Sunday, January 29, 2006

Thinking People and Church -apologia

Here's the background. The long-suffering spouse is in DEEP trouble for some sins of omission, and he's too clueless to even know he's in trouble. So rather than pick a fight when there's no hope of a good outcome, I head off to Starbucks to drown my sorrows. I fully intend to wire myself to my iPod, drink some calorie-laden confection, and write excoriating prose into my journal. Time well spent, in my world view.

What actually happened, though, is that I ran into one of those acquaintances who thinks he knows me better than he does. He wanted to show off his new bumper sticker: "If you don't pray in my school, I won't think in your church." Did I like it? Refer back to paragraph 1. I was having a hard morning. I just said, "no." What a grouchy witch I can be, I'm sorry to say. Anyway, we regrouped and talked about it a little bit. Here's what I've got so far.

For one thing, there's the obvious problem of parading slogans as thought. Some thinking people go to church. And turning the same thought around, some churches welcome and seek out thoughtful people. So, the claim that thought and church don't go together is annoying and illogical. Some faithful people are also opposed to prayer in public schools. So, the notion that faith and public prayer must go together is flawed. So, even though this person is very well-educated and bright, he wasn't doing anything more than speaking in sound bites on a wedge issue -which is just trying to cause trouble, as far as I can tell.

However, faithful people do have a problem here. I have done no studies to support this claim, but I'll bet that educated people tend, statistically speaking, to believe that faith is the purview of fringe elements like Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell. Further, I'll bet that people imagine, possibly because we really do believe odd and inexplicable things (transubstantiation, anyone?) that somehow rigorous scholarship is not -can not be- part of the mix.

And of course, much of current apologetics doesn't help. So much of it reasons like this. Why are you faithful? Because God said to be faithful. Okay, why do you believe in God? Because that's what faithful people do. Wow. That's helpful. Not. It doesn't make sense to quote Scripture as a defense of faith to a person who doesn't accept Scripture as a source of wisdom. What we need is a defense of faith that isn't solely internally referenced -something that makes sense from the outside looking in. I'm not looking for an argument as to why people MUST be faithful, because I'm pretty sure there's not one, just why they might be. (And oh yeah, I know that greater minds than mine have struggled with this, so who the heck do I think I am? C.S. Lewis is probably lobbying for crossing my name off the heavenly roster at this very moment.)

And since I never got my caffeine burst, I'm struggling here. I know this much. There is some real connection -one that many bloggers explore without naming it like this- between critical thinking, moral integrity, and citizenship. Many of us want to reason well, to do good, and to have both going on in some sort of community of like-minded people. I think that there's enough evidence that we can just assert that to be true, but of course it's not exactly a defense of faith, yet. We could look to Jung for some sort of defense of an underlying spirituality to the universe. That's not quite the same as faith either, but we're getting closer.

What happens if we put those two thoughts together? Anything? I think it's going to come down to a juxtaposition of the modern notion of psyche/self with the Greek notion of psyche/soul. Jung and others argue that a fully actualized "self" finds a balance between the absolutely unique contribution of any individual and a recognition of the transcendent self that all people share. So, we're absolutely individuals -except, not so much. So, the individualist part of our nature wants to make a unique contribution and to avoid being part of a herd. In other words, we want to be critical thinkers. And some of us call that transcendence not so much self as something beyond self -God, perhaps. Those of us who make that leap are thoughtful, faithful people.

I think.

And all this blathering just from a bumper sticker and an innocent comment. Aren't you glad you don't live in MY head?

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