Tuesday, August 22, 2017

A Theology For the 21st Century

When we use words or nouns, they are just symbols that point to something.  When I say God, I am pointing to any/all of the following things: 
  • Ultimate reality (Paul Tillich),
  • Ground of our Being (Paul Tillich)
  • The Beyond (Depth) Within Our Midst (Dietrich Bonhoeffer)
  • That Which We Take Seriously Without Reservation; our ultimate concern
  • That which is really real
  • That which is at the heart of things
  • The ultimate meaning in our lives
I like to think about Moses’ encounter with Yahweh (God) in the Desert in Egypt (Exodus 3:2 to 3:15) where God announces to Moses that he is commanding him to go to the Pharaoh and free the children of Israel. Moses asks God, when I speak to my people and they ask to whom I spoke with and “What is HIS name?” what should I tell them?  God said to Moses, ‘I AM THAT I AM.’ And He said “Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, I AM has sent me to you.” “This is My name forever and this My memorial to all generations.”

I find this a pivotal passage because God is saying that he is “I AM” --meaning that God is “I AM-ness,” that he is “being” or even “being-itself.”  I go on to interpret this to mean that God is the ground of (our) being or the deepest part of (our) being. If God is at the heart of our being, then God knows you better than you know yourself. And if God is Being than we are participating in God and God is in us!! God is in you.

So when I say “God,” I am pointing to this “ground of our being” or the ultimate reality in our existence. God is not an object ‘out there’ or ‘up there,’ but the ground of our being, the ultimate depth in our existence and the ultimate in our reality. God is not A supreme being but supreme being (-itself)!!  So, I don’t need to prove the existence of anything, I just need to clarify that I am pointing to the depths of our being. That exists.

No sophisticated person has an idea of God as an old man “up there,” do they?  If they do, those people will indeed find it difficult to prove their position.

Our Physical Life Is Ephemeral. Materialism Is A Bust

Physically, everyone of us is quite literally a cloud of protons, electrons and neutrons. That is 100% true. (Everything else is too.) And there are vast spaces between these whirring particles, so we’re literally ‘just’ a cloud of particles. We have mass because the particles do have weight.

And we’re hardly the same person that we were a few years ago. Most of our cells are being replaced, so we are literally not who we were 2 years ago. My old skin cells have completely sloughed-off and my skin is entirely new compared to 2 years ago. (It’s true that the brain cells are not replaced, but many are dying and other cells are then adapted)  All of your hair is being constantly replaced with new hair cells. So, physically, we’re really in flux!!  Everything about us physically is extremely transitory. Our physical being is so “shaky.” (And then we die which is really dis-integrative!)

But obviously we are more than clouds of particles. We are sentient beings (so are dogs and other animals).  We have being, a soul or a “spirit.” We have depth. We build things. We think. We write. We create. We create meaning in our lives in relation to others. We read the teachings of Jesus and the Prophets who taught us what has ultimate meaning and what really matters. We rightfully point to Jesus as fully human and fully God...meaning that he supremely shows what it’s like to be fully “connected” to God (the Word became flesh), the ultimate reality of our lives and world. And this reality looks something like a passion for justice, a love and goodwill for others—especially for the rejected, the poor, the sick. In the N.T., love is the greek word agape meaning a goodwill (a will for the good) for all those we meet (including our enemies!).  In fact, it is my personal understanding that God wills for the good for all of us!! God loves (agape) us! And when we physically disintegrate (die), it's likely that a part of the being within us continues in some way, but maybe not our self-awareness. But who knows??

Clues to understanding the nature of God, the “ground of our being” is also revealed by reading scripture but also studying great philosophers and thinkers, understanding great science, and reading great works that illuminate the really deep things of our lives. The more you know the better. This is the path to wisdom--not foolishness. Also, really great scientists, when pondering the profound depth of physics, or look out in the expanses of the cosmos, or look through the most powerful microscopes, sometimes perceive something profound and moving at “the heart of things.” Many have a profound or moving experience at those moments (religious experiences?). The same thing might happen to a great writer.

Implications

Wherever there is no God, there are only fools. It’s true because if you don’t know anything of God -- that which is at the heart of things or the really real, then you are going to be really lost and foolish. This is happening all over the place today, including universities where God is intentionally sidelined. Maybe these people have rejected religion because they think religion is based on a God as an old man in the sky “up there” or “out there.” We really need our religious traditions for answers to the question "what really matters?" But "traditional" or conventional religion may be unnecessarily alienating people from religion. We shouldn't teach children religious fairy tales in Sunday school since many of these kid's religious ideas never grow up.

There are very few real Atheists. The only true Atheists would be people who kill themselves. Apart from mental problems, killing yourself is the ultimate expression of your belief that life has no meaning or worth. Just getting out of bed in the morning is a statement that life has meaning. It’s worth getting out of bed. In a way, whatever people think has ultimate meaning to them is their God. For instance, extremely greedy people obsessed only with obtaining money have basically elevated money to a God. It animates their life just like God since it might really be their ultimate concern. And they might have a great deal of money, since it means so much to them.

Process Theology

Process theology, started by Alfred North Whitehead (a physicist and contemporary of Einstein), and expounded by John Cobb, Charles Hartshorne and many others, says that God, in addition to being ultimate reality is also the creative force in the universe that is pulling and tugging all things toward the “good.”  He is the force in the universe who works consistently and persistently in calling/pulling all “entities” toward deeper/higher levels of existence. My understanding from Process Theology is that God is working in humans, persuasively and persistently in our hearts and minds to subtlety and consistently pull us toward a greater and profound existence –toward the good. This “tug to the good” can easily be ignored---and many do! 

In Process, the ultimate goal of life is deep enjoyment. Now enjoyment is not trivial to Whitehead. It’s really deep. It might be like the enjoyment that a father experiences when a long-estranged son returns and reconciles to his family to make peace. And the father’s joy shows when he prepares a feast to celebrate (enjoy) this profound event. (the Prodigal Son). Whitehead says that God wants for us to enjoy a deep enjoyment of life. “Zest for life” is a value in Process Theology. Anything that destroys your Zest for life is sinful. (Read Kazantzakis’ Zorba the Greek to understand zest for life.)

So, in this line of thinking, God is pulling the world and universe slowly forward by persistent and consistent interaction or “tugging”-- over the vast expanse of time. God is the creative force in the world and God has, thru eons of time, has created man to be his co-creative partner in the world. God is not all-powerful in the sense of being a coercive “controller.” God needs our help. We obviously have free will and we can choose to do evil things that ruin other people’s ‘enjoyment’ (sinful!) 

In physics and the physical world, everything trends toward disorder (entropy) - not higher order like we see in natural history. Instead, increasingly higher levels of beings (creatures) have evolved over billions of years –steadily advancing (except for extinction events that occur from time to time!).  That entropy isn’t ruling the world completely is powerful evidence to me that a creative force is working in the world that has resulted in more advanced, complex and intelligent beings like you and me.  

My proof? At one time the surface of the Earth was a rocky, volcanic, lifeless place. Now, there is a skim of life and delicate ecosystems all over the surface of our planet. And miraculously people are gathering together and loving each other in a universe that is otherwise incredibly harsh; at near-absolute zero temperatures, in a perfect vacuum with dangerous particles and radiation that would kill us if it wasn’t for our lifeboat Earth. (You know that Earth’s magnetic field shunts away life-ending plasma ejections from the sun, right?)  It would be my presumption that God has called forth life on Earth (and probably other places) and is still calling. In fact, you might say that God invented evolution. And I’m not denying that Darwin’s natural selection has helped creatures adapt, but I don’t think natural selection or genetic mutations led to either the first protozoans or Homo Sapiens Sapiens (us). We’re not a chance occurrence or an accident. It’s extraordinarily improbable.

I don’t know what started the Big Bang. Maybe the universe has collapsed on itself and re-exploded millions of times before and has always been there? Astrophysicists can better explain the history of the physical universe. It’s my tentative opinion that the God of reality/being is separate from these physical and atomic processes. And I’m reluctant to attribute God to things or areas that I don’t understand. I'm not sure that God created the heavens and the earth as Genesis asserts, but I do think that God created life and us - and still is.

While God would be found everywhere, including the depths of our own being, our own self, he works gently through persuasion. God doesn’t control everything, because if did he could be rightly be blamed for the evil that occurs in the world. Evil occurs because people are ignoring God. The proof is that people ignore God and the world has massive evil. We might even destroy ourselves entirely. But God is still there forever calling on all of creation toward higher levels of existence; toward higher and deeper levels of being and understanding and more ENJOYMENT!  God has a will in everything, but not everything that occurs is God's will.

In Process Theology, life is for living--- really living!! So simple. And with it I can be my scientific self and have none of the well-known philosophical problems of an all-powerful God. 

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Doug

I came here from link at TBP. I find your premise appealing. It does make more sense than theology being crammed down our throats from all sides in world. I must confess to making provocative statements on TBP to raise blood pressure of thumpers as I like to call them.

I find your take interesting and worthy of more thought in my tired little brain. Your view from the sub-atomic level is something I have thought about quite a bit in past. We are all just clouds in formation. Long time ago I worked for a company doing maintenance on helicopters. An old timer told me one day that those birds when flying were just rivets flying in close formation. I suppose people could be seen in such a way as well.

Further to what Stucky said you should post on TBP. You are a great writer and place would do well having you drop by.

Yours in Odin,

RiNS

Doug said...

RiNS, I posted this reply at TBP also, but here it is as well:

Thanks RiNS for your comment on my post “A Theology for the 21st Century”. I wrote it for my Great Nephew who goes to Jesuit High School in Tampa. He sent me 3 articles about “proving the existence of God”. It was like someone was trying to prepare him for intellectual battle! lol.

So, I had to explain to him that such logical arguments are not the point. I also felt like sharing with a young inquiring mind some thoughts that I have found useful — especially from a man of science.

We all have a “faith” or a belief that life is worth participating in or even a reason for getting out of bed in the morning, but we may not have “crystallized” such thoughts into a meaningful way that reconciles with one or more major religious traditions. If you don’t believe life is worth living or has meaning, you probably end up in a downward spiral. Funny how so many avoid downward spirals in their lives. You would think there would be more since it so easy to let yourself go.

Anonymous said...

I believe there is an order to the universe and the beings of earth are just one of the many forms of that order. Now, the humans species that inhabit earth have this small flaw of insanity that manifests in wanting to continually kill each other over, money, religion, etc. Their defense budget does not exist to protect themselves against alien space invaders but to protect themselves against each other. Not sure where God fits into this scheme but it does make one question why humans continue with this behavior and do not (in sufficient numbers) manifest a peaceful existence with their only planet.