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Varieties of Unbelief

I’m a little all over the map this morning, but here’s a few loosely connected thoughts/reflections about unbelief on a Monday morning…

This month’s issue of our denominational magazine, the MB Herald,  is about atheism/unbelief and contains an article by yours truly.  It is a bit of a hybrid piece—a discussion of the new atheists (Hitchens, Dennett, Dawkins, Harris), a reflection upon conversations with a friend (no stranger to regular readers of this blog), among other things.  Based on what I’ve read of the issue thus far, there are a number of articles and features definitely worth checking out.

Over the last few years it’s been very interesting to observe the number and variety of responses to the new atheists that have been published.  It’s been almost enough to feed a small publishing house all by itself!  I recall that when I was still researching and writing about the new atheists I could barely keep up with all of the books being written about/against this phenomenon.  It seemed like every couple of weeks a new one came out, and it doesn’t seem to have slowed down (see here, here, and here for just a handful of the more recent ones).  As relieved as I was to be finished my thesis in 2008, I was almost as glad to not have to keep up with the stream of rhetoric on both sides of the God divide.

Nonetheless, I have maintained an interest in the issue and have continued to pay attention, even if only from afar, to how the debate is unfolding.  A few months ago, I received another book that would fall into the category above.  Frank Schaeffer’s Patience with God doesn’t just take issue with the new atheists, however.  According to his subtitle—”Faith for People who Don’t Like Religion (or Atheism)”—he has both sides of what is becoming an increasingly polarized debate in his sights.

I confess to feeling somewhat ambivalent about this book when I finished it a few weeks ago.  On the one hand, Schaeffer does a decent enough (if predictable, by now) job of poking holes in the arguments of the new atheists.  There is very little that is remarkable about his critique of Dawkins, et al.  Like many others, he sees them as sharing many features of the religious fundamentalism they so stridently oppose.  Like many others, he criticizes them for failing to engage with any kind of substantive theology.  All this is fine, as far as it goes.

However Schaeffer also expends considerable energy (and ridicule) distancing himself from his evangelical past (his father was Francis Schaeffer, well-known Christian pastor, author, and founder of L’Abri).  His critique of the beliefs of his own family and the nature of their “indoctrination” of him gets a bit tiresome, at times.  He seems just a bit too desperate to prove that he has moved beyond all that fundamentalist Christianity stuff, just a bit too eager to demonstrate that he’s not like all those ignorant religious literalists that the new atheists attack.  Throughout the book, his tone can be annoying, whether he is talking about his own Christian heritage or the new atheists.

If the two fundamentalisms—the new atheists on the one hand and the blinkered evangelical fundamentalism represented by his parents—are equally unacceptable and worthy of scorn (in Schaeffer’s view), what is the alternative? Where has Schaeffer landed in his journey?  Well, it seems that he has found a home in the Greek Orthodox Church and various streams of apophatic theology.  He has found refuge in an unknowable and mysterious God about whom very little can be said.  Here are a few samples:

This theology takes a mystical approach related to individual experiences of the Divine beyond ordinary perception.  It teaches that the Divine is ineffable, something that can be recognized only when it is felt, then remembered.  And therefore all descriptions of this sense will be false, because by definition the experience of God eludes description.

Some days I know life has no ultimate meaning.  Other days I know that every breath I take has eternal meaning.  I also know that I’m crazy to believe these two opposites simultaneously. I’d feel even crazier denying them.  I believe that both statements are true.  Like that particle in a physics experiment, I am in two places at once.

On one level, retreating into the unknown as a refuge from dogmatic Christians or atheists is entirely understandable.  Dogmatism is certainly unpleasant, wherever it is found and Schaeffer is clearly a person who has been wounded by dogmatism.  But at times he seems to (dogmatically?) advocate the embrace of mystery, suffering, emptiness, and unknowing as somehow virtuous things in and of themselves or, at the very least, indicators of the right kind of faith.

It seems to me that if in Christ we have the image of the invisible God (Col. 1:15), then there are a lot of things that we can say about God, humanity, and the state of a world in which the kind of divine intervention we see in Christ is necessary.

As I read the New Testament, I do not get the sense that Jesus is trying to convince people of the apophatic nature of God.  Jesus’ earliest followers were convinced that through this Galilean, the God of Israel was acting to vindicate his people and triumph over evil. These people had clear ideas about what their God had promised, what the fulfillment of these promises would look like, and the moral character of the one who made the promises. The fact that they didn’t understand all of these things perfectly does not change the fact that they saw a clear linkage between loving obedience, and the divine redemption and vindication of their people

This idea that God wants us to abandon all of our conceptions of him and be content to revel in mystery seems to disregard or ignore the fact that God has made himself known in the figure of Jesus, and that from this point on the world is a different place.  Of course we do not cease to be limited human beings who do not see and know everything, but part of what it means to affirm some of the ridiculously counter-intuitive claims of Christianity is having the courage and the confidence to insist that things changed when God became a human being.

38 Comments Post a comment
  1. Great thoughts, Ryan. I am of two minds about negative theology. On the one hand, it is certainly a valid and important part of the tradition. On the other hand, in modern pluralist liberal democracies it takes on an entirely new meaning. Just the other day I read an relevant, if off-colour page in Hauerwas’ Prayers Plainly Spoken:

    “The call came from the president’s office asking me to pray before the Distinguished Professor’s luncheon. … Since I have harshly and repeatedly criticized civil religion, I at first turned down the opportunity to pray to a vague God who cannot be named as the Father of Jesus Christ. But then I reconsidered and call back saying I would do it. …”

    His prayer: “God, you alone know how we are to pray to you on occasions like this. We do not fear you, since we prefer to fear one another. Accordingly, our prayers are not to you but to some “ultimate vagueness.” You have, of course, tried to scare the hell out of some of us through the creation of your people Israel and through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. But we are a subtle, crafty and stiff necked people who prefer to be damned into vagueness. So we thank you for giving us common gifts such as food, friendship and good works that remind us our lives are gifts made possible by sacrifice. We are particularly grateful for your servant Reynolds Price, who graces our lives with your grace. Through such gifts may our desire for status and the envy status breeds be transformed into service that glorifies you. Amen.”

    Have you read Os Guinness’ review of Frank Schaeffer’s previous book? Unpleasant stuff. http://www.christianitytoday.com/bc/2008/002/1.32.html

    March 8, 2010
    • Wow, that’s quite a prayer by Hauerwas! I’m sure it’s exactly what they were looking for when they asked him :).

      I had not seen Guinness’ review—thanks for the link. I will have to track down a hard copy of that one. From the sounds of the article preview, it sounds like Schaeffer comes in for some pretty rough treatment! I have not read Crazy for God and from the sounds of it, I’m reasonably sure I don’t want to.

      March 8, 2010
      • Ken #

        The Hauerwas prayer sounds full of humor. I imagine many people identified with it, and laughed, whether they be Christian, Jew or other, especially if they have ever been called upon to say a prayer in such circumstances. Plain spoken is a good way.

        March 8, 2010
  2. Ken #

    I do not know any more about Greek Orthodoxy, or Schaeffer or his son, than I know about Anabaptists. I have read The Cloud of Unknowing and other mystical works in which the via negativa plays a part and I think to some extent it is part of many contemporary theologies.

    It offers an interesting way of theodicy – one that Annie Dillard develops in some of her writings about nature – a way of affirming the goodness of life in the face of its terror. It also provides a way of dealing with the angst and disbelief of modernity and postmodernity.

    A central expression of this theology in our time seems to be a sense of wonder in beholding the cosmos or universe and of life, human and other. It is a way of connecting the love of nature and the love of God. It is found in an atheistic belief like religious naturalism, as well as theistic beliefs. It connects them.

    I think it connects with an ethic of care, but not so much with traditional western ethics.

    For those, like me, who have such theological leanings, it connects with the Bible narrative at many points. It is, perhaps, a way of dealing with the death of Jesus and the second coming that either did not happen or has been significantly delayed, without talking about atonement. It is a way of connecting emergence, in the scientific sense, with God, without taking up process theology.

    March 8, 2010
    • Yes, I certainly resonate with much of what you say here, Ken. I am certainly not against apophatic theology in and of itself. I think that there is mystery and wonder aplenty in our world and that a comprehensive understanding of who God is obviously eludes creatures as limited as us. I’m all for wonder and mystery (of course the theodicy question forces mystery on us!).

      I just don’t think it tells enough of the story. I take Colossians 1:15-20 very seriously. I guess I’m very Anabaptist that way—whatever else we might want to say (or not say) about God, for the Christian, God is most fully seen in Jesus.

      March 9, 2010
  3. Larry S #

    Ryan,

    Thanks for your post.

    Just think I’m decades past my good ole anabaptist degree and I’ve survived without hearing the term “apophatic theology.” Your newly minted degree is serving you well and I appreciate your blog and your contribution to our little denomination.

    Before work this a.m., I had to do a definition search on ‘apophatic theology’ thanks 🙂

    blessings on your day

    March 10, 2010
    • Thank you Larry. I appreciate the kind words.

      March 10, 2010
  4. Hi Ryan,

    I tried to post this on the MB Herald website, but it wouldn’t go through — so here is a response to your article:

    I suppose I’m one of the “new atheists” that is discussed in this article. I also married into a family that is largely involved in the MB church/culture — so I’m excited to see all of this month’s articles dedicated to dialog between believers and nonbelievers.

    I wonder, what does it look like to have the “inquisitive and respectful unbelief” that is extolled in this article? I would like to think I possess such an unbelief, but too many times the questions or objections I’ve raised in the church or to religious leaders are either dismissed or targeted as “angry.”

    And, I wonder how Tyler would respond to this article? Personally, I can’t decide if its tone is fair or patronizing.

    March 10, 2010
    • Hi Rebekah,

      “too many times the questions or objections I’ve raised in the church or to religious leaders are either dismissed or targeted as “angry.””

      I can’t speak to your case, only my own, but I previously found in my past conversations I was bringing a certain agenda into a question of conversation. My aim was not to question to gain wisdom but rather to dismantle another’s belief. My goal was to ask the unanswerable questions, point out flaws of logic, and win debate points. I was tyrannized by my own ‘correct’ belief.

      I still do have my own agenda in a certain sense, or a bias in thought, but this is inescapable. But, conversations are no longer about winning debate points or trying to prove another wrong. They are about pushing ideas further, examining them in great detail, and growing intellectually together. It is my hope that my conversations with Ryan or others are not solely self-serving and we both gain from them. This is the attitude I try to bring into any conversation and this is the same respect I can tell Ryan is extending to me and others. In some cases I do feel others perceive any questioning as angry (not just religious talk), and in these cases I try my hardest, as strange as it sounds, to act in accordance with the teachings of Jesus. Show patience. Show respect of other’s belief while preserving (if need be standing up for them strongly) my own beliefs.

      Therefore, I do not find any patronizing tone in Ryan’s article. He may pray to a God that I may not believe is there, but the way he lives his belief is respectful, morale, and intelligent. It is worthy of high praise. If anything, to have his positive consideration is an honor.

      March 10, 2010
    • I might also add, just as he prays I will one day convert to Christianity, I to one day hope he will convert to the Church of Aristotle 😉

      March 10, 2010
      • James #

        Very good, Tyler. That’s a Church I go to occasionally, as well 🙂

        March 10, 2010
      • Ken #

        Tyler, What do you mean? Do you mean, for example, that you wish Ryan would pursue the good life the way Aristotle describes in Nichomachean Ethics? Or are you referring to the idea of God as prime mover? (Ryan seems strongly inclined towards teleology, and appears to have some attraction to the idea that morality involves virtues, not only justice – True, Ryan?)

        March 10, 2010
      • Ken #

        Tyler, also, why do you attend the meetings at Ryan’s church?

        March 10, 2010
      • Like James, I would certainly count myself as an admirer (if not a convert) of Aristotle :).

        And yes, Ken, I am certainly attracted to the idea that morality encompasses both virtue and justice. Interestingly, I just began reading N.T. Wright’s latest book (After You Believe) which appears to lean heavily on Aristotelian conceptions of virtue. I’ve only just begun it, so I can’t say for sure, but it certainly seems like where he’s going.

        March 10, 2010
      • Ken, I attend meetings at Ryan’s and Jame’s church because I simply find the human condition fascinating. Ryan, James, the church, and the young adults group have been very accepting of me. As Ryan’s article alludes to, it is important to mix in with others who have different ideas and perspectives. A friend said to me the other day:

        “We are not humans on a spiritual journey, we’re spirits on a human journey.”
        This is why.

        Also, the comment about the Church of Aristotle was just a joke.

        March 11, 2010
    • Hi Rebekah,

      I won’t add anything to Tyler’s very generous response other than to say that I, of course, cleared the idea of an article about him prior to writing it and sent a finished draft to him before submitting it to the Herald. I would like to think that avoiding patronizing language comes at least somewhat naturally to me, but it never hurts to make sure :).

      Re: what does it look like to have an “inquisitive and respectful unbelief?” There are a couple of things that leap to mind. Avoiding a tone that is condescending, dismissive, and belittling is, of course, an important start. This is what many (myself included) find so noticeably absent in the writings of Dawkins, Hitchens, etc. Portraying those you disagree with as primitive, unenlightened, indoctrinated, irrational, etc doesn’t generally set the tone for fruitful dialogue. Of course there are individual cases where these terms may be more appropriate than others, but it doesn’t seem very productive to express incredulity at the very idea that an intelligent person could believe in God (which is done routinely in the new atheist corpus of writings).

      This is the main area where I see Tyler’s unbelief differing remarkably from Dawkins & co. He doesn’t see himself as farther along the evolutionary chain than his primitive religious cousins :). He sees himself as a co-pilgrim in the human quest for hope and meaning.

      Having said all that, there are many cases where Christians (or other religious adherents) are far too dismissive of the legitimate questions and concerns raised by atheists. There are also times where Christians just avoid or ignore difficult questions simply because they find the tone in which said questions were delivered to be unpleasant. I’m guessing this has probably happened to you personally. I obviously think this is an irresponsible and lamentable approach to faith in general and to dialogue with those we disagree with in particular.

      March 10, 2010
  5. Thanks, guys! I appreciate your responses. Later this weekend I may dive into more of the MB Herald articles on atheism. Good on your denomination for dedicating most of a magazine to these issues.

    Recently I attended a United Church conference here in Saskatoon, and I was able to experience similar productive dialogs between religious and nonreligious folk — it was encouraging for both “sides” to be able to just talk. Unfortunately, I haven’t had much luck in talking with MB people in my life. What I have to say has either been labeled “distasteful” or I have been summarily dismissed as never having been a Christian in the first place (I’m happily an apostate these days). Maybe things can change, and we can all learn a little grace in how to relate to each other (I’ll just have my grace supernaturally-free). 🙂

    And I’m all for another convert in the church of Aristotle! I teach rhetoric to university students, and there’s always room for someone else in the pew.

    Thanks again.

    March 10, 2010
    • James #

      Hi Rebecca. I’m sorry to hear that your experience with Christians has been so difficult. I hope that you have better luck in the future.
      On the matter of Aristotle- you might be interested to know why Aristotle is so intriguing to me as an Anabaptist- it is because he didn’t go along with Plato’s idealism. One of the defining marks of early Anabaptism was the rejection of Augustine’s Platonic Christianity. This is less well understood than the commonly referred to Constantinian shift but the two go hand in hand.
      As the great conversation between Ken and Tyler shows, there are many other reasons to like or dislike Aristotle, but I still remember reading the Nicomachean Ethics and wondering to myself what Christianity might have looked like today if Augustine had instead thrown his hat in with Aristotle. In my imagination it would have looked more Anabaptist 🙂
      So that is what keeps me dropping into the Church of Aristotle from time to time. I find the conversations there very refreshing given that we live our lives in the polluted Platonic air that we breathe day in and day out [I couldn’t resist a little poetic license 🙂 ]
      Blessings
      James

      March 11, 2010
  6. Ken #

    I looked again at your article this morning and began thinking about the emphasis on morality in some atheism and in some Christianity. I think it is unfortunate when moral concerns drive a person’s life and world view.

    In addition, and in connection with that, I thought more about Aristotle. To Aristotle, virtues were important in a good life, but they were not the highest good. In addition to the practice of virtue in a public life, he saw other goods that were at least as important – having health and wealth, friends, and, above all, leisure so that one would have time for contemplation. I think Aristotle’s holistic view of life is healthier than letting moral concerns dominate.

    Still, I don’t think Aristotle’s way completely fits our time. His metaphysic does not fit our time, and that means his virtues and contemplation no longer make sense to us the way they did a long time ago.

    As you know, I have more disbelief in God than I have belief, even though the belief I do have is important to me. Sometimes I think hope is at stake, although at other times when I couple the emergent view of evolution with my love of wilderness, I don’t worry so much about the loss of hope – I am caught up in the grandeur and wonder in something like a Dionysian ecstasy.

    Last night listening to Gregorian chant, it occurred to me that what atheism lacks but needs is a monasticism, a more complete way of expressing the mystical dimension of life, the mystical dimension that remains, undiminished, in naturalism.

    March 11, 2010
    • “I think it is unfortunate when moral concerns drive a person’s life and world view.”
      What should?

      While I agree with you about the holistic life Aristotle promotes, I would argue that each of those things you mention should be done with or through virtue and not separated from it. A doctor practicing produces the best results for the patient not the pharm companies, a banker who practices with virtue avoids the economic crisis… etc. This is how a good life is achieved. The purpose of human life is to lead a good life which is done oriented to the highest Good, as this is done for its own sake and an end in itself.

      I question this, “His metaphysic does not fit our time, and that means his virtues and contemplation no longer make sense to us the way they did a long time ago,” because reading his meta-physics, and I must admit much is still beyond me as it is so dense, he make some claims that do make sense. It his physics where he makes many claims that we can now more or less disprove. Often attacks are made against his biology and physics, but is that enough to write-off his meta-physics?

      Are not a lot of the claims he makes in meta-physics still questions in science? Being is more than matter? Or at the very least something very special that happens in matter? We cannot really say a lump of chemicals is a human, as a lump of the same chemicals arranged in another way is something else. So is Aristotle not somewhat correct when he acknowledges this and puts-forward the idea of essences? As I age, my appearance changes, my ideas change, my voice changes, my attitudes, etc. Am I still not recognizable being? As my atoms change and there is very little of my birth self left, is not who I am still with me? Does his idea of the prime mover not fit with Scientific theory and religion? A mere acknowledgment that our universe if full of causes so one must have been the first cause?

      March 11, 2010
      • Ken #

        Tyler, you have, of course, asked many questions. For the sake of economy, I am only answering one. Forgive me it is not the most important.

        Re: “Does his idea of the prime mover not fit with Scientific theory and religion?”

        It fits with religion, especially through Aquinas. It no longer fits science. Science operates now on a non-teleological paradigm. It operates on an emergence paradigm rather than a teleological paradigm. It is largely this that I was thinking about when I wrote that his metaphysic does not fit our time. In addition, his ethic is for an aristocrat in classical Greek culture and has always been unavailable to most of humanity. And, it assumes essences that most of us do not believe exist and which are incompatible with the idea that life evolved by natural selection and with the idea that the universe is emergent.

        If Aristotle were alive today, I doubt that he would believe in essences nor that the good life can be found in the way he once taught. I imagine he would be a Darwinian.

        March 11, 2010
      • A teleological process may not fit into a teleonomical universe. But, can a teleonomical process fit into a teleological universe?

        March 11, 2010
      • Ken #

        Tyler,

        Re: “they were a lower good than leisure for contemplation and were no more important than having good fortune in life or having friends.”

        “Could you please direct me to where this is said?”

        This is in Nicomachean Ethics where Aristotle described what constitutes a “good life” and where he described contemplation as the highest good, higher than the others including practicing virtues. His definition of a good life involves what kind of life would be one that when someone’s life is over people would say, “he had a good life.” It is not the same as our modern conception of humanity flourishing and not the same as saying “he led a moral life” or “he was a good man.”

        BTW, I hope I am not giving an impression that I do not admire Aristotle. I admire him greatly – he is clearly one of the most important and influential thinkers of all times.

        Re: “living with morality, somehow inhibits the expression and embracement of what it means to be human.”

        I would phrase that a little differently. It is unfortunate to let moral concerns override life. Morality, or, as in Aristotle’s conception, the practice of virtues, has a place in life, but is as potentially harmful as it is potentially beneficial. It can be a blessing or a curse.

        March 12, 2010
      • Ken #

        Tyler, I accidentally overlooked your previous comment,

        re: “A teleological process may not fit into a teleonomical universe. But, can a teleonomical process fit into a teleological universe?”

        That “a teleonomical process fit into a teleological universe” is the position taken by some theologians who say that evolution is compatible with the idea of the providence of God.

        The current paradigm of science is that the apparent purposefulness of things in the universe is an illusion. That is teleonomy.

        Although theology has long been associated with teleology, I am not sure that association is crucial. Still, much theological work is needed to divorce the two.

        March 12, 2010
      • On what scientific grounds does the current paradigm of science judge that the purposefulness of things in the universe is an illusion?

        March 12, 2010
      • James #

        Re: “If Aristotle were alive today . . . I imagine he would be a Darwinian.”
        And I imagine that he would be a Mennonite pastor 🙂
        Great discussion! I couldn’t resist a little philosophical irreverence.

        March 12, 2010
      • Ken #

        Ryan, I think the answer is that this paradigm seems to explain so much, is so useful in the scientific enterprise. Certainly this claim of science deserves skepticism if science is as Kuhn describes it. In the exchange with Tyler I think I was only noting that it is the paradigm.

        March 12, 2010
    • Ken, I won’t add anything to your interesting discussion of Aristotle with Tyler, but I will echo one of Tyler’s questions. If moral concerns shouldn’t drive a person’s life and worldview, what should?

      March 11, 2010
      • Ken #

        I was thinking about how moral concerns prevent some atheists from enjoying religion, and prevent some atheists and religious people from enjoying life, from being fully human, from getting along with other people. We live in a moralistic age. I think it is unfortunate, not a blessing.

        As I wrote above, Aristotle offered an example in which the view of a good life is holistic, not driven by morality, even while the practice of virtues were part of a good life. Homer provided another holistic view of life, I think even more so than Aristotle.

        I think Judaism and Christianity offer holistic views, even while some, especially, I think, in the major protestant denominations, reduce it to morality.

        Asians, of which I mostly am familiar with Chinese, have holistic views not grounded in morality.

        March 11, 2010
      • I think once again we are simply operating with different understandings of the word “morality.” I see morality contributing to and, in many ways, defining, not detracting from, a good life. I can’t see how a conception of the good life w0uldn’t be quite closely connected with what we understand to be good and just and true, etc. I certainly don’t think of morality as in any way standing in the way of enjoying life or being fully human. Indeed, it’s one of the main ways we get there.

        March 11, 2010
      • Ken #

        I think we understand morality largely to be the same thing. I assume that you associate morality with justice and certain virtues. My impression is that you attach a higher value to morality than I do. In addition, incidentally, my impression is that you attach a higher value to it than did Aristotle. In his scheme, the practice of virtues (which are somewhat different than what we admire today) was part of a good life, but they were a lower good than leisure for contemplation and were no more important than having good fortune in life or having friends.

        I also consider that in liberal circles, Aristotle is considered a troubling conservative and a virtues approach to ethics is often considered oppressive. In some feminist circles, virtues and justice are considered male obsessions that are ultimately concerned with power. The ethic of care, whether of feminists or of Heidegger, for example, is not an ethic of morality – it chooses immorality for the sake of love and partiality. The word ethic only applies in a loose sense to the ethic of care. The word morality does not fit it at all. I sympathize with all of these critiques of morality. And, as you know, I sympathize with Nietzsche’s critique of Christian morality and with Taylor’s development of that critique.

        Even here in this exchange of ideas about atheism, it is morality you defend, where I criticize it for inhibiting some people from enjoying religion. I think our ideas about God differ here. I don’t think God is moral. My impression is that you believe God is moral. Is my impression wrong?

        I think God’s ethic (that is, the God in the Bible) is something like an ethic of care. It is partial and biased, rather than objective. It is expressed in mercy for the ones he loves rather than in justice or virtues. I am not saying the ethic of care is good. I am just saying it is what it is.

        We could say this is a matter of definition of morality, but I think that ignores the distinctions each of us seeks to make.

        March 11, 2010
      • “In addition, incidentally, my impression is that you attach a higher value to it than did Aristotle. In his scheme, the practice of virtues (which are somewhat different than what we admire today) was part of a good life, but they were a lower good than leisure for contemplation and were no more important than having good fortune in life or having friends.”

        Could you please direct me to where this is said? Having good fortune and having friends are part of the good life. This is true. Here he is being realistic. But, correct me if I am wrong with in text evidence, where does he say these are above and beyond practical and theoretical wisdom?

        “Aristotle is considered a troubling conservative and a virtues approach to ethics is often considered oppressive”

        This may be so. But, categorical and consequential ethics are not any different. Furthermore, when power becomes the deciding ‘ethic’ this only breeds oppression. Which is ultimately what you are left with when you depart from those three categories.

        I find this sentiment, that living with morality, somehow inhibits the expression and embracement of what it means to be human. The good life is nothing more than human;s flourishing, which to me sounds very much like embracing life.

        March 11, 2010
      • I find this sentiment troubling***

        March 11, 2010
      • Even here in this exchange of ideas about atheism, it is morality you defend, where I criticize it for inhibiting some people from enjoying religion. I think our ideas about God differ here. I don’t think God is moral. My impression is that you believe God is moral. Is my impression wrong?

        Your impression is correct. I think God is moral, although certainly much more than that and probably in ways that are uncomfortable to us. Like all good Anabaptists I go straight to the Sermon on the Mount—”Be perfect, as your heavenly father is perfect” and all that :). Of course many people (Christians included) would say that this is just an impossible ethical ideal meant, at best, to show us our need of grace. Anabaptists have always thought otherwise.

        I think that one certainly observes a trajectory of how God is understood and how God reveals himself throughout Scripture. The blessing/favour of Israel was always instrumental—for the purposes of one day blessing all nations. The partiality and bias of earlier parts of the story must be read through what God has ultimately done in Christ. This is a very Anabaptist approach to Scripture.

        March 12, 2010
      • Ken #

        Thank you, Ryan, for explaining this. I understand now the religious depth of the moral dimension to you.

        March 12, 2010
  7. Hi Ryan, just found a link to your blog from ‘Mennonite blogs’. Just thought I would say hello and say how much I like the site. I’ve blogged about this issue recently and there’s also a very good discussion on Nathan Hobby’s ‘Perth Anabaptists’ blog: http://perthanabaptists.wordpress.com/

    March 11, 2010
  8. Maria #

    Ryan, I haven’t posted anything on your page in a while but continue to check it out weekly. I haven’t read any of the proceeding comments but wanted to post a comment anyway.

    I enjoyed your article in the Herald. Your statement – “The world expects better from us. They have a right to.” – should be considered more seriously by believers.

    How that plays itself out in our lives will look different on everyone, but our excuses that we are only just human should be tossed out. What an immense challenge to truly behave as ones who have the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16). It requires that you truly know who you worship and the humbleness in which you must walk. This is even more important when you fall hard and have to find a way to restoration – not just with God but with your community (believers and unbelievers).

    May you continue to be authentically Jesus to those who won’t see Him any other way.
    Maria

    March 11, 2010
    • What an immense challenge to truly behave as ones who have the mind of Christ… It requires that you truly know who you worship and the humbleness in which you must walk.

      Thank you, Maria. Wise (and challenging!) words indeed.

      March 11, 2010

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