A Modest Commitment

While Cross Currents is committed to the importance of religion and the intellectual life, its editors also recognize the importance of puncturing inflated claims made in their name -- perhaps because we're constantly tempted to similar excesses. Honesty requires that we admit the distorting lenses of our own assumptions.

There is an ironic pleasure, therefore, in opening this issue with Raimon Panikkar's cautionary reflections on how to talk about God in a way that is "less inadequate." Panikkar, of course, is the opposite of a cynic. He knows that thinking about God, even when we are unconscious of the ultimate trajectory of our reflection, is an inevitable part of the human enterprise. The way such thinking is conducted has important consequences for how we look at the world around us and how we live in it. No one is the only teacher in this seminar. "Discourse about God," Panikkar insists, "is not the property of any church, religion, or science." This is not a threatening but a liberating conviction.

Our claims, then, must remain modest, but our commitment to seek out connections between the spiritual and the intellectual should be evident in this issue. Ann Copeland, for example, threads connections between "Faith and Fiction-Making" as she considers such disparate writers as Andre Dubus, Mary Gordon, Thomas Keneally, Jon Hassler, and Robert Stone. And in sharing the complex process by which she came to write a story torn from her own life, she reminds us that writing fiction, like faith itself, is risk.

The essays of Giles Danroc and Anselm Kyongsuk Min connect discourse about God with the demands of justice. Danroc's commitment is to the liberation of Haiti's long-suffering poor. Offering no short-cuts, he asks the Catholic Church in that long-tortured country to "reconstruct from the ground up a new social dynamism released from former ambiguities." Min's reflections on a theology of giving have a more theoretical bent, offering a detailed analysis of Stephen H. Webbs The Gifting God, while also asking how "we concretize the dynamics of giving and pass the gifts along in a world where what is often at issue is not the generosity of excess but the justice of exchange, not even exchange but exploitation, not gifts but basic needs."

A comparable urgency lies behind Jim Perkinson's response to our taken-for-granted whiteness in the U.S. Such whiteness, he insists, amounts "to a choice for privilege"; hence it constitutes "not only a moral choice, but a theological predicament." If there is no "quick fix" for racism, at least we can abandon our position of "oppressive privilege."

The exchange on postcritical Christian philosophy lets us listen in on an Internet discussion of "postliberal theology" and the "decentering of European Christendom." Roger Badham and Ola Sigurdson find much to be learned from a Jewish intellectual tradition that has resisted secular assimilation and promoted a sense of identity without the disparagement of others. Postmodernism seems to suggest that "one's community is the place for identity," yet it remains "suspicious of the claims of the community." Philip Culbertson warns that "as Christianity becomes increasingly decentered, the boundaries between individual narrative communities seem to become increasingly rigid."

Finally, Shmuel Ben-Gad's essay on film director Robert Bresson shows how a great artist can "see the world profoundly," using unadorned, undramatized images to invite the viewer to contemplation. It is "not a contemplation of vague, spiritual notions," Ben-Gad asserts, but at least "at first, of physical realities." Bresson displays a modesty and commitment we should all emulate because he "does not offer meanings, explanations, or answers but rather lucidity, reality, and profound mystery."

The dialogue to which Cross Currents is committed is always unfinished. We need constant feedback from tough-minded readers if we are to continue publishing articles that respect Panikkar's ground rules. In seeking additional subscribers, we know all too well we have no quick rewards to offer: a strenuous search is ahead for the passionate but disinterested friends who join us. The effort is worth making, however; if we cannot speak of God as if God were simply a thing, nevertheless we must try to speak. If we don't, Panikkar warns, we may find we do not believe in anything at all, including ourselves.