Orthodoxy and ignorance

Mike Todd, writing about Rob Bell’s Love Wins and the (over)heated condemnation it has received, offers an insight into this fierce defense of rigid orthodoxies that collides neatly with our most recent Tribulation Force discussion. In particular, he explains why it is that real, true Christian heroes like Rayford Steele and Buck Williams cannot learn, change or grow.

Here’s Mike, writing about “Love Hell, Conciousness and the (Current) Impossibility of ‘Church Unity‘”:

If your spirituality is based on “believing the right things”, there is going to be trouble.

If you believe there is a concrete list of “right things” to know, and if you happen to believe that you, in fact, know these things, then the very idea of growing, thinking differently, of evolving, is by definition heresy. If we want to sound religious we call these right beliefs orthodoxy, and we declare ourselves its protector, and the keeper of the faith, as if somehow God needed a bodyguard.

The “orthodoxy” of the heresy-hunting fundamentalist that Mike describes reminds me of Elbert Hubbard’s “recipe for perpetual ignorance: Be satisfied with your opinions and content with your knowledge.”

Roger Olson writes about the same tribe, responding, like Mike, to their heated reaction to Rob Bell’s book. Olson responds in turn by citing a remarkably timely passage from the great Reformed theologian Karl Barth:

One question should for a moment be asked, in view of the ‘danger’ with which one may see this concept [viz., universalism] gradually surrounded.  What of the ‘danger’ of the eternally skeptical-critical theologian who is ever and again suspiciously questioning, because fundamentally always legalistic and therefore in the main morosely gloomy?  Is not his presence among us currently more threatening than that of the unbecomingly cheerful indifferentism or even antinomianism, to which one with a certain understanding of universalism could in fact deliver himself?  This much is certain, that we have no theological right to set any sort of limits to the loving-kindness of God which has appeared in Jesus Christ.  Our theological duty is to see and understand it as being still greater than we had seen before.

Or, as once I realized in an epiphany following a long night trying to remember all the words to “Pancho and Lefty”: “If there is a God, then God must be, by definition, bigger and more merciful than Townes Van Zandt.”

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  • Caravelle

    Hmmm…I would describe that as different standards of evidence. If the
    person is using the voice only to make decisions for hir life that don’t
    harm others, I might disagree with the standard of evidence that zie is
    using, but in practice I think it would be petty of me to openly state
    the objection. But if the person is insisting that everyone accept that
    purported god’s existence as fact, and insists that the voice gave hir
    instructions for the human race, then I may be justified in
    counter-insisting on a higher standard of evidence.

    I completely agree.

    (jaw hangs open) Really. So in general, do they assume that the
    experiences didn’t have a divine origin? Do they leave the experiences
    as unexplained?

    What, have you never heard of ex-believers talk about their deconversion experiences ? A lot of them talk about having experiences that at the time they interpreted as divine.
    Most of those I’ve heard of have come to decide their experience wasn’t divine. I haven’t heard of leaving experiences as unexplained but I imagine that could happen too.
    I agree it’s a bit hard to imagine having such a radical shift in one’s interpretation of one’s own experiences but apparently it can happen.

    If you’re interested, the most detailed story of the sort I can recall offhand is Evid3nc3′s:
    (although I don’t know how many atheists, or people in general, would agree on the “simulation” interpretation. But it’s a personal story after all so whatever)

    That video is just the one about personal experiences, but if you’re interested in deconversion stories the whole sequence in order is worth watching.

  • Tonio

    Thanks for the explanation. I didn’t realize at first that you were talking about ex-believers, not people who had more or less always been atheists or agnostics. I’ve never encountered the type of deconversion account that you described. All the accounts I’ve read or heard about have followed this pattern – the person believed because zie was taught to or raised that way, or else they thought they had found meaning in a particular religion, but in both cases started questioning what they had come to believe. I’ll check out that link.

  • http://twitter.com/Rhysdux Rhysdux

    Huh. I never heard of a de-conversion story before.  Thank you. That was interesting.