Tuesday, July 14, 2009

When Questions Are Too Big

Father Stephen -- I assume he's the only one since the name is not further qualified, just as I assume that I am the only "Dale" who does any blogging -- is in a scolding mood about the ways Christians who aren't wearing his frock are abusing the revelations imputed to his favorite god:

Some years ago I recall the story of an Episcopal priest who ... saw himself as Jonah – his Church as the sinking ship. The only way to save the sinking ship was to throw Jonah overboard. It seems not unlikely that whatever was the case, he needed to resign his position. But the story of Jonah is not about throwing priests overboard to save “sinking” congregations ... The problem with such use of Biblical imagination is that it simply has no controlling story. Nothing tells us which story to use other than our own imagination (which is generally a deluded part of our mind). A governor gets to play King David, and, surprise, he should be forgiven and not resign his office. A group of white settlers get to play conquering Israelites and feel no compunction about murdering men, women and children. A priest, likely in need of therapy, plays the role of Jonah before a crowd who has no idea they are in a play. The gospel is not preached – souls are not saved – the Bible is simply brought into ridicule ... Scripture is relevant. However, its relevance should not come as a personal revelation that tells us which character we are within its pages. Such games seem frightfully like the games on Facebook: “Which ancient civilization are you?” or some such nonsense.
If I recall correctly, the Facebook quiz in question pegged me as Ancient Greece, but I digress.

I have no rooting interest in the theological dispute that Father Stephen discusses, but the dispute itself strikes me as an indictment. According to the orthodox timeline, we are closing in on the 2,000th anniversary of the supposed death and resurrection of Jesus, and even after that length of time, professing Christians cannot decide amongst themselves how to settle this question.

It is no small question, as Father Stephen indirectly observes: on it turns whether their god, whom they hold to be the exclusive patent-holder of life, the universe, and everything, allows them to relate to the Bible's characters, themes, and narratives, and if so, how.

Is it acceptable to see yourselves as god's chosen and sunder a continent, or is it not? It it acceptable to treat the story of Jonah as an exemplum for your life and career choices, or isn't it? If you're a philandering governor, may you or may you not cite the precedent of King David's philandering to excuse yourself?

WWJD? Would Jesus consider 'WWJD' to be a proper question for his followers to ask?

Two thousand years of unresolved infighting over such fundamental questions suggests the answers will not be forthcoming in the next several thousand. True, there are many similarly unresolved questions in the humanities, and this fact does not condemn the study of the humanities (according to me); but there, nothing as grand as Mankind's Salvation versus Mankind's Damnation rests on the outcome, nor do those disputes begin with the shared assumption of a controlling authority who holds, in fact and in principle, the singular right answers.

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