Do you “really” believe, or really believe? (with some thoughts on Rob Bell)
Let us take each of these in turn. Firstly our modern reflexive self-awareness hides the fact that such an “enlightened” mode of suspicion was not so much missing from the past, but unnecessary for it. It is only with the development of a technological discourse that we needed to introduce brackets into our cultural, political and religious claims. One of the side effects of this development was a fundamental change in how we understood the beliefs of the ancients. Because the techological discourse is ubiquitous to us we end up viewing our ancestors as operating with a type of proto-technological language that would have actually been totally foreign to them (this kind of reading is rife in the work of people like Dawkins, Hitchens and Harris as well as Christian apologists).
He starts by making use of a Norse myth of creation. His point here seems to be that people long ago didn't care about the truth of their beliefs, it wasn't important to them. So, for example, if the ancients believed that the world was created through some hanky-panky among the gods, or the demiurges of the gnostics, or that God created the world in six days and on the seventh rested, the important thing isn't whether any of those things happened or not, because those people long ago didn't really believe them to have happened.
Secondly, our contemporary need to distance ourselves from what we believe (so as to avoid the reduction of our beliefs to the level of some technological discourse) can lead to a distancing from the power and truth of the story. We end up trying to untangle a knot that is a necessary part of such beliefs, a knot that cannot be undone without the loss of the truth itself. When the knot is untied one is left with nothing but a metaphor or an archaic proto-scientific proposition rather than with the transformative truth of the story.
Ah, here we go! That important thing isn't the story itself, but the story inside or above or beyond the story! To put another way, the important thing isn't what the ancients said or what they believed or didn't believe, but what we today can make of their stories. It's simply uncouth to say that the Norse creation story is a myth, something made up, and that we should teach them the truth of how the world was created. We should, instead, let them keep on believing their fables, seeing as they mean so much to them.
Finally, when one takes a story that is deeply true to people and place brackets around it the effect can be so unpleasant to the supposedly naive believers that they end up going in the opposite direction and claiming a direct literalism (actually becoming naive believers). Here their very attempt to protect the power of the belief in question results in them losing it.
Yeah, because believing in something too strongly means you're not really believing in it at all.
(Why am I reminded of the Spice Girls' song, "Too much of something is not enough..."? And, yes, I'm as disturbed by that as you are.)
In this reading we can see that the predominant form of fundamentalism today arises as a direct result of this contemporary act of bracketing. For with the introduction of brackets and caveats to theology the unintended result is the rise of a group who attempt to protect the belief through the assertion of literalism. No matter who wins the main casualty is, of course, the power and truth of the belief in question.
And the casual slap at those who believe the Bible to be God's literal word. Oh, yes, Mr. Rollins is so superior, that he can condescend to let those little literalists keep their little beliefs, aren't they so cute.
There is not space here to discuss the way out of this impasse, however we might want to see Rob Bell as someone who is courageously offering a way forward with his new book Love Wins. Rob understands the knot that exists in belief and attempts to remain true to it in both the style of his communication and the content. He is however under constant pressure at the moment to ‘clarify’ his position (meaning to rob it of its truth). Hopefully his talent and insight will enable him to avoid what people on both sides (liberal and conservative) seek.
So, actually stating what you believe meaning robbing the belief of its truth?
Welcome to the mumbo-jumbo world of postmodernism, where clarity is the greatest of sins.