Thursday, February 09, 2006

Morehead on Mohammed; Colson vs. Young?

Worth a gander is John Morehead's post on the anti-Islamic cartoon debacle; he explores what many observers see as a two-threaded framework of belief in Islam, one thread being violent while the other is non-violent. John strives for more of a balance than perhaps I did with my own riff on the topic; John is a friend and co-founder with myself and others of the Sacred Tribes Journal. (The current STJ issue is on Neo-paganism and Christianity.)

Tomorrow, if I can get the time, I'll post Chuck Colson's riff on new Christian worship music, and a wonderful response to it by Professor Shawn Young of Greenville College. Prof. Young has given me thumbs-up, and we'll all have a good time. Why music in a politically-focused blog? Well.... guess you'll have to wait and see!


Anonymous said...

Interesting thread on the STJ piece. Preliminaries, first, however...I probably fall into the category of "neopagan". What I find interesting is that it seems for the most part this purported stance of an "attempt to understand and create dialogue" seems like yet another cover for "an attempt to 'understand' so that we can colonize and de-paganize you". It seems disengenuous and dishonest--like almost every attempt at "friendship" I have had from most Christians (other than a few liberal Catholics). Is this just a blind spot on the part of Christians (considering the religion itself is by its nature exclusionary and requires proselytising) or is it yet another intentional misdirection or an attempt to feel good by seeming interested in dialogue (which I must remind people is emphatically not the same as "debate" or "conversion") because liberal Christians feel conflicted about the dogmatic core requirements of their religion?

Jon Trott said...

I cheerfully plead guilty to some of what you say, though I won't speak for the others involved in STJ. Yes, I'd love to see everyone become a Christian. But I'd also like to see a lot of Christians become a bit more neopagan. That is, I'd love to see Christians with more tolerance, more ability to celebrate the sensual, and even more ability to dance around a fire ecstatically singing -- or chanting -- about things both transcendent and banal. I'm afraid we'd have to wear something, though... (large wink!). As for colonizing folks, I leave that to our President, but do wish he'd shut it about Christianity if he's going to do so. The Christian God has little interest, it seems to me, in forcing His Word or His Way down people's throats. As for "friendship" really being a front for evangelism, you catch me on the horns of dilemma. Should I deny it, you'd say, "Aha, but why should I believe you?" And is it possible -- just remotely -- that some neopagans are also a bit intolerant when it comes to having Christian friends? All this is a bit stream of consciousness, not at all the nice reasoned sort of response we Christians are supposed to lay out with our apologetics/logic. Tsk tsk tsk...

John W. Morehead said...

Thanks for your comments. As another co-editor of STJ I'll register a few of my own thoughts. I will be up front as well and state that I would love to see you and other Pagans become a follower of the way of Jesus, and I wouldn't mind seeing Christians benefit from a few aspects of Paganism as well. But I don't know that this should cause alarm. It might be a positive thing that we so enjoy our relationship with the Creator that we desire to share an invitation for involvement in this with our Pagan friends and neighbors. We hope Pagans would want to share their spirituality with us as well, while both parties respect freedom of choice.

I don't know that understanding and dialogue are incompatible with what I've stated above. I can state for all the editors of STJ that we are honest and genuine in our desire for dialogue and understanding with Pagans, regardless of their views and decisions about the way of Jesus. We value human beings in and of themselves as valuable creatures worthy of respect and appreciation, and our desires for understanding and dialogue flow from this, rather than from a means to an end for conversion.

Perhaps we still have a long way to go in the Pagan and Christian communities in terms of trust and respect. The editors of STJ put forward a good faith effort in a sincere desire to understand and dialogue. We acknolwedge the failings of Christians in the past, but this does not mean that all Christians are dishonest. Perhaps you might consider giving a few of us "different Christians" the benefit of the doubt and we could see how this moves us in more promising directions.

Anonymous said...

(Responding to Jon here)

I think any genuine concern for interfaith enrichment is all good and well--what I object to is the attempt to mask conversion efforts under the name of "dialogue". It is a little troubling that anyone would "cheerfully" admit to some of the criticisms noted. I honestly think this is a serious limitation for any dogmatic monotheism which by its nature cripples real sharing. To wit: if you know that, during the whole time you're talking, the other person is trying to figure out an angle of attack, then dialogue is a farce. There is in fact no real acceptance or respect possible if one is utterly convinced that The Other Guy is dead wrong and just needs convincing so that they will hold The Correct (i.e. your) View. This is one of the things which underlies the difficulty in establishing friendly contacts between Christianity and other faiths--at its heart, it is not friendly to their existence. How else is a person supposed to feel but suspicious and even a little bit hostile? After all, we're not merely talking about competing brand names, here, and the lack of fit is pretty fundamental at its core between the sin-based one-"T"ruth worldview and the pluralistic non-dualist worldview.

Whether or not some neopagans are also intolerant when it comes to having Christian friends seems entirely beside the point--of course they are, just like any human being tends to be. I will say that one of the major differences in the "flavours" of intolerance is that, in the case of a Christian, it is an a priori assumption that the other person is wrong and must be changed--and non-acceptance is not traditionally a core aspect of true friendship. Pagans (like other human beings) sense this ulterior motive and rightly read it as disingenous. A pagan merely wants to be left alone with their particular approach to the Divine.

And don't worry...if you choose to visit, you won't be forced to disrobe (large wink back).

Anonymous said...

(Responding to Mr. Morehead)

And "we" would welcome you to the fold as well, sir (couldn't resist :P).


I don't know that understanding and dialogue are incompatible with what I've stated above. I can state for all the editors of STJ that we are honest and genuine in our desire for dialogue and understanding with Pagans, regardless of their views and decisions about the way of Jesus.

seems belied by the content of your publication. I went throught the majority of articles and there was not a single one which did not in some way mention conversion efforts--and some of them were downright haughty and scoffing towards the neopagan tradition as a whole (I think of Andrew J McLean's introduction in particular). If the entirety of the publication (both parts 1 & 2) have as their focus "how can we change these people to be more like us", then this by definition is not merely "dialogue". Heading back to my response to Jon, so long as the "discussion" is framed thusly, you can not honestly expect neopagans to come to the table in a free and open spirit of sharing. If a follower of Siva wrote a pamphlet which, after delineating the beliefs of the followers of Ganesa, then went on to talk about how wrong they were and how he and his followers might manage to make them follow Siva, no one would blame the Ganesa-worshippers for taking some umbrage and refusing to sit at table with them. An attempt to convert someone else is itself a "hostile" action, no matter what the intention of the proselytiser--thus it does not seem like a "good faith" action at all. In the context of your comments and the STJ itself, even your phrase we could see how this moves us in more promising directions seems suspect, as it is clear that the ultimate in "promising directions" is the surrender of my viewpoint in favour of your own.

The context itself, and the knowledge on the part of both sets of participants about their respective positions, precludes meaningful dialogue. To put it another way, if one side is entirely happy with syncretism, admixture, and a non-normative approach to a topic, while the other side is in fact interested entirely in defending its own turf and enlarging it at the other side's expense, how can there be anything but a sort of shifty-eyed and tepid attempt at communication?

Jon Trott said...


Thank you again for a great discussion. These issues are, if anything, more vibrantly alive now than at any time in recent history. How do I, a Christian with distinct beliefs about who God is and is not, and how God is known, dialogue in good faith with others who either disagree my punchline (Jesus vs. Mohammed, for instance) or disagree with my entire premise (that God is Personal, and has revealed Himself to humankind via specific means with specific purposes in mind)?

Not easy questions, these. And I don't pretend I'll have answers you'll like. Your questions have caused me to think... hard. And here are my honest responses... some of them, anyway.

First, I would say that my beliefs do limit me. That is, I cannot stop believing what I believe simply to make a good friend. Nor, I trust, would you want me to. I would also add that merely because Christianity does have real "truth claims" (more on that later), it is not therefore inherently a substandard or less believable faith.

Second, my beliefs do not include a belief that a non-christian is an idiot, a second-rate person, or merely a target to practice my evangelism techniques. And that includes, by logical extension, the idea that she/he may well never accept my worldview regarding God and human individuals' responsibility before God. Her/his membership in the human race is not contingent upon her belief in what *I* say "truth" is.

Third, I am unsure of what the term "friend" means in the context we're discussing. I mistrust the term, on a number of levels. People are "friends" over something as banal as collecting Star Wars figurines or as evil as a shared fascist worldview. I propose that to a Christian, how I treat my NEIGHBOR is far more important than how I conceptualize friendship. I am required to love my neighbor as myself -- no differential made between a Christian or non-christian neighbor. I don't have neo-nazi friends, for instance. But I do have neo-nazi neighbors (sigh). And to the degree I love my neighbor -- or do not -- so the legitimacy of my faith can be judged.

Fourth, my desire to see my neighbor become a believer need not require my evangelizing them at all, at least in the standard formulations. My faith says that God is Love, and that love is one universally-desired human reality. My purest evangelism technique, then, is to love my neighbor. If I do a good job of loving her/him, she/he will in turn become interested in not only my friendship but possibly my understanding regarding reality as well. This love idea, I would hope, would be less objectionable to you than would be the idea that I'm involved in waiting for my "prey" -- much like a black widow spider in its web -- to become vulnerable so I can pounce. Love's greatest attribute is to love. Does that make sense?

Finally, some odds and ends...
About the capital T Truth thing... As a Christian who is a little wiser than I was as a young man, I would say there is God's Truth, my truth, and your truth. Truth is one of those overrated words, since (as the post-modern project has done a fair job of showing) it usually ends up in the "care" of those holding the largest armaments, numbers, and so on. Love, however, does not depend upon force (kinetic or not) to win its way. And it can be used by a solitary individual to overcome the force-lovers, despite their expectations.

Going back to the beginning of our conversation, you voiced the fear that when dealing with a Christian (or any monotheist), the entire time you're speaking you suspect they are in effect looking for an angle, an entryway to "attack" or undermine your own beliefs and story.

All I can say is that I have greatly benefited from the stories of other travelers, whether or not they are Christians. I often sense more personal wholeness among unbelievers than believers, and enjoy the company of unbelievers more than believers. Perhaps this makes me a bad person? I don't know. I do think that "Christianity" broadly defined is in continual need of renovation and even revolution. Soren Kierkegaard's "christendom", the earthly kingdom he saw as opposed to Christ, is continually on my mind as I watch events in this country and the world as a whole unfold.

As far as "sin" goes, yes, I do believe in its existence and have existentially known it in my own individual reality. Again to Kierkegaard; his work "The Concept of Anxiety" (also entitled "The Concept of Dread" in some cases) deals with sin in such a different, yet to my mind entirely believable way, it is worth a read whether or not you end up in agreement with his conclusions. And no, that is not an attempt to evangelize you! Hehehehe.


Anonymous said...


Yes, this has been a good "talk"! You can call me "K.D.", by the way--I don't have a blogger account, so had to post as "anonymous". In any case, thanks for your thoughtful and honest responses. I think there are real difficulties which need to be addressed when it comes to the general discourse between faiths/beliefs, particularly in this country at this time. While religious conflict seems endemic, I think people of good will can at least try to minimize the worst of it.

There is no easy answer when it comes to traditional Christianity and the problem of tolerance. That in and of itself is nearly all of the problem of course, and history tends to stay with us--we have written records of just what happens when the "Mono" part of theism overcomes other potential aspects: Inquisitions, the Burning Times, Salem, and any number of recent examples of persecution of buddhists, polytheists, and the like. There is too much history illuminating what happens when one group wants to dominate the field on the question of "T"ruth. Recent actions by Islamic extremists, talk by the likes of Pat Robertson, George Bush Jr. etc, are going to make any people who don't sign on for the dominant paradigm a little bit twitchy. I hate it, but there is solid reasoning behind the twitchiness. The thought that oneself and oneself alone is the arbiter and protector of the "T"ruth tends to allow people all kinds of reasoning room for atrocity (correcting the unbelievers to death), and it is room that people seem by and large to like to run with.

As to your point-by-point, only quick notes: I don't necessarily think that a religion which makes rigid "truth claims" is substandard in any way, though as far as believability goes, that depends upon one's view of epistemology. I think the truth claims which can reasonably be made by any human being (Book or no Book) are very limited indeed. So far as your second point goes, I am in total agreement--it is a logarithmic attitude, or rather one which takes as its base that there is a certain "sacred" meeting ground we can call our common "humanity" where certain basic principles rule interaction. On the third point, well, I certainly don't mean "friend" in the looser sense some use it in--shared hobbies don't constitute friendship to me. I am thinking of a more intimate ideal relationship based on mutual trust and respect (which of course can include shared interests and most likely will include shared principles and values). I think the Christian concept of "neighbour" has great merit, seeming based in an empathic and communitarian spirit. Your fourth point seems more akin to what I hear my Catholic (and far-left liberal Protestant) friends expressing. If it were the dominant modus for Christians everywhere, I think we would all be in much better shape. It is the m.o. expressed (at one point) by the pastor of the church my mother attended when I was a teenager, and it seemed far more a workable proposition than the one presented by the Southern Baptist Convention, and other Christian Reconstructionists.

Your final odds and ends could fill another several-page discussion, but I can agree in my own way by saying that Love seems to me to be the ultimate of all forces, second to none, and certainly greater than any passing kinetic spat. It seems to be expressed in multiple forms (An ye harm none...; Do unto others...; Love is the Law...) but at heart the same.

I would agree that any religion (including Christianity, as you say) is in need of constant evolution. It seems to me that for the most part religions settle for a conditional and dependent snapshot of "reality" and then continue acting as if Universe were a static thing, and not in a continual state of flux. Thus the fit between dogma and Life grows ever less firm, and either death, schism, or fanaticism results. I think living in a state of continuing revision seems to frighten many people into turning off their awareness as much as possible--and of course if another group of people seems to have come to different conclusions (a different "snapshot" if you will) then it's all hackles-raised growling and circling one another.

"Sin"...well, that's books-worth (or centuries worth, really) of discussion right there. Kierkegaard is certainly interesting and he had some useful things to say, I suppose--but as you might have guessed, I haven't found that particular set of conclusions to jive with my own. During my years preparatory to seminary, I read pretty widely amongst the latter-era philosopher-theologians (Tillich, Barthes, Kierkegaard, Kant, Hegel, Buber, etc). It did not particularly help things--mostly, it gave me headaches. :P

Again, this has been very good. I'm glad to find the occasional solid bloke who is trying to step beyond the shout-at-you-shout-at-me game and really work at achieving some kind of dialogue. I hadn't intended to do any of this, but I sometimes follow out threads and end up in odd places at odd times. I have needed to find Christians who weren't scary and hateful, to counteract the intense antipathy which has been growing in me ever since Dubya became president. I have at times found myself taking rhetorical stances which were rather more warlike than was consistent with my ideals. Honestly, many of your contemporaries scare the very small percentage of non-Christians out here half to death. It's been a difficult time, and I find this discussion well-timed and you well-met.



Jon Trott said...


Ditto to your last comments. I, too, have felt major frustration and angst over the bastardization of my faith by nationalists. I guess you could say that is what the bluechristian blog was inspired into existence by. Sigh... anyway, blessings. And I certainly appreciate your patience as we've dialogued.

John W. Morehead said...

This is an interesting electronic dialogue, and I'm glad to have the opportunity to participate.

In response to some of the comments relayed to Jon and I, I think we're still talking past each other. I have met people from a variety of differing spiritualities, most very deeply committed to their spiritualities and views, and who also expressed sincere desires to see me share in and embrace their spiritualities. This includes many Pagans I have engaged, even though they would not describe themselves as evangelistic. While some may find this distasteful due to abuses, I don't understand how a heartfelt commitment to one's spirituality that one would like to see others embrace cannot be construed as problematic, whether this is expressed by followers of Jesus or Pagans.

Of course this sharing process needs to be done in a spirit of "convicted civility" which does not seek to prove others wrong, but which is committed to truth as it has been expressed by Spirit, acknowledging aspects of truth in all religions and spiritualities, and seeking to find its greatest expression in the world.

We might note that not all Pagans would agree that there is a problem here. I have engaged a high profile Pagan writer who is interested in participating in a dialogue book that would explore issues of commonality and concern between our spiritual communities, and which does not see this as incompatible with a heartfelt commitment to or commendation of one's spirituality.

I also found your characterization of STJ's contents interesting in that you thought it defensive and attempting to prove one's point while converting another. As an editor and contributor to this publication, this is not the intent, and I don't know that it accurately describes the content of the issue you refer to. It is an attempt at understanding and dialogue, as well as an attept to present the message of Jesus in such a way as to communicate this in the spiritual and cultural framework of Pagan spirituality, but with no desires (let alone ability) to "convert" someone. Is not the embrace of a spirituality contingent upon a synergy between the individual and Spirit? If so, can we not dialogue, understand one another, share our stories of Spirit in ways that communicate appropriately to each other, and leave the results to the Divine? Perhaps Pagans and Christians can agree on at least this much, and a defensive understanding of STJ might be the result of filters of experience brought to the publication rather than the publication itself.

And I don't know about Jon, but if we do participate, I'm not opposed to sky clad. :)