Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Knowledge and Wikipedia

So today, Wikipedia has created a blackout on their website to raise awareness of and opposition to the SOPA and PIPA bills that are being debated in the House and Senate. I understand that Obama intends to veto them if they make it to his desk, so I'm not particularly worried about anything to begin with.

I don't feel like taking the time to study the legal intricacies of what these involve, but I believe it has to do with fighting internet piracy. I think the desire there is good, but the implementation apparently isn't.

It really caught my attention when Wikipedia put this image up on their website that says, "Imagine a world without free knowledge."

I'll be the first to say how much I enjoy having online access to all sorts of helpful information. But it alarmed me to think that we've all become so dependent on the internet to tell us what we know, that we've stopped even considering other sources of knowledge. So much of my life is stored in my online accounts. 

But I've also been fairly deliberate about having some non-electronic means of recording and remembering what's important to me. Part of why I've blogged less the last couple of years is because I write fairly regularly in a journal. (I'm actually on my second one.) I have a separate journal where I've started writing down bits of things that I want to learn and remember. I may make a post explaining my method there some time.

This idea of "all knowledge comes from the internet" has me thinking a lot about just how much we feed ourselves from one source, in comparison to how much we feed on the word of God, and how much we ponder what we could be learning from our life's experiences. I'm challenging myself here with the content of Psalm 19, which describes some sources of meaningful knowledge that are neglected too often these days:

Psalm 19
    For the director of music. A psalm of David.
 1 The heavens declare the glory of God;
   the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
2 Day after day they pour forth speech;
   night after night they reveal knowledge.
3 They have no speech, they use no words;
   no sound is heard from them.
4 Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
   their words to the ends of the world.
In the heavens God has pitched a tent for the sun.
 5 It is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber,
   like a champion rejoicing to run his course.
6 It rises at one end of the heavens
   and makes its circuit to the other;
   nothing is deprived of its warmth.
 7 The law of the LORD is perfect,
   refreshing the soul.
The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy,
   making wise the simple.
8 The precepts of the LORD are right,
   giving joy to the heart.
The commands of the LORD are radiant,
   giving light to the eyes.
9 The fear of the LORD is pure,
   enduring forever.
The decrees of the LORD are firm,
   and all of them are righteous.
 10 They are more precious than gold,
   than much pure gold;
they are sweeter than honey,
   than honey from the honeycomb.
11 By them your servant is warned;
   in keeping them there is great reward.
12 But who can discern their own errors?
   Forgive my hidden faults.
13 Keep your servant also from willful sins;
   may they not rule over me.
Then I will be blameless,
   innocent of great transgression.
 14 May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart
   be pleasing in your sight,
   LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.

Library Card

One of my New Year resolutions is to start reading more.  Specifically, I am trying to broaden my knowledge in several areas that I see as possible options for future specialization.

Our church building shares its parking lot with the public library, and it seemed like a great idea for me to start going over and checking out books on a regular basis to keep feeding my interests.

I live in another county (less than 1 mile over the line), and apparently to get a free card, I need to live in Davidson County.  I have been really excited to get my new library card, but learned this morning that if I want one, I'll have to pay up.  So presently, I'm pondering my options.

I got tickled at 2 aspects of this e-mail they sent me:

  1. The title of the e-mail as compared to the content. A bit of a let down.
  2. The grammar in line 2.  I would have expected a little better from a librarian. :-)

Thursday, January 12, 2012

If you really love Jesus, you would have to love "religion", too.

Lately there has been this YouTube video popping up everywhere of Jefferson Bethke reciting a poem of his composition where he contrasts what he calls false "religion" with Jesus. I think it is an excellent example of what I see as a prevalent mentality among many of my peers.  If you want to read the full text of this poem click here. Let me say what I like about it first, then I want to offer a couple of critiques.

Jefferson is correct to be critical of hypocrisy. In every generation, there have been hypocrites and there have been sincere believers. I agree that it isn't ok to continue being involved in all sorts of sinful practices while pretending to be a strong Christian. I would also agree that there have been people in authoritative places within churches who have abused their power and have failed to show enough grace and mercy toward Christians who have made mistakes. He is right to urge that mercy, forgiveness, and grace should be shown to those who are struggling.

 But there are a number of issues here that I find extremely problematic.

 First, he equates all religion with hypocrisy. This is simply not true in history or in my personal experiences. I've known many people who like to skip out on church involvement who love to play the hypocrisy card. "Some church people do _____, and I just don't want to be around hypocrites." He is right to critique aspects of church life that are hypocritical or overly harsh, but it isn't true that all experiences with religion are inherently hypocritical. Many of his attacks are misdirected, in my judgment, because they seem to operate off of this assumption. He makes a rather weak statement near the end about how he loves church, the Bible, and believes in sin, but he hasn't left much room in his mindset for where these could take part in what is going on. I've known many Christians who are not hypocrites at all, and who would go out of their way to show repentance toward anyone they had treated in a way that was taken badly. He really overstates his case against whatever he means by "religion."

As is common with those influenced by Calvinist teaching, he goes too far in reducing the responsibilities of a Christian in response to Christ's sacrifice. It is absolutely true that Jesus paid the price for our sins and that nothing we do is capable of meriting our salvation. But he sets up some really bad dichotomies connected to his view of what Christ did and what Christians should do.

  • He says, "Jesus and religion are on opposite spectrums. See one's the work of God, but one's a man made invention." What do you say, then, about all the times in the Gospels that Jesus shows a clear dedication to following the laws, holidays, and teachings of the Torah? There was much patternistic behavior, both in Judaism, and later in Christianity. To suggest that anything involving rules and routines is man-made is misstated at best. 
  • He says, "See because religion says do, Jesus says done." Jesus indicated that his work upon the cross was finished, but upon his resurrection, he certainly didn't tell us we are "done." In fact, his last words begin with, "Go!" Jesus was very interested in our doings. 
  •  He says, "Religion says slave, Jesus says son. Religion puts you in bondage, while Jesus sets you free." This line, to me, reveals a disturbing lack of Scriptural knowledge for someone making bold faith statements. I'll probably never have trouble remembering the Greek word for slave (doulos!) because it shows up in the New Testament so frequently to describe Christians. Romans 1:1, Romans 6:18, Ephesians 6:6, James 1:1, etc. We are to be slaves of Christ. We're set free from the bondage of sin, but we are also meaningfully committed to serving our new Master, and not just kneeling at his cross.
  • He says, "Religion is man searching for God, Christianity is God searching for man."  I would think it is much more accurate to say that Christianity is God seeking man, but man also seeking God.  Paul says in Philippians 3:10, "I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection."  Jesus instructs us in Matthew 6:33, "But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness."  Yes, God has sought us out and paid the price we could not pay, but if we are to find him, we must seek him. Seeking God is not the opposite of Christianity.  I think all of these dichotomies are really unfortunate.  
I think he is correct in saying that we're all sinners, and we shouldn't pretend that we've been otherwise.  But I don't agree with his harsh words about "behavior modification" not addressing some of the roots of the problem.  Jesus said in Matthew 12:34, "Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks."  Actions are an indication of what is inside of us.  Behavior modification should positively be an outcome of faith in Christ.  I think Jefferson would acknowledge this point, as he is so critical of people going to church while living promiscuously.  But his harsh words about the apparent non-merit of behavior, combined with his echoing of the false accusation of Jesus' enemies--that Jesus was a drunkard and a glutton--pave the way for tremendous moral laxity, despite his critique of hypocrisy.  Yes, you'll never be good enough to justify salvation on your own accord, but you are a much better person for trying to live by patterns, rules, and principles that the Church has tried to embody since the beginning.

I guess these days, people have started using the word "discipleship" to talk about what I think was really meant originally by the word "religion."  Religion came from a latin term that described the behavior of monks, who had very strict ways of ordering their life's rhythms.  Everyone has a religion.  Your religion is the way you prioritize and organize your life, combined with the way you live out these priorities.  You really can't get closer to God without regularly putting yourself in the presence of God through prayer, worship, Scriptural study, and other acts of obedience.  You can become a Christian, regardless of what you've been doing recently, but without a plan and pattern of action, you'll not likely be a very good one.

I am probably overstating some of my critiques, and I imagine that Jefferson would say his main interest is in taking on hypocritical practices that rely on legalism rather than on truly loving and knowing Christ.  In that area, I agree with him.

He has put together a really thought-provoking poem, and I appreciate his candidness in talking about the importance of Christ in his life.  I just think some of his Calvinist underpinnings end up causing him to create a set of priorities that doesn't ultimately make for good disciples.