Faith

Religulous

220px-Religulous_posterTonight I finished watching Religulous (2008,R).  From ScreenIt!:

Comedian Bill Maher explores and questions various religions around the world by interviewing those of faith about their beliefs.

My main take-away from this film is that it is easy to find people who can't thoughtfully answer skeptical questions about their faith.  I think that for most of us much of what we believe about God…or politics or whatever…has mostly been received and accepted…rather than examined from a skeptical perspective and adopted because it was the rational conclusion from the available evidence.  This becomes clear as we are challenged to justify our religious or political views.  I suspect that often there is also an inverse relationship between how strongly a belief is held and how deeply we have examined it.  In this film Maher doesn't engage deep thinkers in a serious discussion, but instead makes the hapless rubes look foolish…I guess that's his thing.

In one section that caught my interest, Maher asserts a long list of striking parallels between the story of Jesus and earlier Egyptian myths.  According to Wikipedia, there isn't much substance to this either.

I thought it was interesting to examine how I felt as Maher addressed religions other than my own.  I think we'll tend to agree with Maher's critique of everyone else but ourselves.  This takes me to a realization that everyone else is in that same position, and that to be consistent I should only be comfortable with my religion having a role in government, for example, that I would be comfortable with for someone else's religion.

The monologue that ends the film also caught my attention:

The plain fact is, religion must die for mankind to live. The hour is getting very late to be able to indulge in having in key decisions made by religious people. By irrationalists, by those who would steer the ship of state not by a compass, but by the equivalent of reading the entrails of a chicken. George Bush prayed a lot about Iraq, but he didn't learn a lot about it. Faith means making a virtue out of not thinking. It's nothing to brag about. And those who preach faith, and enable and elevate it are intellectual slaveholders, keeping mankind in a bondage to fantasy and nonsense that has spawned and justified so much lunacy and destruction. Religion is dangerous because it allows human beings who don't have all the answers to think that they do. Most people would think it's wonderful when someone says, "I'm willing, Lord! I'll do whatever you want me to do!" Except that since there are no gods actually talking to us, that void is filled in by people with their own corruptions and limitations and agendas. And anyone who tells you they know, they just know what happens when you die, I promise you, you don't. How can I be so sure? Because I don't know, and you do not possess mental powers that I do not. The only appropriate attitude for man to have about the big questions is not the arrogant certitude that is the hallmark of religion, but doubt. Doubt is humble, and that's what man needs to be, considering that human history is just a litany of getting shit dead wrong. This is why rational people, anti-religionists, must end their timidity and come out of the closet and assert themselves. And those who consider themselves only moderately religious really need to look in the mirror and realize that the solace and comfort that religion brings you actually comes at a terrible price. If you belonged to a political party or a social club that was tied to as much bigotry, misogyny, homophobia, violence, and sheer ignorance as religion is, you'd resign in protest. To do otherwise is to be an enabler, a mafia wife, for the true devils of extremism that draw their legitimacy from the billions of their fellow travelers. If the world does come to an end here, or wherever, or if it limps into the future, decimated by the effects of religion-inspired nuclear terrorism, let's remember what the real problem was that we learned how to precipitate mass death before we got past the neurological disorder of wishing for it. That's it. Grow up or die.

That's not nearly the whole story of reality, but there's enough truth in there to make a very strong case for self-examination and for asking ourselves the tough questions regardless of whether Maher asks them.

Not because I think it reveals much interesting substance, but because I think it provokes questions that are normally too little examined…I give it 4 out of 5.

Pilgrim Heart

pilgrim

Last spring I finished reading Pilgrim Heart: The Way of Jesus in Everyday Life by Darryl Tippens while leading a Sunday AM class studying it at church.

From the product description:

Originally, the way of Jesus was considered a distinctive way of life rather than a sophisticated theological system. Pilgrim Heart re-imagines discipleship as - first and foremost - a particular way of life guided by a set of simple, but powerful, daily practices known to the earliest disciples and the saints through the ages. These include: Friendship; Sabbath Rest; Hospitality; Confession; Forgiveness; Listening; Discernment; Singing; Creating; Telling Stories. How would this approach to the religion of Jesus change the way we think and live? Pilgrim Heart is an invitation to consider afresh the way of Jesus in light of practices that have proven to transform lives for two thousand years.

I enjoyed the book, although it was lighter on explicit references from the New Testament than I would have expected for a book about "the way of Jesus."  My favorite chapter was "Welcoming: Opening Doors to Strangers" in which Tippens describes the radical, self-sacrificial hospitality that many Christians practiced during the first few centuries AD.  I previously reproduced a big quote from that chapter and why it stood out to me here: link.

I gave the book 4 out of 5 stars.

Just Walk Across the Room

walk

I recently finished reading Just Walk Across the Room by Bill Hybels.

From the book's description:

What if you knew that by simply crossing the room and saying hello to someone, you could change that person's forever? Just a few steps to make an eternal difference. It has nothing to do with methods and everything to do with taking a genuine interest in another human being. All you need is a heart that's in tune with the Holy Spirit and a willingness to venture out of your 'Circle of Comfort' and into another person's life.

I started reading it a few years back in our small group, but I didn't make to the end until now.  I appreciated the encouragement to be the kind of person who walks across the room, breaks the ice, and reaches out to make a connection.  However, to me this is one of those books that would have made a good article or pamphlet but seemed a stretched thin as a book.  I gave it 2 out of 5 stars.

Amish Grace

AmishGrace I recently finished reading "Amish Grace: How Forgiveness Transcended Tragedy" by Donald B. Kraybill, Steven M. Nolt, and David L. Weaver-Zercher.  From Wikipedia:

When a group of Amish schoolgirls are taken hostage and killed in their classroom, their parents and the Amish community of Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania, stun the outside world by immediately forgiving the killer.

I previously new very little about the Amish (mostly from the film Witness?).  As I learned more, I couldn't help but notice some similarities to my own heritage.  I loved the book both because of its thoughtful examination of the nature of forgiveness and because it's a fascinating story of a group of Christians who obviously and in many ways aren't excusing themselves from being transformed by the radical, counter-cultural demands of the gospel.

I gave it 4 out of 5 stars.

This quote from page 12 caught my attention:

“We believe in letting our light shine,” said one Amish father, “but not shining it in the eyes of other people.”

I love that phrase.  It reminds me of 1 Thess. 4:9-12:

9 Now about your love for one another we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other. 10 And in fact, you do love all of God’s family throughout Macedonia. Yet we urge you, brothers and sisters, to do so more and more, 11 and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, 12 so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.

The Amish take very seriously what Jesus said about forgiveness in Matthew 6.  From page 95 of the book:

To say that the Lord’s Prayer is a “good, well-rounded prayer” covers a lot of territory. But the prayer’s words about forgiveness “forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” ring loud in Amish ears. One elder explained emphatically, “Forgiveness is the only thing that Jesus underscored in the Lord’s Prayer. Do you know that Jesus speaks about forgiveness in the two verses right after the Lord’s Prayer? So you see, it’s really central to the Lord’s Prayer. It’s really intense.”

The fundamentals of Amish forgiveness are embedded in those two verses: “For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6: 14-15).

The Amish believe if they don’t forgive, they won’t be forgiven. This forms the core of Amish spirituality and the core of their understanding of salvation: forgiveness from God hinges on a willingness to forgive others. The crucial phrase, repeated frequently by the Amish in conversations, sermons, and essays, is this: to be forgiven, we must forgive.

This notion was never clearer than in the aftermath of the Nickel Mines shooting. In response to a flood of inquiries about how the Amish could forgive, local leaders provided an explanation in an unsigned letter: “There has been some confusion about our community’s forgiving attitude, [but] if we do not forgive, how can we expect to he forgiven? By not forgiving, it will be more harmful to ourselves than to the one that did the evil deed.”

Here's an interesting passage from pages 126-128 where the authors explore the meaning of forgiveness:

Forgiveness is a concept that everyone understands - until they’re asked to define it. Many Christians say that people should forgive because God forgave them. The Amish say that people should forgive so that God will forgive them. But those statements point to theological motivations for offering forgiveness; they do not define what forgiveness is. Others argue that forgiveness brings emotional healing to the forgiving person, but this psychological motive for forgiveness also fails to define forgiveness.

In recent years, psychologists such as Robert D. Enright and Everett E. Worthington Jr. have helped to define forgiveness and examine its effects. As a result of their clinical research, both Enright and Worthington have come to believe that forgiveness is good for the person who offers it, reducing “anger, depression, anxiety, and fear” and affording “cardiovascular and immune system benefits.” To make that claim, however, they’ve needed to clarify what forgiveness is and what it is not.

Enright, in his book Forgiveness Is a Choice, uses philosopher Joanna North’s definition of forgiveness: “When unjustly hurt by another, we forgive when we overcome the resentment toward the offender, not by denying our right to the resentment, but instead by trying to offer the wrongdoer compassion, benevolence, and love.” In Enright’s view, this definition highlights three essential aspects of forgiveness: that the offense is taken seriously (“the offense was unfair and will always continue to he unfair”), that victims have “a moral right to anger,” and that for forgiveness to take place, victims must “give up” their right to anger and resentment. In sum, forgiveness is “a gift to our offender,” who may not necessarily deserve it.

Forgiveness, then, is both psychological and social: psychological because the forgiver is personally changed by the release of resentment, and social because forgiveness involves another person. That other person, the wrongdoer, may or may not change as a result of the forgiveness. In fact, Enright and many other scholars argue that forgiveness does not and should not depend on the remorse or apology of the offender. Rather, forgiveness is unconditional, an unmerited gift that replaces negative feelings toward the wrongdoer with love and generosity. “In spite of everything that the offender has done,” writes Enright, forgiveness means treating the offender “as a member of the human community.”

There are certain things, however, that forgiveness does not mean. Partly in response to their critics, forgiveness advocates have developed a long list of things that forgiveness is not: it is not pretending that a wrong did not occur, it is not forgetting that it happened, and it is not condoning or excusing it. To the contrary, “forgiveness means admitting that what was done was wrong and should not be repeated.” Similarly, forgiveness is not the same thing as pardon. In other words, granting forgiveness does not mean that the wrongdoer is now free from suffering the disciplinary consequences of his or her actions (for example, legal or other forms of discipline).

Finally, forgiveness should not he confused with reconciliation - the restoring of a relationship. That’s because “reconciliation requires a renewal of trust, and sometimes that is not possible.” Forgiveness may open the door to reconciliation, and in some ways is a prerequisite for reconciliation, but a victim may forgive an offender without reconciliation taking place. For instance, a victim of domestic abuse may forgive her abuser but at the same time seek legal means to keep him at a distance. Forgiveness advocates such as Enright even argue that forgiving  a dead person is both possible and appropriate, even though reconciliation cannot take place in such cases.

In the following passage from pages 175-177 the authors emphasize how truly counter-cultural Amish Grace really is:

To hear the Amish explain it, the New Testament provides the pattern for their unique form of spirituality. In a certain sense they are right. The Amish take the words of’ Jesus with utmost seriousness, and members frequently explain their faith by citing Jesus or other New Testament texts. But the Amish way of life cannot be reduced simply to taking the Bible or even Jesus seriously. Rather, Amish spirituality emerges from their particular ways of understanding the biblical text, a lens that’s been shaped by their nonviolent martyr tradition.  With the martyrs hovering nearby, offering admonition and encouragement, the Amish have esteemed suffering over vengeance, Uffgevva over striving, and forgiveness over resentment. All Christians can read Jesus’ words in Matthew’s Gospel “forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” but Amish people truly believe that their own forgiveness is bound up in their willingness to forgive others. For them, forgiveness is more than a good thing to do. It is absolutely central to the Christian faith.

All of this helps us understand how the Nickel Mines Amish could do the unimaginable: extend forgiveness to their children’s killer within hours of their deaths. The decision to forgive came quickly, almost instinctively. Moreover, it came in deeds as well as words, with concrete expressions of care for the gunman’s family. For the Amish, the test of faith is action. Beliefs are important, and words are too, but actions reveal the true character of one’s faith. Therefore to really forgive means to act in forgiving ways - in this case, by expressing care for the family of the killer.

In a world where the default response is more often revenge than forgiveness, all of this is inspiring. At the same time, the fact that forgiveness is so deeply woven into the fabric of Amish life should alert us that their example, inspiring as it is, is not easily transferable to other people in other situations. Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but how does one imitate a habit that’s embedded in a way of life anchored in a five-hundred-year history?

Most North Americans, formed by the assumptions of liberal democracy and consumer capitalism, carry a dramatically different set of cultural habits. In fact, many North Americans might conclude that certain Amish habits are problematic, if not utterly offensive. Submitting to the discipline of fallible church leaders? Forgoing personal acclaim? Constraining intellectual exploration? Abiding by restrictive gender roles? Declining to stand up for one’s rights? Refusing to fight for one’s country? Could any set of cultural habits be more out of sync with mainstream American culture?

Many observers missed the countercultural dimension of Amish forgiveness, or at least downplayed it, in the aftermath of the Nickel Mines shooting. Outsiders, typically impressed by what they saw, too often assumed that Amish grace represented the best in “us.” Few commentators did this as crassly as the writer who equated the faith of the Amish with the faith of the Founding Fathers. In his mind, the Nickel Mines Amish were not acting counterculturally; they were simply extending a long American tradition of acting in loving, generous, and “Christian” ways. Other commentators, eager to find redemptive lessons in such a senseless event, offered simple platitudes. Rather than highlighting the painful self-renunciation that forgiveness (and much of Amish life) entails, they extolled Amish forgiveness as an inspiring expression of the goodness that resides in America’s heartland.

We are not suggesting that the Amish response to the shooting was not praiseworthy. We contend, however, that the countercultural value system from which it emerged was too often neglected in the tributes that followed in the wake of the shooting. As if to drive home the depth of this cultural divide, ministers in one Ohio Amish community forbade a member from giving public lectures on Amish forgiveness. Ironically, the very value system that compelled the Nickel Mines Amish to forgive Charles Roberts constrained a member’s freedom to talk about forgiveness with curious outsiders. No, the Amish response at Nickel Mines was not so much the “best of America” as it was an expression of love by a people who every day challenge many of the values the rest of us hold clear.

Falwell and Race

I was shocked by the following passage from a recent article by Richard Hughes (Professor of Religion at Messiah College), the third article in his series on the Christian Right (link):

In 1958, four years after the Supreme Court handed down its landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision, outlawing racial segregation in America's public schools, Falwell thundered from his Thomas Road Baptist Church pulpit, "If Chief Justice Warren and his associates had known God's word and had desired to do the Lord's will, I am quite confident that the 1954 decision would never have been made. ... The facilities should be separate. When God has drawn a line of distinction, we should not attempt to cross that line."

Later, he rejected the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as "civil wrongs," distributed FBI-generated propaganda defaming the character of Martin Luther King Jr., and attacked King as a Communist in a sermon he preached from the pulpit of his Thomas Road Baptist Church in 1964.

Then, in 1966, he side-stepped Brown v. Board of Education by establishing Lynchburg Christian Academy which the Lynchburg News described as "a private school for white students."

Falwell's school was one of literally thousands of segregationist academies established by white Christians in the American South to avoid compliance with federal law regarding racial integration.

Apparently Falwell's views evolved significantly during the subsequent decades, but I was ignorant of his shameful reaction to the civil rights movement.

Teaching Evolutionary Science in a Christian College Context

Three professors from Christian colleges (including Jim Nichols of church-of-Christ-affiliated Abilene Christian)  discuss teaching evolutionary science to Christian undergraduates in a video at The BioLogos Forum (link):

By Their Creator

During a speech last week (link), President Obama ad-libbed a bit (departed from the prepared text of the speech) to quote the Declaration of Independence and (presumably inadvertently) omitted the words "endowed by their Creator".  Obama spoke:

We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal, endowed with certain inalienable rights: life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Never mind that Obama ended the speech by saying...

God bless you, and God bless the United States of America.

...many conservatives (e.g. The Weekly Standard) have pounced and questioned whether or not Obama believes that our rights come from our Creator (Nature’s God” and “the Supreme Judge of the World”, as the Declaration says).

Sadly the epidemic of Obama Derangement Syndrome is now so rampant that the White House had to release this pitiful statement today (link):

“The President is in full agreement with the Declaration of Independence.  Any suggestion to the contrary is just silly.”(Josh Earnest, Deputy White House Press Secretary)

Imagine if, during the presidency of George W. Bush, I had a habit of highlighting every time President Bush didn't get a quote or statement exactly right in one of his speeches or press conferences.  How petty would that have been?  You'd have considered such nitpicking, coming from  me at least, to be low and unseemly.  You'd have been right.

This reminds me of P.Z. Myers recent criticism of "conspiracy theories" regarding Obama's religion and politics (link):

Please, fellow godless folk, stop trying to claim Obama as one of us. He isn't. He goes to church sometimes, he has a religious history, he's happy to use Christian metaphors, he hasn't claimed to be so much as an agnostic. He's a liberal Christian who is not obsessed with religion. Take his words at face value; I find it annoying when people look for signs that he's a hidden member of our little clan. It is so conspiracy-theory...

Obama is not a socialist or a communist or a Luo tribesman. He is a centrist politician from Chicago who believes in improving peoples lives incrementally by working step by step through political compromise. He pisses off the liberal, progressive wing of the Democratic party because we want him to be bold and aggressive, and he's not, and because he's also comfortable with the military-industrial status quo. He really  annoys the wingnut right because he wants to move the country away from their dreams of a Reaganesque/Randian capitalist paradise, and he is…slowly and tentatively.

That's really all you need to know to comprehend what Obama is doing and how he works. It's sufficient to explain everything. We don't have to postulate that he's a reincarnated Mau Mau chieftain or that he's a secret communist plant. He's just a traditional middle-of-the-road politician from the Midwest.

(I knew that many of Obama's conservative critics want to believe that he is an atheist but hadn't realized that many atheists want to believe the same thing).

This also reminds me of a cartoon: link.

Remembering 9/11

Today Todd Bouldin suggested a "radical new way" to remember 9/11 that, ironically, is not new at all:

“Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody.  If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.  Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for ‘revenge is mine,’ says the Lord…Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

The Apostle Paul, Romans 12

I was thinking along the same lines yesterday while reading a guest column on WaPo's On Faith site by a fellow Lipscomb graduate: "Terry Jones is not the enemy."  In the column, David French laments the fact that the public has been distracted from its focus on our "real enemy" by Terry Jones' "stupid and senseless" Qur'an-burning stunt:

Terry Jones wasn't burning Qur'ans on September 10, 2001. He wasn't burning Qur'ans when the "Blind Sheik" plotted the first World Trade Center bombing or when Pan Am Flight 103 blew up over Lockerbie, Scotland. Our enemies don't need Terry Jones to hate us or to recruit thousands of suicide bombers and tens of thousands of jihadists. So on this week of remembrance, let's take the cameras off the crank from Florida and put them instead on the yawning gap in the New York skyline and on the soldiers who fight to make sure the enemy can never strike again.

David concludes:

The media has made Terry Jones. The media can unmake him. And they should - after all, there's a real enemy out there to challenge, to shame, and to defeat.

As I read those sentences, one of the thoughts that came to my mind was what was conspicuously missing from that list of things we should do to our enemy: love them.

I wouldn't claim that I know how to love Al-Qaeda, but I have no doubt that loving them is what Christians are called to do.  This highlights to me the difficulty of  consistently following both the way of nationalism and the way of Christ.  Frankly, I don't know how a nation can simultaneously resist evil and follow Christ's radical command to not resist an evil person or follow the example of early Christians who submitted to painful death rather than take up weapons of earthly violence to resist persecution by the Roman empire.  This is why the concept of a "Christian nation" almost seems like an oxymoron or sorts.  Even if we focus only on the actions of an individual Christian, I'm too confused about how one consistently marries citizenship in earthly kingdoms with citizenship in the heavenly one to advise anyone about what they should or shouldn't do in matters like these of national defense, responding to Al-Qaeda, etc.

On a related subject, this past week I was annoyed by the admonitions to "Support the victims of the September 11 terrorist attack" by adding a little red 9/11 tag on the corner of your twitter avatar.  To me, that seemed like a lousy way to actually support the victims of 9/11.  I decided to google a way to help provide financial support to 9/11 victims.  I was surprised to find that I couldn't easily find such an option.  I learned that there was a fund created by Congress that provided compensation to victims that agreed not to sue the airlines.  There was also a September 11th Fund that raised and distributed > $500 million before it concluded in 2004.  I didn't find much else.  The few other organizations I found (link,link,link) seemed to be more about education and remembrance but not so much about actual support of victims.

This caused me to wonder: do the victims of 9/11 still need our support?  If so, why isn't there an easy way to do so that is more direct and more impactful than the superficial changing of a twitter avatar?

The Invention of Lying

200px-Invention_of_lying_ver2 A couple weeks back we watched The Invention of Lying (2009,PG-13).  From ScreenIt!:

In a world where no form of lying exists, be that fibs, flattery or even fiction, a recently fired screenwriter unexpectedly develops the ability to lie and uses that to his advantage, but must then deal with the repercussions of everyone else accepting what he says at face value. 

Gervais is one of my favorite entertainers, so I wasn't surprised when I enjoyed the film...not that it was perfect; like others (e.g. Daniel Carlson) I thought it had a great premise that started to fall a bit flat after a while.  Nevertheless, I thought it was quite interesting and enjoyable...despite its shortcomings. 

After watching it, I suspected that the film was controversial when it was released, and my suspicions were confirmed as I poked around on the interwebs a bit.

For example, from Kyle Smith (atheist and film critic for the NY Post):

The movie is a full-on attack on religion in general and Christianity in particular. It might be the most blatantly, one-sidedly atheist movie ever released by a major studio...Gervais is an atheist, which is fine, but his mean-spiritedness (even before the atheism theme enters the movie, it’s sour and misanthropic) and the film’s reduction of all religion to an episode of crowd hysteria are not going to be warmly received. Except maybe by critics.

From Michele McGinty (Christian blogger):

I have no problem watching movies written by atheists, I went to see the "Golden Compass." I have no problem watching movies that mock or excoriate Christians, I thought "The Big Kahuna" was brilliant. So, if they had been honest about the intent of the film, I might have been tempted to see it. Knowing that I'll be mocked is one thing but being duped into paying to see a movie that insults me as a gullible sap is another. It's a good thing I'm not gullible enough to go see a movie without reading a review first.

To all those atheists who want to convince us using Gervais' tactics, I say: ridiculing Christianity by treating us like we're gullible dupes who would believe anything we're told isn't a way to demonstrate that Christianity is false. Our faith is reasonable and we know it even though atheists have convinced themselves it is not. Ridicule doesn't work because we're used to it.The Roman soldiers and the Jews mocked Jesus when he was flogged and crucified. And Paul warned us that the intellectuals of the world consider us foolish...

Why was the film so offensive to some?  It depicts Gervais' character making up God and the afterlife to comfort his dying mother.  When others hear about the "lies" that he tells, it snowballs.  To quench their thirst for knowledge about God, he proclaims a list of ten revelations (the film only reveals 8 of them):

  • Number 1: There is a man in the sky who controls everything
  • Number 2: When you die, you don’t disappear into an eternity of nothingness. Instead, you go to a really great place.
  • Number 3: In that place, everyone will get a mansion.
  • Number 4: When you die, all the people you love will be there.
  • Number 5: When you die, there will be free ice cream for everyone, all day and all night, whatever flavors you can think of.
  • Number 6: If you do bad things, you won’t get to go to this great place when you die (You get three chances).
  • Number 9: The man in the sky who controls everything decides if you go to the good place or the bad place. He also decides who lives and who dies.
  • Number 10: Even if the man in the sky does bad things to you, he makes up for it with an eternity of good stuff after you die.

These revelations prompt reactions like these from Gervais' character's audience:

  • “That guy’s evil!”
  • “That guy’s a coward!”
  • “He’s kind of a good guy, but he’s also kind of a prick, too.”
  • “I say f@#! the man in the sky!”

As I read some of the press about the film, I was struck by how different my reaction was compared to what I was reading.  I understand why some Christians might feel offended (threatened?) by this caricature their Christian belief, but my inclination wasn't to be offended. 

For one, I found it interesting as a glimpse of what faith looks like to an atheist.  That's worth knowing on a purely intellectual level as well as being quite helpful for the sake of having a fruitful conversation with an atheist (as opposed to talking at one).  Secondly, although Gervais' lies are certainly a caricature (an over-simplified exaggeration) of the Christian faith, they strike me as highlighting intellectual dilemma's that many Christians struggle with and, in some ways, aren't really that far removed from some of the things I and others believe.  Looking at those revelations listed above I think: "When you put it that way (and I can understand why Gervais, from his perspective, would put it that way), it does seem kind of like something unbelievable or made-up."  It's not exactly unusual for me to have similar thoughts as I read scripture.  I think that faith is worth a examination...taking a close look at what I believe...subjecting it to the criticisms of people like Gervais and seeing how well it stands up.  This stuff is too important to leave unexamined while taking an artificially smooth life's-journey in autopilot mode. 

That is, I seem to take a film like this as opportunity to understand Gervais perspective and to better understand mine, not an opportunity to take offense.

This reminded me of Kevin DeYoung's question from earlier this year (written in the aftermath of Brit Hume's controversial comments about Tiger Wood's Buddhist faith vs. Christianity); DeYoung asked: Why Are We So Offended All the Time?  Some excerpts:

Offendedness is just about the last shared moral currency in our country. And, I’m sorry, but it’s really annoying. We don’t discuss ideas or debate arguments, we try to figure out who is most offended...Why is everyone in such a hurry to be hurt?  For starters, being hurt is easier than being right. To prove you’re offended you just have to rustle up moral indignation and tell the world about it. To prove you’re right you actually have to make arguments and use logic and marshal evidence....As Christians, we worship a victimized Lord. We should expect to suffer and should have particular compassion on those who hurt emotionally and physically. But we do not resemble the Suffering Servant when we take pains to show off our suffering. I’m not thinking of the Brit Hume ordeal now. I’m just thinking in general how we are tempted to gain the culture’s approval by playing the culture’s offense-taking game. If a law is broken or a legitimate right taken away, let us protest with passion. But if we are misunderstood or even reviled let’s not go after short-lived and half-hearted affirmation by announcing our offendedness for the world to hear. Every time we try to make hay out of misplaced calumnies, we hasten the demise of Christianity in the public square. As offendedness becomes the barometer of acceptable discourse, we can expect further marginalization of Christian beliefs. So buck up brothers and sisters. Most often in this country, we are not victims because of our faith. There are just as many people, it seems to me, standing to Brit Hume’s defense as they are pillorying him. Let every Tom, Dick, and Harry in the world be crushed to (phony) emotional pieces when their ideas are scrutinized. We can chart a different course and trust that our beliefs can handle Keith Olberman’s disapproval. We have no reason to be anxious, every reason to be joyful, and fewer reasons than we think to be offended.

Love him as yourself

Lately I've been following the Tea Party Jesus tumblelog that (from an obviously politically liberal point of view) puts the "words of Christians in the mouth of Christ" by inserting quotes from Christians into cartoons of Jesus as commentary on the non-Christ-like things that Christians sometimes say.  On the blog you can "[c]lick each picture to find out who really said it."  The last two have been related to immigration: link and link.

As pointed out today by Andrew Sullivan...

In the context of discussions about the morality of homosexual relationships, gay marriage, etc., Christians commonly cite passages from Leviticus like Lev. 18:22 and Lev. 20:13.  However, those aren't the only OT passages that may have some relevance to current topics of political discussion:

Leviticus 19:33-34 (NIV)

When an alien lives with you in your land, do not mistreat him. The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt.

See also:

I would not argue that the most prudent policies of our country on either of these complex issues are straightforward conclusions from these scriptures alone.  However, if you consider Leviticus to be relevant to one issue, you might want to consider whether it is relevant to the other.

Update 2010-04-30:
I'm not an advocate for illegal immigration and am not claiming that any of those verses excuse it. However, it seems clear that God has a special concern for the alien and the stranger. Therefore, I am an advocate for compassion and for being especially careful in avoiding collateral damage in any effort to address illegal immigration.

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