God as the Thread of Life

•30 September 2009 • Leave a Comment

Currently listening to: Speak for Yourself by Imogen Heap

Perhaps if we could step back from it all, we would see that there is a coherence to our lives–a thread woven throughout that gives our existence substance and meaning and continuity.

This is what I mean when I refer to God.  i do not mean a being with a personality, a will, a plan; I simply mean that there is an Unseen, a depth to human existence that goes beyond the merely obvious, superficial, or material.  Religious traditions recognized this coherence, this thread which seemed to carry their lives and connect them to their past and future.  They gave it a name and spoke of it as a directing hand, a guiding being, a Person.  I can believe in no such person, but I can recognize the value in the religious experiences of the Other, the Unseen.  What is required now is a reinterpretation of this “thread of life,” without the religious trappings of superstitious and supernatural ideologies.

“God” is the coherence which binds our lives together, the thread which weaves through all of reality.  Not as a being, but nevertheless as an authoritative and transformative Mystery that calls us to awaken to a fuller way of being human and a broader view of what “existence” might mean.

[This post is indebted to the insights of Bruce Ledewitz of “Hallowed Secularism.”  In particular, it is inspired by this post:  What Makes Hallowed Secularism Hallowed? In all likelihood, you’ll probably find me referring to this website and Ledewitz more often, as his work has helped me begin to imagine a reasonable alternative to both theism and atheism].


Unworthy God-Images and The Way

•30 September 2009 • Leave a Comment

Currently listening to: Almost Killed Me by The Hold Steady

Walter Brueggemann, in his text A Pathway of Interpretation, says that the interpreter functioning in second naivete…

“…has seen God critically and is aware of God’s violent infidelity, but after criticism takes the God given us in the Gospel as the way, the truth, and the life.” (p. 29)

By this, I assume he means that the God of the Bible, who is sometimes portrayed as petty and jealous, as violent and vengeful, and as genocidal must still be affirmed as the way, the truth, and the life.  That is, one must become critically aware of the monstrosities and horrors that this God is given credit for and yet still affirm that this being is the way that Jesus calls us to.

The God portrayed as a violent, fickle, and cruel being is not a god worthy of imitation or worship.  I think that it is time for Christian theology to recognize these vindictive God-images for what they are–human projections reflecting the cruel uncertainty of the universe, rather than divine words about the character of God.  The God of the Bible is most notably a God of compassion, of love, and of healing.  To affirm that such a being is also vindictive, jealous, and cruel creates a bipolar, or perhaps two-headed, God.

A violent God breeds violent followers.  A God of love, on the other hand, can truly call followers to a life of compassion, as Jesus did.  If we must maintain that the Bible is accurate in its portrayal of God as genocidal, vengeful, and petty, then we must finally admit that this being truly is not the way to human salvation, and is not worth following.

The Process, the Trajectory, the Journey

•29 September 2009 • Leave a Comment

Currently listening to: Pikul by Silversun Pickups

A misconception about faith is that it is the same thing as certainty.  That it is an impenetrable fortress that cannot be touched by questions, uncertainty, or doubt.  Quoting from Frederick Buechner in Wishful Thinking:

“Faith is better understood as a verb than as a noun, as a process than a possession.  It is on-again-off-again rather than once-and-for-all.  Faith is not being sure where you’re going but going anyway.  A journey without maps.  Tillich said that doubt isn’t the opposite of faith; it is an element of faith.” (p. 25)

Faith is, perhaps, better understood as a trajectory than as a destination.  It is the aiming of oneself into the Radiant Darkness, the great Mystery that we call “God,” and then simply walking, one step at a time.  In such a view of faith, it is the journey that is to be emphasized, celebrated, witnessed to, rather than the conclusion of the journey.

Faith is about living the Mystery.  Sometimes, we live well; and sometimes we falter.  But all of this–the moments of disbelief and the moments of complete trust–are within the meaning of faith.  Doubting God is not an abandonment of faith.  Such an abandonment is only found in the refusal to continue the journey.

The Progressive Rejection of Exclusivism

•28 September 2009 • Leave a Comment

Currently listening to: Deja Entendu by Brand New

There is an important difference between believing that one is right and asserting that everyone else is wrong.  This has been the common claim of Christians for centuries.  Orthodox theology has long asserted the exclusivist notions that Christianity is the only valid religion, and that all other faiths are deficient and useless attempts to reach unity with the Wholly Other.  (Of course, other faith systems have made similar claims; but my experience has been with Christianity, and that is the religion to which I am closest).

All religions are not the same, nor are they all “different paths up the same mountain,” as the old metaphor says.  Still, though, religions do share many common characteristics.  Many refuse to accept this fact simply because they apply double standards to the validity of their faith as compared to others.  In this world of interreligious dialogue, where our neighbors are just as likely to be Muslim, Hindu, or atheist as Christian, it is time for a progressive recognition that exclusivist claims are unrealistic and ignorant of the social and historical realities of religion.

If the goal of religion is connection with the Divine and expansion of the human self, there is no need for judgmental and self-righteous attitudes.  I can celebrate the spiritual development and validity of my own path without rejecting similar experiences in those who hold different religious sentiments.  Progressive religion has no need for the polemics of yesterday; faith does not need to be a war.

One can affirm Jesus as the “way” without also making the claim that all other paths are valueless and idolatrous.

Confusing Metaphor for Reality

•25 September 2009 • Leave a Comment

Currently listening to: Fear of Flying by David Karsten Daniels

If I say I do not believe in God, I am certain that many believers will say, “How, then, are you not an atheist?”  Well, the reason for this is simply that language is a poor substitute for reality. We use words and symbols to describe experiences and intuitions that cannot possibly be condensed into language.

Many religions have taken the word “god” to mean only one thing:  a supernatural being who deserves worship, controls history, etc.  While I think there is some value in religious claims about God, I also believe that religions have taken literally what was a metaphorical and limited description.  They have taken for literal reality what is symbolic.  Ancient people experienced the creative force at the center of life, that Ground of All Being, and their experiences led them to speak of it.  So, they chose metaphors that were sometimes personal–at times they described God as a being.

The problem is that experiential metaphors were taken as concrete realities, and so when people speak of “God,” they are almost always referring to a Person.  I simply think the personal image of God is incorrect.

Do I believe there is something creative and beautiful and transformative at the center of life?  Yes, I do.  But do I believe that this something is a person sitting on a golden throne in heaven?  No.  This personal image is what I reject when I express disbelief in “God.”

The Deeper Reality

•21 September 2009 • Leave a Comment

Currently listening to: Grace by Jeff Buckley

“I don’t believe in God.”

For many religious people, such an assertion is the end of the road.  It is an abandonment of the journey, an admission of surrender to the encroaching attacks of atheism, godlessness, and sin.  For the atheist, such a statement may very well be a sign of victory, of freedom from the fairy tales and wishmaking of humanity’s superstitious past; it is a statement of rejection of God, any god, all gods and is, thus, the successful culmination of a journey out of darkness and into the light of reason.

For most, hearing this confession likely creates a notion that the one uttering it is a materialist, with no belief in any sort of deeper reality or meaning in existence.  That we are simply here, the biological products of an evolutionary process, and any discussion of morality, spirituality, or holiness is only a philosophical attempt to fill the emptiness of the universe.

However, for some of us, this utterance is only the beginning of an honest exploration of what it means to be spiritual, what it means to be holy, and what it means to be human.  Casting aside the blinding and superstitious God-images of religion, we embark on a journey into mystery that does not deny that there is hope, there is beauty, and there is holiness in this world.  The advancement of human knowledge of the universe and ourselves precludes our belief in a mythical God-Being who creates, intervenes, and directs the flow of history; it does not preclude our belief in living a truly abundant life, the kind that Jesus promised.

I do not believe in God.  But that does not mean I believe in nothing.  I believe there is a deeper reality that transcends the materialistic; I just cannot agree with the religious that this deeper meaning is adequately or even appropriately represented by belief in a mythical, magical being called “God.”

Human Fingerprints

•10 September 2009 • 1 Comment

Currently listening to: Peregrine by The Appleseed Cast

The Bible is powerful because it is human.  Its power is found in the fact that its authors were like me:  limited, uncertain, struggling.  They did not have easy answers from on high, they could not tell the future, and they did not have a God’s-view picture of life or the world.  They, like me, were pilgrims on the road toward Mystery, vainly searching for words big enough to describe their experiences of divinity but always falling short.  It is in their struggle, in their doubt that we may find ourselves, our own journey, and our own battles to grasp the Infinite.

It is the human fingerprints which give the Bible its spiritual potency; to make it a timeless, perfect spiritual authority is to rob its authors of their voice, to ignore the humanity of their stories, and to deny our own place in the text.  To claim it was “co-authored” by God as an infallible storehouse of truth does not make it a more powerful book; it is to reject its humanity, to deny the real struggle its authors had in seeking out the answers they give, and to make it wholly distinct and inconsequential to the spiritual journeys of the rest of us (who get no such easy answers in life).

The Bible is not a timeless authority for religious and moral life; it is a human record of the individual and corporate search for meaning, for God.  And it is powerful precisely because of its humanity, not in spite of it.