Tag Archive for ‘Christianity’
There was a time when one could be assured that it was only the fool who denied the existence of God. No more. The revised biblical aphorism can now read, “The episcopalian minister has said in his heart there is no God.” Yes, the Very Rev. Gary R. Hall, Dean of the Washington National Cathedral, self-identifies as a non-theistic Christian, and he sees no contradiction. As a matter of fact, he revels in it.
Recently interviewed by the Washington Post, Mr. Hall related how he once told Richard Dawkins, “I don’t believe in the God you don’t believe in either.” He went on to add in the interview, “That kind of atheism, though, is bankrupt. It’s like picking a fight with a cultural image no theologian would buy into. I don’t want to be loosey-goosey about it…but I describe myself as a non-theistic Christian.”
A bit later, reflecting on the state of the church, he laments, “We’re in a period where people under 50 don’t see the church as a credible place to explore their questions about God.” Of course, he wants to change that, but as I write this blog post, I’m at a loss as to what kind of answers a younger generation should expect to get from a man like Hall? I suppose, in one sense, his non-theistic Christianity simplifies the solution to many historically nettlesome theological problems.
Let’s imagine, for a moment, a young adult inquiring about the “problem of evil”? Mr. Hall’s got a ready answer for that – God doesn’t exist, there is no problem of evil. What a load off.
What about the deeply ingrained human sense that there must be some purpose behind the universe, my life, the experiences I have? The answer’s easy – there is no meaning, God does not exist.
But in all seriousness, perhaps Mr. Hall is onto something. Maybe he is in fact the unwitting incarnation of the ultimate bankruptcy of liberal Christianity. Think about it–after years and decades of Christian liberalism trashing, mocking, and rejecting the supernatural, miraculous, and revealed nature of the Christian faith, what should we imagine you’d be left with?
Wouldn’t it be logical that you’d have a hollowed out shell of a Christianity devoid of God? A kind of perverse Christian atheism, with a non-theistic clergy tending its flocks? Yes, indeed, what’s God got to do with it?
Early on in the interview we’re told that Mr. Hall began his career as a comedy writer. Perhaps he’s attempting to stay true to his roots with his pastor as atheist schtick. The problem, however, is simply this: God’s not laughing. And I sincerely hope, neither are you.
Is anyone else weary of books promising to give us the “real Jesus”? You know, the Jesus before Christianity, the one stripped of all the superstitious varnish of the New Testament Gospels, leaving only a supposedly factual portrait of a 1st century Jewish peasant, inevitably re-imagined according to the preferences of the author? Well, there’s been another one written, and it’s climbing the best-sellers list: Reza Aslan’s Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, and, yes, the mainstream media is fawning over its author and what has been labeled his biography of Jesus.
The truth here is simple: Aslan is presenting nothing more than the same tired old re-reading of Jesus so common in the skeptical writers of the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries. There’s nothing new to see here. In fact, you probably already know precisely how this story goes—the Gospels are unreliable, Jesus was merely a man later deified by his followers, his death was the result of his incendiary challenges to Rome, etc., etc. Never mind the mountains of prestigious scholarship that actually validates the historical accuracy of the Gospel accounts and confirms their traditional portrayals of Jesus.
The only new ingredient, perhaps, is Aslan’s professorship in Creative Writing, which, according to some reviews, serves him well in writing the book in the style of historical fiction. But this last comment is perhaps the best launching point for summarizing just how to assess what the author has given us—Zealot is a fictional account of Jesus, heavy on the author’s own imagination, selective in its historical evidence, confident in confessing error as fact, and rooted in a long-line of liberal scholarship that dismisses the Christian faith as a fairytale. No wonder the media is salivating over it. How could they possibly pass up a popularly packaged, old school denial of the Christian faith? The answer is, they simply can’t. But those of us who know better can.
Perhaps you’re wondering what would motivate a non-scholar and non-historian like Aslan to take on a subject beyond his academic competence and about which there is no shortage of books peddling similar theses? Could it be that his Muslim upbringing, his emotionally charged conversion to and subsequent rejection of evangelical Christianity, and his return to the religion of his childhood provide a backdrop for Zealot? He says such things are irrelevant to his depiction of Jesus offered in the book. I’ll leave you to ponder the more plausible alternative.
On September 30, at 3 P.M., our longtime colleague and friend Joe Sobran passed away. This is the last column he was able to write for us, published in the July 2010 issue.
The liberal conscience is tormented, the liberal mind undone, by two stark realities. The first is that the global village is really a vast global slum; the second is that the modern communications system that created the “village” informs us on a 24-hour basis of unpleasant situations and conditions in remote places that we are incapable of changing, and that we should be better off never having heard about in the first place.
Few things in life are as clear as the futility of a real debate on the clarity of America’s religious origins.
“Debate,” I said? Lay a finger, unsuspectingly, on The New York Times Magazine‘s inspection of the attempt by so-called Christian fundamentalists to overhaul history textbooks, and you require treatment for first-degree burns.
The title of James C. Russell’s The Germanization of Medieval Christianity: A Sociohistorical Approach to Religious Transformation does not sound like the opening shot in a war against Christianity. However, ever since Sam Francis’ apparently glowing review, conservative neopagans, atheists, and Nordicists have trumpeted the book as proof that whatever virility existed in Medieval Christianity comes from the German element.
When are we finally going to catch on? No matter who wins today, someone else will win tomorrow. The question arises in terms of a pessimism deep and black that envelops conservatives: the opposite of that radiance in which liberals bathe as they await the advent of a hard-hitting liberal nominee to the Supreme Court and the enactment of health care, global warming-control, and heaven knows what other joys.
Condemnation, the wrath of God, patterns of personal holiness—for mainliners, meaning Methodists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Lutherans, Congregationalists, and the like, such stuff has the penetrating odor of mothballs and cedar chests. Sweet tolerance and gentle affirmation are the hallmarks of today’s mainliners.
So what is the real significance of Barack Obama’s victory? Pundits’ fingers and tongues have been flying, of course, scoring the triumph in a variety of ways: the terrible legacy of slavery and racism has been dealt a conclusive blow; the Democratic Party has displaced the Republicans as the party of Middle America; the nation has rejected the pro-war policies of the last seven years; etc., each with its grain of truth. At the same time, shell-shocked Republican fingers are pointing: McCain was too old; it was the financial crisis; it was Bush; it was Iraq; it was Tina Fey. But the real reason that the near-nobody Barack Obama bested the war hero and veteran senator John McCain was that the latter’s campaign was insufficiently messianic. More important than the black or white or Jewish or Hispanic vote, Obama took the messiah vote, that burgeoning segment of the electorate consciously or unconsciously looking for a savior, an ersatz Christ figure, who will deliver them from the oppressive burden of post-Christian existence.