Generous Orthodoxy  




Monday, July 21, 2008

Are you absolutely certain, or fairly certain?

Peter Steinfels writes a "Beliefs" column every other week for The New York Times. It is always buried inside, below the fold, and is very difficult to find in the online edition. I am nevertheless encouraging a greater readership of this fine column, always of the highest quality, which has been appearing for at least 15 or 20 years. Steinfels is a Roman Catholic but very conversant with Protestantism.

This past Saturday he posed a question about faith and doubt. Acknowledging the difficulty of Christian faith in our era of irony and skepticism, he refers to a Pew Forum poll in which believers choose between "absolutely certain" and "fairly certain" of their beliefs. He wonders if the "fairly certain" might not hold a key to the future of the church in our time, continuing to attend worship and practice the faith in spite of doubts. My guess is that Steinfels himself might be in this category. He puts it this way:

"If it turned out that the answers of the 'fairly certain' came even close to those of the 'absolutely certain,' it would confirm the idea of a stable strata [sic] of deeply committed, actively practicing religious believers who have also integrated a significant degree of doubt and uncertainty into their faith."

Steinfels calls this the "steady-state hypothesis." As one who has tried to encourage this sort of churchmanship for as long as I can remember, I commend this way of being Christian to those who are not "absolutely certain." We need more "negative capability" (a phrase of John Keats') as a counterbalance to simplistic assertions. Tim Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian in NYC has been giving a series on the wisdom of the Proverbs, and he (following Gerhard von Rad's lead) is describing wisdom as insight into the complexities of life when there are no clear guidelines to follow. Amen.

Here is the link to the Steinfels piece:
http://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/19/us/19beliefs.html?_r=1&oref=slogin

And here is a link to another column which I found helpful, about the controversy concering homosexuality:
http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9800EFDC1739F93AA15757C0A9669C8B63

And finally, here is a nice one about Rowan Williams when he was first appointed, before Gene Robinson:
http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9905EED9133AF936A25751C0A9659C8B63