Why I Won’t Take “The Blasphemy Challenge”

You have 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.

Just the 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?

I didn’t 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.

This brings 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.

The inquiring 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 them.

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.

I don’t 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.

So says Zarathustra.

Robert M. Price
February 2007


Copyright©2009 by Robert M Price
Spirit of Carolina Web Design