Monday, November 11, 2013

The Lord's Prayer: Tipping Point

A colleague over on that Book of Faces shared an article about a waitress who received an evangelical tract instead of a tip. It had been cleverly designed to appear like a ten dollar bill, but the waitress quickly realized that what she had was not money at all. (see the pictures here)

Several things strike me as wrong about this. 

First, it is incredibly presumptuous to leave a tract that basically says you know the spiritual condition of a person you interacted with for mere minutes. Evidently, being saved gives one super powers to determine this. Or not.

Second, it is a poor witness. Reducing Christianity to a pie-in-the-sky vision of eternal life leaves no way to discuss the love God has for this person right now. This person needs to put food on the table and has various needs that are now not fulfilled. Sure, as the tract says, "Some things are better than money." But few waitresses I have worked with are doing that job because the money is so damn good. 

Third, it is injustice. For whatever reason, our society perpetuates the myth that tipping is something people give as an extra... a bonus for good or bad service. What we must realize of course is that the servers' wages are almost exclusively tips. The minimum wage for such workers is abysmally low, and hasn't kept up with federal minimum wage law very much at all. Don't muzzle the ox as it treads grain, and tip your waitstaff twenty percent at least. Every worker deserves to be paid. 

The tipping point for me in this discussion (yes, pun most definitely intended) is the Lord's Prayer. I realize few Lutherans would ever pull such a crappy move, because we don't generally hand out tracts (The ability to share one's faith might also be called into question... but tract leaving is definitely not about sharing one's faith). But there is also a place to turn to consider our restaurant manners in the light of our faith, the Lord's Prayer. More specifically, "Give us this day our daily bread." 

When we consider all that must happen for us to receive that meal, we cannot consider the waitress a dispensable link in the chain. To faithfully pray as our savior taught us, we are to give thanks for everything required to bring us our daily bread. And just as we would not expect the supermarket to take a "Get Saved" tract in exchange for our groceries, neither should we leave it for a person seeking to live off of that job. Being thankful is not just a state of mind, but an active response. If you feel it necessary to leave a tract, make sure you also tip well. If you cannot afford to tip, you cannot afford to eat out. 

Saturday, November 02, 2013

New Project: Church of the Geek

For the past few months, David Hansen and I have been creating a new podcast: The Church of the Geek, where we talk about things in the Geek-iverse and (usually) how it intersects with the life of faith. 

After getting a few shows in the queue, we have officially launched Episode 1! (have no fear, there will be no Jar Jar Binks in THIS Episode 1)

In a few days it will be listed on iTunes. Until then you can listen to the podcast over at our site: http://geekchurch.blogspot.com/

Listening on a non-iTunes podcast platform? This is our RSS Feed.

Find us on Twitter @GeekChurch


We hope you enjoy listening!

 

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Apart from Christ

It is hard to imagine a soup kitchen turning anyone away from helping in the ministry. But I was rather shocked to read in the RNS Religion News Roundup today that a soup kitchen in Spartanburg, SC turned away volunteers. Why? Because they were atheists. (Whole story here)

In the story above, the director of the kitchen holds stereotypical beliefs regarding atheists... She mentions the devil being with them as they hand out care packages across the street. It seems she holds a very narrow understanding of the John 15 paraphrase, "Nothing good can be done apart from Christ." There are those who believe that if people are not Christian, even if they are doing the exact same charitable work that Christians engage in, it is not a good work.

This type of thinking leads directly, in my mind, to an inwardly focused, type of mission where the only good work that can be done is by Christians, and then done only within the church. The church becomes the guardian of Christ, keeping him in our little boxes.

However, the reality is far greater. It is Christ who is out and about, working in places where we might not be aware. If we see something that certainly looks good, then Christians should go investigate what Christ is doing. Maybe the people who are doing the good aren't aware that Christ is in their midst.

The soup kitchen is missing a prime opportunity to allow people who disavow God's existence to participate in Christ's mission, perhaps causing one of them to experience a hint of God's presence. Instead, they are faced with rejection and spite, further reinforcing the notion of Christians as hypocrites. It makes me wonder at times who is further apart from Christ.

Monday, September 30, 2013

We Are Family: Baseball, Exile and the Communion of Saints

I had a great Great Aunt. She was like a third grandmother to me. She supported me in many ways. She helped me get to Germany as an exchange student after my freshman year of high school. She sent me money each  month during college along with a note to "Have fun!" Evidently, she was worried I would be far too serious and engaged in my studies to do anything fun... no worries there. She was so important in my life, that my daughter is named after her (as well as my wife's grandmother, who also shares the same name).

But what I remember probably most of all is baseball. She loved the Pittsburgh Pirates. And she instilled that in me as well. She got me a membership to the Dave Parker Fan Club. She gave me an autographed baseball that she was given, with almost the entire team on it. She also would take my brother and I, along with her friend and her nephew to Sunday afternoon baseball games. I remember the first time she asked me to go. I went to Sunday school but skipped out on worship, so we could make it to the game on time. It was an amazing time whenever we went. Those trips remain storied adventures.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Hearing Voices -- Sermon from the 4th Sunday of Easter

Jesus says his sheep hear his voice. In the midst of voices that try to separate us from God and neighbor, Jesus continues to call to us because he knows and loves.

An excerpt: 
This is not to say that it is impossible to understand Jesus’ voice. We are indeed gifted with the ability to hear his gracious words. But they must be set among his whole teaching of God’s Reign and grace. And we must ask and not assume that everything that sounds good and pious is in fact. Jumping in and accepting those voices without discernment is perilous, but Jesus promises that he will be in our midst helping us discern his words from others...

Read the whole thing here.

Or listen to it.




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Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Must We Protect God's Sovereignty?

Spurred on by events in Boston, but also through interaction with others throughout the years, often at the death of loved ones, I have been pondering the people who feel the need to lift up God's sovereignty. These are the "It was God's will" voices. Everything that happens they refuse to question, going to great lengths in some circumstances to protect God's sovereignty… and sound ludicrous in the process. They reduce all causes in the world down to one and only one, God's will, as if there were no other agents at work in the world. But there are. The rebellious principalities and powers just to name two.

I turned to David Bentley Hart's The Doors of the Sea today and read it in its entirety. It is a short work from 2005 in response the tsunamis of Christmas day 2004. While inspired by that disaster, his work is not applicable to that event alone. Hart seeks to deal with tragedy in the world, set alongside God's omnipotence and goodness.

Throughout Hart seeks to answer both atheistic objections as well as refute Christian voices who seem to give life to a false image of God, particularly those who say God will evil. Hart absolutely refuses to allow this image. In the latter half of the book, he speaks of divine providence. He writes,
What then, one might well ask, is divine providence? Certainly all Christians must affirm God's transcendent governance of everything, even fallen history and fallen nature, and must believe that by that governance he will defeat evil and bring the final good of all things out of the darkness of "this age." It makes a considerable difference, however --nothing less than our understanding of the natureof God is at stake -- whether one says that God has eternally willed the history of sin ad death, and all that comes to pass therein, as the proper or necessary means of achieving his ends, or whether one says instead that God has willed his good in creation from eternity and will bring it to pass, despite their rebelion, by so ordering all things toward his goodness that even evil (which he does not cause) becomes an occasion of the operations of grace. And it is only the latter view that can accurately be called a doctrine of "providence" in the properly theological sense; the former view is mere determinism. (Hart, p. 82)

Monday, April 15, 2013

The Song of the Lamb -- 3rd Sunday of Easter

Reading: 
Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels surrounding the throne and the living creatures and the elders; they numbered myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, singing with full voice, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, singing, “To the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” And the elders fell down and worshiped. (Rev. 5:11-14)

The book of Revelation can be read in many different ways, one of which is to read it as a liturgical manual. The angels begin the song of the Lamb and invite us to join in. 

There is no manuscript this week. 

You can listen to the whole thing. 




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Thursday, April 11, 2013

Vices Deadly and Glittering

Honestly, I do not know what the fascination is all about, but there is something about the seven deadly sins that grabs people's attention. The Seven garner such attention that they have begun to be used in ads in direct opposition to their original intent. Searching on Amazon.com for books on the seven deadly sins will provide topics beyond the theological. One finds titles about Lance Armstrong, and and books on topics where you want to avoid particular behavior. My favorite title on such a search was on dressage. Yes, the seven deadly sins of dressage. Maybe the seven deadly sins have become so pervasive they have lost all of their power. They have become reduced to caricatures of themselves.

Nonetheless, it is surprising that young adults catch wind of them, and ask about them. One of the students at the campus ministry was asked by his non-Christian roommates about these seven deadly sins. He, then came to me during our GodTalk time which led to a number of times that the topic kept coming up. And over Lent this year, spent time discussing each of the sins, what they were and what they weren't.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Theologian, Yes. Pastor, Yes. Martyr., ehhh...

I cannot help it. I get a little bent out of shape every April ninth. Bonhoeffer quotes get passed around on the date of his death, which is great, because there are a lot of really powerful quotes from Bonhoeffer. In fact, just this morning I retweeted and included in a weekly update email his quote, “God does not give us everything we want, but he does fulfill all his promises.” In a culture that sees God as a great wish-granter, Bonhoeffer speaks about God's greater reality, to provide what has been promised, not what we think we want.

However, it is common to attribute to Bonhoeffer the status of martyr. Across ecumenical lines Bonhoeffer is frequently called a martyr. A number of his biographies, including the recent Metaxas bio, use "martyr" in the title. The prevalence of the title does make me realize I am in the minority opinion here, but I do not believe Bonhoeffer is a martyr. Both the Lutheran Book of Worship and Evangelical Lutheran Worship omit "martyr" from the their attribution. The former calling Bonhoeffer "teacher," the latter "theologian." But many others use "martyr." Throughout Christian history there are in fact martyrs, people who have been killed because they simply are Christian, or because being Christian prohibited them from worshiping other gods. The early church is rife with martyrs. Every once in a while, even now, there are people who are killed for their faith. But Bonhoeffer is not one those.

As I read Bonhoeffer's story, I understand that he is killed because he got wrapped up in a plot assassinate Hitler. When he was arrested, it was not because he was a Christian. He was arrested because the plot failed and the authorities treated him the way any government would have treated an insurgent.

Do not get me wrong. I respect Bohoeffer's theological acumen, routinely referencing them. One year when the lectionary led us through the Sermon on the Mount, I used Bonhoeffer's section of The Cost of Discipleship that walked through this passage of scripture. But his response to Hitler is more of despair than faith it seems. Bonhoeffer knew the plot was wrong, but he decided he would rather be wrong than do nothing. The reality was, of course, that he was not "doing nothing." He had been living out his call as a pastor and a theologian in the church by participating in the Confessing Church movement when German church became corrupted and controlled by Nazi ideals. He helped raise other faithful clergy in the secret seminary that was the seedbed out of which Life Together came. But rather than keep up with those activities, he got wrapped up in the assassination plot. The strength of the Christian witness is that some who seem to be passively resisting with means such as prayer, fasting, and right worship, are not passive at all. They need not be on the front lines meeting deadly force with force. I am no pacifist. There are some who are called to fight and oppose aggression with aggression. There are however others also called to provide another response that is just as powerful. 

I am not one to speculate much about how I would respond in such a time. Thankfully, I did not live during that time and did not need to make that decision. Nor do I damn Bonhoeffer for his decision to participate in the plot. In my view he might have made a bad choice, and it does not take away from his work as pastor, theologian and teacher of the church. As I said, I realize I am in the minority. I am willing to be considered wrong. Maybe the term has shifted in meaning. But I worry that we so badly desire to hold someone up as a martyr, that we risk confusing the heart of what it means to be a martyr.

Almighty God, your Holy Spirit gives to one the word of wisdom, and to another the word of knowledge, and to another the word of faith. We praise you for the gifts of grace imparted to your servant Dietrich, and we pray that by his teaching we may be led to a fuller knowledge of the truth which we seen in your Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Sunday, April 07, 2013

I Eat, Therefore I Believe -- 2nd Sunday of Easter

Reading:
John 20:19-31

An excerpt from the sermon:
We are not left on our own however. Just because we do not see Christ and the marks of his crucifixion in his body, we should not think that our faith is somehow our own doing. That unlike Thomas we are able to wrangle faith out of nothing. Or dig deep and pull it out of our own being. If God is not involved, we will be unable to know anything. But the witness of scripture consistently points to God coming to us. We are not left on our own. The good news is always that God comes to us. We are not saved by our righteousness, but in the waters of baptism, Christ comes and gives us HIS righteousness. We say that this is an alien righteousness. It is not our own.

Read the whole thing here.

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Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Talking About Talking About God

To talk about God, many would think, would be easy. The reality however, is that God is not necessarily a concept about which everyone shares the same assumptions. Rob Bell, in his most recent book What We Talk About When We Talk About God, sets out to clarify the baseline assumptions, thereby mapping out the conversation space for the Christian notion of who God is.

Reading Bell, I feel almost guilty. His work is not the sort of intellectually stimulating piece that I try to usually read (with varying degrees of success and failure). To be honest, this is in fact the first book by Bell that I have ever read. I have used his Nooma videos. I have used his "The Gods Aren't Angry" video. I have even seen him in person on his Smashing Ice tour (my thoughts about that here). I bought Love Wins at a closing Border's store over a year ago, but have never read it. And I own Jesus Wants to Save Christians, but this book, What We Talk About When We Talk About God, is the truly first of his that I have read from beginning to end. His conversational tone pulled me in and made it hard for me to put the book down, which is something because the most common time for me to be reading this book was as I laid in bed. This book was not something that I had to ponder and wrestle with, but engaged me.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

The Limit of Identity

Yesterday I had the opportunity, as a member of the Multi-Faith Council at Chatham University, to sponsor a panel of women from different faiths. The panel members were invited to attend and speak on "Journey... Gender... Job: the intersection of spirituality, womanhood, and vocation." The speakers represented Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. They were all different women with different career paths and different faiths, and yet the storied they told had incredible resonance with each other.

They each spoke of discerning their career paths while remaining true to their faith and the identity they understood to flow from their faith. The woman from Judaism spoke about becoming an actor while moving into a distinct understanding of her place within Hasidic Judaism, which posed some problems as a woman performing in front of audiences, usually on the Sabbath. The young Muslim woman also faced challenges to her faith. From wearing the hajib while in high school in Turkey, where it was banned for high school students, to her career in finance where she couldn't work for a bank since taking interest is forbidden by the Qur'an. The Christian woman was a physician who works part time for a Christian health clinic that serves everyone but notably the under-served. 

What I found interesting was that even as a man, I found their stories particularly illuminating. While these women ran into limits that their faith imposed upon them, they accepted those limits in faith. I felt like many men who are pursuing something like a career, meet such limits with an equal determination, meeting the opposition with an equal or slightly greater than equal reaction, so we can get what we want. Listening to the women though the acceptance of the limits still allowed them to further what they understood the vocation they were being called to while still in keeping with the tenets of their faith. They saw the limits as an extension of their identity, who they were in connection to their understanding of God, while I believe many men would see the limits in opposition to their identity. 

I do not want to discount the very real limits placed upon women particularly by traditional faiths. However it was also something to hear these women speak about their trust that even among risks and challenges they followed where they believed God was calling them and how they believed that their life was better for it. Too often we believe that following God take something away from our lives. These women's discussion showed very clearly that God's presence and activity in our lives can be richer than we could imagine. 

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Papal Conclaves and Elections...

This morning on NPR I heard one of the hosts of Morning Edition say, "Black smoke from the Vatican signals that the cardinals failed to elect a new pope." While technically correct, I suppose, the words created great dissonance in my ears. Then I tweeted and posted on Facebook:






In trying to report the process of electing a new pope, the media seems to be treating the process as just another political election. It is hard enough to elect a president from two candidates who have been campaigning for months (years?). However it all happens on one day, that people go to the polls, check a box and it is over. With a papal election, the process is not so simple. Every cardinal who is eligible represents very distinct constituents and now might represent all of them.

The process of ecclesiastical balloting is more about discernment than getting the job done. Having watched bishop elections in synodical and churchwide assemblies of the ELCA, these ballots are prayerful and time-consuming. They are not meant, perhaps, to be efficient. But we take the time to discern, because: 1.) candidates haven't (hopefully) been campaigning, and 2.) we hope that the continued slow process gets to what the whole body desires and gets our sinful selves out of the way. Being around the process is incredible when momentum swings toward a particular surprise candidate. There is no guarantee that the right person is always elected, but in the church it beats a campaign.

I have said to friends that I would likely use something like "Black smoke at the vatican signals that the cardinals are still considering who will become the new pope." Yes it is not as clean and neat as "failed to elect" but it speaks more about the process too. Cardinal Ratzinger took seven ballots to become Pope Benedict XVI. I would urge all to pray that the right amount of time is taken... and that whomever is chosen, the new pope is one that increases unity rather than division.

Monday, March 04, 2013

The Problem With The Bible

Well, not the bible exactly, but "The Bible," the History Channel miniseries seeking to bring an exciting and epic view of the holy scriptures before television audiences.

I will admit that previous attempts to make biblical movies has always left me somewhat disappointed. Sometimes the treatment of whatever biblical story being shown is just bad. But more often than not, what is problematic is the interpretation of the story being shown. After all in trying to create a movie from a biblical story, there have to be choices. What to cut, what to leave, what gaps in the story can be filled, and what is the best way to do so.

3rd Sunday in Lent -- The Testing of Christians

We hear it all the time when people are trying to encourage others, "God doesn't give us more than we can handle." People can interpret Paul's passage in 1 Corinthians that way when he writes that "God does not test you beyond your strength." But it isn't really about individuals, and it isn't really what Paul is up to here.

Excerpt from Sunday's sermon:
Perhaps as the community of faith that follows Jesus, we are called not merely to provide platitudes that weigh people down when life seems hard, urging them to follow the cult of the individual, telling them to be strong so if they fail, it will be their fault, rather than the avalanche of societal pressures that pushed them down the hill. The community’s testing is to remain faithful in all of the pressures of life. Our testing is how to respond to those who suffer, whether poverty, anxieties, illness, addiction, grief, or any other of a million or billion ways that our world’s brokenness makes itself known.

The full sermon text is here.

Listen or download the sermon:

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Sun Shining on Just and Unjust Alike ala Augustine

In reading through Augustine's City of God, early in book 1, Augustine takes on the question of why the unjust receive good things. The heading of Book 1, Section 8 is actually "Of the advantages and disadvantages which often indiscriminately accrue to good and wicked men." Augustine uses some language of storing up some reward (either wrath or blessing in judgment) that is reminiscent of Jesus' words in the Matthew 6 text appointed for Ash Wednesday.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Discipline of Lent -- Ash Wednesday Devotional

Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21


I remember, as probably everyone who ever learned to play an instrument, countless hours playing scales. Up and down they went. Each run moving to a new note and then running up another series and then another move and then another run… all within the same pattern of sharps or flats. And to be honest at the time, the notion of scales seemed completely inane. Wasn’t the point of learning an instrument so that I could make music? And I remember at one point in high school band, during a part of the year when the director had us all practice scales and then play them for a grade (those days made for sheer tedium, I tell you as every person played through the same scale, not all the brilliantly). I was to play a scale in either F#- or G -major and I was not real keen on dealing with all of those sharps or flats. And a friend sitting down in the tuba section (who knew far more music theory than I did), gave me a trick. He told me I could play the scale of F- or G-major, which was far easier since I only had to deal with one sharp or one flat. Well it worked. The band director, whose ear was not able to tell the difference (thankfully it was not my wife judging the scale; she would have known). I won. The idiotic scales had been bypassed and all was well. Of course, I got an “A.”

Friday, February 01, 2013

Against Tithing: Tipping, Justice and Ignorant Pastors

The story has gone viral. The pastor left a note on her check that said, "I give God 10%, why do you get 18?" In the aftermath, the pastor has come and sort of apologized (more of a "I'm sorry  I got caught" than a true "I'm sorry"). The waitress who posted the receipt on Reddit (not the waitress who actually waited on the pastor) has been fired. Several problems arise in the telling of this story and all of them are with the pastor and her understanding.

First was her ignorance of the restaurant's large party policy. She was in a group that automatically garnered a eighteen percent tip. Don't like the policy, don't eat there.

Second was her ignorance of server's wages. Servers are paid incredibly poorly. While minimum wages for most hourly workers has continued to rise, servers hourly wages have been exempt from such raises. Servers are dependent upon tips for living. Tips are not merely extras that supplement servers pay.

Third was the pastor's ignorance of tithing and rendering to God what is God's. I continue to speak against tithing if we hold on to the false belief that when we tithe, we give ten percent to God and the rest is ours to do with as we please. Tithing does not provide a firewall between money that belongs to God and money that belongs to me. After all, the earth is the Lord's and all therein.

When it comes to our money, the reality is that everything we have is to be used for God. Yes, there is money that we give to God through the church for its mission, but that is one way we participate in mission. It is not the only way. Supporting our family falls in there as well. Serving our neighbor does as well. I suggest to people that intentional giving is important when deciding what to give through the church. Because by practicing intentional giving, we can learn to be intentional with everything we have.

The pastor mistakenly believes the money she is paying for her food at the restaurant is somehow separate from her Christian vocation of serving her neighbor. She avoids justice by failing to provide for her neighbor's needs. If she cannot afford to eat out and pay the bill, she should not eat out. Hiding behind God and her office of ministry as a justification for shafting the server is unjustifiable. Justice is ignored. Servers are often on the edge of poverty. Not tipping for her foood can very possibly take food out of the server's mouth.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Martin Luther King and White Christian Moderates

A reminder that Martin Luther King spoke hard words to the white Christian moderates. An excerpt from Dr. King's "Letter From a Birmingham Jail." Time does not heal all wounds.

I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizens Councillor or the Ku Klux Klanner but the white moderate who is more devoted to order than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says, "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can't agree with your methods of direct action"; who paternalistically feels that he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by the myth of time; and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a "more convenient season." Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute  misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.
In your statement you asserted that our actions, even though peaceful, must be condemned because they precipitate violence. But can this assertion be logically made? Isn't this like condemning the robbed man because his possession of money precipitated the evil act of robbery? Isn't this like condemning Socrates because his unswerving commitment to truth and his philosophical delvings precipitated the misguided popular mind to make him drink the hemlock? Isn't this like condemning Jesus because His unique God-consciousness and never-ceasing devotion to His will precipitated the evil act of crucifixion? We must come to see, as federal courts have consistently affirmed, that it is immoral to urge an individual to withdraw his efforts to gain his basic constitutional rights because the quest precipitates violence. Society must protect the robbed and punish the robber.
I had also hoped that the white moderate would reject the myth of time. I received a letter this morning from a white brother in Texas which said, "All Christians know that the colored people will receive equal rights eventually, but is it possible that you are in too great of a religious hurry? It has taken Christianity almost 2000 years to accomplish what it has. The teachings of Christ take time to come to earth." All that is said here grows out of a tragic misconception of time. It is the strangely irrational notion that there is something in the very flow of time that will inevitably cure all ills. Actually, time is neutral. It can be used either destructively or constructively. I am coming to feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than the people of good will. We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the vitriolic words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. We must come to see that human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability. It comes through the tireless efforts and persistent work of men willing to be coworkers with God, and without this hard work time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Ad Absurdum : Hitler and Obama (or anyone for that matter)

It took less than a week following the massacre in Newtown, CT, amid talk of a renewed gun control movement, for some people who are radically against any gun control to begin discussions comparing President Obama to Hitler. Such an argument is commonplace for over-zealous adherents to do, no matter their political predilections. Liberals have made use of such an argument. Right now, conservatives are doing it. And of course, mainstream citizens are not usually the first to make comparison, but it usually sticks with them because either they recognize some similarity and figure that there is some transitive property and it must be true, or they are stunned at the invocation of the most popular super villain of the 20th century who caused true evil in a debate about the United States' policy.

At any rate, the use of Hitler in a debate simply shuts down debate (The loss of any rational conversation once Hitler/Nazis are invoked has brought about the rise of Godwin's Rule/Law of Nazi Analogies, which technically applies to online debates, but is clearly also appropriate for our current conversations as well). It is the FΓΌhrer of all reductio ad absurdum arguments. It is also the most absurd. Simply having similarities does make for an obvious equation.

In the midst of this reality, I am reminded of a passage from Oliver O'Donovan's The Desire of the Nations, where he is discussing politics and moral debate.
... Serious moral debate cannot avoid arbitrating questions of description and so enquiring into the structures of reality. 
     In the case of politics this enquiry is especially difficult; for political structures are historically fluid, not, as some other structures are, given in nature. ... The phenomena themselves have changed, the tribe, the military empire, the nation kingdom, and the bureaucratic state replacing each other in the course of history. And there are different discourses conducted about politics, which might as well belong to different universes: politics as power, politics as justice, politics as the extension of the home, politics as the construct of the market-place, etc. Before political ethics can begin, then, there must be a work of descriptive theory, which will define the events and orders that are of this kind and not some other.... 
     But true concepts are an essential prerequisite for organised theory. We may be seduced into thinking that concepts are interchangeable, communicative forms, so that we may express what we have learned through one set of concepts quite as well through another. But that is not so. Concepts disclose the elementary structures of reality in relation to which we can begin to identify questions for theoretical development. ...Only theorists could be so foolish as to think that it did not matter which concepts one grasped-- apart, that is, form the morally immature. A class of sixteen-year olds, told for the first time that what one calls a 'terrorist' another calls a 'freedom fighter', may miss the point so badly as to conclude there is no difference between the two; but that is the privilege of being sixteen. The mature adult knows it is because one and the same thing can look different that we need the two concepts of 'freedom fighter' and 'terrorist' to differentiate. Those two concepts are not interchangeable; if we did not have both, we could not frame the question that has to be put, nor understand why it might be difficult to reach an agreed answer. To grasp the opposed concepts of freedom and terror is to know something about the alternative shapes political experience may take, and the about the scope of practical political decision. (emphasis author's)
 -Oliver O'Donovan,  The Desire of the Nations,  
2002 paperback, Cambridge, pp. 14-15  

By perpetuating comparisons between Hitler and whatever opponent we might face is a deliberate obfuscation. Serious conversation and debate is thwarted, which allows the true super villain, not some twentieth-century one, to thrive. Who might that be? Our fallen sinful self.