For centuries, the holy grail of a certain segment of the elite has been to boil down religion into something common to all faiths, thereby eliminating what is seen as one of the “major negatives” of religious belief – sectarianism and fighting between religious groups. Now, members of the TED Conference, at the behest of author Karen Armstrong, want to give it another go with the “Charter for Compassion.” Inevitably, it will fail.
In the 21st century, freedom of speech, long revered as the cornerstone of democratic thought, slowly but consistently is being eroded worldwide. This troubling pattern is not confined to illiberal places such as China, Russia or the Middle East, but increasingly is showing up in nations once thought to be paragons of liberal democracy - even Canada.
“Shouldn’t you say some words?” The humor and the weight of the story hung over me. Dr. David Calhoun, a master storyteller, related a tale of a man who had never tried sweet maple syrup straight from a tree before. The man’s friend offered to rectify the situation, and he accepted. As the man prepared to humble himself by letting his friend pour the sweetness into his mouth, he paused for a moment and asked that question. And it contains the profoundest wisdom; I summarize it thusly: We humans instinctively need to mark the moments of our lives with ceremony, with ritual.
The problem that has faced the Evangelical world as it looks towards the Bible is that while we have a very high view of Scripture, by and large, we do not seem to have a very high view of the story it tells. When we look at common ways of reading everything from the beginning text of Genesis to the crucifixion of Christ, from the establishment of the Israelites in Canaan to the final chapters of Revelation, they are often pulled out of context as propositional statements or, worse yet, separate or overriding stories. In his book Far as the Curse is Found, Michael D. Williams lays out a more constructive, Biblically consistent interpretative method that avoids the follies that cause pop-Evangelical interpretative methods to fundamentally miss the wonderful story of the Bible.
What is truth?
In three words Pilate asked the question of questions. What is truth? For a moment, the worldly Roman had moved off into something beyond this world. Truth.
Paradoxes abound in life. According to Plato, the ideal ruler is one that does not want to rule. According to Jesus, the one who does not value his own life is the one who gets to keep it (Mt. 10:39). It is in a similar vein that if one wishes to know the particulars one must know general knowledge, and to know the general things, one must know the particulars of the “branches of knowledge.” This truth makes it disturbing that our society seems to be ever more hostile to the study of the liberal arts as it seeks after only “useful” knowledge.
A single porch light glows across the night scene from my back window. The wind is blowing gently, but persuasively. A certain sadness seems entwined in this, and yet the warm glow of the Christmas lights that twinkle about me inside pulls me from waxing on too much about the cold I only see, and am not left to survive in this night. Such is 2007 as it bids us farewell.
Four hundred and ninety years ago, an unremarkable Catholic monk posted a sheet of almost one hundred complaints at the place where people posted such things in those days. That would be a church door, and the monk, of course, would be Martin Luther. Unbeknownst to him at the time, he had just split the church into a group that would still be known for its “protesting” of Catholic doctrine a half millennia later: happy birthday, Protestant Church.