"the devilish theology that naturally arises out of our children’s sinful hearts" I should probably stop reading crap like this for a while.
— Virgil T. Morant (@VirgilTMorant) August 15, 2013
I should begin this foolish post with the mention of a matter that will show up later, if what sit as unfinished drafts for this Lost Reef should be my guide: no one knows what theology means. What David P. Murray was referring to in the quote above was the doubt expressed by Peter Enns's son at age six concerning the talking serpent: during a bedtime Bible reading, finding that a talking serpent too closely resembled a cartoon, the boy asked his father whether the story of the Fall and, by the boy's logic, whether also God Himself were fictitious. Even allowing for a fairly broad understanding of theology (and both men, by the way, use the word to describe the boy's ideas), that kind of childlike inquiry is no more an arisen theology than asking a newspaper whether there's a Santa Claus is the springing forth of a new brand of critical hagiography.
I will grant anyone who bothers to find it and read it (Google is your friend—I am not) that the article by Dr. Enns, wherein he expressed pride in his son's doubts and chose not to correct the boy, is silly and leaps to bizarre and unwarranted conclusions: he says, for instance, that correcting the boy's "theology … would have been utterly stupid," and yet the only forms of correction he bothers to account for are shame and coercion, concluding that by those means, apparently the only means of correction known to him, he would have turned his son into a religious drone. Indeed easily I shall grant you that I regard the article by Dr. Enns as little better than balderdash, but I also confess with a more unsettled ease that I find Professor Murray's response to it outrageous. We are all subject to sin from the beginning of life in this crummy world, but that does not mean that we all have sinful hearts from infancy, and it absolutely does not mean that a child's inquiry into a perspicuous doubt—the kind of doubt that naturally arises out of our children's developing intellects—is the flow of a devilish theology rising from the wellspring of his sinful heart: a sinful heart, I should add—in order to characterize Professor Murray's point of view with complete fairness—that is a natural attribute of every child.
So in contrast to Dr. Enns's insipid choice to offer no correction (as he describes the incident anyway), the theologian Professor Murray proposes that the answer for the child is: first ask God to forgive you, son, then ask for the faith to believe every one of His words. I find that two-step approach and the "theology" undergirding it a bit more disturbing than the more hands-off "I won't disagree with you, son" approach proposed by Peter Enns. They're both stupid methods of course. There is a reasonable, effective, and righteous way somewhere in the middle of the Murray-Enns theological spectrum.
* * *
I know what you're thinkin'. Did He atone for six of us or only five? Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement, I've kinda lost track myself. But being this is Calvin's Institutes, the most powerful Institutes in the world, and would blow you clean to the eternal damnation your sin nature so richly deserves, you've got to ask yourself one question. Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?
In the Orthodox Church there are only three saints with the appellation "Theologian," and this is because of what an extraordinary thing it is to be a theologian. A theologian does not merely talk about whatever he takes God or divinity to be: he talks with God. Thus we have St. Symeon the New Theologian, St. Gregory the Theologian, and St. John the Theologian (the last better known in the West, by the way, as the Evangelist), and thus also one would be hard pressed to find any Eastern Church Father giving himself the title. So then, of course, one should grant the heterodox this much, that much of the West does not have such an understanding of theology, and fair is fair on that score: but nonetheless can it not be readily acknowledged that calling childlike doubt "theology" is too casual and absurd a use of the word? The situation in the Orthodox portions of the Internet is more confounding, though, as I have encountered some Orthodox who have read a good many books (or so they indicate anyway) who call themselves theologians. Perhaps in their wearying of the flesh for the sake of théosis they have overlooked those portions of Orthodox study that discuss what theology truly is: to the Orthodox perspective anyway.
If you call yourself a theologian on your Twitter profile, you are most certainly not a theologian.
— Virgil T. Morant (@VirgilTMorant) August 9, 2013
I turned to my own books, acquired a few more, and, worst of all, began to explore the religious blogosphere last year, when I began to go through a spiritual crisis, one that has not abated and that brings me grief to this day. Indeed, if anything, that "religious blogosphere," including, I am especially sad to say, some of the Orthodox portions of it, has just taunted me in my sorrow. Add to this that all but quite literally one of my religious tomes (and that one a Bible) are still in the countless boxes that clutter my house or the ones that still remain in storage since I returned home after the fire, and all I have immediately at my disposal is this: the World Wide Stinking Valley of Hinnom. If David P. Murray isn't telling a six-year-old child to beg God for forgiveness for the devilish theology of doubt about a talking serpent (look, I believe the story, and I'm a grown man, but can we not see that a bit of wondering about a tale so far outside of mundane experience is fair?), or if Peter Enns isn't suggesting that correcting a religious error is part of Satan's master plan to create a church of abusive, apostate drones (OK, perhaps I use a bit of hyperbole to characterize his nonetheless inane essay), then countless would-be theologians and exegetes are reinventing Scripture, protesting one evil extreme in false doctrine by staking out their positions at another, looking at a concordance online and, although they have no real knowledge of Hebrew or Greek, speaking with the most marvelous of expertise—expertise acquired in a few seconds of Googling rather than the clearly time-wasting acquisition of such knowledge through actually learning ancient languages, studying Patristics, attending services in the ancient tongues and in liturgies that are likewise venerably old, or any of numerous other traditional, tested, and proven means that this soul-sufficient priesthood of modern believers quite confidently has no need of—speaking with the most marvelous, finely honed, and authoritative expertise on all matters Christian, theological, Greek, Hebrew, Jewish, and a whole lotta other stuff you ain't never known nuthin' about: that is, until you typed the right phrase into an Internet search engine. Of making many spurious arguments there is no end, and transient, superficial study masquerading as erudition makes mah po' head hurt.
I have been through much, wounded well nigh a year ago in evil society and then languishing these remaining months in abject solitude. I have longed for answers, as well as I have continued to long for my Creator. The cosmos is in my heart such that I cannot fathom the eternal life that I yearn for, and thus I yearn. Yet, in staking out this little corner in the grave that is the Internet, what have I really had to say about it?
Words do not fail to describe the transformative events of these rotten months. How could they? Words have saturated them. Words have had consequence in them. I have stated my case, I have argued for my end, and I have surely discussed and analyzed each incident, its every perceptible precursor, and its absurd aftermath meticulously in countless hours of solitary converse. How could one think that words have failed to describe, when I have a private journal full of laboriously written thoughts on the vile happenings? Indeed about this, the most miserable year of my years thus far, I have had a great many things to say, and yet in this space I cannot figure out how, to my satisfaction and to the needs of some unspecified decency, to do it. In this, words do not fail. I do.
The words of others have certainly succeeded in a good many nefarious ways. Words misunderstood and misapplied. Words used as the instruments of depraved hearts, generated in foolish or just plum idiotic minds, emanating from mouths that devour the hopes of their children and, taking no nourishment of them, vomit the wasted contents across their households. Of course this is no true use of words. There is no logos to be found in the evil I have witnessed. The verbiage is denatured of honest meaning. Did I say instruments of depraved hearts? Well, an instrument requires a purpose, and yet these are wielded not towards an objective end: they are merely used of a subjective and pathological motive. The Word is Wisdom and Logic, and it has more than just motive in these intrinsic qualities: it has consequence, and towards its consequence it directs those who take it and keep it in their hearts. What can one say to those who profess the word and yet whose deeds lead principally to misery? What is it to say that you love and yet to cause only suffering? We are called upon as Christians to be martyrs for our faith: we are not called upon to make martyrs of others. Even if we take it in our wonderful human capacity for false reasoning to be for their benefit. Now I am not talking so much any more about the nitwits of the Internet, although I am certain that this characterized a good many of them. No, now my words are personal.
If I somewhat comically characterize the religious discourse on the Internet as a bit of Hades or hell, then with the utmost gravity I characterize something else I have seen as the steadfast march towards the perdition the Lord prepared for the Devil. And yet I can only talk about it in colorful jargon, words wherewith I pretend to be eloquent. Fear not. I know that this too is balderdash. Of all sinners on the Internet, I am the chief.
At least, however, I know that I'm not a theologian. Have a look-see at the subtitle in the header of this blog: I'm no theologian. May I take some consolation in that bit of self-awareness? I said in another essay that I was a man of few talents and thus allowed myself to boast of just one. May I boast of this then as well? I know that I am just talking vaguely about things. I know it don't mean nothing.
OK, maybe I can be your friend. Here are the articles I mentioned:
Peter Enns on raising young heretics by David P. Murray.
Honesty in the Journey (or On the Raising of Young Heretics) by Peter Enns.
In fairness to Professor Murray, he did in a very brief sermon I found provide a bit more clarity on his view of the sinful hearts of children. You can have a listen to his lesson here:
And, for one last good measure, if you want to experience what is no doubt among the tortures of hell, read the comments (759 of them, as I write this!) on the following blog post:
Guest Post: A Call for Reasoned Discernment Before Judgment Is Made Upon Others.
As an ancient Orthodox prayer goes: Lord, good gravy!