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Sunday, May 23, 2010

Faith and Reality

Crucifixion (Corpus Hypercubus) by Salvador Dali, 1954

Today I just had to swipe the painting - one of my great favorites - and this excerpt from Andrew Sullivan - also one of my great favorites, I guess you boys know - because both are so fitting, so apt, for where I am now:
Christianity is in crisis - and in a deeper crisis, in my view, than many Christians are allowing themselves to believe. I start from a simple premise. There can be no conflict between faith and truth. If what we believe in is not true, it is worth nothing. The idea that one should insincerely support religious faith because it is good for others or for society is, for me, a profound blasphemy if you do not share the faith yourself. I respect atheists and agnostics who reject faith; I find it harder to respect fundamentalists - of total papal or Biblical authority - because of the blindness of their sincerity; but I have no respect for those who cynically praise religion for its social uses, while believing in none of it themselves. . . .

No educated Christian today can deny that the scriptures we have - copies of translations of copies of copies of oral histories - are internally and collectively inconsistent, written by many authors, constructed in specific historical contexts, reflecting human biases, and supplemented by several other gospels that at the time claimed just as much authority as those gospels eventually selected by flawed men centuries later. Anyone who believes that the Holy Spirit automatically guides every church leader to the perfect truth at all times need only look at the current hierarchy to be disabused of such childish wish-fulfillment; or cast an eye on church history for more than a few minutes.

So the solid architecture of the faith we inherited has been exposed more thoroughly in the last few decades than ever before. There is no single authoritative text, written by one God, word for word true. There is a much more complicated series of writings designed by many men, doubtless under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, that help us see some form of the figure Jesus through languages and texts and memories. I think the character and message of Jesus are searingly clear and distinctive even taking into account that daunting veil through which we are asked to see. But we can only begin to see this once we have understood the veil that both obstructs and made possible our view.

The same, I think, is true of the papacy as an alternative to Biblical literalism. This is in some ways a more durable defense against logos than Biblical literalism, but it is just another form of fundamentalism, deploying total obedience to total authority as an alternative to a living faith that can both doubt and yet also practice the love of God and one's enemies, Jesus's core instructions. I do not see how the limits and flaws of such total authoritarianism could have been more thoroughly illuminated than in the recent sex abuse scandal. When the man whose authority rests on being the vicar of Christ on earth consigns children to rape rather than tarnish the image of the church, he simply has no moral authority left. Yes, his position deserves respect. But its claims to absolute authority have fallen prey to the human arc of what Lord Acton called "absolute corruption".

So we are left in search of this Jesus with a fast-burning candle in a constantly receding cave where we know that at some point, the darkness will envelop us entirely. We will catch Him at times; He will elude us at others. We will have to listen to many words he may have spoken before we can each discern the words he may have meant; we will have to keep our eyes and ears open for science's revelations about the world, while understanding that science is just one way of understanding the world and that poetry, history, and practical perspectives have things to tell us as well. The cathedral at Chartres; the long story of Christian debate and theology; the rituals and daily practices that help us stay trained to intuit the divine we cannot understand and the divine we do not always see in every face around us: these too tell us things that go beyond fact, archeology and hermeneutics.

Yes, this intellectual sifting is hard and troubling to faith; yes, it may end with more mystery than clarity. But if our faith is to be true, it must rest on something more than denial of reality. It must rest on being the greatest experience of reality.
I would add only this, and I think Sullivan would agree: the fact that in every age and every clime, in every culture and society, a certain percentage of people are born gay instead of straight; that it is not an illness, a mental disorder, a perversion, or a choice; that it is not the result of demonic influence or bad parenting; that it is as much a wholesome variety of nature, of the universe, as a red rose or a yellow one; that gay people are fully as capable of love and devotion, of self-sacrifice and service to the greater good as any straight person is; all this is part of reality also, which faith to be worthy of belief must acknowledge and value as it values all that is truly human.

Jesus - truly God and truly man - knows the reality of all things, and is reality, the ultimate fusion of spirit and flesh, divine and terrestrial, mortal and immortal, all that is or was or can be. Take it as theology or philosophy or poetry:  this I believe.


Mareczku said...

This was excellent. Thank you for sharing it. You comments were right on also.

M. Pierre said...

emotion in check, im back to my wordy self again..
forgive me in advance for how many words..
I cannot agree more with Sullivan here, I do see Christianity in crisis in the past few decades. Within any understanding of God, the faith must be an honest faith. And an honest faith should realize that any understanding of God is only a partial understanding of an unlimited Divinity that no earthly mind can ever conceive of.
I’ve often taken issue with the two things mentioned here, Fundamentalism, and Papal authority, for this reason: anytime any group or person for that matter tries to put an omnipotent, unlimited God into a limited box, and then claim authority and teach from that box, be it the Bible, or Papal authority, they are nothing less than hubristic. Was this not the sin of Lucifer? I’m one to always seek answers, I just always want to know. But Divinity is by nature mysterious to my human condition. I can believe and know some, but surely never all. And all questions can never be answered. So when anyone claims to have it all in a neat package, they have to work hard in defense of that package, and the more it’s touted as totally correct, the more theologizing defenses have to be invented, the more twisted it becomes. And the tighter it’s held on to, the more the truth will seep out of the sides sooner or later, and either set them free if they embrace it, or ruin them if they deny it, and they will be cast down.
And the only truth is …there is no body of total understanding about God that will ever be known to us, or ever be the authority of Divine mystery. Nothing we are able to experience here can ever “contain” the totality of God.

Russ Manley said...

Mark - glad you liked.

MP - yes, God is bigger than the Church, bigger than the Bible, more than we can comprehend; but yet God is Love, and that's the essential thing to understand.

dave said...

Right - no conflict between Faith and Truth. They are both bigger than we can comprehend. The way we begin to do so is through love.

Russ Manley said...

Very well put, Dave.

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