In my last blog I said what we individual and collectively think about God—the strength or weakness of our faith—is based upon the pillars supporting belief in the idea, i.e., the Bible and Church teachings. If either, or both, of these are becoming less credible in the context of what we know and understand today (Modernity), the “idea” formed from these sources weakens. Faith is impaired. Personal religious doubt is the result, regardless of the rational truth, or not, of the idea itself. It is the Church’s responsibility to preserve the credibility of its pillars of belief. In the context of modernity this appears increasingly difficult. Unless correctable, our collective faith can only continue to weaken, further impairing the idea of a (Christian) God. I suggested that’s not a good idea. Why not?
I recently read a review of Ronald E Osborn’s new book, Humanism and the Death of God: Searching for the Good after Darwin, Marx ad Nietzsche. He suggests why it’s not a good idea to allow the idea of God to fail. “Philosophical naturalism” assumes everything can be explained by natural law. In its accounts of the human, God is expendable, as is all other mystery. Not only is this view mistaken, says Osborn, it’s a moral disaster. Osborn asks what it takes to sustain “humanistic values”—the conviction that human beings possess an “inviolable and ineradicable” dignity that entails the right to freedom and equality for all. That claim itself appears to me, biblically suggested or not, a pretty “modern” concept. The assumptions of modernity—“strictly materialistic science”—(the view that good and evil have no non-arbitrary substance and only reflect the wishes and influence of human minds) threatens these values, he claims. According to Mr. Osborn, the best available protection is the vision of human personhood associated with “Christian theological anthropology,” or as he later calls it, “theistic humanism”.
I believe Osborn is right, for today, but for the wrong reason. He is right simply because, today, humanity has no broadly accepted alternative explanation for why we are such as we are, aside from our largely Christian heritage here in the West. His reasoning that without the conviction of transcendence, how can we continue to foster and sustain commitment to the sanctity of every individual, high or low, favored or despised, rich or poor? is a plea to hang on, not let go of the past. But modernity is, I believe, demonstrating that the past is not up to the job of sustaining traditional faith in the transcendence as in times now mostly behind us. Mr. Osborn, among others, wants to recapture or revitalize our religious biblical faith. I wish I could agree with him that looking back is the proper path forward, but for an increasing number it doesn’t seem to be good enough.
Some obviously agree with his solution, and it is still widely pursued at the pedestrian or pastoral level of religious practice. This is not about to change in the short term. However, some don’t. And many of those who do not are in positions of learning such as to influence the upcoming generation of those who will lead us religiously. Nonetheless until there is some consensus regarding not only what we practice, religiously, and how, it behooves us to protect what we have, in our own self-interest, as skeptical as some may be.
I stand behind a couple of common sense reasons why: (1) you want to be sure you don’t throw the baby out with the bath water and (2) —to quote an old Bantu proverb—”If a man does sway with his traditional way of living and throws away his good customs, he had better first make certain that he has something of value to replace them.”
Therewith, in a nutshell, you have my reasoning for contending it is the Church’s responsibility to preserve the credibility of it pillars of belief in the context of modernity. If it proves unsuccessful in the eyes of its believers, we had better hurry and come up with that “something of value” to replace it. It’s more than just a moral issue, as Mr. Olson has seemingly positioned it. It is equally a matter of confidence of who and what we are in this world we inhabit; why are we here? I believe that’s the larger question; the one giving the Western Church such a case of biblical anxiety.