Monday, November 23, 2009

Another Definition of Religion

As I have argued before, we use really poor definitions of religion quite frequently, unfortunately often posing religion as quite different from and the enemy to authentic spirituality. This is a dichotomoy that should not exist, along the same lines as spirituality and psychology and religion and science.

In any case, this is an interesting article looking at the definition of religion in a way I haven't really considered it before. While I have advocated for broadening the definition of religion, this author argues broadening it in a different way. It echoes some observations about the more communal versus individualistic traditions.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Fundamental Attribution Error

I'm studying for the EPPP (Examination for the Practice of Professional Psychology--the national license exam). As I've been studying, I've been reminded of several concepts that are appropriate for this blog.

One such concept is the fundamental attribution error. This concept states that we often blame a person for problems instead of the environment, often saying the person is bad, sinful, etc.. I'm sure we can all think of examples, but here's a couple of examples I thought of:
The girl who got raped deserved it or was asking for it.
The homeless man is just lazy and evil.

There are clearly times when a person is responsible for their situation, but sometimes they're not. We have to remember that we live in fallen world, which is leads to a lot of problems for all of us that may not be due to any one individual's sin. We should remember this common error that most Americans usually make before we use guilt unfairly. And different cultures and traditions may also lead to greater or lesser use of this error.

Have you seen this error at work in your life?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Incarnational Interpretation

Here is the follow-up to last week's post from the BioLogos Foundation. It goes into much greater depth into an Incarnational view of Bible interpretation. I really resonate with it and think it's excellent. It really is an appropriate way of approaching the Bible.

And I think that's part of the reason I like the Mosaic Bible, which I reviewed yesterday. It emphasizes the Incarnational elements of Scripture and Christianity.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Mosaic Bible Review

I recently picked up the Mosaic Bible. There's a nice review here, too, which goes into the history of Bible versions really nicely!

I really like this Bible for a variety of reasons. First of all, it's beautiful. I love the Celtic cross cover (on the imitation leather version). From my Religious Studies background, I particularly love and appreciate illuminated manuscripts, and this Bible is basically a modern illuminated manuscript. I really like how it includes meditations and thoughts from around the world, around the centuries, and around the Christian traditions. It truly is a Mosaic.

This Bible has gotten back into reading the Bible. I've been following the church year, and breaking up the weekly meditations each day, reading part of the meditations and one of the Bible readings. I really like how the meditation sections and the Bible sections cross-reference each other. I can turn to the page in Scripture, and there is a note in the margin of which verses were the recommended ones for that week. It makes remembering the readings easier!

As the week's meditations are all on one theme, I'm trying to consider that theme throughout the week and view life through that lens. You can imagine the ways that can make one more aware of spiritual realities and connect more to God.

One note: If you get the imitation leather, don't let it get moist. Some light condensation from a water bottle (in another section of a bag!) was absorbed by the back cover. It took hours to dry and still is a bit warped... :(

But it's still my favorite Bible to date (and I have a ton!).

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Suicide & Sin

SPOILER ALERT: If you're not familiar with It's a Wonderful Life or Miss Saigon, you may not want to read this! :)

Suicide is a very controversial area. Some people advocate for euthanasia (AKA suicide when you're sick), while we can involuntarily hospitalize someone who wants to kill themselves with they are mentally ill. I deal with suicidal people on a daily basis. And this is not a one-time thought of suicide, the people are often chronically and severely suicidal. Even the kids with whom I work.

Suicide is often described as sin. However, the more I understand and work with suicide, the more I have come to challenge that idea. From my experience, the idea of suicide as sin comes from the assumption that people suicide because they do not see the value in their lives and want to throw that away, thus rejecting a fundamental, valuable gift from God.

However, that is not always the reason for suicide. It often is not the case. It's a Wonderful Life and Miss Saigon are perfect examples of suicide for other reasons. In fact, I would argue that suicide in those shows occur out of love for others.

In It's a Wonderful Life, George considers suicide to save his family financially. Everyone in the film agrees this is a poor choice, but should we really condemn someone when they are willing to sacrifice their life to help the rest of their family? Now, there are other reasons he considered suicide, which was a loss of hope, but still that was not the only reason.

An even more potent example is in Miss Saigon, which I saw for the second time at CSUF this weekend. In it, Kim kills herself in order to give her son the life she believes he deserves. This suicide had nothing to do with selfishness, hatred of life, or anything we usually condemn with suicide. Rather, it was pure love.

These kinds of examples kind of challenge our assumptions about suicide, I think. What say you?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Use of Guilt

Churches, Christians, and people in general often use guilt to motivate (or control) people. It's also used in the mental health field.

This is not always a bad thing. We often talk about using religious beliefs against suicide to guilt someone into not killing themselves. If that's what keeps someone alive, I'm all for it. (I'll be writing another post on suicide in the next day or two.)

However, often guilt just doesn't work too well. It turns people off, makes them angry, puts them on the defensive, and shuts them down. Now, I've heard the arguments of pointing out people's transgressions. Okay, fine.

But it doesn't always work. Frankly, guilting someone rarely works, I think. In fact, those who it affects are the ones who don't need it, in my experience.

For instance, as many know, I'm the therapist for a child inpatient unit at a psychiatric hospital. A lot of the time, once I talk with the parents, I realize the kid doesn't have a problem: The parent does. Some parents feel guilty. I spoke with one mother last week for over an hour and she cried over her guilt. The kid has autism. It ain't the mother's fault at all. Yet she experiences it. She doesn't need to be guilted. She has done an amazing job trying to get him resources. In contrast, the parents who really did play a role virtually never feel guilt.

I've seen this in churches, too. The people who need to feel the remorse feel nothing, while those who are remorseful feel even worse about themselves, usually leading to more paralysis than motivation to action.

To me, this reinforces the idea that we should not use guilt to motivate. It rarely, if ever, works like it should and usually causes more problems than it sought to remedy. What are you experiences and observations?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

More on Bible Approach

This is an interesting post from the BioLogos blog about the challenges science has posed to interpretation of the Bible and a suggestion on how to approach it differently due to newer scholarship from all fields. I'll be interested to see how this author details his Incarnational interpretations. What are your reactions?

Monday, November 9, 2009

Ritual Purification

In many Protestant communities, we often don't think we have "ritual purification." However, I would argue prayers for forgiveness and such would be a type of ritual purification. So even those in the traditions that do not have bathing rituals and the like should probably still take note of this interesting article linking ritual purification to morality. Most specifically, people who are "clean" tend to be more willing to do morally dubious acts.

Interesting, huh? This could have all sorts of implications and could explain a lot of morally dubious behavior of leaders...

Friday, November 6, 2009

Politics and Hypocrisy

I recently saw a promo for a documentary accusing some politicians of hypocrisy because they vote against their group. I'm intentionally not going to say what documentary or issue it is addressing because it doesn't matter. I've heard this argument many times: Christians who vote for abortion or against prayer in schools, Latinos who vote against immigration, homosexuals who vote against gay marriage, and the list could go on and on.

There is an assumption that there is one unilateral opinion among a group. As we all should know by now, there isn't. Just because one person is part of a particular group does not mean that they may believe a certain thing or vote a certain way.

That does not mean they are hypocritical. They have found congruency in their beliefs and actions. It is when those two are incongruent that we delve into the realm of hypocrisy. The problem is many people have not found peace in discovering a congruency between struggling beliefs and values they may have. And then they attack others with whom they disagree. This does not help the spirit of dialogue and struggle.

While we may not always understand how a person can hold two values simultaneously (or even understand how we ourselves could do so), we need to have faith that this can occur and not condemn so easily, particularly in such a public setting as a documentary.

There are true-believing Christians who do not think abortion should be illegal or that prayer should occur in public schools. There are Latinos who believe in strict immigration laws and do not support amnesty. There are homosexuals who do not think gay marriage should be an option.

And I doubt any of them would consider themselves hypocritical. We may not always agree, but does that mean they are living incongruously and hypocritically? No, I don't think so. What say you?

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Sola Scriptura Challenge

This is a nice post criticizing the theology of sola scriptura. I was once an advocate of this proposition, but I agree with this other writer now. While Scripture is wonderful, and we need to take it seriously, we cannot rely on it alone. There is so much more that God uses to speak to us and frankly to help us interpret Scripture that we cannot ignore it.

This is one theological area I strongly disagree with Luther on, as I have described earlier. We cannot simply look at the plain meaning of the Bible, and when we realize we interpret and look for the intended meaning, we are not only using scripture...

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Liturgical v. Contemporary Church

As my wife and I moved a few months ago, we have begun looking for a new church community closer to us. In the places we have visited, we went to one that is a pretty traditional contemporary service (nice oxymoron, huh?) and one that is a pretty traditional high church, liturgical service. Both Laci and I have had much more experience in the former, so that feels more comfortable.

However, we noticed some key distinctions between the communities, which led me to think about differences between liturgical and contemporary communities in general. The thing I noticed (which is not an amazing or new insight) is that liturgical communities tend to be more liberal politically and theologically, focusing on communal issues and social justice at large. In contrast, contemporary communities tend to be more conservative politically and theologically, focusing on individual experience and personal responsibility. Now there are obvious exceptions to these rules, but often they do characterize churches as a pattern, I believe.

That got me to wondering why this is the case. And here's my conclusion:

Liturgical churches are by their nature communal. They focus on the whole community, not individual's reactions. Liturgy by its nature is participative. It is also not focused on creating a conversion experience or a deeply moving personal experience. Again, it is focused on the group coming together. As a result, it would make sense that these churches would focus more on the whole community and larger social justice issues.

In contrast, contemporary churches developed out of the Protestant Reformation and a focus on personal relationship with Christ, personal conversion, and personal conviction. The service is therefore focused on moving each individual. Hence, you can get a more performance-driven service that is non-participative, but leads to touching, emotional experiences. As the emerging movement has emphasized, these services have usually lost the participative quality. When that is lost, then it makes sense that politically and theologically they would ignore the social justice issues and instead focus on personal morality and responsibility.

Interestingly, I saw these two blog posts with similar ideas. Maybe I just had my eyes out for these concepts. What do you think about these patterns? Have you seen them? Have you seen a successful mix of the two? That's one of the strengths of the emerging church, I believe: It attempts to merge the strengths of both while cutting out the weaknesses of each.


Got a question, struggle, or doubt you'd like to see addressed here? Contact me, and I'll try to discuss it (and may even help you get an answer).