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Templeton Project: Humor in Dialogue

Back in October 2015 I wrote about the inauguration of the Abington Templeton Foundation (see here).  The project is now underway (see here) and I will be posting our writing here.

Check out the latest piece entitled “Humor in Dialogue.”

See also:

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Humor is appropriate in apologetic dialogue and witness, but there are boundaries to it.  I suggest these guidelines:

  1. No humor is acceptable that is at the personal expense of the other individual or individuals or is meant to discredit them.  It is the world view that needs to be discredited and revised through new insight, not the person.  If the person is deceptive, the strategy will probably show without help.
  2. Disarming humor to prove a point is acceptable, but one should be careful not to insult another.
  3. Off-color jokes have no place.
  4. Illustrative humor to explain your Chrisitan perspective is appropriate. (See Matthew 5: 27ff and 19: 24–examples of hyperbole)
  5. Telling jokes can be good if they are pertinent to the point that is being made. They should never serve as a distraction.
  6. One shouldn’t seek to show that the other is a fool.  This will come to light by what the other person or persons say and do.  They do not need your help. (Proverbs uses the word fool, for those who are fools.  But, in the course of a dialogue one should refrain from its use, for it does not promote conversation).
  7. Humor should always serve to further defense of the faith and witness to Christ.
  8. Laugh with, never at another person.  (Though it may be good at times to laugh at ourselves for our own foolishness).
  9. In the Warner Brother’s cartoon “Robin Hood Daffy,”  Daffy Duck shows that he is an incompetent Robin Hood.  Throughout, Porky Pig in the role of Friar Tuck laughs at Daffy.  At one    point, Daffy says, It is to laugh” with a sour, ironic humor.  He obviously does not mean what he says.  At the end Daffy becomes a friar like Tuck rather than pretending that he is an effective Robin Hood, “Defender of the Poor.”  Was Porky’s laughter helpful (I don’t think he meant to be helpful).  We should use humor to help others gain insight, not to get a good laugh.  We would expect the same treatment.  (I must admit, the cartoon made me laugh, but it’s only a cartoon).
  10. We should never be patronizing, showing in our words and actions that we feel superior to another.  (Being contemptuous can backfire).

Always remember what the author of Proverbs says:  “The wise lay up knowledge, but the mouth of a fool brings ruin near.” (Proverbs 10: 14 ESV)

Michael G. Tavella

August 20, 2019

Saint Bernard of Clairvaux

Templeton Project: Of Self-control

Back in October 2015 I wrote about the inauguration of the Abington Templeton Foundation (see here).  The project is now underway (see here) and I will be posting our writing here.

Check out the latest piece entitled “Of Self-control.”

See also:

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Self-control, or temperance, is one of the four cardinal virtues along with courage, prudence and justice that come to us from pagan philosophy.  It is found in the list of fruits of the Spirit in Paul’s letter to the Galatians (5: 23).  It is a virtue that pertains to keeping the passions and desires under control.  It bespeaks moderation.

Can we restrain our passions in our speech to others?  In the midst of dialogue and debate can we refrain from out of control  behavior.  This is a test for the man or woman who would be self-controlled.  To be unself-controlled is a great temptation. We do not need any coaxing to bad behavior.

In a discussion where there are high stakes (as religious faith always is), it is very tempting to call someone a name, interrupt, be accusatory, blame, distort, attempt to manipulate, make fun of, yell, insult, discredit another’s character, dismiss, and so on, and so on, and so on ad nauseam.

We must remember our identity as Christians.  We can pray that the Spirit give us a better capacity for self-control.  We can test our ability in our relationship with loved ones, especially our spouse and children.  In debate we can be emphatic and committed to our faith without being unself-controlled.

Paul writes,  “Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.” (I Corinthians 9: 25 ESV) Controlling our temper and anger in everyday relationships is a sign that we may do the same in our private and public apologies of the faith. Our discipline must be intentional with those we love, especially spouse and children. I have failed many times in this endeavor, but I also hope that today and tomorrow I will do better. We must focus on a discipline of moderation. The Holy Spirit will lead us to do this.

Michael G. Tavella

August 6, 2019

The Transfiguration

Templeton Project: Examples of Uncivil and Civil Speech

Back in October 2015 I wrote about the inauguration of the Abington Templeton Foundation (see here).  The project is now underway (see here) and I will be posting our writing here.

Check out the latest piece entitled “Examples of Uncivil and Civil Speech.”

See also:

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Uncivil Speech

  1. Name-calling  (pinhead, jerk, bozo, idiot, moron, stupid, etc.)
  2. Attacks on character.
  3. Intentional distortion of opponent’s/opponents’ views and argument.
  4. Humor directed at the person of the opponent so as to cause shame or embarrassment.
  5. Monopolizing the discussion.
  6. Sloppy argumentation; attempts at obfuscation in order to win the argument.
  7. Return abuse with abuse.

Civil Speech

  1. Respect for the other no matter how much you disagree (Don’t call him fool.  Comment that his argument is unwise).  Address him/her respectfully.
  2. No derogatory references to the person’s character, in fact, no references to the person’s character.
  3. Carefully lay out the opposing party’s position, as you heard it, so that you are sure that you have it right.  Ask questions for clarification.
  4. Humor pertinent to the topic, but not to the embarrassment of the interlocutor.  Self-effacement is proper as long as it is not intended to manipulate.
  5. Giving the other person an opportunity to express his views and ask questions.
  6. Carefully laying out one’s argument in a clear and coherent way.
  7. Return respect for abuse.

A public dialogue should be well structured so as to help minimize abuses.

At a later time we will discuss one on one or small group conversations

 

Michael G. Tavella

July 22, 2019

Templeton Project: Civil Blood Makes Civil Hands Unclean

Back in October 2015 I wrote about the inauguration of the Abington Templeton Foundation (see here).  The project is now underway (see here) and I will be posting our writing here.

Check out the latest piece entitled “Civil Blood Makes Civil Hands Unclean.”

See also:

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Title of this article is found in the prologue to Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare.  Two young people who love one another are caught up in the strife between their families, the Capulets and Montagues.  These families represent the high level of civil conflict in the city of Verona.  We can imagine that a war of words had become a civil war.  The play opens with a sword fight in the streets of Verona between the retainers of the two families.

In the course of the play family members are killed. At the end of the play Romeo and Juliet too are dead as a result of the civil conflict.  One can imagine that a war of words led to the bloody conflict.  Civil blood had made civil hands unclean–hands that had wounded and slain.

It does not take a stretch of the imagination to envision such a thing happening within the American community.  It did once in the nineteenth century when hundreds of thousands American died on Civil War battlefields.  The prelude to the war was an intense word battle in the press, books, and debates.  Abusive names and inaccurate description of opponents abounded.  In 1856 Preston Brooks of North Carolina severely beat Charles Sumner of Massachusetts on the Senate floor.  Violent rhetoric can lead to physical violence as most everybody knows.

The contemporary political rhetoric in Washington and around the country has reached a strident level.  Last week’s exchange between Congress and the President on the subject of racism was futile and frivolous.  Nothing was accomplished.  Division was deepened; bad feeling was aggravated.  The country did not at all benefit. The President and the two parties both are blameworthy.

Violent language can easily lead to violent action.  Uncivil tongues eventually lead to the shedding of civil blood.  All who are responsible for this rhetoric, whatever the level of complicity, have potentially made their hands unclean with the blood of citizens.  Our politicians and media must take the primary blame.

The word civil refers to the community and also to proper conduct by word and action that helps the community thrive.  Shakespeare’s use of the word in his prologue to Romeo and Juliet is a reference to the citizens of Verona.

We will continue to encourage a Christian apologetics that sets an example of civil speech while at the same time making a strong defense of our faith.

Michael G. Tavella

July 22, 2019

St. Mary Magdalene

Templeton Project: A Fire, a World of Unrighteousness

Back in October 2015 I wrote about the inauguration of the Abington Templeton Foundation (see here).  The project is now underway (see here) and I will be posting our writing here.

Check out the latest piece entitled “A Fire, a World of Unrighteousness.”

See also:

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In his epistle, James warns his readers that not many of them should become teachers, because God judges teachers with greater strictness.  He goes on to say that one who does not stumble with his tongue is perfect, for ability to control the tongue means one is able to control his whole body.  A small fire sets an entire forest ablaze as the tongue negatively affects the body that results in setting our whole life ablaze.  James describes the tongue as “a world of unrighteousness” and “a restless evil, full of poison.”  He further writes that the tongue blesses God and  curses those made in God’s image.  A tongue on fire cannot come from a good source.

It is very tempting to misuse the tongue.  All of us have done this at one time or another or regularly.  But, we must be aware of the unrighteousness it manifests.  The tongue does damage to others.  This misuse is not helpful in debate.  It is certainly harmful.  We must be careful what we say to other people including those we meet for an informal or formal discussion of our theological and philosdophical differences.  We will gain no ground by being disrespectful in what we say.  And, we are not to respond with disrespect those who disrespect us.  We are to set an example as disciples of Christ.  The world does not follow these rules.  Watch a half hour or less of 24/7 news to see.  Pinhead and other such nomenclature has become common in the conservative and liberal media and in government.  We are to discredit a perspective by discrediting the perspective, not the person.

James employs the word curse. To curse someone is more serious than calling a person a name.  A curse is a malediction calling down upon someone’s head God’s disfavor and ill-fortune.  In the Lucan version of the Beatitudes, Jesus recites blessings and curses.  “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied.”  “But woe to you who are full now, for you shall be hungry.”  (Luke 6: 21, 24 ESV)  Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree that you cursed has withered.” (Mark 11: 21 ESV)

What should one do when one is confronted with wickedness and evil?  Should not the person be pointed out for what he/she is? Shouldn’t he be reminded of the judgment of God? Such judgments are most often not necessary, and we can misjudge; but, when evil needs to be identified, we must do so after careful consideration. People need to be reminded of God’s will and His  judgment, even Christians.  Judgment is the Law speaking.  We must hear the Law before we can receive the Gospel.

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus associates the misuse of the tongue with anger.  “You have heard that it was said to those of old, “You shall not murder and whoever murders will be liable to judgment. But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool’ will be liable to the hell of fire.”  (Matthew 5: 21-2 ESV)   More on anger in the future.

I leave you with something James says near the beginning of his letter:  “If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.”  (James 1: 26 ESV)

Michael G. Tavella

July 15, 2019

Templeton Project: The Apostle on Mars Hill (Areopagus)

Back in October 2015 I wrote about the inauguration of the Abington Templeton Foundation (see here).  The project is now underway (see here) and I will be posting our writing here.

Check out the latest piece entitled “The Apostle on Mars Hill (Areopagus).”

See also:

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During his first missionary journey the Apostle Paul spent some time in Athens.  While there, he noticed with great dismay that “the city was full of idols.”  He had a dialogue with Jews in the synagogue and with people he met in the marketplace (agora in Greek).  In addition, he had a discussion with some Epicurean and Stoic philosophers who objected to Paul’s teaching of “foreign divinities.”

The Epicureans followed the philosophy of the fourth/third century B.C. materialist philosopher Epicurus.  In his view the world began by chance, the swerving of atoms into one another.  He held that pleasure, that is, freedom from fear and anxiety, was the highest goal of humans. The gods, if they exist, were of no significance to us as we were no significance to them.  He wished people to be free from fear of life and death.

The Stoics followed Zeno of Citium who lived at the same time as Epicurus. The words stoic/stoicism come from the Greek word for porch.  Zeno and his followers held their discussions at the Stoa Poikile (Painted Porch) in the marketplace at Athens. Several noted ancients, Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus, Seneca among others, followed this philosophy.  The Stoic was devoted to virtue, was indifferent to matters that did not involve truth and morality and lived at a distance from things in the world that did not carry moral weight.  Their theology professed a material god, imminent in the universe. The universe, made of fire, is one of an eternal series that come into existence and then dissolve, making way for another.  The Stoic desired to conform to universal Reason that allowed him to achieve inner calm

Paul stands before these philososphers who took exception to the doctrines reagrding Jesus and the resurrection from the dead.  These philosophers brought Paul to the Areopagus, (Mars Hill), where an Athenian court regularly met to learn what Paul’s “new teaching” was and meant.  Addressing those who had gathered, Paul compliments them for being religious. He mentions the altar in Athens that is dedicated “To the unknown god,” whom he says is the God he worships and proclaims.  The Apostle explains that God, who made the world, does not live in temples nor does He need maintenance from human beings, for He has created humans and given them what they need to live. God has allotted dwelling places for humans to live so that they may seek God who is not far away from them.  At this point he quotes a Greek philosopher and poet, Empedocles and Aratus to confirm what he has said.  He asserts that God cannot be of the substances of silver, gold, and stone.  While He has overlooked previous times of ignorance, God is now calling all people to repent.  The day will come when the world will be judge by One (Christ’s name is unmentioned in the text) who gives assurance of these things by His resurrection.  Some in the crowd mock the idea of the resurrection of the dead.

What do we learn from this text?  Paul shows respect for his audience though he is mocked.  The respect that we show to others in defense and witness should not be dependent on the attitude of those who oppose us. We should always be respectful (a very difficult thing to do). Paul finds a way to relate to his hearers.  He applauds the fact that they are religious (without flattery).  He points out the altar to the unknown god in Athens, using this example to speak of the true God whom he represents.  He quotes one of their philosophers and one of their poets.

Though most reject what he says, converts are made. Two in particular are mentioned by name.  Apologetics and witness naturally go together.

As apologists and witnesses we are to show respect for others.  We are to listen for where non-believers are in their lives and what they believe. Paul critiques idolatry without mocking such a belief.  We are to do the same with regard to the beliefs of others.  We can point out where those beliefs are wrong without making fun of the person who holds them.  We are to find ways to identify with others and show that we understand or want to understand their concerns.

Michael G. Tavella

July 15, 2019

Templeton Project: Waning Faith and Yearning Heart

Back in October 2015 I wrote about the inauguration of the Abington Templeton Foundation (see here).  The project is now underway (see here) and I will be posting our writing here.

Check out the latest piece entitled “Waning Faith and Yearning Heart.”

See also:

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The waning of Christian faith among the people, especially the intelligentsia did not happen over night.  In the middle of the nineteenth century Matthew Arnold wrote poems concerning this development.  His well-known “Dover Beach” and “Stanzas from the Grande Chartreuse” are prime examples of his own yearning in the midst of the waning of Christian faith in the West.

“Dover Beach” begins in exultation as the poet describes the sea and strand at night.  He beckons his beloved and the reader to come to the window to see this prodigy of nature–the moon, the calm sea, the vast cliffs on the bay.  But, the waves of the sea also announce a deep sadness.  Like Sophocles we hear “the ebb and flow Of human misery.”  The sea of faith was once “at the full.”  Now one can hear its receding roar.  Exultation turns to a melancholy the poet calls his beloved to share in order “to be true to one another.”  Let us admit then that the world “Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light, Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;”  The poet recognizes that we are “on a darkling plain Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight.” Arnold has a profound regret for the loss of faith that he knows cannot return, certainly not for him. One can feel intensely the emotional and spiritual pain that he feels. One may even feel it in himself.

A similar theme is found in “Stanzas from the Grande Chartreuse.”  This poem was inspired by a honeymoon trip to the great monastery and mother house of the Carthusian Order, located in the Chartreuse Mountains near Grenoble.  Arnold describes the hike, guide-led, up the mountain to the monastery and then the monastery and its religious activity.  The poet asks, why is he in this place?  He remembers his teachers who taught him the truth that involves leaving behind Christian faith.  Though he is in this religious place, he does not deny this loss.  He came only to lament it as an ancient Greek or Roman might do at the collapse of the ancient religion of the many gods.  As the ancient pagan religion, Greek, Roman, or Runic, has passed, so is the Christian faith passing.  Arnold stands beside the ancients to shed tears that the old faith is dead, paganism for them; Christianity for him.  An old faith has passed away; a new faith has not yet been born.  Ironically, he asks for the help of the monks.  He would grieve among the last believers.  Like an army, described vividly in the poem, society moves onward. The poet wishes that the desert of monastic life be left in peace.

The conflict continues even unto the twenty-first century.  Full-scale secularism has been born; Christianity has not died.  While in the West the numbers of Christians has waned, an explosion of Christian faith has occurred in the Third World. The American Church is showing new vitality despite the waning numbers. The funeral is premature.  Arnold’s tears were shed long before the final illness, death, and the funeral.  Those who believe highly doubt that there will be obsequies.

The apologetic task of the Church continues in the face of a strident, but faltering secularism. Mr. Arnold is a great poet whom this writer much appreciates.  But, his vision of a passing and dead faith is premature.  The Christian apologist and witness need not be melancholic over the idea that Christianity will inevitably disappear from the earth.  The modern ebbing of faith, if it is ebbing, may be an episode in human history that will pass away.  Or, it will remain until the end when Christ will return to gather his people.  If the gates of hell will not prevail against the Church, neither will modern secularism and unbelief.  The apologist and witness must often pray for confidence and hope and must rest assured in the final victory of Christ.

Michael G. Tavella

July 13, 2019

Templeton Project: Questions Unbelievers (especially Atheists) May Ask in Dialogue

Back in October 2015 I wrote about the inauguration of the Abington Templeton Foundation (see here).  The project is now underway (see here) and I will be posting our writing here.

Check out the latest piece entitled “Questions Unbelievers (especially Atheists) May Ask in Dialogue.”

See also:

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What questions may unbelievers (especially atheists) ask you in a dialogue or conversation?  Here are a few:

Why is there so much suffering in my life and in the world?  (Subset:  Why is my mother dying?  Why is my daughter on drugs?  Why did all of those people die in that earthquake?  Why doesn’t God prevent war)?

I can’t see God. How do I know He exists?

Tell me why natural science is not sufficient to explain all that we can know and need to know?

Religion (the Church) holds back progress.  Don’t we need to be freed from such a superstition?  Defend your answer.

Why has the Church been behind so much violence and death (the Crusades are a prime example)?

I have tried to believe, but have not been successful.  Why?

Why hasn’t God answered my prayers?

These and other questions unbelievers ask.  At least some of these questions Christians ask.  These are some of the perennial questions that come from doubt about the reality of God or cause doubt.  As we continue on in our journey we will add questions to this brief article.  Don’t forget to check back.

In a previous article, we commended the biblical idea that the Holy Spirit gives us the words to say when we are defending and witnessing to the faith.  Do we need to study despite what the Scriptures say about the power of the Holy Spirit?  Yes, a Christian must always be intent on learning from the Bible and other literature. We should not use the Holy Spirit as an excuse to be intellectually and spiritually lazy.

Michael G. Tavella

July 6, 2019

Templeton Project: Deep Conviction and Commitment

Back in October 2015 I wrote about the inauguration of the Abington Templeton Foundation (see here).  The project is now underway (see here) and I will be posting our writing here.

Check out the latest piece entitled “Deep Conviction and Commitment.”

See also:

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A fundamental factor in the interface of those with very differing views about the nature of the world and our place in it, especially the believer with the atheist, is the deep conviction and commitment that the parties bring to the table.  The stakes are high in any conversation whether formal or informal.  We put before other individuals what we believe and practice in this life.  Those beliefs could change because of others’ strength of argument.  We are guided in this life by what we believe. Our being is immersed in it.  The motto of Phi Beta Kappa, the college honor society, is “Philosophy is the pilot of life.” Indeed, without our deep religious conviction we are lost on the tumultuous seas of this world.  The loss of our conviction and commitment as believers would be disturbing and disorienting.

It does not take much for us to get angry at an interlocutor with an opposing view because of the risks to us.  We may come to the point of thinking to ourselves, “Before my eyes my world is falling apart.”  Now it is true that critical examination of one’s views is a good thing.  We can review our perspective and assumptions and come forth with a clearer mind and stronger faith.  But, we do not want to come forth from such a conversation without God.  He is the foundation and hope of our lives.

We must remember that the atheist may also have deep religious convictions about the world.  It may be that we will unsettle him. His life’s purpose has depended on the idea that the universe as a mechanical and material system is all that there is. There is no God; we do not have souls.  But, this is exactly what we are trying to do, unsettle him.  We wish the other to have hope, not despair.  If the believer changes his mind, the atheist moves from despair to hope.  The apologist is the instrument by which the Word of God comes to the committed atheist and others.

We have and will be defending the faith and witnessing to Christ before those who have deep conviction and commitments against Christian belief.  We must act with “gentleness and respect,” and, at the same time, convince those with whom we speak to confess the Light of the world.  (See Charles Taylor. A Secular Age for much more on what was presented here).

Michael G. Tavella

July 4, 2019

Templeton Project: On Listening to God and One Another

Back in October 2015 I wrote about the inauguration of the Abington Templeton Foundation (see here).  The project is now underway (see here) and I will be posting our writing here.

Check out the latest piece entitled “On Listening to God and One Another.”

See also:

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“Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness, you who seek the Lord . . .” (Isaiah 51: 1 ESV) In the scene of the Transfiguration, the Father calls on us to listen to the Son.  The voice from the cloud says, “This is my beloved Son, listen to him.” (Mark 9: 7b ESV)   We are to listen to the words of the Lord.  In these words are wisdom and righteousness.

We are also to listen carefully to the words of others, not that they always are words righteousness and truth.  They are not.  The ” . . . tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness.”  (James 3: 6 ESV)  So we are to discern and distinguish the words of others for truth and untruth.  To do this, carefullistening is required.

We must listen so that we understand as thoroughly as possible what the other person is saying.  We can not respond to that person with accuracy if we do not listen to attain accuracy.  No understanding can be achieved without careful listening.  To listen carefully is an instance of love of neighbor and love of the enemy.

We must take seriously instances when we are corrected by another in our listening. “I did not say this, I said that.”  We must consider such responses seriously, not brushing them off as mere obfuscations.  The goal is to get an accurate picture of what the other is saying.  We would wish the same for ourselves.  We must seek understanding, not a confirmation of our prejudices.

What are some simple rules to follow?

  1.  Prayer that you may be an instrument of God. As Saint Francis’ great prayer says, “Grant that we may not so much seek  . . . “to be understood as to understand.” (Lutheran Book of Worship, Pew Edition, p 48).
  2. Ask the Lord to open your ears.
  3. Listen to what God has to say to you.  Many passages of the Holy Scriptures will help you in this.
  4. When in dialogue with another in an informal or formal setting, be intent on understanding what he/she had to say. You may help clarify their own thinking. Ask questions to clarify for yourself.  When necessary, repeat what is said to you to confirm whether you are hearing correctly or incorrectly.
  5. Do not use a strategy of misrepresentation or rely on a straw man.
  6. Do not be tempted to entertain a crowd at the expense of truth.  Humor can be used effectively without falling into such temptation.
  7. Keep as a goal, especially in formal debate, of clarity of both or several points of view whether they are right or wrong.
  8. Understand our own limitations as well as those of the other person.  Sometimes, we do not intend to misunderstand.  We just do.
  9. Listen to the Word of the Lord.  Again, listen to the Word of the Lord for guidance and truth.  Frequent reading of Scriptures with a deep intention to understand them will help.

Michael G. Tavella

July 1, 2019

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