Wednesday, March 12, 2008
Thumbnail of my systematic theology
Since the issue of my being a liberal theologically often comes up, this is an outline of some of the most basic issues that set my theology apart and make it distinctive. I think it's also why I call Doxa "Christian thought in the 21st century, becasue I think these are issues that will have to be addressed by the Christian community in this century.
This is a thumbnail sketch of the entire theological view I've been developing since begining the "Metacrock" thing in 1998.
The Nature of Religion:
In my view Religion is an attept to identify a human problemic, that is the basic problematic nature at the heart of being human. Having identified it, reilgious traditions seek to resolve the problematic nature of human life by offering a transformative experince which allows one to transcend the difficulty and to be fulfilled or feel more human or be "saved." Religious traditions also usually seek to mediate this transformation through cerimony or some sort of theological orientation. These three things make up the nature of religion:
(a) identification of the problematic
(b) Transformative power to overcome the nature of the problematic
(c) a means of mediating this transformative power.
All religions offer these things, weather the problematic be seen as seperation from nature, or imbalance with cosmic forces, re-birth through desire which leads to suffering, or moral sin in rebellion agasint God.
Transformations come in all sorts of packes too, they can be the big experince of bron agian Christianity (mediated through the "sinners prayer") or they can be the mystical experince, mediated thorugh the mass, or enlightenment, mediated through mediation, mandala, mantra and other mediation aids, or what have you.
The reason for identifying with a particular reilgious tradition is because one feels that this particular tradition identies the problematic better than others, and offers mediation in a more sure or certain or compelte way. One must go with the tradition with which one feels the strongest connection.
For me that is the Christian Tradition, primarly because I feel that the historical connection to Jesus of Nazerath, and the unique concept of Grace mark the Christian tradition as the best mediation of the Ultimate Transformative Experince. But more on that latter.
The God concept
I tend to use a great deal of termenology, and this can be off putting to people and also confussing. A guide to the many perdicates of the divine that I use to designate "God" is useful for sorting out what the many terms I use mean; terms such as "being itself" and "object of ultimate concern."
My views on God are unconventional. I think a lot of people are put off because they expect the usual big guy in the sky, the old grandfather figure with a white beard on a throne, and they aren't used to other ways of thinking about God, like Thinking of God as the laws of physics, or thinking of God as the nature of Being itself. Thinking of God as like mathematics. All of these are models I would use to try and show how my view is different from the conventional idea of God.
In its most abstract the concept of God is a Transcendental Signifier. That is, the concept of God functions in the way that a Transcendental Singifer functions, as the thing at the top of the metaphysical heirarchy. This when we strip the cultural trappings away from the God concept, remove the personality and the images of King and father, and get down to the basic abstract concept of What is God and what does God do; Gound organizes all principles of organizing under a metaphysical hierarchy; God is the ultimate organization principle:
Transcendental Signifyer is the ultimate metaphysical principle which makes sense of the universe.
The transcendental Signifyer (TS) is the mark that gives meaning to all the marks that make sense of the world; the "zeit geist," the "urmind", the "overself", the "object of ultiamte concern", the "omega point", the "Atmon", the "one," the "Logos", "reason." all the major top ideas which bestow meaning upon the wrold are examples of the TS. People have always advanced such notions. (The word "G-O-D" is the Transcendental Signifyer, the thing those letters refurr to is the "transcendental signifyed")
1) All people have some notion the "big idea" which makes sense of everything else.
William James, Gilford lectures:
"Plato gave so brilliant and impressive a defense of this common human feeling, that the doctrine of the reality of abstract objects has been known as the platonic theory of ideas ever since. Abstract Beauty, for example, is for Plato a perfectly definite individual being, of which the intellect is aware as of something additional to all the perishing beauties of the earth. "The true order of going," he says, in the often quoted passage in his 'Banquet,' "is to use the beauties of earth as steps along which one mounts upwards for the sake of that other Beauty, going from one to two, and from two to all fair forms, and from fair forms to fair actions, and from fair actions to fair notions, until from fair notions he arrives at the notion of absolute Beauty, and at last knows what the essence of Beauty is." 2 In our last lecture we had a glimpse of the way in which a platonizing writer like Emerson may treat the abstract divineness of things, the moral structure of the universe, as a fact worthy of worship. In those various churches without a God which to-day are spreading through the world under the name of ethical societies, we have a similar worship of the abstract divine, the moral law believed in as an ultimate object."
2) All Metaphysical Constructs include a TS.
Metaphysics is not merely realms unseen, but the organization of reality under a single organizing principle (this definition comes form one reading of Heidegger). All systems and groupings of the world verge on the metaphysical. Derrida and Heidegger say that it is impossible tto do without metaphysics since even language itself is metaphysical. Everything ponts to the Transcendental Signifyer. ( see Heidegger, Parenadise, and Introduction to Metaphysics, and Derrida, Margins of Philosophy and almost any Derrida book).
Science has TS
William James--Gilford lectures:
"'Science' in many minds is genuinely taking the place of a religion. Where this is so, the scientist treats the 'Laws of Nature' as objective facts to be revered. ..."
Science is very Metaphysical. It assumes that the whole of relaity and be organized and studied under one central principle, that of naturalism.
"For essential reasons the unity of all that allows itself to be attempted today through the most diverse concepts of science and of writting, is in principle, more or less covertly, yet always, determined by a an historico-metaphysical epoch of which we merely glimpse the closure." [Derrida, The End of the Book and the Begining of Writting, trans. Gayatri Spivak 1967 in Contemporary Critical Theory, ed. Dan Latimer, New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovonovitch, 1989, p.166] MetaListon Scinece and religion http://www.meta-list.org/ml/ml_frameset.asp Stephen Hawking's
"In his best-selling book "A Brief History of Time", physicist Stephen Hawking claimed that when physicists find the theory he and his colleagues are looking for - a so-called "theory of everything" - then they will have seen into "the mind of God". Hawking is by no means the only scientist who has associated God with the laws of physics. Nobel laureate Leon Lederman, for example, has made a link between God and a subatomic particle known as the Higgs boson. Lederman has suggested that when physicists find this particle in their accelerators it will be like looking into the face of God. But what kind of God are these physicists talking about?"
"Theoretical physicist and Nobel laureate Steven Weinberg suggests that in fact this is not much of a God at all. Weinberg notes that traditionally the word "God" has meant "an interested personality". But that is not what Hawking and Lederman mean. Their "god", he says, is really just "an abstract principle of order and harmony", a set of mathematical equations. Weinberg questions then why they use the word "god" at all. He makes the rather profound point that "if language is to be of any use to us, then we ought to try and preserve the meaning of words, and 'god' historically has not meant the laws of nature." The question of just what is "God" has taxed theologians for thousands of years; what Weinberg reminds us is to be wary of glib definitions."
This pertians to the abstract metaphyiscal position of God in relation to human thought. But we must also understand God's nature. There are two concepts that spell out God's position in relation to humanity and to the universe as a whole:
(a) The Object of Utlimate Concern (OUC)
Not all religions deal with "God." God, as conventionally concieved God is not necessary to religions such as Buddhism. But all religons do deal with "the objecti of ultiamte concern" or that which concerns us ultimately. This is a concept by theologian Paul Tillich. It's not pinned down to any one thing in particular because it can be concieved of in many ways. But Tillich identifies it as "being itself." The object of ultiamte concern is synominous with God, this God is actually brought through the back down of all religions.
Object of Ultimate Concern:
This term is used from the persepective of our existential experience in being. What is being said is that God is the ojbect toward which we orient our final interests or our sense of meaning in life, our understanding of what is important, what life is about. This is no more contradictory to the other terms than calling God "the ojbect of worship."
In my view the OUC is essentially another way of Talking about God, although not necessarily the conventional notion of a "big man" on a throne. In my view whatever is ultimate, and whatever deterines our final destiny is clealry the OUC. So we have left with a sense of some overarching concept which guides and shapes our thinking, and this is related to primdordial being at the most basic level. So we are stuck with God in one form other anther weather we like it or not.
This is the basic concept of God in Tillich's world view.What is being said is that God is the basic condition underwhich anything can be. God is synonimous with the very natuare of being because being proceeds from God and is contingent upon God. In this sesne God is thought of as synonimous with the very nature of Being, since God is the primary example of what it is to be (since nothing else would ever come to be or even have potential to be without God's express desire that it exist).There can only be one of these. By defition there can only be one thing that is the basic experssion of what it is to be and upon which all else (i mean everything, every single thing) is predicated. It woudl be a contradiction in terms to speak of two of them.Ground of Being us basically the same term. Sometimes Tillich used one, sometimes the other. It means the same thing, but at times Tillich thought that the focuss should be upon the platform upon which the being of beings rested, that is the basis of the being that we have as beings. But they are talking about the same thing.Naturally there can only be one of these too since its the same thing.for more on God as Being Itself (ground of Being)
Is God a "personal Being?"
For most people, consciousness is thought to be a side effect of brain chemestry, and being a person is an outgrowth of that side effect. But there is a school of thought that says that consciousness is a basic property of nature, it starts at a very reudamentary level and works its way up to the highest, thus conscousness is diffussed through the entire unvierse. I believe something similar to this, but for me Consciousness is the basic framework of reality. In this sense then I am saying that God is conscoius. But I'm saying more than that too.
I agree with Bishop George Berkeley, a philosoher who lived in the 18th century. He beileved that to be is to be percieved, and that God is percieving reality and holding it together in the divine perception. I believe that too, God is like the mind that thinks the universe, the universe is the thought in the mind of God. That doesnt' make our existence unreal or illusory, I dont' believe it is illusory. For us, who are part of the thought, our existence is very real, but it is in a higher framework which creates the reality we know as a matter of thought. That is part of God's basis as "being itself." Our being is litterally proceeding from God as thoughts from a mind.
This answers a lot of questions, mainly dealing with time and the creation of the universe, but it also stipulates that God is consciousness. There are several consequences that flow out of this discovery:
(a) God is Consciousness
God is not "a personal being" because, as the information on Being itself indicates, God is not "a being" no one of many like himself but is totally unique, and beyond the level of an indiviual contingent thing. God is not "a being" becasue this implies that he one unique example of a kind, and thus a contgingency. But God is not contingent but logically and ontologcially necessary. Thus God is not "a being." yet God is conscious.
(b) God is The personal Itself.
Consciousness, "the personal" is not just an idivudal trick of brian chemestry taht affects contingent beings one at a time, but is a quality of existence, an outcome and aspect of Being which is intrinsic to all rality, it is the framework in which that that we know as "reality" is generated and held in place. In that sense God is "the personal itself."
see a very extensive file on Berkeley
We can draw conclusions in these matters of God's nature and that of the universe, and the relation between the two, through logic and other means. But we cannot turely know the reality of God other than or apart form mystical expereince. That is to say, we experience God as the deepest level beyond words, thougths, or images. This is because God transcends our understanding. We cannot say what God is, we can only make the most rudementary guesses, which is all this stuff is. We cannot trley know, but we can experince. We do experince God this way; mystical experince is at the heart of all organized religion.
Mystical Theology and Religious Traditiions
We seek to talk about our experinces because we are social creatures. We have to talk about our experinces of God, even though they are not in words and we even understand them oursevles. Thus we must encode them into langauge and for that we must maks these deeply contradictory feelings with cultural symbols from our symbolic universe. Thus all religious traditions are different, because they all inovle their own cltures and are made out of their own cultural constructs; yet they all represent the same reality which stands behind them all. The detials just dont' matter. One faith calls its' God "Woden" and thinks he wants virgin sacrafice hung on a tree. Another faith calls its God "Demiter" and thinks this God a she and that she wants a sacrafice of Grain from every harvest. None of this matters. the gender doesn't matter, the sacrafice doesnt' matter, not the names, not the countries, all are just meaingless deatils constructed out of the constructs of each naion, the symbols that are meaningful to each group. But they all represent one true reality standing behind them all. Like a prisim they break down the true white light into colored details and each one fixates upon each detail; one is a "red" tradition, red is the truth. Anther is a "blue" tradition, only blue is true, but in reality, they are all just reflections of one reality which only makes real sense when it's all together and shining naturally upon the eye.
This is what I mean by the slogan I use a lot, "all gods point to 'God.'" One cannot paly the verious relgious traditions off against each other. The atheist who constratly harps "how do you know which God is true" doesn't know what he's asking. Because none of them are, and all of them are, because they all reflect the same reaality behind all religous traditions, but a reality we can only understand in metaphor.
Revelation: Jesus Christ
I beleive that God does give us special revelation. But that revelation is Jesus Christ, not the Bible. The Bible is a record of divine human incounters. It contains the word of God, but is not the word of God itself. The Bible is a collection of writtings which were produced out of personal encounters with God and reflects many differnt levels of inspiration; Jesus is the perfect revelation of God to humanity. I've written on nature of Biblical Revelation..
I accept the Nicene creed. I beileve that God entered history as a human to express solidarity with us. One can be present in one's own fantasy, or in one's own thoughts. God projects himself into the thought of the universe and becomes part of it as a man. See my Essay "How Do I know That Jesus is The Son of God?"
My views on the Atonement are a bit unconventional. Whiles see it as symbpathetic magic, as finanacial transaction and so forth, I see it as a statement of solidarity. I don't accept the propitation model: Jesus didnt' turn away God's wrath, or take warth upon himself. That's one aspect of expressing it, but its' not the complete picture. The punishment upon Christ doesn't magical pay a debt that we couldn't pay. But in identifying with us and with our ends and with the curse of sin, social and personal, and the consquences of that in death, Christ expresses God's solidarity with humanity; solidarity in political sense means one is willing to identify with the oppressed so closely as to shar their fate. Christ shares our fate to illustrate in a power and beautiful way that God is on our side.
It is out of this solidarity that the ground is created for forgiveness of sin. We cannot be in solidaritry with God and sin. when we place ourselves into the symbol of Chrit death and accept solidarity with God we turn form a lif of sin and thus the gound is created upon which our sins are forgiven. For more, see my essay.
I don't see other faiths as a problem. God is working in all cultures. Other faiths are just different cultulrally constructed means of expressing the same relaity that is behind all religion. Jesus is the direct revelation, the example which teachs us God's ture character.But that doesn't condmen other faiths. See my essay on the topic.Salvation and Other Faiths
Hell and Afterlife
Religion is not some means of social control. Humanity has been religious for 50,000 years or more, probalby longer than we have been Homo sapiens. We had religious feelings since before we had the level of social orgnaization for control. Religion is not about scaring people with punishment in after life. Relgious belief is about coming to understand the probelm at the heart of being human; its' about ajusting to life and to death. Its' abotu personal fulfillment and finding meaning which explains life at an existential level and makes living worthwhile. I dont' believe in a hell fire and brimstone after life. There are those who ask "well why should I believe if I don't have to worry about punishment?" I think that's so immature. The point not to get out of punishment but to find the meaning and fulfillment of knowing God. The mystical experince is about the greatest thing in life. Its' a palpable feeling which changes and transforms peopel in dramatic ways. It's worth everything to experince it.
I believe that when one dies seperated from God in rebellion against the good, one is seperated forever,but not in a realm of fire and brimestone, but probalby just ceasing to exist. I believe there is an eternal life with God for those who have always sought to find God, and I see that a mystical relaityin whcih our conscousnesses unite with the divine conscoiusness, but we will also understand our own plights and experinces as individuals; an intimate and mystical union
To me that's what everything is about and it's worth any sacrafice to discover.
The Christian faith embraces God as Triune. Since I affirm the Nciene Creed, I also affirm the Trinity. The concept of Triune God is essential to the notion of God as being itself. The Godhead is the priamry and primordial differentiation of being; without that, being would be hardly distinguishable from nothingness; thought and purpose can't come in a vauum, a community is requires where consciousness is concerned. The Trinune God is the ultimate community, a multiplicy of consciousness, yet united in a onesness through shared essence.
What is the purpose of it all? Why did God create? My view Christian ethics is too elaborate to present here, I will write an essay soon laying out my ehtical theory. But suffice to say that I see a basis for all creation and for the impitus of God's purpose in the primary motivation out of God's character, which is love. Love and being share a very basic attribtue, but are poastive affirmations that bestriw things upon the other; being seeks to bestory being upon beings, and love seeks to bestow "the good" upon the other. Thus love is the basic character of God, who is "being itself" and that forms the primary motivation for all ethical atction.
I will close the overview with a look at theodocy. Why does God allow pain and evil? The answer to this question is central to my whole theology. My theory is called Soeteriological Darama
It's about how God created for the purpose of having corperoeal moral agnets who willingly choose the good. This requires that we struggle through faith and doubt as part of a great darama. We must seek salvation in spite of these probelms, but God promises that if we seek we will find. I hope my website will help some do just that.