Ecstatic Humanism with Christian Hopes
|The Botanic Garden trees under which, during summer, I often read|
I hasten to add that I am not so naïve as to think that the demise of the transcendent God within my own interpreted experience entails the universalized conclusion that he does not exist. I have become increasingly impressed by the inescapably contextual character of all our "ultimate concerns." I can appreciate the fact that all sorts of people deal with existence in terms of faith in the sovereign God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. On questions of ultimate meaning, none of us knows for sure who is closer to the mark. But in my own ongoing struggle to make sense of the Christian context of life- and world-interpretation, I find basic elements of that context which I simply cannot render coherent any longer, and I earnestly wonder how other persons manage to (The Death of God: A Belated Personal Postscript).
As I noted back in 2010, after first reading them, their general good spirit and content made a big impact upon me. Now, six years on — and with that much more experience of struggling to make sense of what it is to be some kind of post-Christian, post-theistic, Christian minister of religion — their good spirit and content was still powerful enough to make me, finally, hunt down one of his books called "Borderland Christianity" that he'd written in 1973. It came this morning in the post and the opening three paragraphs of his introduction, entitled, "Ecstatic Humanism with Christian Hopes", are just so relevant to me (and, therefore, to the general spirit and ongoing themes of this blog) that I cannot resist reproducing them here:
For several years now I have lived and worked, to use Paul Tillich's famous self-description, "on the boundary" between theism (chiefly Christianity) and humanism. Two basic, often conflicting elements have characterized my ongoing search for truth: On the one hand there has been a "natural religiousness," which has always been filled with wonder over the mysteries of existence and has found it extremely difficult to dismiss some of the central things religion experiences and talks about as purely illusory. On the other hand I have possessed a "natural skepticism" which has had a strong taste for facts, for publicly adjudicable realities, and has been ceaselessly suspicious and critical of many religious claims. The juxtaposition of the two has created numerous and endlessly varied inner tensions and conflicts, both intellectual and personal, throughout the years of my education, teaching, and research in the fields of theology and philosophy.
Sometimes I find myself in the position of what the British philosopher Ronald Hepburn once aptly described as a "sceptic with a naturally religious mind" kind of open-minded, "reverent" humanist. At other times I think of myself as a kind of ultra-liberal "Christian heretic." I enter with equal gusto and sympathetic interest into the world view of Albert Camus and a discussion of Jesus' resurrection. I teach jointly in two departments of the university, philosophy and religion. Most of my colleagues in philosophy are humanists and skeptics about religion. They are interested in a number of things besides religion, and help keep me healthily absorbed in other issues and areas of knowledge. My colleagues in religion are an ecumenical bunch of theists—active Christians and Jews—with whom I feel completely comfortable both intellectually and personally.
Strangely enough, perhaps, I do not feel schizophrenic about all this. I do have a position, an orientation—albeit a very broad and open-ended one—which I describe below and which comes out more indirectly in the essays that follow. But it is precisely an orientation which straddles the boundary between humanism and religious belief. From my vantage point in the borderlands between largely Christian theism and humanism I make exploratory and critical forays, now into theological and now into secular territory. My situation, I believe, bestows a certain dual perspective and freedom from special pleading which are perhaps of value in engendering some insights of a particular sort into both territories. The essays in this book represent my recent excursions on the theological side which express some long-standing concerns of mine (Borderland Christianity: Critical Reason and the Christian Vision of Love, Geoffrey Chapman Press, 1973, pp. 13-14)