Generous Orthodoxy  

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Stop Karen Armstrong!

Something really has to be done about Karen Armstrong. I am too busy to do it, but I wish someone else would. She is much more an enemy of faith than is "Hitchkins" (Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins). Here she is on the front page of the Weekend Journal (a section of the Saturday/ Sunday section of the Wall Street Journal, September 12-13) facing off against Dawkins. Two entire pages are given over to this: MAN vs. GOD, the headline says (at least the WSJ continues to go its politically incorrect "exclusive-language" way). The huge illustration shows Michelangelo's God over against Darwin (oh, no, not again...). What has happened to the WSJ? is this Rupert Murdoch at work? the WSJ editorials are hyper-right-wing and not to my taste, but for a long time the paper has been, in certain respects, a friend to the apostolic faith. What has happened?

Dawkins, like Freud, is less a threat to biblical faith than Armstrong, who like Jung embraces a generic, spiritualized, anthropocentric approach to God (exactly what Freud identified in The Future of an Illusion). Dawkins is quite right in ending his article the following way (I am condensing):

The modern theologian is scornful of scientific arguments for God's existence [rightly so--this was always off-track]. We are not so naive as to be hung up on God's actual existence. [Here Dawkins accurately nails a lot of today's "liberal" theology.] "It doesn't matter," Dawkins' theological liberal continues, "whether God exists in a scientific sense. What matters is whether he exists for you or for me."

Dawkins then continues, speaking in his own voice, "If that's what paddles your canoe, you'll be paddling up a very lonely creek. The mainstream belief of the world's peoples is very clear. They believe in objective reality...Tell the congregation of a church or mosque that 'existence' is too vulgar a concept to fasten onto their God, and they will brand you an atheist. They'll be right."

Karl Barth, of whom Karen Armstrong is blissfully ignorant, said that he found atheists to be more bracing conversation partners than "religious" people. Certainly we can welcome this last observation of Dawkins, although the rest of his article shows his usual, annoying refusal to see that many serious Christians (Pope John Paul II was a notable example) hold Darwin and orthodox Christian faith simultaneously.

Karen Armstrong and others like her are "religious" without a clue as to the Subject of theology. If she really understands the Church Fathers at any level, one seeks evidence in vain. If she has ever heard of the Reformation she does not indicate it. If she has ever had any serious dialogue with any major Protestant theologian her writing does not show it. If she has ever heard of the doctrine of revelation she shows no sign of it. She is a walking, talking, writing exhibit for Freud's basic thesis: God is what we have made up out of our own wishes and needs.

Who can mount a powerful defense against this sort of thing? Marilynne Robinson, for one, knows better-- but her voice is soft. We need thunder and lightning.