Encouraging Voices

I’ve often been deflated by the great mass of misinformation and muddled thinking concerning religious (and specifically Christian) beliefs that makes its way to the web and other media. And yet, if I look around, I’m also liable to be encouraged by the cogency and even courage of others in these same venues. In the wake of Easter, here’s a few examples that fall into the second category:

1. In a recent column entitled “Creed or Chaos,” New York Times columnist David Brooks summarizes the message of the The Book of Mormon, the new Broadway play from the creators of TV”s South Park:

The central theme of “The Book of Mormon” is that many religious stories are silly — the idea that God would plant golden plates in upstate New York. Many religious doctrines are rigid and out of touch.

But religion itself can do enormous good as long as people take religious teaching metaphorically and not literally; as long as people understand that all religions ultimately preach love and service underneath their superficial particulars; as long as people practice their faiths open-mindedly and are tolerant of different beliefs.

Brooks doesn’t leave it there, however:

The only problem with “The Book of Mormon” (you realize when thinking about it later) is that its theme is not quite true. Vague, uplifting, nondoctrinal religiosity doesn’t actually last. The religions that grow, succor and motivate people to perform heroic acts of service are usually theologically rigorous, arduous in practice and definite in their convictions about what is True and False.

He closes with this:

I was once in an AIDS-ravaged village in southern Africa. The vague humanism of the outside do-gooders didn’t do much to get people to alter their risky behavior. The blunt theological talk of the church ladies — right and wrong, salvation and damnation — seemed to have a better effect.

2. Responding in part to controversial pastor Rob Bell, whose new book, Love Wins, proposes to rethink the orthodox Christian view of eternal punishment, fellow Times columnist Ross Douthat makes “A Case for Hell.” Why do that?

[A] doctrine of universal salvation turns out to be as deterministic as the more strident forms of scientific materialism. Instead of making us prisoners of our glands and genes, it makes us prisoners of God himself. We can check out any time we want, but we can never really leave.

The doctrine of hell, by contrast, assumes that our choices are real, and, indeed, that we are the choices that we make. The miser can become his greed, the murderer can lose himself inside his violence, and their freedom to turn and be forgiven is inseparable from their freedom not to do so.

3. Over at Public Discourse, Anthony Esolen offers “The Sexual Revolution, Defend It if You Can.” An excerpt:

And that is where the revolutionaries fail. They began, in the hoary old days of Herbert Marcuse, by justifying the new “virtues” of freedom of sexual expression, on the grounds that we would be a looser, friendlier, sweeter, less violent, and more beautiful society. Well, that certainly didn’t happen…look at the fatherless families, look at the plague of divorce, look at the snarling contempt of one sex for the other, look at the prisons, look at the sewage of mass entertainment, look at the “knowing” and jaded children, look at the venereal diseases, look at the sheer boredom evinced by the women’s magazines boasting the next hottest sex tip or five new and improved ways to get what you want out of your bedmate. The sexual revolutionaries have for too long simply begged the question. They say, “We should be allowed to do this, because every sexual desire short of rape and (sometimes) adultery should be tolerated—no, encouraged, even honored in law.” But that is to justify the sexual revolution by saying that the sexual revolution is justified. Let them do more. Let them argue that the sexual revolution—in its entirety—has conduced to the common good.


In other words, let the sexual revolution be justified on grounds of the common good. I believe it fails that test miserably, with evidence that is weighty, obvious, manifold, logically and anthropologically deducible, and clearly predictable by wisdom both pagan and Christian.

4. Finally, Anthony DeStefano makes a fair point in a recent opinion piece in USA Today:

Atheists, of course, claim that all of this is absurd. Christianity, especially, they say, with its belief in Easter and the Resurrection, is nothing but “wishful thinking” — the product of weak human psychology; a psychology that is so afraid of death that it must create “delusional fantasies” in order to make life on Earth bearable.

But is it wishful thinking to believe in hell, the devil and demons? Is it wishful thinking to believe we’re going to be judged and held accountable for every sin we’ve ever committed? Is it wishful thinking to believe the best way to live our life is to sacrifice our own desires for the sake of others? Is it wishful thinking to believe that we should discipline our natural bodily urges for the sake of some unseen “kingdom”?

And while we’re at it, is it wishful thinking to believe God wants us to love our enemies? For goodness sake, what kind of demand is that?

If human beings were going to invent a religion based on wishful thinking, they could come up with something a lot “easier” than Christianity. After all, why not wish for a religion that promised eternal life in heaven, but at the same time allowed promiscuous sex, encouraged gluttony, did away with all the commandments, and forbade anyone to ever mention the idea of judgment and punishment?

(Come to think of it, don’t we have plenty of people trying to invent just such a religion?)

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