Christ the Tiger

I picked up this book because I had just read Howard’s Chance or the Dance, and was much impressed. Christ the Tiger is a spiritual memoir. The title (Christ the Tiger) is from a line in a poem by T.S. Eliot, but it also perfectly captures Howard’s theme, which is that dogmas and orthodoxies are all well and good, but by themselves they amount to attempts to “incarcerate” the One who cannot be contained by mankind.

Howard introduces this theme by writing of the bumpy ride into adulthood, when it is unfortunately common to turn one’s back on dogmas and orthodoxies acquired in childhood:

“[A]s of this writing, I have not done the expected thing. I have not disavowed Christianity. The pulling and hauling [his questioning of dogmas and orthodoxy] has not convinced me that God was not in Christ. It has, on the other hand, led me to suspect that we are involved in something wild and unmanageable, and in nothing that can be successfully incarcerated in any dogmatic orthodoxy.

* * *

This is one reason why I find the Incarnation compelling. For in the figure of Jesus the Christ there is something that escapes us. He has been the subject of the greatest efforts at systematization in the history of man. But anyone who has ever tried this has had, in the end, to admit that the seams keep bursting. He sooner or later discovers that he is in touch, not with a pale Galilean, but with a towering, and furious figure who will not be managed.

For all the back-and-forth arguments between theism and naturalism, there remains an instinctive sense of the ineffable that draws people to God, if they are not sidelined in the race by the petty hypocrisies and cruelties of this life. Most atheists reject God, rather than really embracing the notion of a God-less universe. These are entirely different things. Howard gets us past the much-rehearsed and repeated squabbles, and goes straight to felt experience. Along the way we acquire an understanding as to how it is that theist dogma can be sound yet rejected. We are ever tempted to try to reduce God to something we can manage.

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