Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Scandal Factors

Brain Demon's recent post on Spiritual Atheists got me thinking about the competing ethical notions offered by Christopher Hitchens and the neo-atheists:

God created humanity and ethics


Humanity created God and ethics

Of course, Hitchens believes in the latter while I still ruggedly cling to the former. I am compelled by John Howard Yoder's concept of the 'scandal factors' of Christian faith. He proposes that the practices of the church are most effective when we live them outside of the church building, in front of our non-believing neighbors so that they can naturally join us in our social-justice action. These neighbors join us because they innately sense that feeding the hungary, caring for the sick, sharing resources with the poor are what being humane is all about. So far, Yoder and Hitchens are seeing eye to eye. However, Yoder writes in his final collection of essays For the Nations [1997] that the faithful Christian community also embodies 3 practices that the non-believing world will find scandalous: enemy love [not interethnic rivalry], forgiveness [not revenge] and humble service [not domination].

These 'scandal factors' are not so obvious to humanity, but were revealed through the life, teachings and death of Jesus of Nazareth who held the key that unlocked reality. Christian ethical living must include these factors which ultimately led to his death. After all, Jesus did beckon his disciples to 'take up the cross' which surely meant a radical ethical lifestyle that would confront the powers-that-be. However, these factors continue to befuddle Christian and non-Christian alike, including Hitchens who has spent plenty of time and energy advocating and justifying the war on terror in Iraq. A significant aspect of Christian vocation in our world is intentionally, ethically living out these factors even those a supermajority of Christians throughout the world do not seek to intentionally live by them.

No doubt, progressive Mennonite Yoder would agree with Hitchens' critique of acculurated Christianity, mostly in the form of conservative Evangelicalism. Yoder and progressive Christians like me would overwhelmingly agree with Hitchens' fellow neo-atheist Bill Maher who clearly cut to the root of the ethical dilemma for today's standard brand American Evangelical:

...it's not mainly about doing the right thing or being ethical, it's mainly about salvation, it's mainly about getting your butt saved when you die. And that's why I think they're less moral than atheists.

Yoder spent much effort in intermural-Christian debates, especially over the political nature of Jesus and his call to contemporary followers to live without violence and give voice to those who are marginalized by the dominant cultural ethos. But Yoder's genius was on display when he gave voice to the distinctiveness of different religious [and non-religious] traditions and Christian denominations. And these differences matter today more than ever.

--Theological Autopilot

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