Beyond Blue

This journal entry (blog post) of Larry’s can be found at

(with thanks to David Kuo of Bnet’s “J-Walking” blog for the inspiration … and apologies in advance to my non-Catholic/Christian friends online and off …)
David Kuo, the former White House aide who has turned sharply critical of President Bush for not putting his money (and belief) where his mouth was when it comes to faith-based initiatives, is close friends with an evangelical preacher from the Twin Cities of Minnesota named Rev. Greg Boyd.
Through Kuo’s blog, I’ve heard tapes of Boyd’s sermons. And, being raised Catholic, I’m frankly allergic to the style. The only saving grace 🙂 to the constant, staccato “Can I get an Amen?”‘s is that he has a Fargo accent rather than an oleaginous Southern one a la Falwell or Robertson (or, from a more forgiving tradition, Joel Osteen …). I can assure (or disappoint) my friends reading this I will never convert to evangelical Protestantism.
But the substance … that is interesting.

Here’s an excerpt from one of Boyd’s sermons:

If we didn’t have confidence Easter was coming, we’d be locked in a Good Friday world. The darkness that fell on the world during Christ’s crucifixion would be a permanent state of affairs. Every loss would be a final loss, with no recovery. Injustice, pain, death and meaninglessness would have the final word. The highest aspirations of the human heart would amount to nothing more than a sick joke, serving no point in the total scheme of things other than to torment us.
Thank G-d Jesus rose from the dead!

Here’s the rub.
There has been much discussion in the media lately of Christopher Hitchens, the British journalist, and his American writing colleague Sam Harris and their avowed atheism.
All of the logic of an unremittingly hostile world is on Hitchens’ and Harris’ side. Yet both ultimately make me stumble. Hitchens in particular, if you’ve ever heard/seen him speak on TV, is so vitriolic, so angry, so hateful, that his manner invokes the bald slam on atheism that “Life sucks and then you die.” His blood must literally be boiling. That’s no way to live, with such bitterness in one’s heart.
Yet when one tries to justify Christian cosmology and, in its strictest, most judgmental forms, theology — it’s not asking us to make a leap of faith. It’s asking us to jump like Evel Knievel over the Grand Canyon.
So does that mean the idea of a benevolent G-d is automatically wrong? I don’t know.
And the “I don’t knows,” when you ask such questions (was G-d really punishing New Orleans for its sin with Katrina? where was G-d during the tsunami? where is G-d when a Darfuri woman is raped — again — by the Janjaweed?) add up. Which make Hitchens and Harris, insufferable though they are personally, tempting nonetheless.
Until you get to a point that — and here may be what Greg Boyd was getting at — to believe that the Cross is Good News, you must believe that up is down, that right is left, and that round is square, and this is what G-d commands us, no matter how bizarre.
My mind is too logical; it’s difficult to get my head (let alone my heart) around that.
Of course I know the conventional Christian answer to suffering — G-d cannot prevent evil acts of free will against another (thus the haplessness of the Darfuri refugee), but He can be there to comfort the afflicted. This used to be persuasive to me. It isn’t any longer. Among other things, even if you believe New Orleans is Sodom and Gomorrah and deserved its fate, what “evil act of free will” did the residents of the Indian Ocean basin, commit besides living close to the water? (Perhaps, to a fundamentalist, not being Christian was itself a good enough reason for G-d’s destruction. Scary.)
And if G-d is only concerned with our souls and not with our bodies, why do so many things happen in the world that are not only body-destroying but soul-destroying? You can name your litany of diseases (Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s, persistent vegetative state, severe depression, substance abuse) — many of which I have seen in my family and even myself — along with sudden displacement, the sudden loss of one’s family (see Job, Book of), and so many more situations.
And yes, I know the conventional Christian (or should I say, Boyd/Kuo evangelical — the Jesuits who educated me at Georgetown were much more nuanced) answer, too: You don’t have enough faith. So start prayin’ and confessin’ those sins. When Harris and Hitchens say that’s blaming the victim, well, they seem to have a logical point.
(Unless, again, logic has no place in this world, as Boyd seems to believe.)
I guess you’d have to say I’m still a theist, and more of a lapsed Catholic/Christian than an agnostic or atheist, simply because 1. I do care, badly, whether there is a G-d and 2. I believe there is a soul, whether it is destroyed on earth (if there is a h*ll, and people go there upon death, I don’t think Satan even has a soul to destroy by that point …) or preserved and elevated to heaven.
And some theologians would say that the very fact that one doubts means that one admits there is a possibility of G-d; therefore, look at the positive — one actually has faith.
(An observation buttressed for me by the fact that probably the most spiritually lost person I have ever known — she was not a bad person at all, just lost; that’s the best way to describe it — was quite intentionally raised by her parents without any religious training. A wag once said that you send your kids to Sunday school — or Hebrew school, or what have you — so they’ll have something to rebel against one day. But I’m not sure it’s such a joke.)
OK. Nevertheless, my faith is a weak one right now. Or — at most — one that is constantly wrestling with G-d, as Jacob did famously in Genesis 32.
Note on usage: Because many Orthodox Jews read and post on Beliefnet — and have complained to me in the past for not doing so — I have used their formulation of G-d’s name. Plus, I actually like the idea of fear and awe it symbolizes — and the idea it encompasses, shown in this very essay, that we can never truly know G-d.


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