“Creed or Chaos”…

22 04 2011

…is the title of David Brooks’ NY Times column, which was originally borrowed from an essay by Dorothy Sayers. In it, he initially comments on the artistically phenomenal musical experience of “The Book of Mormon” and leads into commenting how pluralism and universalism, of which in many instances are driven by ephemeral emotions, fail to move people into heroic acts of service. A pleasantly surprising corroboration of the conservative religious drive to protect doctrinal truth that clearly defines the lines of right and wrong. Brooks comments:

Vague, uplifting, nondoctrinal religiosity doesn’t actually last. The religions that grow, succor and motivate people to perform heroic acts of service are usually theologically rigorous, arduous in practice and definite in their convictions about what is True and False.

That’s because people are not gods. No matter how special some individuals may think they are, they don’t have the ability to understand the world on their own, establish rules of good conduct on their own, impose the highest standards of conduct on their own, or avoid the temptations of laziness on their own.

….Rigorous theology helps people avoid mindless conformity. Without timeless rules, we all have a tendency to be swept up in the temper of the moment. But tough-minded theologies are countercultural. They insist on principles and practices that provide an antidote to mere fashion.

….Rigorous codes of conduct allow people to build their character. Changes in behavior change the mind, so small acts of ritual reinforce networks in the brain. A Mormon denying herself coffee may seem like a silly thing, but regular acts of discipline can lay the foundation for extraordinary acts of self-control when it counts the most.

In this still pluralistic, post-modern culture, which ironically places such value in humanitarian service, Brooks’ critique is worth thinking about. At the end of the day, humanitarian acts founded in the emotionalism of pluralistic, post-modern culture will only be a pat on your own back, and never heroic. But before we fully affirm (if we do) Brooks’ comment on rigorous theological tradition, we have to remember that religious radicalism can manifest itself in two extreme poles: violence (terrorism) and pacifism (Amish?). So as valuable and necessary it is to remember that theology (or belief) require a backbone for lasting effect, we have to always remember that HOW you believe (strong doctrinal conviction) is inevitably tied to WHAT you believe.

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