Intruding Upon the Timeless blurb, page 73
15 January 2008 17 Comments
Another blurb from Gregory Wolfe’s Intruding Upon the Timeless, from his essay Religious Humanism: A manifesto:
“On the face of it, the phrase “religious humanism” seems to suggest a tension between two opposed terms — between heaven and earth. But it’s a creative, rather than a deconstructive, tension. Perhaps the best analogy for understanding religious humanism comes from the Christian doctrine of the Incarnation, which holds that Jesus was both human and divine.”
“When emphasis is placed on the divine at the expense of the human (the conservative fault), Jesus becomes an ethereal authority figure who is remote from earthly life and experience. When he is thought of as merely human (the liberal error), he becomes nothing more than a superior social worker or popular guru.
The religious humanist refuses to collapse paradox in on itself. This has an important implication for how he or she approaches the world of culture. Those who make a radical opposition between faith and the world hold such a negative view of human nature that the products of culture are seen as inevitably corrupt and worthless. On the other hand, those who are eager to accommodate themselves to the dominant trends of the time baptize nearly everything, even things that may not be compatible with the dictates of the faith. But the distinctive mark of religious humanism is its willingness to adapt and transform culture, following the dictum of an early Church Father, who said that “Wherever there is truth, it is the Lord’s.” Because religious humanists believe that whatever is good, true, and beautiful is part of God’s design, they have the confidence that their faith can transform the works of culture.”
“One might ask why the incarnational balance of the human and the divine is not so obvious as to be universally accepted. The truth is that human beings find it difficult to live with paradox. It is far easier to seek resolution in one direction or the other; indeed, making such a choice often seems to be the most principled option.”
This speaks to a number of things I’ve learned and talked about in the past couple of years, particularly people’s inability to live with paradox, to live with mystery. We as humans seem to be personally in the business of adopting strict dogma — whether derived from our parents, our faith, our friends, our education — which we are compelled to defend to the death, not willing to hear let alone consider feasible alternatives to our personal canons. Such polarized points of view seem to come to the surface most in the realms of politics, faith and science in my own experience.
Things seem to be changing though, be it ever so slowly. Two or three years ago an article in the missiological journal Mission Frontiers talked about the need for a conversational state of mind when dealing with scientific ideas (i.e., Creationism vs. Evolution. I personally subscribe to some form of Creationism, although readily admit that, empirically, neither can be proven. I further acknowledge that I’m not a scientist, and can’t begin to understand some of the complexities involved in much of modern science — at least not without an inordinate amount of study that I just don’t have time for.). I’m also encouraged by Ben Stein’s upcoming documentary titled Expelled: No intelligence allowed. Watch the trailer here. The website claims that Stein “blows the horn on suppression.”
I hope this isn’t merely a pro-Creationism documentary. I’ve been led to believe otherwise, although after watching the trailer I can see how some people may come away thinking this. “As a scientist, I am pretty hostile to a rival doctrine,” says Richard Dawkins* in the trailer. Stein suggests that the scientific community is hostile to criticism in general, which is, frankly, antithetical to the scientific process. This is easily believable; I’ve experienced such hostility in lectures as well as online discussions.
I don’t know why the scientific community harbors such hostility towards rival doctrines, other than we can’t cope with paradox as the above excerpt suggests. I don’t know why politicians can’t work towards compromise in certain issues instead of acting like their ideas and solutions are the only ones that will work. Is it pride? Is it a natural propensity to banter? Is it a personal defense?
It seems prudent for me to add that I don’t believe Wolfe’s commentary equates to the recently popular idea of “tolerance.” While tolerance could possibly be seen as not dogmatically subscribing to a particular extreme, the late 21st century connotations of the word seem to be more akin to a very broad ecumenicalism. Think of the old line “Can’t we all just get along?”
* From as much as I can tell this quote should be attributed to Dawkins, who at the beginning of a segment in the trailer is properly labeled as such. This quote, however, is taken from the end of said segment where the person is not labeled again, and because of the darkness of my monitor I’m not entirely certain it was him.