Summary: An examination of faith based on Psalm 46 with reference to The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins.
THE THIRTEENTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST
August 26, 2007 Proper 16C
The Rev. M. Anthony Seel, Jr.
St. Andrew’s Anglican Church
The God Delusion?
On Monday and op-ed piece appeared in USA Today by Tom Krattenmaker titled "Secularists, what happened to the open mind?" Krattenmaker is a member of USA Today’s Board of Contributers whose specialty is "religion in public life."
Krattenmaker asks a number of questions in his essay, including "Why when it comes to matters of religion, do secularists so frequently leave their critical thinking at the door?"
In his op-ed article, Krattenmaker quotes a religion scholar and writer who is also an atheist. Georgetown University Jacques Berlinerblau questions, "Can an atheist or agnostic discuss any aspect of religion for more than 30 seconds without referring to religious people as imbeciles, extremists, mental deficiences, fascists, enemies of the common good… conjure men (or) irrationalists?"
It’s a timely question and three purveyors of this trend are mentioned in the article: Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins - all atheists. Last year, Dawkins’ work, The God Delusion was published. There are currently 500,000 copies in print. This week it stands at #27 on the New York Times nonfiction Bestsellers List. It’s been on that list for 47 weeks. Curiously, Dawkins’ book is not on the USA Today combined list of 150 fiction and nonfiction works. It was on the list for 30 weeks and the highest it climbed was #27.
The reviewer in the New York Review of Books devalues Dawkins’ project due to his "smug tone" and "occasionally sloppy logic" and accuses Dawkins of "shirking the intellectual hard work." Yet, with even its many deficiencies, Dawkins’ work appears to be the most substantial effort from the Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens troika.
After all, Richard Dawkins is a preeminent evolutionary biologist, Sam Harris is a writer, and Christopher Hitchens is a journalist/writer. They’re all smart guys, all best-selling authors, but only Dawkins is a world class scientist.
This morning, I will juxtapose Psalm 46 with The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins.
v.1 God is our refuge and strength, a very present help it trouble.
Psalm 46 is best known for Martin Luther’s use of it in "A Mighty Fortress is our God." Luther’s famous hymn has been translated into "almost every known language," and it has been called the "Battle Hymn of the Reformation." In the four stanzas of the hymn, Luther interprets his own experience through the lens of the psalm.
The psalm was written about God’s delivering Israel from severe trials, but we can’t pinpoint the exact date it was written. It appears to describe a time when Jerusalem was under siege by enemy armies. In verse 1, the psalmist tells us that God is the refuge and strength of His people. Luther clung to this truth and trusted that Jesus his Savior and Lord was his refuge and strength during those times when he encountered difficult stretches.
At times during the Reformation, Luther understood that he was under siege, and he also trusted God to be his "very present help in trouble." Martin Luther knew God’s presence and help personally; it is what sustained him throughout the Reformation.
On Wednesday, our Bishop Bena published an essay titled "Reading the Signs of the Times." You’ll find it on my DCNY blog. In his essay, Bp. Bena calls what is currently happening in the Anglican Communion "a new Reformation." As Martin Luther would surely agree, Bp. Bena admits, "Reformations are messy." Even so, God can be our refuge and strength, our ever present help in trouble.
The psalmist continues,
v. 2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth be moved, and though the mountains be toppled into the depths of the sea;
v. 3 Though its waters rage and foam, and though the mountains tremble at its tumult.
Therefore, we will not fear. No matter what. No matter what happens, God is still our refuge and strength and our ever present help in trouble. No matter what. Whether the earth be moved by an earthquake that cause mountains to topple into the ocean. Though the waters of the sea rage and foam from a tsunami. No matter what,
v. 4 The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our stronghold.
The words of verse 4 are repeated at verses 8 and 12. No matter what, the psalmist’s refrain doesn’t change,
"The Lord of Hosts is with us."
Lord of Hosts is a phrase that is used 300 times in the Old Testament. It’s a title of power. Hosts refers to all the heavenly beings, like angels, who are always ready to act on God’s command. The hosts of heaven are called "God’s army" in Numbers 10:36 and 1 Samuel 10:36. They are called "heavenly warriors in Deuteronomy 33:2 and Judges 5:20. Lord of Hosts is a divine title that emphasizes God’s power and might. The psalmist declares that God the Almighty is with us. He is present with us and to us. Almighty God is our stronghold, our fortress as Martin Luther puts it.