Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Define Irony

iro-ny... 3 a (1): incongruity between the actual result of a sequence of events and the normal or expected result (2): an event or result marked by such incongruity.

So as I was walking from the bookstore to class, I saw a man at the end of the courtyard giving out books. Since I am a sucker for free books, I decided to walk in that direction. As I was approaching the vicinity of the gentleman I thought to myself, "Well, if it's another Bible, I'll pass--I've got plenty of those as it is!" As I drew nearer, the man thrust a handsome paperback my way and said "Origin of Species. One hundred fiftieth anniversary." "Well," said I, "I've already got one, but why not?" The evolutionists are handing out their Bibles now, I thought. As I walked away with my new copy of Darwin's classic I noticed something unusual, however, about this copy. "Introduction by Ray Comfort." Ray Comfort, Ray Comfort. I'm sure I know that name from somewhere. That right! He's the guy who wrote the very popular book on evangelism, Hell's Best Kept Secret. WHAAA? He wrote an introduction for Darwin's Origin of Species, and is encouraging people to hand out the book to college kids? Define irony.

So I opened the book to the epigraphs, all of them about free enquiry and education. Alongside quotes by Darwin, Scopes, and W. R. Thompson, is this representative nugget from some survey (which we are told was agreed upon by 84% of college graduates): "Teachers and students should have the academic freedom to discuss both the strengths and weaknesses of evolution as a scientific theory." Ok. So this is about not censoring Darwin. But wait, from a Christian evangelist?

So I opened the book further to the introduction and began reading. After a brief outline of Darwin's life and the very basic contours of the argument of the book, Comfort gradually offers a series of critiques of Darwin's work. He begins with soft criticism based on DNA mapping, which Darwin could not have possibly known about. The criticism raises in pitch with the discussion of transitional forms and the so-called missing link between humans and chimpanzees. Swiftly the discussion moves toward advocating for (you might have guessed by now) an Intelligent Designer. The slippery slope gets even more slippery when Comfort starts "revealing" the racism and sexism of social Darwinism, and reaches a climax with Adolf Hitler's affinity for Darwin (the heading for that section: "His Famous Student"). Comfort scales the rhetoric back a bit and comforts his audience by reminding them that Darwin was not, after all, an atheist (implied: so you shouldn't be, either). He empathizes: "So if I was [sic] an atheist, I would see that I have an intellectual dilemma." It's ok. You're a poor, misguided atheist. Let me explain something that makes more logical sense. Naturally, he then proceeds to outline an evangelical message, topping it all of with an altar-call: "To receive the gift of eternal life, you must repent of your sins (turn from them), and put on the Lord Jesus Christ as you would put on a parachute--trusting in Him alone for your salvation. ...Do it right now because you don't know when you will take that leap through the door of death. Confess your sins to God, put your trust in Jesus to save you, and you will pass from death to life. You have God's promise on it."

Now, I think all of this is basically correct. But I seriously doubt this amounts to a more logical frame of mind. How do you define irony? Well, expecting to receive a Bible, but then actually receiving (what is often considered) an atheist's bible--and that book actually ends up quoting the Bible. Yeah. I'd say that pretty well covers it.

So if you haven't read Darwin yet, keep your eyes out for people giving away free books. It might not be what you expect, but irony is meant to be enjoyed.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Imperial Christianity?

I just looked back at my earlier post about "Constantinian" Christianity. In my comment to a reader, I lamented the construction of a sort of edifice of "anti-imperial" Christianity (popular in post-Evangelical and emerging circles). The important part of that comment is the parenthetical remark that wonders what that means in our current context.

So, here's a question. How do we live a kind of Christianity that is subversive of Empire if there is no emperor? I mean, an Empire is a political system ostensibly directed and in some ways constituted by the necessary component of the emperor. Without an emperor what do we have? Either anarchy (which is certainly not the case currently--indeed, even the early church couldn't countenance anarchy [I shouldn't have to mention the authority of the apostles in the early church]), or some other form of government--oligarchy, democracy, etc. Now, we Americans live in a democratic republic of sorts, not an actual empire. So, it seems, the language of Empire is extended to the so-called 1st-world West--the colonial powers. But the late-capitalist system (that a great many of us agree is a problem) has grown beyond such powers and has taken on a trans-national character. In other words, if it is an empire, it is an empire without a (visible) emperor. Indeed, it seems to be anarchy--or perhaps better, feudalism between competing corporations. So what are we to do? We cannot assassinate the emperor. I'm wondering if a better solution would be to use the political system against the (currently) unjust economic order. Instead of conflating the two in America, I think Christians might do well to recognize that the political sphere is still malleable (as I think, ironically, the Tea Party has shown), and this is a remarkably fertile place to stage resistance to this faceless "empire." I'm not saying it would be easy. I'm saying it might be more responsible. "Shoplifters of the world, unite and take over."

Monday, November 16, 2009

What's all the fuss about?

So, about a week ago the Vatican released the official Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus. The annoucement of this AC caused a great deal of consternation and much ire all over the blogosphere. I'm not entirely sure why. Now, Hans Kueng has offered what I think is probably the best critical comments, but even his take is only one side of the story. Reading the actual text, I find very little to be critical of. As a previous blogger (sorry, lost the link) continues to remind people--the Pope is (Roman) Catholic. We should not be surprised if he does things or says things that generally are in accord with Roman doctrine. Sure, he doesn't have the same finesse as JPII, but B16 is not the devil, or even an evil man, so far as I can tell. He's the shepherd of the largest Christian communion, and in accord with Roman doctrine he also sees himself as the vicar of Christ, the shepherd of the world. Not saying he's correct to think so, but I am saying we probably shouldn't be surprised if he acts on that notion.

All (constructive) thoughts welcome.

DeConick vs. National Geographic: Round 2?

This post is very good. April DeConick famously protested against the characterization, translation, and publicization of the Gospel of Judas a couple of years back. Now she's concerned about their take on the Apocalypse of Gabriel.

I'll try to add background links when I have some more time.