Now and then over the years I've taught a series of classes I call "Theology Even the Clergy Can Understand."
To set the tone for this layman's look at the essentials of Reformed Tradition theology, I hand out some material with a quote from French philosopher Denis Diderot (depicted here) at the top. It goes like this:
“I have only a small flickering light to guide me in the darkness of a thick forest. Up comes a theologian and blows it out.”
Diderot, a brilliant skeptic, was born 300 years ago this year, and, as this New York Times piece indicates, that anniversary is calling forth some celebrations of his life.
Diderot suffered various punishments in his fascinating life because he was willing to swim against the current. He was deeply suspicious about religious faith and willing to challenge it in public.
Faith needs such skeptics. Without them, religion can much too easily turn into rigid formulas for living that suck the life out of life itself. Skeptics force people of faith to defend the hope that is in them, as the New Testament says.
Too often people of faith simply dismiss skeptics as irreligious cranks. And sometimes what the skeptics say is simply nonsense and quite worthy of being ignored. Still, they often ask good questions. And any faith that can't stand up to good questions probably should collapse.
So if you don't know about Denis Diderot and the 18th Century era in which he wrote, today's a good day to fill in that gap. Then you'll know some of those things Diderot wrote about which it's right to be skeptical.
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LOSS OF CATHOLIC SCOUTS?
If the Boy Scouts open up to gay leaders and scouts, there's concern that it would be the end of Catholic sponsorship of scout troops. Well, no one said doing the right thing would always be without pain and change.
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THE BOOK CORNER
Feeding the Hungry Ghost: Life, Faith, and What to Eat for Dinner, by Ellen Kanner. This is a kicky little book by someone who has walked away from Reform Judaism much as her husband has walked away from Lutheranism. Still, she understands what community is and should be and she loves to cook. OK, full disclosure: She's a vegan. Really vegan. I'm not. Really not. And yet in the midst of her stories about herself, her friends and life itself, she offers various recipes for dishes I would actually consider eating. Heck, I'm betting I'd even like some of them. She confides that "I'm not entirely sure I believe in God," though she doesn't say exactly which God she doesn't believe in. "I understand he/she believes in me, which I find most cheering." Well, that's a lot to cheer about, really. Oh, the title? It has Taoist roots, as she describes it in the book. Kanner, by the way, writes the Meatless Monday blog for the Huffington Post.