Print Version August 26th, 2005
The game of cricket has been a consuming topic in the last few days–not least because one of our visiting retreat givers is a fanatic and another is from the US and rather bemused by it all. We end our midday meal with a brief prayer and today the person leading it began with a carefully confusing account of the rules of cricket–all about being in and being out, etc. After the expected mirth had died down he went on to pray about the presence of God in all the strange customs and cultures of the world and for our ability to find God in all things.
Now… ‘finding God in all things’ is a central Ignatian maxim but–really!–the rules of cricket? You can tell I’m not fond of the game but I doubt that’s the reason the question has been buzzing around for an hour or two now. It touches something more fundamental for me: a matter of cosmology. Where is God to be found in the world? In the natural world? In the worlds of culture? In all of each or only in parts? And how would we tell?
It has been arguedBy David Tracy among others that there is a fundamental parting of the ways between Catholics and Protestants over just this issue. The Catholic imagination–wildly oversimplifying–tends to value the ways the creation can reflect, embody, and reveal God while the Protestant imagination tends to see God as sitting in judgement of just such practises. The Incarnation, then, gets viewed from very different angles either as grounding the capacity of human culture to mediate God or as the way God comes to challenge the idols culture erects. The one is sacramental, the other iconoclastic. I suspect the situation is far more complex than that but there’s a grain of truth there. Compare Karl Rahner for example with Karl Barth.
Perhaps more to the point would be to compare two figures within 20th century Catholicism, Karl Rahner and Hans Urs von Balthasar, himself heavily influenced by Barth. I doubt a close reading of either of them would uphold the polarity some commentators construct between them but the construction is interesting in itself. Rahner, they say, was over-optimistic about the human beings ability to know God and human culture’s capacity to carry God, perhaps most extravagantly manifest in his notion of the ‘anonymous Christian’ . A good Rahnerian could make an anonymous Christian even out of a cricketer. Just being human is being bound for God. The good Balthasarian–and they seem to be in the ascendance right now–thinks that is all too vague and merely baptizes philosophy to look like theology. Christ impresses himself onto the human world and reveals his glory in very particular forms.
The consequences of of this kind of polar construction are very much in evidence in the Catholic Church these days. Was Vatican II a weakening of Catholic identity that now needs to be corrected by a return to our distinctive marks? Or are we still waiting for Vatican II’s vision of a Church open to the world to be implemented and bear its fruit. How should the Church see itself vis-a-vis modern European culture? Are we salt, leaven, and light or are we a separate society offering a counter witness to secularism’s evils? Do we inculturate into our culture, affirming the good we find as a vehicle for the gospel, or do we stand outside and speak an uncomfortable truth?
I could go on but I promise just one more: where do we stand on evolution and design? Cardinal Schönborn’s editorial in the New York Times gets close to setting up science and religion as sparring partners offering conflicting accounts of matters of fact. George Coyne’s response keeps them in separate compartments.’Science is completely neutral with respect to philosophical or theological implications that may be drawn from its conclusions.’ It’s been a while since Ian Barbour explored other ways for science and religion to relate besides conflict and compartmentalisationThere is an extensive treatment here. Once we take a deep breath and deconstruct the dichotomies of which the media are so fond we find that so much of the debate is at cross purposes. The myth of the independence of science and theology has been a safe haven for most theologians. Since science delivers matters of fact with which we can’t argue we can at least satisfy ourselves that we have something to say on matters of value. Running for cover, though, does put you at a disadvantage. Both science and religion(s) offer a cosmology–a view of the whole–that can’t be carved up into pieces: fact and value. Science does us all a disservice when it too runs for cover and claims it is a disinterested pursuit of truth. The atom bomb is not neutral. It isn’t the case that science just produces the facts and others have to decide how to use them. Science offers a view of reality that systematically excludes value. That has been its genius and its deceit. I love science, always have, but I know it lies when it says it is offers a complete vision of reality. It is the very value-neutral ideology of the scientific enterprise which is under attack from the proponents of Intelligent Design. They take the war into the enemies camp proposing purposes and reasons to challenge matters of fact on their own ground. My own belief is that the project is misguided.And guided by the kind of politics I abhor. ID isn’t a scientific theory to be judged by scientific criteria or taught alongside science in schools. It offers no scientific heuristic only metaphysical challenge. But neither are science and religion apples and oranges. Both make cosmological claims–claims about the fullness of what is real–and on that contested territory something interesting might be built to challenge both science and theology.
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