79 thoughts on “Northfield’s faith community is a force for enormous good. Yes, even Rejoice!”

  1. Griff: your last line says: “… strengthen our social fabric and teach moral values. ”

    If you truly believe those values are being taught, why have you been all over Rejoice! for the Holy Cross Church situation, the devaluing of persons for their sexual identity, and other criticisms of aspects of their beliefs.

    I think you need to be more specific about what you do, and do not, agree with.
    For you to quote Katherine Kersten is really a disconnect!

    This looks like you trying to make amends by saying that you are ‘wrong’ across the board, not just about who organized the prayer walk at the high school.

    1. Kiffi, I’ve been extremely specific about my criticisms of Rejoice!, focusing on its local leadership. If this blog had a broader focus, I’d be critical of the leadership of the Catholic Church (Rome) on several issues. Likewise, all other religions.

      But religious institutions and their leaders aren’t the whole story of what a faith community is about. I just wanted to point out that the family/youth/community activities that Northfielders experience as members of a faith community are extremely important to the strength of Northfield’s overall social and moral fabric. The people/members of Rejoice! are no different than the people/members of St. Dominic or Emmaus when viewed with that lens.

      1. Not so,Griff… A ‘church’ which labels people with different beliefs as sinners and feels that those people are somehow lesser beings is certainly harming the social fabric. They may be enhancing their own brand of social fabric but that is only a portion of the community. I think your ‘lens’ is dusty from all the mountain bike riding!

        As someone (Raymond Daniels?) said on another thread , 300 conservative church groups have left the ELCA because of the ELCA’s tolerance (bare minimum tolerance, as Sean put it) of homosexuality.

      2. Kiffi, you’re taking the one issue–homosexuality–and using that to disparage everything a church does. I can decry the Catholic Church’s handling of pedophilia priests and the harm it has done to the social fabric in various communities throughout the world but still laud the Church for many of its social justice activities. I can likewise criticize Rejoice! on one or two issues but praise them for getting its members to participate in the CROP Walk, adopt a section of Hwy 19, and many other community activities that put the teachings of Jesus into practice in constructive ways.

      3. No, Griff… I am using that as an example of “good faith”; if they disparage part of humanity then it taints all that they do in interaction with others in the community.

        Many churches , and organizations, participate in the activities you name, but do NOT disparage other human beings.

      4. Kiffi, when I look at all the good things Fr. Denny Dempsey and his parishioners are doing at St. Dominic that reverberate throughout the Northfield community, I don’t see how the Catholic Church’s disparagement of homosexuals “taints” all that they do.

        But I guess we’ll have to just agree to disagree.

      5. Griff,

        While I appreciate you sticking up for the Catholic Church, please be aware that Catholic doctrine specifically prohibits disparagement of people with same sex attractions.

    2. Griff,

      I would take it one step further. Without our religious communities, there is no other reliable source upon which to build a moral framework to understand right and wrong.

      One of Brooks’ points was that many people (especially young adults) are so unversed in moral thought that they can’t even identify issues that present situations of right and wrong. Traditionally, an understanding of right and wrong was formed in religious institutions and was reinforced in the public sector. Now, we often get neither. To make matters worse, faith communities that try to reach out to the public, like Rejoice!, are beaten back with the electronic media – today’s equivalent of pitchforks and shovels.

      1. David,

        Where are parents in your framework?

        Children learn right and wrong, and develop character at home by loving
        conscientious parents long before they begin their spiritual training in Sunday School and Church.

        “No other reliable resource?”

        Let’s encourage parents!

      2. Helen- Just an observation on contemporary pasrenting, when you and I were growing up, we had much more time with our parents than current youth. Also, the moral teaching we received at home were reenforced in the public schools. Now, the public schools must teach from a neutral position and cannot reinforce religious based morals. Also, many religious teachings are considered to be “rigid and antiquated”, and are openly denegrated in the public sector. Most children are in school about 6 hours/day. Then, there are after school activities and a couple hours of homework. There just isn’t much time left for families. Parents these days have an uphill battle if they are trying to install a religious set of values in their children.

      3. David: actually, i think you’ve taken it one step too far. You say, with regard to religious communities, ” there is no other reliable source upon which to build a moral framework…”.

        Simple logic would then say that you believe one must be religious to be moral; how then do you justify IMmorality done in the name of religion?
        How do you justify discrimination against GLBT people in the name of religion?
        the list could go on and on, but that is not the base question.

        You have said above that one must be religious to have a base for morality: what about all the great thinkers that are philosophers, not primarily religious people?

        What about great scientists who seek truth and knowledge above all… Galileo, for instance … and are thrown to the winds by their church for political reasons?

        What about the great religious purges,the Roman Coliseum, the Inquisition, Protestant/Catholic burnings in Tudor England, etc etc etc… the “pitchforks and shovels” of their time?

        And what about differing religious morals? Islam and Christianity, with all their widely differing sects/cults which do not adhere to a single morality?

        Morality is taught by the widest possible awareness of what it is to be human; not by a particular group’s definition of humanity.

      4. Kiffi,

        I didn’t say that you had to be religious to be moral. I said that religions provide the only reliable framework for morality. As Brooks pointed out, morality was once revealed, inherited, and shared in an evolutionary manner. Now, morality as often thought of as something that emerges in the privacy of one’s heart without reference to any system of thought.

        If you have a system of thought, I am willing to listen. But, I am not about to abandon 2000 years of evolutionary thought, including many trial and errors, to a new, unproven, and, usually, undisciplined system of thought.

      5. David : What an interesting discussion to try and parse out where the origin of morality is…
        Right off the top of my head, I would say that all our cultural influences… parents, schools, faith communities, government , even neighbors… all contribute to developing a sense of the guiding morals of a community.

        Would you say that there was no morality before there was religion?

      6. Kiffi, I’d like to answer a couple assumptions you make in your comment above. Not because I am upset or want to argue, but because I think some clarification needs to be made.

        I am a Christian and I attend a church. I do not believe homosexual behavior is in accordance with Jesus’ call to how people live. I believe it is a sin. And yet I disparage no one. And I certainly do not believe anyone is a lesser being.

        The Apostle Paul, who wrote much of the New Testament Bible, wrote that he himself was the “chief of sinners.” I, Brenton Balvin, am a sinner. I fail many times a day to live in accordance with the kindness, gentleness, love, peace, patience, faithfulness, joy, goodness, and self-control that Jesus calls his followers to. I have done things in my life that offend God and offend the people around me.

        There are many, many people outside my faith community and belief systems who are “better” people than me in many ways. I think of Griff who gives much of his time to celebrating the richness of Northfield through this blog and in his desire to see Northfield as a safe place for children of all genders, races, and sexual preferences to grow-up. I applaud that, and I will stand with him against any deliberate attempt to disparage or bully or harass someone of a different persuasion of any kind.

        Jesus calls his people to go out into all neighborhoods and love their neighbors, to be good citizens and employers and friends to people whether they are gay, Muslim, black, disabled, rich, straight, Buddist, Carleton, St. Olf. Yet when gathered as a faith community (or when describing the tennets of our faith) we must speak what we truly believe to be God’s call on His creation with respect to the way He desires people to live.

        It is precisely a Christian’s love of God that prohibits their disparagement of others. True Christian faith is built on the idea that God loved sinners so much (all kinds of sinners) that he sent his Son to die on a cross. It is because of people’s worth in God’s eyes that Christ died. If I truly love my ‘brother or sister’ in this world then I must tell them the truth about what God’s word says. if I love my birth son I must love him enough to stop him from touching a hot stove before burning himself. he may not agree and he may think I am limiting his freedoms and attacking his individuality and free choice, but my warning comes out of my love for him, not my disparagement or hate.

        Kiffi, as you point out later in the comment section, Christians over all times have failed to show God’s love and concern for out neighbors. Sometimes in horrific ways. But their are also Christians who have given all they have to stand up to slavery, to abolish segregation and racism, to free women and girls from the sex trade, to end female genital mutilation in tribal regions of Africa, who leave medical practices to serve the under privileged and malnourished, who serve at food shelves and homeless shelters, who give as much as they can to feed a child through Compassion International, who use work vacation time to build homes or help pick-up after natural disasters, who open up their homes to orphans and widows and those needing a boost, who start clinics for teen moms, who start rehabs for addicts, who clean up highways and wash down graffiti walls, walk the streets of cites at night offering against protection to violence, who hire the un-hire-able and give them a second chance, and on and on. And Christians gladly partner with non-Christians pursuing these same societal good – all because of their love of God and their valuing of God’s children.

        Please think on this. Disagreement with a person’s choices does not equal disparagement of devaluing of that person. I disagree with your takes in these comments. I disagree with the wide net you cast on Christians and the labels you put on those at Rejoice! as disparaging, yet my door is open to you (or Helen or Sean or Griff or David of John) anytime for anything you need.

        Jesus valued people enough to die for them, and as his follower my desire is to “die” for others in whatever ways possible in his example – one sinner (me) for another (my brother or sister in this world).

  2. Thank you Griff for your very heartfelt words in your final paragraph. My heart felt good when I read them.
    Yes, our faith community, including Rejoice!, does do “enormous good.” I’m appreciating that you took the space to say that and delighted that you believe it!

  3. I think it’s fair to say something does a lot of good, without excluding the idea that they do a lot of bad. The churches in our community happen to fill a helpful secular community/volunteer role, but, as Griff said, there’s no reason we need a “faith community” to do that.

    Churches deserve credit for the good things they do. But Rejoice, at least, also deserves clear criticism for their building project, for promoting rigid and antiquated gender roles, for rejecting the ELCA for being too supportive (barely supportive at all) of gays, for promoting a vaguely defined (but thoroughly disturbing) notion of “marketplace ministry”. They might do good, but I’d be hard-pressed to see that they do more good than bad.

    1. Sean- So, the Faith Community lives and promotes principles that you do not believe are correct. I can say thst you promote principles and lifestyles that I do not believe are correct. Neither of our belief systems have emperical evidence to prove or disprove the other. We can only rely upon our creeds. You use the terms “good” and “bad” which in themselves are subjective, not objective. IMO, your assertions about Rejoice! in #3 come across as condescending.

    2. promoting rigid and antiquated gender roles,

      Sean, what bothers you and what do you suggest ? I think the articles are stating that negative propositions like yours leads to chaos.

      there’s no reason we need a “faith community” to do that.

      Actually it turns out people working to glorify God are more highly motivated than those with no moral framework or operating on negative propositions. What alternatives do you see that function on the same scale?

    3. (Haven’t been getting e-mail alerts, so I haven’t checked in on this.)

      John:
      Of course good and bad are always subjective measures. If our vision of a community is one that does not tolerate gays, where one is proud to understand faith differently by artificially constructed categories (men/women), and where one drives one’s SUV every Sunday to the big ol’ parking lot behind Menards (that was once a beautiful little church) — then yes, Rejoice does “good.” That’s not my vision of good, and I don’t think that’s the vision of most people in Northfield/Dundas. So yes, you’re right, my personal judgement is at play, as at anything where it’s not viable to measure.

      David:
      I object to gendered ministry on its face. It’s akin to having black and white ministries. Men and women are different, they certainly adopt different roles, but the church needn’t reinforce and exaggerate those roles.

      Scanning the articles Griff posted, I can’t locate the term “negative propositions.” Can you clarify what you mean?

      1. Sean- It seems that your litmus test for the faith community is defining tolerating gays as a God-given characteristic and considering Biblical roles for men and women as somehow suddenly antiquated. I once believed that. God was gracious to bring correction to my life, and He is offering you the same opportunity if you want. Your derision of Rejoice! members as SUV driving desecrators of some sacred site is demeaning to say the least, and comes across as very intolerant of anyone who does not value gay rights (as opposed to gay people) the same as you do. You seek to move an ancient boundary.

      2. John: I simply don’t buy the “love the sinner, hate the sin” mentality, which I assume is what you’re getting at with distinguishing “rights” and “people.” Fundamentally, I see:

        We hate you for who you are.

        to be, for all intents and purposes, equal to:

        We hate what you have an inherent desire to do. We love you, but see who you are as a problem to be solved.

        I’m obviously personally affected by this, but I think if you were in a position of being told who you are is a problem to be solved, you might feel a bit more similar.

        (My statements on Rejoice members were perhaps unnecessarily catty, but they certainly don’t live up to Clites calling a septuagenerian opposed to their building project a “force of darkness.” I base my statements of their congregation’s transportation choices on the car-first design of their new “worship center.” The main entrance had no connection to Dundas’ sidewalk network, no planned bicycle parking, and an aesthetic focus on a parking lot and a highway. I can only assume — or at least hope — that their design choices reflect the desires of the paying members.)

      3. Well, Sean, every time I read the Bible, I see more and more of me that doesn’t line up with what I’m reading. So, your comment

        …I think if you were in a position of being told who you are is a problem to be solved, you might feel a bit more similar.

        just doesn’t cut it with me, inasmuch as it is a way of life for me. But, just as the Apostle Paul wrote, I keep pressing on toward the mark of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. In what you write, I do not perceive an understanding of sin and redemption that is laid out in scriptures.

      4. Sean, your comparison of gender based ministries to race based ministries is completely off base.

        Believe it or not, there are a large majority of men and women who enjoy being around one another, and who enjoy the fellowship of same sex friendships, encouragement, and accountability. It might seem rigid and antiquated to you, but sometimes guys in a church like to get together to talk about being good husbands, fathers, and citizens without their wives around. Sometimes they even like to golf or play softball or heck, even go for a bike ride in the company of one another. And while they do it, they talk about life and marriage and business and all other sorts of things.

        Also, some wives like to bake, or craft, or snow tube, and talk about their kids, and marriage, and womanly things. Girls sometimes like to go to girl movies or sit and have tea and talk about their emotions. And they benefit from having like minded girlfriends around who can pray for them and encourage them.

        Since you brought it up, how is it damaging to Northfield to have church ministries like this? The Northfield Golf Club has leagues for men, leagues for women, and leagues for couples. This is no different than the church. Doesn’t downtown Northfield have a Girl’s Night Out? How is that not offensive? And by the way, St. Peter’s, Emmaus, St. John’s, and Trinity all have men’s/women’s ministries (and some are even ELCA).

        Men and women, as I learned in health class many years ago, are clearly not artificial categories. You have to agree writing that doesn’t make sense don’t you?

        Also Sean, I’m wondering if you can see how intolerant you are of people who drive cars and are not always concerned about biking. I assume you are so passionate about this (and so quick to offer your critic on building projects with no biking component) because you believe people who don’t support environmental movements to somehow be ignorant or insensitive to nature. I wonder if you see SUV driving people as a “problem to be solved?” Based on your comments in 3.3.2 are you able to differentiate between hating the sin (driving gas-guzzling, parking lot using, earth destroying SUVs) and loving the sinner (all the people who drive them)?

        Your constant characterization of the people of Rejoice is unfair, unfounded, ignorant of Biblical tenants of ancient Christian faith, and is based much more on the secular media’s portrayal of Christian beliefs (highlighting the wacky view and behavior of a minority of Christians – who themselves are sinning) than on the teachings of Jesus Christ himself.

        One last thing… give up the constant referral back to “forces of darkness” – you don’t even believe in darkness so why does that bother you? It’s clear from your disdain for Rejoice that you think much worse things of them than “forces of darkness,” you just don’t have a label for it.

      5. 1. The trouble with gender-based ministry, as you very clearly illustrate, is that it not only separates men and women, but they create pretty rigid idea of what each is. Apparently a man is straight, athletic, with kids — and women have a similar role. I’m sure people enjoy it, but I don’t think it’s a societally good thing to encourage.

        And, in all fairness, I’m not particularly fond of the “Girls’ Nite Out” and similar secular offerings either. Men and women have different sexual organs, yes; the rest is constructed.

        2. I’m really having trouble comparing sexual orientation to car-driving. You are, according to your blog, straight and married. Is your love for (or perhaps attraction to?) your wife about the same level as your love for your car? I certainly can’t imagine that’s the case.

        However, though I don’t profess to distinguish sin/sinner (since I just said they’re basically the same), I could be a bit more focused on the car, less on the driver. That’s a fair point.

        3. I have mentioned “force of darkness” one other time, to my memory. Many other people have brought it up, because it remains an absolutely appalling thing for anyone to say, but particularly for someone in a influential leadership position. A pastor is a figure of trust for a congregation, and making very political statements about others, using biblical imagery, is pretty inexcusable.

        4. Both you and John make curious assumptions about my background. I was baptized, raised, and confirmed Lutheran (though, as I’m sure you’ve gathered, I no longer identify as such). I went to Sunday School every week. I’ve gotten straight A’s in both bible and theology classes at St. Olaf. My distaste for what I see here is far more based on knowledge of Christianity than whatever you imagine me reading in The New Republic.

      6. Sean, thanks for responding thoughtfully and honestly to my comments. I felt after hitting submit that my tone might have been more sarcastic and confrontational than intended. I would enjoy meeting you sometime and getting to know one another on a more real life level. Since you’ve seen my blog you clearly see I have some gaps to fill in my web development portfolio. 🙂 You do some great work.

        1. I understand your concerns about gender based ministry, because I agree that not every guy likes hunting and not every girl likes talking (my wife does not participate in some of the events in our church because of this). The thing is, however, many men and women do enjoy traditional male and female orientated activities. Some churches could do a better job of providing opportunities for those with different interests, but on the whole, church programs are a response to the desire of the congregants to gather around like interests and activities they can bring their friends to.

        Should I not allow my daughter to play dolls with her friends because it is too girly? Or should I stop my son from riding his bike down every dirt hill he sees? I don’t think you’d say that right? I agree, to prevent my son from playing with dolls or my daughter from biking would be wrong, but I don’t think responding to their inherent desires is bad for our community.

        2. I didn’t think it was fair of you to single out Rejoice alone for responding to their congregational needs when many other churches, clubs, and groups in town do the same thing.

        3. I know the car/orientation analogy wasn’t perfect, but I appreciate you recognizing the point. It is possible to distinguish between valuing a person as a person, and disagreeing with a behavior. We do that in society all the time with the many different behaviors people exhibit.

        The sticking point between us is the question of homosexuality as a behavior, or an inherent orientation from birth. Obviously this post isn’t the place to discuss that, but I will confess that Christians have done a poor job of engaging this question, leaving many homosexuals emotionally wounded. I’m sorry if that has been your experience.

        4. Lastly, I apologize for pigeon-holing you in your understanding of faith. Your admission of knowledge of the Bible makes it even more curious to me that you ignore an obvious application of the faith you have studied. A pastor, according to the Bible, is called to stand against the dark spiritual forces which Christianity affirms exist. If the leader of a congregation does not preach about heaven and hell, good and evil, Jesus and Satan, then he is not a Biblical pastor. Your studies in Bible and theology should have made that clear to you. It should also have been clear that Scripture repeatedly rebukes Christians who degrade or devalue people based on their behavior. Praying against forces of darkness actually removes anger or frustration from association with a specific person, and focuses on the evil of Satan that is trying ti influence an otherwise wonderful creation of God. Am I clear as mud on this? 🙂

      7. Brenton:
        I guess I only have two real points that are still bothering me.

        3. I’m not sure it so much matters what the judge-r (or person trying to save, or do the right thing or whatever) perceived homosexuality to be as it matters what the judge-d perceives it as. That is to say, if I see homosexuality as who I am, the fact that you see homosexuality as a behavior doesn’t really matter — when you judge something that you say is a (sinful) behavior, your judgement is received as a judgement on the whole person. Identity affects interpretation. (And yes, if an SUV driver *fundamentally* sees that as who s/he is, the same thinking is applicable… I just have never encountered that strong an attitude).

        4. To be honest, to just not like the language at all, because it takes what is actually a minor social-local-political issue and puts in the context of some grand religious war. But fundamentally, Albers was disputing moving and paving over her grandfather’s grave. This was not even for the church, but for a parking lot. If a pastor has an obligation to fight forces of darkness, sure, but I think this pastor was interpreting (or at least stating) said obligation a bit too broadly.

  4. Griff:

    First, this article represents a major ecological fallacy (taking something that’s observed at the population level and presuming causation at the individual level). You’re taking others’ assumption that increased atheism LED to the problems observed without even a grain of skepticism. Where is the direct evidence of a causative link? And does that link also apply here in Northfield?

    1. Felicity, I cited four essays in my blog post, so I’m not sure which one you’re referring to.

      But I think your point about causation is a good one to discuss. I certainly don’t think atheism was a cause of the UK riots. I was just pointing out that one practice — church-going — is where people typically have experiences of putting love and service into practice. If that was once dominant, but then disappears with there’s nothing to replace it, the social fabric is likely to suffer somehow. Any single incident like the UK riots could have many other contributing factors (joblessness, poverty, discrimination, chemical abuse, etc).

      I was glad to hear last week on ATC (Investigating the Root Of The U.K. Riots) that:

      The Guardian and the London School of Economics, are launching their own inquiry. It’s a project to explore the causes and consequences of the British riots. And it’s inspired by a famous study of the riots that struck Detroit back in 1967.

  5. Kiffi,

    You ask:

    Would you say that there was no morality before religion?

    In my opinion, the greatest good that the faith communities bring to the Northfield community is a preservation of the ideas generally held to be religious – of sin, right and wrong, good and evil, moral obligations, human dignity, universal truths, etc.

    Morality that is not tied to some belief system is simply sentiment. Belief systems don’t have to be based upon a belief in God, i.e. religious. But, if the belief systems are based upon something that is not universally true, the morality expressed is only conditional.

    1. David: “universally true”? that’s a hard one to define… planets going around a sun=easy;
      aspects of human behavior= not so easy/clear…

      I would agree that religions have determined a groups of morals; but that is different than morality.

      I think morality has to be tied to a “belief system”, and I agree a belief system does not have to be tied to a belief in the commonly accepted western version of ‘God’.

      So where does that leave us with the ORIGIN of ‘morality’?

    2. Kiffi,

      Brooks suggests that many young adults think that morality originates (and ends) with the individual. (In my words, the creationist theory of morality.) Immanuel Kant, the great German philosopher, suggests that morality is the natural problem that results from an investigation of human freedom. (The evolutionary theory of morality.) The determination of whether an act is moral or immoral is not dependent upon the actor but the act.

      My own faith system, the Catholic Church, has “morality” as one of the 4 pillars of the faith (together with creed, sacraments, and prayer.) Morality is considered the living out of the faith in Jesus Christ as the only Son of God.

    3. Kiffi- Try this out of Romans 2:14 & 15

      14 For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do [instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, 15 in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them,

      1. David and John: can you conceive of there being a basis for morality before the Bible existed?

        Actually John’s Romans 15 would imply this …”the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness…”

        Do all animals, man included, have a system of ‘morality’ which benefits their existence/survival?

      2. Kiffi- Will, yes, morality did exist in God, since he is from everlasting to everlasting. Also, since “the law is written in their hearts,” who wrote it there? There is a prime source for everything. It seems that God had a little foreknowledge of what man was going to do. He knew man’s free will had to be tested. If it didn’t, we would not have the depravity of men that we see about us. He wanted us to follow Him out our own choice to do so, just as our desire for ouir children is to have them follow in our example.

      3. Kiffi,

        My short answer is that morality is a function of the human heart that must be disciplined by both faith and reason.

        I don’t see the Bible as the basis for morality, as much as I see it as one of the sources that reveals morality. According to classic Catholic teaching, Scripture is a source to look for how to act (morality). Scripture is interpreted by the Church and her teachers (the Magisterium) which provides meaning, especially when Scripture is difficult to understand. However, the final arbiter of all morality is the individual conscience. A well-formed conscience needs to apply the principles in a rational way.

      1. David: I Like your answer:…”morality is a function of the human heart”…

        But if we do not see God giving each human heart an ‘injection’, is it possible that ‘morality’ stems from what benefits an organism to its optimum existence?

        In other words that it is an evolutionary function of cellular biochemistry which is beneficial to the continued existence of that organism; i.e. what benefits all of us, benefits ALL of us?

      2. John: I can see how you would say this re: your statement that God is “everlasting to everlasting”.

        But your answer precludes morality existing without what/who you refer to as God.

        I do not mean to be rude by that, but then do you think the ‘God’ of all peoples is the same, although bearing different names?

        And IF you do think that is so, then how can you believe that one religion is more ‘true’ than another? or one writing of one ‘god’ more true than another?

        If you believe the version of God in which you believe is the source of morality, then are all other belief systems immoral?

      3. Kiffi- Yes, I do not believe there is another source or morality outside of God. I don’t mean that condescendingly; it is just what I believe. James 1:17 says this-

        Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.

        I believe there is one true God. Man has created many religions in his (collective) quest to explain the unexplainable, but I do not believe any of them have complete understanding of our Creator. As the Apostle Paul wrote in 1 Cor 2:9,

        THINGS WHICH EYE HAS NOT SEEN AND EAR HAS NOT HEARD,
        AND which HAVE NOT ENTERED THE HEART OF MAN,
        ALL THAT GOD HAS PREPARED FOR THOSE WHO LOVE HIM.”

        Verse 10 says these things have been revealed to us by His Spirit. Christianity is not learning a set of rules by rote and then trying to do them. It is a relationship with God the Father through Jesus Christ by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Once the Holy Spirit comes into our spirit, He starts doing some house cleaning, and we begin to take on a new nature, one born of Him, not our own “cellular biochemistry.” The fruit that comes out of this is described in Ephesians 5. But, just as it is written that man was created in the image of God, there is still remnants of that image within all men, even though we are born into a fallen state. I believe that is the reason there are certain similarities in basic moral codes across different cultures. This is what Paul refers to in Romans 2:14&15.

      4. Kiffi,

        First, that morality is an evolutionary function of cellular biochemistry does not rule out the concept that God has used evolution to create morality in the human heart. (For example, the Catholic Church now holds that evolution is a scientific fact consistent with God’s creation.)

        Second, if we proceed with the assumption that morality is merely an evolutionary function of cellular biochemistry designed to ensure the continued existence of the organism, we can’t have a fruitful discussion about whether a particular action is beneficial to the “continued existence of that organism”. Hitler is an example of this kind of thinking carried to its extreme, but logical, conclusion. Hitler believed that the evolutionary process made the Aryan race superior, and that killing the Jews was consistent with the betterment of mankind.

        Conversely, as Paul notes in Romans, following the law of God doesn’t do any good if the law is not written in the heart. That criticism remains a valid criticism of Christians (and Muslims and Jews) 2000 years later. But, it is not a valid criticism of theism nor theistic-based morality.

        William James, the eminent psychologist and philosopher, noted that all men, including atheists, seek the promised fruits of Christian living – generosity, kindness, understanding, patience, love, etc., but few desire its labors. Those who do labor for themselves are admired; those who labor for others are called saints.

      5. John: the discussion dies when you only quote bible verses, rather than engaging in the less biblical parts of the discussion… have you no other answers to a non-biblical question?

      6. Kiffi- Taking a scientific approach to morality is a dangerous path, IMO. Within physics, there is the theory of relativity, which is being shaken up right now with a couple experiments with the Hadron Colider in Europe. There are physical results in experiments around this theory which can be reproduced. When relativity is applied to moral teaching, which has been done over the last few decades, we end up with the dilema that Brooks is addressing in his article. Each person becomes a moral entity unto himself only. I believe this leads to societal chaos, especially if laws keep getting changed according to popular whims. If I have understood your comments correctly, you place a great emphasis upon individual rights in your process of moral decision making. The question I ask is where are the boundaries? It seems that having a fixed point from which to evaluate a person’s actions and motivations is necessary. It is like the theory of relativity. Using the molecular level of matter as an example, if each molecule is free to do whatever it decides to do with no cohesion to its surrounding molecules, then matter would simply fall apart. There has to be a physical law that holds matter together. I believe it is the same regarding morality in a society. If each of us can do whatever we please without regard to those around us, then what will hold us together?

        I believe there are aspects of our lives that revolve around moral issues, but much of our lives revolve around preferences, with no moral connotations. In raising our own children, we often used the term, “It isn’t a moral issue,” when giving them direction about dress or food or friends. We did hold certain moral standards of behavior that we required of our children, and we based those on Biblical tenets. These have not wavered in a few thousand years. That is why I laid out in 6.4.3 where I am coming from.

        I look at the various “advancements” of laws regarding people groups over the last century or so, as women’s right to vote, racial equality in all aspects of society, child labor laws, etc., as being things with no moral connotations. They do not violate any Biblical moral codes, and have strengthened society, IMO. The issue of gay rights is different for me in that it appears to violate some pretty strong Biblical moral codes. My concern is where the boundaries will be set next? In some countries, the age of consent for sexual activity has been getting lower and lower. Will it be lowered to the point of compromising protection of children against pedophiles? What gaurantees can I find that this will not happen? If enough people decide that there are not any more detrimental psychological effects to allowing this than there are allowing rampant homosexuality, then will there be the same push by what we now call pedophiles to advance the lowering of the age of consent? This just seems like a slippery slope we are begining to descend.

      7. I’m sorry, John, I simply disagree with so many of your points (example: “racial equality in all aspects of society” you listed as having “no moral connection”) while also finding your ‘logic’ illogical, that I don’t wish to continually argue with you.

        You use the Bible as the absolute ‘center’ of everything; I consider it to be a contributor to a broad, worldwide culture.
        We have no basis for agreement in this sort of discussion.

      8. John,
        I realize that you are not a scientist, but the Theory of Relativity has absolutely no relationship whatsoever to ‘moral relativism.’

      9. Patrick- No, it certainly doesn’t. I have heard non-scientific skeptics use the analogy, though. I guess I just didn’t explain myself properly. Sorry about the confusion. I was trying to answer Kiffi’s question to me to explain myself in non-religious terms. Guess I should just stay with what I am familiar.

      10. Hey John,

        I just came across a news report that links to reports about the experiment that seemed to violate the Theory of Relativity, which you had obliquely referenced. It sounds like it is either: 1) an error, or 2) a very important discovery that will require revision of the Theory.

        http://idealab.talkingpointsmemo.com/2011/09/was-einstein-wrong-us-accelerator-lab-to-test-cerns-results.php?ref=fpblg

        Of course, the most likely result of further testing is that we will discover that the result was an error. However, if the discovery is real, it would be very exciting, and it might open up entire avenues of new discovery which could lead us to a greater understanding of the nature of the universe.

        Cool stuff.

      11. Patrick- Yes, that is a very interesting article. Supposedly, the neutrino they were studying traversed the 450 mile distance from the collider to its target in a few fractions of a nano-second less than light would travel the distance. The timers used in this type of experiment must be hyper accurate to discern that miniscule time lapse difference. Supposedly, they did it twice. The only other collider that would be capable of that level of particle acceleration is in Chicago. It will be interesting to see if the Chicago scientists can duplicate it.

        Back to the discussion on the source of morality in our society, it still seems to me that there must be some stadard outside of ourselves by which to judge our own motives. These three types of moral relativism seem pretty clear.
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moral_relativism
        It seems the conclusion of this short study demonstrates the danger of moving away from having an absolute moral code. Using markmanship as an analogy, it is hard enough to hit a moving target, but it can be done. It would seem impossible to hit a non-existent target.

      12. John,
        I don’t follow your point about marksmanship at all. I also don’t understand what you think this interesting experimental result has to do with morality – relative or otherwise.

      13. Patrick- It will be interesting to see what the results of these experiments con clude. It would appear that there are absolutes in the natural realm, re. gravity and E=mc squared. I contend that there are absolutes in the moral realm, also, and that they are best delineated in the Judeo-Christian writings. Just as there appears to be faulty or misinterpreted measurements in the speed of these neutrinos, I believe there have been misinterpretations of the Scriptures, as if they are something that can “evolve” with popular opinion.

      14. Patrick- Actually, I mis-stated the absolute. The speed of light has been considered an absolute which matter cannot exceed. E=mc^2 is an equation for the theory of relativity. Thanks for allowing me to clarify that.

      15. Patrick- That is what the whole Hadron Collider experiment is about. Supposedly, matter ceases to exist at the speed of light and changes to energy. If neutrinos, which have mass, can exceed the speed of light, then the speed of light is no longer a standard. Moral absolutes are different from scientific absolutes in that there is no technology to emperically test them. What can be observed about peoples’ behaviors in the present match what is written about them in the scriptures. From these observations, it would appear that man has not evolved morally over the course of written history. People still kill others out of envy and greed. Men still make spectacles of themselves because of pride. Greed still inhibits the compassionate care of those less fortunate. Of course, my perspective of history is based upon my belief that life has not existed for millions of years.

      16. John,
        Any hypothesis is only as good as the evidence which supports it. Do you think that the preponderance of evidence supports the hypothesis that the world is only a few thousand years old?

      17. Patrick-
        Yes, I do, and it seems there is more evidence being found that would support this position. One is the finding of fossil DNA that, according to the rock layer in which it was found, should be about 1,000,000 years old. It is the fossil of a lizard from that period. It matches the DNA of live lizards of that family today. National Geographic made this statement that the fossilization process appears to have overtaken the decomposition process. Hmmmmm.

        But, this is a discussion divergent from the main subject of this thread. We were talking about whether there are moral absolute standards, and I believe there are.

      18. John,
        I’d be interested in a citation for the item to which you are referring; it’s hard for me to make much sense of it, as you describe it. I’d be especially interested in a reference for the Natl Geo ‘statement.’

        But do you really think that you are drawing you conclusion about the age of the world from the whole of the observed evidence? It seems to me that you have already decided that the bible is Literally True, and you might be simply looking for evidence which is compatible with your preselected world view.

        As I indicated above regarding the theory of relativity, I am willing to reconsider the validity of a scientific theory or hypothesis, if verified evidence comes along which shows that observed reality is not compatible with the hypothesis.

        Do you think that any evidence from the observed world could possibly change your belief about the age of the universe? If so, could you imagine what kind of evidence it might take?

      19. Patrick-
        Here is the link to the article:
        http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2008/01/080116-dinosaur-skin_2.html
        and here is the actual quote I was paraphraising:

        The excellent preservation of the newfound Psittacosaurus may have been a consequence of rapid burial and speedy mineralization of the soft tissue before it began to decompose, Lingham-Soliar said.

        “…before it began to decompose.” Hmmmm. How long does roadkill lie on the road before it is eaten or decomposes? Perhaps the time line for fossilization adopted by science is too long?

        Also, regarding your comment:

        It seems to me that you have already decided that the bible is Literally True,

        how is this any different than scienctists’ aproach to any theory they are trying to to validate? We are all looking at the same evidence. How we interpret it is based upon what we believe about its significance. You claim scientific peer review is somehow more objective that creationist peer review. I just don’t believe that.

  6. Well, David… now we are somewhat back in the realm of evolution/creationism…

    By the way, the Catholic Church has established some very strong connections with eminent scientists who believe there are many questions left to be answered, but also are firmly in the camp of evolution. (Not wanting to repeat the Galileo fiasco again?)
    So, in my opinion, saying that evolution is the truth, but the unanswered cosmic beginnings may still be attributed to a Godly influence. Pragmatism?

    But more interestingly, you speak of Wm. James, most succinctly self described as an enthusiastic believer in pragmatism; i.e., the idea that any belief is only as true as its ultimate value to that person.
    How, in your opinion, does that fit in this discussion of belief systems, principally religious belief systems?

    1. Kiffi,

      I understand James a little differently. According to James, the value of a religious belief system is measured not by the truth of the beliefs it asserts, but by fruits (actions) of the beliefs, (even if the beliefs are untrue).

      I think we can all agree by that standard that Northfield’s faith community is a force for tremendous good. Through their churches (and other worship spaces) groups of private citizens organize all kinds of social services programs, including the education of our students at no cost to the other tax paying citizens.

      1. David: I don’t fee competent to answer you more on Wm. james without doing some reading; it’s been a long time since I have looked at any of his writing. ..

        I think everyone agrees that NF’s faith communities can be “a force for tremendous good”; my only problem with any ‘faith community’ is when it hurts people who believe differently.

        We some to have come full circle; signing offffffffffff.

      2. Kiffi,

        My problem with the attacks against Rejoice! is that it hurts people just because the “faith community” believes differently.

  7. Patrick- Thread 6.4 is getting a little long, so I’ll start a new sequencew. First, my point in contrasting a scientific approach to morality with a faith based approach is that science is always trying to prove a theory to be wrong. I approach morality as something to be obeyed, not constantly questioned. The various scientific laws that man has come up with have the potential of being incorrect. I look at the laws written down in scripture as being a benchmanrk for direction, a target at which to aim. Do we always hit the mark? No, but that doesn’t mean the target is incorrect. If there is indeed no universal moral truth at which to aim, then it seems to me that there is no incentive to even try. It sets up the scenario for morality to be a moving target that changes with particular societal whims. That seems to be the findings to which David Brooks was refering. That is what I was trying to get across in my analogy. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are goals. Morality and character would seem to encompass the methods one uses to achieve those goals.

    1. John,

      It is true that the point of science is to come up with a hypothesis, and then to test that hypothesis repeatedly to see whether or not it seems to be true. It is also true that when data contradicts the hypothesis, then the hypothesis needs to be either revised, refined, and/or discarded. And then the new hypothesis or hypotheses need to be tested in a similar manner, all over again.

      I do agree that the scientific method does not, in and of itself, define a moral system. However, it is not opposed to a moral system, either.

      1. Patrick- I agree with you that science, in and of itself, is neither moral no immoral. I look at it as a process of analysis. What my concern has been, over my lifetime, is that I have seen this same shift of thinking applied to personal behavior. What used to be considered immoral is now considered moral, and what once was considered a standard by which to judge behavior is now considered intolerant. It seems that personal behavior has become neutral, and that individual rights have trumped group standards in importance.

      2. John,

        We reevaluate the standards of morality all the time. Slavery used to be considered moral. Forbidding women from owning property used to be considered moral. Anti-miscegenation laws used to be considered moral. Burning witches used to be considered moral.

        Reevaluation can be good. Changing the standard of morality can be good, if the existing standard is wrong. Insisting that moral standards must never be reevaluated can, in effect, mean perpetuating the wrongs of the past.

      3. Patrick- I think you and I can agree that what has been re-evaluated regarding morals over the last couple centuries has not been a change in the standard so much as the interpretation of that standard. There have been many throughout history who disdained slavery. What has been changed is the legal ramifications of slavery. The same can be said of women. Ephesians 5 has always said that we men need to lay down pur lives for our wives, but that hasen’t been a legal issue until the last century. As I said before, just because we did not hit the mark of the target doesn’t mean the target was wrong. I have no problem with reevaluating interpretations and applications. I just think we need to be careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

    1. I’m pretty familiar. Our family has been a part of the launch team. We live in St. Peter but preparing our house to move to Northfield. It’s an amazing town! We love Canvas! You’re absolutely welcome to come and see what we’re all about.

    1. John,
      I have not, as of yet. Unfortunately, I have far too much going on these days – but I will get back to it, as soon as I can.

  8. Griff,

    I spoke with one of the ministers of Canvas Church before their first service, but was unable to go. Sounds similar to Rejoice. I would like feedback from anyone who went.

    I am taking it slow after multiple injuries from a fall in August, so have been out of the loop.

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