Sam Harrelson

Fear and Preaching in Sin City

It is possible — even essential — to take a stand against things that are morally wrong without taking sides between Republicans and Democrats. We are currently hamstrung by the myth that to work against things like racism and sexism and mistreatment of refugees is to take sides on politics. There are some things to which there are not two sides — things the church must condemn as morally wrong whether they are advocated by Republicans, Democrats or independents. To speak against these evils only condemns a political party if that entire party chooses to embrace what is evil.

— Read on baptistnews.com/article/what-the-church-could-learn-from-abc/




What the Foreskin of Jesus Can Teach Us All

The long-standing popularity of relics can also be understood in terms of today’s two big cultural obsessions — professional sports and celebrities — where fans often seek out a connection with their favorite teams or stars (including their discarded jerseys and other possessions). The relic system, says Farley, also “acted as an instrument of tribalism” since saints and their relics were often associated with particular places in the same way that sports teams are today.

— Read on www.ozy.com/flashback/what-the-foreskin-of-jesus-can-teach-us-all/87022




“Catholic in nature”

In a letter dated May 10, 2018 to Baker, church leaders say the congregation voted 131 to 40 to take down the work because community members view it as “Catholic in nature.” “We understand that this is not a Catholic icon, however, people perceive it in these terms,” the letter said, “As a result, it is bringing into question the theology and core values of Red Bank Baptist Church.”

Source: ‘The removal is between you and God’: Artist fights removal of C – wistv.com – Columbia, South Carolina




We need to have a conversation about what “godly” means, y’all

A majority of S.C. Republicans — 52 percent — said Trump was “godly.”

— Read on www.thestate.com/news/politics-government/article208990104.html




What is real? Forking universes, equalities, and religion

When scientists search for meaning in quantum physics, they may be straying into a no-man’s-land between philosophy and religion. But they can’t help themselves. They’re only human. “If you were to watch me by day, you would see me sitting at my desk solving Schrödinger’s equation…exactly like my colleagues,” says Sir Anthony Leggett, a Nobel Prize winner and pioneer in superfluidity. “But occasionally at night, when the full moon is bright, I do what in the physics community is the intellectual equivalent of turning into a werewolf: I question whether quantum mechanics is the complete and ultimate truth about the physical universe.”

— Read on www.nytimes.com/2018/05/08/books/review/adam-becker-what-is-real.html




Siri and Incarnation

The theological lens through which we might view these questions is incarnation. In an age of increased engagement with disembodied digital assistants, what might it mean for the church to counterweight this with insisting on and facilitating in-person fellowship? In an era of disembodied conversation, my prayer is that the church might be a contrast society to model a more excellent way of fully-embodied community and in-person presence.

Source: Thanks for your help, Siri. But what about that human connection? – Baptist News Global

I fundamentally disagree with John Chandler here regarding the notion that smart assistants (such as Siri or Alexa or Google Assistant or Cortana or Bixby or M or… well, there are many more) lead to more antisocial behavior or the dangers of people not interacting with other people.

Chandler also invokes the (in)famous Nicholas Carr article Is Google Making Us Stupid? from 2008. One of my favorite rebukes to that article comes from a review of Carr’s subsequent book on the topic, The Shallows: How the Internet is Changing the Way We Think, Read, and Remember:

Perhaps what he needs are better strategies of self-control. Has he considered disconnecting his modem and Fedexing it to himself overnight, as some digital addicts say they have done? After all, as Steven Pinker noted a few months ago in the New York Times, ‘distraction is not a new phenomenon.’ Pinker scorns the notion that digital technologies pose a hazard to our intelligence or wellbeing. Aren’t the sciences doing well in the digital age, he asks? Aren’t philosophy, history and cultural criticism flourishing too? There is a reason the new media have caught on, Pinker observes: ‘Knowledge is increasing exponentially; human brainpower and waking hours are not.’ Without the internet, how can we possibly keep up with humanity’s ballooning intellectual output?

Socrates feared the same fears of antisocial behavior and intellectual laziness that we project onto television, music, and now the internet in regards to books and admonished Plato to stop writing them.

Smart assistants such as Siri or Alexa do pose a whole new world of possibilities for developers and companies and groups to interact with the connected world. In just a few short years, many of us (our household included) now use these assistants to do everything from schedule events on our cloud-based calendars to turn the lights off before bed. I also stream music, play audio books, ask questions, and crack riddles with Alexa, Siri, and Google Assistant on a daily basis.

While we fear the inevitability of a bleak future as depicted in the movie Her from 2013 in which human beings are completely subsumed into relationships and reality driven by their own personal digital assistants and rarely interact with others, I don’t think that’s the reality we’ll see. There’s a simple reason for that… antisocial behavior is a part of our own internal psychologies and neuropathies. Projecting these fears onto tools such as Siri is misplaced. I’d argue that positioning the church to be anti-tool to encourage incarnational relationships is misplaced as well.

This isn’t the same as arguing that “Guns don’t kill people; People kill people” although that’s an easy leap to make. But no, what I’m arguing here has to do with coming to terms with the ongoing revelation we are making and receiving about the very nature of human thought and how our brain and nervous systems work in tandem with our concept of consciousness. Understanding that newspapers, books, radio, TV, internet, and now Siri don’t make us any more or less lazy or antisocial is an important step in understanding that the core issue of incarnation relies on relationality between humans and the universe.

I do agree with Chandler that the church should be anti-cultural in the sense that it provides a way for exploration into the concept of incarnation. But positing that experience as anti-tool or anti-specific-technology seems to undercut the very notion of the incarnation’s theological and ongoing event in history (call that the kerygma or the Christ event or God Consciousness etc).

Yes, technology can be addictive or exacerbate issues. But let’s address the fundamental issues of culture and personal psychologies that the church is led to do with a healthy and holy notion of inter-personal and inner-personal relationships.




The Fable of the Dragon-Tyrant

CGP Grey has produced a thought-provoking adaptation of Nick Bostrom’s 2005 paper (available here  Journal of Medical Ethics, 2005, Vol. 31, No. 5, pp 273-277). There are themes and ideas presented here that are deeper than they first appear, especially in regards to concepts such as ethics and mortality.




Bible Domains

When the society — which lists several conservative Christian “founding partners” on the get.bible website — first applied for the rights to .bible, it pledged to provide wide access to “all qualified parties” interested in Bible issues. Soon after acquiring the domain name, though, ABS barred publication of material it defined as “antithetical to New Testament principles” or promoting a secular worldview or “a non-Christian religion or set of religious beliefs.”

Source: Who owns the .bible? – Religion News ServiceReligion News Service




Thinking Religion 145: Thinking About the Term “Partners”

Dr. Thomas Whitley and The Rev. Sam Harrelson discuss the term “partners” in its modern context and whether or not it is performative for certain couples. That leads to a discussion about the role of social media in our lives if we could, in fact, delete Facebook.

Source: Thinking Religion Episode 145: Thinking About the Term Partners




What did Jesus look like?

I’ve taught a series on depictions of Jesus numerous times at churches and for Sunday Schools of all flavors. This is one of the best pieces I’ve ever read on the subject. Thorough, but approachable.

Plus, there’s a connection to my beloved Dura Europos

However, there is one other place to look: to the synagogue Dura Europos, dating from the early 3rd century. The depiction of Moses on the walls of the synagogue of Dura-Europos is probably the closest fit, I think, since it shows how a Jewish sage was imagined in the Graeco-Roman world. Moses is shown in undyed clothing, appropriate to tastes of ascetic masculinity (eschewing color), and his one mantle is a tallith, since one can see tassels (tzitzith). This image is a far more correct as a basis for imagining the historical Jesus than the adaptations of the Byzantine Jesus that have become standard.

Source: – ANE TODAY – 201803 – What did Jesus look like?