Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Atheism for Lent: The Day Before the First Day

In the preface to his book, Suspicion and Faith: The Religious Uses of Modern Atheism, Merold Westphal writes that he's writing to the church. To the pastors. To the laity. To all Christians who've grown complacent, swirling and circling in a faith that serves the self more than it serves others. Wesphal ends with a hope that his book will prove to be "edifyingly disturbing" to its readers.

I like that concept: to edify by/through disturbing. In light of this, a small group of Fuller friends and I are embarking on what many people our age are thinking about, thanks to a gentle prodding from Peter Rollins, and that is "Atheism for Lent."

Now, some of you may be wondering: 'I thought Lent was about giving something up? About sacrifice?' And you'd be write. But here, Rollins explains how atheism for Lent is an act of giving something up that in turn, can deepen and mature one all the more. He also suggests 'atheism' is part of Christian belief, Christian faith, and in fact, lies at the very heart of Christianity.

Rollins claims, "Every concrete theism creates its negative, its atheism. There are as many atheisms as there are theisms. All affirmations create their negations. Whenever a concrete religion is faced with its own negation, one of two things generally happens: either the church rejects those who reject it, pushes those who question it and who deny it outside the fold, pushing them away; or they listen to those who question, they listen to what they have to say, they consider it and they attempt to use it in a way to deepen their faith. However, there's a third position and it's where one attempts to integrate the negation into the very affirmation, itself. In other words, one takes the critique and sees it as an integrate part of faith. This is something we bear witness to at the very heart of Christianity itself. For in the cross, when Christ cries out, 'my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?', we see that the absence of God, the felt absence of the Divine, is brought into the very heart of the faith. Instead of seeing it as some kind of test that we have to endure, or the result of our sin and our finitude, what we see is God experiencing the absence of God. Therefore the absence of God is seen to be apart of the life of faith. If a Christian is to participate in the crucifixion, to stand with Christ, then part of the Christian experience is that absence, itself. In a similar way, when we are confronted by the atheism that is generated by Christianity, perhaps we should not see it as an enemy that we need to fight, or as a stranger that we need to listen to, but rather we should view it as a friend and a comrade, that we must embrace and welcome as our own."

So with the help of Merold Westphal, myself and four other friends will be embarking on a friendly existential journey into the minds of Karl Marx, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Sigmund Freud, daily, for the next 46 days. Hopefully, we'll come to a place close to where Kelly James Clark came to, after reading through Westphal's book. In the forward she writes:

"Their [Marx, Nietzsche, Freud] deep insights startle us, find us out, shame us, catch us up short, claim our assent, and damn our pretension. We realize, to our benefit, that we are not as good, faithful, just, and humble as we thought before we started this book."

Here's to 'damning our pretensions' and letting the absence of God make room for the possibility of God, and the gift of suspicion and faith.

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