It’s always satisfying when you find different things you’ve read and listened to coming together to form a cohesive argument, helping you to look at a subject from different angles that you wouldn’t have thought of without those outside sources informing your thinking process. Earlier this week, I was listening to the highly entertaining and informative 2008 Terry Lectures Series from Yale University, given by Terry Eagleton, on Faith and Fundamentalism: Is Belief in Richard Dawkins Necessary for Salvation? One of Eagleton’s points in his second lecture gave me an epiphany on how to make a point in an essay I had been working on over the weekend, and also connected arguments Irish philosopher/theologian Peter Rollins makes in his second book, The Fidelity of Betrayal, with the larger subject I was working on. I’ve reread a couple chapters of Rollins’ book this week, and in doing so, was reminded of this statement on faith and the “transformative truth” of Christianity, from the chapter Eclipsing God.
My point here is not to argue for or against the existence of a heavenly eternity, but rather to help draw us away from the idea that such a belief relates to what Christianity offers as its transformative truth. Indeed, if one does believe in a literal heaven, it may even be important to suspend this belief in order to approach the truly good news of Christianity. For the original disciples the introduction of an afterlife arose only after they had already given up everything and followed Jesus – in short after the good news had already been received.
By confusing such beliefs with the truth of faith we can begin to hold them in such an absolute and unreasonable way that they effectively become crutches that stop us from facing up to the uncertainties of existence. Uncertainties, doubts, and suffering are part of life, and thus they are part of faith (which is not an escape from life but a means of entering more fully into it). The truth of faith does not protect us from the unknowing and suffering of mere mortals; rather, it provides a means of living with the unknowing and suffering. This reality is testified to throughout the Bible and is particularly evident in the book of Psalms. (emphasis added)