What I’ve learned from posting 110 posts on my godblog*

     Godblog1.   I’ve come to think about the Bible as symbolically dense stories about what it means to be one small, vulnerable human  on this earth for a little while.  It means that I am part of a larger story about what it is to live out the promise of the crucifixion and the cross.  The promise is that one day the world will end, and we, and with it all our suffering and loss, will be redeemed (parousia).  Trouble is, I’m not always sure what these words mean.

Albert Camus says that the absurd is born of the confrontation between human need and the “unreasonable silence of the world.”  I would say that Christianity (indeed all religion) is a conversation to fill that silence, still our angst, and so create meaning for our lives.  That we make the meaning we subsequently discover is fine, as long as we don’t think that it explains more than it does.  It doesn’t explain the mystery and wonder that is every human life. 

     2.  The ethics of Jesus Christ are the right ethics: love, humility, care for the widow, orphan, and stranger. These represent the downtrodden of today, such as the mother who can’t pay her rent and feed her children at the same time.

For forty years I taught ancient political theory, particularly Plato and Aristotle.  I learned a lot, but I learned almost nothing about the ethics of love and care, the Judeo-Christian ethic.  Love and care were simply not Greek and Roman virtues, though friendship was.  Without the Judeo-Christian tradition, Western civilization would be bereft.   

Jefferson’s Bible abstracts the ethical teachings of Jesus from its religious context.  Trouble is, that leaves open the question of “why?”, as in “why should I care about anybody but myself and my family?”  People don’t often say it so bluntly, but many people act as if this is what they believe.  Christianity has a good answer.  In loving others, we rehearse the love of God, who sacrificed his son so that we might live.

     3.  God is essential so that we do not become idolaters. It’s really that simple.  The only alternative to God is idolatry: of money, sex, power, self, the great leader, or whatever.  Václav Havel  had it just right.

The relativization of all moral norms, the crisis of authority, the reduction of life to the pursuit of immediate material gain without regard for its general consequences . . . do not originate in democracy but in that which modern man has lost: his transcendental anchor, and along with it the only genuine source of his responsibility and self-respect . . . . Given its fatal incorrigibility, humanity probably will have to go through many more Rwandas and Chernobyls before it understands how unbelievably shortsighted a human being can be who has forgotten that he is not God.

Continue reading What I’ve learned from posting 110 posts on my godblog*

Simone Weil: The Need for Roots

Simone Weil: The Need for Roots

Because she concentrates on the relationship between the individual and the universal, man and God, Weil generally regards the collectivity, society, as an idol.  Whether we know it or not, most of us worship this idol, which means thinking and acting the way people in our position in society are supposed to think and act.  The world begins and ends with the society in which we live.

The need for roots

It comes as a surprise, then, to see how important the community is to Weil.  The Need for Roots, was written during the early months of 1943; she would be dead by the end of that summer.  Weil argues that “to be rooted is perhaps the most important and least recognized need of the human soul.”  The damage that springs from rootlessness is the curse of contemporary life.  “Whoever is uprooted, himself uproots others.”

Though she spent a lifetime arguing against “the collective,” the Great Beast that is society, she recognizes that the collectivity is “the sole agency for preserving these spiritual treasurers accumulated by the dead.”  (Roots, 41, 45, 8).

Continue reading Simone Weil: The Need for Roots

C. S. Lewis is popular but wrong; we are not little Christs

C. S. Lewis is popular but wrong; we are not little Christs.

C. S. Lewis (1898-1963) was one of the most popular Christian writers of the twentieth century, and our century as well. Though he would have disliked being called a theologian, that is exactly what he was, even as he had no formal theological training. In fact, this is exactly what makes his works on Christianity so popular.  Mere Christianity, begun as a series of radio lectures during World War Two, is almost conversational in tone.  It is still taught in adult Christian education groups (Urban).  By the way, the fact that Lewis had no formal theological training does not imply that he lacked intellectual standing, having taught medieval history at both Oxford and Cambridge.  He also wrote the fictional Chronicles of Narnia.  Unless noted, all pages numbers refer to Mere Christianity.

Most critics of Lewis as theologian are Christian evangelicals, and others, who believe he was too loose with doctrine, such as saying that other religions might contain a portion of truth about God.  My take is somewhat the opposite.  He is too literal about what it means to follow Christ.  For Lewis it means to become “little Christs,” which to me makes no sense at all.  Nevertheless, there is a charm and simplicity to his religious writing which has no equal, though perhaps G. K. Chesterton comes close.

Continue reading C. S. Lewis is popular but wrong; we are not little Christs

Reinhold Niebuhr and the things that are not: leaving room for faith

Reinhold Niebuhr and the things that are not: leaving room for faith.

For a period in the 1950’s, it seems as almost half the State Department was quoting Reinhold Niebuhr.  But did they understand the man they were quoting?  They had reason to be influenced by Niebuhr.  His Irony of American History is generally considered among the most important books ever written on American foreign policy.   Arthur Schlesinger Jr. spoke for many agnostics in wondering whether Niebuhr’s wisdom on human nature had anything to do with his Christian theology (Crouter, p 96).

It’s important to understand what Niebuhr’s theology brings to his politics.  His theology not only adds; it is necessary.  Consider “The Things That Are and The Things That Are Not,” which takes its title from First Corinthians 1:28. The King James version that Niebuhr uses reads    

Yea, and things which are not [hath God chosen], to put to nought things that are.

The NIV translation reads

God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things–and the things that are not–to nullify the things that are. 

The NIV translation, as far as my weak Greek can tell, is better, for “things which are not” (tὰ μὴ ὄντα) is in this context not a philosophical term, but a category which includes things that are despised or contemptible. 

Continue reading Reinhold Niebuhr and the things that are not: leaving room for faith

It’s mostly good that the gnostic gospels didn’t make it into the Bible

sky-1122414_1920It’s mostly good that the gnostic gospels didn’t make it into the Bible.

Several decades ago, the gnostic gospels seemed to be making a comeback after a couple of thousand years of loss and neglect.  Elaine Pagels’ The Gnostic Gospels was published in 1979, and for the first time in a long time people outside the schools of theology began to talk about them.  Often favorably, as if the gnostic gospels contained a purer, less institutionalized form of Christianity. 

I bought into this in a vague way (most of what I thought about religion then was pretty vague), but recently I read The Nag Hammadi Scriptures, a collection of forty-six texts that are generally referred to as gnostic, though not all are.  One is a selection from Plato’s Republic.  Most seem to date from the second and third centuries CE, but the Gospel of Thomas, the most well known gnostic gospel, may have been written around the same time as the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke).  To make things complicated, the Gospel of Thomas contains both orthodox and gnostic elements.

After some more reading, I decided that on the whole I’m glad the gnostic gospels didn’t make it into the New Testament, or a new canon. 

Continue reading It’s mostly good that the gnostic gospels didn’t make it into the Bible

Verified by MonsterInsights