11 05 2008

Leah wrote:

The problem is that most people, even cradle Catholics, are not going to have the kind of Catholic childhood that you’re describing. What then? We can’t just collapse Catholicism into an ethnicity that you have to be born into. Otherwise, there’s no need to engage in missionary work.

I think the main problem is not one of upbringing, but rather of attitude. I think when most modern religious people think of God and holiness, they either conceive these things as some force akin to gravity that is necessary for good moral and epistemological order, or that these things offer us a “personal relationship” that makes us feel good (as in being “spiritual people” in the postmodern sense). I think that these attitudes are not just naive, but outright dangerous to religion in general.

In the the Book of Isaiah, God is called thrice-holy, and the Seraphim have to cover their face in order not to behold Him. The original sense of the word “kadosh” is not a moralistic or ethical description; it doesn’t mean that God “behaves” Himself or conforms to our conventions of “niceness”. “Kadosh” means that God is radically other, that He is beyond anything that we can conceive, and in the end, He is awe-inspiring and frightening. Indeed, even if the idols of the pagans are terrible to look at, the God of the Old Testament can’t even be looked in the face. You will die if you do look at Him, full-stop.

And lest we think that this was one of the things that Jesus came to eliminate, let us remind ourselves of how Jesus in portrayed in the Book of the Apocalypse. When was the last time you saw a seven-horned, seven-eyed lamb walking around?:

My point is that even if God is in our discourse as Americans, He doesn’t really haunt our existence. We keep Him at bay, in my opinion. with our sterilized forms of religious discourse. He is quite tame and unintrusive.  If the traditional cultures that I cite have anything that others should learn from, it is that the supernatural does indeed haunt them. I don’t think this “haunting” is optional or specific to them; it is all-too-necessary. How we recover this sense is the task at hand.