Tag Archives: David Dark

Imagined Infallibility

After writing the post earlier this week about fundamentalism and intellectual humility, I picked up David Dark’s The Sacredness of Questioning Everything to read another chapter before bed. And, as frequently happens when reading or talking to David, I found a fleshed-out expression of a thought that had been swirling around in my head for a while. This excerpt is under the heading “Imagined Infallibility,” on pages 148-149.

But this call to be merely human – to know that we don’t know much, even as we deeply suspect and fervently believe all kinds of things – isn’t good enough for many of us. I’ll confess that, in my attempts to get taken seriously and feel sufficiently affirmed (I know, it’s a black hole), it very often feels less than satisfying. We’re prone to speak beyond what we know, to overdo it, as if what we have to say and decree is more than interpretation, more than just humans trying to make sense of things. We want to come off as successful and informed. Despite the biblical injunction against oaths and excess verbiage, we lay it on thick. We’re part of the put-on.

We fall into this because the language we know and are immersed in is often the language of the con game. We try to draw people in. We exaggerate. We deny our anxiety, even to ourselves, and we attribute inappropriate weight to the images and stories and ideas we concoct to give sense and meaning to life. We even drag talk of “God’s will” into it. To keep the chaos at bay – a chaos we sense will have its way with us if all we’re doing is interpreting – we develop what Ernst Becker calls “imagined infallibility.” We attribute an absolute infallibility and inerrancy to our interpretations to immunize ourselves against the madness, as a way of vying for immortality and keeping above the fray. Others, we might say, deal in opinions and interpretations, but we have convictions and gut feelings and strong intuitions. We get the job done. We know when we’re right, and we’re right. No doubt. No fear.

But the pretense of certainty comes at a cost. If we think our certainty is what drives success and, in the end, the very (so-called) faith that saves us, our honest confusion will become a source of shame and a sign of weakness. Yet we keep our doubts hidden. This is precisely where the biblical witness urges what I’m tempted to call a mandatory agnosticism. This is where we’re summoned to know that we don’t know. This is where we’re called to confess.

While we’re often rewarded in life for playing at absolute confidence, the pretense and the mind games are corrosive to the possibility of community, friendship, and redeeming love. Imagine letting go of the psychic burden of certainty. Imagine backing down from our imagined infallibility and assuming the mantle of a mere human. Imagine the poetic/prophetic way of relating that would be possible. We might become capable of questioning ourselves out loud. We might let a little air in. In the most life-giving sense, we might get a little religion.

Best song lyric of 2009

I’m in the middle of reading David Dark’s newest, The Sacredness of Questioning Everything, along with Peter Rollins’ How (Not) to Speak of God, and I just discovered a line on the new U2 CD that goes along with both of the books. I’ve had No Line on the Horizon on repeat since the day it came out, listening to it several times a day, my favorite song varying depending on the day. But for the last week, all I’ve been able to do is hit repeat on Stand Up Comedy, over and over and over. It’s a damn good rock song with great lyrics. Here’s the second verse:

Stand up, this is comedy,
The DNA lottery may have left you smart.
But can you stand up to beauty, dictator of the heart?
I can stand up for hope, faith, love,
But while I’m getting over certainty
Stop helping God across the road like a little old lady.

I have a couple posts coming soon explaining more about where I’m coming from in my love for that line, and should also have a review of David’s book up sometime before it hits stores in April. In the meantime, go buy the U2 CD, if for some reason you don’t have it yet.

My favorite definition of “the Church”

“The Church is one cat in one ditch and one nobody of a son of a bitch trying to pull her out.”

For some reason, I find myself about once a week or so trying to explain why I go to the church I do and what I think the church is supposed to be. I hear sermons that talk about how we in the church are somehow better, are “special,” and it’s easy to come away with the impression that those you find involved in the local expression of the body of Christ have it all together, and that is what sets them apart. I don’t think that is the case at all. One of the books I’m currently reading is Will Campbell’s Brother to a Dragonfly which I picked up after reading several quotes from it in David Dark’s The Gospel According to America. Campbell relates a parable told to him by his friend P.D. East, an agnostic newspaper editor.

He referred to the Church as “the Easter chicken.” Each time I saw him he would ask, “And what’s the state of the Easter chicken, Preacher Will?” I knew he was trying to goad me into some kind of an argument and decided to wait him out. One day he explained.
“You know, Preacher Will, that Church of yours and Mr. Jesus is like an Easter chicken my little Karen got one time. Man, it was a pretty thing. Dyed a deep purple. Bought it at the grocery store.”
I interrupted that white was the liturgical color for Easter but he ignored me. “And it served a real useful purpose. Karen loved it. It made her happy. And that made me and her Mamma happy. Okay?”
I said, “Okay.”
“But pretty soon that baby chicken started feathering out. You know, sprouting little pin feathers. Wings and tail and all that. And you know what? Them new feathers weren’t purple. No sirree bob, that damn chicken wasn’t really purple at all. That damn chicken was a Rhode Island Red. And when all them little red feathers started growing out from under that purple it was one hell of a sight. All of a sudden Karen couldn’t stand that chicken any more.”
“I think I see what you’re driving at, P. D.”
“No, hell no, Preacher Will. You don’t understand any such thing for I haven’t got to my point yet.”
“Okay. I’m sorry. Rave on.”
“Well, we took that half-purple and half-red thing out to her Grandma’s house and threw it in the chicken yard with all the other chickens. It was still different, you understand. That little chicken. And the other chickens knew it was different. And they resisted it like hell. Pecked it, chased it all over the yard. Wouldn’t have anything to do with it. Wouldn’t even let it get on the roost with them. And that little chicken knew it was different too. It didn’t bother any of the others. Wouldn’t fight back or anything. Just stayed by itself. Really suffered too. But little by little, day by day, that chicken came around. Pretty soon, even before all the purple grew off it, while it was still just a little bit different, that damn thing was behaving just about like the rest of them chickens. Man, it would fight back, peck the hell out of the ones littler than it was, knock them down to catch a bug if it got to it in time. Yes sirree bob, the chicken world turned that Easter chicken around. And now you can’t tell one chicken from another. They’re all just alike. The Easter chicken is just one more chicken. There ain’t a damn thing different about it.”
I knew he wanted to argue and I didn’t want to disappoint him. “Well, P. D., the Easter chicken is still useful. It lays eggs, doesn’t it?”
It was what he wanted me to say. “Yea, Preacher Will. It lays eggs. But they all lay eggs. Who needs an Easter chicken for that? And the Rotary Club serves coffee. And the 4-H Club says prayers. The Red Cross takes up offerings for hurricane victims. Mental Health does counseling, and the Boy Scouts have youth programs.

No argument from me there. I’ve seen a lot of churches that are “just one more chicken,” where “there ain’t a damn thing different about it.” So what should the church be? Campbell tells a story later on in his book about his friendship with another preacher, Thad Garner. One day, they were headed back from some meeting when Thad “bellowed above the noise of the motor, “Do you know what the Church of Jesus Christ is?” I said I sort of thought that I did. “Well, I’m going to tell you anyway. The Church is one cat in one ditch and one nobody of a son of a bitch trying to pull her out.'”

Sounds like a good working definition to me.

Coming Soon: The Sacredness of Questioning Everything

The wait is almost over. David Dark’s new book, The Sacredness of Questioning Everything, arrives in bookstores April 1st. I blogged about hearing David read some selections a while back while he was working on it, and have been eager to get my hands on it since. Eugene Peterson, translator of The Message, wrote this blurb for the back of the book: “David Dark is my favorite critic of the people’s culture of America and the Christian faith. He brings a deep sense of reverence to every book he reads, every song he hears, every movie he sees, but it is a discerning reverence—attentive to truth and Jesus wherever he comes on them. He is also a reliable lie detector. And not a dull sentence in the book.”

David and I met for coffee yesterday for a redemptively stimulating conversation that covered film, questions, theology, N.T. Wright, The Watchman, music, and Peter Rollins, among other topics. I should be a getting a copy of The Sacredness of Questioning Everything sometime soon, so look for a review in the next couple weeks.

Here’s a more detailed description of the book from Zondervan’s website.

In this provocative, entertaining book, author David Dark writes, “The summons to sacred questioning, like a call to honesty, like a call to prayer, is a call to be true and to let the chips fall where they may.” Far from being a sign of cynicism or weakness, questions are not only positive but crucial for our health and well-being.

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Is Your God Big Enough to Be Questioned?

The freedom to question is an indispensable and sacred practice that is absolutely vital to the health of our communities.

According to author David Dark, when religion won’t tolerate questions, objections, or differences of opinion, and when it only brings to the table threats of excommunication, violence, and hellfire, it obstructs our ability to think, empathize, and live lives of authenticity and genuine engagement.

The God of the Bible not only encourages questions; the God of the Bible demands them. If that were not so, we wouldn’t live in a world of such rich, God-given complexity in which wide-eyed wonder is part and parcel of the human condition. The possibility of redemption and revolution depends on the questions we ask of God, governments, media, and everyday economies.

It is by way of the questions that we resist the conformity that deadens and come alive to visions that redeem.