What’s the Difference Between God, the Devil, and a President?

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In two words….Absolutely Nothing!

All are fictious offices/positions of illusory and ineffectual power, each perpetuated to create a false sense of cosmic/social stability and order.

In the event that something goes right, we have someone to thank, praise, and worship.

In times of crisis, cautastrophe, distress, trauma, and turmoil, we have someone to blame and villainize or vilify.

In each case we are blindly reinquishing the responsibility of our collective ‘destinies’ to a symbolic marionette being puppeted by far more nefariously malevolent forces…

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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?

Is Saturday Forgotten on Sunday?

 

Holy Saturday is too often passed over far too quickly on the way to resurrection Sunday. It is a day that fully inhabits the death of God, a day that is utterly saturated with complete and total absence of the divine. If the cry from the cross marks the kenotic self-emptying moment in which God himself becomes an atheist and then dies, then Holy Saturday marks the fullness and completeness of radical theology as it wholly embraces the loss of God and the negation of totality. It is the radical theological tradition that is most devotedly and adamantly true to originality and unaltered ending of the Markan gospel. Mark’s gospel in its original form does not contain an account of resurrection but, rather ends abruptly at verse 8 of chapter 16 with the discovery of an empty tomb and Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome fleeing in fright.  Sightings and appearances of the resurrected Christ, the Comissioning of the disciples, and the ascension are all later editions and have no true home in the gospel of Mark. This is a gosepl most wholly adhered to by radical theology; a gospel that does not find its culmination in Resurrection, nor is it fulfilled amidst the rapturous ecstatic light of Ascension. Radicality of Mark’s text is instead its fulfillment in a fracturus and fragmented ending that witnesses only terror, fear, emptiness and absence.
Thomas J. J. Altizer writes that:

“Only Christianity among the world religions enacts the fullness and the finality of a truly actual death, a death that is an ultimate death, and a death that is inseparable from what Christianity knows as an absolute fall.”

Here, we must recognize, as Altizer states, that “the proclamation of the death of God is a Christian confession of faith, and a uniquely Christian faith in the ultimacy of the Crucifixion.”

But,  this loss,  this negation,  the ultimate death of God still does not go far enough for all this is found present within Good Friday. Holy Saturday is not only the dialectical destruction of the divine, it is at once a much stronger,  more foreboding, and a more menacingly traumatic event. It marks the actualized descent into hell. This is incarnational theology at its fullest. This is the incarnate followed through to its absolute end. For a fully realized incarnation cannot simply stop at the descent to earth, the descent to humanity, or even the descent into death but,  must ultimately and fully descend into hell. Here God is not only dead but damned.

Altizer writes that “if Jesus is the name of Incarnation, and of a once and for all and absolutely unique incarnation, that incarnation finally realizes itself as absolute death, and only that death makes possible or actualizes a uniquely Christian resurrection.” The centrality of this move within Holy Saturday is key to a proper understanding of resurrection Sunday. This must be the lenses through which resurrection is seen otherwise it not only improperly framed but mistaken, misconstrued, misinterpreted, misread, and incomplete. “[T]he deepest negation embodies the deepest affirmation, or the deepest death is ultimately the deepest life, or the deepest darkness finally the most ecstatic light (Altizer, 56).

Altizer concludes clearly:

“Christianity knows an absolute death as the one and only source of redemption, proclaiming that Christ’s death inaugurated the new creation, and all humanity is now called to participate in this death as the way of salvation. Death, it is true, is a universal way of ultimate transformation, but only in Christianity is redemptive death an actual and historical death, and only in those worlds that have come under the impact of Christianity can we discover records of a full and concrete experience of the factuality and finality of death”

The truest possible form of a total resurrection, that is, a resurrection of any deep actual meaning or abiding operative significance, can only come about as a consequence of this absolutely dialectical death.
“Only the most ultimate and absolute negation can realize that apocalyptic totality, but this negation is a self-negation or a  self-emptying, and only thereby can it make possible an absolutely new totality. Only this totality is a truly resurrected body, so here the resurrected body is a resurrected totality, and a resurrected body only possible as a consequence of an absolute self-emptying”(Altizer, 60).

This is resurrection. This is the importance of Easter Sunday. A wholly new totality emerging, resurrecting from the absolute death of the Godhead plunged into the very depths of Hell. Sunday morning is only seen clearly from vantage and scope of Saturday night.

Altizer, Thomas J.J., New Gospel of Christian Atheism. Aurora: The Davies Group Publishers, 2002. Print

Here’s a great post a read not too long ago from one of the blogs I follow called “Living the Kingdom.” This was a striking piece for me as it seemed to hit very close to home and greatly mirrors not only much of my own thoughts and feelings on the subject of religious institutions and particularly Christianity but, is also very similar to the writings and reflections of my own work, especially in pieces I’ve written such as such as “Religionless?” and “Authentic Christianity?” both of which are written as polemical reflections of the origins and current state of Christianity. Also, on similar grounds are two posts I wrote regarding the observance of Pentecost in the Christian liturgical calender, where I seek to sketch out historical degradation of the degradation of the early Christian movement.  You can find them here and here. Enjoy!

Living the Kingdom

Being a good Christian sounds nice.  But to me, it  is trying to feed the ego so that I can feel better about myself.  It is trying to build up churches, ministries, fellowship, etc. in order to serve the self.  It is worshiping pastors, doctrines, denominations, and convenient interpretation of Bible verses, not serving others like Jesus taught us.  It is not even about Jesus or God, it is simply about the self.

Being a good Christian is  looking for “salvation,” waiting to go “up there” in heaven, or hoping to have some miraculous revelation from God.  Not being a good Christian, on the other hand, would be to stop looking, and simply being.  It means to stop following the church, and start following Jesus.  Now, my personal experience of being is to embrace what I have learned is good and practice it everyday.  It is not to do what…

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Frodo, the Ring, and Religion…

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As I’ve been playing catch up reading some of my favorite blogs, which i am still horribly behind on (my apologies to those bloggers whom I follow), I’ve happened across a few that have been striking. One such post was from what is becoming one of my favorite blogs, Recovering Agnostic. The post was titled “Loss of Faith as Modeled in Lord of the Rings.” In this post there is, what I think is a clever analogy at work. In this writing the author seeks draw a comparison between a few of the various fortresses featured in the Lord of the Rings saga and how the way in which the defenses of each are penetrated is representative of the various methods and mechanisms in which one experiences the loss of faith. Helm’s Deep with its multi-tiered walls is likened to the slow and gradual slide from a conservative faith, to a liberal faith, culminating finally in a faith lost. Similarly, Mount Doom, with only a single heavily fortified line of defense, which when penetrated falls almost immediately, is symbolic of an abrupt and radical shift from firm faith to absolute atheism. It’s an interesting post that I recommend you read.

This whole idea sparked a few thoughts of my own and I could not help but comment upon the post. I though it also might be good to share them with you all here. Below you’ll find my remarks. I hope you’ll enjoy them as well the original post, which I hope you’ll read first.

I too, am well acquainted with the loss of faith. I have found my experience to be quite like what you described as the Helm’s Deep methodology, in which I passed through a immense liberalizing of theology and belief, eventually conceding to a loss of faith altogether and an accepting embrace of atheism.

What sprang to mind in this line of thinking (Models of losing faith illustrated by the Lord of the Rings) is yet another way, although I’m sure there are many more. Early on in your post you suggested that you were uncomfortable with the phraseology of “losing faith” because of its value laden implications, as it insinuates a loss of faith as negative in which would should rigidly refrain from the loss and if lost one should do everything within their power to find it once again. Perhaps then this third way I’m describing should be called the Frodo effect, in which the faith carried, like the ring itself, is a burden, an albatross around one’s neck, becoming too heavy and two shameful to bear. In this case, one is slowly being turned into someone they are not, progressively degrading into a monster yet, all the while becoming more and more consumed by it, believing it is the one all important possession that matters more than anything else. Yet, there will eventually come a point when they absolutely must abandon this faith, it must be cast into the fires of Mount doom and destroyed if they ever hope to survive, to remain sane, or to be well again. In this model is a battle to let it go and when it is gone there remains a hole that will never be fully filled and a wound that will never be fully healed. They know they are better off for having let it go but, the emptiness remains…

The All-New Jesus Show

I haven’t been very productive with my blog as of late. My academic endeavors have been more than all consuming. I’ve even become increasing behind on the blog that I often enjoy reading. Through the process of catching up I’ve come across a few pieces that I’ve enjoyed or that have hit home and struck a chord with me and I’d like to share them.

This blog is one such piece. I have found myself in almost the exact same position as this writer. As one has come of age in the throws of Evangelical/Conservative protestant Christendom, who no has two young children and who has also walked away from the church, faith, and theism, this seemed to me to be a very poignant essay which raises many of the very same concerns that I have had.

Enjoy!

Recovering Agnostic

Older son’s at an age where he’s realised that some things aren’t real, but he doesn’t know which ones, or how to tell the difference. He’ll be watching TV and ask me if Mister Maker is actually real, and then I’ll have to explain that there’s a real man who really makes things, but he’s not really called Mister Maker, he doesn’t really live in a cardboard box, and no, he doesn’t live in the TV either, which then usually leads to a long discussion about how TVs work.

He can get confused by the strangest things – I once had to explain how I knew the Octonauts aren’t real:

Well, animals don’t talk, and they don’t wear clothes, do they? And they don’t live in huge motorised underwater mobile homes, and polar bears aren’t really the same size as cats and penguins, and there’s definitely no such thing as…

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The Problem of Pentecost: Part II

This is the continuation of a previous post entitled “The Problem of Pentecost: A Festival of Perversion in Two Parts.” This is the second part of the two part post, in which I attempt to explore and draw out the conceptual in-congruence and contradictions implicitly present within the cognitive social psychology of the modern practice and observance of the liturgical celebration of Pentecost.

If one was to ask a celebrant observing Pentecost what the impetus of the event is, more than likely the answer given, in one form or another, would suggest that Pentecost, in it’s Christian context, celebrates the birth of the Christian Church. Yet, when the original events of Pentecost are studied contextually, historically, anthropologically, sociologically, and, of course, religiously, one cannot help but notice that “The Church” given birth to at Pentecost in Acts 2 is quite simply nothing like what we have come to understand as the Church. The Church at present is the utter antithesis of what is witnessed in the community immediately following Pentecost. This was a bottom-up, grass-roots, non-hierarchical, egalitarian collective with no organizational structures, no committees, no creeds, no statements of faith, no building, and certainly no clergy. When set side by side, even a scant perusal reveals that these early “Christian” communities hold almost no parallels or commonalities with the ecclesiastical constructs we have before us now. What we have before us in the West is an externalized homogeneous objectification of what was once an internalized subjective individuation, i.e. a geographic space, an architectural edifice, and a fixed set of systematized beliefs and practices versus a fluidly eclectic non-standardized grouping, in which “The Church” is defined or demarcated as the differentiated individuals that comprise the community. This begs the question are we, in all actuality, celebrating the joining together of these counter-cultural discontents in the observance of Pentecost, or something else?
Being something of a veracious student of the sociology of religion, I recently read a book by Dave Ferguson and Alan Hirsch called On the Verge: A Journey into the Apostolic Future of the Church. While I more than adamantly disagree with many, if not most, of not only the authors’ starting points but also their conclusions and propositions as well. This is not to say that there are no point of interest or that the work is entirely devoid of value. There are several instances of elucidation or endeavors that do prove to be some what fruitful. They do effectively point out this differentiation in the conceptual understanding of the “Church” as an emancipated individual over and against the “Church” as an authoritative institution. Ferguson and Hirsch write that “We know intellectually that the church isn’t a building but a people, but our language and actions betray what we really think. That’s why we can talk about “going to church” or “getting married in the church” or “the Presbyterian church,” and so on.” Here, we see that in reference to the “Church” there is a chasmic gulf of divergence between intellectual cognizance and that which is phenomenologically experiential or understood in practice and practical engagement and application. Ferguson and Hirsch make clear that “We understand the word church in the context of its formal structures and institutions, rather than as dynamically located in the people” and that “most of us mistake the forms, theology, and models of church for the church itself.” As a result the “Church” is conceived of “as being made up of buildings, programming, creeds, rituals, denominational templates and formulas, symbols, clergy and religious professionals, and so on.”
One of the other areas in which I agree with the assessment of Ferguson and Hirsch is in regards to where they locate the origination of this conception. They propose that “this institutionalization of our way of thinking and doing church stems mainly from the period when Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire.” Beginning in the third century of the Common Era, Emperor Constantine had accepted and embraced Christianity, and in 380 CE Emperor Theodosius decreed Christianity to be the official religion of Rome. This would begin to ultimately shape, formulate, and systematize Christianity into the modern establishment of the present thereby impacting the whole of Western society. It seems that, as Ferguson and Hirsch conclude, “The previously subversive Jesus movement of the early church was now given magnificent buildings at the epicenters of towns and cities, was pressed by the emperor to standardize its theology and formulate creeds and to develop a formalized clergy caste to guard and maintain the affairs of the church.” The early Christians began as a loose confederation of radical heretics, heretical both Roman standards, in their dismissal of the state gods and state religion, and also by Jewish standards, in their rejection of many of the formalized ritualizations of the Jewish religion. Reza Aslan points out (here) that “Jesus himself was the quintessential reformer.” Aslan goes on to say that Jesus’ central message resides in this “one fundamental truth: the Temple does not have the right to define what it means to be Jewish; authority rests in the hands of individual Jews, and they need no mediator” and the Christ followers after Pentecost took their place in what Aslan calls “a long line of individuals who have seized the authority from institutions to define their religion for themselves.”
 Yet, after having been co-opted by Constantine the cusp of Christianity contrarily became obsessed with orthodoxy and weeding out heresy, that is any view that deviated from the creeds and doctrines formulated by the accepted mainstream of imperial Constantinian Christianity. Much in the same way that Lenin would eventually take over and declare an orthodox Marxism, Christianity had been high-jacked and its revised format has become normative, revealing that, as Ferguson and Hirsch suggest,”Constantine is still the emperor of our imaginations, of the way we see and experience ourselves as church, seventeen centuries later.” The radicality of the early Christian community gave way to the systematic subversion of everything Jesus and the community of Pentecost stood for.
Returning once again to Ferguson and Hirsch they stipulate that “Christianity is designed to be a people’s liberation movement, a social force, a viral idea passing from person to person through the medium of gospel and discipleship, creating gospel communities in its wake. And yet, by all accounts, most churches can be described as primarily institutional in form and nature.” What then is being celebrated in the institutionalized observance of Pentecost as the birth of the church? It is not the celebration of the empowerment of the first century community depicted in Acts but, rather a festival held in honor of the third century birth of Constantine’s organized perversion of Pentecost.
An authentic expression of the “Spirit” of Pentecost is not to be found in sacraments, tradition, or liturgy. It is not in the cloister, at the alter, or in the sanctuary. It is not in creed, council, or clergy. But, in the world, in the city, in the streets, the highways and byways, standing at the side of both the neighbor and the enemy, at the disposal of those in need. It is not within a Messiah, a Christ, or even in God, but in the death of God and the renouncement of all ideological, socio-religious, and socio-political constructions that impede the becoming of the individual. It is in the disavowal of that which we have sought to mask the traumatic responsibility of existence. It is in the rejection of what Nietzsche described as the “formula for every slander against ‘this world.'” and “every lie about the ‘beyond’…the deification of nothingness, the will to nothingness pronounced holy!” It is the acceptance of being adrift on an infinite sea, a horizonless ocean, with no objective guide and no absolute compass.
In a recent interview with Chris Hedges, Bishop George Packard expressed these notions astoundingly and poignantly clear, saying:
The spirit is calling us now into the streets, calling us to reject the old institutional orders. There is no going back. You can’t sit anymore in churches listening to stogy liturgies. They put you to sleep. Most of these churches are museums with floorshows. They are a caricature of what Jesus intended. Jesus would be turning over the money-changing tables in their vestibules. Those in the church may be good-hearted and even well-meaning, but they are ignoring the urgent, beckoning call to engage with the world. It is only outside the church that you will find the spirit of God (Read Full Interview Here).
It is well beyond the ecclesial doors that Pentecost is actually experienced, in a place without pews, scripture, or vestments, amidst outcast, excrement, and refuse. As Marie L. Baird suggests, “Christianity’s ultimate self-realization is in secularization” and perhaps truer words were never spoken when Ernst Blochdeclared that “only a Christian can be a good atheist, and only an atheist can be a good Christian.”