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

PicMonkey Collage

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…

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?

Kierkegaard and the Absurdity of Religion

 

Kierkegaard, himself, stresses the centricity of religion, specifically Christianity, within his project. Kierkegaard (1998) writes, “[W]hat I have wanted and want to achieve through my work, what I also regard as the most important, is first of all to make clear what is involved in being a Christian” (p. 129). Kierkegaard (1998) goes on to stress this goal, saying that his aim is “to present the picture of a Christian in all its ideal, that is, true form, worked out to every true limit” (p. 129). Here, one can see the immense importance of Christianity and all that it entails to the work of Kierkegaard but, this still does not answer the question of precisely what Christianity is to him.

To be sure, Kierkegaard is no orthodox Christian nor, does he have any interest in preserving or maintaining the organizational systemizations of the traditional Christian structures and institutions. This, Kierkegaard adamantly abhors. This is not Christianity to Kierkegaard. Here, Kierkegaard makes a clear distinction between what he refers to as Christendom, that is, the systemic institution of the Christian religion, and what he believes genuine Christianity to be.

Kierkegaard contrasts his view of Christianity sharply with that of Christendom. Christendom is marked by its overwhelming concern for objectivity, an objectivity that worries itself with seeking answers to questions such as “is this True?” and “is this Real?”  This kind of objective Christianity seeks to make the doctrines and tenets of religion rational. Christendom searches for methods of validating the ultimacy of its truth claims. In effect, the objectivity orientating Christendom makes great efforts and attempts to reconcile irrationality, to explicate faith, and to make religion reasonable.

To Kierkegaard all of these efforts attempting validity, ultimacy, rationality, and objectivity are vain and misguided. Paul Strathern (1997) writes that Kierkegaard “didn’t write about the world, he wrote about life – how we live, and how we choose to live” (p. 7). Strathern asserts that “Kierkegaard philosophizes about what it means to be alive” (p. 7). Kierkegaard focuses in on the orientation of one’s life and the necessitation of subjectivity, inwardness, and passion in all endeavors and especially in religious engagement.

As such, Kierkegaard is wholly concerned with the individual and the individual’s relationality, the way in which the individual subjectively engages with and relates to religion. Kierkegaard (1996) writes that “The problem we are considering is not the truth of Christianity but the individual’s relation to Christianity (p. 32). Christianity is not about “the scholar’s systematic zeal to arrange the truths of Christianity in nice tidy categorizations but about the individual’s personal relationship to this doctrine” (p. 32). The doctrines of Christianity, in and of themselves, are of little import. What is of the greatest consequence is the individual’s subjective relationality to those doctrines. Kierkegaard (1996) emphasizes this point further summarizing that “The objective problem is: Is Christianity true?” whereas, “The subjective problem is: What is the individual’s relationship to Christianity?” (p. 33). For Kierkegaard, subjectivity is the truth.

In this way, as Frederick Sontag (1979) explains, “Christianity ought not to be understood (p. 105). According to Sontag (1979), Kierkegaard proposes that “Christianity entered the world not to be understood but to exist in it and provoke a response (p. 105). Thus, any attempt to “rationalize it away” will “rob it of its power to challenge us” (Sontag, 1979, p. 105). Reason has no place within the individual’s relationship to Christianity. Christianity’s purpose is to confound the intellect of the individual, eliciting existential action, provoking a performative posture of impassioned response, and challenging the individual to more fully confront, embrace, and inhabit their subjectivity.

Here, Kierkegaard is a thoroughgoing fideist, seeing reason and religion as ends that cannot and must not ever meet. Faith, like existence itself, is simply an irreconcilable risk. Kierkegaard (1996) writes that

Without risk there is no faith. Faith is precisely the contradiction between the infinite passion of inwardness and objective uncertainty. If I can grasp God objectively, I do not believe, but because I cannot know God objectively, I must have faith, and if I will preserve myself in faith, I must constantly be determined to hold fast to the objective uncertainty, so as to remain out upon the ocean’s deep, over seventy thousand fathoms of water, and still believe (p. 40).

Faith and doubt, belief and uncertainty, these are not polar opposites. They are not mutually exclusive. They are not antithetical. Faith and doubt are synonymous. Belief and uncertainty are one and the same. They are all dance partners, swaying endlessly. Never fully knowing which one leads, they pirouette in a perichoretic synthesis, hoping against hope, believing in spite of belief.

Here, Frederick Sontag (1979) explains that, for Kierkegaard, “to be a Christian is to maintain faith in spite of the impossibility of being certain” (p. 33). Faith defies certainty. Yet, according to Kierkegaard, what is it that belief believes in and what is that faith has faith in? For Kierkegaard, belief is nothing short of belief in the “absurd”. Faith is faith in the “absurd”. What, then, is the absurd?

The absurd is that the eternal truth has entered time, that God has entered existence, has been born, has grown, etc., has become precisely like any other human being, quite indistinguishable from other humans. The absurd is precisely by its objective repulsion the measure of the inwardness of faith (Kierkegaard, 1996, p. 42).

The absurd is the un-reconciled merger of the finite and the infinite. It is the dissonant harmony of incarnational being. It is the discordant amalgamation of God become man. The absurd is the oppositional union of timelessness and time, the noumenal and the phenomenal, the temporal and the eternal. Yet, this inconsistent and incongruent conglomeration is not only representative of a conception of divinity but, of the very existence of humanity itself. This comingling is the center of the subject and axis of the individual.

What is religion for Kierkegaard, or more appropriately, what is Christianity for Kierkegaard? Religion is the ultimate contradiction, necessarily nonsensical, and utterly irrational. Christianity is the absoluteness of the absurd, the completeness of uncertainty, and the totalizing of antithesis. Religion is madness. Christianity is the perfect paradox and the paradox is the truth.

 

 

References

Kierkegaard, S. (1996). From Concluding unscientific postscript.” In L. N. Oaklander (Ed.), Existentialist thought: An introduction (2nd ed.) (pp.32-46). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Kierkegaard, S. (1998). The point of view (H. V. Hong & E. H. Hong, Eds. and Trans.). Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Sontag, F. (1979). A Kierkegaard handbook. Louisville, KY: John Knox Press.

Strathern, P. (1997). Kierkegaard in 90 minutes. Chicago, IL: Ivan R. Dee, Inc.

Well, H. G. (2003). When the sleeper wakes. New York, NY: Random House Publishing Group.

A Prayer of Perhaps ( To the God I Don’t Believe In)

I pray to you…but, who is the “you” to whom I pray?

Who are “you”?
Perhaps I pray to no one
that isn’t so hard to believe.
Infinite pages could be filled by the desperate cries and the wounded words shouted to an empty sky.
Perhaps I pray to myself,
as I’m sure Feuerbach would agree.
Perhaps I pray to the best of me, alienated and disenfranchised from myself,
fallaciously separated from my own flesh and set up beneath a transcendent crown upon an immaterial thrown of the heavenly lie I’d like to believe.
Perhaps…I pray to God?…
If you are God…I don’t believe in you.
You do not exist.
You are dead.
You have died.
I witnessed your last breathe escaping, never to return.
Your blood is still dripping from my hands,
my fingers still tight and clinging to the hilt of the blade.
But…
If “you” are God…
although I cannot set aside the atheist for which I rightly pass for
I will speak and, perhaps, even listen to “you” if you will listen and, perhaps, even speak to me

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

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…

(dis)Placing Christian Origins

Last week I re-blogged a terrific post from the Blog “Living the Kingdom” entitled “How Not to Be a Good Christian“, which you can read here or here.  This essay outlined many of the most common failings, discrepancies, and area of in-congruence that have now become firm attributes and characteristics that have been historically perpetuated in what could be considered the dominant or mainstream occurrence of Christianity. This struck accord with me personally as the impetus of this essay is substantially similar to the locus of my own musings and positions that are specific to this very subject. Several such blog postings that I’ve written on this topics can be found here, here, here, here, and here.

After re-blogging this post began to receive some interesting feedback from one of my Facebook friends. He raised a very intriguing question, which incited an intriguing dialogue that I thought it would be both beneficial and significant to the conversation to share. Below you’ll find his questions and comments followed by my response. I hope you enjoy!

In the book, The Monstrosity of Christ Paradox or Dialectic by Davis on page 5 he asks by identifying the displaced origins of Christianity, displaced by accommodating empire values, can we wrestle about the meaning of Christianity and its practices in a real way. Clearly much of the practice of Christianity today has more to do with capitalism then Jesus. So are the doors and windows open to discuss what is the original meaning and what practices would that lead to today?

You bring up an excellent point and a particularly great book! This is an intricate and complex argument that is rife with nuance and subtlety, which I have continually devoted thought and consideration to in much of my studies and written explorations. This is not to say that I have come upon any satisfactory conclusions but, rather deeper and more probing questions that are increasing sociological.

Certainly even referring to the movement of the Early Christ followers is utterly anachronistic as imparting such a modernistic understanding brings with it a well-spring of presuppositions and preconceived notions that are contextually inaccurate and inapplicable. The Early “church” (for lack of a better term) was far from systematic, uniformed, or even unanimous, which only complicates matter more but, is still extremely indicative of this precise “displacement” and incongruency.Obviously, what we see in this initiating community is anything but institutional and may be far more representative of what Hakim Bey referred to as a Temporary Autonomous Zone, that is a space formed on the fringes of a society, created within the crack and crevices of a culture, a veritable blind spot within the Empire, in which there is an utter refusal to conform to the systemizations or hierarchies of the state. These T.A.Z.s, as Bey calls them, are in the world but not of it, so to speak. They are spaces not intended to be concretized or grounded into permanence, their operative significance is their grass-roots orientation and their ability to mobilize. They are not revolutionary in that they are not seeking to overthrow the presiding powers, replace them with new systems, and or garner control. Although they are socio-political, they are simply seeking to subvert, to elude formalized structures, and to unblock those places where culture has become blocked.
Thus, to answer your question, I do think that the doors and windows are open to discuss the original meaning but to do so in order to find the practices that it would lead to today, I think it must take place outside the religious institutions, as these the formal structure would only stifle the creativity of the query, for I do not believe the answers will be found in tradition, liturgy, orthodoxy, or even the sacred but, in the dirt, in the profane, in the secular, in the mundane, through that which is existentially thematic.