It’s been a number of years since I’ve been able to stomach either a philosopher or a theologian. The philosophers, the analytic sort worthy of the title, dig in their heels so deeply on a topic, they can’t be moved. It becomes a game for them to cleverly defend an intellectual position and to parse through that of their colleagues. Seeing God and precious Christian truths treated in such a way is appalling.
The theologians do the same thing, for less honest reasons, which makes them more contemptible than the smarmiest philosopher. Nor do they exercise the same intellectual rigor or cleverness of the philosopher: when analytic clarity is most needed, they launch into passionate expression of pseudo poetic Latin phraseology. They mask defense of models in piety. They turn into Bible-thumping tent-revivalists at the very moment they need to triple-down on their analytics (either that, or just always be Bible-thumping tent-revivalists – a more honorable trade). Both the theologian and the philosopher are trying to play the rigorous analytic game, but the philosopher is more honest about it. Both are charlatans.
It’s the poet, out of the three, who most often tells the truth, and he, only if his heart loves much and feels much. I thought there might be some theologians who try to be poets instead of philosophers. Some of these were rumored to have existed. I thought N.T. Wright might be one, so I thought I’d give him a shot. I saw he had a book “Surprised by Hope”, claiming to outline the reasons why Christians have a joy-filled hope in the present life.
To the outside world, I may seem like a man to whom God has denied every Earthly blessing that makes life worth living. Let’s not fool ourselves with romanticized notions of poverty. Tiny Tim, however awful his plight, had a family, a roof over his head, clothes enough to avoid nakedness, and food enough to keep his heart beating. He lived in a white London with high trust friends and neighbors.
Rural Americans moreover, in our songs and folk wisdom, glamorize poverty. “I’d rather watch the sunset on a pickup tailgate with my boyfriend, than go to fancy dinners and have nice clothes”, says many a Southern belle. Admirable, of course, if you have warmth, and a tailgate. But believe me, readers, if you’re hungry, it’s difficult to enjoy a sunset. Hungry, alone, cold, and in a social class that is universally despised? That’s a poverty no one glamorizes.
Why even stay alive? Is it to perpetuate the national plantation system? Working long hours for barely a living-wage, simply to get up and do it again the next day, with no hope of retirement? Certainly with no hope of ever having a family, which, even if women weren’t bred to be lunatics and taught to despise white men, making marriage hopeless, family life is all the more hopeless due to the prohibitive costs. If you can only barely feed yourself, how to provide for a woman and a toddler? How to do so without selling your soul to Satan for plantation benefits? How to do so while keeping one’s conscience as a Christian man?
Christianity, it seems, offers no hope here. The apostle Paul says if we have food and clothes, we ought to be content with that. That’s hard to swallow for a man, though. Being a burden to others is humiliating. We need to provide. The average Evangelical, when asked about such things, gets hostile and says we have no right to expect anything at all from God. How dare we think otherwise? We ought to be glad we’re drawing breath…and ought to be ashamed that we have more than the starving children in Africa!
As an aside, this ignores the history of our people, where a beautiful Christian civilization was violently overthrown and her people enslaved by Satanists. Give me an African nation with a few million white Christians, and I’ll thank God for life, even if we’re all having to weave clothes out animal hides and build adobe huts…
To cut a long story short, N.T. Wright, in my estimation, comes close to appearing like a genuine Christian man until you get to the punchline of his book, which is: we Christians have a purpose in life, and Earthly hope, in that God will bless our efforts to impose our neo-jacobin goodwill on the world, by building up the minorities and helping liberate them from the evil bonds of white capital.
I may be too harsh on Wright here, but given my mood of late, I can’t excuse this in a man who claims to be speaking for God, not even a little dollop of it.
I agree with most of the theology Wright presents in the book. We’re not “going to Heaven” when we die, as so many Christians have come to believe. Rather, Heaven is coming to Earth. Christ will return and remake all of us in His image. I see this as a return of old Europe in a triumphal procession that will destroy the principalities and rulers in the high places and a setting up of Christian men, with everlasting bodies, in places of power and honor among the nations.
…but will it happen in our life time? Is this belief enough to inspire present hope? Make life worth living today?
Wright says one good thing in his book. Building on an off-hand comment from Paul, he suggests our labors in this life will “not be in vain”, leading him to assume that whatever we do now God will resurrect and perfect it, along with our decaying bodies, and ensure that it has some place in the future, very real, very physical, new Jerusalem. Neither I, nor Wright, can envision what this might entail. Perhaps a Christian plumber who works hard to build his business the provide for his family, will find himself in charge of a vast network of pipes in the New Jerusalem? Who knows?
So, while I didn’t find Wright as contemptible as most theologians, I still find him to be a theologian. And while I didn’t find much hope in his book, I did find a little.
For my part, I mentioned above that to the outside world I may seem like a man with no Earthly reason to carry on, but I think we have to take love into account…a move Wright glosses over in light of his zeal for his theological systems.
Every time I’ve thought about ending it, I’ve hit this iron floor, below which, I could not sink. The iron-floor of love. Loving others doesn’t give much hope, certainly not for the present, but it does give us a reason to help provide hope to others…