Tuesday, April 25, 2006

the observer effect is good theology

In physics, the observer effect (often mistaken for Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle) points to the fact that the very act of observation has a direct effect on that which is being observed, meaning that true objectivity is impossible. For instance, when viewing something in a microscope (which requires the use of light), the object being observed will be affected by the light radiation, even if on a sub-atomic level.

Drawing this principle out further, we can conclude that one cannot exist in the world without somehow (and continuously) affecting that world. To exist is to affect.

What does this mean for theology?

I would argue (and I'm drawing on concepts promulgated by one of my teachers, Dr. Jim Perkinson, among others) that religious fundamentalism -- and, specifically, biblical literalism -- is impossible given the observer effect. One cannot read the Bible objectively and draw from the Bible objective principles. Instead, biblical study is always a subjective process, with the individual reader always bringing to the study her/his own criterion by which s/he interprets what is read.

This is a very liberating concept, for it frees us into the realization that God's revelation is always a dialogical process. In other words, the Word of God, though it may exist on its own (which cannot be proven or disproven), cannot be discovered and understood without us first affecting it through the lens of our experience (which explains why there is such a large difference in people's understanding of the Word of God -- from those, like Christopher Columbus, using God to justify the genocide of Native Americans to those, like Gandhi, using God to inform a nonviolent movement against British colonialism).

The task for us, then, is to recognize that we cannot help but affect God's revelation and that we have a responsibility to seriously engage in dialogue with God (and with each other) in determining how that revelation will come into being.

If I understand God to be Love, then I will recognize God revealing God's self in acts of love, and I will demonstrate my acceptance of that revelation and that understanding of God by reciprocating love. In the end then, my loving further reveals a loving God.

On the other hand, if I understand God to be vengeful, I will recognize God as the instigator of natural disasters and war and famine and disease, and I will demonstrate my acceptance of that revelation by acting in ways that pronounce vengence. My vengence, in turn, will serve to reveal a vengeful god.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

because jesus was killed

Two misconceptions that are killing the Church:
1) The belief that Jesus died on the cross;
2) The belief that Jesus was innocent.

Two corrections that can breathe new life into the Church:
1) Jesus was killed, and the same powers and ideologies and mentalities and systems that put Jesus on the cross are alive and well today;
2) Jesus was absolutely guilty under Roman imperialistic law, for he threatened to undo the very fabric of society with his hard, hard love. And that crime was punishable by death.

Friday, April 07, 2006

expectation is the force to fight against

In my study over the past five years of nonviolent movements and nonviolent strategies for social transformation, as well as from my study of Walter Wink's The Powers That Be, I have reached the following conclusion: In order for true reconciliation and transformation to occur, expectations must be challenged and denied.

In other words, if we want to change the world, we have to do the unexpected. Over and over again.

Our lives are ordered by our expectations. I expect to get up in the morning, to eat breakfast, to go to work, to go to class, and to not have anything happen between these events.

Whenever something happens to me that I don't see coming, I am confused by it, and I am forced to deal with it, even if only to write it off as "a strange occurence."

Politicians expect protests. They expect rallies. They expect marches and people screaming in the streets. I hate to say it, but these types of actions aren't going to do a damn thing to transform the world and bring about reconciliation (though, perhaps, they might be effective in creating the type of pressure necessary to stop a current political trend, if the rallies themselves are unexpected, as in the case of Ukrainian citizens per their 2004 election).

The mistake that activists are making, I think, is that rallies and marches have become organizing principles and, hence, are treated as ends in themselves. This creates a situation where activists are trapped in their own expectations.

What has become of this type of organizing (i.e., organizing that is focused on creating more rallies and more marches) is the erroneous belief that large numbers of people are required to bring about transformation.

I want to stand firmly against this belief. Instead, I would like to argue that one person, acting in an unexpected way, can be (but is not necessarily) more powerful and more effective than a million people doing what is expected (like marching in an anti-war rally).

Firstly, I would like to offer a reminder that there aren't a large number of people determining the fate of our world right now, though it may seem as though the whole world is against "us." In fact, to use an illustration from The Wizard of Oz, sometimes it seems like there is just one guy behind the curtain who projects his voice and operates his machine in such a way so as to create the illusion that he is omnipotent, omnipresent, and the majority.

In short, a very few people -- albeit, extremely wealthy people -- have convinced us that they represent the majority of people on this planet. In our buying into this myth, we have effectively handed them our power.

Similarly, if a few people remain in control by deceiving the masses, then I want to assert that a few people can override their control by creating creative actions to reverse the deception and use it against the powers. In other words, a small group of people, when acting out of creativity and a sense of urgency, can create the illusion that they are the majority, even if they are unable to gain the majority's support right away.

And how can we do this? I would offer, by thinking in terms of doing something that is unexpected and creative. This, I think, should be the framework for progressive activists (and, especially, people of faith), even though it is extremely vague.