Sound and Silence

when necessary, use words



Science and/or Faith?

Responding to a recent local online debate around a Cape Town science teacher who has been “forced to quit” her teaching job as a result of a consistent attack from her reportedly  Christian colleagues, I thought we should do a poll. The postings were predominantly combative in tone and reveal just how divided the issue is in many or most people’s minds.

If you would like to explore this issue further please see my reflections on “The Advent of Evolutionary Christianity“.


The Advent of Evolutionary Christianity

All Mother, its been almost 2 months since my last post. And I confess that it was a bit of a downer: the non-event (for me) of Lausanne 2010.

That shut me up for a bit. But now, the news just got good again…

I’ve been following one of the most inspiring events of recent times online. It’s called “The Advent of Evolutionary Christianity” and curated by Michael Dowd, author of the 2009 book “Thank God for Evolution: How the Marriage of Science and Religion Will Transform Your Life and Our World”.

Continue reading “The Advent of Evolutionary Christianity”

Caleb and Joshua : Emergent Pioneers

But my servant Caleb – he has a different spirit…” [Num 14:24]nicolas_poisson_Spies with grapes of promised land

I have rediscovered the fascinating narrative from Numbers 13 and 14 concerning Moses and the people of Israel on the brink of entering into the Promised Land.

Despite associating this kind of Old Testament story with theologies of exclusion, spiritual heroics, conquest and conversion, I am now finding in it a particular resonance with current debates around emergence and the move beyond Modernity.

It’s a tale of twists, and here is the storyboard: Continue reading “Caleb and Joshua : Emergent Pioneers”

Philip Clayton in conversation with Nic Paton

Darwin, Teilhard de Chardin, Sacred Evolution, Hosting the Universe, missional biology, co-evolving, radicalised ecozoic incarnation, and the generation that is asking “brilliant questions”:

Philip Clayton (author of “Transforming Christian Theology“) in conversation with Nic Paton (curator of The Sout Project).

Listen to Philip Clayton in conversation with Nic Paton.

Pattern-based Worship: The loop vs. the line.

One of the major features of the modern era, from which we are currently emerging, is linearity.  This is propped up by the “myth of progress” wherein all history moves towards the future through Greek conceptions of time – telos (purpose) and chronos (linear time) – expressed though our systemising of natural time via clocks. In this idea, accuracy and efficiency have become of utmost importance, because of our capitalist belief that “time is money”.

And these manifestations of modernity are not limited to the dominant economic model either, communism (especially the Soviet type) had an implicit faith in the ability of this “progress” to transform society, based in scientific materialism, atheistic humanism and Hegelian philosophical optimism. Continue reading “Pattern-based Worship: The loop vs. the line.”

Muzi Cindi – A postmodern nigger in the woodpile

Talking About God Thinking About GodAs epiphanies go, Muzi Cindi’s stands way out. As a preacher and churchman of some 25 years standing, God appeared to him in 2007 during a Radox moment in the shower. So far, only slightly unusual. Then, God actually spoke to him. That deserves, I suppose, a hearing, even in this day of revelation overload. But the clincher is the message, and it was this: “God does not exist”.

But instead of creating a debilitating crisis of faith for Cindi, this subversive “a-theist” anticreed has become his catharsis, motivation, and passion. The evangelical zeal which was his all along merely adjusted to a new message and is as far as one can tell, as strong as it ever has been, and certainly no less radical. The outcome of his visitation is now available as a book, “Thinking about God, Talking about God”.

Well, maybe I should say that it’s not so much a conventional book, as a documented process, largely unedited, full of spelling errors and dubious assertions, brimming with contradiction, but ultimately held together in a burning vision. Lordy Lordy Hallelujah! this is surely a testimony for the postmodern age.

As a text, and because this is a review, let it be noted that the index of howlers is unusually high, the problems ranging from simple spelling, incorrect word usage, to un-researched shortcuts, and the appropriation of whole chapters from other sources. This I am sure is due to the fact that this is an entirely self funded enterprise, and therefore wholly sidesteps normal publishing channels; but this is part of the “Thinking about God” charm. To stop at such nitpicking would be to miss the point.  

Cindi’s essential point is this: the Christianity he was brought up in, is not only unsustainable and discredited, but already defunct. “The Christian world is disintegrating, because the story on which it is based is losing its power.” He supplies abundant (though somewhat chaotic) data to support his claims. But his offering is essentially a visionary one, involving wide theological, philosophical, and scientific thought. He seeks to address the seeming incompatibility of a deep love for his evangelical tradition – and his faith in Jesus – with his philosophical embrace of the new atheists such as Dawkins, Hitchens, and Harris.

And this embrace extends to just about everything that contributed to the end of the modern era, from Copernicus and Galileo’s pioneering cosmologies, Darwin’s evolutional insights, Einstein’s discovery of relativity, Paul Tillich’s theological atheism and Karen Armstrong’s religious demythologising.

DoNotBelieve“Don’t believe what I believe” is one of Muzi’s rallying cries, and I look forward to the T-Shirt. In case this gets interpreted as mere reactionary anarchy, he explains to us the apophatic (negative theology) traditions from where he draws his succour: Meister Eckhart, the 13th century mystic, Paul Tillich, and Don Cuppit. And he gives credit too to all reformers – Luther, Calvin and Zwingli, the evangelical fathers Wesley, Edwards, Moody, and the South Africans such as John G Lake and Nicholas Bhengu. And references are not just to Christianity: universal, ecumenical appeals to the wisdom of all the worlds’ faith traditions pepper the book.

One of the most curious questions I have about Cindi’s explosive energy its relatively sparse dealings with the question of African roots, and bringing in more post colonial thought to buttressing his extensive postmodernism. Where, for example, are the fathers of the African revolutions, where is his own South African literary tradition amongst the plethora of first world sources? I do not want to prescribe who he should be, but it is a little vexing that the vast majority of his thesis of a post-God God is found in European and American thinking. I’d be delighted to see him take on African traditions with the same zeal he has taken on his own Evangelical roots, and even further to see him unpack an authentic Ubuntu as part of the rebuilding of Christianity.

I find myself identifying with Cindi’s vision, including his passion for knowledge, his hermeneutic of suspicion, his honest confusion, and his pariah status. At the same time I share his love for the evangelical tradition, and the ancient way of Jesus. He affirms, “A redefined Jesus still stands at the centre of my God experience”. Furthermore, I broadly concur with his inclusivity and embrace of all wisdom traditions as a way forward in a post Christian age. “Thinking about God” is flawed and fabulous, a headily chaotic brew, diverse, divisive, and delicious.

Muzi Cindi is a self confessed heretic, and draws strength from making peace with heterodoxy. The book is prefaced with an unattributed quote, “For every orthodoxy was once a heresy, and every heresy is fated to be orthodoxy. All countries were founded by traitors. All our churches were founded by heretics. The patriotism of today glories in the treasons of yesterday.” But to accuse him of lack of accountability would be short-sighted indeed; in addition to his relational ties to his mentors, the book is remarkable for its sheer range of references.

MusiHis vision is no idiosyncratic delusion, but rather an extension of a variety of well acknowledged intellectual and spiritual traditions. And we need his energy and his attempt to reconcile the old and new views of God and the cosmos. Despite his rambling style, I do not believe that this is a “mish-mash” of thought, so much as an emerging, integral vision.

Overcoming the taboo associated with thinking outside of our boxes, especially our religious ones, is a foundational shift which requires great courage; as Seal sings, “We’re never gonna survive, unless we get a little crazy”. Cindi is not shy of being regarded as a holy fool, and having recovered from the fear of asking questions, the potential for “error” appears to have no limit. And yet, all progress, and all evolutionary shifts, require these chaotic conditions. With startling audacity, Cindi has created them.

His life’s work, I intuit, will be to ensure that this chaos does indeed lead to a sustainable spirituality. Perhaps chief amongst the questions will be the one “Where, now, is our authority?” which emergent thinkers like Phyllis Tickle have been addressing.

If the world is to remember Muzi Cindi the author, he will have to employ a good editor. And if it is to celebrate his personal legacy, he will have to help those still ensnared in modernistic thinking, to emerge. He will need to fully develop his empathy, creating sound bridges for others to cross. And he will have to gain the trust of those who not so long ago, would have gloried in his immolation at the heretic’s stake.

Muzi’s Website.

Fundamentalism’s fatal flaw

“The Earth is the Lords, and the flatness thereof.” [Ps 24, NFV]*

If it does not seem possible to dialog directly with fundamentalists, we can at least reflect on why this is so. While some refuse point blank to enter any debate regarding the/ir truth, other might see this fact as an opportunity to learn about compassion, difference, peacemaking and unity, and allow the potential “logs in their own eye” to be challenged as they identify the splinters in the eyes of their detractors.

Fundamentalism may have had a good purpose once, as a response to liberal modernism. But now, it is not just unnecessary, or outmoded. It is not only unpleasant and damaging. It does not just discredit the God of Compassion. No, its final flaw is more basic: from where I stand, fundamentalism is in fact impossible.

One of its chief features is its lateralization of language. To literalise is to flatten, removing all poetry or ambiguity – all Life – from ideas. A true fundamentalism outlaws all metaphor. But who does not use metaphor daily: “I’m just popping out” means I am leaving then returning, but true fundamentalist literalisation would be bound to ask “You mean your eye? Or are you leaving us via an explosion?” Yet they do not – they accept metaphor.

And did Jesus not abundantly describe his mission via simile – “The Kingdom is like a net…” Perhaps the fundamentalist requires a strict delineation between metaphor and simile, so that we are very explicit about abstract comparisons, by using the disclaimer “like”. If Jesus had said “The Kingdom is a net”, what would anti-metaphorical fundamentalists make of his words? “Not so Lord, it will never be a net”? No, Jesus assumes his message will be filtered via our imaginations, in order to fire them up and grow faith for the hearers.

And when Jesus says (rather curiously I have always thought) “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again?” is he not implying that it is impossible for this earth not to be good, so long as those who trust him remain true? It is a chemical fact that salt – Soduim Chloride – is extremely stable, and can virtually not lose its salty properties.

As Kabir says, “I laugh when I hear that the fish is thirsty.” Meaning, it is impossible for the fish to be thirsty, and that it is impossible for the earth not to be good:  seasoned, purified, preserved and fertilized via the Grace of God and the Salt of Faith.

As I read the scriptures, and as I contemplate the world in which I live, I see abundant evidence of a Poetic God at play in his Universe of Marvels. My ultimate response to Life is one of awe. It is to perceive an endless mystery at every level of being.

If Life, God or the Cosmos are even in the slightest bit Poetic, then any attempt to do away with this poetry in the name of God, Life or the Cosmos, is impossible. It goes against the Truth, and this attempt at the impossible is therefore hypocrisy. And hypocrisy is sin.

From this reasoning, the sin of fundamentalism, and its fatal flaw, is the rejection of the Poetic God of Multifaceted Beauty and the embrace of the Reductionist Idol of Unifaceted Fact.

As we wrestle with truth, these are some of the questions we might ask:

  • Is this created Universe reducible, as the Newtonian approach would have it, to an objective series of mere facts?
  • Is this essentially Greek approach to truth “biblical” – does it line up with almost all other non-modern traditions, especially the Hebraic – of narrative truth as revealed through story?
  • Are the words of Jesus and the biblical authors reducible to a set of codified truth propositions – in effect, laws?
  • Is there a single meaning of the cross by which we determine a single, simple approach to Salvation?

To the extent you answered yes to these, you are a modern fundamentalist. Your worldview, whether you know it or not, is deeply influenced by the Enlightenment and Scientific rationalism. You probably see this as normal, and are unwilling to countenance another point of view. You partake in an “excess of confidence”.

If all of this remained merely a philosophical issue, then the sin of fundamentalism would not be that serious. It would fall into the category of abstract problems like any other “ism” might. But the fact is this: the actions and morality based on an impossible belief system, one at odds with Life and ultimately with God, is bound to be problematic. The fruits speak for themselves: a hypocritical belief framework leads inevitably to hypocritical deeds.

In my online skirmishes with fundamentalists I often find myself cast as the villain, the renegade and the rejecter of God. My attempts to effect reconciliation which as I see it are a foundational (fundamental in fact) part of the gospel of reconciliation, are met with scorn and worse. My desire to forge peace is mirrored back as an act of war. Any talk of truth is interpreted as deception on my part.

It is this same toxic thinking that makes people hate homosexuals, for instance. Or kill them. In the name of the Christian God.

We should not be surprised then at the vehemence with which certain people reject the emergent message. The postmodern tendencies of this message, which attempt to reclaim the mystery which rightfully belongs in the broad tradition of Christian spirituality, confound the Modern thought process. Any attempt to question or any hint of ambiguity in the written words of scripture is demonised and condemned as compromising truth by making it less clear and less one-dimensional.

To this, Peter Rollins can have the last word:

“… if we were to do the impossible and render the text into the ultimate fantasy of the fundamentalist (a text at one with itself) then the Word of God would not be clearer; rather, the Word of God would be systematically eradicated.” (The Fidelity of Betrayal, Peter Rollins, Paraclete 2008, p 57)

* The New Fundamentalist Version is not currently available (and will hopefully never become available).

The “Kingdom”: of God?

Part of a syncroblog on the “The Kingdom of God.” For other posts, see below.

“In essentials, unity; in doubtful matters, liberty; in all things, charity.”

netsMost people agree that these words are deserving of full acceptance. But I’ll guarantee that despite their elegance, determining what exactly constitutes “essentials”, always seems to prove their undoing.

However, as far as Christians go, one notion that holds a considerable place as an “essential” is that of the “Kingdom of God.” This is after all the deep uniting theme that emerges from the known words of Jesus. The Kingdom of G-d, (Gk Basileia tou Theou) is for many the overarching raison d’être – the fundamental descriptor of G-d’s purpose in history, a notion bigger than say “salvation” or “Church”. Continue reading “The “Kingdom”: of God?”

Does Emergence = Global Religion?

“Woe to you experts in the law, because you have taken away the key to knowledge. You yourselves have not entered, and you have hindered those who were entering.”
christ-buddha-shakti transfiguration mandala by Jack Haas
christ-buddha-shakti transfiguration mandala by Jack Haas

Few statements cause as much reaction in Christian circles as those proposing that all religions lead to God. After all, it is generally accepted that Jesus himself stated “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

One topical variant on this theme has to do with “Global Religion”, and the idea that Christianity is but one of many faiths which point us towards Divinity, the Sacred, or Enlightenment. And with the advent of Emergence Christianity, with its pluralism, and its revisioning of Biblical Faith, the Emergent Church is viewed by many as leading us away from true orthodoxy into a new religious synthesis. This urge is typified in such statements as Continue reading “Does Emergence = Global Religion?”

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