This is not an indication that I actually think we should abandon talking about God. Nor does it mean that I'm giving up Chrsitain doctrine of any kind. It might be a useful exercise. I think Dave had a good point that Christian language has become stigmatized. What do you think of when I say "Jesus love you and a plan for your life?" I think of you think "ho hum." Dave put up a challenge at a chruch he attends sometimes he told me about it. I said Ok I'm going to try it. It's just an experiment. To describe the Gospel with no standard Christian words about God or Jesus or being saved or anything. Here's Dave's thinking:
"Dave" on peaceful turmoil blog
Why Western Christians Need "no God."
What do you think of when someone mentioned the God of the Bible?
A fickle sky deity worshiped by a collection of allied city states from Bronze age Palestine that merged to become the ancient nation of Israel? Perhaps an image of an old white haired sovereign on a celestial throne?
Perhaps you think instead of socially conservative religious leaders and their political allies and the things they say in the name of God. Or various injustices of history committed in the name of God.
If you do think of such things, you are far from alone. But like my unsolicited advice to Western convert Buddhists (1), one can ask what may be obscured by such reactions.
This kind of reaction is something many Christians seem to be at a loss over. Here is one take on that loss.
All human knowledge and experience is mediated through and embedded within symbols and analogies, especially in the shape of metaphors. Knowledge and experience is also mediated by and has embedded within it moral (how things are/how things ought to be) and emotional content. This is all woven together into narratives or stories at the level of individuals, communities, and societies.
We are more likely to trust someone whose narrative has a structure and interpretation lines up with our own in key ways, or with whom we have more intimate social and emotional connections. Its reciprocal. If I trust you, I trust your worldview. If I trust your worldview, I trust you.
Religion offers, among others things, a communal response to the spiritual impulse (seeking connection and purpose through integration into higher orders of structure and meaning) rooted in an existential narrative (a story about why we exist). This narrative takes the forms of myth, a story connecting an ahistorical origin of a people ("Long ago..." "Before the world began...") to a moral vision of the contemporary world -- how the world is, ought to be, and will be.
In many contemporary, industrial, post-Enlightenment societies the symbols and images associated with Christianity, its mythology, and its ritual institutions have become problematic.
For those with little knowledge of the religion itself or of its theology and history, the symbols, images, and references to Biblical and non-Biblical stories of faith hold little meaning except for their association with the most visible aspects of Christianity such as televangelism, homophobic and sexist political tirades, and the sex abuse scandals.
For those with limited but intense exposure, such as people who grew up in a socially conservative and fundamentalist evangelical form of Christianity and abandoned it as ignorant, deceptive, or intolerant, the moral/emotional association with the symbols, images, and stories can be downright toxic.
Then there is the fact that some symbols and images and allusions to Biblical stories are so ubiquitous that the over-exposure dilutes anyone but the loudest/most visible interpretations, feeding into and reinforcing the views already described. Add in that this does not come with the widespread and developed sense of cultural literacy needed to make sense of or engage these ubiquitous elements the social smog surrounding Christianity becomes even thicker.
So is Christianity doomed? What can the Church try that it hasn't pursued already? Jump below the break to find out. (read more of Dave's essay)
Dave is an anthropologist. That explains it right? Here goes:
The nature of this religion thing is to discover and understand the basic problem or set of problems at the hart of being human. Human life is fraught with a problematic nature but it seems like the general brunt of our problems go back to the basis of being human. We are moral, we have a sort time then we are gone. While we are at it we are prevented form enjoying it not so much because we are too weak to get what we want but becuase we can enjoy what we have since we are wrestles and board and always worried.
Humans come to different ideas about the nature of the problem: imbalance with nature, sin that separates us form some sort of ultimate power, our relation to the stars or to higher powers, the size of our brains, or whatever. Yet the point is we all come to some idea that that there is a problem in "the human condition." A lot of it is grounded in human nature; greed, seeking power, violent nature, narrow minds. We seek a vantage point which can make sense of it it all and give us a way to overcome the constraints. Many find that sense of vantage point in the ultimate transfomrative experience. Studies show that such experience is effective in eliminating our depression, fear of death, sense of want or sense of meaninglessness.
These sorts of issues are not dwelt upon in our society today as they were several years ago. In the 60s it was considered all important to find a sens of identity, today that sense is ready made in the social class, ownership of possessions and knowledge of technology. I still think that if we scratch the surface those issue are just beneath.
The sense of transformation is mediated through narrative and ritual. This is where the specifics of the Christian tradition come into it. But before getting into that (which has to be spoken in standard Chrsitain parlance) we still need to cover certain ground, the nature of the transformation. Transformative effects can be found in many traditions but in the Christian tradition it's very specific. Of cousre transformation is related to what Paul Tillich called "the object of ultimate concern." This is exactly what it sounds like the thing we care about the most. It's not a material possession. We can't say our motorcycle is the object of ultimate concern even if that's where we put our focus. Obviously the ultimate concern is death, or perhaps eternal life. Tillich also links this sense with Being itself. That is to say the aspect of being that is eternal and necessary and that produces or creates all the contingent temporary aspects.
The transformative effect comes from a particular attention to the eternal necessary aspect of being. That particular relationship to the eternal necessary aspect of being is one of a realization of dependence upon that aspect, and a conscoiusness awareness of the sense of love connected to the consciousness of that aspect. This sense of love fosters commitment on our part; commitment to goodness and to values associated with such positive aspects of being.
At this point it's all been pretty veg and general. I think the price we pay for an economy language that shucks off baggage and tired images is that it become general and veg. That's not necessarily a failure of the experiment. It may not be possible to speak without standard phrases and not be veg and general. From this point one must introduce the concept of God and the Bible and Jesus if one's discourse is to verge into specificity.
How did I do?