Thursday, February 25, 2010


Human civilization is older than we thought. I love discoveries like this that shake up what we thought we knew and force us to rethink our assumptions.

Not everyone does, of course. It makes me wonder how the young-earth creationists will spin (or dismiss) this to keep the age of the universe within their 6,000-year time frame.

Even more noteworthy than the age of the ruins, to me at least, is how this discovery suggests that religious observance predates every other aspect of human civilization, rather than being its byproduct. Such evidence that spirituality is an innate human trait may not prove the existence (or nonexistence) of God, but it does allow for the possibility that we long for something beyond the world around us because there's something beyond this world to long for.

Saturday, February 20, 2010


Continuing on with the concept of apophatic theology (referenced here), it's not something I've studied much, but it makes a certain amount of sense. If God is the infinite being that Christians believe in, then any labels we apply to him (including this pronoun) cause us to create a mental construct that's necessarily finite and therefore not an accurate picture of God.

As soon as we say that God is good or loving or just, we've automatically limited God based on our own finite understanding of goodness, love or justice. Even if we don't intend to place God in a box, it is inevitable that we will do so given our inability to truly comprehend infinity. Thus the apophatic tradition of speaking of God only in negative terms: God is not evil, God is not imperfect, etc.

Ultimately such an approach has its limitations; the biblical authors used positive terms to describe God on many occasions, which suggests that there is merit in doing so at least some of the time. Furthermore, if God is as relational as he (or she, or they, or no pronoun at all if you prefer) appears to be in the Bible, then we hamper our ability to have a relationship with our Creator if we completely abandon the use of positive definitions to help us in our relating.

Thus we confront a paradox: we cannot accurately describe God using positive terms, yet at some point we need to. Unfortunately too many people are quick to dismiss the paradoxes of faith without recognizing that paradox is a necessary element of any effort to grasp that which lies beyond our comprehension. That's not to say that every apparent contradiction is a genuine paradox, but proper humility requires that we acknowledge that what appears to us to be an irresolvable contradiction may make perfect sense from a higher perspective.

Living in the tension between two conflicting truths can seem an impossibility at times: rely too heavily on positive terms to describe God, and before long God begins to look an awful lot like us, sharing our cultural biases, hating the people that we hate, endorsing the political causes we support and only loving those we view as 'sinners' conditionally. Move too far away from positive terms and God can quickly become an impersonal force in our minds, a distant power that we cannot relate to.

If there were a perfect balance that could be struck between the two extremes, no paradox would exist. But by living in the tension created by acknowledging both truths, we can self-correct as needed and continue to live in relationship with the God who defies all human definitions.

Friday, February 12, 2010


Sometimes wisdom comes in small packages. If nothing else, a good quote can make people stop and think, and that alone can be worthwhile. Here are a few thought-provoking quotes I've come across in recent months...

"A golden rule: we must judge men, not by their opinions, but by what their opinions make of them." -Georg Christoph Lichtenberg

“To be nobody but yourself in a world that's doing its best to make you somebody else, is to fight the hardest battle you are ever going to fight. Never stop fighting.” -ee cummings

"A ship in harbor is safe, but that's not why ships are built." (fortune cookie)

"Sometimes I think Christianity is like an archeological dig, where you have to learn to differentiate between the real artifacts, the stuff that's covering it up, and the stuff that the locals make to sell to tourists." (source unknown - seen on Facebook)

"I'd rather have questions I can't answer than answers I can't question." (source unknown)

And finally, on a slightly less serious note, a counterprotest done right...

Sunday, February 07, 2010


I think that atheism and fundamentalist religion as we know them will last barely a geological eye-blink just a few hundred or a few thousand years more. Then we will begin to understand that we are spiritual beings and animals; that the universe is impersonal and love preceded it; that we believe and we doubt; that a particle may be in one place and in another place at the same time; and that love is a chemical reaction and a revelation. Above all, I hope that we will someday understand that apophatic paradox is the blessed, creative, and freeing nature of reality, not a "problem."...

I believe that someday the celebration of the spiritual/material paradox will break down what now seems to be a "Berlin Wall" between secularism and religion in a way that transcends the boundaries of the world's monastic communities and science labs and explodes into the realm of general knowledge, just as the once far-fetched idea of a round earth revolving around the sun exploded from the theory of one or two scientists, eventually to become general knowledge.

Meanwhile, speaking as a father, I know that my concern for my children was not what they believed about me, but how they behaved and how they treated their mother, their siblings, their home, and their schools. My concern was not whether my children believed the right things about school but whether they did their homework. My concern was not whether they believed the correct things about families, but whether they were polite to their mother.

-Frank Schaeffer, Patience With God, pgs. 180-181

(For more information on apophatic theology, click here. It makes a lot of sense when you think about it - or at least it does to me.)

Those that still see the world in black and white, "us vs. them" terms will no doubt regard the above statement as nonsense at best, and dangerous heresy to be stamped out at worst. For those who have progressed beyond a Stage Three faith, the above will likely elicit a fervent prayer of agreement that humanity can one day outgrow its pettiness (and survive long enough to see that day).

That's not to say that all Stage Five individuals would agree about what that future will look like or how we can get there, but with the understanding that there is no "them" comes the realization that even major differences of opinion need not be settled violently. I'm enough of a realist (or cynic, if you prefer) to doubt whether human nature is improvable, but I cling to hope - and to my celebration of paradox - all the same.