In Jesus’s world, God is present and a power to be reckoned with. He is not stuck in heaven, a semi-invalid, waiting for the best kinds of people to come join him. He is active in the nitty-gritty details of life.
Some people don’t believe it. Not just avowed atheists, either. The practical atheist, including many church-goers – the kind of people who say, “That’s all well and good, but we need to be realistic about this” – have relegated God to the celestial nursing home. They may visit him on Sundays or they may not, but they don’t expect to meet him on Main Street.
The generation most responsible for moving God to the nursing home came along prior to the founding of our nation. Indeed, some of our founding fathers, including Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, advocated such a move. It’s not that they didn’t believe in God; it’s that they didn’t believe in the God of Jesus, the one about whom the prophets and apostles wrote.
People like Jefferson believed in a creator God but not in a sustainer God. Or say rather they allowed God a room – an expansive suite, even – in the home for ancient deities, but gave him no say in current affairs. The old gent had a role to play in his heyday but he is really out of touch now.
Of course, they did not mind if the more sentimental members of the family wanted to call on him on Sundays. If one had time, it was quite a nice thing to do. Go up and visit, by all means, but for heaven’s sake don’t bring God down into our living area. It is humans who run the show, for good or ill.
In the eighteenth century, the humans who ran the show were mostly white, Western, and well-educated. They did not, by and large, deny God’s existence, though some leading French thinkers came ever so close. Instead, they denied God’s relevance. Who, in the train of scientific advances, needed to invoke a deity?
In the Enlightenment, it was science that promised hope, order, and peace – all the things religious people looked to receive from God. Science was the new and powerful deity on the block and those who aligned themselves with it expected to have power in the world.
With the ascendency of science, knowledge became the realm of the specialist. Or say rather that knowledge went through a civil war and its territory was drastically reduced. The things that had once counted as knowledge – the poet’s knowledge of love, the priest’s knowledge of God, the peasant’s knowledge of work, friends and of the earth itself – was no longer accorded the title.
Beginning with the Enlightenment, knowledge was limited to what could be measured, not just once but repeatedly in double-blind studies. Truth was reduced to facts, and then truth itself was dismissed as irrelevant. In a world without God, truth is immaterial; as immaterial as God himself. Facts, and what one can do with them, are all that matter.
There have been positive results of this gradual revolution, but some negative ones as well. For one thing, the artist, the poet, and the theologian are regarded as superfluous. They have dreams and fantasies – often quite lovely – but they must be, as N.T. Wright once put it, “set aside when we (metaphorically and literally) get ‘down to business.’”
In this setting, a wall has been erected between science and faith that has diminished both. It has made faith a matter of feelings, not of truth, and faith cannot survive in the truth-deprived chamber of feelings. It has left morals relegated to a place outside the body of knowledge, a mere footnote one can easily ignore.
In a world where knowledge is shorn of morals, monsters roam free. Consider, for example, the crushing of the poor by multinational trade. Those with the know-how exploit those without it, then punish the pitiful creatures when they try to join their ranks.
This is the kind of thing that happens when God is moved to the old-folks home. Some members of the human family are going to be surprised when he returns to take the reins – and the reign – of the family business.
First published by Gatehouse Media, 6/29/2019