“The Blasphemy Challenge”
no doubt heard by now of the wildfire fad of people, mostly young, taking “The
Blasphemy Challenge” sponsored by the
Rational Response Squad. Promised
a free copy of the DVD documentary The God Who Wasn’t There if they will
publicly deny the Holy Spirit, the one unforgivable sin according to Mark 3:28-30
and Matthew 12:31-32, these stalwart nonbelievers go on record (specifically,
on YouTube) to renounce any and all allegiance to the Christian faith, Jesus
Christ, God, etc. Their point, obviously, is to shout defiance at the threats
of hell fire with which Protestant fundamentalism and Catholicism have long
wielded to terrorize the consciences of the meek and faithful. It’s just
like declaring your rejection of superstition by boldly walking under a ladder.
other day, after I was interviewed for a secular humanist web cast, the host
quipped that he planned to post his Blasphemy Challenge to YouTube soon and
asked if I had done so yet. It was sort of funny: you see, I have been reading
a truckload of fundamentalist Rapture novels like the Left Behind series in
preparation for writing my own book, The Paperback Apocalypse. One of the main
features in all these novels (based as they are on the Book of Revelation) is
the Mark of the Beast. The decree goes out that no one may buy or sell unless
he or she receives the brand or tattoo of 666, the code of the Antichrist. To
resist means death, either by slow starvation or by quick beheading. Well, I
almost felt like the interviewer had told me he was on his way to receive the
Mark of the Beast, and did I want to ride along?
have to give him a straight answer, as it turned out, because of some interruption.
But I want to give my answer now. One might expect I would be eager to take
the mark, er, that is, post a video of myself denying the Holy Spirit, especially
since I am featured pretty prominently on the accompanying DVD. But I haven’t,
and I won’t. Why?
It is a
complex matter, both as to why I won’t do it and why I admire and affirm
those who do. First, I do not hate Christianity. As a scholar of Christian origins
and of religion generally, I would never gratuitously spit on any of the religions
or their symbols. Beyond studying it, I love the Christian tradition and practice
it liturgically in church every week. My approach is Jungian. It is unknowable
and irrelevant whether there is a God out there, objectively, exterior to human
experience. But there is such a thing as religious experience, if one wants
it, and “God” is a function of that experience. I am not going to
announce to anyone that I deny the objective existence of the Holy Spirit, because
it would be equally as blasphemous, as Tillich said, to affirm it! That would
be to reduce the Transcendent and/or the symbolic to the trivial level of some
cosmic energy. If God “exists,” God is a thing. Again, as Tillich
put it, the God the atheists deny, they are right to deny, but there is a God
beyond the God of theism, the God at the depth of our being, which Tillich explicitly
identified with Jung’s archetypes. The You-Tube posters are denying the
false god of theism. And they should.
up something else from Tillich, that profound theologian who said he could not
have remained a theologian at all had he not understood that faith is ultimate
concern, not affirmation of dubious facts. Tillich spoke of theonomy, heteronomy,
and autonomy as three possibilities for a culture relating to its spiritual
grounding. All three words are based on the Greek nomos, “law.”
They differ over the source of the law that is to govern either the civilization
or the individuals within it. Ideally a culture exists in a harmonious state
of theonomy, in which the culture is transparent to its ground, its vision of
the Ultimate, its sacred canopy (Peter L. Berger). The High Middle Ages was
such a period. The culture’s vision of its destiny and meaning flowed
directly from its religious myths and values, or, to say the same thing, those
myths and values accurately reflected the self-understanding of the culture.
No one feels oppressed by the inherited beliefs. But suppose new discoveries,
new ideas and knowledge, threaten to change traditional understandings. Religion
becomes the champion of intransigence and tries to halt and to forbid change.
At that point, cultural theonomy has given way to heteronomy, the imposition
of an alien law.
and adventurous spirits of the progressive will not be silenced, so they must
rebel against the intellectual (and sometimes political) tyranny religion has
become. Repudiating the alien law, the hetero-nomos, the freethinkers also repudiate
(because they have inevitably lost sight of) the “divine” ground
of their culture. They do not receive (or do not know that they receive) their
direction from it. They seek and find meaning and direction from within, and
thus they affirm autonomy, living by the law of one’s own being. To do
any less would be to forfeit one’s integrity. During the time of the lost
theonomy, one could see that the law of the inner self and the “divine”
(i.e., ultimate) law were one and the same, whether sought and seen “within”
or “above.” Now that is no longer clear, and autonomy retreats and
recoils from heteronomy, leaving theonomy lying in shattered fragments between
In our day
the most vocal form of Christianity is anti-intellectual, repressive fundamentalism.
It is heteronomy pure and simple. A la Dostoyevsky’s Grand Inquisitor
parable, many find it a relief to be lobotomized by faith. Otherwise, one has
two options. One may embrace autonomy and resolve to think for oneself. And
this one must do in any case. But one may want to go further and try to regain
a personal stance of theonomy. That is what New Age people are trying to do,
though I fear they are ill-prepared to evaluate the options. But I have always
found refreshing their eagerness to find and embrace outward beliefs that will
match the inner freedom of inquiry they cherish. I am trying to reconnect with
theonomy via Jungianism.
know, but I suspect some of the young people enthusiastically denying God on
You-Tube have not quite reached the point of seeking to restore the grounding
of theonomy (and obviously they’re not going to use such terminology!).
And there’s no rush. Maybe they will never see the need. Secular autonomy
ought to be enough, though they may occasionally feel a fleeting echo of emptiness.
In any case it’s better than intellectual slavery to dogma. And they are
declaring independence. More power to them! They may say they are denying the
Holy Spirit, but someone else might say it is the spirit of truth, the holiest
thing there is, that they are actually affirming.