Epistemophobia revisited

Epistemophobia

This is something I wrote a little over two years ago with the intention of following up with a few related posts. Obviously, I didn’t. Why am I bringing it up again?  Well, I was listening to a sermon recently and it got me thinking. Below you can read or re-read what I had written but first here are a few thoughts by way of introduction.

First, I think it’s normal to fear knowledge to some degree. I’m thinking specifically of learning new things which either a) force us to abandon a previously held notion in favour of something else, or b) push us to gain a better and clearer understanding of a previously held notion. This fear intensifies as the idea/belief being examined and challenged grows closer to my core and fundamental worldview.

Second, thinking about this from the church insider point of view, it’s interesting to see the defence mechanisms the church has built around this fear and to protect what it believes to be true/right/correct. It’s more than a simple fear of being wrong. It also very quickly becomes a strong dislike, even hatred (holy hatred of course), for anyone who would propose a different take on a commonly held belief. Especially when that someone is within the community or has influence on the community in some way. This is not only true of the church.

Third, The term “heretic/false teacher” is tossed around and associated with people who hold theological ideas that don’t line up with our own. There is an invisible line that you simply cannot cross. If you do (if you dare), you are regarded as a disobedient, rebel, unloving and divisive person who should be warned and shunned (out of love of course) lest you lead others astray.

Remember when Galileo insisted the earth was not at the centre of the universe (a.k.a. Heliocentrism vs Geocentrism)? Maybe you missed it. It was a little while ago after all. What I find interesting about that little piece of history is the pushback Galileo received from the people of his time. Not only did some people within his own field react strongly but so did the Church. Of course, as we know very well today, Galileo was right. At the time people weren’t in much of a hurry to accept this ‘new’ knowledge as true.

The Church, for example, had this to say about it. They concluded that heliocentrism was:

foolish and absurd in philosophy, and formally heretical since it explicitly contradicts in many places the sense of Holy Scripture. (Source: Galileo Galilei – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)

Why is it difficult to accept that something we think is true may not be? Or that something we believe is true may be slightly different than we think? The Church figured that Galileo must be wrong because there are verses in the Bible that seem to suggest the earth is a the centre of the universe and doesn’t move (Psalm 93:1; Psalm 96:10; Psalm 104:5; 1 Chronicles 16:30). How can the earth revolve around the sun? After all, Ecclesiastes 1:5 clearly says that it is the sun that “rises and sets and hurries around to rise again.”

It reminds me of a saying I learned growing up:

The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it.

Did the Bible get it wrong? In Galileo’s day they certainly didn’t think so and Galileo was treated harshly for it. But today, even the most serious christian has to admit that on this side of history, knowing what we know about our solar system, those verses are to be understood as expressing the human experience within the limits of the author’s knowledge of the world in his or her day. It’s writing from ones own point of view. That, by the way, is the best any one of us can ever do.

So back to the question, why is it so difficult to accept that something we thought was true might not be? It’s unsettling sometimes. Especially in regards to issues that are more fundamental to our particular worldview. If I got that wrong, what else could I be mistaken about?

I was listening to a podcast on my way home from work this week and it got me thinking about this. Trey Pearson was being interviewed and he said something about knowledge that stood out to me.

That is the interesting thing about knowledge. We are so scared of it sometimes ‘cause it might mean something is different than how we thought it was.

Are you Epistemophobic? Can you remember moments when you realized some fundamental things you had always believed were in fact incorrect? How did you feel? Was it a positive or negative experience? What is your default stance toward those who hold different, maybe even contrary, beliefs?

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It’s ok to Doubt

Church is often the riskiest place to be spiritually honest. – Pete Enns

I don’t think it’s possible to be spiritually honest without acknowledging the reality of doubt and its part in the journey of faith.

I know there are many people in the church who have their doubts and questions about it all. I also know most of these people wouldn’t feel comfortable coming out and being honest about those doubts for fear of being told they lack faith or that they must not be true Christians. If church is your community, where your friends are and where you’ve spent many years, if not all your life, then risking the loss of that in any way is scary. (there are those looking at the church who are interested in coming in but fear rejection because they can’t embrace everything that the church seems to hold so tightly – but that is for another post)

It’s ok to doubt. It’s ok to question. Yes, doing so is very uncomfortable. Being open to the possibility of being wrong or having misunderstood is not a pleasant process. Maybe you’re not wrong but for some reason are questioning and aren’t certain if you are correct. Not knowing what will happen when you come out on the other side of your questions, is a very, very, scary place to be.

Some deal with their doubts by anchoring themselves deeper in their tradition’s accepted beliefs. They may even become fierce advocates of the faith, numbing down their own true sense of everything and putting on a mask of certainty and anger toward anyone who would question their belief or dare to offer any alternative way of thinking.

Others will see their doubts as a lack of maturity or the result of sin in their lives. They will humbly tow the party line and feel guilty about having those second thoughts. They will repent. They will keep going, sincerely pursuing Jesus and hoping their doubts eventually go away.

When it comes to faith, certainty is not necessarily a mark of spiritual maturity. One can trust God without being certain at all.

There are different things that cause people to doubt. For example, doubt can stem from the thought that the foundation for your belief system mostly rests on a book that was written and compiled centuries ago, in a land far away, by people whose understanding of the world was very different than yours. It’s normal to doubt when that very same book, ever since its contents were gathered, has been the object of debate by many sincere individuals trying to figure out what it “truly and clearly” claims. It’s normal to doubt when scientific discoveries and what we learn about how the world works seemingly contradicts the Bible.

If God is all that the Bible makes him out to be, and If, as the Bible claims, God is capable of anything (except of course creating a rock he can’t lift – Isaiah 67:1), then I think it’s safe to assume that he knows who I am and where I am on this journey (Psalm 139). If he is love, his love does not depend on my ability to perfectly understand and master “correct doctrine”. God is not diminished by my inability to understand him. My lack of knowing, my inability to fully comprehend and even my certainties do not change what is true about him. This does not need to make me insecure. Those who are the most ardent, and sometimes arrogant and angry, defenders of “the faith”, can be insecure individuals who find it difficult to handle the idea that something they hold to be true may not be true or that absolute truth about God may not be something we can handle.

If you are someone who has doubts and simply likes to ask questions, to say that “the Bible says it, I believe, that settles it,” doesn’t really settle anything. It’s a bit more complicated than that.

What is one to do? Pack it up and walk away or embrace doubt and let it lead you into a deeper and honest pursuit of truth and the One who claims to be the Truth? Can faith grow amid doubt? Does following Jesus require certainty?

I Know Nothing of Calvary Love

I know. It’s harsh.

Most of us appreciate a good inspirational quote now and then. We share them on our Facebook page or via our Twitter feed. I do it. It might be an encouraging or thought provoking quote from a book we’re reading or something we heard. Christians really like to quote dead missionaries and theologians. Many of these quotes are wonderful and are worth noting and pondering.

But.

Many of them, while they seem nice at first glance, are rather concerning and problematic. Interestingly enough, while the person posting them usually means well and intends the quote to be a gospel affirming quote (in the Christian context), they are not always that great. Of course, much of this depends one’s definition of “gospel affirming”.

Here is an example of a quote that came up on my Facebook feed today. Have a look at it, then I’ll tell you what I think about it.

If the praise of others elates me and their blame depresses me; if I cannot rest under misunderstanding without defending myself; if I love to be loved more than to love, to be served more than to serve, then I know nothing of Calvary love. – Amy Carmichael

First things first. I have no idea of the context in which this quote was originally said or written. It could be that my reaction would be tempered if I had the full context. But I don’t and no one who reads the quote does either. All we have is the quote as it stands.

I think it is bad. Actually, to be honest, I think it is a damaging quote. I can see the potential, but stated the way it is – Yuck.

Now, if we could point the finger at someone who is constantly characterized by everything mentioned in the quote I guess someone could argue that this person has not yet tasted Calvary love (which, for the record, means Jesus’ love shown in what he said, did, and, ultimately, his death on the cross).

However, the quote seems to suggest that any one of those traits would mean an absolute lack of knowing Calvary love. Nothing. Nada. Rien du tout.

So then, I know nothing of Calvary love.

You see, there are times when the praise of others elates me.

There are times when the blame of others depresses me.

There are times when I cannot rest under misunderstanding without defending myself.

There are times when I love to be loved more than I love to love.

There are also times when I love to be served more than I love to serve.

I get it. It is quite freeing to be able to live daily without feeling the need for the praise of others or feeling depressed when blamed or criticized.

It is also freeing to love for love sake and not expecting something in return.

And yes, there is also great joy to be found in serving others.

Why then does the quote rub me the wrong way?

It’s the end of the quote that ruins it for me. To have issues with those things means to “know nothing of Calvary love.

You know nothing Jon Snow

(image found at giphy.com)

N.O.T.H.I.N.G.

Really? Is that really true? Nothing? Not even a little something? No baby steps? No figuring things out? No growing? Nope. Nothing.

If being perfect is required so that it can be said of us that we “know Calvary love” then we’re all pretty much screwed.

(Side note – what does it even mean here to “know” Calvary love? Does it mean having a perfect understanding of it? Who can even claim that!)

The potential. I think the quote has potential if only it had been worded a bit differently.

Something like:

If the praise of others elates me and their blame depresses me; if I cannot rest under misunderstanding without defending myself; if I love to be loved more than to love, to be served more than to serve, there is freedom in Calvary love.

Or maybe:

When the praise of others elates me and their blame depresses me; when I cannot rest under misunderstanding without defending myself; when I love to be loved more than to love, to be served more than to serve, Calvary love compels me to find my identity and rest in Jesus.

Or:

If the praise of others elates me and their blame depresses me; if I cannot rest under misunderstanding without defending myself; if I love to be loved more than to love, to be served more than to serve, it is a reminder of how much I still need to know and grow in my understanding of the depth of Calvary love.

But to say that one knows nothing! Such a statement is over the top and, not to mention, not really gospel affirming.

How about you? What do you think about the quote? Do you have some insight that might help us here? Have you ever come across a quote that somehow just didn’t sound quite right?

Is Christian Culture Obsessed with Sex?

I’ve been thinking about this for a while and reading this post a few days ago (which is written in response/reaction to this post) got me thinking a bit more. I’m curious to know what you might think. (It would be worth your while to read those 2 posts)
Note : (As you read along I realize I am making general statements about “Christian culture”. Christianity is a broad term and I am thinking about conservative Christian culture in particular. I think the label is relatively useful at least in emphasizing the point of the post. Do I identify as a Christian? Yes. Do I identify with “Christian culture”? Well, that depends who and what we’re talking about! You’ll probably feel that tension as you read this post and pretty much any other post I write.)
First, I’m not saying that there aren’t issues with sex and sexuality in some areas of society. Sure, it’s out there.  But this isn’t about that. This is about Christian culture in particular (and religious culture in general but I can only speak from the Christian perspective because it’s the one I’m a part of). Christian culture likes to talk about how the world around us is obsessed with sex but what it doesn’t talk about much is how all the talk about purity and modesty has backfired and become an obsession of its own. Perhaps even worst than the one it is trying to prevent.
I find this article quite concerning to be honest. I think it is a great example of how not to do it. The idea is to raise kids that have a healthy view of sex and sexuality but the result can be quite the opposite. Shame about something completely natural. Shame built in from a very young age.
Google statistics reveal that highly religious/conservative areas rank highest in porn related searches. That speaks volumes. There is a high, and often very intense, outward emphasis on something called modesty and purity while in secret there is an obsession with sex and a very harmful and immature view of sexuality that is fuelled by guilt, shame and much confusion.
As I raise two boys and a daughter, the issue is very important to me. I don’t want my kids to be ashamed of their sexuality and I don’t want them to feel awkward about the body. Whether it’s their own body or someone else’s. I want them to grow up having a mature and proper understanding of their body, sex and sexuality. I’m not convinced we do that very well within Christian culture. The worst part is we think we’re awesome at it. I have my doubts. At the very least, we need to look at ourselves more honestly. 
Let’s take the B word for example. Breasts. If my boys grow up feeling uncomfortable and not knowing what to do when they see cleavage, then I think I’ve done a bad job as a parent. If my daughter grows up thinking her breasts are somehow a bad thing and that she is responsible for the way men deal with her having breasts, then I have certainly screwed up. I mention breasts as an example because much of the purity stuff that comes out of, mostly conservative, Christian circles makes a big deal about it. In doing so, I think they end up creating a problem worse than the one they are trying to solve.
This is an important issue and I certainly don’t have all the answers. I do think Christian culture gets much of it wrong while claiming to be doing it right. But, hey, I’m thinking out loud here and having a conversation.
So, what do you think? Does Christian culture need to review its approach? Would you do things differently than the mom who shared her story in the article?

What exactly is an evangelical?

I think I have a like/hate relationship with labels. I like them because sometimes generalizing, which is what labels do, is a good way to help me get a sense of things. I hate them because they never tell the whole story and I can easily corner myself and others in them. I especially don’t like being cornered with a label by others.

Labels that describe temperaments and personality profiles, for example, are lots of fun and I think most of us enjoy the way they help us understand ourselves and others. Other labels however, like ‘Evangelical’, are not always helpful and can often be confusing and misleading. Perhaps that is because the label is simultaneously becoming less and less precise while also being heralded by some who define it very narrowly by including with it many details that are not always true about all those who would otherwise be comfortable with the label.
Kurt Willems is a blogger I enjoy reading and recommend. A few years ago he posted ‘You Might Be an Evangelical Reject if …‘. I remember really enjoying that post. It struck a chord with me and helped give me freedom to think outside of what I mostly knew, at that time, as evangelical. I was becoming restless and the post helped calm me down a little 🙂
Well, Kurt has written a new post along the same lines. I’d be curious to know what you think about it. Maybe you’ll want to read the original one first.
There is much about the label that I like but there is also much that spooks me. I agree with Kurt that it is becoming less and less helpful as a label mostly because of those who want to own it for themselves while being very narrow in how they define it. Am I comfortable being pegged as a ‘Evangelical’? Well, I guess it depends on who’s asking and what the frame of reference is.
So what exactly is an evangelical? Who gets to define it? Is it even useful trying?