Because I'm don't have time to write more . . . I'll just excerpt some correspondence from today . . . sorry to not include the letter that asked the questions, but you'll have to make do with my answers :) Proceed at your own risk! :P
With the beginning of the Enlightenment man began investigating the world in a new way – and leaving the medieval worldview which had proceeded it (which itself had supplanted the Classical worldview). In some ways the Enlightenment esteemed the Classical – and returned back to an Aristotelian approach – with some notable differences.
This new investigation included a critique of what had been formerly unassailable sacred texts. And higher criticism revealed that more was going on with the transmission and origin of these texts than was formerly believed. I see nothing inherently problematic and myself hold to many discoveries of higher and lower criticism - of textual transmission, the editing of texts, oral tradition, etc. that helps me understand in a way not nearly as romantic and naïve (as I did before) how we received the texts we have.
The problem I see is the tension expressed in the difference between Peter Abelard and Anselm: Abelard said “I know that I may believe,” while Anselm said “I believe that I may know.”
I spent too much of my life in Abelard’s way – making my rationality the measure of all things. The gift of my intellect became my god and I thought it entirely reasonable that God should be proved to me. I was the arbiter of truth. God hid Himself – or actually remained tantalizingly out of my reach – as long as I stood my ground and demanded that He become reasonable to me. Like the rich young ruler, only when I sold everything I had did I find God.
That doesn’t mean I became some fundamentalist ranter who eschews anger and hate all while claiming to be a careful adherent of the Bible. I didn’t even give up my intellect – only my use of it to measure everything.
I see the scientific analysis of any ancient texts from a hermeneutic of disbelief to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. A skeptical scientific analysis (I am not saying that is the only way to competently analyze the text) will provide ample proof for more skepticism. That approach uses only analysis and not intuition, existential truth, etc.
In my quote (why didn’t I start here?) I am not referring to scholarly work (which doesn’t have to be persistently skeptical) but to the analysis done by many conservatives where rules are deduced, arguments formulated, and positions buttressed. That type of culling the text for material to build my positions (using it as a resource) rather than encountering God through the text (only one place God may be encountered) leads to the distortion that I believe is seen in so much of current Christianity. I thought I was hearing in some of your comments evidence that you also see some absurd things being done in the name of Christianity. I believe that this handling of the Bible as prooftexts for rationally argued positions is at least one of the root causes of the phenomena we see. . .
For me those issues are any intellectual stance on any subject. The love of God is not a position – like “what is your position on . . .?” Since the rational emphasis of the Enlightenment Christianity has been dominated (but perhaps not populated) by at least some people for whom intellectualizing (the cognitive understanding) is paramount. C.S. Lewis called these people “men without chests” whose heads appear larger not because they are, but because their chests (where the heart is) have atrophied.
By human thought here I mean rational knowledge in an Aristotelian way – as opposed to a mystical knowledge – which IS the visceral and experiential. Friedrich von Huegel’s institutional (Petrine), intellectual (Pauline), and intuitive (Johannine) model seems apropos. Peter reigns in the Catholic church, Paul in the Protestant church, but John has no home though his tradition hides in the shadows of both. I don’t see these as antithetical, but all are needed. There is a place for Paul-like analysis, but without John’s intuitive love (I don’t mean to paint Paul as lacking in mysticism – his faith was formed mystically on the road to Damascus- not intellectually through debate) the analysis runs amok . . .
I don’t think all truth is equal. It is true that every life is sacred and to be valued not for its circumstance, but for its existence. It is also true that I am wearing a t-shirt today. The first truth is not scientifically attainable, but the second is. However, the scientific truth, while eradicating the error that I always wear button-down shirts during the week, has little import. The important truths of life are relational, experiential, and spiritual – all untouchable by science. Scientific analysis, when it is made the gold-standard of truth – leads to a world where the greatest things are physical. My argument is that when this scientific approach was appropriated by Christians and applied to the scriptures, the unimportant became important and Christianity was distorted.