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The Future of Faith by Harvey Cox
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Sep 21, 11

bookshelves: reviewed-books
Read in September, 2011

Approached from the outside, this book gives an available snapshot of the 'politics' of Christian religious denomination, the ups, the downs, the rising stars, those declining. Harvey Cox is an American, a Baptist of 'liberal' credentials, a known public figure, a writer of books.

Though his book handles this current history in terms of some of his own life experience, it's intended to reflect trends he sees occurring broadly. His view is clearly not restricted to the United States, perhaps because the trends seem sweeping up from the southern global hemisphere.

Anyone dealing with 'the future' really deals with 'the present'. Human predictive powers don't do well, and usually include wish-fulfilling hope. Cox is no exception, but he is seasoned and he is smart and he does care.

It remains to be seen whether the decline of the more conservative elements in the Western religions actually do continue to decline and whether more 'grass roots', less top-down hierarchical organization becomes a norm.

Insofar as Christianity goes, Cox sees the more 'community level' movements as being truer not only to the type of milieu Jesus encountered and which encountered him, but as being true to what 'faith' itself means. Cox underscores often that the establishment of Christianity as the imperially-favored religion under Constantine set a standard for the up-to-then beleaguered Christians to emulate Greek philosophical protocol and imperial models of procedure and hierarchy.

Among such 'hardening' or 'reconstituting' would be counted articles of faith requiring belief in certain truth propositions and requiring command structures to enforce such beliefs. Cox sees these as antithetical to the teachings apparently at play in the earliest days.

The book works as a quick and honest history, and from a liberal churchman, it's very good to note that this is not all 'feel-good'. Perhaps the most important point arising from the book is its realization that inter-denominational outreach fails the most difficult task: intra-denominational discussion.

However 'hard-core' a believer is defined to be, there are such believers in Christianity, in Judaism, in Islam. Those believers, not wanting to deviate from very sharply-devotional ways, are the people who must be reached.

Not for 'conversion', but for conversation. People must talk and they must think. They must share what they can.

What the book doesn't do well is what any projection doesn't: remove basic obstacles.

1) There're the 'sociological' questions.

How do you organize a billion -- or more -- people?

Can a billion people NOT be organized or be 'non-organized' only locally without a hierarchy and still prevent dislocations and marginalizations, even absurdities?

What levels of agreement can be reached given the variance in people's understanding of the world?


2) There're the 'conceptual' questions.

What is faith in the first place?

If not 'belief in' a set of propositions, then what? Behaviors?

If moral behavior -- and if that can be universally defined -- must one be a theist to have faith?

Is faith the sharing of goods, the helping of people in need?

Does a person of faith NOT share and help at ANY time during his life, say, to make a living by selling tough, but compostable, bicycyle tires?

Is faith an emotional stance alone, a caring toward others insofar as one encounters the need?

How much does one have to adhere to the life of Jesus, of Lao Tse, of Mohammed, of Moses, of The Buddha, of Confucius, of any or all the saintly people in order to be said to 'have faith'?


The future of faith may lie in discovering what it means. Some people believe they know. Or is it that they DO and consequently know? To find out, do you just take a Kierkegaardian leap? Then whose guidance to rely on before making the jump?

Yes, I'm certainly skeptical about all this, but not antagonistic. Somebody got answers? Or is puzzlement all?
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