Is Christianity in Good Faith?

First I had a great deal of difficulty finding any Christian who would respond to my position. I took it to my own minister and our bishop and then the Archbishop of Canterbury and got no comments except the implied position that only a lunatic would ask such questions. Eventually I wrote to the Episcopal organization in the States and titled the note "Trying to raise a Christian". They sent me a list of BBS and the like and I found Theologos, a study group of church scholars where qualification for participation included a Ph.D. in theology and/or advanced work in religious studies. Okay. When I submitted the letter to the Pope to Theologos for discussion with the above as the heading, I first received the following response:

My dear son,
Whatever you believe is all right with me but I'll pass you work along to Cardinal Ratzinger for his appreciation. But, whatever you do, please don't write any more hymns.

Dear Robert, my dear father, I'm sure-
You've given me a lot of room there to keep me from writing more musical masterpieces. At the time I thought my ingenuous little hymn was perfectly adequate but with the additional meaning that "gay" has taken on since that time it's hard to argue now.
Notwithstanding the carte blanche you offer, I would appreciate some commentary on the content of the letter and its observations about Christ and Christianity.
I honestly wonder what you church scholars and such will think. That's about it. No hurry. Obviously I'm still waiting for a response from John Paul II too. Ho hum.
Yours truly,
David Howe

I then received the following bizarre comment, reproduced exactly as circulated among the Theologos group, from a Christian scholar who heads The Center for Biblical Literacy in Grove City, PA:

you argued from experience and put experience on a higher level of authority than anything else as such, you views become valid personal expressions of opinion, but not something to be debated since there is little common ground between your perceptions of what you think is important and an objective standard by which your opinions could be judged.your lengthy post wore me out as I tried to read it because it wasn't making a lot of sense, it was so emotively based and it moved from point to point without addressing epistemological questions.

Jefferis Kent Peterson, Pres.
The Center for Biblical Literacy

With all due respect, Reverend Jefferis, I have looked through your work as presented in the CBL and, like you in relating to my own, I find little or nothing I can agree with in point or principle. You are what Confucius would unhappily term a "goody-goody" ("Goody-goodies are the thieves of virtue") in presenting a position based purely on independent assurance and gainsaying expedience rather than relating to reality, the fact of the matter, which is where both the problem and any real solution rest.

In any case, to simplify and thus hopefully to clarify our "question" concerning the good faith of Christianity, let me first say that in our estimation the Bible, and particularly the New Testament, is an execrable example of authoritative presence based on nothing but its own glad-mouthed self-definition. This insidious collection of this and that can be employed to argue virtually any position that suits the interpreter if he is willing to wade through all the contradictions until he finds a passage that "proves" his point, and that point is invariably that the devoted Christian is not responsible for what he does and has a free rein in determining the representation of existence without any interest in actually relating to it openly. This makes the book unworkable as an authority and disqualifies it as an expression of Holy Writ.

We obviously have an impossibly varied position concerning divine being coming out of the Bible, and out of the church, ranging from a wrathful visage of "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" with an "eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth" to a vigorously imputed saccharine wimp who is so pathologically forgiving (what does he have to hide?) that he openly empowers self-selected individuals to forgive for him willy-nilly rather than doing it himself. Further, the authority of the clergy in absolving sin is absolute: whatever they forgive (whether in good or bad faith, witness the history of indulgences) is forgiven irrespective of reality. It would honestly appear that God is considered an idiot in the Christian vision.

If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven. (John 20:23)

Obviously a book that can be used to purport both of these divine extremes and the full range in between is incoherent nonsense.

One thing that has always struck me as strange considering its manageable size, is that so few people read the New Testament. As a result, in as much as it is such a touted authority among those who find it an effective explanation for everything, I have worked through it and have been absolutely horrified to contemplate Christ's self-righteous, goody-two-shoes incoherence. What you interpret as an emotive presentation in my letter to the Pope is in fact exasperation with the fact of Christianity. How in Heaven's name could you be so arrogantly wrong without its being a farce orchestrated in bad faith?

As for my emphasis on experience, each of us is purely and simply a continuing experience from one moment to the next and I don't imagine that even the facile Christian mind can argue with that reality. If that is what we are, that is where we should be based, not in some pleasant vision that allows us to stand against the fact of the matter and tells us that locking ourselves in our religious fervor frees us from contemplating the horror and the beauty of existence. The church has always tyrannized its flock and told it not to feel what it feels thus truly killing the grounded sense of justice and mutual connection that is based on relating openly. This perversion of energies is the source of the frenzied escapist search for power and release that has so plagued the Western tradition and now, in its final hour, many of the obviously present elements of reality that the church denies the minimum of respect, are asserting themselves in dubious forms following the long suppression by narrow minds and pathetically limited vision.

As the American Indians so clearly understood (it is interesting to see how politically correct the church has become in CBL despite its incredibly intolerant history relative to the "heathens"), the problem they had in relating to Christians was the same as my own: either you enter into their little dreamworld or you cannot communicate because they refuse categorically to come out of it.

[Before his execution], he visited his family, which consisted of his wife and six children. I cannot describe their meeting and parting so as to be understood by the whites, as it appears that their feelings are acted upon by certain rules laid down by their preachers, while ours are governed by the monitor within. . . Why did the Great Spirit ever send the whites to this island to drive us from our homes and introduce among us poisonous liquors, disease and death? . . . We can only judge what is proper and right by our standard of what is right and wrong, which differs widely from the whites'. The whites may do wrong all of their lives and then if they are sorry for it when about to die, all is well, but with us it is different. We must continue to do good throughout our lives. (Black Hawk, Sac Chief, 1833)


Brother, we are told that you have been preaching to white people in this place; these people are our neighbors, we are acquainted with them; we will wait a little while and see what effect your preaching has upon them. If we find it does them good, makes them honest, and less disposed to cheat Indians, we will then consider again what you have said. (Red Jacket, Seneca Chief, 1805)

As Red Jacket so clearly notes, in terms of its real relationship with the dream it so glowingly presents, Christianity looks rather like another of the current crop of pleasant illusions and distortions that espouse an interpretation in a form that engenders tyranny just as Christianity always has--the dream, i.e., the religion, of Communism, recently discredited by reality itself.

As regards Theologos, I had been unawares that the grotesque scholastic tradition of arguing nonsense based on nonsense and then presenting it with absolute authority (which underlies a lot of the church's continuing insouciance and indifference to both experience and reality) was still perking. Now I know, gentlemen.

Yours truly and with all due respect in this intensely disrespectful era,

David Gordon Howe, Ph.D.

P.S. Just for your information, Jefferis, Clifford Geertz is an anthropologist, not a sociologist.