Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Bernard's personal revelation

Bernard (in David Lodge's Paradise News) continues to write into his journal the story that he regrets not having told his friend:
You don't have to go very deep into the philosophy of religion to discover that it is impossible either to prove or to disprove the truth of any religious proposition. For rationalists, materialists, logical positivists, etc., that is a sufficient reason for dismissing the entire subject from serious consideration. But to believers a non-disprovable God is almost as good as a provable God, and self-evidently better than No God at all, since without God there is no encouraging answer to the perennial problems of evil, misfortune, and death. The circularity of theological discourse, which uses revelation to apprehend a God for whose existence there is no evidence outside revelation (pace Aquinas), does not trouble the believer, for belief itself is outside the theological game, it is the arena in which the theological game is played. It is a gift, the gift of faith, something you acquire or have thrust upon you, through baptism or on the road to Damascus. Whitehead said that God is not the great exception to all metaphysical principles to save them from collapse, but unfortunately, from a philosophical point of view, that is exactly what He is, and Whitehead never found a convincing argument to the contrary.
      So everything depends on belief. Grant the existence of a personal God, the Father, and the whole body of Catholic doctrine hangs together reasonably well. Grant that, and you can bat all day. Grant that, and you can afford to have a few mental reservations about the odd doctrine—the existence of Hell, say, or the Assumption of the Virgin Mary—without feeling insecure in your faith. And that was what I did, precisely—I took my belief for granted. I didn't seriously question it, or closely examine it. It defined me. It explained why I was who I was, doing what I did, teaching theology to seminarians. I didn't discover that my belief had gone until I left the seminary. [pp. 149-150]
      All the radical demythologizing theology that I had spent most of my life resisting suddenly seemed self-evidently true. Christian orthodoxy was a mixture of myth and metaphysics that made no kind of sense in the modern, post-Enlightenment world except when understood historically and interpreted metaphorically. Jesus, insofar as we could disentangle his real identity from the midrash of the early Gospel-writers, was clearly a remarkable man, with uniquely valuable (but enigmatic, very enigmatic) wisdom to impart, infinitely more interesting than comparable apocalyptic zealots who were characteristic of that period of Jewish history; and the story of his crucifixion (though not historically verifiable) was moving and inspiring. But the supernatural machinery of the story—the idea that he was God, "sent" by himself as Father from heaven to earth, born of a virgin, that he rose from the dead and returned to heaven, from whence he would return again on the last day to judge the living and the dead, etc., well, that too had its grandeur and symbolic force as a narrative, but it was no more credible than most of the other myths and legends about divinities that proliferated in the Mediterranean and Middle East at the same time.
      So here I was, an atheist priest, or at least an agnostic one. And I didn't dare to tell anyone.... [p. 154-154]
Disclaimer: I acknowledge that I don't have the right to publish long excerpts from copyrighted work (such as the novels of David Lodge). I console myself with the thought that I have so few readers—a few friends—I can hardly be said to be "publishing" anything. It's more like calling the friend over to my reading chair and saying, "Come here, look over my shoulder. What do you think of this?"

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