[ now playing? ] Robyn – Body Talk, pt. 2 | Agnes – Dance Love Pop [Australian Deluxe Edition] | Leonard Bernstein – Mass [CHANDOS CHSA 5070(2)]
[ now reading? ] Addison Hodges Hart – Knowing Darkness: On Skepticism, Melancholy, Friendship, and God (2009: Grand Rapids, MI; Eerdmans)
I picked the book linked up above in the remainders bin at Koorong Springwood a few months ago in the midst of a serious moment of despair; discounted by from A$20.95 to A$10. Yet another solid book that gets shafted to the remainder bin while all the big names get primo shelf space and promotion. I’ve waited until I’ve been of sounder mind before I began reading it.
I know the author’s name given that he is one of the contributing editors of Touchstone magazine (a periodical that I’ve been subscribed to for the last couple of years). The articles he has written have always been thought provoking and challenging so I kinda had an idea of what I could be in for with this book. I’ve started reading it now and I have to say that it is one of the most accessible books on a topic that too often is blithely dismissed in churches, fellowship groups and even the Christian publishing world. And by dismissed, I mean thrown away with facile, one-dimensional “answers” that more often than not exacerbate the initial malaise that one in the grasp of despair feels into something far worse.
What I have read so far is solid and biblical. Fr. Addison writes with with a warm, irenic voice with wit and dry humor that makes this book very readable.
Here are a few of the nuggets of wisdom in here deals with the place of skepticism in a Christian’s life:
… skepticism is wrongly considered to be synonymous with “doubt,” akin to blasphemy, and a singularly unhealthy frame of mind to bring along with one to church. Some might very well think it best to leave skepticism outside the door and proceed docilely and brainlessly to one’s pew, but in fact skepticism has every good reason to be in church. … It possesses a place of distinction as a laudable quality which keeps religion honest, obliging us to have our eyes open and our brains functioning, making sure that good sense isn’t stifled by claptrap, status, fakery, and mummery. …
The true skeptic is someone with faith at his core, or perhaps the person with authentic faith is a skeptic at his core; because otherwise he will be a stooge, a patsy, a “good soldier,” or else a nihilist and a mental black hole. … Skepticism is the intellectual correlate of melancholy: a direct consequence of distress or dissatisfaction. It is the form intelligence takes when it has been egged on to scrutinize things more sharply and critically. In the Christian context, this has usually meant an increasing avoidance of accepting the neat packages provided by unthinking biblicism, dogmatism, traditionalism (not to be confused with tradition — a point made by the late historian of theology Jaroslav Pelikan when he defined tradition as “the living faith of the dead,” and traditionalism as “the dying faith of the living”), moralism (not to be confused with morality), or so-called liberalism. … There’s a genuine place in the household of faith for the work of skepticism. It eliminates, or at least reduces, the excesses and potential nonsense of religion.
Skepticism within the context of Christian belief is, I think, a good thing. It is firmly rooted in a Hebrew concept of faith, one that instinctively distrusts human reason, recognizing its fallibilities and limitations, but embraces relational trust (the true meaning of “faith”) in a self-revealing and self-interpreting God. It is a faith open to questioning God, examining his ways, complaining to him, and even expressing exasperation and impatience at his silence. It is a faith that admits sorrow and sadness and mental darkness, one that places melancholy before God in a place of legitimacy, as well as a sense of humor. It allows that anger at God can be expressed without blasphemy, that a man may have honest reason to demand, with Abraham, justice from his Creator: “Shall not the Judge of the earth do right?” (Gen. 18:25) … Such a faith embraces the best aspects of conventional piety and yet goes beyond its limitations. In modern jargon, it “thinks outside the box.” More to the point, this is the kind of faith we find in the Bible itself.
I’m looking forward to continuing on reading from chapter 3 to the end. While it is a small book at 136 pages in length, from where I sit now, this should be essential reading (along with St. Aelred of Rievaulx’s Spiritual Friendship) for anyone who has felt ashamed at questioning God. That we are “impolite” before God if we do so. For those who have thought that our God cannot handle our rage, anger and impetuousness that we, as believers, “shouldn’t have”. That very same God, our Creator, knows us best. As Fr. Addison puts it, “He can take it.” At the very least, our piety will not be a mere construct of what and how we think we should act towards God. It will be free and honest, just as God was free and honest with us when he convicted us of who we really are. I’ll take that over a half-assed polite piety anyday.