Tuesday, June 6, 2017

God Talk #2

God Talk #2

When Albert Einstein was asked if he believed in God, he hesitated. Here was the scientist who represented a culmination of the Enlightenment and the modern age and to the cusp of the transmodern age we are now beginning. But he knew his audience and did not pretend to be a theologian. Yes, he said, I believe in the God of Spinoza who reveals himself in the orderly harmony of what exists.

Spinoza's God is the harmony of the Universe.  Spinoza has a pantheist or panenthesist theology in which the Whole is greater than the sum of its parts. But I really think Einstein believed in Whitehead’s God. Or perhaps Whitehead spoke of the sacred in a way that was most compatible with Einstein’s discovery of Nature.

The major distinction a theologian must make is between the concept of God and the notion of God.  The “of” in both can be understood as either an objective or a subjective preposition—God as subject or object of the concept or of the notion.  But let’s leave the personhood of the divine a mystery and just call it the concept or notion of “the sacred.”  

All speech and language, including religious, aesthetic, and scientific has an outer and inner aspect. On the one hand, there is speech--including that regarding the sacred--as out in the world, objective, systematic, formulated, written, in which many (at least two) persons participate. And on the other, there is speech--including that regarding the sacred-- creatively sprouting from persons, emanating from the soul, the feeling of consciousness in projecting to the world.

We have here the difference between beliefs and faith. Or we can notice the difference between the feeling of committing to the sacred (faith) and the external expressions—the belief systems of concepts, teachings, stories, rituals, organizations. And this leads to an understanding of three types of believers.

1.     There are those believers who recognize that their belief systems are time and space bound, never final, steps to newer, wider, more inclusive beliefs through faith that will not get stuck in belief. They acknowledge the transition and transformation of belief systems through history. These are the great-souled persons in touch with continual and profound transcendence.

2.     There are those believers who confuse their faith with their beliefs. They believe that their way is the only or, at least, the best way. They are devoted to their religions, their doctrines, rites, and practices, and try to get their children, relatives, friends, even all people to adopt their belief systems so they too can be saved. These are weak-souled persons. Most of us who get stuck in our religious, cultural, political ideas because they have served us well without shaking us up to search wider and deeper.

3.     There are those true believers who have no faith. In other words, they identify faith with their beliefs. They consider themselves at the end of history, having the key to history, or on the side of history. With huge egos, that they are the ones who know best. Often, however, their arrogance portrays insecurity and the cynical view that there is no truth except what they say is true. These are persons with tiny or no souls, self-absorbed, unconcerned with consequences for others except insofar as they affect them, persons with strong opinions without critical thinking.

The religious spirit is not in conflict with atheism, secular humanism, and the multi-diversity of religions.  It is faith, the sense of transcendence, in conflict with static dogmatism and its intolerance, rigid belief systems, and arrogance. And faith is the driving force of science and social progress. Faith opens the believer to the new, the future, the process of the Universe and everything and everyone within it.

The problem with Spinoza and his God of modernity is that he saw Nature as did the ancients up to Newton, complete, final, absolute, waiting passively to be known. Whitehead and many who followed, assimilating the new science, moved us to a new epoch of transmodernity, and a new understanding of supreme being, the sacred, and the divine.

(Definitely to be continued.)

Monday, June 5, 2017

God Talk #1

So, let’s get it over with! Let’s talk about God.

In the latter half of the 20th century, many theologians suggested a moratorium on God-talk because it was so confusing, so divisive, and so destructive of what they considered true faith as opposed to true belief.

In popular religion, “God” is considered as the Big Man in the Sky, a supernatural person. This concept arises from a pre-modern, pre-scientific understanding of humanity, the world, and the cosmos. The fables of the Bible and most of the holy books are believed to be dictated by the supernatural entity and taken literally or word for word. They are contrasted with confirmed theories of astrophysics, biology, and anthropology. They set reason against faith and science against religion. Even today in the fundamentalist wings of all religions, people either live in two different worlds or they deny science.

Literally, theology means god (theos) and talk (logos): god-talk. Logos also means "word" or "meaning." Theology questions the meaning and word of God. A word or speech has two sides: 1) word or speech as expression, i.e. out in the world, 2) word or speech as expressing, i.e. the feeling from the inside of the act of speech.

I like to make a distinction between the expression of God in all the spoken language as it appears out in the world, in religions, books, communications to others—sometimes attributed to God as Speaker to prophets or priests. And the notion of God, the unexpressed inner feeling of prophets, priests, and followers—sometimes attributed to God as Inspirer of minds and souls.

Spoken language only makes sense within a whole context, a common culture, a shared history. Religious language--including gods, spirits, sacred times and places--both shapes and is shaped by culture and history, which in turn provide the context in which specific words, doctrines, rites, and behaviors take meaning. Theology can study these meanings using linguistics, comparative languages, cultural anthropology, heuristics, and symbolic logic.

Theology also inquires into the notion of God, the feeling of sacredness, or the idea of the holy through phenomenology, psychology, cognitive science, and neuroscience. And theology attempts to work both these inquiries together in order to lead students of all fields and professions to affirm the meaning of life in the continual journey and search for transcendence of the ordinary. At least that is what good theology does as I will explain later.

In ancient tribes, forces of nature were personified as gods often residing beyond the earth where they made appearances. As civilizations grew, these gods were put in a hierarchy under one chief God who controlled nature and administered the state through its chosen ruler. In the Hebrew tradition, Yahweh developed from a dominant tribal power to the One and only God of all tribes and the Creator of the cosmos. Islam affirms this same belief in Allah which is the same One God of the Christians and Jews revealing Himself anew through Mohammed. The Christians to explain Jesus as the final revelation (Logos) of God affirmed three persons in One God. In medieval philosophy, the meaning of “person” changed from “mask,” “facet,” “role,” or “persona” of the One to a singular rational individual so orthodox Christians could have three distinct singular rational individuals in One God. In intellectual circles of Hinduism, many gods seem to be persons in the Greek sense of characters, masks, or faces of the Supreme God with various names in the dramas of the cosmos.

In all these religions, the gods are supernatural personal entitites usually appearing through paranormal experiences. These religions are not easily compatible with the modern scientific age since their beliefs are unprovable by scientific method. While a personal God or Gods might be proved by logical deduction, that proof does not constitute knowledge of the universe, i.e. all that there is.

Logic and mathematics assume undefined terms, constructed rules and starting points. They are tools of science. They are not scientific knowledge without empirical evidence subject to experiment and peer review. This exacerbates the conflict between faith and reason, religion and science, the sacred and the secular, the godfearing and the godless.

Besides the personal One, the many in One, and the three in One, religions have been discovered that have no personal god or no god at all. Taoism could be considered the two principles (yin and yang) in One. Manicheism and the Force in Star Wars might also be considered as having the two (good and evil) in One. And Buddhism might be understood as teaching the Nothing in One as the Way to bliss. And atheism might be estimated as denying a personal god, but affirming a sacred moment or time in life. Some moderns find these religions more compatible with their “new age.”

And yet, even though we may be passing beyond our ancient beliefs, medieval doctrines, and paranormal experiences of supernatural entities which we label as superstitions, we are a religious species even in our modern and transmodern ages. Even in the natural, we find ourselves yearning beyond what is now—our existing world and society and our very selves. Even in normal experience, we discover a thriving consciousness with a transcendent aim.  Even in secular humanism in our secular city, we approach the sacred.

That’s what new theology in a "world come of age" needs to talk about.  Because it is vital to human being and to our future.