Grammar Lesson

Theology for Pilgrims
Nicholas Lash
University of Notre Dame Press, $25, 296 pp.

The essays in this book served as my daily readings as I inched across the Bronx on the Bx9 bus from Marble Hill to my office at Fordham and back—not as a pilgrim, but as a commuter. Each essay held my attention for the twenty-five-minute trip on the days I was lucky enough to get a seat. Great, thought-provoking reading—for a professional theologian.

Lash weaves wise reflections on important issues throughout the book. He begins with analyses of the grammar of “God” and the impossibility of atheism. But how can we contingent human beings speak of the Mystery that grounds contingency? To learn how to talk of the living and true God, Lash argues, we need a linguistic community—a church—that schools us in how to talk with God, to God, and of God.

“Atheism” is a nothing. It is not a coherent option (“secular humanism” may be). A-theism is a refusal to accept a god or gods or God—a refusal often responding to religious believers’ own bad grammar that treats God as a being among other beings whose way of being is no different from that of quarks, trees, humans, or societies. Here’s good grammar from Lash: As a “treasure is what you value; a god is what you worship.” Even atheists worship something, just not the living and true God. The first role of the critic is to figure out just what people do worship; the second is to show whether that worship is authentic or idolatrous. Lash’s essays do both quite well.

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About the Author

Terrence W. Tilley is chair of the Theology Department at Fordham University.