Winging my way toward LA from Minneapolis at midnight central time, 10 LA time. It would be nice to sleep, but Mooses and airplane seats aren't all that good a match. About half way through two very different books that I just started on this trip, but have gotten tired of reading in the dark with bleary contacts for now. "Blue Like Jazz", a very different sort of a Christian book by a youthful Christian male that is very honest and has a unique perspective since he spent some time at Reed College in Portland that is a private pagan school that pretty much explicitly worships "whatever feels good", but also is very demanding and full of very smart people.
The other book is Sam Harris, "Letter to a Christian Nation". I read his "End of Faith" a couple years ago. Sam is pretty angry and disappointed in America because of Christianity. To Sam there is nothing beyond the material world and his own intelligence. Religion is not just horribly stupid, it is horribly dangerous. It must be fixed, somehow.
Blue is pretty much the complete opposite in both message and attitude. An infinite God that is beyond our ability to understand loves us beyond our ability to comprehend. The material universe is far from "all", and in the eternal view of things only really counts in relation to that eternal. Harris isn't going to let a God that allows slavery, little girls to be raped and killed, tsunamis and Katrina to exist. Sam wills it to be abhorrent, and so it must be--to not agree is to not meet his standards of being "god", so therefore there can't be one. One of the bumper stickers the Blue author saw at Reed said "Let's Throw the Christians to the Lions"-Sam would seem to agree. Violence is bad, but Sam is very close to thinking that Christians are just so far out that it may be required in self defense.
The Blue author and his few Christian friends "came out of the closet" during the peak of the main "do what feels good" orgy at Reed when basically anything goes on campus and the local authorities are kept away. How they "came out" is to have a "confession booth", but the confession was for the Christians to confess how bad they were as Christians to anyone that anyone who wanted to stop. They failed the poor, they sinned, their churches didn't set good enough examples, there was an inquisition--they took all the blame and let the folks that stopped know they would do their best to love them, but they could never do it well enough since they were just trying to do the best "impressions of Christ" that a poor broken but forgiven human could do, and it fell way short of the kind of forgiveness that God becoming man had provided.
Sam is right, that kind of love is just as dangerous today as it was 2K years ago and Sam is very angry that anyone could be so irrational to believe in such a horribly foolish thing as something beyond the material world, let alone something beyond the material world that would love human beings specially. We are not special, the rest of "randomness" (what just happened without any reason) is every bit as special, and the only reasonable thing to do is to give up this foolish God stuff and love the randomness-and of course ourselves.
The contrast between the two books is very revealing. Blue is sure of his fallibility, the greater power of God and the trust that in the big picture, God and Grace are sure, and while useful and interesting (at least to us), whatever "amazing" achievements human kind has "created", they pale in scope and perfection next to the infinite. Harris is clearly "left", but the Blue book is anything but "right", unless the core of "right" is the belief that man and the material is NOT "all there is".
It seems to me that is the rub; at least true Christians are always sure that they are NOT the "final answer". They haven't fallen prey to the fundamentalist heresy by which everything that man needs to do is in or can be discerned from the Bible. Christ is alive to and in them, as The Word. A Word that is revealed as spirit and truth that is beyond just words.
The message of Christ speaking in parable and metaphor says that you CAN'T have a cut and dried answer in the same way as a fundamentalist would want. The method is a major portion of the message. The fundamentalist is forced to "fake righteousness" in the same way as the scribes and pharisees. Don't drink, don't smoke, don't dance, don't go to movies, don't watch TV, maybe avoid certain fashions ... the list of rules and regulations can go on endlessly, but when they are done, one prideful judgment, one momentary enjoyment of "I think I'm better than X", one self-centered moment of failing to love God with the whole heart is no different in ultimate terms than a lifetime of whatever you believe the worst sins to be. God and Grace is beyond our calculations - reason is very useful in this material world for getting planes in the air, cars on the road, the internet connecting and generally "keeping the trains on time", but compared to the infinite, it is less than spit in the ocean.
Throwing ourselves over to the other side however and invalidating logic with pure human emotion is just as much a trap. Our emotions, especially love, may be very major hints to the nature of God, but they are only hints-in the same way as quantum mechanics is a hint that the universe is far more special than a "clockwork".
We arrived safely, and in fact it is now Saturday night after a fun day out in LA. Breakfast at a little open air place in Venice Beach, walking out on the pier and talking to the fishermen, talking to a Christian biker gang "Set Free Soldiers", driving around a lot of "just plain old LA", with a focus up in the Hollywood area. We spent a good hunk of time walking up and down Hollywood Boulevard with all the stars. Lots of wild looking people, shops and "glitter". Very crowded-Hollywood seems to be surviving the "Bush Horror" quite well.
Checked into the hotel down in Santa Monica, drove down and looked at some of the beautiful condos along Oceanfront drive, ate seafood for dinner out on the Santa Monica Pier, walked around a bit more, and here we are.