Unknown God Fall 2008
On Social Justice
2 8 11 16
Social Justice in the Light of Heaven
cover photograph Life in the street, Bangkok by Ronn Aldaman (via Flickr)
Living between Heaven and Hell
photographs Grace Ho (9)
art Cliff Mak (hic) Jennifer Tai (back cover)
To be in the world but not of it Darren Hsiung
Calculus, empathy, and single mothers Drew O'Kane
Loving Our Neighbors Today
Local Christians working for social justice John Montague
Call + Response
A funked-up review of the new documentary Cliff Mak
1 We Are Here: Fear, Passion, Justice God’s justice meets us where we love Laura Ferris
4 Rich Young Ruler
Reflections on a conversation about wealth Ezra Justin Lee
5 Meeting God’s Justice in the Tenderloin Justice as a reflection of God’s character Andrew Tai
6 My Heart Overflows with Matoke A mission experience Lauren Gully
7 Show Me Your Faith without Works
On the connection between faith and giving John Montague
10 On Poverty & Handouts Thoughts from South Africa Lana Choi
17 My First Test at Cal
A simple question about Christianity
Philosophy 26 The Limits of Evidentialism
Do we need evidence to justify our beliefs?
Lila Carpenter dialogue
18 The Nature of Love
Can a person redeemed by Christ stop loving? Jasmin Borja
14 Two Songs for Two Home-Less Souls Poems about social justice
20 Let the Subaltern Pray
The Christian scholar and world Christianity
Olivia Lau essay
28 Walking Barefoot
Stranger in a strange land
Lucas Kwong essay
22 In Defense of Kitsch
Critiquing the way we approach criticism
Fiction 30 Snapshots from the Exodus Wandering in the desert Whitney Moret
24 On Choosing Life
Does abortion aid in the advancement of women? Karis Gong
To An Unknown God is Berkeley’s first student-run Christian journal. Every semester, we publish writing and artwork produced by Cal students, hoping to foster dialogue both between Christians and with
25 The Comparison Culture
Valuing ourselves by how we measure up Alexis Eils
students of other faiths and philosophies. The journal is not affiliated with any church or religious group, and opinions expressed in articles do not necessarily represent those of the editors. We are completely student-run and funded partly by the student body as an ASUC -sponsored student publication. Funding is also provided by a grant from the Intercollegiate Studies Institute and by individual donations. Distribution is free while supplies last. We accept writing and artwork of all kinds: essays, reflections, poems, short-fiction, photography, etc. Please see our website for submission guidelines: send your work to email@example.com.
Therefore, the One whom you worship without knowing, Him I proclaim to you. — acts 17:23
All contents copyright © 2008 To An Unknown God and its contributors. All rights reserved. Flickr images used per Creative Commons license.
To An Unknown God Issue 2 • Fall 2008
Dear Reader, If you have taken a tour of Cal in the past couple of years, you may have heard that Berkeley is the Athens of the West Coast. Included in the collection of classical baggage that comes along with this epitaph is the idea of the Areopagus, where scholars of the ancient world debated the hot issues of their day. People who come to Berkeley expect to find this forum, where they can unpack their basket of thoughts and see what everyone else has brought to the table. You see, the people of Berkeley are in every way very religious. Anyone who has run the flyer gauntlet on Sproul or walked frat row on a Friday night or lifted weights at the rsf on a Monday morning can see that Cal students are actively engaged in daily worship: honoring and seeking purpose, connection, excellence, and, occasionally, fun. We’re even willing to honor the unknown in life, at least for a little while, talking about and listening to the latest ideas as we bake cookies at our co-op or drink coffee at Strada or sprawl on Memorial Glade on a sunny day. And yet, we all have a little altar in our minds to an unknown god, a place where we’ll go when the party’s over, when the last sip of coffee turns cold, when the fog rolls in, and fall to our knees and ask, “Why?” And when we begin to search for meaning, when we begin to devote ourselves to the cult of the unknown god and ask “Why?” wholeheartedly, the question eventually becomes “Who?” Knowledge is power. And too often we forget that knowledge or power comes from somewhere or someone. With so much out there to know and so much power in play, do we have the courage and wisdom to seriously ask, “Who is this unknown god?” Welcome to the journal. To An Unknown God is a journal of Christian thought at Berkeley, and it is a forum where nothing is off the table, not even our “why.” But, be warned, we’re a people devoted to knowing the unknown God, “for in him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). We want answers, but we want to be answered even more. In this issue you will encounter some strong opinions, transformed lives, and poetry that reflect the writers’ engagement with a verse of Christian scripture: “He has shown all you people what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8). We invite you to join the debate, break out the cookies and coffee, and to ask your own questions as we ask ourselves, “What should Christian social justice look like?”
editors-in-chief Laura Ferris Cliff Mak John Montague
executive editors Stephanie Chiao Christine Wang
managing editor Lue-Yee Tsang
assistant editors Sarah Cho Olivia Chou Lauren Gully Grace Ho Whitney Moret
staff & contributors Richard Berberian, Jasmin Borja Mary Breffle, Lila Carpenter, Lana Choi Thera Crane, Alexis Eils, Karis Gong Sam Han , Darren Hsiung, Alex Hyun Tinley Ireland, Mia Jamili, Drew O’ Kane Joel Kim, Nuri Kim, Lucas Kwong Olivia Lau, Amy Le, Ezra Justin Lee Gina Gemma Lopez, Angie Oh Jessica Park , Karey Park, Alex Piedra Kylan Schroeder, Elizabeth Segran Richard Shu, Ben Smith, Elizabeth Suh
Andrew Tai, Jennifer Tai, Dawson Tang
Cliff Ma� John Montague
Ruth Tang, Tiffany Tsao, Brittany Tyler Will Urich, Besorah Won, Jeanine Wurzel James Yoo, Brian Zimmer
We Are Here: Fear, Passion, Justice
hen we ask what Christian social justice should be like our immediate answer is that it should be important. Even the most cursory look at the gospels reveals Jesus Christ’s passion for the oppressed and for justice: the crucifixion is itself the fullest expression of this passion. And now he calls us to take up our own crosses daily and follow him. The task that has been left to believers of Jesus Christ to carry out are the questions, “Where, Lord, and how?” The beauty and terror of the gospel of Jesus Christ is that God calls us to follow Him from where we are. That means truly from where we are: Jesus is far more often found in the company of lepers, prostitutes, and tax collectors than in the Temple or the houses of honorable men. God does not value religious hypocrisy; in fact, He hates it. God requires us to come to Him honestly in our brokenness, for how can the Healer cure what we refuse to offer up for healing? Throughout the process of our restoration, we live and move about this fleeting world, so that we may share the good news of God’s saving work and, most mysteriously of all, participate in it. The Kingdom of God is present wherever His children are present. The nature of the Kingdom of God should be reflected in the character of the children of God, a thought that should gives us pause. There’s a reason why religious mystics throughout the centuries have retreated to the desert and the mountains in order to devote themselves to ascetic discipline; there’s a reason why medieval cathedrals are so stunningly beautiful; there’s a reason why Christian missionaries have crisscrossed the globe; there’s a reason why philosophers and theologians have driven them selves mad with contemplation: the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. But if wisdom begins in fear, then it ends in passion. And passion is personal; passion is present. Two thousand years ago God incarnate
was born to a poor Jewish couple in the Roman province of Judea, and he was called Emmanuel: God with us. When we worship Jesus Christ, we worship the almighty, all-powerful, everywherepresent God. We worship a God who came to where we are, and who promises that every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Christ is Lord of creation. No longer need we conform to the pattern of this world, the broken systems, the institutionalized injustice, the oppressive traditions. Instead, we are free to practice fitting submission and loving sacrifice, as intimate as marriage, so that we may learn to act justly and love mercy and walk humbly with the God who commanded us to love our neighbors as ourselves. Do we feel the weight of our crosses, the depth of His passion? American believers live in a society that is both blessed and cursed with the expectations of Christian tradition. Christians in America are blessed with the freedom to worship, to prosper, and to have their voices heard in the halls of power. They are cursed with complacency, and the temptation to let Uncle Sam do the work of King Jesus for them. When we expect the government to enforce Christian morality out of a misguided sense of duty, we often participate in patterns of oppression that make it even harder for people to hear the name of Jesus without a bitter taste in their mouth. Are there places we’re still afraid to go, people we’re afraid to embrace, words we’re afraid to speak? The good news is that God’s love for us casts out all fear if we turn to him, taking up our crosses. Beating the system, revamping institutions, and defending tradition are not the same things as being Christ’s ambassadors and preaching the gospel: that only happens when we hold out our hands in welcome, invite our neighbors – the gay couple down the street, the homeless man on the corner of Telegraph, the co-op kids growing pot on their rooftop – into our lives, and kneel to wash their feet. •
Are there places we’re still afraid to go, people we’re afraid to embrace, words we’re afraid to speak?
laura ferris is a third-year history major from Davis, California. Fall 2008 | To An Unknown God
Social Justice in the Light of Heaven writer
Christians are not unique in the pursuit of social justice but ought to consider what difference it makes to do so as those who are in the world but not of it.
t is a common perception, regardless of belief or background, that things are not the way they should be. A world filled with wars, economic meltdowns, poverty, and disease makes us yearn for something better. Perhaps this yearning, as we speak of justice, is an opportunity to consider heaven afresh. We may have heard of the one who is so heavenly-minded he is of no earthly good, but that may be a caricature of what it truly means to be heavenly-minded. It was C. S. Lewis who wrote in Mere Christianity, “Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you get neither.” Heaven is peace from above, surpassing earthly understanding, when everything is as it should be. More than just an ideal to inspire us in the present, it is a promised reality for the end of days. If we think of heaven as the very presence of God himself, the Bible shows it is not just in the future, but confirmed in the past with heaven’s intrusions on earth in real time and real space. We meet the most definitive arrival of the heavenly kingdom in Jesus Christ, in whom risen and to come again, we see the glory of heaven, on one hand strangely absent, on the other mysteriously present. It is this story of heaven that defines our story being written here on earth.
An Otherworldly Ethic The Black Eyed Peas hit single “Where is the Love?” lamenting a broken world might resonate with many, but one line doesn’t quite jive: “We only got (one world, one world); that’s all we got (one world, one world).” Yet Christians have reason to be far more optimistic, precisely because “one world” is not all we got: while we can sing the same tune as the Peas, recognizing the extent of the mess, we simultaneously hum another tune, a heavenly harmony interwoven with earthly discord, creating real hope. We might, in proper Pauline fashion, describe heaven as “already and not-yet.” In Christ we straddle heaven and earth, living the paradox
2 To An Unknown God | Fall 2008
at the juncture between the age of conflict and the age of victory. The one we see with our eyes is passing away (1 Cor 7:31); the one we see by faith endures (2 Cor 4:7–18). The second century Epistle to Diognetus gives this account of Christians: Their existence is on earth, but their citizenship is in heaven. They obey the established laws, and surpass the laws in their own lives. They love all men, and are persecuted by all. The earliest Christians, socially marginalized and occasionally persecuted, had no opportunity to transform structures and institutions. Instead, they practiced justice in their own situations. Men and women, slaves and masters worshipped together equally. They practiced generosity and hospitality, rescued abandoned children, and nursed the sick, even during epidemics. This was not accomplished by the methods of the world – by the sword, through coercion or legislation – but by those who did not seek their own earthly agendas, not even to preserve their own lives. They loved others and looked not for a city built by human hands, but one built by God (Heb 11:10). By living the reality of heaven, they changed the world.
A Reality Check for World Changers In this day where Christians have a democratic voice in social structures, there is opportunity and responsibility to participate in worldly power to restrain evil and promote good. But worldly power cuts in ways even the best of us cannot contain. The day Christians gained civil power is also the day they became oppressors. How often have we heard that a system is “terrible, but ten times better than the alternatives”? This sort of futility should remind us of the not-yet aspects of heaven. Living in the light of heaven does not translate into the ability to manifest it perfectly, or even necessarily very well.
Jesus spoke more directly to the heart's condition than to external structures. Externals are not unimportant, and some political positions may prove more moral or effective than others. Yet Jesus never gave us a complete set of marching orders, nor have we a divine blueprint for a sociopolitical order, except perhaps an obsolete Old Testament theocracy, though even that was imperfect (cf. Heb 7:18; 8:13). We must learn wisdom and the complexities of this world just like everyone else. Hopefully, that will encourage us to be humble to the fact that we are as likely to get it wrong as much as anyone else. L. Nelson Bell, missionary to China and father-inlaw of Billy Graham, said this about those who would use pulpits to weigh in politically: “First, they are not competent in that particular field. Second, they have no right to use the prestige of the Church in this matter. Third, we think their advice is dead wrong.”* Heavenly-mindedness neither divides our churches over differing social visions, nor does it lock-step us in political opinion. Instead, what a heavenly testimony it would be to see Democrats, Republicans, and others worshipping the same Jesus, side by side. In his 2006 Call to Renewal keynote address, Barack Obama acknowledged that government alone is insufficient for real change. When someone goes on a shooting spree, “we’ve got a moral problem. That young man has a hole in his heart – a hole that government alone cannot fix.” No amount of institutional transformation will solve the heart’s corruption or end suffering in accidents. Had schools been properly built to withstand the Sichuan earthquake, thousands of children might have been saved. But in the death of even one child, there will still be parents who must face immeasurable grief.
Social Justice is Not the Gospel The problem with man's utopian visions is that none can seem to agree on what that's supposed to look like specifically. World peace sounds good on paper, but besides the absence of military conflict, when the rubber meets the road what will positively deal with our loneliness, jealousies, addictions, and selfishness? Often our portrayals of Jesus look suspiciously like ourselves. The call to follow Jesus becomes a
call to measure up to the bar of our envisioned utopia. For those who discover that they cannot, this hardly qualifies as good news. In the midst of all our ideas of what a transformed and just world might look like, God himself stepped in and shows us heaven on earth in the most tangible way. It took the form of a broken man, dying on a cross. This is scandalous to those who think in terms of power and influence; it makes no sense to the great philosophical minds of the age. But God’s foolishness is wiser than our wisdom; the otherworldly ethic turns the thinking of this world upside down. At the cross, justice and mercy meet. Here, there is no bar of performance: the invitation is to come with nothing to offer but our sin and to look upon the one who became a curse that our own curse might be lifted. Christ bore injustice to ensure the accomplishment of God’s perfect justice. At this greatest injustice, as Holy God is put to death by sinful man, God displays his justice in full (Rom. 3:25). Now we who are wicked can be justified in God’s law court. This is good news for all, regardless of station in life. And here begins our approach to social justice. Our programs of fixes are at best limited and tentative, but the cross tells of a perfect restoration, striking at our root problem – sin and rebellion. We do not gain heaven through social justice but pursue social justice in light of the heaven already gained for us. The Christian may be all the poorer if neglecting those less fortunate, but it is the Gospel that creates the Christian in the first place. As Christians, we take up common causes with others as sojourners, eyes fixed on heaven. Changing external situations may facilitate justice, but it is the Holy Spirit who changes hearts and creates real hope. So while we seek to feed the hungry, let that never eclipse feeding the hungry soul with the bread of life. If we seek to loose the chains of oppression and injustice, how much more should we seek to break the chains of sin within us? Fighting for the life and welfare of those who cannot fight for themselves is a worthy calling; how much greater to give the gift of the Gospel of Christ, the power of resurrection that brings the dead into the unshakeable kingdom of eternal life. •
* L. Nelson Bell, “Political Churchmen,” Southern Presbyterian Journal, April 27, 1955, 6–7.
darren hsiung came to Berkeley for graduate studies in laser physics, obtained an M.Div. at Westminster Seminary California, and is a candidate for licensure in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. Fall 2008 | To An Unknown God
The Rich Young Ruler writer
Ezra Justin Lee
ezra justin lee is a fourthyear Business Administration and City & Regional Planning major from Anchorage, Alaska.
4 To An Unknown God | Fall 2008
e had gone to high school together. And it had been a while since I’d last seen my best high school buddy, Jae, from our home state of Alaska. Those were the good days before giants on Wall Street were collapsing under bad loans and bad faith in the gospel of greed – invisible fists punching at a corrupt system – before hockey moms from Alaska were becoming vp candidates like some horrible, “really bad Disney movie” gone wrong, as Matt Damon would say. Maybe it’d been a year now. Actually, just three months. But for a year we hadn’t had time to really sit down and share a deeper “let’s-talkabout-philosophical-existential-meaning-of-life” kind of conversation with each other. I always liked having those conversations: we’d most always end up stroking each other’s egos as we threw around big words only smart people like us would know and laughed at each other’s jokes about lofty ideas we thought we really understood but in fact did not. We always felt smarter after those exchanges. This one conversation took place over Spring Break; I was staying in his dorm room in Prince ton for a night before heading off to New York. That night we started talking as he took a short – and then longer – break from his homework. We talked, at first, mostly about girls – mature as we were a year ago. Then we drifted into philosophy, then to God-land, where we discussed the mysteries of God. It was, in its own way, somewhat amazing, as we came upon insight after insight: it’s really too bad that, now that I think about it, I don’t remember many of them. But I do remember one thing. We were floating around this topic: are we as Christians really called to be “extreme” in our faith, in the sense that we are called to give up everything we own in our servitude to God? We ran into this topic because Jae had mentioned the story of the Rich
Young Ruler from Mark 10. In that passage, this rich guy comes up to Jesus and tells him that he’s done everything “by the book” and has always followed the rules. He asks Jesus what else he needs to do to confirm his ticket into heaven. Jesus tells him to give away all his money and come follow him. But the self-righteous rich guy walks away, quiet and disheartened because of his great wealth. I have a difficult time giving up my money; I also had only $11 in my checking account that I didn’t want to give away, and in order to skirt my guilt I tried to convince Jae that the passage didn’t mean that God wants us to be poor. “You see, Jae, God’s given us these things: money, clothes, a college education. And not all situations call for such extreme measures, impractically abandoning our material goods. It’s case-by-case.” We eventually agreed on this. A few months after Jae and I had this conversation, my friend Martin dropped a righteously indignant and gentle “You’re wrong as hell.” Well, he didn’t say exactly that, but it was along those lines. I have to say that it hurt to be told I was wrong. Especially because I was thinking I was so smart talking to Princeton Jae. I am a student at UC Berkeley’s notorious Haas School of Business, where we often learn about money in our classes. As a result, I end up thinking about money a lot and about how great it is. But I was wrong about the Rich Young Ruler. And this story was not, like many of my business classes, so much about the money of the matter. The point of this story was Jesus wanting to see this rich guy’s heart. It was not simply about his wealth. Rather, it was about Jesus: he wanted the man’s whole heart, his desires, and his dreams to be Jesus. And in this case, the man’s heart was in love with his bank account, not Jesus. The bigger question is, then, am I wholeheartedly engaging myself in Christ? If I am called to live in American suburbia, can I do so while glorifying God? If I am called to drop my $11 and jet away with my life in a suitcase, can I leave comfort for what God has called me to do? The “right” answer is: Yes. The real answer is: I hope so. Because Christ did more than this. •
Meeting God’s Justice
in the Tenderloin
ave you ever been to the Westfield Mall in San Francisco? It’s beautiful, and many people shop there on weekends. Walk three blocks away, and instead of Nordstrom and Bloomingdale’s you might see drug deals going down and people passed out on the streets. This is where I spent my summer – at Glide Memorial Church in the Tenderloin. I worked there on a team of interns seeking to serve however we were needed. After spending two weeks of immersion getting to know the staff, the programs, and all the other intricacies of working in the Tenderloin, I decided I’d spend my summer in the Meals Program, helping to cook and serve three meals a day to the thousands of people who line up in front of Glide each day. I love food, so it seemed like something that I’d easily find joy in while serving. I fried fish, made jambalaya, mopped floors, and loved every single minute I was there. I thought I’d be pouring myself out this summer, serving people, showing them love; I simply wasn’t prepared for the ways that, in fact, the poor poured themselves out for me, showed me love, and taught me God’s heart for justice. I didn’t expect this. Coming into Glide, I was a sheltered, upper-middle-class college student; I’d expected, honestly, that my privilege would keep people from identifying with me or being comfortable around me. So it surprised me when those who were homeless accepted me, looked out for me, and treated me like one of their own. People who’d been around Glide for some time cautioned me when they saw me about to burn myself, helped me lift heavy things even when I was too prideful to ask for help, and ate and joked with me as if we’d been friends for years. The more difficult realization, though, was that I didn’t naturally care about justice. I’d al-
ways seen myself as someone who cared about righting wrongs and speaking out against the problems in this world. But now I found myself, too often, apathetic and uninterested. I realized that, generally, I’m lazy and content to remain distant from issues of injustice. And that led me to wonder whether I was even supposed to care about justice: What was I doing? Was serving the poor actually important? When there’s someone in your life that you truly love, inevitably you’ll find something he or she cares about that you just… don’t. Maybe he loves basketball, but you couldn’t care less about sports. If you love him, though, you’ll try to learn why he cares in the hope that maybe someday you’ll care about it too. Maybe it isn’t natural for us to care about justice; maybe we’re inclined to care, but sin gets in the way. I’m not sure, but I know that we’re generally selfish, sinful, and comfortable with privilege. But God cares about justice, right? If God cares about justice, and I love Him, I’ll try to learn to love justice as He does. My journey has taken me from gutting houses in New Orleans to pulling weeds on a farm in Sacramento to frying fish in the Tenderloin. Through these experiences, God has taught me to re-evaluate my priorities, question many of the world’s systems, and look critically at how I contribute to injustice every day. What would it look like if, even if we weren’t sure we cared about justice, we committed to learning what it is simply because Jesus thought it was important? I pray that we’ll try to figure out what God says about justice and then reexamine both the monumental and “minor” injustices we deal with every day: as we do this, I believe we’ll begin to see what bringing God’s kingdom here on earth really looks like. •
Now I found myself, too often, apathetic and uninterested. I realized that, generally, I’m lazy and content to remain distant from issues of injustice.
andrew tai is currently a senior majoring in Business and Social Welfare; he is a leader in InterVarsity Christian Fellowship Marketplace Small Group.
Fall 2008 | To An Unknown God
My Heart Overflows with Matoke A Mission Experience writer
God expanded my love for my neighbors during a mission trip to Uganda last summer.
lauren gully is a junior studying English. She enjoys reading and writing about God’s sense of humor exemplified in her life.
6 To An Unknown God | Fall 2008
hen five other Americans and I arrived at the Entebbe airport in Uganda after more than a day of traveling, I was struck by a sudden anxiety. We would be traveling throughout Uganda for a little less than five weeks, and I was hopeful that God would use that time to communicate something profound through me, despite my imperfections and my unimportance. I knew that there was a natural reciprocity to expect on the mission and that I would get so much more out of the experience than I put in. Still, I hoped there would be something I could show for all the time and money to be spent on the recognition of God’s vast power, grace, and community. With apprehension and legs sore from sitting so long, I walked into the airport. I was met by twenty Ugandans eager for fellowship and an exponential number of mosquitoes equally eager for my peanut-m&m-sweetened blood. At first, the tangibility of what I was doing in Uganda, helping to construct a youth center, was most important to me. But it is hard to argue that I added valuable labor to this process, for which I cannot blame the large servings of steamed banana, matoke, that weighed me down as I worked. Though I shoveled dirt like a girl and like someone who doesn’t know that shoveling requires endurance, I shoveled with passion and a great heart for the people I met. The Ugandans did not await my arrival because of my great physical labor skills, yet I still felt the work that God called me across the world to do was with my hands. In the end, I met God in the hands that I shook, in the faces of the people that I met, and in the stories that I heard. I felt that I had come to Uganda with all my (perhaps useless) Westernness to understand
a different kind of Jesus. I was no longer dealing with the Jesus of academics, fast food, and broken family holidays; I was now in the midst of the Jesus of cultural breakdown, matoke, and displacement camps. I sat at the front of a church where we were to preach, and I felt that I'd come face to face with God for the first time. The humble building was so beautiful in all of its brokenness – it feels wrong to describe the people and the experience as “beautiful,” but seeing God’s heart was truly a beautiful thing that awakened my heart with overpowering emotion. My time in Uganda proved to be a time of dealing with the broken parts of myself and learning about the broken parts of the church and the world. I started the trip trying to be extroverted, energetic, and excessively nice. After only a few days of trying to be what I thought the experience demanded of me, however, I was exhausted. I am so glad I realized that God called me to Uganda to be myself. Once I had started to embrace who I was and how my personality would fit the dynamic of the people and what we were to face each day, I started to experience God on a level I had never known before. By surrendering to who I was, I became more the person God had created me to be. Through this transformation, God’s presence grew in my heart I felt so in tune with how I felt and the love God had for the people I met. Love for them swallowed me and poured out of me in a way far beyond my own doing. Because of my experience within myself, I know I fulfilled the purpose that God desired for me in Uganda. I left a part of my heart in Uganda, and the heart I brought back overflows with matoke. •
Show Me Your Faith without Works
had walked past them on my way into the church, and, as I left, I heard them before I saw them: two homeless men were heckling churchgoers as they uncomfortably brushed past, averting their eyes as if hoping the men might believe that they hadn’t heard their taunts. “There you go again, you Christians. You say you follow Jesus, but you can never spare change to buy a man dinner!” For the hecklers, the scene was a courtroom, and the defendants – parishioners of All Souls Church in London – were guilty. The challenge these homeless men posed to the authenticity of the Christian faith is uni versal. Even if we grant that giving to aggressive panhandlers is imprudent, many who call them selves Christians are still guilty. On average, they give away a mere 2–3% of their income.1 That this behavior is unbiblical seems beyond question:2 “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?” (1 Jn. 3:17) John assumes that a radical love of one’s neighbor will necessarily proceed from a genuine love of God. In fact, he strongly implies that anyone who refuses to give to his needy brother is not a Christian. Jesus states this explicitly in his story about the sheep and the goats (Matt. 25:31–46). According to it, Jesus will later judge those who call themselves Christians by whether or not they cared for the “least of these.” Imagine the scene: Christ is seated on the throne, and a line of churchgoers wraps around the courthouse, all waiting their turn before the Judge. The first defendant is brought in, and the prosecution calls its first witnesses: two homeless men. “Do you recognize this churchgoer?” “Yes, I was hungry, and he walked right past me.” And on it goes, witness after witness. A verdict is reached: guilty. “But your Honor, when did I see you in prison and not visit you? When were you hungry and I didn’t feed you?” “I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for the least
of these, you did not do for me… Away from me, you evildoers” (Matt. 25:45; 7:23). These are Jesus’s own words, and this story, twice repeated in the Gospel of Matthew, is at the center of his message. As 21st-century Christians, we emphasize faith and seem to think that all talk about works is passé. It is not. We eschew talk of works because we think such talk undermines the gospel of grace, but we forget that Jesus himself told us to judge others by their fruits because a good tree cannot bear bad fruit (Matt. 7:18). The connection between what one believes and what one does is inextricable. Jonathan Edwards used an analogy to make this point: if a man truly believes that a foreign king has sent for him, asking him to be his heir, he will leave his home to go to that country. If he does not act, he has not believed.3 To believe in something means to venture on it. Jesus makes it clear that the Christian will (not should, but will) be happy to give up his wealth to follow Christ. He tells his disciples: “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field” (Matt. 13:44). An uninformed observer would consider this man mad, but his behavior is in fact quite rational. The apostle Paul embodies this: “I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ” (Phil. 3:8). In the preceding verses, Paul has recited all of his pre-conversion accomplishments, status, and power. Yet in the face of an encounter with Christ, all this is less than nothing to him. Thus, the idea that we would hoard our pos sessions while at the same time truly believing in Christ is unfathomable. The question posed by the homeless men is one we should ask our selves: if we cling to our wealth when so many are in need, how can we be followers of Christ? •
Jesus makes it clear that Christians will be happy to give up their wealth to follow him.
1 Craig L. Blomberg, Neither Poverty nor Riches: A Biblical Theology of Possessions (Nottingham, England: Apollos, 1999), 249; Mark Labberton, The Dangerous Act of Worship (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2007), 139.
2 For a fuller examination of this, see John Montague, “Social Justice Reconsidered,” Revisions, Spring 2008, 13–16, available at revisionsonline.org
3 Jonathan Edwards, The Religious Affections (1746; reprint, Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2001), 368.
john montague is a second-year law student at Berkeley. He is originally from Charlottesville, Virginia. Fall 2008 | To An Unknown God
Calculus, Empathy, and Single Mothers, or,
Living between Heaven and Hell writer
Is getting a university degree something that really benefits the rest of the world? Or are we unintentionally making the world worse?
8 To An Unknown God | Fall 2008
have a small confession to make. I sometimes wonder what good all my education is going to do humanity. What benefit will the people of the world gain from my learning about Kepler’s Laws of Planetary motion? How is l’Hôpital’s Rule going to feed starving children in inner city Oakland? I suppose that I could come up with very convoluted arguments about how my understanding of the inner workings of quantum mechanics helps children in Africa find a better life amidst the poverty and violence that surrounds them, but I really am in a sorry situation here. If I can’t help the world around me, am I just taking up space, living my selfish, consumerist life? Or worse? But this dilemma is not confined to myself alone. More than a few of my fellow peers have the same nagging doubts. The dilemma poses a question of deeper significance: “Am I actually harming humankind by the mere fact that I am obtaining a degree in political science from the most prestigious public university in the world?” And when you stop to consider how much is being spent on higher education by each student per semester, on the order of $6000 to $8000, and consider the number of people who live on merely $2.50 a day, nearly half the world according to the World Bank, you can’t help but stop and imagine what good all that money could do elsewhere. This dilemma is almost sinister in its implications. We are not merely not contributing to humankind in a tangible way, with our
newly acquired educations, but we may actually be hurting humankind by wasting money on fruitless educational pursuits. “Harsh, untrue words!” I hear you cry, plaintively at your laptop screen while sitting outside in the sun at Caffe Strada, sipping your $2.45 latte. Perhaps. But I wish to elaborate on this with a personal story. Before I became a California Golden Bear (Go Bears!), I spent the first three years of my college career in junior college. Specifically, I spent two of those years studying at Contra Costa College (Go Comets!), located in San Pablo, California. For those of you who might not be familiar with local geography, San Pablo is literally surrounded by Richmond, one of the more violent cities in California. Halfway through my time at Contra Costa College, I happened to get the opportunity to work as a tutor in the math lab. I’m not sure what I expected to happen. I must admit, though, that I had an unconscious ideal of what my time in the math lab would be like. I would be the brilliant, successful student who knew math like the back of his hand and would bring the light of calculus to all who asked. You can well imagine how that ended. Far from enlightening all who came, I most often found myself helping fellow students with Algebra I and II. My plan of bringing the delights of higher math to my peers was quickly replaced by a more mundane reality of helping
people understand how to graph linear equations and solve for x. I felt as if God had looked at my innate talents, and told me to use my least favorite ones. As it turned out, I learned a lot more about my classmates than that they needed help with algebraic word problems. I met high school students who wanted, or needed, to pass algebra so they could graduate and get out of San Pablo. I met college-bound students who were only there to fulfill enough requirements to transfer out at the soonest possible moment. But perhaps the group that made the deepest impact on me was those single mothers wanting to go to nursing school and struggling to pass algebra. Not because they merely wanted to move on to college, but because they needed it to survive. At this point, you may be wondering what my point is. I seem to have completely divested myself of any reason for attaining a higher education, and have made an extremely good argument for me to drop out now and become a high school teacher in the slums so that at least some will have an opportunity to live better lives. But things are rarely ever this simple. The same God who led me to the math lab at Contra Costa College, the same God who made me a Comet, also gave me the opportunity to be a California Golden Bear. This same God allowed me to come to Berkeley. Herein lies an uncomfortable tension that I, or maybe more correctly, we, live in. We are given staggeringly heartbreaking glimpses of the poverty and violence by our Heavenly Father. We are given, by the same Heavenly Father, sublime visions of how His community gathers around the hurt and broken, and heals them. We get to see both the wonders of Heaven and the terrors of Hell, and we happen to live in between. I will leave you with two thoughts, neither of which gets rid of the tension. On the one hand, we cannot ignore the vision of Hell that we are given. We cannot help but be moved to reach down and give a cup of water to those in need. My time in the math lab moved me to want to help. Great need exists all around us, and we must not stand idle. We cannot let poverty and lack of education destroy our cities. We cannot ignore our classmates and peers who are search-
ing desperately for meaning in their dorms, labs, and lecture halls. We cannot ignore our friends who desperately need us to listen. And in most, if not all these cases, God doesn’t need the academic abilities that we have learned while we were at Cal. We are not grand and glorious saviors; we are but humble vessels. God wants us, not our skills and abilities. Our listening ears, eager feet, and willing hands are all that is required. Kepler’s laws do not show us how to love our neighbor. Art history does not tell us how to listen with patience and kindness to a roommate who just broke up with his significant other. All we need to do is be these things. No diploma required. On the other hand, what of the gifts God has given us? Why has God given us the skills to design buildings that will withstand earthquakes? Why has God given us the intuition to write sublime poetry? Why has God given us the desire to know all we can about His marvelous creation? What then shall I do? Shall I sell all I posses, give the money to the poor, and follow Christ, as the rich young ruler is told? I cannot give you a clear answer. I can’t even come to a clear conclusion myself. I live between Heaven and Hell. I look toward Heaven and see my Heavenly Father’s boundless love for me. And my heart breaks. Then I look toward Hell, seeing with the eyes of Christ that were given to me, and my heart breaks. Christ compels me to love the lost found in Hell’s desolation. I do, perhaps, know one thing. God first loved me, and when I look around me, in lab, on Sproul, on the steps of Doe, I know He wants me to love those around me. And wherever I am, whether at ccc or UC Berkeley, I am to love those around me. We can love, whether we stay in our dorms or make the trip into inner city Oakland. But we must love, because He first loved us. For these two things make up the Law: love God, and love your neighbor. Wherever you happen to be. •
drew o’kane is a fourth-year astrophysics major from El Cerrito, California. Fall 2008 | To An Unknown God
On Poverty & Handouts writer
Is Jesus' command to feed the hungry irreconcilable with having a long-term approach to the problem of need?
lana choi graduated from Berkeley with a ba in English and spent five months doing mission work abroad in South Africa with an organization called A Voice for the Voiceless: South Africa.
10 To An Unknown God | Fall 2008
anhandlers in South Africa make a fortune from young missionaries coming into their country, eager to love people and make a difference. As a missionary who has worked in local townships for the past six months, I have seen earnest young people readily empty out their pockets to anyone in need. But as you walk around the city, scattered posters remind foreigners: “handouts don’t work.” From talking with many missionaries, as well as from my own experience, I have begun to see that handouts do tend to create a mindset of dependency, perpetuating a lifestyle on the streets. Begging becomes a career that actually pays. This is especially appealing within the city of Cape Town, where the unemployment rate is nearly 40%, but it is detrimental to any longterm mission in the area. People in the townships are no longer affected by the goodness of strangers, instead seeing foreigners as walking atms ready to meet a need. Relationships are no longer valued, and friendships are reduced to shallow conversations where people say “the right words” in order to get on the good side of Christian missionaries. Whole families decide working is unnecessary because their next meal will surely be funded by the waves of foreign wealth coming into the communities. As Christians, we are called to love and empathize with the plight of the poor. The idea of social justice cannot be an abstract ideal left to a few radicals; rather, it must be a lifestyle into which every Christian – no matter his or her position in life, socio-economic status, or occupation – is called. We are invited to bring the justice of Jesus to every social realm: justice as a move to return the things sin steals away, where righteousness is understood because of the payment of blood. Social justice is the act of bringing love, life, and laughter into the lives of people who are counted as casualties in the spiritual war we fight every day. And the Bible is very clear and straightforward about the issue: “feed the hun-
gry and clothe the naked” (Matt. 25), and “freely you have received, freely give” (Matt. 10). Do these commands mean that we should just give whenever asked? Are we to give and give until we have nothing? Doesn’t that just drain jaded, homesick missionaries like myself? And in the struggle of deciding what is right, I seemed to have lost the compassion and eagerness that brought me here in the first place. But my compassion and eagerness was real – is real. More real than today’s callousness, more real than this blunted mindset that keeps me from fresh daily revelations of love. Real love, not the fake forced stuff that wears you out and leaves you thirsty. Real love that comes from rest, that comes from revelation and an imparting of the Spirit, that flows out of you like a flood. I was praying about the contrast between “feed the hungry” and “don’t give handouts,” and the image of those retro 3d glasses came to mind, a metaphor: two separate lenses of contrasting colors, blue and red, working together to create a fuller and more real picture. Yes, we need the long-term and comprehensive knowledge of how best to deal with the mendicant dilemma, but we also need that surging compassion that calls people to give cheerfully without judgment. Head knowledge is driven and fueled by the passions of affection, and those are then ministered effectively by reason. Both heart and mind must be attuned to God’s compassion and his plan. What does that ideal look like manifested in the real world? Theology must be put into practice. To be honest, I don’t know the answer. I am learning, though, that compassion, much like love, is a choice. We choose to care and put others before ourselves just as much as we choose the contrary. And we are broken people who mess up all the time, but that is the beauty of grace. Only when we are entirely enraptured by God’s love can we begin to love others, can we begin to choose to love others. The ace up our sleeve that worked in Sunday school still works today: what’s the answer? Jesus. It is the love of Christ that mobilizes the church to social justice. What do we do? Pray. Through prayer our hearts begin to mirror God’s, and loving action becomes worthwhile, desirable even. Funny how simple it all is. •
Loving Our Neighbors Today How have local Christians been working for social justice?
he second-greatest commandment is to love our neighbors as ourselves. In the parable of the Good Samaritan (Lk. 10:25–37), Jesus tells us two important things about this task. First, we need to redefine who our neighbors are. Our neighbors include those outside our ordinary social circles, people around whom we may even feel uncomfortable. Second, the time to love our neighbors is now, and the place is right here. The Samaritan in the parable could not have come across his neighbor, lying on the side of the road, in a worse place or at a more inconvenient time. Yet he stopped his journey and put himself in danger in order to save the man’s life. Jesus is calling us to do the same. In the following interviews, some Christian students share how they have applied Jesus’ call to love their neighbors, even in the midst of their busy lives as students. We hope their stories will inspire more Christians to be involved in serving our neighbors.
What does yeah! do? yeah! is pronounced “yay” and stands for Youth Emergency Assistance Hostel. It also stands for lots of other good things: it’s Berkeley’s only shelter specifically for youth (aged 18–25) and thus fills a pretty great need. Last year, according to the website, they “provided 3700 bed-nights to 174 different youth” and “served 10,000 meals and provided 1500 showers.” As volunteers, we go to yeah! and prepare a meal, usually from an internet recipe that’s been multiplied by 25. Then the youth come in and we serve it, hang out with them during less-busy moments in the kitchen, and wash up afterwards.
Thera Crane, Youth Emergency Assistance Hostel (YEAH!)
Brittany Tyler, Project Peace
Why did you first get involved with yeah!? Back in 2006, our Veritas Graduate Christian Fellowship women’s small group decided we’d like to do a service project, and one that was engaging beyond occasional volunteer work. We wanted to make sure we were learning, too. We decided to focus on homelessness because it is such an obvious issue in our area. The very day we were going to choose our project, I noticed some yeah! posters my department manager had hung up. I looked up yeah! on the internet, got excited, and told the small group about it, and we all liked the idea.
Please tell me about Project Peace. Project Peace’s mission is to create a bridge between the resources of local churches and the needs of social service providers because we want to encourage Christians to volunteer through and within their church community. The church exists to bless its surrounding community; if it is merely an insulated, closed-off institution, looking inward instead of outward, it is not fulfilling its job. All Christians have a duty to make sacrifices because they are the beneficiaries of God’s ultimate sacrifice, His Son. But it is important for Christians to serve
for more information:
Youth Emergency Assistance Hostel (YEAH!) yeah-berkeley.org Project Peace projectpeaceeastbay.org
How can students get involved with yeah!? If people are interested, they should check out the website and send a message through the volunteer page. It is easy to get involved, and there are morning and evening cooking and serving opportunities every day of the week.
Fall 2008 | To An Unknown God
collectively with their friends from church because it increases the sense of solidarity in Christ, offers extra time for fellowship, and sanctifies them together.
for more information:
Nicaraguan Orphans Fund (NOF) nicaraguanorphanfund.org Oakland Asian Students Educational Services (OASES) oases.org
How has your Christian faith influenced your involvement in Project Peace? “To whom much is given, much is required.” God doesn’t just bless me for my own happiness and personal fulfillment, but to be a steward of my gifts. There is so much injustice in the world, so much corruption and brokenness… Christians should be on the vanguard of God’s redemptive forces to shed mercy on those in need and to seek justice for the oppressed. How can students get involved with Project Peace? We have four Days of Peace each year, and anyone is invited to participate in these service projects. We also have other opportunities to volunteer each month.
How can students get involved with nof? Students from across the country fly down with us to Nicaragua for spring break. Our hope is that they are moved to share their experiences, or “tell the story” to their friends, and that, perhaps, the nof can form at other schools across the nation. Check out their web site for other ways to get involved, or e-mail them with questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Alex Piedra, Nicaraguan Orphans Fund
Ruth Tang, Oakland Asian Students Educational Services
What does the nof do? The main focus of the nof is organizing a spring break trip. Each year, between 150 and 200 students go to Managua for one week in March. Although the nof began at the University of Virginia only five years ago, it has established other, separate chapters at Virginia Tech, William & Mary, and James Madison University. We are well on the way to establishing organizations at Campbell University and Boston College. While in Nicaragua, we take the kids to the beach, a water park, and the movies, among other things. We connect with these kids through love and compassion, building relationships along the way. We also do various work projects as needed, including painting a school, digging ditches to provide water, and building fences. We do anything necessary for the maintenance and growth of the communities we serve.
Why did you first get involved with oases? As a freshman, I was not as involved in activities as many of my friends; instead, I chose to stay cooped up in the dorms most of the time. I had participated in community service clubs back in high school, and I really missed doing something good for the community with a group of like-minded people. So during sophomore year, I sought out different volunteer organizations on campus. I had the most exposure to oases, so I chose to check it out. As a senior still very involved in oases, I see my choice to be involved with it as the first important decision I made here at Berkeley, and I am so thankful.
How has faith influenced your work? My faith in Christ has allowed me to open my heart to these orphans. It has been a humbling
12 To An Unknown God | Fall 2008
experience that has enabled me to recognize the material blessings Christ has given me while also recognizing that Christ is sufficient in my life. I chose to take a leadership role in the organization so that I could bring my experiences back to the United States, a reminder that there are people just outside of the university community that constantly struggle to survive, that don’t know if they will be able to feed their children tomorrow. It is my hope to bring the light of Christ into their desperate lives so that they too may recognize the sufficiency of Jesus.
What does oases do? oases’ mission statement is: “To empower students with limited resources through education, mentorship and service to strengthen the Oakland community.” We are a well-recognized, secular non-profit organization in Oakland catering to students from kindergarten through 12th grade. Each weekday, we have 30 to 60 tu-
tors head over to Oakland tutor and mentor students there. We offer academic support and enrichment as well as special mentorship for our high school students to prepare them for life challenges such as college applications. How has your Christian faith influenced your involvement? The Great Commandment tells us to love others as we love ourselves, but in today’s society, that is a virtue spoken of but not often seen. In Berkeley, it's especially common to see people pulling out all the stops to reach the top so that they can secure a good job after graduation, a good life, etc. It seems like too many people (myself included) focus on themselves and complain over small trials in their lives. Working with the students in oases helps put my life in perspective, and takes my sights off of myself, which in turn makes it easier to focus on and love others in my everyday life as Jesus commanded. I regularly reflect on what a blessing it is to be so involved in oases. As a volunteer coordinator, I meet all kinds of people: staff, students, and volunteers. That is a huge circle of acquaintances that
I am given the opportunity to get to know and love. Regardless of whether they know I am Christian, regardless of the circumstances and issues that arise from time to time, I still try to present myself as someone who loves others because she was loved first. Overall, oases is a great place to love others, and it is exciting for me to see a number of people from my church volunteering too. How can students get involved with oases? oases recruits actively on the Berkeley campus during the first three weeks of each semester. Students can attend one of two info sessions to learn more about the application process. The commitment is only one to two days a week, three hours a day throughout the semester, and transportation is provided. Volunteers will be able to choose what day they are available (3–6 pm), as well as what age level and group size they are comfortable working with. We offer units in the Asian American Studies department and fieldwork units in the Education department for education minors. It’s truly for a great cause, and offers a very rewarding experience. •
To An Unknown God
is also a blog.
Read additional posts and comment on this issue’s articles on our website:
www.unknowngodjournal.com Fall 2008 | To An Unknown God
Two Songs for Two Home-Less Souls writer
Olivia Lau I do not know much – about The persistent lamentation of the home-bound stomach Mine is not yours. And I do not know You – your nameless name – A void in the ever widening Perimeter gaze Of your abandoned half-eaten – Orange peel. May I have more? No I tell you. It is especially good today. the eggs. I am glad. Why do you not tell me your name? You say. a bird in your mind. a guinea. I do not understand. You know me. You see me. touch me. smell me. I reek of orange slices. coffee. scrambled eggs with bell peppers and cheese. And toast. Proudly. Every Sunday morning – and I see your eyes crinkle With grinful recognition Like the sullen brown river-god dying in the drought I come to you quietly. serene. Before the sun spots His first glance At the world He leaves dark Morning till morning A Sunday morning – when I arise To here – You My Nameless homeless friend. The voice of my Lord. Have you eaten, girl? No – My Lord. My Lord – I have not. And I hunger. Waiting. Watching you eat your – Breakfast
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II. Fragments for Harold, the Man who Sits Outside my Apartment Complex Harold. I pass. how are you? you ask. the Discarded inviting me into their: Habitat. channel. radio through firmament hair. effusing language of Tongues a Spirit – no entered Consciousness understands.
a Broken. and a Burried. that is one yellow flashlight: that shines darkness – in the morning, and five Zodiac tissue designs. I believe you have bestowed upon me more earthly treasures than I you. rememory is like the infinite Diaspora of Shattering urban bottles. for me. but you – are dwelling in the paradise that recycles. our world. somedays. I do not see you, Harold. and I perish and ponder. where you wander. oh Cain of Modernity! do you detest your mark? because I may have one too – of Ash. and it bids Me welcome. to the Kingdom — olivia lau is a thirdyear English major and education minor at Berkeley.
Fall 2008 | To An Unknown God
Call + Response :
A Funked-up Review
Yet for all that he desires to feel a kind of passionateness, yea, and his passion becomes his pleasure, too. What is all this but a miserable madness? — Augustine of Hippo
cliff mak studied Comparative Literature and Latin at Berkeley. Currently on university staff, his true calling is to be the last samurai.
16 To An Unknown God | Fall 2008
ne of the greatest yet least known or understood sins of our age is that of global slavery. It takes all forms, crosses all borders, and too often preys upon children, the most helpless among us. It is an exceptionally ugly sin, one that we would like not to think about, and we’ve been less comfortable glamorizing the fight against it than the “wars” against drug or gun trafficking. Until now, that is. The brainchild of musician Josh Dillon, Call + Response is billed as a “rockumentary” – a documentary of both the global slavery problem and the various artists volunteering to raise awareness about the problem. It’s an admirable effort, with memorable performances by the likes of Matisyahu and Imogen Heap, for example, but it misfires severely in at least one direction. It’s not that Call + Response is a bad movie: it’s at its best when doing what a documentary should do – giving us the facts, telling us the story – and it does that for at least half its length. It’s rather that it is a patronizing movie, insisting so terribly much on being a voice, or rather, the voice, for the oppressed and enslaved, and this is the root of the problem. The call and response from which the movie takes its name and conceit is a tradition springing from the depths of black enslavement in America. It was, as Cornel West himself ex plains to Dillon and us in the film (and who is, incidentally, the best thing about it), a mode of expression and empowerment for black slaves, through their voices a redemptive witness to their humanity and solidarity. And yet Call + Response posits itself as the call we’re to respond to; it has the audacity to assume the voice of the enslaved, to tell their story almost univocally. In more responsible
hands, this would not be a problem, maybe, but in Call, we are regularly plunged into a world of pop sentimentalism, far removed from the horrors that must be actual slavery. Switchfoot, Five For Fighting, and, ech, Natasha Bedingfield make their appearances (Bedingfield twice, even) as the sentimental black holes of the film, proudly laying on sugary image after clichéd turn of verse, going so far as to tell you, from some deep well of forethought and taste, to “feel the rain on your skin”! The cry of the young, the groan of the people – yes, let us feel! Since no one else can for you, apparently. Perhaps most telling is one other bizarre performance in the film: The Scrolls’ cover of Radiohead’s “Exit Music (For a Film).” The original song, inspired by Romeo and Juliet, is saturated with irony even as it purports to provide a voice, the voice, for one dead couple and millions of star-crossed teenagers. What was this doing in a film about global slavery? Did The Scrolls mean it as an implicit critique of Call’s sense of pathos? If so, power to them. The film calls us to feel, just as many of its performers have felt throughout the film. This is translated for us at the end of the film, too, into monetary terms: the proper response is to donate to the International Justice Mission (since no one else can for you). But that’s cheap; that is too easy. With slick informational graphics and editorial overlays almost pulled from a car commercial, Call + Response seems to be selling us a product: give us your money, and we will supply you with feelings. No response is identical to its call, however, and we don’t have to respond to the film in the way it expects. As Cornel West says, again, the key to the blues, to an understanding of the suffering in life, is the blues note, the unexpected half-step of dissonance. We can discard the trite sap of the film and retain its greater value, moving from feeling to virtue. As the film haltingly proposes, we should strive to improve economic conditions, free the enslaved, and punish the enslavers – deeds more difficult and less appealing than the passions of easy listening. We are to be that note, out of step with a comfortable harmony, dissonant but never discordant. •
My First Test at Cal
ntering as a first year, I had been warned of Berkeley’s notoriety for testing – and breaking – supposedly strong Christian faith, but I wasn’t intimidated. Since I had survived as a Christian in Santa Cruz for eighteen years, I felt like I could singlehandedly take on Berkeley. Now, a couple months later, I can already see how overconfident I was. Within my first week at Cal I was challenged. Sitting outside Wheeler waiting for class to begin, the boy next to me and I struck up the traditional getting-to-know-you conversation: what year are you, where are you from, what classes are you taking, etc. He talked about his class on evolution, which lead to a conversation about science and philosophy. He commented on how ridiculous it was that people still believe in myths like the Bible when carbon dating and other scientific evidence supports otherwise. I said that I believed, and he asked, “Why?” Why? It was a perfectly reasonable question given the topic. I should have been expecting it. But I wasn’t. Why? Why?! The question caught me off guard; a stranger had never outright asked me why I believed. Once the initial shock subsided, I was surprised at my inability to intelligently and immediately explain why I believed in God. I began with how I grew up in the church. “Oh, you’re brain washed,” he jested, so I tried to prove my faith is my own – my dad isn’t Christian and I was always free to choose my own path. I then tried to explain how I see my connection with Jesus as a relationship rather than a religion. As I attempted to field his questions, I could tell that neither of us was satisfied with what I was saying. Although everything I said was true, it sounded somehow both rehearsed and jumbled.
I wished that I could have given hard evidence supporting God’s existence and that I had sounded more genuine and eloquent. I wished I had immediately formed more distinct, sincere reasons for my beliefs, even if my articulation lacked clarity. Confused, I turned to the most dependable source I know: God. Looking back on my conversation with the Wheeler boy, I can now think of a million clear, specific answers for why I believe in God: because when I was really sick and doctors couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me, God healed me; because I believe that the beauty of vivid blue skies or fiery red sunsets was artistically created; because I’ve had prayers answered; because when I stargaze, I know that there must be more than what can be discovered with microscopes and scientific calculations. From the Wheeler boy, I learned that my beliefs are never off-limits to challenge. As a lover of Jesus I always need to be prepared to share his story, because I wont always have the luxury of planning how, when, or with whom I want to share my testimony. During my short time here at Cal, I’ve continually challenged myself to speak up, becoming increasingly comfortable with religious conversations to the point that now I’m able to talk about my faith with anyone that seems interested. But I know sharing faith in an environment like Cal can be difficult. For anyone that is challenged, I would like to offer this advice and encouragement: when people ask you questions, respond with what you truly think or feel. Your authenticity will be appreciated, and you will know what you’re talking about. The Lord will give you words – you just need to take a step of faith by letting them out. •
A first-year undergraduate expected Cal to challenge her faith, but she never expected to answer one simple question: why believe?
lila carpenter is a freshman at Berkeley and is originally from Santa Cruz, California.
Fall 2008 | To An Unknown God
Nature of Love
1 I Cor. 12:31
And I will show you a still more excellent way.1 — But wait, what about other people? Can we stop loving people, too? — Well, people get divorced all the time. Sometimes it ends up that they actually hate each other afterwards. So yes, people can stop loving. There are cases when Christians also divorce: it happens. It’s sad, but it happens.
2 I Jn. 4:8
3 I Jn. 4:19
4 I Cor. 13:8–10
It’s sad because… Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.2 — But, as Christians, aren’t we supposed to love as God does? Like, “we love because he first loved us” 3 sort of deal? We get our love from God, so shouldn’t we emulate that perfect love towards others? — Yes, we strive to be like God, but we’re still human. We fall short. If we forced ourselves to be responsible for perfectly loving like God does, then we’d tire ourselves out and still not make the cut. There’s a limit to our love. Love never ends. Prophecies, tongues, knowledge. Gifts from God. Limits? Yes, they will cease, they will be stilled, it will pass. But when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears.4 Has perfection come? — I know that we aren’t perfect yet. Someone was, though: hasn’t perfection already come? Christ has come and he still is. Isn’t talking about our limits not as helpful as talking about His limitlessness?
5 Rom. 8:38–39 6 I Jn. 4:7
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For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.5 Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God.6 The nature of love is not seamless. At least, not in the way we as humans imagine it to be. There are a lot of holes in the fabric. Tears we aren’t able to reconcile – “irreconcilable differences” in marriage, for instance. Human love relationships are liable to wear and tear. Even Christians translating God’s love into person-to-person interactions are vulnerable to our limits as humans. Even Christians get divorced. To err is human, right?
a still more excellent way… A good friend of mine commented on my broodings about the ageold question concerning the nature of love. Or rather, more appropriately, commented on the related question concerning the constraints of human limitation: — I think that once we've become Christians, we no longer have that excuse that our old nature causes us to sin or even to stop loving. It’s a fact that it happens, but as God’s children, we should be more prone towards being Christ-like than being human-like. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ.7 Alive because of his love, with Christ because of his love…Christ-like! We love because he first loved us. The secret to the nature of love: It’s seamless! It’s perfect! It’s already come! Mystery revealed. The great love that enables Christ-followers to be resurrected from spiritual and physical death is the same love that we are encouraged to demonstrate to the world. Love one another. As he loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are his.8 On this point, another good friend contributed to my growing discourse:
7 Eph. 2:4
8 Jn. 13:34–35
— We should strive to be like God, given his example of perfect love. We want to shape our love for others with that same perfection and constancy. Perfection and constancy are not the first two traits people use to describe human love. Is aiming for these things unrealistic? What is realistic? Realistic is what God defines as “real,” as in: his original plan. Realistic is what he has already done through his death on the cross and resurrection. Realistic is looking to God for our definition of love, and acting accordingly. Why is perfectly loving, then, unrealistic? For all utilitarian purposes, on the spectrum of human fallibility – ten being loving exactly as God does, one being loving not at all – where do we stand? I would dare to say that we lean more toward the lower half of the scale. Why? Because looking at our limitations of love blinds us from seeing (and having faith in) his infinite love. God is love. Why don’t we believe in him, then? •
jasmin borja is a fourthyear English and Molecular & Cell Biology major who attends Crossroads Christian Fellowship, which is affiliated with Chinese for Christ Church Berkeley.
Fall 2008 | To An Unknown God
Let the Subaltern Pray:
World Christianity and the Obligation of the Christian Scholar writer
the expression of Christian faith through indigenous idioms, is a transnational phenomenon whose implications for postcolonial nationstates demand the attention of any responsible cosmopolitan citizen.
20 To An Unknown God | Fall 2008
et me guess: you’re in engineering, right?” The first time I hear this question, I’m at an orientation for incoming international students. This being an era in which an African-American senator can become President, I snicker instinctively, thinking I’ve stumbled into the sequel to Borat. The second time I’m asked, I shrug it off again, but this time in crabby disbelief. Then, someone asks me where I’m from. When I answer Canada, they press me further. Not what country I was born in, but where I’m really from (read: Korea, Japan, China or Taiwan). I am stunned. Put aside wwjd for a moment, and another question comes to mind: what would Margaret Cho say? Essentialisms: those classed, gendered, and racialized assumptions that have weathered the vagaries of the P.C. dispensation. For the fortunate privileged, like myself, such assumptions practically translate into little more than the odd bemusing question at a cocktail party. And yet, as I meditate on the role of the scholar in honoring Micah 6:8, I can’t help but think that the task of the 21st century Christian intellectual is to aim his slingshot at the remaining camouflaged Goliaths lurking in our ivory towers: the religious essentialisms that conspire against understanding world Christianity. Only now, after decades of Boomer-inspired indifference, is the academy making baby steps towards a nuanced understanding of faith. Columbia’s Institute for Religion, Culture and Public Life represents one such move, while Tony Blair’s nascent Faith and Globalization Initiative at Yale represents another. Yet such organizations still have the tough work of con-
vincing legions of skeptical scholars to abandon that old Marxist canard about the opiate of the masses. In a recent online discussion of Chinua Achebe’s postcolonial classic Things Fall Apart, a text I admire for carefully distinguishing between missionary ecclesiastical structures and the Gospel they represented, one student typified the class reaction with the blanket statement, “Christianity was able to deconstruct traditional social networks through individual conversions, each of which had negative ramifications for the whole community.” In the same class, my lament about academic misrepresentations of Christianity evoked surprise from another student, who had assumed that Christianity’s status as a “religion of the establishment” ensured a fair shake. Meanwhile, in an era when the Christian message is crossing all manner of ethnic, national and cultural borders, one of my professors called for an even tighter conflation of ethnic and religious identities. Indeed, when one considers that the average college or graduate student usually encounters Christianity as a facet of the old God-guns-gold imperialist triumvirate, it’s no surprise that the academic landscape is still about as sensitive to matters of belief as Bill Maher’s Religulous. If the cloistered life of seminar papers and library loans has any sort of obligation to the global community, though, such presumptions constitute more than a mere chronic annoyance. While the academy continues to focus on the colonialist phase of Christianity, the former colonies of the world have moved on. Scholars such as Phillip Jenkins and Lamin Sanneh have, through such books as The Next Christendom
and Whose Religion is Christianity?, have brought world Christianity to our attention: at last count, Latin America boasts roughly 480 million believers; Africa, 360 million. The fact that the latter continent’s Christian population numbered 10 million in 1900 indicates that the end of colonialism has given rise to an acceleration, not a deceleration, in conversions to the faith.¹ Furthermore, as Sanneh points out in Whose Religion is Christianity?, those conversions tend to take place among marginalized populations in states of limited political influence.² Thus, contrary to the presuppositions of the dominant postcolonial narrative, Christianity is flourishing not in centers of white affluence, but among the impoverished populations that the religion has allegedly ruined forever. Ironically, by fixating on the hegemonic and colonialist connotations of Christianity, most academics end up reinscribing the very essentialism that imperial Spain used to justify wholesale slaughter of the New World’s native populations: the Other was not, is not, and can never be Christian. The Spaniards justified this fallacy by noting that the original apostles never preached to the Indians; we moderns, by arguing that their European successors had no right to do so. In both cases, the autonomous will of the populations in question, along with their ability to freely appropriate and indigenize foreign beliefs, is effaced. The subaltern, to tweak Gayatri Spivak ever so slightly, cannot pray. So far as I can see, world Christianity can go overlooked no longer, for three main reasons. First, our academic institutions’ commitment to the notion of a global university hinges on its response to this phenomenon. A devout Burundian villager who wins a scholarship to an Ivy League school will encounter, in the seminar discussions and lunch table debates of her home away from home, a Christianity that scarcely resembles the faith she has grown up with at home, a caricature engendered by postcolonial guilt and an Americentric perspective on right-wing religiosity. When we place world Christianity at the center of our research, read-
ing responses, and classroom discussions, we help create a space in which religious, economic, and ethnic subjectivities can flourish, in all manner of combinations. Moreover, the academy must acknowledge world Christianity as a force of progress in the developing nations of the world. For example, aspiring diplomats looking to tackle the African aids epidemic must face facts: statistics such as those gathered by the cia’s World Factbook display a negative correlation between aids incidence and Catholic presence among African nations. Most dramatically, Uganda, at 33% Roman Catholic and 33% Protestant, boasts an impressively low 4.1% aids rate. Indeed, Uganda’s government has done this precisely by means of the very abstinence platform vilified by most ngos.³ At face value, such facts signal that the African Christian movement represents a powerful ally in the fight against aids, yet they are more likely to elicit anger or denial amongst our non-religious colleagues, who usually dismiss Christianity as the ideological apparatus of the American empire, if not worse. To be productive, research into African aids must instead proceed with sensitivity and generosity of spirit towards the religious commitments of victims, doctors, and governmental officials. It falls to our generation of Christian scholars to effect this aboutface in attitude. Finally, if God truly became a marginalized carpenter from the backwaters of the Roman Empire, we Christians must make this issue a priority. In bringing to light the Christianity of Brazilian slums and Indonesian house churches, we represent to the world the Christ who separates the sheep and the goats, the Christ who so identifies with the prisoners, the hungry, the naked, and the thirsty that citizenship in the Kingdom is contingent on the treatment of such persons. In doing so, we will give our skeptical classmates cause to reconsider the claims of the homeless prophet we call the Messiah. Our professors and peers need to know that, while the bride of Christ may wear white, her skin color is anything but. •
1 Phillip Jenkins, The Next Christendom (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002), 3.
2 Lamin Sanneh, Whose Religion is Christianity? (Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2003), 27.
3 White, Hilary, “While Critics blame Catholic Church for AIDS deaths, stats show just the opposite," Lifesite News, http:// www.lifesitenews.com/ldn/2007/ mar/07030610.html
lucas kwong is a ChineseCanadian first-year Ph.D candidate in Columbia’s English and Comparative Literature department (though he does appreciate the complexities of engineering).
Fall 2008 | To An Unknown God
In Defense of Kitsch*
As creative Christians, we can re-imagine criticism just as we can re-imagine art itself. writer
* kitsch, n
something of tawdry design, appearance, or content created to appeal to popular or undiscriminating taste.
1 The quest was successful. My brother reports that the house soon had the complete velvet set: unicorn, Elvis, and Chief Wild Cat.
2 I was in middle school, so I knew all about being laughed at. That day, though, I learned that, done right, mockery marks a sophisticated, worldly-wise adult: I learned the pleasure of irony. 3 With rotating wings!
hen I was very nearly a teenager, my parents and I drove out to see my oldest brother Rob in Indiana. Rob was so cool. He creamed everybody in rummy, and he waged epic snowball wars. He and his grad school buddies lived in a giant old rickety house they called Morton Manor. It had billiards and foosball and was, as far as I could tell, the greatest place ever. Near the bottom of the Morton Manor staircase hung a big velvet painting of a sparkling purple unicorn. I was entranced. “It’s so beautiful,” I breathed. My brother’s roommate chuckled. “Ah, to be innocent,” he said. He went on to tell my parents about the household’s velvet grail: a portrait of Elvis Presley – a prize they were fervently seeking at yard sales across town.¹ Indignant at my presumed innocence, I wondered what was wrong with the painting. It looked just like a unicorn! Then it struck me: if you want to be cool, you can’t like something simply because it’s pretty or reminds you of a wonderful and exciting dream. Some things, I realized, you enjoy by laughing at them.² I knew that I’d have to pay close attention to figure out what was high-quality and what was just funny. I think I figured it out. In college, I even hung a pink flamingo³ on my dorm room door. I still find that flamingo pretty amusing, and I’m pleased at the thought of Morton Manor’s velvet gallery. Even so, I wonder who got more genuine pleasure out of velvet unicorns: me with sparkly visions of magical beasts, or me with superior knowledge about Art, Kitsch, and tongue-incheek decoration. Ah, to be innocent.
Thinking Big. In the first issue of To An Unknown God, John Montague wrote a provocative article calling Christians to dream big, to serve in the Kingdom of God by creating and
22 To An Unknown God | Fall 2008
working and legislating and thinking in new ways that will set the whole world alight and show God’s glory. The article got me thinking about the duty of thoughtful Christians in the face of kitsch. Five months later, I have few firm conclusions, but a couple of inklings to share:
Create! God has given people the astonishing ability to glorify Him – and be like Him – by coming up with new ideas, singing new songs, and making things that never were before. This gift is a calling that’s deeply serious and deeply unserious. It’s a grave, mystery-filled invitation to participate in God’s creation and redemption story, the only thing that has ever mattered. It’s unserious for at least two reasons. First, it’s often all about laughter and light. Second – and this is the part we tend to forget – God is sovereign, and His Kingdom will come whether our best work is the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel or a family of badly proportioned stick figures under lollipop trees. That means we’re free to create as best we can, without worrying about whether it’s good enough for God. (It’s a pretty safe bet that it’s not. And that it is.) The point is to exalt God, not ourselves. Not even Christianity.
Criticize! Where does this leave Christian criticism? I don’t really know. I do believe, though, that we can re-imagine criticism just like we can re-imagine art itself. Maybe we can conceive a criticism aimed at building up good work, rather than tearing apart bad. There is absolutely a place for furious tableturning; we need to make sure it really is directed at bad theology, not merely at velvet unicorns. And when turning the tables, we need to consider deeply our goal, our audience, and our heart. If the critic’s goal is to educate, it may be better accomplished through promotion than through condemnation. Exposed to enough art over the years, I probably would have outgrown my admiration for fantasies on black velvet. I have to wonder whether I might have done so without getting those extra lessons in how to snigger at the unicorns, or why I should feel shame at liking them. If a piece of art, or a body of artwork, is theologically problematic, a creative critic can find a
way to address the issue without condescension towards those who enjoy the art, remembering that God can use even the kitschiest works to lead people to His Truth. Finally, criticism – like other acts of service – can easily slip into self-righteousness. Just as we need to remember who’s being exalted in our creative acts, we can guard our criticism from an intellectually elitist feeling of superiority, opting instead to encourage the creative community to which God calls us, a community including all believers.
Enjoy! And let enjoy! ( Joy!) C.S. Lewis wrote about the cavernous distance between joy and flippancy. In flippant conversation, “every serious subject is discussed in a manner which implies that [those participating] have already
found a ridiculous side to it. …It is a thousand miles away from joy; it deadens, instead of sharpening, the intellect; and it excites no affection between those who practise it.”⁴ When I’m honest, I know that my laughter at “bad art” is always at least a little bit flippant – and therefore tainted. Joy, in contrast, is found in the kind of merriment that “exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously – no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption.”⁵ Let’s not lose out on the enjoyment of art by worrying about how it reflects on ourselves. Let’s not miss out on the creation of art for the same reason. And most importantly, let’s not rob ourselves of the joy of loving our neighbors, taking them seriously whatever their artistic skill or taste. •
4 C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters (New York: HarperCollins, 2001 edition), 56.
5 C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory (New York: HarperCollins, 2001 edition), 46.
thera crane is a graduate student of linguistics at Berkeley and is from Coatesville, Pennsylvania.
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Fall 2008 | To An Unknown God
On Choosing Life writer
Comments on abortion must always begin with disclaimers. I am not here to argue from the perspective of a scientist, doctor, philosopher, or theologian. I am not here to argue about Roe v. Wade or broader State policy, although I personally believe abortion is wrong. To choose abortion is to choose death, and everyone should agree that wanton, preventable death, especially that of an innocent person, is not a desirable moral end. Here, though, I would like to address the culture of so-called “sexual and reproductive rights” and the narrower claim that the right to government-sanctioned abortion (which is the only positive right I can think such a term means to assert) is good for women. The argument, I believe, goes like this: Women now flourish not only because they may legally commit abortion but because doing so is a celebrated personal right. Women can pursue their dreams because they’re no longer burdened by a societal fear that they may become pregnant and abandon whatever endeavors they’d otherwise pursue.
karis gong is a third-year Berkeley law student from San Antonio, Texas.
24 To An Unknown God | Fall 2008
I find this argument problematic. In particular, it is troubling to me that advocates for abortion claim that my opportunities are just that – opportunities to do great things and not just pipe dreams – because of the right to abortion. The argument has several flaws whose notice strikes me as not necessarily conventionally conservative or right-wing. First, it presumes that women must be expected to be the ones charged with sole childrearing responsibilities. If instead of fighting for abortion rights women had fought for better parental leave benefits for both men and women, maybe today’s cultural presumptions would be different. If gender equality were really the ultimate goal, we should also see more stay-athome dads or at least more fathers working parttime; pregnancy wouldn’t be the woman’s “fault,” and the responsibilities of childrearing would fall equally upon both mother and father. Second, we generally would otherwise never be thankful that someone’s death had relieved us of a burden. For example, society would not excuse a man who killed his senile father because he couldn’t afford to take time off
work to care for him. We would condemn him as cold-hearted and insist that he should have found other ways to overcome his obstacles. But the pro-abortion argument above depends on the same premises as this hypothetical man’s pithy excuse: it is irreverent towards life, and it adopts an “ends justifies the means” attitude, which is dangerous because it is difficult to draw non-arbitrary distinctions between it and other behaviors that are clearly morally wrong. Finally, the argument, if true, means that in reality women have achieved little in terms of changing attitudes. Instead of convincing a male-dominant society that mothers are equally capable of exceptional thinking and achievement, the message is now that women are willing and even expected to give up something men have never been asked to give up in order to succeed. The result is that women are forced into a choice: they can choose their careers or their family. This isn’t progress. Whereas women once faced chauvinistic employers who feared they would unexpectedly leave upon becoming pregnant, they now face chauvinistic employers who expect them to choose work rather than family. If there were no right to abortion, one hopes, women by now wouldn’t have to work for such chauvinists. Moreover, celebrating a right to abortion reinforces the irresponsible attitude that sexual freedom has no consequences – only now, neither men nor women need suffer the “costs” or endure the responsibilities of raising children when they don’t feel like it. These hardly seem the attitudes indicating the “success” of decades of struggle. As Christians, I do not want us to be fooled into thinking that choosing life means choosing a world in which women are oppressed. We know that life is a gift to be cherished. Yet we also see that the Proverbs woman succeeds in business, the community, and in caring for her family (Prv. 31:10–31). Ideally, our culture would truly celebrate both family and career achievement, and it makes sense that individuals in loving and supportive families would also have the strength to do well in the workplace. The message that society needs abortion in order for women to prosper is foolishness. It should not stand in our way of choosing life. •
erutluC nosirapmoC eTh
alk into almost any women’s public restroom and you’ll witness a very similar chain of events. Women will wait patiently in line for the next available stall and, after emerging, head over to the sinks to wash and dry their hands. Instead of then walking out the door, however, they unfailingly make a beeline to the mirror. Almost subconsciously, women shoot fleeting looks at each other, assessing and comparing each other’s hair, makeup, and dress in just a few seconds. We look to find out what we like and don’t like, what we seek to emulate and what we’d rather disregard, in both appearance and composure. And it’s not particular to women. Though I’ve never been inside a men’s public restroom (and frankly, I don’t think I want to), I imagine similar comparisons take place. It may not be overt, it may not even be conscious, but I think we all check each other out in one way or another. We are a culture of comparison. We define ourselves in terms of other people, whether we’re following the crowd or making our own path. You’re trendy because you dress like them, you’re beautiful because you look like her, or you’re unique because you don’t talk like them, you’re cool because you don’t act like him. And inevitably, we end up feeling bad about ourselves because we can’t live up to the standard we have in our heads of our “ideal selves.” Some people are less concerned with who wins and who loses, but the fact remains that all of us are affected by confidence issues, and there are times when even the best of us just want to be accepted. But this issue of comparison touches on a bigger concept than just poor self-image and shallow confidence. Our innate tendency to judge ourselves based on the template of others stems from, in my opinion, a lack of complete trust in God. We look to others’ opinions for acceptance, for encouragement, yet even if we do receive that reinforcement, we’re still left
wanting more. There’s always someone else to impress, always someone else we want to be like. We place so much importance on how we perceive ourselves in relation to others that we lose sight of the ultimate importance of how we perceive ourselves in relation to God. We are made in His image, freed from our sins because He allowed His one and only Son to die on the cross for us, and still we criticize ourselves for not living up to our individual earthly ideals. What does it matter? Why do we place so much emphasis on what others think of us? What really matters is God’s incredible love for us. That is what makes us beautiful. He loves us as a father loves a child: He made us, and despite our imperfections, He wants what’s best for us. Now, we have a long way to go if we are going to fulfill His expectations of us. We are not perfect because God loves us. It is because of our failures that Jesus laid down His life to forgive our sins. God cares about us so much that He was able to make this sacrifice for our sake. He loves me despite the fact that I often place more importance on what others think of me than on what He thinks of me. He loves me despite the fact that I feel I don’t deserve love, least of all His. I know “that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us – whatever we ask – we know that we have what we asked of Him” (1 John 5:15). He will provide what I need from Him, whether I know what that is or not. And no one else can do that for me. It’s not an easy life we live as Christians. God never said it would be. He expects a lot of us. And we should expect a lot of ourselves. But we also need to know that He is with us always, whether or not we’re feeling beautiful, whether or not we think ourselves worthy of His love or anyone else’s. We can have confidence in Him. And that kind of confidence is better than anything that can come from a good hair day. •
We can have confidence in God, even if we’re having a bad hair day.
alexis eils is a secondyear psychology major from Danville, California.
Fall 2008 | To An Unknown God
The Limits of Evidentialism writer
Alex Hyun 1 Alvin Platinga, “Justification and the Classical Picture," Warranted Christian Belief.
2 See Jerome Gellman’s Experiencing God and the Rationality of Theistic Belief and Alvin Plantinga’s “Naturalism Defeated,” at ‹http://www.calvin.edu/ academic/philosophy/virtual_library/ articles/plantinga_alvin/naturalism_ defeated.pdf›.
3 See Lee Strobel, The Case for a Creator; Norman Geisler and Frank Turek, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist; J.P. Moreland, Scaling the Secular City; and Richard Swinburne, The Existence of God.
4 Tom Morris, Philosophy for Dummies (New York: Wiley Publishing, Inc., 1999), 58.
t is not uncommon to hear a religious skeptic denounce belief in God on the grounds that there is little or no evidence for His existence.1 Being accused of lacking good evidence for one’s beliefs certainly sounds insulting; but what, exactly, is supposed to be so objectionable? I suspect that it’s not merely an alleged2 lack of evidence that draws the skeptic’s rebuke. Rather, it is the further thought that, if the Christian lacks evidence for God’s existence, she must therefore be irrational or unjustified in believing that God exists. The implicit principle governing this inference is what I will call the Evidentialist Principle (ep): ep: A person’s belief is rationally justified only if she has good evidence for that belief. Let me clarify my use of the term “good evidence.” If someone has evidence for one of her beliefs, she has some kind of argument for that belief. If somebody has good evidence for her belief, then the argument she has in support of that belief is a good one: that is, it seems valid, its premises are prima facie plausible, and it lends considerable evidential support to its conclusion. If ep is correct, then the skeptic is surely right in thinking that the Christian who lacks good evidence for her belief in God is in dire epistemic straits. For she would then be open to the following Evidential Objection: The Christian does not have good evidence for her belief in God. A person’s belief is rationally justified only if she has good evidence for that belief. Therefore, the Christian is not rationally justified in believing in God.
Most Christians have at least once heard a skeptic critique religious belief using the Evidential Objection or something very similar to it. One way to respond to this argument is to refute the
26 To An Unknown God | Fall 2008
premise: “The Christian does not have good evidence for her belief in God.” This is the strategy used in much of today’s Christian apologetics.3 But this is not the only way to undermine the Evidential Objection. Another way would be to attack ep itself, which is the other premise of the argument. It is this latter strategy that I will pursue. I am not saying that having evidence is useless when it comes to justifying our beliefs. I do not wish to challenge the view that evidence is useful, but, rather, that having evidence is always necessary for rational justification. I am not arguing that one’s belief can be rationally justified when there is good evidence against that belief. I am only arguing that it is possible that one’s belief be rationally justified when there is no evi dence for that belief. If my argument succeeds, then it still might be the case that a theist’s justification for her belief in God is defeated by good evidence for God’s non-existence. I contend, however, that ep, which is an essential premise of the Evidential Objection, is plainly false.
Critique of EP I will offer a counterexamples to ep: belief that one’s memory is at least sometimes reliable. First, consider the belief that one’s memory is at least sometimes reliable. A person’s memory is at least sometimes reliable if and only if her memory sometimes gives her true beliefs.4 It certainly seems like we are rationally justified in believing that the faculty of memory is at least sometimes reliable. We reveal our trust in the reliability of memory when we form beliefs about what we ate for breakfast this morning, what party we went to last Friday night, and which elementary school we attended. And normally, we take this trust and belief in the reliability of the memory to be rationally justified. Imagine the poor soul who failed to have this trust in his memory. He would have to be agnostic about everything that happened prior to the present moment, and surely such agnosticism is irrational. This suggests that it is
rationally justifiable to believe that one’s memory is sometimes reliable. Indeed, such a belief might even be rationally obligatory. But this is a problem for the proponent of ep: while we are rational in believing that our memory is at least sometimes reliable, it seems that we have no evidence for this belief. Now, it is naturally tempting to think that there is a certain sort evidence for the memory’s reliability. For surely I have often parked my car in a large parking lot and, upon finishing my grocery shopping (or whatever), been able to find my car quickly and easily by consulting my memory about where I parked my car. So there you go: I have reason to believe that my memory is at least sometimes reliable. The fatal problem with this argument is that it is clearly a case of circular reasoning: it assumes precisely what it seeks to prove. After all, I can know that I’ve found my parked car many times in the past only if my memory is working reliably. So the above argument that the memory is sometimes reliable can work only if we assume that our memory is sometimes reliable. Not very impressive. Can the proponent of ep cite any other evidence for the reliability of memory? If so, the burden is surely his to produce such evasive evidence. I don’t know what this evidence would look like since appeals to past experience are, in this case, illegitimate. Given the failure of the only natural way to argue for the memory’s reliability, we are prima facie justified in believing that there is no successful argument. So it seems we have a counterexample to ep: belief that one’s memory is sometimes reliable is rationally justified, yet we lack evidence for it.
A Revised Evidentialist Principle We have seen that ep is false. As a result, the Evidential Objection to Christian belief is unsound, for this argument uses ep as a premise. But surely ep captures, even if in a distorted way, something of our commonsense beliefs about rational justification. After all, there are a great many beliefs that do seem to require supporting evidence before they can be justified. The beliefs that some bachelors are tall and that Professor MacFarlane has an even number of hairs seem to be beliefs of this kind. Intuitively, these and
many other beliefs do require evidence in order to be justified, which I think explains whatever plausibility that ep seemed to have.5 Since some of our beliefs must be supported by evidence while others do not need to be, it seems that the following Revised Evidentialist Principle captures our intuitions better than ep:
5 See section two of Keith DeRose’s essay “Ought We to Follow Our Evidence?” for a contextualist response.
rep: Some, but not all, beliefs are such that a person is rationally justified in having them only if she has good evidence for them. It is important to see that rep speaks only of what is necessary, rather than sufficient, for rational justification. By itself, rep does not commit us to believing that any particular belief is rationally justified. Now, let an “a-type belief ” be the type of belief that requires evidence in order to be justified; let a “b-type belief ” be the type of belief that does not. The all-important question then is this: is belief in God an a-type belief or a b-type belief? In light of the existence of b-type beliefs, any successful evidentialist objection to theism must give us good reason to think that belief in God is an a-type belief. I think this task is quite difficult. I doubt that it can be done. Space constraints prevent me from defending the b-type status of theistic belief.6 But at the very least, it has been shown that an evidential objection to belief in God is much more difficult to pull off than most evidential objectors realize.
Practical Application of our Findings Christians sometimes worry that they have little evidence for their beliefs. Some people even leave the faith over this sort of consideration. But given our findings, surely the Christian ought not to be too hasty in jettisoning her faith. After all, many of her most fundamental beliefs are such that she is fully rational in having them even when she lacks evidence for them. Her belief in God may well be like these beliefs in this respect. Perhaps the Christian believes in God because of the Holy Spirit’s work in her heart, a process that may not furnish the believer with a cogent argument, but can be compelling for the recipient of this grace nonetheless. •
6 See chapters five and six of Plantinga’s Warranted Christian Belief for an account of the nature of rational justification (or “warrant,” as he calls it) under which theistic belief is a B-type belief. It is worth pointing out that many externalist accounts of justification would deem belief in God (as well as all other types of belief ) B-type beliefs.
alex hyun is a senior this year, a philosophy major with special interest in philosophy of religion and epistemology. When not doing school work, he likes to play Scrabble and attend InterVarsity Christian Fellowship meetings.
Fall 2008 | To An Unknown God
Walking Barefoot writer
How might the story of the burning bush in Exodus 3 offer a model of sacred transition? Does God call us when we are strangers in strange lands?
28 To An Unknown God | Fall 2008
his summer I was on an Italian train from San Remo to Milan, moving from one foreign place to another in a series of journeys: traveling from San Remo to Milan to Parma to Bologna to Venice. Outside my window the Ligurian coast expanded against the flamboyant blue sea. My feet rested on a forty-five-pound backpack that held all the possessions I thought necessary to carry, and my mind wrestled with the prospect of being rootless and nomadic – not only for the following two months, but for the unforeseeable future of searching for a job, or, as I prefer to say, a vocation. I questioned the purpose of my travels: why not an internship? Why not work experience that would prove more impressive on my resume? Where was God this summer, and how was he going to reveal himself to me? The answer came, as it always does, in the people I met, the new ways they challenged me to think and feel, and the way God spoke through them to call me into further community with his children. People: the way God moves through the world. I met a woman named Marisa, who showered me with unnecessary gifts even after bringing me into her home. She taught me to just give and walk away. Don’t even wait for thanks because the pleasure, the piacere, is in the generosity not the gratitude. I met a boy named Ben who showed me how anywhere can be a home and anything, even a great t-shirt or piazza, can make you happy. A little girl named Giulia taught me that sisterhood is universal, and another darling girl named Giorgia made me think for the first time like a mother. My travel mate Mel taught me about the mutual responsibility we have for each other. Jules reminded me that smiles, confidence and height are all causes for celebration, and Andrew showed me the pure joy of throwing a bright red water balloon at someone. My host parents reminded me, in that way only God’s comforting voice can, that I am well taken care of and will be wherever I go.
Generosity, happiness, responsibility, community, celebration, joy, comfort; this is the God I know, who challenges me to examine myself in the faces of others so that upon returning home, the place in America, I had already found home, the condition of the spirit. God took the opportunity, when I might have seemed most alone and transitory in my travels, to meet me through the strangers along the way and provide me shelter, direction, and that sense of purpose I so desired at the beginning of my summer. In the Exodus story, God calls a man in a similar situation of transition to speak for him through a more unusual, though no less miraculous, delegate: the burning bush. Moses asks questions and voices concerns that are not so different from many of our own: I am an unknown, a stranger, identity-less, in a place where I have no contacts, no reputation, no support. Who am I? Where am I? How do I get home? But it is here, in a moment of solitary transition, that God meets Moses and calls him to a monumental vocation of leadership, political dissent, rebellion, and immigration to the promised homeland. These are the moments, when we are stripped of the soft furnishings and comforting human connections of home, when we are vulnerable and as alone as our intimate God can allow, when we are afraid and without direction: these are the sacred spaces where God chooses us. We are not in transition; we are on holy ground. And the plan that God assigns to us, drifting outlaws like Moses, is the first of many steps in the promise of a home, the promise of finding who and where we are supposed to be. • God calls Moses by name, twice, and he responds, “Here I am!” Now, Moses just said that he doesn’t know where or who he is, but when God calls his name, at least for a moment, he knows. “I am here.” He is fully present in the moment, immediately answering a call that gives him both a place to stand – right here – and an identity
that is as fundamental as claiming “I am.” The trivial questions “who am I?” and “who are you?” fall away and Moses replies with an exuberant affirmation of self and place. While Moses falls back into reluctance and skepticism, his initial response brings him into community with God, so much so that his “Here I am” begins to echo God’s “I am who I am.” Readily answering God’s call is more than making ourselves known as willing servants of God’s will; taking that step into a fellowship with God moves us closer to knowing ourselves. Moses feels powerless, unworthy, and without a home, but God, who doesn’t define himself by those worldly markers of identity, simply is who he is. This is frustrating to Moses, to all of us who want God’s name, who want to know the plan, who want all the answers right now, but God tells Moses just to follow and have faith that God will be close at every step of the journey. And in order to follow, Moses not only has to leave behind the home he is trying to make for himself in Midian, he has to leave behind his questions of insecurity and identity and move closer to God, move closer to “I am who I am” – an “I am” that is completely independent of accomplishment or name or position or place or reputation, and solely concerned with falling into the rhythm, however syncopated, of God’s plan. Following God’s call is about finding a home, yes, but it isn’t about finding a place. It’s about finding a person. It’s about moving closer and closer to the Godly “I am who I am” and further from the vain “I am who does this and studies this and likes this and hates this.” that
is more like a Facebook profile than an identity. God promises us, like Moses, a home, but that home depends so much more on our relationships with God than it does on the arbitrary place where our bodies happen to rest at night. God is not limited by location but by the willingness in the hearts of his people. Ours is a God of movement. God reminds Moses that he comes from a long line of movers. He is the heir of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and belongs to a lineage of “Get up and go,” even when the future isn’t any clearer than God’s vague instructions. We Christians belong to this heritage, and claim it every time we respond to need with action, move to a new place to start a new journey, or do something that frightens us because our trust in God surpasses our fear of the unknown. This story reminds us that moving around isn’t the means to a static end, but the way God chooses to enter into covenant with us and give us purpose and direction. We are wanderers, and God knows the way home. Now I’m back in Berkeley, depending on the kindness of friends and strangers alike because I am still living in transition. I have yet to find a permanent place to live, but God be praised, because I have a home. So welcome all to this strange land. Welcome to the wilderness. Whether you are a new student setting out on an unknown course of study or a veteran student in a later walk in life, welcome to a new day full of unexplored possibilities and unfamiliar terrain. And while this essay is no burning bush and I am no divine voice, welcome to this holy ground. •
tinley ireland is a recent graduate of UC Berkeley, where she studied Comparative Literature in Italian and English as well as Religious Studies. She works as a campus ministry intern at the First Congregational Church of Berkeley.
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Fall 2008 | To An Unknown God
Snapshots from the Exodus
by Whitney Moret
The People Are Restless “Where do Jeff and Marin think they’re going?!” “I don’t know!” “Why are we following them? Turn down the radio!” “What?!” “Where are we? Hey. Hey!” “What?!” “Aren’t you listening?” “Huh? I couldn’t hear you. Where are we, anyway?” “I would say we’re still wandering the desert.” “Look, there’s another rest stop. Let’s pull off and see what we can find.” “Shouldn’t we call and tell them we’re stopping?” “Well, I don’t have any reception.” “It feels like we’ve been out here for like, forty years. Where’d they get the directions, anyway?” “I think they were just following some signs.” “I’m hungry. Look, an am-pm! Thank God!” “Let’s gather some powdered donuts for the road.” “ok. You can never have too much good stuff.”
The Peace Corps Wouldn’t Take Them They had made the journey in desperation. Marin’s mother had already disowned her for wanting to marry Jeff, who wasn’t white and wasn’t Catholic. Jeff had been accused of cheating in law school but had been losing interest anyway. And he hadn’t paid his parking tickets for the past three years. They wanted to make a difference. And Central America was poor. Anyway, Jesus would help. He had talked directly to the mission directors (Rick and Karina Scheffler), you know? Rick’s directions had been a little off, though. It didn’t matter, because Jeff and Marin would be together.
Follow the Signs “Hey, I don’t see Kristen and Jill’s car behind us. Where’d they go, Jeff? Jeff!” Marin’s knuckles were white as she hunched over the steering wheel. She recalled the doubt in the girls’ voices as they went over directions at the last rest stop. “You think they went back? Don’t they trust us?”
30 To An Unknown God | Fall 2008
Jeff snorted, unable to ignore Marin’s shrieking even in deep sleep. “We’re just following the signs.” “Let’s stop and ask for directions.” “Let’s get some food,” suggested Jeff. “Oh yeah, quick, before we starve! It’s almost been two hours!” “We should go back to that am-pm.” The fluorescent light made the gray bags under Jeff ’s eyes look more profound, especially in the thickening darkness, as he leaned up against the gas pump and waited for a click. His stomach knotted forcefully with a growl. As the minutes slipped by, Jeff ’s anguish grew. What was going on in there? An eternity had passed when Jeff lifted his eyes to the automatic sliding doors ahead, behind which dim shadows crisscrossed to and fro. The doors would open – any second, they’d open. But he couldn’t have guessed the glory that would emerge from within. A wave of smoke tumbled out into the night as the fateful gates slid open. White light flashed into a sudden blaze, reflected in a brilliant halo from Marin’s blond hair as she descended the steps out toward the pumps. Jeff blinked, overcome by the brightness. It was… majestic. “I got them!” Marin pulled a scrap of notepaper from her purse and shook it in the air triumphantly. “I got the directions! Oh, man, the lights weren’t working. I was practically blind, and then they almost dropped this thing of dry ice right on my foot…” But as she approached Jeff, her smile faded, and her eyes grew wide. She stopped, hovering just inches away. Jeff could feel her breath in hot puffs on his face. She nearly whispered: “Did you eat the Ho-Ho?” Jeff stared at the white plastic wrapper at Marin’s feet. “Didn’t you trust me to bring you food? That was my experimental Ho-Ho! I’d been keeping that for three years! It still hadn’t gone bad! Where am I going to find a three-year-old Ho-Ho?!” “Grocery Outlet?” “Jeff!” “The dollar store!” Marin threw the directions down to the concrete, where they landed in a puddle of spilled soda. She ground the paper into the pavement with her heel. Her nostrils flared. Silence. Marin was pretty good at giving “the look.” As Jeff made his way behind her toward the steps to the fateful gates, he darted carefully to avoid being bitten by the snakes writhing on her head. • “What happened? Your girlfriend couldn’t figure out the directions I gave her?” The cashier smirked as he handed Jeff his change. “She’s not my girlfriend.” Jeff didn’t know why he was lying. “Who is she?” “I don’t know. I mean, my sister.” • The moonlight was bright blue on the empty, endless highway. “Fine! We’ll pull over! Just don’t puke in my car!”
Jeff was glowing green. “I can’t believe you ate free samples at a gas station. It’s a gas station, Jeff! This is not Costco!” “Maybe it was the Ho-Ho?” Marin glared. Jeff tumbled out of the car. “Well?” she asked when Jeff came back. He nodded, lingering a moment in the open car door. “Yeah, better. Thanks for stopping.” Marin sighed in irritation and jammed the key into the ignition. She started when she felt Jeff ’s hand on her leg. He said, “Hey, sorry.” Marin cleared her throat but kept staring out the windshield. She took a deep breath. “Well, I was the one who brought the bad directions in the first place.” “You think we’ll ever get there?” “I guess.” “You think the others really turned back?” “Maybe.” Marin’s lip might have been quivering. Jeff leaned in a little closer. “Are you okay?” “We’re running out of money, Jeff. What if this place doesn’t work out? How do we know? All this time and energy and traveling. God, it’s not like my parents are going to take me in again. I mean, there’s no one back home.” Marin took a breath. “My experimental Ho-Ho…” “It’s not about that. You left everything. I mean, home, college. Consumer capitalism.” “Yeah.” No one said anything for a minute. “Well, it’s not like there was much for me there. I hated that town. And if this works out, it’ll be everything I’ve ever wanted. This is the right thing. This is what God wants for me. And,” Marin spoke very quickly, in a sharp exhalation, “And I have you.” The desert contracted like a heartbeat. Jeff ’s hand tightened around Marin’s thigh. “Don’t be afraid,” he breathed, too quiet to be audible, his face drawing closer to hers. And their hands and faces knotted together under the fading overhead interior lights. They squeezed and pulled and melted and fought not to be afraid. Outside, the desert was cold. • The dawn was a frosty pink through the fog of the car windows. Marin rubbed her eyes and groped around the backseat for the warm Gatorade she’d bought at the gas station. Her skin itched with sweat. She rummaged through her over-grown Louis Vuitton knock-off until she found her phone. She flipped it open and sighed. Still no reception. Her heart knocked against her chest. Something else was wrong. She rummaged for a few seconds longer, but couldn’t think of anything specific to worry about. The highway was the same as yesterday. As morning waxed into noon, the air conditioner gave out.
“Did you fart?” “No!” “It wasn’t me; who was it then?” Maybe it was sweat-bred bacteria. Maybe it was the nasty moods of the passengers. Whatever it was, the car was full of it, and it was suffocating. The same desert rolled dismally past the windows. Jeff bolted upright. Marin gasped. They were almost there: the border crossing. • As she waited in line, Marin’s face grew increasingly flushed. It wasn’t just the heat anymore. It wasn’t some sense of guilt about what had happened the night before. Something was wrong. At the bottom of the Louis Vuitton knock-off, Marin found nothing. And that was it. “I don’t have my passport,” she reported limply. They were two cars away from the front of the line. “What do you mean?” “I know! I knew I had it yesterday… I always keep it in the same pocket in the purse… but I folded up the directions…and I think… I left them at the gas station!” “On the ground?!” “On the ground!” “Okay. Well, I mean, we can get you another one at the embassy…you have your ID…” Marin rocked back and forth as if trying to induce some coherent thought. Her eyeballs were on fire; her brain was melting in the heat. “Ummm…” No such thought came. “You can still get in, Marin, it’s cool. Relax.” The others would be back home by now. “Marin?” Maybe they were swimming. “I don’t have the money to get a new one…” she muttered. “Karina and Rick will help us… It’ll work out… look, we got this far…” The line shifted. They were next. “But if we go now,” said Marin, “we can’t go back.” “Well. Isn’t that the point?”
The Swimming Pool “You think Jeff and Marin made it?” “We tried to call them a thousand times. Still no reception.” “Hey, don’t splash! I’m trying to tan! Maybe their batteries are dead.” “You think they kept following the signs?” “Maybe they were just following the wrong ones. You know all that weird stuff you hear sometimes about Rick and Karina.” “Well, I’ll pray for them.” “Me too.” • Fall 2008 | To An Unknown God
Elisabeth was in tenth grade when she was tricked into sexual slavery. She asked the other girls at the brothel to pray with her for deliverance, but they laughed at her and said, “God cannot hear you in here.” But God did hear, and before her first-year anniversary in the brothel, Elisabeth was rescued by undercover investigators working with the International Justice Mission. There, investigators found an unusual sight: on the wall of the room where Elisabeth was subjected to daily sexual assault, she had written Psalm 27:1–3:
The Lord is my light and my salvation – whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life – of whom shall I be afraid? When evil men advance against me to devour my flesh, when my enemies and my foes attack me, they will stumble and fall. Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear; though war break out against me, even then will I be confident.
32 To An Unknown God | Fall 2008
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