Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Harold Kushner: Good Insight Comes From The Basilica

I listened to Harold Kushner's October talk at St. Mary's Basilica. I heard it on the radio, but I know that, for non-liturgical events, they put signs on the confessionals directing people to the bathrooms downstairs.

Kushner spoke about his recent book The Book of Job: When Bad Things Happen to a Good Person. Job, the original, is one of five books of the Bible that I've read all the way through. I've read it twice, once twenty years ago because Gregory Bateson quoted it, and again more recently and with greater understanding. (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and Revelations are the others; I tried Genesis but it wore me out.)

Kushner said he believes that the story -- God sorely afflicts a devout, virtuous, and prosperous man, who remains steadfast, and is rewarded with new prosperity -- was a folk tale. About 2500 years ago, some brilliant theologian and poet became dissatisfied with the story and used it to bracket a more nuanced examination of doubt, faith, and what it means to love God.

The message, according to Kushner, is that a world without suffering would be a world without growth, and if we can't get mad at God, it's a lifeless kind of love. God's message to us is that we will suffer, but He will not abandon us.

I'm more of a not-peace-but-the-sword kind of guy, but I enjoyed hearing Kushner.

During the question period, somebody asked about virtuous atheists and agnostics. Kushner said that God wants us to behave well, but isn't interested in the credit. He said that the people the questioner asked about are probably not really atheists and agnostics. The thing that keeps us doing good and avoiding evil is a notion of God.

That reminded me of a quote from Samuel Butler, a mostly forgotten nineteenth century British author, and critic of Darwin:

The argument between the theist and atheist is over whether we shall know God as God, or by some other name.

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