The Atlantic’s Andrew Sullivan today asked what he considers some poignant questions for believers on the problem of finding ways to make the language of faith, particularly the Christian one, fresh for the modern mind.
As Sullivan, a believer, said:
I think of the term “incarnation” – a word that has come to seem like tired dogma. But what can it possibly mean that God became man? How is that different from God infusing all of us with love and hope and sometimes such overwhelming power that we lose all sense of ourselves? What made Jesus so different, so more remarkable than all the rest of us sons and daughters of God? To non-believers I know this must seem just insane; for those of us trying to get past the staleness of our faith, it’s a pressing challenge.
The revival in religion will be a rhetorical problem — new persuasive words for defaced or degraded ones.
So let me understand this correctly. The problem is not the message delivered but how the message is delivered? And who do we think could have possibly been responsible for these defaced and degraded words? Certainly not the unbelievers. It could have only been the people who use such words the most: righteousness, redemption, sin, sacrifice, incarnation, repentance, and the like. I’m not sure what words we could bring to bear to replace or improve on these tried and true truisms.
I don’t think Sullivan’s questions sound insane, and I have often thought about this topic, both as a believer and as a nonbeliever. I think the problem probably goes beyond rhetoric. (Or not, since those who will be taken to belief will believe so long as the language, whatever that may be, and the message inspires or compels them to do so.) For the rest of us, the issue goes beyond mere words because religion, whichever of the big three we choose, has not moved on in hundreds, or at least two cases, thousands of years. While science, astronomy, medicine, biology, physics and astrophysics offers us new wonders on a daily basis, and nature every second if we care to observe it, religion has just the one, for, as the Bible says, the message is the same yesterday, now and forever. I don’t think one has to be very imaginative to realize how that could, indeed, get quite worn out after these 2,000 years of preaching on it with no new information or revelation whatsoever, especially since the information that is allegedly divined appears cobbled together and contradictory by semi-literate folks milling around in the desert, not in China or other areas where people could read. And for those of us (I guess Sullivan isn’t in this category) who haven’t experienced God
infusing all of us with love and hope and sometimes such overwhelming power that we lose all sense of ourselves …
the crisis of faith isn’t just a rhetorical or semantical problem. It’s a real problem.