God talk

From the secular point of view, to admit that secular nationalism is just as religious as Islam, for example, would question the whole foundation upon which the secular nation-state claims its legitimacy. From the religious point of view, it would also invite charges of idolatry. Despite the similarities between what is called religion and nationalism, then, we must deny that nationalism is really a religion. We acknowledge verbally that the nation and the flag are not really gods. The crucial test, however, is what people do with their bodies. It is clear that, among those who identify themselves as Christians in the United States, there are very few who would be willing to kill in the name of the Christian God, whereas the willingness, under certain circumstances, to kill and die for the nation in war is generally taken for granted.

William T. Cavanaugh, The Myth of Religious Violence

I have seen men, proud of their ability to lie, and exciting laughter by their clowning and joking, who have miserably destroyed in their hearers the habit of mourning.

Vassilios Papavassiliou, Thirty Steps to Heaven

I recently picked up a tract on The Way to God from "World Missionary Press," left in a restroom at a restaurant. I was curious about how the kinds of people who leave tracts in bathrooms viewed the question.

Well, it wasn’t as bad as I feared — nowhere near as bad.

  • It didn’t describe the Fall as tainting humanity with hell worthy sin from the moment of birth, but rather as bringing sin and death into the world. ("Romans 5:12", they cited.)
  • It didn’t do any of the Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God scaremongering.
  • It didn’t remotely suggest that one "sinner’s prayer" magically saves you forever, no matter what you do later.
  • It didn’t have even a whiff of the detestable "rapture crap." But …
  • It didn’t mention that Christ’s second coming is for judgment.
  • It didn’t mention baptism, let alone chrismation.
  • It didn’t mention eucharist, let alone its necessity if we want life in us, or indeed Christ in us (though they emphasized somehow-or-other having Jesus in your heart).
  • Actually, it only vaguely hinted at Church in any form. (It printed the Lord’s Prayer, recommended memorization, and noted that "Believers often pray this prayer out loud together.")

In the New York Review of Books, Anne Enright writes about Stanford anthropologist T.M. Luhrmann’s continuing research among people of faith. Luhrmann has a new book out titled How God Becomes Real: Kindling The Presence of Invisible Others. Enright says:

American evangelicals speak to God about their feelings, and they do this because they assume their feelings matter. In the Western tradition, according to Luhrmann, the mind is imagined “as a private place, walled off from the world, a citadel in which thoughts are one’s own and no one else has access to them.” Nor can these thoughts leak out to act directly on the world; they cannot, for example, make another person ill or better. For American evangelicals, God is mostly about them. He is a friend, and, like a friend, he helps solve everyday problems—dilemmas about relationships, personal happiness, and the choices people make in life: “You can ask him what shirt you should wear and what shampoo to buy.”

Evangelicals in other cultures experience God differently, though the practice of their imported Pentecostalism is very much the same. In Chennai, India, where personal feelings are not privileged over family values, people are more likely to experience God “in their human father and through other people.” In Accra, Ghana, where prayers against demons are commonplace, God’s voice is experienced viscerally, often as an exhortation, and he is also expected to enact revenges and punishments in the world. Both Indians and Ghanaians are happy to discuss things that might be felt in some “spirit sense” that is hard to name. Most Ghanaian evangelicals hear God’s voice audibly, which is to say, in the room.

For Americans, the mind is separate from the world. In order to make it available to supernatural experience, they must occupy a mental space these other cultures take for granted, which Luhrmann calls “the in-between.” Believers cultivate a talent for “absorption,” an immersive focus that blurs the boundary between inner and outer experience. This is “the mental capacity common to trance, hypnosis, dissociation, and perhaps imagination itself.”

Rod Dreher, Reaching The Realness Of God

Epitaph for Modernity: I came, I shopped, I died.

Fr.Stephen Freeman