I thought I would follow up after reposting my “Assuming a Circular Bible” cartoon with a post on assuming a circular religion. The reference of course is to the attempt to deal with things by addressing an abstraction that is much simpler than the complexities of reality – like the famous joke about a physicist coming up with a solution to a farming problem that only works for spherical cows in a vacuum.
The impetus for my post is a review by Jason Rosenhouse of Evolution and Belief: Confessions of a Religious Paleontologist by Robert Asher. In the post, he refers to Asher’s religious views in a manner that makes conservative definitions of orthodoxy normative. For instance, he talks of Asher’s “massively watered-down version of Christianity.” While, on the positive side, Rosenhouse shows that he is aware that there is a spectrum of views that fall within the range of the phenomenon called Christianity, he assumes that as one moves from one end of the spectrum to the other, one is dealing with something less and less deserving of the name:
The sort of religion promoted by the young-Earthers is obviously incompatible with science, but they don’t get to define Christianity for everyone. By contrast, the very liberal versions promoted by people like John Shelby Spong can easily be reconciled with science, but only at the cost of discarding almost every major point of Christian theology. Go that route if you wish, but some will complain that you are thereby left with a version of Christianity that is scarcely distinguishable from secular humanism. The really interesting discussion takes place between those extremes.
Can you see the problem? Why is the conservative end assumed to be the more Christian? Why is resemblance to secular humanism considered less Christian, and why is it not considered from an inverted perspective, asking whether it is something to be complained about that secular humanism is at times scarcely distinguishable from liberal Christianity?
In short, I think that Rosenhouse assumes a particular definition of Christianity as normative. But that allegedly normative version has never been the only form of Christianity, nor is it clear that it has ever predominated among educated Christians.
What would the discussion look like if instead we took the most liberal, most educated, and most open examples from Christian history as normative? How would the conversation need to be recast?Here are some links to other recent blog posts and articles that are of related interest:
Tenzan Eaghll wrote an open letter to Richard Dawkins about religion.
Chris Heard at long last continues a series on the inspiration of Scripture, which was inspired by something I wrote a while back.
Kevin Miller’s recent post focused on fundamentalisms of various sorts.
Charles Reid on the need for Christians to combat science illiteracy.
Inside Higher Ed had a piece about academic freedom and a course about different kinds of creationism at Ball State University.
Zack Hunt’s post about the Bible testifying to its own imperfection was reposted at Red Letter Christians.
But the identification of Christianity with a bulk of propositional claims needs to be questioned. Not because propositional claims don’t matter. But because the answers matter less then who you are in community with in struggling with these questions.
Craig Watts followed up on the study about certainty and persuasiveness.
Adam Kotsko offered some thoughts about the Emergent Church and the New Atheism.
And finally, a post suggesting that certain conservative voices need to heed Proverbs 16:19.