Tuesday, February 25, 2020

crackerjack theology

Over at ROK Drop, some time back, there was a post titled "SOUTH KOREAN CHURCHES INCREASINGLY CLOSING DUE TO CORONAVIRUS SPREAD." It quoted part of a Yonhap News article:

South Korean religious communities have been seeking preventive measures as there have been growing fears about religious events in large churches and temples that can become a focal point of infections.

The Catholic Archdiocese of Daegu has suspended all Masses held by churches, institutions and schools in the diocese for two weeks until March 5.

It is the first time that a Catholic diocese has decided not to hold Masses since the first outbreak was reported in South Korea on Jan. 20.
In the comments thread to the blog post, I wrote a flippant response:
In HG Wells’s War of the Worlds, the invasion from Mars ended up being defeated by humble terrestrial microbes. Will COVID-19 microorganisms also be the death of the invasive memeplex that is religion? (Tongue only partially in cheek.)
Another commenter responded with this:
Sorry[,] Kevin[. H]umans like to create lists of dos and don’ts.

God sends plagues so He can get our attention, so we will stop complaining, and so we will repent. And for other reasons..[.]

We don’t need rituals[;] we need repentance and a relationship with God. That’s the message of the Bible.

All religions are rituals. And many so-called Christians fall victim to the “if I do this[,] God will love me” heresy.

Ephesians 2:8-9 ought to have settled that[,] but we all want a way to be the master of our own destiny...
Oy gevalt. Where to begin? I've decided not even to engage with this person. What would be the use? I already know I can run rings around him in terms of logical expression, knowledge of theology and biblical literature, and knowledge of religious-studies issues (such as the essential question of that field: "What is religion?").

I'm never impressed when people make the Pharisaic move of quoting (or at least referring to, as above) scripture. Jesus himself did quote scripture, I grant, but he did so relatively rarely when you consider the various didactic methods he employed. His preferred method of teaching was a combination of parables and good works (Gk. ergon); when Jesus wasn't being discursive, he taught by example, and one point that he constantly hammered on—usually by implication and not by explicit mention—was that there exists a wordless scripture that is far greater than the written word. This is why Jesus so often appeared transgressive to the scripture-huggers. If the scriptures have any value, it's in how they point to something deeper, something ineffable and therefore beyond the human capacity for words and concepts. Whatever this deep thing is, though, it can be felt and lived because it is a dimensional, organic, living reality. Quotes are just quotes, and if you want to get into a quote-slinging contest, the Christian Bible isn't going to help you much because there's ammunition suitable to a wide range of perspectives. Ephesians 2:8-9 is the verse quoted most often by sola fide (justification by faith alone) Protestants who contend that grace is unearned. Grace isn't karmic, or so the argument goes: you can't "build up" a store of grace through good works. And you know what? Maybe this school of thought has a point. How can one earn grace, after all? But does this mean that the doing of good works is somehow valueless or somehow beside the point? As the great saint Kuato said in "Total Recall," "You are what you do." And in that spirit, I can sling a different quote from James 2:14-17:
What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says, “Depart in peace; be warmed and filled,” but you do not give the things that are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
We could go at it all day long, slinging quotes and being Pharisaic (and maybe even noting, in a conciliatory way, that the unearned/unearnable nature of grace and the essential value of works are not mutually exclusive). But I won't engage with this guy. What would be the point? He'd be protected from my arguments by the cognitive shield that is the Dunning-Kruger Effect. That said, I thought the crackerjack theology evident in my interlocutor's words was worth holding aloft for public scrutiny. So God sends plagues to grab our attention, have us stop complaining, and get us to repent, eh? I guess that's why so many innocent people have to die, right? And "all religions are rituals," yes? Wow. Where even to begin...?


  1. Well, I walked away from the church I was raised in (Pentecostal) at 14 because I could not intellectually accept the basic tenets of the faith practiced by Christians. Having said that, I have no issues with the "true believers" out there (other than the hypocrites, but I suppose they are not real believers). I've seen the comfort people take from their faith and that's a good thing. People doing good in the world in the name of their God works better than most government programs. Then again, the hurt and harm perpetrated in the name of the Lord (or Mohammad) are disgusting.

    You are right not to engage I think. It's almost like politics these days, minds will not be changed by reason or facts.

  2. John,

    Yeah, I'd walk away from Pentecostals, too. Not the most intellectually sophisticated branch of Christianity, to be sure.



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