Spritzophrenia

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Archive for the ‘Emergent’ Category

Why Stay If You’re Gay?

Posted by spritzophrenia on May 25, 2011

A number of you said you’d be interested in reading the proposal for my Masters’ pilot study, “Why Stay if You’re Gay?” (Homosexual Participation and Identity in the Church) . Well, here’s the introduction:

Western society has undergone significant social changes around homosexuality in the last thirty years. In New Zealand the Homosexual Law Reform Bill (1986) decriminalised homosexual acts, more recently the Civil Union Act (2004) gave marriage-like rights to New Zealand gay (and other) couples wishing to commit in this way. In the same period there has been change around homosexuality and the church. While change in ‘liberal’ and ‘mainstream’ Christian churches has been ongoing for some time, there is evidence of greater acceptance of gay congregants in US evangelical (Falsani, 2011) and post-evangelical ’emergent’ circles. “It sounds so churchy, but I felt like God spoke to my heart and said ‘[homosexuality] is not a sin.” (Pastor Jay Bakker, cited in Lee, 2006). In New Zealand, similar changes are occurring; “Gay Christian Alliance is a group of gay Christians living in New Zealand who wish to spread the message that it’s OK to be gay and Christian” (2011).

I’ve come across a number of gay and lesbian people in the Christian Church. My particular question is why they stay– it seems fairly clear why one would leave. What do they get out of religious faith? What are their motivations? How do they see their identity as gay and Christian?

A couple of comments: It’s only the proposal for a short thesis (10,000 words). The full Masters’ thesis is around 40,000 words. Due to academic-speak some of it would need a bit more unpacking for those who aren’t familiar with the ideas. Also note that “sociology of deviance” doesn’t imply a moral judgement, it’s merely a way of talking about people perceived as different, and can be questioned in it’s own right.

Initially, I didn’t particularly want to study sexuality, or gays in particular. I want to study sociology of religion, this is merely a way in. Having said that, and having now read a number of studies by gay academics, it’s a fascinating area in itself.

To add to the ethical notes in the proposal, I can imagine lesbigays[1] saying somewhat tiredly, “Oh, here come the sociologists with their surveys again.” To be part of a minority means you get questioned by all parts of society, including academia. I have a number of lesbigay and trans friends, and sometimes I feel a bit weird “studying them”.

Lastly, here’s a humorous video I came across the other day:
Gay scientists discover the Christian gene

[1] “In this essay I am trying out the term ‘les-bi-gay’. I am aware that it risks the problems we had before: some people are not explicitly included, and some of those who are may feel at risk of incorporation by hegemonic male gayness.” (From a paper by Sinfield, a gay academic, 1997: 201)

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Posted in Christianity, Emergent, Sociology | Tagged: , , , , | 5 Comments »

No Experience Is Better Than False Experience

Posted by spritzophrenia on November 10, 2010

Here’s another personal story from me. This was originally published as a guest post at my Texas friend Dave’s Agnostic Pentecostal. I use a bit of Christian jargon, hope it makes sense.

I’d like to tell my story of not being slain in the spirit.

I spent a fair bit of time in spirit-filled practice when I was a student, attended a charismatic church and worked closely with Pentecostals in our campus christian group. I can still speak in tongues on demand, if you want me to. At the time, a pentecostal ministry ran a revival week in a huge tent out in the countryside. I’ll let the cynical among us note the appropriateness of using a circus tent for such events. They brought a number of apparently-big-name preachers in from overseas and one of them was a clean-cut young man who was surely not even thirty years old. I’ll call him Redfords LaGrange. God had allegedly been talking to him since he was seven years old, and he’d made a study of “God’s Generals,” famous spirit-fooled preachers.

Standing at the rear of some 1500 people, I listened to him. On another night I’d heard Redfords exhort the whole crowd to voluntarily speak in tongues at the top of their lungs. I felt uncomfortable with this, mainly for what I felt were Scriptural reasons. It also seemed kinda stupid and I quietly left to stand in the dark field and pray. As the roar of the crowd behind me surged, I could hear the cry from the poor folk trying to sleep in a distant farmhouse: “SHUuuuuuuuuT UuuuP!” This rather amused me, especially since they actually used more colorful language.

slain in the spirit

Anyway, on the night in question Redfords LaGrange called for those engaged in youth ministry to come up; he was going to pray for them. I walked up the long aisle into the spotlights along with about 50 others and we stood in a line along the front. Now, when you’ve got 50 people to pray for individually and you’re a preacher with no time to spare, you have to kind of rush along the line and spend about 15 seconds with each person. You don’t have time to even ask the person’s name. As Redfords was coming, I prayed “God, I’m open to anything you want to do. Do anything you want to me. Make me fall over if you want, only please let it be you and not psychology.” I’d been praying that all the way down the aisle too. Let me say, I was very sincere about both things. I wanted a touch, but only if it was real.

I knew falling over was likely, as that tended to happen in these kind of meetings. I always preferred to call it “falling over”, as the term “slain in the spirit” is not one found in scripture. The cynical can point to the story of Ananias and Sapphira, who were slain BY the Spirit. I doubt anyone wants to recreate that experience.

Indeed, as Redfords came down the line, I saw people falling over out of the corner of my eye. “Catchers” ran forward to make sure they didn’t hit the ground too hard. Many of us already had catchers standing behind us in advance. If it’s an experience from God, I always wondered why he would allow you to be hurt?

Redfords LaGrange reached me and prayed, his hand gently on my head. I didn’t sense any physical pressure from him, I was alert to being pushed. He prayed kindly and briefly, and moved on. Did I sense him hesitate when I didn’t collapse? I stayed there praying, slowly realising that out of the whole line, I was the only one who hadn’t fallen over. Maybe I was resisting the spirit, maybe my intellect had made me hard-hearted. But I know I was sincere. I just didn’t want it to be weak buckling at the knees under the influence of emotion, tiredness or peer pressure.

Mark Vernon migrated from christian clergy to atheist, and now calls himself an “agnostic christian”. He’s an advocate of silence and not-knowing. Vernon says it’s important to draw a clear line between silence and an experience of ecstasy.

“There is an emphasis on experiencing ecstasy in much contemporary churchgoing. This is Christianity that is authenticated by some kind of peak experience, from speaking in tongues, to being healed, to seeing a statue move. Typically, the experience is noisy, demonstrative and, qua the experience, often barely distinguishable from a bungee jump or druggy high. But this is Christianity as psychological buzz; its passion is no more than emotion. It’s aims may be valid – happiness, satisfaction, belonging – but they eclipse the goal of spirituality, at least according to [Meister] Eckhart, which is that of sacred ignorance. For the pursuers of pure experience, the unknown is regarded suspiciously. They substitute the language of personal fulfilment for the language of … doubt.”
~ After Atheism, p 120.

So what do I make of this? As it happens, in the course of many other meetings I’ve never fallen over. I’m not a hater; I believe that if God was there, then my prayer was honoured. I also have a funny feeling that at least some of those people fell over because they felt they had to, or look unspiritual in front of the audience. Have you ever felt left out when others all seemed to be getting blessed? What did you make of it?

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If you want to see what this stuff looks like, check out these funny videos.

Speaking of “slain”, have some Slayer. (“Cult” Lyrics.)

Posted in agnostic, Christianity, Emergent, spirituality | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments »

Will You Take The Pain I Give To You?

Posted by spritzophrenia on October 4, 2010

Yesterday we looked at pain in Genesis, and discussed the Christian idea of the distortion of the world, the breaking-down which theologians call “the Fall”. Remember, I’m agnostic, but I’m wearing my Christian hat today.

Matthew Fox is one modern heretic who focuses on Original Blessing rather than original sin, as do Jewish theologies, but I see this as the other side of the paradox. Humanity, and all of nature are full of good, as well as broken-ness. We can hold this alongside the belief that pain came into the world very early on.

“Fall” has a nice Autumnal feel about it don’t you think? The leaves are no longer green, they retain their structure but are beginning to die.

Literalists claim there was no death before the fall. Conceptually, it’s rather hard to see how Eden could have been anything like the forests of today without leaves dying and rotting to provide mulch and minerals, to give one small example.

leaves

Can theistic evolution cope with the pain inherent in an evolutionary view?

The total amount of suffering per year in the natural world is beyond all decent contemplation. During the minute that it takes me to compose this sentence, thousands of animals are being eaten alive, many others are running for their lives, whimpering with fear, others are slowly being devoured from within by rasping parasites, thousands of all kinds are dying of starvation, thirst, and disease. It must be so. If there ever is a time of plenty, this very fact will automatically lead to an increase in the population until the natural state of starvation and misery is restored. In a universe of electrons and selfish genes, blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.

~ Richard Dawkins, “God’s Utility Function,” published in Scientific American (November, 1995) p. 85, via Iain at Phrenic Philosophy)

Does Dawkins paint his story rather too thickly? My suggestion at this point is to hope that perhaps less “conscious” beings than humans don’t truly “suffer”, in the way that we do? A purely materialist universe, as Dawkins says, is pitiless, indifferent and cruel.

The problem of pain and evil is not an easy one for theists either. It’s something I’ve pondered for many years, even as an agnostic. Philosophy is not a static field and I understand, contrary to popular belief, that the weight of argument is in theists’ favour at present. Check out contributions by Swinburne, Plantinga, contributors to God and the Philosophers and others. Ergo the problem of evil is not a proof against God, it’s at best a probability. More on this another time.

However, when considering the horrors of suffering, the recent floods in Pakistan for example, I always keep in mind two approaches: One can cope with suffering via the intellectual path or the emotional path. (Most likely a mixture of the two.) Even if I present a watertight case defeating the argument from evil, this won’t satisfy someone whose friends have recently died of disease, or remain permanently disabled. Knowing the arguments didn’t satisfy me, after all, when I merely experienced betrayal and a broken heart some years ago. It was this which caused me to walk away from God.

If we know the intellectual reasons I believe this may help, in the big picture. However, when in pain, we don’t want sophistry, we want comfort and strength. On that note I recommend Philip Yancey’s modern classic Where Is God When It Hurts?. It’s a profound book and I rate it highly.

Buddhism takes the reality of suffering as one of its foundational starting points. Alternately, I believe if there is some kind of pure Being there, who knows us intimately, then this g0d somehow shares in our suffering, and the suffering in nature.

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What Do You Think?

How do you think about suffering and spirituality? Does a higher power disgust you, or help you when you think about these things? This is part three of a series, starting with part one.

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Pleasure constricts us
That is the way
Empty perversion
Crippled by fate
(I believe in pain! In disease, cruelty and infidelity.)
Front Line Assembly | Final Impact, Bio-Mechanic

Posted in agnostic, atheism, Biology, Christianity, Emergent, ethics, god, Judaism | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments »

Blessed Are The Sick (Your Voice)

Posted by spritzophrenia on September 30, 2010

Welcome to the first in an occasional series where I specifically seek your feedback. I want to learn, you can guide my thoughts in ways I haven’t considered. Please respond in the comments and tell me what you think, even if it’s “I don’t know”.

[Edit: A good friend told me she wants to comment, but is “not a philosopher or theologian”. That tells me I’ve pitched this too high- I’m sorry. As with all comments here, I don’t expect you to be profound. I’m just happy to hear from you, even if it’s “Hi, what a crappy post. You suck, but I can’t think of anything to say.”

So if you like, just read the first bit and skip the rest.]

Today, I’m sick. Nothing serious, but our topic will lead into a short series about pain, suffering and spirituality; surely a challenge for any path. (Here’s number two in the series.) Atheists have it easy of course, they can just say, “The world sucks, it proves there’s no benevolence in the universe, and that’s all there is to it”. Or do you atheists have something more to offer when we suffer?

What does sickness tell you– if anything– about the transcendent world? How does it affect you: Your meditation, your prayer life, your practice? What is the meaning of life for those who cannot function at the same level as others?

To get your thoughts going, read on. Or just ignore, and go straight to the comments.

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hospital

Ideas

Consider Mental illness,

What we call schizophrenic is, as Joseph Campbell has discussed, called (positively) visionary or mystical in shamanic cultures, hence is valued, not feared or sedated with chemicals.

Shamanic illnesses are no different or ‘special’ than the illnesses of ‘normal’ people. Disease all comes from the same source, shamanic or not. Shamanic healers don’t piece by piece heal, they heal as a whole.

~from mental illness and spirituality

I’m mentally disabled myself, I’ve struggled with depression at times for most of my adult life. Or consider the last time you were laid under by a severe cold:

Psalm 41:3-4
The LORD will sustain him on his sick-bed and restore him from his bed of illness.
I said, O LORD, have mercy on me; heal me, for I have sinned against you.

What can we learn about the meaning of life from permanent disability?

The criteria of transcendence and transfiguration also apply to the spiritual development of disabled people, in each case relative to the characteristics of the body which is disabled, transcended, and transfigured. This enables us to conceive of a multiplicity of known and lived human worlds.

This has two advantages. First, the plurality of the human worlds enables us to construct a spirituality of disability which is not based upon a theory of deficiency. As long as disabilities are mainly understood as lacking something, their intrinsic character will be overlooked, and they will be understood as mere exclusions from the big world.

~ from A Spirituality of Disability


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Please Respond

What is the meaning of life for those who cannot function at the same level as others? Do you know someone who’s suffered from chronic illness? Where is g0d in all of this?

Please leave your feedback in the comments. This is YOUR chance to share 🙂

Morbid Angel | Blessed Are The Sick

Posted in agnostic, Emergent, god, hardship, spirituality, Your Voice | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 33 Comments »

I Used To Believe

Posted by spritzophrenia on September 6, 2010

The public image of contemporary philosophers is that their personal stories are all stories of losing faith or of never having had it. The stories in this volume shatter the image. …

… They are stories by contemporary philosophers— many of them world-renowned— of coming to faith or returning, or of enduring in faith. The spiritual journeys narrated were never easy, there’s a lot of suffering and desperation here, and perplexity.”

~ Nicholas Wolterstorff, Yale

Man before Buddha

God and the Philosophers: The Reconciliation of Faith and Reason, features Christian and Jewish theists. One of the longer pieces is Peter van Inwagen’s Quam Dilecta, which tells the story of his rejection of teenage spirituality, twenty years of atheism and his long slow turn to Christianity. He writes with an urbane cynicism that I find amusing:

My attachment to Unitarianism (and its three pillars: the Fatherhood of God, the Brotherhood of Man, and the Neighbourhood of Boston) did not survive my going away to college. That sort of thing is, of course, a familiar story in every denomination, but it’s an easier passage for Unitarians, since it does not involve giving up any beliefs. My wife, who is one of my most useful critics, tells me that this is an unkind remark and ought to be omitted. It seems to me to be an important thing to say, however. I did not experience the crisis of conscience so common among Evangelical or Roman Catholic university students who leave the church. … It is, however, simply a fact that a Unitarian can sever his connection with Unitarianism without changing any of his beliefs.

~ p32

Have you given up a belief? (Perhaps one belief out of many, a scientific belief or belief in humanity, if not a spiritual one.)

Is it possible to have a spiritual life without beliefs? Perhaps we could say that Buddhism is also a practice that requires no intellectual assent. But is this, in fact, the case?

Respond

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“In yourself, believe. It’s alright”, sing the phenomenal King‘s X. There’s a live version here, with an inspiring message— recommended. Or, you can listen to

King’s X – Believe. Belief Lyrics.

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Posted in agnostic, Christianity, Emergent, Judaism, music, Philosophy | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 22 Comments »