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Posts Tagged ‘Faith’

Today, my political theory class discussed Socrates and Crito. The Crito is a discussion between Socrates and one of his followers, Crito, where Crito tries, unsuccessfully, to convince Socrates to escape Athens after he has been convicted and sentenced to death.  The question our teacher ended up posing to us was “Is it possible to be loyal to the state while you disobey its laws?”  I answered in the affirmative.  I believe in the ideals of our country: free speech, freedom of religion, freedom to live our lives the way we want (assuming we don’t harm anyone else), social mobility, meritocracy, everyone is equal under the law.  But I also know that our country doesn’t, has never fully, lived out those ideals.  We are a country that shuts out its religious minorities, oppresses its racial minorities, degrades its women, and gives advantages based on birth from the second you begin to get medical care or education.

 

Many conservatives complain that liberals don’t love this country, that they only want to focus on America’s flaws and changing its awesomeness. Liberals, particularly many of my young friends, all but shout back, “But it is flawed!  This is wrong!  How can you praise your country when one out of six women will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime and a black woman is much more likely to end up in jail or killed rather than college?”  They’re angry—and rightly so.  Anger in the face of injustice is understandable and perhaps, when channeled productively, is even the most rational, ethical response at times.

 

I understand. I share the frustration.  However, I also believe that a country is more than its individual politicians, its court decisions, its flawed laws.  I can still love this country because I love it at its best, at what I want it to become.  Whistleblowers, practitioners of civil disobedience, are all willing to take risks, take the consequences of their actions out of a desire to make our country better than it is.  Our class discussed the difference between laws and Laws.  Laws being the highest ideals, the underlying principles upon which we try to found everything else.  Patriotism doesn’t require obedience or lip service, in fact, an institution like a state should be strong enough to withstand criticism and discourse.  The fact that we have these ideals, often, I think, is what makes all of this so hard.  Something in our national consciousness cries out that this is not right, because this is not how it should be. This isn’t who we should be.

 

As I was thinking of all of this, I couldn’t help but suspect that part of this trend of disillusionment is why many millennials are opting for spiritual rather than religious, for personal development rather than a church. They look at hypocrisy among church leaders, abuse scandals, dogma that denies facts…a system that doesn’t live out its ideals, because it is made of flawed men and women who have not been able to live up to the promise of God’s true church.

 

Yesterday was Ash Wednesday, marking the start of Lent. For me, Lent is a time where we try, in our own lives, to get closer to that idealized version of ourselves.  It’s a time where we have to face our own brokenness and how far we have to go, but commit to trying nevertheless.  I think our country could use some Lent.

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I’d like to write this post on a topic that I feel is undermentioned: the rise of evangelical atheists.

 

Now, first of all, while I know I will make many atheists angry at this characterization, I believe that atheism is a religion.  I don’t think rituals or even God are necessary for something to be a religion (Buddhism lacks a strong deistic view).  I think religion is a belief about the spiritual nature of the universe.  Atheists believe that there isn’t a spiritual part of the universe.  That is a belief.

 

The interesting thing is despite atheism’s desire to be described as a religion, they are beginning to adopt many of the trapping and habits of religion.  There are now atheist/secular campus groups.  There are atheist/secular chaplains.  And there is now evangelical atheism.

 

I tend to define evangelical atheism as the belief that a) traditionally religious people are wrong in their belief of God and b) the need to express that belief and try to convert them.  This is a loose definition.  I am more trying to refer to an attitude rather than an actual act.

 

Atheists who desperately are trying to convince people of traditional religious faith that they are wrong, that there is no possible way their beliefs can be correct, are proselytizing.  They are no different from Christian who argue that the only way to heaven is through Jesus and it’s necessary for you to accept him as your savior now.  Many atheists (and people of other religions), understandably get bothered when the next piece is how if you don’t believe those things, you’re going to hell.  But now it is common to hear atheists saying that only stupid, ignorant people still believe in religion or the Bible.  I don’t really see how this is less offensive.

 

I don’t object to atheism.  It might not be something I share or even appreciate, but it’s something that I understand and I respect their rights to their beliefs.  I have many friends who are atheists, live-and-let-live atheists.  But what scares me is the rise of a type of evangelical, militant atheist.  A form of atheism that not only doesn’t acknowledge the possibility of a God…but believes that it is necessary that other people realize the error of their ways and think the same way (much like evangelical Christians who want the world to convert to Christianity).   It is a form of atheism that is not simply a belief, but that thinks that that belief needs to be spread.  It sees traditional religions as some sort of threat, as antiquated artifacts of a more primitive time that we need to throw away.  It is a form of atheism that does not leave room for other faiths.

 

I know many of us snort when people talk of how religion is “under attack” in America.  We all know that religious freedom is generally well-protected.  We also know that in the vast majority of America (which does not include where I live, in Massachusetts), religion is still a very dominant piece of life, perhaps even to the point where it can isolate or exclude people.  However, the attitude has been around for some time, and I feel it is growing, where atheism believes that there is no room for traditional religion, no room for deeply religious people.

 

I am a Christian who deeply believes in God and her faith.  I am not irrational or illogical.  I have actually thought very deeply about this.  I am not ignorant, narrow-minded, or backward.  I don’t think I need fixing any more than atheists think they need saving.

 

I respect your right to your own beliefs without judgment on you as a person.  Please do the same for me.

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Thanksgiving has come and gone.  At our house, and perhaps it’s also true at your house, we go around and give thankfuls.  Thanksgiving is a time where we think, “What are we grateful to God for?”

I’ve been suffering from debilitating headaches for the past two months, they have always been apart of my life,  but never have they stopped me from living my daily activities to such a degree.  It wouldn’t have been too hard to be grumpy at Thanksgiving, to think, what am I supposed to thank God for?  That I can’t work…?  That I can’t see my friends…?  That I’m a burden on my family…?  And yet…I found that those were none of the things that came to my mind.

I am grateful for my family’s patience.  I am grateful for my neurologist’s care and skill.  I am grateful for the friends who ask how I’m doing, and I’m also grateful for the friends who will ask me about things other than my headaches.  I am grateful for my sisters and the joy they bring in my life.  I am grateful that God has brought and kept my best friends in my life when I have needed them most.  I am grateful that there is food in my closet and heat in my house.  I am grateful for the country I live in, where despite the fact that I have been born a woman, I am allowed to read and learn to my heart’s content, and am able to live with autonomy.  I am grateful for the church I am in that will allow me to recognize my dream of being a minister, even though I am a woman.  I am grateful for countless things and all the blessings that God has seen fit to give me, but above all, I am grateful to God for being with me through every step of the journey.

And with that, how can I not give thanks?

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When I was in eighth grade at a Christian school, our teacher had us debate whether or not, as Christians, we should or shouldn’t read books like The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman.  The Golden Compass is part of a trilogy known as the Dark Materials series that is considered to have themes that are anti-Christian.  Many of my classmates had had parents who had forbidden them from reading the books or later from seeing the movie or had had similar experiences with other books.  Many people see the books as an attack on Christianity, Christian tradition, Christian values, and the Church. 

 

To my surprise, a large number of my classmates said that we shouldn’t read books like that.  The main argument that they had against them was this: it might cause us to question our faith. 

 

First, do we really think our faith is that weak and that fragile and we have so little faith in our own faith that reading the book will cause us to question all our religious beliefs?  Secondly, if reading a fiction book does cause us to question everything we believe, doesn’t that say that that faith wasn’t very strong in the first place?  And that maybe we should be questioning why our faith isn’t that strong?  Third, why is questioning always a bad thing?

 

To address the first part of this post which is censorship, I think that while some reasonable limits should be put on making sure that truly inappropriate literature does not find its way to young children, I think that in general that trying to shelter our children is a futile and often dangerous thing to do.  For instance, Laurie Halse Anderson’s book Speak portrays a girl dealing with the aftermath of a rape after a party.  It has been banned in many libraries.  I think though that while we would like our children not to know that these kind of things don’t happen, the fact is that they do, and that people need to understand this and be prepared to better protect themselves and their friends.  If the character in the book or one of her friends had had more awareness she might have been saved a lot of pain.  People should be allowed to freedom to read.  After a certain point they should have a degree of autonomy over what literary content they choose to digest.  Most of the best literary works have been banned at some point or another. 

 

The second issue at play here is questioning.  I’ve noticed that a number of Christians seem to fear questioning their faith.  While I can sympathize with wanting to avoid those periods of disorientation, isolation, doubt, and confusion, I think we can’t live in fear of them.  First of all, periods of doubt, particularly during difficult periods in our life, are inevitable for many of us.  Second of all, questioning is not always a bad thing.  Questioning can make our faith stronger, it can push away doubts, it is often vital to our faith.  Questioning strengthens us and real faith, faith that has a solid rock, is rooted in answering real and honest questions.  Religion means little if it does not answer the questions that we ask ourselves, if our questions about the universe, destiny, ourselves, humankind, are not found in our faith.  Much of the Old Testament is filled with prophets questioning God.  John questions Jesus in the New Testament.  Periods of doubts in our faith are part of our faith journeys.  I gave a sermon on this earlier in the year at my church (if anyone’s interested I can post it here at another time).  Jesus himself experienced moments of doubts.  If Jesus, supposedly our perfect example, had doubts, why are we ashamed of them?  Doubts are a natural part and they are not a sign of being a bad Christian, I believe that periods of doubts and questioning are part of God’s plan for us.  Instead of discouraging our children not to question, or to fear these periods of questioning, we should support them in their questions and try to provide what answers we can give and encourage them to find their own.  We have little faith in our own faith if we continually fear it being torn down.

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There are words that seem to come into the public consciousness.  They’re the kind of words that people use to get attention.  The kind of words public figures use in their press releases, the sound bytes.  One such word for a number of years has been tolerance.  It has been heralded and praised.  People have despaired over its lack and have strived for its growth in their towns and in their schools.  However, perhaps we actually shouldn’t be striving for tolerance.  Perhaps encouraging people to be tolerant is actually the wrong thing we should do.  Maybe we should be encouraging them to have acceptance.

 

Think about it.  Who wants to be tolerated?  Who wants someone to say to them, “We’ll tolerate your presence”?  That doesn’t make anyone feel good.  Toleration means abstaining from outright persecution.  Toleration means that you will admit to another person’s right to hold an opposing viewpoint but you do not in any way acknowledge that their viewpoint is valuable or even valid.  Toleration means that you will not bully that kid in the hallway but you still think they’re a freak.  No one really wants to be tolerated, what people want is to be accepted.

 

Most people don’t need everyone to agree with their faith or their point of view or their lifestyle, but most people would like the people around them to respect their choices and to understand their choices.  They would like to be accepted by their family and their friends and their communities for who they are and what they believe.  People want other people to understand why they do or think what they do, whether or not the other person agrees with them, they want that person to at least understand where they’re coming from and above all things why.  It’s important that we learn to accept people for who they are instead of simply tolerating their presence and the method to reach acceptance is understanding. 

 

When we encounter a practice or an idea that we don’t fully understand, our first instinct should not be to judge it or to rely on hearsay.  We should ask people about their beliefs, their faith, their morals, and likewise we should be willing to explain our own.  We should not ask with the intent to pass judgment or to compare it to our own belief system, but to understand it for its own sake.  Ignorance is a powerful weapon of many people in our country.  Its why some people still believe all Muslims hate America or that all Christians hate gays or that all Republicans are ignorant.  Its why people can get away with the polarizing rhetoric and pointing fingers and demonization of other sides…because we don’t understand both sides.  Instead of teaching our children to tolerate others, we need to be teaching them to strive to understand and accept others.  Accepting others with their differing beliefs and points of view doesn’t make our own beliefs any weaker, in fact it can sometimes make it stronger.  Each person, however, deserves respect.  Toleration doesn’t communicate respect, it communicates division.

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The Muslim practice of women wearing headscarves to cover their hair and neck has become a symbol in the United States for Islamic women.  Some see it as a symbol of their refusal to integrate into American society, some see it as the exercise of their religious beliefs, some see it as a sign of their oppression by men.  For most of these young women their choice of clothing is something that is reflective of their personal faith and they hold to that even in the face of ridicule or judgment by people around them.

Let’s just start with some terminology.   There are many different types of coverings, the four major ones being the hijab, the chador, the burqa, and the niqab.  The hijab is a headscarf that covers women’s hair and necks.  The chador is a full-body wear that is similar to a cloak and it leaves her face exposed.  The niqab is a full-body covering that covers everything except the eyes.  The burqa covers the eyes as well, leaving only a mesh covering to see through.  As a sidenote, the now-infamous headscarf ban in France bans only the burqa and the niqab and not the hijab and chador (though these things are not allowed in places like French schools where wearing pieces of religious symbolism is forbidden).  Hijab is also, at times, used to refer to the overall practice of modest dress.  Modest dress is interpreted several ways, most believe that it should not be form-fitting and many believe it should cover everything except face and hands (and some believe those too should be covered).

Women and girls wearing some form of the headscarf is becoming increasingly common.  While some are resistant to our country changing, I believe that it is America’s versatility and ability to change that is part of what makes this a great nation.  Just as with civil rights, an African-American girl also started to become a face of America, along with her blonde hair, blue-eyed counterpart, or as Asian-American girls also became common to see in the media, so I think that these Muslim girls are also becoming another face of America, something that bothers a great number of people.  This girl—a young woman with a hijab covering her hair, a loose-fitting shirt with long sleeves, and slacks—she is also America.

Common misperception: only immigrant women and girls still wear the headscarf and wearing it is a sign that they have not integrated into American culture.  This is false.  A large percentage of the women who wear the headscarf were born and raised in America, just like the rest of us.

Common misperception: most girls only wear the headscarf because they are forced to by their families or husbands.  This is also false.  While there are cases where women are forced by their families to wear the headscarf (particularly abroad) the majority of women make this choice freely. For the record though, in a way, isn’t a family encouraging a girl to wear a headscarf or cover herself not that different from when our parents refused to buy us a piece of clothing or leave the house in an outfit because we were wearing a short skirt or a low top?  Or when we’ve done that to our daughter?  Standards of appropriate dress are different in every family, we know this.  While this does not excuse someone forcing their daughter or wife to wear something against their will, perhaps looking at it from this perspective we might understand better why some families strongly wish their daughters to dress in a way that they think is appropriate.

Most women who cover themselves do so out of a personal choice.  They do it because they feel it is something that is mandated by their religion.  Or some do it because it is part of their faith and spirituality, it helps them to connect with God.  Some do it because they feel that, similarly while many Christians believe in saving aspects of physicality (like sex) for marriage and in only giving that to one person, they also believe in only showing themselves to their family and husband.  And there are some who do it because they prefer to dress modestly as a way of respecting themselves and their body.  Instead of feeling commoditized or insecure about body image, they cover themselves as a way of taking focus away from their body and back to where they believe it truly belongs: their heart and mind.  Many would prefer the stares from their modest dress and headscarf than the stares of boys on a street corner.  Whatever motivates Muslim women to wear their headscarves and modest dress, for many of them it is a deeply personal choice that they make because they feel that this best reflects their faith and beliefs.  Christians should understand this since so many Christians also believe in dressing modestly.  This is just a different aspect and a different way of reflecting a similar belief and practice across our religions.

However, instead many Muslim women feel isolated or ostracized.  They feel pressure from peers and get disrespectful questions about their choices.  At times they have been shouted at, had people try to pull their headscarves off, and there are even a few cases where women wearing hijab have been attacked.  In spite of public disapproval, they have continued to express their faith and they should be admired for that.  We should be supporting these women’s choice instead of condemning them or judging them.

There is a lawsuit going forward by a young Muslim woman against Abercrombie and Fitch after she was allegedly fired because they said her headscarf did not conform with their company dress code.  She had been working without a problem for a number of months and had been sure to wear her hijab in company-approved colors until a district manager saw her.  When she refused to take off her hijab while at work she was fired from her job.  (It is worth noting that this is not the first time since Abercrombie and Fitch have been sued for discrimination).

Abercrombie and Fitch has a specific dress code that they require all their employees to wear, the idea being that the dress code is supposed to reflect their “All-American Style”.  Apparently they do not believe that a hijab is an American style, that it is not All-American.  Aside from the fact that by extension this is implying that they don’t see people who wear the hijab as truly American and the indignity of this, they are wrong.  We are entitled, under the bill of rights, to freedom of expression and that there shall be nothing to prohibit the free exercise of religion.  It is this freedom that entitles us to express our Christian faith, such as wearing a cross.  And all who value their religious freedom should do their utmost to defend it for others.   But further, that these women are free to wear their hijab and express their faith in this way is not un-American.  In fact, having this freedom and right of religion and expression (and to be able to live in a society that accepts their choice) is quintessentially American.

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This book by Tony Campolo gives an view on much of the political and social issues of our time through the outlook of our Christian faith and Jesus’ teachings.  He describes a set of Christians who identify themselves as evangelicals but do not identify with the so-called Religious Right.  This group has taken the name Red Letter Christians, a reference to the many Bibles where the words that Jesus spoke are written in red letters for emphasis, the implication being that this group is dedicated to following the teachings of Jesus and his message with a strong emphasis on social justice.

 

There is a chapter on each of the following issues in the book: the environment, the Iraq War, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, AIDS crisis, gay rights, gun control, education, abortion, immigration, crime, the federal budget, the minimum wage, the debt, wasteful government spending, political lobbyists, campaign finance, and candidates.  The issues covered are broad and encompassing. Campolo offers an outlook on each issue through the lens Jesus’ teachings and Christian faith.  He suggests possible solutions to large problems and some new ideas and perspectives.  At the very least, the book can help one create an informed opinion.

 

I think this book is excellent, it is easy to read and very thought-provoking.   It is particularly relevant as we begin to go into another election cycle and we are considering which candidates to give our votes to.  It’s a fresh outlook that allows us to consider what role we want our values and our faith to play in our politics and might hit a nerve with moderate Christians who feel stuck in the middle.

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