Tag Archives: theology

New Things

As some of you may have seen on Facebook, I’ve been trying to figure out for a little while what to do with this blog. I haven’t been keeping up very well with posting, and part of the reason for that is that I didn’t want to be investing in a blog that ultimately I was going to reinvent (I should save new posts for the new blog instead, right?). I also wanted to have some sort of complete thought worth sharing before posting.

One of my ideas was to become more active (er, active at all…) on Walking Towards Jerusalem, a blog my husband Jeremiah started last year. He intended this to be a “biblioblog”—a blog focused on biblical studies—and told me I could join. I initially was enthusiastic because there aren’t many female bibliobloggers, but my interest has waned. It’s not that I don’t like blogging about the Bible—I just don’t like to feel constrained. He said I could blog about other things, as well, but I have never known if that blog was a good fit.

I also have considered helping this blog become more focused in order to attract a real audience. Ever since I stopped posting (i.e., when I started dating Jeremiah last March), my visits have virtually disappeared. I used to have a fairly active, though small, readership, but when you’re inconsistent for a while, even that small readership tends to fade. I thought that maybe if I came up with one thing to talk about, I could “market” this blog and make it “cool.” However, this is much easier said than done. Most of the time, I’ve felt void of ideas and like I was trying too hard.

In the end, I think I’ve decided two things. First, I’m working on an experimental blog, which is not yet up and running, aimed at smart teenagers who want to learn more about theology, etc. I have no idea if it will catch on, but this is my attempt to write about something that interests me that I feel the Internet actually needs. Hopefully there will be at least five high schoolers that agree that it is needed and will visit my little corner of the web. I’m interested in seeing what middle and high schoolers, as well as young college students, are interested in discussing from a more intellectual/academic perspective (or a more holistic perspective that at least begins to look at this angle of Christianity) and what needs might not be met by youth groups. Obviously, it’s only a sliver of the general population that really wants to learn more about theology, but I know I had various curiosities and interests in high school and am sure there are others like me out there. I don’t know many places offering the opportunity for teens to get an introduction to anything I’ve learned about in seminary (except for an interesting program at Duke Divinity School), so I’m interested just to see if there is a felt need for something like this—I hope to learn a lot in the process. If it is a total flop, the worst thing that has happened is I lost $15 on a domain name.

The second decision I’ve made is to try to stress a bit less about making this blog interesting or cool. I’m not going to try harder to think of a topical focus or to recruit an audience. I think that really, I may be better off acknowledging that many of my friends live far away and would be more interested in seeing what I’m doing and thinking about than my poor attempts at polished pieces of writing. (Not that many of my past posts have been particularly polished…)

I have tried to avoid a “personal blog,” because it feels too much like a twelve-year-old’s online diary, but the fact is, I don’t write for beliefnet or some other place that’s going to get me lots of traffic and turn me into a respectable guru on one of my passions. Instead, I’m just Ashleigh, a grad student who is thinking about various things and enjoying my life. Hopefully photo posts, incomplete thoughts, and similar goodies will be just as exciting to my five readers—maybe I can even entice my best friend to start reading again. ;o)

5 Comments

Filed under Announcements

When a feminist dies…

When a feminist dies, I don’t advise calling on the president of a Southern Baptist seminary to write the report.

Unfortunately, that’s exactly what Crosswalk.com did this past week after the death of “post-Christian” lesbian feminist Mary Daly, who taught theology at Boston College (until we was ousted for barring men from her higher-level courses of feminist thought…).

Albert Mohler, who frequently writes on current events and culture for the conservative Christian website and is President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, was called upon to reflect on Daly’s death. Mohler makes certain to point out radical Daly’s ironic prejudice towards transsexuals and pokes fun at her belief that women were, in some sense, victims of “gynocide” at the hands of Christianity. While he called her story “tragic,” it is triumphalism, rather than lament that seems to characterize his piece.

After reading Mohler’s article, I had two wishes:

First, that Christians would be sensitive to the personal connections of various authors and in the future, and perhaps choose an author who might not have the same prominence in a very anti-feminist denomination for a piece on the death of a feminist. I’m not saying, necessarily, that the author couldn’t be a complementarian when it comes to women in ministry, but I’ve met a lot of very gracious complementarians that would be much better suited to write such a piece than a member of the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood’s governing body. Mohler was also instrumental in the addition of a statement about women’s submission to the 2000 version of the “non-creedal” creed of the Southern Baptists, the Baptist Faith and Message. I mean, according to wikipedia and from what I’ve heard, this guy is critical of anyone who chooses not to have kids, critical of birth control, opposed to all alcohol use… I don’t know why a more moderate complementarian could not be found who wouldn’t carry the same baggage into the conversation by mere virtue of his name and fame.

Secondly, I wish that we would truly lament Daly’s death in a manner befitting Christians. It just seemed unnecessary to harp on Daly for her views toward transsexuals–perhaps I read it wrong, but it seemed to be a, “Ha, you hypocrite radicals, you!” I also found it insensitive to scoff at her death from “declining health” versus “gynocide.” Just because she had an extreme view, doesn’t make her an idiot, and even if she were an idiot, what does that matter? There is no response we should have to this but sorrow: sorrow that sexism has tainted the church since its birth, sorrow that sexism continues to be inadequately addressed by Christians, sorrow that individuals feel they must choose between Christianity and feminism, sorrow that anyone would feel the Christian God was “phallocentric” or otherwise unconcerned with the lives of women.

Besides our sorrow over the state of things and over the story of this one woman, we also must be sensitive in how we write about such matters, that we not take lightly the death of someone who was others’ daughter, sister, lover, and friend. Additionally, as Daly began as a Christian, she likely knew Christians that cared for her deeply and were hurt profoundly by her apostasy. Regardless of what we make of her views, we must recognize the frustration and pain she apparently felt as a woman and the frustration and pain others felt on her behalf when she went down this path. Let us not let another’s bitterness towards Christianity lead to our own callousness at her death.

2 Comments

Filed under Gender, Social Justice, Theology & Ministry

Theological Imprecision = Sociological Imprecision

I’m reading a fabulous book by Christian Smith on the religion of emerging adults called Souls in Transition, and I’m really enjoying learning not only how younger emerging adults (18-23) believe today but also how their beliefs have changed since they were teenagers.  (He wrote a book on surveys from the same group a few years ago called Soul Searching.)  As I’m reading, however, I’ve had a few significant questions come up with regards to the way their questions are being asked and interpreted.

First, many of those who identified as nonreligious as teenagers now say they see religion as more important to their life and that they’re attending religious services more.  I’m curious how many of them are thinking of “religion” as actual religion in such questions vs. their non-religious views.  For example, some might have gotten involved in a group for atheists and agnostics at college and might see their identity as someone who isn’t religious as more important than it used to be.  (I know there was such a group at UNC, and I know people who were involved in it.)  Should we then have some way to filter the non-religious doing truly religious things from the non-religious whose non-religion has become more important in their lives?

Secondly, the questions about both Jesus and heaven seem very imprecise in their wording.  I realize most young adults aren’t theologians and that overly theological language could be confusion; however, I’m not sure if the questions, how they are asked, paint an accurate picture of emerging adults’ beliefs.

For example, they are asked if Jesus was “the son of God who was raised from the dead,” “an imporant human teacher but not the son of God,” or nonexistent to begin with.  Those who said Jesus was the son of God are then assumed to believe Jesus was divine.  This is a non sequitur, as many who would called Jesus God’s son would not necessarily say he himself was divine—the Arians of the 4th century, for example.

Similarly, when asked if they believe in heaven and who gets there, it feels assumed that Christians either are more conservative and believe in heaven or are more liberal and they don’t.  There are no questions, however, about the resurrection of the dead or the recreation of all things.  I think it’s probably a small number of emerging adults that would try to distinguish these sorts of beliefs from a belief in heaven, but I do feel the numbers are growing.  I definitely knew many in college who, thanks to InterVarsity staff, began to see a somewhat different picture of life after death.  To assume the options are “all people go to heaven,” “only good people go to heaven,” “only people whose sins are forgiven though faith in Jesus Christ go to heaven” or “there is no heaven,” are the only options is like asking Christians about the end times and only giving the option of a pre-tribulation, mid-trib, or post-trib rapture—when in reality many are postmillenialists, many are amillenialists, etc.  I would probably answer such a question “there is no heaven,” because that’s not the way I explain my beliefs, but if I were interviewed, Christian Smith would have realized that he was probably making some assumptions about me he shouldn’t have.

All this to say, it seems to me that while these questions tell us a lot, if sociological questions are not asked with any theological sensitivity to the actual beliefs out there, we can make some wrong conclusions.  Of course, I’m not a sociologist yet, and I don’t know if it might be important to not offer over-nuanced options as to not confuse respondents or encourage some sort of social desirability effect (if certain theological beliefs are thought be better in some way than others).  So perhaps there is a reason why questions we asked like this.  At the same time, I stand by my original perception that these questions are not precise enough to give us excellent data rather than good-ish data.

Maybe Christian Smith or some other clever person can come set us straight?

2 Comments

Filed under Scholars & Books, Sociology, Sociology of Religion, Uncategorized

Why Politics Aren’t Evil

Recently I’ve come across two interesting statements on friends’ blogs:

(1) “humans were created to rule the world on God’s behalf” (Daniel Kirk, in summarizing an article by Richard Middleton)

(2) “Cultural/creative power is the ability to successfully propose a new cultural good. But privilege is the accumulated benefits of past successful exercises of power… Jesus retains power but does not exploit privilege.” (Al Hsu, summarizing a talk by Andy Crouch, author of the fabulous 2008 book, Culture Making)

When I read Kirk’s blog today and saw that statement (which is nothing new/revolutionary to me), I was hit by the way it connected to what Hsu had posted, and the way both were connected with one of the big questions we debated in my Mission in American Culture class last quarter, which focused on politics in America.

Many students were afraid of politics, eager to separate themselves from the corruption, the bad decisions, even the power itself.  (See some of our blog entries on evangelicalism and politics.)  However, as a political science major in college, I didn’t feel able to turn by back on the political process.  I’m not saying it’s all good.  But I also don’t think the concepts of parties, PACs, organized interests, grassroots protests, executives, judiciaries, and legislatures are inherently bad.  I think they’re cool cultural innovations we’ve created to try to manage our societies.  And that can’t be completely awful, right?  Government is just sort of… necessary.

What these statements do, though, I think, is make an even more positive case for politics.  Politics is about the distribution of power.  We were created for power, for rulership.  And as such, we can’t ever get away from politics.  If these two statements are true, politics is woven into our very beings.  The question is not should we participate in politics but how can politics serve to rule the world for God–and by that I’m not meaning how can politics legislate morality or force devotion but rather how politics (and every other human endeavor) can be used to honor the human potential in all of us (including the ability to make our own decisions about things like religion).

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Jews write goods stories

Monday I begin my class on the Torah, and the professor is keeping up her can’t-half-ass-my-class reputation by assigning reading (65 pages or so?) for the first day.  I’m not thrilled about the workload, but I not-so-secretly am delighting in diving into my books.

One of the three chapters I’m reading is about Chapters 1-11 of Genesis, and I’ve paused on page 117 (of Boadt’s Reading the Old Testament) to share with you a compelling comparison of Genesis 1 to the Babylonian creation myth (circa 1700 B.C.) Enuma Elish.

Enuma Elisa tells the story of Apsu (male) and Tiamat (female), the gods of fresh and salt water.  They have water-god sex (whatever that entails) and give birth to all the other gods, but subsequently decide to kill all of their children.  One of the new gods, Eu, finds out about the plot and kills Apsu, causing Tiamat to declare war against the other gods.  At that point, Marduk, a warrior god, is declared king of the gods as he kills his mother Tiamat, making the heavens and earth out of two halves of her body.  Finally, humanity is created at Marduk’s command by Eu (from another god they killed, no less), humans apparently thought to be “savage” and “charged with the service of the gods that they might be at ease!”  Then Marduk celebrates his kingship with a banquet.  Huzzah!  (Story summarized from pg 116.)

Now the contrast (pg 117):

While the Priestly authors [of Genesis 1] obviously knew the Babylonian story, or one similar, and used its outline, they did not accept its theology.  P makes no mention of a battle between Yahweh and the forces of chaos represented by the water: nor does it say human beings are made up of the flesh of a god; nor does it claim that we have no purpose but to be slaves of the gods; nor is Yahweh portrayed as one among many competing, bickering and openly jealous divinities.  Rather, in direct opposition [author’s emphasis] to all that the Babylonians held about the origins of the universe, and in particular about the claims of their city god Marduk to be lord over all other gods, P solemnly affirmed the basic insights of Israel’s faith:

(1) there is one God, without sexual gender, alone from the start,

(2) who created from his goodness and wise plan a world of order,

(3) in which matter is good and not the result of whim or magic,

(4) but God’s word decrees what it is to be and establishes limits;

(5) he gave humans a place of honor, made in his own image

(6) they were to have responsibility over what was created,

(7) and share divine gifts of pro-creating life, sharing his sabbath rest and knowing God personally, [sic–don’t know why this ends in a comma]

One might ask many questions about this text:
* Is the JDPE theory accurate about its origins or was it written by Moses or something else?
* Does it identify the correct creator god?
* What caused the Jewish God to be so different from others of the Near East?  Do any ancient religious groups stand in contrast to the surrounding groups in a similar way?

Etc.

However, with or without these answers one thing is clear:

I don’t know anyone that would want to worship Marduk.  But a lot of people that would want to worship YHWH.

The Jewish story, apart from questions of its truth, is simply a much more compelling story.  First of all, I would much rather be a human in the Priestly account.  I like a gender-neutral God, I like being created out of love, I like being given power, responsibility, and privilege.  Secondly, the Babylonians created a god that, at least given my personality and cultural bias, I find quite unappealing.  Interesting, but unappealing.  Creation was the result of chaos and violence, and Marduk looks like a selfish pig.  The Jews, on the other hand, created a hero.

You may or may not buy the story and think this YHWH thing is for real, but you have to admit Jewish storytellers have a knack for getting at the core of our hopes and dreams for ourselves and our world.

Does this sound fun to teach to kids in Sunday School?

7 Comments

Filed under Hebrew Bible, Theology & Ministry