Friday, August 15, 2003

As regular readers of the Globblog know, the General is a Marxist political economist. When it comes to politics, however, the General is all populist. You may be surprised, but the General is also a Christian -- and a pretty (small-o) orthodox one at that.

When liberal atheists start commenting on Christianity, as they have done quite often in the recent past (especially over the Episcopalians new gay bishop and Mel Gibson's new film Passion), the General usually squirms but keeps his fingers away from the keyboard. You're reading the Globblog to hear about the global economy, after all. But today's op-ed by Nick Kristof in the NYTimes sent me over the edge. If liberals want to chime in about gay marriage, fine -- this is a democracy. When they start debating what is and is not Christian doctrine, I get itchy. When they start slamming doctrine, however, it's time to say "enough".
The Virgin Mary is an interesting prism through which to examine America's emphasis on faith because most Biblical scholars regard the evidence for the Virgin Birth, and for Mary's assumption into Heaven (which was proclaimed as Catholic dogma only in 1950), as so shaky that it pretty much has to be a leap of faith. As the Catholic theologian Hans K´┐Żng puts it in "On Being a Christian," the Virgin Birth is a "collection of largely uncertain, mutually contradictory, strongly legendary" narratives, an echo of virgin birth myths that were widespread in many parts of the ancient world.

Jaroslav Pelikan, the great Yale historian and theologian, says in his book "Mary Through the Centuries" that the earliest references to Mary (like Mark's gospel, the first to be written, or Paul's letter to the Galatians) don't mention anything unusual about the conception of Jesus. The Gospels of Matthew and Luke do say Mary was a virgin, but internal evidence suggests that that part of Luke, in particular, may have been added later by someone else (it is written, for example, in a different kind of Greek than the rest of that gospel).

Yet despite the lack of scientific or historical evidence, and despite the doubts of Biblical scholars, America is so pious that not only do 91 percent of Christians say they believe in the Virgin Birth, but so do an astonishing 47 percent of U.S. non-Christians.
Kristof sums up his observations with these comments.
I'm troubled by the way the great intellectual traditions of Catholic and Protestant churches alike are withering, leaving the scholarly and religious worlds increasingly antagonistic. I worry partly because of the time I've spent with self-satisfied and unquestioning mullahs and imams, for the Islamic world is in crisis today in large part because of a similar drift away from a rich intellectual tradition and toward the mystical.
Kristof is typical of those liberal atheists who want to imagine religion in a way which [1] makes it completely consonant to their own world view and [2] subsequently drains it of all meaning and power. In this article, Kristof does to Christianity what Tom Friedmann does every day to Islam. Friedmann want desperately to find the elusive "liberal Muslims." He routinely scours the Islamic world for them, champions the two or three he runs across and prescribes their amazingly unpopular and insincere religion for the millions who actually hold to the tenets of Islam -- all while Freidmann himself is not Muslim.

Kristof's "rational Christians" who reject(ed) the virgin birth two generations ago have become today's rational atheists. The "mysticism" Kristof claims to find has been at the core of Christian doctrine since the beginning. Certainly liberal Biblical scholars of the late 19th century and 20th centuries have sought to drain Christianity of every numinous ounce of doctrine. They have at the same time de-Christianized those denominations which have accepted their approach -- the Episcopal Church being the best example. Liberal "Christians" who reject points of doctrine like the virgin birth are not Christians at all -- they are "post-Christians," and Kristof demonstrates this excellently. Kristof's grandfather was on the path to post-Christianity, and Kristof himself has arrived at its logical conclusion. People like Kristof are happy to have Christians around so long as they aren't really the Church but instead a liberal club that just happens to have its meetings on Sunday morning.

The "rich intellectual tradition" Kristof alludes to is hardly rich nor is it much of a tradition. Pelikan was a conservative Lutheran theologian before he converted to Eastern Orthodoxy very late in life (and always accepted and taught the virgin birth) -- hardly the liberal ally Kristof tries to make him into. If Kristof wants rich tradition, he should read Irenaeus, Tertullian, Ambrose, Augustine, Ildefonsus, Bernard, Luther -- and stay away from the Jesus Seminar.

And liberals should be careful about commenting on something -- Christian doctrine -- they know absolutely nothing about.


Post a Comment

<< Home