Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Book Samples . . . Chapter 2

Over the next couple of weeks I would like to share snippets of my new book coming out toward the end of February.  The book is called "No Argument for God: Going Beyond Reason in Conversations About Faith."  It is a book for both the believer who would like to look at his faith in a new way and the skeptic who has traditionally had problems with faith the way it is.

This book is the first of its kind to drop the 'fight fire with fire' approach to justifying Christian faith - instead, lets agree that faith is absurd . . . but lets move beyond that and explain why it is worth following.  This was the approach by many early Christians (Paul even called the Gospel 'foolishness').  They didn't care to try to make faith 'make sense' - it was its 'foolishness' that proved its divinity.

So enjoy some of the snippets from the book and I would encourage you to check it out on Amazon and order a copy today!

From Chapter Two:

EVERYONE NEEDS TO TAKE A TRIP to a foreign culture. We learn a lot by seeing things for the first time. One of the longest trips I have ever taken was to the Philippine Islands. Besides being a trip to the other side of the world (and twenty-two hours in a plane), it was an adventure of new experiences. When we arrived, I stepped out of the airport and into a heat unlike anything I had previously felt. It wasn’t just hot; it was like stepping into a boiler room. I thought my face would melt. It was so humid I could see the air. As I stepped off the curb and shook hands with my friend, I at first thought he had a hand-sweating problem. As I met more people that day I realized that everyone in the Philippines has a hand-sweating problem. When it is 95 degrees with 150 percent humidity, sweat is a way of life. We packed ourselves into a small car and drove through the city. I don’t know how we survived. I gripped the side of my seat as were catapulted down streets with no apparent traffic laws. (My Filipino friends chatted happily.) To me, the city of Manila was complete chaos. There were people everywhere—walking; on bikes; in cars, buses and jeepneys; and pushing carts and wagons. All of them are going somewhere—fast. Personal space in the United States is conceived differently in the Philippines. Four or five people per taxi was normal. When we loaded our group into the back of a truck (who needs seat-belts?), we sat so close together we were sharing organs. The highlight of that first day was watching a moped pass us with a sidecar carrying thirteen people. Yes, thirteen! Can you imagine that many people smashed together on a moped going about thirty-five miles per hour? I had never seen such sights. To my friend, what was a typical day in the city felt like complete craziness to me.

When we arrived where we were staying, my experience was no different. Conflicting odors of chicken and beef cooked by street vendors mingled with diesel in the heavy, humid air. One smell I will never forget is ballut. Ballut, a Filipino delicacy, is essentially the egg of a fertilized chick or duck two weeks shy of hatching. Yum. Boiled on the street, ballut is eaten by cracking the egg, drinking the amniotic juice and eating the little boiled chick, feathers and all. My friends laughed at my gag reflex. It was a real treat for them, for me it was an animal-rights issue. While I never truly adjusted to the idea of ballut, I did become acclimated to the Filipino way of life. I adjusted to the heat and the smell of diesel, and I even developed a hand-sweating problem. I moved from a nervous visitor to a participant in the culture. I learned to relax in taxis as they ricocheted through town. Though I stayed for less than a month, the masses seemed less chaotic and more inviting. In a strange way, thirteen men on a moped began to make sense to me. The foreign had become familiar. I began to lose sight of the way things appeared to me as a visitor. This is what happens to us; the familiar can sometimes blind us to what is right under our nose. Seeing what we have grown up with is like smelling our own breath. The things that are closest to us are the least noticeable.

The same is true when we look at our beliefs. Some may have a tough time viewing faith as nonsense, but the familiarity of our faith may blind us to its obvious absurdities. When we hear that faith is nonsense, it is natural to take exception or at least to be offended, but try looking at faith as if you are seeing it for the first time, like a tourist. To save the world a man builds a big boat in the desert. Angels talk to humans. God’s Son returns on clouds. Is it possible that these have become so familiar to us that their absurdity is no longer evident? But our resistance is understandable. Questioning our faith seems to ridicule the world we built our lives on, one that was formed by people we love and respect. Recounting the absurdities of our faith forces us to realize that in its purest form Christianity does not conform to human logic. Over the centuries these absurd details could have been edited and cleaned up to fit within the bounds of reason, but they haven’t.

Only in the last few hundred years have the faithful felt compelled to make sense of Christianity. So we resist acknowledging the nonsense of Christianity. If we agree that Christianity doesn’t make sense, we fear it will lose validity—revealing that Christianity is wrong. But what I hope to investigate in this book is that perhaps the absurdity of faith is the only way to validate it conclusively. If we are looking for something that proves our faith, logic or reason won’t do it. Ironically, it is the fact that our faith is so strange that makes it so logically compelling. So let’s look at Christianity with the same objectivity we would use to understand Haitian voodoo. Let’s try to imagine what Christianity would look like if we had never been to church, never read the Bible or prayed. Imagine the difficulty of understanding ideas like grace (love your enemies) or the atonement (God handed his Son over to die for us). As we step into this sometimes uncomfortable exercise, remember that the more it seems contrary to reason, the more it bears the imprint of something wholly Other.

At our first tourist stop we will visit a church and examine Christian practices. The church and its worship are very strange phenomena. Where else do people (some of them complete strangers to one another) sing songs, read stories from an ancient book and listen to a speech on how to live? Some churches feature robes and rituals; others, T-shirts and a rock band. Most churches feature a cross—a symbol of an ancient execution. Strange. Bread (or wafers) and wine (or grape juice) are distributed to people as the body and blood of someone who died over two thousand years ago. The songs, rituals and symbols on a Sunday morning all refer to events thousands of years in the past. The point of the morning is to worship someone or something unseen and unheard by most. At the conclusion of the time together, someone passes a plate or a basket to collect money. If this were your first time seeing all of this, it may look to you like an elaborate scam.

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