I also wanted to follow up on Bont’s questions with respect to Pagels and Borg. I don’t feel I’m qualified to pass judgment on either of their scholarship or the character of their beliefs. My complaint for the theologically liberal wing of the Christian church is often that I’m afraid they give too much away and the little schema I articulated in the previous post I think is helpful in understanding what I mean.
Elements of the Apostle’s creed like the resurrection of the dead and the second coming of Jesus I think change the nature of the Christian religion. I can appreciate the fact that we can play tricks on ourselves to make us feel better in hard times, but at a certain, deeper level we can’t and shouldn’t try to fool ourselves about what we belief. Human belief is not purely a volitional matter.
We don’t simply believe what we want to believe, we believe what we actually do believe, often at a sub-volitional level. Religions address the reality of that worldviews are often sub-volitional by controlling and prescribing intentional experience (prayer, meditation, worship, community, fasting) in order to groom our believing faculties along the lines of our religious community of choice/persuasion. Think James KA Smith’s work on cultural liturgies.
Having doubts about very difficult to believe elements of the Christian faith, such as the resurrection and the second coming are common for those of us inhabiting our present cultural space, but denial of these concrete historical assertions I think is a game changer. What tends to happen I fear (and I’m open to correction on this) is all religion enters the class of distraction or entertainment.
I have friends who are professing agnostics or atheists who spend time and money pursuing Buddhism, Yoga or other California mixed New Age spiritualities. If you ask them what they are doing they’ll tell you they may not believe the metaphysics of any of it but they find the experiences interesting, at least interesting enough to pursue in kind of a vacational manner. They may find in time that participation in these liturgies leads them to believe in more metaphysics than they bargained for, but that is the nature of religious conversion. Belief is far more communal than individualistic Americans like to acknowledge.
So at what point does a firm and certain hope (type 3, “the sun will come out tomorrow”) become simply a type 2 religious distraction or entertainment? I suspect the answer is both individual and communal and is tested in suffering and the basic choices of how we treat our neighbors and our enemies.
If our deepest convictions are really that we only have one life to live, then when conflicts arise or suffering increases we begin to do value computations that ask us to choose between life or ending life, our own or our enemy’s. What kind of deep convictions are required for a person to sacrificially pour out their life for their friend?
Recently when that cruise ship ran aground off of the Italian coast and the Captain abandoned ship ahead of the passengers (something more common than we would hope) the world derived his decision. His decision was, however, either cowardly or rational depending on one’s frame of reference. What is one’s motivation for heroism and risking one’s life for another? It could be fame, honor or love. Fame and honor both rely on there being an audience to the virtue, love can work in the dark.