Wednesday, July 11, 2007

In doubt about where we end out

Back in Rummidge from his trip to Hawaii, Bernard (in David Lodge's novel Paradise News) is giving the term's opening lecture, which might be titled "End Doubts":
"Traditional Christianity was essentially teleological and apocalyptic. It presented both individual and collective human life as a linear plot moving towards an End, followed by timelessness: death, judgment, hell, and heaven. This life was a preparation for eternal life, which alone gave this life meaning. To the question, 'Why did God make you?' the Catechism answered, 'God made me to know him, love him, and serve him in this world, and to be happy with him for ever in the next.' But the concepts and images of this next world which have come down to us in Christian teaching no longer have any credibility for thoughtful, educated men and women. The very idea of an afterlife for individual human beings has been regarded with scepticism and embarrassment—or silently ignored—by nearly every major twentieth-century theologian. Bultmann, Barth, Bonhoeffer, Tillich, for example, even the Jesuit Karl Rahner, all dismissed traditional notions of personal survival after death. For Bultmann, the concept of 'translation to a heavenly world of light, in which the self is destined to receive a heavenly vesture, a spiritual body,' was 'not merely incomprehensible by any rational process' but 'totally meaningless'....
      "Of course, there are still many Christians who believe fervently, even fanatically, in an anthropomorphic afterlife, and there are many more who would like to believe in it. Nor is there any shortage of Christian pastors eager to encourage them, some sincerely, some, like the TV evangelists of America, with more dubious motives. Fundamentalism has flourished precisely on the eschatological scepticism of responsible theology, so that the most active and popular forms of Christianity today are also those which are the most intellectually impoverished. The same seems to be true of other great world religions. In this, as in so many other areas of twentieth century life, the lines of W. B. Yeats hit the nail on the head:
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity."
                                          [pp. 280-281]
[The conclusion of the lecture will be posted tomorrow under "Sheep and goats."]
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?"


  1. Waiting eagerly for tommorow's post, which will doubtless be my all-time favorite!


  2. I had to get pulged in and juiced up again yesterday. But I'm back with you. I watched part of your hero's speech, until I got sick. You talk about Christians gone amuck. I'm waiting for that fool in the White House to get his message from God to blow up the world. But I guess than we would all find out who was right.