Thursday, September 22, 2011

HOUNDED BY GOD? One can only hope...

Graham Greene (source unknown)
Marie-Francoise Allain, in her book of interviews with Graham Greene entitled, The Other Man, asked the famous author if he still felt "hounded by God."

Greene said: "I hope so. I hope so. I'm not very conscious of His presence, but I hope that He is still dogging my footsteps."

Besides saying much about the author -- whose weariness with the human condition and whose struggle with faith seems to ooze from every page of his prose -- I think his thoughts may give us a clue to much of the current American sensibilities toward the Almighty as well.

The present economic troubles, besides causing steep suffering among common people, has also exposed the deep fissures and fractures of our social structure. Self-doubt like an acid is eating us. 

But there is a deeper problem exposed here. There seems also among us a sense that there is something wrong with us in the core of who we are. It seems that we have not only lost our way, but that God may have left the building.

Think about it this way. Religion, traditionally, has been used to maintain the social construction of our world-reality (Peter Berger), bolstering our world in the face of evil and death. As such it has a powerful stabilizing force. 

Peter Berger writes:
"Religion legitimates social institutions by bestowing upon them an ultimately valid ontological status, that is, by locating them within a sacred and cosmic frame of reference. The historical constructions of human activity are viewed from a vantage point that, in its own self-definition, transcends both history and man." (The Sacred Canopy, emphasis his)
But not so much now. With the world we know seemingly crumbling (and know is the correct word for this is primarily a cognitive crisis) -- losing our power to buy stuff and with it our social cohesion, and with religion and the religious increasingly seen as part of the problem, the church and all other institutions of world maintenance now become suspect and doubted. This is a most serious problem that the elites neglect at their own peril. 

As the Roman philosopher Seneca reminded us: "Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful."

Religion is still powerfully present, of course, but since 9-11 and the clergy scandals it is no longer trusted -- "now I must keep looking over my shoulder at those whom before I could treat with indifference because the religious now may abuse me or blow me up."

Notice, this fear (and sometimes joy) over religion's depreciation (loss of social status) includes the loss of GOD as the main bread-winner of the culture. And all this occurs in spite of the powerful presence of mega-churches throughout the land, and a palpable Evangelical presence on the presidential campaign trail.

I suspect that these success stories may have everything to do with a nostalgic desire for earlier days and almost nothing to do with the Spirit.  (This seems a harsh statement, and I could be wrong. I hope I am.)

My father just passed away after an extended illness. He spent the last two years of his life watching reruns of Gunsmoke, partly I think because he longed for the simpler days of his youth, and partly because he longed to be able to recognize the good guys from the bad guys. But those days are gone forever. 

Said differently, we are a long way from a revival of "the faith once delivered to the saints." Here, instead, we are looking at what Os Guinness calls "sunset values," values being brightest just before they set.

In fact, it may be time to bring out of mothballs the famous quote from Arthur Koestler, "Nature has let us down, God seems to have left the receiver off the hook, and time is running out."

And time is what acutely convicts our conscious. 
We desperately want more time, but there is none for us.

Like Greene, we hope that GOD continues to hound our trail as we blunder off into the darkness, we hope we are not alone, but most of the time we are not very conscious of the Almighty being there. We walked away from that location a long, long time ago.