Saturday, May 14, 2005

Christian Believing, Ch. 1: Not by Bread Alone

CB's Ch.1 takes the very existence of religion as a problem calling for an answer: whence religion? Will it wither away as modernity progresses? CB answers "no;" we are driven by nature to a spiritual awareness of the ultimate which is the root of religion.

One might object: from "we are driven to recognize the ultimate from the chaos of the world and our nature" it does not follow "there is something ultimate." Religion, even if unavoidable, might yet be false. CB devotes the next few chapters to that difficulty.

I. Foundations of Religion
We are, according to Westerhoff and Holmes, religious by nature--the drive toward religion is as natural as hunger, and like hunger, it is a desire. Chaos is an ever-present reality, and for most, it is unbearable. We naturally respond to unbearable Chaos with desire for Order. That longing for order is the origin of religion.

Seeking this Order, we end up seeking something other than apparent Chaos, and this "something other" is ultimate. We may become conscious of this ultimate order by (1) finding basic assumptions on which all human life is lived (as the assumption of order beyond/behind chaos) ; (2) discovering the limits of language, finding that we are conscious of what we cannot say, or imagine saying; or (3) finding ourselves dependent of something else which is n ot dependent on anything else.

Thus, we experience the holy, that within our experience which is infinitely more than we can explain, eluding our comprehension. The holy is a mystery; we not only fail to know of it, but we cannot know it--we are radically ignorant of it. The infinitude of the ultimate makes it holy and mysterious. Our nature pushes us in this direction; we are disposed not only to being rational, but to spiritual awareness, i.e. to consciousness of the ultimate, the holy, and its mysteriousness.

II. Religion Itself
One can take the holy as the source for meaning and coherence in one's life, or not. Doing so, the holy is sacred; one's life then expresses religion. One who fails to live religiously, failing to live in submission to the holy, lives in radical anxiety.

Expressions of religion are not equally good. Religion may serve the function of escape, or the function of involvement. Escapist religion denies or minimizes the holiness and mystery of the ultimate. Religion serves as a "safe harbor." It makes clear demands setting its people apart and assuring them of their superioirity to the Others, on the Outside. It gives answers that leave no questions, tending toward literalism (of text, liturgy, etc) and resisting intellectual critique. For the answers come from an infallible source. The faithful use religion as a means of manipulating the holy to serve their ends; religion is magical.

Religion of involvement affirms the holiness and mystery of the ultimate. The ultimate is surprising, making religion difficult and demanding; we cannot comprehend it, there is always more to the ultimate beyond what we know. Even so (as God's gift) reason is reliable, and we can use it to push back the horizon, becoming more aware of the ultimate. There is no question of manipulating the ultimate; believers must accept ambiguity. Given the mystery of the ultimate, he truth of anything said of it, P, depends on our willingness to let P "extend beyond our comprehension."

Escapist religion indulges in false mystery. Having evaded intellectual criticism, escapism needlessly mystifies. Only by accepting such criticism, only by involving itself in the arena of rational thought (e.g. science), can religion fulfill its moral witness to othe world.

III. my closing comments
Note the critical potential of these distinctions in light of the aftermath to GC2003. What does living religiously in faithful openness to an infinite God require of us in this dispute?
The Anglican Communion Network's theological charter holds (I.4) "We confess, hold, and bear witness that this sending, the work of the Holy Spirit in particular, is accomplished not through drawing us into new truths, but by binding us more fully to Scripture's remembered word...." Why can't the Holy Spirit reveal a new truth to us? Surely finite Scripture does not comprehend God; there is always more to God that we do not know. Is God then unable to speak? The ACN is escapist, trying to limit the unlimited.

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