Tuesday, June 12, 2007


You think the relationship between (deformed) religion and (degenerate) politics is pretty mad in the US and other parts of our beautiful, tragic world? Just imagine how it must look from an intergalactic perspective... Working for Change recently offered this amusing cartoon take on 'faith' and 'ideology'. The solution, it suggests, is to stop believing this rubbish. Quite right. But the real issue is: what could persuade human beings to stop chasing fantasies, whether in the name of religion or some other totalising claim?

Many early Christians were among the first to be given the honour of being called 'atheists' - because they refused to bow the knee to the Roman pantheon. What they disavowed was not the life-changing taste of unconditional love they had met in the community of Christ (a love so manipulation-free that they realised that it went beyond all human bargaining). Rather, they rejected attempts to reduce the gift/giver/giving of this love - the God beyond 'gods' - to 'religion', the kind of packaged spiritual system which proves itself amenable to bolstering self-serving political ambitions. Modern disbelief, on the other hand, seeks to fight superstition by refusing any notion of transcendent value, believing such a notion to be nothing more than unprovable metaphysical speculation.

This is a rather damaging category error, to put it mildly - but it is one the church kick-started itself. The reasons why and how this is so are set out by Michael J. Buckley in his subtle, compelling and significant book, At the Origins of Modern Atheism (Yale University Press, 1987). It is the ultimate 'baby confused with bathwater' story. For if the Gospel is to be believed (that is, tested and validated through prayer, thought and action - rather than dogmatically asserted), God is neither a metaphysical proposition competing for space with human reason, nor a tribal deity who sponsors our religious fantasies and props up our damaged egos. Rather, God, improbably enough, is best understood as the kind of vulnerable, inviting, non-coercive and costly love that we meet in Jesus; one who shows us in word and deed what it is like to experience life as a gift rather than a possession. [Thanks to Johan Maurer for the cartoon tip-off]

No comments: