If the first talking snake had kept shtum, we wouldn't be here. Eve wouldn't have eaten the forbidden fruit. But she listened and was curious. So she fell into humanity, thank God. Good old snake, say I. I celebrate its independence of mind. Satan? Neh, that's a later interpretation. The snake was part of the divine purpose. God allowed it into the garden, aware of its linguistic abilities. He knew what would happen. Jesus commended dove-like innocence. AND the wisdom ... of the snake.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Everyone’s afraid, it’s called being human

Fundamentalists are visibly afraid. By that I don’t imply that the rest of us aren’t afraid too, or that we’re any braver than them, or even that we’re not afraid of exactly the same things. But fundamentalists seem to put their fears on public display in a peculiarly distinctive way. They leave us in no doubt what has to be true for them.

What are they afraid of? Creationism is not like a house that might have its roof blown off; more like a big balloon that could be destroyed with a single prick. That’s an anxiety-making kind of religion to have.

Here’s the logic, as found on a thousand message boards and websites. Find yourself a creationist to correspond with and you’ll hear something like this, probably sooner rather than later. God created the world in six days, each of them 24 hours long. That’s what the Bible says and the Bible’s true. If Genesis 1 isn’t true, or if it’s only a story, then maybe the Fall narrative is only a story as well, and on that basis who knows what else might be only a story? Sodom and Gomorrah? The raising of Lazarus? When does the erosion stop? Where’s the dependable reality that will stand your full weight?

Besides, there must have been a Fall or we wouldn’t need a Redeemer, which we obviously did since God sent us his only Son for this very purpose. Without redemption we’re sunk, i.e. we’re not going to live forever because the curse of Eden took away human immortality; but Jesus undid the curse by his sacrifice on the Cross. He proved his victory over sin and mortality by rising from the dead (in the Bible, therefore true) and so will we, so long as we’re true believers. If we’re not true believers - which on a typical fundamentalist definition excludes most of humanity - we’re still going to live forever only we won’t enjoy it one bit.

God has told us this in his Word, which since it’s divine is infallible. Find one mistake in it, prove for example that all but an ark-ful of the world’s animals were not destroyed in a global flood, and the Bible’s entire credibility is shot to pieces. So Christ might not have redeemed us after all, might not have risen from the dead, and who knows - when we die it will be like falling asleep, never waking up, and never knowing we haven’t woken up. Consciousness seems biochemical, an aspect of brain function; brain stops working, end of story, surely? Well, most people want that not to be true and fundamentalism seems to guarantee that it isn’t true; but the operative word is "seems". The guarantee is illusory and spiritual adults must acknowledge that. Castles in the air provide no shelter from storms on the ground. Faith is about not being sure, but hoping for the best. For God’s best, which will not be what we imagine.

This is Holy Week, my alter ego is preparing worship for Good Friday. I’m thinking of a man facing inevitable, agonising death and wondering what that felt like. Perhaps he knew that God would raise him but there’s more than one take on that; the Christ of Gethsemane seems distinctly lacking in blessed assurance, and connects with our own experience as he rarely does elsewhere, for that very reason. I’ve struggled with this all my life and still do. Here’s Philip Larkin developing the theme of existential dread:

... the total emptiness for ever,
The sure extinction that we travel to
And shall be lost in always. Not to be here,
Not to be anywhere
And soon, nothing more terrible, nothing more true.

This is a special way of being afraid
No trick dispels. Religion used to try,
That vast moth-eaten musical brocade
Created to pretend we never die,
And specious stuff that says: No rational being
Can fear a thing it will not feel,
not seeing
That this is what we fear - no sight, no sound,
No touch, or taste or smell, nothing to think with,
Nothing to love or link with,
The anaesthetic from which none come round.

Most things may never happen: this one will,
And realisation of it rages out
In furnace-fear when we are caught without
People or drink. Courage is no good:
It means not scaring others. Being brave
Lets no one off the grave.
Death is no different whined at than withstood.

Larkin, "Aubade", Collected Poems

I am less than charmed at having religion described as a moth-eaten pretence, but Larkin takes us to the heart of human darkness where fundamentalism cannot light the way, nor any other set of bland propositional absolutes. Yet faith is still possible. What brings me round, lifts me out of morbid preoccupation with my own extinction, are those unbidden moments of transcendent trust in Julia of Norwich’s simple statement that all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well. Mozart moments, Dervaig to Fionphort moments. Imprecise, beyond proof, yet grounded in Christian truth.


Blogger xopher_mc said...

Mr snake,

Are you not willing to determine a norm for theology. Much as I would agree with you critique of an infallible book. You have yet to state what you think should deterimine a christian's theological outlook.

have you read any N. T. Wright or Barth?


3:01 pm  

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