Wednesday, April 4, 2007


No other topic is able to shut down a good conversation quite like religion. Especially here in my adopted home, the Pacific Northwest, and my native land, the San Francisco Bay Area, people seem to have difficulty talking honestly about religion, despite its enormous impact on the world in which we live. Some of us can't have an open dialogue about religion because we know we are right and we refuse to have our assumptions challenged. Others refuse to engage because of a disdain for those who use religion as a crutch, or from cynicism brought on by the legacies of destruction left by countless religious movements over the centuries. Still others feel that we need to understand religion better, but we shy away from being frank about our doubts and misunderstandings out of the fear of offending someone.

Bear with me for a moment as I digress. In Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Deep Thought, the second most powerful computer ever constructed, spends 7.5 million years contemplating the Ultimate Answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything. After this deliberation, Deep Thought reveals that the Answer is 42. The masses, as you might imagine, are not amused:

"Forty-two!" yelled Loonquawl. "Is that all you've got to show for seven and a half million years' work?"

"I checked it very thoroughly," said the computer, "and that quite definitely is the answer. I think the problem, to be quite honest with you, is that you've never actually known what the question is."

In many respects, I think this ludicrous little story carries an excellent critique of 21st century U.S. public life. Too often we cling to cut-and-dry answers without being willing to consider whether we are asking the right questions. This is true of believers and atheists, liberals and conservatives, politicians and their constituents. We want to feel that we are on the right track, but by valuing answers more than critical thinking, we often end up thinking that we know better than our neighbors without ever stopping to talk to them.

In our increasingly urbanizing society, people of myriad different faiths and cultures are living in closer proximity and greater interdependence than ever before. If we are going to live together effectively, I believe we owe it to each other to try to have authentic conversations. My goal in this blog is to provide a forum for a few exchanges that may not have otherwise occurred. We will discuss religion and politics in daily news, books, movies, and personal experiences. I hope that through these discussions we will have our assumptions challenged and our worldviews expanded.

The experiment begins today. I hope you will join the conversation.


Reno said...

I look forward to the conversation too. So why was the answer 42?

Sven! said...

Nobody knows. Having discovered that the Ultimate Answer is 42, the Hitchhiker's Guide protagonists spent the next 4 books unsuccessfully trying to determine the Question (gotta love British humor). If you are curious, you can check out

Anonymous said...

I refuse to participate in this discussion. If I listen to other points of view and do not refute them for the obvious filth that they are, then I am guilty of sleeping with the enemy and I might just go and lose my eternal salvation that I have worked so hard to get. Go ahead and post your left wing, socialist rants and I will show you the error of your ways. By the way.. I look forward to participating in some good conversation on here for a long time. Go Giants!

Jesse said...

I've long considered The Hitchhiker's Guide, The Satanic Verses, and Cat's Cradle to be the formative philosophical (dare I say religious?) texts of my younger years.

The reason? They all challenge belief systems that are perhaps more accurately characterized as "answer systems," and then take aim at reality itself in a way that is entertaining, but also gets at the truth in dichotomies and contradictions.

When Rushdie writes "it was so, it was not so," he means it, and not in a trivial way.

In short, I'm all for deep questions as religious investigation and expression. Bring it on, Sven.

kwsikes said...

Seth, good thoughts and thanks for asking the questions. If your interested in reading a dialogue that in some ways exhibits this asking the hard questions, then take a look at the current Newsweek in which Sam Harris(atheist) and Rick Warren(he who has a purpose) have a debate about who is right. It was really intriguing and the odd thing about me, was that i found myself routing more for Sam Harris than Rick Warren. Why is that? There must be a third way.

Sven! said...


Keep running with this. I skimmed a bit of the debate you mentioned (, for those interested) and found myself curious to know why you found yourself rooting for Harris, the anti-theist, rather than Rev. Warren, your fellow Christian minister.

Is there something in particular that you find distasteful about Rev. Warren's point of view, or his means of seeking truth? Can you expand at all on what you are hoping for when you ask for a "third way"?

Elliot Stockstad said...

Good stuff, Seth. Looking forward to reading what people have to say, and perhaps leaving my own thoughts from time to time.

kwsikes said...

It's been a while since i posted, sorry for the delay. I'll try to flesh out an answer to the question "why did i find myself pulling for the athiest over my fellow minister?" What follows are a few random thoughts...

...sometimes it is harder to love folks who wear the same jersey as you if you find that they live in that jersey with different priorities. Yes, i do call Rick Warren a brother in Christ, but I find the way he has marketed the church into what he calls 'the intel chip of the church,' tends to squash much of the mystery and wonder that are inherent in a community gathering to worship and follow God.

...i spend a lot of my mental energy helping folks to see how radical, difficult and quite frankly 'crazy' our beliefs are; God became human as an infant, God died, a human was raised from the dead... I feel like we Christians have simply come to accept these things as if they were the result of common sense, they are not, they are revelations and revelations are radical. Athiests point these things out and for this i appreciate them. Tony Campolo has a book called Partly Right in which he looks at significant figures throughout the ages who we should listen to even thought they are not Christians because as the title goes the are partly right. Nitszche was one of the figures he wrote about. I think we as Christians should not be afraid of dialogue with folks who will critique and even criticize our faith. If we can't dialogue then what does that say about our God? I will say that i give Warren credit for his willingness to engage sam harris, that was brave. I wasn't fond of the format, it turned into a debate more than a dialogue.

...i read an article in a now debunct magazine called re:generation which laid out 4 worldviews. Eyes closed frowning, eyes closed smiling, eyes open frowning and eyes open smiling. Too often we Christians have our eyes closed and are smiling as if everything is okay. Yet, folks without hope, perhaps harris, may have their eyes open but keep frowing. I think maturity leads us to have eyes open and yet to continue to smile.