Wednesday, September 05, 2007

In Which Aunt BeaN Revisits the Contrast Between The Seven Storey Mountain by Thomas Merton, and Blue Like Jazz, by Donald Miller. The latter had been recommended to me by several people as an example of the new, innovative thinking coming out of the evangelical Christian community, and that was reinforced by the reviews on But I couldn't get through it. I'd even say it was downright awful. I objected to it so much that I don't even really want to write about it, because the strength of my response suggests that it is more about my own personal axe-grinding than it is about the book itself. To me, it was a maze of circular reasoning, bad logic, and poor analogies. But obviously it has been very meaningful to a lot of other people, witness the reviews on amazon.

I'll just say this: I have no patience with anyone who can dismiss a major world religion with 300 million followers as a fad, as Miller does with Buddhism. I admit I didn't finish the book, so maybe he makes up for it at the end. But I put it down in disgust after the 2nd time he referred to someone who was interested in Buddhism as only wanting to look cool and trendy. I'm sure there are people who are interested in looking cool and trendy who are also interested in Buddhism. But about four or five years ago, it was awfully trendy to be involved in a conservative Christian church, too, and you don't hear him complaining about that. and anyway, what about the hundreds of millions of people for whom Buddhism works just fine? Oh, I wasn't going to rant and I can just hardly help it.

Well, OK, you twisted my arm so I'll keep going. Somewhere toward the beginning, he talks about his big crisis of faith, which was resolved while he was still in college, so he was probably hung up in this big crisis for what, a year? Anyway. the way he was able to resolve it was through an analogy he made in a literature class. Since the Christian faith has all the classic elements of a story (as defined by his literature professor), that means it's TRUE! Really! I'm not making this up, that was what resolved his crisis of faith. It was so silly that it was several days before I could pick it up again.

I do think there is some innovative thinking coming out of the Evangelical community, there is no question about that. And Miller is probably more representative of that than I want to admit. But as long as they hang on to their exclusivist theology-- that only the people who are Evangelical Christians are going to "heaven" (if that even has any meaning)-- it just isn't enough of a change for me personally.

Which is what brings me back to Merton. Merton is equally sure of the exclusivity of salvation for Catholics, so why didn't it bug me the same way that Donald Miller did? Is it just because he's a better writer? (would I forgive anything for art?) or because there seems to be more intelligence behind his passionate embrace of the Catholic faith? or because he's not evangelical, so I don't have such a big chip on my shoulder when I'm reading? I suspect it's all of that and also this: Merton is so fearlessly passionate about his embrace of the Catholic faith that you can't help but admire him and his willingness to put everything on the line to pursue it-- and that is literally everything, since he spent the rest of his life as a Trappist monk. Next to that, Miller's plays on words and riffing on the traditional themes of the protestant faith seem lightweight at best.

Aunt BeaN

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