[This is the transcript of my regular KVMR commentary broadcast on 15 March 2013.]
Cardinal of Argentina and Jesuit, Jorge Bergoglio, was elected Pope last Wednesday, the first from the Western Hemisphere to hold the Holy Office of Catholicism. He chose to be known as Pope Francis (the First), a name that fits his reputation and humble demeanor. His major tasks will be to straighten out the Vatican bureaucracy, also known as the Roman Curia, the standing of the Catholic priesthood, and halt the decline of Christianity in Europe and North America.
“This apparent stability, however, masks a momentous shift. Although Europe and the Americas still are home to a majority of the world’s Christians (63%), that share is much lower than it was in 1910 (93%). And the proportion of Europeans and Americans who are Christian has dropped from 95% in 1910 to 76% in 2010 in Europe as a whole, and from 96% to 86% in the Americas as a whole.”
And even these statistics mask the actual declines in people who regularly attend church or even confess to believing in God. Protestant Northern Europe has become a Christian wasteland, and in North America secular humanism is making great strides in attracting both young and old away from the faith of their fathers.
Today in America the state is actively and selectively proscribing Christianity and purging its presence from public life. The ruling progressive mentality is dominant and has prescribed that we be sensitive to all religions in our midst save Christianity. When the perceived sensibilities of people of other faiths are somehow disrespected, there is an uproar in the media with America’s secular humanists lending their weight to restore those aggrieved. The only exception is the sound of crickets when a Christian or Christianity is disparaged or mocked.
Today Christians in America are a mobile bunch with over 50% having changed their religious affiliation at least once. And the churn continues as the overall numbers decline. To me that reflects an attitude that shopping religions is rapidly becoming the norm because people more and more are dissatisfied with what they learn or don’t learn during their encounter with this or that denomination.
As a Protestant Christian, I have seen that branch of the faith change markedly over my lifetime. Churches no longer feel that their theology, with its message of salvation and how to live, is sufficient to contain the faithful. Something different is required today if the pews are to be filled on Sunday. The overwhelming solution has been to adopt a new ‘contemporary’ style of service that concentrates on entertainment and expunges the wonders of Christian cosmology and theology from its sermons. ‘Sunday school light’ is the new liturgy in which a progressive ‘liberation theology’ focuses on current social issues during many Protestant and Catholic worship services.
The consequence is that altars have become rock band stages, the sacraments have been silenced, and an all-inclusive Christianity is the order of the day. The parishioner soon asks himself ‘is that all that there is?’, if so, then let’s go find a place that has a better band, cooler songs, and more skits to entertain us. If the church seeks first to be a social services club washed of irrelevant theology, then finding the best club is the order of the day. The Pew Forum describes it as “a very competitive religious marketplace.” And today that marketplace is more and more filled with Comfort Christians who cannot conceive of contending for what used to be their faith.
On an even bigger scale, respected scientists tell us (here) that the world is rapidly becoming an arena of clashing civilizations, each of which hew to one of the world’s great religious traditions. It is into that arena that the humble and evangelical Pope Francis now takes the Throne of St Peter as the de facto leader of Christians of all hues.
My name is Rebane, and I expand on this and related themes on georgerebane.com where the linked transcript of this commentary is posted, and where such issues are debated extensively. However these views are not necessarily shared by KVMR. Thank you for listening.
[This message was first posted on Christmas Eve 2009.]
The two main events in the Christian calendar are celebrations of the
Promise and the Fulfillment. Christmas calls on us to reflect on the
Promise delivered - the arrival of Emmanuel, God with us, that made
real what had long been promised. By His appearance among us, the
Promise of the good news and a new covenant of salvation between Man
and God became an historical event. He had come.
As Christians, we take great joy in the remembrance of that little
noticed event two thousand years ago, an event that would alter the
course of Man and his empires. Today, in our own country and around the
world, Christians again stand battered and confused by forces and
events we scarcely understand. But Christmas reminds us once more of
the real hope for a better world in which we, in His image, will all
have the freedom to grow and give according to the talents and
opportunities afforded us.
Jo Ann and I wish all of you a joyous Christmas, and a new year where
‘Better!’ will properly respond to every ‘How are you?’ coming your
Last week my son-in-law sent me David Brin’s latest great sci-fi novel, Existence. I couldn’t help but immediately put it into my reading stack. Like most of you who frequent RR, I read several books concurrently, and Brin’s description of the state of the world in mid-century was something I had to know sooner than later. As a geo-politics, philosophy, and machine intelligence junkie, I was not disappointed as this page-turner immediately grabbed me.
I’m a third through the tome and hope to report more on it later. But Brin’s world of about 2050 is a very plausible one for those who have agreed with my prognostications here on RR, and those of George Friedman on Stratfor. America has fragmented into a loose federation of semi-sovereign states and regions that still calls itself United States. Global warming has caused the sea level to rise precipitously, apparently from the sudden loosening of massive ancient freshwater lakes underneath the Greenland and Antarctic ice caps. And the social order is more stratified than ever with various “estates” of people having even a wider range of wealth, belief systems, and various affinities for technology.
The Singularity has not yet arrived, however robots and very intelligent machines dominate all areas of human activity. The web has multiplied into several levels of extremely broadband nets, and sensors are deployed everywhere, looking at and listening to everything. Everyone is plugged in through various implants and headgear that superimpose layers of information and data into the visual and aural fields as people go about their business. However, society is at a potential breaking point, having suffered several short but intensive global catastrophes and political calamities between now and then. There are layers of visible and corrupt invisible layers of power with the main contention being between the ultra-rich (trillionaires) and the religionists – one group seeking stability, the other a revolution to a new world order.
And then Earth is contacted by what is clearly an established galactic society.
[I fear that this posting will be of little interest to most RR readers. It is memorialized here as part of my personal record of thought that I am willing to share with those few whose interest might be piqued by such subjects.]
Religions in general and Christianity in particular are suffering an assault of reason that has reached a zenith through the ascendancy and promulgation of secular humanism (q.v.) that is now touted as the all-explaining worldview held by the educated in every land. Christianity has been on the wane in developed countries – in Europe it is mostly extinct as a belief system – enjoying gains only among the pre-educated in less developed nations. Staying its current course, Christianity may expect a similar fate in those countries when they too become developed.
In my extended study of this phenomenon, the fundamental reason for the retreat of Christianity is that its adherents and protagonists continue to teach the faith through promotion of tenets that are easily rejected in this age of accessible mega-information. What is taught from the pulpit on Sunday does not match the encountered reality during the rest of the week. And when the supplicants and/or prospects present these dichotomies to Christianity’s purveyors, their counter to reason is ‘You must believe more strongly in the teachings, and then your questions and questioning will disappear.’
Most people answer that they don’t want to become a person in whom such patently reasonable inquiries are no longer possible. They see it as undergoing a form of intellectual lobotomy, which, at a minimum, will destroy the salutary parts of the image they have of themselves. And they turn away, proclaiming to other potential seekers the details of their frustrated attempts to understand.
As some previous posts have revealed, I am among those Christians who hold that Christianity is a most plausible and simple system (see Occam) of belief, one that lays the intellectual foundation for our cosmology and provides the most satisfying answers to the deepest teleological questions (the whys) about our existence and fate. One can even argue that there exist perspectives from which Christianity is falsifiable. However, such arguments cannot be made from what we may label as the commonly taught ‘everyday Christianity’.
To all this, I believe, there is a powerful yet little known alternative interpretation that can lay to rest the standard litany of doubts about the scriptural history and expression of the faith. One of the most compelling conundrums for the questioning seeker can be summarized by, 'Does God Watch Paint Dry?'. This is the title of a little apology I have composed for those who would still like to discover whether for them Christianity can serve as an illuminated path between intellect and faith. Perhaps it will be of help.
Hearing that strong assertion, the Christian answers joyfully, ‘He is risen indeed!’
For us, Christmas is the promise, and Easter its fulfillment. The summation of all Christianity is Christ’s covenant in the promised transcendence of Man, all concentrated into one simple declaration – ‘He is risen!’ Without this, our faith is a fraud; with it, Christianity promises Man to become an unending part of God’s love of all of Creation.
There was an interesting essay in the 18/19feb12 WSJ adapted from Alain de Botton’s latest book Religion for Atheists: a Non-believers Guide to the Uses of Religion. It is really a lament about all the things that atheists are missing out on that come to people of faith who gather to worship their God. Everything from “reclaiming community” to finding commonly shared purpose in life, and all the trimmings that go in between for folks in a faith-based organization.
It seems that atheists are somehow not fulfilled in their flirtations with environmentalism, productivity seminars, yoga, moral relativism, and endless group and individual analyses by various therapists and psychological ‘rent-a-buddies’. There seems to be an emptiness underneath it all that is not only perceived by the hard-working career climbers, but is made more stark in the built-in loneliness that comes from attempting to connect with people with whom there is really no common connection.
Well, according to M. de Botton, there is a solution at hand that can bring our secular humanist friends into a chummy communion with other similarly searching souls (which really don’t exist). It turns out that atheists can join with each other just like the bible thumpers, but without all that God baggage. And the solution lies in starting an institution, or is it really a franchise, called Agape Restaurants (I’m not making this up).
The Agape Restaurants would become the locus of congregations following the Book of Agape prescribing a liturgy that is cobbled together from the essential essences of the Catholic Mass, the Jewish Seder, the Zen tea ceremony, … you get the idea. People would assemble there to go through the warm and bonding formalities that bring and hold together people of faith. They would even get to ceremoniously consume the moral?, ethical? equivalent of the Eucharist.
Thanks to the Agape Restaurant, our fear of strangers would recede. The poor would eat with the rich, the black with the white, the orthodox with the secular, workers with managers, scientists with artists. The claustrophobic pressure to derive all of our satisfactions from our existing relationships would ease, as would our desire to climb ever higher in social status. …
The Book of Agape would direct diners to speak to one another for prescribed lengths of time on predefined topics. Like the famous questions that the youngest child at the table is assigned by the Haggadah to ask during the Passover ceremony ("Why is this night different from all other nights?" "Why do we eat unleavened bread and bitter herbs?" and so on), these talking points would be carefully crafted for a specific purpose, to coax guests away from customary expressions of pride ("What do you do?" "Where do your children go to school?") and toward a more sincere revelation of themselves ("What do you regret?" "Whom can you not forgive?" "What do you fear?").
So there you have it. You should be able to embrace it all without having to consider any of the aggravating absolutes that come with a religion that teaches transcendence as the gift of grace from a supreme intelligence who created all that IS, and through love and compassion is willing to share all with His critters. None of those things need to divert us from creaming the good parts of 'TAT TVAM ASI!' From a thorough analysis of religions, the secular humanists have finally figured out how to fill their emptiness and enjoy it all. For it’s now or never – remember, oblivion awaits.
Mr Ben Emery is a regular RR reader who vigorously defends his Left/liberal ideology in these pages. He recently issued a complaint about the content, viewpoint, and perhaps the form of this weblog. His general lament is that RR’s scope of topics is too narrow and doesn’t cover the substance of the ideas discussed. I believe his comments deserve a more extended answer that may also be of interest to other readers of this weblog. This follows BenE’s complaint repeated below, which is also his ‘8nov11 09:12 AM’ comment to ‘The Liberal Mind – How much socialist, before being a ‘Socialist’?’.
The ‘morality’ of capitalism, of empire, of wealth redistribution, and many other things are much on the minds of people these days. Yet, as with notions like race, prejudice, government subsidy, censorship, socialism, …, almost no one comes to the debate with a coherent, let alone operational, definition of the terms they glibly sprinkle into their arguments. Such ignorance has reached unheard heights that now call for books – e.g. philosopher Jamie Whyte’s Crimes Against Logic – Exposing the Bogus Arguments of Politicians, Priests, Journalists, and Other Serial Offenders (2005) - that have been published on the rising incomprehensibility of public babble.
To this semantic morass I now wish to add an understanding of the notion of morals and morality since it is often brought up in the comment threads of RR, usually as part of an indictment of fellow readers or their wayward beliefs. This contribution joins a growing list of other terms on RR (see ‘Critical Thinking and Numeracy’ category) I have defined, many at the request of readers. The intent of such definitions is to make my commentaries and comments more understandable, and hopefully invite others to appreciate the offered semantics.