Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Concluding Unscientific Postscript, Part I

I snatched this up from a comment theodoric left today a few threads down (hard to keep track of what's new and old without just checking; I'm glad I did). He raises several interesting questions. Chopping it up would do it a disservice, so bear with it a moment. The response will have to run to several posts.

Sellick makes the usual valid points about fundamentalism, assuming the usual non-introspective position of the liberal Christian scandalized by the medieval worldview implicit therein.

In doing so, however, he neglects to explain how non-fundamentalist Christianity is still authentically Christian, and naturally so, since he's preaching to the choir.

It's the fundamentalists who believe in the saving power of the Gospel; you need that medieval cosmology in order to believe that there's something besides existential angst to be saved from.

The fundamentalists believe in the uniqueness and divinity of Christ, the only-begotten Son; they believe in the Virgin Birth; they believe literally in the Resurrection, the Ascension, and the Second Coming.

If you don't buy into Dark Ages science, you have to be telling yourself something along the lines of "there isn't a hell in the center of the earth, or anywhere else for that matter. Christ may be unique in that he was chosen by God to lead us into his Kingdom, but he wasn't actually born of a virgin, didn't actually arise from the dead, didn't ascend into heaven (because there's nothing up there to ascend into), and very likely he's not coming back."

That's a repudiation of the historic Christian faith. The actual faith of modern liberal Christians seems to be in another revelation out there somewhere beyond the horizon that will bridge historic Christianity to something that's not fundamentalism.

I appreciate your forebearance in tolerating me. You've stimulated a part of my brain that's basically been numb for the last decade.

Best wishes for happiness and transcendence in 2005.

The first question this raises is: is Christianity an historical religion, or not? That is, is it based in history, or merely in illusion, delusion, what have you? Which is, like most questions about religion and especially Christianity, an Hellenistic one.

The Greeks taught us to think in terms of facts, and to consider facts as the basis for our understanding of the world. Even Socrates, in that most metaphysical of the dialogues, the Phaedo, appeals to experiences and sensory data, for explanations of things as metaphyiscal and non-sensory as the existence and immortality of the soul (and so of an "after life"). His argument, in part, proceeds from opposites, something observable in the world, and in part from the very Greek notion: Ex nihilo nihil fit (out of nothing, nothing comes). But this application of reason to what is essentially (in every sense of the word) metaphysical, has given us headaches ever since.

To cut it short, for now: do we have to accept a medieval cosmology, in order to accept the gospel stories? Bultmann thought so, but he also thought the stories could be "demythologized," and their teachings saved. Shelby Spong is the latest proponent of that theology, although some process theologians like Shubert Ogden (Bultmann's student) try to carry it on, too. But does the physical universe alone convince us of the nature of God? Is the revelation of that nature wholly from the physical world?

It isn't clear that the Hebrews confessed the presence of God in nature until they started understanding the God of Abraham as also the Creator, something that clearly came after the promises to Abraham that established the covenant that gave the nomadic tribes which were later Israel (which means, by the way, "struggles with God") their identity as one people. It was the revelation to Abraham, in other words, that got their attention; not the thunderstorm. The Psalms, in particular, confess God the Creator known in creation, but that comes from the revelation of the Creator, not backward from creation to God. The latter is Plato's (and, largely, our) direction. It's a small thing; but the slight shift in direction makes all the difference.

This is just a beginning; not of a rebuttal, but preferably of a conversation.

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