Monday, December 17, 2007

Advent Presents!

Grandmere Mimi sent me here, which very interesting article sent me here, Terry Eagleton's review of The God Delusion. (You should read both the article and the review; Eagleton is an interesting thinker. Of course, for those who want to believe journalism is better elsewhere, I would not that nothing in the article indicates a view of Jesus or the Gospels any different from what I learned in seminary, nor even as radical as liberation theology. Yet the reporter needs an angle, and Eagleton is still a Marxist, and what he's saying is not what you'll hear from the typical Anglican pulpit (I'm sure!), so....

Journamalism is journamalism. Still, it's an interesting article, and a nice gateway to an even more interesting review. Take just the opening paragraph of the latter:

Imagine someone holding forth on biology whose only knowledge of the subject is the Book of British Birds, and you have a rough idea of what it feels like to read Richard Dawkins on theology. Card-carrying rationalists like Dawkins, who is the nearest thing to a professional atheist we have had since Bertrand Russell, are in one sense the least well-equipped to understand what they castigate, since they don’t believe there is anything there to be understood, or at least anything worth understanding. This is why they invariably come up with vulgar caricatures of religious faith that would make a first-year theology student wince. The more they detest religion, the more ill-informed their criticisms of it tend to be. If they were asked to pass judgment on phenomenology or the geopolitics of South Asia, they would no doubt bone up on the question as assiduously as they could. When it comes to theology, however, any shoddy old travesty will pass muster. These days, theology is the queen of the sciences in a rather less august sense of the word than in its medieval heyday.
It's almost enough to make me feel sorry for Dawkins.

Almost. I do love the British idea of literary criticism. So much more blunt and to the point. I mean, this is just marvelous:

What, one wonders, are Dawkins’s views on the epistemological differences between Aquinas and Duns Scotus? Has he read Eriugena on subjectivity, Rahner on grace or Moltmann on hope? Has he even heard of them? Or does he imagine like a bumptious young barrister that you can defeat the opposition while being complacently ignorant of its toughest case? Dawkins, it appears, has sometimes been told by theologians that he sets up straw men only to bowl them over, a charge he rebuts in this book; but if The God Delusion is anything to go by, they are absolutely right. As far as theology goes, Dawkins has an enormous amount in common with Ian Paisley and American TV evangelists. Both parties agree pretty much on what religion is; it’s just that Dawkins rejects it while Oral Roberts and his unctuous tribe grow fat on it.
Well, it's Advent; I can do penance for enjoying myself in plenty of time for Christmas morning.

Yes, I've said much of this before, but not nearly as well. And yes, I am insecure enough to think that someone else saying it makes a stronger claim than my words could do. I mean, what have I already said about love, and how none of us can prove we love the object of our affections, we can only confess it? Listen:

It is rather to claim that while faith, rather like love, must involve factual knowledge, it is not reducible to it. For my claim to love you to be coherent, I must be able to explain what it is about you that justifies it; but my bank manager might agree with my dewy-eyed description of you without being in love with you himself.
I'd go one step further, of course; whether or not you accept my confession ultimately means something to me, only if you are a member of my confessing community. Which brings us back to Wittgenstein and the problem of language games; but it's too close to Christmas for that.

Just go read the whole thing, especially when Eagleton starts talking about Christianity instead of Dawkins. I don't say it all stands up to theological examination (theologians are the worst nit-pickers in the world!), nor, certainly, that it will convert the non-believer. But it is a lovely exposition on what is primarily the modern understanding of Jesus of Nazareth and his teachings, at least the one being taught in the better seminaries today.

And this line; well, this line I'm keeping:

The central doctrine of Christianity, then, is not that God is a bastard. It is, in the words of the late Dominican theologian Herbert McCabe, that if you don’t love you’re dead, and if you do, they’ll kill you.
Makes you really look forward to that babe in the manger, doesn't it?

*It's a hobbyhorse, in case you were wondering.

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