Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Old Secular Saw: Reason vs Faith/Religion

Post 42—:

Why Again on This Stuff
If you’ve been following this blog, you will know that a major emphasis has been the relationship between Reason and Faith and/or Religion. (I capitalize these words to emphasize their centrality in this post.) I am putting you on notice that I don’t get tired of this subject and I won’t in the future as long as spokesmen/spokeswomen of the secular establishment don’t get tired of the subject and keep foisting their vision as the only reasonable one on the rest of us. As long as they unload their secular old saw about Reason vs Faith/Religion on us, so long will I counter them with my Kuyperian Christian guns about Faith/Religion and Reason or, better, Faith/Religion in and underlying Reason.

The "Sensible" World of the Secularist
This time the subject is triggered by an article the Vancouver Sun borrowed from the Los Angeles Times by Anderson Thompson and Clare Aukofer (A&T), co-authors of the book Why We Believe in God(s): A Concise Guide to the Science of Faith (“Imagine: Man Created God,” July 22, 2011). The article begins by declaring upfront that they strongly wish for a world without religion. To clarify their religionless utopia they pit a number of things against each other. In a world cleansed of religion, “mistakes like the avoidable loss of life in Hurricane Katrina, would be rectified rather than chalked up to ‘God’s will.’” Or take this gem: “…Politicians would no longer compete to prove who believes more strongly in the irrational and untenable.” They long for a world “where critical thinking is an ideal. In short, a world that makes sense.”

"Scientific" Caricatures
Since I am an openly religious person and a missionary at that, those scenarios are supposed to describe me. You know what? I don’t recognize myself in any of that. Our “faith scientists” have just drawn up a scarecrow. To be sure, there may be some individuals, groups of them even, that fit one or more of these caricatures, but as a general situation, these are just silly caricatures hardly worthy of serious scientists. They express secular prejudice more than anything else, certainly not serious science.

Inside vs Outside Knowledge
True, Christians and Muslims—I confess that I don’t know enough about the other religions to speak for them—may see natural and other catastrophes as somehow incorporated in the will of God. However, I don’t know of any Christian or Muslim who would, on basis of that perspective, not work at or, at least, not favour preventing their re-occurrence. Seeing things in relation to divine will simply does not negate corrective or preventive action. Muslims have a reputation of being fatalistic, but they are very active and even pro-active in life’s affairs and by no means twiddle their thumbs while life overtakes them. Pitting such concepts against each other is typical of the outsider who makes logical deductions without having delved deeply into the subject, in this case, specific religions. They appear to have asked some scientific questions of and applied some scientific methods to religion, but they seem to know very little about the content or the inside of religion or about the way adherents experience their religion. How scientific, rational and critical is that?

Utopia: Freedom from the Irrational
Or take their snide at politicians. Most politicians are, unfortunately, politicians. Many will appeal to almost anything they think will bring votes. If it is not religion, it will be something else that A&T would describe as “irrational and untenable.” There are plenty of other issues to which voters cling with strong convictions and emotions. A&T seem to want a total make over of humanity so as to exclude all the “irrational and untenable,” their characterizations of Religion/Faith. They want a world of “critical thinking,” one that “makes sense” to their secular souls. Being isolated academics, they seem to demand that everyone should drop all of life’s reactions to reality except the rational. What an impoverished life that would be—a cold, strict, linear rational affair. God help us!

Secular Faith in Reason
As a serious Christian, I am at this very moment engaged in critical thinking and I am trying to make sense of this world, including the extremely biased views of A&T. Again, they are pitting concepts against each other that in real life always co-exist, namely Faith and Reason, even in their own article! It is they who are uncritical, for they do not seem to have subjected their own secular faith to the critical thinking they demand of others. They appear to simply accept it as the plain unassailable truth that does not require any corroboration or proof. Reason is the source of all truth. Punkt. That’s it. And don’t you dare to challenge that, for then you have ventured into the land of the politically incorrect. But pray tell: who has ever proved that assumed “unassailable” assumption? A&T, until you have proved that article of your faith, you are contradicting yourself. Yes, your faith, your belief system. You are demanding a world without faith on basis of your own belief in unassailable Reason. I can’t rewrite the same things time and again. So, if you're really interested in this issue, skim your way through previous posts and you will find it referred to repeatedly.

Next Post
I hope to deal with A&T’s scientific explanations of religion in the next post.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Change of Course: Introducing an Additional Blog

Post 41--:

For some time I have been aware of the need for a change in this blog. It is too much a mixture of the concrete and abstract, of comments on events and on more philosophical-theological issues, on principial issues if you will. Though some people will read both, I sense that some people prefer the one over the other and read the one more readily than the other. In order not to bore either group, I am from here on going to separate these two.

The Old and the New
This blog will continue under its present name and will deal with more abstract considerations. I will open a new blog for the events part of the discussion. Its principial underpinnings and the basis of my opinions will be dealt with, but not in great detail. For that kind of material you will have to turn to this existing blog. The new blog with its event character will be called “Christian” The capital letters are only for easy reading; they are not necessary when opening up the blog. The numbering of this blog will continue on into the new, so that, like this post, it will start with Post 41. This is in order to provide a sense of continuity. I foresee that there will occasionally be cross references from the one blog to the other.

I remind you that the other blog will continue under the title “”

Schedule Change
I hope you will appreciate the new arrangement. As for me, it will be more work. So, it may well be that the average time span between posts on these two blogs will somewhat increase. I hope you will stay with me and even that some of you will read both blogs regularly. I will appreciate any comments you may have on this new arrangement.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Secularism—A Major Cause for Hockey Riot (3)

Post 40--:

My Connection with Sports
I promise: this is the last one on Vancouver’s hockey riot. It’s the closest thing I have ever written about sports and its associated culture and certainly the most—4 posts. I did not know I had it in me, for sports is not a major factor in my life, though I do enjoy watching a game on TV now and then and even try to attend a live game once or twice a year, games other than hockey: especially baseball, soccer or tennis. I watched a lot of Vancouver’s Winter Olympics on TV and was intentionally sucked into its very exciting atmosphere. After all, the major street crowds were less than fifteen minutes walking from where I live, as was this year’s hockey riot. While the Olympics were very orderly and made Vancouver proud, the aftermath of the final hockey game was anything but that and made the city bow its head in shame. So, yes, both about sports, but very different events, not to say opposite.

However, different as these events turned out, they generated the same question in my mind and the same tentative suspicion. The question is the same that thousands of people are asking, including columnists in our local press: How could this have happened? When I try to formulate the question to make it appropriate for both events, it becomes: How can so many people, a whole city, be so infatuated and caught up in sports, so influenced by it? Even to the point of sporting t-shirt slogans like “This is what we live for?” In the past posts I have summarized some of the public discussion and opinions about the cause(s) and acknowledge that most of the explanations and theories offered have elements of truth to them.

The Secular Factor
I am going to suggest one more explanation. It does not invalidate the others. Mine is neither the only nor the entire explanation. I do not expect mine to be popular or acceptable to most Vancouverites, for it will touch many in the centre of their soul, but it is one entirely in tune with the spirit of this blog. If you have been following this blog regularly, you may already suspect the point I am about to make: secularism. Yes, secularism is a major cause for the hypnotic drawing power of sports and for the violence sports can generate, not only in Vancouver but in many cities around the world. This does not hold true for every sports fan. I know some very religious and spiritual people who are sports fans, hockey fans even—I think of my pastor—practitioners even. Here I think of a close friend of mine in Port Alberni on Vancouver Island. Sorry, Nick, I’m not going to mention your name or list all your sports achievements.

Secular and ….
But I do seriously propose that secularism is a major underlying cause of sports riots in the Western world in general, including Vancouver. Secularism has replaced Christianity as the major mainstream worldview or even religion. If that sounds outrageous to you, check out discussions by sociologists and philosophers of religion. An 2010 Olympic slogan appearing on the streets read, “I believe.” That’s kind of religious language and not simply a coincidence. Secularism affects even people who officially adhere either to Christianity or another religion, for secularism spreads by stealth: It influences people and slowly changes their values and standards without their even being aware of it and without their foreswearing their official religion. Their hearts and minds are divided; they adhere to both, though they may call themselves Christian, Muslim or Sikh or whatever. These bifurcated people are also sucked into the world of sports and, given the right circumstance, may participate enthusiastically in the sports culture and fall out of sports events. They have traded in the strength and standards of their religion for the values of the secular pop culture around them.

A Secular Vacuum
In earlier posts, I have argued that secularism is basically just another religion with its own sets of beliefs and unproven assumptions. As mainstream Vancouver veered farther and farther away from its previously more influential religion a lot of meaning and standard was lost. A vacuum was created that humans cannot tolerate, a vacuum of meaninglessness and purposelessness. As nature abhors a vacuum, so does the human soul. Such a vacuum demands a replacement to fill it.

Secularism a Religion
The replacement can take many forms. It can be art in any of its variations. It can be reason, money, fame, power, nature or some addiction. It can also be sports. Apart from addiction, none of these things are negative per se, but when they take on the power of directing your life and become your central concern, then they become, as it were, your god. The Bible calls it idolatry: replacing God with something in creation. And you will replace Him with something. That’s just the way we are by nature. Every culture has its pop stream, the one most secularists will follow, unless they happen to be of a more reflective, intellectual type. It is no accident that the negatives of our culture, drug addiction and homelessness, have been on the increase, for meaninglessness will drive many people in that direction either to search for new meaning or to drown their meaninglessness.

From Vacuum to Violence
For many people naturally caught up in our pop culture, sports is a natural choice they embrace without much thought. You just go along with the crowd. It’s almost automatic for many. You give yourself over to it lock, stock and barrel. You participate in the shouting and whooping that is part of that world. It gets hold of you more and more. As the shouting and whooping and other forms of excitement increase and you descend into an almost religious trance, mindlessness sets in and all reason and other restraints are suspended. Given the vacuum of values and standards with which you have grown up, you have no resistance to your adrenalin rushing to a boil and there you go. It only takes a few intentional purveyors of violence to start the ball rolling and the adrenalin-driven crowd, full of either excitement or disappointment and anger, gets whipped up into a frenzy. Add a little booze to the mix and the rest is history. The next morning hundreds of people kick themselves for the stupid frenzy that overtook them. Their vacuum, their lack of internal restraint, deep down, that they should have learnt from their parents, took its toll. They just went for it.

I advise you to read a column by Penny Gurstein and Howard Rotberg in the Vancouver Sun. They ask, "What if these young people do represent what Vancouver is and what it shall be?" Another of their question: "What if what we see being reflected are the cultural consequences of a post-religious society with no clear moral compass and no overarching guiding values?" Then this statement: "Vancouver has adopted a Lotus Land ideology of cultural relativism in which we tell our children that there are no good cultures and bad cultures and no good versus evil." Or this: "A vast number of people in Vancouver view themselves as 'secular but spiritual.' Too often it means a worship of nature and the absence of discussion of values and morality. If they are raised without any clear values, is it any wonder that young people....?" Finally: "The riots are reflective of a loss of hope and deep-seated anger that we have created in our own children" ("Have We Lost Our Moral Compass?" June 24, 2011).

I invite you to spend some time meditating on these paragraphs. Is there a vacuum in your life? That means you are standing on the edge of a steep cliff with a deep ravine just before you.

(For further reading along this line go to volume 5, part 2, of my series Studies in Christian-Muslim Relation. This is an ebook you can access free of charge at < >. Just type in < jan h boer >.)

Thanks for sticking with me--Jan

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Why the Mindless Vancouver Hockey Riot?

Post 38—:

Overtaken by Surprise
I cannot resist devoting a couple of more posts to Vancouver’s hockey riot I wrote about it two posts ago. The riots took place several weeks ago by now, but the scars are still very noticeable on Granville Ave. while the local media are still busy discussing and analyzing them. Especially in the press, there is an agonizing search for the motives of the riot. How could a city that only a year ago hosted a successful Winter Olympics with its huge international crowd, fall apart upon the loss of the Stanley Cup hockey trophy? Some say it was because at the Olympics every conceivable security measure was taken, including a considerable military presence appropriately kept invisible in the nearby mountains. Nothing was taken for granted; no expense spared. The hockey championship game was approached with assumptions based on the Olympic experience and the lessons allegedly learned from similar riots for a similar hockey defeat 17 years ago. The city invited its entire population by blocking off downtown streets to traffic and installing huge TV screens. This was going to be a clean event. After all, Vancouverites are a decent and cultured people. This was going to be one big party that was going to reset the benchmark by which such events are measured. Alas….

Faulty Assumptions Led to Faulty Security
Upon hindsight, security measures were pitifully inadequate precisely because the assumptions were wrong. Andrew Cohen of the Vancouver Sun (VS), the main paper in which these discussions are taking place, reported a discussion with a police officer prior to seventh and deciding game. Cohen asked the officer whether he expected any trouble that night, win or lose? The officer answered that in either case “It will be a party.” Cohen commented, “With naivete like this, who needs police?” This man was not just airing personal opinion; he was mouthing the opinions of his superiors, the Mayor and Police Chief. Practically all writers disagree with the Mayor and the Chief of Police who tried to place the blame on outsider agitators and hooligans who had come equipped with rioting as their aim. It does seem to be true that a number of people overheard conversations about planning a riot during the days before.

Boastful Pride
The perpetrators were obviously very proud of their achievements, a pride that was further fed by the support of the cheering and clapping ordinary Vancouver citizens. So proud that they photographed themselves on their cellphones. “They just could not help themselves,” wrote Cohen. “They had to boast. It felt so good to smash things up.”

Identity of the Rioters
While some authorities insisted that the perpetrators were either outsiders or fringe insiders, most columnists know better. Among them were “normal, middle-class kids wearing expensive hockey sweaters…. Real rioters don’t wear…hockey sweaters,” Cohen insists. Mark Braude, a Vancouverite himself, stopped just short of blaming himself but insisted that those who participated in the riot “are our neighbours…our classmates and co-workers” (“There are no simple answers to explain riots,” VS, June 22). Penny Gurstein and Howard Rotberg took it one step further by attributing the chaos to ourselves, not just to others near me. “The enemy is us,” they wrote in the VS (“Have We Lost Our Moral Compass?” June 24, 2011). I will return to this article shortly. One “happy hooligan,” Cohen writes, every time he threw more fodder into a burning fire, “raised his arms in triumph and acknowledged the cheers of the mob”—and that mob was us, Vancouverites, not some marginalized nobodies. “And cheer they did,” he continues, “or dancing like Druids at Equinox.” That sheep-like, mindless and cheering crowd was us, Vancouverites.

Inflation of the Inconsequential
We Canadians think of ourselves as decent, civilized people, but Pete McMartin referred to the perpetrators as “self-entitled little pukes,” our children, siblings and friends and, for many, ourselves “who had invested an obscene amount of emotion and money on what was only a game.” “We let something as inconsequential as sport do so,” he lamented. That was our shame (“The View from Another Counter…Ontario,” VS July 5, 2011). He is right, absolutely right—in so far as he went. Sports have their legitimate place in recreation, building of team spirit and healthy life style, in economics even. In my younger days I enjoyed a vigorous tennis game, while today I enjoy watching certain sports, whether on the field or on the screen. I am grateful for sports. But in the end, after affirming much of sports, we must remember that, after all is said and done, played and watched, it is only a game. No more. That’s it.

Why the Inflation?
Part of the answer to this “why” question lies within the sports world and its powerful organizations themselves as well as by various levels of government who encourage this inflation by massive spending on arenas and other facilities. That the sports establishment should encourage such developments stands to reason—vested interest. It is the source of their wealth, power and status. Governments often support this addiction to sports to divert the attention of their citizens from more serious matters arising out of their own misgovernment.

But the question still is: How can these developments be so successfully encouraged that it often totally consumes people so that they live for little else and it becomes the very centre and meaning of their lives? They develop a deep passion and strong exclusive loyalties that lead to t-shirt declarations such as “This is what we live for.” During the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics the slogan was “We believe!” As my pastor, a self-confessed hockey addict, commented in one of his sermons, “Oh, really?”

I am still asking the question: How can these feelings run so deep, arouse so much passion and, given the right circumstances, cause such an explosion? Even though I have not yet answered the question or presented my particular theory on it, I hope I’ve given you a few things to think about it. In the next post I will present my theory. If you have been a regular reader of my two blogs, you can perhaps guess which direction I’m going to take this. Mull over it and, when you read the next post, see if you have caught on to my basic vision.