Pluck O’ The Irish

March 17, 2009

The things you learn from watching PBS:

In St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin, there is a stained-glass window paid for by Benjamin Guinness (yes, that Guinness).  Guinness actually funded a major reconstruction of the Cathedral, and I believe this window was part of that. The window offers an interesting bit of allegorical interpretation, or spiritual exegesis: “I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink”!  Indeed.

Monday this week was the Feast of John and Charles Wesley according to the Anglican liturgical calendar. Somehow we always miss this one in the Nazarene Church.

This is more or less a link post, but let me introduce it with just a few thoughts. Wesleyan theology, now more than ever perhaps, is crucial for the witness of the Church of the Nazarene within the broader Catholicity of the church and also within the broader culture. We have ceded too much ground to other movements and have become content to call ourselves evangelicals, emergents, protestants or any number of other things. This has led to a forgetfulness of Wesleyan theology (mostly under the smoke and mirrors of saying Wesley wasn’t a systematic thinker). But Wesley was a broad thinker and brought holiness thought to bear on many subjects and phenomena (economics, sacraments, scripture, eschatology, science, to name a few). If we as theologians in the Nazarene Church are to avoid on the one side the banality of generic evangelicalism and on the other side a complete disengagement with the laity of the church, then the Wesleys need to be our starting point, the fountain from which we think the holiness movement and it’s larger place within the Catholicity of the church’s witness.

Let this not be mistaken as a call for a firmer grip on our “identity” as Nazarenes whatever that might be. David Belcher over at Sanctifying Worship has illuminated how Christian pefection has become not only the central doctrine of the Nazarene church but also that by which we have begun to define our identity: “and thus the beginnings of a potential rift are already forming (since inevitably the necessity to form an identity for ourselves is motivated by some kind of claim, some kind of possession…and I think we all know how possession begets competition, and competition division).”

Rather, let this call back to a starting point in Wesleyan theology be a kind of letting go, letting our identity be de-handed, or given back out of the plenitude of the gift already given. For is this not how Wesley thinks the gift in his Plain Account of Christian Perfection? Read the rest of this entry »

This video was brought to my attention via Rusty’s Post.

Stephen Colbert would make the short list of people that I love. Of all the late night talkers he certainly has the most ability to converse intelligently with his guests, which makes for very interesting and entertaining television (and made the writer’s strike almost bearable). One of those recent guests was Dr. Philip Zimbardo, author of The Lucifer Effect (which inexplicably has black and red puzzle pieces all over the cover). I have not read this book, but based on how easily Mr. Colbert shredded his argument I can imagine it would be frustrating to get through.

Zimbardo explains that his task was to understand how good people became evil. Colbert asks if one can’t be good by following authority. Zimbardo then says that’s exactly what authority wants us to think, but there are a lot of corrupt and unjust authorities. And the best solution that he can come up with in light of this is “mindful and critical thinking,” i.e. a hermeneutics of suspicion.

But Colbert objects, “If they are unjust, they wouldn’t be authority.” With that one statement Stephen Colbert demonstrates that he has done his homework on Romans 13 and that Zimbardo’s argument is silly. Is every act of evil committed simply because someone didn’t question their social situation? How then do we measure a standard of good and a standard of evil? From what he says, it seems Zimbardo holds to a “Situation Ethics” without a measuring rod for each situation. This kind of thinking displaces guilt and responsibility from the person and hefts it upon society. It is not that the person has done a bad thing, it is just that they have not thought critically about the evils of the unjust authority before going along with it.

As Rusty points out, Zimbardo seems to hold to a dualism between good and evil, that these concepts are equal in stature and locked in an epic struggle for supremacy. Thus humans, according to this framework, can choose between either option. But Colbert objects to this when he argues that Good and evil started in the Garden of Eden. There was no “choosing” (Bonhoeffer states this well in Ethics) before original sin; to discern a good and evil already points to, in Bonhoeffer’s words, “a falling a way from [the human’s] origin in God.” In other words, in Colbert’s terminology, the devil critically assesses God’s authority and determines it to be unjust and this does not lead him to a choice between good and evil, but to a falling away from the origin of obedience to God’s authority which is the good. Evil is not another option opposed to the Good, evil is the absence or a falling away from the Good. Colbert understands this, Zimbardo does not–and so his argument gets even sillier.

Zimbardo goes on to say that if God were into reconciliation he would have admitted that Lucifer was right and God was wrong (presumably about free will and the ability to question authority) and he would not have created Hell to send the devil and all the evil people to. Colbert again rises to the theological challenge. He demonstrates that this Hell Zimbardo speaks of is not created by God, nor is it prior to the rise of evil but is in fact the human person’s removal of self from God’s love. Again, we have a sense of evil as not a thing, but as a deprivation, an absence or falling away from an origin. God doesn’t send us to hell, we place ourselves there by removing ourselves from God’s love, Colbert states intensely.

At this point, the only thing left for Zimbardo to do (as Colbert has just unraveled the argument of his nearly 600 page book) is to smugly say “Obviously, you learned well in Sunday school.” Normally this would render anything Colbert had said in the argument as irrelevant, but not this time. Colbert responds without a pause with the statement that comprises the title of this post.

This statement from Colbert demonstrates exactly the kind of “militant” Christianity that is needed in this post-modern, post-Christian world. Allow me to explain. Read the rest of this entry »