Sunday, May 27, 2007

God, religion, sacred texts and such things

What do I think about God, Jesus, religion, etc?

I am not suggesting you should necessarily care, but when in course of writing entries for a blog one finds oneself feeling like repeating the same information over and over, it is probably time to make a basic post outlining the issue for convenient future reference via web link. In this case I have written about some of this stuff before so this a more recent summary entry, a place I can redirect people to save us all time, and it may in the future be included as a reference for a newer summary. It's a bit long and you may find it boring in some places, so only go through what you find necessary or helpful or interesting. With that caution in mind, let's get going...

Sacred Texts

I see scriptures and sacred texts as revelations of the heart. So, there will be factual errors, historical and cultural biases, and conflicting perspectives. These writing are poems, parables, and personal narratives mixed with history and cultural values. If one strictly evaluates such writings on the basis of verifiable historical accuracy, one is missing out on quite a bit. Ahistorical truth refers to lessons which do not required the account in which they are embedded to be historically verifiable and accurate (for example, one doesn't have to show that the race between the tortoise and the hare actually happened to understand the value of the tale). So, given historical, cultural, and societal biases and looking at certain stories from this frame, there is a great deal of wisdom contained in many of the sacred texts of the world regardless of one's view about God or whether one belongs to a particular religion. But I have no time personally for claims of inerrancy, especially the literal variety.

For more on this search the entries for terms such as "ahistorical".


I also consider my position to be post-theism. That is, I do not require nor arbitrarily reject God language. The closest thing to established Western views of God I hold are akin to Tillich's object of ultimate concern, or what some may refer to as apophatic mysticism. In Eastern terms the closest references are non-personified and found in expressions such as Tao or Shunyata. So as far as some Super Creator from a particular human-made mythology - no, I do not believe in that. But neither do I embrace scientism, ontological naturalism/reductionism, nihilism, or the "absurdity of existence" schools of existentialism. To me, Being (notice the capped 'B') is beyond conventional conceptualization or descriptions, for example living/nonliving, finite/infinite, transcendent/immanent. That's why one employs terms like apophatic or ineffable.

Now, some people find this kind of description frustrating, like it is some way to put Being beyond scrutiny, or worse, when some people make very "effable" (cataphatic) statements about God or what not then retreat to " it's ineffable" when the questions get hard. In my view many constructions of "God" or "ultimate concern" are attempts to familiarize it and make it easier to discuss (and in some systems to predict or even control). Then there is the idea that to really open one's heart to the possibilities of our Being, it's hard for most, at least initially, to do so with a seemingly impersonal "force". Hence some personified construction may be useful initially as a place-holder. It is of course very easy to take such images and put them into service as symbols of power and control. I am opposed to such usage and the oppression which it can engender, as well as the fact that such placeholders tend to be shaped by the social psychology, cultural ecology, and political history of the people's making such imagery (polytheism versus montheism, for example).

If you want to get more specific examples, how my views have changed, or read more general discussion of the topic, search the entries here for terms such as "God" and "Ultimate Reality".


So, given what is written above about sacred texts and God, what about religion? A working personal definition I have for the term is "A mediation of spiritual insight and conventional cultural knowledge through traditions employing myth and ritual." In order to understand it better it helps to know my working definition for spirituality - "Being connected to something in a sense of transcending our own personal limitations, a dedication to something greater than ourselves offering a sense of purpose or fulfillment." I have written quite a bit about how I use the term religion, including in the entry that talks about the goals and perspective of this blog. I think this entry and that entry might also be helpful for further clarification.

Jesus & Christianity

So, taking Jesus as an example of how this works in my perspective, this entry is very helpful! If you are still curious, then this one and that one are also helpful expansions on that foundation. And even more helpful might be this one here - from it one can get a glimpse of what Christianity might look like adopting the kinds of definitions and concepts that I am discussing here (I think it resembles the Christianity called for by Bishop Spong)...

1. "God" is a controversial term because of the place it holds in our language and the deeply personal nature of the experiences and stories in which it is relevant. In this context it represents the endless potential from/in which which all existence/universes spring, known in various cultures and traditions as I AM, as the Tao, as the essence of shunyata and tathata expressed as the dharmakaya, and other hopeless attempts to name the ineffable, which is simultaneously transcendent and immanent.

2. In an attempt to grasp and make this Source familiar, myths arose using metaphorical and poetic language in which God was fashioned in our own image as an anthropomorphic Supreme Being, that is, a Creator God who is more or less like a human being without all the faults and with unlimited knowledge and power. Yet all traditions have elements, in particular revelations from mystic seekers, which speak of Being beyond human labels such as "personal" or "impersonal".

3. Creation, rather than viewed as a singular event, can be seen as a perpetual act of the Divine of which all of existence is composed and in which all of existence participates, arising and dissolving in a continuous flow of what can be and what is.

4. Sin in this scenario is separation from direct union with the mind/will of the Source; rather than a literal view of sin as a blood curse inherited from the disobedience of Adam and Eve, it is a description of how certain actions, speech, and thoughts lead one away from the truth of the fundamental inter-connection of all things. In this ignorance we forget our own inherent completeness as an individual within a greater whole.

5. Original sin is the story (interpreted figuratively) of how humanity became separated from God, that is, how they came to neglect an inherent awareness of the Divine, or again, our interrelated to all that is. This is a personal story that is replayed over and over in the life of every human being, not simply and event that occurred in an actual garden.

6. The story of the Gospels is the story of how God became manifest in the human world as Jesus Christ in order to bridge the gulf that came to separate humanity from the Divine; in this view it is an ahistorical (its value goes beyond its historical reality) story providing an exemplar of the the proper relationship of humanity and the Divine. That is, to be "crucified and resurrected with Christ" is to follow his example of spiritual maturity and realize the same uncompromising love for all of humanity. In remembering our inherent union with the Source, we are reconciled to it and completed by it.

7. The story of Jesus being crucified, being laid to rest in a tomb, and experiencing a bodily resurrection after three days, is a part of the larger ahistorical teaching; the truth of the story lies in the heart, not in what cannot be verified or rejected empirically. In this sense Christ is met in opening our hearts to all people in service and love, not simply by reading a book, saying the proper spell or prayer, or belonging to the right religion or denomination.

8. The message of Christ is one of reconciliation with God and the abundance of undifferentiated grace; the plight of the unsaved is a depiction of the suffering of those who have not been reconciled to God, whether it be through religion or not.

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