Stephen Clark reframes belief in God:
To “believe in God” for the Abrahamic tradition is to believe in the possibility of Justice, of Freedom from oppression: “what does the Lord require of you”, said the prophet Micah, “but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” Believing in God is believing that the orphan and the widow will be, must be vindicated. The first Abrahamic monotheists, like the first Christians, were in a real sense atheists: that is, they denied that the spirits evoked in most religious ceremonial deserved our worship, denied that kings and emperors were divine, and chose to remodel their personal and communal lives in the light of the demand for Justice.
How he brings God back into the equation:
If we are to trust in the possibility of Justice, must we not also believe that there really is such a thing, and that it will indeed prevail? Must we not, in fact, believe that God, the Spirit of Justice, does indeed exist, and that He will repay?
Norm Geras shudders:
To first define religion in a way that radically reduces its core, turns atheists into disguised people of faith and religion itself into a set of ethical and political commitments; and only later add belief in the existence of God as a necessary support for those commitments. Note also the logical fallacy of inferring an existence from a putative need. I might think that my future happiness depends on someone’s securing for me a chauffeur-driven stretch limo and a supplementary barouche; but even if I do think it, I wouldn’t let the hypothesis convince me that such a benefactor will eventually turn up.
For me, the core argument for some force behind the universe, revealed metaphorically in Scripture, is affirmed by science as we currently have it. Our universe came from nothing and is still expanding. What conceivable force made this possible? The second question is the nature of that force. The core revelation of Jesus – and the Buddha, for that matter, in some respects – is that the force is good, not evil. There is hope. Death is not what it seems. Love prevails. In this tragic, fallen, cruel world, this is not an easy doctrine. It cannot be inferred from the evidence. Which is why it is the gift of faith, from some source so deep, so great and so benign it defies any human description. Even metaphor fails.
To shear theology of its architecture and expose the rawest of its foundations is, I believe, part of what we need to do now as Christians. As our organized faith crumbles into archaism and fundamentalism, we need to re-imagine again what we already know, to take the so-familiar concepts, and make them real again.
(Photo: Thomas Hohnes/Getty.)
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