Monday, June 22, 2009

The pitfalls of blogging anonymously

My biggest regret* about blogging anonymously is that I'm unable to share more about myself. I'm constantly editing—no place names, no personal references, no talk about where I work or geographical location or the weather. Nothing about where I grew up, or went to high school or college, how recently I did either, and who was there with me. Little about my family. Does my paranoia show?

Some moments I fantasize about the day I'll begin a post with the words "My name is [insert real name here]." What comes next will inevitably be bittersweet—there is no happy event that will push me toward disclosing my identity, but I'll also be glad at last to tell you the fuller story of who I am, where I came from, and how I got here. Still edited, but a different kind of editing.

Because I also imagine that being able to share more about me means that you'll feel more comfortable sharing more about you and your experiences. Being able to share more about our lives means better connections, and I can always use a few more of those.

Just so you know.

*"Regret" may not be the right word. Can't think of anything closer.

Friday, May 1, 2009

"Go back down the mountain...

"Go back down the mountain, my heart," Suukmel advised serenely. "Listen to Isaac’s music again. Remember what you thought when you first heard it. Know that if we are children of one God, we can make ourselves one family in time."

"And if God is just a song?" Ha'anala asked, alone and frightened.

Suukmel did not answer for a while. Finally she said, "Our task is the same."

Thursday, December 25, 2008

May you enjoy a peaceful holiday season

The ancients watched the winter solstice
The sun shrinking from the Earth
The shortest day, the longest night and then the new year's birth.
But what the ancients couldn't know
Now clear to those with eyes to see
That summer here is winter there
And day to you is night to me.
It all depends on where you stand
Six billion different points of view
I'll honor yours if you honor mine
And then with grace we'll see this through.


Wednesday, December 17, 2008

I am often asked by...

I am often asked by believers why I abandoned Christianity and how I found meaning in the apparently meaningless universe presented by science. The implication is that the scientific world-view is an existentially depressing one. Without God, I am bluntly told, what's the point? If this is all there is, there is no use. To the contrary. For me quite the opposite is true. The conjuncture of losing my religion, finding science, and discovering glorious contingency was remarkably empowering and liberating. It gave me a sense of joy and freedom. Freedom to think for myself. Freedom to take responsibility for my own actions. Freedom to construct my own meanings and my own destinies. With the knowledge that this may be all there is, and that I can trigger my own cascading changes, I was free to live life to its fullest.

This is not to say that those who are religious cannot share in these freedoms. But for me, and not just for me, a world absent monsters, ghosts, demons, and gods unfetters the mind to soar to new heights, to think unthinkable thoughts, to imagine the unimaginable, to contemplate infinity and eternity knowing that no one is looking back. The universe takes on a whole new meaning when you know that your place in it was not foreordained, that it was not designed for us, indeed, that it was not designed at all. If we are nothing more than star stuff and bio mass, how special life becomes. If the tape were played again and again without the appearance of our species, how extraordinary becomes our existence, and, correspondingly, how cherished. To share in the sublimity of knowledge generated by other human minds, and perhaps even to make a tiny contribution toward that body of knowledge that will be passed down through the ages, part of the cumulative wisdom of a single species on a tiny planet orbiting an ordinary star on the remote edge of a not-so-unusual galaxy, itself a member of a cluster of galaxies millions of light years from nowhere, is sublime beyond words.

Monday, December 8, 2008

More on faith development

I cannot stress enough how much my identity was wrapped up in being a member of the Seventh-day Adventist church, although I experienced some tension in that identity. For example, in the classic are-you-an-Adventist-first-or-a-Christian-first discussion, I was always a Christian first. I didn't agree with all church doctrines and historical interpretations, and as an adult I read EGW rarely. But I could not imagine myself outside of the Adventist church (Christian or not), and a great deal of what I shrank from was what other people would think.

When I look at the list of things that can lead to the breakdown of Stage Three faith, I am struck by all of the things in my experience that didn't directly contribute to it, including:
  • Perceiving a clash between authorities
  • Leaving home
  • Attending university
  • Traveling abroad
  • Marriage
and one giant thing that did: knowledge from outside influences. All it took was a comment by an online friend (addressed to someone else) and a book.

I still feel as if I'm experiencing some of this:
For the first time, a student may entertain and investigate alternative views about the origin and history of life. For many, these new views will appear contradictory and seem to require an either/or choice. Faith struggles with the need for certainty as it slowly becomes a personal choice.
while simultaneously experiencing this:
Later in Stage Four, if growth continues, the logic of clear distinctions and abstract concepts steadily fails to make sense of the more complex adult world, and one feels the need to press toward a more multi-leveled approach to life. Influences from science, philosophy, and certain theologies may suggest not only different ways of putting the puzzle of religion and science together, but also alternative ways of constructing one's identity that do not require a neat fit.
Fowler's research suggests that people spend from five to fifteen years in Stage Four faith (if one can even call what I have faith; I don't). I might as well get comfortable.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Faith Development Theory

Back when I first grasped some implications of the theory of evolution, I wrote down some questions:
  • Does God fit into this?
  • If not, then what?
  • If so, then how?
  • What about sin?
  • What is sin?
  • What in the Bible is true?
  • Is Jesus even necessary?
  • What about the Sabbath?
For the most part, these questions remain unanswered to my satisfaction. I revisit them from time to time, but they are not as all-encompassing (or brain-frying) as they once were. If there are answers, they may come; they may not.

One of the helpful resources I've read is a chapter in Creation Reconsidered: Scientific, Biblical, and Theological Perspectives by Graeme Sharrock (the chapter, not the entire book) called "Faith Development in a Scientific Culture" in which Sharrock briefly discusses faith development theory and describes the stages of faith development (based on James Fowler's model) as it relates to the Genesis creation story. Here I am going to quote stages three and four.
Stage Three: Synthetic-Conventional Faith—With the onset of adolescence and the arrival of abstract thinking, a world of possibilities opens up that forces a crisis in identity. A person's experience of the world now extends beyond the family to peers, media, employment, and societal groupings. Faith must provide a coherent orientation amid a network of offers, synthesize values and information, and lay a basis for a new self-consciousness. Stage Three faith typically structures the environment in interpersonal terms; it is strongly conformist in that it is attuned to the expectations of others, seeking identity and affirmation yet without the ability to maintain autonomous judgment or an independent perspective. Beliefs and values are tacitly held—a person dwells within them without being able to objectify them for examination—and in a sense is unaware of having them. Dependence on external authorities for the synthesis of a personal perspective is combined with abstract reasoning. Hence, many teens are attracted to idealistic movements and ideas that seem to offer security and absolutes. The authority of parents may be replaced by that of teachers or religious figures or rock singers. The young person may be well aware of this shift yet be unaware that his or her values are still being determined and delivered by others.

Adventist teens will usually accept the literal interpretation of Genesis if that is what is taught to them by trusted authorities. They become "creationists" just as their public school counterparts become "evolutionists." Interest in doctrines as abstractions from the Bible exists in a few intellectually oriented teens, as absolutist teachings give one a sense of identity within an ideological system.

Stage Four: Individuative-Reflective Faith—The synthesis achieved in Stage Three is only relatively stable and can be threatened by knowledge from outside influences or by crisis experiences. This can happen when the person perceives a clash between authorities and feels the need for independent evaluation. Encounters with other cultures or radically different ideologies (leaving home, attending university, traveling abroad); personal tragedy such as prolonged illness, death of a close friend, marriage, or divorce; collapse of public criteria for morality (Watergate) or a sense of the implausibility of one's childhood beliefs in wider society—all these contribute to the breakdown of Stage Three faith and lead one to reflect upon one's own beliefs, values, and commitments. In late adolescence, a young man or woman is developmentally ready to begin to take seriously the burden of responsibility for his or her own lifestyle and worldview. The transition to Stage Four is underway when unavoidable tensions with one's upbringing exert themselves and doubt concerning the claims of previously unquestioned authorities arises. It is time to begin to "think for oneself."

Stage Four most appropriately forms in young adulthood, but many adults do not construct it until their thirties, forties, or fifties, if at all. There is a double development: the self, once stable in its identity and faith structure shared by an interpersonal group, now claims an identity no longer defined by a group. The Stage Four person now seeks order with a new set of questions: How do I know that is true? (asking for method of verification), and What does it mean? (seeking understanding). Stage Four faith "demythologizes" the tacit faith of Stage Three with an acute sense of distance between the past and the present. Conceptual meanings replace conventional definitions as reason replaces external authorities in the personality. Some, especially those undergoing secular education, may find themselves afloat on a sea of ambiguity as all authorities fade, and they may possibly reject altogether the religion of previous years.

In this stage, belief in creationism may be questioned along with other beliefs. For the first time, a student may entertain and investigate alternative views about the origin and history of life. For many, these new views will appear contradictory and seem to require an either/or choice. Faith struggles with the need for certainty as it slowly becomes a personal choice. Later in Stage Four, if growth continues, the logic of clear distinctions and abstract concepts steadily fails to make sense of the more complex adult world, and one feels the need to press toward a more multi-leveled approach to life. Influences from science, philosophy, and certain theologies may suggest not only different ways of putting the puzzle of religion and science together, but also alternative ways of constructing one's identity that do not require a neat fit. Restless with the self-images and uncertainties of this relativistic stage, the Stage Four person may become disillusioned with his or her own compromises and experience a gnawing to re-appropriate meaningful symbols from childhood.
I see myself as having largely moved from Stage Three to Stage Four, with hints of Stage Five. But your eyes are tired. You may rest until I write more tomorrow.

Friday, October 17, 2008

He told them this parable:...

He told them this parable “No one tears a patch from a new garment and sews it on an old one. If he does, he will have torn the new garment, and the patch from the new will not match the old. And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the new wine will burst the skins, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins. And no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for he says, ‘The old is better.’”

Luke 5:36-39, NIV