I have recently set up a Tumblr blog, www.roodscreen.org, which I find much more convenient to post to. While this blog is not going to go anywere, I will be much more active on the Tumblr side.
I have recently set up a Tumblr blog, www.roodscreen.org, which I find much more convenient to post to. While this blog is not going to go anywere, I will be much more active on the Tumblr side.
When I started preaching back around the turn of the century (wow that makes me sound old), the idea of using projectors in worship was already old news in Christian worship, primarily in the non-denominational protestant churches (Which I will refer to as Megachurches simply for ease of reference in the rest of this post). Megachurch worship presupposes high technology in sound and video - it simply could not exist in its current form without it. At the time of my seminary graduation in 2001, the use of projectors had stated to penetrate the mainline. Unfortunately, it seemed to me, the use of them was usually predicated on the wrong suppositions - namely, that since the larger churches with growth were using worship technology, and since they were growing, that it must be the technology that was leading to growth. I’ve seen some really sad uses of that technology - usually a folding screen and a projector on a card table with antiquated graphics behind praise lyrics. This had a public education analogue in the rush to create computer labs in schools without asking what the pedagogic function was going to be. For a decade or so, teachers were trying to figure out how to make the computers useful, rather than obtaining computers to help them meet specific learning goals. Similarly, getting the technology in a church seemed to be more important than asking how it was actually going to enhance worship.
I have gotten into a number of debates with “New Atheists” over the years on the internet. Some of them (A surprising number of Swedes) have been fruitful, many of them (mostly with Americans) have not. This seldom has to do with the result of the debate. It’s apparent at the outset of these debates that its very very unlikely either one of us will change our basic opinion. Dialogue and debate are their own rewards - done well, they build understanding and respect between people with differing views. As Parker Palmer writes, “In the company of strangers, we can speak our minds aloud and listen as others speak theirs; in dialogue we may discover a common good in the midst of our diversity; and we have a chance to raise our voices to a level of audibility that none of us could achieve alone.”  However, a number of these dialogues have “gone south.” The reasons for this are so common, I have created this document as a reference for use in further debates.
So here are my general principles in a dialogue or debate:
I am interested in dialogue and/or debate, not invective. Having debated both Christian Fundamentalists and some of the “New Atheists,” I am sometimes stuck by the similar, pedantic tone of their arguments. While as a GenXer I am an avid user of snark, it has no place in a respectful debate. As Dostoyevsky wrote, “Sarcasm is the last refuge of the weak mind.”  My experience is that when sarcasm is used in debate, the user is attempting to provoke an emotional response so that their opponent can be branded “Irrational.” I expect the same respect to be extended to me as I extend to you.
If you are going to criticize “Religion,” you must define what that means. If you wish to criticize “Fundamentalists,” or “Anglicans” or “Roman Catholics,” that is valid, as long as you don’t lapse into Hasty Generalization. However, if you wish to criticize “Religion,” I will respectfully ask you to define what you mean by that. To illustrate, here are some thoughts from William Cavanaugh:
“Religion” … sometimes becomes “religion and culture” with no explanation of what, if anything, distinguishes the two terms from each other. This type of confusion is the norm. Most scholars who write on religion and violence give no definition of religion. Others will acknowledge the now notorious difficulty of providing a definition of religion, but nonetheless will give some version of the assertion that “everybody knows what we mean when we say `religion.”’ When academics say such things, it is a sign that something is probably wrong. One should react as one would when urged by a realtor to waive an inspection. 
Cavanaugh points out the difficulty of defining religion. Do you mean a theistic belief? Where does this leave followers of certain strands of Buddhism or Taoism, which are non-theistic? Does Scientology fall under Religion? What about things like the American civic religion of patriotism and sacrifice? The whole concept of “Religion” as a category separate from “Culture” is a Western concept that is largely unknown in Eastern culture and therefore is neo-colonialist when used universally. Cavanaugh posits why some have worked to separate “Religion” from “Culture”:
The myth of religious violence is so prevalent because, while it delegitimates certain kinds of violence, it is used to legitimate other kinds of violence, namely, violence done in the name of secular, Western ideals. 
In other words, the separation of “Religion” from “Culture” is a development designed at least in part to distract. Its purpose is to set up a dichotomy between “Good” and “Bad” violence without questioning the use of violence itself. He illustrates with a familiar point:
In 1979, when our television screens were suddenly filled with black-robed militants in Tehran chanting and pumping fists, it was more convenient to blame the matter on a mystifying irrational religious experience than examine the empirical data, which would include the U.S.-backed overthrow of a democratically elected Iranian government in 1953 and the installation of the Shah’s brutal regime. 
So if you’re going to criticize “Religion” in general, you need to define your terms better than “We all know what religion is,” because we don’t.
You need to be able to recognize when you stray out of Science into Philosophy. One of the problems of the ascendancy of the writing of Richard Dawkins (and yes, I’ve actually read his stuff) is that he blurs the line between science and philosophy. Science deals with what is observable and provable. You can move beyond that, but the moment you do, you move into Philosophy. Philosophy is very important, but speculative. Scientists themselves have different philosophies undergirding their work. The two major divisions are reductionism which claims that a complex system is a sum of its simpler parts, and emergentism which claims that systems are more than the sum of its parts. Scientists of both philosophical schools can use the Scientific Method and get valid results. Philosophy informs scientists how to incorporate their results into a greater view of what the world is about.
Dawkins is a “Reductionistic Materialist.” He believes the world is what he can observe and that everything can be broken down and explained by the simpler systems that make up the whole. This gets problematic when he insists this is the “Scientific Worldview.” It is not. It is one philosophical interpretation of scientific data that is not universal. If you are going to insist that Reductionistic Materialism is what all people of science believe, you are constructing a Straw Man (see below).
Any debate I have with an atheist is, by its definition, going to be a philosophical debate. I don’t believe the earth is a few thousand years old, nor do I discredit Natural Selection or disbelieve in the Higgs Boson. I have the same respect for science as any person of reason and don’t believe the Bible is a reliable source of testable scientific knowledge.
This is by far the most common category of error I run into. The Straw Man is quite often there even before the debate starts. Atheists often construct an idea of “religion” or “Christianity” that is based on personal experience of a narrow group of people, or what a nun told them in school, or on what Pat Robertson says, etc. It often has no bearing on my experience of Christianity which is broad and diverse. It’s often quite hard to disabuse a person of the Straw Man, and they turn to Fallacy of Division or Guilt by Association to defend their notion. The “Straw Man” is quite often a twisted image of Christianity that almost every Christian in the world would reject excepting perhaps some very loud, vocal minorities.
I often hear “Christians believe X.” When I point out that some Christians might believe that, but that all Christians don’t, I’m usually ignored. In other cases, I have been told (by a non-Christian) that I’m obviously not a Christian, because I don’t fit their pre-conceived notions of what a Christian believes. To assert that ALL members of a group believe something when your debate opponent (whom you have entered into debate with as a representative of that group) does not is a logical fallacy. In several cases, I have pointed out that it would be equally fallible to blame “atheism” for Pol Pot. Obviously, that argument (besides being Reductio ad Hitlerium) would be seriously flawed. It’s not any more logical to blame “Religion” or “Christianity” for the Spanish Inquisition than it would be to blame “Atheism” for the Khmer Rouge or Stalinism. Those extremes are outliers from the broader movements. They do not define them.
Red Herring. This is one of the most annoying tactics I’ve come across. Red Herring is a changing of the subject and refusing to address a refutation of an assertion. This usually has to do with me refuting a Straw Man or Guilt by Association argument and the debate partner simply moving to a different type of invective without ever supporting or recanting their assertion. It is a sign that the person is not serious about debate, but only venting their spleen.
Ad Hominem & Circumstantial Ad Hominem. Ad Hominem is a complete debate-killer. I am always surprised that people who self-proclaim as “Champions of Reason” fall back on Ad Hominem so frequently (My personal favorite was being called a “Leech on Society.”) I will not continue a debate that veers into Ad Hominem. It has ceased to be either debate or dialogue.
Reduction Fallacy Another common failure in a debate is falling into a Reduction Fallacy. An example might be, “Christianity caused the crusades.” While one part of Christianity was certainly complicit in the crusades, one has to remember that Byzantine and Coptic Christians were actually victims of the crusades. Also, such an assertion completely ignores the social, political and economic realities of Medieval Europe that made the crusades a tragic solution to many of Europe’s problems. To say the crusades were “religious wars” is to make the false separation between religion and culture talked about earlier to justify violence in service of the secular state. A reduction fallacy is a misuse of Occams Razor, as it oversimplifies complex situations.
Misleading Vividness. Talking about how horrible the Spanish Inquisition or the Crusades were is completely irrelevant to a logical argument. Soviet gualgs and the killing fields of Cambodia were pretty horrible too. While I do not believe you have to be “religious” (whatever that means) to be ethical, it is equally fallacious to make assertions like, “If we got rid of religion, sexism would disappear.” See here for a refutation of that. Laying the faults of the world at the feet of “religion” is simply naive. Humans are often awful to each other no matter what type of belief or unbelief we practice. Unless we all accept that, we will never be able to work together to solve the real problems of the world.
I have the greatest respect for people who are using their full human faculties to struggle with issues of meaning. While I do not generally agree with Atheists in their view of the world, I nevertheless think their addition to the discussion is incredibly valuable. I am concerned that as atheism reacts to fringe movements like Christian Fundamentalism, it seems to be picking up many of the same unreasonable overtones it purports to eschew. Any positive future for humanity in this increasingly pluralistic and connected world requires people of good will working together across ideological divides.
Palmer, Parker J. (2011–07–18). Healing the Heart of Democracy: The Courage to Create a Politics Worthy of the Human Spirit (p. 99). Wiley. Kindle Edition. ↩
Notes From the Underground (1864) ↩
William T Cavanaugh. The Myth of Religious Violence: Secular Ideology and the Roots of Modern Conflict (Kindle Locations 211–214). Kindle Edition. ↩
William T Cavanaugh. The Myth of Religious Violence: Secular Ideology and the Roots of Modern Conflict (Kindle Locations 223–224). Kindle Edition. ↩
William T Cavanaugh. The Myth of Religious Violence: Secular Ideology and the Roots of Modern Conflict (Kindle Locations 718–719). Kindle Edition. ↩
Tolkien is perhaps the only author I’ve ever read that makes me want to believe in God
This is a presentation by John Milbank, the founder of the "Radical Orthodoxy" movement. He advocates for a recovery of a Imaginative Christianity which he points out has already been started by artists such as Tolkien and Lewis. The video can be a little dry - he really gets going at about 19 minutes. The shots of bored Russian theology students doesn't help.
LEGO finally reveals why Tom Bombadil never made it in ‘Lord of the Rings’ movies
August 7, 2013 at 12:38 pm by MrCere -
Tom Bombadil has always been the most enigmatic of characters in the writings of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth. When he didn’t make the cut in the movies, despite not being central to the plot, many fans objected and wondered why. The answer is revealed below at last from the Brotherhood Workshop!
Mythopoeic Awards: 2013 Winners Announced
Posted on July 14, 2013
Myth & Fantasy Studies
The incredible success of Frances Perkins in Lent Madness has had the Episcopal Blogosphere talking the last two weeks. Derek Olsen and the Crusty Old Dean have done some in-depth reflection. Much of the debate has to do with modern vs. older saints, and how modern saints seem to do better. Some have put forth a preference for the more hagiographic saints of the past. The problem probably has more to do with how we write history than the saints themselves. The difference between Perkins and, say St. Brigid, is an issue of cultural norms of story telling rather than content. The chroniclers of St. Brigid lived in a culture where resurrection of livestock was considered quite possible, if fantastic. But what Perkins and Brigid accomplished economically was in many ways very similar. Brigid seems more “Numinous” due to the way the Irish wove her story and her historical distance. But while we can certainly debate how we should go about “making saints” and what the criteria should be, I think “the ”numinosity" is in the eye of the beholder. For me, Frances Perkins is pretty numinous.
When I was a seminarian at Virginia Theological Seminary, I did my field education under Fr. Richard Downing at St. James Capitol Hill (Now St. Monica and St. James). SMSJ is an old “Gin and Lace” Anglo-Catholic parish that has always considered itself socially progressive. It puts itself in the tradition of the Anglo-Catholic “Slum Priests” of victorian England and has old ties to St. Boltoph’s, Aldgate. One evening when we were having dinner in the rectory, Fr. Downing related, “You know, Social Security was designed at the very table you’re sitting at.” He then related the story of Frances Perkins.
I’ll let former secretary of Labor Hilda Solis describe her experience at SMSJ. This is from a Labor Day speech she delivered in 2011. She first talks about her experience growing up admiring St. Bernadette. Then she continues:
More recently, another saint came into my life.
On a weekend shortly after I became the nation’s 25th secretary of labor, I was exploring my new Capitol Hill neighborhood. I came upon a small Episcopal church, St. Monica and St. James, just a few blocks from my home. I decided to check it out.
I liked the services very much. The music was beautiful. The sermons were thought-provoking. The congregation was engaged and friendly. I felt very much at home.
On my third visit, as the service ended, one of the ushers introduced himself and took my hand. He smiled warmly and said, “We know who you are. We’re so glad you are here. We knew you’d come.” I was taken aback. I had no idea what he was talking about. And then he explained.
It turns out, back when it was just called St. James, the church was the spiritual home of my predecessor and the most influential labor secretary in U.S. history, Frances Perkins. Appointed by Franklin Roosevelt, she was the first woman to serve in a president’s cabinet. During her 12-year tenure, she was the heart and soul of the New Deal. She led the effort to create Social Security (some say she wrote the legislation in the St. James rectory). Unemployment insurance, minimum wage and overtime pay are just a few examples of her legacy. The federal building where I work is named after her, and her portrait hangs outside my office. She was a woman of great accomplishments, and of great faith—a pioneer in what we now commonly refer to as social justice.
But most extraordinary: Frances Perkins is a saint in the Episcopal Church, welcomed into the calendar of lesser feasts and fasts in 2009. Her commemoration (or day) is May 13.
Frances Perkins knew the power the faith community had in making a difference in the lives of working people, and enlisted their support and involvement during the Great Depression. I think she would be very pleased to see how her department is working with that community today.
For the people of St. Monica and St. James, Frances Perkins is not just a New Deal bureaucrat, but is a living, breathing saint who worshipped with their predecessors and put the incarnational theology of their Anglo-Catholic liturgy into concrete social action. She is the very embodiment of all that our Anglo-Catholic tradition teaches. I’ve never forgotten that night when I heard of liturgy and action meeting in one person. While Frances Perkins certainly did not make the Golden Halo in my bracket, I think of her as numinous as Brigid, or Julian, or Margaret of Scotland. I will not find it amiss if she makes it all the way, and one parish in DC will celebrate their local girl who does well.
This is the last story for our Lenten series. It is on the theme of Loving. The previous sermons are linked at the bottom of this article.
As they strode towards the armory , the knight thought about his time in the Castle. how long had it been? Weeks? Months? Years? It had been a time of being stretched way beyond his areas of comfort. For one who had been trained for war, the disciplines of the castle had been so different. He had been forced to confront all of the ideas his birth, upbringing, and training had impressed upon him. The assumptions he had brought of the world due to his class and profession - of his own superiority - had been shattered like glass. Walking next to him was the kitchen maid. She had also faced a similar stretching, finding her own self-worth and struggling to convince herself that people needed to hear her voice. She now spoke up in conversations rather than demurely assuming her opinions were of little worth. The two had become unlikely friends in the Guild Hall. Stripped of class distinction and trained to listen and speak, they now saw each other as equal servants of their Courteous Lord, though their functions in the household differed.
In the armory, the Knight stood with his mouth agape. He had actually been looking forward to this - something familiar and grounded in his upbringing. But this didn't look like an armory at all. Instead of rows of armor and helmets, swords and pole arms, it was full of common stuff. Blankets, clothing, foodstuffs, even an area with coin in careful stacks. The maid looked at the knight and laughed in sympathy with her friend's bemusement. "You expected a worldly armory, didn't you? But this is the armory of our Lord." "Yes." And he laughed at himself, "Nothing is ever what we expect here, is it? But of course, the armory of our Lord would be filled with instruments of comfort, rather than that of harm." A portly man approached them, "Ready to sally forth, are we? I assume your guides have sent you?" "They have," replied the maid, "But what are we to take, and what are we to do?" "As for what you are to do, that will become apparent when you leave the castle. As for what you are to take, use the equipment you are most skilled with."
The Maid looked around the armory, passing between rows of goods. Finally, her eyes alighted on a set of cookware. Beautiful and gleaming, they looked finer than anything she had ever used. These were not the instruments of kitchen drudgery, but objects of art made to give comfort. She picked them up and put them into a sack, then went to the foodstuffs and took several staples and a selection of savory spices. Meanwhile, the Knight had passed through the armory and come to stand before the exchequer's table with the stacked coin. He looked at them in a different way than he ever had before. In the world, he had seen coin as a way to guard security or to provide personal pleasure. Now as he looked at the table, he saw them as gifts from his Courteous Lord, intended to provide relief and build places of refuge. The armorer came to stand beside him, "Take as much as you think you will need. You are a trusted servant of our Lord." The Knight pondered, then swept one coin into a purse. The armorer smiled, "Good. You take what is needed, not more. You learned well the lessons of the Guild Hall."
The two friends stood at the small sally port in the armory. The armorer unbarred it and opened it for them. "Do your work in the name of our Lord. Do it well and with compassion. Return when you require respite or refreshment. You are of both the castle and the world now." The Knight and the Maid instinctively clasped hands and stepped outside.
It was a beautiful spring day, and they stood outside the castle near the Emerald gate. Hundreds stood rooted, looking into the gates. Others wandered listlessly from gate to gate, peering in each one inquisitively. The friends headed back down the valley. As they reached the field full of tents, a light moaning could be heard emanating from one of the splendid pavilions. The Maid looked at the Knight knowingly, then headed towards the entrance to the tent.
The Knight continued to walk into the village. As before, everyone pushed past, but no one stopped to talk or even acknowledge him. He made his way to the tilt-yard. The constant tournament continued, with knights breaking lance after lance on each other. The Knight watched for several hours. Every once in a while, a knight would be unhorsed. That knight would then beckon to his squire to come forward with a purse and pay a single coin to the victor. As he watched, a contestant was struck from the saddle and collapsed on the ground. When the herald of the lists stepped up to him, he shook his head sadly. The herald made a motion, and two men-at-arms stepped into the list and took him by the arms, dragging him towards a stone building at the far end of the field. The Knight followed with interest.
The building was a Gaol, made of stone and with windows for each cell that were barred. As he watched, the men-at-arms took the defeated knight and placed him in a cell, where he went to the barred window. Most of the cells had defeated knights in them, and they all stood at the windows, yelling as victorious knights galloped past, challenging them to pay their coin and meet them on the field. As he walked past, he noticed one cell with a defeated knight in it who did not stand at the window, but only sat on his pallet and stared at the wall. "Good Sir. Why don't you stand and challenge the victorious knights as the others do?" "I used to," said the defeated knight, "but there's no point. Very seldom is one freed when there are more lucrative battles to be had with others. Besides, I no longer wish to fight." "What is it you wish to do?" The defeated knight rose and came to the window and stared at the castle in the distance. "I wish to go to the Castle. When I came here, I went to the field and stood for two days wishing to enter the gate, but the idea of no longer being a noble with servants under me made me unable to take the step. I finally turned in despair and came here, where I could indulge in that pointless game out there. " He gestured to the tilt-field. "Although I was proud, I was never particularly good at jousting. My money got me so far - several weeks - but I have been here for the past two months. After the first month, I stopped challenging passing knights. After six weeks, I seemed to come to myself, and noticed the Castle in the distance again. Now I long to go there, but I am a captive of my own pride and folly. I deserve my state, but how I wish it were different." The Knight surveyed him carefully, then reached into his purse, drawing out the single coin. "Here is your freedom." The defeated knight looked at the coin in his hand incredulously. "And who are you, Sir Knight, that I may thank you?" "My identity is not important, but I free you in the name of The Lord of the Castle. He bids you come and be his servant as well." That afternoon, the Knight of the Castle led the defeated knight back through the village, the field, and up through the gate of the castle. Celebrations broke out throughout the Castle as the news spread.
The maid walked to the entrance of the tent. "Excuse me." She called, "May I come in?" There was no answer. She remembered her Lord and boldly walked in. The inside of the pavilion was squalid. On a pallet in the corner lay an older noble lady, dressed in what must have been fine clothing once. "Go away," she croaked, and rolled onto her side facing away from the Maid. "I'm here to be of service. What ails you?" The lady rolled back over. "I stood day by day in front of those castle gates for years, never able to gather up the courage to step in. Every time I try to take the step, I'm held back by shame." "Shame? What could be so bad as to keep you out for so long?" The lady winced. "I was a horrid person. Outside the valley, I was a countess, and I lived an opulent life. I took my position for granted and the people around me even more so. I was especially horrid to the kitchen staff. I would send back dishes repeatedly if I didn't think they were perfect and ordered punishments for repeated mistakes. When I heard about the Castle, I was intrigued and packed my entire household to come here. In my pride, I thought the Lord of such a castle would ride out to meet me. When he didn't, I joined the seekers around the Castle, thinking I would surely be able to get in. Every time I tried to take a step towards the gate, I would be reminded of something particularly nasty I had said or done to one of my servants and be unable to finish. After a couple of years, I couldn't even look my remaining servants in the face and dismissed the last one. I haven't been back to try to get into the castle since then." "So you have no one here with you?" "No. I don't deserve company." "And what have you eaten?" The woman pointed at a loaf of moldy bread that was almost out. "My last servant, a sweet girl, left me that when I dismissed her. I couldn't even thank her in my misery." "I will return" said the maid. She turned and went outside, finding the fire ring. The servants had left some wood and kindling, so she soon had a fire going. She pulled out her cookware and supplies from the Castle and soon had a savory dish of potatoes and beef broth cooking. Finishing, she put some of the prepared dish into a bowl and took it inside to the woman. The woman looked at her incredulously. "Why did you cook for me? You're not my servant." "No, I'm the servant of The Lord of the Castle. I cook for whom he desires me to, and that is you." "But I've never met your Lord." "You've met him through me." The woman looked longingly at the dish. The Maid pushed it towards her. "Go ahead, take and eat."
The Maid tended to the woman for several days, watching her strength and manner improve. She cleaned and laundered, remembering, as she had been taught in the Guild Hall, that every time she did it, she did it for her Lord. Soon the pavilion was well-kept again. As they days passed, the woman wanted to know more about her, and the Maid told her about her former life in the kitchens of the baron and her new life in the castle. After a week had passed, the Maid said to the lady, "I need to return to the castle, and I want you to come with me." The lady paled. "I'm not sure I can do that. So many years of shame and hesitation outside the gates. I can't take that happening again." The Maid reached out and took her hand. "This time, it will be different. I will be with you." The lady considered for a moment, then nodded.
When they reached the gates, the lady stopped, transfixed by a bad memory, overcome with remorse. Then she turned and looked at the Maid, smiled, and stepped forward. As they both approached the gate, the Maid kept waiting for a guide to come and meet them, but no one appeared. Finally, when they reached the gatehouse, the Maid saw her guide waiting there with a large smile on her face. "I kept waiting for you to come out to guide us." said the Maid. "There was no need," said the woman. "You are her guide now." She turned to the lady. "Welcome, sister, to the castle. We have waited long for you to join us. When you faltered, we sent out our very best to guide you." The three women moved into the gatehouse to allow the lady to have her first glimpse of the valley and the castle. And there at the top of the gatehouse stairs, the Knight of the Castle welcomed them both, beaming from ear to ear.
From holy scripture:
Christ is just like the human body—a body is a unit and has many parts; and all the parts of the body are one body, even though there are many. You are the body of Christ and parts of each other.
Now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now we know only in part; then we will know fully, even as we have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.