George Eliot and atheism

Jonathan Dyck

I regard these writings as histories consisting of mingled truth and fiction, and while I admire and cherish much of what I believe to have been the moral teaching of Jesus himself, I consider the system of doctrines built upon the facts of his life . . . to be most dishonorable to God and most pernicious in its influence on individual and social happiness.

–Mary Anne Evans (aka George Eliot) on the Bible, 1842

Decades after offering this passionate account of her disbelief in a letter to her father, Mary Anne Evans would move to London, become Marian Evans, and eventually assume her status as the Victorian literary giant, George Eliot. Contemporary treatments of George Eliot rightly celebrate her writing for its affirmation of everyday life, and more often than not invoke her self-proclaimed atheism as one of its key components. A recent example is an article in Salon called “Good without God” (originally published by the LA Review of Books), which argues that Eliot can teach modern atheists and skeptics how to be more inclusive and affirming of those who, for whatever reason, are still holding on to their religious beliefs. The article suggests that Eliot’s loss of faith can temper those like Dawkins or Harris who sacrifice dialogue and community for the smug certainty of their exclusively “rational” position. Not a bad corrective, but it still comes off sounding rather patronizing where religious belief is involved. Gone is the antagonism that seems to be fuelling most contemporary atheism and its religious rebuttals.   Continue reading

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Surviving Famine

Jeffrey Metcalfe

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1 Kings 17:8-16

Psalm 30

Four dollars a pound.

Four dollars a pound, and you can barely cover your costs.

Four dollars a pound, and still, no one’s buying.

When we are dependent, as a community upon a single industry, four dollars a pound for lobster isn’t just the sign of a difficult season, it is the sign of a famine. Continue reading

We Cannot be Both Great and Good

A Sermon on the Feast of Pentecost

Jeffrey Metcalfe

Genesis 11:1-9; Psalm 104:24-34, 35b; Acts 2:1-21; John 14:8-17, 25-27

It’s a story of pride. The belief that when humanity comes together, it can achieve anything.

It can build a tower to heaven.

It can make its own way to salvation.

It can become God.

The Tower of Babel is a story of pride, a story of how quickly pride in our abilities, our technology, our wealth, and our power can lead to idolatry. And how idolatry can leave us scattered, confused, and destroyed. Continue reading

The One You Are Waiting For

A Sermon on the Feast of the Ascension

the-ascension-1511Jeffrey Metcalfe

Acts 1: 1-11

Luke 24: 44-53

I’ve always found the Feast of the Ascension, the liturgical day we mark Jesus’ rising up to heaven, as a difficult day to get excited about.

Throughout advent, we waited in solidarity with the oppressed people of Israel to witness the birth of the Messiah, the birth of hope at Christmas.

Throughout Lent, we waited in solidarity with the crucified people of our world as Jesus conquers torture and death on the cross, and turns it into new life at Easter.

And now, after all that waiting, after all the drama of the events at Christmas and at Easter, Jesus explains he has to leave, and we have to keep on waiting. Continue reading

The First and Final Word is Eternal Light

mental_health_awareness_ribbon_button-p145188434955212106en8go_400Ashley Cole

Last year I posted a piece about the darkness of Christmas season; this year I have come to think of its reverse – Easter. I wrote about having to face the darkness as that is where truth resides. I still agree with that sentiment, however, as I was out walking this week I was struck with how difficult it can be to tunnel out of that darkness into a space of light. Continue reading

Identity, Ecology, and Entanglement

Review: Timothy Morton The Ecological Thought Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2012 159 pp.

Joshua Paetkau

the-ecological-thoughtUnder the auspice of identity we write towards an indiscernible future that holds forth hope not only as vision or project but in reality and in truth. What is it to evoke a catholic commons but to signal an intimate entanglement with which we are never truly finished? Never finished because the commons is not something that belongs to us but rather the interconnectedness wherein we constantly find ourselves surprised by beings who fill us with wonder, delight, amazement, disgust, frustration and pain. To speak of the commons is always to speak of what is beyond private control; it is to speak of communion and camaraderie and at the same time the pain, isolation, and violence that come bound up in earthly existence. That the commons is catholic is a sign of its expansiveness, our locality is not protectionist. And what could it be to be seeking the kingdom except that we are on the road open to encounter with that strange stranger who just, just might be the Christ? Continue reading

Violence, Grace, and Solidarity: Reading Flannery O’Connor on Good Friday

Jonathan Dyck

In order to arrive at the joy and affirmation of Easter Sunday, we encounter the suffering and despair of Good Friday. It’s not a pleasant thing to acknowledge, but grace and violence appear bound together at Easter.

Few writers are as astute at recognizing this relationship as Flannery O’Connor. Rather than a world of neutral surfaces, O’Connor’s fiction presents us with a world that is irreducibly “grotesque.” For her, the history of the South has made for an environment that is “hardly Christ-centered, [but] is most certainly Christ-haunted” (M&M 44). Her characters may not act like Christians, but theirs is a world which is divinely given, a world in which grace regularly emerges and disrupts. For this reason, O’Connor’s fiction adopts what she has called, “prophetic vision,” a way of seeing that paradoxically understands near things at a distance and far things up close. As she puts it, “The prophet is a realist of distances, and it is this kind of realism that you find in the best modern instances of the grotesque.”  This has everything to do with her view that art is incarnational. It is, in other words, ultimately about embodiment rather than abstraction, and its particular kind of embodiment is a deeply mysterious and troubling one. Continue reading