Some time ago… What does a homeless man think when he sees children?

Some time ago…

I’m sitting in the park square, between the public library and fire department. Thirty children on a field trip are waiting in line by the public restrooms with supervising adults keeping a watchful eye. They had just toured the fire department, shiny red toy fire-helmets on their heads.
A few scruffy homeless men are scattered in the grass, watching them at a distance. I wonder what these hardened guys think of the children – “How cute”? Do they think of themselves, wishing they could do it all over again? Do they miss the innocence? Do they wish they could give the kids advice? Would they if they could? Or do they even care?
The children start to go again in their line, and cross the street. A fire truck happens to be stopped at the red light in front of them. The kids wave. A few firemen wave back, aviator sunglasses gleaming in the sun.
Who would those kids rather be when they grow up? I wonder which fate awaits them.

Some time ago… ‘never again’ again and again

Sometime ago…. [After visiting the Halabja Museum documenting Saddam's gassing of the Kurds, where about 5,000 were brutally killed by nerve, skin, and respiratory agents.]

 

For as many museums we built to condemn and remember genocide, it doesn’t seem to stop them.

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How can something so evil happen in a place so beautiful?

Beholding the evil and goodness of man… ancient brutality, world wars, forced hunger, and my own evil heart that does what it doesn’t, yet does, want.

 

“God Is Shy” – a story from Syria

PB:

Sad day yesterday – although every day is a sad day, seeing the mounting body count, the maimed, the refugees around the world, especially in the Middle East, and especially Syria – but yesterday, July 29th marks one year since Father Paolo Dall’Oglio disappeared in Raqqa while on a diplomatic mission. I know him, and spent time with him and his associates back when I was teaching with the Kurds. I hope to write more on him in the future, but can’t bring myself to it now. This article does it better than I can, anyway.

Originally posted on Quite Alone:

Last night (29 July) the news came through from Syria that Father Paolo Dall’Oglio, a highly respected Jesuit priest who has lived in Syria for thirty years, had been kidnapped. Rumours began to swirl on social media, first about his kidnapping, then about his supposed late-night release.

At this writing (30 July) it’s not clear exactly what’s happened, or where Father Paolo is.

This is no ordinary abduction (if abduction it is). Since the revolution began in Syria in 2011 Father Paolo has campaigned vociferously among the Syrian people and the international community for a peaceful democratic transition. In 2012 he wrote an open letter to the UN’s envoy Kofi Annan. Then the Assad regime expelled him. He has been living in exile since – and continues to call for ‘victory without revenge‘. His is a voice of sanity amid the madness which has engulfed his…

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Some time ago… Two words

Sometime ago…

Galling bitterness. These two words seem to capture it tonight. After a cold and dreary day at work I said a simple “bye” to a few coworkers on the way out the hall. Somehow I stopped at one guy and exchanged a few extra words. Somehow he gave me a ride down the hill to the apartments our company puts us up in. Somehow I end up in his flat. And somehow, somewhere in this process – I don’t remember where anymore – he breaks to me that he’s getting a divorce. She’s not the person he thought she was. She’s accusing him of things he didn’t do. Spreading lying rumors about him, while he keeps telling others she’s a nice person to hide what’s going on. She’s getting drunk, he can’t drink because he’s too distraught. He’s no angel. But she’s a money grabber. Periodically he puts his head in his hands and mutters “Oh -[an explitive or two]” near tears, but fighting them back.

What can I say? I know them both. We’ve had good times together. What can I say? I feel like an infant attempting to move an Everest of pain with a spoon. I listen. Empathize. Say I’m sorry. A word or two of hopeful cliches. Take his mention of motorcycles and run with it to let him think about something else, of better days, except for his stories of motorcycle accidents… phone calls involving divorce lawyers punctuate our talking. A couple hours pass. A friend of his comes over for a bit, then leaves. I leave too.

I go down the steps and into the dull cold night air, distraught and wishing there was something I could do. I go to my building and want something from my refigerator to give some distraction to this. It’s not there. Roommate took it. And he’s out somewhere now. So, I’m wrote this now. Galling bitterness – these two words for me ring with my feeling sorry for another human being. But I’m not going through his hell. His two words for tonight will be something else. Darker. And not just tonight. And not just two words.

On again

It’s been long time coming. I haven’t really stopped writing the past two years. It’s just on a moleskin notebook, the back of receipts or other scraps of paper instead of a blog.  The private pen, paper, and my lonesome eyes seemed to better fit the times for me, though admittedly fits poorly in the public internet’s immediacy. Not updating a blog for years is like blog suicide. On social networks you’re supposed to post everything for everyone to see all the time.
Has a people ever been so public?

Some Native American tribes in the 1800s had this superstition that having your photograph taken would capture your soul. Maybe that’s not all wrong.

Some time ago a friend posted a picture of me on social media. It caught my facial expression at a certain moment that somehow revealed, or exposed, something of me. I had no control over this – it was just put up as a nice picture, unasked. Why ask, anyway? Everyone uploads pictures of others – it’s actually considered a nice thing to do. Despite the photographer’s innocent gesture, I recoiled at this unwelcome capture of a side of my soul I usually conceal.

What I write is under my control at least. I can choose to publish it, even though anything written reveals something of the writer. It will. The past few years I’ve written the most in my lowest times. You might call it “depression” but that word doesn’t do sad feelings justice. I prefer to say more musical or philosophical-sounding things like “the blues” or “melancholy” or in a really cynical mood to myself, “the hole” or “the dark.”

All that to say, I will start posting a few things I wrote over my absence on this blog.

Each one will begin with “Some time ago…”

A bit of silence

I’ve been observing silence on this blog for a while. I’ve never had this much time away from it before.

I like silence. Sometimes it’s needed. To step back and contemplate, observe, and listen a bit more. Lately, I would rather take in and learn more than speak out. As the ancient saying goes, “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt.”

How responsible we are for what we say. Especially in cyberspace. Once you say it, it’s out there for any of the billions of internet users to access. Words are powerful. They can save lives or kill them. They aren’t to be used carelessly. I’m seeing too much of that. I don’t want to do that because I write on serious things. Perusal of my prior posts and drafts shows eating disorders, mourning the murder of my friend, the quest of the search for God, definitions of marriage, poverty…

Fools have no business commenting on these things. Funny thing about fools — fools usually don’t think they are fools to begin with.  Worse, some people think they are quite wise but are not. “Do you see a man wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him.” (Proverbs 26.12). I don’t know if I’m a fool, but I do know I don’t want to be a self-recognized wise man.

For now, on a day when I turn yet another year older, I listen and learn, observing a beautiful yet terrible world, wishing there was something more I could do to make a difference. God give me wisdom!

Why God should not be left out of the search

I finished reading The Christian Delusion ed. by John Loftus recently. I had a number of disagreements with chapters in this book, but the most prominent one is with how Loftus articulates his “Outsider Test for Faith” (OTF). He frames it in an extremely unreasonable way (strange, since people of Loftus’s rank often make reason the king of everything, nearing the point of worship). Initially, he says that ince there are many cultures and religious viewpoints people are born into, there’s a likelihood yours is wrong, and you need to examine it as though you were an outsider from that religion. Fair.

But he goes on to say, “I’m asking believers to change their assumptions and/or become agnostics. This is what I call the ‘default position.’” (Kindle Locations 1036-1037), And  “The only thing we can and should trust is the sciences. Science alone produces consistently excellent results that cannot be denied, which are continually retested for validity.” (Kindle Locations 1050-1051).

This is bad epistemology. Is agnosticism axiomic? To overcome cultural biases and subjective opinions to find Truth, does one need to leave aside belief in the transcendent totally and be a pure naturalist? Does a Christian have to stop believing in God, the Bible, prayer, and everything else to find if the Christian faith is true? Does a Muslim need to do the same (except stop believing the Quran)? Or a Sikh? Or any other religious person?

While I think the concept of an Outsider Test for Faith is actually a good idea (which, contra Loftus, could pass Christianity) when researching religions, I don’t think you can make blanket eliminations of epistemologies like that. You must avail yourself of whatever epistemology the religion you’re studying holds dear to determine  the truthfulness or falsity of it – if not, your race horse is dead out of the gate. You don’t even give it a fighting chance. By throwing out a religion’s epistemologies to use only your personal, narrow, western, culturally defined epistemology (science), in effect you’ve already decided the religion is not true prior to your journey of study, making your study no longer objective, and therefore subjective and biased. Mr. Loftus is parameterizing the discussion to the philosophical position of Atheism and Naturalism, throwing out entire ways of knowing something as invalid already, a priori. This is anti-intellectualism on level with the worst of religious fundamentalism.

You should use the epistemologies inherent within the Christian faith, and see whether they hold up to their own standards, besides scrutinizing those epistemologies themselves to see if they fit with all the others.

Christianity has something to say about how you find truth, and it would be unfair in any test of the veracity of Christianity to leave these out: prayer, seeking God, the spoken revelation of God (the Bible itself), the work of the God’s Spirit on the human heart,  prior assumption of a revelatory God, and of course the broader epistemologies of reason, experience, etc. that are also found in the Bible.

But this goes for testing any faith. For Islam, you need to avail yourself of Islamic epistemology. Same with Buddhism and the others. Without doing this, it’s like testing to see if Einstein’s E = mc2 is really true but taking out m. Or saying I’m going to test if evolutionary theory is true but you can’t have natural selection, or biology, or genetics considered at all. You never even give the belief system a chance.

Loftus says, “With the OTF I’ll argue that we should adopt a skeptical predisposition as best as possible prior to examining the evidence, if we adopt any predisposition at all” (Kindle Locations 939-940). This reminds me of Philip Johnson’s comment, “One who claims to be a skeptic of one set of beliefs is actually a true believer in another set of beliefs.” This is very true in the typical Atheist’s case. He’s already swallowed the antisupernatural bias of the Academy, believing in naturalistic evolution as the explanation for the universe, existence and everything else. Radical skepticism doesn’t go far. Even skeptics believe in something. Can’t we be both cautious/skeptical and open-minded?

Now, what I’m saying is hotly debated, and it’s no easy thing to develop a model for how to test whether a certain religion is true.  But this is not all. There’s another way Loftus frames OTF that is even more indefensible: He assumes an agnostic position on God’s existence in the OTF.

I’m sorry, but belief in God doesn’t equal religion. Belief or assumption that a god exists is totally independent of a particular faith! A simple theist/deist “outsider” to a faith who desires to search and examine that faith should not leave his belief in a God’s existence at the door. As many philosophers have argued, belief in some Deity can really be a properly basic belief, just as I believe reason exists and that I was not born as a clone in some science experiment. Many people who were not religious believe in some sort of God, at least the God of the philosophers (Aristotle, Spinoza, etc.). As John Dicksonwrites, the arguments and pointers to the existence of a Deity (Deus) are so strong, it’s a “fundamental” belief. He adds, “Where believers of the various faiths part ways is in the particularization of the Deus… Deism is common sense.”  Atheists may not agree, but if we’re developing an Outsider Test for Faith that anyone can use to test a religion, this is significant. If you are a deist or theist searching various religions to discover if God has spoken or not, then prayer to God, seeking his guidance, and contemplation of what he could be like are all vitally important.

I’m going to say something that Atheists and Christians should agree on: The question of God is the most important question anyone can ever think about. Atheists are obligated to agree with this statement. Otherwise, why are atheists spending their lives writing books and debating the issue? Therefore, is it not reasonable, while contemplating whether or not God exists and the nature of this God, to pray? How harmless is it to say “God, if you’re there, help me find you? Where are you?” This requires some faith, at least as much to say that if there is a benevolent God, then he will answer me if I ask him.

I can be an outsider to every religion, every faith, but still believe in a Deity, because no religion has a corner on simple theism or deism. Therefore, if I step back and examine my own religion as an outsider in an attempt to be objective, I need not throw out God. If I’m justified in believing in the existence of a Deus for other philosophical and scientific reasons independent of religious dogma, then I can use prayer to this Being as part of my OTF. The idea of an OTF is a good one. But an OTF model that throws out potentially valid epistemologies is flawed. It will not lead you to Truth. And isn’t Truth the whole point?