Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Apostate

7/14/2010--Lauren Winner reviewed Eric Lax’s book, Faith, Interrupted, in the Sunday New York Times on July 11. (review here). Lax is writing about the Episcopal faith he has lost. Winner calls it a “love letter to a faith he has lost”.

Why did Lax lose his Christian faith? For the same reasons many of us have—he actually thought about the core teachings, in his case the Nicene Creed—and no longer found them “plausible”.

Nevertheless, also like many of the rest of us, Lax continues to live out his earlier religious values. He still tries to follow Jesus’ example.

None of this causes him to criticize his religious friends. He envies them (also like many of us).

But then the review takes a critical turn, not in tone but in substance. Here is the key paragraph:

“Yet Lax does not seem interested in cultivating a spiritual life shot through with doubt. He doesn’t want an ambivalent (or, one might say, mature) faith; rather, he writes, recalling the aftermath of his parents’ deaths, “what I wanted to have was what I’d always had, but the faith I had accepted without question and could articulate with catechismal rote could not be recaptured.” Of course, many of us come to a place where such faith is neither possible nor even desirable; I suspect my own small Episcopal church would be largely empty on Sundays if anyone who ever questioned the Creed, anyone whose faith life included seasons of aridity, stayed home.”

Winner’s criticism, and it is an implied criticism of Hallowed Secularism as well, is that those who leave religion just because we cannot believe in a fairy tale are unwilling to do the hard work that those who stay, like Winner, do. She puts it this way at the end of the review—“What kind of faith might be possible even after the verities of childhood have passed away?”

But Lax’s desire for a faith he can actually believe in is not a refusal to grow up. Earlier Christians actually believed all the stuff of dogma. It made sense to them. They had their crises of doubt of course. But their crises were about something that could be true. It is not doubt to reject something ridiculous. It is plain sense.

Let me illustrate it this way. What if I believe that the world is meaningful and good? Then a terrible tragedy afflicts me. That causes me to doubt whether the world is meaningful and good. But I could one day regain my faith because my earlier faith could be true.

In Lax’s case, as in mine, the core teachings of monotheism can’t be true. For one thing, the natural laws of science hold the highest ontological position. There is no other realm.

Now, maybe Winner only has doubts. In that case, of course she stays in the church and good luck to her. But what if she is in the same boat as Lax and me? Then I would have to say of Winner, that staying in church can just as easily be a way of avoiding a mature faith as leaving.

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