Sunday, April 02, 2006

Oy, where to begin?

I just posted the comment below on this thread at Street Prophets. You'll have to read the thread to know what I'm talking about, but when you do, you can come back and make sense of my response. Or not. This is one issue upon which I definitely don't have any answers, and I'm not sure I even like the issue very much.

But it's worth thinking about. Here's my comment (you may need to skim the comments at Street Prophets to understand even this, come to think of it; but the remarks all come in response to the original post, so that might make it easier):

Idolatry? True, that's a matter of the beholder. The Orthodox Christian sees windows on eternity; the Reformed tradition Christian sees the idols condemend by the Hebrew prophets. Some Jews even forbid representations of humans as idolatrous, as we are made "in the image of God."

Go and please the world.

Membership? What does church membership mean? You must pay dues? You must come to church every Sunday you are in town? You must tithe, accept the leadership of the priest/pastor, vestry/church council? You must volunteer? You must believe?

I had a neighbor once who was, in practice, the most Christian person I've ever known. If we judged solely by behavior, he was a Christian, no doubt about it. Kind, caring, sympathetic, generous with his time and talents. He was also an avowed atheist. We had stimulating discussions on the issue of God, and had to agree to disagree. And we still loved each other. Could he be a member of a Christian church? What would it mean if he was?

Is Church about faith, belief, doctrine? Or is it about behavior? Oy, now we're entering ecclesiology and traversing soteriology, not to mention implicating Christology and pneumatology.

Are we having fun yet?
Another issue that comes to mind (you see how open ended this can be): is it fair to call Jensen a doubter? I appreciate Jim Rigby's distinction between atheism and antitheism, but I'd thought agnositicism had already filled that gap, and atheists had decided there is no "god" to worship.

Which, you see, raises even more interesting questions. What is church for? How do you worship something you don't believe in? (Why would you worship it is a question for Mr. Jensen.) And I have to say that here, Rev. Rigby just wades into something he really can't explain very well:

The problem with most religious discussions is that we are usually swimming in a sea of undefined terms. What sense does it make to ask whether God exists if we don't define what we mean by the term "God." For some it's easier to reconcile themselves to the universe by picturing a large person overseeing the process, while others reconcile themselves to the ground by using impersonal elemental images. These approaches are in conflict only when we forget what we are trying to do in the first place, which is to harmonize with the ground of our being.

Locke and Kant struggled to identify the ultimate categories that shape human perception, which is also the business of religion. We cannot think about being itself because it is too basic. We are like flowers that emerge out of a soil too primordial to be understood in plant terms; we can neither speak about the ground of our being nor ignore it. Religion is a kind of art that reconciles us to the ground from which we emerge.
First, it's Paul Tillich who gave theology that "ground of being" talk, and I've never liked it. It's pseudo-phenomenology, and it's very weak stuff. True, Heidegger and Husserl can be nearly incomprehensible in their discussions of "being," but it isn't that we can't talk about the subject, any more than we can't talk about God. There is an apophatic tradition in Christianity ("negative theology," which says we can only say what God is not) but clearly that is not a wholly satisfactory answer to the question: "How do we speak of the transcendent and ineffable which is also active in creation and human history?" Nor is it really sufficient to say religion "is a kind of art that reconciles us to the ground from which we emerge." But it is a nice, fuzzy way of excusing making an atheist a church member.

Which brings me back to the question of church membership. What is it for? Why do we have boundaries around who is "in", and who is "out," of church? What is that all about?

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