In 2013, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz made a statement reaffirming their support of same-sex marriage. Though the actual quote was far less controversial than it was made out to be by various news outlets, the situation still set off a series of boycotts from those such as myself who were opposed to the movement that would ultimately lead to the Obergefell vs. Hodge supreme court ruling in 2015. Personally, I haven’t spent a penny at Starbucks ever since.
In April of 2016, Target announced a new transgender-friendly bathroom policy that would allow any of their customers to use whichever bathroom matched the gender they identify as rather than their biological sex. Again, a massive boycott ensued including an online pledge that roared past 700,000 signatures within days and eventually climbed to almost 1.5 million. I haven’t set foot inside the store or bought anything from them online ever since, and I won’t as long as their bathroom policy remains in effect. Neither will I go to any business that lets men share a bathroom with my nine-year-old daughter.
I don’t bring this up to flex my conservative muscles and impress people with my boycotting skills. I bring it up because, over time, I’ve started to see a return of Target bags and Starbucks cups in the hands of people that I know were among the first to call for the boycott. What used to be “I’ll never go there again” has slowly devolved to “I’ll go, but I won’t take my kids”, and then to “I’ll take the kids, but I won’t use their bathrooms”. Why? Because we need our third-daily Venti Mocha fix. Because Wal-Mart is an extra two miles away. Because the only Coffee Bean nearby is in the mall and not a drive-thru.
About this time last year, a Google Chrome extension was released on the Google store that automatically replaced the term “pro-life” with “anti-choice”. As with everything else in the abortion debate, both sides were quickly up in arms. The anonymous creator of the extension explained that he/she created it in an attempt to clarify the debate. It has been pointed out before that the terms “pro-life” and “pro-choice” are flawed because they naturally demonize the opposing party. The implied opposite of being “pro-life” is to be “pro-death” or “anti-life” and no pro-choice advocate would ever claim such a position. Likewise, to say that you’re not “pro-choice” is to say that you’re pro-coercion or, as the extension claims, “anti-choice” which has never been the position of those fighting against abortion. However, flawed as the terms may be, the extension itself exposed a more fundamental problem. In an effort to clarify the debate by removing what the creator deemed as misleading language, all it managed to do was further confuse it. As a column on pro-life website LifeActionNews.com stated:
What are you thankful for?
There's no question that in the modern West, we have much to be thankful for. In the United States where food is so plentiful and easily accessible that obesity is a health epidemic, we forget that many people in the world don't know when their next meal is coming, if it is coming at all. When people are rioting and protesting in the streets because they're upset about Donald Trump being elected president, we forget that we live in a country that doesn't mow its people down with tanks whenever we criticize the government. Ask people what they're thankful for and you get a vague, somewhat predictable list of pleasantries. Friends, family, a job, a roof over your head, health.
Certainly, these are all good things to be thankful for. We should be thankful for freedom and feasts, cars and computers, music and movies. But what happens when we no longer have those things? What happened when the car gets stolen, your wife leaves you for the pool boy, your daughter dies of cancer at twelve years old, you lose your job and get diagnosed with a fatal illness? In one of my favorite movies, the 2002 version of The Count of Monte Cristo starring Jim Caviezel, young Edmund Dantes is given an offer of something "priceless":
I’m taking a quick break from my series of posts on religious pluralism to look at something that has been on my mind for several months now but I have not attempted to articulate until responding to a blog post over at ComeReason.org.
That “something” is the state of the relationship between the church and the arts.
Now, I won’t pretend to have anything particularly original to say here. This has been a topic of discussion within certain circles for years now, but it continues to be ignored by the church at large. I hope that my own contribution can at least serve as one more voice that may help get the attention of mainstream Christianity.
Before I get into this, I want to admit a few things. I don’t wear “Christian” clothing, I don’t listen to “Christian” music, I don’t watch “Christian” movies and I don’t read “Christian” novels. There are one or two exceptions to almost all of these statements – a song or a book here or there – but they are accurate truisms of my own life. This is not out of principle. I don’t have a problem with the general concept of Christian books, movies, music or clothing. Rather just because it’s very rare to find any of these things that are any good.
Here's something to listen to as we talk.
As I've been considering topics to write on and survey, I kept coming back to the need to lay a foundation of definitions and expectations.
Very often one of the first questions that comes up in any sort of conversation about faith systems, particularly in the last few years, is "Why bother?" Indeed, why does it matter? It has become extremely popular in recent times to espouse varying forms of religious pluralism. This concept is difficult to define because each individual person may articulate it differently depending on their own background and how deeply they've thought about it, but the general idea is that it doesn't matter what you believe, which system you adhere to or who you worship, so long as you're sincere you will end up finding your way to "god", however you define it. If that's true, then it truly doesn't matter if someone believes in Allah, Heavenly Father, or Buddha. It wouldn't make any difference at all if they follow Charles Taze Russell, Muhammed, the Dalai Lama or Oprah.
However, I believe that this concept is flawed and ultimately incoherent. It seems like a great idea when you're looking at the faithful Mormon, the peaceful Muslim or the devout Buddhist, but to stop there and only consider the pleasant examples would be arbitrary. How does it hold up when applied to the white supremacist or the Nazi? I doubt anyone would claim that a Grand Wizard of the KKK is anything but sincerely devoted to his beliefs and following them to best of his ability. The same can be said of homicidal cult leaders like Jim Jones, David Koresh or Charles Manson. If it doesn't matter what you believe as long as you're "sincere", then we can expect genocidal monsters like Pol Pot, Hitler and Joseph Stalin to have received the highest reward of their beliefs as well as the polite old Hindu woman in your neighborhood. For many people, that is (rightfully so) a horrifying and disgusting concept.
This is not the only problem with the concept of Religious Pluralism and I plan to expound on these issues in the future, but I hope - for now, at least - it is clear that simply believing something "sincerely" cannot be the only requirement.
Second, it is a matter of great controversy whether or not we (as Christians, Mormons, Jews and Muslims) all worship the same God. To answer this correctly, it will be necessary to look at what each faith system teaches about the nature of God and whether or not they can be reconciled. I admit that this brings up questions that I have wrestled with on a personal level. How "correct" must your theology be? It has been suggested that John Milton - a professing Christian - believed that Jesus was a created being. This is a heresy known as Arianism that was rejected by the church during the 4th century at the Council of Nicea. That same belief is shared by Jehovah's Witnesses who are largely considered to be a cult and outside of orthodoxy by the primary branches of Christendom. If the Witnesses are out, is Milton out as well? While I believe that truth about God can be known, I know that many (if not all) of us will err in some aspect or another in our understanding about Him. No mortal is omniscient and we're all flawed in one way or another. Because of our own finitude and God's infinitude, it has been long understood by Christian theologians that God is incomprehensible - which is to say that He can never be fully grasped and understood by anyone other than Himself (Psalm 145:3; 147:5; 1 Corinthians 2:10-12). If a perfect understanding of God is required, then we're all out of luck and I suspect that is a conclusion we all would reject. But then where is the line drawn? Again, I plan to explore these topics in the future.
Lastly, words have meaning and definitions can have a profound impact on the course of a conversation. In order to move forward with any sort of meaningful exploration of these topics it will be necessary to define what we mean by certain keywords and phrases in order for to keep from talking past each other. What does it mean to be a "Christian"? What exactly is "salvation by grace"? How do Christians, Muslims and Mormons differ in their understandings of the "Trinity"? More than one conversation between evangelical Christians (another term that begs for a clear definition) and Mormon missionaries has been derailed by misunderstandings and unclear terminology and I do not want that to be the case here.
These are all topics that I find fascinating and I hope you will stick around as I explore them.
Welcome to Of Prophets and Apostles. Here I will be writing about my own investigation of biblical Christianity and how it compares to other faiths with a focus on Mormonism and Islam. I am not an expert on any particular field, but rather a sort of armchair theologian with an interest in comparative religion studies and a lifelong fascination with the teachings of the LDS church. Recent changes in my own life as well as current events have broadened that interest to include Islam and Hinduism, though I admit that I know very little about either.
Posts here will include my own reflections on studies in the bible, the Book of Mormon, the Quran and other works as well as book reviews on relevant topics. In addition, I may write to defend, clarify or expound on traditional Christian doctrines. I may even ask you some questions to clarify what exactly it is that you, as a [whatever you are], believe. Despite the prevalence of Islam in the news, it is unlikely that I will be spending much time on current events or political questions since, very often, I find questions about evolution, Trump, Hillary, immigration, abortion, transgender bathroom policies, etc. to be infuriating rather than interesting. Furthermore, these are questions I find irrelevant to my own studies. I believe that the key questions are these, "What is the nature of God?" and "How are we reconciled to Him?". Everything else is secondary.
I do not believe that there are many ways to God and I will not espouse any sort of religious pluralism here. However, I also do not believe that disagreement is synonymous with hatred or bigotry. We can disagree with civility and respect.
Be sure to check out the About page for more information on me or the Resources page for links to websites and books that I have found helpful and relevant.
Writer, artist, lay theologian, student of comparative religion.