Saturday, June 18, 2011

a self-serving tale

So, finally getting back to Rollins...

Not that I've read every clever story in his little book, but I skipped a bit, and read the last clever little story, which he calls "The Heretic", pp 179-184.

The story is about a man who is being tried for teaching heresy. After being sentence to death, the man asks the judge to allow that he himself should pick the person from the crowd of onlookers who will set the fire that will kill him. The judge agrees, and on the day of his execution, the man puts his choice in this way:

"I stand before you now, helpless as a child, condemned to death for heresy. I am guilty as charged, for I have held a distorted, muddied, and inaccurate view of the divine. I have only one request: that I be set alight by one among you who is innocent of this charge."

And the moral (if 'moral' is the right word for it) of this tale is...

Here the issue concerns the idea of distorting the image of God. This young man has been found guilty of propogating a false vew of the divine, and yet the young man knows this and freely admits it. However, he refuses to repent, for to do this would imply that there is a view of God that is not distorted, namely the view of the religious authorities at the time.

In this story we are led to ask whether knowing and admitting that one speaks inaccurately about God would actually be preferable to the claim that we can speak accurately about the source of faith. People may respond that this is all very well, but that some ways of describing God are healthy and some are unhealthy. Here I would wholeheartedly agree. The question here, however, is not how we judge between orthodoxy and heresy, but rather how we judge between good heresy and bad heresy. Another way of putting this is that we must question the difference between the heresy of orthodoxy, in which we dogmatically claim to have the truth, and the orthodox heresy, in which we humbly admit that we are in the dark but still endeavor to live in the way of Christ as best we can.

And so endeth the book.

Your story is imagined.

So, basically, his claim is that there is no such thing as orthodoxy and heresy. There is no way of knowing if what we say about God is true or not. We can't say that anything we say about God is not distorted, we can have no true knowledge of God, we can never know if anthing we claim to think about God is really true or false. The only thing we can really do is stumble along blindly, never knowing if what we believe is true, all beliefs about God being equally valid or invalid, and we should not claim that anything we say or believe about God is really true.

So, anyone else ready to slit their wrists? Well, me, neither, but if I really believed this hopeless drivel of Rollins', I might just find it tempting.

Because, really, if anything I believe or say about God is just as valid anything else I may say or believe, than there is no point. If I believe that God is a space alien from the far-off galaxy of XRginTEanoapfOHPQps, then how is that any less valid than believing that God is beyond the material world, the maker of the Universe? If I believe that God wants us to burn all kittens in a big bonfire, how is that less valid than say that God cares about the created world?

And that last part brings up the cheat Rollins tries to sneak in. He talks abot how we blindly "endeavor to live in the way of Christ as best we can", but if there are no valid beliefs about God or about Christ, if all we say or believe about them is heresy, than how can we know what this "way of Christ" is? How can we know the best way to live it? Or, for that matter, how do we know that is the best way for us to live?

We cannot say that. By his own definition, Rollins forbids us to dogmatically say that we know the truth, and that excludes even the claim that we know the way of Christ, that we know the best way to live that way, and that it is the best way for us to live. It is simply a choice, and if others choose other ways--the ways of Mohammed, the ways of Kali, the ways of Rasputin, the ways of Hitler--than we are forbidden to say that they are wrong.

Oh, sure, Rollins tries to sneak in the idea that there are healthy and unhealthy ways of describing God. But then, we have to say that we know what the standards for health are, that they can be universally agreed upon. But if one group believe that it is healthy to have a god of new-agey love and acceptance, and another believes it is healthy to believe in a god who glories in blood and death and destruction, how are we to say that one is acceptable and the other isn't, or if either is acceptable? If one group thinks God likes diversity, but another thinks God would like it best if all people looked the same, then, pray tell, how are we to decided which is really God's preference?

Finally, notice what is completely missing from Rollin's little spin. There is no notion that we have an acceptable, reliable source of information concerning God. There is no mention the God has revealed Himself to us, has told us things about Himself, has in times past directly spoken to prophets, and those prophets put His words on whatever they had available to write upon, that those words have been divinely preserved, have been translated into our tongue so that we can know God, so that we can have true and reliable knowledge about Him, so that we can indeed distinguish true things to believe about Him and false, heretical things.

We have the Bible, God Holy Word. We have reliable knowledge about God. We can know for sure the some thing said about God are rank nonsense, because we have what God has revealed about Himself.

So, I find Rollins' clever little story and commentary to be incredibly self-contradictory, and in the end self-serving to his own ends of not being held accountable for the heresies he teaches. But he chops off his own feet, for if all words about God are equally valid, then Rollins has no right to say that his views are better or worse than anyone else's.

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