cjbanning: (Bowed Head)
In a very real sense, my spiritual autobiography is simple and short, less of a spiritual journey and more of a spiritual home: stable, secure, sheltering. I have been in my life a sort of conservative Protestant, a pantheist, a deist, a neo-pagan, and of course an Anglican, but never an atheist. That there is a beauty beyond this world which undergirds it, a divinity which is the source and ground of Being itself, is a fact which has always been manifest in my experience.

In this sense, my journey has been theological, intellectual, a fluid relationship with ideas as I learned and grew in theological understanding but always moored by an unshakeable relationship with the God, the One Who Is, whom I sought to understand. I have had no crisis of faith--sometimes I wonder if this itself is not a failing--simply a long process of rejecting and accepting various understandings.

At the same time, of course, in a very real sense the two journeys cannot be divorced from each other. The ideas and images, the meanings and metaphors, which we use to grasp the divine provide the form and structure for our relationship with God; my Anglican spirituality is mediated by the prayers, practices, and sacraments of Anglicanism itself, as a culture and a church, which I have come to recognize as conveying the deepest of truths. And in this sense, my spirituality has indeed changed radically several times over my lifetime as it matured and evolved.

I was brought up in a secular, “culturally Christian,” atheistic-agnostic household, but I was brought up a Christian. I was read the Nativity story from an early age, even if sometimes before or after works of secular fiction such as The Pokey Little Puppy or The Cat in the Hat. I was sent to Methodist Sunday school, I am told in an attempt to expose me to many different beliefs and practices (an attempt which proved to be abortive past that point). And I did what any child does when someone they trust tells them that things are true: I believed.

I was not, however, afforded any resources in how to believe, or even really in what to believe. My Sunday school curriculum consisted of Bible stories--Jonah and the fish, Balaam and the donkey, the garden of Eden, the flood--without being taught how to approach these stories or to integrate them into my life. And so when, around the age of twelve, the cognitive dissonance between what I was taught in Sunday school and my secular understanding of the world and the way it worked grew too great, it was natural for me to reject Chrisitianity. Christianity’s claims seemed too limited, too small to be able capture the majesty of the divine.

In high school, however, at the private Roman Catholic school I attended, I was introduced to many important things which laid foundations for later developments in my theological thought. I was introduced to higher criticism, learning how our appreciation of the Biblical message can be enriched through understanding the human, historical processes which shaped its production. I learned also about Catholic social teaching and its roots in liberation theology, putting forth a model of what a progressive Christianity might look like, and the lives of such saintly figures as Dorothy Day and Clare of Assisi who would later become my personal heroes.

But most importantly, I was introduced to the sacraments, and to a method of “doing religion” which emphasized the sacramental life of the community rather than the piety of the individual believer, where one’s relationship with God was primarily mediated through ritual--through lived experience and action!--rather than written text, a medium by which I could directly experience being present in God’s movement. This resonated for me, as I recognized a beauty and sacred character in the mass. In college, I attended the weekly Roman Catholic mass each Sunday night (they were held at 10:30 p.m.!) and, beginning the second semester of my freshman year, was a member of the Newman Board, the executive committee overseeing the university’s Roman Catholic community.

Throughout high school and college, I studied--both inside and outside the classroom--theology and philosophy. Liberal theologians like Paul Tillich and Leonardo Boff provided for me a framework within which to understand Christian practice and belief in a way which respected my intellectual commitments, while feminist theologians like Rebecca S. Chopp provided ways in which the truth and beauty of Christianity could be preserved without its patriarchal baggage. At the same time, seeing the ways in which the great atheistic philosophers of the last 150 years--such heavyweights as Friedrich Nietzsche, Ludwig Wittgenstein, and Jacques Derrida--were unable despite their best efforts to exorcise the transcendent from their philosophical systems provided philosophical justification for my developing theology.

Even as I found within Catholicism the type of religious truth I had not found in the Protestantism of my childhood, however, I knew that I would never be at home within the Roman church, feeling that it would not be possible as a convert to occupy with intellectual honesty the type of complicated relationship to the church held by “renegade” cradle Catholic theologians like Leonardo Boff and Hans Kung. Anglicanism’s combination of Catholic liturgy and practice alongside greater intellectual freedom and diversity thus proved powerfully attractive, and I was baptized in the Episcopal Church in 2007, at the age of 23, and confirmed by the Rt. Rev. George Councell in 2008.

Since then, my Anglican faith has only deepened and developed as I have attempted to live out my new identity as an Anglican and as a Christian and have more truly learned what it is like to exist within (rather than merely adjacent to), and be nourished by, a community of Christian believers. So too has it been enriched by my close contact with Circle of Hope, a network of Anabaptist congregations taking root in Philadelphia and South Jersey, as they have exposed me to a radically different set of practices and theologies, as well as providing me with many opportunities to work on strengthening my own faith, as they attempt to live out their lives authentically in Christ and in fellowship with each other and the world, “be[ing] a safe place to explore and express God’s love” and “birthing a new generation of the church” (as their website puts it).

While my Anglo-Catholicism persists undisturbed--strengthened even!--it has deepened my respect for the power of low-church liturgy and my gladness that Anglicanism has deep roots in both high-church and low-church traditions, providing it with an enviable set of resources in attempting to speak to the many different types of people with whom it finds itself in dialogue.
cjbanning: (Bowed Head)
This is the first in a series of posts reposting content from "Our Lenten Collage," in which my cell at the time blogged our way through the Lenten season of 2009.

26 Feb 2009: Prayer and Scripture )
cjbanning: (Trinity)
The Gospel According to St. Mark

It was then that Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized in the river Jordan by John. Immediately upon coming out of the water, Jesus saw the heavens opening and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. Then a voice came from the heavens: "You are my Beloved, my Own. On you my favor rests."

Immediately the Spirit drove Jesus out into the wilderness, and he remained there for forty days, and was tempted by Satan. He was with the wild beasts, and the angels looked after him.

Scot McKnight in 40 Days Living the Jesus Creed, 25-27:

At the center of the Shema is the God of love, and at the center of the God of love is the word “one”- and that word “one” is a dance. Let me explain briefly. When Jesus said in John’s tenth chapter that he and the Father were “one,” every Jew who heard him thought of theShema: “Here, O Israel! The Lord our God, the Lord isone.” Now Jesus was claiming that he and the Father were one. So somehow there were “two in one,” and, as the church gradually began to comprehend, there were actually “three in one.” The Jesus Creed derives from this “three-in-oneness of God.”

How are the three “one”? Here are Jesus’ own words: “the Father is in me and I am in the Father.” The oneness of the Father and the Son is the oneness of mutual indwelling of one another. Now, if we add to the Father and the Son the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, we arrive at something distinct to our Christian faith: the Father and the Son and the Spirit are one because they indwell one another. They interpenetrate one another so deeply that they are one. This “oneness” is often called by theologians the “dance of the Trinity.” God is almost, to quote C.S. Lewis, “if you think me not irreverent, a kind of dance.” God is, to change the image only slightly, the dance of rope in the Celtic knot.

The same theologians often call this oneness of God the
perichoresis, a Greek word referring to mutual indwelling. To say the three are one is to say the one God is a community of mutually indwelling persons where each person delightfully dances with the other in endless holy love. This perichoretic dance is the love of the persons of the Trinity for each other- the Father for the Son and the Spirit, and the Son for the Father and the Spirit, and the Spirit for the Father and the Son. Theologians and philosophers remind us that this perichoretic love is the origin, the tone, and the standard for all the love in the universe. There is no other love than God’s love.

Tony Jones in “Comp Three, Question Three” (an imaginary conversation with Jürgen Moltmann)

TJ: Doug, on this same theme, you have publicly wondered if the concept of the Trinity has run its course – this, of course, is a significant part of Dr. Moltmann’s corpus.

DP: What I think is that the doctrine of the Trinity, as formulated by Augustine and his peers, solved a certain problem at a certain time. Back then, people were saddled with this Greek concept of God as a distant, removed Being who wanted nothing to do with this earth, this creation. So, when these people inherited the story of Jesus, they had a bog problem to solve: how could the distant, removed God have possibly come to Earth? The concept of that was preposterous to them!

So the doctrine of the Trinity was of great help to them in getting over that dilemma. By conceiving of God as three persons or three parts, they could say that God did come to Earth, and he also stayed in heaven…and he also still dwells here today and still dwells in heaven.
Not only is this concept of a three-part God foreign to a holistic Hebrew-Old Testament mind, it is also becoming more and more unnecessary today. We don’t have the same Hellenistic philosophy mind-set of the Early Church. The people in my community, at Solomon’s Porch, have no trouble believing that God is holistically related to the entirety of creation. That’s just not an issue for us. Quantum physics? Nano-technology? Now those are issues that beg for theological consideration. But God becoming a man? That one is no problem.

JM: But, Doug, what I want to challenge you on is the beauty of the concept of the Trinity. Yes, I agree that when it is used as a rationalistic proof for the deity of Jesus of Nazareth, the Trinity falls short of its full theological potential. But instead of thinking of it rationalistically, I’d like you to consider it aesthetically. The Trinity affords a great deal of theological creativity to you as a pastor and preacher, and to the people who write the music for worship in your community. Don’t disparage the concept just because it’s old. Now, I don’t want you to idolize it, as some do, just because it’s old, but I don’t want you to disparage it, either.

Think of the Trinity as the dynamic, eternal dance of God. Doesn’t that jibe with your church’s desire to be a place of laughter and joy, a place where the body is honored, where worship is more than just words? I read the book about your church, and I think that Solomon’s Porch would be very well served by a robust and vibrant doctrine of the Trinity. You can talk about “following God in the way of Jesus,” and I am fully supportive of that, but part of your role as a pastor is to help the people paint a picture of God that is so beautiful that they can’t help but to follow him – that they can’t imagine following anyone else. I think the idea of Trinity as perichoresis would be a great help to you in that task.

TJ: It’s true that, just last month when I talked a bit about the Trinity at Solomon’s Porch – when I introduced that concept of the perichoresis – there were many who resonated with that idea. One man, a truck driver named Frank, said that he had been introduced to that idea just the previous week in Eugene Peterson’s new spiritual theology, God Plays in a Thousand Places, and he loves the idea. He said the world is moving so fast, it’s changing so dynamically, that it seems like we should have an image of God that is dynamic and changing.

DP: Listen, I’m open to it. I just don’t want us blindly following along with this doctrine or that doctrine because that’s the way they believed “back in the day.”

JM: Then we are of one accord. But I want to encourage you to explore the richness of the Trinity, because I am quite sure that you and your church will greatly benefit from it.’




Questions for Discussion

1. What do you think of the doctrine of the Trinity as put forward by McKnight and Jones? How is it similar to or different than your understanding of the Triune God?

2. When we begin new journeys, we often have a dance, from high school proms to wedding receptions. How is the “dance” of the Trinity at the River Jordan similar to or different than this?

3. When you begin a journey, what type of “dance” do you want from your community--and who is that community?

4. How can you be a part of that “dance” for others?
cjbanning: (Palm Sunday)
This morning, Tony Jones embedded the following video on Christian orthodoxy tests in one of his blog posts:

(For people reading this from the Facebook crosspost, which strips out embedded video, rather than from my Dreamwidth journal, you'll want to watch it here.)

Christians who believe homosexuality is a sin are a lot more socially damaging, more obstructionist in the building of the kingdom of God so to speak, than those who believe that the Holy Spirit flows only from the First Person of the Trinity and not from the First and Second Persons, but I take the point. We--with "we" being the entire catholic Church, or at least all of Western Christianity (i.e., Roman Catholicism, Anglicanism, and Protestantism; I don't make any claims to knowledge about Eastern Orthodoxy)--don’t talk enough anymore about the Trinity, about the Holy Eucharist, etc. (Although I think this criticism is particularly levelable against the emergent church movement, which sometimes seems to eschew high-falutin’ theology in favor of “relational dialogue.” And yes, Circle of Hope definitely falls as subject to that criticism as anyone--not that I think the Episcopal Church is any better on the macro level, and my home parish certainly isn't on the micro level.) As Christians, we need to talk about these things much more, although probably as well as rather than instead ofthe more sexy culture war issues.

I wonder how this understanding fits into Jones' anti-denominationalism, however. I mean, there’s nothing I can think of which would stop a Unitarian and a Trinitarian from breaking bread together inside an emergent church faith community (although Jones points to the relational nature of the Trinity as one of the central themes of emergent-ism in another post), and a move away from denominationalism opens up the potential for a dialogue between them which wouldn’t exist if they both stayed with home churches which each taught their own particular brand of theology. But what would a belief in transubstantiation look like outside the context of an ordained prebyterate? And what would dialogue look like between someone who accepts the authority of the deuterocanonical books of the Hebrew Scriptures and one who doesn’t?


I guess another way of asking my question is: Is there an implicit claim about normative theological authority already structured into the emergent praxis? And if so, what is it? In what ways does emergent praxis structure the content of our theological doctrine in addition to the methodology of our evangelization? Is the emergent church's particular style of "being Church" going to lead us to a different conclusion on, say, the nature of Hell, than would an alternate ecclesiology?

The larger point, of course, is that the authenticity of any person's Christianity shouldn't be called into question based on any sort of test of orthodoxy, whether it surrounds cultural/political issues or fine points of doctrine. I agree with that, and have posted to that effect before. (Of course, that's no reason we can't make a distinction between Christians we think have fallen into error and those on a better path, while still accepting our erring siblings in Christ as real, authentic members of the Body.) But it also seems to be the case that there might just be more tensions in an Anglo-Catholic understanding of emergence than just whether the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church requires the historic episcopate.
cjbanning: (Bowed Head)
As preached to the congregation of the Episcopal Church of the Ascension in Gloucester City, at their Morning Prayer service on the 8th of August, 2010. . . .

Proper 14 (Sunday Closest to August 10), Year C

Isaiah 1:1, 10-20
Psalm 50:1-8, 23-24
Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16
Luke 12:32-40

Many of my friends, including all of my housemates, are members of a nearby congregation operating under the Brethren in Christ, so most Sunday evenings I find myself worshipping with them at their weekly Public Meeting. Their style of worship there is fairly different than ours here; sometimes it seems that they think it is more important for sacred music to be loud than pretty. It’s really not at all my style of worship at all, really, and at times I find myself more alienated than uplifted.

Back during Lent, I was at the public meeting, and I’m surrounded by these energetic figures, fellow twenty-somethings who are just exploding with their love for Christ, and I’m left completely cold. And then I was blessed to look over to my right and I see a married couple I know, about my age, and on the husband’s lap is their then-eight-month-old daughter, gleefully smiling and clapping.

Holy Scripture talks about the hardening and softening of hearts. I think that’s the best way of describing what happened: the Spirit softened my heart. Seeing that baby girl take such innocent joy in worshipping the Lord helped me recenter my focus away from my own own nitpicks about the theology of the lyrics or the aesthetics of the melody, and back towards God.

When I got home, I got on my computer and posted a status update to my Facebook: “Cole Banning has been inspired by the faith of a child.”

It got me thinking about what that means, the faith of a child. The phrase is of course biblical: Jesus tells us in Saint Matthew’s Gospel that it is a necessary condition for entering the Kingdom of Heaven. But what is it, exactly?

Often it seems we use it to mean a totally uncritical acceptance, belief without doubt, so-called “blind faith.” But that’s not what happened in the case of Baby Lydia. Her faith was far from blind. Instead, it was a response to what she saw and heard in front of her. Even as a baby, even prior to her acquisition of language, she was able to recognize the goodness of God’s creation and respond by giving praise to glory to God in the simple ways available to her, by participating in our worship, in what our Psalm today calls “the sacrifice of thanksgiving.”

I wonder sometimes where that notion of a child’s faith being blind or uncritical comes from. I’m not a parent, but one thing I know about children is that they’re constantly questioning. It’s an iconic image: the young child, incessantly asking “why?” Why this? Why that? And when given an answer, responding to that answer with the question “why?” and if one is willing to answer that too, once again meeting the answer with “why?” unto infinite regress. “Why?” “Why?” “Why?” This is not an uncritical faith but rather a faith which seeks to learn, to grow, to challenge what it is told.

In our epistle reading, the author of Hebrews talks about the great faith of Abraham and Sarah and their family. I think that Abraham had the faith of a child. When we think about Abraham, we tend to think about his obedience, obedience which was important and a right and goodful thing. But I think we can appreciate the passage from Hebrews best if we remember that Abraham’s faith was larger than just obedience, a relationship with God that consisted of more than just Abraham following commands.

In our reading from the Hebrew scriptures, there is a reference to Sodom and Gomorrah, the two cities which the Torah tells us God destroyed in a rain of fire and brimstone. The Torah also tells us that Abraham argued with God over the fates of Sodom and Gomorrah: he negotiated, bargained. “Will you save the cities if there are 50 righteous people to be found?” “Will you save the cities if there 45?” “What abouty forty?” Talk about the faith of a child! I’m reminded of a child at a cookie jar: “Can I have a cookie, Mommy? Can I have two cookies? Three? Three and a half?”

Abraham, while always remaining obedient to the will of God, was at the same time willing to challenge God, to question God, in his attempt to understand God’s will.

Jacob, Abraham and Sarah’s grandson whom Isaiah also mentions, wrestled with the angel of the LORD at Penuel. When God revealed Godself to Moses, the descendent of Abraham and Sarah and the great leader of Israel who only saw the promised kingdom from afar, Moses too argued. He said, “I don’t think I can do this, God.”

And God said, “Okay, I’ll send your sister and brother with you to help you.” That’s dialogue: a process which consists of both give and take for both persons involved.

Moses constantly negotiated with God on behalf of the people of Israel. Indeed, we think of Sinai as this place where God’s will was committed to human beings, but it’s instructive to remember that Moses spent forty days and forty nights on Sinai before he brought down the Decalogue: they had a lot to talk about up there.

Isaiah writes: “Come now, let us argue it out, says the LORD.” The underlying metaphor in the Hebrew is that of a law court: Israel is standing trial for its sins. But it presents us with a call to enter into dialogue with God. The Inclusive Bible translates the line as “Let’s look at the choices before you,” while it is rendered in the New American Bible as “let us set things right”: this dialogic encounter with God opens an opportunity for a process of self-discovery that allows us to set order to the way in which we live our lives.

This then is, I think, the picture of authentic Biblical faith which Scripture provides us: a relationship with God which is primarily experiential, rooted in our encounter with the divine: in prayer, in service, and of course in the Sacrament of Christ’s Body and Blood -- back next week!

Thomas Merton reminds us that “faith is the door to the full inner life of the Church, a life which includes not only access to an authoritative teaching but above all to a deep personal experience which is at once unique and yet shared by the whole Body of Christ, in the Spirit of Christ.”

“Come now, let us argue it out, says the LORD.”

Liberation theologian Leonardo Boff makes a similar point when he writes that “[f]aith is not primarily adhesion to a teaching that gives access to revelation and the supernatural. Then faith would be tantamount to ideology, in the sense of an idea or belief inculcated in someone from the outside. This extrinsic character of so-called faith can give rise to various forms of fundamentalism and religious warfare. All groups tend to affirm their own truths to the exclusion of all others.

“Faith is meaningful and possesses truth only when it represents a response to an experience of God made personally and communally. Then faith is the expression of an encounter with God which embraces all existence and feeling -- the heart, the intellect, and the will.” “Close quote.”

I think this type of response, described by Boff, is the type of response which Jesus describes in our Gospel reading today, being “dressed for action” and having our “lamps lit,” making our treasure in heaven by our works of mercy and charity, through our voluntary poverty. So too in Isaiah when God tells Israel, and us, to cease evil and learn to do good; to seek justice and rescue the oppressed; to defend the orphan and plead for the widow.

This Wednesday is the feast day of Saint Clare of Assisi. Now, Clare is my favorite capital-S Saint because she’s the patron saint of television, which makes her in an indirect sort of way the patron saint of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. But Clare, who ran away from her aristocratic family to join Saint Francis in his example of God-devoted poverty, also models for us the Gospel call we’ve heard read today.

But let’s be frank: the type of response we hear called for in today’s readings, that we see in the life of Clare, is not one that can come out of obedience alone, a response only to the mere commands of a perceived spiritual authority. All the threats in the world will do no more than compel us to do -- reluctantly -- the very least of what is called of us.

And that’s not good enough. Isaiah tells how the Israelites’ offering of sacrifices and their keeping of festivals brought no delight in God, for the people had turned away from God’s will in spirit.

The radical commitment we’ve heard described is only possible through being transformed by the Spirt so that we may abide in the love of Christ Jesus. This transformation is the legacy of our baptism, but it is not a free ride. Neither is it some massive mystical revelatory encounter where Jesus appears and sets all our doubts to rest. God knows I wouldn’t mind one of those, but it’s not necessary.

No, instead it takes active participation, both by us and by God, in an authentic encounter grounded in the activities of our everyday lives: coming to church on Sunday, listening to Father and meditating on his words--without necessarily always having to agree with them; praying and reading Scripture throughout the week; performing service for all our sisters and brothers and siblings here on planet Earth through our works of mercy and justice-seeking social action; engaging in conversation and discussion with other members of the Body of Christ--a process which should begin at coffee hour but not end there.

“Come now, let us argue it out, says the LORD.”

We must work to develop our faith lives, to question why we believe what we say we believe and why we do what we do. We cannot be afraid of the difficult questions, or be ashamed of those doubts which are a natural element of a mature faith.

“Come now, let us argue it out, says the LORD.”

We are called to challenge too-simple truths, to reject fallacious authority, to argue with our God. God does not need or want yes-men and yes-women and yes-persons: God is God, omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent. God wants and needs a family of sisters and brothers and siblings in Christ--a communion of saints.

My hope and prayer for us, therefore, is that we may be inspired by the incredible faith of those who have gone before us that we may be empowered to follow the examples of the matriarchs, patriarchs, prophets, and saints: that of Abraham and Sarah, of Jacob, of Moses, Aaron, and Miriam, of Clare and Francis, and -- perhaps most of all -- of that annoying little child, incessantly asking . . . “Why?”

Amen.

cjbanning: (Symposium)
I led the "Standing in Solidarity" segment at Circle of Hope Camden tonight. Below the cut is the presentation as I prepared it (which differed in a couple of respects from the one as I presented it). About half the sentences are taken from various parts of the BCP, but I wrote the other half and am the one who pieced it all together.

Standing in Solidarity )

Two Musings

Friday, 19 June 2009 09:14 pm
cjbanning: (Default)
1. The Wonderful Complexity of Human Persons

Nate said at P.M. (as he usually does) that we should take our thoughts which we didn't get to express at P.M. back to Cell, but our cell isn't meeting this week--S.H. and S.H. are graduating a kid, and apparently Andy was at an amusement park or something? IDEK. I emailed these thoughts to Britani (as part of our cell homework to keep connected), but I thought I'd share them here, too.

For context, Nate said at P.M. that he felt that on a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 was someone who hated Christianity and 10 was someone to devoted to Jesus, most people a few decades ago who weren't Jesus followers (a question-begging term, but we won't go there tonight) were 7's or 8's--just needing a gentle push--but that today they might be 2's or 3's.

It is important to remember how wonderfully and beautiful complex creatures we humans are--I have no doubt at all that it's a crucial part of our imago dei. We are not unidimensional beings, and (and I am sure Nate would agree) we cannot be placed on a simple spectrum.

A 1 to 10 scale just can't capture all of the nuances and subtleties expressed by real, living people. What would one do with the devout Buddhist monk, or the prideful Christian preacher?

I think instead most people may end up being an "8 or 9" on the Jesus-follower scale in some ways and a 1 or a 2 in others--and so, in addition to everything Nate said, it is important to engage with them on those points of connection: to focus on what we have in common with others, and not on our differences (although there is certainly a time for celebrating our differences as well!). It's rare when we can't find any point of mutual understanding with another person--as violent as Nate may have found the ecounter, as frustrating as it must have been for both sides to find the other's brand of Christianity to be strange and dangerous--such even happened during Britani's engagement with her Chicagoan interlocutor.

2. The Power of Bad Arguments to Convert

Even though we didn't have cell Wednesday, I did get to join Bryce's cell on Thursday, partly in virtue of the fact that it's held in the house in which I live. (I've let them have their own space in previous weeks, though.) Bryce's father, Mark, said something which had me thinking since last night, and I thought I'd share it with you.

I recounted the story of the young--and I mean young; she was probably a freshman, but she seemed impossibly childlike to my grad student self--Campus Crusader for Christ who approached me in the Commuter Lounge at NYU one night when I was checking my email on my laptop after a grad class. She asked me if I would be interested in a "survey," but the true purpose of the encounter quickly was made clear.

Of course, I derailed her script by almost immediately deconstructing her questions--I don't remember, but I like to think it was something basic, like "Do you believe in God?" I even had my laptop on hand, so I pulled up my favorite Leonardo Boff quote and read it to her, trying to explain to her the difference between belief and faith:
First of all comes the experience of God. )
In the course of our encounter, it became clear that I was much more deeply schooled in my theology than she was in hers (and while I don't know--and I have doubts whether she knew--what exactly it was she believed, I suspect the two theologies had deep differences). Now I tried to be polite, engaging with her honestly and critically but never antagonistically--but I have to wonder how she'd respond to an atheist willing to engage with her armed with some of the more potent objections to theism (many of which I think are partially right: after all, there are plenty of stupid varieties of theism). My goal wasn't to destroy her faith--but what of those who would be perfectly willing to tear her beliefs to threads.

Mark's comment was that it wasn't always necessary to know a lot to witness, that one could still win converts even without being deeply schooled in theology. Now as an empirical matter he was clearly right, but still I pondered it over and over until this afternoon when I realized: I object in principle to people being converted--even to a position which I think is correct--based on bad arguments. The very idea that someone could go on to become a Christian (or, more generally, a theist) after hearing, say, the outright absurdity which is the ontological argument ("A perfect being must exist, because if it didn't exist it wouldn't be perfect"), sends cold shivers down my spine.

This is related to my arguing-on-the-internet philosophy I described at the beginning of the cell: my purpose is rarely to persuade my intelocutor (something which usually promises to be a hopeless task) but rather to argue my position with as much intellectual rigor as possible so that someone reading the exchange with an open mind would know at once whose was the better argument.

There's clearly an element of intellectualism elitism at work in my response to Mark's comment, and insofar as that is the case, Mark's words stand as an important corrective that I would do well to remember. It doesn't require a scholasticized faith for the experience of and friendship with Jesus to provide solace and direction, and when Christianity does such, it is a source of good.

But I do think Mark's comment loses track of the fact that Christianity isn't always a source of good in our world, and the less well-reasoned and more unthinking a person's understanding of Christ is, the more easily it is able to be used for evil ends, to support injustice, hate, and oppression.

If one follows the path of self-reflection, the morals of one's innermost self will shine through. If one falls for a cheap apologetic trick of the sort being peddled by my overwhelmed (if adorable) CCC freshman--well, then you're at the mercy of your persuader. And if you're the one persuading others using those same cheap tricks--well, then how can you claim to follow the God of Truth?
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"This is my prayer: that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best."
-- St. Paul's Epistle to the Philippians 1:9-10

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