Archives for: June 2011, 05
I wish I could recall the scholarly work from sometime in the last century. The poor fellow had devoted his entire professional life to proving the scientific possibility of each miracle in the Bible. He hoped to demonstrate to an increasingly skeptical world that Christianity was a sound belief system.
As a youth, I talked with my father about the man. We wondered if he had ever realized that he was working at cross purposes with faith. One theory the fellow had proposed was intended to make plausible the image of Jesus walking on the waters of the Sea of Galilee toward the boat of disciples. There could have been a lot of driftwood, the scholar had speculated. Jesus could have made his way by carefully choosing his steps. My dad told me of a comment from a friend that summarized the entire approach. He had closed his eyes, visualized the argument, and saw Jesus on a surfboard.
I greet the apparent conclusion of the long standing religious debate on this site with some regret. The exchange between T. Paine, the devout defender of faith, and John Myste, the confirmed agnostic, elevated and educated. It contributed to two long standing hopes I have held for years.
One is that we who are Christians will find, or perhaps confirm, a clarity that is often missing from religious debate. Sometimes we grasp at the most shallow of interpretations, failing to recognize profound insights. Too often the shallow extends to an embrace of raw bigotry.
Another hope is that this same clarity will clear away some of the failures of pop-Christian leaders promoted by a sometimes hostile or lazy media. When bigots are offered as representative of faith, faith is very properly rejected by those very people who might be most attracted to the real message of Jesus.
The requirements of bigotry vary from age to age. Today we must disbelieve evolution. We must hate gay people. We must hate Muslims. In other times we were required to torture Jews or endorse slavery.
I generally try to avoid defining social policy requirements for spiritual law. I confess to a certain smug satisfaction in watching a committed Christian chasing down Representative Paul Ryan, the Republican who transforms the Oppenheimer quote. "Now I am become death, destroyer of Medicare." The young Christian running after Ryan demanded to know why Ryan based his political philosophy on the atheistic Ayn Rand rather than the Jesus we learn about from the Gospel of Luke. (See below)
If I have one religious difference with T. Paine, it is that he speaks pretty much exclusively from a Catholic perspective. "Peter is thus realized by Catholics as the first leader of Christ's church on earth; the first pope." When you think about it, this is an understandable tendency. Most Protestants might take exception. But he does a more than reasonably good job of explaining God's love for all humanity. Complain as we might about some religious standards, abortion rights, marriage equality, or other church positions, they have this love thing nailed.
And the love thing is what Jesus implicitly and Paul directly say spiritual law is all about. T. Paine, conservative as he is, does seem to enjoy a unique ability to show us a rejection of the media definition of Christian theology: that Jesus loves you and joins in your hatred of Muslims, gays, Obama, and liberals.
Our friend, the ever witty and enlightening Mr. Myste, tends to blur the distinctions between literalists and non-literalists. That is understandable. He sees both as specifically ignoring, rejecting, or explaining away scripture that happens to be inconvenient. His view instructs the true believer. This is indeed one great danger to a thinking Christian. Prayer, meditation, and study are required, and we still will get a lot of it wrong. God, as Paul points out, is beyond our ability even to imagine. More generally, in my friend's view, Christians of all stripes share the twin flaws of editing scripture and accepting what to a clear thinker is an unacceptable faith.
It is mostly on this last that John and I part. Too much a gentleman to say so directly, he seems to hold, although regretfully, the philosophical ethic that it is sad or intellectually dishonest or possibly even immoral to believe what cannot be supported by evidence. I plead guilty to the offense and challenge the judgment.
The debate, while it lasted, never degenerated into the surfing-Christ level. Both debaters evidence a mutual respect and enjoyment of jabs from the other. Now that the debate has died, hope still lives.
Resurrection is possible. Our faith teaches that.