Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Rushkoff declares war on God

Just in case you missed the breaking news, Doug Rushkoff, a prominent media theorist, author, and writer of graphic novels, has put the bit in his mouth, laced up the gloves, and come out of the corner with jabbing hard, looking to land a haymaker punch on the glass jaw of religious belief. That’s right, Rushkoff declared war on God: “God doesn't exist, never did, and the closest thing we'll ever see to God will emerge from our own collective efforts at making meaning.” Now a quick caveat -- I like Doug's work -- Loved his book Coercion, I've enjoyed his articles online. But on this one, he's a bit, shall we say, over the top. Let’s hear some more of what he has to say:

“When religions are practiced, as they are by a majority of those in developed nations, today, as a kind of nostalgic little ritual - a community event or an excuse to get together and not work - it doesn't really screw anything up too badly. But when they radically alter our ability to contend with reality, cope with difference, or implement the most basic ethical provisions, they must be stopped. Like any other public health crisis, the belief in religion must now be treated as a sickness. It is an epidemic, paralyzing our nation's ability to behave in a rational way, and - given our weapons capabilities - posing an increasingly grave threat to the rest of the world.” Not much subtlety there.

Rushkoff then makes some pretty wild claims about the original intent of the biblical authors (last time I was in grad school, Doug, such claims did need to be backed up with textual evidence) He reveals that his goal is to undermine religious fundamentalism by appropriating the stories and images of the Bible to his own ends. It seems that Rushkoff thinks a belief in the truth of Biblical accounts somehow prevents us from identifying with the characters of the stories and empathizing with them – putting ourselves into their scenarios: “We are all Cain, struggling with our feelings about a sibling who seems to be more blessed than we are. We are always escaping the enslaved mentality of Egypt and the idolatry we practiced there. We are all Mordechai, bristling against the pressure to bow in subservience to our bosses.” No problem so far – I can sign off on those sentences, but then he says “But true believers don't have this freedom…..” It seems that Doug doesn’t give us poor misguided believers credit enough to have a middle schooler’s capacity to enter a story. I guess we’re devoid of such characteristics as empathy, imagination, or intelligence.

So his solution is that freethinkers and pagans and others alike should pillage the Bible for images and use them in their own way as a means of subversion of traditional religion. The best way to end religious fundamentalism is to take the text away from the fundamentalists (as a semantic caveat – Doug’s terminology and usage seems to take in a whole sweep of folks whom we could variously parse as fundamentalists, evangelicals, Pentecostals, traditionalists, neo-orthodox thinkers, and just about anyone else that thinks that Jesus really did rise from the dead and ascend into heaven). Bring it on, Douggie, bring it on. You’re just being Brer Fox throwing Brer Rabbit into the brier patch.

After all, do we not believe that “the word of God is living and active sharper than any double-edged sword. It penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12). Let the pagans come reading our scriptures. If what our God claims is true (and it is), then that is the most dangerous thing they can do for their own set of beliefs – for it will harden some into irrationality (as Rushkoff seems to have done – his post reads like a rant, dripping with anger), for others it will soften their hearts and they will begin to grapple with the living God. Maybe Doug should read Augustine’s Confessions for a picture of what happens when people take up the scriptures and read.

On another level, Doug’s declaration is tired and rehashed – anyone remember “religion is the opiate of the masses” or “man is the measure of all things”? Remember the Stoics? Remember the Roman Empire? Remember the cries of “Christians to the lions!” This has all happened before – there is nothing new under the sun. The recent revelation of the Gospel of Judas gives us insight into a community of pagans who sought to appropriate the stories of the Bible to advance their own agendas: The Cainites they were called. Reappropriation of the Christian stories was the whole thrust of the Gnostic movement in the early centuries of the church. And when reappropriation didn’t work did not the pagan Roman emperors seek to crush the insignificant little Christian rebellion, wiping out existence of their stories?

No, I’m not worried about Rushkoff’s challenge. Let the pagans go running headlong in the scriptures, let them immerse in them and soak in them. That’s what we’ve been inviting them to do for years. They’ll be in the hands of someone far more dangerous than you or me.

However, we ought to take his gauntlet challenge seriously – seriously enough to know our own scriptures well. When God starts messing around with their heads, He’ll send them to us and they’ll ask us questions, and we need to be prepared to offer a explanation of the hope that we have. We need to be serious enough to learn the myths and cultural archetypes and turn them on their head to show how they point to the living God (Read Peace Child for a great example of what that’s all about – or the Parthenon Code for a more controversial example). We need to be serious enough to live our faith on a daily basis through acts of love and blessing to those in our midst.

Thanks, Douggie. Looking forward to seeing what you’ve got up your sleeve.

Soli Deo Gloria