God is Not Dead Yet?

Christianity Today’s most recent issue is obviously meant to serve as a counterpoint to the (in)famous cover of Time Magazine from April 8, 1966. (Read its cover article, Toward a Hidden God.) This allusion to Time’s iconic cover is only skin-deep, however, as CT’s cover story from the July 2008 issue (written by the Don of evangelical philosophy, William Lane Craig) is merely using this reference as a way to convey a weight of momentousness to its response to “new” atheism that could not otherwise be sustained by its own content.

I’m not going to deal much with Craig’s use of natural theology-type arguments for the existence of God except to say that it is precisely the use (and subsequent discrediting) of these types of arguments in the first place which has made it possible for people like Dawkins to get a hearing in the broader culture. Continuing to play at natural theology is analogous to the gambling addict who’s confident that he’ll win this time: he’s playing a game with rules engineered to ensure that he loses.

What I’m more interested in is Craig’s shoddy characterization of postmodern culture. For starters, he fails to make any of the useful distinctions between postmodernism as a movement within philosophy and postmodernity as a way to talk about our late (or post)-captialist culture. Instead he simply argues that, since nobody lives completely relativistically in our culture, we are not in a postmodern culture. This, of course, relies on the hidden assumption that postmodern philosophy is necessarily relativistic (it’s not) and that this is something that it says characterizes postmodern culture (it doesn’t).

Instead, the best of postmodern philosophy simply recognizes that it’s very, very difficult to make any assertion of truth, and especially about anything that matters. Matters like the meaning of life, the existence of God, the nature of love. The good stuff. This does not mean that there’s nothing to be said about important matters, but that we should do so with the recognition that some type of faith commitment is always already involved.

Some postmodern philosophy also recognizes that people running around claiming to have all of the answers and logic on their side–be they Dawkins or Craig–are probably playing at a game where the rhetoric to reason ratio is disturbingly high. Both are looking backwards to arguments that used to make sense; to forms of reasoning which made sense in a world prior to globalization, post-colonialism, and the thorough discrediting of any notion of “reason alone” in philosophy, theology or science.

And it’s this direction that I’m most concerned about here: backwards instead of forwards; a vain attempt at retrieving something which is fading into the mists of history. (I hasten to add that I deeply value history, but it’s not where we live.) I’m much more interested in the type of theological argument which looks to examine the culture we really are in–especially the elements of consumerism and empire–and critiques them from the standpoint of the faith (and of course love) that we’re actually embodying as the best “proof” of all.

I’m much more interested in seeing the logic of the crucifixion and non-violent resistance infiltrate our thinking such that we cease to be able to write like Craig: “By laying aside our best apologetic weapons of logic and evidence, we ensure modernism’s triumph over us.” (emphasis on militaristic metaphor mine.) I’m much more interested in communities of witnesses (they were called martyrs back in the day) prove the existence of the love of the Triune God through their lives–and especially how they lay them down as Christ laid his down for us.

4 responses to “God is Not Dead Yet?”

  1. I think that “rational faith” and natural theology are interesting issues, but like you, I’m more intertested in what you say: “seeing the logic of the crucifixion and non-violent resistance infiltrate our thinking”, and aslo, I’m getting some interest in continental philosophy.

    BTW (how ironical) Dawkins thinking is really close to Paley’s “natural theology”. Or, better said, Dawkins continues upon most of the Paley’s views through his atheistic view of nature (i.e. neo.darwinism. I’m evolutionist, but I’m a little critic of some issues on neo-darwinism)

  2. Let me invite you to see my response to “God Is Not Dead Yet” that has just been published at the web-mag Religion Dispatches. I’m eager for readers and feedback, so I’d love to hear if you have any reactions.

    At Religion Dispatches.
    A mention of it on my blog, The Row Boat.

    If you do respond on your blog, let me know, and I’d be happy to link to it from mine.

  3. mountainguy: Thanks for reading and commenting. And yes, as you say, Dawkins owes a large debt to Paley’s arguments, at least insofar as he begins with the same premises (the natural world seems to be designed) and winds up with the opposite conclusion.

  4. Nathan: I’ll have a look at it, and then we’ll see if it warrants a response or not.

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