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as a kind of a prehistoric/ancient innovative technology, and like most technologies, over time may have become outdated, outmoded, and obsolete.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.

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?

Wor(l)d Made Flesh: The Materiality of Interaction

I just finished reading two interesting blog posts by Levi Paul Bryant, whose blog Larval Subjects I highly recommend you follow. In his post, entitled “Thinking at the Edge of Apocalypse“, Bryant emphasizes that the essence of ecological ontology is not ‘nature’ (i.e. “pertaining only to rain forests and coral reefs), which, regardless of how suffuse, is representative of an illusory binary that severely limits ecology to a very narrow scope. Instead, and in all actuality, as Bryant explains, the utter impetus of ecological ontology is, in fact, a kind of inter-relational totality. Here, Bryant writes, that “To think ecologically is to think beings in relation; regardless of whether that being be the puffer fish, economy, or a literary text.” Simply stated, “Everything is ecological,” including and especially “culture and society”.

This in itself is a scathing critique of capitalistic and consumeristic ideology, which precisely proves Bryant’s point. In her article, “It’s Not Easy Being Green,” Gillen Wood demonstrates that “It is the character of modern consumer society to promote the idea that nothing is connected”. The orientation of such a societal structure is entirely individualistic, atomistic, and, above all, pathological, propagating a deleterious ontology of false segregation, thereby eliciting deprivation, and disenfranchisement. However, Wood writes that “Sustainability, by contrast, teaches that everything is connected,” as such, “sustainability is truly the science of everything, from technical strategies for repowering our homes and cars, to the ecological study of biodiversity in forests and oceans, to how we think and act as human beings”.

In this regard, Bryant further elaborates the immensity of ecological ‘inter-relationality’ and ‘interactivity’ in his post “Interactivism“. Yet, here he makes the vital distinction that these interactions of ecological ontology are not “ghostly”, phantasmic, abstract, transcendent, nor apparition-like but, instead are unavoidably material, concrete, and fleshly. Byant writes that “there is always a materiality of interactions” and that “Every interaction requires flesh.” He explains that “Even symbolic and linguistic interactions require flesh to occur,” noting that “They require an atmosphere…or electro-magnetic signals, paper, smoke, or any number of other mediums.” Flesh is matter and, as Sallie McFague explains in her book, The Body of God, flesh not only “includes all life-forms” but, also “all matter on our planet” (17). Flesh, it seems, “links us with everything in the most intimate of ways” (McFague, 17, *my emphasis added). Flesh “knits us together with all life-forms in networks of shared suffering and joy” and is without a doubt “the most intimate and most universal way to understand reality” (McFague, 17).

These are but my initial thoughts, reactions, inclinations, and musings based solely upon cursory inquires and peripheral readings. I look forward to delving deeper, thinking further, and researching more…

To Sleep, Perchance to Dream

Over nine months ago I was laid off from my employer of nearly ten years. In the period that has followed life has been marked by a tumultuous cavalcade of loss and psychological and emotional trauma. Our family home was but one of the many things we were forced to bid farewell to and since, in the wake of the absence, we have been left broken, hurt, at times fearful and frail, sifting through the ruins of what remains in the aftermath of a life violently disrupted, hoping to piece together some sense of normalcy. I have now returned to work but, to a far more menial and labor intensive form of work then the position once held, which has also included a radical change of hours, not to mention a dramatic reduction in wages. Now working a night shift position, physically exhausted and somewhat sleep-deprived, I have begun to contemplate the importance of sleep, not only physically but, also psychologically, philosophically, and politically. Unfortunately, however, I have not been able to devote the time and rigorous contemplation necessary to really delve into the depths of sleep’s psychologically linked relationship to the socio-political sphere. But, this in some sense is precisely my point in writing this. Consider the following passages taken from Freud’s A General Introduction to psychoanalysis in which he discusses the psychic necessitation of sleep and dreaming:

Our relation to the world into which we came so unwillingly, seems to include the fact that we cannot endure it without interruption. For this reason we revert from time to time to the pre-natal existence, that is, to the intra-uterine existence. At least we create for ourselves conditions quite similar to those obtaining at that time—warmth, darkness and the absence of stimuli. Some of us even roll ourselves into tight packages and assume in sleep a posture very similar to the intra-uterine posture. It seems as if the world did not wholly possess us adults, it has only two-thirds of our life, we are still one-third unborn. Each awakening in the morning is then like a new birth.

Freud goes on to say that
The psychic processes of sleep, for example, have a very different character from those of waking. One experiences many things in the dream, and believes in them, while one really has experienced nothing but perhaps the one disturbing stimulus. One experiences them predominantly in visual images; feelings may also be interspersed in the dream as well as thoughts; the other senses may also have experiences, but after all the dream experiences are predominantly pictures.

Sleep creates the parameters for being born-again, for being birthed a new. This is to say that that there are parts of ourselves that are always still to come, portions that are ‘not-yet’ and the sleeping dream is what beckons them forth into a messianic-like arrival.

We constantly speak of the need to be awakened from an apathetic slumber, “we need to wake up and smell the coffee.” But, one can’t help but notice that we are in the throes of a culturally induced insomnia. We live in an ‘always-on’ society of social media, smart phones, 24-hour pharmacies, drive thrus, and 7-11’s, bars, clubs, raves, we are hyper-stimulated, overwhelmed by a never-ending, relentless supply of distracting stimuli. Every city has now been transformed into “the city that never sleeps.” This is, then, also, true of our own homes and even our psyche. Slavoj Zizek notes that “In our ‘society of the spectacle’, in which what we experience as everyday reality more and more takes the form of the lie made real.”  Yet, Sleep and dreams have the capacity to  ‘awaken’ us to the traumatic Real of who we are, what we are, and the way things really are. Peter Rollins writes the following,
Here obsessive late night partying, drinking, drug taking and socialising are not to be thought of as attempts to make mundane reality more interesting and exciting (a common misunderstanding). Rather they can often be futile attempts to ward off the real that awaits [us] in [our] dreams…

Rollins goes on to say that “‘reality’, however dissatisfied with it we are, can act as a screen which protects us from a direct encounter with the horrific Real. In short, reality is structured as a fantasy.” Zizek concurs stating that, “our ordinary reality enables us to evade an encounter with true trauma.” In other words we use the fiction of our waking ‘reality’ as a means and mechanism for escaping the Real of our dreams.

“[T]he Truth,” as Zizek explains, ” has the structure of a fiction: what appears in the guise of dreaming, or even daydreaming, is sometimes the truth on whose repression social reality itself is founded.” We need the space to dream new dreams, no matter how traumatic or disturbing, no matter how jarring. We need to proclaim that “I have a dream…” It is not the  phantasmal or fantasmic ‘reality’ of the waking world that we need to infiltrate our dreams but, rather what we need most is the anguish and upheaval of the dreaming Real to overtake the fictional lie of rousing ‘reality’. 
When we deny ourselves access to sleep and dreams we are denying their revolutionary potentiality to radically alter the everyday ‘life-world’ and we are inadvertently accepted conceding to the status quo of the way things are. It is not the dream that we must awaken from but, the sleepless slumber of repression and mediocrity that we have accepted as being ‘real’.

Idealist Materialism?

I’m currently taking a course in Modern & Postmodern Philosophy. Below you’ll find a short essay I wrote for the class outlining my cursory readings of Hegel. My main aim here is to problematize interpretations of Hegel that have projected an overly idealistic Idealism upon Hegel’s ‘Idealism,’ which has within it the actuality of material reality. If this is the case, then, the work of Hegel does not need to be ‘placed upon its feet’, as Hegel and Marx have more in common and are less opposed then Marx first supposed. Enjoy!
Hegel’s place within the greater movement of German Idealism has, more often then not, lead to a misconstrual of his work. Iain Hamilton Grant (2012), in a lecture introducing the philosophy of Hegel clarifies that “An Idealist is not someone who thinks that nature does not exist.” “Nor,” Grant continues, “is an Idealist someone who denies the actuality of the real world.” “An Idealist,” as Grant proposes, “is someone who adds to the world the existence of the Idea.” Grant explains further that “An Idealist is simply a realist about the Idea.” Grant suggests that ” In so far as there is nature, part of it is the Idea.” Thus, according to Ian Fraser (1997), “only by misreading Hegel’s arguments does the need to expunge or materialistically appropriate Hegel’s dialectic arise” (p. 81). Fraser (1997) suggests that “if Hegel remained at the level of ideas, in theory as distinct from practice, then he would actually be contradicting what is distinctive about his own method” (p. 88).
Perhaps, then, the impetus of Hegel’s dialectic is found in Hegel’s Logic. For Hegel (1991b), Logic is “the science of things grasped in thoughts” (p. 56). Here, “the logical has three sides: the side of abstraction or of the understandingthe dialectical or negatively rational side, and the speculative or positively rational one (p. 125). Thought within the Understanding, that is, the first of the three sides, is marked by abstraction, in which determinations are seen as “distinct from one another” (Fraser, 1997, p. 83). The move to the dialectical side, however, brings about negation, or negativity, in which, determinations are found “superseding themselves and turning into their opposites” (Fraser, 1997, p. 85). Finally, the Speculative stage moves beyond the negative, rises above the contradictions, forming a unity within opposition and a positivity within negativity (Fraser, 1997, p. 85). Here, Being overcome and superseded by its opposite Nothing is transformed into Becoming, which is beyond teh contradictions of the two. In this regard, as Hegel (1991b) points out, “These three sides do not constitute three parts of the Logic, but are moments of everything logically real; i.e., of everything true in general” (p. 125).
Since Logic is the science of things grasped in thoughts, Iain Hamilton Grant (2012) point out that “The thinking cannot be other than the thing it grasps.” As Peter Thompson (2011) explains “becoming, was the password to understanding how the ‘absolute spirit’ not only expressed itself but, more importantly, generated itself through the process of history.” It is “the process by which Hegel’s absolute spirit was not only working in the world but creating itself at the same time” (Thompson, 2011). This dialectical movement was derived by Hegel from observing the patterns within historical societies and their corresponding social interactions. This, then, is a concrete, sociable event in human history. Hegel’s starting point, one could say, is the concrete, tangible society of the present. The dialectic, Logic,Thought, the Idea, Reason, Rationality, and even Absolute Spirit or Mind, are not where Hegel begins but, rather are revealed through a philosophically historical hindsight, which he then traces back through previous societal developments and, in retrospect, presents them as a progressive ‘unfolding.’
Thus, for Hegel (1991a), “what is rational is actual; and what is actual is rational” (p. 20). This does not suggest that all societal structures as they now stand in their current forms are the epitome of rationality and there-by justified in their presence (Fraser, 1997, p. 90). “It is rather,” as Ian Fraser (1997) suggests, “that the rational is present even within an imperfect world and the Speculative philosopher’s task is to comprehend this rationality (p. 90).
Any notion that would then seek to present nature and human consciousness as distinct or differentiated is ultimately illusory. As Iain Hamilton Grant (2012) explains, “The thought must occur inside nature” and “Nature includes the Idea.” In short, nature and consciousness are one and the same, an organic whole, moving dialectically into the unity of a material becoming.
Fraser, I. (1997). Two of a kind: Hegel, Marx, dialectic, and form. Capital & Class18(61), 81-12.
Grant, I.H. (2012). Introduction to Hegel [Audio file]. Retrieved from http://afterxnature.blogspot.com/p/after-nature-podcasts-mp3-downloads.html
Hegel, G.W.F. (1991a). Elements of the philosophy of right (H.B. Nisbet, Trans.). New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
Hegel, G.W.F. (1991b). The encyclopaedia logic: Part 1 of the encyclopaedia of philosophical sciences with the Zusatze (T.F. Geraets, H.S. Harris, & W.A. Suchting, Trans.). Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing Co. Inc.
Thompson, P. (2011, Feb 27). Karl Marx, Part 3: Men make their own history. The Guardian. Retrieved from http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/belief/2011/apr/18/karl-marx-men-make-history