Archive for February, 2008

Diogenes’ Tavern

Jeremy Taylor tells a story of Diogenes, the famous street philosopher who is said to have slept in a tub in the streets of Athens. Late one night Diogenes saw a man stepping out of the dark doorway of a notorious tavern. The young man recognized the famous philosopher and as their eyes met he stepped nervously back into the shadow of the doorway hoping not to be recognized himself. Diogenes called out to him saying, ‘Quanta magis intraveris, tanto magis eris in caupona.’ The more you step back, the farther into the whorehouse you go.

Isn’t it better to do good by admitting our evil than to continue as we are by denying there’s a problem? Who would rather keep a good reputation than gain a good heart? The wisdom of Diogenes is that he who denies his sin still retains what he counts to be his shame.

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Does the church need a multicultural epistemology?

I’ve been thinking about the question of epistemology quite a bit since beginning my minor in critical theory, or women’s studies. What to do with the poststructuralist critique? My thinking has been that reading scripture for God’s people is something quite different from reading other texts. With other texts we are cut off from the “true” meaning of the words in a significant way. As Paul says, “Who knows the mind of a man but the spirit of that man that is within him?” Words are not a sufficient tool to communicate one mind to another. On the contrary an incomplete and imperfect communication is the very best that can be accomplished. But Paul goes on to say of God’s people, “But we have the Spirit of God.” In other words the Holy Spirit, who wrote scripture by imparting it to men to be written, is within us as our teacher. We can have the mind of God, Paul seems to say, because His Spirit is within us. In another place Paul says, “We have the mind of Christ.”

This distinction between the rationalist who reads a text by the power of his own mind, and the Christian who has the mind of Christ in his reading of scripture has been the main theme of my epistemological thinking for a couple years.

I had a new thought yesterday. I noted that Donald Hall, in his book “Queer Theories” seems to suggest that the body of knowledge he calls queer theory would be essentially unchanged if it ceased to be a primarily white upper-middle class phenomenon and a plurality of voices were included from other cultures and classes. The choir may grow larger but he seemed to suggest that the tune would be unchanged. I pointed this out to my classmates as a major epistemological failure. The church, I was thinking, was composed of people representing all the world’s cultures. Her doctrines are framed by members from all eras, nations, cultures, classes, etc. I had the sense that the church had wisdom epistemologically that was lacking in the “queer theory” of Mr. Hall. I, as a white upper-middle class American member of the church understand that I have a theology that must be changed through an encounter with my fellow members whose cultural, national, gendered and class background are different from mine, and who are able to see things I miss. Hall seemed to acknowledge the need for “diversity,” but missed its epistemological significance. I pointed this out to the class and folks agreed.

After the fact, I realized that my understanding of “having the mind of Christ” left no room for other church members from varying backgrounds to teach or sharpen me or my white American church. What do third-world theologians, for example, have to offer me if I already have the mind of Christ?

Is it possible that it is not I, but we the Church universal, who have the mind of Christ? That we need to sharpen and lovingly share our wisdom with each other in order to participate fully in the blessing of receiving the mind of Christ? Is it possible that my personal theology or that of my church is not the mind of Christ, but that in the collective scriptural learning or those who are and have been truly members of Christ’s Church we have the mind of Chrsit?

For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. ‘For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?’ But we have the mind of Christ.

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Join us in supporting things that aren’t John McCain!

I have created this new Facebook group for all those people out there who support things. Unless John McCain is one of them.


Nature or Nurture

So, as Christians we believe in a doctrine of original sin. We believe that by nature we are sinful and desperately in need of grace to free us from our own nature. I see this in my own life. I was born with a nature entirely inclined to do evil, to sin. We also believe homosexuality is sinful. Why then do we doubt that there are people born gay or lesbian? We are born sinful. Being gay is sinful. What am I missing. Seems reasonable enough that one way someone might be born sinful is gay. On the other hand, it seems other people aren’t but can begin to have homoerotic desire later in life. Why couldn’t this work both ways?

This seems to be the way people explain their own experiences. Some feel they’ve been gay their whole lives as if it were something they were born with, while others feel it was a choice. Why should we be threatened by either alternative? Both seem very much in keeping with the Biblical account of our nature and our choices. Why have many Christians so heavily invested themselves in a view of homosexuality that insists it can only be a choice?

Just a thought.

“A devil, a born devil, on whose nature
Nurture can never stick;”
~Prospero in The Tempest

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