the list is stiffening. Actually, the number of sects is enough to suffocate any one within doctrinal dead weight of the church. There are approximately 38,000 Christian denominations, according to Wikipedia (Check out the link). That is an insane amount.
So what does this say about the Church? Well, I think that science can answer this question. Probably not in the way you think. Science has some answers because of its general functioning, not because of its discoveries. Science and the Church have several properties in common: Both deal with belief systems; both have special terminology; both have institutional structure; both study a specific source (for scientist, nature; for the church, the Bible); and, both use metaphors to understand and teach large scale ideas. They have much In common, and I believe can reveal much about each other.
Science uses metaphors to understand the world in the same way that the church teaches doctrines. Within the structure of the metaphor, science is able to fill in the blank spots of a metaphor to create a more elaborate story. For instance, Evolutionary theory uses metaphor of selective breading to understand and teach the idea of evolution. The breeder is a metaphor for nature; It does not mean that nature intentionally chooses like a man. Christianity uses the metaphors of the bible to teach ideas, in the same way. For instance, Jesus' parables used metaphors to show deep moral principles, and it is the Christian's duty to fill in the blanks left by the rough structure of those metaphors and understand how to live a loving, servant like life. But, when these metaphors are wrong, or interpreted as wrong, side affects result.
In the Structure of Scientific revolutions, scientific historian Thomas Kuhn dissects the structure of science to expose the organs of science to the light; however, when he does this, he paints a picture of the church. He reveals the problem that science faced, and that the church now faces: division. Kuhn called the science of multiple metaphors pre-paradigmatic. This is bad. It means that the something is wrong with the idea, something is wrong with the interpretation, something is wrong with the way scientist are looking at the world. When, in science, there are multiple, and opposing, views of the world, it means that the idea is not expressing the world in an appropriately concise and cohesive way, and in the worst case, it's a completely wrong conception of the world.
I would say that old science, pre-paradigmatic science, was a far cry away from 38,000 ways of conceiving their sourcebook, the natural world. So that leads us to the Christian problem: We're pre-paradigmatic. There is something wrong with our metaphors, or the ways that we have interpreted our metaphors. One solution is just to say that the Bible is a bunch of crap. I, however, would thoroughly disagree. There is something wrong in the way we have interpreted the bible. We're reading it wrong.
Maybe we made our metaphors too rigid, as in they have become literal not metaphorical. Like the metaphor of communion and Christ blood, we drink Christ blood (fresh squeezed from his veins to our mouth); or, when the bible says we were crucified with Christ, we were actually hanging out with him on countless crosses. That this is a problem that the church has, not the biggest but a huge one. We do this with rules as well we take things that Paul, Peter, and Jesus said out of context of the message. We do it when we loose the meaning and fixate on the words. We do it when we literally think that God hovered, like a flying saucer, and used human hands to mold a man out of dirt and then used his human like mouth to spew viscous life breath into a dirt mound. We do this with morality, like when Pentecostal women keep their hair long. We do all this when we forget that most of this is a metaphor, like animal sacrifice, to teach God's hesed, his loving, steady kindness for mankind.
The real problem is that unlike the world, the bible doesn't operate by the same rules that it once did. The bible was written by specific cultures to address specific cultures, all to teach a specific lesson of Gods hesed to the people. Now, preachers, teachers, cult leaders and politicians are able to frame the Bible how they see fit. They are able to give the bible a meaning of its own and create false foundations. Some good people have created part clay, part steel, foundations but the little clay has directed the metaphors farther from their original meaning, in some meaningful places. Because we consistently have a fuzzy image of the Bible, we posses an inconsistent and sometimes completely false conception of the character of God. There are many ways to believe the bible—many wrong. The Bible is misinterpreted because we compulsively look at the words of scripture and give them meaning. We do this through modern eye. When we look as something, we see it in a unique way. As a matter if fact, there is a whole academic discipline devoted to the infinite ways that scripture can be interpreted. It's called reader-response criticism, if I am not mistaken. They study how the individual reader understands scripture as they read it from a modern perspective and different cultural background.
Because of these broken, inconsistent, and/or completely false foundations, the wolves have entered the church, and even those who were not originally wolves do the same, if not more, damage. They are able to take advantage of these, wittingly of unwittingly, to give themselves the authority of God's word. The way they mold and shape the details of scripture to validate their agendas is all but invisible. Even good men fall prey to the malleability of scripture. By fall prey, I mean they use it. After an intelligent man, say a pastor, is a word smith for so long, he begins to use those words to hide his motives, even from himself. Eventually, the ideas of scripture start to add up in strange ways, which don't seem to reconcile. Most of the time, at least in good men, they let these inconstancies pile up in their subconscious until the undercurrent sweeps them away into fallacy.
I don't want to sound pessimistic because there are solutions. First, the church should go back to the basics: self sacrifice, servitude, orphans, widows, and the such. All summed up in the cross. Second, Christian leaders should be educated in the way the Bible was written(literary styles, history, cultural back ground, initial meaning), not in subjective correlations and interpretations. And, finally, there should be church accountability. By church accountability, I mean there should be a higher council, or leadership, under which the church argues doctrines and conflicts (I will try to write on this latter because it is a vital topic).
Also, to clarify the educational background, by education I don't mean hack schools. I mean accredited unbiased, or at least academic schools, uncluttered by church doctrine. I am all for so called schools, such as Pentecostal Rehma schools, but they are simply indoctrination. They are biased, simple, and cluttered with filler. Classes like that are great for indoctrination, but leadership should be held to higher standards, so they know what to indoctrinate with.
Some who read this will think I am wrong and that he/she has the correct interpretation, and that it all makes sense. However, an idea can seem correct and almost infallible when it is built up enough, even when built around false premises. Like a castle on a bad foundation, it looks strong, but it won't hold up to elements and time. The church(s) is this castle. It's a castle built with hodgepodge scripture, but with a foundation that is missing a key element: God.
The only things that are certain are death and taxes, right? Well, death maybe but taxes, no. We don't realize it, but because we grow up in This world, we take for granted that much of the reality is constructed by humans. We constructed money, taxes, and government. These are human institutional truths that only exist because declared to do so, and that as a community we continue accept, begrudgingly or not, that they exist.
Money is a great example of how we build our own reality out of brute facts. Money is just paper, a brute fact, but money is also legal tender, a institutional fact. As legal tender, the Benjamins are just paper given power by human agreement, and the declaration that they have power. If we strip money of its institutional power, the power we placed on it, then taxes no longer to function. And, hence, government no longer functions ( at least in its present capacity) because they are all institutional facts.
Money is the foundation of much of the worlds functions: it moulds how we spend our time, spend our energy, and think. We shape much of our morality around money, like our work ethic. If a guy sits inside all day, with no job, and just drinks beer all day, we think of him as a worthless bumb. But our rules for deciding this are based, consciously or unconsciously, around our perceptions of having a job to make money. We judge him based on our understanding of our world, a world of our constructed beliefs. If there was not money, which we agree upon or accept, we would not judge him. If there was not money, then we might not see anything as wrong with him because he does not have a job. There is not a reason for having a job, besides food of course. And, if culture shifted to see men as protectors, but not providers, then he would simply be passing time doing his job, protecting. And, it might even be that his alcoholism is seen as a beneficial trait: it endows him with fearlessness to protect the household.
It gets really complicated. Pull one string in the tapestry and the whole structure reweaves itself. Gandhi understood how to mould institutional reality: he simply got others to stop believing in it. Even though they could have died, they simply striped death of its power as well. And, so the structure of
All of this, was done within a certain context and with a large scale power. But, these governments got their power by imposing functions on words and realities that did not otherwise have those functions. For instance, purchasing power that is given to the paper we call money. And, much the way this paper becomes money, so words can take the place of paper, as it relates to the imposition of a function that it did not otherwise have. Words, like paper, can become the foundation of a social structure. The problem is that those words need a speaker with authority that can impose functions on word in a way that other people will accept that imposition. When the leader with that power imposes functions on words, and the generations pass, that imposition of function on a word gets built upon, creating a larger structure, which continues to create an elaborate social structure that can become a culture or a government. It becomes the reality of that group. Overtime, it becomes almost as real as the brute facts of the world, facts like a rock is a rock.
In the church this declarative power, this imposition of function on words, has become a major problem. Many pastors, especially in the charismatic denominations, seem to possess the power of Gods words, and hence a major power to impose functions on words that did not otherwise have them—such as Bible versus. They have the power of, supposedly, hearing from God; they are his mouth piece. This is a problem because they are men directing social reality on fouled up foundations. They build reality like we build neighborhoods in
As a church, I mean this very generally, the people of the book, they use the bible like a Home Depot. They purchase their building materials and build houses in their individual ways. They may use many of the same materials and some the same methods, but much is different. Unfortunately, much of the church has less oversight than real world builders. They use cardboard where there ought to be plywood, and sticks where there are to be two-by-4s. The church does not have inspectors.
There is not much communication across denominational borders; there is a huge ambiguity as to what the bible means (lack of education on original meaning); There is no watchdog, like the media for the government, by which each churches doctrines are evaluated against the true intentions of the bible.
The church needs educated contractors (pastors, teachers) to help build conceptual structure to house the masses in. It needs men who use the right nails, strong pine, and the right designs. This, however, is not an easy process, for it requires a communal change; a change that would require a greater leadership, and the assets allocated to create that leadership. It is ground up revolutions that have affect. Their must be men and women willing to challenge the church and its foul foundations. It requires that the enlightened get the ear of those who are young. It requires a change of generations.