Theology from Exile

This book aims at providing liberal Christians no longer able to believe in most elements of traditional Christianity an useful resource for finding a faith and an identity.

It heavily relies on the ideas of some influential members of the Jesus Seminar such as Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan.

Borg

Rejection of traditional Christianity

Rejection of dogmas concerning salvation

They rightly observe that the extent of our love for our fellow human beings is going to hugely depend on our view of God, called Gottesbild in German. They are correct that many theologies hinders justice from unfolding within our earthly world.

They emphasize that the return of Jesus is NOW and that isn’t punitive.

2ndcoming

Light isn’t Jesus but Jesus is part of the light. The authors often speak of “Cosmic Christ” in that concept.

There are no personal sins, all sins ” meaning “missing the mark” ” are committed against one’s human and natural environment.

Paul himself was a mystic who perhaps went as far as requiring all other Christians to become mystics.

God’s covenant of Justice was not about vanquishing our personal sin but inviting us into a new community of distributive justice.

The natural man cannot participate in just social and economical systems, he needs to be born anew vis a vis these unjust structures

They rightly point out one can find conflicting interpretations of God’s moral nature in the Bible and side with Jesus who did not use violence against the Roman occupants.

They are also appalled by the fact many American leaders orient their politics towards Israel according to their literal interpretation of the last books of the New Testament.

They swap the faith notion they’ve grown up with “suspension of belief” with “Commitment to Justice”.

They also sharply advocate the separation between the Church and the State because unhealthy interaction can begin taking place otherwise.

Rejection of the supernatural

“God” has become the Cosmos which necessarily means there will be no second coming.

The Great Evolution we’re a part of replaces the incarnation. The resurrection is  a metaphor expressing the fact that our universe is a symbiotic system where one part dies so that all the others may live.

The authors seem to frequently confuse the word “Postmodernism” (which means a great skepticism towards ALL knowledge claims) which Modernism according to which we live in an objectively existing universe utterly bereft of meaning.

postmodernism

There is nothing outside of the world defined by cosmology.

The New Covenant should be between Humanity and Nature which is called “God” in the latter case.

We ought to reinterpret our resurrection imagery because today we “know that nobody rise from the dead”.

We should therefore rather see the Easter Hope as a political transformation of extraordinary scope.

Irrational theology

They speak of “the love and compassion of the universe”  but this is completely absurd. A complex material bunch of particles cannot feel anything, let alone convey anything relatively close to compassion.

Given this definition of God, the phrase is “God gives all to all” is technically correct but also terribly incomplete:  it also entails that God gives cancer, genocide, aids and starvation without any chance for the victims to get their suffering compensated.

Thus a faith in the “goodness” of the created order seems to be nothing more than an irrational leap in the dark.

When they write that “those who love their enemies have no enemy” , this seems to be nothing more than a semantic trick since the  person hating them hasn’t most of the time lowered his hatred.

The authors try to paraphrase the apostle Paul in Corinthian 13 as follows:

“We are not pitiful if we are raised for the new social order”.

The problem is that it is an astronomical watering-down of Paul’s statement back then.

According to Sea Raven et al. there will be no vindication for all those who have laid their life for Justice’s sake. Their elementary particles will soon get back to the still emptiness of an indifferent universe which will have quickly forgotten them.

On contrast, the first Christians hoped on a God who would vindicate every one of them personally.

I think that what theologian  Francis Schaeffer wrote about the liberal theologians of his days is still valid in that context:

Often this answer — of beginning with the impersonal — is called pantheism. The new mystical thought is almost always some form of pantheism — and almost all the modern liberal theology is pantheistic as well. Often this beginning with the impersonal is called pantheism, but really this is a semantic trick, because by using the root theism a connotation of the personal is brought in, when by definition the impersonal is meant.

Francis_Schaeffer

Conclusion

I have no doubt that the authors of this book are kind people who really strive for making the world a better place. And in that respect they  might be far closer to Christ than countless culture warriors who neglect the works of social justice.

That said, I cannot view them as Christians because they neither believe in an afterlife nor in a personal God which are the hallmarks of the Christian hope. I think they have rightly pointed up many problems with the conservative Christianity they come from, but I don’t believe that rejecting the miraculous nature of our faith is necessary or sufficient for handling this problem.

The hope yearned by a world in a disastrous state is that for a perfectly good God, even if this causes the problem of evil of reconciling His just and loving Nature with what one can observe around us.

 

 Disclaimer: I received this book through a generous offer of Speakeasy. I confirm I reviewed this book objectively.

 

 

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33 thoughts on “Theology from Exile

  1. I agree with you that this particular book is inadequate.
    They seem to confuse Modernism with Post -Modernism.
    The idea that God is nature and impersonal neglects to recognize the existence of life with its consciousness and intelligence.
    Surely God is not less than human.

    • thus denying there is a war to fight

      If by “war” you mean the war that the author of the OP in your link talks about, then that is not really a “war”, because your side has already lost (do you really consider yourself to be on the side of *that* guy btw?) – there are still some battles being fought but the war is long lost.

      • I do not know enough about Nick Peters to talk about how well or not I agree with him. When you say “the war”, do you mean this:

        There is a culture war that is going on here in America. If you want to deny this, then you are quite simply a fool. There is an active homosexual agenda that’s wanting to silence your voice on the public square. Abortion has been around for 40+ years and we have seen the lives of millions of innocent babies claimed. The new atheist agenda is spreading like wildfire through the colleges and your students are going to encounter it. Muslims would be delighted to bring Sharia Law here to America.

        ? If so, that’s not what I focused on. What I focused on was this:

        Christ did not need to come just to teach us ethics. The people of the day could have got that from the philosophers of their time. Christ came to bring about the Kingdom of God. Note that. Kingdom. How many people out there think that you could belong in a Kingdom and not care about what you were to do for the King but only think about what the King was to do for you?

        The war is, quite simply, for the right to form a community which is strongly oriented toward an exclusive common good, one which may not be tolerant to everything under the sun (except for being intolerant towards intolerance—hello Russell’s paradox). It is for the right to not have the common good be extensively and increasingly defined by the State.

      • The war is, quite simply, for the right to form a community which is strongly oriented toward an exclusive common good, one which may not be tolerant to everything under the sun (except for being intolerant towards intolerance—hello Russell’s paradox). It is for the right to not have the common good be extensively and increasingly defined by the State.

        Then there doesn´t seem to be anything to fight over because you have this right (with exceptions like you not being allowed to not pay taxes because you consider yourself to be not a citizen of the USA but rather a “citizen of the kingdom of God”).

  2. ” It crosses the line you say isn’t crossed.”
    – And how does it cross the line? Even if Hobby Lobby would have lost that case, how would infringe on your right to “form a community which is strongly oriented toward an exclusive common good”? Unless you understand that right to entail that you can *force* your hypothetical employees to join your “community” and work towards what you consider to be a “common good” (even if your employees want nothing to do with that “community” and that “common good”), then it doesn´t infringe on that right in any way.

    • Unless you understand that right to entail that you can *force* your hypothetical employees to join your “community”

      This makes ‘community’ and ‘commercial life’ two separate entities. Did you intend this? Are you perhaps predicating your argument on a job-market failure, such that people are essentially forced to work for companies they do not like? Otherwise, to force an employ to join a community would require forcing them to join your company.

      • I can´t follow you. Do you or do you not want to have the right to force your employees to do things or abstain from doing things which are 100% private and not related to their job in any way?

        • Is it ‘forcing’ the employees if they knew about all that is being mentioned, before they joined the company? If they knew what they were signing up for?

          >

      • That depends. It depends on whether there is a law that requires you to surrender your freedom to make choices for yourself in your private life to your boss as soon as you sign a work contract at his company – if there would be such a law, then it wouldn´t be “forcing”.
        Do you think there should be such a law? Or lets get more specific, assume your boss is a Scientologist, do you think your boss should have any influence over your *private* 100% non-work related decisions regarding psychological care? Yes or no?

        • I am assuming that I would know a company’s ideological commitments before joining. You seem to be assuming that the company could change its ideological commitments on the fly and force those changes on the employees. I disagree with this; it is this on-the-fly change, imposed by the few on the many, which would be the bad thing.

          I am also assuming that there are enough companies to choose from, or the option to start a new one, such that you can decline to join companies with whose ideological you disagree.

          Given these, I think my answer is “yes”, but only if I knew, going into the company, that this would be required of me. If I didn’t want to be subject to such a person, I wouldn’t work for such a person. Now, job-supply monopsonies can majorly screw with this, which is why I brought up the concept so early.

          >

      • Now that I think about it, I have a much better example:
        Imagine that your wife is a trained nurse currently looking for employment, now imagine further that most (“most” = more than 90%) of the hospitals in your area would be run by muslim organizations who have the right to discriminate against non-muslims in hiring decisions and the right to fire what they consider to be “infidels”. Which leads to a situation where your wife has to decide to either convert to Islam, although she doesn´t want that at all, or alternatively *drastically* reduce her chances to find employment.
        Would you consider it to be a good thing if that scenario were possible? Yes or no? (and if it is “no”, where do you draw the line – how much influence of your boss on your private life is acceptable?)

        • I cannot answer without understanding the consequences of my answer, and I don’t fully understand them yet. Consider, for example, Aristotle’s polis, which according to my understanding (from After Virtue), is a city built around a common good. If you wanted to join a city like that, you would have to [sufficiently] agree with its conception of the common good. I don’t immediately see something wrong with this; it seems to me distinctly good that a city could adopt more and more complex ideas of the ‘common good’. This is a kind of research in and of itself, or more precisely, a tradition.

          A while ago I encountered a Muslim who described pre-modern Islam as consisting of cities where you would have one or a few scholars who effectively decide what the ‘common good’ is for the city. Various cities were able to interact with each other economically, without needing to agree on conceptions of the good. This Muslim argued that the Jews in New York who are allowed to have an additional law (enforced by Jews, on Jews) layered on top of civil law are an example of this.

          One objection to the above is that in societies like I’ve described, dissenters tend to be treated poorly. But I claim, and MacIntyre claims, that this is not necessarily so. Indeed, he claims that this is a failure mode of tradition. I agree. Biblically, the term is “hardness of heart”. The Hebrews viewed the heart as the innermost organ of a human. It is the seed form which all else comes. I think one’s idea of ‘the good’ comes from one’s heart. Hardness of heart means unwillingness to change one’s conception of ‘the good’. It is this that causes tradition to ossify and turn into what many liberals think of when they hear and utter the word ‘conservative’.

          Am I making any sense?

      • This Muslim argued that the Jews in New York who are allowed to have an additional law (enforced by Jews, on Jews) layered on top of civil law are an example of this.

        But that is beside the point – you don´t need to formally join any religious club if you don´t like its rules (assuming that you are not coerced into joining it by family members for example), but you need to work to make a living (at least the vast majority of us do). And if you say that your employer should have the right to influence your private 100% non-work related choices, then you either a) have to agree that this:
        “Imagine that your wife is a trained nurse currently looking for employment, now imagine further that most (“most” = more than 90%) of the hospitals in your area would be run by muslim organizations who have the right to discriminate against non-muslims in hiring decisions and the right to fire what they consider to be “infidels”. Which leads to a situation where your wife has to decide to either convert to Islam, although she doesn´t want that at all, or alternatively *drastically* reduce her chances to find employment.”
        – is a good thing or b) you would have to draw the line somewhere.
        Which one is it?

        • What you describe is already true when the question is “What country do I want to move to?” I think I actually do think that is a good thing—although as I said before, this is said on a weak evidence and reasoning base, and thus open to modification.

          One result of answering as I do, is that the results of adhering to a given conception of the ‘common good’ can be seen, by comparing one polis to another. This must be a very careful comparison, as Jared Diamond points out in Guns, Germs, and Steel. But it allows empirical testing of more and more complex conceptions of ‘the good’, and I think that is a good thing.

      • What you describe is already true when the question is “What country do I want to move to?”

        Dude, most people actually have responsibilities – maybe you have the education and the ressources to move freely, geographically and professionally. But that is not true, or only true to a very limited degree, for your fellow humans that have families to provide for and who consider themselves to be lucky if they land any reasonably well payed job, even if they don´t particularly like the work and/ or the boss and / or the company. Two years ago, I lived in a region where more than a quarter of the households were unable to afford a warm meal on every day of the month (and this wasn´t in a country that was exceedingly poor…), they didn´t exactly have the freedom to just move to a different country, or just quit their jobs and look for something better.

        I think I actually do think that is a good thing

        Good. Then I´ll expand the scenario by “your savings are close to non-existent and you have two kids to take care of” – does it still sound like a good thing?

        • Dude, most people actually have responsibilities – maybe you have the education and the ressources to move freely, geographically and professionally.

          Ahh, but wouldn’t the amount of ideological difference from one’s local area roughly track with education and resources? The question here is whether the problem—of my disagreeing with my employer—will even arise much, until I have the knowledge, wisdom, and resources to deal with the problem.

          Good. Then I´ll expand the scenario by “your savings are close to non-existent and you have two kids to take care of” – does it still sound like a good thing?

          The hope is that such a society gets out-competed by better societies, and that pressure is put on closed societies to compel them to be open, such that their citizens can emigrate.

      • Ahh, but wouldn’t the amount of ideological difference from one’s local area roughly track with education and resources? The question here is whether the problem—of my disagreeing with my employer—will even arise much, until I have the knowledge, wisdom, and resources to deal with the problem.

        The same could be said about the state, yet you wouldn´t want to have the state to have so much power over your personal life, you seem happy however to concede your personal freedom to your boss. That seems rather arbitrary, tyranny by the state is bad but tyranny from your boss is a good thing.

        The hope is that such a society gets out-competed by better societies

        Now you are contradicting yourself, you just said that you´d consider it to be a good thing if a society allows such things to happen and now you say that you want such a society to be out-competed by other societies (btw, the world doesn´t work that way – our ancestors have settled on all continents and their descendants (i.e. us) now eagerly protect “our” borders – no matter how attractive the USA or Germany or Japan would look like to people that live in a tyrannical society, we wouldn´t allow millions of those people to migrate into our countries.)

      • labreuer,

        Just to add to some of what you’re saying, I think this much is straightforward about contraception claims: sex is willful, and contraception is in those cases being covered by people who are employed. For far and away most people who are employed, if they want to buy contraception, they can.

        But let’s say they don’t – limit cases of ‘they’re just so overburdered with debt and every last penny they are paid goes to buy the last few grains of rice they can afford, lest they starve’. Okay, but you’re still left with this much: sex is a willful act. You can choose to have it, or choose not to have it. Do you prefer to only have sex with contraception in play? Alright – then forgo the sex.

        And if someone counters that this is impossible – say, plays the card of ‘sex is necessary to survive, some people would die if they don’t have it’ – then I’ll ask one further question. Would that be an acceptable defense or mitigating factor in a rape case?

        If not, contradiction in play.

        Hobby Lobby no more ‘forces’ its employees to not have contraception than I’m ‘forced’ by my company to not have 200 dollar dinners. Nowhere in the SCOTUS decision did Hobby Lobby try to fire employees for using contraception they did not approve of, engage in sexual acts they did not approve of, or even for getting an abortion. They just don’t want to pay for it.

        The only side being ‘forced’ in that case, is Hobby Lobby. Which, it seems, a lot of people were absolutely delighted about, so oh well.

        • One possible issue with your logic, Crude, is the contraceptives which also treat illnesses specific to women. What if an abortifacent is the only known drug that helps her function even somewhat normally? I might be tempted to say: forgo sex and use it.

      • Crude, this is not really about Hobby Lobby. Luke introduced the Hobby Lobby case as one instance where he thought that the right to “form a community which is strongly oriented toward an exclusive common good”, as he phrased it, was threatened – and I disagreed, the right to build such a community would not have been threatened either way. And after that we moved on to a more general point about whether your boss should have any influence on your private 100% non-work related matters or not.

        Re

        Hobby Lobby no more ‘forces’ its employees to not have contraception than I’m ‘forced’ by my company to not have 200 dollar dinners. Nowhere in the SCOTUS decision did Hobby Lobby try to fire employees for using contraception they did not approve of, engage in sexual acts they did not approve of, or even for getting an abortion. They just don’t want to pay for it.

        as long as everyone else gets the same right to not pay for stuff they don´t like, and Scientologist business owners (for example) now also don´t have to pay for antidepressants and any psychological treatment not approved by the Church of Scientology, that´s fine.

      • labreuer,

        One possible issue with your logic, Crude, is the contraceptives which also treat illnesses specific to women. What if an abortifacent is the only known drug that helps her function even somewhat normally? I might be tempted to say: forgo sex and use it.

        In that case it’s about as much of an abortifacent as caffeine. Roller coasters can supposedly can cause miscarriages too.

        Also, would ‘The Miscarriage’ be a good name for a roller coaster? Probably beyond the scope of the discussion.

  3. …now also don´t have to pay for antidepressants and any psychological treatment not approved by the Church of Scientology, that´s fine

    Wow, I never knew people could just avoid getting depressed!

    • Wow, I never knew people could just avoid getting depressed!

      It doesn´t matter whether they can or cannot avoid that, what matters is that the hypothetical business owner has the “sincerely held belief” that antidepressants are evil and that he doesn´t want to pay for it.

      • No, it’s extremely relevant that depression is an actual mental illness that medication can help with, and in some cases control completely. Birth control prevents birth, which is not an illness and can be prevented by simply not having sex.

        That is critical to the whole thing. It’s not JUST about religious beliefs, it’s about being forced to pay for what is basically a recreational drug.

        • Birth control prevents birth, which is not an illness and can be prevented by simply not having sex.

          And hormonal birth control also is medically indicated for endometriosis, polycystic ovarian syndrome and severe menstrual cramps (the latter is a reason for why millions of women who are not even sexually active use hormonal birth control). But that is beside the point because:

          No, it’s extremely relevant that depression is an actual mental illness that medication can help with, and in some cases control completely.

          That doesn´t matter because this is not about facts, it is about having the right to not pay for healthcare options you do not like if you have the “sincerely held belief” that they are morally wrong. Scientologists do believe that all of mainstream psychology and psychiatry is evil, wrong and doesn´t work, and it doesn´t matter that they are factually wrong about this – what matters is that they sincerely believe this stuff.

      • That is critical to the whole thing. It’s not JUST about religious beliefs, it’s about being forced to pay for what is basically a recreational drug.

        A recreational drug being given to the very people who you’d expect in most cases to be able to buy it for themselves – namely, the actually employed.

        And now the rhetoric is that not wanting to directly pay for such is equivalent to forcing people to never use it. You know, “US out of my uterus! Wait, no, I need money, get in there nice and deep! Just pay for it!”

      • What the object is in question is absolutely relevant. Saying “my religion doesn’t allow me to fund the payment of a certain type of recreational drug, which happens to be easily available anyway” is worlds away from “my religion doesn’t allow me to give my employees legitimate medical aid”.

        I don’t know who here has said that *every single thing* a company asks for should be granted if they claim it’s because of their religion.

      • Saying “my religion doesn’t allow me to fund the payment of a certain type of recreational drug, which happens to be easily available anyway” is worlds away from “my religion doesn’t allow me to give my employees legitimate medical aid”.

        No, it isn´t worlds away – a Scientologist business owner doing what I described would have more drastic consequences for certain employees, because antidepressants (for example) tend to be more expensive than hormonal birth control is, but that is a quantitative difference, not a qualitative one. Even if I would grant you that using hormonal birth control for the sole intention of preventing birth would be “using a recreational drug” (medical professionals and health insurance companies do not classify it as a recreational drug) – almost 2 / 3 of women who use it don´t use it exclusively for that reason and 14% use hormonal birth control exclusively for other reasons that have nothing to do with preventing birth, but rather with medical conditions for which hormonal birth control is *the* medically indicated healthcare option, period.
        You wouldn´t want to pay for it although medical professionals and health insurance companies do consider it an important and legitimate healthcare option, and now you have the right to not pay for it, pointing out that Scientologists using this same right would cause more of an inconvenience for certain employees, because hormonal birth control is easier available than antidepressants, is beside the point – the right to not pay for healthcare options you don´t like doesn´t depend on the price tag of said healthcare option.

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