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Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Epicycles & Electrons Part IV

I think the difference between the moral, spiritual atheist and the thoughtful, liberal Christian is that the former sees continuing the evolution of the idea of God as adding an epicycle, while the latter sees the older ideas of God as steps toward a deeper truth, like Bohr's electron model, and finds it worthwhile to take another step. I believe that in the pursuit of living the best life we can, it is worth our time to investigate and personally understand how God, spoken of so diversely even within the Christian scriptures, moves in our lives. I believe this because I believe all of these writings were addressing something real. At the same time, I recognize that the modern human's world experience is sufficiently different from that of the ancient human authors of our holy scriptures that it will take some work to find the truth that inspired those words. But, I think it is valuable work.

In Part III, I wrote about what I see as some spin-offs/distractions. Certain models of God can be very useful, like the moboard. For ancient people, they explained the natural world, and for more modern people, these ideas are used to control behavior. Religion and faith can be also very useful in teaching us empathy, helping us cope with grief, nurturing our better angels, and so on. But, the usefulness of religion, or even certain understandings of God, do not assure us that these understandings are the most complete, or the most accurate understandings.

I also see a trap in playing mind games to make everything "fit," analogous to saying that the Earth is still in the center of the universe. One example of such mind games is to make all of the Bible stories work by saying the all-knowing, all-powerful, ever-present, present-everywhere God just takes different forms at different times, or tricks the characters in the stories. So, the Let-There-Be-Light God just takes the shape of a human to blow life into the dirt, or in Hebrew, adam. God stands before Abraham, but then God demands that Moses hide in a rock or be killed by God's awesomeness, and then God never appears to Jesus, not because the image of God is evolving, but because that's just what God wanted to do. Another game, which is more tempting to me, is to keep making God so abstract that God becomes nature, or everything, or a collection of human experience. Now, first that's not fair to anyone debating me on the existence of God, but more importantly, it leads to a meaningless understanding of God for me. If there is a God, God must be more than nature, even if all of nature is a part of God.

I believe the search for God has to be an honest one. I think that is something it shares with science. Just as scientists can be derailed by preconceived notions, so can those searching for God in their lives.

5 comments:

Matt Dick said...

I've thought a great deal about this post (were you up at 3 AM?). I guess I think the opening statement is correct:

the difference between the moral, spiritual atheist and the thoughtful, liberal Christian is that the former sees continuing the evolution of the idea of God as adding an epicycle, while the latter sees the older ideas of God on the path to a deeper truth, like Bohr's electron model

I think this frames the difference pretty well -- or at least it captures my position pretty well. I used the phrase "unnecessary" on your blog before and riled up some confusion. I think this captures my point very well -- it's an epicycle explanation to say there is a God.

On the other hand, you got into another topic:

Another example, which is more tempting to me, is to keep making God so abstract that God becomes nature.

I have come up against that wall a few times in talking with you. I am quicker to label this phenomenon than you are. I think it's clear that a God that can reasonably be compared with nature neuters the concept of God. Why call it God at all? What's the point of that label when a materialist label does just as well? So that's my question, ultimately: why do you call this concept God?

And an additional question is phrased for me as a statement, so I'll ask it this way: please address how you believe your conception of God as you've described above can reasonably be described as "Christianity". The more detailed description of your faith (again, a faith more like "reliance" than "belief") reads much more like a philosophy than anything even approaching any mainstream Christianity.

JimII said...

As a preliminary matter, what do you mean by "even approaching any mainstream Christianity"? For example, if a majority of the people in my church share the belief does that count? What about my particular denomination? What about a handful of scholars?

I'm trying to get a lock on what you are looking for. I certainly have ideas that are just mine, and are only connected to Christianity in as much as they are inspired by my Christianity. But, there are probably also other things you're thinking of that I can put in other buckets. So, that's why I ask what you're looking for.

Matt Dick said...

Sounds good to clarify. So I'm working on this statement as the critical filter:

[a] God so abstract that God becomes nature.

For the purposes of this post, I am referencing Wikipedia as my data source unless otherwise noted.

There are about 2.5 billion Christians in the world.

Half are Catholics. God as Nature is not a Catholic tenet and I don't think it can be stretched to make that even similar.

Eastern and Oriental Orthodox churches are about 340 Million and while I have no idea why "Oriental" is not "Eastern" since that what it means, both are definitely orthodox, which wouldn't stretch a definition of God so far.

Of the 800 Million Protestants, 300 Million are Baptist, Anabaptis, Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian,
etc. These are also not going to go so untraditional.

130 Million are Pentacostal, also not known for going new-agey with God.

40 Million are random Evangelicals and they of course believe in a literal old man God.

75 Million Anglicans

We're down to 20 Million "Restorationists" and 31 Million non-trinitarians. From my reading, Restorationists are restoring a Christianity that is closer to 1st century foundational teachings, where I'm sure there are very different conceptions of God, but I still doubt "God as Nature" flies. But I'll give you all 50 Million.

That's 2% of Christians that I think are even in the ballpark of accepting the premise, but I still don't believe it's even that high.

So even if 100% of that 50 Million can countenance "God as Nature", I don't think that's mainstream. In fact if Christianity is Normally Distributed then the entire 50 Million is out beyond 2 Standard Deviations.

"Faith as Reliance" is the second matter, and I think the analysis still applies. I propose that 2 SDs of Christians would balk at the idea that their "faith" does not imply "faith that Christ is the divine, resurrected son of God".

Matt Dick said...

When one blogs on interesting, foundational issues and specifically asks a question, one may not go almost 24 hours without replying. It's uncivilized and leaves me in a harrumph.

JimII said...

Matt writes:
God that can reasonably be compared with nature neuters the concept of God. Why call it God at all? What's the point of that label when a materialist label does just as well? So that's my question, ultimately: why do you call this concept God?

INTRO

Just for some claification, my point is that if it is just nature or the universe, I can't call it God, I have to call it nature or the universe. When I said it was tempting to me, I meant it was a trap that I have to be careful not to fall into.

The idea that I continue to run back to is that of panentheism, God is everything and then some.

It doesn't really interupt the discussion though. We can just change your heading [a] God so abstract that God becomes nature. to [a] God is everything and then some and I think your analysis would remain the same.

RESPONSE

First, I don't care if my beliefs are in the minority. I see my self as trying to find the leading edge of an institution that is evolving. Also, I think every person of faith reaches a personal understanding of God. Even in dogmatic denominations, I expect there is much diversity of thought.

Second, I'm not alone. That kind of contradicts the first response, but I think it would be one thing if no one else found what I thought to be interesting or reasonable response to faith, but that's not the case. There are whole Christian movements like the process theology movement that look at God in a way similar to mine. Catholic theologians going way back have done similar things.

Finally, Christianity is in constant flux. To be Christian is to be moved and inspired by Jesus Christ. That is why I think that fundamentalist and me are a part of the same religion.

Why is it a religion and not a philosophy? Well, it is something I practice with other. It involves ritual and ceremony. It is something I believe-in, not just a set of things I believe.

Sorry for the slow response. ;)