Monday, July 17, 2017

Two Topics On An Afternoon Too Hot For Gardening

I have pointed out several times that the observation that the source of egalitarian democracy and the positive attributes of what is, in my opinion, badly named as "modernism" comes directly from the Hebrew scriptures as transmitted through and with the Christian Gospels has been made even by atheists such as Jurgen Habermas and he's hardly the only one who has said that.  It's hardly an accident that such ideas arose where they did, among the people they did.  It is a direct result of their imagining  especially the economic and social justice commandments of the Mosaic books, the Prophets and the Gospel of Jesus in new terms, them addressing their own times and their own experience in consultation with the Bible.  It certainly informed the great reform movements of the 19th century in the United States and other places, the quintessential example of that in the movement to abolish slavery was certainly motivated and fueled by that, in the beginning of it and all through it. That fact remains as relevant for the great 20th century civil rights struggle, the greatest impact of which came through the Christian activism of the Black Church, other participating churches, many individuals including Jews and Muslims.  As those were pushed to the side as archaic, unfashionable and old fashioned, the progress stopped and, in time, was rolled back, an ongoing effort.

I was reminded by that when I listened to this short interview with Walter Brueggemann.

Here is my quick and dirty transcript of the beginning of it.

Interviewer: Well Dr. Brueggemann, thanks for talking to us at Georgetown College, at the reimagining faith conference.  I was wondering if you could summarize the presentation you gave here.

WB: I'll be glad to.  I must say that I'm glad to be at the conference and I'm glad to be on campus.  I started out by talking about the dominant imagination which I think is largely contained in market ideology. And so I think the challenge for us is to see whether we can imagine outside of that ideology.  And what I tried to do is to try to identify the prerequisites that you have to have in order to do that kind of subversive imagination.  And that I considered the book of Isaiah as an act of imagination outside of the ideology of the time and that I suggested some probes that we have to conduct in our own situation if we're going to try to imagine outside of the kind of dominant structure of imagination that is operative in our society.  I think it's an open question about whether we're able to do that but  do think that's what a Biblical faith invites us to do and equips us to do.  

Interviewer:  In your presentation you talk about - for this task of reimagining one of the foundational characteristics that you said is -- you have to have a generative tradition to try to help with that. Could you unpack that a little bit more?

WB:  The reason I tried to make that point is that I think that a reimagining has to be funded by a particular tradition, it cannot just be a generic, abstract set of universals.  And I think that the Biblical tradition is among the most generative traditions we have.  So I assumed in this conference on this campus, what it was legitimate to do was to talk about the Biblical tradition and, clearly, the Biblical tradition keeps generating new social possibilities if you look at the long stretch of the Biblical tradition over the centuries,  it is the tap root source of all kinds of revolutionary thought and revolutionary action and I think we say it is so generative because it's inhabited by the power and the Spirit of God.  So I think we need to turn back to that tradition and see whether it will energize us to fresh imagination outside of the structures of the day.

What that reminded me of, most, is one of the discussions I had which disillusioned me with Buddhism - though not the socially engaged Buddhist movement which is quite admirable - in which several self-declared Buddhists told me that there was no such thing as justice, that it, like all else, is a delusion.  My response was that I was quite sure if they were deprived of justice they would quickly notice the difference.  As I recall it, that happened about the same time I began to grow increasingly disillusioned with the Marxist and other major brands of secular leftism.   I've mentioned the shocking realization I had that someone murdered under Stalin or Mao or any of the lesser figures in Marxism were as murdered as any murdered under Hitler and that the excuse that Marxists were on the right side of history didn't change their character as murderers.   I think that large numbers of clean-handed, respectable Marxist and other such secular leftists would still be prepared to see millions die for their imaginary perfect future - such as the one that the Hollywood 10 and other heroes of popular leftism imagined Stalin's police state to be.

I do think that it's far more likely that a religious tradition that claims a status for human beings above mere objects, as possessing a real mind, free will, the possibility of free thought, the endowment of rights and moral responsibilities by God is far more likely to be the kind of generative tradition that Brueggemann talks about than materialist monism that reduces all of those categories to banal nonsignificance if not non-existence.  I don't think any tradition that doesn't hold those truths to be really and truly real in every sense has any chance of generating the kind of change real liberalism must consist of and work for with everything it has.  Such is the pathetic, impotent, routinely self-defeating and counterproductive,  secularist, leftism of the magazines (with a few articles here and there excepted), the media,  the arts,  the majority of academia outside of departments of Theology.

As a gay activist once said about the gay rights movement, we need an MLK, and we haven't had one.  We need more people to be MLKs and Diana Nashes and others.  I think we've got all the secularists we could possibly ever need, right now.


I was recently confronted with the threadbare atheist assertion that "most of the people in prison are Christians" which I'm sure you've heard made before.  Well, other than prisoners of conscience or prisoners of economic desperation who must break the law in order to live and provide a living for themselves and others, hardly any one is in prison for following the Gospels, at least in the United States or, so far as I can discern, Western Europe.  Of course many prisoners of conscience are there exactly for following the Gospel.

Image result for dr martin luther king jr in jail

But the Gospels, the Law, the Prophets contain prohibitions on killing, on stealing, on cheating, on defaming, on refusing to do justice to the widow, the orphan, the destitute, the alien among us, etc. which atheism does not have, at all.   Any professed Christians who are in jail as a result of breaking commandments and moral prohibitions contained and taught by Christianity are in violation of the religion they profess. THEY ARE VIOLATING NO MORAL PROHIBITIONS CONTAINED ANYWHERE IN ATHEISM.  Atheists love to claim that science "proves you don't need God" but what it is proven you do need God for is as a foundation for moral absolutes that don't dissolve in the erosion of self-interest and indifference.

Atheism has nothing in it to defeat the often heard rejection of moral obligations when those are asserted.  "SO?"  There is nothing in atheism that can even assert that someone is obligated to refrain from murdering someone which can defeat that argument if it is made on solely atheist terms.  If you make that argument for moral restraint to a professed Christian, they might still use that same "So?" but they couldn't do it and remain consistent with their professed religion.

No comments:

Post a Comment