Oliver Burkeman, a blogger for The Guardian, says that proponents of the atheist side of the God debate (where, he says, his sympathies lie) are being intellectually lazy. They attack a concept of God which imagines him as a sort of superhero, rather than grappling with the classic monotheistic view of God as the source and ground of reality. This is like anti-evolutionists refuting a distorted and absurd concept of evolution. Burkeman recommends David Bentley Hart’s “The Experience of God” so that they might grasp and then grapple with a more theologically-accurate concept of God.
Entries in The Culture (92)
Well, we’ve about exhausted that topic, haven’t we? Sometimes I have to talk something out completely before I understand what I actually think.
I could sum it up: 1, I haven’t spoken out against gay marriage because I don’t see it damaging marriage any more than straight people have already done.
2, my spiritual tradition has found by experience, over millennia,
In the wake of my “Why Speak Out on Gay Marriage?” post I received some thought-provoking comments and emails, which led me to think further about the situation of people who support traditional marriage, but live in communities where that opinion is socially disapproved. Here’s an email I sent to a correspondent living in the Pacific Northwest:
Thanks for writing. I am realizing that I live in a bubble. People who are involved in their communities on the ground level are in more of a bind about this. Current opinion has become the “new normal,” and to resist it is to send up flares, designating yourself a bad, untrustworthy person. For my part, I’m a grandma so have no kids in public schools, I worship in a traditional local congregation, and in my work-life engage mostly with thoughtful, intelligent people who agree or disagree in a civil way. I understand that many people are in more of a bind, not free to hold their own private opinions, but socially pressured to demonstrate allegiance to the new opinion.
Sorting through some old boxes in the basement, I ran across a manila envelope stuffed with 40-year-old women’s lib literature. It was right under the Earth Shoes. Back then, I was a mother-earth-type hippie, and an enthusiastic “women’s libber” (then the prevailing term of choice). In the envelope I found an assortment of leaflets protesting the nuclear family (inherently oppressive) and warning against “female hygiene deodorant,” “the myth of the vaginal orgasm,” and other threats to womankind. There were some huffy letters I’d written to the campus newspaper, and mimeographed flyers for the campus women’s group. The pride of the collection was a 1971 copy of the classic feminist guide to health and sexuality, Our Bodies Ourselves. This was the pre-mainstream edition, published by the New England Free Press, stapled together and priced at 40 cents.
When the protesters were sentenced last week for their performance in Christ the Savior Cathedral in Moscow, a friend asked me why Orthodox Christians were so upset about what they’d done. For him, this was clearly a political protest. It was aimed at a too-close entwining of church and state, so it took place in a church. What’s the big deal?
But, in practice, there’s a difference.
When people with strong religious convictions live alongside people who hold different but equally strong views, the results can be explosive. That’s not only a matter of historical record, but a global tragedy as fresh and raw as today’s headlines. The United States, however, somehow defies both human history and faith-based brutality all too common in the contemporary world. What is America’s secret to maintaining social peace, relatively high levels of religious engagement, and increasing diversity?
To answer that question, American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us, just published by Simon & Schuster, draws on the most comprehensive surveys yet on American religion and public life, taken under the auspices of the Templeton-funded Faith Matters project.
[National Review Online; January 22, 2009]
Just two days after the inauguration, another crowd filled Washington streets, the pro-lifers who gather each year for the “March for Life.” This January 22 marks the 36th anniversary of Roe v Wade, and after so many years with little change or improvement, the nation has grown a bit blasé about this annual demonstration against abortion. We still say abortion is a “hot issue”— but if you think about it, it’s not as hot as it used to be. The abortion controversy used to command cover space on magazines, and TV networks showcased hour-long debates. You don’t see that anymore.
You could say that people just got tired of hearing about it. Year after year the two sides said mostly the same thing, and nothing much changed. Eventually, public attention was bound to sidle off to a newer, more exciting topic (gay marriage, anyone?). When attention drifted, it was the pro-choice side that had command of the status quo.
And you could say that that settles that; from now on there will be less and less talk about abortion, and we’ll just get used to things the way they are.
But I can imagine things going a different way. Not soon—maybe not till the baby boomers have passed from the scene—but it’s possible that a younger generation will see abortion very differently. And the reason is, as the saying goes, “Nobody knows when life begins.” With abortions now running around 1.2 million per year, the total number of abortions since Roe v Wade is about 49 million. That’s a big number—about a sixth of the US population. It’s a especially big number, if you’re not absolutely sure that it’s not a real loss of human life.
After all, if you saw a little girl hit by a car, you’re going to yell, “Get an ambulance!” not “Get a shovel!” It’s in the very fabric of humanity to be on the side of life, if there’s the faintest hope that life exists. We don’t throw children away when we’re not sure whether they’re alive or not. And, as the pro-choice side never stops saying, it’s not that they’re positive a fetus is “not alive” – it’s that they’re not sure.
When I was a young fire-breathing college feminist in the early 70’s, we didn’t see abortion as a melancholy private decision—it was an act of liberation. By choosing abortion, a woman could show that she was the only person in charge of her life, and bowed to no one else’s control. But this formulation turned sour as the grief felt by post-abortion woman began to accumulate. The flip side of autonomy is loneliness, and for many women, their abortion decision was linked to emotional abandonment.
And then there was the advent of ultrasound technology, enabling live images of a baby moving in the womb. In 1989, word went round the pro-life movement to order the tape of pollster Harrison Hickman’s presentation at that year’s NARAL convention. On it he said, “Nothing has been as damaging to our cause as the advances in technology which have allowed pictures of the developing fetus, because people now talk about that fetus in much different terms than they did 15 years ago. They talk about it as a human being, which is not something that I have an easy answer how to cure.”
So there are some reasons to think that the abortion question has not been settled, but has merely gone underground. That might be a necessary step. It has to go away so that it can be rediscovered, and seen in a fresh light.
I don’t expect that reconsideration soon: my Boomer generation will never see abortion as anything other than the wise and benevolent gift we bestowed on all future generations. We still control the media, the universities, and so forth, and it will take time for all of us to topple off the end of the conveyer belt.
But the time is coming when a younger generation will be in charge, and they may well see abortion differently. They could see it, not as “a woman’s choice” but as a form of state-sanctioned violence inflicted on their generation. It was their brothers and sisters who died; anyone under the age of 36 could have been aborted (and somewhere around a fourth or a fifth of all pregnancies, in fact, are aborted). A younger generation might feel a strange kinship with the brothers and sisters, classmates and coworkers, who are missing.
And I’m afraid that, if they do see things that way, they aren’t going to go easy on my generation. Our acceptance of abortion is not going to look like an understandable goof. The next generation can fairly say, “It’s not like they didn’t know.” They’ll say, “After all, they had sonograms.” And they may judge us to be monsters.
Maybe that won’t happen. Maybe future generations won’t think twice about abortion. But even we who have grown sick of talking about it still harbor some doubts. In particular, people who think of themselves as defenders of the weak and the oppressed must have many a quiet moment when they wonder, “How, in this one issue, did I wind up on the side that’s defending death?”
There’s a lot of ambivalence out there, and a lot of unspoken grief too, I think. So you never know. Pro-choice may have won the day—but sooner or later, that day will end. No generation can rule from the grave. When that time comes, another generation will sit in judgment of ours. And they are not obligated to be kind.
[Ancient Faith Radio; January 7, 2009]
FMG: Well, I’m at home, of all things. Occasionally I am at home. It’s Sunday morning at Holy Cross Antiochian Orthodox Church in Linthicum, Maryland, just south of Baltimore. If you’ve ever been to Baltimore Washington International Airport, BWI, we’re just two miles from BWI. And it’s coffee hour, and I’m sitting in the basement in the parish hall, and I’m talking with somebody who’s travelled to be here with us. I’m not the one travelling this week. Deacon Tom Braun, from, is it St. Barnabas Church in San Demas?
Dn. Tom Braun: It’s St. Barnabas in Huntington Beach, California.
[The City; November 2008]
All the articles surrounding this one are hot off the keyboard, written in the days since the election. This one goes back a ways. When editor Ben Domenech asked me to contribute to this forum, I told him that I was utterly unqualified. I try not to follow politics.
That probably sounds unpatriotic, as well as irresponsible, for someone who is grateful to have been born an American citizen. But I find that the verbal sparring in print and on line, the “yelling shows” on TV, aren’t healthy for me.
[Again Magazine; December 2008]
The first thing we saw was a blinking sign warning us not to park on the interstate, and then a helicopter circling overhead. As we took the exit, signs assured us that all lanes led to parking, and every block or so a guy in security uniform was windmilling his arms, coaxing the herd of cars to creep forward. All the parking lots were full, their entrances blocked off by police cars. We followed the herd off the road to a vast field of gravel and hardened mud, and finally shut off the engine. Far in the distance we could see it, glowing like the Emerald City of Oz: Arundel Mills Mall.