However, Dr. Arand sees the underlying issue as being slightly more subtle. He urges us to tell our story, that is, the story of Christianity, in a broader and deeper way. As we tell it now, our story goes something like this:
God creates man and woman and everything is good. Man and woman sin. God promises to save man and woman by sending His Son to save them. Jesus died and rose again to take away people's sins. Now, people wait until the day that they can be in heaven with God again.
By telling the story in this way, people are the focus of the narrative (if you don't count God of course) and our lives on this earth are just biding time until we can leave and go to Heaven. The issue with this story is that it completely discredits the rest of Creation. Is the coincidence that the first and last images in the Bible are of Creation (once again, not counting God)? In the beginning of Genesis, we see the original Creation and it is perfect; at the end of Revelation we see the new earth and it too is perfect. We also look over a few major details about the Creation story. Dr. Arand said that his thesis statement of the whole presentation is "God calls us to take care of His Earth as creatures among fellow creatures." God created everything for His (and our) delight and we were created and placed on this earth to care for all creation. Even the Sabbath was created, it could be argued, to enjoy the things that God has made! Jesus died to take away our sins and restore our relationship with God, but this is almost too narrow of a scope. In fact, His goal was to restore all of Creation to the way that it was at the beginning.
If Christians would perhaps tell our story in such a way that included these details (putting Creation in the same category as people), it would open up relationships with many people outside the church. I think that the last sentence is extremely important so let me repeat it: caring about environmental issues in the church can open new relationships with people outside of the Church. The fact of the matter is that Christians really do and should care about environmental issues. They are all about our identity and our relationship with the rest of Creation and our place in it.
Dr. Arand's main point in this lecture was that throughout history, people have looked at their relationship with the earth in two distinct ways - alienated from the earth or as part of it. The first, alienation (and the one I will be talking about in this blog post), is obviously a sense of being separate from the environment. Part of this is the language that desires to leave this earth. This type of language is seen heavily in the writings of Plato and Gnostic writers. For these people, the world is an imperfect, and in some senses evil; there is a higher plane that is perfect and good.
Some of this language is also found in early Christian writings. Since people desire to be closer to God, it is seen that they must reject everything else. Therefore, they must live use the earth and the things in it, but they cannot use it. The example that Dr. Arand gave was that it would be okay to eat a banana, but not a banana split.
It is only a recent development that humans have effectively harnessed the power of nature and used it to their advantage. Now, nature is only seen for its value relevant to people. This is also seen in some metaphor language. Before nature was used to describe human things. After the industrial and science revolution, the opposite is true (the brain as a computer, the body as a machine, etc.). This is representative of the way that humans now see nature. This lecture was strictly about the history of the ecological movement in the church; on Wednesday, Dr. Arand will be speaking on more recent developments and the applications of them in the church.
I think the thing that I was most struck by in this lecture was the way that Dr. Arand treated ecological issues. After the lecture, I had the opportunity to speak Dr. Arand about the political issues that go along with this. To summarize him, a lot of Christians have an inability to separate religion and politics. He sees this as stemming directly from the abortion issue. Because Rowe v. Wade was such a hot button issue in the church, and one of only a few political issues that the church would strongly voice an opinion on, Christians put their political support behind the candidates that would advance their pro-life stance - Republicans. Since environmental concern is seen as a Democratic (the party) thing, Christians push it to the back burner. However, there is a way to look at environmental issues from a Christian perspective without worrying about the political agenda. I am excited to hear the second part of his talk on Wednesday.
Despite being part of series on literary themes, Mr. Keillor did not talk much about writing. His larger theme of the night was futility. I do not think that most people came into the auditorium expecting to hear him talk about such a depressing topic. Mr. Keillor expressed that there are many facets of life that efforts are futile. In fact, one's whole life could be considered a futile effort. People go to college expecting to learn and be enlightened about everything. They expect to care about the issues that matter and make a difference in the world. As they go through college and the rest of their lives, they find themselves not achieving the goals they set out to, and caring about things like coffee. All of these futile efforts culminate in old age, when one reflects on their life and wonder what happened. There are so many questions left to ask, yet they are futile questions, for anyone who could answer them is long gone.
While this is probably a shock for anyone not expecting a talk about such discouraging words, I found them oddly uplifting. As I type this, however, I am having difficulties explaining exactly why I find them encouraging. Perhaps it is because if even a man like Mr. Keillor finds his efforts futile, there is nothing that I can hope to do that will make any difference. A depressing statement? No. To me, it is freeing. The pressure of making of grandiose impact is off my shoulders and still on the shoulders of those neurotic types that can't accept the thought of this. I will still make an impact, but it might only be on a few select people. I can sleep soundly knowing that I am but a drifter in this world.
I also recognize that I can never learn everything that I want to know. There are millions of people who will always have more knowledge than I. If there is something I do not know, I can ask. When they are gone, I will count down the end of my days and wait to meet my Creator to ask Him.
However, due to the way that this story was laid out, it won me over around the fifth chapter. I liked every single thing about the book (and just as I am writing this post am I truly realizing just how much I enjoyed it). The story telling and narrative style was excellent and easy to follow and the stories were unbelievable, but in a good way. If there was one thing that truly won me over, it was the clear passion that Greg expressed throughout his work. What started as a desire and what I suppose could be called a "hobby" turned into a passion that consumed his life ("consumed" held both positive and negative repercussions for Greg). The stories that he has to tell were done for the narrative and for the goal; they were not recounted for a self-serving purpose (see Claiborne, Shane), and they allowed me personally to truly connect with the people that Greg worked alongside with. Without this simple touch, Greg's message would not be as effective. Nor would it be as effective if it wasn't clear that he worked hard and sacrificed his personal and professional life to help these people (once again, in stark contrast to Claiborne...but enough about Shane).
So what then exactly is Greg's message? Simply, education is the most important thing for the children of this area. The quality of life for these people cannot improve without a better education than the one they were receiving, that is, studying on the ground in the elements while students struggle to keep sand out of their eyes and their notebooks from flying away. To expand even further on Greg's message, the education of women is the most important. Women are more likely to be in the home; an educated woman can educate her children in the household. Every great culture as been so because of the education level of the women in said culture (citation needed; I feel as if I read this in the book but of course it is impossible to find when I am looking for it).
Greg began his mission pre-9/11, but it became even more important after the rise of the militant Islamic groups. The strategy of these groups as I understand it is simple: build Wahhabis and brainwash the poor students that cannot afford a good education to become terrorists. Even Greg was frightened by the results that these schools would get and knew that the work that he was doing would need to be multiplied to stand a chance against such structures. The most amazing thing about Greg is that he stood up to high-ranking officials in the U.S. government and told them that their strategy to stop terrorism was wrong and that it would fail; violence will only unite Central Asia against the U.S. for hundreds of years. He knew that although quantifiable progress would be slow and it would take a few generations, but that it is the only answer to the problem. That is a powerful message.
This book is inspiring and uplifting - it says so right on the back cover. However, I will also admit that from a certain perspective, it can also be discouraging. Greg worked for many years to build schools and sacrificed a "normal" life for his work. He was away from his wife and children for months at a time, he was kidnapped by militants and assumed he was going to be killed, and he all but gave up sleep during the bulk of his work. For all of his work, he accomplished more than a normal man could. But I couldn't help but read a few of the later chapters and feel like Greg was struggling to swim upstream against the radical Islamic, and even some American, forces that worked against him. For all the children that he helped to give the opportunity of an education, there are thousands and thousands who could not be given the same opportunity. And for all the children that will be educated in one of Greg's schools, how many will still turn to the wrong path? The amount of work that still needs to be done is mind-boggling, and Greg, although his work was noble, is just a small blip on the radar screen.
HOWEVER, this is taking away from Greg's legacy. His work is truly unbelievable and awe-inspiring. He improved the quality of life for so many people that would not have had a chance had he failed to summit K2 and almost died. One person truly can make a big difference; it would be astonishing what a whole country of people could do if everyone had the same spirit and heart as Greg.
There are many parallels between Martin Luther King Jr.'s "Letter from a Birmingham Jail" and many other great thinkers. Similarities exist especially in the topics of adherence to the ethic of tradition (or lack thereof), militant nonviolence and civil disobedience, and the ethics of the members of the church body. There are many articles and writings that support the same themes that King addresses.
First, one could find comparisons between the goals of the Civil Rights movement and the Reformation. Both sought to question and break away from the respective authority figure of the time: King from the segregationist mind-state of the South, Luther from the program of indulgences in the Catholic Church. Both used some of the same language and logic in their arguments as to why the current system was flawed. King's argument (mentioning Thomas Aquinas) was that an unjust law is one that defies moral law. He goes on to say, "Any law that degrades human personality is unjust (p. 3)." The Civil Rights movement, although its main focus was to desegregate and gain equal rights under the law, existed to uplift the spirit of African Americans across the country. This was in the same vein as Luther's movement; the policy of indulgences strongly affected the poor and uneducated. The 95 Theses addressed the inherent moral injustice of the system. It was both degrading to human beings, as well as not having any true authority in Scripture or moral law.
Walter Wink is a more recent theologian whose views on nonviolence reflect those of King. If one would look at what Wink says in the "Myth of Redemptive Violence," it is seen that Wink expects violence from every human being, for violence is inherent in everyone's nature. Therefore, it could be extrapolated that Wink believes that nonviolence is near impossible. However, more research into Wink's actual opinions reveals a much different story. In Wink's eyes, rebellion against the "Powers that Be" is the exact thing that Jesus was talking about in Matthew 5:38-42. Wink says that modern Christians interpret these passages wrong, due to mistranslation and the fact that the context is not understood. Christ is not telling His followers to have cowardly passivity towards their aggressors, nor does he condone violence.
To unpack this further, it is necessary to understand the context of the time according to Wink. The first example: "If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also (Matthew 5:39)." The only way to hit someone on the right cheek with their right hand (for the left hand was only used for unclean tasks) was with a backhanded slap; this was not intended to hurt, but to humiliate. Turning the left cheek would force the aggressor to hit the servant with a fist, putting them on equal footing (only equals fought with fists). The "Powers that Be" have lost their power to humiliate and oppress; they can only beat and kill and the oppressed have gained dignity.
The second scenario that Jesus gives is one of creditors and debtors - "If anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well (Matthew 5:40)." A man listening to Jesus speak would have understood the meaning behind these words. In the days of Jesus, the system of debt was taken advantage of. Clothing taken for use in payment of debt had to be returned at nightfall; however, this was not followed. Next, it is necessary to understand that the shame of nudity fell on the observers and causers of the nudity, not on the naked person (as evidenced in the story of Noah's drunkenness and the curse on Ham). Therefore, for a defendant to give all of his clothes, both outer and undergarments, to his creditor would result in great shame; however, the shame would only fall on the creditor. One could rebel against the system and his oppressors without resorting to violence or being completely passive.
This policy of civil disobedience is almost identical to King's. King recognizes that to succeed, demonstrators will need to receive blows without retaliating. He realizes that "freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed (p. 2)" and that the power structure of Birmingham has left him no other options. He also knows that he must not have any fear of "tension" for tension is necessary for growth. The demonstrations that King organized reflected many of the things that Jesus (and Wink) taught; the images of police beating the peaceful demonstrators shifted the views of the general public toward the oppressed and the oppressors. This was when the system was turned on its head - the goal of Jesus' teachings (according to Wink).
The bulk of King's complain in his letter is that the Church has not gotten behind him in his attempts to solve the problems that the Civil Rights movement faced. No (moderate white) minister or congregation supported the movement's actions and some even opposed it even though they knew what was morally right. King finds this astonishing for early Christian's caused great disturbances in whatever town they entered. However, modern Christians were silent when it came to rights of the oppressed African-Americans.
This tone of surprise is the same of that of the beggar in Charles Sheldon's "In His Steps." The beggar did not understand the lack of sympathy in his attempt to find a job. His wife had died and no Christian, save the minister, had spoken a comforting word to him. Just as they would be in King's time, the Church was silent when it came to the rights of the oppressed.
The themes of King's letter are themes are expressed throughout history by many different thinkers. The plight of African-Americans is one that is mirrored in the narrative of any people that are oppressed by others, as well as the actions that King took to launch the movement.
When it comes to men of reason and logical thinking, Thomas Aquinas stands out as one of the most interesting. While others had come before him, Aquinas was one of the first to apply his reason and combined it with his faith. Before him, there was only separation, faith and reason could only stand alone. However, Aquinas approached questions about faith with logical thinking in a way that had not been done before. One of the ways that he did this was applying the three primary truths.
First, these primary truths must be examined. These three truths cannot be proven, but they have to be accepted as truth before any discussion of logic and reason can take place. In these three truths there is the first fact, the first condition, and the first principle. The first fact is simply that we exist. This is also known as the law of identity (A=A), or simply, something is the same as itself. The first condition is the principle of non-contradiction. This law states that two contradictory statements cannot both be true ("A equals B" and "A does not equal B" cannot both be true at the same time). And lastly, the first principle states that the human mind has the ability to know the truth.
One of the main arguments that Aquinas attempts to refute is the fact that our faith and our reason are contradictory due to our Christian nature. Aquinas himself admits that many of the things that Christians accept as true appear completely unreasonable and outside the realm of human logic; some of these things include the idea of the trinity (that is, God is Three in One) and Holy Communion (that is, that Jesus' body and blood is in, with, and under the bread and wine). The main way that humans apply the first principle, that the human mind has the ability to know the truth, is through the five senses. The many accepted truths, and those that were mentioned earlier, cannot be determined by "sensibles." Aquinas also explains that angels are able to understand many of these things, while we cannot; they are on a entirely different plane from us and have a different relationship with God. With our current relationship with God and with our set of senses, we cannot understand and explain through logic the many mysteries of faith.
Aquinas' counterpoint to all of these arguments is very simple: yes, we cannot understand divine truths. However, God is the creator of everything: logical thinking and reason, nature and the divine. Therefore, since God is the author of all these things, it is written in us to understand the natural things that occur. There are basic truths in nature that God has implanted in us through reasoning and they are impossible to think of as false. Just as a student's knowledge stems from his teacher, our knowledge comes directly from God. His knowledge is infallible, yet our knowledge is imperfect. His divine wisdom contains all truths, whether they be natural or divine.
This is where Aquinas applies the first condition, the law of non-contradiction. If a man has knowledge of something that is contradictory to divine principles, it cannot be held as true as it cannot be accepted as from God. Secondly, we cannot receive contradictory information from God as God cannot contradict himself. Lastly, natural truths are eternal and unchanging as they are from God. No man can have knowledge of something if it contradicts a natural truth. Many of these natural truths are found in the Old and New Testaments. If any piece of knowledge goes against anything held in the Bible (especially the New Testament), a man cannot hold it as true as it is contradictory.
Aquinas' makes a convincing argument that faith and reason are co-habitable. Human beings, being separated from God, have to accept that there are certain divine things that cannot be explained using human terms and human reasoning. These things just have to acknowledged as truths whether they can be proved or not. There are also other basic natural truths that cannot necessarily be explained but reason can be used to prove that they are true. These things are eternal and unchanging and they are from God. If something contradicts said truths, it cannot be acknowledged as true based on the first condition. As Dr. Schuler always says, "Jesus did not come to take our brains." Faith and reason are not mutually exclusive and can coexist.
"This sentence serves no logical purpose." Or does it? How can this sentence be used to define and describe postmodernism?
If this sentence is to be analyzed, first one needs to understand the ideology of postmodernism. Postmodernism can refer to many different disciplines and practices such as literature, art, architecture, music, religion, politics, and consumer practices. Each has the fundamental qualities of postmodern ideas - rejecting modern views and tearing down boundaries. These boundaries are seen as restricting and oppressive. For many postmodernists, they seek to tear down these boundaries in an effort to draw awareness to the multitude of marginalized people. In their view, the marginalized have been excluded from the dominant culture (Crouch).
The basic meaning behind postmodernism is that there are no basic and essential truths. Everything is up for interpretation based on one's own experiences and senses. It also seeks to shake off any defining, "black-and-white" classifications. Postmodernism is the rejection of "modern" ideals. There is no authority, individual identity, or certainty in postmodernism, only difference and cynicism. It seeks to not only tear down boundaries, but to make them disappear altogether (Bloomsbury Dictionary). Ethics are subjective, and even the concept of self and ego is seen as indefinite. In a somewhat ironic fashion, postmodernists cannot even agree on a set definition for postmodernism. There are many different, and contradictory, schools of thought when it comes to this subject. However, no matter the view on postmodernism, the defining factor is skepticism.
With a basic overview of what postmodernism, it is now (nearly) possible to study the original sentence. When looking at this sentence, it is easy to be reminded of the liar's paradox and in fact it is nearly just a rephrasing of said paradox; the liar's paradox simply states, "This sentence is false."
The reason that the liar's paradox (the term I will be referring to the original statement as due to its similarity) is so complicated is due to its reflexivity. It does not really conform to any theory of truth, whether that is the correspondence theory of truth - which says that a statement is true if it agrees with and describes the world- or the coherence theory of truth - which states that a statement can be deemed true if it agrees with other statements (Standard Encyclopedia of Philosophy). The liar's paradox in itself stands alone; there are no other statements to agree or contradict it. We can only judge its truth based on itself. This is where the problem lies.
The only way to approach the statement is to take it at face value. The sentence says that it serves no logical purpose. Simply stating this automatically makes the statement false; by telling the reader that there is no purpose to the statement, it is serving its purpose. But if it does have a purpose, it fundamentally refutes itself.
In his article about postmodernism, Zagorin offers his solution to the paradox. In his opinion the liar's paradox is not really a paradox at all. His argument states, "...the sentence does not actually state anything and is thus not a proposition. To be a proposition, it would need to entail a truth value or particular truth conditions, and this it is unable to do" (Zagorin, 270).
Therefore, the fundamental question is this: can we even consider the original sentence to be a "proposition," that is, a statement that tells us something? Perhaps one can agree with Zagorin's argument that the statement is not valid and all of the confusion is moot. But of course, many people will say that Zagorin's argument is fundamentally flawed.
This is where one can apply postmodernism to the statement (assuming, of course, that we wish to allow it to be a proposition). One cannot determine if the statement is true because each truth varies so wildly from another. There are no set boundaries, no truths, and no falsities. Therefore, how can one say that one thing is true and one thing is false if the very definitions of these words are undefined? The confusion caused by the statement is one of the defining characteristics of postmodernism and is seemingly a goal of the postmodern movement.
In the end, the postmodern reader, believing that all truth, reason, and knowledge are subjective, cannot evaluate this statement. However, the statement certainly can teach us something about postmodernism. Even the modernist cannot "solve" the problem within the statement. His reason cannot help him, for the statement is not reasonable; there is no truth to be found in the statement, although it cannot necessarily be called false. The relative nature of the statement embodies everything about postmodernism.
History is a fickle mistress. It is perhaps the academic area where the "facts" are extremely hard to prove. This is part of the challenge of a professional historian: piecing together the past. But how does one separate fact from reality?
The aforementioned challenge is three-fold: the fallibility of human nature and political agendas. Becker further explores the first challenge in his article "What is Evidence?" Historians have an extremely difficult task; where the "Mr. Everyman's history is very informal and mainly based on private affairs, the professional historian must preserve past events on a grand and very public scale. However, the professional historian, must like the Everyman, is only human and is limited by the confines of his own time and place. It too is impossible to escape the myth that is woven into our culture, no matter how hard a historian may try (16).
Another conflict is that between historians and political figures. History is littered with examples of the past being "rewritten" for the sake of political advancement. This is especially true even in American culture (Woodward, 30-34). It is even possible to change or hide historical events in today's society, although the methods are slightly less transparent, through classifying information, controlling archives and releasing specific information from them, and even paying historians (Woodward, 36).
It is the historian's job then to attempt to preserve history in a way that represents the "truth." Of course, this could be considered next to impossible. In my opinion, the first step to confronting this issue is to confront the political agendas that come with controlling the past. Woodward does a great job stressing the importance of such a thing, and praises those historians that defend the importance of historical integrity (38). "Scarcely any popular leader in our history has been able to secure acquiescence of the historical guild in his enterprise of controlling the past. Such leaders have repeatedly met with resistance from the historians" (37). This first step of ensuring that all of the current information is available for research and consumption is essential to painting an accurate picture of "true" past events.
Secondly, historians must continue doing what they already do best: work extremely hard to verify and find new information. It is not secret that we as human beings demand physical evidence to support opinions before we even begin to accept them as truth. (Deterring slightly from the topic at hand, this is probably why many people have an issue believing in God; belief based on faith alone is difficult and improbable for many people.) Nothing is more exciting than finding a new shred of physical evidence that can help historians add a new piece to the puzzle. This is why archaeology is such an important science (and perhaps I feel this way because I spent a lot of time with Dr. Schuler last year). It is true that this probably falls more into the realm of archaeologist rather than historian, but it is also true that the two could arguably not exist without the other. Without archaeologists, there would be no physical evidence to even record history from our place in time today; with historians, there would be no need to even have archaeology. The point remains: for a truly accurate picture of history, a great amount of physical evidence is needed - which is easier said than done.
An overlooked part of creating a truer version of the past is unraveling the myth that is so tightly wound into our history. It is not secret that school history books are filled with stories that are not only just slightly wrong, they are blatantly false. No matter how many times a story is disproven, textbooks still continue to print them as if they were fact. This is mind-boggling, but there are probably explanations for such things. Perhaps it is more convenient and less time-consuming to just use the same stories; however I believe that people just simply want to believe that these falsities are just true. Sometimes the truth is simply not as neat and tidy as we want to believe; sometimes history makes us uncomfortable or disproves our point of view. No matter how many books and articles are written about lies in the history books, it will take something big to change them.
"Ay, there's the rub." Maybe we the people do not want to hear the actual truth. This is the historian's uphill battle. Steps certainly can be taken to counter-act political agendas, false records, and lack of a physical record, but human fallibility and stubbornness is perhaps something that cannot be overcome.
For my blog for this week, I am choosing to write about Horace Bushnell and his writing "Every Man's Life a Plan of God." Bushnell lived in the early 1800's and spent much of his life as a pastor in a Congregational church in Connecticut. He was an especially gifted theologian and preacher, and was a supporter of the early Sunday School movement. In this reading, Bushnell argues that God has a perfect, intricately designed plan for everything in His creation, even a tiny grain of sand.
It is important first to evaluate this claim. Horace states, "On grain, more or less, of sand would disturb, or even fatally disorder the whole scheme of the heavenly motions." He goes on to explain how even the most seemingly irregular forces have a purpose, everything from the odors we smell to each individual floating air particles. If any of these things were out of place, it would disrupt the "heavenly motions." (I read a similar argument in Lee Strobel's Case for a Creator. Strobel's argument was that the world is too intricately balanced to be a random occurrence. However, this was based on there actually being a Creator or not, so I digress. I just thought there was a parallel here.) This is a comforting statement for me! Just as Jesus says in Matthew 6 and Luke 12, are we not more valuable than grains of sand or air particles?
God has a plan for each of us, the only burden that many people feel is actually finding what that specific plan is. I am a big proponent of letting life come as it may, but I definitely see how being unsure of plans makes many people uneasy (especially a lot of people in the Honors program). Good for us that Bushnell laid out a easy-to-use seven-step program for finding our calling!
1) Consider God's character and draw a deduction from that.
2) Consider yourself as a creature of God, created in His will.
3) Use your own conscious to interpret his will.
4) Use His law and Gospel as a guide.
5) Observe His Divine Providence.
6) Consult your friends and family, especially those familiar with God's Word. (My personal favorite! Bushnell goes on to say that "they know your talents and personal qualifications better than you do yourself.")
My project over the past year, along with the rest of the work with Callings, as helped me to realize just what a calling is - anything! If we do anything for the glory of God, we are doing His will. He has a plan for all of us, and that is so comforting.