Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Ricardo and I Get Flamed

I’ve recently received passionate responses to material that has appeared in the Spectrum blog: one to Ricardo Graham’s editorial that first appeared in the July, 2010, Pacific Union Recorder, and one to a review of a Mark Kellner editorial that I had written.

Eric’s response to Ricardo Graham came out of the blue. As he reports, the Pacific Union Recorder he receives is usually “filed” unopened. Since Eric is a friend and a brilliant university scientist, and since he knows I read the Recorder and post on the Spectrum blog, I received the following email. It’s posted here with Eric’s permission.

Graham’s editorial appeared on the Spectrum blog and can be read there in its entirety.

If I check the mailbox, the Pacific Union Recorder gets filed alongside fundraising letters from Sarah Palin, but Kristi checked the mail today and accidentally opened our copy. Once I rescued her from a sudden coughing fit, I glanced at the cause... Did you guys happen to catch the July editorial by Ricardo Graham?

"My views of science are informed by my faith in God's Word, not the other way around."

"As a true university, LSU will always be on the cutting edge of science as well as other disciplines."

"... LSU will be a school where the biblical account of a recent six-day creation will be respected and supported, and where the faith of our students will be encouraged and strengthened while their knowledge of science develops."

What an ignoramus. Science is a process, not a collection of facts. If you pollute that process by introducing "facts" from sources other than repeatable/verifiable observation, it's not science anymore. All you're left with are the "facts" you've chosen to believe, cloaked in a thin veneer of pseudo-scientific twaddle in a vain attempt to differentiate the SDAs from the Moonies. Why pretend --- just believe whatever you want!

"... I believe in academic freedom, but I also believe that no one who teaches in any SDA school, including a university, has the freedom to teach as fact things that contradict or undermine the beliefs of the church."

Translation: "You scientists can dig out whatever truth you want, as long as it doesn't interfere with what I already believe."

Is there a conscious effort among the SDA leadership to remove from the church anyone with a scientific education? They've certainly succeeded in my case!

Sorry to dump on you guys, but you're the only ones I know who either read this rag or teach science ---BIOLOGY, even!--- at an SDA school. I'll go file it with Palin now -- I'm afraid to turn the page.

I don't work for them any more happy happy joy joy,

In my review of Mark Kellner’s editorial, THIS IS NOT “MY” CHURCH, I called it an “exercise of sophisticated name-calling” and used two Ellen White quotes to support the notion that an ongoing critical review of Adventist doctrine is healthy, and progressive thinkers are friends of the church rather than its detractors. My psychologist friend, Rob, thought I let Kellner off too lightly!

Your response to Kellner helped me see again how my Christian conditioning scared me for so long from thinking out loud about religious ‘truths’. I’m no longer so scared.

Matters of doctrine, the matter of authority, this matter of which god and whose god, the public square where these matters get what often amounts to superficial treatment are very evocative to me. The first commandment of any Christian denomination appears to be this: Do not challenge the party line. I don’t find that kind of theology very interesting. So I no longer care much about what the 'big voices', or their mouthpieces like Kellner, in any church have to say about 'god'. When a ‘little voice’ dares to think twice about what they have been trained to believe about the real meaning of scripture, big voices use their authority or leverage to drown them out as irrelevant, or to damn them as dangers.

The 1000 protestant denominations you mention in your response to Kellner represent only a tiny fraction of the myriad interpretations of god, and most of them are little voices trying to find their way. You and I know that every voice is an individual story composed of pain and pleasure and hope and confusion about how to make sense of the meaning of life. Kellner and those like him, find it easy to turn our search into a march straight to hell.

I think who is right about 'god' is not even close to the essential question that humans have to consider. We have too much to learn about our own house (our own consciousness) before we try to arrange the furniture in god's house. I agree with Freud and all those others damned for thinking, and for thinking out loud, that when it comes to looking at who we really are, churches are factories of denial. Amid all that clanking is the implicit freedom churches have to not grow up their beliefs. You may want to argue here, as you often do, for the exceptions.

I now believe that anything I'm blind to in my own consciousness is going to get projected onto 'god' or scripture, or the agreed upon enemies of either. This is not a new idea but inside the four walls of doctrine, it is still a dangerous one. And then there is the matter of mystical encounters, which are often I think just deeper encounters with ourselves. These experiences don’t seem to happen much for Seventh-day Adventists in general. They have their prophet, but they have no mystical tradition and thus seem to be missing a whole range of experience from which to consider 'god'. They have a theology that is part conveniently organic (we’ll change it when it suits us) and part rigor mortis (we ain’t changing even if our children outgrow us). Reason confined to the defense of doctrine seems to be the real god here.

So now I come to your response to Kellner. I agree that Kellner’s essay was neither thoughtful nor faithful; he just pushed the party line. When you then call on Ellen White to respond to those who think like Kellner, you may make some Seventh-day Adventists more receptive to reading through your argument, but it takes away from the intelligence that has helped you see that in your church many things are amiss in the teaching about god. Of course you have good intentions that come through to those who publish your words. And how we are conditioned to appeal to those gatekeepers and the audiences they say they protect. But when it comes to the very serious matter of speaking up to religious blind spots, I think you are too conventionally polite to Kellner. You're appropriate to a particular public square. If that were a street fight, you’d have your hands in your pockets. So hold your own here. What I've seen you write about these matters is never as interesting or eloquent or tough as what I've heard you say out loud, across the table from me, the check sitting on your side.

with love

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