What's Tony Thinking



Something Funny. One of my Christmas gifts is a drink coaster, currently holding my coffee cup, with the following words: Mr. Rogers did not adequately prepare me for the people in my neighborhood. 

Something Reconsidered. Bari Weiss has been running a year end series of short pieces by various people on something about which they changed their mind in 2021.

I found this one, from Tim Urban, the writer and TED talker, not the singer, of interest. Here’s that Urban:

“I’ve spent most of my life thinking ‘the more atheists, the better.’ Looking back, this now feels like a ‘be careful what you wish for’ hope. It’s easy for non-religious people to look down on religion, but we take for granted the extent to which a good society is good because of the moral structure it provides.

“The world’s major religions, for all their faults, have been shaped by millennia of experience with human nature. I was one of tens of millions of 2008 Obama voters who had come to see religion as an organ of bigoted right-wing backwardness and the root of most of the world’s evil. That’s a pretty one-dimensional way to see systems of thought that have been around since antiquity.

“Over the past few years, it’s been made starkly clear that a world without the major religions is not a world without religion—it’s a world with a bunch of new religions sprouting up and quickly capturing millions of ‘atheists.’ These new religions—many political—have not been put through centuries of trial and error, and the moral structures they provide often stoke the worst parts of our nature.

“The major traditional religions are far from perfect, and I would hope we can develop newer, better moral structures in the future that adopt the wisdom of old religions while shedding their uglier components. In the meantime, we should keep in mind that there’s probably no such thing as a non-religious person. Me included.”

Urban packs a good deal into a short space. Including this: the issue is not “backward” religion vs. an “enlightened” world free of it. But better religion (structures of moral/ spiritual meaning) vs. bad religion. As Calvin pointed out long ago, we human beings will have our gods. “The human heart is an endless factory of idols,” is what Calvin said.

One of the things I wonder about is when and how wired, secular, speeding, heedless America will awaken to notice that having shed what we thought we could live just as well without — i.e. faith and religious and moral traditions — we are now naked in the storm.

Speaking of storms. One of the things that seems to me underestimated about the significance of climate change is the social chaos it augurs. In other words, it’s not just the threat to nature’s beauty and wonder (terrible though that is), but the way climate change will drive mass dislocations and migrations that we aren’t remotely prepared to cope with or manage.

A Hopeful End Note. Linda is a great fan of getting her news on BBC, thus striking a small blow against national or ethnocentrism. But even BBC can’t help but end it’s newscasts with a shaggy dog story to leave us “on a happier note.” I’m feeling a similar burden.

I have no shaggy dog. I have something better.

The gospel lesson for this coming Sunday, the stunning prologue of the Gospel of John. John 1: 1 – 18. Here abound all sorts of helpful, hopeful words such as: “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.” And, “The Word became flesh and lived among us . . . full of grace and truth.” And, “From his fullness we have all received grace upon grace.”

Stay your mind, and heart, friends here in these chilly, still dark, winter days upon this truth . . . “we have all received grace upon grace.” Grace and peace be with you all. Tony




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