Categories
philosophy

Interfaith Dialogue?

Yes, this is a crazy suggestion, especially in today’s heated theological climate. But, it’s an important and valid idea, especially when we consider the line of reasoning. Consider this…

David Warren, a writer for the Ottawa Citizen, provided some comments last week pertaining to the current conflict between the Catholic Church and Islam. As we’re all aware, Pope Benedict’s speech at Regensburg a little while ago hasn’t been sitting too well with many Muslims. Well… it sounds like a group of Muslim leaders have provided a coherent, civil and well-timed response that accepts the Pope’s clarifications to his original comments. And, those same Muslim leaders also “applauded his call for dialogue”. As with the Christian calling for peace, these Muslim leaders cited some scripture of their own in defense of the pacifist messages of their respective religions:

Christianity – Mark 12:29-31: “‘The most important one’, answered Jesus, ‘is this: Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your sould and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

Islam – Surah 2:256: “Let there be no compulsion in religion: truth stands out clear from error: whoever rejects evil and believes in Allah hath grasped the most trustworthy handhold, that never breaks. And Allah heareth and knoweth all things.

Warren argues that both Christianity and Islam are religions of love, which hits the nail right on the head. Neither religion has, at its heart, hatred or evil intentions. Both religions only want what is best for its participants. Thus, it is important to keep focused on the path to peace and love that both of these religions hold as their fundamental principles.

I urge you to consider the impact of this radical idea of love… Is it more effective to approach someone who differs in opinion from you with love or hatred? If you are defending Christianity which has a message of love at its core, can you represent it well without showing love? Are you acting out the life that you have been called to live as a Christian if you disregard the loving embrace that Jesus has met us with? I think not! In fact, wouldn’t it be counter-productive to represent a religion of love by waving a banner of violence? That sounds a bit hypocritical if you ask me.

In my human weakness, I find it difficult to show love for my fellow man on a daily basis. I sometimes trip and fall. But, I remind myself of the great commandment and Jesus’ direction to us all: “Love your neighbour as yourself.”

If only more people reminded themselves of this simple rule… Life would be so much more peaceful.

Todd Dow

Reference material for this article:

David Warren’s article: Now We’re Talking

Pope Benedict XVI’s Speech at Regensburg

Open Letter to Pope Benedict XVI from leading Muslim Scholars and Leaders

Categories
philosophy

Who are we?

I’ve been thinking about how to begin this dialogue with you for a few days now… How to organize the topics, how to know when I”m done with one topic and when to move on to the next. Instead of worrying and planning, I think I’d be better off just diving in and seeing where things end up. After all, that’s the nature of a good conversation, isn’t it?

So where do we start? I think it’s important to understand who we are and what we want before we can plan where we’re going. Otherwise, we are more likely to end up running around in circles, constantly changing direction based on our changing priorities.

So, the question for today becomes, who are we?

For me, it’s quite clear that I’m a Christian. But what does that mean? The word Christian means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. To some, it means that annoying neighbour Ned Flanders from The Simpsons. To others, Christians are the ones responsible for all of the terrible things that happened in The Crusades. To others, the U.S. government and George Bush’s famous Crusades remark are associated with Christianity. Unfortunately, none of these associations (well, maybe my friends would say that I’m a little bit annoyingly Flander-esque) sit well with me. In fact, I have serious misgivings about the violence of the Crusades and I am definitely opposed to George W and his Crusader mentality to world politics.

Then the question becomes: As a Christian, what do I stand for? I stand for peace. I stand for respect. I stand for forgiveness. I stand for reconciliation and healing. I stand for improving our lot in life.

We have a choice in life. We can be optimists or we can be pessimists. To borrow from William James, we can be “sick souls” or we can be “healthy-minded”. To the sick soul, there’s no point getting excited about things because the negative far outweighs the good. In fact, the sick soul will argue that pessimism is good in that it sets our expectations low enough that we will never be disappointed. Healthy-minded souls, on the other hand, feel that there is good in the world. They feel that the bad is absorbed by the good. To some, evil is simply an absence of good. To others, evil is necessary to remind us of what good is. Without the two, we would have no way to identify good and evil actions.

We can choose to be negative or we can choose to be positive. Ever heard the statement, “be careful what you wish for”? Well… this is one of those times where you need to be careful what you wish for. If you set your expectations low, you’ll probably meet your goals. But, will your goals be worth striving for at that point? If you set your expectations high, you might get some disappointments. But, you’ll probably make a bigger difference than you would have with a pessimistic attitude.

I recently came across an interesting article that outlines what it means to be an Evangelical Christian. Many in the media have portrayed Evangelicals in a negative light. Fortunately, Evangelical is not a bad word. In fact, I’m happy to be an Evangelical. As Michael Davenport, the author of the article in question, points out, Evangelicals approach their faith in a manner that allows them to “participate creatively in modern society”. To Davenport, Evangelicals are reaching out to their peers, trying to share the good news of Jesus. In addition to the good news of Jesus’ death, which offers us salvation for our sins, this good news also outlines a way of life that benefits all of mankind. Just think of how much better the world would be if we all adopted the advice that Jesus gives us concerning how to live our lives. The world would be a much better place indeed if we followed his greatest commandment:

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’” – Matthew 22:37-39

Evangelical is a word to describe an approach to faith, as opposed to describing a specific denomination. Davenport identifies four key features to the Evangelical approach. They are:

  • acceptance of the authority of Scripture over all other documents and traditions;
  • affirmation that, suddenly or gradually, individuals are transformed (“reborn”) into believers;
  • belief that Jesus’ death and resurrection were historical facts, necessary for our new life; and
  • commitment to prayer, discipleship, and faithful service to wider humanity.

Over the next few posts, I’m going to work through these four features. What do these features really mean to me? How do they influence my behaviour? What do they tell me about how I should be living? Most importantly, will embracing these four features bring me closer to God? I’m going to hazard a guess and say you betcha!

Until next time, my prayer is that God will continue to show you the greatness that he has created in you.

In Him,

Todd Dow

Categories
philosophy

Choose Pacifism

Religious fundamentalism is at the heart of many of today’s problems. Taking religious absolute truths and using them to judge others has led to severe consequences, and the teachings of history have done little to ward off this same fanatical persecution in the present.

Today, we see Muslims killing in the name of Allah. We hear the rallying cry of the Christian Right in the West. We feel the judgmental finger waving of the atheistic scientific community. The list goes on and on. The problem here is that everyone believes that they are right. Funny though… out of all of the possible “right viewpoints” in the world, how is one to determine which one is really correct?

And therein lies the rub. Academics use the term pluralism to explain our individual “rights”. They say that everyone is entitled to their own version of “reality”. And really, I don’t see a problem with that. Each one of us does look at the world slightly differently. As an eldest child, I look at my upbringing as a tangle of rules, responsibilities and heightened expectations. I view my younger sister’s experience as a life of Riley, so to speak, where she ignored the rules, flouted responsibility and abhorred any sense of expectation from her parents and peers. And, I’m willing to bet that my sister sees our upbringing in another, totally different, light.

And that’s fine with me. So we perceive things differently. I won’t get all bent out of shape about it. In fact, I welcome the opportunity to hear how others perceived our growing up years. There’s nothing like hearing your own experiences told through someone else’s eyes. Others are likely to pick up on details that you miss, and that makes the story that much more exciting.

Unfortunately, sometimes the story will turn on me. I wasn’t always a model son or brother. In fact, there are a million little memories burned into my mind of times that I let everyone down and hurt my family and friends. I regret these times, but I can’t take them back. All I can hope for is forgiveness. And I’m lucky… as far as I can tell, I’ve left no lasting scars and my family still likes me and accepts me for who I am and for what I’ve done.

There are times in my life where families butt heads. There are different versions of the same story. Each person sees things slightly differently. The blame is placed on different people at different points in the story. Everyone feels that it wasn’t their fault. What to do then? How do you resolve those types of situations? Does each family member hold on to their own version, refusing to think, even for a minute, that what they experienced was the only possible way that things could have played out? And really, even if their version was completely right, does that still mean that the family should drive a wedge between each other, just for the sake of being right?

At the end of the day, right or wrong, aren’t we still part of a whole? We’re all part of the same family. Mom, Dad, sister, brother… and that’s just one combination. There are numerous different kinds, styles and sizes of families. But what should come of a family in crisis? Do they disagree just for the sake of being right, thus jeopardizing the health of the family? Unfortunately, some families do fragment from this type of approach. Looking from the outside in, most people look at those situations and feel disappointment and sadness that a family could allow itself to get to that breaking point. I can’t think of many people that celebrate the break-up of a family. Can you?

For the sake of the family, compromises are often made. Sometimes people agree to disagree. But seldom do we see families that mediate disputes by killing a family member that refuses to tow the family line. Can you think of any justified reasons for doing this? I certainly can’t. Sometimes it is necessary to restrain family members. In cases of abuse and neglect, it is sometimes even necessary to remove harmful family members. But to condone or even encourage the use of violence to “correct” difficult situations would be completely contradictory, especially as a retaliation for past violence. Physically retaliating or killing an abusive family member would only reinforce the message that violence is the right way to control a situation, which is what that abusive family member may have been trying to do in the first place.

Instead, don’t we want our families to heal? Don’t we want to regain a sense of normalcy and decency within our families? Isn’t it more enjoyable to love than to hate?

This is where we find ourselves with religion. Rightly or wrongly, we find ourselves on different sides of the same debate. All sides are arguing for the truthfulness of their own arguments. But unfortunately, all sides are claiming the same divine inspiration. Everyone feels that their own view is right and everyone else is wrong. The focus from all sides is: I’m right and they’re all wrong.

But really, haven’t we lost sight of the bigger picture when we focus on that question? In each of these religions, we see a similar divine message of love and peace. Christianity is bounded in the pacifist message of Jesus. Islam also contains this same message of peace. And grounding both of these Abrahamic religions is Judaism, which also strives for peace under the guidance of God. Looking further East, we see the pacifist teachings of Buddhism and other Eastern philosophies. With so many dominant world religions all touting the same message of peace, why do we find ourselves in such a state of turmoil? Isn’t it just a little contradictory to fight in the name of peace? Will killing you make me a more peaceful individual? I think not. Now that our fight is over, it might make me more peaceful for a little while. But what happens when someone else disagrees with me? Or what happens when your brother finds out what I did? Well… then we’re back at it again. Instead, why not try to come to terms with your disagreements? Why not try to resolve it the way we would with our immediate family members? Try to peacefully convince one another. Agree to disagree. At worst, agree not to talk about it anymore.

But is it really fair to try to convince someone through violence and if that doesn’t work, to kill them? Will that convince them? Violent coercion is nothing more than torture until you hear what you want to hear. But that doesn’t mean that the person on the receiving end of the torture means what they say. In most cases, they just want the pain to stop. Can you blame them? And killing them… that will definitely not convince them otherwise. And even if it did, how would you then know?

And furthermore, who gives you the right to judge me? Isn’t that God’s job? Last time I checked, judgment is the sole domain of our creator as our final judge. Yes, we do need to ensure there is peace and order during our short lifetimes, but that doesn’t mean that we go overboard. In the family unit, is it the father’s responsibility to kill an unruly child? I think not. By the same vein, it’s not our place to kill one another in the name of judgment either. At best, a loving father should be able to help guide a troubled child and to help them find their way in the world. This vision of forgiveness, teaching and rehabilitation sounds much more favorable to me. What do you think?

So come on now… be serious about your faith. If you’re following a religion of peace, does it make sense to kill in its name? And, do you really think you’re convincing anyone when you do that? And most importantly, do you think that your God of love and peace will look favorably upon you when you show up at his doorstep? As far as I know, heaven is supposed to be a place of love, peace and celebration. That doesn’t strike me as the kind of place where people will reminisce about the number of people they killed in order to “join the club”.

Give this some serious thought. If you want to send a message about the power and glory of your religion, set an example. If your example is one of violence and persecution, is that really where you’re at? Look at the core of your message. Think hard about where your religion would be in a perfect world. Strive to live out that message. Focus on yourself. Live by example. It’s hard for others to fault you if you do that. And if others do find fault, a pacifist response will make it even harder for them to justify a violent response. Raise the bar: Set the example. I can think of no better way to convince others than through living the life that you’d like others to follow. And if you’re reading the same texts that I am, then I’m guessing you’ll want to convey love and peace to those around you too.

Todd Dow

Categories
philosophy

Welcome!

Welcome to my blog.

As a Christian, I am aware of the time that God has given me to do his bidding. I can spend that time doing many different things. I’d like to say that I’m perfect and that I live my life according to what God expects of me, but I’d be lying if I said that. But, I do try to think fairly often about what God expects of me and I try to apply those thoughts to my everyday life. While I’m far from perfect, I do try to get better each day, living life the way that God would want it.

This blog will attempt to summarize how one should attempt to use that “Lent Time”. While I’m not the most authoritative source, I do try to base my writings on a protestant Christian worldview. As a Mennonite, I am very supportive of several key virtues including humility, peace, forgiveness, faith and love. These virtues, and many others, will be evident in my postings to come.

I hope you will join me in my journey of faith. For me, this is an exercise in organization. I hope to solidify my ministry using this blog. If all goes well, I hope to use this as a springboard to further spread the good news of the Christian faith. All in good time…

Matthew 24:36-46:
“But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone… Therefore be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming. Who then is the faithful and sensible slave whom his master put in charge of his household to give them their food at the proper time? Blessed is that slave whom his master finds so doing when he comes.”

May God bless you and keep you safe,

Todd Dow

Categories
technology

What can our search queries tell us about ourselves?

Is privacy just a facade? In the world of web searching, the data is in: there is no such thing as confidentiality. Recently, AOL released a list of 20 million search queries that were collected over a three month period. The data was released under their AOL Research division as an offering for academic research. According to the New York Times, the release of this data so angered privacy advocates that AOL did an about face and rescinded this data set and offered a public apology.

What’s the big deal, you say? Why should we be worried about search results? Well… let’s take a look and see.

AOL was kind enough to remove any blatant personal identifiers from this data set. Instead, they inserted a unique number that was tied to each individual AOL account. While this may make you say, “whew, at least there’s nothing personal attached to this data”, you’re mistaken. As the New York Times points out, a little sleuthing is all that’s required to identify some searchers.

While the NY Times article shared a fairly tame user’s search results, some other search results might lead to more troubling user account “outings”. Consider one example that was highlighted in an article in Slate:

The searches of AOL user No. 672368, for example, morphed over several weeks from “you’re pregnant he doesn’t want the baby” to “foods to eat when pregnant” to “abortion clinics charlotte nc” to “can christians be forgiven for abortion.”

It quickly becomes evident that our search results tell a story about our lives. Like our email, our web usage tells a lot about our interests, our desires and who we are as a person. By sifting through our internet usage patterns, one could learn to understand us almost as well as we know ourselves, warts and all.

The Slate article goes on to identify seven types of web searchers. From “The Pornhound” to “The Newbie” to “The Basket Case”, there are numerous labels that can be both descriptive and dangerous.

While I do find these search results to be quite interesting, I do see danger in the use of that data. It’s a slippery slope from academic study of search results to censorship and even to persecution. As crazy as this sounds, it is already happening in the world. Look at the media control in some communist countries. And if you think we’re immune here in the western world, well… think again. It wasn’t long ago that freedom of speech was curtailed by the church. Even the United States is experiencing a resurgence in censorship.

How long until this powerful information is abused and distorted for unethical means? I’d argue that it is already happening. What do you think?

Todd

For further information:

Techcrunch – Blog Archive – great info on sources and further info:
http://www.techcrunch.com/2006/08/06/aol-proudly-releases-massive-amounts-of-user-search-data/

AOL Search data mirrors:
http://www.gregsadetsky.com/aol-data/

Working mirror (as of Tues Aug 15):
http://aolsearchlogs.cloudsites.com/AOL-data.tgz