October 20, 2017

I Recommend the Carp On The IM Menu

2005carpI rarely do posts about the site itself, but with a lot of new readers, there are some things that need to be said occasionally.

Every few months, I will get a letter here at the Internet Monk mail room that goes something like this (not a real letter btw, but very close):

Mr. Monk,

I don’t know why I read your web page. I need some encouragement in my faith and after reading what you write, I see no reason to continue being a Christian. You criticize everything and everyone. You find nothing right with the church. You amplify every doubt and objection to where it can’t be ignored and you seem on the verge of abandoning the faith yourself. Who knows how many atheists you’ve created. With all the influence you have in the blogosphere, you’d think you could be at least a little bit encouraging to those of us who are struggling.

Sincerely,

Bruised Reed

I’m not above appreciating this kind of letter and I don’t want to come off that way. “Bruised reeds” are important to me. I love them and feel a special concern and consideration for them. I’m not above criticism, though you’ll easily find people whose blogs will inform you that I’ve never allowed or agreed with a single criticism every offered to me.

I’m not a connoisseur of fan letters and I don’t send the goon squads out from my designated chat rooms to comment-harass and e-mail bomb those who say these sorts of things. Usually, I don’t say anything except send along a note acknowledging the concerns and thanking the person for reading.

Today, however, I want to make a few responses, and as I said, I don’t intend to be carping or snarky.

1) Encouragement comes in various forms. I have classes made up of seniors. Most of them will suffer through bout of senioritis, i.e. they will just stop doing any work and consider passing with any grade acceptable.

I “encourage” them in this situation, and my “encouragement” can take the form of genuine sympathy, personal anecdote, stories about my kids, threats, ranting, cage-rattling, threats to drop them, refusals to do college endorsements, name-calling, humor, absurdity, bribery, gifts and nonsense.

In all, my goal is to get them off the dead zone and back in the game.

This site is like that. You can fault it for not giving you a hug, or defending the resurrection, or answering your questions or lovingly linking to the Baylys or not giving Wendy’s coupons. But the fact is, on one day or another, I’ve done it all. Be gentle. Yell. Cry. Wonder. Muse. Be prophetic.

2) IM is like a restaurant with a menu, but the reason people stop in is the daily special. The daily special may be kicking Osteen or examining prayer books or looking at the Baptist confessions or questioning the emergent agenda. If you don’t like the daily special, you can get the menu (the archives, the search engine) and order something else. But I don’t think it’s really a worthy complaint that on the day you wanted fish we were serving corned beef.

3) Now I’m going to sound really mean, but trust me, I’m not being unkind.

Your fragile condition in evangelicalism or Christianity is not my fault. And it’s not my responsibility to cure it.

I’m not a doctor of the soul. I’m a pamphleteer. I’m a pirate radio DJ. I’m Leonard Cohen meets Kid Rock.

Listen: I’m a lot more likely to knock down your propped up evangelicalism than I am to give you another way to keep it standing. If the parable is “I thank you Lord that I am not as other men: I have all my questions answered” versus “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner,” then we are going with number 2.

Be careful now: I don’t want to spoil your faith or kick your church experience if it’s working for you. That’s never been my game. But tell me that all of us need to be like you and your church? I’m handing you a loaded mousetrap. Feed us the rhetoric of the church growth movement and say it’s “God blessing” so I need to get on board and you’re going to be given an honorary hand grenade. Pin pulled.

The distinctive place of this blog isn’t anything close to a Ray Ortlund, Jr or similar blogs designed for encouragement. This blog is provocative and oriented toward critical thinking and discussion.

4) I feel like I’ve been saying this a lot recently, but I’m far more interested in a person coming to a position of honesty and integrity than I am in maintaining labels that aren’t working. The choice between a phony Christian profession and honest doubt is not a hard one for me. I deeply disagree with those who say we should not speak of faith until we have answers. It shouldn’t take a lot of consideration to understand the answer may be “there’s no answer for this question.” If I have to go beyond that, I’m going at the expense of my integrity. Nothing good comes of that. It’s quite likely the reason so many people walk away from faith with the feeling they are doing a good thing and becoming more of a whole person.

5) I could send a commenter like the letter writer above to a dozen blogs that have predictable menus, steady posts that don’t vary much in agenda and never venture into edgy areas of doubt or controversy. I’m not in any way wanting to discourage any reader, but Internet Monk isn’t one of those blogs. It’s not highly devotional. It represents a vast number of diverse commenting voices. My writing will tip sacred cows from time to time. What I have to offer you is what you find here. I am not tailoring my writing to the individual needs of readers. I have to be true to my own motivations and a writer’s motivations aren’t always very impressive or pious.

With genuine respect for readers and commenters like the one above, I’d suggest that we sometimes expect far too much of the blogosphere. It’s the reader’s job to discern what blogs will help their own journey as a Christian.

Comments

  1. Your blog is much appreciated, Imonk. Thank you.

  2. Henry Ham says:

    ’nuff said!

  3. I would so love your blog even more if you offered Wendy’s coupons!

  4. But I don’t think it’s really a worthy complaint that on the day you wanted fish we were serving corned beef.

    I love this. Thank you for saying it.

    I suppose I am one of those blogs that rarely varies, sticking pretty close to gospel “devotions” and church-related stuff, but on the occasion I post something that could be considered edgy (a rant, for instance), I invariably get the first time visitor/commenter who wants to know why I don’t talk more about ____________.

    This drives me nuts.

    I think some people just don’t understand this medium or what a blog post is. They expect airtightness and laundry lists in each post. But then, there are people who write such things. And nobody really reads them.

  5. your blog has been a blessing to me-peace

  6. IM is special because it is very rare to find a devotional site with readers open enough (or trusting enough) in their beliefs to willingly consider some of the very hard questions and some of the thorny answers the Christian faith faces today. These folk are the cutting edge. That willingness takes courage and integrity for a religious blog author to maintain over time, much like it takes a special kind of dedicated chef to have enough culinary talent and honest desire about food preparation to try many dishes rather than relying on just the standard fare. Some people with set diets may complain, but I prefer spending time at the table of a gourmet chef rather than a fast food outlet where the lowest common denominator is the essential and most boring ingredient.

  7. I think a series on the Biblical Reasons to laugh would be helpful.

  8. Your blog has only strengthened my faith and encouraged me as a bruised reed! Thanks for all you do and the heart in which you do it with!

  9. When are we going to see the BHT calendar, swimsuit edition? That’s why I signed up.

  10. Scott Eaton says:

    The fictional letter that is the subject of this post makes little sense. It is kind of like criticizing the Chinese restaurant because they don’t sell Big Macs. That’s weird and I am surprised people send you letters like this. Even more so because if you don’t like the blog and it doesn’t help you…well…don’t read it. I’ve personally done this with many blogs I used to read.

    One more thing. I do think you take care of the “bruised reeds.” I do think you give hope to many who have only been handed a one-sided, thin, and circus like evangelicalism. You do much to give people something to hold onto in the midst of the “post-evangelical” wilderness.

    Take heart, brother, and keep doing what YOU do.

  11. “Who knows how many atheists you’ve created.”

    Does this make you eligible for the Richard Dawkins Award from the Atheist Alliance International? After all, if Bill Maher is getting it, why shouldn’t you? 🙂

    • I think the Richard Dawkins Award for this year is already wrapped up and it goes to the “Union of Rationalist Atheists and Agnostics” who funded the project to reveal, *GASP* that the Shroud of Turin is fake. I can’t tell you how many of my friends have turned their backs on Christianity since that stunner was announced.

      • kcillini77 – What???!!!! A fake????!!!!!

        Nooooo!!!!! How can this be? You mean the late Pope John Paul II was lying to me all the time?*

        That’s it: I’m rushing out right this second to burn down a church! I totally have lost all faith not alone in Christianity, but in all organised religion! I now realise we are meaningless products of the blind operation of natural forces in a random interplay of energy and matter, with no more purpose than the spume formed by the wind acting on the waves!

        Because all my belief rested upon a piece of cloth being indeed miraculous, and once science has proven that it is of no more intrinisic value than, oh, a crucifix, medallion, icon or holy picture – well! that’s it for me!

        (*”When he said “Since it is not a matter of faith, the Church has no specific competence to pronounce on these questions. She entrusts to scientists the task of continuing to investigate, so that satisfactory answers may be found to the questions connected with this Sheet, which, according to tradition, wrapped the body of our Redeemer after he had been taken down from the cross. The Church urges that the Shroud be studied without pre-established positions that take for granted results that are not such; she invites them to act with interior freedom and attentive respect for both scientific methodology and the sensibilities of believers.”)

        • So they’re going to give a “Richard Dawkins Award” to a group doing the bidding of a Pope?

          • Ross, if they are, there are probably Jesuits at the bottom of it. They usually are 😉

            I have no idea who the Union of Rational Atheists and Agnostics is, and I don’t think they’re in the running for any awards.

            As I understand it – and I’m getting a little mean-spirited enjoyment out of this – there is a group rejoicing in the name of the Atheist Alliance International which have taken it upon themselves to award something called the Richard Dawkins Award to people working to advance the cause of atheism.

            Richard Dawkins has nothing to do with it (apart from lending his name, and presumably his tacit support to its aims, to the prize).

            The big kerfuffle is that they have decided to give it to Bill Maher, it would seem mainly on the grounds of his film “Religulous.” You may have seen it, I haven’t, and have no idea what it’s about (apart from being anti-organised religion).

            Indeed, as a non-American, I don’t even know who Bill Maher is, or what he thinks, apart from what I’m reading about him and this award. Apparently, Mr. Maher is an atheist, or maybe he’s not; he may be one of the ‘spiritual but not religious’ types, it’s hard to tell. But he is certainly an anti-medicine type; he’s being described as a ‘believer in the woo’ (a pithy epitaph) which seems to mean that he is anti-vaccination, believes in a Giant Conspiracy perpetrated by Big Pharma, and is all for the alternative therapies.

            Some atheists are going “Hang on a mo, *this* is the guy chosen as the standard-bearer of rationalism and the scientific method? Shouldn’t Dawkins make it clear that this is not what he agrees with, since they’re using his name?” Now, where the amusement factor for the theists amongst us comes in, is the foot-shuffling people such as P.Z. Myers are doing about this. The bould P.Z. is defending this on the basis that hey, Maher put the boot in on big bad religion, so what is the big deal? please don’t make a fuss about Maher’s fuzziness on the rigid purity of atheistic principle, and above all, please don’t do any protesting or kicking up a fuss at the award ceremony or upset Dr. Dawkins by asking him awkward questions, otherwise he’s liable to go off in a huff.

            Well, P.Z. said “I suspect he’s not looking forward to a lot of time-wasting headaches over this issue, and if it sounds like it’s going to eat up all of his time with the public, he’ll probably do the rational thing and cut back on spending time with the public.”, which sounds to me like “Annoy him by asking questions and he’ll go off in a huff.”

            What is making me chortle is that this is the same P.Z. who kicked the stuffing out of the recent poll about American religious belief, grousing how describing the 15% who don’t belong to any particular church or faith as “Nones” rather than as “atheists” is yet more of the Giant Theocratic Conspiracy against the dangerous threat of the atheist revolution. This is the same P.Z. who is so proud of atheists being brave and bold and standing up against the might of the churches and the persecution they face in their everyday lives, fearless upholders of rationality and reason against all the opprobrium and violence they face at the hands of the godnutz.

            Yet he thinks that atheists asking a popular public atheist a few questionsa bout letting his name be used on an award to an anti-scientist is the equivalent of the Spanish Inquisition and please, please don’t dare do anything like that or you’ll make him run up to his room for a good cry! 🙂

      • The Richard Dawkins Award will be given every year to honor an outstanding atheist whose contributions raise public awareness of the nontheist life stance. I don’t think Michael qualifies.

        This award is important due to the ongoing and widely acceptable bigotry against nontheists as immoral and unethical people based on the lovely circular reasoning that that they must be this way because they are nontheists. A terrific example of how widespread this mistaken assumption is resides within the US government’s House and Senate: all those members but where are the admitted atheists? Statistically, there should be dozens and dozens of them. Why the closet? Why the lying? Simple: people don’t trust atheists to hold public office because they believe that they must be immoral. This is a blatant falsehood. The award is meant to reward those who show that many fine and upstanding citizens of high moral character are atheists and that theistic belief is neither a requirement for nor an appropriate tool to achieve morality.

        • tildeb, statistically? Why?

          Are politicians really representative of the public as all that? Match up the amount of “statistically there should be X amount of female/coloured/leff-handed/Jewish/gay” town councillors/senators/deputies with the amount of actuall town councillor/senators/deputies and see how they correlate, before making predictions as to how many of group X, Y or Z should be there.

          Maybe atheists don’t bother going into politics – perhaps for the reasons you say; the attacks on their character. Maybe there are other reasons. There are arguments about increasing the proportion of women in politics for much the same – that there aren’t as many women as there should be, and why is this so? Maybe there are not the sufficient number of atheists amongst the general public to generate enough of them wanting to go into politics as distinct from other careers, by which I mean, take the general population as a whole, measure the proportion of politicians against that, and then see if the figures pan out (if only such-and-such a percentage want to go into politics, and if the subset of atheists is an even smaller percentage of the population, what are the probabilities for overlap?)

          The 2000 census gave, for example, that people of German ancestry made up 15% of the population. If the 2008 poll gives the ‘Nones’ as 15% of the population, then surely – statistically – we could expect about the same rate of German-ancestry politicians as atheist politicians? So what are the figures and how do they correlate? Are you as under-represented with Germans as with atheists?

          But the notion that there are all these secret atheist politicians hiding in the closet – no, I don’t think so. That begins to verge on conspiracy theorising.

      • Perhaps you are referring to the CNN report (http://www.cnn.com/2009/WORLD/europe/10/07/italy.turin.shroud/) that an Italian scientist recreated similar shrouds to help show how it could be done. I don’t think it was meant to raise public awareness about the nontheistic life stance.

        More interestingly, I wonder why so much hostility is directed against Dawkins? After all, his job as the Charles Simonyi Professor of the Public Understanding of Science is to battle whatever impediments there may be to scientific literacy. The US is ripe with religious organizations that not only impede this literacy but very actively fight to undermine scientific understanding wherever it conflicts with religious claims and these groups export these misrepresentations and falsehoods into other countries like Britain. US foreign aid is often tied to recipients implementing the ‘correct’ understanding into their public institutions. US military presence alone brings along a very set and public theology shocking to many other NATO member states. There is a justified perception throughout the world that the US is home base to a very narrow and strict kind of Christian theology that is inserted under pressure into whatever international dealings there are as if the theology itself rather than well thought out government policies justified the US stances!

        But even greater pressure comes from many other religious sources – foreign and domestic for Dawkins. That is why he has chosen religious belief itself as a meme that needs criticism wherever it appears. As a very private matter of personal belief, religious influence in places like Norway and Denmark are minimal in the public domain and these countries have vastly lower rates of all kinds of problematic behaviours that Christian believers tend to attribute to their belief set, but the scientific literacy in these other countries is significantly higher. To fight against this mounting pressure for greater theocratic involvement in public policies, many people admire the courage of people like Dawkins to step forward and do daily battle with such a powerful adversary… and religious belief is a very powerful meme as Dawkins will be the first to admit. He has his work cut out for him.

        • My one and only problem with that guy is the attack on religious belief qua religious belief as a social ill. Your third sentence in your last paragraph seems to suggest that you find this unnecessary too. Not to say you either agree or disagree with Dawkins on this point. But full disclosure, I haven’t read a lot of him.

          But yeah, given that his valuable life’s work as an evolutionary biologist has met so much completely asinine resistance, I think it says a lot of the man’s moral fortitude that he hasn’t shot up any churches. His situation would anger and upset anyone.

          • Dawkins describes religious belief as a viral meme. Harris describes religious belief as a necessary ingredient to the evil of certainty. Dennet describes religious belief as mostly belief in belief. Hitchens is the coat-tail rider of these ‘new’ atheists and describes religious belief as poisonous to the dignity and respect for human rights. Coyne is an evolutionary biologist who is justifiably worried how insidious creationism tries to undermine evolutionary understanding and allows no quarter from religious apologists. His reviews of books from other scientists who allow for religious belief to go unchecked is legendary for their excoriating their assumptions.

            Understandably, these are very harsh criticisms and they are worth very serious consideration for what informs them. Each author details exactly that in their respective books because these are real and pressing global issues for today.

            But they, too, ride on the coat-tails of previous atheists like Hume and Russell et al. All have been vilified by many religiously influential people for their cheekiness to even dare criticize such holy and sanctified beliefs based on the holy texts. But each atheist author has helped crack open the door to the kind of unearned respect that only religion has been allowed to wear like a kind of protective armor. We need to talk about the issues before we can collectively come to solutions we can all support.

            I think there is a lot of good stuff to religion: it’s part of our rich cultural heritage, offers a strong sense of community and informs important social traditions, involves and is supported by a significant portion of our fellow citizens, and has a daily place in the lives of many to be better people today than they were yesterday. But there’s another side to belief that needs to be addressed – belief that is unjustified. When we start allowing belief to determine education, we’re in trouble. When we allow religious belief an unearned place at the discussion table of medical treatment, ethical behaviour, scientific inquiry, research and development, public policy, environmental sustainability, establishing human rights, involvement in armed intervention, and so on, then we’re in trouble. We’re ALL in trouble: for every person’s faith of what ought to be, there is another person’s faith of something different… both backed by belief that each is what God would want. And we see that problem every day.

            I think that there has to be an acceptable middle ground. Atheism itself is no impediment to any of these discussions, other than a voice that points out where faith is making its presence apparent, perhaps with or, often as not, without justification as only a religious tenet perfectly reasonable in the private domain but not in the public.

            I’m not attempting to preach or convert that one is necessarily better than another, nor am I suggesting that the issue is an either/or. There is room and placement for both and, in this regard, I think perfectly respectable. But if each of us had to choose all the rights and freedoms of another person who is scheduled to sit before our judgment but behind a curtain (perhaps that person might even be our self), then what rights and freedoms and dignities would you award that unseen person, not knowing from where that person was born, under what culture, from within what belief set, whether male or female, young, old, gay, straight, rich, poor, red, yellow, white, or black; how and upon what basis would you make such a decision? THAT is universal human rights and that is what I consider each of our mission regardless of our theistic or nontheistic beliefs.

          • Tildeb, the more you write the more I like you. I think we agree about about 95% of all manner of thing.

            I never bothered to read the “new atheists” because they fail at logic. It takes me about five milliseconds to recognize someone who claims to be logical and can’t put together a logical argument. Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens are definitely this type. Reasonable, maybe, but not logical. Big difference. Especially if you want to be all black and white about things; only logic will cut it.

            Russell, for instance, in Why I Am Not a Christian, “argues” against the Soviet counter-example that religion is a necessary ingredient in ideological oppression that the Soviet state was essentially religious in nature by virtue of being oppressive. That’s basically what he said. This is so circular that you’d have to be an idiot not to see it. And he designed a logical system that makes faith a priori impossible, even though it’s perfectly clear that unjustified (unverifiable) belief is logically neutral and in the world of logic, all maneuverings are either circular or ungrounded anyway. His rooting of logic in empiricism is simply a category mistake… logic is just a semiotic system and it can’t have any logical connection to anything… except logic. It’s a free-floating system of analysis, that’s it. The man wasn’t stupid, so why would he make these mistakes, I wonder?

            Hume is awesome. There’s an atheist who had his game figured out.

            Religion has enjoyed an unassailable status in culture for far too long. I just think these materialists (save Hume) are going about it the wrong way, and making errors and violences in the names of the airtight authorities of science and logic the same way we Christians have always proposed errors and violences in the name of the airtight authority of God. These are examples of projects that attempt a basically systematic and comprehensive understanding of reality. They embrace the Enlightenment and humanist projects. I do not; these projects have proved catastrophic failures (more on that in the following paragraph).

            I think the best analyses of how power functions through language and ideology has to be found in the poststructuralists and the continental philosophers of the second half of the twentieth century. Foucault, Deleuze, Lacan, Lyotard, Derrida… that crowd. These people are as stridently against the things Dawkins and company are, but they make a lot more sense and are more to the point and are a lot more fair. Read or reread them. They’ll take some getting used to, but are worth it. Again, I haven’t read a lot of Dawkins et al, but frankly, I don’t think I need to. The man is intelligent and articulate, but can’t argue. Read Nietzsche if you have to, but drink deep or taste not of that Pierian Spring because he has this tendency to seem much less difficult than he is. Read Klossowski’s book on Nietzsche.

            There’s my atheist thought in a nutshell. I used to be one so I know what I’m talking about. And I thought all these forms and derivations of logical positivism / scientific materialism and Richard Dawkins were silly when I was an atheist. But anyway, there’s my stance. Not sayin’ it’s right or wrong, but I’ve thought it out and it’s my stance.

        • Mmm – but I would argue that basing hopes for the New Eden in human affairs on solely extirpating religion as irrationality is not realistic.

          What – if no-one believed in spirits or deities or fairies, there would be no more wars? I don’t think so. I’ve seen it stated that by science teaching us all that we are all genetically related (by common descent), this will do away with conflict globally.

          And Christianity has not been teaching, for 2,000 years, that we are all the children of Adam and Eve? Does the term “civil war” not ring a faint bell with these idealists?

          Do away with religion, and we’ll still fight over resources, national pride, and whatever else we seek to aggrandise ourselves by.

          That’s part of what annoys me with the New Atheism; putting all its eggs in one basket. Scientific literacy is a lovely aim, but it won’t – of itself – be a universal panacea.

          Or were all the guns, explosives, chemical and biological weapons developed by the nations of the world found under a cabbage leaf, and are not the products of pumping money into scientific research for military purposes?

          • New Eden? World peace? Lovely ideals but don’t paint atheism as having these goals. Mind you, Martha, it would be very interesting to spend a few hundred years upholding human rights and dignity as the prime goal and see what happens. I suspect we would be far, far closer to global peace and prosperity and ecological sustainability than we are now.

            I have long thought that one small step for us could be an oath to achieve full citizenship: an oath that puts secular law first and any other belief sets or allegiances lower in allegiance. I know that idea will ruffle a lot of feathers to those who put Jesus first, but consider:

            Because citizenship contains both freedom and responsibilities within a legal and political framework under which all must live, surely the common derivative for all is allegiance to these primary tenets. Only within such a framework is religious freedom, for example, even possible. This subordinate position of all other personal belief sets should be understood by the citizen as that which allows the personal freedoms of dignity we so easily take for granted. Whenever and for whatever reason this order in allegiance is subverted – even for what is believed passionately to be for the best of reasons – then I think we need strong legal recourse. If I work politically to undermine, let’s say, the equality of women – because I passionately believe that God has dictated this imbalance of gender biased individual power to be one favoured by the divine – within the framework of the secular state, then I am not just attacking the dignity of all women; I am actually attacking the foundation of my own citizenship that allows me the freedom to even make the attempt. And so on. An oath to gain citizenship possesses the very power to be personally accountable and responsible enough to maintain it.

            Does that help explain why the getting rid of religion is not really the central issue for any of these atheists? It’s all about a means of achieving human rights and dignity and getting rid of whatever impedes their universal attainment. Part of that is also scientific literacy because chemistry, like all science, is religiously neutral. There’s no such thing as Jewish chemistry versus Islamic, Jainist biology versus Hindu, Catholic physics versus Protestant, and so on. We need to be literate in this language of neutral knowledge. Science is not the enemy of the religious any more than the atheist is the enemy of morality.

          • An oath, tildeb? After all those Freethinkers strove so mightily to free us from those remnants of childish superstition? 😉

            As to the ideals of atheism, I go by what I see many of the new crop of atheist bloggers setting out. And yes, they do invoke the notion of world peace and universal harmony as one beneficial effect of spreading atheism, which they seem to imagine as the best/only means of inculcating critical thinking, appreciation of logical reasoning, respect for the sciences and balanced behaviour.

            There have been and will doubtless continue to be many and varied philosophical systems with those same goals. I rather fear that in your thought experiment of a world where a few hundred years had been spent presenting human rights and dignity as the prime goals, it would not look that much unlike our own. At least since the Enlightenment (going on for two hundred years by now), the idea of liberty, equality and fraternity have been held as the aims, and we’re as far or as near to them as ever we were.

            An oath to the law above all – tildeb, you do not know how that appeals to me, how deeply that resonates with my inner Saruman 🙂

            And when laws are passed by the secular government, binding on all citizens, and some citizens dare to break their oaths because they think those laws are unjust? Who decides which laws are just and which are not? We have had laws where it was legal to own slaves, or take the property and even lives of a designated group. Are we bound by our oath in those instances, or a higher law?

            The implication that a religious view automatically implies denial of human dignity is one that I find offensive (tough for me if it’s true, no doubt you retort). But I’ll bat it back at you – what do we do with the concept of “living non-persons”? Entities recognised as life, even as human life, but not in possession of human rights because not recognised as persons under the law?

            Does personhood, from which all of our rights flow, inhere in us as part of our humanity, and is therefore irrevocable and innate and inalienable, or is it something that is conferred and can therefore be revoked by society at large?

    • So funny.

  12. “Who knows how many atheists you’ve created.”

    That’s the question I plan to ask Ken Ham if I ever get to meet him. 🙂

  13. I love a blog that trusts me to think. And that scratches me where I didn’t even know I itched.

  14. This is a pretty good daily special. Thanks Michael.

  15. Ron Newberry says:

    Keep on doing what you are doing..Your response was weel said.

  16. Funny, I’d say I have the opposite reaction to the “letter writer.” I was not a bruised reed, but I was drifting away from the shallowness that is American Evangelicalism, Inc. Honest doubt speaks more truth to my life than a thousand feel good legalism articles and books ever could, and I’d say I’m a better evangelical today for it.

    Talk hard, Michael.

  17. Without people like you who take these questions seriously, as opposed to God said so you’d better do it, no questions needed. I would be a non existent reed, often we have questions not so much about what we believe, but why we believe that. The only way to figure it out is to question it deeply. Thank you for that type of forum, among friends.

  18. Monk,

    Just the opposite thought from me. I have found so much here that has kept me from losing my insanity in evangelicalism. I value this blog for its ability to challenge me in my ideas.

  19. Michael said, “But I don’t think it’s really a worthy complaint that on the day you wanted fish we were serving corned beef.” and “I’m Leonard Cohen meets Kid Rock.”

    It’s comments like that which keep me coming back, Michael. Great stuff!

  20. I don’t want you to change. I just want your 4-week, pre-packaged, Purpose-Driven Monk small group program and sermon package that everyone in my church can do so that we will be all fixed up by Easter. Is that too much to ask?

  21. You honesty has encouraged me many times. Thanks, Michael.

  22. Has anyone ever had carp, for real? Seriously? I have, and it’s quite good when prepared properly. And, it’s a staple in some locales.

    iMonk’s carp is a staple here… and it’s prepared quite properly…

  23. I don’t know how to tell you this Mr Monk but you are never going to get a Mega-Church following the way you are going. Have never heard the maxim “Keep it simple stupid”. Your problem is you are asking people dare I say it “To think”. I know you make my head hurt sometimes. Oh well at least I will have something to show for my head ache. Keep up the good work.

  24. “I’m Leonard Cohen meets Kid Rock.” …right on (or rock on) – I’ve been stopping by and perusing the menu since 02′ – no complaints here – except maybe a bit more Imonk on Shakespeare 🙂

  25. I think some of the guys who write those notes are people from the Challiies/teampyro universe, and they get in the habit of coming over here, then are all conflicted about what they read. One day I’m on their team and the next I’m not. It rattles their cage.

    I’m amazed that anyone would write a complete stranger and say “You need to prop up my falling confidence in evangelicalism, esp since you’re its #1 critic.” What?

  26. I find myself here because of the doubt and honesty. While I doub that my views on God and the soul will ever change, I come here because it reminds me that Christians are genuine humans too, not the crazies who claim to know everything while handing out pamphlets like Lyndon Laruche supporters on street corners. The other Christian blogs drive me away from wanting to actually open a dialogue with those who expouse a stricter view of Christianity than I am familiar with. This one makes me think and makes me care.

    Thank you for that.

  27. When most of the regulars in my prior SS class tried to address a case of serious pastorial misconduct a non trivial number of the class were more upset about us “breaking up the class” than about the misconduct. Very very upset. Wanting to sweep hard issues under the rug seems to be a common human failing. Way to many Christians want church to be a happy talk kind of place.

  28. “Who knows how many atheists you’ve created.”

    Huh?

    The ones creating atheists are those insisting that there is no elephant in the middle of the room.

  29. I’ll never understand how you can come up with so many different topics from so many different angles, so many times a week. Don’t change a thing! God bless.

  30. Like my discovery of Mark Driscoll and John Piper, reading your site is like waking up after sleeping through church for 30 years. I sincerely appreciate your style, your honesty and I keep forwarding people your material and links saying READ THIS!!!! TAKE THIS SERIOUSLY!!!! STOP BEING COMPLACENT!!!!

    *sigh*

  31. I have the opposite reaction to your blog. I do not believe I have experienced all that I have experienced merely to become a plastic pew warmer. How can I desire to know Christ better and be content with the present day church? Are we really ever meant to be content with the church? The church is a collection of humans who choose to worship together. Humans just like us. Do we accept what we are told to accept without questioning? I can’t do that unless I see some relationship to the teachings of Christ. I can’t be content with a minimally Christ flavored Sunday morning production and tell myself it is worship. Christ matters too much for me to be content with the church.

  32. Thank you for these words in your post above:

    “I deeply disagree with those who say we should not speak of faith until we have answers. It shouldn’t take a lot of consideration to understand the answer may be “there’s no answer for this question.” If I have to go beyond that, I’m going at the expense of my integrity. Nothing good comes of that.”

  33. Dude, you’re such a downer and such a drag on my ‘victorious Christian life.’

    Your unabashed honesty irritates me too.

    /end of sarc

  34. I never fail to read your blog, It is the best reading on the internet..you and your commenters are teaching me and encouraging my faith…I am encouraged that so many young folks are really interested and concerned and discussing the hard issues of our faith..God bless you and all who take part in the discussions..

  35. Where else on earth can representatives from just about every entrenched encampment in Christendom step across no-man’s land, sit down in front of their computers with a good cup of coffee, and have meaningful, uninhibited conversations about the messy and not-so-easily-answered issues of faith, practice, and belief with their “enemies” in Christ? Nowhere but here, as far as I’ve found.
    As I see it, Micheal, you’re not here to prop up anyone’s preconceptions or to foster a feel-good faith environment. I think you’ve been called to encourage and facilitate a unique conversation — a conversation that Christianity should have started having with itself the day after the first church schism.
    Thanks for doing what no one else does.

  36. Michael,
    This bruised reed thanks you from the bottom of her broken, bruised reed heart.

  37. Delicious. Michelin Star. I’m always back for more from the imonk kitchen.

  38. I love this blog….. it is an inspiration! I’m a Brit and soon after I became a Christian (my designation- I guess God is wiser about when I became…) I encountered stuff from the USA and began to think…I’m really not sure about all this stuff about ‘victory’, ‘success’, ‘no doubts’ etc etc. Your blog (with others) opened my eyes to another picture- thanks! You come across well to these British ears!

  39. what jason said,,,
    thanks

  40. Christopher Lake says:

    I agree and disagree with probably equal amounts of what I read on this blog, but you are a passionate brother in the Lord, and you are a serious and provocative thinker and a truly gifted writer. For those reasons, I keep returning to read, and (if the Lord tarries) I see no reason for that to change any time soon! Thank you, Michael!

  41. I got pretty bored with all of the evangelical pat answers. It’s refreshing to be where the hard questions are asked.

  42. Dan Crawford says:

    Thank you for writing a blog that keeps me returning for all sorts of reasons, but most especially because it is a refuge from the Christian, pseudo-Christian, political right-wing nuts who daily drive untold numbers away from the One who can save them.

  43. Heheh… Sacred Cow Tipping… something about that phrase is bringing out my inner Texas teenager.

  44. As consumers of blogs or any media we need to understand that while we may be a part of the intended audience, everything we read cannot be tailored to our specific circumstance. Your example of how you encourage your students is based on your personal observations and experiences with them. You have no such relationship with us, so all you can do is write to the generic or specific person you intend your message for. The audience will read it and superimpose their own background onto the text to either find something meaningful, irrelevant, encouraging, discouraging, uplifting, or insulting. Whatever we find here, we have the responsibility to process the information or musing and we cannot hold you accountable for what it does to us as individuals. We may think we got food poisoning from your cooking, but someone else got a scrumptious meal, so we have to rethink the source of our illness.

  45. Well said. Unfortunately the large majority of Christian rearing, or discipleship if it is the appropriate term, comes down to equipping people with “answers” to problems. And these answers, as with any kind of widely distributed mass marketing campaign are canned. In my own experience most of these “answers” are platitudes sweet to the tongue, but dissolve rather quickly. In my experience, none of these answers ever fell back to a true relationship with God, or a doubtful faith, or living into God’s plan and/or Church. There was no rearing into a method of dealing with faith or life – just a focus on getting the problem behind you with an answer, and wait for it, or a new one, to come right back.

    All of this compelled me to leave the community I was a part of (I’m now in a theology masters program at Boston University). Of course, I’ve been accused by some in that community of now having left the faith – or warned that I would lose my faith in an academic program. But only because their answers are well out of context anywhere outside the microcosm they’ve created. I went into the program knowing it is what I wanted to do (and fully prepared before I even applied having read quite a bit). The method of questioning, having doubts and tension, and being able to enter into a dialogue with others, and with God and his wider Church have done wonders.

  46. Aaaaaaaarhgggghhhhh…….and a mighty fine pirate ye arrrrrre………..your inflatable parrot is in the mail. I am daily blessed,and sometimes kicked in me wooden leg meself be this blog.

    DON”T STOP

    swabby Greg R

  47. I don’t want to seem sycophantic because that’s not my style.

    I’m not an evangelical but I am a fly-over American so evangelicalism is a part of my home culture and a part of it that I’ve been in tension with all my life. You might extend the Chesterton quote that, “In America, even the Catholics are Protestants.” I’ve been craving– CRAVING– an intelligent approximation of what evangelicalism is in its essence without all the political nonsense. Thank you for that.

    But you don’t blog primarily for people like me. In spite of the lack of devotional or explicitly spiritual focus, I think “doctor of the soul” isn’t a bad way of putting it, or at least maybe a nurse or a shrink. The thing I keep seeing from the comment section is the level of therapy that goes on here. That’s mainly it… therapy. And little cures will always hurt a bit and if you don’t think you need therapy it’s going to feel like brutality and violence.

  48. IM I don’t always agree with everything you say through your blog. But it challenges me and it has made me appreciate my own conservative heritage in the church. You have challenged me to hold on to that heritage while while embracing change(if that makes sense). You have also given me a sense urgency about truly discipling my kids instead of cramming my theology down their throats.

    Keep it up!!

  49. The main problem with bruised reeds, and I myself have my own bruises :D, is that we are struggling to find some reason to justify being a Christian. If Christianity and its sacred texts do not have the answers to life, why believe in it, trust in it? Why follow it? Because it’s nicer and kinder than other belief systems? Because we have faith in faith? What does it have that Buddhism or Islam or the Great Pasta God does not?

    The reason I became an evangelical Christian is because evangelicals did have answers to important questions. Right or wrong they took a stand. To me, if Christianity is so riddled with holes that it cannot keep the water out, then to be a Christian is truly a delusional position. Holding to a religion so compromised with doubts and uncertainties is like constantly bailing the waters of atheism on a sinking ship. Eventually, the passengers will get weary and it will go under.

    I cannot sit in this dubious area of comfortable uncertainty, throwing bucket fulls of athiesm over the side because I do not want my faith to completely sink. Either Christianity is completely wrong or it is completely right. Either I worship an eternal Creator / Savior or the whole darn thing is myth and I’m siding with the atheists.

    • If religious belief is all about providing answers, then your summary is probably correct: the best you’ll get is the opportunity to learn how to swim in your analogy. You’ll shop the supermarket of religious beliefs, like Goldilocks and the bears’ porridge, and hope you stumble across that tastes juuuussst right. You probably find the whole experience just tiring.

      But if it’s not about having all the right answers spoon fed to you like a mewling infant, then how does that different starting point affect the personal and meaningful value of what you’re looking for in your religious belief? If you have no answer to that question, then that’s one thing worth really considering; if you have a positive or negative personal answer, then that’s a pretty good indicator of the ship’s direction and you may or may not not want to go there.

      One thing I do know is that no wind is favourable if the destination is unknown.

      • Humans are driven to find answers. If we say that religious belief is not about finding answers then we will search to find answers elsewhere. Again, if religion lacks the answers, then science must have them and atheism looms. If we simply say that we have more questions than right answers, then we spend our lives either is perpetual uncertainity, because we just cannot know, or we choose to live with blissful ignorance.

        And I also think we have gone the mere milk / meat analogies. To me, I find the milk to be the wonderful love of Jesus and the meat to be the reality of living in a sinful fallen world. What I find here in the post-evangelical wilderness is a state a mind that questions the very validity of the Christian faith itself (Did Jesus really rise from the dead? Can the bible really be believed? Etc.)

        Again, if religions cannot back up their own claims with plausable answers to questions then they have very little genuine validity aside from mere cultural experience and novelty. Atheism looms.

        If we just accept that no one religion / system has any right answers, then we’re seeking that place of comfortable ignorance and happy to be mere sheep in our world. Shackles, anyone?

        • What I find here in the post-evangelical wilderness is a state a mind that questions the very validity of the Christian faith itself (Did Jesus really rise from the dead? Can the bible really be believed? Etc.)

          Are we reading the same blog ?? there’s LOT’s of questioning going on here, but the great majority of what gets thrown to the wall has NOT, IMO, made either scriptural authority or the ressurection seen optional. Also, there is a difference between having SOME answers to SOME questions and having ALL the answers to ANY questions. I-MONK has hammered away at the latter, and I for one say “Swing away, dude…”

        • >What I find here in the post-evangelical wilderness is a state a mind that questions the very validity of the Christian faith itself (Did Jesus really rise from the dead? Can the bible really be believed? Etc.)

          This is a bad thing? You did say asking questions, not denying the rez, right?

          How is it a bad thing to ask those questions? Sincerely? As needed?

          >then science must have them and atheism looms

          What? Are you Richard Dawkins?

          >then we spend our lives either is perpetual uncertainity, because we just cannot know, or we choose to live with blissful ignorance.

          Speak for yourself there “we.” You don’t speak for this writer or readership.

          >Shackles, anyone?

          Can you please state your conclusions in some form of a declarative sentence please.

        • I’ve come across this argument many times, MWPeak, and I don’t have a direct argument against your position but consider the following slant (its tangential but related… at least in my mind):

          Compared to my parents, I ‘knew’ I had better answers when I was a teenager, and yet I learned a whole new set of answers different from theirs and my teenage ones when I became a parent, and another different set yet again when my child became a wired teenager and presented me with his answers (which really were often better than my own), thus leading me by irrefutable evidence that for someone who thought he was seeking and finding answers, I was and continue to be according to many who know me a pretty slow learner!

          But am I?

          The answers I thought were answers were, upon deeper reflection, just one part – perhaps suitable at the time – of poorly formed questions. That’s key. It is my experience that the really important questions are the hardest to formulate and then articulate but the most satisfying to begin answering. Not a complete answer, mind you – I’m wise enough to know that doubting my current answers is only prudent – but a path along which I find myself open to life’s complicated ways and of course astounding revelations through the gains made in the frontiers of new knowledge. My answers will probably never be complete – and I’m okay with that – and I think that those who think they have complete ones have sold themselves short. I say that with humility because I now know that life gives me punishments and rewards first and I’m left to figure out the lessons later… occasionally from a hospital bed. And my answers I thought I had (of course I can lift that) to those lessons are often too shallow and even painful. Ahem.

          The range of topics and the questions raised by many of the Internet Monk’s responders are of the kind I may not have thought about. I hold fast to the notion that I rarely learn anything about a specific topic from someone with whom I am in full agreement to begin with and the same holds for people who start off in full agreement with me. That still is rare. But I do learn from other people’s perspectives especially if they are different from my own. If I hold fast to the assumption that it is the job of others to provide me with answers to questions I think are important to me rather than appreciate the offered views for what they actually offer – different perspectives often masked as answers – then I think I am cheating myself of the value so many others bring to me. And, believe me, many others DO disagree with me! I’m so very fortunate.

          These kinds of answers – perspectives – I am talking about are of a different kind and quality than the truth claims made out to be ‘answers’ by holy texts and various interpretations of their meanings. Truth matters, but they are not the whole answer. I think wisdom matters more.

    • My apologies for the use of “we.” Bad habit that.

      Yes, questioning biblical authority and the Resurrection is a bad thing if I claim to be an adherant to the Christian faith. If I do not confidently believe my own religion, then what integrity do I have in attempting to share the gospel, which I may not even believe in? Why should a person believe what I have to say if I myself am not convinced?

      And if I just pretend there are no doubts and share the gospel, I am a liar for preaching what I do not practice. If I doubt it, then there is nothing worth sharing.

      I would not want to think my surgeon doubted medical knowledge and was unsure of what he thought he knew while telling me that I needed a procedure. I would rather have a surgeon who had no doubts and confident answers about the procedure he wanted to perform. But that’s just me.

      And at least Dawkins has confident belief in his atheism. Him I can respect, even if I disagree.

      • I’m sorry, MWP, MIchael, and everyone else.

        If I can’t be allowed to doubt and wrestle with even the most basic claims (bible, the rez, etc.), at least from time to time, then what is faith, really? And if my faith is really that big a sham, then I am already done for. Hope is lie and g-d, even if it exists, has held out a carrot that is impossible to get a bite of.

        Sorry to waste everyone’s time… see y’all around.