Religion Under the Lens
Basil Mitchell (Oxford University Press: February 16, 1995), 184 pages.
Faith and Criticism addresses a central problem in the church today — the tension between traditionalists and progressives. Traditionalists want above all to hold fast to traditional foundations in belief and ensure that nothing of value is lost, even at the risk of a clash with "modern knowledge." Progressives are concerned above all to proclaim a faith that is credible today, even at the risk of sacrificing some elements of traditional doctrine. They are often locked in uncomprehending conflict. Basil Mitchell argues that, not only in theology but in any other serious intellectual pursuit, faith and criticism are interdependent. A tradition which is not open to criticism will eventually ossify; and without faith in some established tradition criticism has nothing to fasten upon. This interdependence of faith and criticism has implications for society at large. Religious education can be Christian without ceasing to be critical, and a liberal society can espouse Christian values. ~ Product Description
Edward T. Oakes, ed. (Continuum: October 1, 1994), 276 pages.
Featuring works by Karl Barth, Martin Buber, Immanuel Kant, Albert Schweitzer, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Karl Rahner, and others, these are the essential writings on religion by German theologians, authors, and philosophers, from the Enlightenment to the present.
The Ragamuffin Gospel (Questar Publishers, 1993).
Because salvation is by grace through faith, I believe that among the countless number of people standing in front of the throne and in front of the Lamb, dressed in white robes and holding palms in their hands (Revelation 7:9), I shall see the prostitute from the Kit-Kat Ranch in Carson City, Nevada, who tearfully told me she could find no other employment to support her two-year-old son. I shall see the woman who had an abortion and is haunted by guilt and remorse but did the best she could faced with grueling alternatives; the businessman besieged with debt who sold his integrity in a series of desperate transactions; the insecure clergyman addicted to being liked, who never challenged his people from the pulpit and longed for unconditional love; the sexually-abused teen molested by his father and now selling his body on the street, who, as he falls asleep each night after his last "trick" whispers the name of the unknown God he learned about in Sunday school; the death-bed convert who for decades had his cake and ate it, broke every law of God and man, wallowed in lust and raped the earth. "But how?" we ask. Then the voice says, "They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb." There they are. There we are — the multitude who so wanted to be faithful, who at times got defeated, soiled by life, and bested by trials, wearing the bloodied garments of life's tribulations, but through it all clung to the faith.
Lesslie Newbigin (Eerdmans: Dec 1989), 255 pages.
How does the gospel relate to a pluralist society? What is the Christian message in a society marked by religious pluralism, ethnic diversity, and cultural relativism? Should Christians encountering today’s pluralist society concentrate on evangelism or on dialogue? How does the prevailing climate of opinion affect, perhaps infect, Christians’ faith? These kinds of questions are addressed in this noteworthy book by Lesslie Newbigin. A highly respected Christian leader and ecumenical figure, Newbigin provides a brilliant analysis of contemporary (secular, humanist, pluralist) culture and suggests how Christians can more confidently affirm their faith in such a context. While drawing from scholars such as Michael Polanyi, Alasdair MacIntyre, Hendrikus Berkhof, Walter Wink, and Robert Wuthnow, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society is suited not only to an academic readership. This heartfelt work by a missionary pastor and preacher also offers to Christian leaders and laypeople some thoughtful, helpful, and provocative reflections.
J.P. Moreland, Review: Self, God, and Immortality: A Jamesian Investigation by Eugene Fontinell, in Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 32 (June 1989), pp. 244-5.
This work is a technical monograph in pragmatist, process metaphysics. It seeks to answer this question: Given the inadequacies of materialism and classical dualism, can we still believe in personal immortality today? Fontinell answers with a tentative "yes" (in keeping with his pragmatism) by developing a doctrine of the self along Jamesian lines in two steps. Chapters 1-6 focus on the possibility of life after death, and chaps. 7-8 discuss the desirability of an afterlife.
Cosmos (Random House, Inc.: 1985), pp. 198-9.
We are, in the most profound sense, children of the Cosmos. Think of the Sun's heat on your upturned face on a cloudless summer's day; think how dangerous it is to gaze at the Sun directly. From 150 million kilometers away, we recognize its power. What would we feel on its seething self-luminous surface, or immersed in its hear of nuclear fire. The sun warms us and feeds us and permits us to see. It fecundated the Earth. It is powerful beyond human experience. Birds greet the sunrise with and audible ecstasy. Even some one-celled organisms know to swim to the light. Our ancestors worshiped the Sun, and they were far from foolish. And yet the Sun is an ordinary, even a mediocre star. If we must worship a power greater than ourselves, does it not make sense to revere the Sun and stars? Hidden within every astronomical investigation, sometimes so deeply buried that the researcher himself is unaware of its presence, lies a kernel of awe.
Alvin Plantinga, Truth Journal, reprinted from Faith and Philosophy: Journal of the Society of Christian Philosophers vol. 1 (October 1984).
In the paper that follows I write from the perspective of a philosopher, and of course I have detailed knowledge of (at best) only my own field. I am convinced, however, that many other disciplines resemble philosophy with respect to things I say below. (It will be up to the practitioners of those other disciplines to see whether or not I am right.)
Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Heaven (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1982), 3.
If a thing makes no difference, it is a waste of time to think about it. We should begin, then, with the question, What difference does Heaven make to earth, to now, to our lives? Only the difference between hope and despair in the end, between two totally different visions of life, between "chance or the dance." At death we find out which vision is true: does it all go down the drain in the end, or are all the loose threads finally tied together into a gloriously perfect tapestry? Do the tangled paths through the forest of life lead to the golden castle or over the cliff and into the abyss? Is death a door or a hole?
Peter Kreeft on Heaven said...
Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Heaven (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1982), 3.
To medieval Christendom, it was the world beyond the world that made all the difference in the world to this world. The Heaven beyond the sun made the earth "under the sun" something more than "vanity of vanities." Earth was Heaven's womb, Heaven's nursery, Heaven's dress rehearsal. Heaven was the meaning of the earth. Nietzsche had not yet popularized the serpent's tempting alternative: " You are the meaning of the earth." Kant had not yet disseminated "the poison of subjectivism" by his "Copernican revolution in philosophy," in which the human mind does not discover truth but makes it, like the divine mind. Descartes had not yet replaced the divine I AM with the human "I think, therefore I am" as the "Archimedean point," had not yet replaced theocentrism with anthropocentrism. Medieval man was still his Father's child, however prodigal, and his world was meaningful because it was "my Father's world" and he believed his Father's promise to take him home after death.
Life After Life (New York: Bantam Books, 1976), 21-25, 181-84.
Despite the wide variation in the circumstances surrounding close calls with death and in the types of persons undergoing them, it remains true that there b a striking similarity among the accounts of the experiences themselves. In fact the similarities among various reports are so great that one can easily pick out about fifteen separate elements which recur again and again in the mass of narrative that I have collected. On the basis of these points of likeness, let me now construe a brief, theoretically "ideal" or "complete" experience which embodies all of the common elements, in the order in which it is typical for them to occur. ¶ A man is dying and, as he reaches the point of greatest physical distress, he hears himself pronounced dead by his doctor. He begins to hear an uncomfortable noise, a low ringing or buzzing, and at the same time feels himself moving very rapidly through a long dark tunnel. After this, he suddenly finds himself outside of his own physical body, but still in the immediate physical environment, and he sees his own body from a distance, as though he is a spectator. He watches the resuscitation attempt from this unusual vantage point and is in a state of emotional upheaval. ¶ After a while, he collects himself and becomes more accustomed to his odd condition. He notices that he still has a "body," but one of a very different nature and with very different powers from the physical body he has left behind. Soon other things begin to happen. Others come to meet and to help him. He glimpses the spirits of relatives and friends who have already died, and a loving, warm spirit of a kind he has never encountered before — a being of light — appears before him. This being asks him a question, nonverbally, to make him evaluate his life and helps him along by showing him a panoramic, instantaneous playback of the major events of his life. At some point he finds himself approaching some sort of barrier or border, apparently representing the limit between earthly life and the next life. Yet, he finds that he must go back to the earth, that the time for his death has not yet come. At this point he resists, for by now he is taken up with his experiences.
Antony Flew on Hell said...
The Presumption of Atheism: God, Freedom, and Immortality, (Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books, 1984), p. 84.
Now, if anything at all can be known to be wrong, it seems to me to be unshakably certain that it would be wrong to make any sentient being suffer eternally for any offence whatever.
"Death is Homecoming", in Jewish Reflection on Death, ed. Jack Riemer (New York: Schocken Books, 1974), 62.
Paradoxically, the problem of man arises more frequently as the problem of death than as the problem of life. It is an important fact, however, that unlike other Oriental religions, where the preoccupation with death was the central issue of religious thinking, the Bible rarely deals with death as a problem. There is no rebellion against death, no bitterness over its sting, no preoccupation with the afterlife. In striking contrast to its two great neighboring civilizations — Egypt with its intense preoccupation with the afterlife, and Babylonia with the epic of Gilgamesh who wonders in search of immortal life, the story of the descent of Ishtar, and the legend of Nergal and Ereshkigal — the Bible is reticent in speaking about these issue. The Hebrew Bible calls for concern for the problem of living rather than the problem of dying. It's central concern is not, as in the Gilgamesh epic, how to escape death, but rather how to sanctify life.
Philosophical Issues in Religious Thought (Boston: Houghton Miffin Company, 1973), p. 296.
Here we must stress a paradox to which we cannot, I think, direct our attention too closely; theoretically one might have imagined — and this indeed was what many people did in the nineteenth century — that as soon as the majority of men in a given society ceased to believe in an afterlife, life in this world would be more and more lovingly taken care of and would become the object of an increased regard. What has happened is something quite different, the very opposite in fact: this cannot, I think, be overemphasized. Life in this world has become more and more widely looked upon as a sort of worthless phenomenon, devoid of any intrinsic justification, and as thereby subject to countless interferences which in a different metaphysical context would have been considered sacrilegious.
Gaily the Troubadour (E.P. Dutton: 1936), p. 38.
First dentistry was painless, then bicycles were chainless, and carriages were horseless, and many laws enforceless. Next cookery was fireless, telegraphy was wireless, cigars were nicotineless, and coffee caffeineless. Soon oranges were seedless, the putting green was weedless, the college boy hatless, the proper diet fatless. Now motor roads are dustless, the latest steel is rustless, our tennis courts are sodless, our new religions godless.
Tragic Sense of Life, trans. J.E. Crawford Flitch (Dover: 1954), orig. 1921, p. 9.
It has often been said that every man who has suffered misfortunes prefers to be himself, even with his misfortunes, rather than to be someone else without them. For unfortunate men, when they preserve their normality in their misfortune — that is to say, when they endeavor to persist in their own being — prefer misfortune to non-existence. For myself I can say that as a youth, and even as a child, I remained unmoved when shown the most moving pictures of hell, for even then nothing appeared to me quite so horrible as nothingness itself. It was a furious hunger of being that possessed me, and appetite for divinity, as one of our ascetics [San Juan de los Angeles] has put it.
The Age of Reason Begins (Simon & Schuster: 1961), p. 575.
Religions are born and may die, but superstition is immortal. Only the fortunate can take life without mythology. Most of us suffer in body and soul, and Nature's subtlest anodyne is a dose of the supernatural. Even Kepler and Newton mingled their science with mythology: Kepler believed in witchcraft, and Newton wrote less on science than on the Apocalypse. ¶ Popular superstitions were beyond number. Our ears burn when others speak of us. Marriages made in May will turn out unhappily. Wounds can be cured by anointing the weapon with which they were inflicted. A corpse resumes bleeding in the presence of the murderer. Fairies, elves, hobgoblins, ghosts, witches, demons lurk everywhere. Certain talismans... guarantee good good fortune. Amulets can ward of wrinkles, impotence, the evil eye, the plague. A king's touch can cure scrofula. Numbers, minerals, plants, and animals have magic qualities and powers. Every event is a sign of God's pleasure or wrath, or of Satan's activity. Events can be foretold from the shape of the head or the lines of the hands. Health, strength, and sexual power vary with the waxing and waning of the moon. Moonshine can cause lunacy and cure warts. Comets presage disasters. The world is (every so often) coming to an end.
A Natural History of Religion (1757), Part XV.
Hear the verbal protestations of all men: Nothing so certain as their religious tenets. Examine their lives: You will scarcely think that they repose the smallest confidence in them. The greatest and truest zeal gives us no security against hypocrisy: The most open impiety is attended with a secret dread and compunction. No theological absurdities so glaring that they have not, sometimes, been embraced by men of the greatest and most cultivated understanding. No religious precepts so rigorous that they have not been adopted by the most voluptuous and most abandoned of men. ... Look out for a people, entirely destitute of religion: If you find, them at all, be assured, that they are but few degrees removed from brutes. What so pure as some of the morals, included in some theological system? What so corrupt as some of the practices, to which these systems give rise?
A Natural History of Religion (1757), Part XV.
The more exquisite any good is, of which a small specimen is afforded us, the sharper is the evil, allied to it; and few exceptions are found to this uniform law of nature. The most sprightly wit borders on madness; the highest effusions of joy produce the deepest melancholy; the most ravishing pleasures are attended with the most cruel lassitude and disgust; the most flattering hopes make way for the severest disappointments. And, in general, no course of life has such safety (for happiness is not to be dreamed of) as the temperate and moderate, which maintains, as far as possible, a mediocrity, and a kind of insensibility, in every thing. As the good, the great, the sublime, the ravishing are found eminently in the genuine principles of theism; it may be expected, from the analogy of nature, that the base, the absurd, the mean, the terrifying will be equally discovered in religious fictions and chimeras.
The Natural History of Religion (1757), Part XV.
The universal propensity to believe in invisible, intelligent power, if not an original instinct, being at least a general attendant of human nature, may be considered as a kind of mark or stamp, which the divine workman has set upon his work; and nothing surely can more dignify mankind, than to be thus selected from all other parts of the creation, and to bear the image or impression of the universal Creator. But consult this image, as it appears in the popular religions of the world. How is the deity disfigured in our representations of him! What caprice, absurdity, and immorality are attributed to him! How much is he degraded even below the character, which we should naturally, in common life, ascribe to a man of sense and virtue!
The Natural History of Religion (1757), Parts XI, XV.
To oppose the torrent of scholastic religion by such feeble maxims as these, that it is impossible for the same thing to be and not to be, that the whole is greater than a part, that two and three make five; is pretending to stop the ocean with a bullrush. Will you set up profane reason against sacred mystery? No punishment is great enough for your impiety. And the same fires, which were kindled for heretics, will serve also for the destruction of philosophers. ... The whole is a riddle, an aenigma, an inexplicable mystery. Doubt, uncertainty, suspence of judgment appear the only result of our most accurate scrutiny, concerning this subject. But such is the frailty of human reason, and such the irresistible contagion of opinion, that even this deliberate doubt could scarcely be upheld; did we not enlarge our view, and opposing one species of superstition to another, set them a quarrelling; while we ourselves, during their fury and contention, happily make our escape, into the calm, though obscure, regions of philosophy.