Wednesday, November 30, 2011
Tuesday, November 22, 2011
Religion is not universal or necessary. Many people live without religion—in fact, prefer it that way. That bald fact strongly counters the notion that people—as people—are intrinsically religious or that religion is inextricable from the human condition. That might seem obvious, yet some scholars continue to write about religion as an inevitable force. Paul Froese, an associate professor of sociology at Baylor University, calls religion an "essential aspect of the human condition." Beliefs about God, he continues, "lie at the core of human understanding," and religion is universal and essentially unalterable. Reginald W. Bibby, a sociologist at the University of Lethbridge, describes religion as one of the "essential needs" of humanity, like food. The existence and recent increase in apostasy renders such notions highly suspect.
Talking with him, as with Katie, I was reminded of the so-called Tercer Mundista priests I met in Mexico in the early 1970s, who broke with the Vatican and actively supported revolutionary movements in Central America. Both Alec and Katie possessed that calm sense of devotion to a higher calling—not a certainty of belief so much as a certainty of purpose. They both spoke of the movement in unabashedly spiritual terms. And while neither talked explicitly of religion, they seemed to have faith that they were progressing toward the kind of social system that would provide participants a measure of peace and “mental fulfillment.”
Monday, November 21, 2011
Thursday, November 17, 2011
Friday, November 11, 2011
Almost a year ago, I published an article in our denominational magazine, The Banner, that obliquely addressed some unique tensions (and confusion) at this intersection of Reformed identity and ethnic heritage. In "Buried Treasures?" I noted it this way:
[S]ome have been rightly concerned that what was often valued as “Reformed” was really just “Dutch.” And they rightly understand that the proclamation of God’s kingdom, and the invitation into the people of God, is not a matter of taking on the particularities of some ethnic heritage. So we have spent a generation sifting the tradition, as it were, in order to separate the dross from the treasures of the Spirit.
That’s a crucial concern. Yet I worry that something else has happened along the way: that we have inadvertently fallen into the trap of thinking that Reformed Christian faith is a kind of “content” or “message” that can be distilled and then dropped into other so-called “relevant” or “contemporary” containers.
I've just published a new article in Perspectives that now follows up on this issue, emphasizing the importance of "de-ethnicizing" the Reformed tradition without thereby losing the distinctive theological gifts and accents that we inherit from this specific incarnation of the Reformed tradition which we have inherited from thinkers like Kuyper and Bavinck and Dooyeweerd--who were, providentially, gathered as a community in the Netherlands. We should neither identify Reformed distinctives as if they are merely "Dutch" nor should we throw out such Reformed accents just because they have been inherited from a particular community. As I put it at one point in this new article, "A Peculiar People":
Because a lot of CRC folk—including, it seems to me, denominational leaders— have unwittingly bought the historians' ethnic reductionism, they have also implicitly accepted the Reformed = Dutch equation. As a result, the dynamics of immigrant embarrassment wash onto our denomination's theological heritage. Rightly wanting to unhook the CRC from mere "Dutchness," but having confused Reformed practice with Dutch ethnicity, eager "reformers" in the CRC advocate throwing overboard all sorts of Reformed theological distinctives in the name of relevance, reform, and even anti-racism.
We need a different paradigm. We need to refuse the tendency to reduce Reformed identity to mere Dutch heritage. We need to resist accounts that confuse theological distinctives with ethnic habits. I have elsewhere argued that those of us in historically "ethnic" Reformed denominations need to do some work "sifting" our ethnic habits from our theological inheritance. This is a two-edged sword. On the one hand, we can't let merely ethnic preferences masquerade as theological distinctives; that is, we can't allow Dutch traditionalism to parade under a "Reformed" banner. But I don't think this is our biggest problem today. No, we need to appreciate the second edge of this point: while we cannot allow mere Dutchness to mask itself as "Reformed," neither can we jettison the riches of a Reformed theological heritage under the pretense that it is merely an ethnic inheritance. We can't confuse Reformed babies with Dutch bathwater.
Read the rest of the essay.
Wednesday, November 09, 2011
My first post begins a little series that will look at Saul Bellow's recently published essay, "The Jewish Writer in America"--which raises some interesting parallels for Reformed folk in a North American context (with obvious differences as well).
On a related note: watch for the release of The Best of the Reformed Journal, a compilation of some of the landmark essays that appeared in the predecessor to Perspectives.
Monday, November 07, 2011
THE ONE-FINGER DISSENT
Uh, I’m going to have to disagree actually. I know you haven’t finished talking, but I can already tell that I disagree. I’m pretty sure the professor disagrees, too. I mean, psh, I can see that she’s nodding and smiling at you, but she and I have a more subtle understanding. Right, professor? Professor?
Saturday, November 05, 2011
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Shakespeare + Hughes = Jackpot.
This book is brilliant in its conception and stunning in its content. Part of the Ecco "Essential Poets" series, Hughes made a brilliant editorial decision: rather than simply anthologizing Shakespeare's poetry (i.e., the sonnets), Hughes decided to de- and recontextualize passages from the plays as poetry. As he notes, speaking of Macbeth's soliloquy, "To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow...":
[I]f one specifies that "To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow" is spoken by MacBeth as he faces the leafy army that will put an end to his spellbound, murderous career (having just heard that his wife, who prompted the course of action that converted him from the king's loyal champion to a regicidal tyrant, has died), it actually limits the use of the passage for the readers. Its relevance is then confined to Macbeth's unique predicament in a sacrosanct, old-fashioned play rather than applied directly to our immediate plight as ephemeral creatures facing the abyss on a spinning ball of self-delusion. Obviously by reading the passage out of context, one is missing the great imaginative experience of the drama--but one is missing that anyway. The speech on its own is something else, read in less than a minute, learned in less than five, still wonderful, and a pure bonus.
This decontextualization works brilliantly. It makes Shakespeare's language and psychology come alive in a new immediacy. All of a sudden one sees how Shakespeare is part of a lineage of English poetry, part of the stream that will give us Yeats and Eliot and Larkin and Hughes.
One has to wonder whether this work--the work of an "anthologist" now immortalized in Nicholson Baker's The Anthologist--isn't part of Hughes lasting testament. Indeed, I found myself hearing Shakespeare anew, almost as if the language had the same broad earthiness of Hughes' Yorkshire dialect. The very context seemed to help me hear Shakespeare anew, as a voice of England, and not just the sort of Oxford snobbery that usually accompanies his aficionados.
In sum, a marvelous little book--one of those delights to which one returns again and again, to-morrow and to-morrow and to-morrow.
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