“Test All Things”

Intellectually, it seems the debate over the existence of a higher power remains mostly inconclusive. Sure, there may or may not be some sort of higher power, but it seems to be impossible to know or understand the ‘personality’ of such a being. Most religions, it seems to me, not only claim to know and/or understand the personality of a higher being, but use their beliefs to impose their will on others.

We must, as 1 Thessalonians 5:21 instructs us, “Test all things, and hold firmly that which is good.”

To be clear, I’m a complete supporter for freedom of religion. Religion can make people happier, encourage people to be charitable, provide a sense of meaning and community, and many other positive things. And I largely agree with the brilliant Thomas Jefferson, who wrote in his Notes on the State of Virginia, “It does me no injury for my neighbour to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.” But that’s not always the case.

Of course, ‘godless’ societies have committed their fair share of atrocities as well, so atheism might not be the answer either. To clarify, I’m not necessarily opposed to religion; I’m opposed to unjustified certainty. As C.S. Lewis noted in Mere Christianity, “If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end; if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth.”

Still, religion has historically been used to justify some of the worst actions of humanity (for example, the Bible was widely used to justify the institution of slavery). Even today in the relatively free United States, religious arguments are often used to deny equal rights for certain groups of people, and religion is often used to undermine education in our school system, especially regarding science.

Furthermore, history and common sense reveal to us that people can be ‘good without god.’ Religion protects itself from criticism by claiming the support of god and encouraging ‘faith,’ which inherently discourages learning. By glorifying faith, we glorify what we don’t know; by glorifying learning, on the other hand, we glorify discovering what we don’t know.

“The Great Agnostic” Bob Ingersoll, in an 1877 essay honoring Thomas Paine, wrote, “In all ages reason has been regarded as the enemy of religion.” After all, what is the fate of Socrates if not a display of religion’s tyranny over the mind? Corrupting the youth and impiety – the charges that have led to so much of humanity’s progress. Later in the previously mentioned essay, Ingersoll wrote, “The doubter, the investigator, the Infidel, have been the saviors of liberty.”

In his Rules for Radicals, activist Saul Alinsky noted the importance of irreverence and curiosity, which are complementary. He wrote, “To the questioner nothing is sacred. He detests dogma, defies any finite definition of morality, rebels against any repression of a free, open search for ideas no matter where they may lead … for his irreverence is rooted in a deep reverence for the enigma of life, and an incessant search for its meaning.”

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Comparing & Contrasting American Evangelical Attitudes Toward Nature

As Dr. White pointed out, “When one speaks in such sweeping terms, a note of caution is in order. Christianity is a complex faith, and its consequences differ in differing contexts” (White, 3). While I recognize the impossibility of addressing every Christian’s views in all their complexities, I will examine two contrasting Christian views of the environment. In this essay, I will describe how the ‘dominion’ viewpoint and the Christian Stewardship viewpoint – which are both rooted in Scripture – are radically different.

First off, I will examine how the dominion viewpoint developed in Christianity and how it contrasted with other religious’ views of the environment. The idea that humanity has dominion over all other species is taken from the Book of Genesis in the Bible. White explains, “Man named all the animals, thus establishing his dominance over them. God planned all of this explicitly for man’s benefit and rule: no item in the physical creation had any purpose save to serve man’s purposes. And, although man’s body is made of clay, he is not simply part of nature: he is made in God’s image” (White, 2). The view that mankind has dominion over all of God’s other creations is arguably the most dominant view of the environment among Christians today, especially (and, for this essay, most importantly) for Evangelical Christians. While the view does not seem radical today, White argues that this view contributed to the fact that “Christianity is the most anthropocentric religion the world has seen” (White, 2). The dominion viewpoint “not only established a dualism of man and nature but also insisted that it is God’s will that man exploit nature for his proper ends” (White, 2). Not only that, but “by destroying pagan animism, Christianity made it possible to exploit nature in a mood of indifference to the feelings of natural objects” (White, 2). Conservative Christians (which includes many, if not most, Evangelicals) often hold “other-worldly attitudes” and focus their minds on things like salvation and heavenly reward (Kearns, 353). Many disregard any consideration of the environment since they believe that God will eventually make a new world (Kearns, 353). While unique compared to other religions, the dominion view of the natural world became dominant in the Western world.

This dominion viewpoint became especially significant after the Industrial Revolution, when the dominant Christian view was used to justify exploiting the environment. In fact, modern science is deeply rooted in Christian theology. White explains, “From the 18th century onward, up to and including Leibnitz and Newton, every major scientist, in effect, explained his motivations in religious terms” (White, 3). White argues that even “despite Darwin, we are not, in our hearts, part of the natural process. We are superior to nature, contemptuous of it, willing to use it for our slightest whim” (White, 4). Because Evangelicals place such a significant emphasis on Scripture, many could be described as having an anti-science bias, which can make it difficult to discuss environmental issues with them (Kearns, 354). As Kearns also notes, “The strong linkage of conservative Christianity with capitalism and “the American way” makes it difficult to preach any message critical of economic practices” (Kearns, 360). This linkage is especially clear between the Reagan administration and the religious right in the 1980s, both of which were often criticized by environmental activists (Kearns, 353).

But the dominion viewpoint has become so common in American society that it even extends into secular society. For an example, a Jeep commercial shows Jeeps being driven through natural environments – overcoming and “conquering” nature in a safe metal box complete with air-conditioning and a radio. The commercial does not address the fact that the domination of nature by humanity (and their technology) largely contributes to the destruction of nature. So while the commercial does not include any religious imagery or terminology, the environment is still shown as something to be conquered, enjoyed and exploited by humanity and technology. Another commercial shows Al Sharpton and Pat Robertson, Christians who hold radically different political beliefs, advocating for the protection of the environment. But even while advocating protection of the environment, they display the dominion viewpoint; while they are shown sitting on a beach, they are filmed while wearing suits and sitting on a couch – imposing their human inventions into the natural environment of the beach.

While the dominion view has historically been the dominant view within Christianity, it has faced opposition. Long before our current ecological crisis, Saint Francis, according to White, “tried to depose man from his monarchy over creation and set up a democracy of all God’s creatures. With him the ant is no longer simply a homily for the lazy, flames a sign of the thrust of the soul toward union with God; now they are Brother Ant and Sister Fire, praising the Creator in their own ways as Brother Man does in his” (White, 5).

Somewhat similar to Francis’ ideas, the view of Christian Stewardship has gained popularity in recent years, partly in reaction to the ecological crisis arguably caused at least in part by the dominion viewpoint. For Christian Stewards, human sinfulness (like arrogance, ignorance and greed, all of which Scripture warns against) caused the ecological crisis, contrasting with Dr. White’s view that the ecological crisis should be blamed on Christianity (Kearns, 354). Perhaps surprisingly, like the dominion viewpoint, Christian stewardship is rooted in Scripture. Countering the dominion argument rooted in Genesis 1:27-28, the idea of Christian stewardship argues that the Bible (specifically Genesis 2:15) mandates that humans should take care of the earth (Kearns, 353). In other words, in order to honor the Creator, they have to honor the earth (the Creator’s Creation).

The rise of Christian environmentalism was largely in response to the rise of secular environmentalism; the Church was largely silent on environmental issues until the last few decades (Kearns, 358). While arguing that Christianity deserves much of the blame for our ecological crisis, Dr. White notes, “Since the roots of our trouble are so largely religious, the remedy must also be essentially religious, whether we call it that or not” (White, 5).

Interestingly, because Evangelicals put such emphasis on scripture, more and more people have accepted the Christian Stewardship view – despite directly contrasting the dominion viewpoint. After all, it is rooted in scripture and, in a way, scriptural basis for a belief is arguably more important than what the belief itself is (Kearns, 353, 356). Rather than Evangelicals having to change their entire belief system, Christian Stewardship “provides the minor retooling of a conservative religious worldview that enables some conservative Christians to respond to the ecological crisis” (Kearns, 360). Rather than citing scientific data to argue in support of conservation, Christian Stewards try to appeal to conservative Christians by arguing that “Noah was the first conservationist and Noah’s Ark presents a clear mandate for preserving species” (Kearns, 357, 361). As Wayne Frair puts it, “The answer lies not in rejection of one Biblical teaching but rather in acceptance of entire Biblical doctrine” (White, 7).

The various views of Evangelical Christians concerning the environment are evidence of how complex and diverse Evangelical Christianity is and can be. The dominion view, rooted in the Bible’s Book of Genesis, considers man to be the master of the natural world. This idea, White argues, is to blame for our ecological crisis. However, to hopefully address such problems, Christianity as a whole does not need to be abandoned. The environmental view of Christian Stewardship, also rooted in the Bible’s Book of Genesis, argues that Christians have a religious duty to protect the natural world. These two viewpoints show that evangelical Christians, even while essentially holding opposite views, agree on the importance of scripture.

How do evangelicals talk to, hear from, or talk about God?

Because the existence of God cannot be definitively proven, it requires faith.  Especially with the onslaught of scientific breakthroughs that have called into question some of the claims in the Bible, faith arguably requires more attention than it did in the past.  However, some surveys have found that up to 95 percent of Americans believe in some sort of a higher power, and even two-thirds of Americans think that angels and demons are active in the world. To strengthen one’s faith, as I will discuss in this essay, many people, especially evangelicals, talk to God, hear from God, and talk about God, (like many figures did in the Bible).

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Sexism in the Bible: Mark 7:24-30

Mark 7:24-30 text.

Although unknown, the author of the Gospel of Mark was almost undoubtedly a male, just like the rest of Biblical authors are assumed to be.  By using the feminist method of Biblical criticism, we can closely examine how the author, both explicitly and implicitly, views women.  Living in an extremely patriarchal society, the author clearly displays the sexism that was so common in the era, and so common throughout the Bible itself.  This negative view of women is especially exposed in the passage of Mark 7:24-30, in which Jesus interacts with a Syrophoenician Gentile woman.

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