By her mid 30′s Marian Evans was a major player in Victorian intellectual circles, writing regularly for The Westminster Review and translating important works of Feuerbach and Spinoza into English. For various reasons she used a pseudonym ”George Eliot” when she undertook fiction writing. Born in 1804, she was raised in a nominal or “easy going” Anglican home, she had a period of deep evangelical Calvinistic conversion, but in the context still of the established Anglican church. By her mid 30′s she was an agnostic, but remained sympathetic to the Church at least in part. The following excerpt is from her “Scenes of a Clerical Life”. The book tells the story of three Anglican clergyman. The one mentioned in this passage is an establishment evangelical:
The first condition of human goodness is something to love; the second, something to reverence. And this latter precious gift was brought to Milby by Mr. Tryan and Evangelicalism.
Yes, the movement was good, though it had that mixture of folly and evil which often makes what is good an offence to feeble and fastidious minds, who want human actions and characters riddled through the sieve of their own ideas, before they can accord their sympathy or admiration. Such minds, I daresay, would have found Mr. Tryan’s character very much in need of that riddling process. The blessed work of helping the world forward, happily does not wait to be done by perfect men; and I should imagine that neither Luther nor John Bunyan, for example, would have satisfied the modern demand for an ideal hero, who believes nothing but what is true, feels nothing but what is exalted, and does nothing but what is graceful. The real heroes, of God’s making, are quite different: they have their natural heritage of love and conscience which they drew in with their mother’s milk; they know one or two of those deep spiritual truths which are only to be won by long wrestling with their own sins and their own sorrows; they have earned faith and strength so far as they have done genuine work; but the rest is dry barren theory, blank prejudice, vague hearsay. Their insight is blended with mere opinion; their sympathy is perhaps confined in narrow conduits of doctrine, instead of flowing forth with the freedom of a stream that blesses every weed in its course; obstinacy or self-assertion will often interfuse itself with their grandest impulses; and their very deeds of self-sacrifice are sometimes only the rebound of a passionate egoism. So it was with Mr. Tryan: and any one looking at him with the bird’s-eye glance of a critic might perhaps say that he made the mistake of identifying Christianity with a too narrow doctrinal system; that he saw God’s work too exclusively in antagonism to the world, the flesh, and the devil; that his intellectual culture was too limited—and so on; making Mr. Tryan the text for a wise discourse on the characteristics of the Evangelical school in his day.
But I am not poised at that lofty height. I am on the level and in the press with him, as he struggles his way along the stony road, through the crowd of unloving fellow-men. He is stumbling, perhaps; his heart now beats fast with dread, now heavily with anguish; his eyes are sometimes dim with tears, which he makes haste to dash away; he pushes manfully on, with fluctuating faith and courage, with a sensitive failing body; at last he falls, the struggle is ended, and the crowd closes over the space he has left.
George Eliot. Scenes of Clerical Life
Robe Bell says he isn’t interested in controversies over traditional and long held conceptions, but in the possibility of regaining the meaning, mystery, love, and hope that go with God.
But isn’t that like saying as a radical interventionist, “I’m not concerned with your family history, with the language, patterns and symbols that have landed the family here. I’m concerned with moving the family forward today!”
The thing that bonds liberals and evangelicals tighter than Jacob and Esau in the womb is a loathing of the tradition.
One piece of this puzzle is the national rate of firearm-related murders, which is charted above. The United States has by far the highest per capita rate of all developed countries. According to data compiled by the United Nations, the United States has four times as many gun-related homicides per capita as do Turkey and Switzerland, which are tied for third. The U.S. gun murder rate is about 20 times the average for all other countries on this chart. That means that Americans are 20 times as likely to be killed by a gun than is someone from another developed country.
The above chart measures data for the nations of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which includes all Western countries plus Turkey, Israel, Chile, Japan, and South Korea. I did not include Mexico, which has about triple the U.S. rate due in large part to the ongoing drug war.
In the midst of the massive volume of discourse after the Newtown tragedy, I recently found this gem: The Freedom of an Armed Society. The author is questioning the mantra that the NRA recites: “An armed society is a polite society.” But if liberal democracy is preserved by free, open and frank speech, do guns encourage or discourage such speech? When you see someone attend a political rally where the President is speaking carrying an unconcealed firearm, are you more or less likely to engage them?
Far from preserving civil society, an increasingly armed citizenry will likely erode it:
As Michel Foucault pointed out in his detailed study of the mechanisms of power, nothing suits power so well as extreme individualism. In fact, he explains, political and corporate interests aim at nothing less than “individualization,” since it is far easier to manipulate a collection of discrete and increasingly independent individuals than a community. Guns undermine just that — community. Their pervasive, open presence would sow apprehension, suspicion, mistrust and fear, all emotions that are corrosive of community and civic cooperation. To that extent, then, guns give license to autocratic government.
“We should only go into markets where we can make a significant contribution to society, not just sell a lot of products. These things, along with keeping excellent as an expectation, these are the things that I focus on.” – Tim Cooke, Apple CEO
At least theologically, there are two effective divisions between American Christians, One is between those for whom the gospel is itself the norm of all truth and the person of Christ therefore the founding metaphysical fact, and those for whom some other agenda or “theory” is the overriding norm. The other is between those who use “justification by faith” — or in the especially aggravated case of Lutherans, the “law and gospel” distinction — to fund their antinomianism, and those appalled by this. The language in which I have described the alternatives will doubtless betray on which side of each division I find myself.
-Robert Jenson, Christian Century (May 2, 2007)
In Against the Protestant Gnostics, Lee contends that for gnostics of all historical types, salvation is about knowledge of the self for the sake of the self, as opposed to knowledge of the mighty acts of God:
As far as the gnostics were concerned, the “many” were overly fascinated by historical happenings, even by the historical events in the life of Christ. Elaine Pagels, writing on the ahistorical views of Heracleon, reports that he claimed: that those who insist that Jesus, a man who lived in the flesh, is Christ fail to distinguish between literal and symbolic truth. . . . Heracleon goes on to say that those who take the events concerning Jesus “literally”—as if the events themselves were revelation—have fallen into flesh and error. Concern about the mighty acts of God in both the Old and New Covenants was from a gnostic perspective a lower stage in the development of an authentic Christian understanding. To know Christ was not in any sense to have knowledge about the “historical man of flesh and blood” but rather to be personally related to the mythical heavenly being who liberates humanity from historical concerns…
…The reason for this totally different concern of the gnostics is their conviction that the root problem of humankind is ignorance. Judaism and Christianity in their orthodox expressions would understand the basic source of all our misery to be sin, humanity’s failure to meet God’s expectations or its own potential; gnosticism would see the human predicament as resulting from a profound blindness concerning the human situation. “Ignorance of the Father,” states the Gospel of Truth, “brought about anguish and terror. And the anguish grew solid like a fog so that no one was able to see.
Before delineating the various aspects of the gnostic type, it should be understood that the one primary ingredient for the birth of gnosticism is a particular mood. The mood is one of despair. The gnostic solution can be satisfying only to those who have no tangible or rational hope. Because a certain number of people at every stage of history are caught up in despair, gnosticism of one sort or other always has a following. Throughout Christian history, certain individuals and small groups have been drawn toward the gnostic way. That historical reality is not terribly alarming; every great religion has variations on the theme. When, however, we come to a period like that of the first four centuries of the Church, when the gnostic way almost prevailed, how can we speak of a mood? Can an entire culture be in despair? And if so, why?
-Philip J. Lee, Against the Protestant Gnostics
Philip Lee summarizes a basic gnostic approach to salvation in his Against the Protestant Gnostics as follows:
What the gnostics knew was saving knowledge, a saving technique concerning the self. Probably the most often quoted gnostic formula sums it up: “What liberates is the knowledge of who we were, what we became; where we were, whereinto we have been thrown; whereto we speed, wherefrom we are redeemed; what birth is, and what rebirth.” If the Gospels were written “that you might know the reliability of the words concerning which you were instructed,” 7 then perhaps it could be said that the gnostic texts were written so that the gnostikoi could know the truth, not concerning words, but concerning their own salvation. In gnosticism, there was not that extra step of going to a sacred literature which existed quite apart from the self and finding in it, as a fringe benefit, a truth that could be applied to the self. In gnosticism, the Scripture was sacred only insofar as it saved the self. Again, what was known in gnostic circles was personal. If it was not personal, it was not gnostic.