What’s in a Name?: Is ‘God’ in Need of Upgrade or Obsoletion?

I must admit I’m certainly not one of the most original thinkers; a thinker? yes, original? probably not so much. I try to counter-act my apparent lack of originality by at least being well-read. I’m usually reading between 5-7 books simultaneously and I scour the Internet and social media for articles of interest with the hopes of happening upon an unseen connection that may spark a bit of inspiration.

In one of many meanderings into social media and forays into the world-wide-web of information I came across an article on Michael Dowd‘s website entitled, “God is Reality Personified, Not a Person.” A great title for sure and an intriguing read.
In the article Dowd’s primary thesis is simply this: “God is not a person; God is a mythic personification of reality…not an invisible friend or otherworldly entity.” Agreed! He goes on to specify that “ALL images and concepts of God are more or less meaningful interpretations and personifications.” Anthropologically speaking, this point simply can’t be overemphasized.
In this regard, Dowd highlights the fact that “we humans have always been in an inescapable relationship with a Reality that we could neither fully predict nor control.” Similarly, I do think the concept of ‘God’ was an important stepping stone in the evolution of humanity. At one time it was an idea that held an immense functionality (Prof. Lloyd Geering gives a wonderful talk on precisely this point, you can find it here). It served as what Ken Wilber might call a “Theory of Everything”. However, as Wilber explains a good theory of everything is “not fixed or final” but, rather is one “that has served its purpose if it helps you get to a better one” (xiii). In other words, ‘God’ functioned as a kind of a prehistoric/ancient innovative technology, and like most technologies, over time may have become outdated, outmoded, and obsolete. In this regard, I wonder if perhaps theologians, in their total reliance upon what they believe to be the necessary preservation of the ‘God’ hypothesis, are, in effect, trying to force dial-up to function optimally within a Broadband world.
It seems that many theologians and religious thinkers, whether liberal or conservative, radical, orthodox, or heterodox, weave such an elaborate, complex, and, an often contradictory tapestry in an effort to make the idea of ‘God” work, one cannot help but think to ask, “if it takes such an immense amount of effort and strain to justify a particular idea, perhaps the idea itself is fundamentally flawed?” Even though I have garnered much from various theological thinkers and many religious academic or intellectuals, I still wonder if ‘theology’ carries far too much baggage to be genuinely helpful and if ‘God’ is far too value-laden to be of use. Paul Van Buren goes so far as to suggest suggests that terms such as ‘theology’ and ‘God’ are “either meaningless or misleading.” Thus, the more I have ventured into the studies of history, human origins, language, ethology, ethnology, neurobiology, evolutionary psychology, and ecology, the more I think that Geering has a point, perhaps as he suggests ALL ‘talk’ regardless of what it is about cannot be anything other than ‘human talk’, and ‘theology’ is nothing other than anthropology (Geering, 3). (This is not to say, however, that I think that there are not paths to think beyond the ‘human’; see The Ecological ThoughtEcology Without NatureLarvel Subjects.)
It seems then, (although I may be mistakenly oversimplifying) that we have one of three options. Though I can’t say at this time which if any of the three are better or more helpful:
1) neologism  –  in this case that is re-naming ‘God’, inventing new words, phrases, concepts, or ideas to be used in place of ‘God’.  This seems to only offer more confusion rather than more clarity, as it would only be an elite or select few that would maintain any sense of familiarity. Here, I think of Caputo’s “Event”. This is a beautiful concept but, as a friend of mine astutely observed, “what everyday person hears the word ‘God’ and thinks of the event?”
2) re-appropriation – in other words, preserving the verbiage, rhetoric, and ‘name’ of ‘God’ while reformulating its contents and meaning. For example, another friend of mine takes the Paulinian idea, “God IS Love” quite literally, suggesting that whenever and wherever there is love, there is God. In his usage Love is God. Here, he simply uses “God” as a kind of symbolic place holder/synonym for love. While I can sympathize with this move to an extent and while I’m sure this re-appropriation works for him individually. I think it similarly succumbs to the same pitfalls of neologism. There seems to be a break down of practicality, praxis, and performance. We simply do not engage with “god” and “love” in interchangeable ways when observing the realm of everyday religious practice. Love is a verb, not a noun, personal or proper. Love is not and should not be an ‘object’ of devotion, worship, prayer, veneration, or observance. Love is an action, it is enacted, it is performative. (But, in this idea’s defense, perhaps, ‘God’ needs to go through a re-verbing process.)
Dowd, too, alludes to a kind re-appropriation in his article:
[W]e see an enigmatic power operative in our everyday lives, giving us our life and all good gifts yet also limiting us in nearly every conceivable way, and finally taking our lives away. This is real life! This is reality as it really is, whether or not we like it. There can be no argument whether or not this reality exists. If you don’t want to call it a power, call it a force, an up-against-ness, or simply the universe as it really is. As Bultmann points out in his essay, we are not talking about some metaphysical idea here. We are talking about an unavoidable actuality. Words may fail us, but we all know this reality intimately, personally.

Here, Dowd says that “For me to look into the awe-filling fullness of life and pronounce the name “God” means a commitment of my life to reality-based living…Reality is my God, evidence is my scripture, and integrity (living in right relationship with reality and helping others do the same) is my religion.” Yet, Dowd, when quoting Rudolf Bultmann. poses what I think is an important question to consider: “Why call this mysterious power ‘God’? Why give the enigma, the mystery that drives us this way and that and hedges us in, any other name but ‘the enigma’, or ‘fate’?” These are questions I have constantly asked myself when it comes to ‘God’. Perhaps, we should simply let our yes be yes and our no be no, in other words, perhaps, we should simply let ‘Love’ be love, let love stand on its own two feet, unmasked and unfettered. Why can’t we simply let the enigma be the enigma and let mystery be mystery? Are these not strong enough ideas and words on their own? Or am I being hypocritical here? Elsewhere I have written about how much I admire the philosophical use of language, that is, the way in which philosophy dramatical alters the meaning, significance, and content of common place everyday language in ways that are then anything but ordinary.

Finally…
3) rejection/abandonment – letting go of ‘God’, disengaging from its usage, dismissing its utilization, and declining its employment. Many credible thinkers that are steeped in theology suggest just such a route (Geering, Cupitt, etc.). This needn’t be an antagonistic maneuver. It can be reverent as it can recognize that these ‘theorizations’ have been useful in the past but, they have served their purpose.
 As a committed non-theist/atheist I must confess that I greatly lean towards rejection and abandonment, as I have no use spiritual or transcendent aspects of ‘God’ but, as an equally committed academic student of religion I still recognize that there is a kind of ‘power’ and magnanimity in the word and concept of ‘God’, especially in its ability to encapsulate and evoke that which is of ultimate concern.  I cannot say with any absolute certainty that complete rejection is actually the best way forward. I am simply unsure. Consider the immense immanence, materiality, and earthenness found in the following passage by Zen Buddhist priest Brad Warner from his book Hardcore Zen:
 
Everything is sacred. Every blade of grass, every cockroach, every speck of dust, every flower, every pool of mud outside a graffiti-splattered warehouse is God. Everything is a worthy object of worship…Truth announces itself when you kick away a discarded bottle of Colt 45 Malt Liquor. Truth rains on you from the sky above, and God forms in puddles at your feet. You eat God and excrete truth four hours later. Take a whiff—what a lovely fragrance the truth has! Truth is reality itself. God is reality itself. Enlightenment, by the way, is reality itself. And here it is.

Do we replace the word ‘God’? Do we invent whole new trajectories of ‘God’ language? Do we maintain its usage, its structure, and completely overhaul, renovate, and remodel its interior content? Or do we simply walk away, tip our hats, count our losses, and make for the exits, discarding the verbiage by the wayside as mile marker monument to where we have been and how far we have come as a species and culture? I don’t know…

What’s in a name? But, more importantly, where do we go from here?
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Love and the Will to Power: Between Nietzsche and Jung

Carl Jung writes, though I have been unable to locate precisely where, that “Where love rules, there is no will to power, and where power predominates, love is lacking.” It is immensely difficult for any interpreter to attempt to accurately convey the hermeneutical or exegetical meaning of an isolated passage that has been ripped from its full context. Endeavors to do so are far more likely to be examples of eisegesis, positing one’s own meaning into or upon the text, rather than an actual example of exegesis, that is, a “critical interpretation” of the text (Merriam-Webster, my emphasis added). This is not to say that each and every act of ‘interpretation’ is utterly objective, unbiased, and free of agenda and personal view. Indeed, every exegetical escapade contains within it the seed or kernel of eisegesis. This is to say that when one seeks to interpret the thought permeating behind a single passage outside of its context, one’s interpretive and hermeneutical resources are limited almost only to one’s subjectively biased view of its meaning. So it is that this paper proceeds with caution, hesitancy, and trepidation at the analysis of Jung’s statement. This paper must advance in a manner that is phenomenlogically provisional. It will progress as-if it’s current understanding of Jung’s quote is correct. In this regard, the thesis of this paper surmises to show that what Nietzsche and Jung each respectively mean by ‘power’ is diametrically opposed.

Jung seems to be suggesting that love and power are absolutely antithetical forces, polar opposites, and ends that can never meet. The acceptance of one is immediately and necessarily the rejection, the negation, and the subversion of the other. To love is to forego power and to attain power is to vanquish love. Here, Jung seems to equate ‘power’ with domination, specifically the domination of another. This is the active subordination of another into the position of subservience, i.e. a master and a slave. Jung implies that this is the “will to power”. Yet, is this what Nietzsche has in mind when he speaks of power? Is this the kind of power that is being sought at the heart of Nietzsche’s Will to Power? Is love nothing more than powerlessness? Is power only representative of dominion? This essay aims to show that Jung’s interpretation of the ‘will to power’ could not be more of a misinterpretation.

Nietzsche’s work is unavoidably shrouded in mystery, ambivalence, and ambiguity. Travis Elborough states plainly that Nietzsche’s writing “resists literal readings” (7). As such, his thought is marked by an elusive impenetrability. His meaning and aims will not be found at the surface. One must probe deeply, beyond the appearance or the peripheral understanding of the words themselves. A cursory reading will simply not do.

Many have interpreted Nietzsche’s Will to Power as being congruent with what Jung alludes to as the will to dominate. This seems especially so in that Nietzsche seems to propose that what gives apt expression to the Will to Power is found within his categorizations of Master and Slave Morality. Although this would appear to give testimony to Nietzsche’s supposed adherence to a suppressive supremacy and although it is a common conception to view Nietzsche’s Will to Power as a kind of tyrannical oppression, it is above all a common mis-conception. So what is it that Nietzsche means by Will to Power? What does he mean by Master and Slave morality? How do these conceptions diverge from what Jung implies? To understand this more lucidly one must turn to what is in entailed within Nietzsche’s propositions of Master and Slave morality.

It seems obvious that Master morality is indicative of “the powerful and strong willed” (Oaklander, 85). It also seems to go without saying that Slave morality is representative of “those people who are weak willed, uncertain of themselves, oppressed, and abused” (85). While such an understanding is easily discernible what seems less obvious is what exactly the ‘master’ has mastered and what the enslaved is enslaved to. While the natural conclusion or assumption would be that the master is master over a slave and that a slave is enslaved to a master, and although this would seem to be the relationship Jung is describing, this would not be entirely conducive to what Nietzsche is aiming towards.

In Nietzsche’s mind a master is not necessarily the master of a slave and a slave is not necessarily one who is enslaved or subservient to a master. Nietzsche’s classifications are not representing a socioeconomic framework but rather the orientation of a psychological internality. In this regard, one need not be a master of a slave to exhibit master morality and one need not be a slave to someone to demonstrate slave morality. A captive can be the epitome of master morality and a lord can all too easily exemplify slave morality. In fact, Nietzsche would specify that one whose status as a master defined only by one’s dominance over another is not actually a master, as this would actually be an indication of weakness rather than power. In this scenario the master is truly a slave to the slave. Here, the master’s ‘power’ is absolutely externalized and completely contingent upon the presence of the slave. The slave is the necessary predicate of not only the master’s power but, also the master’s standing as a master. This kind of power is nothing more than a disguised impotency lusting after power through the use of control, manipulation, and resentment. Nietzsche himself writes that “the state in which we hurt others…is a sign that we are still lacking power” (108). This would then be slave morality.

L. Nathan Oaklander explains that “The strong willed are those who have the strength to chart their own course, create their own values, and live in accordance with them” (85). A master is a creative force, one who is ultimately “value-creating” and one who has the ‘powerful’ determination to direct their lives in a manner consistent with the values they have created (Nietzsche, 115). Master morality is the full acceptance of one’s responsibility for their existence as an individual. A true master is marked by their ability to ‘conquer’ themselves, to transcend themselves, to determine themselves, to master themselves (Hayman, 35). This is the master’s Will to Power, “a will to perfection, a striving for distinction” (Oaklander, 82).

In this regard, the slave is the antithesis of the master. The slave is one who lacks self-mastery and the strength of will to be creative and self-determinative. The slave is enslaved to normativity, convention, society, tradition, conformity, and mediocrity. The slave lives in complete compliance to external dictates, resenting those who have striven for excellence and attained freedom. The slave exercises their will to power through implicit domination and forced coercion, vilifying those who have achieved power and individuality and branding them as ‘evil’ (Oaklander, 86). This, then, is an “inversion” of the Will to Power, which “directs one’s view outward instead of back to oneself” (Nietzsche, 117). This is not an expression of true power but, only the desirous drive for the feeling of power which arises from an impotent lack of power. In this sense, it is true that “where [this kind of] power predominates, love is lacking”.

But, what does all this have to do with love? What does it say about the compatibility of love and the Will to Power? Love is a dangerous endeavor. Love, as an event, entails a “radical break with the existing state of affairs” (Van Onzen). Love is marked by risk. Alain Badiou explains that “love involves a separation or disjuncture based on the simple difference between the two people and their infinite subjectivities” (27). Love, too, itself, is a ‘value-creating’ force. Love requires a “commitment to create something unique that does not rely on…social conventions” and persevering determination to live in accordance with what has been created (Van Onzen). Love is not for the faint of heart but, the strong-willed, those who have the strength to be self-transcendent. Perhaps, then, not only can love exist alongside the Will to Power; perhaps love is the Will to Power.

There may be many who will see the proposals of this paper as obtuse and incoherent. Some may suggest that the thesis here within grossly and inaccurately misinterprets not only Nietzsche and Jung but, also Love and the Will to Power. This is certainly plausible as the writer of this essay is neither a Nietzschean scholar nor a Jungian scholar. This written work may be little more than the personal view of the author’s subjective bias. This writing took place without the proper context of Jung’s citation and remains primarily unlearned of the entirety of Nietzsche’s corpus. However, what this paper has demonstrated is that the reading of Nietzsche’s Will to Power as presented here is readily available within Nietzsche’s work and within the work of Nietzsche’s most adherent interpreters.

As far as Jung is concerned, this writer cannot counter the objection that the quote presented is taken out of context. It is true that it is. However, in this point some may still persist that there is nothing but incongruence between love and power. The simple rebuttal that this author can offer is the brute fact that love is, in fact, a ‘powerful’ force. This is undeniably seen throughout the pages of history. Jesus, Gandhi, Buddha, Martin Luther King Jr., self-empowered, strong-willed self-determined people, marked by self-mastery who through great acts of love had the power to impact the world. They are individuals who have not only directed themselves but, who directed the course of history itself. These are people of supreme courage, able to transcend themselves, overcoming and withstanding the abusive violence of societal norms and conventions, carving out and creating whole new ways of understanding what it means to be human. These figures demonstrate that love is an unstoppable force to be reckoned with. They reveal that it takes great power to bear the weighted risk of love and there is great power gained in taking the risk of loving.

Nietzsche’s master morality enables one to see that within the Will to Power there is the active creation of strength, excellence, determination, and value, as well as the commitment, responsibility, and courage to live in alignment with the constructions of one’s creation. In this regard, contrary to what Jung seems to suggest, the Will to Power does not close out the possibility of love but, rather widely throws open the doors to welcome love in. Love is power. Where love rules, there is the true Will to Power, and where this power predominates, love is never lacking.

Works Cited

Badiou, Alain. In Praise of Love. New York: Serpent’s Tail, 2012. Print.

Elborough, Travis. The Pocket Essential Nietzsche. North Promfret: Trafalgar Square Publishing, 2001. Print.

“exegesis.” Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster, 2013. Web. 8 Oct. 2013.

Hayman, Ronald. Nietzsche. New York: Routledge, 1999. Print.

Oaklander, L. Nathan. Existentialist Philosophy: An Introduction, 2nd ed. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall. Print.

Nietzsche, Friedrich Wilhelm. From Beyond Good and Evil. In Existentialist Philosophy: An Introduction, 2nd ed. Ed. L. Nathan Oaklander. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall. 115-116. Print.

Nietzsche, Friedrich Wilhelm. From On the Genealogy of Morals. In Existentialist Philosophy: An Introduction, 2nd ed. Ed. L. Nathan Oaklander. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall. 117-121. Print.

Van Onzen, Fabian. Review of In Praise of Love. Marx & Philosophy Review of Books. Marx & Philosophy Society, 2012. Web. 8 Oct. 2013.

A Few Further Notes on Rob Bell ‘After Magic’

A few days ago I wrote a post entitled “Rob Bell After Magic.” The focus of the piece wasn’t so much upon Bell himself but, rather upon exemplifying what I found to be some of the most profound and powerful ideas within Kester Brewin’s latest book After Magic. To re-cap the book examines several key culturally recognizable films and works of literature to draw attention to the move ‘beyond-magic’. That is, each of the stories synchronistically display the protagonist laying down ‘magic’, rejecting and abandoning ‘super-nature’ in order to bring about a resolution that breaks the addictive cycle of power and violence, there-by strengthening the bonds and ties to humanity itself.

Rob Bell has recently spoken out in regards to his affirmative support of  marriage equality. This story has certainly been making the rounds on news sites and the blogosphere. While, I normally try to avoid jumping on these kind of topical band wagons, after reading Brewin’s book I couldn’t help but see an illustration of Brewin’s theme within Bell’s statements.
When Bell was asked to convey his thoughts on whether the Christian knowledge of “Truth” has ultimacy, Bell had this to say:
“I would say that the powerful, revolutionary thing about Jesus’ message is that he says, ‘What do you do with the people that aren’t like you? What do you do with the Other? What do you do with the person that’s hardest to love?’ . . . That’s the measure of a good religion, is – you can love the people who are just like you; that’s kind of easy. So what Jesus does is takes the question and talks about fruit. He’s interested in what you actually produce. And that’s a different discussion. How do we love the people in the world that are least like us?”

This seems to illustrate another key point made in Brewin’s After MagicBrewin writes that “The love we see ‘after magic’ is a love that prefers others to the self.” After magic “ultimacy” is not known or given to ‘Truth’ in and of itself. The Ultimacy of ‘Truth’ is only known in the ‘Truth’ of the other. The other is the only ultimate truth which  we must know. This represents a dramatic within the sphere of religion. When religion moves beyond ‘super-nature’, as Brewin proposes, “in place of the sermon on ‘how should you live?’ escaping from under the demand to worship and defer to commandments of super-nature, faith ‘after magic’ asks simply this: ‘how should you love?’” Yet, this ‘love’ that finds expression within religion after magic and beyond super-nature is not to be confused for romance, sentimentality, charity, or simple compassion. This would be an objectivization of the other, in effect, a transformation of the ‘other’ into another ‘Big Other,’ a new ‘magical’ fixation, a ‘super-naturalizing’ of the other. This prevents one from actually engaging and encountering the other. Perhaps, ‘love’ after-magic entails a kind of reflexive subjectivization, a cold naivety, a cruel ethicality, and an utter confrontation of ugliness and monstrosity. Perhaps, ‘love’ after-magic is a call to love dangerously…

Dialogues of a Christian Atheist, pt.2

A few weeks ago I posted a blog entry titled “I Don’t Believe in God but, I Take Jesus Seriously,” and a few of my close friends were kind enough to push back on some of the ideas expressed there in. This is quite possibly one of the most beneficent attributes of dialogic relationships with those  who are of divergent views and perspectives. Rev. Scott Elliott, who is the pastor of Riviera United Church of Christ and the host of A God Vlog, is one such friend. He offers engaging conversation that is both probing and never content to simply allow my notions to hang in the air unquestioned. This often forces me to chase down my own thoughts further than I may have initially been prepared to. I’d to think that is reciprocal, that my own suggestions push him out of his comfort zone but, his arguments are often far more conducive then those I present. Thus, in this post below and the next few that will follow will consist of some of his thoughts in response to the aforementioned blog entry and my follow up to his appraisals. Enjoy!

Rev. Elliott: I have yet to find a way to satisfactorily convey my conviction that this love siren and loving way we are drawn to can also –if we want or choose–safely, sanely, rationally be named God. This experience of being we are in has that siren you/we hear in it, and if we go to where it is beckoning we end up loving. We don’t have to call it God; we can believe it is not God. It only matters because it means (aside from semanitics) that we are on the same page, love is the point. And love by any other name is still love. (Or as this theologian spins it, if God is experienced as love –a very Biblically sound claim– then love by any other name is still God).

 Hmmm I still didn’t get it right, but, this all depends on what the definition of God is. I’m assuming that the “God” you do not believe in, is something other than love.

Response:  I can’t confess to have the capacity to conducively convey my thoughts on this subject in a satisfying manner either. Perhaps, in some regards, it is a question of semantics. For me, the “word,” as well s the concept, “God” is problematic. It seems that in many ways, “God,” is a void of meaning word. Paul Van Buren said that the word God itself is “either meaningless or misleading.” Van Buren goes on to say that “we cannot identify anything which will count for or against the truth of our statements concerning God.”

Its here that the word operatively falls into utter subjectivity, it is filled with our own contents, meaning that “God” has meant something different to everyone. As such, Merold Westphal has said, “I’ve never prayed to a God that wasn’t an idol.” In this regard what i garner from atheism is its ability to act as a critical examination, objection, and perhaps even a rejection of all our conception of deity.

To say it another way, any God that I can conceive of is immediately a God hat should be denied or disavowed, as it is ultimately of my own construction.

Perhaps, too, it is a question of “presence” versus “absence.” Given my previous religious upbringing the “presence” of God was the most emphasized aspect of religious worship, practice, and experience. Perhaps, then, an over-exposure to the emphasization and stimulation to this heightened idea or presence is numbing. Thus, what I find more resonant is absence, not the absence of the experience of God but rather the experience of the absence of God.

For me it seems that the imperative call to the “Song” of love beckons more urgently and sings more resoundingly in the absence.

Rev. Elliott: And yet we cannot deny we HEAR that siren call to “LOVE” and feel lured, compelled and on a quest to answer it. Which is a close to truth and identifying as as we can get. Idolizing Love is all that matters. And that I cannot deny or disavow –and empirically it seems to not be of my own construction (though I have certainly dinged, dented and re-painted it on my own, but it still runs).

Response: I would whole heartedly agree that the “idolization of love” ( I Love that by the way) is most central. It is compelling above all else. Here we are precisely on the same page, where we diverge perhaps is that I am content simply with “love,” this is a word powerful enough, that doesn’t necessarily need to be renamed. I love that you said “if we choose to” we can call it God, I can willingly admit that I “choose” to just let love be love and let love be enough.

Dialogues of a Christian Atheist, pt.1

Last week I released a post entitled “I Don’t Believe in God but, I Take Jesus Seriously.” This entry managed to stir quite a bit of dialogue, discussion, and debate between myself and a few close friends. It was nice to know that something I wrote helped to solicit and foster such an engaging discourse. As a result I thought it might be beneficial to share several portions of this conversation. Feel free to interject.

I should also preface what follows by saying that I am in no way philosophically or theologically learned enough to significantly, meaningfully, or effectively participate in the argumentation of such a rich and complex subject, so feel free to disagree and throw away anything I have to say. Nearly 80% of what I say is 95% bullshit 50% of the time. (Did I mention math really isn’t my strong suit either?)

Directly below you’ll find the comments of one of my friends to the aforementioned post, after which will be my response. Enjoy!

 Isn’t the fact of accepting the concept of a incomprehensible God still a construct of your imagination and hence putting you into the same dilemma? Seems like a paradox to me. Could it be more that we were created to look upon him with our own imaginations so that we might learn how much bigger he is than we can conceive and hence realize the magnitude and vastness of the eternal form? (God) my 2 cents…

Yes and no.To start, the idea that you present in your concluding remarks does not evade the paradoxical either, but falls neatly inside as a further example. Steeped within the very rhetoric of your expression is found the very traditional image of a creative Male/Patriarchal, omnipotent, supernatural being that has imbued humanity with wonder and imagination. This is just as much a cognitive construction as any other.

Thus, to be free of paradox is an unattainable objective. One could say that existence itself is an entangled mesh of contradiction, paradox, and that which is often found to be counter-intuitive. Paradox is inescapable. Also, in many ways the reconciliation or resolution of paradox is phenomenologically and existentially irrelevant, i.e. often it has little to no bearing in one’s lived experience of the world.

Too, I’m not sure that I’m “accepting” the concept of an incomprehensible God.What I am suggesting is not a critique of “a” conception but, a critical objection to “all” conceptions, as such that no conception is free of subjective construction. To quote Paul Van Buren once again, the word God itself is either “meaningless or misleading.” I’m not rejecting a particular idea of God but the idea of God itself. Nor am I proposing that God is utterly inconceivable of infinitely beyond conception. I’m suggesting that perhaps “God” simply isn’t there.

This is not to caste conceptions of God in a harsh light. I am not saying that one should be required to abandon their ideas of God (as would a Dawkins or a Hitchens). What I am asking for is the acknowledgement that there is no conception of the divine that is not personally posited. There is no God that “exists” (for lack of better word) that was not brought into existence by those who believe that God exists. Perhaps, then, a more accurate rendering of the opening lines of Genesis should read, “In the beginning, when man created God…”

To be clear, however, this should not be read as an attack. I’m not opposing theism. I’m not opposing religion. I don’t believe in God and here I am very intentional in my use of the word “believe.” It is just that, a belief, and one that I choose to lend ascent to in the way that a theist would “choose” to believe in God. It is a decisive move. I choose this path of “rejection” for much the same reasons that “believer” would choose affirmation. It is existentially provisional. It instills something ( I use this word loosely) within my being that is transformative to both my material reality and my engagement with the world. I am compelled to love more deeply, called to a more critical concern, if my hands are the only means by which love enters the world.

My stance is ultimately one of utility and pragmatism, as all such beliefs are. I am concerned with functionality. If holding a conception God lures one to love, then I will stand in affirmation of that system of belief. If it takes there being a “God” for one to love their neighbor as themselves then I will abide in solidarity that person’s belief. If a six day creation and a literal, infallible, and inspired “Word of God” causes one to love their enemy, to feed the hungry, to cloth the naked, and to stand with the orphan, the widow and the stranger, then by all means cling to that but, do so with an open hand and a humble heart. For me, however, the absence of the Big Other is more alluring action. To fill the void left by the absence of the divine compels me to a deeper place of calling more so than the “presence” of any idea of deity ever could.

Perhaps tomorrow I will awaken to a renewed sense of imbibed theism. Perhaps years from now I will look upon these writings as the confused ramblings of a mixed up kid and as the confessions of a damaged mind but, for now, if I am honest with myself, with those whom I love and care for, and with those who love and care for me, this is a space in which I feel I MUST dwell, if for nothing else than for a season.

Is Religion Part of the Problem?

The second entry in the Merriam-Webster online dictionary (2011) defines religion as “a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices.” While this is certainly a concise, applicable, and usable definition of religion, and though it is seemingly conducive to how the text has sought surmise the basic description and functionality of the religious framework, there are, indeed, subtle and nuanced differences that are cause for a greater divergence.

R.L. Johnstone (2007), in the book Religion in Society: A Sociology of Religion, defines religion as “a set of beliefs and rituals by which a group of people seeks to understand, explain, and deal with a world of complexity, uncertainty, and mystery, by identifying a sacred canopy of explanation and reassurance under which to live” (p. 14). Though this defining statement is much more unpacked, drawn out, and detailed, the two working definitions as presented by that of Johnstone and Merriam-Webster do bear many intrinsic commonalities and one could conclude that they are each explicitly similar. However, upon a closer examination, one will have revealed and realized what this observer believes to be at least one dramatic difference that seems to be ripe with implications.

Merriam-Webster begins by asserting the “personal” orientation of this “institutionalized system.” This emphasizes what is believed to be or what is seen as a highly individualized set of “attitudes, beliefs, and practices.” This definition has the person as center and as its starting point. The individual and personal nature of religion is at the heart of this proposal, highlighting only the individual activities. Also, this definition then seems to simultaneously contain a contradiction, in that how can an institution and or a system be ultimately defines as personal. While participation of the individual religious observant is an integral component to the operation of the institute, it seems antithetical to postulate that religion as a whole and at its most basic of levels is altogether personal.

Johnstone is then quick to retort by underlining the communal base as primary for the religious systemization.  This is decidedly a group effort and a shared experience. This does seem to be the more logical of the two arguments, as a collective comprisal would present a substantiated progression towards and an inundation of the institutionalization of a religious ordering of belief and practice. Yet, while this view does explain and give light to the standardization of the group, the definition seems to be asocial in the greater surrounding context of the religion. This definitive phrasing, taken on its own, does seem to suggest that although it may recognize the religious event as a social system, it alludes to a detachment from society. Although religious sects can and have withdrawn from the greater society, this does not free them from its effects.

This is what I find to be so intriguing in regards to the theories of Georg Simmel. Simmel underscored the influence that society has upon religious institutions.  Johnstone (2007) writes of Simmel’s thoughts, “Many feelings and patterns of expression commonly termed ‘religious’ are also…basic ingredients of social interaction in general” (p. 30). He goes on to say that “the models for many, if not all, religious sentiments, expressions, and beliefs, reside originally in society at large” (p. 30). This theory supposes that rather than society forming around a religion, religion, contrarily, forms around society. Just as Jean-Paul Sartre once suggested that existence precedes essence, likewise Simmel proposed that “society precedes religion” (Johnstone, 2007, p. 30). Thus, making clear that “Before religion can develop, there must first exist general patterns of social interaction – that is, a society – that can serve as a model” (p. 30). If this is true then all the efforts of religious communities to revitalize the faith, to renew its fervor, or to make it more relevant is itself, a misguided and ineffectual endeavor as it still does not address the root of the problem but only a manifestation. This treats only the symptoms while never actually attacking the virus. If we are asking why our religious institutions are failing it is surely because we have ignored the depravity lurking beyond the doors or our churches, choosing only to concentrate on internal conductions. Thus, until the religious communities abandon their temples and evacuate their houses of worship and take up active residence in the world of this earth, seeking  to dismantle and deconstruct the sociological fabrications of Western culture, socially, politically, economically, and philosophically. We must serve the “least of these.” We must clothe the naked, feed the hungry, visit those in need, not in an effort increase numbers, or as an implicit humanitarian marketing campaign, and not even as the fulfillment of some arbitrary moral imperative delivered from the pulpit or from the misinterpreted pages of a book that we have stripped of its political subversiveness, but, because the face of the other is the face of God. Until we can replace and rebuild the dilapidated frames of our culture and our society our religious institutions will forever be found in ruin.

The Economy of Justice…

In his book, T.A.Z., Hakim Bey describes the functionality of the strategic socio-political creation of temporary zones or spaces which defy all formalized and authoritative structuring. Bey calls these spaces, “Temporary Autonomous Zones,” or T.A.Z. for short. Here he suggests that the most effective way to create social relationships free from the influence of hierarchal systems is to concentrate on both the present moment and the relinquishment of one’s mind from the impositions of mechanized control.

I think this is precisely what we see in the Occupy Wall Street protest, and there may be no better place to create such a space. The critics of this protest have critiqued the event based upon the protestor’s lack of focus i.e. there is no set of standardized, unified, or identifiable demands being presented by those protesting. Yet, in many ways that is exactly the point and is the principle of its power. Its lack of definition is possibly its greatest strength in that it is the opposition of the facelessness of a systemic and systematic rigidity. The protestors are united by desire rather than demand. Peter Rollins said that “the point is not that you know what to do, the point is that you should do something.” This is what is being played out. It is the enactment of creative potentiality that is truly empowering.

In the same manner, Cornel West spoke of the Occupy Wall Street protest, “It’s impossible to translate the issue of the greed of Wall Street into one demand, or two demands. We’re talking about a democratic awakening.” I think he’s absolutely right. This is not only the democratization of the philanthropic but also, in some ways, the democratization of the prophetic tradition. Not ‘prophetic’ in the Pentecostalist capacity but, in the Judeo lineage of social criticism i.e. the Hebrew prophets who were unafraid to speak against priest and king. This is the tradition that Jesus himself was firmly rooted within. In this present form it is being transformed into a communal event. The sound resonating from the side walk is a harmonious ensemble desiring mercy and not sacrifice, longing for sentient sensitivity over systemization. The purpose is to create tension rather than resolution, to present questions rather than answers, to give criticism and critique rather than offer arbitrary solutions, and to call for return.

Aristotle asserted that human species is, in essence, homo politicus, that essentially a political being. Marx made a similar summation, suggesting that mankind is homo econmicus, an economic being. Wall Street is certainly a monument to both these proposed facets of human identity. Yet, what is being performed in the face of the brick and mortar edifice of the political/economic institution is far more organic, agrarian, and egalitarian. Perhaps, we should realize that first, foremost, and primarily homo ecologicus, that is, ultimately, an ecological being, created from the dust of the earth. There is a median in the center of the road at the traffic light where Robert J. Conlan meets US1. I pass it every morning on my way to work and I am enamored by it. It demonstrates the persistence and perseverance of nature finding a way when there seems to be no way, even when the way is blocked because there we find grass and wild flowers growing through the cracks and crannies of the pavement, breaching the barriers, protruding defiantly, reaching for daylight, and taking over the surface of the curb, ever surviving. This is what we see happening in the Occupy Wall Street protest, man rising; pushing through every crevice of Wall Street’s concretizations, refusing to be inhibited, claustrophobic from the steel girders of an unforgiving frame. The message is then the reiteration, “man shall not live by bread alone.” Humankind cannot ultimately be sustained by the unholy union of natural provisions and mechanized production, scorched by the fires of industry. Instead we shall live by “every word that proceeds from the mouth of God,” that is the divine logos, the numinous lurking throughout every aspect of the created order that has been since the beginning, the logos that was with God and the logos that was God, the divine energy of the universe. This is the word that spoke life and creation into being, the word that created in the image of the numinous, and the word that breathed into the nostrils of mankind, filling both lungs and imagination.

Perhaps this is what it looks like and what it sounds like when the rocks cry out, when the mountains tremble, when the hills break into song, and when the trees clap their hands. Mark Twain wrote that “Forgiveness is the fragrance the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it. I think this relates quite well to what is taking place upon the streets of the protest. This is not the sign of vengeance or retribution, but nor is it passivity. These are the lilies and violets of the field tread upon, broken under the weight of our own structures, perfuming the cold sterility of an arid landscape with the call for justice.

In her poem, “KitchenetteBuilding,” Gwendolyn Brooks asks to poignant and pertinent questions. “Could a dream rise up through onion fumes and yesterday’s garbage ripening in the halls?” And more importantly, “would we let it in?”