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Untangling Christianity Podcast
32 minutes | 2 years ago
Examples of self-deceit 3 (176)
In evangelical Christian communities where self-deceit is prevalent, this dysfunction manifests as particular sets of expectations and codes of conduct that are tacitly created and act as “standards of faithfulness” for that community. So whether similar to my previous examples or varied by type or degree, the creation of self-deceit based standards of faithfulness effects not just this community but vast numbers of Christian communities. Yet these standards are not designed to develop Christ-likeness or to further God’s kingdom but to insulate deceitful practices within Christian contexts from identification and reform (and to protect those who participate in them from exposure and rebuke). As such, each of the above examples demonstrates one or more of such “standards of faithfulness” at play. Often this means the same handful of “standards” recur in various forms and are actually mutually reinforcing. Or as I have stated before, they tend to “run in packs,” such that where one is present others are likely to be found as well. Further, we can decipher “themes” within these standards of faithfulness and these “themes” appear almost designed to cultivate a lack of attention to the deeper currents and norms within the community. These “themes” include: beliefs that promote inactivity and a lack of reflection, Bible-reading strategies that reinforce rather than challenge such beliefs, creativity in areas except those that would threaten conformity to these “standards of faithfulness,” individual expressions of discontent with the status quo without accompanying action, leadership that avoids critique or denounces those raising it (without ever addressing the critique itself), over-emphasis on a distorted notion of unity, risk viewed as “threat,” and the group or “tribe” prioritized to the larger body. Notice, then, how each of the above themes compounds or reinforces at least one other theme, almost acting as fail safes that provide overlapping “protection” against any one standard of faithfulness receiving too much critical attention. Which leads to several crucial points. First, it is crucial to understand that not ever member of a community will or even should adhere to every standard or promote each of these themes. Rather, it is only crucial that no member of the community should overtly and persistently threaten any one of these “standards” or criticize any one of these themes. So the overlapping or mutually reinforcing nature of theses “standards” allows a diversity of views to exist while nevertheless ensuring that all views always remain “in check,” or subservient to, the majority of the community’s “standards!” For example, it allows an “over-emphasis on unity” to quiet any real concerns that believing in effortless, guaranteed Bible-reading is problematic. Or it allows an aversion to risk-taking to cover over what might be seen as a “sectarian” commitment rather than a Christian-body commitment. In short, these standards of faithfulness (and the themes that underlie them) allow diversity in areas that don’t matter while tacitly enforcing conformity in areas that do matter. Thus to those within the community these standards of faithfulness essentially go unnoticed, and only their effect is perceived. This effect is to give the appearance of health and commitment to those within the community, yet the effect they give to those on the periphery / outside of the community is rather different. For those outsiders on the periphery who are church-goers or who have church background the effect is to create alienation—to erect barriers to honest conversation and therefore even to church attendance, such that those with valuable insights into these issues and potential willingness to offer productive feedback are necessarily excluded. For those outsiders who are agnostics or atheists, however, the effect is merely to reinforce their existing view that Christianity has no credibility and, as a result, is simply irrelevant. For this reason, attempts by Christians to convince agnostics or atheists of the value of Christianity are necessarily non-starters: apologetics will continue to be meaningless until evangelical dysfunction is admitted and work to remedy it is embraced and embarked upon. And to those who overtly and persistently threaten (or even question) any of the community’s standards of faithfulness? The result is being ostracized and even castigated, as I experienced with the church in my final example. The post Examples of self-deceit 3 (176) appeared first on Untangling Christianity.
26 minutes | 2 years ago
Examples of Self-Deceit 2 (175)
Having walked through one example, in the previous episode, of how an approach that is “self-deceit-aware” can reveal that a popular, evangelical belief is held because it is useful and self-serving, I want to analyze another, popular evangelical belief as well as several church situations, all using the same perspective of self-deceit. My second example involves the popular evangelical belief that God’s will is “always being done” or that God is “always in control.” This belief is widespread despite such obvious biblical indications to the contrary as Paul’s writings about “principalities and powers,” the broad understanding that God’s kingdom as “already” inaugurated through Jesus but God’s full reign as “not yet” here, and the Disciples’ Prayer—often called the Lord’s Prayer—where Jesus teaches his disciples to pray that God’s will should “be done on earth as it is in heaven.” If this were already the case Jesus would surely know (and there would be no reason to teach his disciples to ask for it). In addition, there are practical, experiential indications to the contrary. Particularly, if God’s will is “always being done” on earth then this means that God’s will is always being done in my life. And because doing God’s will and sinning are mutually exclusive, this would indicate that I do not sin. At all! It is difficult to imagine anyone who is a Christian actually believing that s/he does nothing to contravene right relationship with God, herself, or with others. So, given but a few minutes reflection one would think that even the most ardent supporter of this view would pause to reconsider its validity, if not reject it outright. But in numerous conversations with those holding this view I have never seen any such person even hesitate when presented with this evidence. Indeed, I have instead listened to them offer the most contorted logic and have been presented with counter-arguments laden with contradictions, double-standards and pure foolishness, all in support of this view. Why? If this belief is at least quite questionable, if not outright wrong, yet evidence and strong arguments do not avail in any way to change the views of those who hold it, then this view is obviously not held for its truthfulness. If that is the case, then what “other reason” is there for such staunch adherence in the face of such contrary evidence? To answer this, we turn to a method of investigation best suited to reveal hidden reasons, or motives: a “self-deceit aware” approach. For example, we ask: a) What are the benefits of holding such a belief? b) Who or what is served, or What needs or concern are met, by holding such a belief? c) What is the result from the perspective of the holder versus the perspective of others? The post Examples of Self-Deceit 2 (175) appeared first on Untangling Christianity.
33 minutes | 2 years ago
Examples of Self-Deceit 1 (174)
In the context of evangelical Christianity, self-deceit functions to develop and maintain the “false consciousness” that key beliefs are held because they are true and that devotion to God, or piety (however flawed or imperfect) is the Christian’s main aim. This false consciousness is a mask that we wear to obscure the real consciousness, which is that most evangelicals hold key beliefs because they are convenient and that narcissism, or extreme selfishness and devotion to self, is the actual true aim of most Christians, most of the time. So with certain beliefs there is no justifiable reason by any Christian standards for any Christian to believe them. For example, that when reading the Bible s/he just “reads what’s there” (without needing to interpret) or that the Holy Spirit guarantees the “right understanding” (or even a sufficiently good understanding). Yet despite this, these views remain very popular in evangelical circles. More so, should an attempt be made to persuade such Christians on the reasonableness of the evidence against their belief, my experience is that such discussions can be endless and yet go nowhere: no amount of evidence and no argumentation, no matter how sound, avails to change the minds of those who hold such views (or even to push them to re-assess their position). Why? Or perhaps more to the point, what could this mean? The logical implication, when sound argument and abundant evidence are completely unpersuasive, is that the belief is not based on either. In other words, when abundant evidence and sound logic are of no use for persuasion, this clearly indicates that the belief is not held for reasons related to its truthfulness. It is based on something else, or held for some “other reason.” At this point we can return to my earlier point that self-deceit effects what and how we know. So, while claims to correct (and effortless) Bible-reading are not unfamiliar, any claims that runs contrary both to sound logic and available evidence are almost never simply about what they seem to be about. So where claims to correct yet effortless Bible-reading would seem to concern the claimant’s “theology” or “understanding of Bible reading,” or even their “theory of knowledge,” there’s definitely more to the picture. For below what seem, on the surface, to be the dominant concerns and out of sight lies the real concern: meeting one’s own needs (and covering it up through self-deceit). Once we become aware of self-deceit and attuned to the circumstances when it is likely to arise, this changes everything. So instead of asking for justification for beliefs that seem plainly to lack a justifiable basis, an awareness of self-deceit leads us to probe elsewhere. We start by asking questions designed to reveal hidden reasons, or motives. For example, a) What are the benefits of holding such a belief? b) Who or what is served, or What needs or concern are met, by holding such a belief? c) What is the result from the perspective of the holder versus the perspective of others? These questions, you will notice, are specifically not aimed at investigating the rationale or reasonableness of the belief but at uncovering the hidden—and likely true—motives for holding it. This is a crucial distinction, because an approach that focuses on evidence and logic assumes that—and so is only helpful in cases where—truthfulness is the reason for holding a belief (and therefore the standard by which any belief is judged). Yet where truthfulness is ruled out, as in this case, the second approach is indispensable. For only by uncovering the real reason for holding a belief can any type of productive conversation about the belief (or evaluation of the belief) occur. The post Examples of Self-Deceit 1 (174) appeared first on Untangling Christianity.
18 minutes | 2 years ago
Foundations 7: Introducing Self-Deceit (173)
This episode is in some ways the culmination of all of the previous episodes on “First Steps”—the point toward which they were all building. On the one hand, the content of this episode directly addresses the most problematic aspect of evangelical dysfunction: its seeming invisibility to those that participate in it. On the other hand, this episode offers the concepts needed to make sense of what may at times have appeared as “conflicting statements” on my part (such when I argue that evangelical Christianity is extremely dysfunctional while also affirming that evangelical Christianity maximizes human flourishing). And this episode also offers content to make sense of the particular approach that I take throughout the Foundations of Flourishing program. Namely, in Foundations of Flourishing participants focus first on learning about themselves and their humanity (rather than starting with the Bible and with God), an approach that likely seems foreign—if not problematic—by typical evangelical Christian standards. So what is self-deceit? Self-deceit is the propensity to develop (and maintain) what can be called “false consciousness,” which is the belief in a reality when in fact there is none. In other words, where the reality I believe in simply does not exist. Self-deceit powerfully impacts, and indeed directs, the beliefs we hold about ourselves and our motives (and about others and their motives). And because self-deceit, as the term suggests is, well, unseen, self-deceit is not so much something that we do as something that we are—it is more a characterization of what it means to be human than a description of what a particular human might do. As such, self-deceit is not simply the ability but the predisposition to perform “slight of hand” on ourselves by substituting one “reality” (reality in quotation marks) for another. Or better, self-deceit is the human predisposition to keep the reality of a given situation from ourselves in order to believe something that is more comforting, self-promoting, or more incriminating of others than the actual situation or state of affairs would allow. But wait: self-deceit is slyer still. For its main functions is not to elevate our own self-image while debasing that of others, or simply to allow us to think better of ourselves than we ought. No, skewing reality in our favour is only a smokescreen to facilitate the deeper purpose of self-deceit: to allow us covertly to “get away with” behaviours and views that, overtly, we claim to reject and stand against. Self-deceit is most prevalent in those areas of my life that are most formative of my identity and most essential to my morality. When self-deceit is framed in this way it becomes very easy to imagine how religious contexts can be rampant with self-deceit. This is because religious belief makes significant claims relative to the identity and morality of its adherents. Now such claims of themselves are not necessarily problematic. Yet by their very nature they are especially open to the abuses of self-deceit. And the more one’s religious beliefs are naïve and unexamined, the more this is the case. For when the hallmark of belief is uncritical acceptance this creates a ideal context for the growth of something covert and elusive, such as self-deceit. The post Foundations 7: Introducing Self-Deceit (173) appeared first on Untangling Christianity.
20 minutes | 2 years ago
Foundations 6: Self-awareness and Experience (172)
Module 6 of “First Steps” addresses the development of self-awareness in order to become “full selves” and thereby, for non-Christians to better evaluate the value of Christianity and for Christians to reach maturity in their faith. Yet the notion of “self-awareness” immediately poses several challenges. First, the term is often used without sufficient definition, making it confusing or vague. I will offer definition for the term, upcoming. Second, when seen from within the current evangelical dysfunction, “self-awareness” seems optional at best. In other words, self-awareness is often seen as unimportant by evangelicals because they are taught that the primary (and perhaps only real) task is developing what might be called “God awareness.” God awareness—which means understanding who and what God is (in order to know how best to be obedient to God and promote God’s sovereignty)—is achieved through cultivating such things as biblical literacy and reliance on the Holy Spirit. Yet the dysfunctional nature of most evangelicalism means that privileging “God-awareness” (again, by prioritizing the Bible and the Holy Spirit as means of developing obedience and promoting divine sovereignty) means that Christians can actually come to view self-awareness as being detrimental. This is because dysfunctional evangelical contexts typically present humans as servants whose role it to offer obedient service and present God as a divine sovereign whose role is to govern, or exert control over, the events and situations of human life. So what is the link between the obedient servant / governing sovereign and cultivating “God-awareness” through prioritizing the Bible and the Holy Spirit? Next, if “self-awareness” often suffers from a lack of sufficient definition, what do I mean by “self-awareness”? Insofar as self-awareness involves understanding and duly embracing what and who we are, then a large part of the “what” of being human is valuing—and so learning how to evaluate and validate—our human faculties and senses in the context of living our lives. By “faculties” I am referring to such capacities as imagination, intellect, the will, memory, emotional responses and so on. By “senses” I am referring to such capacities as sight, hearing, taste, touch, and smell. Now within typical, evangelical culture only two faculties are valued. First, our intellect (because the intellect is necessary for such things as understanding Christian teaching and doctrine and for engaging apologetically to persuade others of the validity of Christian belief). Second, our will (because our will is seen as something that we “give over” to God in order become obedient to the teachings and commandments of the Christian Scriptures, and so live the Christian life properly). Further, in many evangelical contexts most emotions are viewed with suspicion (or are outrightly viewed as negative), although not always (particularly so in more charismatic settings, where certain emotional engagement or responses are seen positively). Yet typically this is the limit. More problematically still, the imagination is typically viewed at best as being unnecessary, if not misleading and deceptive. Another component of self-awareness is the key notion of identity. Again, when viewed from within an evangelical Christian context, the notion of identity is almost always presented as one’s “identity in Christ.” In other words, within evangelical contexts it is as though personal identity is neither necessary nor valuable given the need to maximize God and to develop “God-awareness.” Yet when “identity in Christ” eclipses or undermines personal identity then this “Christian” notion has become dysfunctional. For while elements of character and morality may well be in conflict with the character and morality that Christians are urged to adopt (such as a “Christ-like” character and a “Christian” morality, although neither term has an obvious meaning and both terms require definition), having an accurate sense of one’s personality and identity are actually key to becoming a mature Christian (and not detractors from such). In other words, within a dysfunctional evangelicalism the notion of “identity in Christ” is yet another way to diminish and minimize oneself—the Christian as a person—and thereby substitute that unique, believing person for a generic object: “the believer.” The post Foundations 6: Self-awareness and Experience (172) appeared first on Untangling Christianity.
29 minutes | 2 years ago
Foundations 5: Conceptual Toolbox (171)
The Foundations of Flourishing program is designed to assist Christians to recognize and overcome the entrenched dysfunction within evangelical Christianity and to assist non-Christians to decipher and evaluate the accessible, ‘here and now’ value within Christianity. This dual approach overcomes two related problems that, left unattended, create alienation between (and potentially within) each group. First, it helps Christians to overcome small-mindedness and fear-based living in order to become well-rounded and fully functional. It does so by empowering them better to understand and embody their faith through lived experience and extra-biblical information sources. The serendipitous result is that their beliefs become more biblical while their practices become more credible to outsiders. Second, it allows non-Christians to reconsider the cultural consensus that Christianity is irrelevant. It does so by empowering them to engage with Christianity on terms that make sense to them (rather than being told to “believe what Christians believe” in order for Christianity to make sense). The serendipitous result is that investigating Christianity promotes becoming one’s “best self” through love relationships that are truth-based. Finally, because this program holds love and truth / truth and love to be co-equal and co-central to both human flourishing and to the character of the Christian God, Foundations of Flourishing is equally open to Christian and non-Christian perspectives (while nevertheless arguing that a particular, functional form of evangelical Christianity maximizes both truth and love in tangible, understandable ways). In this episode, Gregg discusses how being a faithful Christians means becoming conversant and skillful with concepts: developing “conceptual fluency.” In other words because understanding is key to both Christian belief and Christian living, how (and how well) we understand life, the Bible, etc. depends on the ideas and concepts that we view to be relevant to such matters and on our willingness and ability to bring them to bear properly. The result is that our breadth of understanding is limited: one, by the range and nature of concepts that we have at our disposal; two, by where we’ve been taught that they apply; and three, by how (and how well) we have been taught to use them. So for Christians, growing one’s “toolbox” of concepts—and learning how to use them well and apply them appropriately—is nothing short of essential, to the point that Christian maturity depends upon becoming conversant and skillful with concepts. The post Foundations 5: Conceptual Toolbox (171) appeared first on Untangling Christianity.
18 minutes | 2 years ago
Revamping Untangling Christianity (170)
“. . . in key ways, the evangelical church is neither able to help those inside become truly “Christ-like” nor is it able effectively to persuade those outside that “Christ-likeness” is a valuable or viable way of being. To put it in Christian terms, in my view the evangelical church essentially fails at both discipleship and the great commission.” Last episode, #169, I made this is a massive statement. It’s a bombshell, really. To clarify my position, I defined this brokenness as “dysfunction” and then presented one example of this dysfunction, that being the inability and / or unwillingness of church leaders to accept challenge, critique, or even engage in productive dialogue with those who hold dissenting views. So why am I repeating points that I made in the previous episode? I am repeating these points because it may appear that my views are in conflict with each other, such that this fairly all-encompassing critique of evangelical Christianity seems to contradict my strong affirmation of the value of Christianity in general, which has been a main focus of the podcast. Particularly, my comments of last episode are far bleaker and more negative than any that I have offered on the podcast to this point. On the one hand this is due to the format that the podcast has taken, where John Poelstra and I began first by reviewing several books written by evangelicals and following this our later podcasts maintained a rather discussional format, with John typically raising issues or bringing questions upon which I offered commentary and perspective. And of course, this format also helped our discussions remain in keeping with the podcast’s tagline: we examined (and I offered perspectives to defuse) “destructive ideologies” and to unsnarl “confused ideas” within Christian belief and practice, and we considered Christianity from a perspective where love and truth, truth and love are co-central. So my goal in repeating the key points of last episode is to highlight a new focus for the podcast, one that began last episode and will become increasingly prevalent as I go on. This new focus is to clarify the origins of the fundamental flaws in evangelical Christianity (and the entrenched dysfunction that results)—in other words, to present “the problem” as fully and convincingly as possible—and to present, in response, the solutions that I believe are necessary to overcome (and eliminate) the sources of these flaws (and their outworking, as systemic dysfunction). The post Revamping Untangling Christianity (170) appeared first on Untangling Christianity.
15 minutes | 2 years ago
Why Evangelicalism Fails (169)
The intention of this episode, the fifth episode on the Foundations of Flourishing curriculum 1, was for it to be a “round-up” of the previous four podcasts with a goal of highlighting the most important or perhaps under-exposed aspects of the first half of the curriculum that they present. However, over the course of producing this series of podcasts and considering the aims and focus areas of the “Foundation of Flourishing” program, I have come to understand that there is a larger issue that needs to be presented as part of presenting this “First Steps” curriculum, which is the initial curriculum of the “Foundations” program. Let me begin by explaining that the “Foundations of Flourishing” program—and the entire Integration Project of which it is a part—is not primarily an educational effort. In other words, it is not mainly aimed at providing information or at teaching techniques or strategies. Instead, it is above all a response to a problem—to what I see as a major and critical problem within evangelical Christianity. To put it simply, the Integration Project (and the “Foundations of Flourishing” curriculums) are not designed to make what is currently a “good thing” great or even to make an acceptable thing better. They are instead designed to make an essentially dysfunctional thing functional—to make something that is broken actually work. Now it may take a moment or two for the full implication of what I am saying here to sink in. I am actually saying that evangelical Christianity is not simply in need of some improvement “here” or “there.” I am saying that it is fundamentally broken. I am of the opinion, in other words, that the evangelical church by and large cannot carry out its role as either imaging Christ or as offering a viable and valuable embodiment of Christianity. So in key ways the evangelical church is neither able to help those inside become truly “Christ-like” nor is it able effectively to persuade outsiders, at least based on its current presentation of such, that “Christ-likeness” is a valuable or viable way of being. To use Christian terminology, in my view the evangelical church patently fails at both discipleship and the great commission. The post Why Evangelicalism Fails (169) appeared first on Untangling Christianity.
20 minutes | 3 years ago
Foundations 4: Communication is Key (168)
This episode features content from module four of the “First Steps” curriculum, entitled: “Dialogue Skills: listening gently, speaking honestly.” Module four address a key skill for Christians, yet one this is mostly overlooked. Specifically, as a religion eager to communicate its beliefs to outsiders—many of which are unreceptive and even hostile to these beliefs—it is difficult to overstate the importance of good communication skills for Christians and the Christian church. So I find it not simply ironic but baffling that Christians pay so so little attention to communication, to the point that I have never heard of a church or Christian organization requiring members to learn communication skills. This module, then, focuses on “interest-based” communication skills. Now before I begin I want to be very clear: the purpose of learning such communication skills is not for Christians to debate better, or win more arguments, with non-Christians. Nor is the point of this module to provide tactics and techniques to help Christians be more persuasive in presenting Christianity to outsiders. Instead, the point of this module—and the main value of learning interest-based communication skills—is to develop a fuller understanding of a) the other person and her views on a certain topic, b) of myself and my views on the topic, and c) of the actual topic under discussion. Indeed, the orientation underlying the interest-based communication presented in this module is not an orientation aiming to defeat the other party’s views or necessarily reveal the weaknesses in those views. That orientation only listens long enough to form a counter-argument, and so it only hears the points that are disagreed with or that seem problematic. By contrast, the orientation promoted here begins with listening openly and fully (but includes speaking gently and, sometimes, critically). This orientation does not aim to undercut or disprove the other position but seeks to understand it and uncover its truth strengths. To do this, this module introduces the complimentary opposition between affirmation and critique. In other words, participants learn to affirm others and the value of their views and develop the skills to offer critical responses to those views, yet to do so is a manner that opposes some of the content under discussion rather disparages some individual within the discussion. This episode close out with a discussion with John Poelstra. More about the different levels of listening John refers to are found in his podcast titled What is Good Listening? The post Foundations 4: Communication is Key (168) appeared first on Untangling Christianity.
19 minutes | 3 years ago
Foundations 3: Inventory-taking (167)
This is the third in a series of eight to ten episodes explaining the first curriculum (called “First Steps”) in the Foundations of Flourishing teaching program. In this episode Gregg focuses on the double-task of understanding, or “inventorying,” personal beliefs and then assessing how much one values these beliefs (and why). At first glance “inventory taking” may seem like a simple and straightforward matter for Christians: by definition, a Christian is someone who believe the basic tenets of Christianity. Yet in Gregg’s experience generic definitions actually prove to be more of an obstacle than an aid. In other words, the purpose of inventory-taking is to understand more clearly what one believes, one’s personal view or “slant” on these beliefs, and where one’s beliefs comes from. As such, a crucial factor for inventory-taking is the notion of ownership, or the sense that a given belief or viewpoint is one that corresponds to my “core values.” We can say that we “own” a belief if it takes no or low outside impetus for us to maintain and promote it. In other words, beliefs that I own are beliefs that I intrinsically want to act upon (even if I am not consist or always successful in doing so). Inventory-taking also includes the related notion of understanding that our beliefs have an origin, even if there might be multiple points of origin for any given belief. The point is that understanding more about where our beliefs come from helps us evaluate why we hold and value our beliefs as we do. In the realm of inventory-taking and beliefs, John shares the process he went through to enumerate his own beliefs and encourages people to do the same. You can find the list he created at johnpoelstra.com/beliefs. The post Foundations 3: Inventory-taking (167) appeared first on Untangling Christianity.
21 minutes | 3 years ago
Foundations 2: Understanding Fear (166)
This is the second in a series of eight to ten episodes explaining the first curriculum (called “First Steps”) in the Foundations of Flourishing teaching program. After last episode’s focus on the three negative elements that typically afflict evangelical churches (Legalism, Fear, Ignorance), here Gregg examines fear as the principal element that links legalism and ignorance. The post Foundations 2: Understanding Fear (166) appeared first on Untangling Christianity.
19 minutes | 3 years ago
Foundations 1: Legalism, Fear, Ignorance (165)
Legalism, fear, and ignorance: these three words represent tendencies and orientations that none of us would like to own up to, much less that Christians would want to admit to. Sadly, however, the members of this trio are all too frequently cited by outsiders as reasons that Christians are phoney and that the Christian church is bankrupt. What is more, my experience is that these three tendencies and orientations are often found together, so that where one is present, the others are likely there also. Addressing these three opponents to right Christian living and to the full and persuasive presentation of Christianity is an essential “first-step” to a program dedicated to promoting a high level of satisfaction for Christians, relative to their beliefs, and consequently for Christian beliefs to appear more legitimate, and even compelling, to those outside of Christianity. Legalism fills the void when we have not developed the necessary, productive skills to navigate the complexities of living in our world. In other words poor assumptions, like the “requirements” of the Christian life being clear and the “process” for living it being obvious, lend themselves to creating a law-based system of behaviours and norms based upon those perceived requirements and processes. Yet instead of addressing situations or events that require decisions, the main goal of legalism is to keep us safe by identifying who is “like us” or “in our tribe” and what behaviours or ideas are acceptable or match our community’s. So legalism appeases fear, and fear drives legalism. Fear—and precisely an unconscious but deep-seated worry that Christians must out-argue opponents and that “good Christians” always defend Christianity (and do it successfully)—can become the guiding disposition that blocks our ability to cultivate the positive dispositions that allow us to engage well with God, others, and especially with ourselves. Only a posture of openness and vulnerability allows us to adapt to the requirements of opposing dispositions (such humility and confidence, love and truth, trust and suspicion, etc.). Yet this is impossible when fear reigns, especially when we are unconscious of it. In this way, fear is linked to ignorance and ignorance can perpetuate fear. Ignorance exists if Christians have not developed the habit of accumulating knowledge relevant to both Christian faith and human life. Indeed, where Christians believe that they already have all of the resources needed to live life well and understand the Bible correctly, ignorance can be self-perpetuating because we “settle” for our opinions (and those of our church or our pastor). This can become a system of minimal information that never challenges us but merely affirms what we already hold to be the case. Where ignorance is based upon biblical understandings, it automatically includes the further misunderstanding that salvation is more important than—or superior to—creation. Together legalism, fear, and ignorance create a monoculture where Christians become “boundary-focused,” carefully policing who comes into the fold (and where and how long they stay), and where Christians are unable authentically to connect with outsiders (and instead simply engage in “cross-talk” and dispute). So what can be done about these three opponents? First, we recognize that legalism, fear-based living, and ignorance are enemies to a Christian way of being—they prevent Christian maturity and so undermine the potential for Christians to live abundantly (or “to flourish”). Second, we recognize that legalism, fear-based living, and ignorance in the church are the natural result of some rather common poor assumptions and misunderstandings. This means that unless we have taken active steps to work against them, I must acknowledge that they are almost certainly present, to some degree, in my life! The post Foundations 1: Legalism, Fear, Ignorance (165) appeared first on Untangling Christianity.
38 minutes | 3 years ago
Christians Go Back to Kindergarten (164)
This is the third of the three-episode series where Gregg offers his views on the Whitehorse Inn podcast, “Do all paths lead to God?” Specifically, Gregg is replying to the claim that this podcast is an example of how Christians “engage well” with outsiders—how they engage thoughtfully, on point, and respectfully with non-Christians and interact with non-Christian views from the perspective of (and on the terms of) non-Christians. In this episode Gregg bring together a number of arguments that respond point-for-point to the Whitehorse Inn podcasters main perspectives. Gregg summarizes his views by explaining that he perceives at least three basic flaws in the approach taken by the Whitehorse podcasters, and that these flaws are “fatal” because they undermine the Christian message that the podcasters desire to communicate and disenfranchise non-Christians, the audience to whom the podcasters seek to communicate this message. The first flaw is that their presentation of the Christian message overvalues the Bible (and the importance of biblical truth) and both undervalues experience (and the importance of love), and further overemphasizes its uniqueness while de-emphasizing its shared nature. The second flaw is that the podcasters unjustifiably detach truth claims from their corresponding truth values, to the point that they appear to view Christian truth claims as comprising their own truth values, as if such a thing were possible. The third flaw is that the podcasters take an unnecessarily polarized view of human capacities resulting in an overly limited view of typical human capability (particularly of human sense perception, imagination, emotion, memory, interpretation, etc.), believing that typical human perspectives are purely subjective (and therefore of no or low value) while those of biblical authors and persons are fully objective (and so of full or high value). Gregg believes these three flaws to be related by the fact that they all represent overstating (or prioritizing) certain notions to the detriment of others, when in fact both are not only interrelated but necessary (and so require proper integration and equal “weight”). All of the above are also informed by a philosophical perspective that overly simplifies how we know things and is overly optimistic about how fully we can access the things that we try to know. Concerning how the podcasters under-emphasize and devalue experience, Gregg explains that Christians need to understand not only how others view the world but why they view it as they do. Specifically, Gregg argues that , in a post-holocaust, post-Rwanda, post-modern world we cannot proceed like, for instance, Paul did on Mars Hill (in Acts 17). Paul was communicating with a population who were almost entirely ignorant of Jesus and the message of Christianity. Further, he was communicating to a culture that was far more open than ours and one that was fundamentally different. And the main difference is that Paul was dealing with a culture of belief were scepticism was present but not overwhelming, whereas we are now dealing with a nearly overwhelming culture of suspicion (and even apathy) where belief is rare. The point is that Paul needed to communicate content first—he needed to communicate basic facts to introduce Christianity to those who had never heard of it before. In the twenty-first century, however, everyone already knows everything about Christianity. Now Christians will immediately object: many non-Christians think they have the whole picture when in fact they have a partial picture, or they believe that they know what Christianity is about but they are missing key information. The issue Gregg notes here is that the reigning suspicion toward Christianity will never be overcome but more or better information. This is because suspicion, as an interpretive grid, is a way of seeing that is aimed not at a belief’s content but at its practitioners’ actions. This has two implications. The first implication is that because suspicion is aimed at uncovering self-deceit, the very thing that the Bible so keenly details and continually denounces, Christians should respond to suspicion by accepting its criticism and examining where and how it is true in order, to use the Whitehorse Inn podcasters’s words, to “0submit] ourselves to reality.” The second implication of the Christian’s actions being under fire, and not his or her beliefs per se, is that Christians need to earn the right to speak by showing outsiders that they are “real human beings.” So where part of the accusation lodged against Christians is that they are “disconnected from real life” (demonstrated in part by the fact that they continually misunderstand non-Christians will claiming the relate with them well) Gregg argues that Christians must begin a conversation with outsiders not by talking about God and Christianity but by demonstrating how their faith plays out in real life. So in a “culture of suspicion” Christians cannot proceed by telling things about Christianity first, and only showing how what we said can be validated in “real life” second. This worked for Paul on Mars Hill but is not the approach that can address today’s widespread suspicion. Instead, today Christians need to . . . go back to Kindergarten! In other words, we need to show Christianity (and ourselves as Christians) to be valid and real, and only then can we earn a hearing—only then can we tell non-Christians about Christianity in a way that addresses how non-Christians may be either mis– or under-informed about Christian truth claims or biblical information. The post Christians Go Back to Kindergarten (164) appeared first on Untangling Christianity.
27 minutes | 3 years ago
Non-Christians Have “Reason Enough” (163)
This is the second episode in a three-part miniseries where Gregg offers his views on the Whitehorse Inn podcast, “Do all paths lead to God?” Specifically, Gregg is replying to the claim that this podcast is an example of how Christians “engage well” with outsiders—how they engage thoughtfully, on point, and respectfully with non-Christians and interact with non-Christian views from the perspective of (and on the terms of) non-Christians. Gregg begins by explaining that he finds the priorities for the investigation that the speakers did carry out to be worrying. So at 3:15 mark the speaker first notes their intention to determine if the idea that “All paths lead to God” is consistent with Christ’s teachings, and next to determine if the idea is “reasonable” to begin with. So where the Whitehorse Inn podcast apparently aim to help Christians engage well with non-Christians on the question of whether “all paths lead to God,” yet does so by prioritizing conformity with Christ’s teachings ahead of conformity with reason, this implies one of two things. Either that Christianity is obviously reasonable—and expects non-Christians to accept this as a foregone conclusion (which clearly they would dispute) or this ordering assumes that Christianity is in some way “outside of” or “above” the criteria of reasonableness. Both perspectives are problematic when presenting Christianity to non-Christians. Focusing on the notion that Christianity is in some way “outside of” or “above” the criteria of reasonableness, Gregg is particularly critical of the strong fideist perspective that argues that “human sin has so damaged human reason as to make it impossible for human reason to evaluate religious truth claims properly.” (C. Stephan Evans, 1998 Faith Beyond Reason, 16). Gregg identifies several deficiencies with this view. First, it overstates the implications of sin for non-Christians, both theologically and experientially. So Calvin’s notion of “total depravity” overstates the matter in believing that God’s image in humanity was completely shattered as of Genesis 3. The evidence? Biblically, both Genesis 5 and 9 make references to God’s image in humanity that cannot be restricted to a historical reference. More compellingly, look around you! Everyday you will see non-Christians making choices and using their reason to do truly valuable and morally good things. Not all the time, and not entirely (although interestingly, that’s the same with Christians). But they do so enough, in my view, to discredit Calvin’s conclusion. Second, the strong form of the argument under-states or even ignores the necessary interplay between life and faith. It does so in two ways. The first way concerns how the strong version typically characterizes reason (or better, the philosophical view of reason that it typically holds). Called philosophical modernism, Gregg argues that this view drastically overstates the power and scope of human reason. For example, Modernism maintains that humans can achieve objective knowledge (i.e., that they can be certain that what they know is true) and that all rational people will arrive at the same understandings (because all people have the same faculty of reason). The second way concerns how a number of key, Christian truth claims can only be evaluated experientially (such as the human pre-disposition to self-deceit or the reality of God’s love for human beings). So, where non-Christians deny Christianity because, for example, they have been presented with no “real life” evidence for the claim that “God loves us”—or no “content” appropriate to prove its truthfulness—this clearly shows that non-Christians have understood the claim just fine! Further, while faith is always involved in embracing Christianity, Gregg argues that the notion that non-Christians cannot “evaluate religious truth claims properly” is nearly impossible to assess, because most Christians are either unable properly to situate such claims and present evidence for them or they do not believe that such evidence is even required (because non-Christians can’t competently evaluate it)! In other words, this view is self-fulfilling but then blames the other party—then non-Christians—for the outcome! Gregg finishes by explaining how the Whitehorse Inn podcasters have essentially been dishonest by constructed a “straw man” argument. So Gregg summarizes the Whitehorse Inn podcast episode like this: Many—and maybe most—non-Christians believe that “all paths lead to God,” The view that “all paths lead to God” is confused, contradictory, and ultimately mistaken, Therefore many—and maybe most—non-Christians are therefore confused, illogical, and ultimately mistaken when it comes to their beliefs, Christians can use a few simple tips and tactics to present the truth to Non-Christians. Very simple, very straightforward. The problem is that this summary is not true. So Gregg’s argument that the presenters have essentially created—and then gone on easily to defeat—a “strawman.” A strawman argument is an argument that supposedly represents an opponent’s view but in actual fact represents an argument that is weaker and usually simpler (and potentially unrelated to the actual argument. So by choosing the weakest possible manifestation of an anti-Christian argument and then showing it (surprise, surprise) to be invalid, the presenters give the impression of: Really understanding non-Christian views, Sincerely engaging with non-Christian views, Decisively defeating non-Christian views, Clearly showing other Christians how to do the same. Yet this approach is not only inaccurate (and even dishonest), but is actually self-defeating. In other words, by choosing the weakest possible opponent and then claiming victory, 1) Christians fool themselves into thinking that their position is strong when in fact it is weak (or even *irrelevant* to stronger versions non-Christian arguments), 2) Christians simply reinforce the prevailing, non-Christian view that Christians are out-of-touch with reality, 3) Christians likewise reinforce the prevailing, non-Christian view that Christian claims about loving others and respecting their viewpoints are simply, well, bogus. The point is that none of the non-Christians that I know believe the view that “all roads lead to God” is even sensible, let alone poses any reason for holding an agnostic or atheistic viewpoint. No self-respecting agnostic or atheist that I know or am aware actually holds this view! The only people I am aware of that hold it are Baha’i! The post Non-Christians Have “Reason Enough” (163) appeared first on Untangling Christianity.
22 minutes | 3 years ago
Fuzzy non-Christianity misrepresents non-Christians (162)
In this episode Gregg reviews an episode from the Whitehorse Inn podcast by Christian academician Michael Horton entitled: “Do all paths lead to God?” Gregg begins by noting that this podcast was offered in the Untangling Christianity Facebook group as an example of how Christians engage well with non-Christians (i.e., how Christians can engage thoughtfully, on point, and respectfully with non-Christians and their perspectives). Gregg found just the opposite. Before beginning with a point-by-point examination of the episode Gregg first offers what he views to be a better way not only of engaging with non-Christians but a better approach to both life and faith. Gregg refers to this as an “integrated approach” to life and faith. This integrated approach emphasizes that unless we realize and address the problems associated with starting somewhere other than “with ourselves,” we are bound to misfire when we try to engage with both life and faith. And Christians are certainly bound to misfire when it comes to how they engage with non-Christians. On the other hand, an integrated approach positively emphasizes the crucial things that human beings glean about themselves and the insights that are offered relative to Christian belief (and the Christian God) by living in the world—what Christians refer to as “creation.” In other words, because creation and salvation are necessarily linked, human beings can derive ready, preliminary insights into who God is / the nature of the divine-human relationship by virtue of right living and rightly engaging with life. Gregg believes that this link between creation and salvation can best be expressed as “creation frames salvation, salvation refigures creation.” Creation frames salvation, salvation refigures creation. The post Fuzzy non-Christianity misrepresents non-Christians (162) appeared first on Untangling Christianity.
28 minutes | 3 years ago
Foggy Interpretation (161)
In this episode Gregg returns to the notion of interpretation and its importance, particularly for Christians, given to the extent a central text—the Bible—informs and grounds their beliefs. Gregg explains that interpretation is a way of engaging with the world that we are always already doing. This is so much the case that interpreting is not so much an action that we perform but something that is inherent to our way of being in the world. In this way, we can think of our interpretation according to the four levels—or stages—of competence, ranging from unconscious incompetence (where we are unaware of our inability) to unconscious competence (where we are so skilled that can perform an action without paying attention to it). In most cases, adults interpret the world around them with unconscious competence, such a seasoned driver responding to a Stop sign. Gregg notes that interpretation, like real estate, is dominated by three laws. So, similarly to “location, location, location” the three laws of interpretation are “context, context, context.” Further, it is important to know the value and implication of the various components within a text. For example, differentiating between the role played by words and the role played by sentences. In short, words indicate, sentences mean. Thus the context (and therefore meaning) of words is set by their context within a sentence, and the sentences sense is informed by its context within the larger writing, and so on. Gregg also highlights the importance—and distinction between—truth claims and truth values. Gregg notes that often he sees these two confused by Christians, which gives rise to interpretive problems. This typically happen in one of two ways. On one hand, Christians at times hold assumptions that are unfounded, such as theologian Rudolph Bultmann presupposing that the miraculous is impossible. Such a view amounts to ruling “out of bounds” any unique action in the historical past, which seems unfounded (and certainly unprovable). On the other hand, Gregg’s experience is that Christians often “conflate” truth claims and truth values by supposing or implying that a truth claim can act as its own validation. Understanding this latter point is particularly important where Christians are in dialogue with non-Christians, because no claim in itself represents or contains the validation needed for outsiders to a given perspective to believe that view or perspective. So instead of imagining that truth claims represent (or contain) their own validation, Gregg advises that wherever possible Christians offer personal validation for their claims (i.e., answering the question “What makes this claim believable to you / On what basis do you believe this claim?”) Gregg highlights the disjunction between truth claims and truth values by examining the two main ways that he has experienced Christian ‘testimonies’. In the first instance, many ‘testimonies’ claim too much out of too little. These sorts of accounts appear as rather vague or loosely connected events that involve some form of divine intervention, presence or relevance. These accounts often have little direct or obvious links to God, but because ‘testimonies’ are supposed to “move people” toward belief in God so this puts the teller into a position where s/he often ends the account with a dramatic—but not coherent—punchline that amounts to: “God did this!” or “God was here!” Instead, Gregg suggests that Christians need to consider what it is about an experience or situation that renders particular Christian views believable, and focus on communicating this. Second, where Christian testimonies do have substance they often are communicated as legal testimony—as conveying information such as dates, circumstances, and outcomes. Instead again, Gregg charges that the focus of Christian testimony about God is not the events primarily but the interpretation that one gives them, and primarily the notion that the interpretation that is given is the best and none other will do. This involves tremendous thought and reflection, and also being open to putting one’s experiences and interpretations thereof “in the dock:” to tell others our stories of how we have experienced God and allow others to give us feedback on the clarity, viability and even believability of the experiences and / or how we have interpreted them. In Gregg’s view, focusing Christian testimony on how we have interpreted those experiences that have been key to leading us to believe in (and commit to) Christianity allows listeners the chance to understand how the teller has linked these events with God to be compelled by the links, making Christian belief both sensible and convincing. Gregg notes that just as interpretation is crucial to understanding properly the divine story, so to it is crucial to understanding one’s own story and historiography. And both God’s story and one’s own story are essential both for living well in the world and as connecting best with God. This is of great importance yet greatly misunderstood within Christian culture, such that many Christians believe that their own story is supposed to be put aside they are instead to focus entirely on God’s Story. Gregg relates this to Christians lacking conceptual savvy and having a rather sparse conceptual toolbox (where we lack such concepts as being “narrators” in our own lives, concepts that allow Christians to view the importance of their own story in a way that can be complimentary—and not simply conflictual—with the divine story). Gregg ends by re-emphasizing the importance of feedback and seeking knowledgeable, competent sources of feedback. Christians need the Bible and need more than the Bible, and becoming competent with a variety of feedback sources and types will allow Christians to be better able to integrate their faith and the lives / living in the world. The post Foggy Interpretation (161) appeared first on Untangling Christianity.
40 minutes | 3 years ago
The Lightning Round (160)
In this episode John and Gregg follow-up to Episode #159, where they began discussing the process of letting go of what is old and familiar in favour of what is better, especially as it relates to Christian beliefs, beliefs about ourselves & our world, how we interact wit other information sources. Topics for today include examining our modes of investigation, resources we use, the boundaries we set (and when to break them), how we assess success and what have we learned to avoid. Gregg asks: What are John’s success criteria in terms of beliefs about God, Christianity, himself, etc.? Gregg notes Anna’s point from last podcast and contrasts the pursuit of certainty (which seems an impossible goal and an impossible assumption—that certainty can even be attained by human beings) vs. pursuing truth, which seems both possible and essential for right living. John does not think of himself as “pursuing truth” but as making sense of things, connecting dots. John explains how this sense-making process plays out in business and notes that he measures his success in these areas subjectively. For example, within a project management setting success means less chaos, smoother meetings, better collaboration. Gregg wonders: What role does external feedback play in terms of John measuring his success, and how does bringing other people into your faith investigation help? John responds that this is what he did by seeking Gregg’s help with aspects of Christianity that John found problematic. Gregg wonders: is John undervaluing his skills when it comes to evaluating beliefs and “making sense” of Christianity? Specifically, John’s desire to bring order to chaos and clarity to confusion seems not new but to be an intrinsic part of John. John agrees, and explains that in his view L’Abri helped him empty his proverbial “backpack of beliefs” of bogus things, but the issue is that John’s “backpack” is still relatively empty. In other words, John wants to be able to articulate what he believes and why in such a way that someone else would want it, but John does not have the “belief content” to be able to do this. Gregg challenges John: he thinks that there is more in John’s backpack than John is giving himself credit for, and while Gregg sees John as very skilled in his ability to assess beliefs in practical terms Gregg argues that there is a large part of Christian belief that focuses much more on emotional connection, like being in a love relationship. So Gregg suggests that a necessary component for John to experience “success” relative to acquiring Christian beliefs that he can articulate and that others would find desirable is for those emotional aspects of John to be enlarged or enhanced. John agrees that this may be an under-developed part of himself and so this is worth investigating. Gregg next wonders what role did L’Abri play for John relative to his beliefs: why did he decide to go and why did he stay so long? Gregg is particularly interested in the roles that trust and expectations played in this process. John explains the history of his decision, and notes similarities between his decision to go to Switzerland and his current decision to quit his job and move toward coaching full-time. John notes that by viewing his bid to move into coaching as an “experiment” he is much more at peace with whatever outcome arises from this bid. Gregg sees John’s example of moving into coaching as a great example of how people should deal with a non-functional faith structure. First, Gregg argues that just as John has made a “jump” into this new situation despite the fact that John’s work and earnings are important because he needs to provide for his family, so too Christians who are having to contort themselves into believing things that do not make sense or that they do not find believable should be making the type of thoughtful, ownership-oriented “jump” that John has made with coaching. Second, John has made a number of preparatory steps to be able to make this jump which Gregg sees as similar for making such a move in a faith context. Third, Gregg compares making such a jump to putting together the pieces of a puzzle, and notes the difference between having 9 out of 10 pieces put together (and searching for the last piece) vs. having those 9 pieces scattered on the table (and missing the last piece). In both situations the same amount of content is present, but the feeling may be very different. Gregg’s final question: What else has John done outside of L’Abri in “getting to better” in terms of his beliefs? John mentions that it would be hard to overstate the benefit of the podcast. John notes several key factors about the podcast. First, be prepared. Second, be open to being sharpened through conversation and dialogue. Third, through the above process John “found his voice.” In other words, the result is a sense of empowerment—it helped John to be a more authentic version of John. John finishes by explaining that he thinks that it could be helpful for others to start putting out their thoughts through starting a blog, even if anonymously. He notes that Facebook may be more difficult because it is very easy to receive immediate critique. The post The Lightning Round (160) appeared first on Untangling Christianity.
48 minutes | 3 years ago
Does Belief Have to Make Sense? (159)
In this episode John and Gregg consider Anna’s comments regarding the episode Problems with the Westminster Confession (155) and how they might respond to some of the situations that Anna is experiencing. Anna writes: I think that each person lives their lives according to a unique narrative that belongs to them and them alone. No two people see the world, the narrative, the story, the truth, etc. in the same way. This is most disconcerting, in some ways because we as human desire certainty and yet those very things bring unrest. Thus I wonder: what hope is there for any of us, if we insist upon ‘our truth’ being the ONLY ONE. Then we in essence assert ourselves to be God, the ONE omnipotent all-knowing being. Was this not the sin of Satan? And yet if we humble ourselves and acknowledge that we cannot assert our truth to be the only one, we set ourselves adrift in a sea of uncertainty, which is very uncomfortable. I mean VERY uncomfortable. This episode was full of examining truth and the way that it is presented as well as maintaining that love and truth are co-central, which is the jumping off point for my comment. . . . I am in a place in my life that is difficult, a deconstruction of sorts and I don’t know what let go of and what to hold on to anymore. I have been reading a lot: many many different perspectives, narratives, claims to ‘truth.’ It’s overwhelming. The sometimes terrifying feeling of being adrift at sea. I felt so much safer and more secure when I was more certain of matters of God and faith. That’s why I have been honing in on truth claims and how to discern what you [Gregg] term as ‘better or worse’ interpretations. At the time that these comments were posted Gregg suggested to Anna a discussion of how we can go about releasing the old in favour of the new (and better): our modes of research, resources, boundary setting, etc. that can be useful to this end. John believes that we are rarely conscious of such processes. He also notes that he is currently revisiting his typical approach, which is focusing on logic. John compares his fact-based, concrete approach with a more intuition-based, gut level approach. Gregg then wonders: is it that logic (or rationality) does not matter to more gut-level people, or that there is a difference in criteria between these various approaches (and how those criteria are evaluated)? Gregg wonders about how John’s work at L’Abri (of evaluating and letting go of the problematic views and understandings that he had had in past) would look different if John were to be more intuitive and less in need of an overabundance of facts? John sees the intuitive and the logical connecting, though sees himself as needing (or wanting) less concrete facts and more experiential. John also realized that what he had previously considered to be “reliable” sources were instead reliable and / or well-meaning people but were not good sources for the information that they were providing. Gregg sees the outcome of John’s time at L’Abri having four factors. First, there are critical thinking skills developed. Second, John is using logical evaluation. Third, experience (or true-to-lifeness) is crucial in order for John to believe something. Fourth, John is gathering biblical truth claims and then evaluating them—their truth value—on the basis of the Bible. In contrast to John’s sense that these are basic skills, Gregg views these skills as not simply necessary but as complex (and so demonstrating an advanced level of proficiency). In Gregg’s view the above approach demonstrates a high level of ownership and, while John’s comments about his situation seem to echo Anna’s (about being adrift at sea), interestingly they don’t convey the sense of “being worried.” So Gregg speculates about how being in a *rightly oriented community* (such as L’Abri) will allow people to develop intuition and imagination in proper / more productive ways. Stated differently, the rich integration that occurred at Swiss L’Abri allowed for “sense-making” emotionally, intellectually, viscerally, aspirationally, etc. Further, for Gregg it took several years to take all of this in. Additionally, in John’s words “no one was trying too hard.” He was accepted and valued as a person, while displaying a willingness to support and foster changes for John. The post Does Belief Have to Make Sense? (159) appeared first on Untangling Christianity.
34 minutes | 3 years ago
Narrating, Not Writing Your Life (158)
In this episode Gregg takes up John’s challenge of episode #157 to to lay out exactly what Gregg meant in #157 by explaining that we all seek to “occupying the narrator’s position” in our own lives, and particularly what he meant by the idea of narrative identity (and why he believes that this way of formulating the matter is better than “writing” our own stories). Gregg explains that “narrative identity” is the idea that human self-understanding comes from—and always produces—stories. Also, our self-understanding is composed of 3 different elements because we experience life in (and through) time. First, the events of our past, that really took place. I call this one’s history. Second, the story that we write about those past events, based on memory and outside information. I call this one’s historiography. Third, my own story about who I am and wish to be / become. I call this simply, one’s story. My story is informed my who I have understood myself to be in the past but is also in tension with this self-understanding, because I am not bound to the past. So three elements: one’s history, one’s historiography, one’s story. They are all related to each other but they are all, also, distinct. An important distinction is that my historiography, while it involves creativity, is very much an exercise in truth-telling: recounting real things that really happened. My story is less so. Or more accurately, where it focuses on who I wish to be / become, my story is more closely related to the realm of “the possible”—to what could be. In this sense, living and narrating my story is also an exercise in imagination. The post Narrating, Not Writing Your Life (158) appeared first on Untangling Christianity.
37 minutes | 3 years ago
Do We Write Our Own Story? (157)
In this podcast John and Gregg team up to discuss the notion that Gregg raised in Episode #153, where he rejects the idea that we “write our own stories.” John finds the idea of writing one’s own story to be very important, to the point the we are “victims” if we do not. Gregg wonders if he and John are using this term in the same way, despite the fact that John’s sense of the notion may be the more prevalent one. On John’s view, the notion of writing one’s story is aspirational. And one may not achieve what one is aspiring to. Gregg notes that one’s story and one’s understanding of identity are closely related. So Gregg is critical of cases where people use this notion of “writing one’s own story” to legitimate the full scope of their personal history. In other words, he is critical of cases where people claim that the entirety of the events of their lives are good because these events have contributed to them being “where they are now.” In other words, with this particular view of self-authoring there is only affirmation of one’s choices, actions, etc. and never critique! Or, events and choices that run counter (or undermine) the current life story are often underplayed (if not ignored). The result, as Gregg sees it, is these self-authored stories are almost always “counter factual.” They contain (and sometimes promote) lies, and lies related to one’s identity. Gregg explains his view of “narrative identity” as having and / or relying on three components: The events that took place in the past (history), The story that I have written, as an autobiography, about these past events and how I have acted—and suffered—through them (historiography), One’s “personal story,” which is the understanding of myself and my actions, goals, etc., in the present. In Gregg’s view, he is not the only person who is (or should be) involved in the process of understanding his own “personal story.” In fact, he recommends seeking critical feedback on how we have understood or interpreted events that are critical to our stories as a way of developing our skills at understanding (and indeed, loving) ourselves and others. So in terms of our own, personal stories, Gregg argues that each of us is essentially trying to occupy “the narrator’s position:” to narrate our lives. This is the closest that human being ever get to “writing” their own stories, and Gregg see narrating (rather than writing) our personal stories as more realistic because human beings both act and suffer. In other words, despite our best intentions and abilities, we are not in control of how the story plays unfolds or finishes. Based on the view of self-authoring that Gregg is criticizing, John notes that people seem to be adept at “letting themselves off the hook,” and wonders how Christianity combats this? Gregg notes that Christianity highlights this fact by explaining how human beings are fallible, finite, and fallen. Specifically, fallenness indicates that we are people who act in ways that undermine our own best interest, while claiming not to do so! This amounts to the understanding that humans have a propensity toward self-deception. From this notion, Gregg argues that we as human beings are not always the most trustworthy or best “directors” of their own lives. John wonders: where does Gregg see the type of self-authoring that he is critical of? Gregg explains that he sees this both among Christians and non-Christians, though he has experienced this most on the West coast (as a phenomenon that has been called “West coast spirituality”). And the biggest problem that Gregg sees with it is that those holding such views have essentially immunized themselves against critique. So a major theme in such story-telling is that people are telling themselves things like: “I’m a good person,” or “I do the things that God wants me to,” etc. The post Do We Write Our Own Story? (157) appeared first on Untangling Christianity.
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