Tuesday, October 19, 2010
Monday, October 18, 2010
Maybe the first decade of the 21st century will come to be known as the great age of headroom. During those years, new houses had great rooms with 20-foot ceilings and entire new art forms had to be invented to fill the acres of empty overhead wall space.
People bought bulbous vehicles like Hummers and Suburbans. The rule was, The Smaller the Woman, the Bigger the Car — so you would see a 90-pound lady in tennis whites driving a 4-ton truck with enough headroom to allow her to drive with her doubles partner perched atop her shoulders.
When future archeologists dig up the remains of that epoch, they will likely conclude that sometime around 1996, the U.S. was afflicted by a plague of claustrophobia and drove itself bankrupt in search of relief.
But that economy went poof, and social norms have since changed. The oversized now looks slightly ridiculous. Values have changed as well.
In the coming years of slow growth, people are bound to establish new norms and seek noneconomic ways to find meaning. One of the interesting figures in this recalibration effort is David Platt.
Platt earned two master’s degrees and a doctorate from the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. At age 26, he was hired to lead a 4,300-person suburban church in Birmingham, Ala., and became known as the youngest megachurch leader in America.
Platt grew uneasy with the role he had fallen into and wrote about it in a recent book called “Radical: Taking Back Your Faith From the American Dream.” It encapsulates many of the themes that have been floating around 20-something evangelical circles the past several years.
Platt’s first target is the megachurch itself. Americans have built themselves multimillion-dollar worship palaces, he argues. These have become like corporations, competing for market share by offering social centers, child-care programs, first-class entertainment and comfortable, consumer Christianity.
Jesus, Platt notes, made it hard on his followers. He created a minichurch, not a mega one. Today, however, building budgets dwarf charitable budgets, and Jesus is portrayed as a genial suburban dude. “When we gather in our church building to sing and lift up our hands in worship, we may not actually be worshipping the Jesus of the Bible. Instead, we may be worshipping ourselves.”
Next, Platt takes aim at the American dream. When Europeans first settled this continent, they saw the natural abundance and came to two conclusions: that God’s plan for humanity could be realized here, and that they could get really rich while helping Him do it. This perception evolved into the notion that we have two interdependent callings: to build in this world and prepare for the next.
The tension between good and plenty, God and mammon, became the central tension in American life, propelling ferocious energies and explaining why the U.S. is at once so religious and so materialist. Americans are moral materialists, spiritualists working on matter.
Platt is in the tradition of those who don’t believe these two spheres can be reconciled. The material world is too soul-destroying. “The American dream radically differs from the call of Jesus and the essence of the Gospel,” he argues. The American dream emphasizes self-development and personal growth. Our own abilities are our greatest assets.
But the Gospel rejects the focus on self: “God actually delights in exalting our inability.” The American dream emphasizes upward mobility, but “success in the kingdom of God involves moving down, not up.”
Platt calls on readers to cap their lifestyle. Live as if you made $50,000 a year, he suggests, and give everything else away. Take a year to surrender yourself. Move to Africa or some poverty-stricken part of the world. Evangelize.
Platt’s arguments are old, but they emerge at a postexcess moment, when attitudes toward material life are up for grabs. His book has struck a chord. His renunciation tome is selling like hotcakes. Reviews are warm. Leaders at places like the Southern Baptist Convention are calling on citizens to surrender the American dream.
I doubt that we’re about to see a surge of iPod shakers. Americans will not renounce the moral materialism at the core of their national identity. But the country is clearly redefining what sort of lifestyle is socially and morally acceptable and what is not. People like Platt are central to that process.
The United States once had a Gospel of Wealth: a code of restraint shaped by everybody from Jonathan Edwards to Benjamin Franklin to Andrew Carnegie. The code was designed to help the nation cope with its own affluence. It eroded, and over the next few years, it will be redefined.
Find article here: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/07/opinion/07brooks.html?_r=1&partner=rssnyt&emc=rss
Monday, October 11, 2010
Why is it so difficult for Scientists to believe in a higher power?
Francis Collins: Science is about trying to get rigorous answers to questions about how nature works. And it’s a very important process that’s actually quite reliable if carried out correctly with generation of hypotheses and testing of those by accumulation of data and then drawing conclusions that are continually revisited to be sure they are right. So if you want to answer questions about how nature works, how biology works, for instance, science is the way to get there. Scientists are very troubled by a suggestion that other kinds of approaches can be taken to derive truth about nature. And some I think have seen faith as therefore a threat to the scientific method and therefore it to be resisted.
But faith in its perspective is really asking a different set of questions. And that’s why I don’t think there needs to be a conflict here. The kinds of questions that faith can help one address are more in the philosophical realm. Why are we all here? Why is there something instead of nothing? Is there a God? Isn’t it clear that those aren't scientific questions and that science doesn’t have much to say about them? But you either have to say, well those are inappropriate questions and we can’t discuss them or you have to say, we need something besides science to pursue some of the things that humans are curious about. For me, that makes perfect sense. But I think for many scientists, particularly for those who have seen the shrill pronouncements from extreme views that threaten what they’re doing scientifically and feel therefore they can’t really include those thoughts into their own worldview, faith can be seen as an enemy.
And similarly, on the other side, some of my scientific colleagues who are of an atheist persuasion are sometimes using science as a club over the head of believers basically suggesting that anything that can’t be reduced to a scientific question isn’t important and just represents superstition that should be gotten rid of.
Part of the problem is, I think the extremists have occupied the stage. Those voices are the ones we hear. I think most people are actually kind of comfortable with the idea that science is a reliable way to learn about nature, but it’s not the whole story and there’s a place also for religion, for faith, for theology, for philosophy. But that harmony perspective does not get as much attention, nobody’s as interested in harmony as they are in conflict, I’m afraid.
How has your study of genetics influenced your faith?
Francis Collins: My study of genetics certainly tells me, incontrovertibly that Darwin was right about the nature of how living things have arrived on the scene, by descent from a common ancestor under the influence of natural selection over very long periods of time. Darwin was amazingly insightful given how limited the molecular information he had was; essentially it didn’t exist. And now with the digital code of the DNA, we have the best possible proof of Darwin’s theory that he could have imagined.
So that certainly tells me something about the nature of living things. But it actually adds to my sense that this is an answer to a "how?" question and it leaves the "why?" question still hanging in the air.
Other aspects of our universe I think also for me as for Einstein raised questions about the possibility of intelligence behind all of this. Why is it that, for instance, that the constance that determines the behavior of matter and energy, like the gravitational constant, for instance, have precisely the value that they have to in order for there to be any complexity at all in the Universe. That is fairly breathtaking in its lack of probability of ever having happened. And it does make you think that a mind might have been involved in setting the stage. At the same time that does not imply necessarily that that mind is controlling the specific manipulations of things that are going on in the natural world. In fact, I would very much resist that idea. I think the laws of nature potentially could be the product of a mind. I think that’s a defensible perspective. But once those laws are in place, then I think nature goes on and science has the chance to be able to perceive how that works and what its consequences are.
Francis Sellers Collins MD, PhD, is an American Physician-Geneticist, noted for his landmark discoveries of disease genes and his leadership of the Human Genome Project (HGP) and described by the Endocrine Society as "one of the most accomplished scientists of our time". He currently serves as Director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland. Collins has written a book about his Christian faith. He founded and was president of the BioLogos Foundation before accepting the nomination to lead the NIH.