To Hell in a Hand Basket: Non-Theistic Christianity
By: Rev’d Michael W. Millard+
Rector, Christ Memorial Episcopal Church
If you haven’t read the August 1st style piece in the Washington Post about the Dean of the National Cathedral in Washington, DC, or the follow up article in the American Spectator, you should read them both. Many exciting and interesting opinions flow from the mouth of the senior priest of what is considered by many to be the closest thing the United States has to an established house of worship. This is the venue for the massive state funerals of presidents and other dignitaries. It is the colonies’ Westminster Abbey. To the care of the Very Rev’d Gary Hall this grand cathedral has been entrusted.
Let’s begin with an interesting quote from the Post’s article about marriage:
Life experiences informed Hall’s unconventional views on marriage. (His parents were married seven times between them.) “We have this cartoon in America where you grow up, get married and stay the same person,” he says. “For the church to say, ‘No sex before marriage,’ is not realistic,” he argues, explaining that he has married at least 500 couples, only about five of whom did not live together beforehand. He believes that for the church to say it wants to celebrate marriage and honor marriage, the church needs to give some guidance on “how to live a life of faithfulness and integrity.” (emphasis added)
Perhaps unwittingly, he is absolutely right about one thing. The Church does need to provide much more guidance on ‘how to live a life of faithfulness and integrity’. I assume, however, that my take on this is somewhat different than his. Since I have been giving pre-marriage counseling to couples seeking to marry in the Episcopal Church most of them have been at least sleeping together if not co-habitating. My counsel is to stop it. Having people move out of homes or apartments is often difficult or impossible for a variety of reasons, but my requirement is that they stop having sex. The Bible does, and the Episcopal Church used to, teach that fornication is a violation of the God’s law. It is a sin, and if the Church were to once again embrace that teaching, then maybe we could give some proper guidance to our society about how to live with faithfulness and integrity.
I don’t think that is the direction Dean Hall plans to go, however:
Under Hall’s leadership, the cathedral announced it will start performing same-sex marriages. “Our position [the Church’s] has been don’t ask, don’t tell. We’ve been more about etiquette than ethics.
I might be wrong, but it seems that rather than returning to a traditional, Biblical understanding of human sexuality; I believe that Dean Hall prefers another option.
The big reveal, the money quote, if you will, of the Post’s piece is this:
He tells of sitting next to the renowned atheist Richard Dawkins at a dinner and discussing God. Hall told Dawkins,’I don’t believe in the God you don’t believe in either.’
That kind of atheism, though, is bankrupt. It’s like picking a fight with a cultural image no theologian would buy into. I don’t want to be loosey-goosey about it, he says, but I describe myself as a non-theistic Christian. (emphasis added)
For proper reference, and before our minds collectively implode, let us turn to the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church for a definition of theism:
Theism, as the word is currently employed, may be said to denote a philosophical system which accepts a transcendent and personal God who not only created but also preserves and governs the world, the contingency of which does not exclude miracles and the exercise of human freedom. Theism, therefore, leaves room for the Christian revelation and is in various forms the view of the world common to all orthodox Christian philosophers: it is also required by Judaism and Islam.
If I, in my poor, benighted and unenlightened state, understand this definition; and the Dean of the National Cathedral intentionally strung together the words “non”, “theistic” and “Christian” in that order with proper forethought and not in some kind of Tourette-like spasm, then the follow conclusions might be drawn:
1. He accepts neither a transcendent nor a personal God;
2. That God, which he does not accept, did not create the world, does not preserve the world nor does he, under any circumstances, govern the world;
3. There is little room, therefore, for miracles, and the jury is still out on human freedom;
4. Revelation seems to be problematic since he has rejected God from the onset;
5. And, finally, Christians, Jews and Muslims have all got it wrong.
The phrase “non-theistic Christian” is a non-sequitor, an oxymoron. Unfortunately, this phrase comes tripping from the lips of a priest, a man who has taken vows before a God which he apparently doesn’t recognize. He is supposed to be a teacher, preacher and leader of a flock entrusted to him by God. If he doesn’t really believe that God is God, then he should have the integrity and honesty to renounce his vows and throw away the collar. That way, he might avoid a certain millstone around his neck and a reservation for the eighth circle of Hell.
On a lighter note, after Mass this past Sunday I asked several people to tell me what they thought of the phrase “non-theistic Christian”. They all looked at me as if I had walked up to them and said, “Spinach-pomegranate gorilla.” It made about the same amount of sense to them.
Of course the Dean goes further:
“Jesus doesn’t use the word God very much,” he says. “He talks about his Father.”
Hall explains: “Where I am now, how do I understand Jesus as a son of God that’s not magical? I’m trying to figure out Jesus as a son of God and a fully human being, if he has both fully human and a fully divine set of chromosomes. . . . He’s not some kind of superman coming down. God is present in all human beings. Jesus was an extraordinary human being. Jesus didn’t try to convert. He just had people at his table. (emphasis added)
A reading from the Gospel according to Mark:
And he [Jesus] said to them, ‘Go into the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.’ Mark 16: 15-16 (RSV)
Dean Hall may have missed this obscure passage since it was carefully hidden in the Bible. He apparently missed a lot of passages in the Bible that revealed Jesus’ divine nature, his frequent miracles and the various people he admonished for not following the rules. I wonder if maybe he was absent from class the day his class covered the entirety of the Old and New Testaments?
Not to put too fine a point on it, Dean Hall is at best a hypocrite, because he teaches and preaches about a God in whom he doesn’t believe; and at worst he is a heretic, because he really does teach and preach what he believes which is in direct contradiction to the doctrine and teaching of the Church.
I am trying very hard not to attack the man but the view that he, himself, has put before the people. It seems to me that his is the worldview of an aging hippie, a product of a hung-over generation that cannot and/or will not accept a transcendent God that speaks Truth that is contrary to their own enlightened and self-centered view of things. Their pursuit of enlightened emotional fulfillment blinds them to the simple joy of a personal relationship with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ based on his Father’s revelation of himself to the world through the prophet, apostles, martyrs and the very life of Christ, the Messiah.
Dean Hall is emblematic of the problem inherent in liberal Protestantism. He is willing to throw away the very core of our Judeo-Christian faith in favor of something new that will fix all the problems of the past and lead us smiling and shining into the bright sunlight of a perfect, progressive tomorrow.
I do look forward to the day when I will walk forward into the dazzling light of a perfect tomorrow, but that will only happen when I stand before my judge, my Savior and my God. In him, I will be resurrected into eternal life and given my place in the heavenly city. This is goal of all who believe.
Editor's Note: This post represents the opinion of the Rector of Christ Memorial. I post it because I want the people under my charge to be aware of the state of things in the world and in the Church. I hope that this post will generate some discussion. I hope that it will inform and maybe cause a giggle at the appropriate points. I also hope that it will remind those who read it that we must stand firm in our faith and be ready to defend and advocate what we believe to each other, our children and the world. Pax, MWM+