Sunday, June 8, 2014

Uniqueness not a Virtue?

Q & A sessions at the end of a lecture/talk are brilliant, even if the questions tend to be in the form of either a) "Here is an interesting thought I have. Can you confirm for everybody here that it is interesting?" or b) a completely irrelevant or bizarre line of inquiry that gets the conversation nowhere. At a Terry Eagleton lecture last week there were quite a few questions veering towards the second form, yet it was precisely in his answers to these questions that Eagleton's true genius, and his patience, was revealed. I didn't ask him a question, partly because I get nervous in these situations and partly because I'm afraid of asking a question that takes one of the two forms mentioned above. Of course as soon as I left the building I had formulated in my head a question which perhaps would have been worth asking, namely: How does Terry Eagleton's interpretation of Jesus relate to the metaphysically-tinged creeds of the Church? 

Eagleton made two intentionally provocative statements in his lecture. The first was "God does not have genitals." The second was "God is an animal." I wondered about the relation between these statements, since they are essentially contradictory. It seems to me that the creeds provide a way to hold them together, but Eagleton's interpretation of Jesus basically removed metaphysics (and therefore later Christian understandings of Jesus) from the picture. I wondered if that was his intention, or if he thought his reading of the Gospels could be squared with the creeds. Perhaps that line of questioning would have been too confessional for Queen's, which Eagleton memorably described as a "constitutionally godless institution."

Anyway, I bring up Q & A's not only to name drop, but because I listened online to a Q & A after a Miroslav Volf lecture on faith and violence, and something he said has got me thinking, or at least has got me thinking that I need to get thinking. Here is what he said:

There is so much talk about Christian uniqueness, as if uniqueness were a value. But it isn't. It's a fake value. Truth is a value, but not uniqueness. The fact that Christian faith is unique, I'm troubled by this. I want a state of affairs in which Christian faith isn't unique....In heaven it won't be unique. It just will be. Truth. So if we emphasize uniqueness we are interested in difference. And there is a kind of a pride associated with a stress on uniqueness which wants others to be different than we are, wants others to be outside so that we can reel them in....I think that's a mistake.

The reason Volf's words have got me thinking is because they are quite at odds with much of what I have read in the last 5 years, which has been about the distinctiveness or uniqueness of Christianity and its ethics.

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