Just a few years ago, it seemed curious that an omniscient, omnipotent God wouldn’t smite tormentors like Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris. They all published best-selling books excoriating religion and practically inviting lightning bolts.
Fundamentalists fired volleys of Left Behind novels, in which Jesus returns to Earth to battle the Anti-Christ (whose day job was secretary general of the United Nations). Meanwhile, devout atheists built mocking Web sites like www.whydoesGodhateamputees.com. That site notes that although believers periodically credit prayer with curing cancer, God never seems to regrow lost limbs. It demands an end to divine discrimination against amputees.
This year is different, with a crop of books that are less combative and more thoughtful. One of these is “The Evolution of God,” by Robert Wright, who explores how religions have changed — improved — over the millennia. He notes that God, as perceived by humans, has mellowed from the capricious warlord sometimes depicted in the Old Testament who periodically orders genocides.
I don’t have the answers here, but these are questions that occur to me when I read Father Dwight’s post, even as I largely agree with him. I think the essential problem can be summed up in what an orthodox Catholic (convert) friend said to me when he and I back in the 1990s went to our first Tridentine Mass, expecting to love it, and being disappointed. Said he, “Imagine trying to evangelize people today on that” — meaning having to stand there unable to hear anything the priest said. The trick is to be modern — that is, relevant to your time — without being modernist.