Wednesday, December 24, 2014

". . . being like Jesus was the only point"

Scott Korb  reviewed  James Carroll's Christ Actually: The Son Of Good For The Secular Age in the LA Times Sunday edition.

It's not too long,  but I did have trouble following it.  Kolb, from what I can tell here, has seriously explored the ideas of religious belief in the modern and ancient worlds and is much closer to Carroll intellectually than most.   But it was also compelling and I read it. The basic message I got was that in the modern world belief itself is less and less believable.   Ultimately, imitating Christ is the way to make belief believable again.   I found myself having to go back and reread parts
as I started writing here.

Here's an example:
"I'm convinced, for instance, by recent arguments, notably one by writer Paul Elie, that most contemporary novels fail to "grant belief any explanatory power" and thus refuse one sense of "the fullness of life." Arguably the most popular Christian factual writing in recent years, "Heaven Is for Real," recounts a child's round trip to heaven, where Jesus keeps a rainbow horse. Another popular and perhaps more believable factual approach involves academics — like Reza Aslan in "Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth" — uncovering and reconstructing the Jesus of history and not the Christ of Christianity.
For all its merits, this approach typically abandons the question of religious belief, and in doing so, says Catholic writer James Carroll, ignores the historical reality of Christ's impact over the centuries. Because despite the successful storytelling approach of Aslan and others committed to seeing Jesus the man as "someone worth believing in," Carroll argues in his new book, "Christ Actually: The Son of God for the Secular Age," that it's hard to imagine anyone would still think much about him were it not for the "two-thousand-year-old divinity claim" that puts Jesus in our lives today. And nothing but our own religionlessness would make necessary or believable Carroll's new book."
Still, I don't understand this enough to know for sure if Korb is citing "Heaven Is for Real" seriously or is dismissively.  I assume the latter.   I looked it up.  Here's what the Heaven website says:
"Heaven Is for Real is the true story of a four-year old son of a small town Nebraska pastor who experienced heaven during emergency surgery. He talks about looking down to see the doctor operating and his dad praying in the waiting room. The family didn’t know what to believe but soon the evidence was clear … "
I've heard about Aslan's book on Jesus.  I read an earlier book of his on the life of Mohammad   No god but God. It's a serious attempt to write a factual account of Mohammad's life and the Jesus book, as I understand it is a similar volume.  It's an attempt at history and biography, not at promoting a religion.  

I'd like to read Carroll's book to figure out what actually he's saying.  And because I have an ambiguous attitude toward belief in a divinity.  To the extent that often people can understand complex ideas best metaphorically, I think the stories of different religions that hold the ideals of the faith are a reasonable way to convey the moral lessons.  To the extent that Christians imitate Christ, on a daily, continuous basis, this would be a much better world.  I don't know that one has to believe in Christ's divinity to imitate him.  One just has to believe in his goodness.  At least that's what I understand.  And I'm interested whether Carroll agrees or disagrees.  

Korb ends his review:
"Imitation," Carroll contends, "can make us more than human." And while the Christian devotional practice may have its roots in Thomas à Kempis' 15th century handbook "Imitation of Christ," Carroll reminds us that "from the start, those who fell under his spell understood that being like Jesus was the only point." Through imitation we transcend ourselves. Offering the further examples of humanitarian Dr. Albert Schweitzer and pacifist Dorothy Day, Carroll argues that the imitation of Christ is one truly viable way that remains to make belief believable. 
In their moments, believers like Bonhoeffer and, later, Day, whose very lives opposed the infernality of war, groped for words that might give Christ some meaning amid the ruins of Christendom. Carroll gropes too and well. But there are no words as powerful as our human lives. Carroll knows this. It is his final word. And for Christians, he concludes, the fullness of their lives remains Christ's only hope."

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