According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – anon
Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – anon
Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Why Surrounding Yourself with Unread Books is a Good Thing

Why You Should Surround Yourself With More Books Than You'll Ever Have Time to Read

An overstuffed bookcase (or e-reader) says good things about your mind.


Lifelong learning will help you be happier, earn more, and even stay healthier, experts say. Plus, plenty of some of the smartest names in business, from Bill Gates to Elon Musk, insist that the best way to get smarter is to read. So what do you do? You go out and buy books, lots of them.

But life is busy and intentions are one thing, actions another. Soon you find your shelves (or e-reader) overflowing with titles you intend to read one day, or books you flipped through once but then abandoned. Is this a disaster for your project to become a smarter, wiser person?

If you never actually get around to reading any books, then yes. You might want to read up on tricks to squeeze more reading into your hectic life and why it pays to commit a few hours every week to learning. But if it's simply that your book reading in no way keeps pace with your book buying, I have good news for you (and for me, I definitely fall into this category): your overstuffed library isn't a sign of failure or ignorance, it's a badge of honor.

Why you need an "antilibrary"

That's the argument author and statistician Nassim Nicholas Taleb makes in his bestseller The Black Swan. Perpetually fascinating blog Brain Pickings dug up and highlighted the section in a particularly lovely post. Taleb kicks off his musings with an anecdote about the legendary library of Italian writer Umberto Eco, which contained a jaw-dropping 30,000 volumes.

Did Eco actually read all those books? Of course not, but that wasn't the point of surrounding himself with so much potential but as-yet-unrealized knowledge. By providing a constant reminder of all the things he didn't know, Eco's library kept him intellectually hungry and perpetually curious. An ever growing collection of books you haven't yet read can do the same for you, Taleb writes:

A private library is not an ego-boosting appendage but a research tool. Read books are far less valuable than unread ones. The library should contain as much of what you do not know as your financial means, mortgage rates, and the currently tight real-estate market allows you to put there. You will accumulate more knowledge and more books as you grow older, and the growing number of unread books on the shelves will look at you menacingly. Indeed, the more you know, the larger the rows of unread books. Let us call this collection of unread books an antilibrary.

An antilibrary is a powerful reminder of your limitations - the vast quantity of things you don't know, half know, or will one day realize you're wrong about. By living with that reminder daily you can nudge yourself towards the kind of intellectual humility that improves decision-making and drives learning.

"People don't walk around with anti-résumés telling you what they have not studied or experienced (it's the job of their competitors to do that), but it would be nice if they did," Taleb claims.

Why? Perhaps because it is a well known psychological fact that is the most incompetent who are the most confident of their abilities and the most intelligent who are full of doubt. (Really, it's called the Dunning-Kruger effect). It's equally well established that the more readily admit you don't know things, the faster you learn.

So stop beating yourself up for buying too many books or for having a to-read list that you could never get through in three lifetimes. All those books you haven't read are indeed a sign of your ignorance. But if you know how ignorant you are, you're way ahead of the vast majority of other people.

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Amazon link

Umberto Eco’s Antilibrary:
Why Unread Books Are More Valuable to Our Lives than Read Ones

How to become an “antischolar” in a culture that treats knowledge as
“an ornament that allows us to rise in the pecking order.”

by Maria Popova

“It is our knowledge — the things we are sure of — that makes the world go wrong and keeps us from seeing and learning,” Lincoln Steffens wrote in his beautiful 1925 essay. Piercingly true as this may be, we’ve known at least since Plato’s famous Allegory of the Cave that “most people are not just comfortable in their ignorance, but hostile to anyone who points it out.”. Although science is driven by “thoroughly conscious ignorance” and the spiritual path paved with admonitions against the illusion of thorough understanding, we cling to our knowledge — our incomplete, imperfect, infinitesimal-in-absolute-terms knowledge — like we cling to life itself.

And yet the contour of what we know is a mere silhouette cast by the infinite light of the unknown against the screen of the knowable. The great E.F. Schumacher captured this strange dynamic in the concept of adaequatio — the notion that “the understanding of the knower must be adequate to the thing to be known.” But how do we face our inadequacy with grace and negotiate wisely this eternal tension between the known, the unknown, the knowable, and the unknowable?

That’s what Lebanese-American scholar, statistician, and essayist Nassim Nicholas Taleb explores in a section of his modern classic The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable (public library) — an illuminating inquiry into the unknowable and unpredictable outlier-events that precipitate profound change, and our tendency to manufacture facile post-factum explanations for them based on our limited knowledge.

Taleb uses legendary Italian writer Umberto Eco’s uncommon relationship with books and reading as a parable of the most fruitful relationship with knowledge:

The writer Umberto Eco belongs to that small class of scholars who are encyclopedic, insightful, and nondull. He is the owner of a large personal library (containing thirty thousand books), and separates visitors into two categories: those who react with “Wow! Signore professore dottore Eco, what a library you have! How many of these books have you read?” and the others — a very small minority — who get the point that a private library is not an ego-boosting appendage but a research tool. Read books are far less valuable than unread ones. The library should contain as much of what you do not know as your financial means, mortgage rates, and the currently tight real-estate market allows you to put there. You will accumulate more knowledge and more books as you grow older, and the growing number of unread books on the shelves will look at you menacingly. Indeed, the more you know, the larger the rows of unread books. Let us call this collection of unread books an antilibrary.

Tsudonku: Japanese for leaving a book unread after buying it, typically piled up together with
other unread books. Illustration by Ella Frances Sanders from 
'Lost in Translation: An Illustrated Compendium of Untranslatable Words from Around the World.'

Eco himself has since touched on humanity’s curious relationship with the known and the unknown in his encyclopedia of imaginary lands, the very existence of which is another symptom of our compulsive tendency to fill in the gaps of our understanding with concrete objects of “knowledge,” even if we have to invent them by the force of our imagination. Taleb adds:

We tend to treat our knowledge as personal property to be protected and defended. It is an ornament that allows us to rise in the pecking order. So this tendency to offend Eco’s library sensibility by focusing on the known is a human bias that extends to our mental operations. People don’t walk around with anti-résumés telling you what they have not studied or experienced (it’s the job of their competitors to do that), but it would be nice if they did. Just as we need to stand library logic on its head, we will work on standing knowledge itself on its head.

Noting that Eco's Black Swan theory centers on “our misunderstanding of the likelihood of surprises” because we underestimate the value of what we don’t know and take what we do know “a little too seriously,” Taleb envisions the perfect dancer in the tango with knowledge:

Let us call this an antischolar — someone who focuses on the unread books, and makes an attempt not to treat his knowledge as a treasure, or even a possession, or even a self-esteem enhancement device — a skeptical empiricist.

Complement The Black Swan, which is fascinating it its totality, with astrophysicist Marcelo Gleiser on how to live with mystery in a culture obsessed with certitude, philosopher Hannah Arendt on how unanswerable questions give shape to the human experience, and novelist Marilynne Robinson on the beauty of the unknown.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

A Time and Place Not Forgotten

After a turbulent past two years of bearing a long illness a few months ago my wife and I asked ourselves the question of whether this might be the time to look for a new home.  It seemed the right thing to ask. But as Fall began it was also the furthest thing on our hearts until one day we decided we should finally begin the process we had discussed for so long. And so, several months later, having looked at many homes we bought something we both liked and will be leaving the only home we have known together as we raised our family into young adulthood.

This I think will cap a very long and suffering illness I've been enduring from the start of the other year - and from which I am still recovering even now - as I regain strength and stamina. It gives me a new stage of life from which I might move past towards something which may help alleviate old wounds. To this, my wife and I also experienced a very violent auto accident on the highway this past summer destroying both our new truck and an old travel trailer we were pulling but not ourselves. In its aftermath, after regaining consciousness, we were able to walk away with only bruises from the seat belts but with no cuts or broken bones or lost limbs because the safety equipment built into the new vehicle did what it was suppose to do.

And as I stood on the side of the busy highway surveying the massive damage, watching police and firemen scrambling towards us over the wreckage of our lives strewn across a 100 yards of debris, listening to the ambulance wailing in the distance, I wondered then how the Lord would guide our paths from a place of total loss to one giving shape and direction for the future. In hindsight it has been an amazing journey confirming everything I felt inside the pitching, rolling vehicle at the time - that we would be ok despite the destruction we saw laying across the hillside and within our hearts.

After having spent by then most of the summer learning to live with an infection which refused to leave  my body, and then dealing with losses so typical of life, I remember thinking back to those moments standing on the side of the highway wondering if there was a life lesson found somewhere here in the wreckage and if we should take this time to continue completely undoing our past in order to recreate it anew. It was this latter thought that finally took root and moved my wife and I to rethink and pray about a new direction instead of the one that looked us in the eye everyday whispering discouragement, defeat, and hopelessness.

One of those things we have decided to do is to change communities and begin another kind of life together than the one we had become so familiar and comfortable with. Without sounding unthankful to the deep goodness of God it had grown to become a life holding precious memories with no forward movement anymore. It needed destruction and rebuilding in order for us to find again those days of our past youth filled with struggle, unknowing, uncertainty, and promise.

Leaving the Old

The downside to these thoughts is that we must sell our family home after 35 years of memories while leaving a community which has been my dear childhood home since birth. During those sixty plus years of life I have witnessed the change of the rural countryside I grew up in become transformed seemingly overnight into a sprawling metropolis. As much as I resisted this change and attempted to adapt into it I have felt myself slowly becoming a foreigner in a land I had once known as deeply different from what it has become today. With the lost of older generations who bore my memories - of family, relatives, and friends who had lived and shared their older lives with us - the ingress of urban/cultural change has brought with it another profound kind of loss. One both personal and social. One both internal and external. Its but another kind of destruction we go through as older souls should be so fortunate to live out long years.

For myself, unlike my wife who grew up in the city, I grew up on a family farm. My brothers and I were the last of six generations to have lived there. Next door was my grandma and grandpa's house which had held five previous generations of children all growing up like ourselves having known all that we would come to know until the family farm finally went out of operation after 150 years of service to the community (c.1837-1987). There my brothers and I attended a little one-room school which held all our previous relatives within its clapboard walls and ink-welled desks for long, long years of childhood instruction, fun, and play. We walked across the same pastured fields, climbed over the same broken fencelines, and were occasionally chased by the same red-eyed bull leaning into our very narrow stretch of fenced pathway defying our presence unless we were a tractor hauling equipment, hay or grain between fields.

In my fifth grade year, a year which held many pleasant surprises, came another kind of surprise would come. One that would change everything. For the community it was a necessary change but for a little boy growing up in the quiet of the countryside it would mean a deep change unlike any other he would come to know or understand. During that year our township of rural farms would be subdivided into six or seven city corporations. The gravity gas pumps and milling station on the corner would go away; our smithy shop full of ancient cackling relatives and moving machine belts smelling of oil would go away; our little country school which I loved would go away; even the street I grew up on would go away. We had entered into an unwanted age of modernity with its insatiable need for land, people, and presence.

The following school year, instead of walking the wet pasturelands, my brothers and I would ride a yellow school bus our dad would drive carrying us to the public schools far, far away from our family farm. Our dad had also left the county sheriff's department to become the city's second policeman and fire department's first fire crew. That same year grandpa died and with him what was left of the family farm (c.1966). Dad no longer plowed the fields like he did before nor did we ride the tractors or listen to their engines grind across the distant fields in the early morn. Our uncles no longer came over to help in harvesting nor did we walk behind the baler across hot fields pulling out bales of hay under a hot sun. Even the two-lane road we lived on became of a sudden reborn into a five lane thoroughfare quickly to become the state's second busiest street. Our hunting properties became more restricted as homes built up a mile away and the calm of peaceful mornings and evenings disappeared in the constant hum of cars and trucks always speeding past our lands going somewhere in a hurry.

For many, I'm sure, this transition wouldn't have been a bid deal but for myself, having lived enough of my youth in this older, agrarian way of rural thinking and living, it was huge. We were the sixth and last generation to have lived on the land farming and hunting in the very early days of Kent County when it was still a pioneering wilderness. The one-room school we attended began with my great x 5 grandfather's construction, who also built our barns, sheds, and grandma and grandpa's farm home next door. The street outside our door was a dirt-lane affair with rolling hills bearing large, spreading oaks which were very ancient. We had no nearby neighbors nor friends unless you count those whom we met at school over the years. Our grandparents lived next door in the house that our father grew up in, whose aunts and uncles, and their aunts and uncles, and so on, had done the same as youths. All tied to the land of their birth like ourselves. The ground was sacred, the land was sacred, sky, water, and all living creatures were sacred. We felt the deep value of living closely to this earth. We felt its rhythms, its pauses, its winds and storms. It seasons meant something to us but now it was being lessened by the hand of man gripping at its wonder.

Coming to Know the Present

We also felt the sudden impact of post-industrial change as modernity upended everything we knew and loved. It ended everything of our ancient past with a finality that still rings in my heart today. All the while it began a good deal of trouble in sorting out in our heads and hearts what it all meant as pre-teen youths awashed in sudden change. What once seemed simple, known, even expected, became quite different and complicated as time and life grew up leaving me, as the eldest, to face university years which opened into an even wider world then the one I was learning to transition into back home.

Thankfully, my parents loved to camp and travel. This dad had learned in his days in the army in the Korean War. Imagine my dad, as a seventeen old boy having never left the farm, to be drafted into an army that taught him how to kill other men he didn't know, then shipping him off in container ships across a pitching northern Pacific sea into a foreign land he didn't understand. Here was dad's first lessons in survival and deep change as it would become for many others from both sides of the war.  When he returned he had learned a second occupation besides the one he was educated in. He had grown up and learned resiliency in the face of change. He was no longer a young innocent filled with wonder but a new hardness to the ways of the world. But it was my mom who kept wonder alive in him as they grew older.

As such, for many years we learned to camp and travel across 1960's America and Canada, foreign lands like ourselves laying witness in their own ways to wildernesses lost upon ribbons of highway and steel. The cultures we met in small towns, on Native American reservations, or in the farmlands, were all undergoing the same deep change we were  undergoing... and for some, a much longer and harsher change under the throes of oppression, discrimination, loss of life, and passive indifference.

In hindsight, I suspect my love for postmodernity may be the result of never liking the modernal era we were forced into as our rural population slowly left its farmlands and moved into the industrial factories subtending the growth of the cities of America as each sprawled across the gilded countrysides of our past in ferocious development. Modernity never felt natural. But postmodernity  in its dislike of modernity feels very good - especially in its criticism of modernity's deep angst of forced change upon lands and peoples more in rhythm with one another before its era than now under its empty presence.

Learning a New Rhythm

Consequently, over the fifth and sixth decades of my life, I have felt the deep, deep movement of the Spirit of the Lord our God come upon me to question everything I had witnessed by re-writing my past in a profoundly different direction than the one I had learned by way of a modernized education, traditional church beliefs, and urbanized cultural mores. This I have done following the only path I knew. A path which must first destroy the past in order to move forward into the future as I have been one of those fortunates caught betwixt-and-between the forces of deep change yet able to survive its spiritual impact for whatever reason.

Like last night's harsh northern winds which swept their bitter cold gales across the Great Lakes to push away the last vestiges of yesterday's November warmth likewise has come our own sweeping storms to blow across our lives forcing critique and re-evaluation of what we believe, and why we believe as we do, as we enter into an age of violence propelled by senseless nationalism. An age which does not allow the backwards look lest we become disturbed by our losses and filled with its guilt. An age of post-truth, anger, destruction, and chaos. An unsympathetic age to the burdens of mankind. One more selfish, seeking its on survival in ignornace, oppression, and injustice. An age reaching past postmodernity returning us to another form of modernity - this one just as violent, just as chaotic, just as senseless. A post-postmodernity marked by greed, lies, deceits, lusts, power, and dark evil.

A decade earlier I had felt its destructive gales coming. Black thoughts began to trouble my heart even then. The ground underneath my feet seemed to move not with hope but with troubling belief. And upon the surfaces of my conscience had risen a wind I could no long hold back. A wind demanding I look at life differently than I had before. To no longer accept what I had tried to adapt into. To no longer believe what I was told to believe. To no longer think in the ways I had once learned when abandoning my own thoughts from a more distant time. Once again the hand of God came to disturb. His Spirit's torrent swept across the landscapes of my heart like the mighty flood tides of God's sovereign grace and benevolence. His leading purposed my steps towards another heavenly truth than the one I thought I was following in my deep devotion to church and religion.

As of now, I no longer wish to support the traditional, fundamental ways of my church or my learned past. But to continue the more fundamental tradition of challenging the systems we live within, by not accepting what common beliefs tell us to think; by reading beyond my geopolitical, economic, and regional understandings; by questioning why we do what we do. By embracing - or planting - profound community systems of generosity, compassion, justice, and humility. Seeds any well-tended crop will need to challenge a post-postmodern chaotic despotism towards another kind which might vouchsafe economic globalization, ecological restoration, and civil discourse against uncivilized actions and attitudes. These are things we can do together. But we begin by doing them alone as the Lord of the Harvest reaps where He will, sowing in order to share with us the bounties of His good grace against all that would hold us back... especially upon the hard soils of our naive and good intentions built upon religious beliefs and principals.

To all who seek the Lord this coming Christmas Season. Who would be servants of Jesus in the sharing the His yuletide blessings. May you find grace and peace by becoming those prophets of God crying out in a wilderness lost upon the hands of man that men and nations might find grace and peace with one another and be turned from the destruction we all bear within.


R.E. Slater
December 3, 2017
revised December 5, 2017

Addendum: Below are not our family pictures but ones resembling some of the operations of our family farm and what it felt like to work together as a farming family. I have very few pictures, if any, of my past because cameras and film developers were either unavailable or unaffordable. - res

Thursday, November 2, 2017

The Church Which Restores - Spiritual Reformation in Action

In the category of "I hadn't thought of that before" has been a recent Reformation class I've been taking on the lives of the four "Major Reformers" of old Europe: Martin Luther (Germany), Huldrych Zwingli (Bern, Switzerland), and John Calvin (refugee from France fled to Geneva, Switzerland). Up next, John Knox, after which we will study some of the "Minor Reformers" in the Fall of 2018 next year. Significantly, under these major figures was born the Protestant Reformation of 500 years ago from the Catholic Church. Not ironically, during the intervening 500 years of "Reform," Protestantism has spawned multitudes of church divisions, schisms and sectarian splinter groups, marking it with its formative history of "dissent" within its own ranks for one reason or another. But in historical context, the Church of the reformer's day was more a state-church than a local body of believers; one whose spiritual practises were deeply intertwined with state politics making each corruptible for their own reasons as each bound community life and business into their coffers of economic gain and power. In reaction, the spiritual reforms occurring 500 years ago were as much about political agitation as they were about unworthy spiritual teachings and practises.

Conversely, 500 years later, it seems both Catholics and Protestants have more in common with one another than apart as each religious branch leads the way back into their communities (or parishes) of Christian service to the poor, hungry, homeless, and overlooked. But still, the political dagger of Damocles hangs thinly in the air above the church's head as an ever-ready earthly temptation made the more difficult in releasing when suckling at the tits of political office and its representatives. The harsh reality is that the church continually struggles with the strong temptation to recreate Christianity into irreligious forms of statism based upon particular beliefs and practises which has risen yet again under the auspices of a body of church doctrines collectively known as conservative evangelicalism diversely spread across both the Catholic and Protestant faiths.

Is it any wonder then we see the church splintering once again under major spiritual reforms of faith affiliations (or "non-faith affiliations," as example, consider the spiritual refugees of the "nones and dones" having left the church) as each faith, or non-faith group, protests their agitations across America and the World against self-serving nationalistic campaigns of propaganda, economic rape, and loss of personal liberties? Each emphasizing some overlooked, or under-appreciated, aspect of worship and service, but mostly in "protest" to the actions of the "politically-ensnared" evangelical church seeking to incorporate non-Christian state policies and actions across non-evangelical communities resisting and speaking out against them. Communities of protest-and-resistance wishing to safeguard a political constitution and federacy of democracy built upon life, liberty and freedom, rather than be robbed of their heritage in the bright daylight of state and corporate thievery!

In the much needed world of revival it usually comes down to the awful truth that oppression in any form - be it spiritual, political, or economic - is unwanted. Its tyranny demands its overthrow. Its self-enrichment demands its impoverishment. Once there were the Martin Luther's of the German/Catholic reformation; more recently, the Martin Luther Kings of Civil Rights; and now, there awaits the voices of today's church to arise and break off the chains which would bind its heart and people. Let us not be naive... each generation is accountable for its own spiritual reforms against the disfigurements of corruptible churches preaching another gospel not representative of the gospel of Christ. And unless this is done we more willingly seem to choose our own oppressions not realizing the harm it is creating more broadly across a constitutionally-freed, but politically-ensnared, federal democracy. In the end, we remember the Reformation for all the good it can potentially do but weigh it in its balances for all the harm it can produce when reforming for the wrong reasons back to its own ends.

R.E. Slater
November 2, 2017

*As a side note, I've included the article below not as a criticism to postmodernism's important rigors placed upon modernism; nor for a capitulation to more fundamental bible teachings; but to warn that for every good intention there may arise a poorer result than intended. If secularization is a bad thing than its converse arises in a new awareness of God in all things rather than in none, as is held here by myself and the author. But the result of secularization is certainly from the foundation stones of modernism which has stripped us of God  and left any yearning for the spiritual abandoned unless we rethink our academics, philosophies, and intentions, which, as you know, this website here intends to re-balance with its sense-and-sensibilities approach to both the secular and divine. - res

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Author: Brad S. Gregory
Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2012 574 pages
ISBN: 978-0-674-04563-7

The Unintended Reformation:
How a Religious Revolution Secularized Society

Reviewed by Thomas M. McCoog, SJ
August 20, 2012

Time magazine’s ‘Is God Dead?’ issue of 8 April 1966 shocked me. It was not the message – any undergraduate could discuss Nietzsche’s madman’s proclamation that we had killed God – but the medium. Time articulated the views of the educated middle-class, read by the man on the Clapham omnibus and by the woman in the pew. That they would even consider the question, especially, if I may place the issue within Roman Catholicism, during Vatican II exhilaration, was indeed noteworthy.

During the subsequent forty years, Christendom morphed into post-Christian (Western) Europe. Politicians denied any connection between Christianity and the new millennium. Signs on London buses announced ‘There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life’ as if theism were life’s sole irritant. The Oxford philosopher, Richard Dawkins, a major backer of the Atheist Bus Campaign, characterised theists as delusional and dismissed the God hypothesis in his bestseller, The God Delusion (2006). The late journalist Christopher Hitchens asserted, as expressed in the subtitle of the American edition of his attack, God is not Great (2007) that ‘religion poisons everything.’ Cambridge physicist and mathematician Stephen Hawking dismissed God, or at least his God-of-the-gaps, as unnecessary in A Brief History of Time (1988). There have of course been counter-arguments, for example Roman Catholic theologian John F. Haught’s reply to the new atheists in God and the New Atheism: A Critical Response to Dawkins, [Sam] Harris and Hitchens (2008), but overall God has taken a beating. Reason apparently has finally completed the promise first displayed during the Enlightenment and dispelled the fading shadows of medieval faith. Some indeed now wonder whether any questions will remain if the ‘God particle’ has in fact been discovered. In bookstores, serious religious and theological works are currently stored cheek-by-jowl with books on astrology, tarot cards, New Age and neo-paganism. In today’s multicultural cafeterias, one may mix and match religious beliefs and moral principles to conform to one’s palate. The culture of ‘whatever’ has reduced claims to objective truth to subjective comfort. Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, commenting on recent financial scandals and the prominence of a Gordon Gecko, ‘greed is good’ mentality, notes: ‘We are reaching the endgame of a failed experiment: society’s attempt to live without a shared moral code. The 1960s applied this to private life. The 1980s applied it to the market’.[1] But how can we regain a common code of ethics, especially in a society that has defined diversity as its fundamental guiding principle? ‘How did we get here from there?’ if I may paraphrase a Stephen Sondheim song from Merrily We Roll Along. The book under review provides an answer.

Brad S. Gregory completed his doctorate in history at Princeton University in 1996. Currently he is the Dorothy G. Griffin Associate Professor of Early Modern European History at the University of Notre Dame. His doctoral thesis served as the basis for Salvation at Stake: Christian Martyrdom in Early Modern Europe (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1999), a justly praised, comparative study of Protestant and Catholic martyrs with a distinct thesis. Repudiating contemporary, secular, ‘reductionist’ analyses of martyrdom, Gregory argued cogently for the re-introduction of religion:

‘The act of martyrdom makes no sense whatsoever unless we take religion seriously, on the terms of people who were willing to die for their convictions. When we do, the intelligibility of martyrdom hits us like a hammer’ (p. 350).

Subsequently Gregory was more concerned with secularisation and its effect on the study of religion than martyrs and martyrologies. Shorter lectures and articles[2] explore the mentality behind the deplored reductionist approach to religious phenomena; this monograph sets the origins of this mentality in the Reformation itself, the religious phenomenon par excellence later vitiated by social, economic, cultural and gender historians.

Gregory cites William Faulkner’s insight that the past is never really past but continues to be alive. The past in this case is the Reformation: the ‘ideological and institutional shifts that occurred five or more centuries ago remain substantively necessary to an explanation of why the Western world today is as it is’ (p. 7). Beginning with the phenomenological observation of the modern Western spectrum of contradictory truth claims, the author seeks their origin. Six subsequent chapters focus on specific subjects:

  • exclusion of God from the natural world;
  • loss of objective truth;
  • privatisation of religion;
  • subjectification of morality;
  • the ascendancy of consumerism; and,
  • the departmentalisation of knowledge.

Each chapter traces trajectories from the Reformation Ursprung to the contemporary world and in so doing conducts the reader on a crash course on a history of philosophy, of theology, of economic theory, etc., each rooted in the author’s firm grasp and appreciation of Reformation history.

The Six Solas

Gregory summarises the position of the above-cited ‘Neo-Atheists’ thus: ‘the findings of science either prescribe atheism as a matter of intellectual integrity or requite a schizophrenic separation of scientific findings from religious faith’ (p. 29). Faith then is about ‘ineffable feelings’ (p. 65). The multiplicity of religious options demonstrates religion’s subjective character. One generally practises (or lapses from) the religion in which one was born and raised, but does that commitment mean that one’s acceptance of the truth claims of that religion to life’s serious questions suggests the invalidity of rival truth claims? Certainly it should. The fundamental Protestant principle sola Scriptura demanded that Scripture alone be the criterion in the formulation of true answers to the ‘Life Questions.’ Ironically the principle, intended to galvanize Christians around their book, resulted in the proliferation of Protestant confessions as they disagreed over the interpretation of Scripture. Appeals to private revelation and reason failed to halt the centrifugal motion. The result:

‘in principle truth is whatever is true to you, values are whatever you value, priorities whatever you prioritize, and what you should live for is whatever you decide you should live for. In short: whatever’ (p. 77).

Religious hostilities have, for the most part, ceased in the Western world. The destruction and death during the different religious wars that followed the breakdown of Christendom ended with a general, at times reluctant, acceptance of toleration and religious liberty. But there was a price for the separation of Church and State, the transition from the defender of the faith to defender of the faiths: religion’s gradual separation from other aspects of society. Gregory comments on the unintended current state of the United States: ‘freedom of religion protected society from religion and so has secularized society and religion’ [italics Gregory’s]. Protected by appeals to individual conscience with legal guarantees of religious freedom, Americans can believe whatever they wish as long as they obey the law. The age of entitlement was born.

Similarly, moral values have devolved into subjective, personal preferences. As with religious beliefs, one may hold whatever moral values one feels good about as long as one observes the law. Inevitably Western civilisation embarked on a path that resulted in the de facto identification of morality and law. Roman Catholic insistence that morality be grounded in natural law and/or metaphysical anthropology results in frequent clashes with contemporary culture. Gregory blames the ongoing disputes between Catholics and mainline (magisterial) Protestants and the consequent religious wars for the eventual distinction between the public and private spheres. Laws defined public behaviour but left unregulated private behaviour. But here too, as with religion, we are left with a question regarding the definer of the public and the private. Who decides what is God’s and what is Caesar’s? If each prepared a reply, how they would differ!

With the secularisation of society and especially the subjectification of ‘Life Questions,’ knowledge as pursued at research universities became more specialised and barren – scientific in a negative sense. One is reminded here of Chief Rabbi Sacks’s comment: ‘Science takes things apart to see how they work; religion puts things together to see what they mean’.[3] More damning is Gregory’s contention (as witnessed by the authors mentioned in the second paragraph of this review) that there is a general derision of ‘any firmly held religious belief’ (p. 356) in academia. The secular mission of (principally American) universities demands that they ‘instill enough skepticism to divest students of any substantive truth claims – especially religious ones – that could disrupt the demands of the most important social virtue, namely open-ended toleration’ (p. 359). Protestant reformers opened Pandora’s Box in their attempt to strengthen and deepen Christian life and doctrine. Instead they launched the trajectory that produced the secular ‘Kingdom of Whatever’: the unintended reformation.

Many readers will note that some ‘World We Have Lost’ sentiments seem to lurk behind Gregory’s arguments, but the author argues against mere nostalgia. For him the post-modern world is failing due to its failure to provide sufficient answers to the Life Questions. Said questions remain essential and must be re-addressed. Contemporary society speaks of rights, but can contemporary science discover them in the material substance scrutinised by the finest microscopes? Rights take for granted a natural law, a philosophical anthropology, a creature created in the image and likeness of God: the academy must be unsecularised.

The Unintended Reformation demands much from the reader. Through circa 400 pages of text and 150 more of endnotes, the author leads us through a maze of critical positions. Unfortunately the publisher’s decision to publish endnotes instead of footnotes and to omit a bibliography hinders our progress as we seek the sources of information. The author writes with passion, but not always with clarity. Occasionally the prose runs away from him as sentences and paragraphs seem endless. But is Gregory’s argument convincing? A glance at the many reviews posted on reveals the book’s impact. The majority are favourable; some suggest that the Ursprung is a moveable point and could just as easily be placed in the Middle Ages or the Enlightenment. Perhaps. Some commentators claim they have read the book two or three times. If you are worried about the current state of society and interested in understanding it, I recommend you read it at least once perhaps in the context of a course or discussion group, so the issues raised can be pondered and debated.


The reviewer, Thomas M. McCoog SJ is the Archivist of the British Province of the Society of Jesus.

[1] The Times, 7 July 2012, p. 23

[2] e.g. ‘The Other Confessional History: On Secular Bias in the Study of Religion,’ History and Theory, 45(2006), pp. 132-49; ‘No Room for God? History, Science, Metaphysics, and the Study of Religion,’ History and Theory, 47 (2008), pp. 495-519; ‘Can We ‘See Things Their Way’? Should We Try?,’ in Seeing Things Their Way: Intellectual History and the Return of Religion, eds. Alister Chapman, John Coffey and Brad S. Gregory (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2009), pp. 24-45


Tuesday, October 31, 2017

The God Who Restores - Divine Process in Action

As a Christian I am always perplexed by what one makes of the evil in this world. Especially when re-thinking God not as a Coercive Force as I was once taught, but as One who is always re-creating life from that which is not life. Or beauty, or wisdom, or Order, or Peace, from all that which exists apart from God we call sin and evil.

And if God is not the coercive force who created sin and evil as I was taught, can God then be found in His steady relational love which invites all creation into diverse becoming?

If so, "What then is evil?" Which is an important question to ask when perceiving past dominant theologies to have deemed God to be an omnipotent, omniscient Force who becomes the Source of all suffering - (i) either actively as evil's agent, (ii) or by assignment by divine commission, (iii) or passively when doing nothing to prevent evil from occurring, when refraining from direct Divine intervention.

But what if God was re-conceived in His Power and Presence as a God who does not abandoned us, or betrays us, or persecute us by His Divine Coercive Power? But rather as a Guiding, Presently-Acting Redemptive Force redeeming each thing/moment which is unredeemed? Restoring each event which is broken and unrestored? When renewing all that is spiritual dead and still-born? Such a theology of God, I would think, would be something we would want to look into more closely than those which say otherwise.

If God is reconceived as a Positive Redemptive Acting Force than we know that "Love is never coercive but guiding, nourishing, nurturing, and helpful"; that events are not "predetermined" but "indeterminant" allowing for creation to respond to God's love in unique and positive ways; that actions of lament and mourning, praise and adoration, thankfulness and petitionary prayer, are the result of being actively engaged in a life that is changeable and malleable by our very own actions empowered with Divine Light, Truth, and Ability; and most importantly, that God has "emptied Himself" of all that He is so that His creation might become all that it can be through its Creator.

This is the idea behind Process Theology which offers at least two possible understandings of evil (if not more) when facing the tragic nature of evil while at the same time affirming the innocence of those who suffer. (1) One view addresses evil as that aspect of reality not yet touched by God’s lure, or that part of creation that willfully ignores God’s lure. (2) Another approach draws on the thought of the medieval Jewish philosopher Moses Maimonides, who acknowledges that much of what we term evil or suffering is a matter of perspective. Maimonides (speaking out of the Greek Naturalism of Aristotelian thought of his day) points out how often what we term evil is simply our personal perspective of a particular event.

As example, one might say life is full of disappointments and bitterness, but had those experiences not been lived than the individual affected may not have surmounted those experiences to be a blessing to others or a source of wisdom to events occurring later in life when encountered. Life's indeterminacy can thus be faced with a spirit of redemptive resilience or resoluteness which refuses hardship to conquer in the face of open pain and loss. Christians around the world do admit this as part of their faith described by many as the power of God in their lives to redeem, to recreate, to restore, to empower, by the force of the gospel of Christ; and blood-bought in service, reconciliation, and redemptive enablement in the Spirit of God who was emptied into the world to serve. This then would grant the sublime idea that God is with us, is for us, and is ever our God in times of need and plenty, want and provide. God is there and has empowered us through His Spirit by the atonement made in Christ and by His Spirit our constant Guide, Mediator, and Comforter.


R.E. Slater
October 31, 2017

Psalm 85

English Standard Version (ESV)

Revive Us Again

To the choirmaster. A Psalm of the Sons of Korah.

85 Lord, you were favorable to your land;
you restored the fortunes of Jacob.
2 You forgave the iniquity of your people;
you covered all their sin. Selah
3 You withdrew all your wrath;
you turned from your hot anger.

4 Restore us again, O God of our salvation,
and put away your indignation toward us!
5 Will you be angry with us forever?
Will you prolong your anger to all generations?
6 Will you not revive us again,
that your people may rejoice in you?
7 Show us your steadfast love, O Lord,
and grant us your salvation.

8 Let me hear what God the Lord will speak,
for he will speak peace to his people, to his saints;
but let them not turn back to folly.
9 Surely his salvation is near to those who fear him,
that glory may dwell in our land.

10 Steadfast love and faithfulness meet;
righteousness and peace kiss each other.
11 Faithfulness springs up from the ground,
and righteousness looks down from the sky.
12 Yes, the Lord will give what is good,
and our land will yield its increase.
13 Righteousness will go before him
and make his footsteps a way.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Can a Contemporary Reformation Re-Awaken the Church?

Lately I've been listening to the life stories of the "Major Reformers" Martin Luther, Huldrych Zwingli, John Calvin, and John Knox. Though many, many other voices could be added to this list of reformers such as John Wycliffe, Theodore Beza, Martin Bucer, or Thomas More (see the Wikipedia link provided at end of this article), it is a testament to those hardy Reformers of yesteryear who sought to speak the will of God for the church of their time during what would later become known as a Reformational era of spiritual crisis.

An era before there was any Protestant church or denomination knowing only one Church Universal - commonly thought of as the "Church Catholic" - which spoke for God as His singularly appointed magistrates of spiritual administration since the days of the Apostles of the Early Church. By this time 1600 years of church history had come-and-gone revealing the church's priestly commissions to be spiritually wayward and corruptible requiring deep reform away from the practises of priestly indulgences and misguided Christian teachings. Teachings which withheld God's people from the hallowed halls of His love and grace, mercy and forgiveness, as readily seen in the spiritual practises of Christian worship becoming more form than function, more works-righteousness than true faith.

At the time, the seat of church government was under the papacy of Rome having tightly integrated itself into each regional government calling itself Christian as well as into each community parish overruled by a local bishop. This then lead to a regional system of church governance overruled by a series of church Archbishops who reported directly to the Vatican and its board of Cardinals otherwise considered the Church's protectors of the faith and fatherly regents of commission.

Into this churchly dispensation came the priests of the Catholic Church who were trained and taught in the holy halls of their commissions greatly learned and greatly read in the Bible of their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Some of whom began to notice that what was being judged by God through his prophets in the OT, and later by Christ Himself and His Holy Apostles in the NT, were similarly being practiced in the Church itself during the years of their calling. To wit, one-by-one, these Spirit-burdened priests began to agitate in their ranks calling for a purifying fire of deep reform.

One such priest was Martin Luther having stepped forth on the Eve of All Saints Day (still observed by many churches in deference to the "Devil's Eve" of Halloween) by announcing his willingness to debate any priest, bishop, archbishop, or cardinal over a list of erroneous teachings of the church at any given date or time. Those teachings he considered to be most egregious were later known as Luther's "95 Theses" which he had nailed to the doors of the local parish church as would any regular communication be announced of similar manner in that day to be read by the community at large. Hence, Luther's proposal was more or less a public notice to all who felt deeply as he did about the many spiritual wrongs he was noticing within the Church's ministries.

As I have said, I have been attending a very short introductory class through Calvin College (Grand Rapids, Michigan) over a four week period to learn of the lives and stories of the Reformation's four Major Reformers who were central figures to the schism breaking across the Catholic Church. In the Fall of 2018 would be another class to discuss the Minor Reformers of the Reformation era, all of whom would have a contributive influence to the reformation of the Church of God.

Accordingly, these early Reformational breakaway church groups became known as "Protest-Groups, " or, "Protest-ants," willing to leave their parish to re-align their faith and beliefs into a new kind of churchly dynamic. One they felt was more biblical, more ordained of God, more worthy of Christ's calling and Passion. One of the first of these groups to be born from this growing schism were the "Lutherans" of Germany readily following the strong voice of young monk named Luther no longer content to do "business as usual" under the rule of the Papacy.

For myself, knowing very little of the reformers spawning this post-Renaissance movement, I quickly realized it led the Church into new ways of adaptive thinking as it responded to the impact of a new cultural renaissance occurring in the fields of the arts and sciences. A renaissance which had launched a hundred years earlier and was beginning to grow at a rapid rate of change across poly-lingual societies soon leading into a major historic era of European Enlightenment and early Modernity. 

And although the Reformation was strictly a religious undertaking within the Church itself it was also laying the important groundwork for revisualizing God and the Christian faith in new and significant ways which would be later necessary to its own religious life and culture. However, when it did not, we then see an era of Victorian despair occurring across religious societies unable to grasp the depth and meaning of human industry and discovery (cf. Victorian art, poetry, literature). And by failing to envision God in new ways also failed to lead society in its responsibilities of human and ecological care as older religious systems fought resistance to necessary spiritual reforms leading to a kind of spiritual destruction and death. It also led me to realize once again the importance of contemporary Christians today who similarly labor around the world impassioned by the Spirit of God to the tasks of post-modernal contemporary enlightenment-and-reformation which are occurring 500 years later after the European Reformations.

It is here, in the 21st Century, I and others are finding it importantly significant that the church again revise its orthodoxies to positively participate in a post-industrial, post-modern reawakening of global ecological awareness, technological revolution, and scientific discovery, so that the Christian faith might live again in important ways it cannot live under old line thinking, study, worship, and service. Indeed, if it does not then Christianity will consequentially be relegated to the sidelines of mysticism, mythology, and superstition, even as we see occurring now with the growing gulf between Christian fellowships, associations, and sects, as they double down into their closed systems of religious faith and folk religion.

Rather than allow this, the Lord has tasked his prophets and prophetesses, priests and priestesses, with illuminating how the church might participate with the contemporary world in a sociological relevance that might grant significant revelation to those seeking truth and enlightenment in the multiple pagan endeavors of naturalism, cultism, occultism, and atheism, to mention a few. If the church does not then we leave an important Christ-filled mission bereft to the world around us to redact and refill in spiritualizing invigorations, forms and functions, less than Christian, but most certainly spiritual, as attested to in the four areas just mentioned.

I find then that re-integrating the Christian faith within a postmodern framework must also confront the growing post-truth despair found in churches and societal turmoil as an important witness spanning the gulf between the Christian faith and a growing number of unChristian mysticisms; unChristian reflections searching for a kind of spiritual enlightenment; or, unChristian hopes which lead away from a redemptive meaningfulness to life, ministry, work, and social behavior.

This then is the basic task set upon the hearts and passions of today's global prophets and priests of the Church called to its renewing Reformation. It is the deep need for another Christian  Re-Awakening spawning an Orthodox Reformation both Protestant and Catholic, religious and liturgical, missionary and service-oriented, into all the areas of Christian endeavor, academic teaching, worship, and understanding. Through the years Relevancy22 has identified a few of these Christian movements and leaders as attested to in its roll call of  topics, blogger links, and study resources.

Even so, God is breathing His revelations across the world in lands far away and alien to Western civilizaiton, into the lands of Asia, India, Africa, and South America. It is a Wind testifying to the need of humanity to reorder its chaotic turmoil back to the very thrones of God that it might have a witness to a world leaving the church behind to its superstitions and mythologies unless it regains an adapting theology which is willing to grow up and mature to testify of the God we love and adore in a post-modern world.

Having begun in the 1990s, there is developing a new hope for the Church being attested to in a steady stream of contemporary witnesses to the Christian faith of Spirit-filled men and women having grown and being knit together as one community advocating a new reflection of the Christian faith that may allow its much needed post-Reformation to grow and take shape into ten thousand reflections of the Divine Light of the Son of God and His redemption brought into this old earth by the guiding hand of the God of Creation, Atonement, Revival, and Resurrected Life.

As such, it is not unlike the reformers of old God has used in the life of the Church - from its very first Church Fathers of the early Christian centuries to the Medieval and Reformational Reformers of the Medieval Ages, to the Great Awakenings of the American and British eras of the 1700's and onwards, to the Revivals of South America, Asia, Africa, and Middle East both in the past and lately, as the Spirit of God lays upon the hearts of men and women His heavy hand of guidance, groaning, and passion to awaken the hearts of us who cannot see, nor hear, nor even feel the Wind of God blowing across our hearts and souls, to come taste the Divine Bread and Wine of our Salvation.

Even so blows such a Divine Wind as it tears down and uproots all old and impervious Christian faith structures resisting the Lord and having become devolved and unlovely to the name of Christ. More heathen in its forms of worship, more pagan in its portrayals of Christ, and similarly destructive to the Word of the Lord when living within their closed structures of religious systems unable to renew themselves under God's guidance unless they first be torn down and uprooted to hear again the living Sepulcher's tolling God's life-giving Altars to stand forth, repent, and be born again into the hope, grace, mercy, and forgiveness of the Gospel of Christ.


R.E. Slater
October 28, 2017

Links to the Reformation and Reformers -

* * * * * * * * * *

Martin Luther’s Greatest Contribution

by Thomas Oord
October 25th, 2017

Christians around the world are celebrating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Not just Protestants, even many Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Christians are celebrating!

Five hundred years ago, Martin Luther nailed 95 theses on Castle church door in Wittenberg, Germany. Most Christians today who read the document Luther posted would find his theses bewildering. But this event and many others before and after brought great change to the world.

Luther’s Theology

As Christians celebrate the anniversary of the Protestant Reformation on October 29, many will correctly praise Luther for his courage.

Theologians like me who study the details of Luther’s theology often have mixed feelings about his ideas. Some of what Luther said is applicable today; other things are not. Some aspects of Luther’s theology should be left in dustbins of history.

Luther was an enigmatic figure with an odd personality. He was prone to hyperbole (all those “solas,” for example) and just plain weirdness. Few today would lift him up as a moral example. But Luther is rightly praised for his courage and conviction.


Luther’s greatest legacy and the greatest legacy of the Protestant Reformation is less about the specific theology he proposed. It’s more about the general need for changes in theology.

The Reformation reminds us that Christianity is not a static religion. It moves, adjusts, and transforms. Times change, people change, and the gospel of Christianity changes too, at least to some extent.

Some things in Christianity seem constant. Jesus is always central, although how we understand him varies over time. Love is central too, although what love demands seems to change. We could add other seemingly timeless aspects of the Christian faith.

Debates about the essentials and nonessentials in Christian faith will continue. The consensus varies from generation to generation.

Jesus may be the same yesterday, today, and forever, but the Christian faith is always in process. The Spirit is always doing a new thing!

Time for a New Reformation

It’s time again for something new. Every 500 years or so, something major seems to occur in Christian history. We’re due.

It’s time to ask ourselves, What will Christianity look like tomorrow? Who will Jesus be interpreted to be? What does love require in the present age? How should we now live?

Answering these questions is our present task. But we’re not the first. Change agents, revolutionaries, and theological entrepreneurs like Martin Luther have come before.

So let’s celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation by raising a glass to Martin Luther!

ps... When you’re celebrating Luther’s birthday on November 10, light a candle for me: I was born on that same date 482 years later! - T.O.