RR) Sitting Alone In Church


(a chapter)


(Wednesday, 15SEP2021)

"There's a such thing as lumber lobbyists," she says.

It's the way she said it. That's what got me.

She is neither of The New Yorker or The New York Times.

"Awards are given out, hype, intellectual garbage," she says. "They need the lumber -- well, paper -- their lumber economy stable."

It was back in the day, in the railroad days. It was the way she said it, so ... New Yorker.

"Everyone knows that."

That's the way they are sometimes, you know. Who's the louder. Who's the more violent. 'Am more acquainted with Sparta. 'Assure you.

"They need things a certain way," she says. "And the publishing conglomerates feed off that."

She reminds of God's Country.

"You'll become a Washington elite," she says, turning her countenance toward me, away from her work. "Won't you? A New York intellectual. Some Hollywood celebrity."


(Professor Christine Hayes, Yale)

Lecture 24. (Conclusion).

"... Just a few words of conclusion. The literature of the Hebrew Bible relates the odyssey of Israel from its earliest beginnings in the stories its earliest beginnings in the stories of individual Patriarchs worshipping a Canaanite deity to its maturity as a nation forced by history to look beyond its own horizons and concerns. The Israelites were lifted up to become something greater than they could ever have planned. And they came to see themselves as God’s servants to the world, at the same time that they struggled and argued with their God and criticized themselves for their very human weaknesses and failings. From another vantage point, the Bible can be seen also as an anthology that struggles against great odds to sustain a peoples’ covenantal relationship with God. The contrast between reality and the religious-moral ideal that good prospers and evil is defeated was a distressing and perplexing problem that occupied the biblical writers. The existence of evil, the suffering of the righteous, the defeat of God’s chosen, all this seemed basically incompatible with certain fundamental monotheistic intuitions; that God holds supreme power in universe, that God is essentially good and just, and his providential care extends throughout creation. How can faith in such a God be upheld in the face of evil and suffering? Although, all ancient cultures -- and modern cultures -- struggle with the problem of evil, it had particular poignancy for ancient Israel. In other Ancient Near Eastern literatures, we find doubt about the existence of a moral order, certainly. But only in Israel does the question of evil touch on the very essence of God and the very foundation of religious faith. Paganism posits the existence of primordial evil demons or gods, and thus the existence of evil and suffering does not impugn the good gods themselves. Later religious systems that grow out of the Bible will in fact increasingly posit demons or a devil. Second Temple Judaism, later-rabbinic Judaism, and most especially Christianity, will posit some devil to account for evil in the world. Undeserved suffering, outrageous and frustrating as it might be, can then be explained at least by the jealousy or the caprice of the evil angels or gods or the demons or devil, who are indifferent to man’s fate. But in biblical religion there is no independent evil principal. And so undeserved suffering and rampant evil impugn the goodness and justice of God himself. Biblical persons have no refuge from evil and suffering other than faith in God’s justice. And if that justice is slow in coming, then despair and doubt threaten. For this reason, Israelite theodicy, I think, is charged with great pathos because the stakes are so high. If one loses faith in an essentially moral universe, one loses God. Or at least as we saw in the Book of Job, one loses a God who governs the world according to a clear moral standard. But the biblical writers don’t approach the problem as philosophers or theologians might. For the philosopher, theodicy, the problem of evil is primarily a logical problem, it’s a contradiction. How can a just and good God allow evil and suffering to exist in the world? And like any other logical problem, it’s best solved – according to the philosophers and theologians – through the careful construction of a systematic argument. This is not the method or the approach of the biblical writers. For them, the problem is not philosophical; it is personal, it is psychological, it is spiritual. The burning question is really this, how can one sustain a commitment to Israel’s God in the face of national catastrophe and personal suffering? How can one have the strength to embrace, to trust, to love this God knowing that unpredictable suffering and chaos have struck and may again strike at any moment? And various writes from various periods add their voices to Israel’s struggle to come to terms with the problem of sustaining faith in the midst of evil and suffering. The Bible’s aim is not to solve the philosophical problem of theodicy, so much as it is to enable the relationship with God to survive all shocks, to make life in covenant with God a viable option, despite the evil and the suffering that are experience by the faithful. The Bible doesn’t offer one single model of how to cope with this problem. A dynamic relationship with what is perceived to be a living personal God rather than the static God of the philosophers is too complex to be captured in a single dimensional theology. Systematic theology could no do justice to the variegated experiences of the nation and of an individual life, and that’s not the mode or genre chosen by the biblical writers. And so various models are presented, not all consistent with one another, but each serving a particular segment of the community coping with a particular challenge at a particular time. Each is an attempt to sustain Israel’s relationship with God in the face of challenges to that continued relationship. Biblical writes tell stories and they interpret history in order to illustrate the many way in which various individuals and the nation as a whole, have managed to make sense of the covenantal relationship with God. And there’s room for multiple models, multiple images of God and his relationship is Israel. And as modern readers of the Bible, we can only marvel at this unresolved polyphony in this ancient anthology. It’s as if the rabbis who were later to canonize this collection saw the truth in the words of Qohelet, that to everything there is a season and a time for ever purpose under heaven. And so they included books with very different approaches to the fundamental problems that face the ancient Israelites as Israelites and as human beings. So after 586 BCE, the Deuteronomist [school of scholars] salvaged Yahwism from going the way of other defeated national religions by arguing that Israel had suffered not because God’s promises weren’t true but because they weren’t believed. And this enabled the Israelites to continue faithful to their God, despite the destruction of his sanctuary, his chosen city and his ruler. Emphasized the moral and communal aspects of the covenant without with all sacrificial worship was anathema. And so they unwittingly prepared the way for a worship without sacrifice in the Diaspora, and in later Judaism. The Psalms give expression to the deepest emotions of the worshiper struggling with personal despair and anger or brimming over with joy and faith. Job gives vent to the outrage we feel over unjust suffering, while Ecclesiastes preaches existential pleasures as a solace for the vanity of all human endeavor. Ezra and Nehemiah confront the very real problem of assimilation and identity with a call to Israel to close ranks, while Jonah and Ruth remind Jews of the universal providence of their God and the power of repentance. Esther and Daniel provide encouragement of radically different types for Jews under threat of persecution and massacre – one a plea for self-reliance and solidarity, and the other, a promise of divine intervention in an apocalypse. Do all these books contradict each other? No more than I contradict myself when I say that today I feel happy, but yesterday I felt anxious. Israel’s relationship with God has always been a dynamic and a complex one. To each of these books there was a time and a purpose in the past, and as countless readers of the Bible have discovered over the centuries these books offered continued teaching and inspiration in the shifting moments of every age. Thank you very much for your attention this semester. Don’t forget the review session that will be held here with me next week from ten thirty to twelve thirty …”


(The Reader Named Zaki)

He posted photos on Facebook wearing his Afghan jersey and looking confident and resolute. On another post, clad in a business suit, he wrote: “You’re the painter of your life. Don’t give the paint brush to anyone else!”

... “I’m at the airport,” Zaki said hurriedly to his brother.

“You don’t have a visa or a ticket. Come home,” Zakir snapped back at the other end of the phone.

“I’m already close to the plane,” Zaki said. “This is a chance to trust in God.”


(7. Late Medieval Religion and Its Critics)

Professor Wrightson, Yale:

“Erasmus of Rotterdam, the great humanist scholar of the early sixteenth century who taught at the University of Cambridge for awhile, was deeply critical of all this. He wanted a simpler, more Bible-centered faith, and he joked in one of his essays about how there were enough pieces of the true cross, or alleged pieces of the true cross, in churches in Europe that if you got them all together you could build Noah’s ark …

"All over the country there were holy wells and holy trees where people would hang gifts and offerings and make requests for assistance. Many of these were of very dubious origins and probably had originated as Celtic water spirits and tree spirits which had been gradually incorporated into the local practice of Christianity in the early Middle Ages. …

"The old historiography tended to lay a lot of emphasis on that kind of thing, stressing the corruption and degeneracy of the old church and the compromised nature of its spirituality. But more recently in the work of historians like J.J. Scarisbrick and Eamon Duffy and Christopher Haigh, all of whom are on our reading lists, there’s been a tendency to point out instead the soundness of some of the core elements of worship and to argue that whatever its faults the pre-reformation religious system was in fact hugely successful and hugely popular.

"Far from being a sort of rotten tree ready to fall before the first blast of reforming wind, Christopher Haigh argues that late medieval Catholic Christianity, to quote him, ‘was not only secure in early Tudor [modern] England but also luxuriant and energetic.’

"That’s the dominant trend in the historiography, but at the same time one has to recognize that it’s not without some ambiguities. One can’t be sure quite how well attended parish churches actually were. One can’t be quite sure just how extensive participation in parish guilds was – in some places it seems to have been quite widespread though some guilds were somewhat socially exclusive … Arguably, that preoccupation with easing the passage of souls through purgatory was motivated more by fear than by anything else. In a sense, purgatory could have been a somewhat oppressive doctrine, raising anxiety particularly amongst those who couldn’t afford to pay for masses for their souls.

"… There was real criticism which went beyond mere occasional resentment and it came from three sources. First of all there was criticism that came from reformers within the church itself … “

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