Friday, May 9, 2008

Paul Tillich, Sufjan Stevens, and Douglas Coupland: On Words That Need "Healing"

I was just reading the introduction to theologian Paul Tillich's Dynamics of Faith. In discussing the term "faith" he says this: "It belongs to those terms which need healing before they can be used for the healing of men. Today the term "faith" is more productive of disease than health...Indeed, one is tempted to suggest that the word "faith" should be dropped completely...".I really like this brief point about the seeming "corruption" and decontextualization of religious terminology. So many of our theological terms have become much more associated with commodity, scientific rationalism, and strangely systematic "religion" rather than mystery, wonder and devotion. Tillich ultimately argues that we can't drop a word such as "faith" as there is no other adequate term to replace it--and we need a label for this mystical "thing" that we discuss. We must re-invest it with the meaning it has lost in such a confused cultural context. But how do we do this? I don't want to try and answer this now, but raise the question. One thing that I think is very much needed is a new amount of respect and excitement for the religious imagination. We need to rely more on metaphors and imagination--concrete, creative descriptions of mysterious spiritual realities, rather an attempt to concretize through abstractions, reducing these words to correlating "scientific" principles concerning God and belief.
All of this discussion reminds me of my blog's first ever post, which looks at how Sufjan Stevens provides an awe-ful, rich description of the phrase "born again". Take a look here. I also appreciate how an author such as Douglas Coupland attempts to re-invest the often completely secularized (in the mind of contemporary society) term "apocalypse" with its prophetic, colorful, frightening and beautiful roots. Of course, this discussion (of Coupland) calls for an entire new blog post (or a 325 page dissertation!).

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