Tuesday, June 24, 2008

"Controversy for the Sake of Heaven"

Today's post is lifted straight out of Keren Hannah Pryor's "Taste of Torah," a weekly email that goes out to a mailing list. It fits in quite nicely with some of the debates we've had online and offline.

    “Controversy for the Sake of Heaven”

    Pirkei Avot (The Sayings [or Ethics] of the Fathers) is a compact and outstanding collection of ancient Jewish wisdom. Avot 5:16 states: “An example of a controversy for the sake of heaven is a disagreement between Hillel and Shammai, while one that is not for the sake of heaven is the argument of Korach and his followers.” Hillel and Shammai were renowned rabbis of the Second Temple period. Each founded a school devoted to Torah learning and the expounding of halachah (the detailed oral laws and observances that govern daily life). Traditionally Beit Shammai (the school, or literally the House, of Shammai) held to stricter, more conservative rulings, whereas Beit Hillel was more flexible in its decisions. In general the rulings of Hillel prevailed.

    Yeshua was a contemporary of the revered grandson of Hillel, Rabbi Gamaliel (of whom the apostle Paul was a student), and Yeshua’s teachings reflected many of Beit Hillel’s views. Although Hillel and Shammai disagreed on many complicated spiritual issues, it is recorded that they still met as friends and at times enjoyed Shabbat dinners together. Their dispute was based on respect and friendship, and thus honored God.

    The heart of this type of positive disagreement is that the parties involved each “Love truth and peace” (Zechariah 8:19). The distinctive elements of a controversy for the sake of Heaven may be described as follows:

    1) The aim of the process is the search for truth and justice in accord with the will and Word of God.
    2) The dialogue does not preclude or endanger the possibility of “loving one another” at its conclusion and thereafter.
    3) The result should be the establishing of deeper relationship with God and one another in friendship, shalom, peace and love.

Positive disagreement. For those of us that enjoy debate, but also enjoy love and peace, this is a wonderful reminder. The reason we discuss church, religion, and philosophy to the extent that we do, is that it is very important to us. Most of us are striving to find the "will and Word of God," and we wouldn't be so passionate about it otherwise.

Having disputes that can still be based on respect, friendship, and love can, indeed, honor God.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Ethics 101: A Discussion of Moral Philosophies

Okay, before we get started: This topic isn't really "church" related, and it's one of those issues that has almost no real-life application. But it's an interesting debate, and I think that there are things to be learned here.

Monday night, Soebs and I were having another go-round at a discussion that many of us have had before. I know Darin feels the same way that SoeBeck does, because I think I've had the same debate with him.

This is the question, in an oversimplified nutshell:

For non-Christians, and specifically, those that believe in no higher power such as God (we'll use the generic term "Atheist" here), what reason could they logically have for living a moral life?

On one side of the argument, the reasoning is that if one believes he or she is not accountable to any God and that there will be no afterlife, there is no logical reason to do anything but live a "life for self." It doesn't matter who you step on or what you do, just get what you can, while you can, because you've got no moral code or accountability. Living any other way seems to be at odds with your own belief structure.

From a logical standpoint, I strongly disagree with that argument. I believe that this line of reasoning is flawed, and it makes jumps from "no God" to "no moral code" without proper correlation.

Although I love the topic of philosophy, I didn't take enough of those classes in college to really have a deep well of ideas in my brain to pull from. Why I thought "Paris and Berlin Art and Architecture in the 1920s" would be more helpful in the long run, I have no idea.

I do know, though, that philosophers such as Immanuel Kant made very strong arguments for the existence of good will, duty, and imperatives, apart from any notion of being "accountable to God." Kant's "Categorical Imperative" says, in a simplified manner, that one should "act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law."

Epicurus observed that indiscriminate indulgence sometimes resulted in negative consequences. The greatest good was prudence, exercised through moderation and caution. Utilitarianism, described 150 years ago by John Stuart Mill, essentially states that the moral worth of an action is solely determined by its contribution to overall utility in maximizing happiness as summed among all persons in society. Or, simply "the greatest good for the greatest number."

All of these ethical ideals give differing reasons for living a "moral life." Granted, what is considered "moral" will vary slightly whether you subscribe to the Categorical Imperative, or Utilitarianism, or the Hebrew God. My point is that I could also be "accountable" to any number of other things: Love, family, society, or government and the laws of the land. Each of these worldviews will bring about some semblance of morality, although again in each case the details of my rulebook will differ.

From an observational standpoint, we know there are plenty of good, moral people who don't believe in God. And at the same time, we also know there are plenty of people that claim Christianity, and yet they are mean, immoral people. So the argument itself is more theoretical than practical.

But I do think there are important details we can glean from this debate. We often think that Christianity and religion has the market cornered on morality, but the truth is that forms of ethics within society were around before and apart from Judaism, and they would most likely still exist without Christianity or religion in general.

Luckily, I'm not the smartest one here, so I'm ready to see some comments. What do you think? For nontheists, what reasoning might they have for living morally?

Friday, June 6, 2008

Slain in Suing the Spirit

Today's discussion on Pentecostal church services comes to you via a lawsuit in Tennessee...

Man Falls After Receiving Spirit, Sues

    Last June, Matthew Lincoln was attending an evening service at his nondenominational Tennessee church when he approached the altar where a visiting minister was offering individual prayers for parishioners. Assigned "catchers" were present on the altar in case congregants fainted, fell, or otherwise lost control. When the minister, Robert Lavala, slightly touched his forehead, the Knoxville-area man "received the spirit and fell backwards." Except nobody was there to catch him, Lincoln charges in a $2.5 million lawsuit filed yesterday against Lakewind Church and its pastors. Lincoln, 58, claims that he fell backwards, striking his head against the "carpet-covered cement floor," according to the Circuit Court complaint, which was first reported by Courthouse News Service. A copy of Lincoln's lawsuit can be found below. Since he already suffered from a "degenerative disc disease of his neck and back," Lincoln, a former church board member, contends the fall exacerbated the pre-existing condition and has caused him "severe and permanent" injuries. As a result of the fall, Lincoln, a recording engineer, claims that he is no longer able to care for his disabled daughter. Lincoln alleges that Lakewind and its pastors were "negligent in not supervising the catchers to be sure that they stood behind the person being prayed for...should they have a dizzying, fainting, or falling in the spirit as had occurred on many occasions before." Lincoln's lawyer, J.D. Lee, told TSG that the church's insurer, Zurich of North America, rejected an insurance claim, asserting that Lincoln should have realized that no catchers were situated behind him. [from The Smoking Gun]
Is it really the "power of the Spirit" when it gives you severe and permanent injuries?

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Monday Night Starbucks Should be Globally Mandatory

Man...I miss Monday nights.  There are plenty of Starbucks around here just outside Atlanta that is for sure - but only one Java Jesus group.  Maybe it needs to franchise...we need to incorporate and start opening branches.  
I'm starting my blog back up but a little at a time I guess. Pathetic Rambling is what I'm using.  
The kick I have been on - 
why do we teach people to "witness"??
i wonder if we have to teach people to witness because they haven't really seen - or perceived - or maybe even really believe...
i find it amazing how many in our churches have to be poked, prodded and or threatened with guilt in order to see any spiritual movement at all -