Sacramental Present Truths

This is a page that focuses on religious and theological issues, as well as providing comprehensive teaching from a classic Catholic perspective. As you read the articles, it is my hope they will educate and bless you.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

The Secularization of Christianity Part XVII - Wrapping it Up

It has been a few weeks since I last posted, as life has gotten very busy.  Due to this reason, I have decided to limit my examination of Mascall's The Secularization of Christianity to chapter 2, which bears the same title as the chapter itself.  Most of the study of this series has focused on chapter 2 anyway, and this section is going to deal with the conclusion of the chapter.

Mascall is still evaluating Van Buren's overly secularized theology, and interesting enough he notes on page 74 that Van Buren observes a very marked difference between the approaches of Bultmann and Karl Barth for justifying the minimalization of the historicity of the Gospels.  For Bultmann, the interest is primarily in the Kerygma.  On the other hand, for Barth all that matters is the witness of the Apostles to the fact that God raised Jesus from the dead.  In this, Barth is actually more in line with the historical position of the Church (surprising, given his lack of orthodoxy in other areas of his theology) in that he accepts the Gospel story as historical fact, whereas Bultmann doesn't.  However, although Barth accepts the historicity of the Gospels, he also downplays it.  This can also be problematic as well, for as can be seen with some of Barth's later disciples (notably Tillich, Niebuhr, and Hauerwas), the downplaying of the historicity of the Gospel accounts opens a Pandora's box of other heretical notions, such as attacks on the divinity of Christ and on the Magisterium of the Church (which to a degree Protestants do accept as part of the historical patrimony of doctrine they have received from the Church herself).  This is why, while Barth is to be commended for defending historicity, his minimalizing of that historicity brings many of those who subscribe to his theology back to the same place Bultmann and his followers are.  Historicity is therefore not a sideline or a mere footnote; it is fundamental to faith.

Moving on to page 75, Mascall dissects what Bultmann calls "Easter faith," and what is meant by this in the context of Bultmann's theology is this - the events of the Gospel were colored and shaped, in his view, by the "Easter hope" of the Apostles, and thus for him they are subjective essentially.  For Bultmann therefore, it is possible to obtain a reliable picture of the kind of person Jesus was from what he deems the "various fragments" that "make up the Gospel tradition." 

To bolster his view on this Van Buren refers to the writings of Ernst Fuchs (1903-1983), Gerhard Ebeling (1912-2001), and Gunther Bornkamm (1905-1990), all of whom were to some degree Bultmann's proteges.  In quoting Van Buren's work The Secular Meaning of the Gospel on page 121 of that work, Mascall notes that Van Buren observes that each of these very liberal theologians focused on different aspects - Fuchs on the conduct of Jesus as a "great teacher" essentially, Ebeling on the issue of faith, and Bornkamm on the individuality Jesus noted in persons He encountered.  Mascall notes that the fault in these approaches is that they all focus on what the investigators want them to focus on rather than accepting the historical record of the Gospels in their entirety.  For all of them, and for Van Buren as well, the issue at hand is "freedom" and the proclamation of Jesus's message coming back to that - "Freedom," then, for such individuals, has precedence over faith, and it essentially means a sort of politicizing of the Gospel in a secular context.  For the secularist, faith and the supernatural present issues, and therefore they must re-interpret historically-understood concepts regarding Scripture and the person of Jesus in order to justify their own conclusions.  One recent author who demonstrates this is Jon Krakauer, whose 2004 book, Under the Banner of Heaven, is punctuated with Krakauer's mentality.  Krakauer's book deals specifically with the extremes of Mormon Fundamentalist sects that practice polygamy in the American West, but in doing so, he paints with a broad brush all people of faith.  One passage that exemplifies this can be found on page 297 of Krakauer's book where he basically paints with a broad brush Mormon Fundamentalists and committed Evangelical Christians such as former Attorney General John Ashcraft - for Krakauer, in true secularist fashion, to make any differentiation between cultic groups and legitimate Christian traditions is unreasonable, in that he sees one as fanatical as the others.  This is essentially as well where Van Buren and others tend to go by emphasizing "freedom" over faith - faith is bad to them because it is irrational in their minds, but "freedom" is the key.  Question is though, freedom for whom??  This reductionism of freedom being the logical meaning of the Gospels rather than the consequence of faith is one step away from denial of the divinity of Christ and other fundamental truths of the Christian faith, and it is exactly where Van Buren - as well as his predecessors such as Bultmann - are headed.  As Catholic philosopher Plinio Correa de Oliveira, in his seminal work Revolution and Counter-Revolution (Spring Grove, PA:  Association for the Preservation of Tradition, Family, and Property, 2014) notes, a rebellion against morality, which is rooted in faith, leads to a more or less unconfessed hatred for the very moral order as a whole, and this in turn is a revolutionary tendency to generate doctrinal errors as well as espousing things contrary to moral law (de Oliveira, p. 57).   He also notes that secularism is atheism with principle, which means that it is incompatible with the Christian faith - that would automatically rule out Van Buren then as a true follower of Christ.  This leads now to a sound response at the conclusion of the chapter to Van Buren by Mascall.

Mascall notes that Van Buren's conclusions are questionable in a couple of ways, starting on page 77.  First, a sincere love of God necessitates trust in God, something Van Buren's concept of "Freedom" lacks.  Therefore, if Van Buren's scheme is carried to its logical conclusion, Jesus Himself would have to deny God, and in essence deny Himself as part of the Triune Godhead - this conclusion is unacceptable to a true follower of the faith.  Oddly - and secondly - Van Buren rejects God yet believes in Jesus (like de Oliveira asserts, this would make Van Buren a functional atheist).  This creates a problem in that it divorces a historical knowledge of Jesus from faith for Him.  This cannot be, and therefore is in the realm of the heretical rather than orthodox Christian faith and practice.  At least however Van Buren acknowledges that the writers of the New Testament (and by extension, the leadership of the primitive Church) did not share his position, and with very good reason - Van Buren is heretical by their definition!  Divorcing faith from historicity and attempting to secularize Christianity is an impossibility and a contradiction, as John Horvat points out in his book Return to Order (Hanover, PA:  York Press, 2013) when he notes that the State best fulfills its role when it is permeated by a Christian spirit, working together for the common good.  A secular state - and much less a secular theologian! - doesn't have the capacity to do that because the common good is subordinated to the whims and fancies of the ones wielding the power.   The "freedom" of the Gospel message that Van Buren prefers to emphasize does indeed exist, but that freedom comes at a price - the price of our sin, and the ultimate act of supernatural grace being expressed to meet the true common good by Christ giving His life on a cross on a hill in far-away Palestine.  That act, and the supernatural grace it imparts is received by faith, and only in faithfully receiving and believing those facts can a true freedom and restoration affect either a society or an individual (Horvat, p. 216).  Mascall drives this home on page 80 by noting that even Van Buren has to concede that the Resurrection was not a mere resuscitation (as the Muslims and others suggest), as that would have little to do with impacting Christian faith.  In other words, the historical truth of Christ being Who the Gospels say He is defines all aspects of Christian life, and it is the guiding force of Christian civilization. 

Beginning on page 83, Mascall notes that Van Buren has a few problems with linguistic analysis he subscribes to.  Van Buren concedes, rightly, that evidence should not intend to assert a resuscitation by the Apostles of Jesus's dead corpus.  But, unfortunately Van Buren still reduces the witness of the Apostles to subjective experience by retaining the phraseology of Christianity but altering its meaning.  His position, as Mascall defines it on page 86, is that God doesn't exist and Jesus ceased to exist - like the heretics, Van Buren has basically attacked the core doctrine of Christianity, being the person and divinity of Jesus Christ.  While Van Buren though would accept Jesus as historical, he denies the divinity of Christ.  Again, as de Oliveira correctly has asserted, this turns Van Buren into a practical atheist.  This also radically redefines soteriology for Van Buren as well - essentially, the person of Christ and the accuracy of the Easter event have no soteriological effect on the Christian, but rather "the history of Jesus" and "a history of what happened on Easter" are subjectively accepted by the believer as a faith-crutch.  In reality for Van Buren, they merely provide historical account and basis for the individual perspective - they are past events that are used as reflective points for guidance and encouragement, in other words.  This reduces Jesus from being God the Son to being a "good man" and a "great teacher," and little else for Van Buren. 

On page 89, Mascall makes an interesting observation on how Van Buren even views the concept of "freedom" - for Van Buren, it is like a virus that people want to catch rather than the act of supernatural grace it is, and thus it can be "caught" without subscribing to historical faith.  Being a "good person" like Jesus is all that is needed (the old "salvation by works" heresy, in other words).  Moving onto page 91, Mascall then notes Van Buren's two principles of interpretation as follows:

1.  For Van Buren, statements of faith are to be interpreted as statements which express, describe, or commend a particular way of seeing the world, other men, and oneself.

2.  Also for Van Buren, the norm of the Christian perspective is the series of events to which the New Testament documents testify, centering on the life, death, and resurrection of Christ as merely historical events without spiritual merit.

In other words, for Van Buren, faith becomes a subjective but unnecessary exercise based on the outlook on the individual rather than an acceptance of historically-taught doctrine and the written account of the Gospels as truth.  This obviously leads to a dilemma for him and others who profess Christianity but seek to reinterpret or outright deny its teachings.

On pages 94-95, Mascall notes that there is a tension between the traditional formulae of the faith as upheld in the historic Creeds of the Church and the radical reinterpretations of secularists such as Van Buren, and it blurs the line between the disciplines of theology and hermeneutics. In the historic Creeds, for instance, it is plainly stated that Jesus is the living Logos, the incarnate Word of God, and thus He is nothing less than God Himself.  That is the orthodox and historical belief and teaching of the Church, and is a mystery of faith to be accepted by her faithful.  Van Buren, who rejects God and reduces Jesus to a dead man, would have been condemned by the Councils that drafted these historic Creeds.  This means then that traditional doctrine upholds two things:

1.   Economy - relating to the created world
2.   Essentiality - the inner life of the Trinity themselves

Van Buren's rejection of these historic aspects of faith inevitably trickles down to what he believes about other essentials of the faith.  For instance, he rejects the Virgin Birth and thus the Nativity account because they cannot be understood "factually" (very Cartesian of him, isn't it?).   He also rejects other doctrines - this means the supernatural dimension of the faith - based on the same idea.  How someone like Van Buren can still identify as "Christian" while denying core Christian doctrines on very important matters escapes me, and like de Oliveira I would condemn Van Buren and others like him as functional atheists.  And, that leads to a couple of final thoughts on the footnote Mascall has on pages 104-105.

Mascall, in his concluding notes, references an article published in 1964 by Don Cuppitt (born 1934), a British Anglican priest and philosopher, that he wrote in response to some of Van Buren's views.  The question raised is whether the Gospel is about God or about Jesus, and although Cuppitt correctly asserts it should be about both, he also observes that people like Van Buren tend to sunder the unity between Theocentricity and Christocentricity, a problem that stems back even to Barth's writings.  As Cuppitt notes, the traditional understanding is that the Gospel is about God as personified in Christ (which is beautifully illustrated in catechetical literature by such great writers as Fr. Josef Jungmann and Msgr. Eugene Kevane - Jungmann's "spokes of a wheel" analogy of doctrine, for instance, asserts that all we believe points back to Christ, and ultimately as a result to God, of whom Christ is Incarnate).  A new trend (new during the time both Mascall and Cuppitt wrote their works, but more evident today) is this paradox called "Christian atheism," which Cuppitt defines as this dichotomy of God as an evil "demiurge" of sorts and Jesus as a "tempering agent" as a holy man but not God Himself - this radically dualistic view of Christ is foreign to orthodox faith.  God was present in typologies before the Gospels were written, and has been present in the course of human events since the dawn of creation.  This "Christian atheism" has again raised its leviathon head in the teachings of people like Brian McLaren and Rob Bell, as well as with other Protestant participants in the "Emerging Church" movement.  This dualistic mentality of God being divorced from Jesus as a bad "demiurge" at worst or merely an Old Testament "covenant enforcer" at best doesn't do justice to the complete account of the Gospels within the context of all of Scripture.  Cuppitt rightly asserts - and Aquinas would agree - that the correct understanding of this issue is that the Gospel must (and does) presuppose a natural theology;  remember, God is the author of both Revelation and Nature, and the Thomistic principle here is that Nature never contradicts Revelation, but through supernatural grace Revelation perfects, elevates, and heals Nature.  Van Buren and other secular/liberal theologians like him (including even "Emergent Evangelicals" such as Brian McLaren and others) cannot grasp this truth because they deny the supernatural as something that they cannot understand logically (which they have in common with Rene Descartes and other Enlightenment-era figures) and thus in doing so they deny the very essence of what it is to be Christian to begin with.  The final thought on this now follows.

We live in an age that is characterized by Enlightenment thinking, unfortunately on greater levels and at greater depths than we realize.  It may even impact us to an extent as individuals, despite how orthodox we may be.  It also creates a toxic situation that is defined by John Horvat as "frenetic intemperance," and it is defined as being the following (Horvat, p. 17):

1.  It seeks to throw off legitimate restraints (including orthodox faith, in the Christian context).
2.  It seeks to gratify disordered passions by one of two ways:
     a.  Reinterpreting and redefining traditional language to fit a secular mindset.
     b.  Suppressing traditional definitions with intimidation and so-called "logic" (i.e.:  "political          correctness")

Although Horvat primarily deals with the effect frenetic intemperance has on the economics of a civilization, it can also be applied in other areas as well - ethics, theology, philosophy, etc.  As a matter of fact, I would assert that the economic manifestation of this is driven by philosophical, moral, and religious undertones, and the change in those three areas is what manifests itself in selfish economic policies - as Horvat correctly observes, it throws the whole system off-balance.  Van Buren is primarily a product - a fruit, if you will - of a poisoned legacy that goes back many decades, even centuries;  Van Buren was impacted by Rudolf Bultmann, who in turn was influenced by F.C. Bauer, and he in turn by Friedrich Schleiermacher, etc.   Ultimately, it goes back to the genesis of the via moderna during the Enlightenment, and such individuals as Spinoza, Descartes, Machiavelli, and earlier "trailblazers" such as Marsilus of Padua, etc.  Of course, if you want the ultimate root of the problem, look at Genesis 3 - it involved a snake, a tree, and a gullible woman who should have known better in the first place.  Heresies are based on recycled old lies, and one of the lies is an exaggerated self-importance of the individual to the point that such a person deifies himself, and thus the concept of an outside Creator or Savior upsets that ego trip.  In other words, the secularization of Christianity has old roots, and thankfully the true Church has (and will) prevail.  But, until that happens, there will always be the Van Burens who seek to destroy her from within, and they must be exposed for what they are, which is the value of Mascall's fine work we have discussed.  God bless until next time. 


Thursday, March 29, 2018

The Secularization of Christianity Part XVI - Historicity, History, and Reconstructionism of Doctrine

In continuing this discussion, I want to pick up on the last section in regard to the subjectivist linguistic empiricism of van Buren's position, as it also relates to religion and society as a whole.  That being said, we look now at Catholic philosopher Jacques Maritain (1882 - 1973) momentarily, in particular his book The Rights of Man and Natural Law, which was written in 1944.  In this book, Maritain makes a premise for three essential aspects of what he defines as the "common good," and those are as follow:

1.  A redistribution that aids in the development of human persons (this is not synonymous with communism or socialism, as it is not in that context)

2.  Authority is the foundation of the common good in society; for Maritain, it means that certain individuals are endowed authority to provide guidance toward the good of the whole as such.

3.  Intrinsic morality is fundamental to the common good - it is not an arbitrary morality, but rather fosters justice and moral righteousness. 

Maritain also notes that only Christianity has brought these aspects to light in their most complete manifestation, and that totalitarianism more than often relegates them to darkness (Jacques Maritain, The Rights of Man and Natural Law.  Glasgow:  The University Press, 1944. pp. 8-10).  Likewise, Etienne Gilson (1884-1978), in his short work The Terrors of the Year Two Thousand (Toronto: University of St. Michael's College, 1984) observes the following in this excerpt:  "If we start by annihilating everything, what limits can stop us?....Man knows henceforward that he can do anything without the echo in his ear of the redoubtable summons of the sovereign judge, 'Adam, where art thou?' There is no longer any judge, save Adam himself, who, since he alone makes the law, can apply it without knowing yet that man is for himself the hardest of masters and that, by a comparison with the yoke that he lays on his own shoulders, that of the Lord was light to bear" (Gilson, pp. 12-13).   Gilson's and Maritain's observations, although from the perspective of philosophy, nonetheless are relevant to the discussion in regard to the reconstruction of theology, in order to make it more secular, by van Buren and others.  Christianity, as Mascall notes, is a historical faith - it has something to do with a particular Person (Jesus) who lived in Palestine at a particular time.  However, van Buren is attempting, as Mascall notes, to redefine what is "history" and "historical" by following the rationale of R.G Collingwood (1889-1943), the English philosopher, who defined history as an answering of questions about human action in the past.  In doing so, as Mascall notes, it leaves history open to revisionism and arbitrary interpretations, and this would naturally rule out any "alleged" action of a supernatural God - this makes Gilson's words in the quote above prophetic, and in the context Gilson uttered those words, he was noting that like Genesis 11, man's limits are seemingly without limit, but they also can be negative in that they burden others.  Consider other attempts to rewrite history - the Nazis, the Young Turks, and recent manifestations of "political correctness," for starters - by either eliminating or ignoring some important facts that are evident of history, society does so to its peril.  Secularization is also as dangerous, as it seeks to revise history, reworking it in such a way that it writes out the importance of religious conviction and supernatural divine revelation in the affairs of human history.  However, this is exactly what Bultmann and van Buren try to do - Bultmann, it is noted by Mascall on page 70, dismisses the "universal history" as a source of "meaning in history," but rather "personal history" is more important - historical events, then, become subjective for Bultmann.  Van Buren also notes that "history" and the "history of salvation" are to be divorced from each other (based on his reading of Erich Frank) and that Jesus is constricted to the latter and has no importance to the former.  At best, Bultmann and others diminish Christ in "secular history," while the "history of salvation" for them is essentially mythological and only is a "coping mechanism" or moral compass but not a real historical truth.  This goes against what both Gilson and Maritain propose in their quotes, in that Maritain would argue from the perspective of the three aspects of the common good that religious faith and the person of Jesus were very influential in the development of  Western civilization, an idea that the orthodox Catholic would readily accept.  That presents an odd dichotomy for people such as van Buren, as well as Collingwood, and that warrants discussion now.

Beginning on page 71 of Mascall's text, we see the root of the problem for van Buren - although Collingwood's assertion that the appropriate activity of the historian is to enter into the historical narrative sympathetically with the subject, the difficulties of affirming a historical Jesus for van Buren is a problem.  The "radical coloring by faith in the resurrection of Jesus," which van Buren obviously denies and confines to the world of "myth," is a "weakness" he sees in the Gospel writers.  Supernatural events, for van Buren, are not historical, and thus it puts the historical facts of the events of Jesus's life essentially into question.  I am going to spend some time on this now, as it is important.  As mentioned before, cults and heresies tend to justify themselves by altering Christology - if they can either divorce the historicity of Jesus from His teachings, or if they can diminish or eliminate His divinity, they feel they can have a special insight into how faith works.  What is true of cults and heresies is also true of secularist liberal theologians such as van Buren, in that in reality van Buren is himself heretical in his denial of fundamental aspects of Christian faith, in particular those which center upon the person of Jesus.  God is therefore reduced by van Buren to a parenthetical abstraction (as he often writes of "God" rather than God, and there is a difference).  However, if Christ is diminished, it means that many other aspects of Christian faith, morality, and anagogy are now subjective only, and are arbitrarily at the will of their interpreters.  It is a slippery slope, in other words, and one that many madmen such as Hitler and Jim Jones have coasted downward on many times over the centuries.  Therefore, in denying the supernatural and thus the historicity of Jesus, van Buren is in effect also nullifying the common good that Maritain notes comes in its fullness through the Christian faith.  And, that is where the problem underlying this whole issue lies.

As Mascall continues to note on page 72, the secularist empiricism of van Buren follow with two consequences.  First, it strips the Easter event of its supernatural dimension, and this supernatural dimension is reduced to what Mascall calls a "blick" in the minds of the disciples only.  In other words, the disciples for van Buren were delusional, as they were supposedly under emotional duress from the event of the Crucifixion and thus developed the Resurrection narrative as a mere "coping mechanism."  Secondly, although it still fundamentally relates to the person Jesus whom the disciples knew intimately, van Buren's empiricism reduces Jesus to being no different from any other dead man - he does this by implication rather than direct statement, as Mascall notes on page 73.  Although van Buren is compelled to cede that the earliest Christian disciples looked upon their own experience in a less subjective and unsophisticated way, he still doggedly maintains his denial of the supernatural event of the Resurrection by actually divorcing it from Christian faith - what Jesus taught was good, in other words for van Buren, but His Godhood is in doubt because He died a man.  Like he has eliminated God and the supernatural from other aspects of his theology, van Buren now attacks the very essence of Christology, stripping from the person of Jesus all of his supernatural attributes.  Jesus, for van Buren, was a historical man that existed, but that is as far as it goes for him.  In essence, this is diminishing Christ in the name of "history," and based on mere linguistic empirical speculation on the part of van Buren and others like him.

History is history, and the Gospels record enough evidence that Jesus was who He said He was, although the limited natural mind of liberal/atheistic theologians such as van Buren cannot seem to accept that.  There are many witnesses (more than 500, give or take) that verify Jesus as who He was, and one of those is even post-Resurrection (the Apostle St. Paul).  The problem with contemporary society is that we want to do away with those aspects of history that make us uncomfortable - the Charlottesville incident over Confederate monuments recently is an excellent example.  And, for the secularist, the supernatural is an uncomfortable topic in that it defies much of their own rational thought - so, since it does, then it is rejected as truth and then excised from their interpretation of history and theology.  Problem is, the whole of the Christian life is tied up around and centered upon the person of Christ, and it is a Person who is the focus of our faith.  To take Christ out of Christian faith is in essence then like removing a beating heart from a human body - it will not function properly and will die without it, in other words.  Christ is the heart of our faith, and not merely a toenail or an appendix, and therefore the whole narrative of Christ - historical and supernatural - must be accepted as fact and truthful if the Christian faith is to be proclaimed, possessed, and believed accordingly.  In the next section, we'll deal more with the personage of Jesus, and how secularism seeks to revise and reconstruct the person of Jesus in order to dismiss their own dislikes. 

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

The Secularization of Christianity Part XV - Science vs. Scientism and Other Observations

As we pick up this discussion, here I want to show that there is a difference between what I will call scientism and what is actual science.  The latter is based on true natural law, which in turn has God as its author.  Actual science affirms that certain laws - thermodynamics, gravity, etc. - are valid and there is no conflict with belief in God regarding those.  Also, actual science affirms things such as the fact that if you combine two hydrogen molecules and an oxygen molecule, you get water.   These are universal principles of physics, and no one (Christian or secular) has reason to refute them.  However, scientism is a different story.  To explain what this is, scientism is taking science and essentially deifying it as infallible truth based largely on non-Christian premise.  Scientism is best exemplified in the Darwinian theory of evolution, as well as in the whole linguistic empiricist arguments about cosmology.  Scientism is essentially either a philosophy or religion in itself, and doesn't reflect true scientific inquiry.  This lends itself to this discussion regarding a passage from Paul van Buren's book The Secular Meaning of the Gospels that Mascall quotes on page 65, and essentially there are two assertions van Buren makes with his own justification.  From page 100 of van Buren's text, this is what he says:

1.  Simple literal theism is wrong
2.  Qualified literal theism is meaningless

Why? Because to van Buren,

1.  The idea of an empirical intervention of a supernatural God in the world of men has been ruled out by the influence of science on our modern thinking.

2.  Such statements reveal our own commitments to modern science, and further modern thought tends to grant the validity of findings of the natural sciences.

Mascall notes a couple of things in regard to this which sort of reveal the weakness of van Buren's assertions:

1.  Van Buren fails to state that the "idea of an empirical intervention of a supernatural 'God'" has been shown by science to be false.  

2.  Rather, it has merely been "ruled out by the influence of modern science on our thinking."

The latter, Mascall notes, is simply a statement about the influence of modern science upon the psychological makeup of certain "not very clearly specified persons," of whom van Buren is one.  And, as Mascall correctly notes (and I agree), this presumed "commitment to modern science" which van Buren reveals as "our own" seems to be merely a capitulation to the secularist atmosphere of a world dominated by scientific technology.   And, that is what scientism essentially is in a nutshell!  However, as Mascall continues, he notes that a large number of writings had been devoted in recent history (more so today actually than in 1965, when Mascall authored this text) to the relationship between science and theology, and a lot of it has shown no tendency to abandon the traditional doctrines of Christian theology.  Some may dispute it, but many others show that true science can not only be reconciled to faith, but that God is indeed responsible for creating the natural law that governs the true principles of science.  And, as we read further, we now get into where the issue with van Buren's statements then are.

One thing I have noticed in recent years is that science is often divorced from Christian faith in order to in essence realize Spinoza's objective of confining religious practice to what he called "its proper sphere," and many secularized theologians such as van Buren have bought into that idea.  According to van Buren and others, as Mascall notes on page 66, the language of faith has a meaning, but it must essentially be confined to the practice of the faith, and is therefore not (to people like van Buren anyway) a statement of cosmological assertions.  Van Buren reveals a lot about his own outlook on this on page 101 of his book The Secular Meaning of the Gospels when he notes that theological reconstruction is essential because it needs to essentially be "clarified" in order to conform to modern thought that characterizes an industrial, scientific age - these reconstructions, therefore, are to be accepted without qualification and this is accomplished essentially by employing a purely empirical method of linguistic expression that initiates the clarification of language and thus also eliminates the "mythical" aspects of theological language, eliminating in the process problems with the supernatural aspects of faith.   We of course have seen this before, haven't we?  Others, such as Merold Westphal, essentially propose the same thing with different language:  Westphal defines it, recall, as "prejudices" which are the result of adhering to tradition, and therefore in order to clarify interpretation for Westphal, we have to work to escape those less-desirable "prejudices" by becoming conscious of them (Westphal, Whose Community, Which Interpretation, p. 72).  This is taking van Buren's assertion essentially in a whole new direction - van Buren's reconstruction would be impossible therefore without having consciousness of the prejudices which necessitate that reconstruction, according to Westphal.  What we have here is essentially a version of the same old academic elitism we have seen so much of - we are "ignorant," necessitating the "enlightenment" essential to admission of that ignorance, and then finding ways to reconstruct it to bring us in line with the "status quo."  This means then that "ignorance" for people like van Buren is essentially a belief in the supernatural, which can be remedied then by linguistic empiricism.  Van Buren even proposes that in order to do this, it is essential in essence to just hang onto the humanity of Jesus while dismissing anything about His divinity.  What is really scary though is what Mascall notes in regard to van Buren's position in the next paragraph - while van Buren describes that particular reference in his own words as an exaggeration, in reality it is an exaggeration of his own convictions, and it appeals to Nietzsche in that the Nietzschian mantra of "God is dead" is essentially the word God being terminated from empirical usage.  Let's reflect on that for a moment.

While van Buren weakly tries to redo Nietzsche's "God is dead" thing as a semantic application, the ramifications are still the same.  If one rubs out God's name as non-existent, then it only follows that God Himself will then diminish too - again, despite being a nominally Anglican "secular theologian," van Buren is in essence a practical atheist here.  Van Buren, like so many others, is using semantics in order to discredit authentic Christian faith, and on page 67 Mascall reveals the agenda behind this.   Essentially, linguistic analysis of the language of faith, as Mascall correctly notes, doesn't provide all the necessary weaponry for van Buren's ultimate agenda.  The reason for this, Mascall notes that van Buren emphasizes, is that linguistic philosophers have limited themselves to the classical statements of natural theology.  This means, therefore, that they ignore dogmatic theology.   This means then that they would consider relevant a statement such as "There is a God," but the neglect both Biblical formulae such as "No man cometh to the Father except through Me" (John 14:6) and statements regarding Christ in the historic Creeds such as "Begotten of His Father before all worlds," and the reason is that they are not considered "relevant" to modern speech, especially modern speech shaped and informed by the industrial, scientific age we live in.  And, there lies the problem!  Let us discuss that for a moment.

As has been seen from previous discussions, the supernatural means little to the secularist, and is considered a vestigial remnant of a more "ignorant" age.  While a nominal deism can deal with the fact "there is a God," it cannot abide that God came in the flesh in Christ and therefore Jesus is God the Son - this is one reason why they create a division between the humanity and divinity of Christ and therefore consider the hypostatic union affirmed by Christian orthodoxy to be "irrelevant," because it cannot be seen or proven by scientific evidence or affirmed by linguistically empirical statement.  Therefore, you have the cult of scientism, which asserts that their concept of "science" is infallible (they are as dogmatic on that, by the way, as Christians are with affirming Holy Scripture is inerrant) and nothing exists outside the natural realm.  This is nothing new either, as the position of Nominalism that was embraced by William of Ockham in the 1300's which essentially posited that a universal term for something like "sheep" or "man" is just a name and not rooted directly in reality - nominalism is the embryonic development of linguistic empiricism, in other words (Wiker and Hahn, Politicizing the Bible, p. 47).  We see it again in 13th-century Averroism, which asserted essentially that reason trumps revelation, and therefore "religion" has no supernatural origin (although it is integral) but rather is an invention of philosophers to ensure civil tranquility (ibid., p. 30) - we see that in particular in the thought of Marsilus of Padua.  This means religion is a natural necessity, as a "coping mechanism" or a "therapeutic necessity" to maintain order rather than a product of supernatural revelation. Views like that lead naturally to the implementation of linguistic empiricism, and aid in the secularization of religious faith as a "minor necessity" but nothing more.  This then means that theological truth can be radically redefined as "necessary myth" that has a utilitarian role in social structure, and that seems to be exactly what van Buren and others like him propose.  As has been said before, none of this is new - it is the original lie of Satan in the Garden in Genesis 3, when he told Adam and Eve that they can be "like gods" and that their own self-importance trumps supernatural reality.  In essence then, and I make this point again, there is no such thing as a "true atheist," because true atheism entails worshipping nothing - many atheists seem to have no problem worshipping themselves and inflating their own self-importance, so they cannot by definition be atheists.  Likewise, there is no such thing as a "secular theologian" either, in that a supposed theologian who seeks to secularize faith and Scripture is not a theologian at all, as God is not important to such a person;  his own opinion, limited by strictly tangible, empirical, and observable "evidence," is all he has.  And, as the Catechism states and we noted earlier, this makes the agnostic then a practical atheist, although in looking at it this way some clarification is needed - to be honest, it is a person substituting his own self-deification for God.  Scientism too is a cult like this, in that it diminishes or eliminates the supernatural it cannot explain as being illogical and non-rational, and thus it has no importance.  This has been the case for secularists all through history, be they Averroists like Marsilus of Padua, Enlightenment personalities such as Descartes and Spinoza, or "secular theologians" such as van Buren and his mentor Bultmann.  Fallibility is fallible, in other words, when it thinks it is infallible, and thus is the case with people such as van Buren.

Skipping over to page 69, Mascall makes some excellent and important observations as to why van Buren and others are wrong in this semantics-based approach called linguistic empiricism, especially when it entails Christian faith and doctrine.  The Creeds, Mascall notes, are not just baptismal professions of faith (which he does say they indeed are), but they are emphatic expressions of a commitment to a way of life encompassing belief in certain propositions about the nature of God and his relation to the world as embodied in the life of His Incarnate Son, Jesus Christ.  The Creeds then, as Mascall notes that van Buren misses, were transformed by the Church from simple baptismal professions to well-defined statements of orthodox doctrine, and they provide a litmus test for orthodoxy.   As mentioned as well, this is why the plural "We" replaces the singular "I" in the text of the Creeds, as they are a testament to the unbroken faith of an eternal Church.  The reason that the Creeds are originally a baptismal expression is given in Lumen Gentium, which reminds us that "...through Baptism as through a door men enter the Church." (LG 14).  One cannot enter the Church without accepting what the Church professes and believes, and by making this a collective profession, it reminds us by professing as "We" that we made a baptismal vow to accept what the Church teaches and thus have a responsibility to uphold it.   That is why the Creed is indeed a test of orthodoxy.  That now leads to a paradox in van Buren's reasoning that Mascall identifies as this section concludes.

On page 105 of van Buren's The Secular Meaning of the Gospel, he makes a true statement that if the word "God" is not a word which refers to something (or someone), then care should be exercised to not use it in a way that suggests it does.  Although this is actually a correct observation - I will get into that more shortly - Mascall also notes here that van Buren and those who share his general outlook are the worst offenders when it comes to this issue.  By seeking to "reinterpret" historic linguistic ideas about the faith in subtle, seemingly unobtrusive language, they in essence change the very belief they are supposed to profess, and that is the problem.  In essence, it is committing the sin of "taking the Lord's name in vain," in that God is often invoked and referenced by such people, but the invocation and references are devoid of meaning - it is tantamount to the cussword "g..d...." in other words.  A whole discussion could be made on this alone, as often God's name is flippantly used in ways it should not - even among Evangelicals (especially self-identified Black Christians) a lot of times, the name "Jesus" is bandied about like a sacred talisman rather than in respect to the Lord and Savior they claim to follow, and that has always been an issue of concern.  So, in van Buren and others taking God's name and using in ways that suggest a negation of its meaning, they are in essence truly "taking God's name in vain," and that is where they should exercise caution, as they know not what they are doing.

We'll pick up in the next section with the discussion, as there is a lot more ground to cover.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

The Secularization of Christianity Part XIV - Religion Apart From God?

Secularism, even if in religious dressing, tends to do one thing - it seeks to divorce man from God, and to deny divine intervention in human affairs.   In that aspect, it presupposes that the answer to the question, "why does God allow evil if he is so good?" is simply that God is aloof and disconnected from human affairs.  In the past this position was known as Deism, and ironically is the very religion that so many of the "Christian" Founding Fathers of America embraced.  It asserts essentially that God is just a "great Watchwinder" in the universe - it acknowledges that He created it (albeit incorporating Darwinian evolution for its proponents in many cases) but after creating it He just sort of left it to its own development.  In other words, instead of God being either a loving Father or having a certain maternal bond even with His creation, to the Deist God is essentially similar to a mother snake or turtle - he laid the egg, buried it, and once the offspring hatches it's on its own.  This view, however, is in contradiction to the historic teaching of both Scripture and the Church, but it does seem to be embraced by some secularist theologians, notably Paul van Buren.  It is at this point we refer back to Mascall and address this issue from his text.

The discussion of this issue in Mascall's text begins on page 61, and van Buren's linguistic empirical approach as discussed earlier has the outcome of a detached Deism rather than a devout Christianity.  The impetus of van Buren's thesis seems to center on the word "religion," and for him religion is unnecessary.  In discussing the views of other theologians, such as Bonhoeffer and his mentor Bultmann, van Buren remarks that "religion" is that which consists of appealing to God as a means of justifying, explaining, or otherwise in his words "filling in the picture" in regard to the world and human affairs.  The religionless posture on the other hand - Deism, to define it - is in coming to reality apart from God.  Although acknowledging that Christianity doesn't accept this divorce of reality from God, van Buren nonetheless persists in his view.  Interesting enough though, he does note that the classic definition of "religion" for him is the Gospel proclaiming that it is God who orders man's actions for His own purpose.  This bears some discussion at this point.  For those of us who are Christian, there is no doubt for us that God is actively present in human affairs, as the Gospel indeed proclaims - it goes back to Romans 8:28, which affirms that all things work together for good for those who love God and follow His commands essentially.  It is also affirmed by Psalm 37:43, which also affirms that the steps of a righteous man are ordered by God.   Further, there is Acts 17:28, which reminds the Christian that in Him we live, move, and have our being.   The very Kerygma itself also would proclaim this, as what the Kerygma is about is the ordering of events to bring to fruition God's plan for mankind.   If we look at it from the point of metaphysics too, there is a Thomistic dimension to the whole discussion as well.  One of the transcendental properties of being that is attributed to God is goodness (which, along with beauty and truth, constitute what are called the three attributes of God).  God is good, simple as that, and those who seek the good are led to God.  Truth, interrelating to this, is also an ultimate good as well as being a divine attribute in itself.  Within each and every human being is what can be called a drive of the will toward a fullness of being which can be described as the "pure good."  As God is the ultimate Good for the Christian, it means that in seeking what is good, we ultimately are led to God (W. Norris Clarke, The One and the Many.  Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2001.  p. 15).  As Fr. Clarke points out, the drive of the will and the drive of the mind together seek to lead us to know this "good," and therefore contrary to van Buren's position, man needs God, whether this is fully realized by the individual or not.  Something just drives the mind and the will to seek the ultimate Good, and that Good is found in God.  The standard definition for "religion" is that it entails man's efforts to find God, and in this respect it is the correct thing to do.  Thing is though, man's search is also imperfect, and this leads to false religion and false gods as well, which means for the Christian there is another dimension - God reaches to us, and the Kerygma embodies His plan to do so, and it ultimately leads the seeker to a Person, Jesus Christ.  That is the part that liberal theologians such as van Buren miss, although others such as Bonhoeffer often find it in adversity. 

That being said, and returning to Mascall's text, there is a strange dichotomy noted by a wide spectrum of "mainstream" theologians from Barth to Ogden of what religion is - to them, it is a question of whether man uses God to solve some human problem, or whether as the Gospel states that God uses man (unexpectedly) for his own purposes.   If one examines the evidence, it actually is both - the old saying, "God works in mysterious ways," means that God reaches into the human condition in order to bring about His purposes, and often a human problem can be an opportunity for seeing God work.   In that scenario, man and God both benefit from the situation in that man has a solution to a problem while God uses that to reveal Himself.  This, for me, is the more balanced approach, and the Biblical record bears that out from Genesis forward.  The irony in this is that even when man tries to deny God or divorce him from religion and reality, God still can use the situation to reveal aspects of either Himself or His plan to others.  A good example I want to cite is from Fr. Elias Friedman's text Jewish Identity (New York:  The Miriam Press, 1987) is where he cites Maritain on page 124 as saying "The Jewish Diaspora within Christian Europe is one long Via Delorosa."  In citing that quote, Friedman goes on to explain on page 125 that a Christological iconography can be observed in both the Holocaust and the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948.   The Holocaust was in a sense a typology in modern times of the Passion of Christ - like Christ was beaten and crucified on a cross at Calvary, so the Jews were sacrificed with Zyklon B gas in the chambers at Auschwitz - the Holocaust is the "Good Friday" of the Jewish nation, in other words.  But, there is always an Easter after Good Friday, and just like Jesus rose from the tomb in His Resurrection, so from the ash-heaps of Auschwitz did the modern nation of Israel rise.  As he notes on page 126, Fr. Friedman makes a stunning observation of the Holocaust as a Christological event - "The presence of the Jew became a measure of the Gentile's capacity for charity. In his own way, the Jew revealed the secrets of the Gentile's heart and brought judgment upon him."  Persecution, as Friedman notes on the same page (based on Matthew 10:22) is a note of both the true Church and of Jewish identity.  God was at work, then, even in the most hideous of human events, and the ultimate aim of it all, as seen on page 127, is that God's answer to Auschwitz was the platform for the ingrafting of the Jews and the glory of the "resurrection of the dead" to follow.   It also relates to Christian minorities - notably the Armenians - who have endured similar persecution as well.  The existence today of both Israel and Armenia as nations, and the fact that millions of each still survive, is a testimony in itself.  The Church has always maintained that Jewish people are our "older brothers" in the faith, and as such they are promised to have full inclusion in the Messiah's salvation - the Catechism of the Catholic Church affirms this in CCC 674, but it is also noted elsewhere that this will have its culmination at the end of days (CCC 840).  In the picture of the Jewish nation, we see how God uses even adverse human events to bring about His own purposes, and although "Christian Zionism" is not synonymous with this idea, the existence of a modern Jewish state of Israel, as well as the Holocaust that preceded it, may be what God uses for the promised "ingrafting" to come.  The example of the Jewish nation is one of many that could be used drawing from history, and another is the conversion of the Emperor St. Constantine, who like the Apostle St. Paul saw a sign in the heavens that led him to the truth.  So, unlike the either/or situation of man using God to solve a human problem vs. God using man to fulfill His purposes, it is a both/and - God can use both simultaneously. 

Mascall correctly notes that the weakness in van Buren's approach is a simple one - he utilizes Protestant theologians (many of a liberal brand) who tend to speak of God in worldly terms.  The goal of this existentialist approach on the part of these theologians is to eliminate all objectification of God in thought and word, and the name of God for them then becomes essentially meaningless.  The linguistic empirical approach that van Buren favors, as Mascall notes on page 64, is one that says there is no necessity for talking about God at all - because we cannot know what "God" is, as this line of thinking positions, we cannot therefore understand the usage of the term.  In doing so, van Buren only references theologians and authors who support his thesis, and ignores others who rightly understand the "reality of mystery" that is God.   He then notes on page 63 the real intention of this linguistic empiricist approach of van Buren from his own writings - van Buren seeks to divorce natural theology from the rest of theological reality by reducing God to a neutral "it," an abstraction if you will, whose existence is assumed but not proven.  In reading this (and van Buren's verbose and heady ramblings as noted by Mascall are hard to follow, as is any irrational intellectual justification of apostate viewpoints) you get the impression that essentially van Buren is an atheist who is using theology against the true existence of an actual God.  Let's talk about that for a moment. 

It is natural to assume that someone who is a "theologian" must be necessarily a believer, but in reality this is not the case.  There are atheistic theologians who devote a lot of time to trying to disprove Christianity and the existence of God by dickering over semantics and other issues.  That is what the whole idea of linguistic empiricism as it relates to theology is about.   Many of these atheistic theologians even hold nominal membership in churches (in the case of van Buren, as an Anglican, and in Ogden's case as a Reformed Churchmen) in order to give them some sort of ecclesiastical clout.   In reality though this is a deception - an atheistic theologian who hasn't come to terms with the reality of Jesus Christ and without a personal encounter with Him is still an atheist, even while having a nominally Christian identification.  This, for me, is an ultimate deception of Satan to deceive less-informed laymen and clergy of certain denominations, and unfortunately they are not all Protestants - there have been nominally Catholic theologians (unfortunately many who are part of the Jesuit order, which has had a falling-away in a dramatic turn from its devoutly Catholic founder, St. Ignatius) who are just as atheistic as Protestants such as van Buren and Bultmann, and they unfortunately do at times have more influence in the Church than they should.  The atheistic theologian should rightly be a contradiction in terms, but academia unfortunately baptizes them as "religious authorities."  And, they are not new either - in Jesus's time, they would have been known as Saduccees among the Jewish class of priests and Levites in that age.  Much theological training in recent years has also been infected with this ideology, and in order for Christianity to redeem itself, a reform in theological education may be warranted.  Theological atheism is therefore a secularizing influence on the Church attempting to neutralize and sterilize it. 

Going on with this language thesis, the root issue for van Buren is seen in what he defines "God" as being.  On pages 63-64 of Mascall's text, van Buren's thesis is laid out and it is essentially this - the definition of the term (or name) "God" must either be as a neutral force (an "it") of natural theology, or a Person who embodies grace and self-revelation as believed by historic Christian theology.  What van Buren is doing here is setting up a false contradiction between Revelation and Nature, and as a Thomist I (as well as Mascall) would differ with this false distinction.  The Thomist understands properly that God authored two "books" if you will - Revelation and Nature.  Revelation is defined as that which God has revealed about Himself through specific means (mainly Scripture).  Nature, on the other hand, is that which God created and bears His authoritative stamp which witnesses to His reality - this goes back to Genesis as well, where all God had created was in its being good, and God said so Himself.  Of course, at the Fall as recorded in Genesis 3 Nature became corrupted, and therefore it inherited an imperfection, but in its being it is still good because God is still its Creator.  In order to redeem Nature, and as an important part of the Kerygma, there is the reality of supernatural grace - defining supernatural grace in Thomistic terms, it is what God gives in order to elevate, heal, and perfect fallen Nature, and is restorative.  Man, as the pinnacle of God's creation, is where this starts - by restoring man through the gift of ultimate salvation in Christ, man can then begin to work through the supernatural grace God endows to restore Nature to what God intended. This is the traditional Catholic view, which Mascall further affirms on page 64 as he explains the orthodox view of natural theology.  Mascall correctly notes that natural theology, as the Church teaches, certainly asserts that there is a valid way of apprehending the world which enables one to see it as the creation of a transcendent self-existent Being (God).  The further way of knowing is due to God's revelation of Himself - essentially, Mascall states in another manner what I have just said, and he is correct.  He notes, however, that a common weakness in Protestant theology is that it views God as being known by a revelation apart from man's natural apprehension of the world in which he lives, and that it is impossible to know God apart from supernatural revelation.  This is called a strictly "religious" understanding, and is inherent from the beginning in Protestant theology, leading to a misunderstanding centuries later by liberal (and dare I say, atheistic) theologians such as van Buren because they have an incomplete understanding of supernatural Revelation.  This warrants a few thoughts of my own at this point.

Although van Buren represents the extreme of this mentality of confining God to just supernatural Revelation, it is seen across the spectrum of all Protestant theology.  From the conservative point of Protestant theology, it can at times be seen in the quasi-Gnostic attitudes of certain Evangelicals and Pentecostals.  Having grown up in that tradition prior to my own conversion to the Catholic faith, I know that mantra well.  It is evident in phrases you hear, especially in Pentecostal/Charismatic circles, of things they don't agree with as being "in the flesh" or "in the natural."  For such people holding this position, man's natural apprehension and understanding are totally divorced from the reality of divine Revelation, rather as properly being seen as perfecting it.  It is, as noted, reminiscent of the Gnostics who caused many problems for the early Church in asserting that all matter was somehow "evil" and that only the "spiritual reality" mattered.  That extreme led to the other extreme of the secularized Protestant theologian such as van Buren, who insists the opposite - only matter is real, and therefore the supernatural is a semantic faux pas that has no identity.  As opposed as these extremes are, they are both endemic to the Protestant attitude, and this creates problems for those holding either extreme in that on one hand, the extremely dogmatic Pentecostal essentially slaps God in the face by calling His creation "evil," while the secularist/linguistic empiricist essentially denies God's existence because the rational mind cannot understand supernatural reality, and therefore such reality cannot be in essence "real."  Both positions, it could be argued, are vestigial remnants of traditional Protestantism, in that the same convictions that underlie both positions are rooted in the Reformation rejection of much of what they deemed "Catholic."

To conclude this, a few observations.  First, God is a God of balance and order, and not only did He create the natural order, but He called it "good" Himself.  Therefore, God's natural order does reveal much about Him.  But, it is an incomplete picture, in that supernatural Revelation is also vital, and the realities of both Nature and Revelation are complimentary rather than contradictory - they are two "books" with the same Author (God) which tell the same story from two dimensions.  The Church has historically affirmed that too, and the Catechism affirms this in plain language, noting that the existence of God can be known with certainty through His works, by the light of human reason, even if at times that knowledge is often obscured and disfigured by error (CCC 286).  In other words, what was seen was made out of things not which do not appear (Hebrews 11:3).  In other words, the natural world has a supernatural source for its existence. Even the human person, which is indeed the pinnacle of God's creation, has an inherent openness to truth and beauty, a sense of moral goodness, and a longing for the infinite and for happiness, which is an endowment from God to bring man to willful communion with Him (CCC 33).   As Mascall correctly notes on page 65, those like van Buren, by utilizing a non-cognitive view of religious language, divorce (or demolish, as Mascall states it) God as a God of grace and revelation from the same who is also the God of natural theology, and this in turn is what creates theological confusion.  And, in the extreme of favoring natural reality over supernatural truth, instead of rightly seeing the former as having its origins in the latter, leads to a rejection of the supernatural that secularizes faith and limits it, in essence denying the very God who should be the object of faith.  It is the reason why I also would rightly question if van Buren could in reality be called a "Christian theologian," Protestant or otherwise, in that he essentially denies and dismisses the essential core of Christian faith - that a supernatural God created the natural order, and when that natural order became corrupted by sin and death, He sent Himself as God the Son to restore and redeem fallen creation by offering salvation to the highest of the created order, mankind himself.  We will pick up the next part of the discussion at that point. 

Friday, March 23, 2018

The Secularization of Christianity Part XIII - Euhemerism vs. Skepticism, and the Bultmann/Heidegger Connection

Beginning the next section of this in-depth study, I wanted to first pick up where we left off by adding another discussion.  The "demythologizing" tendencies of Bultmann, van Buren, and others is not to be confused with another aspect of explaining actual myths called euhemerism.  Euhemerism is a valid position which asserts that at the basis of any legend or myth, there is a core of truth that inspired the myth, and therefore a myth or legend has at its core a historical basis.  Many of the earliest Fathers of the Church embraced a Christian euhemerist view in regard to the pagan religions that were abundant in their worlds, and to be honest I embrace such a view as well.  The difference, however, between a Christian euhemerist and someone like Bultmann who wants to "demythologize" the reality of Jesus and other supernatural aspects of Scripture and Christian faith is a simple one - a Christian euhemerist still upholds the reality of the supernatural, but also balances a belief in that reality with human reason as well, as God intended human reason to be used.  So, for example, whereas a person like Bultmann would outright reject the idea that Zeus, for instance, existed, the Christian euhemerist would see it from a different angle - many Church Fathers and other writers, for instance, believed that Zeus was an actual human ruler who over time became deified and his legacy embellished with legend; the "Zeus" then that was worshipped would have then been seen more as a demonic manifestation.  The same with Hercules - a real person, but perhaps embellished by legend over time.  However, to be fair, even the "embellishments" may have been based on actual things, and using "mythical" creatures, let's discuss that for a moment.

In the legends and mythology surrounding Hercules, one that really stands out and got my attention was his capture of the Erymanthian boar.  This creature was said to be immense and also very dangerous, and Hercules' capture of it was called his "Fourth Labor."  From the outset, this looks like either an exaggeration or another mythic creature that never existed until one starts to look at fossil records and other things.  Now, for the skeptic like Bultmann, this is an impossibility due to the fact that many "demythologizers" of Christian faith are often theistic evolutionists at best, and thus they believe a greater mythology of secularism which presupposes that the earth is billions of years old, and that life occurred spontaneously and "evolved."  Interestingly, there is a prehistoric creature called an Entelodont that actually fits the description in the Hercules legend, but for an evolutionist this is impossible because to them 1) Hercules was a mythical figure, and 2) the Entelodont in evolutionary timelines existed over 25 million years ago.  Really??   If one looks at this from the Biblical view of creation though, these creatures lived and existed with humans, and thus a confrontation between a human and a beast like this would not have been an impossibility. The Christian euhemerist then would see the Erymanthian boar as possibly being an Entelodont, and that actually fits.

The Entelodont, a hypothetical possibility of the Erymanthian boar of myth

Another legend similar to this is in Arabic folklore, and entails a huge and onery bird called a "Roc."  For the evolutionist, this is an impossibility for two reasons:  1) giant birds would have predated humans by millions of years, and 2) the only giant bird of significant size to be a threat to humans was a large eagle that lived in New Zealand up until the year 1400, and New Zealand is of course thousands of miles away from the Middle East.  However, for a Christian euhemerist who would uphold Biblical creation, it is not a problem at all, as these "prehistoric beasts" interacted with humans and therefore man would have encountered them.  This means then that the two greatest possibilities for the "roc" of Arabic folklore could have either been the terror bird (which was flightless) or the Haast's eagle, which lived in New Zealand up until about 600 years ago and was the largest predatory flying bird to ever live.  Depending on which interpretation of the folklore one embraces, it could be either.

The terror bird

Haast's eagle attacking another giant flightless New Zealand bird, the moa

Another more recent controversial legend has a number of eyewitnesses that swear to its existence, and of course that is the Sasquatch/Bigfoot creature.  Every year, hundreds of people report seeing this creature in various parts of the world, and with that many sightings, it is not easy to dismiss its possibility.  Human reason, as seen through the eyes of the Christian euhemerist, warrants also looking at the evidence, and as it turns out, there did exist a giant ape called Gigantopithecus which almost lines up exactly with what people claiming "Bigfoot" sightings have reported.  Now, according to the secularist/evolutionist, this is an impossibility because Gigantopithecus supposedly died out around anywhere from 3 million years ago to several hundred thousand years, yet if one does accept the Bible as true, and the Biblical account of creation, then the possibility of this creature being known to exist by humans is very real, and if one accepts recent creation, it means there may be a population of them still alive.  Science has uncovered and verified stranger things - the mountain gorilla, the platypus, etc.  If one takes this to logical conclusions then, it means the mystery of "Bigfoot" may be right in front of our noses - "Bigfoot" is either a surviving population of Gigantopithecus, or at least a close relative.  If that be the case, then one day someone may actually find one, and then what was dismissed as legend may in fact turn out to be as real as raccoons and grizzly bears.

Re-creation of a Gigantopithecus specimen in a museum

Another example that actually may be even more relevant but is often dismissed as mere legend is the dragon.  Prior to the 1800's, fossils that were found of giant reptiles were actually thought to have been "dragons," and that is what they were known as until the mid-1800's, when a new term for these fossilized remains was coined - dinosaur.  Like the other creatures mentioned above, dinosaurs are supposed to have existed hundreds of millions of years before mankind came into existence, yet almost every culture has these dragon legends, and even more so in some parts of the world there are sculptures and carvings depicting these creatures as perfect living specimens.  Now, we often have an arrogance that we, as "modern man," are more "sophisticated" and "advanced" than our ancient counterparts (the arrogance of secularism never ceases to amaze me!).  But, "sophisticated" 21st-century man still has yet to theorize as to how an ancient culture in southeast Asia could carve the likeness of a perfect stegosaurus on a temple, utilizing just a few bones??  That discussion is warranted at another time, but it just proves that "demythologizing" things to make them fit with our own narrow vision may not always work, and in the case of creatures like these, it definitely doesn't.

T-Rex - the original "dragon?" 

Other things that are confined to the world of mythology - for example, the existence of Atlantis - are also equally worth exploring, and indeed a man named Richard Freund has.  In his 2012 book Digging Through History (Lanham, MD:  Rowman and Littlefield) Freund proposes that the actual site of what legends called "Atlantis" may in fact be connected with the Biblical Tarshish, and the location possibility may be in southwestern Spain.  The ruins of a city there match almost perfectly Plato's description of Atlantis, and therefore maybe such a place existed.  If this could be further developed, it means that history may require a re-write.  History, like science, has been the realm of the secularist for so long that too many people believe a somewhat constricted view of history that would dismiss anything empirical, but as we have seen not everything is necessarily strictly empirical.  The problem is, however, the same forces that secularized history and science are now going after theology and the Bible, and that is why a study like this is necessary, and at this point we pick up with Mascall.

Beginning on page 54, Mascall draws a connection between Bultmann's theology and the existentialism of Martin Heidegger, and at this point Heidegger warrants discussion.  Martin Heidegger (1889-1976) was a German existentialist philosopher who also was unfortunately an unrepentant Nazi - from May 1, 1933, Heidegger was a member of the Nazi Party, and although he was a protege of German-Jewish phenomenological philosopher Edmund Husserl (1859-1938) - Husserl also was a leading influence on St. Edith Stein as well - he was also an opportunist and when the Nazis began to systematically discriminate against Jews, Heidegger eagerly supported Husserl's eviction from the University of Freiburg and his own acquisition of the position Husserl was forced to vacate.  This was a paradox for Bultmann unfortunately, who on one hand has a fanatical commitment to Heideggerian existentialism but at the same time was on the opposite political spectrum - to note, Bultmann was a member of the "Confessing Church," along with his contemporaries Karl Barth and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and opposed the Nazis (a commendable position to Bultmann's credit), yet Heidegger was an all-out Nazi.  As Mascall notes, Heideggerian existentialism was so integral to Bultmann's whole system that he had more fervor than even the most devout Dominican monk ever had to St. Thomas Aquinas!  However, this led to some conflicting paradoxes with Bultmann, as we will now see.

Nazi existentialist philosopher Martin Heidegger (1889-1976)

Due to Bultmann's trying to hold to both a more atheistic Heideggerian existentialism and his Christian faith, it led to him trying to maintain two imcompatible theses, as Mascall notes that Ogden states on page 55:

1.  The existentialist thesis that Christian faith is to be interpreted as man's justification for authentic historical existence based on appropriate philosophical analysis (the Christian faith as a "coping mechanism," in other words, but not real or truthful)

2. The Christian faith, as properly upheld, as a "possibility in fact" due to the historicity of Jesus.

So, to justify himself, Ogden (previously discussed) reworks these theses as this:

1.  Christian faith is to be interpreted as man's possibility of authentic existence (it is a comfort and encouragement, as well as a moral impetus, in other words)

2.  The unconditional gift and demand of God's love is manifested in the historicity of Jesus Christ, but omitting the historical validity of such.

Ogden's restatement of these incompatible theses then means that the Christian faith is defined in Heideggerian terms as simply a "coping mechanism" that motivates authentic existence, and although Jesus is a historical person for Ogden (and Bultmann), it doesn't mean the faith has any substance.  Jesus, therefore, is only an "example" of motivation of authentic existence that can also occur without His involvement.  Let's now discuss that.

Historical and consistent Magisterial teaching affirms that Jesus is the focus and central fact of the faith (known in catechetics as "Christocentricity") and as Josef Jungmann explained in his 1936 text The Good News and the Proclamation of Our Faith, Jesus is at the center of all catechesis, and every doctrine we hold to as Christians radiates from him like spokes radiate from the hub of a bicycle wheel.  As the Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us in regard to such ideology as Heideggerian existentialist thought (although the passage I am referencing addresses atheism specifically), these positions are often based on a false conception of human autonomy which are exaggerated to the point of refusing any dependence on God (CCC 2126).   It is also true of the agnostic, which in reality many of these liberal theologians such as Ogden and Bultmann were, in that it can sometimes include a certain search for God, but also equally expresses indifferentism, a flight from the ultimate question of existence, and a sluggish moral conscience - in other words, as the Catechism notes, agnosticism is practical atheism (CCC 2128).   Contrary to this Heideggerian mantra of Odgen's that Jesus is only an "example" of motivation of authentic existence, the Church affirms that man is dependent on his Creator and subject to the laws of creation and to the moral norms that govern the use of freedom (CCC 396), and He upholds them (meaning the human race in general) and sustains them in being, enables proper action, and brings them to their final end (CCC 301).  All law, therefore, finds its first and ultimate truth in eternal law (CCC 1951) which in turn has its source in the Creator and finds its fullness and unity in the person of Christ (CCC 1953).   Faith, for the Christian, is not in a system or an institution, but is in a Person, and in that Person (Jesus Christ) is the center of our whole existence and not a mere "possibility of authentic existence."  Scripture reminds us of this fact too, as in Acts 17:28 we are reminded that in Him we live, move, and have our being.  Therefore, creation cannot exist without its Creator, and the Creator is a Trinity of three distinct Persons, of which one is Jesus Christ, God the Son.  If anyone denies that, then their Christianity bears a re-evaluation.  

Even among liberal agnostic theologians like van Buren, there are differences of opinion, as he finds five objections to Ogden's position that Mascall notes on pages 56-57:

1) Bultmann's and Ogden's indulgence in "experienced non-objective reality" is meaningless, according to van Buren, when judged by strictly empirical criteria.  The definition of what or who "God" is comes into focus for van Buren on this one.

2) Analogical speech about God is meaningless for van Buren, but any speech about God would have to be analogical (?).  For van Buren, both Bultmann and Ogden are using words without meaning, in other words.

3) There is a discrepancy for van Buren regarding the distinct forms of statements - objective/informative and existential - which call for self-understanding of the hearer.  

4) Van Buren objects to Ogden's displacement of the historical event of Jesus of Nazareth from the existential response of the believer.  The Cross, for instance, is for van Buren a mere execution device devoid of present application - it is only a past event for him and not a present reality.  

5)  The Resurrection event is ignored by Ogden and dismissed as merely a "way the primitive Church responded to the ministry of the historical Jesus."  Van Buren (surprisingly!) correctly notes that this divorcing of the Easter event from faith is tantamount to dispensing with Jesus Himself.

Van Buren is by no means an orthodox, devout believer (earlier discussions of him establish that!) but at least he has the sense to know what Ogden denies - Easter, the Resurrection, and the personage of Jesus do have a pivotal role in the faith of Christianity.    However, all of these characters make a point of reducing the greatest event of salvation history to a mere abstraction - all of them would actually deny the reality of the Resurrection, although at least van Buren acknowledges its importance for Christian belief.  And, on page 60, Mascall identifies the problem with their theses - there is a choice between "God" and the man Jesus Christ, and the secular empirically-minded "believer" can only choose the latter because of tangible historical fact of Jesus's existence.   This then means, as Mascall notes on page 61, that if modern man is this Heideggerian secularist that van Buren proports him to be, then those Heideggerian tendencies revolt against both the particularity of a religion centered on Christ as well as the secularist revolt against the transcendentalism of a religion centered upon God.  So, ever the linguistic empiricist, van Buren makes a complete reconstruction of the whole thing and thus "adjusts" his outlook on the nature of Christianity to conform with the secularist mindset he has.  And, that brings us back to the discussion at the beginning of this segment. 

The major problem with "modern man," in particular those of us who exist in the 19th-21st centuries, is that we presume with all of our "technological advances" to know more than the ancients did.  We fancy ourselves more "enlightened," intelligent, and advanced than our "primitive" forebears, but is that really the case.  Consider this for a minute from a euhemerist perspective - while it is true that many accounts of persons and creatures of legend are often ornamented and embellished, it is equally true that maybe that flowery language of embellishment is their way of expressing something that we may see now.  This then means the "dragon" of legend becomes the "dinosaur" of fact, and that the demigod Zeus of Greek mythology was a deified ancient king who maybe was popular with his people.   Only in the fact of the life of Christ do we not see any real embellishment (aside from some pseudopigraphal literature that is extra-Biblical and also rejected as such by the Church), but unfortunately empiricism has become a religion in itself and seeks to deny not only the supernatural, but also any natural phenomena that upsets the status quo - it is, after all, real work to rewrite history books and science texts in order to accommodate new evidence, and people would lose credibility and money if that happened, right?   And, since the empirical secularist is a "believe it only if I can see it" person, it means that anything dealing with faith, the supernatural, and the metaphysical are irrelevant and not worth any consideration.   That means then that salvation, belief in a God who is the originator of the universe, and other matters of faith (including the possibility that dinosaurs may have actually walked with man!) cannot be possible because they cannot be seen.  Yet, these same people will say we as humans are descended from some African baboon that evolved over millions of years from a fish-like creature, yet that cannot be observed either.  That means in essence that their empiricism is selective, and what is unsavory to them should therefore be dismissed as false. As we have seen, it means then a radical reworking of recorded facts for them to fit their narrative, and thus revisionism to justify non-belief is their fruit.  As we pick up with this later, more will be seen as to how it relates to how justification on the part of such "theologians" is manufactured, and how so much of it draws upon some rather controversial philosophers (such as Heidegger and Nietzsche) to the degree that their own legacies are white-washed in order to give credibility to these theses.  

Thursday, March 22, 2018

The Secularization of Christianity Part XII - Diminishing Christ to Exalt Secularism

In my own study of various religious groups over the years, the root genesis of any cult or heresy is often centered upon the person of Jesus Christ, and as can be seen, there are many ways in which cults and heresies redefine Christ to make Him fit into their own agendas:

1.  He is often reduced to merely a "great teacher," as is the case in many New Age-type groups.

2.  His divinity is denied and outright rejected, a heresy that stretches back to Arius in the 3rd century.

3.  Many cults and heresies focus on Jesus the man rather than having a proper understanding of the hypostatic union (Jesus being two natures - fully man and fully God - in one Person).

However, it is not only cults and heretical schools of thought that reduce Jesus in such a way, but even self-proclaimed "Christian" theologians, in particular those of a more liberal bent.   In recent years for instance, the "Emerging Church" movement that has infected American Evangelical Protestants has tended to emphasize the humanity of Jesus over His divinity, and in doing so they often teeter on the verge of heresy by practically dismissing His divinity altogether.  A good example is this picture which recently has circulated about the "real Jesus," a speculation on what He looked like, and to be honest it makes our Lord look like a caveman:


People who come up with this sort of stuff often do not even realize they are bordering on the heretical, and when Jesus in His person is diminished in such a way, it also becomes reflected in the attitudes concerning Jesus we hear.   One such example happened that I experienced about six years ago, when I was sitting in a graduate New Testament Theology class at my alma mater where I received my Bachelor's some years earlier.  A student in that class, a Korean-American who identified as a Pentecostal, actually said in a class that Jesus was essentially not omniscient, and that there is no way (at least in the mind of this misguided classmate) that Jesus could know anything on earth because He too was "evolving."  Mind you, this was a guy who was saying this who supposedly identified as a conservative Pentecostal!  Mentalities like this, however, are becoming par for the course, and now even supposed "Evangelicals" are rejecting basic things such as the Atonement - one example of this is Rob Bell, a rather controversial and well-known pastor and author whose 2010 book, Love Wins, espoused a heretical universalism that in essence denies the need for the Cross and the need for accepting Jesus as the Way, Truth, and Life to gain salvation and reconciliation with the Father, as John 14:6 reminds us.  And, Bell is not alone - a host of Evangelicals and former Evangelicals such as Don Earl Paulk, Carlton Pearson, Brian McLaren, and others espouse similar views.  Many claim to embrace this heresy as a sort of "new revelation," but in referring back to Mascall's text, we see it is just the same repackaged nonsense that people such as Paul van Buren were embracing decades earlier, and that Arius and other heretics were peddling even in the earliest centuries of the Church.   Picking up there, Mascall addresses the faulty Christology embraced and preached by van Buren, and shows in essence that diminishing Christ's divinity is one avenue of secularization of the Church.

Trying to make Jesus "more human" is something that understandably many Christians desire - especially among Evangelicals and Fundamentalists, who emphasize the need for a "personal relationship" with Jesus Christ as being pivotal.  Thing is, the facts have established that Jesus was human, but they also affirm that Jesus was also fully God as well.  In Mascall's text, beginning on page 47 and continuing on for several pages, he describes in detail the Christological position van Buren embraces, and essentially it breaks down into these elements:

1.  The Logos-Christology, according to van Buren, was developed by early Christians in order to defend against the charge that Christians worshipped a mere man - in other words, according to this idea, the divinity of Christ was an "invention" of Christians as an apologetic defense against their detractors.

2.  Like Bultmann and others before him, this divinizing of Christ was a "mythological notion" that served a sort of psychological purpose for its time.

3.  Van Buren asserts that because of this "invented" divinity attributed to the man Christ, His humanity was diminished - for van Buren, it is almost a turn of the tables against orthodox Christology as for him denying Jesus was "only a man" denies He is a man in all other senses.

4.  For van Buren, the hypostatic union (Jesus as fully God and fully man together) that is accepted as truth by the Church and is professed in the historic Creeds is self-contradictory, or at best, meaningless.

5.  Also, for van Buren, he recommends a revisionism of Patristic affirmations of Jesus which is based on linguistic empiricism to the extreme - this means essentially rejecting the Incarnation. 

As Mascall notes on page 49, van Buren's attitude lands him in complete denial of many essential Christological truths, and also of all forms of natural theology as well as even of genuine religious experience outside the Christian sphere.  For van Buren then, affirmed truths about the Godhead which refer to Jesus as God the Son in particular can be accepted only if re-interpreted as statements about Jesus devoid of dogmatic standard.  I am now going to add a few thoughts of my own to this as it relates to my own field - catechesis - and also I want to show how van Buren is no different than Arius of the past or of contemporary cults like the Jehovah's Witnesses which also deny the divinity of Jesus.

The historic Creeds of the Church (Apostle's, Nicene, and Athanasian) all affirm that Jesus is God Incarnate, and that He is one person of a Triune Godhead.  Statements in the Nicene Creed about Jesus for instance, that He is "very God of Very God, begotten not made, being of one substance with the Father by Whom all things are made," state very clearly the Church's belief regarding the person of Jesus.  Theologically, of course, this is what is called the hypostatic union, meaning that Jesus is both fully God and fully man, or two natures in one Person.  It is one of those things which is rightly called a "mystery of faith," in that it can be understood and accepted, but not always articulated linguistically.  For an extreme linguistic empiricist such as van Buren, this creates a problem - if it cannot be explained by the human mind in clearly-defined terminology, it is then "myth" and must be viewed as such by people like him.  Herein lies the problem then - if the Person of Jesus is diminished to a "mere man" with no supernatural attributes whatsoever, it only follows then that other aspects of doctrine concerning Christ - the Crucifixion, the Resurrection, the Ascension, etc. - must then be denied as well.  It means then, essentially, a denial of the very salvation we profess to believe as Christians, and this is a big problem.  In denying those aspects of Christology, and then redefining them on human, linguistically-empirical terms as "human" only, one forfeits the identity of being Christian and in essence becomes a heretic - and, despite being nominally Anglican and claiming to be a "Christian theologian," van Buren is in essence a non-Christian in that he fails to accept fundamental truths of the Christian faith because they don't mesh with his rational explanations.   Sadly, that is endemic today even in what used to be considered a fairly safe haven of "conservative" Christianity such as the Evangelicals, Fundamentalists, and Pentecostals, and is no longer merely the domain of liberal "mainline" theologians and Biblicists.  Further, Mascall includes this discussion here for a very important reason - in order to secularize the Church, cardinal doctrines must be redefined in naturalistic terms and confined to linguistic empiricism in order to "demythologize" Christianity.  However, that leaves an important question - is a "demythologized" Christianity, devoid of the supernatural and the mysteries of faith, truly even a Christianity at all?  Or, is it merely "sanctified atheism" or a generic "deism" which has a "Christian" facade?  This is really the fundamental issue of the entire discussion. 

In popular culture too, we see this mentality marketed in entertainment and other cultural venues, such as the Eric Bazilian composition that was made popular by singer Joan Osborne in 1995 called "What If God Were One of Us?"  or John Lennon's 1971 humanist anthem "Imagine."  The problem with popular culture is its own secularizing influence on Christianity, in that there are supposed self-professed Christians who acclaim the spiritual profundity of these types of songs, although the songs themselves are heretical.  In his 1878 encyclical Inscrutabili Dei Consilio, the late Pope St. Leo XIII notes that often society and the Church conflict in regard to these issues, and therefore for a Christian to base theology on a figment of pop culture such as a popular song is, for the late Pontiff, a conflict of interest - he says in the encyclical that "the very notion of civilization is a fiction of the brain if it rest not on the abiding principles of truth and the unchanging laws of virtue and justice, and if unfeigned love knit not together the wills of men, and gently control the interchange and the character of their mutual service."  Further he writes, "Now, the source of these evils lies chiefly, we are convinced, in this, that the holy and venerable authority of the Church, which in God's name rules mankind, upholding and defending all lawful authority, has been despised and set aside" (Pope Leo XIII, Inscrutibili Dei Consilio, published April 21, 1878, and available at http://w2.vatican.va/content/leo-xiii/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_l-xiii_enc_21041878_inscrutabili-dei-consilio.html - Accessed 3/22/2018).  Also, in contrast to the diminishing attitude of van Buren's linguistic empiricist position regarding the person of Christ, the Catechism of the Catholic Church states that the moral law finds its fullness and unity in Christ, and that Jesus Christ is in person the way of perfection (CCC 1953).  Christ is therefore the end of the law (natural, moral, and otherwise) and only He teaches and bestows the justice of God (CCC 1977 and Romans 10:4).  If Christ is then stripped of His divinity and is only merely a human being, then none of this is possible and it means that there is a hopelessness for the redemption of humanity.  For the secularist, then, it means a moral relativism free of the restraints of moral law and even in contradiction of natural law - the secularist ironically affirms naturalism, while at the same time denying the reality that natural law has a supernatural origin.  Therefore, when the divinity of Christ is diminished and the "holy and venerable authority" of the Church has been despised and cast aside, it means that moral law becomes solely the domain of individual interpretation.  And, that leads to some further implications.

St. Symeon the New Theologian notes that the acceptance of Jesus as God the Son is a spiritual glory, and that encompasses the hypostatic union.  He says, "He (natural man - my add) cannot perceive spiritual glory solely through his intelligence, just as those blind from birth cannot know the sun's light solely through their intelligence" (St. Symeon the New Theologian, "Practical and Theological Texts," in St. Nikodimos of the Holy Mountain and St. Makarius of Corinth, The Philokalia, Volume 4.  G.E.H. Palmer, Phillip Sherrard, and Kallistos Ware, trans.  London:  Faber and Faber, 1995.  p. 31).  Likewise, St. Thomas Aquinas notes that Christ is pivotal to soteriological hope in that "rather than impugning God's goodness and omnipotence, evil instead provides the opportunity for God to display goodness and omnipotence even more clearly because God responds to the evil introduced by human sin with an even greater good:  Christ."  (St. Thomas Aquinas, The Treatise on the Divine Nature:  Summa Theologiae I, 1-13.  Brian Shanley, O.P., trans.  Indianapolis:  Hackett Publishing Company, Inc.: 2006. pp. 199-200).  In synthesizing what SS. Symeon and Thomas have said, here it is in a nutshell - Jesus is God the Son as well as man, and His Incarnation is a spiritual glory that cannot be grasped by mere empirical language and intelligence in that it represents a greater good, a demonstration of God's love, in that God responds to the problem of evil by providing the ultimate good, descending Himself in the flesh to save mankind.   The salvation of mankind is intrinsically related as well to the preservation of the good of civilization, in that a redeemed mankind can then positively impact society.  The secularist fails in trying to improve based on his own efforts and merits, and by casting the Church aside and diminishing Christ to a "mere man" devoid of divinity, it means that evil is allowed to reign.  But, for the secularist, evil is redefined, and what God and His Church call evil is now touted as "virtuous" by the secularist (note Isaiah 5:20 here).  As John Horvat notes in his book Return to Order (York, PA:  York Press, 2013), "In this grandiose conception of self, the self-made man sees himself as the product of his own personal ingenuity and strength.  He is the ultimate judge of what is right and wrong" (Horvat, Return to Order, p. 34).  In other words, the secularist in essence becomes an arbiter of morality, and by diminishing Christ and divorcing Christian doctrine from the Church (secularization), it essentially means an unraveling and breakdown.  The secularizing theologian tends to justify his actions, as Mascall elaborates regarding van Buren's views in particular on pages 50-51 of his text, by stating that such a person doesn't necessarily deny God, but they "secularize" Jesus - in essence, they are turning Jesus into either a revolutionary or a great moral teacher/philosopher. As continues on page 52 of Mascall's text, those like van Buren in essence say that Jesus is "created" to essentially carry out God's sovereign plan and that Jesus is not in possession of the plan alone, as He cannot be divine.  Van Buren's "demythologizing" also seems to be foundated not on his own conclusions alone, but also owes much to the influence of Bultmann as well as another writer, Schubert M. Ogden (born 1928), and his views will now be discussed.

Schubert M. Ogden (born 1928)

Ogden is an American theologian who was a protege of Bultmann's and had corresponded with him up until the latter's death in 1976.  His take on theology is that doctrine is distinct from experience, and he placed a greater importance on the latter rather than the former.  Human experience, therefore for Ogden, determines theology, and therefore must be judged for credibility on the part of human experience rather than theology as understood by the historic teachings of the Church.  Philosophical inquiry, then, determines this credibility.  From the outset, it looks as if Ogden is trying to re-establish the connection between theology and philosophy that was severed during the Enlightenment, but in reality he is a theological Averroist in the tradition of Marsilus and others - theology is subservient to human experience and wisdom, and is shaped by it according to him.  The book Mascall references of Ogden's in regard to the current discussion is Ogden's 1961 text Christ Without Myth.  As Mascall notes on pages 53-54 of his text, the problem the views of both Ogden and his mentor Bultmann creates is that it necessitates a required demythologization which warrants a rejection of all belief in a transcendent order of reality - instead, belief for Ogden and others holding this perspective is a reformulation of "mythology" as a description of the religious experience of the Christian.  If you will recall Archer's "Central Narrative Convictions" discussed earlier, it means then that the "religious story" of the individual is merely subjective, but since "myth" serves a therapeutic purpose in this scheme, it is not rejected entirely but instead is interpreted then as an expression of man's existential understanding - hmmmm!!!  In the cliche "Houston, we have a problem!" there is an underlying redefinition of CNC's then as being merely "coping mechanisms" rather as a response of faith to a God who is real.  This seems to also line up with Merold Westphal's assertion as noted earlier that "tradition" is defined by him as merely a type of "positive prejudice" that can be arbitrarily classified as either "legitimate" or "enabling" based on individual understanding or misunderstanding.   The subjugation of Tradition to being a mere arbitrary "prejudice" also plays into Ogden's assertion that belief is based on subjective experience and must be "demythologized" in order to get to the rational fact.  This subjectivism then becomes the basis for a secularization - arbitrarily divorcing those things viewed as "subjective" from an individualistic stance is a matter of experience, and therefore one "experience" is as valid as another, and thus the concepts of "right" and "wrong," as well as morality itself, becomes redefined.  To assert there are absolutes, then, is "myth" and thus is subject to redefinition for the secularist.  Unfortunately, that even puts the person and divinity of Jesus Christ under the microscope, and this in turn undermines what Christianity truly is.

A few concluding observations are warranted here.  First, the corruptions of the secularist in no way takes away from the idea of the Central Narrative Conviction - a CNC is, in essence, our individual response to a transcendent reality beyond ourselves, and indeed culture and experience play a part in that.  However, this is to be distinguished from denying universal truths and fundamental faith of the Christian Church, as these are indeed transcendental to us - how we receive and live them however is unique and incommunicable to our personhood as individuals, and rather affirms the supernatural reality of God's existence rather than denying it.  Second, the reality of Jesus as a person is without dispute - more people witnessed Jesus as alive and a real person in His earthly lifetime than they did William Shakespeare or Julius Caesar, so Jesus is a historic reality.  Also, the orthodox Christology in regard to the hypostatic union (Jesus being fully God and fully man - two complete natures in one Person) is likewise beyond debate for the Christian - rather than being the subjective expression of a "myth," the divinity of Jesus is central to what it means to be a Christian, and although not necessarily articulated by human language or wisdom, as a mystery of faith it is affirmed true nonetheless.  As SS. Symeon the New Theologian and Thomas Aquinas have established, natural human wisdom cannot always fathom supernatural realities, and it is the height of arrogance to even attempt to or to dismiss them as mere "mythology."  Science and natural reason can explain so much, but they are not infinite wisdom as there is also a metaphysical dimension to life and existence as well. 

Third, and finally, the "demythologizing" of Christ's divinity has consequences for civilization as a whole.  In "demythologizing" and secularizing important tenets of the Christian faith, it guts the essence of what it means to be truly Christian.  And, it also opens the door to a relativistic morality which in turn can have catastrophic consequences on a society.  We have seen the worst manifestations of this in recent decades, and unfortunately if continued unchecked it could prove to be society's undoing. Faith and life are essentially interconnected, and as life is lived out in society, our faith shapes the way we live it out.  Hence, this is why Mascall's seminal work is vital, and as an issue this needs to be addressed in 2018 even more so than in 1965, when his text was first written.  In the next segment, I will delving more into the connection between these "theologians" such as van Buren and Ogden, and how they also are connected to and influenced by some poisonous philosophical views from Heidegger and even Nietzsche.