Some Theologians Never Die—They Just Wait to be Googled.
Published on: December 22, 2010
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  • Yes, there are harbingers of a new kind of supernaturalism. Penrose is speculating that there was existence before the Big Bang–indeed that its duration goes back into infinity. The Hadron accelerator is probing matter in such a way that the results it yields can only be divined by a neo caste of high priests. Or maybe not high priests;would “with-it theologians” do better?

    One could live with this provided one doesn’t confuse it with “scientism”. But “with-it” theology would have to provide a new catechism that convincingly updates the deontological side of the New Testament. (WHEW!)

  • John Barker

    “What are the prospects of supernaturalism in the modern world?” Where I live people make shopping at Whole Foods a weekly ritual. I suspect that for many people the quest for pure and natural will become a search for the supernatural. If you pay a little more you can even be twice blessed by purchasing products that are both Kosher and Certified Organic.

  • John Wickey

    If you are a holy-roller and bring yourself to an ecstatic pitch of feeling the Holy Spirit, you are going so past the limit of conventionality that you can never be a staid rationalist again. It is a different perspective of life that becomes ordinary and natural.

  • Sid Knight

    B’s assertion has been falsified only on the gratuitous assumption that his was an empirical claim. A modicum of generosity would allow the interpretation that he was making a logical rather than an empirical assertion. On that view, what he was wrong about was how illogical so many can be this deep into modernity.

  • Mark Steven Zuelke

    “”A modicum of generosity would allow the interpretation that he was making a logical rather than an empirical assertion.””
    A very un-modern statement! A “modicum of generosity” and Hadron Accelerators and logic itself could never exist!

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  • Glen

    I also read that sentence as Bultman emphasising the logical claim, not the empirical claim. To the extent that it’s an empirical claim, it seems a deliberately exaggerated one, much as saying it’s impossible today for people to believe in ghosts (clearly some do).

    Being generous, i would guess that its clearer from a wider reading of Bultmann’s work that its an empirical claim. But the sentence quoted doesn’t get you there.

  • Nicely done! I was afraid Bultmann would be horribly misrepresented (as he usually is), but you’ve actually managed to be fair. Quite a feat. It’s fantastic to see him recognized as relevant, not again, but still.

  • Suppose Sid Knight is correct that Bultmann’s was a logical claim. The claim is wrong for a reason more fundamental than Knight thinks: there is no logical inconsistency between believing in modern technology and in supernatural forces. No one believing both is on that ground alone illogical.

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  • Hal Bennett

    I suppose that every individual, according to his own walk in life, has to come to terms with Bultmann, else he either has his head in the sand or he is simply uninformed as to who Bultmann was.

    The impression I get from this man Berger’s article is that he has undergone somewhat the same experience I have gone through, in that he looks out on the present world and finds that, no, indeed, the predictions of people such as Aldous Huxley, Bultmann, and Tillich have been unfulfilled, that “modern man” at least in some respects would leave behind the supernatural; that instead, those predictions have been refuted by the world of present day experience.

    My own personal journey carried me into an examination of psychology. At the risk of sounding arrogant, I must say that I find that “modern man” for the most part still knows little of what that discipline says. Nor does “modern man” understand, it seems to me, how psychology and what Bultmann said agree with one another.

    I’m not talking about Freudian psycholgy, which every Hollywood actor and every journalist seems to identify as “psychology.” I am talking about “existential,” post-Freudian psychology. It is there that Bultmann’s emphasis upon the “authentic” person has a lot to do with the newer psychology’s emphasis upon “becoming a person.”

    When the Southern Baptist Convention split in about 1979 — and that’s what it actually did — this was a statement made by rank and file members of that denomination, similar to the statement described by Berger in the “Global South.” Both movements seem to be a reaction against what they have perceived as modernism.

    But the question I have is this — is this rebellion against a “demythologised modern world” simply a premature reaction to the likes of Bultmann, to be followed, decades later, by a genuine, constructive response?

    I was watching a book review on C-Span the other night, where a man in the audience piped up about how the America of today has been “dumbed down” from the America he knew as a kid. I thought, uh-oh, the author is going to cream him for such a “Republican,” bourgeois view. Instead, the author, who described himself as ” bomb-throwing Bolshevist,” agreed with him.

    Is Berger telling us the facts, that there is an actually intellectual movement afoot in the world that disagrees with Bultmann, or is it rather that what we are seeing is simply another example of an ignorant backlash, one that encourages another generation to stick its head in the sand?

    As a Believer, I would like to think that we could come to a compromise between exercise of our intellect and belief in the Supernatural. I am not at all persuaded that either Fundamentalists among Southern Baptists or those peoples in “the Global South” are making any progress in that direction.

  • Bill Anderson

    Bultmann was of course quite correct. Your (widely shared) error is a confused notion of what “believe” means.
    Belief can only be estimated by observing the actions of another. Any self proclaimed belief with no effect on an individual’s actions is meaningless. Those who purport to be believers in the supernatural and fall ill wisely go to modern scientific medicine. They do not sit at home waiting for a miracle. The emptiness of their stated beliefs in the supernatural are exposed by their actions. A believer who does not act accordingly is not worthy of the name. Accept the reality of this and all religion falls away as meaningless claptrap.

  • Shane

    To Bill Anderson at #14, tell that to the person in Africa who has no access to modern medicine. Whose daily existence is in doubt. Who doesn’t have a social safety net.

    There is no contradiction in believing in both medical knowledge and the supernatural. The ancients such as the Romans, Greeks, etc. did not reject rational knowledge and embrace mythology instead. It was all the same to them.

    The same goes for those who believe in the supernatural today. People who believe in the supernatural don’t make a distinction between the natural and the supernatural. It is all one reality. Medicine and divine healing complement rather than conflict. Divine healing is from a loving God, and ultimately, all human knowledge (including medicine) derives from a rational all knowing source. The pursuit of medical knowledge, then, is obedience to the supernatural directive: to exercise dominion over the earth and to understand and make us of such dominion.

    Just some thoughts.

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