Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Teddy Bear Christianity

I asked a question of several Christians today. How can you prove that it is God that leads you, and not your own imagination? I have received no answers or comments.
It seems that most Christians derive their comfort from Christianity, and not God or Christ. Those Christians who say they derive their comfort and joy from God or Christ actually derive their comfort from their perceptions of Him. The Scriptures say that he who comes to God must believe in his existence and that he rewards those who seek Him. If you in fact are firmly convinced in this fashion, no amount of empirical evidence will sway you, for such evidence is merely appearance and not reality to you. God will answer in His time, and bless those that wait.
But given enough time, anything can and will happen. Possible outcomes increase exponentially with increased time, and upon this axiom rests the concept of biological evolution. What is the difference between ascribing the works of chance to God, and ascribing the works of God to chance? (Unless you are Calvinistic to the extreme, the question is valid.) Even more to the point, the argument against biological evolution by appeal to its general unobservability (outside of bacterial and viral adaptations) stands in high inconsistency with the argument for God's intervention despite the lack of evidence for it by appeal to "God's timing." If you want to see evolution now, I want to see God answer your prayer now.
The Scriptures tell us that faith is the substance of hope, and stands as evidence of what is not yet apparent. The requirement of faith in God negates any argument for the existence of God, because true faith would keep on believing even if no God existed. The requirement of faith itself is an indicator that no empirical or logical proof for God exists; His existence is a mere possibility. Otherwise, of what value is faith?
A god could choose to hide himself from man's perception in any explicit manner, forcing man to tentatively infer his existence if they choose to recognize him. That god would be no more tenable than a non-existent god.
The biblical writers resorted to the argument from design as a primary basis to prove God's existence, but as Bonhoeffer put it, we live in a "world come of age." Regardless of your position, viewed neutrally, evolution is as much a possibility as creation. Even if the brightest theologians agreed together tomorrow that evolution and the Bible were compatible, and laid out a solid framework for interpreting Scripture in such a manner, it does not demand that God's existence be recognized. Placing God's creation within an evolutionary framework is entirely different than making evolution dependant on God. Such a synthesis would serve only as a plausible explanation for the faithful--its utter inability to make the universe dependant on God's existence ultimately makes it a fatal capitulation.
If the people of God experienced God it might not make any difference. But the requirement of faith makes the experience of God one of interpretation. God is who we believe Him to be, because each of us believes we have the truth. Why then would our experience of God not be consistent with truth? If we are uncertain about the truth, then we are uncertain about God, and we are faulty in our experience of Him.
In our desire to experience Him, we strive for certainty. Those like me who give up certainty, have no ground upon which to experience Him. Certainty as a solution is confounded by the fact that those with the most certainty most certainly disagree.
But all of this misses the point when you consider these deliberations as reflections of a top-down Christian religiosity. The more compelling arguments for religion come from those who began with a spiritual experience and continued from there. Indeed, this epiphanaic spiritual experience is the bread and butter of any true religiosity. This bottom-up religiosity remains subjective but finds its basis in experience, albeit personal experience. Increasingly, however, Christian communities form around shared beliefs rather than shared experience. What is one to make of this except that God remains a product of interpretation and not experience?
So we see how Christianity is not driven by the experience of God but by sectarian conceptions of Him. Even those who have the most profound experiences ultimately submit themselves to this sectarianism. And we return to my original point, that Christians are not so much comforted by God as by how they perceive God. They believe God must feel and act toward them in a certain manner and that is a comfort. This is much like my two-year-old deriving comfort from his teddy bear, which is an inanimate object, or an older primary-age child spending time with an imaginary friend. It is a Teddy Bear Christianity.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Important Tools for Online Learning

I have been taking classes online for about 1 1/2 years now at American Public University, and there are a few things you should definitely purchase and/or have on hand to help you be successful.

1) Access to a notebook and one additional computer, both with Microsoft Office 2007 or newer.
I typically use my notebook, but when that went out, I used my desktop. Now my desktop needs repair, but I have my notebook. Online classes don't stop for computer problems. Also, don't try to get by without Microsoft Office. Some classes will have requirements that pretty much force you to use Office. Having at least one of your computers be a notebook gives you a tremendous amount of flexibility in studying and completing assignments.

2) MLA/APA/Chicago templates for Microsoft Word
I got mine from www.referencepointsoftware.net . These will be an invaluable life saver.

3) A current style guide.
You are likely to have to purchase one as part of an English class, but if not, get one. This will tell you all the rules about how your papers should be formatted. You will want to refer to it anytime you are not sure what to do or what things should look like. I use the one by Diana Hacker.

4) Subscription to Easybib.com
This tool will make it snap to generate reference lists for your papers and other assignments in whichever format you need. Most of the time, entering a web address or ISBN is sufficient to generate a properly formatted reference. It will tell you what information is needed. Also, it has a feature that will generate proper citations. Invaluable!

5) Subscription to the Encyclopedia Britannica online
This one is a little pricey at $69/yr, but it is a real help given the fact that most professors dislike or outright ban Wikipedia references. Use Encyclopedia Britannica online instead and you can present it as a reputable source. Very easy to lookup almost anything, and each article provides relevant outside web sites to also check out.

6) A printer
Before submitting that paper online, print it out. You really need to make sure it looks good printed, and there is nothing to compare with reading your printed out assignment for finding mistakes and errors.

7) Dropbox
You will likely be using multiple computers for your studying. Keep your college files and assignments automatically synched across all your devices with dropbox.com. Another tool you can't go without.

8) Have more than one browser loaded on your computer
It is often easier or advisable to have your virtual classroom loaded in one browser while using another for research. If a rogue website takes down your browser you don't want to lose work if you are typing directly into the classroom.

9) PDFSam ( www.pdfsam.org )
Download your PDF-based e-textbook chapters and combine them with PDFSam. You will have a whole-book PDF that is great for searching. Go a step further and do a select-all in your whole book PDF and paste into Notepad, then save as a text file for super-fast searching of the entire textbook.

10) The local library
Explore your local library's inter-library lending programs. Often they will have agreements with local universities that make their entire collections available for you to borrow. Never underestimate the advantage of real-life books in online learning. Even if your online course doesn't require a lot of research, grabbing related books from the library puts additional information and perspectives at your fingertips. Additionally, most libraries have free wifi, making it a great backup connection in case your internet goes out. Just take your notebook to the library!