Wikipedia Trumps Snopes

Ben Witherington is not sure whom to believe.  His mother sent him a note from an individual who just learned from Wikepedia that Snopes.com is a mom and pop operation, not some vast news bureau or research institution.  And the writer learned that liberals try to discredit conservatives.  Ben is not sure he is buying the Snopes conspiracy theory.

Thucydides was right, most of us are too lazy to do any real research and get to the truth of an issue.

Fossil Fuel is Dead

windfarm-shrunk.jpgSome of my best friends are unbelievers or skeptics. They point out that there are scientists who are unconvinced; they believe the jury is still out; or they say there is just not enough evidence. They don’t believe in global warming.

Well, some of my friends are now reluctantly admitting that it is warming up–they’ve seen pictures of the poor polar bears’ homes melting right underneath their feet. So now they say, “alright, it’s warming; but it’s not our fault; it’s just a normal cycle.”

My daughter convinced me over a year ago. She reviewed a review of 1000 scientific studies that say global warming is a fact, and we are responsible (click here to see her review).

I do understand that the science of climate study is incredibly complex. In fact that’s where the expression “the butterfly effect” comes from. It’s not that anyone literally believes that a butterfly flapping its wings could cause a tsunami; it’s just that the mathematical calculations are so complex that a tiny variation early in the equations could have tremendous ramifications later on.

So what is a non-scientist to do? I look at it two ways: first, I have a basic trust that, if there is no other hidden motive, we should probably trust the scientists. Or to put it another way, all I can do is trust the majority of scientists, after ruling out those who may have a vested interest.

That’s why (apart from a couple of experiments in junior high) I never took up smoking. For over thirty years the tobacco companies had their experts who said, “the jury is still out, there is no evidence to prove that smoking causes cancer.” I thought it best to rule out the scientists who worked for the tobacco companies and follow the findings of the majority of other scientists. I’m glad I did, because as my brother recently told me, “Most men our age who smoke are having breathing problems.”

The other way I look at it is in terms of Pascal’s wager. The global warming version of it is this: If those who are warning about global warning are right–and if we don’t listen, we are (to quote some of my old friends) in deep frijoles, up that well-known creek without a paddle, in a world of hurt.

But what if we do take action to forfend the danger that brother Al is warning us about, and it turns out he was wrong? In that case we will have done the following:

We will have eliminated our dependence on oil from unstable countries ruled by the world’s worst despots. We will have stopped funding terrorists. We will have developed new technologies and new industries. We will have revitalized our economy and improved our quality of life.

Maybe we will drive less and walk more. In that case we will improve our health. If we do these things, and it turns out that Al Gore’s Nobel prize was undeserved; that he was wrong, or hypocritical (living in a big house and driving an SUV), well we will still owe him a debt of gratitude.

Last week the health and environment department in my state ruled against two new big coal burning electrical plants. Some of the friends of big coal are hopping mad. They are setting their hopes on the dead industry of the past; not on the new opportunities of the future.

Three Tasks for Theology

When my brother-in-law was about five he used to love telling a knock-knock joke: Knock-knock. Who’s there? Amos. Amos who? Amos bit me!

Then he would roar with laughter. He thought it was hilarious. He didn’t realize he was leaving out an important syllable. The joke was supposed to be “Amos-quito bit me.”

I know plenty of folks who have the special talent “to mar a curious tale in telling it.” Many of us can sing a song out of tune and still somehow manage to get the words right.

Theology is reflection on the meaning and content of our faith, it is scrutiny into the adequacy of the way we articulate our faith. Sometimes we explain it poorly. That doesn’t mean our faith is defective; it’s just like singing a tune out of tune. There’s nothing wrong with the song, but our singing of it is not very appealing.

Theology is not only the business of professionals; all of us should examine the way we articulate our faith. Theology has three main tasks; the trick is keeping them in balance.

The first task is to communicate the meaning of our faith to those who do not yet share it. To do this effectively we first have to understand the people with whom we wish to communicate. That means we have to be good listeners before we speak.

Paul the apostle called it “becoming all things to all people.” Paul Tillich called it the method of correlation: trying to find the questions people are asking before we give our answers. Then we can try to express the good news in a way they can understand.

The temptation is to package or market the gospel in a way that gives away too much, that compromises something essential. It is the temptation of trying to appease rather than challenge.

The second task of theology is the ongoing work of reformation. Put bluntly this means recognizing that a lot of things we are doing are wrong and a lot of what we are saying is bunk. The followers of Christ are always like his first disciples, people of little faith, short-sighted, hard-headed, and slow to learn. The church is always in danger of corruption, and is always in need of renewal. So we have to continually go back to the sources and ask What are we missing? What are we getting wrong? What are we distorting.

The third task of theology is conservative. We didn’t invent the faith; we inherited it and are entrusted with the mission of passing it on whole and intact. In trying to be relevant or trying to correct the faults of others, we risk losing something essential in the historic faith.

Anne Rice described her hesitance to embrace Christianity after she began to lose faith in atheism. The way other Christians expressed their faith struck her ears as wrong and she wondered how she could associate with them. For example she said, “How could I join with fellow believers who thought my gay son was going to hell? . . . How could I affirm my belief in a faith that was itself so characterized by argument and strife?”

Her answer was, “Well, what happened to me on that Sunday that I returned to faith was this: I received a glimpse into what I can only call the Infinite Mercy of God.”

Mother Teresa’s Doubts

Mother Teresa’s letters, which are to be published by Doubleday next month as Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light, reveal that she was tormented by doubt throughout her fifty years of ministry. The editor of the book believes that her doubts “maker her more human.” (For more, click here.)

Malcom Muggeridge came to faith in God by investigating Mother Teresa’s work with the poor in England. The only journalist mean-spirited enough to criticize her work has been Christopher Hitchens.

How do we account for doubt in the heart of one of the world’s great saints and servants?

In the Bible, of course, anyone on whose life God has a claim, i.e., all followers of Jesus are called saints; but let’s allow the use of the word in the popular sense: a saint is a hero of the faith. I will read the book when it comes out, but for now I will risk a few guesses.

1. Great people have great faults and great struggles.

Michaelangelo’s David was made from a piece of flawed marble. The sculptor used some of the cracks in the piece to form natural lines in the masterpiece. In the same way, as St. Paul says, “we have this treasure in earthen vessels.” Saints are damaged earthen vessels God uses carry the treasure of his love. (Lucy Fuchs has an interesting blog post on saints here.)

2. Cycles of doubt are part of the life of faith.

It is true of many of the heroes in the Bible. Job, famous for his patient acceptance of suffering, cursed the day of his birth. Jeremiah complained to God, “You deceived me.” Paul spoke of a time when “we despaired even of life.” St. John of the cross spoke of the dark night of the soul. Jesus on the cross prayed a prayer from the Psalms of David, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Most of us experience moderate, short-lived cycles of faith and doubt. Most of us experience a mixture of some faith and some doubt at the same time. Teresa had an extreme cycle: one year of visions and fifty years of doubt.

3. The nature of her ministry may have contributed to the depths of her doubting.

Mother Teresa lived with, identified with, and shared in the sorrows and sufferings of the poorest of the poor, the most wretched of the forsaken and dying. If one taught a prosperity Gospel in which God is on the side of the rich and powerful, in which wealth and health are signs of God’s blessing, such a Gospel could be self-fulfilling. People would pay to be confirmed in their complacency. It would be easy maintain faith in a Gospel of comfort, as long as one was comfortable.

But it’s a little harder to maintain confidence when one believes that God is on the side of the poor, the dying, the godforsaken. It is harder to maintain a joyful faith when one identifies with those who feel abandoned by God.

4. Faith is commitment more than it is positive thinking.

Teresa exhibited in her life what one philosopher called, “long obedience in the same direction.” Her refusal to give up when her faith had apparently left her is in itself a form of faith.