Archive for October, 2006

Spiritual but Not Religious: Your Own Personal Jesus

Saturday, October 28th, 2006

Spiritual, not religious: Your own personal Jesus


Brian, the pastor of a new church in Plano, Texas, works evenings at a coffee shop to make ends meet. His wife stays at home with their children, and their church is not to the point that it can support a full-time pastor.

As coffee shops grow in their social importance, pastors like Brian are realizing the value of spending time there. Some ministers have started book groups, knitting circles and even one-on-one counseling sessions at the corner coffee shop. Starbucks has become an extension of twenty-first century ministry.

As Brian prepared a drink for a young customer, they got into a discussion about occupations. He mentioned that he was the pastor of a church, to which she replied that she was spiritual, but not religious.

“Hey,” proclaimed Brian with a smile, “I’ve read a lot about you!”

In his book, Spiritual, but not Religious: Understanding Unchurched America, Robert C. Fuller says that one-fifth of the American population identifies themselves as “spiritual but not religious.” Approximately one in two Americans who do not attend a church identifies themselves in this way.

This means there are sixty million people in this country who feel some affiliation with a higher power, yet who are not connected to a religious organization. This is enough to make any pastor’s mouth water. The issues with reaching these folks in a meaningful way, however, are complex.

Prior to the 20th century, says Fuller, the two terms “religious” and “spiritual” were used almost synonymously. This was partly because people considered spiritual life to be a public, shared experience. Since then, spiritual experience – along with many other experiences – has become increasingly private. While churches historically have been built to accommodate a corporate worship experience, the values of the culture around it have moved away from the model we still use.

Another big issue is a negative perception of church. From emotional, physical or sexual abuse to a more vague sense of alienation, people have been hurt by church. There is accountability for both parties in this case. Many churches still are reticent to engage people about the pain they’ve experienced in church, and chances are the last place people want to do this is at a church.

However, negative past experience isn’t an excuse to give up on organized religion. I have been hurt by church too, but I’ve also been hurt by family, friends and pretty much any other group of which I’ve been a part. Generally, we don’t walk away from these, so why should church be any different? Walking away not only means that the person who was hurt loses the chance to find healing from the source of their pain, but it also allows the harmful dynamics within the church to continue.

Finally, research shows that most people who identify themselves as spiritual but not religious don’t see the church as the only means – or even the best means – for spiritual growth. The perception is that we’re not doing our job in offering a large contingency of the public what they feel they need to be spiritually enriched.

We need to ask ourselves whether making connections with people is more important than our church membership. If we could meet weekly with a group of people at the coffee shop, but who would never attend our church, would we invest the time?

Those who solely measure success by worship attendance and giving totals will continue to struggle to reach this group of sixty million. Ministry to this group may not pay the bills, but it’s as important as any work we do within our institutional walls.


Intelligent Design Makes a Mockery of Science

Sunday, October 22nd, 2006

Intelligent design: Making a mockery of science

By Christian Piatt

(This column originally appeared in the Pueblo Chieftain newspaper)

I listened to a sermon series on intelligent design recently. The minister went through the many sophisticated organs, cells and systems within the human body, and after each example, he pulled out a coin. He went from cellular mitochondria to the visual cortex, pointing out each time how unlikely this system was to occur by accident. Each point was punctuated by another coin.

Many systems within the body are built upon preceding ones, and conditions had to be just right for us to become what we are, he pointed out. By the end, he had fifteen coins laid out on the lectern. The odds of flipping those fifteen coins and having them all land heads-up was about one in thirty-three thousand. How much more unlikely, then, are we to be here?

That depends. If you believe in infinite time and space, then you have to accept the concept of infinite probability. Given time and space without boundary, it’s reasonable to expect that everything that can happen ultimately will. This would include earth, humans, and other forms of intelligent life.

At this point, we can’t say how big or old the universe is, any more than we can claim whether or not this is the only universe there is.  For all we know, there are millions of other universes that existed before ours, or maybe they even exist in parallel to ours right now. If time has a beginning and an end, or that there are limits to the boundaries of the universe, our existence becomes less likely the product of random chance.

Asking ‘What are the odds?’ alone doesn’t really bother me, although I think it’s a weak argument for the existence of a Creator. But this same argument is the cornerstone of many proponents of teaching intelligent design in our schools, as an alternative to evolution.

There’s one big difference between evolution and intelligent design: the former is science and the latter isn’t. For an idea to be part of the scientific body of thought, you first have to develop a hypothesis and test it using scientifically recognized processes. If your findings support your initial hypothesis, you share your findings with the rest of the scientific community and allow them to try to replicate your results.

Over time, if your hypothesis continues to be supported, it becomes a theory. If evidence arises later that challenges the theory, it’s either changed or discarded. There’s no such thing as a scientific absolute. We only have theories waiting to be disproved.

Some may cry foul, claiming that intelligent design can’t be tested like this. After all, if we can’t prove the existence of God, how can we prove that any of the resultant byproducts are of God’s hands?

That’s why intelligent design isn’t science.

Although I believe personally that God created the universe, I don’t confuse my beliefs with the human-conceived scientific system. There are places in school for discussions such as these, including philosophy and comparative religion classes. I also think each family can impart their beliefs to their children, both at home and at church. But to cloud our understanding of what science is, promoting a religious agenda under the thin veil of scholarship, threatens to contaminate both science and faith.

Some scientists are guilty of making a religion of science. They confuse theory with fact and proclaim the human intellect as the prevailing standard by which all things must solely be measured.

Aristotle, the father of modern science, wisely recognized the limits of science and logic. Thomas Aquinas later claimed that this point where logic breaks down is where faith helps complete the picture.

The difference is that both Aristotle and Aquinas knew not to confuse faith and logic, and both understood the limits of each. The current creation-versus-evolution debate suggests that we haven’t evolved toward a greater truth in the meantime.

(Christian Piatt’s new book, “Lost: A Search for Meaning,” is available for pre-order at most online bookstores now.)

Last Night’s “Lost” episode

Thursday, October 19th, 2006

Last night’s episode was another good one, although I found it a little more confusing than the others this season.

Locke’s sweat lodge scene was excellent. It was very creatively portrayed, and tied back in to Locke’s spiritual quest on the island. It was the beginning of his new enlightenment, of sorts. Also interesting was that he built the sweat lodge within the framework of the church Eko and Charlie are building, thus merging multiple faith traditions in a sense. In doing so, he acknowledges it as holy ground, and as a place appropriate for communicating with the island.

I enjoyed Locke’s back story, although I had a hard time pinning down the timeline of when his time in this compound took place. Was this after his experience with his dad and subsequent loss of his romantic relationship, or was it a flashback. He looked pretty young and had hair, so I’m inclined to think it was earlier.  But the point was he continues/continues to seek ‘home’ and ‘family’ in any context, and also that he’s no killer, even if he fancies himself a hunter.  He’s basically good. I think that will be important down the line as the lines continue to blur between good and evil, and I think this dynamic will be especially poignant with respect to the others.

Now, about the head guy at the compound – James I think – wasn’t that Mr. Friendly from the Others?  That kind of blew my mind, although I’m not sure how it all connects together yet. One thought I had was that perhaps this ties in to the many open questions we have about the Others on the island. Could it be that, after revolting against Dharma, they set up a remote drug-growing business on the island?  This could explain a few things (stay with me, as I know it’s a stretch):
*It would explain the reason why they want to stay isolated from the world, even if they do have contact with it and can go back and forth.
*It would explain how they have the funding to create their little utopian society, without being subsidized any longer by Dharma.
*The tropical climate is perfect there for growing drugs.
*They evidently have scientists in their midst, who would know a thing or two about biology and chemistry.
*It would be an interesting connection, to have Locke eventually connect face to Face with Mr. Friendly, and realize he is trying with the Others to re-create the utopian compound community they once had before, as shown in last night’s episode.

If this is the case, I think the big revelation in this mini-season COULD be that Locke discovers the Others, and ultimately decides to join them.  He’s already decided never to leave the island. I think in the end, the Others have more noble aspirations, like capturing the healing properties of the island in some formula a la Ponce de Leon, but dealing in drugs could be seen as a means to an end.

Finally, the cave scene was pretty interesting. Lots of skeletons in there, one of which had a Dharma logo on its clothing. It looked pretty rugged, though, and that combined with the toy truck he found suggests that this was a group of the ‘Other’ Others we’ve suspected exist. Remember a while back where we’d see the feet of adults and kids wandering through the jungle, all of whom looked pretty rustic and dirty. My theory is that these Others were actually the subjects used in the research experiments conducted in the cages. I think maybe their escape has some connection to “The Incident” referred to in the training videos with Dr. Marvin Candle/Wickman. Perhaps they escaped, and many were hiding out in this cave. They could have been killed by the bear, or somehow trapped their purposely by the Others. I think there are still some of them wandering around, and at some point Locke or one of the survivors now being held by the Others will have more contact with them.  I think this is how we will really find out what the Others are up to.

“Lost” book for sale online now

Tuesday, October 17th, 2006

Just a note to let you know my book, “Lost: A Search for Meaning,” is up for sale now online.  The publisher said this morning that the books may be done at the printer as soon as two weeks from now, so hopefully pre-orders now won’t have to wait very long for their copies.

You can purchase directly from the publisher at the following link:

This is cool not only because you help out a smaller publishing house by buying direct, but they also offer a 20% discount.

If you feel more comfortable with Amazon, you can go to and enter “Lost: a Search for Meaning” or my name (Christian Piatt), and it should pull up. Today, the book summary, endorsements and cover art were not showing up for some reason, but it will order just fine.  Although it’s a little more expensive this way, it does help to boost my sales ranknig, which generally leads to more sales. Personally, I don’t care how people get a copy, as long as they read it!

You may also have the book ordered at any bookstore. If they have a hard time finding it, let them know that Ingram, Spring Arbor and – I believe  – Baker and Taylor (three of the biggest book distributors) all are carrying it.

Please let me know if you have any problems with any of these. If you’re in my local area, I’ll have copies too. If you have any other questions, feel free to drop me a line. I’ll post another note when it’s officially available. Keep in mind this is a pre-order situation, so it will take 2-3 weeks (if all goes well) before you get it.


How much faith does it take to be an atheist?

Saturday, October 14th, 2006

How much faith does it take to be an atheist?

By Christian Piatt

Originally printed in the Pueblo Chieftain Newspaper

I love National Public Radio. I might as well wear a scarlet “N” because I’m such an NPR nerd.

Every Friday, the show, Talk of the Nation, does a “Science Friday” special. This week, they interviewed Richard Dawkins, who is an evolutionary biologist, an atheist, and author of the book, The God Delusion. He is articulate and moderated in his comments. However, he’s unequivocal about his belief that God does not exist.

A caller made an interesting point about atheism, suggesting it takes more faith to be an atheist than it does to believe in God.

He said that you must be willing to depend completely on your own human experience and intellect to categorically reject even the possibility of the existence of God within a potentially infinite universe. Basically, you have to have faith that, in our inestimable smallness and relatively subjective experience, we have enough information to claim God could not exist, even beyond our sphere of understanding.

Dawkins labeled this as a specious argument, pointing out that there are plenty of other things most people don’t believe in, including fairies, Thor, and the Flying Spaghetti Monster (look it up online – I’m not making it up). However, it is only in claiming a disbelief in God that one is branded as arrogant or bitter. We disbelieve any number of things, so why should God be any different?

So there I was with two compelling but opposing arguments, left to sort out what I thought on my own.  But the more I thought about Dawkins’ position, the more I took issue with it.

First, one distinct difference between belief in fairies and belief in God is a matter of numbers. There may be a few people who claim that fairies exist, but of the six and a half billion people on the planet, it is estimated that between five and six billion claim to have faith in God.

This is not a matter of majority rule; just because most people believe something doesn’t make it right. However, when a vast majority of the human species claims a common belief in a Creator, it places more of a burden on those who seek to confront the majority opinion. Faith is, by definition, not based in reason. However, those who deny God’s existence are depending on reason for their position. This places the burden of proof on the atheist.

Second, there’s a unique characteristic about the popular understanding of God that sets God apart from other mythical beings. While people may believe in anything from aliens to ghosts, the general consensus is that God is the source of all creation. Therefore nothing else that we could argue could have more of an impact on our worldview, our values and understanding of who we are than the existence of God.

To compare the question of God’s existence to that of fairies or characters popularized by the internet is to diminish the relative place of God within our cultural anthropology.

I don’t want to discourage discussions about the existence of God. However, it always should be approached with the reverence and gravity it deserves, even by self-proclaimed atheists. We should all have the opportunity to grow and be enriched from one another’s understanding of the universe.

I’m guessing most atheists have something to teach me, but in order to sit at the same table, we all should be willing to take something away from the conversation, other than what we brought with us.

School shootings: We ask why, but seek peace

Sunday, October 8th, 2006

School shootings: We ask why, but need peace

By Christian Piatt

 (Originally printed in the Pueblo Chieftain newspaper)

On Monday, Charles Carl Roberts entered a peaceful one-room Amish schoolhouse with the intention of slaughtering all of its young female occupants, as well as himself. As of Monday afternoon, four children, a young teaching assistant and the attacker all were dead, with five more still in critical condition.

In a call to his wife, and in notes he scribbled out prior to the attack, Roberts evidently was acting on some two-decade-old grudge, seeking revenge for some injustice he suffered some time back. Reports reveal that Roberts may have had a history of sexually abusing children.

Roberts was not Amish, and seems to have no particular connection with the community or the school he attacked. It is thought that his choice of targets was based more upon convenience.

This is the third attack in a school setting in a little more than week, and the whole string of incidents smacks of the Columbine shooting, which occurred in Denver several years ago. My wife, Amy, was a youth minister in Denver at the time, and one of her girls was a friend of the shooters. She spent weeks counseling the girl, her family, and others who were less directly affected, yet impacted nonetheless.

The first question that most people begin with has something to do with why such a senseless, violent event has to take place. How does the human mind end up accommodating such diabolical notions? How divorced from one’s divine spirit must one become to even consider the murder of children? How does someone so young, with so much ahead of them, determine that their time on earth is complete, to be cut short by their own hand?

I’ve found that there are no satisfactory answers in cases such as these, and I’d go so far as to suggest we’re not really seeking answers. What we want is to reclaim a sense of peace. Such things cannot ever be understood, any more than an act of so-called “justice” could satisfy the survivors. No matter what, we’re left with pain, confusion, anger, despair, and in some cases, abject hatred.

So how do we go about rediscovering a sense of peace amid so much suffering and bloodshed?  After all, it’s not a natural part of the human condition. Those who ascribe to the “everything happens for a reason” mindset have a particularly difficult time with such tragedies, as they must reconcile what they believe about God’s plan with such horrendous human-made consequences.

The only way we find peace is to try to transcend the very humanity of the experience. At the essence of life is suffering, and if that is all we lay claim to, it’s all we’re left with. But in acknowledging that we not only don’t understand life sometimes, but that we also cannot control it, we are relieved of the curse of why’s and how’s that get us nowhere closer to the peace we desire.

Ironically, this transcendence, for many, is found in a community of faith. For the Amish, the very bonds that hold them together are the same ones that marry them to their faith. The two are inseparable. Yet even when this peace-loving and peace-living community is encroached upon by the violence of the outside world, you hear no cries for retribution. You don’t even hear complaints of the unfairness of life. What we witness is a community that comes even closer together to support one another, to remember and begin the slow healing process.

No one can make sense of these recent events. We may never completely understand Roberts’ motivations, and even if we did, we would still live with the stain of his murdering binge. However, the prayerful, peaceful response of those who suffered the most – as unnatural as it may seem – makes all the sense in the world.

“Lost” episode one: what we learned

Thursday, October 5th, 2006

First off, I was very pleased with this episode. It revealed a lot about the Others, filled in some back story on Jack, but left plenty to look forward to (no surprise).

So, what did we learn last night?

The Others have some kind of weird suburban Stepford kind of community going on.  However, right on the perimeter of the neighborhood are a series of cages and experimentation facilities. At one time or another these have held bears, but they obviously work for humans too.

Clearly, the Others have contact with outside society, or t least their amenities. They have a book discussion group, and the one they were discussing last night was a Stephen King title, so my sense is they get access to recent stuff.  Also, things like fresh bacon, the coffee press on Fake Henry’s table, etc, not to mention the Oxford shirts and khakis, make them far from a primitive society.

Did anyone notice some of the Others who were not present in this community???  wonder where they are.

Speaking of Fake Henry, we learned his name actually is Ben, and he’s definitely in charge.  I theorize in my upcoming book about whether or not he and his group of Others were capturing Sawyer, Jack and Kate to create an alliance in order to fight another group of others. However, at this point, they’re treating Jack and company more like animals than allies.

Jack’s prison cell is underwater, and they referred to an aquarium.  Apparently it’s a station, called the Hydra, where they do work with sharks and dolphins.  Jack asks Juliette, his caretaker , about their connection to the dharma initiative, and her only response is “that was a long time ago.”

I think we can assume at this point that the Others in this community in fact were part of Dharma, and most likely she schism between them and the rest of Dharma likely took place during the “incident” in the 1980’s, referred to in the orientation videos.

Did anyone else notice the tattoo on the inside of Jack’s forearm? It looked like some cartoon version of a constellation.  Either I’ve been under a rock during the first two seasons, or this is something new.  Lots has been made of his tat on his shoulder, and of course, we now know that it’s actually real.  If he keeps getting inked, they’ll have to bust out the airbrushes, or they’ll have lots of back story to create to explain his body art.

We get to see a little more about Jack and his craziness surrounding his marriage, including his attack of his father, which led to Christian falling off the wagon after 50 days of sobriety. It allows for a little more compassion for Christian, and adds some more tragic flaws to our hero character.

Finally, the case file they have on Jack is interesting.  Could this all be information they’ve picked up by observing him and eavesdropping on the island, or do they really have contact with people on the outside who have this information.  Certainly, Ben’s (Fake Henry’s) congratulations of Juliette for her good work with Jack suggests they’re trying to find something out from him or use him for some purpose.  What it is we don’t know yet.

I have one thought.  It’s possible they get all of the nice stuff they have through air drops, just like the survivors found.  Perhaps the Dharma folks are dropping this stuff in, and the Others actually don’t have access to the outside on their own.  The other possibility of course is that they do have contacts off the island, and that they simply choose to be there. The serenity of their community before they witness the breakup of flight 815 overhead suggests they’re perfectly happy there.  I have my suspicions, however, about how tied in to the outside they really are.

Any other thoughts or theories are certainly welcome.


Free “Lost” Book chapter coming soon

Wednesday, October 4th, 2006

I’ve gotten formal approval from the editor to place a free chapter of my upcoming book on my website in PDF format for download.  I submitted the final changes today, so as soon as they make these last corrections and get the whole thing converted to PDF, I’ll post the chapter.

I’m open to suggestions as to which chapter to post.  I can only do one, but let me know which one you’d want to read most.

The chapter titles are:

  1. Numbers and Symbols
  2. Light and Dark
  3. Saved…from What?
  4. Others
  5. Faith and Reason
  6. Fate and Destiny
  7. The End is Near
  8. Purgatory

Let me know your preference. Once I get the files, I’ll post it on


Church and sex don’t mix, but they should

Sunday, October 1st, 2006

Church and sex don’t mix, but they should

The Pueblo Chieftain Online

I was the music minister at a small church in Texas for a few years before coming to Colorado.

My wife, Amy, worked with the youth group, which varied in size from two to six kids at any given time. There was one 16-year-old girl who was mature beyond her years. She was intelligent, had plans for college and was a natural leader.

Then she got pregnant.

After conferring with her mother – a single mom raising both her and her twin sister – she opted to keep the baby, who was eventually adopted by a couple within the church. The child found a loving home, a couple’s dream for a family was fulfilled, and the young woman was able to continue with many of her future plans.

Although this was a best-case scenario given the circumstances, even this situation was emotionally, physically and financially traumatic. Unfortunately, most consequences of teen sex are not as easy.

Per capita, teens in the United States are twice as likely to become pregnant as their peers in Canada and Great Britain, and they are four times as likely as those in France and Sweden. Almost 50 percent of American high-school students report having sex, and one in seven report having four or more partners before they reach graduation. Eighty percent of first sexual encounters involve drugs or alcohol, and 60 percent of sexually transmitted diseases and two in three unwanted pregnancies occur when one or both partners are intoxicated.

These are only the tip of the statistical iceberg, but it’s enough to demonstrate that anyone willing to ignore the reality of teen sex and its consequences are doing so willfully. So who’s to blame for the lack of adequate information our teenage (or younger) children possess about sex?

Most churches are reticent to openly discuss sexuality at all, let alone with their youths. For many, the church’s stance on sex is that all parts under the belt are dirty, not to be used for any pleasurable activities until marriage, and all indiscretions – and even thoughts – should elicit shame. End of lesson.

Many parents depend on schools to teach kids what they need to know, yet they rarely take the time to review the curriculum or qualifications of the person teaching the class. Meanwhile, most schools offer only a superficial biological survey of sexuality at best, with little practical discussion about the emotional, social and hormonal pressures that a newly sexualized teen faces.

Biblically, shame is historically interwoven with sex too. From the chastisement of Adam and Eve to Sodom and Gomorrah and the story of the hemorrhaging woman, there are plenty of examples to draw from to impart indignity upon sex. If we want to assert that not only the act of sex is dirty, but also the parts of our bodies and feelings associated with sexuality, we can use the Bible to back us up.

Meanwhile, our children continue to engage in activities they hardly understand, and which we are hardly prepared to discuss with them until it’s too late.

We, as God’s creatures, are entirely made in God’s image, genitals and all. We are created to be drawn together sexually, to share intimately with one another, and, in most cases, to multiply.

Sexuality, and even the act of sex, is not a dirty thing. It’s the abuse of this power that causes damage for those both directly and indirectly involved.

There is a nonprofit called CLER Ministries that is committed to sexuality training for clergy and laity and the children they serve. It offers weeklong camps for eighth-grade kids, workshops at churches, and it works from the premise that it is a central mission of all of the nation’s churches to engage young people about their sexuality.

Some will disagree that church is an acceptable place to talk openly about sex.

If not in church, where? If not now, when?

Christian Piatt is a nonprofit consultant, freelance writer and music minister at Milagro Christian Church. He can be reached at .