Have you ever had the experience of noticing a certain pattern in a wild variety of contexts, a pattern that occurs so consistently that you feel it simply has to mean something … but you have no idea what? I say “in a wild variety of contexts” to rule out cases of patterns that occur within the same context, even though, at the time, you may have no idea of the cause. I remember back in the early 1960s, when I was in junior-high school, I went on a “geology jag”. I spent several months reading books on geology, geophysics, and volcanology that noted with perplexity the mysterious – in the early '60s – pattern whereby volcanic activity tended to be concentrated around the circumference of, e.g., the Pacific Basin, what we today call the “Pacific Ring of Fire,” and similar places.
Over the years of studying and dealing with both the practitioners and the practice of theodicy, I have developed a pretty accurate set of antennae for detecting when even people of undisputed integrity and good will have gone “a bridge too far” in their zeal to “justify the ways of God to man” by defending conduct that, in other contexts, would be assessed as unambiguously criminal. In such cases, God is allowed to breeze by despite conduct that would earn a human a war-crimes trial at The Hague. No devout monotheist is exempt from this risk, not even the most temperate, rational, and tolerant. Fr. Ron Rolheiser is a quintessentially temperate, rational, and tolerant man par excellence, both professionally and personally, as I can attest from having met him, spoken with him one-to-on
Most of the time, I think that people who live in Christian cultures – both Christians and non-Christians – would mightily profit from a moratorium on reading, commenting on, and preaching about certain biblical doctrines and ideas. Which doctrines and which ideas? The list is far too long to even list, much less annotate. So instead, I will pick a specific example: being “born again”. I make bold to assert that we would all be better off if, for perhaps a generation or so and per impossibile, Christians stopped talking about being “born again”. We – meaning “all inhabitants of a Christian-dominated culture” – think we know what the New Testament means by the phrase “born again”. We don’t. In fact, we have, at best, only the palest and most emaciated notion of what the term means, th