Sunday, January 11, 2015

A Response to the Response to the Response

I came across an article linked on Facebook which was a response to the response to the murders in Paris last week. The author is concerned with the treatment doled out to Christianity in the wake of the massacre, and highlights a number of instances where Christianity is being lumped in with Islam as a religion which is dangerous to a humanistic society. Yet in the author's desire for others to exhibit a nuanced approach to the different religions he forgets to exhibit such an approach himself. He writes:

Many times I have been presented with the mantra of the New Fundamentalist Atheists, "Atheists don't fly planes into buildings". To which the obvious response is "Neither do Presbyterians, Anglicans, Catholics or charismatics – not even the most extremist wacko charismatics. When did you last hear of Benny Hinn suicide squads?" But those who don't think about the consequences and harm of their prejudices far too often rush into this demonization of all religious people.

This is a paragraph bereft of self-awareness. These words by another writer demonstrate why:

The Muslim world has suffered more casualties at the hands of the West in the name of "freedom" than the West has suffered at the hands of Muslims in the name of "Islam."
Moreover, it is precisely through the use of planes (remote control ones) that much of the damage to the Muslim world has been done by the West. Anglicans or charismatics or Presbyterians or Catholics may not fly planes into buildings, but we can be fairly certain that they fly them over the heads of Muslim men, women, and children with the intent to kill. There is no spectacle to this Western form of plane-based violence (mainly because it is done in relative secrecy and from a cold distance, and partly because the lives taken don't matter to us, as evidenced by our reaction to the tragedy in Nigeria), but is it any less cruel, any less fueled by "religious" belief?

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Captive to Christ, Open to the World

I was given Brian Brock's Captive to Christ, Open to the World a few weeks ago and just got around to reading the first chapter/conversation. It is really a quite brilliant piece of theological reflection on the interaction between Scripture and Christian living. Out of the many insights on offer one in particular stood out the most.

Brock is critical of virtue ethics or an ethic of character. He thinks that this way of seeing the moral life easily leads to an obsession with the self and the self's moral progress. Indeed, Brock thinks that this is an unscriptural way of seeing the moral life. He says: "...I don't think Scripture allows us to frame Christian ethics as a matter of moral improvement" (10). According to Brock, "moral improvement is the result, not the aim of Christian ethics" (10). Brock goes on to cite Samson and David as examples of the kind of moral life that Scripture is interested in. This is a life which is at times obedient and disobedient to the divine claim, but a life which is never abandoned by God in virtue of his faithfulness. In the end, then, the aim of Christian ethics is not self-improvement, but a response of faith to the faithfulness of God.

I like this way of understanding things, though I think a focus on the New Testament would almost certainly bring character and virtue back into play. It is quite obvious that the stories of David and Samson were not told in order to convey the moral progress they made. Samson ended up getting his hair cut during one of his frequent visits to a prostitute, while David's last act was to give his son and successor Solomon a list of people who needed to get got. But as we move to the New Testament we are met by characters who, well, develop character. Peter is one such example, Paul another. Of course neither are immune to sin even as they progress, yet Paul is so confident in his character that he can say to the Corinthians "imitate me as I imitate Christ." Imitation as a form of moral training is very much at home in character/virtue ethics. Of course we cannot imagine David or Samson encouraging us to imitate them, and so Brock's model is appropriate within the context of their narratives. But my initial reaction to his insight is that it cannot be applied across the board.