Leaving a Church

When a person is dissatisfied with life in church, what is he or she to do? If, for instance, the people on the right and left in the pews are just too complacent about the surrounding community, or disinterested in growth by study, one asks, do I accomplish by continuing here? Do I work against the faith by hanging on so? Should I keep my misgivings aside, or do I need to depart?

The Prodigal Son

A congregation has powerful means of shaming one who contemplates leaving. The prodigal son comes up. One of the brothers fails to respect and appreciate the father’s love, pulls out his stake and leaves. When he comes back, the one stayed loyal, who hears the rejoicing over his brother, has only the rewards of a stalwart. The father has to entreat him to come in to the festivities.

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How to Read the Bible

There is much to say about how to read the Bible, and so much nonsense already said, that one is reluctant to open the subject. From Marcion to Thomas Jefferson and on up to the present, people have carved it up to their liking.

A high criterion for reading anything comes from the late Randall C. Reid, a professor of literature, not a Bible scholar. He taught students to drill into a text far enough to find where the writer reached his limits; where he could not answer his own questions. A text that didn’t go to this point, or a writer who didn’t challenge himself that far, could not be taken as first rate. This is the opposite of reading only to answer one’s own questions; that is an insult to any literature worthy of the name, biblical or otherwise.

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Use and Abuse of Religious Art

From the most ancient Egyptian and Greek monuments to the present day, most of what we call “Art” is religious art. One of our cultural superstitions is that any art is religious because it is presumed to express the grand spirit of the artist. It is a short step from “creative artist” to then artist as creator: symphonic conductors as demigods; poets, painters, playwrights, and sculptors as transcendent geniuses, and so forth. It takes only one more step to arrive the artist as an avatar of the Creator. Even modern art that appears to call religion into question, or to make a travesty of it (“Piss Christ”) finds itself addressing faith in backhanded ways. When it’s trying to say something positive, not merely mocking, capital-A Art takes the human spirit as a quasi-religious object. The 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen, set forth by the French National Constituent Assembly, was painted by Jean-Jacques-François Le Barbier as a pair of tablets, like those from Sinai.

Lately the Owl has written about works of art that have clear liturgical functions. It is just as interesting to look for authentic spiritual and theological content in unexpected places. In some cases, the matter is clear; in others it is ambiguous, or solipsistic. Here are a few examples.

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Soft Sciences

The Owl’s last two written posts dealt with Science from their different angles. Here is a third, about some who claim to have a scientific world view and take on human affairs as fitting subjects for their investigations. Hence, we have sociology, political science, etc.

This might make an interesting thought-experiment, but what they call science quickly devolves to a misappropriation of a certain authority, a mystical certitude, supposedly coming from realms of objectivity above the fray of meanings as poets, theologians, politicians, and the rest of us think of them. At this point, social ‘scientists’ become truly dangerous. For if we ought to have learned anything from science as it plays out in the twentieth century (the atomic bomb, eugenics, Stalinism), it is not to trust these fellows with the language of justice or democracy.

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Darwin and Dread

A few days ago the Owl ventured some remarks about that old bugaboo, Science and Religion. By now, one would think there is nothing fresh left to say on the subject. In spite of that we ask the reader to indulge us on an even more seductive canard, the authority of Charles Darwin, that flies in the teeth of the creation stories in Genesis. Sophomores like to point out there are two narratives on the subject in Genesis; the Biblical account is contradictory on its face.

Actually, there are at least four accounts of creation in the Bible—one in the eighth chapter of Proverbs, and another in God’s reply to Job. This is not the place for elaborate exegesis; only to address the obvious: that one can’t talk long about science and religion without Darwin’s name coming up. The fact is, there is a definite conflict between Christian faith and what is called Darwinism, but it has nothing to do with Genesis.

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