Friday, December 12, 2008

Reaction #4: The Templeton Big Q--Does Science Make God Obsolete?

On one level it was unkind to set a trap for a fellow commenter (see previous post). My interlocutor fell for the trap, thereby demonstrating the substance of my claim, but he did not fail to question my questionable tactic: In fact, he accused me of hypocrisy, claiming it to be "the worst of New Testament sins." It was that accusation that I found challenging, and that I want to address now, by asking whether there is another level to consider.

"Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, self-control": if those traits are to characterize a Christian, then it would appear that the charge of hypocrisy is correct. Should I have let the disparaging and prejudiced comments go unchallenged? One response is that if I had to say unkind things in order to address my interlocutor, that a person committed to kindness, love, peace, patience, etc. would forgo comment. But if so, whenever "the truth hurts" Christians should avoid it in discourse with others. Whether that is always or ever true is a hard question--one that cannot be dealt with flippantly--and it threw me. Moreover, it may well have led to one (the?) reason that my comment in response was not published: It was a tepid response (I have no record of it).

A variety of questions need to be asked. To begin, is hypocrisy "the worst of New Testament sins"? A superficial reading of the NT might seem to indicate that, since Jesus railed against the religious authorities of his place and time for exhibiting it. And yet in every case that I can think of the evident motive for the railing is an oppressive use of religion to benefit religious authorities at the expense of the people they were to serve. Thus a self-serving attitude replacing the law of love is the source of Jesus' outbursts. The hypocrisy is manifest in holding the people to the letter of the law when the authorities let themselves off the hook. Thus Jesus' examples of a sheep falling into a well, David raiding the Temple, and deliberate healing on the sabbath, all contravene religious law as a barrier to the underlying law of love. (Matt. 12, et al) It is not hypocrisy, per se, but hypocrisy in the service of selfish , loveless religiosity that Jesus opposed, and so vituperatively!

In that case, harsh words from Christians can be appropriate when they serve the law of love.

But was that the case in my criticism of Mr. Cozijn's statements? If only it were the law of truth and not the law of love, I would be exonerated! But what The Sermon on the Mount tells us to "let shine" is "good works."

Luther famously opened the "hard nuts" of scripture by "throwing them on the rock of grace." Today the hard questions that scripture presents us with should, I think, be thrown against the rock of love.

Interpreting the New Testament today requires a thoughtful person to choose between faithfulness to the literal words of the text and faithfulness to the example that Jesus set. Jesus was kind to so-called "sinners," but he railed against religious hypocrites. No one is faithful to the bulk of scriptural laws and prohibitions. Therefore, to choose the horn of the dilemma "faithful to the text of scripture or the example of Jesus" that aligns us with the letter of the law rather than Jesus' example of loving inclusiveness makes us the kind of people that made Jesus mad--pure and simple.

[For interesting commentary on this go to Richard Beck's Experimental Theology blog and read his posts on Daniel Friedman's To Kill and Take Possession: Friedman's book makes the argument that moral progress can be traced in scripture. If so, for Christians it must be the example of Jesus in the context of their culture that is relevant. That is the crucial question today's Christians must face, and the answer is clear...]

If I set a trap for Mr. Cozijn that exposed his prejudiced opinion of the Church, perhaps he will forgive me if I concede that he caught me in a trap too. I thank him for that.

One last post remains on my experience reading and commenting on the Templeton Foundations' Big Question ofthe continued relevance of "God."

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