Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Book of Mormon stirs reaction


David Brooks is a brilliant man, who on occasion really bugs me. His article in The New York Times last week, Creed or Chaos, is almost right but not quite.

Reacting to having seen The Book of Mormon on Broadway, which he liked, he writes, "The Book of Mormon is not anti-religious. It just endorses a no-sharp-edges view of religion that is all creative metaphors and no harsh judgments." Brooks decries what he views as our devolving into a less sectarian view of religion: "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."

I believe in practicing a particular faith. Passionately. I believe in embracing a story that unlocks the great mysteries of life. Deeply. I believe in attempting to live according to the way of life Jesus set forth. Faithfully. These passionate, deep and faithful convictions rest on what are absolute truths for me.

The problem arises when I conclude that absolute truth is truly knowable and that I know it. I don't. I know a culturally prescribed, deeply cherished version of the truth. It resonates at the deepest core of my being, and I am (often) willing to stake my life on claims about it that I make for myself. It is my way to God.

What bothers me about Brooks' surprisingly non-nuanced claims about religiosity is that he fails to address how religions, which claim unmitigated absolute truth, can successfully live in a world that is instantly and deeply interconnected. Not addressing that is a problem. Those who reject religion all together on the basis of its role in wars throughout history have a point that requires an even more serious answer in our era.

Christianity (and for that matter an Episcopal version of it) is unmistakably my way. But, of course, it relies upon "creative metaphors" in the teaching and inculcation of its followers. How else are we to speak of what is ineluctably unknowable? Any words or images that we use to describe God are all human derived. Getting world religions to admit that single fact may be the next great step in promoting peace in this world.

I am all for theological rigor, arduous practice and definite beliefs. We just need to admit their origin and to claim their primacy in our lives without assuming that others hold the same understanding.

1 comment:

Jabez L. Van Cleef said...

I do not think David Brooks is a brilliant man. I think his writing in the New York Times and elsewhere is pretty consistently meant to defend people who have a lot of money from sharing what they have with people who don't have a lot of money. I think that this predisposition pretty effectively disqualifies him from commenting on Christianity. I don't really know what the term "religiosity" means, vague or specific, and I hope that such is term is never applied to me.