God Beats Up on People Who Ask Useless Questions (Luther)
Prolegomena to any Future Eschatology
That may Represent Itself as Humanly Acceptable (Berger)
An interpretive paraphrase of some propositions of religion from a reading of:
Peter L. Berger
Questions of Faith: A Skeptical Affirmation of Christianity
(Blackwell Publishing, 2004)
1. Religion is supposed to be necessary as the basis for morality. No thanks! With admirable exceptions here and there, religions over the centuries have not been famous for their moral excellence. Religion has been shown as not necessary for morality because moral judgment is grounded not in the imperative mode (do this, do that) but in the indicative mode (see this, look at that) [p. 164]. Morality is perceptual. The historical record shows that some of the greatest religious figures engaged in really dubious behavior (Luther the anti-semite), some were downright monstrous (Medici Popes) - while agnostics and atheists have been morally admirable. There are atheist saints.
2. Religion demands submission to God's will, even in the face of the innocent suffering of children. No thanks. This is not humanly acceptable. I submit to God who does not will the death of innocent children.
3. Religion may seek to console us all by saying that eventually we will be absorbed into some ocean of cosmic divinity (i.e., the mythic matrix). No thanks. To absorb those who suffer into an ultimate reality in which all individuality, uniqueness, and the irreplaceableness of persons, and the infinite preciousness of children, is lost is but another version of death.
4. Religion offers certainty in scriptures, spiritual experiences, and in institutions from the chaos of life. No thanks to the certitude purveyors and certainty wallahs. Scripture is inspiring, but not inerrant, religious experience of the holy spirit has been found to be inducible by social manipulation, and totalistic religious institutions can be replaced by totalistic secular institutions (e.g., big tent politics).
5. Religion provides powerful symbols for the exigencies of human existence. No thanks. To be sure, it does, but there are other (competitive) sources for such symbols.
6. High religion says man is saved, not by works, but by God's grace and forgiveness. No thanks. Some notion of damnation is necessary if one affirms the justice of God in the face of evil. Nothing short of damnation will be adequate for the perpetrators of the Holocaust. None of us, and certainly none of the victims, should be urged to forgive them.
7. Both religion and atheism often claims to know the course of history. No thanks. Those who ascribe to the popular eschatology -- rapture, end times -- or who claim to know what the secular course of history is, then proceed to help it along by their own action typically will only add to the endless accumulation of suffering, as seen in the great Marxist experiments.
8. Religionists, particularly of the orthodox and neo-orthodox schools of religion, often claim that God has spoken to them directly, or through scriptures, God has spoken to them directly. No thanks. Most of us may be considered the metaphysically underprivileged, as it were, and must acknowledge that God has not spoken to us in such a direct manner. His address to us, if that is what it is, comes to us in a much more mediated manner. It is always mediated. It is mediated through this or that experience, and most importantly it is mediated through encounters with the scriptures and with the institution that transmits the tradition. To proceed as if one had spoken to God directly is to base one's existence on a lie. It seems plausible to propose that, if God exists, He would not want us to lie.
9. Religion must say no to every freedom-denying scientism or any Buddhist understanding that all reality is non-self (an-atta) denies the existence of the autonomous self, because that is a denial of freedom. In the perspective of the Biblical faith the self is not an illusion, neither is the empirical world, because both are creations of God. It is possible to affirm this faith in a threefold no to the Buddha's Three Universal Truths: All reality is not impermanence, because at its heart is the God who is the plenitude of being in time and eternity. All reality is not suffering because God's creation is ultimately good and because God is acting to redeem (repair) those parts of creation, especially humanity, where this goodness has been disturbed. And all reality is not non-self, because the self is the image of God, not because it is itself divine but because it exists by virtue of God's address.
10. The collection of Jesus' sayings constituting what we know as the Sermon on the Mount forms the moral and ethical basis for the organization of society. No thanks! Any human society that would organize itself on the basis of the Sermon's unrealistic demands would promptly lapse into chaos. For goodness to result we must get our hands dirty and we must recognize that most of our actions have unintended consequences. We may desire good ends and employ good means, and nevertheless the results may be unbearably evil. Jesus as a great teacher and exemplar is eminently uninteresting, and we can do well without him.
11. The criteria distinguishing true and untrue religion is asserted mainly by academics and liberal North American Christians as whether a religious tradition induces its adherents to cultivate selfishness and altruism. No thanks! The weakness of this criterion can be seen by transferring it from religion to, say, physics: is one to accept or reject a discovery in physics on the basis of a physicist's moral qualities? Does the theory of relativity depend on Einstein having been a nice man? If religion has anything to do with reality - transcendent reality - then the test of it being true does not depend on the "saintliness" of its representations.