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Archive for February, 2012

Dawkins is Agnostic, Not Atheist

February 25th, 2012 No comments

“New Atheist” Richard Dawkins describes himself in this interview (which includes a brief video snippet) as an agnostic, rather than an atheist. Interesting, coming from the author of The God Delusion. And fair enough. Atheism is a belief every bit as much as faith in God. Dawkins is smart enough to realize that claiming a faith in God’s non-existence undermines his arguments against those who claim a faith in God’s existence.

I haven’t read much Dawkins, but I saw he also wrote a book called The Magic of Reality: How We Know What’s Really True. I’d be more interested in reading that than The God Delusion. I wonder, as well, if you replaced Rowan Williams in that interview with a postmodernist thinker, how he’d react to the idea that reality is just a social construct.

Tempus Fugit

February 22nd, 2012 No comments

According to Wikipedia, the Joshua Tree was given its name by Mormon travelers in the mid-19th century, who saw it and were reminded of a Biblical story in which Joshua lifted his hands up in prayer.

Joshua Tree

In the Hebrew Scriptures, Joshua was one of Moses’ lieutenants, and later his successor. Nothing I’ve read about Joshua made me think of the Joshua Tree, however. Frankly, the Joshua Tree’s profusion of wriggling and writhing branches seems to me more like an image out of the Hindu Pantheon — of Kali, say, or Ganesha.

I suppose those early travelers had in mind some tradition about Joshua that I never located. The closest thing to a Joshua Tree I ever found was Joshua 8:18, where God tells Joshua to stretch out the javelin in his hand. On my first day in Yucca Valley, I wasn’t paying enough attention when I walked under a Joshua Tree, and it stabbed me in the head with one of its spiny leaves — close enough to stretching out a javelin!

My favorite story about Joshua is in Joshua 10:12-14, where he speaks to the Lord — perhaps with his arms raised? — and prays, “Sun stand still, and Moon, in the valley of Abijon.” God grants the request, and the sun stood still in the heavens for about a day, enabling the Israelites to prevail over their enemies in battle.

The Bible goes on to say there has never been another day like that. Joshua could stop time, but we can’t. Even Joshua could stop it just that once. Time marches on, with or without us.

Time is strange. We can waste time, but we can’t save it. We have use the moments we’re given as they arrive. But do we?

The British novelist C.S. Lewis imagines one devil advising another how best to tempt people. The first devil says that since the present moment is most like eternity, people ought to be kept away from it. Instead, he suggests keeping them busy either thinking about the past or worrying about the future.

By contrast, the writer of the Psalms observed how time gets away from us. Even if, with good fortune and health, we live a long life (the Biblical “threescore and ten”) it is cut off soon enough, and “we fly away.” Therefore, he prays that God would teach us to number our days with wisdom.

What does that mean? Well, it depends. For me, it’s spending more time with the people around me and less time fiddling with my cell phone. Maybe for you it’s going to a soccer game, or putting on a jacket and watching the winter stars.

There’s never been another day like the one Joshua prayed for: time marches on, and, if we’re not careful, it will all be gone before we notice. But with God’s help, we’ll be able to use it wisely.

(Note: this entry is based on an article I wrote for the Hi-Desert Star.)

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High-Percentage Tithing “Accelerators”

February 9th, 2012 No comments

Here’s an article about some things that are found in Presbyterian churches with a higher-than-average proportion of people who contribute a high percentage of their income to the church.

(Did you get that? These are factors that, when you find them in a church, give you grounds to predict that the church will have a more high-giving contributors than average churches. The article calls these factors “accelerators” but that suggests causation, as if these factors somehow stepped on the tithing gas pedal. From my reading, a better term would be “predictor.”)

Anyway, these “accelerators” are as follows:

  • More conservative worshipers.
  • More people who attend at least weekly.
  • More (i.e., a higher-than-usual proportion of) men.
  • Larger congregations.

It’s interesting to speculate what the connections are (besides statistical anomaly) between these factors and higher giving.

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