Wednesday, December 19, 2018

How Modern Thinking about God Went wrong

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The Domestication Of Transcendence: How Modern Thinking About God Went Wrong


Book Review:
The Domestication of Transcendence: How Modern Thinking about God Went Wrong. by 
by William C. Placher, John Knox Press, 1996.
This is a ground breaking book. I would not be surprised to learn that it was ignored for the most part. I read part of it in the 90s and forgot all about until recently when my old professor form Perkins, William S. Babcock, recommended it for something things I am studying at present. This book brought back for me some of my former quests as a beginning and pre seminarian and observations I made by then, late 80s and wanted to make good on and was side tracked from. This book is ground breaking and deserves to be seen as the seminal literary event in theology for that 90s. I'm sure it wasn't seen that way by the theological community.

Placher was writing mid 90s and begins his work discussing how theology in that decade was laced with either talk of postmodernism and attempts to explain what "modern" is, or attacks upon "classical theism" which focus on "static" notions of a remote God distantly orchastrating hierarchies and all the other bad things Derridians feared. These were the classic signs of the times in '96. These concerns prompted Placher to seek the divide that separates seventeenth century form per seventeenth century Christianity. That there is a divide is separated by the distinction between the Luther talks about God and the way those arguing against Deism in the time of Tillotson and Stillingfleet (18th century) argued about God. They God seem like a thing in creation. Here one will recognize a great deal of the terminology I use which I find all over this book. I didn't read it that much I don't think I got it form the book. Yet he definitely has the same concerns and use many of the phrases I thought were my own. Some of these concerns cross paths with Tillich. So how did we go from Augustine's "God who is closer to me than my inmost being" to God as an efficient cause for things that happen in the world?

Placher focuses on seventeenth century divines who were no longer content to experience a reality beyond our understanding, but wanted to think it out to the level of obliterating all problems of understanding. For theologians before the seventeenth century God's transcendence was not "contrastive." Talk about transcendence did not make God less immanent. The mystics of the mid dark ages (Dionysus 500AD) spoke of God as totally remote in some vastly far flung realm, but didn't make God non participatory or absent from the world. It was because God was transcendent (transcendence also includes immanence) that God could be immanent in all of creation (Placher, 128).

Since God was not one agent among others, but operated at a different level of agency it made no sense to ask which things had been done by God or which things has been done by someone or something else.AT the beginning of the modern era, however,theologians and philosophers began to worry about just where to put God in the universe. Debates about miracles and about Grace and free will dominated the theology of seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and both of those debates involved asking which things God, as opposed to someone or something else, did.(ibid)
The nature of thought about the world at that time creates forces that influenced theologians to seek to explain God's place in the world in such a way as to locate him in the world alongside things. Placher talks about language growing in univocity, that means stripping it of indications of higher realms. Also the turn away from viewing reality as a hierarchy of levels made up of remote realms (ibid). This all goes hand in hand with what Fairweather says in his essay on "Christianity and the Supernatural" (New Theology No 1, circa 1964, ed. Martin E. Marty). He traces the bifurcation of immanence and transcendence to enlightenment univocity and Reformation equivocity. In other words, the enlightenment became reductionist and grounding everything in physical science sought immediate and visible sense data oriented explanations for psychical reality alone. While the Calvinist severed the relation between the world and the spirit, the immanent and transcendent, the harmonious relation between the two facets of the one reality that Fairweather talks about and put emphasis upon the "other worldly." Then because the two (immanent and transcendent, nature and super nature) are not harmonious anymore to bind them together a phony supernaturalism that magnifies some aspect of nature (the will) and places it over against the rest of nature as a false transcendent based upon something we know and can understand.

This is all Fariweather's notion form the article in the anthology edited by Marty but Placher follows along those same lines. He goes into much greater detail in his book than Fairweather did in an article. These are also the ideas behind my essay on Supernature on Doxa. Placher's work is invaluable for understanding the SN and for answering the problematic questions raised by atheists in their desire to disprove concept of alternative realms. The atheist concept of SN as a realm beyond the natural is an extension of both tendencies form the enlightenment and from the Calvinists. It's an attempt to put God on a level with things in creation while denouncing the concept of God as 'removed' or 'unnecessary' or 'something beyond the realm we can control.'

Placher provides a complex and nuanced understanding of the thinking which created the divide between a world charged by supernatural and world forever collapsed into one dimension of nature, one voice (univocal).This has to be understood if we are going to re-claim historical Christianity and move beyond the reductionism that currently threatens the very possibility of belief. It's a powerful weapon in my arsenal to wave about in the face of those who butcher the meaning of supernatural. It belongs up there with books like Nature and Grace by Mathias Joseph Scheeben which explicated the meaning of the Supernatural.

8 comments:

im-skeptical said...

So how did we go from Augustine's "God who is closer to me than my inmost being" to God as an efficient cause for things that happen in the world?
- If I follow what you are saying, you answer this question with a claim that it is enlightenment era thinking: "Placher focuses on seventeenth century divines ..." But what about Aquinas, with his argument from first cause? He resurrected Aristotle's ancient philosophy, and claimed that God is the efficient cause for things that happen in the world. There's nothing modern about this idea. Perhaps you can clarify, because I'm confused about what you are saying (or more likely, you are).

The atheist concept of SN as a realm beyond the natural is an extension of both tendencies form the enlightenment and from the Calvinists. It's an attempt to put God on a level with things in creation while denouncing the concept of God as 'removed' or 'unnecessary' or 'something beyond the realm we can control.'
- Once again, I'm trying to make sense of what you say. While there may be a shift over the centuries in the way certain words in our language are used, it is a mistake to say that atheists have their own concept of the word 'supernatural' that is distinctly different from the way religionists use it. Of course, we've had this discussion before. But you need to recognize that many (perhaps the majority) of modern atheists grew up as religious believers, and that's what we were when we learned to speak English. Our understanding of the definition of words like 'supernatural' didn't suddenly change when we became atheists. We use the word in a way that is consistent with the dictionary definition, and that definition reflects the way the word is used in modern times - not just by atheists. Any "conception" we have of the divine and the supernatural is not something we invented. It is what we learned (and what we reject) from living in our modern religious society.

Joe Hinman said...

m-skeptical said...
Me:So how did we go from Augustine's "God who is closer to me than my inmost being" to God as an efficient cause for things that happen in the world?

- If I follow what you are saying, you answer this question with a claim that it is enlightenment era thinking: "Placher focuses on seventeenth century divines ..." But what about Aquinas, with his argument from first cause? He resurrected Aristotle's ancient philosophy, and claimed that God is the efficient cause for things that happen in the world. There's nothing modern about this idea. Perhaps you can clarify, because I'm confused about what you are saying (or more likely, you are).


First of all, I'm explaining another guy's view not mine.
Secondly, the problem is not thinking that Go causes things, It's treating God as nothing more than a cause,



Me:
The atheist concept of SN as a realm beyond the natural is an extension of both tendencies form the enlightenment and from the Calvinists. It's an attempt to put God on a level with things in creation while denouncing the concept of God as 'removed' or 'unnecessary' or 'something beyond the realm we can control.'


- Once again, I'm trying to make sense of what you say. While there may be a shift over the centuries in the way certain words in our language are used, it is a mistake to say that atheists have their own concept of the word 'supernatural' that is distinctly different from the way religionists use it.


Different from the historical Christian meaning but the point of the book is that a lot of modern Christians use it wrongly too.


Of course, we've had this discussion before. But you need to recognize that many (perhaps the majority) of modern atheists grew up as religious believers, and that's what we were when we learned to speak English.

I was raised by an architect but I can't use a drafting machine.


Our understanding of the definition of words like 'supernatural' didn't suddenly change when we became atheists.

In many cases they were given wrong by those in charge of your religious training training. But since you are the flunkies from belief why should I assume You know anything?



We use the word in a way that is consistent with the dictionary definition, and that definition reflects the way the word is used in modern times - not just by atheists. Any "conception" we have of the divine and the supernatural is not something we invented. It is what we learned (and what we reject) from living in our modern religious society.

You are not using a theological dictionary and the popular ones are written by enlightenment people. Hey just think about how stupid your argument is. You are trying to claim that there are no deep ideas in theology. I have only to quote theologians to prove there are. You are trying to assert that everyone knows the depths of theology I; have only to ask you to teell me about them to see you don't know them,

im-skeptical said...

First of all, I'm explaining another guy's view not mine.
Secondly, the problem is not thinking that Go causes things, It's treating God as nothing more than a cause

- God as nothing more than a cause? Who has that conception of God? Does any theist think that? None that I've ever spoken with. Does any atheist think that? No, because atheists don't believe that God exists, in whatever form theists have in mind. And I should remind you that atheists don't invent their own idea of what God is and try to force that on theists. They hear what theists claim about God, and they don't buy any of it.

Different from the historical Christian meaning but the point of the book is that a lot of modern Christians use it wrongly too.
- Fair enough. But then why do you call this the "atheist concept of SN"?

I was raised by an architect but I can't use a drafting machine.
- Architecture isn't an ideology that permeates our society like religion. We ALL grew up with religious concepts. We all have a general understanding of it. I'm not talking about specialized religious education. I'm talking about the common understanding about religious beliefs that we all share in this society.

In many cases they were given wrong by those in charge of your religious training training. But since you are the flunkies from belief why should I assume You know anything?

- We don't learn the definition of common words from any specific training. That comes from being a part of society.

You are not using a theological dictionary and the popular ones are written by enlightenment people. Hey just think about how stupid your argument is. You are trying to claim that there are no deep ideas in theology. I have only to quote theologians to prove there are. You are trying to assert that everyone knows the depths of theology I; have only to ask you to teell me about them to see you don't know them
- You are missing the point, Joe. I never said that there are no "deep ideas" in theology. I never said there is not a higher level of learning that you can get from specialized education. I am saying that the things you are whining about are what most Christians believe. They are not "atheist concepts", as you claim. So you should stop crying about atheists and start aiming your objections at the broad community of Christians who actually believe that stuff.

Joe Hinman said...

JoeFirst of all, I'm explaining another guy's view not mine.
Secondly, the problem is not thinking that Go causes things, It's treating God as nothing more than a cause


Skep- God as nothing more than a cause? Who has that conception of God? Does any theist think that? None that I've ever spoken with. Does any atheist think that? No, because atheists don't believe that God exists, in whatever form theists have in mind. And I should remind you that atheists don't invent their own idea of what God is and try to force that on theists. They hear what theists claim about God, and they don't buy any of it.

yes they do,you are naive and brainwashed by your little shallow ideology. yet many theists do treat God as nothing but a cause--I didn't say their conception is said the way they treat,

JoeDifferent from the historical Christian meaning but the point of the book is that a lot of modern Christians use it wrongly too.


skep- Fair enough. But then why do you call this the "atheist concept of SN"?


It emerged from the secular part of the enlightenment


I was raised by an architect but I can't use a drafting machine.


- Architecture isn't an ideology that permeates our society like religion. We ALL grew up with religious concepts.

that is just your God hater club bull shit insisting that there is nothing to know. you do not know the basics of theology. you have no concept of the complex and rich nature of theological thinking.


We all have a general understanding of it. I'm not talking about specialized religious education. I'm talking about the common understanding about religious beliefs that we all share in this society.

that's practically nothing it doesn't mean you understand anything about Christin theology or Biblical teachings

In many cases they were given wrong by those in charge of your religious training training. But since you are the flunkies from belief why should I assume You know anything?

- We don't learn the definition of common words from any specific training. That comes from being a part of society.

basic worlds are always used differently in specialized usage and Bible is translated from Hebrew and Greek,

You are not using a theological dictionary and the popular ones are written by enlightenment people. Hey just think about how stupid your argument is. You are trying to claim that there are no deep ideas in theology. I have only to quote theologians to prove there are. You are trying to assert that everyone knows the depths of theology I; have only to ask you to teell me about them to see you don't know them

- You are missing the point, Joe. I never said that there are no "deep ideas" in theology. I never said there is not a higher level of learning that you can get from specialized education. I am saying that the things you are whining about are what most Christians believe.

that's the problem stupid, most Christian have been mislead, the whining is done by the guy who wrote the book you asshole! you are trying to use the common person's misconceptions as the standard of understanding that's just stupidity, stupid studious,



They are not "atheist concepts", as you claim. So you should stop crying about atheists and start aiming your objections at the broad community of Christians who actually believe that stuff.

remember I said " I; have only to ask you to tell me about them to see you don't know them,",you are making a stupidly importuned assumption that the common Christen in the pew really understands the supernatural and the spiritual, you quote no one you have no way to back it up, we know from past discussion that your understanding of supernatural is right in line what the misconceptions I'm fighting,

9:20 AM Delete

im-skeptical said...

yes they do,you are naive and brainwashed by your little shallow ideology. yet many theists do treat God as nothing but a cause--I didn't say their conception is said the way they treat
- OK. Apparently, you're talking about deism - it's not theism and it's not atheism. Deism was what many enlightenment thinkers believed in. It would make your discussion much easier to follow if you used the correct terminology for what you're talking about.

It emerged from the secular part of the enlightenment
- Secular does not imply atheist. This is another mistake you keep making. They were deists.

that is just your God hater club bull shit insisting that there is nothing to know. you do not know the basics of theology. you have no concept of the complex and rich nature of theological thinking.
- I just got done telling you "I never said that there are no "deep ideas" in theology. I never said there is not a higher level of learning that you can get from specialized education." Do you not hear what I tell you? Are you daft?

that's practically nothing it doesn't mean you understand anything about Christin theology or Biblical teachings
- What it means is that I have at least the same basic understanding that practically everyone in our religious society has. It also makes no claim that I would have that higher-level understanding that you might get from specialized education. I never made such a claim. But I do know at least as much about Christian theology as the average Christina on the street, if not more. In fact, the average atheist knows more about it than the average Christian.

basic worlds are always used differently in specialized usage and Bible is translated from Hebrew and Greek
- Here's where you need to listen and follow what I'm telling you. I said I use words like that the same way they are commonly used in modern English. If YOU think that the language is wrong because YOU have a specialized definition, I suggest you limit your discussions to academic journals, and don't bother trying to communicate with ordinary people, because your language is not our language.

that's the problem stupid, most Christian have been mislead, the whining is done by the guy who wrote the book you asshole! you are trying to use the common person's misconceptions as the standard of understanding that's just stupidity, stupid studious
- First, You blamed it on atheists, but that's not true. Second, it is your opinion that enlightenment thinkers have misled Christians, but your opinion does not necessarily equate with truth. I happen to think that enlightenment thinking is much more intelligent than your unenlightened religious thinking. But that's my opinion.

remember I said " I; have only to ask you to tell me about them to see you don't know them,"
- I have no idea what you are asking for. Tell you about what?

you are making a stupidly importuned assumption that the common Christen in the pew really understands the supernatural and the spiritual, you quote no one you have no way to back it up, we know from past discussion that your understanding of supernatural is right in line what the misconceptions I'm fighting,
- Again, you didn't listen to what I said (as if you ever do). I agreed with you that the average Christian on the street does not have a high-level education in theology. So what is your beef? Or do you just find it necessary to take issue with every statement I make, even when I agree with you?

Joe Hinman said...

yes they do,you are naive and brainwashed by your little shallow ideology. yet many theists do treat God as nothing but a cause--I didn't say their conception is said the way they treat

- OK. Apparently, you're talking about deism - it's not theism and it's not atheism. Deism was what many enlightenment thinkers believed in. It would make your discussion much easier to follow if you used the correct terminology for what you're talking about.

No I'm not talking about deism,I'm talking about exactly what I said: thinking God is only a causal agent.

It emerged from the secular part of the enlightenment

- Secular does not imply atheist. This is another mistake you keep making. They were deists.

I'm Not talking about atheists I AM TALKING ABOUT PEOPLE WHO THINK GOD IS ONLY A CAUSE. YOU DON'T THINK GOD IS A CAUSE DO YOU?

...
basic words are always used differently in specialized usage and Bible is translated from Hebrew and Greek

- Here's where you need to listen and follow what I'm telling you. I said I use words like that the same way they are commonly used in modern English. If YOU think that the language is wrong because YOU have a specialized definition, I suggest you limit your discussions to academic journals, and don't bother trying to communicate with ordinary people, because your language is not our language.

It's my blog asshole! I want it be as close to an academic journal as it can be

that's the problem stupid, most Christian have been mislead, the whining is done by the guy who wrote the book you asshole! you are trying to use the common person's misconceptions as the standard of understanding that's just stupidity, stupid studious


- First, You blamed it on atheists,

where?

but that's not true. Second, it is your opinion that enlightenment thinkers have misled Christians, but your opinion does not necessarily equate with truth.

Stop talking like I made up the concepts being disused in that essay. do you not know what a book review is? This was a book review. the book:The Domestication of Transcendence: How Modern Thinking about God Went Wrong. by by William C. Placher, John Knox Press, 1996. get it through your head!


Skepie I happen to think that enlightenment thinking is much more intelligent than your unenlightened religious thinking. But that's my opinion.

Most enlightenment thinkers believed in God.Atheists were very few and most of them late in the period.



you are making a stupidly importuned assumption that the common Christen in the pew really understands the supernatural and the spiritual, you quote no one you have no way to back it up, we know from past discussion that your understanding of supernatural is right in line what the misconceptions I'm fighting,


- Again, you didn't listen to what I said (as if you ever do). I agreed with you that the average Christian on the street does not have a high-level education in theology. So what is your beef? Or do you just find it necessary to take issue with every statement I make, even when I agree with you?

case in point. I said a lot more than just that most Christians don;t know much theology, But its just water off a Duck's back. You don;t read and you don;t understand what you do read,

8:23 AM Delete

Joe Hinman said...

this is the conclusion of my essay. read this and chew on it, This pretty much sums up what I;m saying.


Placher provides a complex and nuanced understanding of the thinking which created the divide between a world charged by supernatural and world forever collapsed into one dimension of nature, one voice (univocal).This has to be understood if we are going to re-claim historical Christianity and move beyond the reductionism that currently threatens the very possibility of belief. It's a powerful weapon in my arsenal to wave about in the face of those who butcher the meaning of supernatural. It belongs up there with books like Nature and Grace by Mathias Joseph Scheeben which explicated the meaning of the Supernatural.

im-skeptical said...

No I'm not talking about deism,I'm talking about exactly what I said: thinking God is only a causal agent.
- Well, I don't know what you're talking about. First, atheism was practically non-existent during the enlightenment, so you can't be talking about atheism. The great thinkers of the time were deists. Second, God was always seen as a causal agent, and this was very much part of theistic thinking. However deists believe that God set the world in motion and then doesn't interfere. So the deistic God was "only" a causal agent in the sense that he does nothing more than that. If you aren't referring to deists, then you must be blaming these developments on theists. It sure wasn't atheists. Without more explanation, you don't make any sense.

I'm Not talking about atheists I AM TALKING ABOUT PEOPLE WHO THINK GOD IS ONLY A CAUSE. YOU DON'T THINK GOD IS A CAUSE DO YOU?
- You did blame it on atheists. And I don't think God exists.

It's my blog asshole! I want it be as close to an academic journal as it can be
- So you don't care about effective communication. Well, that is obvious, isn't it?

where? [did I blame it on atheists]
- You said this: "Placher's work is invaluable for understanding the SN and for answering the problematic questions raised by atheists in their desire to disprove concept of alternative realms. The atheist concept of SN as a realm beyond the natural is an extension of both tendencies form the enlightenment and from the Calvinists." You then implied that modern theistic beliefs are misguided as a result of this atheistic thinking.

Stop talking like I made up the concepts being disused in that essay. do you not know what a book review is?
- I don't care who made it up. I am talking about what YOU say in YOUR article. I think the real problem is that you don't understand the book, so you are unable to explain what what the book says in a way that makes sense.

Most enlightenment thinkers believed in God.Atheists were very few and most of them late in the period.
- That's right. They were deists. But you said you weren't talking about deists. You don't make sense.

case in point. I said a lot more than just that most Christians don;t know much theology, But its just water off a Duck's back. You don;t read and you don;t understand what you do read
- This particular case in point was about me saying something that agrees with what you said, and you still argued against it, just because it was something I said.

Placher provides a complex and nuanced understanding of the thinking which created the divide between a world charged by supernatural and world forever collapsed into one dimension of nature
- I tried to get you to explain this thinking, and all you will say is "PEOPLE WHO THINK GOD IS ONLY A CAUSE". If you don't say any more than that, I don't know what you really mean. Whose thinking is it? What is wrong with it besides seeing God as a causal agent? You certainly don't show any complex and nuanced understanding of it. You don't seem to have gained much from reading the book. You can't explain what you mean.