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Saturday, September 5, 2020¶
I was once more trying to find words for the big problem I have been trying to understand during the last 20 years. The following is only my today’s formulation and definitively not definitive:
My big problem is: Shouldn’t the Christians of “my” camp say more clearly that the teachings of “the other camp” have become obsolete and are deprecated? I don’t even have names for “those two opposite camps”. I don’t even know whether they are “camps”. Maybe they are a pair of opposites and we must reconcile instead of fighting each other. Maybe it is impossible –or just useless– to differentiate them. Maybe I am naive when I hope that I would find useful new words about something of such a complexity.
Corollaire: Was my recent impression of peace with this problem (see Croque-monsieur) just an illusion?
A first impulse came from a friend who sent me a link to the following thought, posted by Timothy Keller on Facebook, which also speaks about two “camps” of Christians:
“We need at least two types of gospel presentations. For a traditional person, the meaning of life is to be good. For a postmodern person, the meaning of life is to be free.”
My reaction: Huh!? “to be good” as the opposite of “to be free”?! That makes no sense. This is not a valid pair of opposites. There are too many aspects of life that can be labelled as both goodness and freedom. You cannot be “good” unless you act out of your free will. Something evil doesn’t become good just because some humans declare that it is a divine law. I have never heard somebody say that the meaning of life is “to be free”. I have friends whom I would classify as both postmodern and traditional.
I guess that Timothy actually wanted to express the following experience: God sometimes wants us to do things that don’t seem pleasant, that contradict with what we believe to be sane human logic, or that bear a serious risk of getting into trouble with some established power. The book of Jona describes what happens when we refuse to do something God asks us to. We can try to ignore the Word of God, but our life will be a failure until we repent. Our life won’t continue peacefully as if nothing had happened. God won’t give up reminding us what he expects us to do. We are not really free to refuse.
If this is what you wanted to say, Timothy, then please say it like this. Don’t turn it into a formulation that hurts everybody who does not believe in the Bible as a clearly written printed edition of God’s will.
This link didn’t really calm down my worries regarding my big question.
And then another friend, who radically turned away from Christianity some years ago after having grown up in a traditional orthodox family, sent me another link:
An article by Michael Dowd, author of the book “Thank God for evolution”.
The article starts with a quote from Rudolf Bultmann, “one of the major figures of early-20th-century biblical studies, a prominent critic of liberal theology (…) and a proponent of dialectical theology”:
“God is not a person; God is a mythic personification of reality. If we miss this we miss everything.” – Rudolf Bultmann
Michael then pleads in a brilliantly clear language for an “evolutionary understanding of the divine”. Some quotes:
All religions offer maps of what’s real and what’s important.
Religion is about right relationship to reality, not about the supernatural.
Darwin didn’t kill God. To the contrary, he and Alfred Russel Wallace offered the first glimpse of the real Creator behind and beyond the world’s myriad mythic portrayals of reality.
Whenever any story or any scriptural passage claims that “God said this” or “God did that”, what follows is always an interpretation–specifically, an interpretation of what some person (or group of people) thought or felt or sensed or wished reality (life / the universe) was “saying” or “doing,” and almost always as justification after the fact or to make a theological point. Such subjectively meaningful claims are never objective, measurable truth.
[T]he only place that the so-called supernatural realm has ever existed has been in the minds and hearts (and speech) of human beings–and only quite recently.
(quoting Benson Saler:) [T]he very notion of supernatural–in opposition to the natural–is a Western invention. The “supernatural realm” only came into being as a thought form after we began to understand things in a natural, scientific way. Only when the concept of “the natural” emerged was it deemed necessary by some to speak of “the supernatural”: that which was imagined to be above or outside of nature.
After all, supernatural and unnatural are synonyms. Anything supposedly supernatural is, by definition, unnatural. (…) It should not surprise us that young people en masse are turning their backs on religion and that the New Atheists are riding bestseller lists when “the gospel”, God’s supposed Great News for all of humanity, is reduced to this:
An unnatural king who occasionally engages in unnatural acts sends his unnatural son to Earth in an unnatural way. He’s born an unnatural birth, lives an unnatural life, performs unnatural deeds, and is killed and unnaturally rises from the dead in order to redeem humanity from an unnatural curse brought about by an unnaturally talking snake. After 40 days of unnatural appearances he unnaturally zooms off to heaven to return to his unnatural father, sit on an unnatural throne, and unnaturally judge the living and the dead. If you profess to believe in all this unnatural activity, you and your fellow believers get to spend an unnaturally long time in an unnaturally boring paradise while everyone else suffers an unnatural, torturous hell forever.
(Reminds me I don’t believe in that Gospel!)
(quoting Bultmann:) we see an enigmatic power operative in our everyday lives, giving us our life and all good gifts yet also limiting us in nearly every conceivable way, and finally taking our lives away. This is real life! This is reality as it really is, whether or not we like it. There can be no argument whether or not this reality exists. If you don’t want to call it a power, call it a force, an up-against-ness, or simply the universe as it really is. As Bultmann points out in his essay, we are not talking about some metaphysical idea here. We are talking about an unavoidable actuality. Words may fail us, but we all know this reality intimately, personally.
it matters how we name what is undeniable so, how we think about the inevitabilities of life, because our naming will influence how we will relate to our own finitude – indeed, to all aspects of our lives. If we call this enigmatic power or force, “the devil”, we are thereby proclaiming reality to be fundamentally evil and untrustworthy. Such a stance toward life can only lead to despair.
(Fits well with About names and languages.)
But despair is not the only option. Bultmann suggests that faith has nothing to do with beliefs; it’s about trust. Trust that reality is okay just as it is. Reality is not too tough for me; I was made for reality! This trust gives meaning to our lives. For me to look into the awe-filling fullness of life and pronounce the name “God” means a commitment of my life to reality-based living. That’s why I say, Reality is my God, evidence is my scripture, and integrity (living in right relationship with reality and helping others do the same) is my religion. Life as it really is, with all its warts and glory, this is the primary object of my trust, my loyalty, my love.
(Fits well with About faith.)
I foresee the concept of a “personal God” imaged as an unnatural being with the best and worst of human traits–now the hallmark of evangelical Christianity–being replaced by a reality-based view of God within a few generations. Despite how it appears in the Bible, ultimate Reality does not have the deranged personality and character flaws of a Bronze Age warlord. Indeed, evidence suggests that God has no character traits or personality at all, other than what we embody and/or project. God is a personification, not a person. This fundamental shift in the ‘root metaphor’ of the Abrahamic traditions will, I predict, be seen historically as perhaps the greatest theological transformation in millennia. This shift, and what follows naturally from it, will also go a long way toward reconciling science and religion. It will do this not by accommodating science to religion, but by naturalizing, REALizing, religion. This shift leads to a serious upgrading of our map of reality. It opens the door to thinking about “God ways” and “God’s guidance” via science rather than ancient texts. In the words of Frank Lloyd Wright, “I believe in God, only I spell it Nature.”
(Fits well with The future of Christianity)
Why did I quote so much? Because this text expresses so well everything I have come to think during the last twenty years regarding my big question. So here is my new favourite pair of names for “the two camps of Christians”: Reality-based versus Scripture-based faith. I updated my page A beginner’s guide to Christianity.
Oh, and I see that he also fights against Bible idolatry:
Currently, I’m on a crusade to counter our culture’s rampant idolatry of the written word. In practice, this means that, like the New Atheists, I am prone to point out the scriptural injunctions in my own tradition that modern sensibilities rightly recognize as morally repugnant. – Michael Dowd, Idolatry of the Written Word
My summary for today: Should I continue maintaining this website? ? Yes, of course, as long as I feel like writing down my thoughts about God and the world. But only as long as it helps me to grow, and not because I am going to deliver something the world is waiting for.