Why do I swear so much in what you are about to read? To make a tonal point: to suggest that religious sensibilities are not made of glass, do not need to hide themselves nervously from whole dimensions of human experience. To express a serious and appropriate judgment on human destructiveness, in the natural language of that destructiveness.If I haven’t lost you with that quote, here are some of my other favorite passages from the book:
Christianity maintains no register of clean and unclean. It doesnâ€™t believe in the possibility of clean, just as it doesnâ€™t believe that laws can ever be fully adequate, or that goodness can reliably be achieved by following an instruction book. Kings and caliphs, emperors and popes, televangelists and household bullies have all wanted to claim that their authority is a licensed copy of its universal reach, but their claim must always be incomplete at best. In the end, their power and His are unlike. Their power is rivalrous, in the economic sense. It is big because othersâ€™ power is small. It needs to be extracted from the submission of other apes like themselves. But His power needs nothing, competes with nothing, compels nothing, exists at nothingâ€™s expense. It is not a good day for him [Jesus] when he wins lots of new followers, or a bad day for him when he doesnâ€™t. Yeshuaâ€™s sense of people is not additive. More is not better. Each person in front of him is, for that moment, the one missing sheep. And when the story does turn the world upside down, or the order of nature anyway, by telling us that Jesus lives again, it isnâ€™t suggesting that he didnâ€™t really die, or that we wonâ€™t really die. The happy ending makes a promise sized to the utmost extent of our darkest convictions. It says â€œYes, and . . .â€ to tragedy. It promises, bizarrely enough, that love is stronger than death. But it does not promise that death is imaginary, that death is avoidable, that death is temporary. To have death, this once, be reversed is to let us feel the depth of our ordinary loss in it, not to pretend it away. Some people ask nowadays what kind of a religion it is that chooses an instrument of torture for its symbol, as if the cross on churches must represent some kind of endorsement. The answer is: one that takes the existence of suffering seriously. God makes an elusive lover. The unequivocal blaze of His presence may come rarely or not at all, for years and yearsâ€”and in any case cannot be commanded, will not ever present itself tamely to order… And yet, and yet. He may come at any moment, when and how you least expect it, and that somehow slightly colors every moment in the mass of moments when he doesnâ€™t come. And grace, you come to recognize, never stops, whether you presently feel it or not. The point of Christianity is not that it produces virtue. It does, I suppose, have one advantage when it comes to doing good, in that your advance certainty, as a Christian, that youâ€™re going to fail at goodness provides a kind of assurance that goodness is worth trying independently of results. It helps a little, therefore, with being good in circumstances where doing good can do no good as far as making progress is concerned. Where things just wonâ€™t get better, in measurable terms, for all the devotion you pour in. Virtuous and idealistic atheists are at work all over the place, but it is observable that a surprisingly large number of believers are to be found among those who volunteer to work with the dying, the demented, the addicted, the institutionalized and the very impaired and afflicted, where the best that can be done is to love for the sake of it, and to keep sorrow company.
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