Reflections on the God Debate

Stanley Fish in his New York Times blog gives a good review of a new book by Terry Eagleton, entitled: “Reason, Faith and Revolution: Reflections on the God Debate.”

“…British critic Terry Eagleton asks, “Why are the most unlikely people, including myself, suddenly talking about God?” His answer, elaborated in prose that is alternately witty, scabrous and angry, is that the other candidates for guidance — science, reason, liberalism, capitalism — just don’t deliver what is ultimately needed. ‘What other symbolic form,’ he queries, ‘has managed to forge such direct links between the most universal and absolute of truths and the everyday practices of countless millions of men and women?’
“…but at least religion is trying for something more than local satisfactions, for its ‘subject is nothing less than the nature and destiny of humanity itself, in relation to what it takes to be its transcendent source of life.’ And it is only that great subject, and the aspirations it generates, that can lead, Eagleton insists, to ‘a radical transformation of what we say and do.’
“The other projects, he concedes, provide various comforts and pleasures, but they are finally superficial and tend to the perpetuation of the status quo rather than to meaningful change: ‘A society of packaged fulfillment, administered desire, managerialized politics and consumerist economics is unlikely to cut to the depth where theological questions can ever be properly raised.’
“The fact that science, liberal rationalism and economic calculation can not ask — never mind answer — such questions should not be held against them, for that is not what they do.
“And, conversely, the fact that religion and theology cannot provide a technology for explaining how the material world works should not be held against them, either, for that is not what they do. When Christopher Hitchens declares that given the emergence of ‘the telescope and the microscope’ religion ‘no longer offers an explanation of anything important,’ Eagleton replies, ‘But Christianity was never meant to be an explanation of anything in the first place. It’s rather like saying that thanks to the electric toaster we can forget about Chekhov.’”

Read the entire thing here.

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The Narrative Character

The Narrative Character of our Faith

“Too many Christians are just pious versions of Ulysses Everett McGill protagonist in the movie Oh Brother Where Art Thou]; that is, too many Christians have bought into the modernist valorization of scientific facts and end up reducing Christianity to just another collection of propositions. Our beliefs are encapsulated in ‘statements of faith’ that simply catalog a collection of statements about God, Jesus, the Spirit, sin, redemption, and so on. Knowledge is reduced to biblical information that can be encapsulated and encoded. And so, in more ways than one, our construal of the Christian faith has capitulated to modernity and what Lyotard calls its ‘computerization’ of knowledge, indicating a condition wherein any knowledge that cannot be translated into a simple ‘code’ or reduced to ‘data’ is abandoned. But isn’t it curious that God’s revelation to humanity is given not as a collection of propositions or facts but rather within a narrative — a grand, sweeping story from Genesis to Revelation? Is there not a sense in which we’ve forgotten that God’s primary vehicle for revelation is a story unfolded within the biblical canon?”

James K.A. Smith, PhD., Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism?; pp. 74-75.
Lyotard’s “computerization of knowledge” reminds my of Polanyi’s “Tacit Knowing.”

“This is why the Scriptures must remain central for the postmodern church, for it is precisely the story of the canon of Scripture that narrates our faith… The narrative character of our faith should affect not only our proclamation and witness but also our worship and formation. …we need to know the story, and that story should be communicated when we gather as the people of God, that is, in worship. That is why the most postmodern congregations will be those that learn to be ancient, reenacting the biblical narrative. Just as Lyotard’s account of narrative knowledge shows a link between premodern and postmodern, so worship in postmodernity (which appreciates the role of narrative) should signal a recovery of liturgical tales — the narrating of creation, fall, redemption (as well as crucifixion, burial, and resurrection) in the very manner in which we worship.” (pp.75-76)

They kept saying, “Show us a sign. Give us proof. Then, we will believe.” And He responded always, “No.”

Still Waters

“Still waters run deep.” When I was in high school, a junior, I was riding up a chairlift on a ski slope with another ski-club member, a senior girl. I didn’t know her very well, not at all really. We talked a bit and then she said to me, and I was a taken aback a bit (a lot, really), she said, “You seem to have your shit together, why?” Well, I was taken aback because I knew I certainly didn’t have all my “shit” together, taken aback because she used the word “shit” (to swear was to sin in my household), and taken aback a Senior was asking me, a junior, a question like that.
I John was the Epistle reading for Morning Prayer the latter part of April. John talks a lot about our call, our obligation, our privilege to love. That word, “Love.” So much of how we understand that work in these days tends to verge almost exclusively on either sentimentality or lust of some sort. “Love” within the Christian Life is neither. Love, in an understanding that is rooted in the teachings of Jesus and really throughout the Holy Scriptures, seems to be something far more significant, difficult, meaningful, and far deeper than mere sentimentality or banal lust.
We who call ourselves Christians really do need to discover anew a definition for love other than the definition(s) determined by our culture, ingrained within us through enculturation, and vividly demonstrated by our prevailing culture. I think if “love” is our goal, our experience… if we have been re-formed into the way of life of the Body of Christ – then others cannot but notice a difference in us.
What is this kind of love – it is peace generating. Peace first within our own lives, and then from the wellspring of our experience we are able to better influence those around us and the culture for peace – inwardly, outwardly in our relationships with others, and within our national experience. Anxiety rules the hearts of so many people these days, and not just because of our economic woes-of-the-moment.
What is this kind of love – that we love even our enemies. This is profound, and profoundly difficult. In fact, I venture to say that it is nearly impossible without the renewing and reconciling endeavor of Christ within us. Too many of us that call ourselves Christian in these days have capitulated to the culture and act just like it – animosity, hostility, hatred, verbal and physical violence, abuse and manipulation, an unwillingness or inability to compromise with those with whom we disagree, a national attitude that simply says “seek out and kill our enemies.” In the end, this does not bring peace, stability, security, or freedom. The violent world looks at the Church and sees themselves. They see a better example of “Christian love” in the life of Ghandi, a Hindu. We fail to love as Christ calls us to love. Again, this is profoundly difficult and certainly not sentimentality.
What is this kind of love – I consider the welfare of others before myself.
What is this kind of love – 1 Corinthians 13:3-8a (ESV)

If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never ends.

Is this how love looks among us?
Now, I don’t claim for a moment that this girl sitting next to me on the chairlift was suddenly exposed to an incredible example of God’s love by me, a 17 year old kid, but through something completely unrecognizable by me she found something different in my life – something that she didn’t have. I asked her what she meant by, “have your shit together.” She didn’t really know, but she said to me, “Still waters run deep.” The only difference I can even begin to fathom would have been the very beginnings of formation, or change within me, as a result of Jesus Christ. If we give ourselves to God and the pursuit of love as God determines it to be, God will do a renewing work within us, He will re-form us out of these worldly systems and into something profoundly deeper. It is His way, though. There are now short-cuts or alternative methods.
I think if we give ourselves to seeking the love God calls us to, the life, really, there will be a change within us that is somehow visible to a world were love has become anything but… love defined not by the whims of “trendy” born of psycho-social insecurity and not by the Author of love.