Friday, May 27, 2011

Part 4, Christian Diversity-Final Thoughts

Picking up where I left off, I submit that as mere humans what we believe about the origin, nature, and methods of Christianity is limited by our worldly, corrupted human knowledge of Christianity. Our quarrels and disagreements are not from the Father. We do not recognize how we have concerned ourselves with an elemental wisdom that is from the world. We function as Christians all too often as if we are part of this world system. We focus on issues that are rooted and expressed in terms of the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life. When someone else claims to be a Christian and disagrees with us, we look for ways to undermine their position, rather than looking for the fullest expression of familial love and affection that we might share.

Pulling back up the original question of what causes such great diversity among Christian believers, the simple answer is money-resources conflict, religion as we imagine it in our hearts and politics over what our institutional structure should be. Further, think of all Christian brethren on three levels: an individual level, a local corporate level and a universal cultural level.

As individuals, we are influenced by nature and nurture. We are born with a particular gift mix, mental abilities, and inclinations toward temperament. Additionally, we are selfishly inclined and this selfishness is bundled in three areas, our bodies, our hearts and our minds. We have fallen natures, but it is important to recognize this nature has three parts.

On a corporate level, whenever we build communities of believers, we not only bring our individual baggage but we also encounter a corporate structure inherited across centuries of development. Regardless of our current stream, this structure includes decision-making by others reaching us through time. The natural, social construct we call "church" dictates to the individuals how to behave directly through "objective" teaching and indirectly through "subjective" teaching. We call this tradition. Another factor of seeing differently is that a relatively short stretch of time causes people who know an older set of mores to mix with folks inculcated amid a set of altered cultural norms. This has never been truer than today when cultural change is more rapid than ever.

From the broadest cultural view, the Body of Christ experiences some twists in thinking as well. The church develops concurrently with the culture in which it is based, interacts and can be pulled in. There are plenty of examples of churches taking cultural stands that were wrong. Southern pastors of the early-mid 1800's "preached" in favor of slavery. Many churches in Nazi Germany supported the fascist regime; the Crusades and the Inquisition were cultural mandates of the church itself.

This is becoming long, but you can see that the ground of our hearts is rich for disagreement and the opportunities for us to see things differently as a function of our socialization are many. When I confront someone whose whole social experience culturally and historically is different from me, and he disagrees with my take on Scripture, how do I respond? Is it not understandable that differences will be there? If we realized and embraced that what we are being asked by God is to establish among ourselves deeply loving relationships built on the social order of heaven, we would approach strangers who profess Christ differently. What if we understood Christianity as a spiritual state that is wholly different from our identities shaped of the earth? What if we sought to simply love others inspired by the Spirit of Christ within our hearts?

Jas 3:13 t0 Jas 4:1
Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members?

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Christian epistuh--WHAT? part three

I know epistemology ain't a regular, every-day word, but it says exactly what I need to say about Christianity in this train of thought. More on that a little later.

epistemology = a branch of philosophy that investigates the origin, nature, methods, and limits of human knowledge.

Consider also the following scripture reference, and I hope this all comes together for you like it came together for me sitting in that classroom nearly a decade ago:

1Jo 2:16
For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. NASB

Everything wrong in the hearts and minds of men is a result of the fall. Let's be more specific:
  • What we desire related to our bodies -- lust of the flesh
  • What we view (symbolism in images) -- lust of the eyes
  • What we do with our intellect -- the boastful pride of life

We are triune beings, a composite of body, heart, and mind. Semantic baggage we will have to sort through in some other post is the piece of us some call heart, some call soul, some call psyche, and some call spirit. I am using the term heart purposely to enable the inclusion of the word imagination separated from the intellect.

Humans are corrupted in all three parts of our being.

Our bodies and every decision we make motivated by providing the body security, comfort and pleasure is affected by the lust of the flesh. Our imagination that allows us to conceptualize abstractly and see meanings behind the material world is corrupted by the lust of the eyes. (The Cadillac coat-of arms carries a complex set of connotations wholly different from the Volkswagen V over W inside a circle, while both are just an identifying mark on a vehicle. We understand the connotations and connect with them emotionally by a look at the symbol. ) All that we are able to build materially, not just skyscrapers and bridges, but our institutions and social order are corrupted by and are themselves a source of the pride of life.

Sociologists cannot agree on whether or not Conflict Theory (control of resources), Symbolic-interactionism (power of symbols) or Structural-functionalism (social order as a function of institutions) is the unifying theme for society because all three exist together. I submit each of these organizing matrices can be identified in society because each is a function of one of the three parts of humans. Conflict Theory deals with issues of resources and wealth because we have physical bodies; Symbolic-interactionism deals with issues springing from our heart and its imaginations; and Structural-functionalism deals with our mental acuity and various applications of the same. We are three-part beings, and we have established a world system that reflects ourselves.

Connecting scripture, real life, and sociology:

lust of the flesh > drives strife over resources > economics develop to manage conflict > Conflict theory develops as explanation of what is observed

lust of the eyes > drives perception of man's cosmic significance > religion develops to assuage the need to know/understand significance > Symbolic-interactionism develops as an explanation of what is observed

pride of life > drives man's ego to achieve his own significance > societal institutions such as republicanism as an idea for self-government develops in ever widening power and influence to order society and build/sustain human experience; Structural-functionalism develops to explain what is observed

All of what we have done is corrupted by the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life. All that is in the world, is from the world.

Part four will examine the consequence of what I suggest here on the historical diversification of Christianity into sects, our modern day debates about how we interpret Scripture, and thus how we think about God, the Father. Ultimately as mere humans what we believe about the origin, nature, and methods of Christianity is limited by our worldly, corrupted human knowledge of Christianity.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Christian Diversity, Part 2

Christian's diverse thinking goes back deeply into our historical roots, but I'll grab the story with the local thread--the U.S.

The story of the United States begins with the founding of the English colonies of Jamestown, Virginia in 1607 and Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1620. From a sociological perspective, these colonies represent the three major forces which shaped society in the colonies, through to the United States and today shape our world.

The North American colonies of the 17th and 18th centuries are a bridge between monarchism and the rule of democracy across Western cultures, then expanding worldwide during the 20th century. Jamestown was strictly a business venture. Plymouth was a religious freedom movement for the Pilgrims, and a political exercise as the group sought an opportunity to pursue the rights of man distanced from the power of the English crown. Within just a span of thirteen years, the colonies had created the opportunity for three groups of thinker/adventurers to launch concurrent experiments in sociological functions. Jamestown represented capitalism. Plymouth had a dual thrust of religion through its Puritan Christian social order and fledgling republicanism in the Mayflower Compact. Together these two colonies comprised three societal forces that can tear any family apart: money, religion and politics.

These three sociological forces are what ties this post to the last. Sociologists inability to identify a unifying theme for social order is because they have identified three main theories and debate rages over which is "the one". These three main theories are Conflict Theory, Symbolic-interactionism and Structural-functionalism. I suggest the three theories together represent a three-footed basis of human interaction. The colonial experiment illustrates these three forces and identifies sociologists' elusive unifying theme, not one theory but all three exerting influence simultaneously, a braided rope on which society hangs.

Conflict Theory states that conflict between have's and have-not's is the key that turns society. What causes this conflict? It boils down to who controls the land and the women who go with the land. Women represent men's ability to extend control of land across generations through an established lineage. Land is wealth. Men fight over it. Once a group establishes itself as in-power, the marginalized workers struggle for ascendancy and this shapes society. The capitalism of the US and now the world at large is typified by Jamestown and representative of Conflict Theory. Follow the development of Jamestown across the centuries until one examines the World Bank: do the have's join together to reach out to the have-not's of the developing world for altruistic reasons or to insure that developing-world instability does not disrupt the wealth and power of those in control? Either way, conflict between have's and have-not's is a major sociological function in today's world.

Symbolic-interaction Theory is about the power of symbols to motivate people to action. Consider the Cross of Christianity, the Crescent of Islam, the Menorah of Judaism, the pervasive designer symbols of Madison Ave. and the power of the American flag to bring tears, cheers and rants. The Plymouth connection to this theory seems fairly obvious.

Structural-functionalism Theory is about human ability to establish institutions with an order of purpose, policy, and procedure to insure societal functioning. Republicanism in the colonies was the next wave carrying the political ship of state from monarchism into democracy, such as it is. Political demarcation and compromise remains a major component of most governments in this modern world.

Next, I will connect modern sociological theories to a basic premise of Christian epistemology.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Why Christianity is so Diverse, edited from an earlier post, Oct. 25, 2007

Those who claim Christ as Savior express a wide set of opinions on a varied set of topics. I became acutely aware of this after I left organized religion. I fully believed at one time the true Christian looked, spoke and believed similarly to me, regardless of his or her particular stream. The "true" Christian was "sold out to Jesus", full of the Holy Spirit, someone dedicated to all things Christian and exhibited strong character as a result.

Once I had left the organized church, I told myself I wanted to think again. I had allowed myself to think only what I had been told was safe to think for too long. Eighteen years to be exact, twelve of these as an elder. (This is not intended to suggest that organized religion does this routinely. It is simply what I experienced.) I began to read and often from what before had been labeled by my teachers and spiritual leaders as inappropriate theology. Since I no longer recognized their authority over what and what not to read, I read widely, literally across a breadth of Christian exposition.

I discovered the parameters of a significant diversity of "Christian" opinion were much larger than I had supposed. I simply wanted to know, "What is right belief?"

It actually came together for me in a secular, graduate sociology course. Much of current Christian theology seems intended to make the world a better place.

Beginning in the middle:
Sociology is a modern, established scientific discipline in disarray. Some would even say that it is not even truly a science, though a degree in sociology is a bachelor's degree in science. Many colleges have even begun to dismantle their sociology departments. As reported to me then in 2002, the problem is that sociologists cannot agree on a unifying sociological theory for why society functions as it does. I think I know why; and the answer explains, in part, the great diversity of Christian opinion about what Christianity should be.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Been Reading 1 Peter

Chapter 2

For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps,
22 who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in his mouth; 23 and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; 24 and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Crazy, busy time of year...
just normal but a maddening pace.
Working on the set for the spring musical,
still grading papers and can't move any of these grades to the next grading period--there is none! Extra meetings, extra paper work, extra chores every where I look.

Spring's a poppin', grass is growin' and many woody shrubs need trimmin'--
friend gave me bulbs to plant and these ain't planted yet
worked veggie beds have no plants yet either

tree down in the yard
most of the branches cut, the trunk waits for some of my attention, too
you, Dear Reader, remain neglected
while I stab at a thousand other things around me to do

and, "Yes," sometimes I sit and pray and meditate on the goodness, wonder, beauty, holiness...
the pure depths of the Father