The Atheist – II

(If you didn’t read yesterday’s post, you might want to start there as this is a continuation)

You would think, given her beliefs, or lack thereof, that Gretta Vosper would find a different job, something more in keeping with her theology (if that is indeed the right way to describe atheism) than being a member of the clergy. If she is a caring person, why not become a social worker? Many of the skills are transferable, though I doubt many social workers are expected to deliver a weekly sermon. Given how much most people like public speaking, that might be a bonus.

Instead of a career change though, she’s fighting to keep her job as the denominational hierarchy ponders what to do. The United Church may have drifted far from its historical roots, but I get the impression most people think that faith in a divine being plays some sort of role in the religious life of the community. I know from experience that the theology to be found in the United Church can vary dramatically from community to community and church to church.

Those who have to make the final decision as to whether to remove Ms Vosper from her position have my sympathy. I suspect they are about to be vilified in the media, which seems to love to attack matters of faith, frequently without an attempt to understand the issues involved.

As a former newspaper reporter I can be sympathetic to that. You can’t be an expert on everything. But it used to be that major media outlets all had at least one reporter on the religion beat, someone who was expert on matters of faith. Those positions vanished about 30 years ago for the most part.

I’m sympathetic also with those who find sin “yucky.” It is, and it’s not something we like to mention in polite company. It’s also something many people pretend doesn’t exist. The concept of sin raises theological questions, and we would rather not confront that sort of thing.

The problem though remains the one that has held for thousands of years. If there is a God, if that God dislikes (detests? hates? despises?) sin, then what do you do? What happens if sinners are yucky in God’s eyes? Pretending something doesn’t exist makes it no less real. I have days I’d like to pretend there is no speed limit on the highway, but I don’t think I would be very successful explaining that to a traffic cop. You might think life is easier without God and sin, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t real.

Jesus’ message resonated because it was real. Gretta Vosper’s message sounds appealing, but without God and Jesus it is just so much cotton candy: fluffy and not very nourishing.

Looking at this situation as an outsider I am reminded of the need for clear definitions and clear boundaries. As an organization dedicated to spreading the Christian gospel and seeing souls won, to use churchy terminology that I would normally avoid, The United Church has failed in its mission. Its shift to social action has produced a lot of good in terms of dealing with injustice in Canadian society. However, the watering down of its theology, I think, has been a major contributor to the fact the church is becoming smaller and smaller as the general population grows. Jesus said a house built on sand would not survive, and without sound theology and is precisely the foundation the United Church has today.

None of the people involved in this dispute was alive in 1925 when the decision was made on the non-enforcement of belief for United Church clergy. Today’s leaders didn’t sow the seeds, but they have to deal with the harvest. From here it looks like a pretty bitter one.



One comment

  1. Catholic priest had a similar point to your ‘The problem…’ paragraph. “It used to be thought that nobody would go to heaven [too much sin]. Nowadays everyone is expected to go to heaven. [very easy forgiveness]

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