Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Belief, by Francis S. Collins

February 24 Discussion

Question 1.  Keith Ward introduces us to the difficult task of defining religion…where, as he aptly states, “almost anything goes.”  Along with the “Jedi Knight” response of numerous Brits, American culture has produced its own proud assortment of offshoot religions.  Can you name some of the more notorious examples?  Ward cites Edward Herbert’s five innate elements of a religion at the bottom of page 126.  What, in your opinion, constitutes a “religion?”  Why are these of value to you?

Question 2.  Ward writes that, “For the unbeliever, this whole religious quest must be based on an illusion.  The trouble is that the illusion does not seem to be fading away...firmly rooted in human nature.”  Objections to religion involve scientific, psychological, and social rationalizations.  How does each of these function as an opportunity to dismiss or avoid the greater mystery of the divine?

Question 3.   Lindsley invites us down a path of discourse few of us have ever traveled.  “If there are no absolutes, then we cannot say anything really is evil or, for that matter, good.  The problem is, we know better.”  As C.S. Lewis points out, “If there is a real evil, then we must have a fixed standard of good by which we judge it to be evil.  This absolute standard of goodness suggests a God who is himself this absolute, infinite standard.”  Aside from religious our faith-based instruction, when did you become aware of the real presence of evil?  Under what circumstances did you experience this evil and to what did you ascribe its origins?

Question 4.  Lindsley continues with Arthur Leff’s assertion, “that there is no normative system of ethics based in anything other than the bare assertion of human will.  The common cultural move will not work because of what he called ‘the grand sez who.’”  He then raises the question, “Under what circumstances can someone propose an ethical statement that withstands the cosmic ‘Says who?’”  He also adds, “If law cannot be in God…then the only possible alternative is to say that the law is in us – one of us, some of us, all of us.”  First, where do we see such paradigms in operation around the world today?  Second, what are the implications of such mindsets, who believe like Leff, “There is no such thing as an unchallengeable evaluative system”?

Question 5.  From there, Lindsley says, “If someone is not yet willing to admit that evil exists, perhaps that person could be gently moved toward the logical conclusion of his or her false assumptions.”  How well has that worked in the hallowed halls of Congress?!  Citing the viewpoints of Rorty, morality boils down to “sentiment”…meaning individual preferences and tastes.  But whose…and on what basis?  As for us…who makes these decisions on our behalf today?  What are the boundaries of your own personal sense of morality and how do you define them?

Question 6.  Finally, Lindsley points out the weaknesses of New Age beliefs: “This leads to the conclusion that matter, time, and space, and the distinctions between true and false, good and evil, are illusory as well.”  His mention of Neopaganism is just downright creepy…so let’s just move on. 

“Which is true or good?” he asks.  The answer to that question takes us right back where we started: the existence of evil.  The Christian faith and others have built entire theological doctrinal systems upon this fundamental belief.  In the end, each of must decide…for all spirituality is deeply personal.  How has this assigned reading either challenged or broadened your perspective on the scope of evil?  Where do you still have questions or uncertainty, as we all do?

Wednesday, February 16, 2011 Francis S. Collins

February 17 Discussion

Question 1.  Dorothy Sayers invites us to re-think our reading and interpretation of the scriptural narrative through different lenses.  She seeks to engage our imaginations by reading a bit between the lines.  She notes “it was Cyrus and Ahasuerus who prodded me into the belated conviction that history was all of a piece, and that the Bible was part of it.”  She confronts certain Bible critics for their “very leisurely mental growth”…ouch!  What is she getting at in this critique? 

Question 2.  In her “Memoirs of Jesus Christ,” Sayers goes after “the journalese jargon to which we have grown accustomed!”  The “root of the trouble is to be found…in the collapse of dogma.”  She then gives us “Prophet’s Smile,” and “The Persona Dei: The Image of Truth,” as further invitations to imagine the “real” nature and behavior of Jesus and God…the latter piece being profoundly insightful and moving.  How did you receive her argument and how does it channel our focus on reading Scripture?  How does “The Persona Dei” further illustrate our sin and God’s redemptive action in Christ? 

Question 3.  John Stott begins with the fundamental question, “Why should Christians use their minds?”  He answers by siding with Paul, who says, “Our war is not fought with weapons of flesh…”  Stott adds, “This is a battle of ideas, God’s truth overthrowing the lies of men.  Do we believe in the power of the truth?”  Do you agree with Stott?  If so, what is the relationship between ideas and truth?

Question 4.  Stott directs our nature as humans as related to the divine image.  What separates us from other creatures with brains is our ability to “understand.”  This capacity is naturally delayed in the teenage years, but eventually blossoms (but not for all).  So, what exactly do we “understand” about ourselves and God?  Why is there such diversity of thought on this subject?

Question 5.  David Trueblood begins with a discussion on the means of verification…not real exciting, I know.  But it gets better when he asserts, “In many areas of experience there is no such thing as rigorous proof and we have to content ourselves with what is called the weight of evidence.”  What do you consider to be the “weight of evidence” for Christianity?  What specific “evidence” matters most to you and why does it carry such weight?

Question 6.  Trueblood then claims that a new quality of life should be publicly observable.  In regards to religious experience, how is this most commonly demonstrated?  How is your faith “publicly observable?”  What specifically might others notice in you that would provide “evidence” of your Christian faith?  What such evidence do you see in those at your table with you this morning?

Sunday, February 6, 2011 Francis S. Collins

February 10 Discussion – Os Guinness & Madeleine L’Engle

Question 1.  Os Guinness…let’s go with OG for short.  (Kind of sounds like a caveman, doesn’t it?)  OG launches this essay with a chilling narration of Primo Levi’s tragic life and eventual demise.  We are immediately captivated and saddened by the end result of temporary survival, followed by ultimate self-destruction.  Describe the initial impact this story had on you as you read it.  In what ways could you identify with Levi as he struggled to bear the burden of “witnessing” to others?  How do you differ from Levi in matters of faith as a buoy or raft from which to cling on the turbulent high seas of life?

Question 2.  The myth of Sisyphus (p. 75) offers a powerful and poignant lens through which to portray our individual struggles to persevere and persist.  Both in relationships and vocation, we find ourselves pushing multiple stones uphill…only to repeat the process again and again.  What have some of those “stones” been in your life?  Why did you continue to push them?  What was at stake for you?

Question 3.  OG suggests the alternative to such a fate:  “It is that truth, like meaning as a whole, is not for us to create, but for us to discover.”  What we discover, he suggests, is that truth is grounded and anchored in God’s own reality and truthfulness.  Forget pragmatism, subjectivism, and relativism…which can only be partial and provisional.  What are the limitations and weaknesses of each of these?  Why are they so compelling? What are you “discovering” about the world, yourself, and God that illuminate greater truth and meaning?

Question 4.  “Without truth we are all vulnerable to manipulation.”  OG goes on to expose the gruesome and disgusting details of the manipulative life of Picasso.   OG’s subsequent discussion of freedom, particularly as misconstrued and abused in America, depicts a sobering analysis of denial and self-deceit with regard to liberty (p. 84-86).  As you review these statements again, which of them hits the target most directly?  What is your emerging picture of freedom and truth?

Question 5.  Madeleine L’Engle…let’s go with ME for short.  (Yes, it’s all about ME, folks!)  ME perpetuates this discussion by stating that truth is both frightening and demanding.  Literalism often confuses truth and fact.  She elaborates on the value and necessity of story to convey truth.  She labels literalism as a terrible crippler: tending to let us off the hook…and the cross!  Why are mere facts rendered impotent against the superior depth and power of stories?  

I would venture to say that stories convey a greater meaning and mystery that flow out of our intricate relationships with God and one another.  Stories move us out of the isolation of mere facts and into the broader community of stories and shared observations.  Facts alone – and our dubious interpretations and use of them – can often limit our understanding and growth.  Facts and mystery do not sit kindly at the same table.  As such, faith invites us into the greater mystery of both the natural and the divine…thus allowing questions, not answers, to be the conduit or pathway to revelation and truth.  Describe your position and movement along this continuum between reliance on fact and faith.  What is contributing most to your growth?

Question 6.  Finally, ME acknowledges that we have become “vocabulary-deprived.”  No argument there!  Reasons abound for this, yet the situation worsens in this country.  How can we, the church, address this dilemma via our stories and our Christian witness?  Are we free to lift up and wrestle openly with life’s ultimate questions…comfortable then to trust in the One who is the Answer?