Friday, July 23, 2010

materialism as spirituality

Spirituality is material (meaing of this world) and tries to connect the world of the divine with the world of the human. Religion, on the other hand, is external and generally focused on "otherworldly" experiences. It often has very little to say about the sacredness of all creation here and now.
Burke and Taylor, A Heretic's Guide to Eternity, p 60

There are certain things that people say that can only be taken seriously if we realize they have their tongue firmly planted in one of their cheeks. For example, something like "red is the new black" is a nonsense statement unless we realize the context, and realize that it's said with a touch of humor and what the speaker may consider wit.

So, when these two make the statement "spirituality is material", while we may assume they are trying for wit, we still have to assume that somehow they are being serious. Spirituality is the new materialism, up is the new down, opera is the new punk, and jars of urine is the new art.

And why do I think that, at the very least, they have things backwards? What does it even mean, really, to "connect the world of the divine with the world of the human"?

Finally, there is, of course, the stereotypical and baseless slam against the church. It is too "otherworldly", too focused on life after death. Never mind all the hospitals and charites the church has been a part of, all the centers of learning the church has helped to found, all the causes it has supported that have made societies better. Never mind, as Chesterton points out in "The Everlasting Man", that the one thing that kept Europe from becoming like Asia was the church.

Which, of course, also includes the immeasurable good of telling people their sins can be forgiven through repentence and faith in the crucified and resurrected Jesus Christ.

Were Burke and Taylor to honestly look at history, they couldn't offer enough thanks to the church, or the God for the Church, for all the good Christians have done. But they won't, they have their own agenda to push, and the true church and the Gospel it preaches is simply in the way.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

un-Taylor-ing Chesterton

This is Christ for this age but also a Christ for all ages. Images of Jesus are historical and contextual, as are recitations of the gospel. Things are added and subtracted; there are differences in focues and emphasis. My opening quote from Chesterton is of help here. Chesterton wrote at a time when atheism was a sigificant and growing alternative to faith. The rise of scientific-rationalism, including new theories such as Darwin's evolutionary model, were undermining the already embattled Christian faith that Chesterton held. The gift Chesterton offers is the power of a new perspective. Rather than address issues of sin, salvation, and redemption, he appeals directly to the "atheistic" potential in the Jesus story, the singular moment in the Passion where a conversatio about atheism and God is a viable one. This is what I mean when I say that we must once again encode the message of Jesus.

In the present situation it seems that some are willing to change, rearrange, and rethink form, but there is little attention to changeof content in the presentation of the Christian message in teh postsecular. My sense is that it is the message, the very content, that which we present as being representative of Christian faith that is the one thing that needs to be revisited and re-encoded...But in some sense, as long as Christianity remains a vapor trail fo modern and premodern concepts about how the relation between the human and teh divine is achieved, Christian thinking will not contribute much to the matters at hand....The message needs to speak to our time, not times past. Chesterton made room for atheists at the foot of the cross, not by denying other realities of the story, but by isolating the very point of connection by which the potential for engagement might be effected.

Barry Taylor, Entertainment Theology, pp 209-210

And his quote of Chesterton's.

When the world shook and the sun was wiped out of heaven, it was not at the crucifixion, but at the very cry from the cross: the cry which confesses the God has forsaken God. And now let the revolutionists choose a creed from all the creeds and a gof from all the gods of the world...they will not find another god who has himself been in revolt...They will find...only one religion in which God seemed for an instant to be an atheist.
from Orthodoxy

As someone who has read a bit of Chesterton, and learned more than a bit from him, I rather immediately smelled (in a metaphorical sense) that something was wrong here. I recognized that quote, though it took me a bit to find in the text file of Orthodoxy that I have (courtesy of the Gutenberg Project), but I finally did. One note--since I am using a text file for the reference, I can't give you a page number, but I can say that the quote is in chapter VIII called The Romance of Orthodoxy.

Lastly, this truth is yet again true in the case of the common modern attempts to diminish or to explain away the divinity of Christ. The thing may be true or not; that I shall deal with before I end. But if the divinity is true it is certainly terribly revolutionary. That a good man may have his back to the wall is no more than we knew already; but that God could have his back to the wall is a boast for all insurgents for ever. Christianity is the only religion on earth that has felt that omnipotence made God incomplete. Christianity alone has felt that God, to be wholly God, must have been a rebel as well as a king. Alone of all creeds, Christianity has added courage to the virtues of the Creator. For the only courage worth calling courage must necessarily mean that the soul passes a breaking point--and does not break. In this indeed I approach a matter more dark and awful than it is easy to discuss; and I apologise in advance if any of my phrases fall wrong or seem irreverent touching a matter which the greatest saints and thinkers have justly feared to approach. But in that terrific tale of the Passion there is a distinct emotional suggestion that the author of all things (in some unthinkable way) went not only through agony, but through doubt. It is written, "Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God." No; but the Lord thy God may tempt Himself; and it seems as if this was what happened in Gethsemane. In a garden Satan tempted man: and in a garden God tempted God. He passed in some superhuman manner through our human horror of pessimism. When the world shook and the sun was wiped out of heaven, it was not at the crucifixion, but at the cry from the cross: the cry which confessed that God was forsaken of God. And now let the revolutionists choose a creed from all the creeds and a god from all the gods of the world, carefully weighing all the gods of inevitable recurrence and of unalterable power. They will not find another god who has himself been in revolt. Nay, (the matter grows too difficult for human speech,) but let the atheists themselves choose a god. They will find only one divinity who ever uttered their isolation; only one religion in which God seemed for an instant to be an atheist.

A couple of times in that paragraph, Chesterton admits that he is dealing with a difficult subject, and one time admits to thinking that he what he's writing may be taken wrong. I think Taylor is taking him wrong, whether by accident or not, I'll not venture to say my suspicions, except that some of his claims show a staggering ignorance of the book.

When, for example, Taylor says "Rather than address issues of sin, salvation, and redemption...", making it sound like Chesterton does no such thing, he only leads me to believe that he has never read Orthodoxy. If he had, he would likely have read things like this.

But I think this book may well start where our argument started-- in the neighbourhood of the mad-house. Modern masters of science are much impressed with the need of beginning all inquiry with a fact. The ancient masters of religion were quite equally impressed with that necessity. They began with the fact of sin--a fact as practical as potatoes. Whether or no man could be washed in miraculous waters, there was no doubt at any rate that he wanted washing. But certain religious leaders in London, not mere materialists, have begun in our day not to deny the highly disputable water, but to deny the indisputable dirt. Certain new theologians dispute original sin, which is the only part of Christian theology which can really be proved. Some followers of the Reverend R.J.Campbell, in their almost too fastidious spirituality, admit divine sinlessness, which they cannot see even in their dreams. But they essentially deny human sin, which they can see in the street. The strongest saints and the strongest sceptics alike took positive evil as the starting point of their argument. If it be true (as it certainly is) that a man can feel exquisite happiness in skinning a cat, then the religious philosopher can only draw one of two deductions. He must either deny the existence of God, as all atheists do; or he must deny the present union between God and man, as all Christians do. The new theologians seem to think it a highly rationalistic solution to deny the cat.
Chapter II

And concerning the idea that Christianity needs to keep up with the times, well, consider these.

An imbecile habit has arisen in modern controversy of saying that such and such a creed can be held in one age but cannot be held in another. Some dogma, we are told, was credible in the twelfth century, but is not credible in the twentieth. You might as well say that a certain philosophy can be believed on Mondays, but cannot be believed on Tuesdays. You might as well say of a view of the cosmos that it was suitable to half-past three, but not suitable to half-past four. What a man can believe depends upon his philosophy, not upon the clock or the century. If a man believes in unalterable natural law, he cannot believe in any miracle in any age. If a man believes in a will behind law, he can believe in any miracle in any age. Suppose, for the sake of argument, we are concerned with a case of thaumaturgic healing. A materialist of the twelfth century could not believe it any more than a materialist of the twentieth century. But a Christian Scientist of the twentieth century can believe it as much as a Christian of the twelfth century. It is simply a matter of a man's theory of things. Therefore in dealing with any historical answer, the point is not whether it was given in our time, but whether it was given in answer to our question. And the more I thought about when and how Christianity had come into the world, the more I felt that it had actually come to answer this question.
Chapter V

I have alluded to an unmeaning phrase to the effect that such and such a creed cannot be believed in our age. Of course, anything can be believed in any age. But, oddly enough, there really is a sense in which a creed, if it is believed at all, can be believed more fixedly in a complex society than in a simple one. If a man finds Christianity true in Birmingham, he has actually clearer reasons for faith than if he had found it true in Mercia. For the more complicated seems the coincidence, the less it can be a coincidence. If snowflakes fell in the shape, say, of the heart of Midlothian, it might be an accident. But if snowflakes fell in the exact shape of the maze at Hampton Court, I think one might call it a miracle. It is exactly as of such a miracle that I have since come to feel of the philosophy of Christianity. The complication of our modern world proves the truth of the creed more perfectly than any of the plain problems of the ages of faith. It was in Notting Hill and Battersea that I began to see that Christianity was true. This is why the faith has that elaboration of doctrines and details which so much distresses those who admire Christianity without believing in it.
Chapter VI

This is the thrilling romance of Orthodoxy. People have fallen into a foolish habit of speaking of orthodoxy as something heavy, humdrum, and safe. There never was anything so perilous or so exciting as orthodoxy. It was sanity: and to be sane is more dramatic than to be mad. It was the equilibrium of a man behind madly rushing horses, seeming to stoop this way and to sway that, yet in every attitude having the grace of statuary and the accuracy of arithmetic. The Church in its early days went fierce and fast with any warhorse; yet it is utterly unhistoric to say that she merely went mad along one idea, like a vulgar fanaticism. She swerved to left and right, so exactly as to avoid enormous obstacles. She left on one hand the huge bulk of Arianism, buttressed by all the worldly powers to make Christianity too worldly. The next instant she was swerving to avoid an orientalism, which would have made it too unworldly. The orthodox Church never took the tame course or accepted the conventions; the orthodox Church was never respectable. It would have been easier to have accepted the earthly power of the Arians. It would have been easy, in the Calvinistic seventeenth century, to fall into the bottomless pit of predestination. It is easy to be a madman: it is easy to be a heretic. It is always easy to let the age have its head; the difficult thing is to keep one's own. It is always easy to be a modernist; as it is easy to be a snob. To have fallen into any of those open traps of error and exaggeration which fashion after fashion and sect after sect set along the historic path of Christendom--that would indeed have been simple. It is always simple to fall; there are an infinity of angles at which one falls, only one at which one stands. To have fallen into any one of the fads from Gnosticism to Christian Science would indeed have been obvious and tame. But to have avoided them all has been one whirling adventure; and in my vision the heavenly chariot flies thundering through the ages, the dull heresies sprawling and prostrate, the wild truth reeling but erect.
Chapter VI

I could go on; indeed, I consider much of Chesterton's writings to have in some sense refuted much of the egotistical nonsense of postmodernism long before posmodernism was born. I think I'll leave it for now, though, with this last quote.

Religious authority has often, doubtless, been oppressive or unreasonable; just as every legal system (and especially our present one) has been callous and full of a cruel apathy. It is rational to attack the police; nay, it is glorious. But the modern critics of religious authority are like men who should attack the police without ever having heard of burglars. For there is a great and possible peril to the human mind: a peril as practical as burglary. Against it religious authority was reared, rightly or wrongly, as a barrier. And against it something certainly must be reared as a barrier, if our race is to avoid ruin.

That peril is that the human intellect is free to destroy itself. Just as one generation could prevent the very existence of the next generation, by all entering a monastery or jumping into the sea, so one set of thinkers can in some degree prevent further thinking by teaching the next generation that there is no validity in any human thought. It is idle to talk always of the alternative of reason and faith. Reason is itself a matter of faith. It is an act of faith to assert that our thoughts have any relation to reality at all. If you are merely a sceptic, you must sooner or later ask yourself the question, "Why should ANYTHING go right; even observation and deduction? Why should not good logic be as misleading as bad logic? They are both movements in the brain of a bewildered ape?" The young sceptic says, "I have a right to think for myself." But the old sceptic, the complete sceptic, says, "I have no right to think for myself. I have no right to think at all."

There is a thought that stops thought. That is the only thought that ought to be stopped. That is the ultimate evil against which all religious authority was aimed. It only appears at the end of decadent ages like our own: and already Mr. H.G.Wells has raised its ruinous banner; he has written a delicate piece of scepticism called "Doubts of the Instrument." In this he questions the brain itself, and endeavours to remove all reality from all his own assertions, past, present, and to come. But it was against this remote ruin that all the military systems in religion were originally ranked and ruled. The creeds and the crusades, the hierarchies and the horrible persecutions were not organized, as is ignorantly said, for the suppression of reason. They were organized for the difficult defence of reason. Man, by a blind instinct, knew that if once things were wildly questioned, reason could be questioned first.
Chapter III (aptly named The Suicide of Thought)

If, as Taylor claims, Chesterton was trying to make "... room for atheists at the foot of the cross", he was not doing so in order that the atheist should remain an atheist; rather, Orthodoxy was to a large degree an account of his own move from atheism to Christianity, and he spends quite a few of his very long paragraphs showing the contradictions of the things atheists say against Christianity. He certainly wasn't interested in pretending that the atheist could remain an atheist and be a Christian, which seems to be quite the fashion today.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

keeping you informed

Simply because it's good to know these things...

It's been...what, several days, maybe over a week...since we started hearing about the New Black Panther leader who went on about how he "hate(s) every iota of a cr...." and how black people need to "kill some cr...." and some of "their babies".

And Sojourners, being of course the non-violent, anti-hate, anti-(white)-racism people that they are, have so far on their badly-names God's Politics blog, as of this yesterday (I'm writing this around noon, so who knows what may be put up later today) have posted...

Absolutely nothing about it.

And I looked about at all entries for this month, July. Not even on their Friday entries of basically links to things they deem interesting, is it mentioned.

Now, if they could find one even loosely affiliated person at a Tea Party who would go on about how white people need to "kill n..." or "kill the babies of ch....", then you can bet every dollar or other currency you have that they'd be trumpeting that all day every day for weeks--just recall how they went on about the white policeman last year who arrested the black professor when he thought the man was breaking and entering.

But a black person who is a part of a hate group like the New Black Panthers? Wouldn't want that to interfere with their self-righteous diatribes about our fictional oil addiction, or how Tupac Shakur was someone to listen to for theology, or that when Latino youths kill white boys it leads to acts of vengence taking place "before I could get my pants on."

But a black man telling black people to kill white people and their babies? Nary a peep, as of yet.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

story proves nothing

Spirituality is concerned with the particular rather than the universal. It holds that the subjective-self narrative is integral to the expression of authentic faith. Religion, in contrast, is consumed with accounts of the universal human condition. As a result, people reject religion not because they don't believe but because their individual stories are overlooked and their voices not heard.
Burke and Tayler, A Heretic's Guide to Eternity, pp 59-60

First, my apology for the lengthy delay in posting. It's been a busy time, and I've been doing other things.

Now, to the substance...

I suppose this is an attack on the big postmodern bugaboo called the 'metanarrative', which is what I think they mean when they refer to "accounts of the universal human condition".

Now I suppose it could be of interest to point out that these writers attack metanarratives by employing another metanarrative. In order to attack the metanarrative of "accounts of the universal human condition", they must employ another metanarrative of "people reject religion...because their individual stories are overlooked and their voices not heard".

This is a very postmodern thing to do. A few minutes ago, I was listen to a sermon by Rob Bell and Shane Hipps on Chris Rosebrough's "Fighting for the Faith", and at one point Bell says that he doesn't want to engage in debate or argument with those who are critical of him, but instead speaks of an adequate answer to them would be something like people gathering around a water cooler and them telling their stories about how they have experienced God. The sermon they preached was filled with attacks on correct biblically-based beliefs, instead substituting some kind of "big Jesus" that is present even in the ungodly practice of transcendental meditation. For them, story validates, not correct biblical beliefs and interpretation.

But what does story validated? It seems that throughout my times in church, there have been people 'giving their testimony', as it was sometimes called, relating to the people of the church how God has been blessing and helping them. Far from overlooking the individual's story, they would likely have welcomed them.

But that doesn't mean they would have uncritically accepted those stories. If, for example, someone had told of how God was blessing his affair with a woman he wasn't married to, that would likely have not been acceptable. And rightly so. A good story of how someone thinks God's blessing a sinful sexual relationship does not validate that sinful sexual relationship.

Stories are fine, and testimonies can be very effective, but story is far from enough. There is a man who has written books about what he calls "Conversations With God". The one time I read a part of one of his books, I came away knowing that whatever he had been conversing with, it hadn't been God, because his 'god' had nothing in common with the God of the Bible. People may give testimonies of how a new-age guru like Eckhard Tolle has helped them, but Tolle's teaching are directly counter to Scripture, and so even if they were helped, that help was a lie, and their testimony does nothing to validate the teachings of Tolle.

Finally, there is simply the wholesale reject of any claim about the "universal human condition". But are there no truths that can be said about that people as a whole? If so, than to reject them is unwise, even foolish. If it is true that "all have sinned and come short of the glory of God", a statement about the universal human condition, then it cannot be good to reject it simply because one rejects such statements. And if it is true, then no story that says differently can be true.