Sunday, November 3, 2013

Intellectionally empty calories

November 3, 2013

Dear Friends,

Time I spent at The Restaurant at the End of the Universe provided a lot of intellectually empty calories and little food for mind or soul.  There was a good bit of clever imagination cast in science fiction form that provided some entertainment. There were also some fine semantic tricks that played interesting games with words. Despite this, the underlying material lacked substantial content. Inside the back cover of the book I noted two or three ideas that I plan to think about later when the days are longer and sitting on the front porch permits a warmer experience than is possible today. At any rate, from now until spring the trilogy will occupy bottom place in my pile of working books. I may find valuable material in subsequent books (or in Restaurant at the End of the Universe as I re-think it), but for now it seems to me that I do not glean much grain out of this amusing chaff, so do not plan to spend much of my precious winter reading time on the remainder of the “trilogy.” You’re on your own. 

Making this judgment at the end of only the second book of Adams’s trilogy of five (a ‘trilogy’ of five?!!?!) volumes may seem unfair, since entertainment only may have been Adams’s goal. Nevertheless, however unfortunate for Adams, at this time my stack of books in progress contains Alister McGrath’s fine work, The Passionate Intellect and Phyllis Tickle’s assessment of Emergence Christianity. The juxtaposition of McGrath’s challenge to discipleship of the mind and Phyllis Tickle’s challenge to enter consciously into the practice of Christianity in this new emergent age makes reading the trilogy seem perilously near a waste of time and mind.

Although McGrath writes from the academic field of theology and Tickle writes as an historian, both McGrath and Tickle argue that at this time in history the practice of the Christian faith requires a rigorous commitment to intellectual discipline. They argue further that this time also requires the courage, energy and reasoning skills necessary to develop new paradigms in science and religion.

I plan to add Terry Eagleton’s work, Reason, Faith and Revolution: Reflections on the God Debate (Yale University Press, 2009) and Karen Armstrong’s book, The Case for God (Knopf, 2009) to the dangerously high pile of books in progress that rests precariously on the edge of my desk.

This choice does not indicate any change in my on-going search for one more interesting book to read that both instructs and entertains. Neither Eagleton nor Armstrong are boring, and like Tickle and McGrath, can make a serious point with a smile.

McGrath quotes Eagleton in the introduction of The Passionate Intellect both in agreement with Eagleton’s point and in enjoyment of his humor. Eagleton (and McGrath) consider the idea that Christianity was meant to provide a scientific explanation for the world as ridiculous. Eagleton writes: “Christianity was never meant to be an explanation of anything in the first place. [The idea that science has replaced Christianity] . . . is like saying that thanks to the electric toaster we can forget about Chekhov.”  McGrath further quotes Eagleton who goes on to say that believing religion is a “botched attempt to explain the world” is on the same intellectual level as “seeing ballet as a botched attempt to run for a bus.” ***

Doesn’t this make you smile? And doesn’t this make you want to read McGrath AND Eagleton?

Well, not so much, you may be thinking. Not sure any of this is my cup of tea.

That may be.  But what are you reading? Or, more broadly, how are you practicing the intellectual discipline that lies inherent in faithful stewardship of your mind? How do you manage the interface between entertainment and faith-fostering learning?

Thinking with you today that laughter is good medicine, but it is best when it nurtures growth in wisdom.

See you next week,


***Alister McGrath, The Passionate Intellect (2010), p.10.

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