Saturday, February 09, 2008

Bury the Hairy

Another gem from my sister and her kindergartener son.

The boy and I were discussing transplanting bushes. We agreed you need to dig them up carefully so you get all the roots, even the small ones. Then, said he, the bush "holds its breath" until you put it in the new hole. After that, you "bury the hairy" and put the dirt back around the bush's roots so it can stop holding its breath.

I also liked the "bury the hairy" dance, which is a sort of hunched shoulder, arm swinging, gorilla-esque shovelling dance, while singing the dirge-like "Bury the Hairy" song.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Thank God for Evolution, Part 3

Michael Dowd has found an intriguing way to understand Original Sin and the Fall in evolutionary terms. Our brains have different regions that seem to correspond to a developmental sequence from the parts in the bottom that we share with the reptiles, through a section like that of lower mammals, to the large region like the higher mammals, and finally the lobes in the front that are distinctively human. As brain scientists have studied these different parts of the brain, they perform different functions. They also promote different, sometimes competing impulses. We have inherited a propensity to do things that gratify our simplest urges for pleasure and survival that conflict with our more complex understanding of what is good and right. This inheritance, Dowd argues, is how we can understand Original Sin.

Seeing our conflicting sinful urges in this way, as an emergent result of our psychological and physical evolution, does not make them less sinful. But it does, Dowd argues, help us defuse the emotions around them. Calmness is the face of strong desires can help us not give in to them.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Thank God for Evolution, Part 2

The most engaging part of Michael Dowd's vision in Thank God for Evolution! is that God is immanent in the entire cosmos, creating and evolving everything. As Dowd frames the great purpose of our lives, "Humanity's Great Work is to further divine creative emergence -- God's will -- in ways lifegiving for the whole." This is close to a doctrine that is more Catholic than Calvinist, but I like it still: that we are meant to be co-creators with God in the further making of this world.

Dowd names his position Creatheism, which deliberately plays on creation-theism and creative-atheism. He treats all names for God as metaphors, but as nonetheless pointing to something real. He allows that his position has strong affinities with panentheism and with process theology, but is trying to express it in a way more palatable to both Biblical theists and atheists. We is trying to express a view of God both immanent and transcendent, while recognizing that the reality of God goes beyond any terms or metaphors we could come up with.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Thank God for Evolution, Part 1

Recently I wrote about "evolutionary evangelists" Michael Dowd and Connie Barlow.

I am now working through Dowd's book, Thank God for Evolution! Dowd was a UCC minister. I think he still is. Dowd and Barlow now make their living traveling around the country arguing for a "marriage of science and religion" based on an appreciation of the cosmic grandeur of evolution.

At an early point, Dowd distinguishes between Evolutionary Christianity (and Evolutionary Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, etc.) and "flat earth faiths." Flat earth faiths may not literally believe in a flat earth now, but they revere scriptures, and interpretations of scriptures, that were written when flat earth beliefs were indeed the norm. Dowd names this as the problem he is trying to solve: "today's continuing use of flat-earth commentaries to interpret flat-earth scriptures is the most problematic of all."

Dowd is going to try to thread a middle way. He does not reject scriptures (any of them), but accepts them as good-faith efforts to understand the meaning of the cosmos. As his phrasing of what is "most problematic" makes clear, it is our interpretation of scriptures as literal theories of the cosmos that he is going to tweak, if not utterly transform.

What I like about Dowd and Barlow's project is their attitude of humility, wonder, and, most of all, gratitude for the cosmos -- and their commitment to understanding the evolution of the cosmos as a meaningful story.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Baptists vs. Structural Evils

Nicholas Kristof, the liberal New York Times columnist, say liberals shouldn't scorn evangelicals because they now do good social action work. Which is true. But even that he says in a scornful "they've come so far" way.

In this column he specifically mentions Rick Warren, pastor of the Saddleback megachurch, which is quietly Southern Baptist. His and his wife's personal experience with poverty and misery in Africa has mobilized the "purpose driven" wing of evangelicalism to do heroic work there. Baptists do fabulous cup-of-cold-war work -- 7,500 Saddlebackers going personally to Africa to fight poverty is truly impressive.

And yet, they still can't see the structural picture. You fight AIDS by changing individual behavior. Score one for the Baptists. But you fight warlords, who sell drugs, rape, and kill, with armies. Baptists don't have an army (nor should they). That is what the government is for. And when low-church evangelicals are in charge of the government, they can't seem to get that.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Most Americans Want a Servant-Leader President

The Christian Post is reporting an interesting poll done by Zogby for the American Bible Society on what qualities voters want in a president. Most Americans want a God-believing, Bible-quoting president. Since that describes the overwhelming majority of Americans, this finding is not so surprising.

An interesting detail is that most people want a president who "sees the office as a privilege to serve others, with a responsibility to God." The New Testament standard of the president as a "servant-leader" resonated especially strongly with the youngest voters. Among those 18 to 29, fully 84% said that they wanted a president who saw him- or herself as a servant-leader of the people.