Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Iñigo Montoya, is that you?

William Willimon, United Methodist Bishop, wrote a review of Bart Erhman's God's Problem in The Christian Century. Good lord, this man is a crank. While complaining that Bart Erhman is a narcissist, the Bishop - a man elevated as an example of Christian behavior - heaps such scorn on the man that I almost couldn't finish the review. His disdain is breathtaking. Apparently Erhman "assumes a position of moral and intellectual superiority" to which Willimon is immune. Questions of suffering seem universal but Willimon considers the honest questioning of young adults "puerile theodicy." Such humility!

This is not my first encounter with Bishop Willimon, having read his "United Methodist Beliefs." In that work he occasionally lets slip a curmudgeonly snark about how deluded and idiotic non-believers must be. I got news for ya, Guv. We are doin' just fine.

The maddening thing is that his own sense of superiority is not so deserved as he seems to hold it. In his review he waves away the whole of the theodicy issue first by scolding anyone who might notice suffering and then drops this bit of sarcasm:
It's just too confusing to imagine that God's alleged omnipotence might be something other than what we think of as omnipotence or that God's love might be other than what we conceive of as love.
So God's love is something other than what we think of as love? Then it isn't love!! It is something else that apparently we humans can't understand. In other words, God's love appears to humans as indifference but don't worry it
really is love. Follow up with this bit of reasoning:
Trouble is, ambiguity, dissonance and conflict are the usual way that scripture presents its peculiar truth.
So truth doesn't mean what you think it means either.

This is a practice N T Wright indulges in as well, using normal, descriptive language as if it doesn't have it's usual meaning, hardly any meaning for that matter, and then infusing the whole argument with a knowing appeal to mystery. Some intellectuals relish their ability to hold two contradictory notions in their head at the same time. Unfortunately theologians have mistaken this for argument
and now routinely spread their contradictions on the table and then reach for the chips as if the matter was settled rather rephrased and obfuscated.

I seem to be having trouble coming to my point and I apologize. I suppose I am still trying to articulate what is serious flaw in high-end apologetics. Perhaps some day my thoughts will crystallize. Let me attempt a paraphrase. If God's ways are so transacendant or whatever that his creation can not understand them ot that any attempt to explain them ends in contradiction what justification do we have in believing that we will be okay in the end of things?
Christopher Wright explicitly suggests that if God's purposes are served than any colateral damage is justified. Give me the opportunity to sacrifice for a worthy end but if this is Divine Love imposed, than you would have to be daft to worship its God.

Update: The word I was looking for to describe the Bishop Willimon's attitude in his book review: Self-Righteous.

1 comment:

Anna said...

I think you make a good point about contradictions. And often times, high and mighty people do have flaws they will not admit to. But it is not God who has the contradictions, but people. Often times meanings are inferred to be something they are not. God's love is similar to the love of a friend who knows you are driving as fast as you can towards a cliff, but when he warns you, you think he is full off it. Sometimes to save you from the certain death of the cliff he needs to steer you towards the tree. And though you may be angry about your wrecked car and broken arm, later when you see the cliff for your self, you won't be angry but thankful. I find what you write interesting, which led me as a Christ follower to want to try to help you understand. There is nothing more fulfilling than a life with Jesus. God bless you, you'll stay in my prayers.