How Can I Believe When I Live In A World Like This?|
by Reginald Stackhouse
God`S Dominion: A Sceptic`S Quest
by Ron Graham
Creation or Evolution:
Correspondence on the Current Controversy
by Edward O. Dodson, George F. Howe,
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|Works Of Faith
by Mary Frances Coady
IN God`s Dominion, Ron Graham relates the story of Conrad Black`s conversion to Catholicism, as told to him by the financier himself. He and his mentor, Cardinal Carter of Toronto, discussed and argued their way doctrine by doctrine through the Creed until he finally decided to join the Catholic Church, at which point the two celebrated with champagne. "`So,` Black concludes, `I didn`t exactly go to them on my knees."` But surely, muses Graham, "the essential point of faith is to go down on your knees"
Religious faith is serious business. It deals with our reason for being, our longing for completion, our sense that there must be more to life than the daily grind. Faced honestly, ultimate questions can form the foundation of heroic lives. The inscrutability of the answers, however, can also lead to self-delusion and chicanery. Sweet-voiced churchiness and sentimental fluff can often blunt the hard edge of truth. God`s Dominion is a spiritual odyssey, the author`s search for truth as expressed in the various faiths practised within Canada`s borders.
His journey takes him to the places one would naturally expect -- a grand basilica in Quebec, an evangelical revival meeting in Alberta, a Benedictine monastery, a national meeting of the United Church, an Anglican synod, a Jewish synagogue. But he also seeks out unusual groups of believers, such as a well-established Hutterite colony in Manitoba, the struggling Sikh community in Vancouver, the Emissaries of Divine Light in the B.C. interior (a new age-style group whose leader is an English lord).
Graham`s choice of stopovers during his journey is a curious one; he passes over the Byzantine churches, for example, and there`s only scant reference to such groups as Mormons, Quakers, and Mennonites.
This criticism is picky, however. The result of Graham`s two-year-plus search is a highly readable account of the ways and means many Canadians use to penetrate the great mystery of truth. It`s told in the wry manner of a thoughtful and skeptical observer who is always respectful of other peoples` faith, but takes nothing for granted. When he spots an expression of belief that is clearly unbelievable, his reflections are both funny and hardhitting, as when commenting on a Buddhist group whose alcoholic guru contracted AIDS and then, knowing he had the disease, passed the virus on to a male student:
When I ask directions to Kansas, let alone Nirvana, I tend to discount them if they come from a guy with booze on his breath; and I would certainly have doubts about the sure path or fast cut to Saskatoon, let alone heaven, if I found myself no further ahead after twenty years of walking.
In the final chapter Graham tells of his own struggle in finding a spiritual path. This particular journey was an inward one, with no external props to distract him, where he faced his own neuroses and ghosts and demons. He learned, to some extent at least, that only by sitting still could he begin to face the depth of Iife`s mysteries. He concludes that every path to truth must begin "with that easy step which is so hard to take: surrender."
Reginald Stackhouse`s How Can I Believe When I Live in a World Like This? tackles the enormous difficulty of finding faith when faced with the randomness of evil and suffering. Stackhouse uses the Book of Job as a base and from it draws six "theodicies" ("ways of comprehending how there can be evil and innocent suffering in a world created by a God believed to be all powerful and all merciful") on which he expands in the rest of the book. As examples of each theodicy, he tells the stories of members of his own family and people he knew as a pastor in an Anglican parish, who have triumphed over such adversities as debilitating disease and the death of a child.
Stackhouse`s basic message is taken from Voltaire`s novel Candide: life itself is bigger and deeper than any one human being, and the secret of living successfully -- including the ability to overcome adversity -- is to simply live ("We should not `think` existence, but live it," he says.) Though perhaps not as deep, his conclusion is not far removed from Graham`s: life is tough, but there is far more strength and goodness inside each of us than we may realize.
The problem, however, is that when one is faced with personal tragedy, intellectual constructs go out the window. (Stackhouse admits this when he says that "theology and philosophy fad us on this point. They want to defend God`s integrity instead of satisfying peoples anguish") As well, suffering is often accompanied by a spiritual "black night," a state of total emptiness where one feels abandoned and alone, tossed by a cruel deity. Maintaining religious faith in the face of such a condition requires a gutsiness that doesn`t always come through in this book.
Stackhouse`s writing is lucid, and he has the ability to explain systems of thought in a way that is easy for the ordinary lay reader to understand. The readers who will benefit most from his book, however, are likely to be churchgoing Christians, since his examples and his basic premise are rooted in a church context.
In Creation or Evolution, two scientists discuss the "current controversy" (did God create the world in six days as recounted in the Book of Genesis, or was the Almighty`s hand at work in a natural process that took millions of years?) in the form of a correspondence that took place from 1980 to 1985. Again, it`s a matter of faith, but this time faith is informed by scientific discipline: one of the correspondents, Edward 0. Dodson, is professor emeritus of biology at the University of Ottawa and a Roman Catholic; the other, George F. Howe, is professor of natural sciences at The Master`s College, Newhall, California, and a fundamentalist Baptist.
Dodson is a respected evolutionist and has written a book on the subject; Howe is a creationist who feels disregarded by the scientific community. Despite their differences, they display a mutual respect and carry on their correspondence with an academic gentility that seems far removed from the messy moral battles and more pressing religious controversies of our time. In the end, each remains firm in his own convictions.
If only faith were that simple