I think the opening statement of this last chapter speaks volumes of truth. It is a quote from a minister: “But it is sort of a pet issue of mine that the clergy have very, very few places where they can be honest with anyone.” Amen brother, Amen. In part I began to look at this book because of the idea that the new transparency of information breaking down the out wall of the church ability as an organization to stop honest objections to faith coming though was fascinating to me, but equally fascinating is he fact that the wall between pastor’s and their congregations has in many respects because of that wall’s breakdown gotten even thicker and opaque as a reaction to this new transparency. It is almost like a keep that has lost some its outer defenses as the lords of the inner keep tighten up their inner shell. Problem is the new transparency is getting to the lords of the keep.
The real problem is for clergy is that they must maintain a don’t ask, don’t tell policy and a don’t rock the boat attitude because to be blunt their lively hood depends on it. The problem is they too as believers are affected by the information pouring in through the open information age. They are losing faith and really have no one to talk to about it. There is actually multiple inner shells that not only keeps a clergyperson from their congregations but from each other.
Case in point, was when I was challenging certain aspects of my own faith, I dared not tell my fellow Assembly of God ministers about it, particularly the more fundamentalist one’s I would have been shunned on some aspects but even when I made note I was an open theist, the denominational leaders were skeptical and came against me for it even though the denomination had no official position on it. Now, I am truly alone from a fellow clergy standpoint but I am more free to express my ideas, but the pressure remains to be truly ‘faithful’ to central Christian ways of doing things that have not changed since the 1950s. In a very real way, Christians have become their own worst enemy by clinging to traditional ways which really have no Biblical basis but are now hurting the church in a tremendous way.
I do have one bone to pick with the authors (well at least Daniel Dennett) for his remarks on page 224. He says one of the troubling aspects of atheists like himself and the other three members of the four horsemen (Hitchens, Dawkins and Harris) of the New Atheist apocalypse, is that they don’t wrestle with the intricate arguments of theologians. The argument is that they believe they are constantly asking ‘What if I am wrong?” so they feel they are more open minded that the person who is a theologian. He makes the remark that he has met some pretty staunch scientists in his day, but non of them can hold a candle to the people who are apologists for Christianity. He says that they are really not engaging the arena of ideas because of this.
Honestly, it is the failure to engage these theological ideas that he admits to not engaging that tells me that he and his fellow horsemen are not really engaging the full arena place of ideas either. Sorry, the fact is that a certain theology is assumed by critics and if those theological assumptions are shown to be false then the critics basis for his criticism stands on shaky ground. There are not just New Atheists out there, there are also New Theologians like myself who are asking of their theology constantly: “What if I am wrong?” and yet somehow maintain our faith. Some of us are indeed reacting to this new transparency and surviving as Christians and people of faith despite the claims it will be our death nail.
Sorry I have met atheists who are just regurgitating what these four horsemen say without any real thought about it themselves much like Dennett accuses people of faith doing. I also have met apologists who could give an answer and unlike Dennett’s claims would take him up on a debate. He would say they were just being closed minded because they don’t agree with him. Sorry pot calling the kettle black observation inserted here. This was clearly an admission of bias on his part and I just wanted to point it out.
Back to the issue of the inner shell, I do not think it is the problem of the fact faith is bogus that people lose their faith, it is more that they get staunch in their beliefs that this what I have to believe to still have my faith. Ultimately they accept a certain theological position and a tradition of belief and never change either that leads to a loss of faith. If there is really a problem with traditional religion and theology is it does lead to an ‘all eggs in one basket” problem. Fact is that what the real problem is for me is this inflexibility even about the Bible that turns me off to most Christians.
In the case of my relationship to Christians as a clergyman, I would have to say that this is what keeps me silent more and more. Not that I don’t have an answer, it is just the answer is sophisticated and different than the tired old stuff people have been using since 1959. I would give them what I really think but often what I come up with really requires a dumping of traditional theology and practice in major ways and that is something most people in the pew simply do not have either the desire or ability to do. Most don’t see the need.
Next: Final Thoughts