Idolatry


The Divine Name YHWH Jehovah“Theos” is a crappy translation for yhwh or elohim. Thanks a lot, Septuagint.

Comment.

Yes, that is a quote from 1 Thessalonians 5, so you can skip looking it up. No thanks necessary.

Received this email from a student, re: my Religions of the World course.

It is very difficult for me to take
these religions seriously. I honestly feel that most people in this
course are pretty much BS-ing when they talk about how amazed and
fascinated they are about these things. It’s writing what the
professor wants to hear instead of how they really feel. I have
actually talked to some students who have agreed this is the case. I
thought that by being honest and giving my genuine point of view was
better than sugar coating it, but that is often not the case in
school, as I have learned over the years. I will put my own feelings
aside in the future and only state facts. Hopefully that will help. I
honestly do not appreciate these other religions because I am a strong
Christian and God is a jealous God and does not find these other
“religions” to be at all appreciative. That’s just how I feel. I
cannot praise a religion that worships any God but the one I believe
is the ONLY one who exists. That is my struggle. I hope you understand.

Sincerely,

J. Doe, who really wants to get an A in the course without compromising her beliefs.

And, for what it’s worth, my response:

Well, I do understand. I myself am a licensed minister in the American Baptist Church of Vermont/New Hampshire. I don’t want or expect anyone to necessarily “like” any of these religions; there is much in them that doesn’t jive with Christianity. I want people to engage them, but we cannot engage them unless we know about them and look at what there is in common, as well as what the differences are. Like it or not, this is a world that is far more complicated than we Christians typically like to admit. Practitioners of religion – any religion – have got to learn to be sensitive to people of other faiths, even if they totally disagree on points of theology. This course is NOT a theology course. There is a difference between studying theology and studying religions; studying religions is studying how humans express in their own cultures their relationship to whatever is sacred to them. Studying theology is studying what humans say about God. We haven’t been doing that, although it has come up in discussion posts, which is fine, but I am not encouraging this. I do not believe we can have productive conversations about what humans think about God unless we know something about what they say and think about their world.

Part of being a Christian is being able to recognize the good. No less than Paul tells us to “Question everything, but hold on to the Good” (see 1 Thessalonians, chapter 5 I think). We can’t do that unless we learn where goodness and beauty lies, and I am of the persuasion that it does not only lie in Christianity; far from it. Genesis tells us that God the creator created our world as very good. I am trying to train students to recognize the good wherever it appears, and in this course in particular, being able to see the good and the beautiful in other religious traditions. Of course there is much that is not good; the dark side of religion is present in all of them, and this includes Christianity. I don’t know about you, but I have seen enough Christian-bashing to last me a lifetime, and I believe that throughout our history, we have deserved much of it. It is not a perfect faith. It is not “just fine the way it is.” God himself may be perfect and completely good. But Christianity is not, and I would prefer not to turn the faith into an idol that replaces God himself. It’s bad enough that this happens to the Bible.

In being critical of other religious traditions, we don’t have to resort to sarcasm and vitriol. That’s what automatically happens when we don’t understand something, usually due to our own unwillingness to be challenged or shook up a little, whether it’s in the voting booth or in conversations about religion. I hope to be giving students the tools to be critical of what they disagree with without coming across as bigoted know-it-alls who think anyone who thinks otherwise can go to hell, because they aren’t going anyplace else anyway.

So I do want you, and others in the class, to be honest. If you honestly can’t see anything the reflects the good and the beautiful in Shinto or Islam or whatever, I want you to tell me that. But you must be very specific. Condemning a Shinto garden simply because it’s not a Christian one isn’t going to cut it. Condemning the Qur’an without reading any of it simply because it’s not  New Testament isn’t going to work.

[some specific comments about student’s essays]
Peace, Benedict

Jon LesterI am a sports fan. Not simply a fan of my hometown Boston teams, which I am, but of the sports that these teams play. I love the games of baseball and football, and I’ve watched my fair share of the Celtics and Bruins in basketball and hockey while I was growing up. Sport inspires me, and occasionally you hear great stories of athletes who overcome incredible odds to do something they love. One of the most powerful moments for me last baseball season, for example, was the return of Jon Lester to the mound after beating cancer (at least for the time being). I remember Mario Lemieux’s triumphant return to the ice after his own battle with cancer. Josh Hamilton’s story is one of an all-world talent, drafted out of high school, who was led to the depths of potential suicide, only to make his major league debut on the baseball diamond for the Cincinnati Reds last season after battling demons of drugs and depression. This past football season, I watched on TV as Kevin Everett nearly lost his life on the football field and who was supposedly not ever going to be able to walk again, let alone play football. And it was only a few months later, in the same season, that Everett was able to walk onto the field at Giants Stadium, inspiring the Bills, the Gians, and football fans nationwide.

I am not alone here, of course. Millions of sports fans worldwide likely feel the same way. But here in America, our passion for sport has created a monster of idolatrous proportions. Here, right in our midst, is our very own golden statue, one that Nebuchadnezzar himself would have been proud of. And the ramifications of that statue’s presence is on full display today on Capitol Hill. One of my childhood idols, Roger Clemens, will almost certainly face perjury charges for lying under oath in a Congressional hearing over his reported use of performance enhancing drugs. Not far from this, Sen. Arlen Specter is grilling the commissioner of the National Football League over its handling of the now-notorious “Spygate” incident that involves my hometown New England Patriots. All this while the same government is passing new surveillance laws, is unable to do anything about healthcare, and is unable or unwilling to stand up against the Iraq war. But against cheating in professional sports? Call in the bastards! This is America! There’s no cheating or blackmarking our great pasttimes! They’re not going to get away with this!

The golden statue of American Sport is casting a very, very long shadow. For years, I have looked forward to spring training. It is a sign of hope, of forgiveness of the past, of looking to the future. But I’m finding it awfully hard to embrace the upcoming season. I wish that Roger Clemens would have just come clean, as so many other athletes are doing when caught using PEDs. His career would still be over. His reputation would still have taken a massive hit. Now, however, Clemens is adding his own shadow to that of the Golden Statue. Between the two of them, its getting hard to see the light from a game that many of us have loved our whole lives. A GAME.

Jayson Stark of ESPN notes that he thinks this is bigger than Watergate, of Oliver North, even of McCarthy hearings. Over GAMES.

The darkest shadow of all is that he may very well be right.