Some female priests of the Church of England are reportedly advocating that liturgical texts ought to be changed to sometimes refer to God as “She,” instead of “He,” on the basis that God has no gender, and that to consistently refer to God as “He,” as has been traditional in Christianity, conveys the idea that maleness is somehow more divine, and that women are therefore lower on the spiritual ladder. Continue reading “God: She, He, Or Gender Fluid?”
Pew Research Center study just came out finding a decline in the percentage of Americans who say they follow an established religion, and an increase in the percentages who claim to be either atheist or agnostic or “nothing in particular.”
I doubt that I’m the only one who spotted a tone of triumphalism in the resulting media headlines, such as: “Study: More Americans than ever spurning religion” (CBS); and “The Rise of Young Americans Who Don’t Believe in God” (New York Times). Continue reading “God’s Q & A”
Speaking of unnecessary yet needed things, Leonard Cohen (now an octogenarian) has just released a new album, titled Popular Problems. At a press availability in London (parts of which can be heard on BBC Radio 6), he was asked among other things about religion, and specifically how close he feels to his Jewish roots, and how that might manifest itself in his writing and his music. He answered:
Well, I grew up in a very conservative, observant family, so it’s not something that I ever felt any distance from, so it’s not something I have to publicize or display, but it is essential to my own survival. Those values that my family gave me—Torah values—are the ones that inform my life. So I never strayed very far from those influences.
It might actually surprise many to hear him speak in this way and also so directly on this, although perhaps it is uncommon for him to get asked the question so directly. Continue reading “Leonard Cohen on Being Jewish”
In 1949, Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote a book called The Earth Is the Lord’s on the culture of the Jews of Eastern Europe; i.e. on a culture that had then been all but wiped out. It was the first book he had published in America, having himself escaped there from Europe during the war.
In writing about the joy that was to be found in the culture of the Hasidim for pure ideas, for endless study and restudy of the Talmud, he says this:
Concepts acquired a dynamic quality, a color and meaning that, at first thought, seemed to have no connection with one another. The joy of discovery, the process of inventing original devices, of attaining new inventions and new insights, quickened and elated the heart. This was not realistic thinking; but great art likewise is not a reproduction of nature, nor is mathematics an imitation of something that actually exists.
Allowing that it might be easy to belittle such impractical and unworldly preoccupations, he goes on:
But what is nobler than the unpractical spirit? The soul is sustained by the regard for that which transcends all immediate purposes. The sense of the transcendent is the heart of culture, the very essence of humanity. A civilization that is devoted exclusively to the utilitarian is at bottom not different from barbarism. The world is sustained by unworldliness.
So it would seem that it is in fact the unnecessary that, finally, we need the most.
Heschel’s quotes stand for themselves, and perhaps one can see how they have enormous bearing on so much of what goes on in our lives.
But I can’t resist the temptation to relate it to one thing that has recently generated a flurry of news stories, and that is the scientist and writer Stephen Hawking’s recent blunt statement that he is an atheist.
The astrophysicist said that the creation of the world is a scientifically explainable phenomenon and not something that has to do with “God,” pointing out that his theories about the origin of the universe are not compatible with the idea that the world was created by a supreme being.
“Before we understood science, it was natural to believe that God created the universe, but now science offers a more convincing explanation,” Hawking said in a video posted by El Mundo.
Well, leaving aside whatever scientific holes there might be in his certainty (and just as Stephen Hawking claims not to believe in God, I claim not to believe that Stephen Hawking is God) I would suggest there is a philosophical vacuum at the heart of the belief that because a God appears to be unnecessary, therefore a God is not needed.
You could dismiss this as mere doubletalk, but to me it’s a real point. People need God, as a quick look around the world and at human history shows, notwithstanding the relatively few like Hawking who claim not to. People need the transcendent, and sometimes in their pursuit of it they wind up with perverse or dangerous views on it, but this doesn’t put an end to the pursuit. Why do people need God, or the transcendent? Why be hard-wired and driven so pointlessly to find that which does not exist?
Some passionate atheists would claim it is simply a flaw that that we need to eliminate in ourselves, or something that humans need to evolve beyond. But if we as humanity truly need to eliminate something so fundamental to our nature, then, well … God help us.
Heschel’s book The Earth Is the Lord’s is still in print, and is a quite short, beautifully intense, and utterly inspiring read.
Once again, scientists have directed their telescopes and most advanced instruments upward, have spent long months studying the data and spending their grant money, and emerged to deliver their important conclusion: The sky is blue.
The story this time is in the UK’s Daily Mail: “Natural wonders increase our tendency to believe in God and the supernatural.” Doctor Piercarlo Valdesolo of Claremont McKenna College and Jesse Graham of the University of Southern California announced their findings based on studying the reactions of human subjects to awe-inspiring natural sights, and have concluded that such sights increase the tendency of people to believe in God or the supernatural. Amazing. Continue reading “Natural Wonders and Belief in God: Important New Research”
Mariano Rivera, born in Panama City, Panama, is the greatest relief pitcher in the history of baseball. No serious person will argue that point, I think. He has arrived at this status as a result of being a reliever—mainly the closer—for the New York Yankees, for nearly twenty years now.
Being a New York Yankee fan by birth (born in the Bronx even if I grew up largely on distant shores) those few times that Rivera blew a big save naturally loom unnaturally large in my memory, but taken as a whole his achievements defy explanation or even praise. What can you say about someone who is so beyond-the-norm of excellence?
2013 is to be his final year of pitching for the Yankees, at the age of 43, if the amazingly-stellar year that he’s having so far (30 saves, 1.83 ERA) does not compel him by acclamation to return for yet another year. There is much being said and written about his career and his character. He is clearly one of the most loved and respected players in baseball, by both friends and opponents, and by both players and fans. Continue reading “Mariano Rivera and a Gift from God”
Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight were held captive in a house in Cleveland for about a decade. A man named Ariel Castro faces trial for their kidnapping and abuse and also for aggravated murder in the death of a baby which one of the women conceived during that time. I think it’s reasonable to say that most of us can only imagine in our worst nightmares what these women experienced during that decade of captivity. Most of us would also maintain that we’d rather die than face such an ordeal. Today, a video was released which features these three brave women thanking the public for the help and support that they’ve received since being freed.
Aside from being a compelling story on its own merits, it is also interesting to see how their message is being summarized in much of the media, for those who do not stop to watch the full three and a half minute video. In a portrayal that I’ve found typical today, TIME.com has this:
In an inspiring, yet heartwrenching statement, Michelle Knight, who went missing in 2002 at age 21, said:
“I may have been through hell and back but I am strong enough to walk through hell with a smile on my face and with my head held high and my feet firmly on the ground … I will not let the situation define who I am. I will define the situation.”
What’s interesting to me is what is left out by means of those three dots in the middle (and the same words were left out by USA Today and the BBC and others). Read just as it is there, it seems that Michelle Knight is crediting a personal sense of pride and self-regard for her strength and her survival. But there’s a little bit more to it than that, if you listen to her full statement (embedded at the bottom of this post). Here is the bulk of it, as transcribed by yours truly:
I just want everyone to know I’m doing just fine. I may have been through hell and back, but I am strong enough to walk through hell with a smile on my face, and with my head held high, and my feet firmly on the ground, walking hand in hand with my best friend.
I will not let the situation define who I am. I will define the situation. I don’t want to be consumed by hatred. With that being said, we need to take a leap of faith and know that God is in control. We have been hurt by people but we need to rely on God as being the judge.
God has a plan for all of us. The plan that He gave me was to help others that have been in the same situation I have been in. To know that there’s someone out there to lean on and to talk to.
I’m in control of my own destiny, with the guidance of God.