In P. D. James’s A Taste for Death1 there is a brief conversation about religion between Miskin and Massingham. Drawing on her school experience in an inner city comprehensive with significant racial diversity, Miskin has decided that the school’s religion was ‘anti-racism’. It struck me how negative many people’s expression of religion can be. It can express itself in attitudes like anti-racism, or intolerant tolerance. Agnosticism is essentially negative, and atheism is the ultimate negative religious expression.
Such expressions of religion are centred around a negative concept, unlike Christianity. While Christianity has a negative component in an intolerance and hatred of sin, that is more than eclipsed by the many ‘positives’ in the character of God. The ‘negativity’ is a necessary consequence of the positive perfections of God (e.g. jealousy and love), but is not central to Christianity.
To dwell on the negative is to distort biblical teaching. And to ignore or diminish the negative is also to distort it. What holds the negative and positive together in Christianity is the self-revelation of the character of God which is perfect in all its multi-faceted aspects. This unity of God is reflected in his universe, so to live in his universe without recognizing the unifying effect of his character must surely be what fuels the distortion and emphasizes the negative.
1. End of Book Five, ch. 6 (London: Faber & Faber, 1986).