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Friday, October 20, 2006


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Osteen's church meets in the same arena where the Houston Rockets used to meet, by the way.

I think you're right to be concerned by Osteen, but I also think his is only the "Christian" flavor of a widespread consumerist approach to religion (for the secular version: Think Oprah). As many commentators have pointed out, faith is often a lifestyle choice made to improve our quality of life. Osteen is really just peddling self-help therapy with a Christian bumper sticker.

Self-help isn't all bad, but I agree that the spiritual life needs stronger ethical commitments - and that honest seeking of "truth" requires some spiritual discipline.

This need not mean a move to creedal orthodoxy: I just read a book (Restless Souls, by Princeton religion historian Leigh Schmidt) which points to a long American history of committed spiritual progressives, including Howard Thurman and many members of the progressive movement. These people were often "spiritual but not religious," (some of them were Quakers and liberal Protestants, too). Yet they were committed to spiritual discipline and social change.

Ultimately, I think Osteen is not dangerous in the way of James Dobson (who is, unfortunately, committed). But his Christianity does seem unchallenging and superficial and easy to follow. Jesus was none of those things.


I can't remember which one of y'all made this point, but I thought it was provocative: what is the value of a religion if the only thing that matters is the way you experience it? Maybe like the difference between going to a concert and playing in the orchestra?

If I understand Ben, his faith compells him to do difficult things and his discipline of faith instructs him that certain things are true beyond his personal experience. The "friction-free" faith John describes does little compelling and asks nothing difficult of the participant. So, the question: If one faith is easy and the other other is hard, is the difficult faith more valuable? Is there a principle that allows us to evaluate competing ideas about faith, or is it just personal experience? Is there an inherient morality of faith that extends beyond the beliefs involved?

I ask that in this sense: Cass Sunstein, in writing about deliberative bodies, suggests that there is a morality of deliberation that demands that the act be taken seriously. In this sense, a legislature that gives the appearance of deliberation when in fact the outcome is predetermined by factors that are not disclosed is committing an immoral act. Can the same be said of faith? If a person chooses a faith that is basically a superficial spiritual accessory for a life that is unchanged by the experience, is that an essentially deceptive and immoral act?


Those are all enormous questions.

I doubt there is any way to rationally adjudicate between what type of faith is "better." The whole nature of faith seems to preclude it.

Ultimately, my thoughts on the matter rely on Christian scripture and tradition. And I think these do give a basis for comparison, but using them presupposes an initial leap of faith.

Given that leap: Does a purely therapeutic gospel jibe with the call to "pick up your cross and follow me?" With a tradition that - at least before Constantine - produced numerous martyrs? With repeated scriptural warnings that believers will suffer for the sake of Christ? With calls like the one to the rich man, who was told he lacked only one thing: to sell all he had and follow Jesus? I could go on.

On the other hand, I think the Christian God does care about individuals' contentment. But I also think that the world involves a number of competing moral goods, and that individual happiness may not always rank highest on the list. And the idea that God just wants me to be happy seems a bit self-centered.

Of course, the key word is "seems." I can't prove that Osteen isn't preaching an authentic gospel; I can only argue that he seems to be outside the scope of Christian tradition and my understanding of scripture.

But again, I think that the spiritual alienation of many otherwise well-off Americans is an important spiritual issue. Perhaps Osteen’s congregants must be somehow healed before they can go further into faith. I do know examples of people who have left megachurches in search of deeper spirituality. Actually, I’m sort of one of them.

I would, with limitations, extend the argument about "seriousness" into the religious realm. If there is a being, or force, or whatever, that is of ultimate importance, then my approach to that force shouldn't be casual. It should involve a sense of humility, of my own limitations, and of the possibility that such a being can make a claim on my life and what I do with it.

Finally, I would note that I'm hard pressed to think of any sacrificial aspect of my current life. In many ways, this critique also applies to me.

Janet Edens

It's interesting to me how people seek categorization and hierarchies even in this most personal of arenas. Christians, Muslims, Jews, each one has subgroups that differentiate themselves from the other. There are debates in Wicca as to what tenets are required in order to claim that label.

Certainly groups have a right to set standards for membership. To call oneself a Methodist, one has to at least profess certain beliefs. But are we talking about the right of exclusion or the exclusivity of truth?

What do you have to believe to call yourself a Christian? I'd be hard-pressed to answer that. The very concept of "the Christians" seems kinda ridiculous, in light of the many flavors thereof (some with very un-Christlike beliefs about the others.) Really traditional Christianity is Catholicism.

While I understand the sincerity of those search for absolute truth, the idea of finding one-size-fits-all spirituality seems, at best, hopelessly naive. Spirituality is the most solo experience there is, even if it makes us feel better to be part of a group.

So, I have to admit that I'm not sure what threat ChristianLite would be to more structured denominations. It's merely one more choice in the wide, wide world of faith.

More power to them. There's nothing to say that people aren't going to these churches for the more accepting communities they offer, while still questing for something deeper on their own. It's not likely that Osteen, or any of the others, will stop those truly searching, who will want to go further than Jesus Loves Me.

In my view, a version of Christianity with a little more emphasis on the love and a little less on the smiting is a welcome thing.

Steve N-

Osteen is what one calls http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Decadent to the point of ruining artists; mayhap he thinks you'll tithe to him because he'll share his old bows to put on your renewed beliefs. I think you should be glad to live in a world where your brain can be moved at any point in life to applied and creative work for years, despite times of gleaming foolishness. It's not like mathematicians monotonically and continuously do better work, either.

Catholicism and Judaism have it almost right; saying the right belief is impossible but your scorecard will be from the ultimate truth--only you will be toast natch, so better have straightforward relations in your family--as if that was something luckily obvious then.
The family can take notes in case bone arms spring up from your deathbed and haul you bodily to perfidy; or in the Judaic case you are federally audited. Not so sure about that last one; there are State Tax audits....

Slightly better; trying to separate good and evil in the world in _Oh My Goddess!_ Here your ideas of what is beautiful and what is traditional might swap places a few times subject to the VCS in use.

Best? Maybe _Demonbane_ or one of those other series where God is your car and workplace. Without the fiction baggage.


Forgive me, but could someone explain Steve N's post? There's too many seemingly relevant terms to think it comment spam but I just didn't get it.


Dewey, a few of us have gone around about his post in emails, and no one has a clue. However, I do have a question: what is "comment spam"? I often get emails with a bunch of odd words seemingly organized in sentences but with no referential meaning. Is this comment spam, and, if so, what purpose does it serve?


Sometimes you just have to let art flow over you.

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