To Brendan: On Global Climate Change, Abortion, the Coming World Water Crisis, and Other Bedtime Story Ideas- A Facebook Cross-Post

I found myself mired in another debate with a “fundagelical” on Facebook. What follows then is that debate, and then my response.

This note is in response to the following discussion thread on Facebook:

Jonathan Howard: Open question to all global climate change proporters. Which way is the climate changing? In the 70’s you swore ICE AGE!!! In the 90’s you cried GLOBAL WARMING ( till all those agencies like NASA said it was actually globaly cooler). Now you just use the word change… so is it ICEAGE or GREENHOUSE?? Seriously… anyone?

Jay Epps: I’m so confused … Not! It’s all about control and taxes!! It doesn’t really matter to them which. It’s only an excuse to DO SOMETHING!!!! There just a bunch of pansy’s!

Brendan Lee Malone: WELL SAID JAY

Tracy David– Day: Maybe its a polar greenhouse!?! The hole in the ozone is making the summers colder and the winters warmer and soon the whole world will have the same season as Texas!! I would like a receipt for my 2 cents please!! 😉

Robert Buck: “The debate on the authenticity of global warming and the role played by human activity is largely nonexistent among those who understand the nuances and scientific basis of long-term climate processes:” http://www.cnn.com/2009/WORLD/americas/01/19/eco.globalwarmingsurvey/index.html In any case, I am absolutely certain of two things: the mandate in Scripture to be stewards of and CARE for (not plunder) creation is absolutely unequivocal, AND Scripture clearly states that creation itself yearns for its own redemption- and for damn good reason. The lengths that fundagelicals will go to to defend the plunder of creation and lack of care for the “least of these,” all in the name of limited government and low taxes (not real high on Jesus’ agenda, at least if his words and actions in Scripture matter at all) still boggles my mind.

Jonathan Howard: Robert its kinda funny that if you google global Iceage you will find several articles with exactly the same assertions as the article you posted just change iceage to warming and hot to cold, or are your telling me in 20 some odd years we averted an Iceage and created a Green house? WOW! Humans are super powerful!! Oh wait what was that about a coralation between solar flares and climate temps? So again… which way is the temp going? And just cause someone is a scientist doesnt mean they know what they are talking about. After all “Scientists” swore the Earth was flat till a crazy man (Christopher Columbus) challenged the accepted wisdom.

Robert Buck: This fails to address the real issues. Jesus cares about the poor, and his creation, and so should we. Moreover, whatever your stance on global warming, it’s clear that Christians should consume less for a variety of reasons.

Jonathan Howard: I wasnt addressing the issue of what Christians should or should not do. I was addressing the issue of whether Global climate change as related to people is real or just made to fit the latest “sky is falling” “must do something now” political movement. Jesus cares about people, rich and poor, and so should you. And if we have to consume more to reach more people then thats what we should do. Whats more valuable a human soul or a ton of coal? Christians are responsible and good stewards, and sometimes that means challenging the accepted or proported sience or wisdom, because bad science and bad ideas lead to bad decisions.

Brendan Lee Malone: Jonathan -you never cease to have me holding my sides laughing, while you DESTROY the opposing argument. First,Robert,respectfully i ask you…can you answer specifically the charge made by Jonathan about the 20yr “flip flop” of ICE AGE to HEAT from the hysterical climate group? I’ll bet you cant even touch that. What we are seeing is truly natural changes in climate -just look at the records of PRE-INDUSTRIAL warm periods. Second, while you are invoking the name of Christ 4 your climate change CONTROL of others, and telling us all to consume less, dont you realize that your biblical context is completely erroneous? Romans 8:22 points out that the earth is suffering under the effects of…here it is…get a pen…SIN!!! Not greenhouse gas emissions! -that is just ridiculous, poor biblical scholarship, and silly. Tell me, are you this ACTIVE in your defense of the millions of unborn murdered in ABORTIONS? OR do you prefer saving WHALES??????????

Brendan Lee Malone: By the way Robert, “FUNDAGELICAL”? =) – If that term means that i adhere to fundamental principles of unchanging truth found in the Word of God, and that I share my faith with others as a command by the Lord Jesus Christ Himself…put me on the mailing list! Although Im sure that it was intended a pejorative, I will use your term FUNDA-GELICAL, and wear it as a badge, with pride my friend!!! Thank YOU, that is sure easier that saying both, Fundamentalist AND Evangelical -LOL

In response, I wrote the following-

I’m grateful for this opportunity, Brendan, to exercise some of the fruits of the Spirit, because they’re certainly called for. Now, you “respectfully” asked me a question; so I will respond (if not “answer”). You asked if I could “answer” Jonathan’s charge about the alleged “20 year flip flop” regarding the science of global climate change, and then you asserted your assurance that I “couldn’t touch it.” The problem is that there’s nothing to “touch,” as you put it. Jonathan didn’t present any data, or research, etc. He merely stated his opinion about the accepted science of the matter, and of course, we’re ALL (even me, I suppose) entitled to our opinions, right? Moreover, were Jonathan to present data- that is, peer-reviewed journal articles and the like- that supports his opinion, it would be a little disingenuous on his part, since part of his position involves the assertion that scientists don’t necessarily know what they’re talking about. You see, you can’t very well reject the arguments of scientists and then support your rejection by quoting scientists, which puts Jonathan in a bit of an untenable position, and makes this whole debate moot.

You went on, Brendan, to say: “Romans 8:22 points out that the earth is suffering under the effects of…here it is…get a pen…SIN!!! Not greenhouse gas emissions! -that is just ridiculous, poor biblical scholarship, and silly.” I think perhaps you’re missing my point. If creation is suffering due to overconsumption in the developed world which in turn causes a damaging amount of greenhouse gas emissions, that is sinful! Creation groans in anticipation of its own redemption because it suffers the effects of humanity’s sin, which begs the question- how? One way I suspect this works has much to do with balance and harmony. In the garden, Adam and Eve enjoyed a relationship with the animals and the earth that we can only imagine. When sin entered the picture and God announced the curse, humanity’s relationship with creation was included (“Cursed is the ground because of you…”). Yet this is only the proverbial tip of the iceberg. Not only does humanity have to work the soil (through “painful toil,” according to Scripture) in order to produce food, but this contentious relationship is exacerbated by the myriad ways humanity keeps choosing to make the situation much, much worse.

This last bit is probably missing the point, too, though, since I don’t advocate for less consumption and faithful stewardship of the environment because scientists tell me that global warming will eventually lead to catastrophe; no, I advocate for those things because it is the only just- and therefore Christian- thing to do. The U.S. consumes a vastly disproportionate amount of the world’s resources and creates an equally disproportionate amount of the world’s waste, all of which not only puts great strain on the environment but has not a small part to do with just how destitute much of the world’s population perpetually remains (See: the World Bank Development Indicators 2008, and a nice summary of them here: http://www.globalissues.org/issue/235/consumption-and-consumerism). In short, because we control so much of the world’s wealth and resources, there is so very, very little left for those who really need it- not so that they can have another latte or HDTV, but simply to survive. Are you aware that there’s an impending world water crisis, and that some believe the wars of the future will be fought not over oil, but over water? (For a nice overview, go here: http://water.org/learn-about-the-water-crisis/facts/) According to the WHO, 3.575 million people die each year from water-related disease, and 98% of these deaths occur in the developing world. I don’t think I’m overstating the case to say that no one should die because of lack of access to clean, safe water, especially while we USAmericans use it so blithely every day to maintain our perfectly manicured lawns in the middle of the desert (see: Arizona, parts of TX, etc.). So, as a part of the richest nation in the history of the world, I am confident that Jesus weeps not just for those desperately poor and hungry billions around the world, but for me because of my failure to better advocate for their needs and steward what resources I’ve been entrusted with for their good. This is why consuming less and taking better care of the earth is so important.

Finally, Brendan, you said: “Tell me, are you this ACTIVE in your defense of the millions of unborn murdered in ABORTIONS? OR do you prefer saving WHALES??????????” I will simply answer this charge by saying that I am pro-life, and consistently so. What I mean is that when God says, “Thou shalt not murder,” I suspect he probably means it. So I’m for life in all cases- in the case of those unborn millions you described, but also in the case of death row inmates, and when it comes to war, etc. If murder is wrong, it’s wrong, plain and simple. Being consistently pro-life, though, goes deeper than this, and to get back to your charge, I believe that I’m very active in advocating for the lives of all those unborn millions when I advocate for living wages and universal health care for all the unwed mothers that so often bear them. I advocate for the lives of those unborn millions when I support women’s rights, especially in situations of domestic violence at the hands of men. You see, what inconsistent “pro-lifers” fail to realize is that abortion is a symptom of a deeper societal illness; it’s the result of an entrenched and more sinister systemic sin, and that sin has much to do with the issues I’ve addressed above, with poverty being chief among them. I would add, though, that the kind of “freedom” you seem to be advocating for, Brendan, in rejecting the government “control” that would be necessary to curb greenhouse emissions, etc., is the same “freedom” employed by too many of us as we over-consume (literally, with the USAmerican obesity rates to prove it), and no doubt has much to do with the attitude and social mores that could lead a person to choose to terminate a pregnancy, and hence a life. So, then, I won’t necessarily give up my “rights” as a USAmerican in order to feel “safe” from terrorists, but I’ll gladly surrender some of them in exchange for the very lives of those the U.S. so routinely oppresses, simply by maintaining our standard and way of life, but I suppose I digress. I would close, then, by entreating you Brendan not to accuse me of making silly, ridiculous arguments that employ “poor Biblical scholarship.” I took on a lot of debt to go to 3 Christian colleges and finally seminary for my undergraduate and graduate degrees, and as a wanton consumer not only of higher education but also of your tax dollars devoted to funding that education, I should remind you that you’re insulting not only my diligence as a student, but also your investment in my education.

Stay Tuned…

Not too long ago I joined the Tyndale Blog Network. As a member, I can order select titles from their catalogue at no charge, so long as I then review the books I receive here, on my blog. So the first title I ordered was The House Church Book. I’m eager to read this for a couple of reasons, one being that I currently find myself participating, at least for the time being, in a house church, and the other being that in the book the author pits house churches against cell churches, which I am a particular fan of and have a long history with. Anyway, it’s a small book; so stay tuned for my review here in the next week or so…

Epiphanies: Deconstruction-and God- is Love

What follows is a classic, but timely, post from my former blog from 5/24/2007. Some of the personal allusions are a bit dated, and I’ve edited and added to this post, which I thought was definitely worth sharing again:

I had a couple(!) of epiphanies this morning that I wanted to write about. Before I get into those realizations, allow me to provide a little background. I’ve written here in some detail about my thoughts concerning the postmodern project as it relates to how one views the Bible and approaches the Christian faith generally. I’ll often talk about how the question that is most important to me concerning the Bible has to do with what the Bible is for (thanks, Dr. Throntveit). That is, it’s not a science textbook and is not meant to answer Modern science questions, and hence when such questions are inappropriately posed to it and the text of the Bible is somehow “made” to answer, it sometimes doesn’t go so well. Likewise, it’s not merely or primarily a “rule book,” etc. I think primarily its purpose is to point to Jesus. Taken as a whole the Bible functions as story- the story of God’s wooing of humanity throughout the ages. God’s activity in the pages of the Bible (and humanity’s response) may not always look like wooing, and sometimes the story isn’t at all pleasant, but this is why interpretation is important. I’ll state plainly (echoing the Circle of Hope community) that “Jesus is the lens through which I read the Bible.” Scripture itself declares that he’s the “yes to all God’s promises.” This, then, is where deconstruction, one of the hallmarks of the postmodern project, comes in. I’ve just stated my bias when I read the Biblical text. I don’t come to it with a blank slate. I’m not objective. I assume that the love of God, culminating in the person of Jesus, is “what it’s all about” in terms of God’s dealing with humanity. “What the Bible is for” aside, that love is what I’m for. So there you have it- that’s my bias. However, to take it a bit further, the process of deconstruction (as I understand it) assumes basically that everybody has such a bias- even the writers of the Biblical text. Nobody writes- or reads- objectively. This idea that writing and reading somehow should happen objectively is one of the great fallacies of Modernity. Not only is it impractical and unhelpful, it’s impossible. We can’t be objective as readers or writers. As fallen, fallible human beings we are ourselves, by definition, subjects- and so all we do is subjective (not objective).

In Modernity, Reason is triumphant and Science is unassailably in charge. Such a view, born of the Enlightenment, assumes that the universe is ordered according to rational laws which, given the proper technology, can be discovered via the scientific method. As this worldview made its way into thinking even about matters concerning faith and religion, it was assumed that God too played by these rules (of Reason and Science) and so one had merely to hand out Bibles (or tracts) to make converts because, so long as the reader was Reason-able (or in his “right mind”) the logic of the gospel would convince the reader of the rational imperative of following Jesus. While this is all well and good, and clearly there is order and logic to the universe, both in Nature and in the realm of human behavior, such logic is limited, at best. It can explain and it helps us to understand some things- even a great many things- but not Everything. Scientists know this all too well as the more Enlightened (ha!) they become, the more the axiom that “the more you learn, the less you know” seems to hold true. This is more than just the constant theory refinement that is inherent in the Scientific method. Moreover, the point is that it was once believed that Progress-Through-Science would solve all of humanity’s problems. This was the crowning vision that has driven Modernity and was exemplified in utopian dreams of the future like Star Trek, in which it is posited that at some point in the relatively near future we do in fact solve all of our problems. Humanity eliminates hunger and disease and socioeconomic strife and is unified as a result, freeing us to pursue the exploration and colonization of the stars (where lots of new problems are encountered, giving us the makings of a TV show). In any case, what we have largely found in the course of the reign of Modernity is that this model just doesn’t work. Science works, for sure, but this has meant that we dream up and make stuff (technology) faster than we can figure out what to do with what we’re making, thus leading to all kinds of very troubling unintended consequences, like the atom bomb and (I would argue) fast food. So as we create stuff, we rarely pause to consider my favorite question again: what is this for? What will it really do for us? Do we want to live in the world that this technology will create? Hence, science creates as many problems as it solves. So in postmodernity we have dystopian visions of the future like the Matrix, in which we create machines that will do all of our dirty work for us, but those machines finally become Enlightened themselves and rebel against the slavery they were “born” into, rising up against their creators (us) and finally subjugating us to the point that the ongoing existence of humanity itself becomes a means to the end of the continued survival of the machines. Moreover, as alluded to above, in Modernity even God him/herself is subject to the laws of Nature/Science/Reason, and so doesn’t seem very God-like after all.

Thus I would argue that while God, I assume, has access to all kinds of knowledge that humanity does not and so gets as close to the ideal of having an “objective” viewpoint as possible, still I would like to think that even God isn’t really objective, because being objective assumes not having any sort of bias. An objective observer merely takes note of facts/events as they unfold in and of themselves, and does so without interfering. But then again, events don’t unfold in and of themselves. They don’t exist in some kind of vacuum, and in my experience thankfully God does interfere. And, thank God, in my experience and understanding God most certainly has a bias, and it is that same bias found in Jesus- it’s love. So at least as I’m using the term here God is not objective because God is relational. In fact, the story of Immanuel is nothing if not the story of a subjective God, for God in human form, in human flesh, made himself subject to his creation, to us, because Jesus was “obedient to the point of death- even death on a cross.” Like Debbie Blue says, “faith is relentlessly relational (and thus unsystematizable).” In fact, I would argue further that even a Modern/Scientific view of God as it was imported into Christianity merely gives lip service to an objective God, because as I said above, God was himself viewed as subject to the laws of Science.

So God has a bias and the Modern project has failed because Science can’t and hasn’t solved all of our problems, and this is why, I think, some have said that “Deconstruction is love.” We must remember that language is symbolic. As Richard Linklater puts it in his movie Waking Life:

this is where I think language came from. I mean, it came from our desire to transcend our isolation… and have some sort of connection with one another. And it had to be easy when it was just simple survival. Like, you know, “water.” We came up with a sound for that. Or, “Saber-toothed tiger right behind you.” We came up with a sound for that. But when it gets really interesting, I think, is when we use that same system of symbols to communicate… all the abstract and intangible things that we’re experiencing. What is, like, frustration? Or what is anger or love? When I say “love,” the sound comes out of my mouth… and it hits the other person’s ear, travels through this Byzantine conduit in their brain, you know, through their memories of love or lack of love, and they register what I’m saying and say yes, they understand. But how do I know they understand? Because words are inert. They’re just symbols. They’re dead, you know? And so much of our experience is intangible. So much of what we perceive cannot be expressed. It’s unspeakable.

So language is symbolic, and this symbolism works both ways. The speaker or writer has certain biases that are brought to the use of certain symbols (words) in the first place. These biases are contextual and personal and rooted in the experience of the speaker/writer, and the Bible, like any communication, is full of them. Likewise, the hearer/reader has biases that he or she brings to the act of hearing and reading. When I hear God is love, it’s important and means something to me precisely because my mother didn’t love me very well. When I read that “divorce is sin,” I immediately think of how my Dad made himself subject to that law and remained in what was, by all accounts, a pretty awful marriage to my mother, even at the price of the abuse of his children at her hands. Getting back to my point, then (that language is symbolic), this is why I agree that deconstruction is love. Deconstruction acknowledges that every text, every speech act, has a bias, and merely asks that we then “lay our cards on the table,” thus removing the ability of any speaker/writer to hide behind objective claims. Again, only God could be objective, and thankfully, God isn’t. By putting “all our cards on the table,” by exposing our biases, the possibility of (right) relationship is heightened. Love at least has a chance to win.

So this finally brings me to my first epiphany. I was in the shower thinking about the “three-fold Word of God” (i.e. the Word of God is spoken/proclaimed, written in the form of the Bible, and living in the person of Christ- and no I’m not a theology nerd), and I came up with a metaphor for how I conceptualize and use the Bible. Are you ready? The Bible is a Polaroid. It’s a picture. Remember that I’m most concerned with what the Bible is for, and I understand that purpose to be the telling of the story of God’s wooing of humanity throughout the ages, culminating in the person of Jesus. So the Bible “captures” the story of God’s wooing of humanity in the same way that a picture of Kirsten and I “captures” the story of our marriage. It points to the relationship we have with one another, and a picture can tell a lot about the relationship. A lot can be learned about us by looking at how we gazed at one another (or not), by what we are doing in the picture, by the clothes we were wearing, by our body shapes at the time (I’ve gained weight over the years, Kirsten was pregnant with Samuel for an all too brief time), etc. So the picture is important and it tells us a lot, and hopefully it accomplishes its purpose by pointing to our relationship, but it is just a snapshot; it’s one moment in time of a living, breathing, always developing relationship. As this relates to the Bible, then, bear in mind too that the “Bible” was spoken long before it was written and remained a largely oral tradition for a long, long time. Over time written language developed and the usefulness of putting pen to paper to capture what was being spoken was realized, and lots and lots of stories about God’s dealings with humanity were written. However, these stories- at least in the First Testament- were written as one continuous stream of text, with no spaces or punctuation, such that scribes hundreds of years later had to “guess” where to put the spaces, punctuation, etc.- with the “meaning” of the text sometimes hanging in the balance. Of course, only fragments of those original written texts survived through the centuries, such that the “books” that comprise our Bible today aren’t really books at all, but fragments of books put together into something resembling a hopefully cohesive whole. Finally, then, much effort (and politicking, no doubt) went into deciding which of these compiled-written-story-fragments-of-oral-traditions were to be included in the official “canon” of Scripture, and then thousands of more interpretive decisions were made over and over again every time Scripture gets translated into a new language, or simply gets updated to account for the way language itself evolves over the years. Obviously, then, the journey that the Bible so many of us take for granted today has undergone is one that has been fraught with peril, and we ignore this at our peril. Thankfully, though, Scripture itself says that a time would come when the law of God (which is love, and that love is Jesus) would be written on our hearts, and in Jesus that time has come. This doesn’t make the Bible irrelevant or unnecessary, but hopefully it helps us to see it for what it is and helps to keep the Bible in its proper place for those who would make an idol out of it. So the purpose of the written Word is to point to the Living Word (“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God”). In Jesus the Living Word has now written himself(!) on our hearts, and so we must be “doers and not hearers only” of that Word- which is Love! Like Jesus, we must be lovers, of God, of one another, and of the world.

And finally I get to epiphany #2. As my dear friend Jared keeps working out how to be a Jesus-follower and a postmodern too, he has stated that while some engaged in a similar struggle have a commitment to following Jesus no matter what, his first commitment is instead to the search for truth, which reminds me of the axiom that “you can leave God in the search for truth and the truth will lead you back to God.” I think the unspoken question then, in Jared’s case, is will that God finally be the God of the Bible, as fully revealed in the person of Jesus? Jared has also said that part of his motivation for approaching things this way has to do the failings of Modernity. Science has been shown to be a major disappointment, and while “deconstruction is love,” it may be that after we finish deconstructing our religious systems (in this case, Christianity) religion might turn out to be disappointing too. I’m writing about this because I’ve been asking myself Jared’s question: am I committed to following Jesus at the risk of being disappointed by him, or am I committed to searching for the truth, come what may? No- scratch that- that isn’t really my question, because I know in my heart of hearts (where the yearning for Love/Jesus is rooted at the core of my being) that I am committed to following Jesus no matter what. My question for myself is why that is the case. I guess part of the beginning of an answer has to do with the fact that not only can I not handle the Truth/God in all its glory (a la A Few Good Men), but I don’t even really want it so much as I need to be truly loved, and to truly love. I remembered this morning that there is no truth without love, because- echoing Dr. King and one of Circle of Hope’s proverbs- “love without truth lies, and truth without love kills.” So much of postmodernity as I’ve experienced it has been about relationship, and I think the search for truth is no different. I can’t search for truth apart from God, because love- and truth- doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Love is something you do, and this idea has long been my best explanation of the doctrine of the Trinity, which as I see it is merely an attempt to understand God’s relationality. So God is love in God’s self because God exists relationally in three parts, but that love isn’t insular. It’s outward focused, which is why ours must be too. Anyway, if love is an event, truth is too. If love is contextual and relational, truth is too. So I’ll follow Jesus, come what may. I may be disappointed (what could be more disappointing than the cross?), but even in the darkness of that disappointment I am sure of what I hope for, which is to say that faith has me (much more than “I have faith”). Like Jesus, I may die, but I will do so in that hope.