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God is Dead . . . Rejoice!

By Jules Winnfield

Don’t Judge Me

Okay, so you’ve read the title of this post, and you’re thinking: “This has got to be coming from a staunch atheist, right?”  Wrong.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  To the contrary, I am—or at least I am becoming—a serious Christian.  I have to qualify my status as a Christian as “becoming,” because I think that anyone who claims to “be” a Christian is vulnerable to moral complacency, thinking themselves to have “arrived” without further need of spiritual and moral improvement when actually there is “none righteous, no not one”  (Rom. 3:10).  Although I can get better, I can never be good—at least not without Christ.  So “becoming” keeps me humble.  My stance on “becoming” comes from Søren Kierkegaard, a 19th century Danish philosopher and theologian; more about him in other posts.  But the idea of “becoming” a Christian is actually rooted in the Christian religion much deeper than Kierkegaard; it comes to us from the Bible, where Paul writes, “Bretheren, I count not myself to have apprehended, but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press on toward the mark of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:13-14) (my emphasis).

But I digress.  Back to our topic: “God is dead . . . Rejoice!” How could any serious Christian rejoice over the death of God, you might ask?   If you are asking this question, it is likely because you are assuming that “God is dead” means that the God of the Bible doesn’t exist, or that, if the God of the Bible did exist, He no longer exists.  Wrong again.  Throughout the next few posts, I want to show you not only just how wrong this way of thinking actually is, but also how important it is for “God” to die, and what “God’s” “death” means for those who need encouragement and inspiration in the face of their trials and sufferings.  We will move all the way from Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, through the dissonance of Richard Wagner’s (pronounced “Vogner’s”) opera, to James Brown, improvisational jazz, the blues, African-American poetry, the 70’s sitcom “Good Times,” and a little Charlie Brown.  In the end, I hope you’ll see two things:  first, that the “God” that Nietzsche proclaims is “dead” is not the God of the Bible, and second, that this “God’s” “death” is not the kind that results in a wake and a burial; instead, it generates courage and creativity.  Buckle up for the ride!  Let’s get started.

Friedrich Nietzsche

The claim that “God is dead” is from the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, who lived from 1844-1900.  Nietzsche died twice.  His mind died in 1889, when he succumbed to syphilis-induced dementia, and his body died in 1900.  But before the death of his mind in 1889, Nietzsche, a self-proclaimed “cultural physician,” devoted himself to extensive critiques of Western culture, including critiques of science and religion; especially Christianity.  Nietzsche’s writing style was aphoristic. That is, rather than write his criticisms in the hyper-technical language and abstraction of traditional philosophy, Nietzsche used short statements packed with penetrating psychological and philosophical insights to make his points.  One of my favorites from Nietzsche is “People who comprehend a thing to its very depths rarely stay faithful to it forever. For they have brought its depths into the light of day: and in the depths there is always much that is unpleasant to see” (Human, All Too Human, section 486). Ever wonder why so many people who have worked in fast food joints don’t eat fast food?  Because they know what goes into it.  Or how about the old cliché that watching someone do something from the inside out is like “watching sausage being made?”  Nietzsche is trying to tell us the same thing:  when we really understand how something is done, especially if it is poorly done, we don’t remain faithful to that thing.  Maybe this is why Nietzsche wasn’t a Christian; he saw that Christianity was poorly done!  Ask yourself this question if you claim Christianity: “Do people think that Christianity, because of my behavior, is as ugly as watching sausage being made?”  Don’t answer this question out loud; keep the answer to yourself.  Feeling a little uncomfortable with the quality of your Christian witness? You should be. Here’s another one of my favorite Nietzsche quotes: “I am no ordinary man.  I am dynamite”  (Ecce Homo).  Funny, right?  I think it’s hilarious, especially because Nietzsche was anything but powerful like dynamite.  He was actually physically small and weak!  But Nietzsche’s trash talking and self-promotion aside, he vigorously attacked anything that denied a person’s humanity.  Among Nietzsche’s targets for criticism were Western philosophy and perhaps its two greatest exemplars: Socrates and Plato.  The idea that “God is dead” comes to us, in part, at least, from Nietzsche’s criticisms of these two philosophers, and his critique of institutionalized Christianity. In order to better understand the “death of God,” let’s first turn to his critiques of Socrates and Plato.  But before we do, let’s discuss the difference between philosophy and theology, and how the “death of God” fits into that mix.

Philosophy, Theology, and the “Death of God”

Philosophy is the love of wisdom, which is a pursuit of knowledge and truth.  In the words of Aristotle, “All human beings, by nature, desire knowledge” (Metaphysics, 980a). Perhaps no two figures in the history of Western philosophy exemplify the pursuit of knowledge and truth more than Socrates and Plato.  Both philosophers sought knowledge and truth of reality and its relationship to virtue.  In high—falutin’ philosophical jargon, one might say that Socrates and Plato had “strong epistemological (knowledge), metaphysical (reality), and ethical (what is good or right) orientations.”   The aim of philosophy is to pursue these kinds of issues about knowledge, reality, and ethics.  Immanuel Kant—another philosopher who I’ll be discussing in coming posts, said that the fundamental questions of philosophy are “What can I know?,” (epistemology) “What ought I to do?,” (ethics) and “What may I hope?” (religion).  Philosophers explore these questions rationally, through the use of arguments to support their claims about knowledge, reality, religion, and the nature of the good, and also many other areas like the nature of mind, meaning, and language.

Theology is the study of God.  In the West, although Islam has a theology of its own, we often associate theology with some form of the Judeo-Christian tradition (perhaps because of anti-Islamic bigotry, but we can discuss that at another time).  To really appreciate the difference between philosophy and theology, think of it this way:  a theologian will reflect on the nature of God, whereas a philosopher will reflect on whether or not good reasons can be given for God’s existence in the first place.  Theologians thus assume what philosophers will call into question.  Nietzsche’s work critiques both philosophy and theology. Nietzsche critiques the way that the study of God (theology) becomes a rational pursuit (philosophy)—which, for the Christian, should be a bit troubling, since many Christian doctrines are in conflict with reason (like the Trinity or the Incarnation; try to rationally explain these doctrines to a friend; I bet you can’t. And oh, by the way, if you could explain them in neat, coherent rational terms—like so many Christians try to do, and end up looking silly—wouldn’t the God of Christianity cease to be an infinite God?  I mean, after all, infinity does imply that there will always be something left over that is beyond the grasp of our finite minds, right?  I think so. Consider John 6, when, after the feeding of the 5 thousand, there were no fish left over, but 12 baskets of bread were left over (John 6:12, 13).  This is significant because it shows that Jesus, who is the infinite Son of God and the Bread of Life (John 6:35, 48), can never be fully consumed.  When it comes to God, then, He can never be fully consumed, or “known”; like the baskets of bread, there will always be something about God that is “left over”; something that escapes our ability to consume Him with our finite knowledge.).  So I’m hoping that you can now see that the “God” that Nietzsche proclaims is dead is not the God of the Judeo-Christian tradition, but rather a “god” of philosophy that has a superficial “theological” covering.  Understanding the difference between these two Gods is important to catching the real meaning of what Nietzsche means by his claim that “God is dead.”  Now let’s get on to a brief discussion of Socrates and Plato.

Socrates and Plato

Socrates taught that knowledge and virtue were interdependent.  If one knew what was right, one would do the right thing, and if one did the right thing, then this meant that one knew what was right.  According to Socrates, no one would knowingly do the wrong thing.  There was then, a formula for success: if you wanted to be virtuous, all you had to do was make sure you knew what was right, do it, and all would be well.  Most Christians should already see a problem with Socrates’ reasoning here, because knowing what is right does not translate into doing what is right.  In contrast, according to the Bible, merely knowing what is right was intended to be off limits to human beings; this is why God prohibited Adam and Eve from eating of the fruit of the tree of the “knowledge of good and evil”  (Gen. 2:17). Simply knowing the right thing and doing the right thing does not mean that all will be well; to the contrary, as we will see below, doing the right thing often means that one will suffer!  So Socrates was off base.  The point to remember about Socrates was that his objective was to know the good, because knowing was equated with doing.  In an attempt to “know” the good, Socrates initiated a method called the elenchus or the dialectic, which was a rational method of question and answer designed to help both the questioner and the answerer arrive at the objective “truth” of knowing the virtues, which would, according to Socrates, automatically enable them to perform the virtues.  For example, Plato’s dialogue, Republic, seeks knowledge of the objectively true definition of justice so that one can be just, and his dialogue, Euthyphro seeks knowledge of the objectively true definition of piety or holiness so that one can be holy.

Plato takes Socrates even further.  As a student of Socrates, Plato extended the desire for knowledge of the virtues to arguing for the existence of another world altogether.  According to Plato, there are two worlds: the world of objects that we see, and a world of Forms, which we do not see.  Every object in the world is what it is because it participates in the Form of what it is, which exists in another world.  So the chair that you are sitting in right now or the bowl from which you eat your cereal or soup is either a chair or a bowl because it partakes in the Form of “chair” or the Form of “bowl,” which exists in another world.  And the same holds true with the virtues: kindness, justice, truth, beauty, are all only vaguely represented in this world, but are more perfectly represented in the world of Forms.  This is Plato’s “metaphysical dualism.” That’s a fancy way of saying that Plato believed that there are 2 aspects to reality: a world that we see, and a world that we don’t see.

Pretty heavy stuff, right?  You bet it is.  But it gets even heavier.  According to Plato, we can access this world of Forms through a careful use of our reason, which only some people will perfect; most will not.  The people who can access the world of Forms are the philosopher-kings, an elite group of well-educated aristocrats who have successfully freed themselves from their bodily desires long enough to appreciate the nature of the true reality.

So, if we put Plato and Socrates together, we can see some elements of their thought that are also present in Christian theology.  The most obvious one is the idea of other-worldliness.  We see this throughout Scripture, but especially in the writings of Paul, where he points out that “now we see through a glass darkly, but then face to face” (I Corinthians 13:12), indicating that the things that we see now are not the true reality.  And then there’s the story of Elisha in 2 Kings 6, where he is surrounded by the Syrian armed forces, and asks God to open the eyes of his servant, who then sees “horses and chariots of fire”—the true reality—around Elisha (II Kings 6:13-17).

The same holds true for Socrates; his “formula” for success, although it is at odds with Christian doctrine (good and evil are not simply matters of knowledge, but also are matters of action), becomes so much a part of Christian doctrine that many Christians think that you are saved simply through the mere “knowledge” of Christianity.  But this is also false.  If you “know” what a steak dinner tastes like, does that mean that you’ve eaten and are no longer hungry?  No.  If you “know” how to paint a landscape does that mean you have produced a masterpiece?  No again.  That would be silly.  Likewise, “knowing” what is good doesn’t make me good.  And, more importantly, it doesn’t mean that I won’t suffer even if I do what is good.  But many Christians behave like this is the case.  They do things like condemn people for situations beyond their control by attributing their difficulties and trials to some aspect of their behavior.  You know, things like “That’s what he gets for doing . . .”  “She got what she deserved!”  Behind this way of thinking is a sort of formula that says “I know that you must have done something wrong because of your circumstances.  If you were doing what was right, you would be better off than what you are.”   Job’s friend Eliphaz did this to him when he asked Job, “Who ever perished, being innocent? Or where were the righteous cut off?” (Job 4:7).  My answer to Eliphaz would be “Jesus,” a man who suffered though he did nothing wrong!

Now these are rough comparisons, not intended to be on all fours with Christianity, but the point here is not to make a perfect comparison, but rather to show that there are similarities between Plato, Socrates, and Christianity.  I hope we’re starting to see that the difference between knowledge and virtue is the difference between ideas and action.  Both are necessary for proper Christian, moral development; overemphasizing knowledge to the detriment of action takes away from what it means to be human; and Socrates’s idea that knowledge and virtue are interchangeable does precisely that.   We’ll pick up here next time with a discussion of where this idea takes not only Christianity, but also where it takes our culture.  Put on your headphones, because in the next post, we’ll be discussing—among other things—a little opera, jazz, and James Brown!  Until then, remember: “Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32).

 

(Photo courtesy of Gareth for moot.net)

 

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Should he stay, or should he go?

By The Head Doctor

So I’ve got this friend… Okay, I lied. He’s actually a patient of mine. He’s at a crossroads in his relationship and isn’t exactly sure which path to take. Maybe you can help me give him a little advice? I’ll make sure to give him your name and number if things don’t turn out well for him.

Here’s the backstory:

He’s been in a long-term relationship for over 20 years, but never felt like he fully connected on an emotional level with his significant other. Sure, they have good times together… they go to shows, dinner parties, travel, blah, blah, blah… but he never felt like “Yes, this is the one for me.” He always felt like his significant other was more invested in the relationship than he was. So you might ask, well how have they managed to stay together for so long? Stability. Security. Companionship. Dependency. Well, at least that’s part of the story. They split up for almost 10 years, but were still able to maintain a cordial relationship. And then life happened. My patient had major surgery, got depressed, had to take a leave from work, his house went into foreclosure…. and the list goes on. But thankfully his “ex” was waiting with arms wide open to take care of him.

See, my patient has never had the greatest self-esteem and has always relied on the support and reassurance of others to feel a sense of adequacy. And after all this badness, he felt even lower and more unable to make it on his own. However, through treatment, he is feeling better and is in the process of returning to work. As he is gaining confidence, he is realizing he needs his significant other less and less and those same issues that led to their separation 10 years ago are starting to resurface.

But as you can imagine, he feels a sense of indebtedness and obligation to this person. He’s also hesitant to leave the comfort and stability that the relationship has provided him. Not to mention that he actually does love and care for this person. I mean, it’s no accident that they’ve been involved for over 20 years! And just to clarify, my patient isn’t leaving because of an interest in someone else. He just wants his independence back and doesn’t want to put his significant other through the heartache of not having their feelings reciprocated.

So what should he do? Let’s take a vote:

1) Stay because after all the grass only looks greener on the other side

2) Follow his gut instinct and move out

Another thought. How often do we make decisions based on feelings? Sure, we can rationalize and “weigh the pros and cons” and get advice from others, and use the past as a guide, blah, blah, blah… but in the end sometimes it just comes down to a feeling. Where we are just wishing and hoping for a better circumstance than what we have now. I know I’m guilty. But is this necessarily a bad way to make decisions?

Peeps, I’m interested in your thoughts. Get at me!

 

(Image courtesy of Ambro)

 

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Peace, Healthy Relationships… A God Given Right!

By Doc Talks

The older I get, the more I value my peace and having quality relationships.  I decided a while ago that it is important to me to have healthy relationships and to avoid toxic ones. I prefer to develop relationships that add life, love and value to my life. It’s also great when it doesn’t take “work” or an enormous amount of energy  and stress to be around your friends or your  significant other– you can just be yourself.

Unfortunately, peace, and safety in relationship is not a reality for everyone. In my profession I care for women and children. It has never been more apparent to me than in this environment how toxic relationships and the lack of peace in a woman’s life can lead to such devastating consequences in the short and long-term for her and her children.  The relationship choices we make can have effects that make it difficult for us to maintain our peace. Whether intentional, unintentional, subtle, overt, occasional or constant, toxicity in relationships undermine the entitlement we have to a peaceful  and joyous existence.

Look at these two situations:

A 32-year-old female who has spent her time working tirelessly to get her MBA, finally meets a great guy who is the top manager of a Fortune 500 company.  They have it all.  To top it all off, she is pregnant with their first child. Everything is great and the best is yet to come… right?

Now, there is a 21year old woman who works at a local fast food chain just to feed, cloth and keep a roof over the heads of she and her three-year-old child.  She is trying desperately to make ends meet; the father of the child took off long before the child was born.  She finally meets a great guy who has a solid job and wants to marry her.  She finds herself pregnant and hopes a bright and stable future is ahead of them.

The only problem with these two scenarios is that the women are both victims of domestic violence.  We all know relationships go through struggles and various phases.  It is understandable that sometimes relationships have  really high highs, and low lows, but there is a balance and these relationship can still be considered healthy.  Why is it that some ladies are subjected to violence, while others are not?  And why are these two women in particular– with life developing in their bodies– willing to accept experiencing pain and abuse at the hands of the ones they say they love, and who claim to love them as well? No doubt there are a myriad of reasons that we could go on discussing for days, but the fact remains that this should not be.

Abuse and violence against women in relationships does not have a demographic, economic, educational, religious, age or racial predisposition.  Any woman can be a victim, and it is more disheartening when the woman is expecting a child. What is rather disturbing is that in pregnancy, abuse may increase or stay the same– though there are some occasions when it has decreased. When the abuse is physical, many times the partner may direct the blows to the abdomen or breasts.  Also, in some cases where the abuse decreases during pregnancy, many women find comfort and security with carrying a child, sadly they may choose to have lots of children simply as a means of escaping the abuse.

It is important to be able to identify the different kinds of abuse:

1) Physical

2) Sexual

3) Psychological

All of these types can be quite devastating and have long-term effects on a woman and her children. It is important for women in these types of relationships to recognize them as abusive and seek assistance on how to transition out as soon as possible. These forms of abuse are estimated to affect about 324,00 women each year.(Intimate Partner Violence During Pregnancy: A Guide for Clinicians)

All abuse patterns can increase the risk of physical and emotional stress on a woman, and for a woman who is expecting, this stress can  increase the risk of preterm birth and present other related complication ending in fetal and/or maternal death.

So, if there is any doubt about the importance of women being in healthy relationships, especially with their significant others and if they have babies on the way, consider the thousands of women across the country who have continued in abusive relationships, risked the welfare of themselves and their children, and loss.

The thing about relationships is that we have the right and the power to choose which ones we stay in, and which ones we leave behind. We can choose to continue in the relationships that make us happy, challenge us to grow, and add value to our lives, or not. Though sometimes difficult, and no doubt complicated, we can choose to abandon certain associations and distance ourselves from certain people  who are hazardous and harmful to us and the children entrusted to us.

One of the first steps is to get support. In doing this, a woman will find that she is not alone and that there are several others, perhaps even in her own backyard, who have and still are, mustering the courage to take their peace and safety back! What a wonderful thing it is to live in peace, and the absence of fear.  A person should be able to enjoy the peace and freedom that comes with being alive! If you know of any woman in an abusive relationship, or if it is you, use the following information to start the journey to a safe and peaceful life that is your God-given right.

National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-SAFE (7233)
and 1-800-787-3224 (TDD)

I pray you will take action on behalf of yourself and/or someone you love today. Here’s to you,  safe and healthy relationships, and a life filled with peace and joy! It’s your God-given right, so don’t surrender it!

Please tell us your success story or share with us the journey you are now on!

 

(Image courtesy of Hordur Vilhjalmsson)

 

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