September 7th, 2012


I do believe I was just evangelized

... and not in a good way.

On the way back from Manhattan tonight, I was talking on the phone about a class that this church I sometimes attend (St. Paul the Apostle near Columbus Circle, NYC). The class looks to be about the Catholic faith but for people who are more interested in discussing and understanding a bit better, but also with wrestling whether they believe those things or not. Not a conversion or catechism class. Kind of like the Protestant course Alpha. That's how I read it, in any event; I may be dead wrong. So I was on the phone, basically saying I found Catholicism interesting but had no real interest in converting.

That's true. I do want to understand the RCC better. There are parts that I find very attractive, like purgatory and the balancing of faith and reason you find in the philosophy. There's a reason I study medieval Catholic philosophy, after all. I can't blame her for not knowing that I'm happily a different stripe of Christianity (Methodism), and if you're one of those Christians that believe in street evangelism, I guess that statement made me a pretty juicy garget: someone interested in religion and Christianity, who respected it, who maybe just needed a little push.

What I can blame her for is her method. She didn't testify to me or talk to me but just pointed me to a website, At first I thought it was health-related since I'd also been talking about adrenal fatigue but when I got home, i saw it's not just evangelism... it's really fringe. We're talking end-days predicting, focused on baptisms over all else, New World Order fantasists. The covers of their publications actually freaked me out a bit.

But besides that, it was also just a website. Words on a page, presented just like any other words. It's all about "facts" and not about wisdom or virtue or all the other things that I believe are at the heart of my religion (the striving for those things if not their actual attainment). I guess I've never bought this whole idea that religious was about memorizing facts. Is anything worthwhile really working at that level, once we move past junior high? I know in my class being able to mimic Descartes and Plato is really on the first step (though a crucial one, to be sure).

The Great Commission - that verse that Christians take as their inspiration to wake you with tracts in hand on Saturday morning - says we are to go and make disciples. The Latin word is discipuler, from the verb discere - linguistically related to both discernment and discussion, if I'm not mistaken. It does mean learning, but a very specific kind of learning. Being a philosopher, I tend to think of Plato's and Aristotle's relationship. Aristotle learned at Plato's feet but that learning went beyond being able to recite the four types of knowledge or the three parts of the soul. It's not encyclopedic knowledge we're after but something deeper. Aristotle studied what Plato said and reflected on it, tried to reconcile what he learned and believed to be true through his senses and through general reasoning. He made it his own, rejected the bits he disagreed with and perfected the rest. It is this devotion to a certain kind of wisdom that marks true discipleship; not a verbal agreement to things you don't have the slightest clue what the words mean.

And you can't become a disciple through a website. It's too impersonal, and there is no community that's necessary to spur character. You can't get it through a Chick tract either, or even through streetcorner evangelism of the best sort. (If there is such a thing.) For me, Christianity is about a struggle with myself and my tradition. Anselm puts it so well:

Let me seek you in longing, let me long for you in seeking; let me find you in love, and love you in finding. Lord, I acknowledge and I thank you that you has created me in this your image, in order that I may be mindful of you, may conceive of you, and love you; but that image has been so consumed and wasted away by vices, and obscured by the smoke of wrong-doing, that it cannot achieve that for which it was made, except you renew it, and create it anew. I do not endeavor, O Lord, to penetrate your sublimity, for in no wise do I compare my understanding with that; but I long to understand in some degree your truth, which my heart believes and loves. For I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand.

I'm sure some of you reading this will think this hope is foolish, that it's at best a wasted effort and at worse a temptation to substitute mysticism for knowledge. Really, the only thing you have to do to answer Anselm is to show you don't have that "image" of God within you. (That's not as easy as you'd think if you understood how language works for Anselm, but I'll leave that topic for another day.) But here's my point: even if Christianity is foolishness and false, the religion I struggle to live out isn't encyclopedic knowledge. And if that's what this girl thought she was leading me to, I pity her that that's the best Good News she thinks she has to offer.

Speaking for myself, I never really bought into this kind of evangelism. It's not Jesus' approach; he seemed to make the most progress when he posed thought puzzles or dialogued with individuals who were ready to really listen and think. That requires a relationship. I like to think I live out the Great Commission as best I can, but the way I understand it is radically different. You can't get there through cold facts.

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a good day for nerds

A few things:

1. Go to Google and play around with the graphic. The starting graphic is here, but it's interactive and quite funny so do check it out.

2. Something about their expression in that graphic reminds me of this wacky Star Trek song:

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3. It's Corbin Bernsen's birthday - that's the dad on "Psych." What a great actor and great character. Here's a vid of the cast singing him happy birthday last year.

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All in all, not a bad day for fandom.

Not a bad day for philosophy geeks, either. Platonism in a web-comic made my day:

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I've spent the day sleeping. I woke up this morning with a fever and bad chest congestion, and just crawled back into bed after canceling my day. Now I feel at least well-rested and a bit less congested (thank you, herbal tea!). At the moment I'm listening to my new Swordspoint audio book, which is nice but would undoubtedly even nicer if I was less "loopy," mentally.

That is the good thing about owning it: I can relive it. For now, it's a wonderful low-stress activity. Anyone else have geeky fannish things to entertain me with, or entertainments of another kind (cute cats are always welcome)?

Also: Himring was right, I completely screwed up the etymologies in last night's post. All of which makes me a very bad medievalist. :^) Can I claim I was getting sick even before I realized it myself? In any case, wanted to 'fess up there. I swear I've heard people draw that linguistic connection. The only linguistic cousin I could find was "discipline." I think the point still stands, though: in the ancient world, being a student was less about memorizing facts and more about receiving guidance from a certain mentor.

the politics of not-that-guy

I've seen posts lately over at FB from groups "One Million Strong Against Romney" and "Everyone Against Liberals, Democrats and Obama"; I'm sure there are other "against" FB groups. All of which has me curious: whoever you're going to vote for in November, how many of you are voting because you really think he's a good leader (or would be)? And how many of you are voting for him out of aversion/hatred/fear of the other guy?

I'm not even asking for who "the other guy is," though if it's helpful I wouldn't mind knowing. And I guess the same thing goes for libertarians or other third-partiers: how many of you guys think Ayn Rand/whomever was right about what she believed, and how many of you claim that label because it's a way of saying not-Democrat, not-Republican?

Personally, I'm not voting against either one, and I'm not calling myself a libertarian. This isn't about cynicism or apathy, it's about honestly not thinking any of those three options comes closest enough to what I think is good for America. Voting for a guy means saying I support him, at least to me. And neither has shown so far he's worth my vote. (I am still convinceable and will keep looking to be convinced until election day.) But that specific assessment is almost irrelevant to my point here. If people think that Ron Paul or Paul Ryan (to the extent he really is a Randian) are best for America, I can respect that. If you think Romney or Obama really is the better option for America's future - again, I can respect that.

The thing that troubles me is this trend of hating Romney so much you'll vote for Obama, or vice versa, or again concerning libertarianism or whatever third party we're talking about. Because each vote has a positive platform you're supporting (yes, even libertarianism).
Just keep it civil. :-) With being sick it may take me a while to reply, but I promise to read and think about what everone says.