We are beginning Ellul's Anarchy and Christianity. To set that in the context of our last six months' explorations, I offer the following.
To summarize where we’ve been, and why we’re here now:
In the grand scheme of things (MY grand scheme, such as it is) we have explored cognitive science – trying to have some idea of how this brain of ours works, especially with regard to religious impulse. Then we heard one of the leaders of the New Atheist movement – Sam Harris – as he called for renunciation of all religion, but especially fundamentalism, to be replaced by reason. He made room for spiritual, even mystical experience, and morality too, but all to be achieved by scientific research. Just for fun, here’s a great video of Steve Martin and the Step Canyon Rangers, performing “Atheists Don’t Have No Songs.”
Haught took aim at scientific naturalism like that of Harris, alleging that scientific, purely materialistic reason could not completely explain human experience. Something beyond us – God, we might say – beckons us on to emerging experiences. Human intelligence emerging from unintelligent matter, he said, was the greatest evidence for the existence of a god.
Our brains seem to be wired – or is it conditioned, a matter of contention – to be on the lookout for agents (natural or supernatural) acting in the world, from what can easily be explained (I shank a golf shot, I feel rage) to what provokes speechless awe (a view from the Hubble telescope) and seemingly defies explanation. Especially for people who, like me, whose brain is getting more clogged up every day. (Time to Defragment.)
Looking for a sufficient agent to account for our reality, we posit a God, or at least most people have. If I am prepared to explore that possibility (and have not ruled it out before giving the idea a chance – Haught’s charge against the scientific naturalists) then the next question is which God? -- the human race having come up with a variety of options.
Living where we are, we naturally look first to the Christian faith. And run smack into some ridiculous claims by its more vocal followers. Like the world is only 6K years old. And we hit a book that in places describes God more like an angry child than like a God I want to follow. Like when your son rebels, have him stoned – that’ll teach him.
Put off by the literalists – here I point you to this great sermon by one such practitioner, on a passage of interest especially to males, er, men -- many of us have dismissed the Bible and Christianity altogether. Thus , Marcus Borg’s contention that a modern person, without denying all that we have learned about science and culture and language, can read the Bible a new/old way.
Using the lens especially of metaphor, says Borg, modern people can reclaim a faith that is both intellectually sound and experientially satisfying. His book, Reading the Bible Again for the First Time, was an outline of Borg’s methodology and the faith he sees through a fresh reading of the Bible.
We now are looking at two contemporary theologians -- Jacques Ellul and John Dominic Crossan -- who put forth their understanding of Christianity, understandings that are quite different from mainline Protestant faith and, perhaps especially, Fundamentalists.
Ellul’s portrayal of faith is starkly contrarian – thoroughly and uncompromisingly opposed to “the Church” as expressed in Catholic and Protestant establishments. He says he has discovered nothing new – there have always been individuals and small movements who have protested against the authority of (and misdeeds of) institutionalized Christendom. Ellul’s understanding of Christianity is nothing like what we learned in Sunday School!