Sunday, July 1, 2007

Life without God

In yesterday's Globe and Mail, in the book section, is a little thought by Michael Ruse, professor of philosophy at Florida State University. Citing Russell (Why I am not a Christian) and Hume (Dialogues concerning Natural Religion) and Edward O. Wilson (On Human Nature), he argues that our scepticism justified, we can move forward without religion.

I have not read Hume or Wilson, but I found my old copy of Russell who I loved when I first read him, and I love still as I reread some of it, for Russell was right in many things about sexual repression and lies, particularly the immorality of telling people things you know are not true about your own desire or history. In this sense, the Church is often the place of the lie. This is as true today as it was when Russell wrote. It is very clear in Romans 2:1: Therefore you [singular] have no excuse, O human, whoever you are, when you judge another; for in passing judgment upon another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things. Bibliobloggers - take note.

Russell has two criticisms of Jesus and Paul that are unmediated for him except through the Church's teaching. If the Church has already been found to be prone to error, perhaps a better mediator is required for the traditional interpretations of the 'failure of Christ's second coming' (Mark 13 and others) and the 'better to marry than burn' in Paul (1 Corinthians 7). Russell is likewise condemning of the Church's claim that it has bettered the lot of slaves or of women. Again, the Church may claim more for herself than is righteous, but that's the point of John 5, isn't it: that the witness to your truth is the act that God gave you to do.

The issue - and perhaps Russell and other philosophers get there (but not by philosophy), is that power is abused. Where is it not abused? By anyone who refuses to use it by whatever power that one can invoke to effect the refusal. I know of one such person who demonstrated that power in himself and by that very means shares such power with as many as receive him. (This answers both
1. realization - the question to me from Mark Nanos: why is the Messianic age not evident?
2. failure - why did he not come with power and glory in that generation?
but it does not justify for a moment acts of political self-protection.)

I read Russell and marvel at his accuracy but eventually, he is not satisfying alone. Such satisfaction, the completion of the work, and the word of salvation, do not come from human reason, marvellous and necessary gift though it is. I intend to find a way to mediate some of these understandings, for there is a right understanding, but it does not and cannot come from within human reason alone. It is there in the non-rational: poetry, music, dance, story, and the singers and the profane (three cheers for the choir וְשָׁרִים כְּחֹלְלִים Psalm 87:7) and other unspeakable gifts. [Hebraists - what do you make of the profane in Psalm 87?]

The story's the thing in which we'll draw the salvation of the king.

כִּי רוֹצֶה יְהוָה בְּעַמּוֹ יְפָאֵר עֲנָוִים בִּישׁוּעָה For the LORD takes pleasure in his people, he will beautify the poor with salvation. (Psalm 149:4) .

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