Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad

I opened my mailbox this evening and thumbing through the junk I came upon a glossy flyer that caught my eye. There was a close-up picture of two pair of entwined bare feet sticked out from the covers on the end of a bed. Across the top was just a web address: My initial thought was, “Oh no, what sort of mailing list have I managed to get onto?”

Flipping the flyer over I was more than a little surprised to find that this was an invitation to church. Specifically, it said:

Sex wasn’t invented in a dark alley behind a porn shop. It was created by God to be enjoyed appropriately. You may be surprised to know that the Bible is open and frank about sexual matters. And this may even shock you: God wants you to have great sex!

Are you ready for a church that actually presents relevant everyday topics about life? What is more relevant than a talk about sex? At Lakeshore Community Church, we’re going to talk about sex for five weeks in the series “Pure Sex”. We’ll ask questions and begin to unravel the myths and confusion on this vital topic. The messages will make an impact in your life. In addition to messages, you’ll experience dramatic presentations, dynamic multimedia and upbeat music that rocks from our band. Leave the No-Doze at home.

To be honest, I’d never even thought about the idea of sex having been invented. But since I’m probably too late to get a patent on it, I suppose it really doesn’t matter much. And I have to wonder if Cal Thomas knows that God wants me to have great sex. I suspect he wants Cal to have great sex too, or even any at all as it might loosen his shorts just a notch. But I digress.

I can’t help but think that this church is just one goal short of the hat-trick. They’ve got Sex and Rock-n-Roll already. If they just got together with the Bong Hits for Jesus kid, they’d pack the place to the rafters every Sunday.

The God Equivalence Conundrum

This observation is inspired by Cal Thomas’ latest column, and yes, using the words “inspired” and “Cal Thomas” in the same sentence is difficult. Still, the man raises an interesting point, although not the point I think he intended. The article intends to bash President Bush for his words with regard to assuring the Muslim world that Americans are not anti-Muslim. But in the process, he is adamant that the Muslim God and the Christian God are separate and distinct. Specifically he says:

The president can be commended for sincerely reaching out to Muslims, but he should not be commended for watering down his beliefs and the doctrines of his professed faith in order to do so. That’s universalism. There are “churches” that believe in universalism, his Methodist church does not. No Christian who believes the Bible believes in universalism. And no Muslim who believes the Koran does either.

President Bush is wrong, dangerously wrong, in proclaiming that all religions worship the same God.

Religious scholars all agree that Islam, Judaism, and Christianity all have a common root. It always seemed to me that they all worshiped the same god, they just did so differently. There was wide disagreement on what it meant to be faithful, what rituals and practices were appropriate, and so forth. In the end, I thought most non-universalist people believed that their faith, their attributions, their theology would be judged as true, and everyone else would be judged by God to have been wrong. To put it another way, Muslims, Jews, and Christians all worship the same god, they just disagree on what is the proper way to do it and what he ultimately expects of them.

However, Thomas is asserting that they worship different gods. He is not asserting they worship false gods, but different ones. And that distinction is enormous. This brings religion into a whole different light. The implication is that all these gods exist separately and independently. The very small extension of this argument is that there is no reason to stop with the Islamic, Jewish, and Christian gods. Why should there only be three? The whole pantheon of Hindi gods must also exist, the sky world people of Native American religions, Thor, Zeus, Ra, Osiris, and all the gods of all the mythologies must then also exist. Right?

But wait!! Don’t order yet. Given some of the deep divides among Islamic sects, would Sunnis have a different god than Kurds? What about the Orthodox Jewish god versus the Reformed Jewish god? For that matter, would Catholics have a different god than Protestants, and Mormons yet a third god? Are Baptists sufficiently removed from Episcopalians to have a separate god? There’s no obvious point at which to stop this.

If Thomas’ view of the supernatural world is correct, then we must envision a world with numerous gods all competing for worshipers. Clearly they cannot, or at least are not inclined to, destroy one another or they would have done so already. This would have lead us back to one true religion and everyone else worshiping false, or at least defeated, gods. So they must coexist in some fashion. Given that they coexist and compete peacefully, then all religions are true. The various gods may establish different rules and offer different rewards, but in the end, it’s a lot like choosing a credit card. They all get the job done, we just quibble about the rates and the incentives.

I think most theists would find this a patently silly view of the universe. Most mainstream theologies don’t provide for the existence of gods from unrelated theologies. Which means that most theologies assert (directly or indirectly) that other theologies are wrong and their gods are false ones.

So I believe what Thomas really meant was that the Muslim god is a false one, and that his Christian god is the one true god. But it would be politically indelicate to say that. Besides, that borders on the “infidel” label which we bristle at when Muslims hurl it at us.

Still, the false gods claim leaves open the question of where the line is drawn. If Muslims worship a false god, then surely Hindus, Druids, and ancient Greeks do. But what of Jews? That is a precursor religion to Christianity, one which Jesus himself practiced. So if Jews worship a false god then Jesus worshiped a false god. That seems an unlikely Christian position. And what about the varieties of Christian religions? Do Mormons worship a false god? Catholics? I suspect asserting that Catholics worship a false god would be outside the comfort zone of most Protestants. rather, their position would be that Catholics worship the same god, they just do it wrong. But ultimately that distinction is unhelpful.

If Catholics worship the right god but do it wrong, and Muslims worship the wrong god, isn’t the outcome the same? Won’t both be condemned in the afterlife? So where is the harm in Muslims worshiping the same god, but doing it badly? The assertion in both cases is that the group is profoundly theologically wrong. Does it really matter what they are wrong about? Aren’t they being condemned in either case?

Does Thomas’ distinction really amount to anything in the end? It would appear not. But he got a column out of it… and apparently so did I.

Glass Houses

My younger son decided this fall to follow in his brother’s footsteps and go out for Middle School Volleyball. And much like his brother and many other players at that age, he has trouble getting enough “oomphff” on the ball to consistently serve it over the net.

Now with my older son, I set him up in the driveway with a smaller, lighter ball and had him serve it at the garage door for an hour or so while coaching him on his form. This got his toss, rhythm, and body motion working to his advantage and really seemed to improve his serve. So I opted to try the same thing with his younger brother.

All seemed to be going well. He was getting his whole body into the serve and beginning to get some power into the ball. His control was a bit off, but I assured him we’d work on that later, after he was consistently getting the hang of hitting it hard. I left him for a moment to attend to something in the house while he continued the drill in the driveway. And a few minutes later, was surprised when he came to the door and said he had broken the vent on the house. I wasn’t too sure what he meant, but when outside to see.

It turns out he had smashed a ball sized hole in the gable vent at the peak. When I asked where the ball was, he said, “Inside…” And sure enough, it was sitting in the attic space behind the former vent, being dutifully guarded by the bees still contemplating the intruder.

Now granted, the vent was old, and I determined it to be more brittle than I might have imagined it to be. However, this was a pretty light ball and the vent is a long way from where he was serving. Further, he had to hit it hard enough not to just break it, but to pass through it! So I guess the good news is that he was successful at getting power on the ball. Maybe I should feel good about that. But it’s hard to be truly thrilled now that I have a sizable hole in the front of my house in need of repair.