Posted by: Ken Brown | August 20, 2008

"Christian Atheism" and the Christian Carnival

This week’s Christian Carnival is up at Parables of a Prodigal World, including my review of The Shack and the usual assortment of interesting posts.

Readers might also be interested in this outstanding article on “Christian Atheism” at The Other Journal (HT James KA Smith, at The Church and Postmodern Culture):

Why Every Christian Should ‘Quite Rightly Pass for an Atheist’, by Jon Stanley:

Perhaps we will tolerate some level of ambiguity when it comes to politics. After all, it may be perfectly legitimate to be authentically “torn” between being either a Republican or a Democrat (and the Independent vote is becoming an increasingly viable position). But this level of ambivalence is rarely tolerated when it comes to religion. Being torn between being an atheist or a theist, or confessing one’s uncomfortability with the categories themselves, is usually interpreted as either weak-willed, weak-minded, or both….

[Yet post-modern philosopher Jacques] Derrida has continually drawn attention to the “porous boundaries” between atheism and theism. He speaks of a certain type of “theism” that “at times so resembles a profession of atheism as to be mistaken for it,” as well as a certain form of “atheism” that has “always testified to the most intense desire for God.”… While this may at first sound like an affront to believing ears, Derrida… is actually echoing a very biblical notion. In biblical terms, authentic faith is not characterized by the denial of one’s doubt and unbelief, but by acknowledging it (dare I say, embracing it), and praying along with the father of the boy who had just been healed by Jesus, “I believe, I don’t believe, help my unbelief.”…

For [Soren] Kierkegaard, the virtues that characterize the life of the one who recognizes they are always “becoming Christian” are “humility” and “rigor” (the humility of admitting that we have not fully arrived at Christ-likeness, and the rigor of the whole-hearted pursuit of becoming like Christ). Contrast these virtues with the vices of “pride” and “sloth” that characterize the life of the one who confesses to having arrived at “being a Christian.”

Read the whole thing, then read Ben Suriano’s response:

On What Could Quite Rightly Pass for a Fetish: Some Thoughts on Whether “Every Christian Should ‘Quite Rightly Pass for an Atheist’”

Reclaiming something of the subversive core of Christianity in order to more radically challenge and transform our dominant social ideologies is of utmost importance for Christians today. Indeed, Stanley has done us a great favor in passionately articulating this urgent need, and I therefore stand with him in pursuing these concerns.

Yet I believe that such concerns could be more fruitfully pursued without an appeal to atheism or Derrida. I believe that, at times, Stanley obscures some of his best insights about the radicality of Christianity by placing too much emphasis on how it “quite rightly passes for atheism” and not enough emphasis on how it more significantly does “not quite” pass.

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Responses

  1. Actually, I think that being torn between parties is pretty stupid. It only occurs when your have paid no attention to the news whatsoever.

    Lets be honest- the Republicans are trending towards facism and the Democrats are “liberal” only in that they are not Republicans. Doesn’t mean you can’t make a choice.

    As for doubt… well then, you lack faith. I wonder how he deals with it- you have trouble believing, but you still do? That sounds… like woowoo.

  2. As for doubt… well then, you lack faith. I wonder how he deals with it- you have trouble believing, but you still do? That sounds… like woowoo.

    Faith is not the opposite of doubt, but it’s compliment. You can’t doubt something except on the basis of something you else that you believe. Nor can you believe anything without doubting its alternative–the two go together. In any case, he is not saying he has “trouble believing” God, but that doubt must maintain a vital role in Christian religion.

  3. In any case, he is not saying he has “trouble believing” God, but that doubt must maintain a vital role in Christian religion.

    Funny you should say that, because it has been my experience that Christians see doubt more as a college-aged flirtation with narcotics or sexual experiment than anything resembling a pillar of their faith.

    Case in point. In response to the recently revealed letters of Mother Teressa, in which she privately confessed that she sometimes doubted, Christian apologists of all sorts where stepping over themselves to trumpet the virtues of doubt. Yet in so doing, they seemed to me to overlook the quite obvious fact that the woman felt overwhelmingly guilty and ashamed for having doubted in the first place.

    If doubt is such a vital role in Christianity, then why should it inflict so much struggle and pain upon those who assume it, or is that sort of masochism why it is so vital in the first place (as one of her correspondents suggested by comparing her struggles to that of Jesus or as Teressa did herself by relating in similar fashion the struggles of poverty)?

  4. Funny you should say that, because it has been my experience that Christians see doubt more as a college-aged flirtation with narcotics or sexual experiment than anything resembling a pillar of their faith.

    Many do, and this article is arguing that they are mistaken, too many of them having bought into the myth that we can have unmediated access to Truth. But Mother Teresa’s comparison of doubt with poverty isn’t half bad, for it puts the stress where it should: on a recognition of the brokeness of the world.

    Remember that Teresa voluntarily accepted a life of poverty, not because poverty is itself good, but because the world is not yet what it ought to be. So it is with doubt.


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