Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Faith, Reason, Evangelism- Or Not

Over at First Things, Dale Coulter, riffs off the assumption that there are two different evangelical camps:
Well, evangelicals have two wings, one devoted to that mystical ascent of faith and the other toward the rational exposition of the faith.

Is this the case?

Well, in my attempts to figure out how Christianity should work, I came across a certain praxis for interacting with God.

It seems to me Christians used to engage in a meditative practice which served to provide some distance between a man's thoughts and a man's self. We can imagine our daily thought stream and our sense of attachment to it as someone with their nose to the screen, watching for the next text, zoomed in on this little square of pixels, and the linear story that texts tell. But the mind is like a void, like the night sky in a dark place, and the Milky Way your thoughts, existing in apparent disregard for you. There are myriad thoughts there, and not very many actually seem like 'you'. This is why there are people desperately afraid of being alone; the abyss is disorienting, and the thoughts can scare you, especially if you think you have to take responsibility for them.

So, let's ponder a word from God. One has to, first of all, realize that a word from God ought to be a bit more than just a word, phrase or sentence- the Word of God is Jesus Christ, so I suspect anything actually coming from God is going to be a bit deeper than 140 characters. Secondly, it can't be coming from the plane of your thoughts. Eventually, parts of it will get integrated into your thoughts, as you think about it, but it ain't there to start. The way do deal with this to do a series of (preferably cheap and small) experiments to see if you are understanding correctly.

Instead, what I see are evangelicals who, if they meditate at all, use some version of meditation that specifically engages thought. If you imagine yourself in a biblical scene or even just try to meditate upon the meaning, you are engaging your mind, keeping yourself locked into a thought stream, and building up the sense of your 'self' among a certain set of thoughts. Then there is this modern seeking of a word from God, which has all the hallmarks of New Age/psychic practices.

2 Peter 1 NIV, 20 & 21:
20 Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. 21 For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

The New Age game has an economy of attention, so it is the opposite of what Peter is saying here. Instead of being moved, the pyschic attempts to develop impressions. Now Christians can do the same thing, and if they aren't aware of the nature of their mind, they can create what they think is a word out of their own thoughts. Do this in the morning, and the pattern matching software in your brain- the stuff that kept our species alive for generations- will kick in and try to make sense of your 'word'. I spent a day once, wandering all over New Orleans trying to chase this silly stuff. I know the shape of it- at best it is a waste of time, and at worst it is something unpleasant feeding off of your attention.

The new evangelical practice keeps people locked into the mind, and the mind provides it's own praxis. The action bias allows for the presumption that doing something is always better than doing nothing. Indeed, one can point to one's doing to justify one's thinking (even if you call it something else) and one's thinking to justify one's doings. This is not religion- it is ideology, and as such is a part of and not an effective defense against the destruction of Christendom.

Ultimately, the Christian needs a place. There is no place. The new evangelicals are like matadors, dancing around with a red cape. Men and women engage with them, because clearly God means something, but the governance is gone. This is the great amnesia of Christianity- most of us never get doctrine, anyway; the greatest rupture was the destruction of the aristocracies- the monarchies. Even a sacramental church has, as part of it's essence, a governance that is shut to us now. During a wedding we declare that what God has put together no man should tear apart, but before that wedding, we have to go down to the courthouse and get a marriage license that ultimately grants state courts the right to tear apart, and redefine, this thing we sought to make sacred.

At first blush a marriage license seems a sensible thing- and it was in a small jurisdiction where the leader had some sort of interest in how things went in his land. What does our state have an interest in? It seems many courts and lawyers make a living off of the destruction of our families.

Now, given that the new evangelists also exist within this mainstream culture and are propagandized to it just like everyone else, it is easy to see how they are made ineffectual. We see precious few Christians suggest we get married without reference to the state. It is simply assumed we must comply. No house, no church, no street, no city is built that could protect. The idea of church as hospital is gone, and with it the societal structure necessary for high civilization.

There aren't to wings of evangelism, but the two hemispheres of the mind. The emotional and the intellectual, the Democrat and the Republican, the false choices that keep us in our minds, unable to respond to God and unable to respond to the realities on the ground. Your attention is somewhere on this left/right line, somewhere in your head, and you are probably trying to defend a position that exists in your mind, while everything that exists in the world- including the people you are trying to evangelize to- are undefended. As long as evangelicals are on this line neither results nor a word from God has much relevance, except to the extent they can be used to support the ideology.

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