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Friday, August 05, 2016

The Church in an Age of Doubt

"Science, in other words, thrives on anomaly, inconsistency, controversy, and doubt. Certainty kills it."

Hans Christian Von Baeyer, Discover, Mar.'96



The Age of Reason has long taken hold of Western Civ. There are holdouts, notably Latin American, portions of South America, Africa, as well as much of the Islamic world. India, too, and much of the third world is still imbued with the color of religious certainty.

Within the scope of the Christian world, the US has remained tottering on the edge of the precipice over which it looks into the rather heady depths of a Slough of Despond (some would call it Hell itself). It still can be called a religious nation. Especially below the Mason-Dixon line, where churches line the streets like lamp posts, and quite large ones at that. Wednesday night Bible studies are not uncommon in the South, and many a mission group spends their vacations helping those within disaster areas or just helping plant churches in less fervent locales.

These are predominately fundamentalist folk. Literalists. Bible-believers. Not only that, but King James Bible believers. They believe in miracles, now and historically. They trust in a risen Savior. In a Jesus born of a virgin. They believe in being "born again" though the definition can blur between sects, even within sects. Sex, if you were wondering, is a grave sin...except between consenting adults of the opposite gender. Homosexuality is a sin--but love the sinner!

These denominations received their calling cards in the 19th century, being born of a division that threatened to wreck the whole of Christianity. The Age of Reason, begun centuries before, caused many a Bible scholar to question the historicity of biblical events. Philologists pointed out discrepancies in the Bible and also that certain books of the Bible could not have been written by the same person, and were most likely compilations of different writings over a span of time. Some questioned the authenticity of certain books, others that the Gospel writers didn't in fact author their pseudonymous writings (and Paul's letters to Timothy and Titus were deemed of another's pen, as was Hebrews and some others). Moses, they averred--nay, proved!--had not written the Pentateuch (but this is obvious since Moses did apparently died prior to the terminus of the Torah!)

Great scholars had so belittled and damaged the Christian idea of the Bible, scholars such as Schleiermacher and Julius Wellhausen, not to mention the kerfuffle over Darwin, and that amazing treatise Essays and Reviews, that the religion itself must have seemed to some on the verge of toppling over. Then the Moody Bible Institute was founded in Chicago and a new age had begun. An Age that not only beat back the scholars but made them not even a distant memory.

That did not guarantee a victory, however. Though the new fundamentalist crowd did succeed in forging a new religious imagination (one hesitates before calling it Truth) the common people and the learned elite fell away from the fold, churches, especially those of the "main line" sort with their liberal theologies and progressive ideas, became empty, coffers decidedly not full, and many of these churches simply faded away and closed their doors. The fundamentalists were a stauncher people, more extreme in their political and religious views. They were going to hang around longer. But even though they may be still paying their bills, they too are seeing the writing on the wall.

The nones have arrived and are making their presence known.

The nones are those, chiefly millennials, who are unwilling to direct their spirituality toward one denomination, even toward any religion;s name whatsoever. That isn't the same thing as saying they are not spiritual. In polls they seem to bend to some nebulous spirituality, but unwilling to label it as "religious." They do not like churches. They do not read the Bible. They have the temerity to believe in science.

All this pits the fundamentalists against the common Joe, who dislikes churches and names like Jesus, Joseph, and Mary. These nones do not seem to believe in miracles: though perhaps it is only the miracles of the Bible they do not believe in. New Age miracles still hold some power over many.

So it seems we've come full circle. Reason began to defeat religion which counterattacked and while winning for quite some time is now giving way to reason once again.

We live in an Age of Doubt. I propose that we build a church out of doubt. I propose that we use this mythology that we have built up (and attempted to paint over with a literal brush) to teach again what myth can teach us: that the world is mystery, even though science tells us so many things about it. Myth, the story of doubt, gives us a way of knowing truth without the lie of the literal, without the pretending. Myth, the story of truth, gives us a way of conveying deep ideas of truthful paths, but all colored in doubt: there is no certainty, no undeniable that which can level someone with its pointy finger of judgment.

To become comfortable with the question, that is to live in doubt. To not insist on an answer, no one answer, to always leave open the idea of What is...? How is...? Where is...? To live without pretending is to seek the truth. Doubt is the new myth of our time. Embrace it.

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