Monday, October 29, 2007

Disarm...

I'll tell you what I like about Joel Osteen. He never seems to be concerned with answering his critics. I've seen him interviewed a handful of times on news programs and every last journalist, regardless of the subject at hand, wants to bring up the differences other people have with Osteen's message and get a feel for his response. It's an obvious bait. But he never falls for it. Yet it's not the type of silence us cool emergents give, almost as if we are above being pulled into futile arguments over "old questions" that will have no resolution and will prove that no one will ever understand us. His restraint seems (to me, anyway) to be solely out of a conviction that goodwill should exist among people with differing messages.

I've been reading up on the Baha'i faith. Followers of Baha'i don't worship a deity per se, but rather celebrate an amorphous idea of diversity. Unity seems to be the object of their affections, a shared table where every idea is equally valid the goal. I'll never be a Baha'i an. I'll always believe there are some ideals and beliefs (including many espoused by Joel Osteen) that deserve to be questioned and spoken out against.

With that said, I still think that we spend way too much time defining ourselves by pointing out the chasm between ourselves and others. We are not, to loosely quote from Chocolat, defining ourselves by what we embrace, but rather by those we disagree with. It happens in pulpits across America, even those seeking to hover "above the line." In an otherwise meaningful and substantive sermon I have heard recently, the speaker used a clip of a well-known fundamentalist pastor in a debate with a well-known emergent pastor over the practice of churches offering yoga classes to their congregants. Both gave compelling arguments from their epistemological and theological backgrounds, ones that would have one over their respective followers. It's no secret which side the speaker (and myself, for that matter) fell on the debate. From my perspective, the fundamentalist was made to look foolish. From the perspective of some of my friends, he probably looked as intelligent as he could possibly be. But, in the end, was this device necessary? The obvious intent was to use an easy target to hit a bulls eye in front of friendly listeners.

I've recently read A.J. Jacobs' book The Year of Living Biblically. A writer for Esquire, Jacobs is one of the millions of Americans who, since the beginning of the Bush presidency, has become fascinated with the influence the Bible has on so many. He sought to get inside the world of the Bible and live out all the laws and rules, including the ones that time has made irrelevant, as close as possible. To do this, he found several different groups of people who follow certain precepts to the core, and he hung out with them. He visited numerous Orthodox Jews, a Creationism museum, Amish, and Jehova's Witnesses.

On a trip to Tennessee, he visited Jimmy Morrow, the pastor of a snake handling church in rural Appalachia. An agnostic, Jacobs could have said any number of divisive and contentious things about these people who occupy the far margins of our society, but he didn't. He was kind and respectful. His conclusion was extremely moving. He said when he was safely back in Manhattan he began to have this great concern for Jimmy Morrow. He had a great urge to call Morrow up and tell him to stop handling snakes. Of all the religious people he had met during the previous year, Morrow, an uneducated man with a vastly different worldview, was by far the one he liked the most. An he put his life on the line every time he handled a snake, and Jacobs wanted to protect him.

How many of us, followers of Jesus, can say we possess this kind of goodwill for those we disagree with? What would happen if we spoke out against the televangelists of our day not because they are silly caricatures, but because we genuinely are concerned with the damage their theology does, not just to their followers, but to themselves? I know this gets into murky waters with the dangers of patronization lurking on every corner, but it seems like a healthy ideal to shoot for.

7 comments:

jenA said...

I totally feel you hear. I am struck by the number of people encouraging us to see what makes us different and then being dumbstruck by the actions that come as a result of those differences.
That said, I don't dislike diversity. I dislike the way those same people petition for the recognition of and respect for one 'difference' over another. That view leaves no room for celebrating our similarities.

jenA said...

And yes, I meant to type 'here.' Sorry.

Katy said...

Ugh. I feel guilty. Mostly because I despise Joel Osteen, but the way you're talking, he would probably listen to what I have to say.

jenA said...

just wanted to say hello today.

april. said...

i hope we eventually reach a place where our criticisms are made out of goodwill and concern. laughing at people is never helpful. if i place myself on a pedestal for being enlightened and knowledgeable and "getting it," then i am no different from the ones who see themselves as righteous or honorable and see me as a heretic. only differing agendas. but what do i do if i really do see certain theology or perspectives as being harmful?? what is a kind way to voice concern?? or maybe it is not the theology that causes so much harm and destruction so much as the attitudes behind them?? because really, is joel osteen causing hate in america?? not really. my family who watches joel do not go to church. they would not pick up a book on their own. but joel brings up God and they respect joel and now they pray. how is that harmful?? maybe i just need to get over myself.

Nicholas said...

Hello Mr Nash,

I don't know who Joel Osteen is, and I only stumbled over your blog whilst searching on Technorati for Baha'i-related tags, but I thought as a Baha'i I should comment on your understanding of the Baha'i Faith.

Certainly the primary tenet of the Faith is the belief in God. Baha'u'llah, the founder of the Baha'i Faith, wrote hundreds of passages on the nature of God, of which I shall quote one here, for you:

"How wondrous is the unity of the Living, the Ever-Abiding God--a unity which is exalted above all limitations, that transcendeth the comprehension of all created things.... How lofty hath been His incorruptible Essence, how completely independent of the knowledge of all created things, and how immensely exalted will it remain above the praise of all the inhabitants of the heavens and the earth!"

Celebrating diversity is an important part of Baha'i teachings, but it is in the context of combating prejudice and racism: "Be as one spirit, one soul, leaves of one tree, flowers of one garden, waves of one ocean..."

World unity is indeed another very important principle, though it does not imply that every idea is equally valid, as you stated in your blog entry. Of course, there are many objectionable views prevalent in the world today, and Baha'is are encouraged to speak out against these prejudices: indeed, to do so is to promote the teachings of the Baha'i Faith and is mandatory on the part of every Baha'i.

For more information on the Baha'i Faith, I recommend you check out the official Baha'i website at www.bahai.org, or it's American version at www.bahai.com

There is also some good material at Wikipedia, if you prefer a third-party opinion.

Good luck in your spiritual search and may God guide your steps!

Nicholas said...

Hello Mr Nash,

I don't know who Joel Osteen is, and I only stumbled over your blog whilst searching on Technorati for Baha'i-related tags, but I thought as a Baha'i I should comment on your understanding of the Baha'i Faith.

Certainly the primary tenet of the Faith is the belief in God. Baha'u'llah, the founder of the Baha'i Faith, wrote hundreds of passages on the nature of God, of which I shall quote one here, for you:

"How wondrous is the unity of the Living, the Ever-Abiding God--a unity which is exalted above all limitations, that transcendeth the comprehension of all created things.... How lofty hath been His incorruptible Essence, how completely independent of the knowledge of all created things, and how immensely exalted will it remain above the praise of all the inhabitants of the heavens and the earth!"

Celebrating diversity is an important part of Baha'i teachings, but it is in the context of combating prejudice and racism: "Be as one spirit, one soul, leaves of one tree, flowers of one garden, waves of one ocean..."

World unity is indeed another very important principle, though it does not imply that every idea is equally valid, as you stated in your blog entry. Of course, there are many objectionable views prevalent in the world today, and Baha'is are encouraged to speak out against these prejudices: indeed, to do so is to promote the teachings of the Baha'i Faith and is mandatory on the part of every Baha'i.

For more information on the Baha'i Faith, I recommend you check out the official Baha'i website at www.bahai.org, or it's American version at www.bahai.com

There is also some good material at Wikipedia, if you prefer a third-party opinion.

Good luck in your spiritual search and may God guide your steps!