Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Truly Deserving Of One Another

It's humbug still! - Ebeneezer Scrooge
Great video on how the existence of morality is evidence for the existence of God. - Neil Simpson
At this festive time of year, along with resurrecting the careers of Andy Williams and Johnny Mathis; putting trees in our homes; braving crowds in stores to purchase things we don't need, sometimes for people we would rather not have in our lives; eating too much; gathering with family only to be reminded why we don't gather with family too often; along with all these things, for some reason two sets of idiots square off in various cage matches, attempting to prove to the world who can be more dim.

It's the ridiculous Christians versus the ridiculous atheists.  Personally, I hope they kill one another off so the rest of us can go about our holiday festivities with some semblance of peace and good-will.

By way of example, with a tip of the holly-crown to Sadly, No!, we have Rev. Michael Bresciani at Renew America.  The author CV under his picture on the sidebar says that Bresciani's "articles are now read in every country in the world."  Which sounds impressive until you realize he publishes his "articles" online.  By that logic, my articles are read in every country in the world; at the very least they're available in every country in the world.  Anyway, aside from tidying up his writer's cred a bit, the article is the kind of thing that makes me wish I had been brought up in some other religious tradition.
Anyone who celebrates the birth of Christ is never in need of a boost from a truly mythological person called Santa, merchandising barrages, office parties or tinsel draped conifers. The words, good tidingsgreat joypeace on earth and good will toward men are the phrases that we feel in our hearts because of his birth and we can never accept the fleshly substitute of making 'merry' and the practice of overspending, overindulgence, drunkenness and general partying on an unspecified holiday as a reasonable substitute. Our joy is 24/7, 365 days a year and follows us into eternity. The atheists have missed the point by a million miles.

If Christmas or Christianity was meant to produce only good feelings then we may as well dump both. Feelings may be part of the Christian experience along with celebrations that warm the heart, but it would be the saddest of all religions if it were based only on emotional responses. At the start and at the heart, real Christianity is based on a historical figure and on an actual historical event.
With a short aside to note that the parenthetical in the first paragraph might portend good news, as Rev Grasciani might well join in protests against the over-commercialization of Christmas by a capitalist class who has no need of religious celebration, but does have a need for profit, let us move on and realize what the final sentence of the second paragraph portends.  Yet, it's time for . . .  Let's prove how little we know about historical research, Christian doctrine, and the idiocy of "proof"!  If it weren't for Neil Simpson's continued presence on the internet, this guy would probably win the prize for wasting more space writing about stuff that he only wishes had something to do with being Christian.
New Testament Christianity and the Christmas story are not based on a preponderance of pure unmitigated belief; it is based on the historical record. Our faith in that record and the interaction of God's Holy Spirit with us (Which he promised) is an objective matter and does not rest on feelings, anecdotal experiences, or fellowship with others of like mind.

The atheists might want to save the unimaginable cost of buying billboard advertising on Times Square and use the money to send a contingent of their followers to Mecca or some other Muslim center of worship with the same message about myths. It is likely they would not come back alive, if at all, but we would have a little less bah-humbug for one Christmas season. Who coined the phrase, less is more? More so, just how seriously do they take their message, if it's good for the goose is it good for the 1.5 billion Muslims who haven't heard it as yet?
It's a two-fer.  You get nonsensical dribblings about "belief", with a hefty dose of anti-Muslim rhetoric (with a  bonus swipe at the Jews; since Adolf von Harnack a century ago, "New Testament Christianity" has been a code word for anti-Semitism).  God, save us from people who claim to believe in you!

Except, alas, the folks who don't believe in God are almost as stupid.  Writing at Religion Dispatches, Anthony Pinn insists that, with the massacre at Newtown, CT, we now have definitive proof that God is now dead.  To help us slower types along, he even titles the piece, "God's Obituary: A Humanist Response To Mass Murder".
I am not describing the loss of faith, but rather the limits of faith in the face of tragedy. What is so important, what is so impressive, during this tragedy is not the faithful appeals to God but rather the collective human effort to comfort the suffering and to remember the value of human life.
Trying both to resolve such tragedies and keep God on the throne actually impedes our ability to process this misery. The appeal to God’s logic offers a type of cosmic cover that is difficult to remove. Looking to God and trying to grasp the workings of the divine mind actually arrests our ability to understand the deeply human nature of these acts of violence. There is no justification; there is no larger logic—no theologically exposed silver lining. This misery is all too human—the imposition of an individual’s twisted will on others with deadly consequences. Appeal to God doesn’t fix this; it doesn’t explain it. 
At best we might suggest that God “dropped the ball”—failed to do what a loving God is suppose to do. Instead, it seems to me, as we read the stories of the victims we are also reading God’s obituary. By this I mean that such extreme human tragedy makes it impossible to talk about God in any useful way.
Really?  It's only now occurring to Anthony Pinn, after a century that has seen evil on such a massive scale that to contemplate it could drive one mad, that many of the ways we try to speak about God in the face of such human misery are miserable failures?  Not to mention all the centuries before this, in which suffering, pain, oppression and death were such a feature of the human social landscape as to be invisible; surely Pinn  is not suggesting that only now, in the aftermath of this particular event, can we finally put paid to the Christian God, over a century after Nietzsche insisted the "we" had killed God.  Except, alas, that's precisely what he's saying.
These profound moments of tragedy slowly kill God, making it so difficult, if not useless, to speak of God in response to misery. Instead we are invited to silence. Deep silence, in which we struggle for human resolve to confront human problems. Please do not misunderstand me: I am not saying we should say nothing, that we should do nothing. I am not suggesting that complacency is the proper response, nor am I arguing that these events should be ignored. Rather, I am proposing silence concerning God, silence concerning efforts to make things better through theological twist and turns, and through the revamping of experience to fit religious categories and religious tradition. 
A humanistic or non-theistic response to the misery like that encountered in Newtown centers the loss of life’s integrity, is deeply sensitive to the damage done to the collective fabric of life. And, it holds humans accountable without the cosmic aid that never seems to come. This is not to say that humanists have all the answers. Rather, in light of human tragedy, humanists might offer better questions during these challenging times, as well as a space for wrestling with these questions free of cosmic justifications—and a God clearly missing in action. 
I write this not to deny comfort for those who have been directly and indirectly touched by this unspeakable act of violence. Mine is an effort to acknowledge and respect grief without so quickly pushing to find some reason behind such tragedy. This loss of life is really beyond our limited human language. The loss experienced by those families, by those associated with the school, and by the collective American and human family is so intense, so absurd, so real that it calls for our full humanity beyond any talk of God.
You want to know what I find really horrible about this particular piece?  It isn't the atheism, about which I couldn't care less.  It's exploiting the pain and suffering not just of the those living in Newtown but all Americans to push an idiotic agenda that has nothing at all to do with comforting those in pain or seeking to prevent others from suffering such pain in the future.  There's nothing constructive here, even less comfort.  All there is, really, is the confident announcement that human suffering disproves the existence of the Christian God so we should all just shut up and live like Anthony Pinn.  Who reminds me of many a college sophomore who suddenly discovers the world is a cruel place and that many of the responses of people of faith and earnest intent fall far short of adequate.

So, I'll leave them to it.  Let them argue it out.  Me, I'm going to continue to keep Christmas in my own way, while simultaneously working, again in my own way, to prevent not just future Newtowns, but future Websters and future corner-of-the-streets, and future husband/boyfriend-kills-wife/girlfriend-in-jealous-rage and future child-finds-Dad's-gun-and-kills-friend/sibling/self.  As St. Thomas said of his own work, stuff like that above  is all straw.

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