Thursday, February 17, 2011

Revising the strategy.

I have had something of a revelation, and it's thanks to an unassuming speaker by the name of Chris Steadman who talked (nervously) to a small gathering at Elmhurst College. He is an evangelical-turned-"new-atheist"-turned-"can't we all just get along" atheist or "faitheist."

Two points Chris brought up piqued my attention. Here they are, with my elaboration.

First, the most obvious line dividing culture, and the true line, are not the same. The most obvious line is between belief and non-belief. But the true line is the line dividing totalitarians from pluralists. Those words need some definition. By totalitarians I'm not talking about Hitlers and Stalins. I'm referring to anyone who sees elimination of one's ideological others as the most desired outcome. And by pluralism I'm not referring to relativists, nor am I referring to pluralist theologies of religion. I mean simply that pluralists engage their others with a view toward cooperation, dialogue, and yes, disputation. But not elimination.

Second, Chris Steadman stopped hating religion when he stopped concentrating narrowly on the texts of religion and started engaging religious people. The text is not the doorway to understanding the people--the people are the doorway to understanding the text.

Let me address the first point with a hypothesis: A traditional Christian can be a pluralist. A pluralist can be engaged in persuasion, even evangelization; but the pluralist partakes in mission while possessing a gentle regard for human epistemology. The pluralist honors God's creation of time by allowing God's grace to make use of time as He sees fit. Moreover, the pluralist does not regard himself a completed project, impervious to sanctification from any instrument God sees fit to use. Far from it--the pluralist evangelizer operates as a wounded medic--a medic in need of a medic. He has something to offer, and something to beg for.

Moreover, traditional Christians can be pluralists when they acknowledge that their engagement with their ideological others should not be constrained to, or hampered by, the activity of evangelization. Traditional Christian pluralists ought to recall that cooperation and dialogue are equally important and inseparable. Evangelization should not be indulged at the expense of cooperation and dialogue.

Chris Steadman's second point captivates me for two reasons. First, it strikes me as a deeply Catholic idea. Books don't Reveal God. People do. Catholic theology understands that the Holy Bible is a vessel of Revelation that God gives in the form of flesh and blood. This happens unsurpassed in the Incarnation. But it also happens sacramentally, as a continuous ripple, in the life of the People of God, the New Jerusalem, via the Holy Spirit. This ripple is what Catholic theology calls Tradition.

The Catholic understanding of revelation is sometimes shorthanded as "Scripture and Tradition;" however, it may be better stated: "Scripture through Tradition." The Church (the whole People of God), as it actually lived and lives, is the lens through which the Bible is read as a living Word and not a dead letter.

Now, this kernel of an idea should be treated with kid gloves. It could be abused. In matters of Christian doctrine I am not a populist (revealed Truth does not obey democracy) nor a modernist (revealed Truth does not change based on the evolution of human culture; however, its expression can unfold and deepen with time).

In this, I regret that Chris Steadman and I would continue to be at odds in our assessment of same-sex activity and lifestyles. However, I hope that he can see this is not a personal condemnation on my part. I respect his conscience and his personal story, even while I critique the foundations of the axioms of the sexual revolution--and I do so as a flawed man, myself.

But there's another reason Chris's idea--that the people are the doorway to understanding the text--interests me. Because this principle can be applied to atheists as well.

One of my fundamental critiques of modern irreligion is that its apologists misrepresent secularism as being innocent of ideology. "It's not a religion. It's not a belief. It is the absence of a belief. We do not believe in any gods." This line of reasoning upsets my training in logic. If q = "A god or gods exist", and p is ~q, p remains a proposition.

Every proposition, whether an affirmation or negation, mundane or fantastic, entails and implies a host of propositions upon which it depends. These may be ordered into a hierarchy of dependencies, terminating in axioms.

The ruptures in western discourse that cumulatively gave birth to modern secularism are well-documented. For each rupture, one can detect an ideological mitosis into the competing axioms, which today have coagulated into the organisms we observe today as species of belief and unbelief. That those axioms have often submerged into the collective subconscious does not negate their reality.

For every believer's Paul, Augustine, Aquinas, Paschal and Von Balthasar, there is a non-believer's Feuerbach, Comte, Marx, Russel, and Sartre.

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