Monday, June 11, 2012

Book Review: God Laughs and Plays

Yesterday while hanging out at my dad's office, I read God Laughs and Plays: Churchless Sermons in Response to the Fundamentalist Right., by David James Duncan.  I was a little suspicious of the title at first, but I thought, "eh, what the heck?  God does laugh and play, so let's give it a shot." 
I was highly disappointed.  Duncan bills himself as a modern-day mystic setting out to rescue "true" Christianity from all those right-wing fundamentalists.  What he really is, is just another in a series of modern-day "spiritual but not religious" people who love "the real Jesus, not the Jesus Christians like to tell you is real." 

Honestly?  Ho-hum.  Do Christians - all of us - get Jesus "wrong" sometimes?  Sure.  We all like to remake him in our own image - passionate about the things we're passionate about, loving and hating the same things and people we love and hate. But there's a way to talk about this, and make this point, thoughtfully, and there's a way to do it not-so-thoughtfullly.  Unfortunately, Duncan comes across as not-very-thoughtful, despite his attempting to portray himself as oh-so-thoughtful.  The biggest problem with Duncan is that, like so many "enlightened true-Christian liberals" these days, he lays all of the problems of the world (from starving third-world children to environmental problems to premillenial rapture theology) at the feet of Bushcheneyhalliburtonrepublicanschristianfundamentalists.  And, really?  That's just getting old.  In the first place, George Bush and Dick Cheney are both members of the United Methodist Church, which, the last time I checked, was not "fundamentalist".  It is thoroughly mainline.  Second, virtually all of the things that President Bush did that people such as Duncan don't like were voted on and approved by people that he presumably does like.  You can scream "unilateral military action" as long and as loud as you like, but it doesn't change the fact that Congress approved Afghanistan, and 39 countries besides the U.S. sent troops to Iraq.  To say that bushcheneyhalliburtonrepublicanchristianfundamentalists are responsible for all the evil in the world is ignorant, foolish, unfair, unhelpful, and frankly, stupid.  It immediately shows you as someone who is more interested in your ideology than in any sort of serious analysis of a situation.

Third, I'm really just tired of being lectured by the oh-so-enlightened crowd about my Christianity.  Is my theology perfect?  Of course not.  Am I sinner?  Absolutely.  But so are you, Mr. Duncan.  Throughout the book, Duncan seems so proud of the fact that he doesn't attend church and has just sort of discovered his own blend of spirituality and faith by picking and choosing what he likes from every religion and philosophy out there.   Now look, even the Roman Catholic church acknowledges that there are elements of Truth to be found in other religions:
Likewise, other religions found everywhere try to counter the restlessness of the human heart, each in its own manner, by proposing "ways," comprising teachings, rules of life, and sacred rites. The Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in these religions. She regards with sincere reverence those ways of conduct and of life, those precepts and teachings which, though differing in many aspects from the ones she holds and sets forth, nonetheless often reflect a ray of that Truth which enlightens all men.
 N.T. Wright notes in his commentary on Colossians 1:15-20 that
"To assert today that one Creator God has revealed himself fully and finally in Jesus Christ is to risk criticism on the grounds of arrogance or intolerance.  The ission of the church, however, doe not commit Christians to the propostiion that there is no truth to be found in other retions.  Colossians 1:16 implies that all philosophies or religions which have some 'fit' with the created world will thereby reflect in some ways the truth of God.
However, he continues, "It does not, however, imply that they are therefore, as they stand, doorways into the new creation.  That place, according to 1:18, is Christ's alone." 

Indeed. "I am the way, the truth, and the life," declares Jesus.  We don't like that verse in this day and age, because it limits our options.  Especially in the Western world, where you can literally spend hours in one aisle of Target trying to decide what kind of toothpaste to buy, being told that "I am the way," as opposed to all the other nice, harmless, pleasant sounding, helpful "ways" out there is not what we like.  And as Nostra Aetate and Wright remind us, it isn't that there aren't elements of Truth in other places.  It's that, in the end, all those other elements of Truth coalesce in Jesus, the Truth.

It's that ground that we must finally stand on. 

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My Comments Policy: "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law." Galatians 5:22-23