I've decided to get back into reading about religious studies and theology. It's not that I ever stopped doing that, per se, but I've been reading materials for my dissertation. I'd like to expand my knowledge about religious studies and theology because I may sometime be teaching them some day. Plus, as I travel through the religious studies blogosphere, I realize that there are so many books that I have not read.
I was in a library recently, looking for books to check out. I came across a book published in 1961, Gabriel Vahanian's The Death of God: The Culture of Our Post-Christian Era.
The book looked interesting to me for a variety of reasons. First, it
was about how many in that time were considering Christianity to be
inadequate, and that is a topic of interest to me: the search for an
adequate belief system. Moreover, Vahanian, rather than completely
discarding the Bible, seemed to make use of its categories to describe
people's predicament. Second, the book got into the thoughts of various
theologians, and I figured that I could beef up my knowledge on that.
book ended up being way over my head, to tell you the truth. It's not
that Vahanian used difficult words that I had to look up in the
dictionary. Rather, he was putting together fairly simple words into
sentences that I did not understand, and I had a hard time following his
train of thought. I can easily find myself despairing as a result of
this, telling myself that I'm just not smart or sophisticated enough for
academia! But I try to resist those kinds of thoughts. Ayn Rand said
that even those who are simple can practice reasoning, on some level,
and so I will attempt to learn and to read. We all have to start
somewhere. We were all at one time in a position where we did not know
something and had to learn it----we're all still in that
position, for that matter, for none of us knows everything. And there
are plenty of good books that I can read that are easier for me to
I felt as if I was reading a book in a different
language and had to draw from here and there to understand what Vahanian
was saying. Vahanian's main point seems to be that many in his time
deemed the Christian God to be irrelevant to their situation. Vahanian
says that one problem is that the Christian God is too transcendent,
when many are focused on the here and now; for some reason, however,
Vahanian does not seem to be particularly keen on going to the opposite extreme and
saying that God is very imminent. Vahanian says on page 231 that "The
dilemma of radical immanentism is that it offers no resolution to man's
predicament because, although it attempts to define man in terms of his
relatedness to others, it can only project man as a god or a wolf to his
fellow man." Huh? You can hopefully see what I mean when I say that I
understand the words that Vahanian uses, but not the sentence or the
thought that Vahanian is trying to convey.
In critiquing the
social Gospel, Vahanian appears to be arguing that people wonder what
role Christianity will play, when all the social problems are solved. I
can't envision all of humanity's problems being solved, to be honest,
and I seriously doubt that Vahanian himself envisions that. But even if
people have arrived at a level of comfort and do not feel that they
need God to be fulfilled, they may still have spiritual needs. The
thing is, Vahanian appears to acknowledge that people have spiritual
needs. He just doesn't believe that Christianity is adequately meeting
them, for some reason.
In reading about
why people become atheists, I come across a variety of reasons:
encountering historical-criticism of the Bible shakes people's faith in
biblical inerrancy; science continues to shrink what is seen as God's
role in the cosmos; people throughout the world have different religions
and cultures, making one wonder what makes one religion correct; the
problem of evil and suffering calling into question the existence of a
just and loving God. Vahanian gets into some of these issues----these
topics that influence some to question that theism is factually
accurate. But these issues do not loom as large in Vahanian's book as
one might expect. Rather, Vahanian's point seems to be that
Christianity (or theism) is not resonating with people.
can legitimately ask: Does this matter? Just because a belief-system
does not resonate with people, does that mean it's not true? A
fundamentalist could say that God still judges sinners, even if people
don't believe in God, or even if the truth that they are sinners does
not resonate with them.
The thing is, God
is also love, and many might think that a loving God would try to meet
people where they are. Within the Bible, arguably, God is reaching out
to people within their own cultures, using categories that they
understand. In light of this, would God respond to people's failure to
see the relevance of theism with, "Well, who cares? It's the truth
anyway, regardless of what you might think?"
I'll be moving on to an easier book: Scientists Confront Creationism. If you're interested, here is the wikipedia article about Vahanian, and here is the wikipedia article on the death of God, which discusses Vahanian's contribution to the discussion.