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Thursday, February 06, 2014

Evolution Weekend Readings

For tonight's study.  Feel free to answer in the comments.

Why is there variety among living things?

(nineteenth century C.E.)

When on board H.M.S. Beagle, as naturalist, I was much struck with certain facts in the distribution of the inhabitants of South America, and in the geological relations of the present to the past inhabitants of that continent. These facts seemed to me to throw some light on the origin of species -- that mystery of mysteries, as it has been called by one of our greatest philosophers. On my return home, it occurred to me, in 1837, that something might perhaps be made out on this question by patiently accumulating and reflecting on all sorts of facts which could possibly have any bearing on it. After five years' work I allowed myself to speculate on the subject, and drew up some short notes; these I enlarged in 1844 into a sketch of the conclusions, which then seemed to me probable: from that period to the present day I have steadily pursued the same object. I hope that I may be excused for entering on these personal details, as I give them to show that I have not been hasty in coming to a decision.
. . . .
No one ought to feel surprise at much remaining as yet unexplained in regard to the origin of species and varieties, if he makes due allowance for our profound ignorance in regard to the mutual relations of all the beings which live around us. Who can explain why one species ranges widely and is very numerous, and why another allied species has a narrow range and is rare? Yet these relations are of the highest importance, for they determine the present welfare, and, as I believe, the future success and modification of every inhabitant of this world. Still less do we know of the mutual relations of the innumerable inhabitants of the world during the many past geological epochs in its history. Although much remains obscure, and will long remain obscure, I can entertain no doubt, after the most deliberate study and dispassionate judgement of which I am capable, that the view which most naturalists entertain, and which I formerly entertained -- namely, that each species has been independently created -- is erroneous. I am fully convinced that species are not immutable; but that those belonging to what are called the same genera are lineal descendants of some other and generally extinct species, in the same manner as the acknowledged varieties of any one species are the descendants of that species. Furthermore, I am convinced that Natural Selection has been the main but not exclusive means of modification.

* * * *
(first century B.C.E.)

The whole of life but labors in the dark.
For just as children tremble and fear all
In the viewless dark, so even we at times
Dread in the light so many things that be
No whit more fearsome than what children feign,
Shuddering, will be upon them in the dark.
This terror then, this darkness of the mind,
Not sunrise with its flaring spokes of light,
Nor glittering arrows of morning can disperse,
But only Nature's aspect and her law. 
. . . .
You must not think
That all things can combine in every way,
Every conceivable pattern, for, if so,
You'd see such freaks as men-half-beasts, and boughs,
Instead of arms and legs, coming from torsos.
You'd see marine-terrestrial animals,
Chimaeras, for example, breathing fire
Out of their ugly faces, browsing over
All-mothering earth; but it is plain as day
This does not happen., since we see all things
Maintain the proper order of their kind,
Same kind of parenthood, same kind of seed
Definite causes, definite effects,
A fixed, assured procedure. In all things
The sustenance they take pervades the limbs,
The particles of nourishment combine
To set those limbs in motion. We can see
The opposite of this process also,--nature
Often casts out improper elements,
Rejects them; many elements are driven
Outward as if by blows, they cannot join
Within this frame, or that, can neither feel
Nor even feign the attributes of life.
Not only animals obey these laws,
The code applies to everything As all
Are different, so, in their origin/
They must derive from different shapes.
Of course I do not say that nothing ever looks
Like anything else, but that in general
Species are different, from different seed,
With different intervals, junctions, ways--weight, force,
Motion, and so on. Not animals alone
Are separate and distinct, one from the other,
But also land and sea, heaven and earth.

* * * *
(sixth century B.C.)

  In the beginning the Elohim made the sky and the earth, but the earth was shapeless and everything was dark. The Elohim said "Let there be light," and there was the light that made day different from night. And that was the first day.
      The Elohim said, "Let there be a dome to separate the heavens from the waters below," and there were the heavens. And that was the second day.
      The Elohim said, "Let the waters of the earth gather so that there are seas and there is dry land," and so it was. The Elohim said, "Let there be vegetation on the land, with plants to yield seeds and fruits," and so it was. And that was the third day.
      The Elohim said, "Let there be light in the heavens, and let them change with the seasons," and so there were stars. Then the Elohim made a sun and a moon to rule over the day and to rule over the night. And that was the fourth day.
      The Elohim said, "Let there be creatures in the waters, and let there be birds in the skies," and so there were sea monsters and sea creatures and birds. The Elohim blessed them, saying "Be fruitful and multiply". And that was the fifth day.
      The Elohim said, "Let the earth have animals of various kinds", and so it was. Then the Elohim said, "Let us make humans after our own likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, over the cattle and creeping things of the land, and over all the earth." The Elohim said to these humans, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it, ruling over the fish and the birds and the animals of the land. We have given you every plant and tree yielding seed. To every beast and bird of the Earth we have given every green plant for food." And that was the sixth day.
      And on the seventh day the making of the heavens and earth was finished, and the Elohim rested.

* * * *
(tenth century B.C.E.)

    On the day that Yahweh made the heavens and the earth, the land was dry and barren until a mist came up from the earth and wetted the land. Then Yahweh took dust from the earth and shaped it into the form of a man, and he breathed life into that form, and it came to life.
      Yahweh created a garden in a place called Eden. In this garden Yahweh placed all the trees that bear fruit, including the tree of life and the tree of knowledge of good and evil. A river flowed out of Eden and watered the garden, and there it divided to become four rivers that flow to the four corners of the world. Yahweh put the man there and instructed him to cultivate the garden and to eat of whatever fruit he liked, except for fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.
      Then Yahweh decided that the man should not be alone, and that he should have a helper. Thus Yahweh made the beasts of the field and the birds of the air, and the man gave a name to each of them. However, none were fit to be his helper, so Yahweh made the man fall into a deep sleep and took one of the man's ribs, and he made it into a woman. This man was Adam, and the woman's name was Eve.
      In the garden was a snake, and the snake persuaded the woman that she could eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil without dying, and that eating the fruit would give her Yahweh's knowledge of good and evil. She ate the fruit, and she gave some to the man too. For the first time they were ashamed of being naked, and so they made aprons for themselves.
      When the man and woman heard Yahweh in the garden, they hid from him, but Yahweh called them out and asked why they had hidden. The man explained that they hid because of their scanty clothing. Yahweh asked the man how they knew to be ashamed of nudity, and if they had eaten the forbidden fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. The man explained that the woman had eaten of the fruit and given him some too. When Yahweh asked the woman, she explained that the snake had beguiled her into eating the fruit.
      Yahweh said to the snake, "Because of what you have done, you are cursed more than any other animal, and you will have to crawl on your belly in the dust, and you will be beaten by the offspring of this woman". To the woman Yahweh said, "You will be cursed with great pain in giving birth to children, yet you will have the desire to reproduce, and your husband will rule you." Finally, to the man Yahweh said, "Because of what you have done, the ground is cursed and you will never eat of this fruit again. You will grow plants and fields and eat bread until you die, until you become the dust from which you were made."
      Then Yahweh said, "This man has become like us, knowing good and evil - next he will seek the tree of life and try to live forever." Therefore Yahweh made the man and woman clothing and drove them out of the Garden of Eden, and he placed a winged half-human, half-lion creature at the Garden's gate to keep them out.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Substance Matters

Some bearded celebrity wants to compare gay people to pedophiles and stay on television.  A company that wants to sell wedding cakes in the public space but ignore his state's anti-descrimination laws.  A group of nuns want to run a hospital and prohibit their employees from getting contraception through health insurance related to, without perhaps being paid for by, the nuns.  All in the name of religious freedom.

There are many complex issues related to efficient market places and application of subtle legal doctrines.  Today, I want to make a simple right/wrong argument.  My radical position is that not all religious beliefs and practices are equal.

Churches need to stop resisting the march toward equality among those of minority gender identity and sexual orientation.  Churches need to stop opposing birth control.  When people maintain these positions in the name of faith, it pisses me off.  Not because I think positions cannot be maintained in the name of faith, but because these positions are wrong and stupid.

I think this deserves saying because we respond to "X is immoral" with "who cares what is moral" when we should often respond with "no it's not."  At least, that is my humble opinion.

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Two thousand fourteen, day one.

Well, today is the first day of 2014.  Today, I ran a 5K.  My goals for the New Year are to do another one of those every quarter, to be less in debt and to journal every day.  Maybe Ill get back to blogging too.  Doing this one from my fancy new iPad--a gift my job!

Saturday, August 31, 2013

I think the following passage from Book 2, Chapter 2 of the Bros. K, is a decent response to the question why walk in the Way.  Whether the Way is that described by Jesus or Buddha or Mohammed.  Or whether the Way is a meaningful, rich existence available to the secular humanist.
The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to such a
pass that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him,
and so loses all respect for himself and for others. And having no
respect he ceases to love, and in order to occupy and distract himself
without love he gives way to passions and coarse pleasures, and
sinks to bestiality in his vices, all from continual lying to other
men and to himself. The man who lies to himself can be more easily
offended than anyone. You know it is sometimes very pleasant to take
offence, isn't it? A man may know that nobody has insulted him, but
that he has invented the insult for himself, has lied and
exaggerated to make it picturesque, has caught at a word and made a
mountain out of a molehill- he knows that himself, yet he will be
the first to take offence, and will revel in his resentment till he
feels great pleasure in it, and so pass to genuine vindictiveness. But
get up, sit down, I beg you. All this, too, is deceitful

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Three thoughts from my last sermon (Part III)

What does it call us to do?  

If the only essential is faith in Christ, and unity means that we are intimately connected to all who profess this essential, then what that means in our modern world is that we have a responsibility to do more than just be happy with our own recognition of this truth.  We must boldly and actively proclaim it to our brothers and sisters in Christ.  And that is not necessarily easy.

Consider the historical examples of those who were married to people of different races or those who remarried after divorce.  Consider the modern example of those who are hear without proper immigration status or who are gay.  Is it enough for our little church to just quietly open its door?  I think not.

For one, it was not fair to our brothers and sisters in Christ who were in mixed race couples or had been divorced.  It is not fair to our brother and sisters who are here in violation of immigration law or who are gay.  Our little progressive church has its own style of worship and Bible study that is pretty much its own.  What about the gay man who prefers High Mass?  What about the undocumented immigrant who enjoys a meditative worship?  Or the divorced couple that likes singing "Old Rugged Cross"?  Should then be condemned to singing from the Chalice hymnal and listening to intellectuals drone on about the Jesus Seminar or Spong's latest jab at literalists?  Why?  Because we are the only ones that will take them?  That's unacceptable.

And for two, we owe it to our brothers and sisters in Christ who would turn them away.  We are not at liberty to watch them sin against the body of Christ without alerting them to their misdeed.  Will it be easy?  No.  At Sunday dinner it is best to avoid religion, sex and politics and these topics touch all three.  But we have no choice.  Indeed, they may disagree.  They may think who you have sex with is in fact an essential.  They are wrong, and we can't just be satisfied with being right.  It is our obligation to our brothers and sisters with whom we are unified in the body of Christ to witness to them.

But not with violence or vitriolic rhetoric.  In all things charity, after all.

Answer three:  With charity, but with clarity, we are called to witness for equality.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Three thoughts from my last sermon (Part II)

What is unity?  

The Disciples initial idea of unity involved structural unity.  Like, ending denominationalism.  A concept as useless as the word denominationalism.  Not that there is anything wrong with something of a unification effort among mainstream denominations.  But, the notion that we can all worship, and have communion, and ordain together is a little foolhardy.  Particularly given that it is only in essentials that we must have unity.

Rather, unity is more an idea like Paul's expression of one body in Christ.  We are all connected in a profound an intimate way.  There isn't a Fundamentalist Body of Christ and a Process Theology Body of Christ.  There is one body of Christ.

Of course, in the middle of all of this touchy feel good time we then stumble across something ugly.  If we as Disciples are "Christians only," then we have to let in everyone who is a Christian AND if we deny access to anyone, we aren't saying they don't belong to our club, we are saying they don't belong to the body of Christ.

So, what about people who believe in transubstantiation?  In.  What about people who don't even take communion every Sunday? In.  What about people who believe that the Earth is coming to an end so soon, that Global Warming is not a problem? In.

What about people who believe that Aurora, Colorado would have benefited from more guns in the theater?  What if I'm asking that to a Congregation that lost one of its most beloved members, a boy of 17 years, to senseless gun violence?  In.

What about people who would say that to be gay is a sin?  What if I am asking this question to a group of people deeply scared from the wickedness perpetrated against them by a homophobic society?  Well, is one's belief about being gay an essential?  No.  Then it is a non-essential, in which case it is to be treated with liberty.  IN.

Answer two: Unity means recognizing the connectedness of all Christians and accepting our intimate relationship with each one regardless of where they stand on non-essentials.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Three thoughts from my last sermon (Part I)

In my most recent sermon at Chalice Christian Church, I answered three questions that spring from the slogan, "In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity."  The questions are (1) What is essential to being a Christian? (2) What does it mean to be unified? (3) What action does this understand compel us to take?

What is essential?  The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) is a movement that seeks to bring wholeness to a fragmented world.  From its beginning, the founders pursued to potentially contradictory ends--restoration and unity.  Restoration meaning returning to the ways of the early church.  If you know anything about the early church, you know that it was not unified.  It fact, it was this disunity that gave rise to the creeds that Disciples so loathe.  Hence the popular slogan, "We have no creed, but Christ."

As mentor and friend Reverend Dale Copsey pointed out to me, the commas is key.  Christ is not our creed; Christ is instead of creeds.  And that goes a long way to answering the question of essentials.  To be Christian one must believe that there is something special about Jesus Christ.  Furthermore, that belief must have personal impact.  The essential is the good confession.  Words that I usually formulate as: Do you believe that Jesus is the Christ, the son of the Living God?  Do you take him as your personal savior.  (BTW, I am intentionally vague on these things.  Reverend Jim Corner, another close personal friend of mine, rejects almost all Christology.  But the primacy of Christ in his personal life is evident despite is predilection toward provocation when it comes to questions of His divinity.)

That is it, as the kids say, IMHO.

IF Christian THEN one believes in Jesus.  We can test it.  TRUE? (IF One does not believe in Jesus THEN One is not Christian)  I think the test is true.  If you believe Jesus was an important and valuable teacher, but he means nothing particular to you, then I think it is fair to say you are not a Christian.  It doesn't mean you're evil.

Does it mean you'll go to hell?  I don't know.  I think it means you cannot achieve Salvation, or living in The Way, or entry into the Kingdom of God--whatever those terms mean.  I used to get hung up on this sentiment.  But frankly, if you think outside of the Christian context, it is pretty easy to see the truth of it.  Can you live a Kosher life by studying Zen Koans?  I think not.  Neither can you achieve Enlightenment or Detachment from reading the Koran.  These ends or unique to each of the world religions, and it would be bizarre bordering on chauvinistic to suggest that they all lead to the goal of Christianity.

Answer one: To be Christian one must only believe in Christ.