Thursday, April 16, 2015

The God Who Is Convincingly There

Over the past weeks and months I’ve been reading a book called “The Experience of God” by philosopher/theologian David Bentley Hart.  It’s a belief-challenger (or re-enforcer), and it’s not for the conceptually-timid, which is one reason it’s taken me a while to wade my way through it.
Let me make a few generalities about what Hart covers (and avoids):
     1) He exposes big leaks in the balloon of “New Atheism” (Hitchins, Dawkins, et al).  In short, he shows how the “anti-metaphysical method” of modern science simply is inadequate to account for existence, consciousness or bliss (defined as the desire for truth, beauty and goodness).
2) He spends a great amount of time considering, defining and providing scope for what is meant by the term “God,” and then sets out an apologetic, where a “transcendent reality” trumps naturalism.
3) He suggests there is a shared wisdom in all the major theistic traditions.  In addition to Augustine, Gregory of Nyssa and Thomas Aquinas, he draws from Jewish, Islamic, Baha’i, Sufi and Hindu thinkers.  However, the book does not specifically focus on the Bible or on orthodox Christian theology.
4) This also is not a “proof of God.” He does not take you by the hand and lead you down a flower-filled garden path to theistic happiness.  As an example, he even questions Anselm’s classic apology of God, suggesting that, philosophically, it clouds more than it clarifies.
5) On the other hand, Hart is convinced that the naturalist’s problems of accounting for the aforementioned existence, consciousness or bliss is the ultimate stumbling block to recognizing a “transcendent absolute reality.”
For individuals like me, who view life and existence from a philosophical, almost whimsical, but very logical point of view, this work by David Hart is like morphing into a bee and then finding an orchard in bloom.  It massages, and even suggests plausible answers for, so many “ultimate” questions I have always wondered about, but at the same time the book leaves open to interpretation much of the conclusive aspects.
I especially like the comment by Orthodox reviewer Michael Lotti, who says “he directly and indirectly guides his reader to a place of wisdom, which is what most lovers of philosophy are seeking.”
So, where is this “place of wisdom”?  And what lies therein? 
Hart clarifies that classical atheism itself misunderstands classical theism by making “God” to be a superpowerful perpetrator whose existence is (only) made possible as an “irreducible complexity.”  Classical theism, on the other hand, refers to God not as a being, or even an omnipotent being, but, rather, as the absolute source and end of being -- not a cause of a type that can induce change within a system of causes and effects, but the original and final cause, that which gives purpose and order to the whole system.
The greatest handicap of a naturalistic belief system is that it can sophisticatedly describe the what, but it has no clue as to the why Being, consciousness nor bliss cannot be explained by science because it is not observable.  Science becomes neurotic when it has no rational  enlightenment, and so it goes on to even  suggest the absurd; e.g., an effect without a cause, or, an infinite regress of causes – totally untenable.

At least the theist has a plausibility for being and consciousness, but, alas, the naturalist is left to pure conjecture.   A similar dilemma for the naturalist is present when trying to “de-transcendentalize” bliss.
Hart concludes (in many more words than this) it is the explanatory strength of theism’s answers to these questions, relative to that of atheism, that is commanding.   If you follow atheism’s answers, you will likely end up in a vicious circle that degrades and reduces, rather than defines and undergirds our humanity: being, consciousness, and bliss.  
At the end of the search, no matter where it takes you, there is great weight of evidence, according to Hart, that what is extant (giving you being, cognizance and hope) is a transcendental God.

Monday, April 06, 2015

It's Opening Day

Cano, Cruz & Felix
You may have heard me say this before, both here and in other venues, that the game of baseball just may be the most perfect game/sport/contest ever created.  The conjecture is verifiable at so many levels and for so many reasons.

First, and perhaps foremost, for a batter to react to a pitched ball in milliseconds and swing/place his bat in perfect position to squarely meet a speeding, spinning, curving and dimensionally moving baseball, is a skill requiring utmost hand/eye coordination.  Very few people on earth have that ability at the professional level.

It’s one thing to shoot a basket, run with a football or kick a soccer ball into the goal.  But try using a stick to hit a little ball approaching you at triple-digit speed and having some lateral movement to boot.  You get the picture.

Then there is the element of perfect dimensions.  No other sport, in my view, has the critical relationships of measures like baseball has.

For instance, the distance between the pitcher’s mound and home plate is 60-feet, six inches.  At that distance, since baseball was invented by Abner Doubleday in Cooperstown, NY, 174 years ago this summer, no human has been able to throw no-hitters at will, nor has any batter been able to claim success more than 40% of the time.  And the vast majority of even professional players are only able to get hits less than 30% of the time.  Which has made baseball a game for the ages – and perhaps for the age to come (so son Gregg and I believe).

The distance between bases is another marvel.  At 90-feet, no hitter has been able to consistently beat-out infield hits.  One might speculate that sooner or later someone would come along with extraordinary speed who could hit a ground ball in the infield and make it to first base every time.  Hasn’t happened – and likely never will.

The square that forms the baseball infield (affectionately called a diamond) is a design of perfection, maintaining continuing high levels of competition between offense and defense.  With a parity of playing ability, baseball will always remain a chess match on grass and consist of fair and difficult battles.

Last night was Opening Night for the 2015 Season, in a game won by the Cards over the Cubs at Wrigley Field, which is undergoing four years of renovation-between-home-stands.  Today just about all of the remaining teams will enjoy Opening Day or Opening Night.

Last year the San Francisco Giants, the team I have followed since the 1951 Bobby Thompson home run, won its third World Series Championship in five years, this one on the strength of the arm of pitcher Madison Bumgarner who blew away virtually every WS pitching record.

This year, our Seattle Mariners at this point enjoy the fifth-best odds of winning the World Series, something that has never happened here.  Better get used to hearing the names of Cano, Cruz, Seager, Ackley, Morrison, Hernandez and Walker.

The Modern Mariners are ready to navigate the high seas of Major League Baseball.  Let’s play ball!

Friday, April 03, 2015

Good. Friday.

I’ve been struggling this week with the implications of Good Friday – especially in terms of how it should affect us – especially my own self – and how we should observe it. 
On one hand some uber-dedicated Filipino Christians had themselves nailed to crosses earlier today in their native land “to mimic the suffering of Jesus Christ.”  Now that is ultimate identification with a cause. 

Yet others, probably the vast majority here in America, neither thought much about it nor did anything different this day than yesterday – nor will they tomorrow.  It would be easy to simply note that we need to be somewhere in the middle of those extremes (if we are a practicing Christian).  But I think that may distort the deserved impact of Good Friday.

The point is that the events of Good Friday some two millennia ago are so staggering they are virtually beyond comprehension.  That a man who proclaimed himself to be God would willingly allow an impudent, indifferent human race to end his earthly life in such an ignominious manner, defies sensibility.

But what if it is meant to be exactly the way it unfolded?  I seem to recall words from John’s Gospel, which were etched into my brain’s hard drive as young boy, that alluded to these convoluted events of Good Friday:

God loved the people of this world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who has faith in him will have eternal life and never really die.”

And that’s just the springboard.  When this Jesus walked out of the sealed tomb two mornings later, breaking all binds and boundaries of human death, he was the living “first fruits” of a new world and cosmos, from that point on in the process of being revamped and realigned by God himself – and of which we are now a part and for which we continually pray in the Lord’s prayer.  

When Jesus walked out of that granite sepulcher and interacted for a time with his followers, he established the kingdom of God on earth – then and still a work-in-progress that will find fruition when he returns to this earth.

So on this Good. Friday. Let us reflect on the immeasurable provisions of the day and allow its magnitude to affect our lives in the Kingdom here and now.