On the religious dimension of contemporary culture, Walter Percy wrote in his novel, The Second Coming:
“Marion had been a conservative Episcopalian and had no use for changes in the Church. Leslie and Jason were born again Christians and had no use for anything, liturgy or sacrament, which got in the way of a personal encounter with Jesus Christ. Ed and Marge Capp were Californians … Jack Kurl, the minister had no strong feelings about women priests or the interim prayer book. He attended ecumenical councils in the Middle East and Latin America. He wore jump suits. Kitty believed in astrology. Yamaiuchi was a Jehovah’s Witness. He believed he was one of the 144.000 who would survive Armageddon and reign. Yamaiuchi’s wife, the cook, was a theosophist, who believed in reincarnation. Is this an age of belief, he reflected, a great renaissance of faith after a period of mass materialism, atheism, agnosticism, liberalism, scientism? Or is it an age of madness in which everyone believes everything? Which?”
As an atheist I would rather ask, is our personal religion that which links us to the ultimate reality, or is it the final human fantasy, the most pathetic demonstration, in a spatially limitless universe, of human aloneness? Will the real story of Jesus grip and move the modern mind? Will the New Atheism believe it in the first place? Even the four Gospels together cannot adequately express the fundamental Christian experience of God’s disclosure and activity in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.
Jesus was not invented or discovered by particular people, who then transmitted their discovery to others. In short, Jesus was an often out-of-work carpenter, born in a stable and executed as a criminal. He never traveled farther than ninety miles from his birthplace; he owned little; he wrote nothing; and he never held a position of note. The enduring mystery is not so much who Jesus is but rather how this out-of-work carpenter became a God.
Jesus and Scripture cannot be coherently related. This is the difficulty of accounting for a structure of ideal meaning on the basis of a factual genesis. He is the same today and always but there is a vast difference between the person of Jesus (which history helps us to perceive) and the every Sunday worship service of opinion, emotion, and unreliable narrative.
I want a role for Jesus freed from childhood fantasies: I wish theology – Protestant theology – to achieve a sufficient detachment from the turbulence of its time and from human pathology in general. The pastor who has got attention to the historical human being can purify the every Sunday meeting, enabling us to see him truly, as if for the first time.
Many Christianities, Many Christians
There are many hundreds of denominations and sects, and each of them can open the Bible and prove that theirs is the correct interpretation and the others are all of in some way, either slightly aberrant or grossly wrong. They can all do that. Paul wrote that “God is not the author of confusion,” but can you think of a book that has caused more confusion than the Bible?
What keeps me going, however, are the clues I see everywhere that unification is the greatest theme in Christianity, that it could not be a religion that made Jesus, the Church and the Saints as separate entities. What I lack, as I know, is the original legate of Jesus’ mission. Unification involves being able to hold together a number of seeming opposites within a comprehensible whole.
According to the American Theologian Stanley Hauerwas, Christianity is a distinctive way of life, “made possible by the gracious action of the Holy Spirit that orients its adherents to the Father through Jesus Christ.” Hauerwas thus stresses the importance of the Christian faith to allow things to be seen for what they really are, and for this true vision of reality to be declared and announced.