Friday, September 14, 2007

Where does your faith LIE?

At Greenbelt Festival this year, Ikon's theo-drama, entitled 'The God Delusion,' (conveniently) posed one of the central research questions of my PhD thesis:
'Before we ask "Is Christianity true?" we must ask "What does it mean to claim that it is true?"'

This performance resonated with so many of my own questions (both personal and academic, though the two can never be anything other than intertwined) that it's hard to know where to start. But Jon's "Where does your faith LIE?" got me thinking about an interrelated question which I don't think I've explored nearly enough yet. Here's the text:

Where does your faith lie?
Does your faith lie in the belief that the universe was created in six 24-hour days?
Does your faith lie in there being an ark on Mount Ararat?
Does your faith lie in the account that God once made a donkey talk?
Does your faith lie in the belief that miracles don’t happen?
Does your faith lie in God once wiping out a city of thousands because it had homosexuals living in it?
Does your faith lie in the belief that everything the Bible says about ancient Israel is directly applicable to the modern state of Israel?
Does your faith lie in the belief that you will beat the odds and your smoking will not lead to a long and very painful death due to emphysema?
Does your faith lie in the research of the Royal College of Physicians or in the research funded by the tobacco industry?
Does your faith lie in the notion that the next politician you vote for will not support the next war?
Does your faith lie in Jesus having brothers and sisters?
Does your faith lie in the hope that heaven is full of people like you?
Does your faith lie in the free market?
Does your faith lie in the postcards that Christian Aid has you sent to the Prime Minister?
Does your faith lie in making poverty history?
Does your faith lie in the next president of the United States?
Does your faith lie in the United Nations?
Does your faith lie in scientific rationalism?
Does your faith lie in Northern Ireland remaining part of the UK?
Does your faith lie in the belief that there must be a good reason for why your government is detaining people indefinitely without trial?
Does your faith lie in your own ability to discern the mind of God?
Does your faith lie in the physical resurrection of Jesus?
Does your faith lie in the belief that civilian deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan are unavoidable?
Does your faith lie in the hope that a nineteen year-old Iraqi man whose sister and mother were killed by an errant allied cruise missile will not hold you responsible because you once carried a sign that read ‘Not in My Name’?
Does your faith lie in the belief that God does not punish sin?
Does your faith lie in the belief that there was nothing more that you could have done?
Does your faith lie in your tradition being closer to the truth than another?
Does your faith lie in the virgin birth?
Does your faith lie in a balanced diet and exercising?
Does your faith lie in your own body image?
Does your faith lie in the belief that anyone who shoots back is a terrorist?
Does your faith lie in maintenance of the status quo?
Does your faith lie in he (or she) eventually coming to their senses and taking you back?
Does your faith lie in a hell beyond this life for those who didn’t accept Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and saviour?
Does your faith lie in an endless supply of cheap energy?
Does your faith lie in the Stormont Assembly?
Does your faith lie in the words ‘peacemaker’ and ‘peace supporter’ being synonymous?
Does your faith lie in the belief that ‘follower of Jesus’ and ‘member of a church’ being synonymous?
Does your faith lie in your job?
Does your faith lie in financial savings?
Does your faith lie in the belief that sectarianism has nothing to do with you?
Does your faith lie in liberalism?
Does your faith lie in your own good intentions?
Does your faith lie in the belief that the investment and development coming into Belfast City Centre is significantly improving the lives of those living in the estates in Shankill, Ballymurphy, New Lodge, Ballysillan, Glencairn, Dundonald, Ballymacarrat, the Village, Finaghy, and the Markets?
Does your faith lie in Loving God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind and loving your neighbor as yourself?
Does your faith lie in God loving the world so much that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him will not die, but have eternal life?
Where does you faith… Where does your faith… lie?
(Written and performed by Jon Hatch)

I know in the conversations I've had we've been concentrating on the nature of 'truth,' and Jon's performance started me thinking about the nature of 'untruth.' So I wondered what you thought?

If 'truth' is a correspondence between language and reality (i.e. 'God exists' is true because the statement accurately refers to an external reality that would still be true even if we didn't believe it), what is 'untruth'? Is it a lack of full correspondence between language and reality? In this sense, is all human language a lie?

If 'truth' is what we decide it is (i.e. 'God exists' is true because as part of a Christian community we have agreed to use this language, and this language determines or constructs the reality of our world), what is 'untruth'? Is 'untruth' the 'truth's of other communities, their languages, their worldviews, their realities?

If 'truth' cannot be determined with regards to its correspondence to or construction of reality, and can only be understood in terms of it's transformative effect, what is 'untruth'? Is 'untruth' a transformative effect which we termed 'bad'? Or is 'untruth' that which has no effect at all?

I'm reminded of a parable from Pete's How (Not) To Speak of God: A person, hiding Jews in their house from the Nazis, is asked whether there are Jews hiding in the house. The person says, "no." Are they lying or are they telling the truth?

And at last year's Greenbelt, Ikon handed out pieces of rice paper with the words 'I beLIEve' written on them, and we gave them to someone sitting near us with the thought that, if our beliefs don't nourish others then are they lies rather than truths?

(photo of Jon by Moyra Blayney, available from Ikon website).

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The Experiment Launches

Way, way back in April, I blogged about the possibility of open sourcing the research process. I have been privileged to so far interview and/or survey about 40 people around the UK, and will have the chance to reflect on those conversations and attempt a thesis. I would love this blog to be a space where those taking part in the research (and any other interested online others) can also discuss and explore these issues. This experiment may not work (technologically and/or methodologically) but I’m game to try it.

I’m aware of other PhD students working on “emerging church” research who keep their own blogs (Im a particular fan of Paul Teusner’s research on Australian “ec” blogs) but I’d like this to be more than a place where I post “updates” on what I’m doing for you guys to read and that’s it.

Hopefully this participatory methodology for the blogosphere will encourage everyone (myself included) to “outgrow” the research-based roles with which we entered our relationship together. Some of you may want the relationship to end when I send you a transcript of the interview, and that is fine too. Others may be interested in taking things further.

Whereas in the interviews some topics could not be developed as perhaps we might have wished (given that I have specific research questions to explore), those topics might be able to flourish here. This blog does not have a specific purpose, beyond being a place where we can converse further. I might have a particular point to make in a particular post, but I won’t push an agenda of answering research questions to the exclusion of the other places you might wish to take our conversation.

Of course, I’m not kidding myself that this is going to become the next hot spot of interactivity in the blogosphere, either. But maybe a little conversation will take place here, and that’d be great.

Voices of the Virtual World PAPERBACK

The paperback version of Voices of the Virtual World (available as a download from here) was released yesterday. The volume costs £10.99 and can be ordered from here. As before, proceeds go to the Not For Sale Campaign.

Part of a new press release reads:

"Wikiklesia values sustainability with minimal structure. We long to see a church saturated with decentralized cooperation. The improbable notion of books that effectively publish themselves is one of many ways that can help move us closer to this."

Saturday, September 08, 2007

The Theology of Trash

Paul Walker is an Anglican minister from Bradford. In his own words, he's struggling to 'emerge from an inherited model Anglican priest to being a missionary in my 21st Century, late-modernity-going-into-postmodernity context.' He's currently studying for an MA in Emerging Church at Cliff College and his dissertation explores the missional implications of Web 2.0 technologies. I'm particularly keen to hear his thoughts on what models of Christian community might emerge from Internet cultures.

On his blog, Out of the Cocoon, Paul has been reviewing Voices of the Virtual World chapter by chapter, one a day, and yesterday he got to me. He writes,

"...although it is obvious that many blogs fall into disuse, there are some amazing 'theological spaces' on the Web. Ideas can be set forth, comments can be made, and ideas can be refined and honed - all in a friendly and generally encouraging climate of co-operation and mutual support. In effect, it has ripped theology from out of 'the ivory tower', where it was the preserve of the learned and the erudite, into the hands of anyone who wants to 'have a go'. Some may sniff at this deluge of material - some of which might well be thought ill-considered, even 'trashy' - but the reality is that this is now a feature of the wired world that we live in and the culture we inhabit - and the academics and 'ivory tower' theologians are simply going to have to take cognisance of it."

Reflection upon any aspect of our existence, whether it's football, tv and film, or fashion, is theology. Sure, these things aren't understood as within the conventional boundaries of theology as they might have been understood by systematic theologians, but these things are the stuff of life. And if life somehow participates in the being of God, all talk about life is God-talk, theology.

My thoughts are that life itself is pretty 'trashy' (at least, mine is) and theology needs to emerge from the midst of life. I'd be happy if this resulted in a theology of trash. After all, one person's trash is another person's treasure. Maybe even God's treasure!

The rest of Paul's post can be found here.