Wednesday, June 10, 2009

A Comment on Religion without Revelation

I enjoyed John Shuck’s post on "Religion without Revelation" at his blog, “Shuck and Jive,” ( Here is my comment on that post, slightly edited:

Religion is a human activity. We humans have feelings and experiences that we name religious. We are often passionately convinced of the truth of our religion because our feelings about it are so strong. Such strong feelings must make right, yes? However, feelings are unreliable. They are fleeting; they are often gone before we can bring them fully to consciousness; they change; we can’t reproduce them at will. So we try to find a way to hold on to them, to preserve them. We are much like Peter in the story of the Transfiguration wanting to build booths to preserve the moment. Our booths are the institution, the doctrines, and the supernatural. These are all designed to hold on to and reproduce the feelings at the core of all religions. However, as Jesus pointed out to him, we must move on, even to death. Life and its feelings can’t be stored but must always be poured out until we too pass away.
So, far from there being no revelation, our religious feelings give us a sense of the Spirit moving in us. They are our revelation. If others have similar feelings and share them with us, we can arrive at a consensus as to what the feelings mean. It is from consensus that doctrines are developed: “Believed by everyone, everywhere, at all times” is a definition of orthodoxy.
Some feelings can lead us to “Delight in the law of the Lord” and to “Conform our lives to his.” Of course, these feelings are sometimes there, sometimes not and they can be overwhelmed by other more self-serving feelings. Regular worship can on occasion summon forth those feelings that, it is hoped, are more in keeping with a God of love, and we can leave worship remembering these feelings with the aim of acting upon them.
In “Radicals and the Future of the Church” (1989), Don Cupitt still thought that the church was needed because “It is a theatre in which we solemnly enact our deepest feelings.” With the publication of “The Meaning of the West” in 2008, he announced that he has left the church, because, in the West, Christianity lives on most vitally in secular society, while the churches have become weak or irrational. Although I agree this assessment, I think that it is possible to imagine churches that can be useful to people. Most importantly, churches must embrace their role as vehicles for managing feelings.
I write more about this in my post of March 17, 2009, “The Church of the Afterlife,” which is below. I would appreciate your comments.

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