1. Josh Ritter - The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter
It lacks some of the poignancy of The Animal Years, but it's more adventurous. I never tire of listening to it.
2. The National - Boxer
Elegant, moody, urgent
3. The Avett Brothers - Emotionalism
The first seven songs are so good I sometimes never make it to the second half of the album.
4. Bruce Springsteen - Magic
The production is a bit too polished for my liking, but the songs are quintessential Springsteen.
5. Okkervil River - The Stage Names
A blend of eclectic, eminently catchy music and deft wordplay
6. Band of Horses - Cease to Begin
Thanks to Andy Dunham for recommending this one.
7.Wilco - Sky Blue Sky
This one has grown on me. The album took on a new life after seeing them in concert a few months back.
8. Spoon - Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga
The finest indie-pop export from the city I used to call home.
9. Ola Podrida - Ola Podrida
Kester Smith mentioned the band on his blog a while back and their name alone prompted me to check them out. But the "they" is really just one guy, David Wingo. The album is some of the best spare, folk-pop I've heard in a long while.
10. Arcade Fire - Neon Bible
I find some of their songs downright cringe-inducing, but so many others are undeniably compelling.
Am I certain? No. But I'm compelled enough to seek and to follow.
I'll close by sharing a post I came across on Into the Wardrobe, a site dedicated to all things C.S. Lewis. Adam, a regular poster on the discussion boards, wrote this beautiful expression of what moves him to seek God:
On defining God:
He is the one who's voice you hear in nature and history. If life is an idiotic noise, then we are pursuing nothing. If life is a tune and a lyric, then we are seeking the player, the singer.
These sounds are unaccounted for. They most certainly exist. You are not their source. Seeking their source, hypothesizing its nature and character, is decidedly different from whimsically postulating a fictional creature.
You may argue that God's definition retreats as human understanding advances, His nature and character retaining only what is left of the unexplainable. But Theism was a relatively late development in human thought. The Philosophers knew that human understanding could never gain any ground against purpose; the Fathers knew the same about love.
But our contemporaries have deftly won the war by declaring that their own tiny patch of conquered territory is the only land in Europe; they are the kings of everything that their eyes, closed tightly, survey. The unexplainable is no threat to human understanding, because by definition anything that humans cannot understand must not exist. Purpose and love are whimsies, figments.
But I hear the music. I'll seek its source. And if it's merely idiotic noise, I'd still rather dance than just sit there.
Admittedly, I'm hardly a New Testament scholar and my ventures into in-depth exegesis have been dilettantish at best, so perhaps the verse above carries some nuances in the Greek of which I'm unaware. But reading it as I've always understood it, the verse gives me pause. How can we be certain of something we don't see? I don't know. After all, my faith can often be encapsulated in the father's plea to Jesus to heal his demon-possessed son: "I believe; help me overcome my unbelief." Nonetheless, one thing I do know is that whatever the writer had in mind when he wrote of certainty, he wasn't thinking of an objective, measurable, physical proof--the wording of the verse excludes such an idea. Yet amid the increasingly vociferous challenges to Christianity raised by atheists, it seems to me that many Christians are confident that a logical response will thoroughly deflate any atheistic criticism. In short, that's simply not so.
Some of our time-honored arguments aren't as compelling as we've made them out to be. Take, for example, the "something can't come from nothing" argument, a surefire selection for the Layman Apologetics Hall of Fame if there were such a thing. Now, I'll grant that there's something altogether counterintuitive, if not downright illogical, in the idea that the universe arose into existence from nothing, with no outside being or force serving as the catalyst for creation. However, is it really any more logical to posit that an eternal spiritual being, a being created by no one, brought the universe into existence? If it is, it's hardly overwhelmingly so. The reason we find the latter more cogent, I believe, is due in part to our presupposition that God exists.
Of course, science-wielding atheists bring hold their own presuppositions, the most fundamental one being that what is true is that which can be measured or detected empirically. Therefore, because God can't be proven empirically, He doesn't exist. But to claim that mankind in his little speck of the universe can declare the bounds of truth is not only arrogance but also flawed logic. In a discussion board on slashdot.org, a mathematician (perhaps a Christian) wrote the following:
Science and religion are orthogonal to each other. The
set of axioms that runs:
Science deals in falsifiable statements.
'God' cannot be falsified.
Science disproves (falsifies) 'God'
wouldn't last five minutes in Introduction to Logic 101.
The only rational thing to say is that science does not
allow us to make statements about the existence of
'God,' which should hardly be a surprise to anyone.
He goes on to write:
We know for a fact that mathematics as we practice it
today cannot derive all possible truths from a finite set
of axioms. We know that science doesn't give us the
tools to discuss matters of agency or initial-first-causes.
Watching people ignore those limits and use 'science' to
'disprove God' offends me as a mathematician.
Well, that settles it. We've thwarted Enlightenment-imbued atheism! No, not really. Although we cannot disprove God's existence scientifically, we can't prove it scientifically either. And to recognize that science has limits is not tantamount to proving there actually is a spiritual element that lies beyond it. The same holds true when we argue God's existence based on the existence of beauty, man's desire for justice, apparent order in nature, etc. That's not to say such things can't be used to show how a belief in God is reasonable, that we can't make inferences from them, but they aren't proof. As T.S. Eliot writes in "The Dry Salvages" from Four Quartets: "Hints followed by guesses; and the rest/ Is prayer, observance, discipline, thought and action."
Don't think that I'm denouncing apologetics. Far from it. I think the best Christian apologists demonstrate that Christians can, in fact, be highly intelligent, rational people. The problem is when we fail to recognize the limitations of apologetics, just as some atheists fail to recognize those of science.
Try as we might to compile a list of arguments that eventually add up to an irrefutable proof of our beliefs, we ultimately have to take Kierkegaard's leap of faith. For some the leap is shorter than it is for others, but we all take a leap just the same. But in acknowledging that a leap, however big it may be, exists, we're admitting that there's a chance we may be wrong. And that's scary. So we cling to the security blanket of certainty.
How do we know if we're clinging to the blanket? I'd say if any of the following statements are true (and some have been true of me at times), then you're a theological Linus:
- You assume all non-believers are denying God's existence--blatantly obvious to all mankind--because they'd rather pursue their own sinful desires than submit to God.
- When someone questions your beliefs, you become extremely defensive.
- When responding to criticism from non-believers, your main concern is to prove you're right and they're wrong.
- Convinced of the infallibilty of your position, you approach your study of any other world view assuming it's entirely fallacious.
- You refuse to respond, "I don't know" to any difficult theological question.
So going back to Hebrews 11:1, how can we be certain of something we don't see? Well, I still don't know really. But I suspect it has little, if anything, to do with constructing an invincible bulwark of logic.