Thursday, April 26, 2007

God Is Not Great... once more into the fray

One of my parishioners passed on a link to Slate, where excerpts from God Is Not Great by Christopher Hutchins are being published (start reading them here). Only two excerpts in, we are left little room to misunderstand him. The human race is better off without religion, even if we have to bear with it until we evolve into higher beings that are no longer afraid of death (or the dark, or each other, or whatever--see his first excerpt "Religion Poisons Everything"). He, as can be expected, exalts reason and the salvation for humanity that lies therein. He is quite inflammatory. He claims in his second excerpt, "Was Muhammad Epileptic?" that
...Islam when examined is not much more than a rather obvious and ill-arranged set of plagiarisms, helping itself from earlier books and traditions as occasion appeared to require. Thus, far from being "born in the clear light of history," as Ernest Renan so generously phrased it, Islam in its origins is just as shady and approximate as those from which it took its borrowings. It makes immense claims for itself, invokes prostrate submission or "surrender" as a maxim to its adherents, and demands deference and respect from nonbelievers into the bargain. There is nothing—absolutely nothing—in its teachings that can even begin to justify such arrogance and presumption.
Even if he were criticizing Islam alone, I could not help but to speak against Hutchins. His line of reasoning is clearly anti-religion, be it Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, etc.

He posits four irreducible objections to religion, which are weak, in my opinion. He writes:
  1. it wholly misrepresents the origins of man and the cosmos,
  2. that because of this original error it manages to combine the maximum of servility with the maximum of solipsism,
  3. that it is both the result and the cause of dangerous sexual repression, and
  4. that it is ultimately grounded on wish-thinking.
His claim that religion is solipsistic is almost laughable, for when one looks at his irreducible objections, I believe it shows his own solipsism, particularly with objection number 3. It really is a shame that these are only excerpts, but to make an irreducible objection based on sexual repression, makes it sound to me that religion is bad because it does not allow him to put his member anywhere he desires. Who is more solipsistic here? Frankly I do not know if he understands the word "irreducible." For it seems to me that his objeciton should be based more on the imposition of limits, and a reduction of freedom (from his perspective at any rate), rather than simply sexual repression.

His ignorance is not just due to his lack of vocabulary, but his shallow understanding of what Christianity (which I believe is his ultimate target) is trying to do. He shows an understanding of only the basest and shallowest of Christian interpretations. As one who seeks to be most rational, he is attracted to only the least of the arguments. Is the objection to the creation of the cosmos done because it does not line up with scientific evidence? Is he aware that there are many Christians out there who simply point to the truth that the creation stories are meant to describe WHO made the cosmos, and not HOW the cosmos was made? Of course, his very premise disallows that the cosmos could be made at all by some all-powerful being.

He also makes the claim,
We are not immune to the lure of wonder and mystery and awe: we have music and art and literature, and find that the serious ethical dilemmas are better handled by Shakespeare and Tolstoy and Schiller and Dostoyevsky and George Eliot than in the mythical morality tales of the holy books. Literature, not scripture, sustains the mind and—since there is no other metaphor—also the soul.
Is he aware of the deep religious foundations of many of the great authors? Dostoyevsky is nearly mystical in his novels. Could these great works of literature have been written without the foundational "morality tales of the holy books." If we are to take his claim that religion poisons everything, then we must call these books written in the days when Christianity permeated everything the subtlest of poisons. In The Brothers Karamazov, we must excise the tale of the Grand Inquisitor, as well as the tale of the selfish widow and the onion. What will be left? Or may we disguise our theological language in other dress? But what to do when we see that the Emperor has no clothes?

Hutchins laments that the great thinkers "Augustine, Aquinas, Maimonides, and Newman.... have written many evil things or many foolish things, and been laughably ignorant of the germ theory of disease or the place of the terrestrial globe in the solar system, let alone the universe, and this is the plain reason why there are no more of them today, and why there will be no more of them tomorrow." And then he claims that
Religion spoke its last intelligible or noble or inspiring words a long time ago: either that or it mutated into an admirable but nebulous humanism, as did, say, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a brave Lutheran pastor hanged by the Nazis for his refusal to collude with them. We shall have no more prophets or sages from the ancient quarter, which is why the devotions of today are only the echoing repetitions of yesterday, sometimes ratcheted up to screaming point so as to ward off the terrible emptiness.
Bonhoeffer? He claims Bonhoeffer had mutated into "admirable but nebulous humanism?" Bonhoeffer may be many things, but nebulous humanist? Certainly not! For Bonhoeffer, Jesus is the center of life, and he is most clear about that. Bonhoeffer is not just echoing repetitions of yesterday. Bonhoeffer was the mouthpiece for Christ speaking in this world now. Bonhoeffer is quite adamant about this Jesus.

Everything depends on whether one thinks that Jesus is the idealistic founder of a religion or the very Son of God. Nothing less that life and death of the human being hangs in the balance. If he was the idealistic founder of a religion, then I can be inspired by his accomplishments and motivated to imitate his zeal, but my sin is not forgiven. In this instance God is still angry with me, and I am under the power of death. Jesus’ work leads me in this case to total despair about myself.

If, however, the work of Christ is the work of God, then I am not summoned to act like God or to imitate God zealously, but instead I am convicted by this work as one who in no way can do it by myself. Rather I have found all at once the gracious God through this Jesus Christ, in this knowledge in this work. My sin has been forgiven. I am not dead but alive. It depends therefore on the person of Christ, whether his work is understood as passing away according to the old world of death or whether it is eternal according to a new world of life.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Christology Lectures 1933

Hardly a humanist notion there...

In the end of the first excerpt, Hutchins simply wants to be left alone by we religious types. If he means that he desires me to stay away from him... so be it. If he means that he wants me to use only rational ideas as a basis for my ethical decisions, then we must clash and I must make known the God in whom I live and move and have my being. Christ is the center, and it is Christ who lives in me. I am sure that notion is repugnant to Hutchins, but it is only with Christ that we find true life.


Thursday, April 19, 2007

Brueggemann and Paul'sConversion

I have committed myself to preaching this Easter season on the great texts from Acts that always seem to get ignored. After all, if we are going to supplant the texts from the Hebrew Bible, we should pay attention to these replacements. I came across the site Theolog where this week Walter Brueggemann addresses Paul's conversion coming up for this week(read the article here).

I am intrigued by Brueggemann's move to not treat this as a general text meant for all Christians. Rather, Brueggemann focuses more intently on the particularity of Paul. Brueggemann writes:
My attention is drawn, however, not only to the change in Paul but also to the change in faith enacted by the spirit through Paul. Indeed the church is always running, even yet, to catch up with Paul in his radical, daring newness in the gospel. A sermon focus might be, not on the psychology of transformation and vocation, but on Paul’s transformed articulation of the gospel.
Brueggemann pushes me I think in the right direction.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

From the liturgy of the palms...

P: The Lord be with you.
C: And also with you.

P: Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
C: It is right to give God thanks and praise.

P: We praise and thank you, O God, for the great acts of love by which you have redeemed us through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. On this day he entered the holy city of Jerusalem in triumph, and was acclaimed Son of David and King of kings by those who scattered their garments and branches of palm in his path.

We ask that you bless these branches and those who bear them, and grant that we may ever hail him as our Lord and King and follow him with perfect confidence; through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
C: Amen.