Grace, Power, and Sentiment

There is a famous sermon by Paul Tillich, known by its tagline, “You are accepted.” Tillich’s intention was to preach of God’s grace to a world that badly needed assurance. God’s grace is absolute. If so, then Jaroslav Pelikan spoke truly in a sermon at Yale Divinity School ca. 1970, when he said God’s power is greater than all human sin, greater than that of even the greatest villains of history. Name whom you will, they have had their shriving before the throne of heaven. We might go on from there to say they are in a better position to pray for us than we are to pray for ourselves.

It would be a serious error to construe this as an expression of “cheap grace.” Yet we must never settle for tawdry grace, grace trivialized, so that the wonder of it becomes routine. I certainly did nothing to deserve Jesus’ sacrifice for me, but it would show a frightful misunderstanding, wouldn’t it, if I showed up at the crucifixion expecting people to hug me and tell me I needn’t be afraid or sad. The lover of souls is condemned and dead. It would be horribly grotesque to hold hands and skip in a ring.

Continue reading “Grace, Power, and Sentiment”

Defining Religion

Several years ago I wrote to my friend Ken about the religious nature of political liberalism as it pivots on public moralism. We continued the exchange as follows.

Moralism is a matter of public politics as often as it is about private behavior. They both deal with what ought we to do. Liberals are as religious, and as perversely so, to the point of idolatry, as anybody, but they hide it from themselves and others as a point of class-based etiquette. They know as well as anyone how to use other people’s religion politically, and they do so with sneers and disdain, because that’s what their audience expects and pays for.

Ken knows there are both religious and non-religious liberals and conservatives. The sine qua non in religion is belief in some god. Beyond that, we differ. The Owl would define religion more generally, more like Paul Tillich, as a commitment to whatever the individual takes as the most important thing to believe, his or her ultimate concern. That could be an institutional program, a policy, an ideology; in short, anything at all. When it is not God, it will be a false god, an idol. To make that choice is what the liberal considers the sine qua non of human dignity, freedom of religion, of which freedom from religion is but one variety. The extreme examples of this are the three great anti-religious religions of the twentieth-century, Nazism, Marxist-Leninism, and Maoism.

Continue reading “Defining Religion”