2016-06-30

For me, the radical truth of my faith is therefore not that God exists, but that God is love (a far, far less likely proposition). On its face, this is a preposterous claim, and in my defense, I have never really argued in this dialogue that you should not find it preposterous. It can be reasoned about, but its truth itself is not reasonable or reachable through reason alone. But I believe it to be true--not as a fable or as a comfort or as a culture. As truth. And one reason I am grateful for this discussion is that you take this truth claim seriously on its own terms.

What did Jesus do? The first and immense thing is that he existed at all. Here's how I put it in my book:

"This, it seems to me, is the true mystery of the incarnation, the notion that in Jesus, God became man. I believe this in the only way I can: that one man represents, for all time, God's decision to truly be with us. The reason I call myself a Christian is not because I manage to subscribe, at any given moment, to all the truths that the hierarchy of my church insists I believe in, let alone because I am a good person or a "good Catholic." I call myself a Christian because I believe that, in a way I cannot fully understand, the force behind everything decided to prove itself benign by becoming us, and being with us. And as soon as people grasped what had happened, what was happening, the world changed forever. The Gospels - all of them, including some that were rejected by the early Church - are mere sketches of a life actually lived, and an experience that can never be reduced to words or texts or doctrines...
In this nonfundamentalist understanding of faith, practice is more important then theory, love more important than law, and mystery is seen as an insight into truth rather than an obstacle. It is the great lie of our time that all religious faith has to be fundamentalist to be valid. There is another way. For Christians, that other way is about a man, Jesus, whose individuality and humanity cannot be abstracted. And it is about a commemoration of that man, as he asked us to commemorate him--in a meal, a breaking of bread, a Seder-made-new, the mass, as Catholics have come to understand it. This is my faith, if I were forced to describe it."
This is what Jesus told people: to treat God as an intimate father, to pray simply, to believe against so much evidence that good does indeed prevail against evil, to know that God is not indifferent to us, and to re-enact his last meal for ever as a way to remind ourselves of his love and experience his real presence. And this is what Jesus lived: a life full of love and friendship and self-giving, even to the point of non-violent submission to violence, as proof of God's love. I do not need the proof of miracles to believe this. The universe itself is a miracle to me. If there are aspects of it that science has not yet grasped but that believers have somehow glimpsed, then I am content to allow for the possibility of miracles. But I have not witnessed any but the normal ones: the miracle of the blossoms outside my window at this time of year or the miracle that someone else actually loves me unconditionally, or the miracle of a newborn child. This is miracle enough for me. Or in the saying attributed to John Donne:
"There is nothing that God has established in a constant course of nature, and which therefore is done every day, but would seem a miracle, and exercise our admiration, if it were done but once."
The resurrection? Yes. But I see it as no more and no less remarkable than the incarnation--and it is, in many ways, the only possible consequence of the incarnation. The Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles provide contradictory accounts of what the resurrection actually was. Jesus appeared in the guise of others, as a vision, as a fully physical entity, and in other ways that defy science and logic. I don't know how to understand it except as a mystery. But I do believe in the empty tomb as much as I believe in the cramped manger. They go together--marks of an appearance in human history as mysterious as the divine must always be to human minds.

To your specific challenges, I think I addressed the moderation vs. fundamentalism argument at the beginning of this missive.

Is the Bible uniquely the word of God? Yes--but it was also first spoken and then written by human beings. I don't believe in its inerrancy or its literal truth. But I believe in the deepest truths of the Gospels, and the truth of the life and death of the man they describe. Has God spoken to us in other ways? Of course. But for me, the words of Jesus speak of God's love more truly than anything else I have ever come across. I'm still looking.