Empirical Extremism and Proof of God

One of the frequent arguments we see against the idea of God or gods or Supreme Beings of any kind is that there is no empirical evidence to prove that God exists. This evidence is seen as irrefutable and anyone that disagrees are labeled as ignorant, close-minded people. Typically we see this line of thinking come from outspoken Atheist leaders. That makes It easy to believe that all atheists think like this, but the reality is a bit more complex than this. Most atheists see these viewpoints as belonging to an extreme fringe of the overall atheist spectrum.

I have a cousin that is an outspoken atheist on Facebook who refers to “extremist atheists” as being as problematic as fundamentalist Christians. While he is firmly atheist and feels that all evidence points to there being no God, he also recognizes that this is his choice when looking at the vast sea of evidence. His main point, which I agree with, is that there is really no strong empirical evidence for or against God if we are all being honest with each other. We basically choose which side sounds better to us in the same way we choose our favorite ice cream flavor.

Almost all atheists I know confirm this same position. Very metamodernist of them – they are convinced that what they think is truth, but realize that when dealing with society in general their position really doesn’t hold more or less weight than the others. So in other words, be nice to each other and try not to be jerks over what amounts to a personal choice that you can no more prove than what is a the best ice cream flavor.

However, as my cousin has also pointed out, the minority of extreme atheists seem to grab headlines and attention for their extreme empirical views just like the Westboro Baptists of the world gain attention for theirs. This idea that everything has to be proven by empirical evidence is an extreme outworking of empirical ontology that is actually rare even in academic circles. There are man other scientifically satisfying ways to examine reality – logic, constructivism, even relativism all inform scientific thought and debate outside of empirical evidence. Of course, bring up constructivism (or even worse: social constructivism) to an extreme empiricists and they are likely to give you the cold shoulder or roll their eyes and mumble something about “soft sciences.”

Most of the logical problems that extreme empiricists have with any sentient being can be pretty easily dismissed by social sciences. Why dd God do those illogical thing? Well, because he/she/it just wanted to. If humans don’t follow their own logic half the time, why would a supreme being?  Because that being has to be just and fair? How do we know that we are just misunderstanding fairness, or that we have social constructed a different view of fairness than God originally intended?

An old atheist colleague of mine also added this thought to the mix: we only know something like 10% of everything there is to know out there (some would say even less). Even if we get to knowing 100% of everything there is to know about this existence, all we can honestly say is that if there is a God or Supreme Beings of any sort, they created this existence so that it is impossible for their creation to discover empirical evidence of their reality. Kind of like in video games when you wonder why you can’t open certain doors or climb certain mountains: the video game programmer just made it so you can’t. So in other words, we will never be able to prove empirically that there is no Supreme Being. We may only be able to prove that it is impossible to empirically prove there is Supreme Being, or stumble upon some empirical evidence that a Supreme Being exists. That’s kind of the great scientific conundrum with Supreme Beings.

This also connects with the great scientific conundrum with Christianity: the entire religion is built on “faith,” but if you could empirically prove that Christianity is real, you would no longer need faith. You would have no choice in believing any more than you have a choice in believing in gravity. Therefore, proving the Christian God isn’t real is as much proof for God as against. It could mean that you have proven that we have to have faith to believe as much as you have proven there is no God. Where you fall between the two is really a personal opinion thing more than anything else.

If we are really honest with the possibilities for reality of the Divine, there are really only three logical conclusions:

  1. God, gods, or supreme being(s) are not real. We find no evidence because he/she/it/they do not exist.
  2. God, gods, or supreme being(s) exist, but free will doesn’t. We are all robots controlled by the divine, who make us choose different beliefs in the same way screen writers create characters with different beliefs. We are all just a part of a huge cosmic narrative and don’t have free will. Not finding empirical proof is just part of the narrative.
  3. God, gods, or supreme being(s) exist and we have free will. In order to have free will, we have to be totally free to believe or not believe, and therefore there is and never will be any way to empirically prove that God, gods, or supreme being(s) exist; this is by his/her/its/their intentional design in order to maintain that free will.

metamodern-faith-avatarTo be honest, I have great respect for anyone that has any three of these belief systems, even though I personally disagree with the first two. I’ll go into why in future blog posts, including why I don’t agree with things like Calvinism that are supposedly a mixture of #2 and #3 but logically still have to be #2. Many like to treat people that have come to different conclusions as ignorant at best or intentionally deceived at worst (as in, they know the “Truth” but intentionally try to fight it). I don’t agree with that at all – it takes a lot of time and thought to come to any conclusion on the nature of reality. We all need a healthy dose of humility in how we interact with those that have come to different conclusions than our own.

Response to Kevin DeYoung’s “40 Questions For Christians Now Waving Rainbow Flags”

Yesterday I came across a post by Keven DeYoung titled 40 Questions for Christians Now Waving Rainbow Flags. Looking through the questions, I decided to answer all of them. Of course, since this was published on The Gospel Coalition website, the questions were a hodgepodge of good questions, bad questions, and misinformed questions designed to “expose” sinful Christians more than start a dialogue.. Even the title itself reveals the first major misunderstanding: using the word “Now.” Many Christians have been waiving the rainbow flag while loving Jesus for decades. The questions weren’t that hard to answer, so here are my answers… if you really want to dig through all of them :). However, I would warn that if you do not read through all of these, then you are not qualified to respond to any Christians that take this same position because you do not understand our position enough.

1. How long have you believed that gay marriage is something to be celebrated?

A misleading question, since the Bible tells us to rejoice with those who rejoice as part of our outreach to the world. So any happy event that the people around me rejoice in, I will rejoice with them. But celebrating something is different that determining if it is sin or not. I have celebrated the wedding of friends that had premarital sex. I have celebrated the marriage of family members that were on their third marriages. You are probably asking about a grander idea of “celebrate”, but that grander idea will also be answered in the following questions.

2. What Bible verses led you to change your mind?

It never really changed, but the verse would be Romans 12:9-21

3. How would you make a positive case from Scripture that sexual activity between two persons of the same sex is a blessing to be celebrated?

See the response to numbers 1 and 2. If they get married, they will hopefully have sex. The question should not be about sexual activity, but marriage. This will be addressed in several of the following questions.

4. What verses would you use to show that a marriage between two persons of the same sex can adequately depict Christ and the church?

I’m assuming this is a reference to Ephesians 5:22-38, where Paul makes a metaphorical comparison between marriage and the Church. Of course, this is not a command for marriages to depict the Church. It is using a metaphor, and all metaphors break down at some point. The concept of “depicting Christ and Church” is a complimentarian ideal, one that not all Christian subscribe to. If you believe in the equality of men and women as well as the scripture that says “there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus,” then a same sex relationship can also fulfill the metaphor of Church and Christ since in Christ we are neither male or female.

5. Do you think Jesus would have been okay with homosexual behavior between consenting adults in a committed relationship?

If they are married, I do believe so.

6. If so, why did he reassert the Genesis definition of marriage as being one man and one woman?

There is no definition is Genesis. Genesis 2:24 gives a reason why a man would marry a women, but is not written as a definition or command (nor is it a direct quote of God). Jesus in Matthew 19:1-12 is responding to a question about divorce, and it would have been really confusing to say anything about the concept of homosexuality at that moment (especially since the concept and word “homosexual” emerged 1800 years later in 1869). To see those scriptures as a “definition” is adding something that is not technically there. Nothing about marriage equality changes those scriptures – that is still a reason why a man and woman would get married, and once they are married they should not get divorced.

7. When Jesus spoke against porneia what sins do you think he was forbidding?

Sex outside of marriage (more specifically, what the Greek word means – losing your virginity or purity). As the Strong’s Concordance puts it (as well as what most Christian and non-Christian Greek scholars agree on): “properly, a selling off (surrendering) of sexual purity; promiscuity of any (every) type.”

8. If some homosexual behavior is acceptable, how do you understand the sinful “exchange” Paul highlights in Romans 1?

They exchanged their heterosexuality for homosexuality by choice. They were born heterosexual and made themselves homosexual due to idol worship. Even marriage equality advocates do not support heterosexuals pretending to be homosexual. Your question, of course, assumes that homosexuality is a choice. Since it is not, the issue discussed in this scripture is clear. These people worshiped idols and pretended to be homosexual when they weren’t. To read anything else there is adding to what is actually written. Remember, in Greek language lists like Romans 1:18-32 are written in that order for a reason. If the first things in the list are not present (“they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him” than “exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles” and so on), then you can’t pick out the following things in the list separately.

9. Do you believe that passages like 1 Corinthians 6:9 and Revelation 21:8 teach that sexual immorality can keep you out of heaven?

Heaven is a complex topic, with many churches disagreeing on what that means. A better term to use might be “eternity,” to cover those that believe in floating on clouds up in the sky, a future earthly Kingdom of God, and so on. As far as “keeping someone out,” that is a complex topic that touches on many different church doctrines. If you believe in “once saved always saved” or not, for instance. What I believe about eternity or whether a person can sin enough to lose their salvation (or not really be saved in the first place because they didn’t repent properly) is outside the bounds of the topic at hand. But I can comment on what those two verses are counting as sexual immorality.

The word used in Revelation 21:8 is pornos, which according to Strong’s Concordance is a “male prostitute.” There is very little disagreement among Greek scholars on this So this is not a pertinent scripture for this discussion.

The problem with I Corinthian 6:9 is two fold with this area. First of all, many translations use the word “homosexual” there, or expand that one term to “passive and active participants in homosexual acts.” There is disagreement among scholars over whether this simplification is proper. The word “homosexual” first appeared in print in 1869 in a German pamphlet by the Austrian-born novelist Karl-Maria Kertbeny. As a concept, “homosexuality” has been through decades of modernism and post-modernism, construction and deconstruction. To reduce the idea to “passive and active participants in homosexual acts” and then place it in scriptures that were written nearly 1800 years earlier is very, very problematic. Just because we have a clear idea of homosexuality today, that does not mean that ancient Roman and Greek culture did.

You can read more about ancient Greek views of homosexuality, but this quote sum sit up best: “The ancient Greeks did not conceive of sexual orientation as a social identifier as modern Western societies have done. Greek society did not distinguish sexual desire or behavior by the gender of the participants, but rather by the role that each participant played in the sex act, that of active penetrator or passive penetrated.”

You can also read more about ancient Roman views of homosexuality, but this quote sums it up best: “Same-sex attitudes and behaviors in ancient Rome often differ markedly from those of the contemporary West. Latin lacks words that would precisely translate “homosexual” and “heterosexual””

So, even if you can justify simplifying I Corinthians 6:9 down to “passive and active participants in homosexual acts,” the idea that it could have been two consenting adults that felt they were in love with each other is just not possible based on what the culture would have understood at the time. So what would the culture of the time have understood?

The term in question is arsenokoitai. Greek scholars (both Christian and non-Christian) are more than a bit unsure exactly what Paul meant by this obscure word. The Tyndale’s New Bible Commentary and the Catholic Study Bible both point out that this term possibly only referred to male temple prostitution, since that was the only form of homosexual activity that they the culture of the time was familiar with.  So one highly likely possible translation for the word would be “male prostitutes or the men who sleep with them.” This link details more of this possibility.

(It’s important to note that there are responses to the position above. And responses to those responses. And so on. So it really comes down to which scholars you want to believe. There is no airtight refute on either side. However, both sides have to deal with cultural understandings of homosexuality, which they should be used to doing when they, say, allow women to speak at all in Churches in direct violation to certain scriptures).

Its important to note that the liberal/progressive position on this verse is not that this translation possibility is the one, obvious, clear interpretation. It is one of two likely translations, with liberals leaning towards the male prostitution angle while acknowledging that a more general idea of all gay (but not lesbian or bisexual) sexual activity is also possible. This is in stark difference to the conservative side, where the majority feel there is one, clear, obvious translation and all others are wrong, deceived, or incorrect. Of course, there are a few liberals that take that hard line stance for their side, but they are few and far between.

10. What sexual sins do you think they were referring to?

Revelations 21:8 was referring to male prostitution.

I Corinthians 6:9, if only taking into account what the culture at the time understood and what the words probably said, would be referring to male prostitution and the men that bought them or slept with them. To add to that would be to add what is in the Bible. Which, of course, we all do with some things, but due to the very low number of verses that refer to this concept, I am not comfortable adding to what the Bible says here.

11. As you think about the long history of the church and the near universal disapproval of same-sex sexual activity, what do you think you understand about the Bible that Augustine, Aquinas, Calvin, and Luther failed to grasp?

Interesting that you should bring up Augustine, Aquinas, Calvin, and Luther – four people that are famous for disagreeing with the long-standing understandings of certain church scriptures. Even the Evangelical movement owes its existence over the past few decades to coming up with different interpretations of scriptures that had stood for over a thousand years. The problem with this kind of question is that it focuses on one scripture while missing the fact that Catholics, Protestants, Evangelicals, and Fundamentalists all owe their existence to taking a different interpretation of scriptures that had stood for centuries before they came along. But now suddenly you are saying you are the last ones that can do that? So, yeah, whatever gave you the right to re-interpret the scriptures you did to create your movement.

Also, to be clear – it is not what I understand. It is what I have learned from reading many other experts, praying, and following the conviction of the Holy Spirit.

12. What arguments would you use to explain to Christians in Africa, Asia, and South America that their understanding of homosexuality is biblically incorrect and your new understanding of homosexuality is not culturally conditioned?

I have been to Africa and Asia, and don’t remember the churches there having a unified stance on much of anything, including homosexuality. I met many people that held what is considered the “liberal” view on most scriptures and were still winning people to Christ every week. I would point out the same thing I did in the last question. I would also point to many resources that have examined the scripture on this issue, including:

Its also interesting that you ask about “culturally conditioned” views of homosexuality. As was covered earlier, the word “homosexual” is a modern word, and using it as you did in the question is also a culturally conditioned view of the concept. It is absolutely impossible for anyone to now look at that term without cultural conditioning in one way or the other.

13. Do you think Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were motivated by personal animus and bigotry when they, for almost all of their lives, defined marriage as a covenant relationship between one man and one woman?

I am not God, so I can not speak for their motivations. I did not vote for Barack Obama, and will not vote for Hillary Clinton. Very odd, misguided, politically-motivated question, though. Why is this even here?

14. Do you think children do best with a mother and a father?

Not always. Abuse is always the worst option for a child even if both a mother and father are in the picture. An abusive mother and/or father would be worse than a loving same-sex couple. Children do best in a loving environment. Almost all of the research points to how parenting is carried out, not what gender makes up the parents. Single parent households can produce great kids. If the mother and father are loving and follow good principles of parenting, then yes that is best. If there is only one parent that is loving and following good principles of parenting, then yes that is best. If there are multiple sets of parents due to divorce that are loving and that follow good principles of parenting, then yes that is best. If there is a same sex set of parents that are loving and follow good principles of parenting, then yes that is best. Of course, use of the word “best” is problematic at best, which I will explore in the next question.

15. If not, what research would you point to in support of that conclusion?

The research is all over the place, but the problem is more with your use of the word “best.” Research on parenting is often opinion-based and biased towards certain styles, methods, and ideals – with multiple versions of “best.” Many lists of parenting tips don’t mention the need for a Mom and Dad; they just tell what to do IF a Mom is in the picture, or IF the parent has a partner, and are usually only one or two parts of a longer list that any configuration of parents can follow.

16. If yes, does the church or the state have any role to play in promoting or privileging the arrangement that puts children with a mom and a dad?

That’s a weird question that is too vague to answer. I would not support taking kids away from single parents if that is what you are asking. I would not support taking any children away from any family configuration that is providing them with the love and support they need.

17. Does the end and purpose of marriage point to something more than an adult’s emotional and sexual fulfillment?

The purpose of marriage is a socially defined construct that changes from culture to culture throughout history. Love is actually not always part of that construct in all of those definitions. But another weird and vague question. Most people don’t subscribe to these post-modernist either/or’s. Marriage can have several purposes and ends all at the same time.

18. How would you define marriage?

The legally or formally recognized union of a two adult humans as partners in a relationship.

19. Do you think close family members should be allowed to get married?

Depends on how you define “close.” I support current rules forbidding certain family connections from getting married, but as far as how far removed a cousin has to be before they get married, I defer to current laws on that.

20. Should marriage be limited to only two people?

Two adults, yes.

21. On what basis, if any, would you prevent consenting adults of any relation and of any number from getting married?

As far as relatives are concerned, that is a usually based on Science and what could happen emotionally to the couple and physically to any children. Current laws already cover this, so I have nothing to add to that. Those are there for a reason, and I support those. As do most who support marriage equality.

Marriages between more than two people creates an inequality. For example, if there is one wife and two husbands, the two husbands become less equal in a legal and practical sense than the one wife. No one has ever been able to create a practical set of rules to create legal equality in polygamy that doesn’t come down to a set of rules that even the most left-leaning liberal considers to be too much government involvement. Its just a principle of simple math. Two or more spouses are usually attracted to one other spouse. He or she gets all of one half of the love, and the others have to split the other other half two, three, or four more ways. That’s an inequality.

Sometimes adults choose to violate the freedoms of others, and that is what I am talking about here. The law has to create an equal foundation to build on. If others choose to build on that foundation a dominance-based relationship, they are misusing the equality they are given. How much we legislate that depends on how much you want government control of your life, but it still doesn’t change the fact that the law has to create an equal foundation.

For example, let’s take a look at the laws that would be required to create an equal foundation for polygamy. Whether people follow these or not is another issue. Traditional marriage laws are built upon the idea of two marriage partners, who basically say they fully love each other sexually, romantically, emotionally, etc. With two people, an equal foundation is assumed and there is no need to legislate more for the foundation (but there are, of course, already laws that spell out repercussions if you break that equal foundation too much into the realm of abuse). Once you introduce a third, fourth, etc partner, that equality becomes a bit more difficult to ensure as a baseline and more laws have to be created. The people that are plural in the relationship (the two husbands, the 3 or 4 wives, etc) would have to be required to be bisexual to ensure that all partners have an equal baseline for sexual and romantic equality in the marriage. That would have to be legislated by law. How does one do that? And even if you can, too much government control for my tastes. Then, you would have to legislate that the 3rd, 4th, etc person in the relationship is equally in love with everyone else already in the marriage. Easy to do with two, near impossible with 3 or more. But necessary in order to create a foundation of equality. Like I said, they may not follow that in reality, but the law is concerned with creating an equal foundation. Not only that, you would have to require that the people already in the relationship love the new person coming in as much as they love the people currently in it. Again, easy when there are two, near impossible when there are more and waaay too much government intrusion.

22. Should there be an age requirement in this country for obtaining a marriage license?

Yes, and most jurisdictions already have that. This would tie into question 19 and the first paragraph of my response to question 21.

23. Does equality entail that anyone wanting to be married should be able to have any meaningful relationship defined as marriage?

Kind of redundant, see my definition of marriage above and the response to question 21. I assume you are referring to marriages between people and animals or objects. This would also create an inequality, as you can not create and equal foundation between humans and animals or objects including robots).

24. If not, why not?

See the reasons I listed above.

25. Should your brothers and sisters in Christ who disagree with homosexual practice be allowed to exercise their religious beliefs without fear of punishment, retribution, or coercion?

Depends on the situation or context (as does any freedom – “your right to swing your arms ends just where the other man’s nose begins”). For example, government workers can not deny services to anyone protected under law. If it would be wrong to deny your services based on skin color, then it would be the same for those that are LGBTQ.

Christians serve people that fornicate, lie, get divorced and re-marriage multiple times, and so on. If they suddenly decide to draw the line at homosexuality, they are hypocrites plain and simple. Churches, of course, are not businesses and that is a different issue. Churches are allowed to operate within the bounds of their personal beliefs within their property.

26. Will you speak up for your fellow Christians when their jobs, their accreditation, their reputation, and their freedoms are threatened because of this issue?

If it is truly threatened because they were just holding a different belief, then yes. If they are being a hypocrite by not serving someone that is LGBTQ when they served all kinds of other people they call sinners, they will get no support from me. It is just silly to not serve people because you disagree with something they do. Christians have no room to refuse to bake cakes for gay weddings, or refuse to give out marriage certificates for gay weddings, or so on. That is just pathetic. Just admit that you don’t even want to evangelize certain lost people and move on. Or at least quit serving the 90% of your existing clientele that are committing a sexual sin.

27. Will you speak out against shaming and bullying of all kinds, whether against gays and lesbians or against Evangelicals and Catholics?

This is something I have personally researched and published on. Another bad question. When Evangelicals and Catholics are bullied, many people usually speak out. When those that are LGBTQ are bullied, very few to no one speaks out. People that are LGBTQ are bullied and assaulted at least 4 times more than people that are heterosexual. They are also more likely to commit suicide. So basically you are asking if I am going to speak up for people that are least likely to get bullied but most likely to have someone speak up for them when they are bullied. It saddens me that you would diminish the suffering of millions here in the U.S. by misdirecting the question. I am against all forms of bullying, but the research is clear that one group does not need my voice, while another desperately needs all the voices it can get. The real question is, when are you going to speak out in depth and specifically about the bullying, assault, suicide, and murder of those that are LGBTQ that happens too frequently in this country?

28. Since the evangelical church has often failed to take unbiblical divorces and other sexual sins seriously, what steps will you take to ensure that gay marriages are healthy and accord with Scriptural principles?

Another self-answering question. I would teach them what the Bible teaches on divorce and extra-marital sex. That would apply to all same sex marriages as well (since not all same sex marriages are between people that are gay).

29. Should gay couples in open relationships be subject to church discipline?

If by “open” relationships, you mean those that allow marriage partners to have sex with people they are not married to, then yes – same sex (not all are “gay” by the way) couples should be treated as opposite sex couples. Most churches get church discipline very wrong by going over the line of discipline into systemic abuse, but that is a topic for another conversation.

30. Is it a sin for LGBT persons to engage in sexual activity outside of marriage?

Yes. It is also a sin for the 90% of heterosexual Christians that engage in sex outside of marriage.

31. What will open and affirming churches do to speak prophetically against divorce, fornication, pornography, and adultery wherever they are found?

Prophesy is most often encouragement to love and follow God more, so your question is an answer in and of itself. Speak against these issues, since they are clearly outlawed in the Bible (except for the conditions on divorce as listed).

32. If “love wins,” how would you define love?

See number 33 below.

33. What verses would you use to establish that definition?

1 Corinthians 13:4-7: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”

1 Corinthians 13:13: “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

John 13:34: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”

1 John 4:7: “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.”

1 John 4:19: “We love because he first loved us.”

1 Corinthians 13:1-13: “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

Matthew 5:43-48: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

Romans 13:10: “Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.”

Galatians 5:22-23: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”

1 Corinthians 13:4-5: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.”

John 15:13: “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

1 John 4:20: “Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.”

John 14:15: “If you love me, keep my commands.”

Hebrews 13:1: “Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters.”

Romans 13:8-10: “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.”

…and many, many more – but you get the point.

34. How should obedience to God’s commands shape our understanding of love?

We should shape our understanding of love to how God defined love. See #33. Getting pretty redundant here… to make an even number of questions I guess?

35. Do you believe it is possible to love someone and disagree with important decisions they make?

I’m not so sure. Most Christians go beyond disagreeing. Let me put it this way. If you think bacon is bad for me, we disagree on that. If you make it a national law that I can’t have bacon while you can, and keep saying how much my bacon eating is destroying our country, and tell me I can’t come to your church as long as I eat bacon – that is not “just disagreeing.” You may say “but my bacon is real bacon and yours isn’t, so its different.” But to me, if its all bacon, I won’t feel like you are stopping at “just” disagreeing. So it is possible, but most conservative Christians go waaaaay beyond disagreeing.

36. If supporting gay marriage is a change for you, has anything else changed in your understanding of faith?

It was not a change for me. But as Jesus, Paul, and others have encouraged us, I am constantly praying, studying, and growing in my understanding of faith, since I am an imperfect human that will never have perfect understanding this side of eternity (like all of us). So if my understanding of faith is not constantly changing and growing, I am not following God and my pride is probably a huge sin that needs to be dealt with.

37. As an evangelical, how has your support for gay marriage helped you become more passionate about traditional evangelical distinctives like a focus on being born again, the substitutionary sacrifice of Christ on the cross, the total trustworthiness of the Bible, and the urgent need to evangelize the lost?

Many of the lost are turned away from the church because of their consonant bullying of those that are LGBTQ. I have convinced more people to go back to church and God in the past 5 years than I ever did in the 10-15 years before coming out as an ally (I generally had to keep my ally status a secret during that time). The more I study this issue, the more I dig into the Bible and what it really does (and doesn’t) say. I am more clarified than ever in my understanding of the Bible, in my love for Jesus, and in sharing the love of God with the lost world (in addition to all issues stated in the question).

But then again, because of my stance on several issues, I am usually told I am not an evangelical. I try not to use any descriptors other than “Christian.”

38. What open and affirming churches would you point to where people are being converted to orthodox Christianity, sinners are being warned of judgment and called to repentance, and missionaries are being sent out to plant churches among unreached peoples?

Many “open and affirming” churches are doing all of that, and many aren’t. Just like many conservative Baptist churches are doing all of that and many aren’t. Or many conservative AoG churches are and many aren’t. I would look at the churches that Nadia Bolz-Weber, Rachel Held Evens, Justin Lee, and Matthew Vines go to for places to start. They have also covered many churches that are doing all of that. But you are probably already aware of what they have to say on this, and I doubt you would agree with any of those churches that I would look up. However, here is a good long list of churches to look into if you are really interested.

39. Do you hope to be more committed to the church, more committed to Christ, and more committed to the Scriptures in the years ahead?

Yes, I do. Even though many churches are making it hard to keep that commitment. Many of these questions are just poorly veiled attempts to “expose” sinful Christians, because that is what you assume we are. Strawmen smokescreens that hurt the conversation more than they help.

40. When Paul at the end of Romans 1 rebukes “those who practice such things” and those who “give approval to those who practice them,” what sins do you think he has in mind?

See question 8.

————————–

metamodern-faith-avatarLook, I know that this list of questions is just a snarky attempt to make people feel bad. Your hope was probably that one of three things would happen: 1) people would not be able to answer any questions because they are not “real” Christians and are just following the cool crowd; 2) real Christians would read a few questions, get convicted, and change their position; or 3) liberals would answer all of the questions incorrectly and just prove that they don’t really know the Bible or that really don’t follow God. The number of redundant, poorly worded, and misleading questions just backs this up. You were not expecting Bible-believing, God-fearing, Jesus-loving Christians to be able to correctly answer any of the questions, even though millions of us can. This just highlights the level of disrespect you have for people that take a different position than you do. Of course, people on all sides of issues do that, including myself. But I hope that someday you will realize this problem and that will help you to choose to have a much more productive conversation around this topic (and many others).

My Random New Year Reflections

I always want to wait until January 1st to write any kind of “best of the year list” because I am convinced that the last week of the year just might hold something awesome to make my list. Once again, I am proven wrong. Come on 2014 don’t fail me!

– If you want site traffic, forget Facebook or Twitter or commenting on other blogs or any of the advice the experts give you. Just get someone on Reddit to use your post as a rebuttal in heated debate and watch your stats go from a handful of hits per day to hundreds per hour. Of course, half of those hits will be people looking to burn down your blog for daring to say something intelligible against their point, but all stats are good stats, right?

Related to that, it is amazing how many people will prove they are not a hateful person by posting a long, ranting hateful blog comment. You should see the comments I didn’t approve for this post because I really just don’t want to paint the evangelical church as that maniacal.

Oh, and final thought on that post. Make sure to be careful taking on people’s sacred cows before those sacred cows become national news. I don’t know if many people have gotten the point of that blog post yet. But if Reddit is to be believed, I have had at least one visit from Sarah Palin. I still would never vote for her, but at least I can say my post was used as a counter argument for her weird logic. That’s a win in my book.

– Some people mistake “love” for “lack of conflict.” Its not very loving to make someone bite their tongue about something that offends them. Love is genuine and real, and if you have to put on a mask and pretend everything is okay between you and someone else, that is not real or genuine and therefore is not love. True love means sometimes bumping heads and arguing for a while to make sure everything is out on the table so that you can work through the issues. Telling someone to not say anything and just love each other is a contradiction.

– Intolerance seems to be a vicious cycle that those who bring attention to it never want to step off of. Every time one person screams intolerance at one group, that group screams intolerance back and a huge back and forth battle ensues. At some point, it would be nice if people would just stop and say “even if this person is being just as intolerant back at me, it’s not very mature for me to scream ‘well, you did it too!'”. You know, step off of the intolerance merry-go-round and be the bigger person even if you are sure they are more intolerant than you.

– Or maybe even take it one step further and care about their issue even if you think you have a bigger issue that they should care about more. I made a Facebook post about how the conservative side seems to want to care about rich businessmen losing a side job as a reality star than the hundreds of gay suicides occurring every week due to people making fun of them. A conservative blogger decided to come in and diminish teen suicide to a minor problem of mere teen angst when compared to a suicide bombing in the Middle East. I guess dead from a car bomb is worse than dead from suicide? I would love to see this person go tell the parents of the 30,000 yearly suicide victims that their kid’s death was just mere teen angst when compared to a politically motivated tragedy in the Middle East. Of course, this person doesn’t realize that I have been to Middle East and worked with Christians and Non-Christians. And I still have friends there. Never mind that they all hate Americans using their news events to further political positions here. Never mind that they will tell you how every single story in the Western media about the Middle East is ignoring half the facts and nothing is ever as cut and dried as our news makes it seem. What really got me is what a pastor in Middle East told me a decade ago: “Why would we look up to the Church in America? You can’t even love gay people when they fight for laws you don’t like or even make fun of you a bit. We have to learn how to love people that imprison, torture, and kill us. We have to learn to love people that kill family members just for looking at a Bible, even if they don’t believe it.” He didn’t have to continue. The ,message was clear. The American church thinks it can teach the whole world how to be a mature church, when the reality is we haven’t even learned the basic commands of Jesus.

But, related to that, I have found that there is always someone worse off. Don’t come into an argument expecting a cookie because you found someone worse off that gays, or women, or non-white ethnicities, or transgendered people here in America. I can do some digging and find people worse off than anyone you can find. And then you can dig more and find people worse off than I found. And then tomorrow comes around and the news will be filled with people even worse than any of that. There is always someone that has it worse somewhere. Tragedy is tragedy. Getting in a pissing contest over who cares about the worse tragedy is not only stupid, it makes you look uncaring and egotistical. Especially when are a privileged white guy.

Any time you have to start off with “I don’t mean to ____, but…” Just stop. ‘Buts’ like that are for buttheads.

– Being a guest blogger is pretty cool. I need to take more time to submit more ideas when people open up their blogs like that. It really makes you stretch your writing focus to other things when your own blog gets a little too myopic 🙂 Plus, after dealing with bloggers like the one I mentioned in the rant above, it’s a good reminder that there are some bloggers that are just as nice of people behind the scenes as they are on their blog.

– 2013 was a great year for music, with The Ocean Blue, Dime Store Zombies, Daniel Amos, Lifesavers, Stryper (yes, Stryper), Megadeth, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Pacifico, Aradhna, Soul-Junk, Bill Mallonee, Elephant Stone and the various Down The Line Collective artists all returning with great music. Radio and popular music still continues its downward slide as far my interests go.

– There are probably some good movies this year, but moving twice to different cities in one year and having to completely start over with babysitters each time makes date nights pretty scare. Of course, I did get to enjoy some kids classics like Cars 2, Ice Age 4, and Madagascar 3. We did manage to catch Iron Man 3, The Heat, Man of Steel, Star Trek Wrath of…. opppss… Into Darkness, and Thor 2. All of which were very good and I don’t get where people are griping about them.

– Television shows? Well, I am a bit of a geek. Um, yeah more than just a bit. So I was checking out shows like Defiance, H+, Arrow, Falling Skies, Sleepy Hollow, Glee, Revolution, Agents of SHIELD, The Big Bang Theory, Continuum, and Almost Human. Defiance, Arrow, Falling Skies, Big Bang, Glee, and Continuum will be definite keepers for me. H+ seems to have vanished, and I’m not sure if I really ever followed it that well. Too confusing. Sleepy Hollow is just a weirdly cool mix of horror, police drama, fantasy, and historical fiction that I usually don’t like but somehow have gotten hooked. Revolution went from “why am I still watching this junk” to “when did this get so good?” at some point. Almost Human and SHIELD both need to get better soon or I might drop out. I am also trying to see what people are liking about The Tomorrow People… but… despite a few good ideas, the really, really bad ideas just bug me. The next evolution of humans can’t kill because they get a buzzing headache. Really? That not only flies in the face of Science and Reality… its just stupid. And inconsistent. Apparently they can’t hit someone with a stick if it might cause death, but kick an unconscious person in the water while acknowledging they will drown? No problem!

– Parenting continues to be a blast, but I’m starting to wonder how older parents face all the judgement and know-it-allness of some segments of society with out punching someone in the face. Every kid is different. What you do with your kids (or would do if you had them – since so many people without kids kike to criticize) would not always work with mine, and what I do with mine won’t always work with yours. I think several people are just upset with my egalitarian views and get uncomfortable with me taking such an active role in my child’s life. That’s woman’s work after all.

– Living with someone that has had unexplained medical problems for most of the year has given me greater appreciation for those that live with chronic illness every day. Of course, with my back spasms, I already had a little knowledge of that (PS – if you can still stand up after hurting your back, you did not throw your back OUT – the key word there is OUT, as in no longer working at all – please stop cheapening the word for the rest of us that have a real medical condition). But when my wife went through some crazy unexplained stuff that forced us to move twice in the span of a few months, our understanding went to a whole new level. Especially seeing how many people just either don’t want to understand or care about what you are going through. But of course, extremely thankful for those that did care and even pitched in and helped. My wife is starting a blog to chronicle those days and what she has learned, so I will let her tell her own story there.

– Spiritually its been odd to dig into the Bible more than ever before, learn more about the intricacies of certain scriptures, realize more and more how unclear certain issues are in the scriptures, express those discoveries, and then be accused of everything from not taking the Bible seriously to losing my faith. Kind of odd how I feel closer to God than ever, yet father apart from those that I have attended Church with at some point in life. Its not that I don’t think they are close to God – it just seems that they are unwilling to accept that I am also still on the same path seeking God just because I don’t tow an extreme right wing political agenda.

The funny thing is, I never really did lean that far right (or left for that matter). I have always been a moderate/progressive in political terms as well as spiritual. I don’t hide it as much as I used to for fear of judgement, but anyone that really knew me they would have noticed. So its kind of odd to get defriended by people on Facebook just because I have no problem with gay marriage or women as pastors or the Earth being billions of years old, when I technically felt the same way about those issues since I first joined Facebook. It just goes to show how certain mindsets have a very narrow view of what a “real” Christian looks like, and if you don’t match it they want nothing to do with you.

– Of course, I don’t want to paint my faith as perfect. There are still nights where I lie awake knowing for certain that God is not real. Eventually the same logic that led me to follow God in college comes back to me, but I still feel that Steve Taylor’s song “Harder to Believe Than Not To” is so true on so many levels.

metamodern-faith-avatarI saw a New Year’s resolution that simply said “Read the Bible. Do What It Says.” I’ve been trying that every year since college. Every year it seems to get harder. Read and Do: if only it was that easy. That’s the most overwhelming resolution I could ever think of. But one to still strive for nonetheless.

Church Culture Outsider?

First of all, let me say this: as flawed as the Church can be, I still believe in Her. And so does God.

But sometimes the people that go to Church do odd things. Some people see this and like to make themselves seem cool by making fun of these odd things.

Sometimes the people who make fun of the odd things the Church does are just as odd themselves… but they don’t seem to realize it. Maybe in the quest to be post-modern or hip they forget to research what they are saying before they say it.

For example, Tim Hawkins “Hedge of Protection” video. It’s hilarious – I love watching it. But then you find in Job that Satan says to God “have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has?” So whatever a hedge of protection is, I want it in my life. As silly and insane as that sounds to our modern/post-modern brains. And maybe Tim goes on to say that… but few include that in their clip when they use it for a sermon.

As someone who didn’t grow up in Church (and not even pretending to go to Church), I have noticed that there are two camps of Church people. There are those that create their own brand of quirkiness to make fun of all the quirks of the Church, and then there are those that actively fuel those quirks and think there is nothing wrong with any of it. Both sides love to laugh at the other, but rarely at themselves.

My goal with this blog is for all of us to learn to think about our quirks (we all have them) and maybe laugh at ourselves a bit while trying to move towards truth over tradition. Because no matter how hip, post-modern, emergent/ing/ly/etc, conservative, whatever you are… we all have our sacred cows that we don’t want to slaug… errr… examine.

Sacred cows make the best burgers. Ask any fan of In-And-Out.

Ecclesia Extraneus?

As far as the name, well… I would love to say an intense study of Latin helped me come up with it and there was some deep meaning behind it. Honestly, though, I just typed “church outsider” into Google translate and this was the Latin translation. When you don’t quite feel like you fit in with either side of most Church debates, you start feeling like an outsider to both. And that seems to be a growing thing in Churches today – those that don’t feel like they fit in with the extreme conservative or the extreme emerging sides.

Then I searched the web a bit to see what came up about this term. I found an interesting thought from this site:

The English word “strange” originated from the Latin word extraneus (from which the English word “extra” also originated) which meant on the outside i.e. “strangers” were “outsiders,” socially, religiously or politically, within one’s own nation – they could be one’s own countrymen just as easily as they could be “foreigners.”

That kind of describes how I have felt in Church ever since becoming involved. I feel like a countrymen, but since I don’t always understand the culture I also feel like a stranger. But I haven’t given up on being a part of a Church, so don’t think I am some bitter ex-Church attendee with an axe to grind.

Okay, maybe I have a few axes to grind… but at least these axes have weird, deep, or funny stories attached to them.

metamodern-faith-avatarBut whether it is traditional “old school” church culture or post-modern “hip cool” church culture, I really don’t fully get either one. So while I go to a Church, I often find myself as one that just doesn’t fit inside the Church culture box. So I don’t see myself as an outsider to the church as much as just one that brings a perspective from the outside of the “culture” to those on the inside.

More often than not, I will probably be making fun of myself and just acting like I am telling a story about someone else. You never know. But I encourage you to find yourself in these stories and learn to take a different perspective.