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Thursday, September 13, 2007

On The Bridge to Being Blog

 

WELCOME TO “CLUB THEOLOGY” –

WHERE THINKING DOUBTERS ARE MOST WELCOME…

 

REFLECTIONS ON “BLIND FAITH” AND INTELLIGENT WITNESS

By

Jay B. Gaskill

 

I was inspired to write this as a response to a piece titled “Blind Faith” by Dennis Green, who writes for The Alameda Sun. 

 

Dennis Green, a retired literature professor, is hostile to organized religion. While he still styles himself a “secular humanist,” Dennis is no stranger to the ongoing spiritual dialogue. 

 

I’ve just welcomed him to “Club Theology”.

 

An excerpt from Dennis Green’s piece:

 

“Too much of holy writ is based on cultural preferences and prejudices for me to think these truths must last overnight, let alone forever. And I don’t think I’m unique in my beliefs, or even that rare. Whatever Kulture you’ve got, I’ve got a counter-culture just as real.

 

“So many apostles and fundamentalists have been so hotheaded and wrong-headed over the years, including many American TV evangelists, I’m surprised their churches and sects have survived. I had a Quaker friend over the other day, and we had a nice conversation, but he voiced his belief that only by believing in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, can anyone be saved.

 

“I didn’t remind him that Jesus also told us that we are all sons and daughters of God, and that when the Nazarene said, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Light,” he was echoing every prophet known to God and man.

 

“The German philosopher Nietzsche admired Jesus Christ, and his spontaneity, toughness and freedom of spirit, but he also wrote, ‘There has been only one Christian, one person who lived up to the standards of the Gospel, and he died on the cross.’

 

“As we modernists debate the value of religion in the light of Islamic fundamentalism, Orthodox Judaism, right-wing evangelical extremism, Medieval Catholicism, and other faith-based politics, we might keep these challenging, and ecumenical, thoughts in mind.”

 

Green’s column appears regularly in “The Alameda Sun” available on line at: http://www.alamedasun.com/  (Navigate to Opinion &/or search for Dennis Green.)

 

Dennis… I’ve just read your piece, “Blind Faith”.  I think it is an excellent take and (by-the-way) something most of the “liberal” (i.e., not-literalist) theologians I know and know of will mostly affirm. From their point of view, the models of religion and deity you are attacking have already been discredited.  None of them really believe in an exclusive path to salvation (“Take the pathway to Jesus or the highway to hell!”), or even on the definition of “salvation”.  [But by nearly any definition, they will agree that “salvation” is a good thing.]

 

Many of these thinkers are “process theologians” (this is a movement based on the ideas of Alfred North Whitehead). Because you’ve now joined “Club Theology” (see my personal definition below), you might enjoy an interesting piece on the subject that I recently encountered. It is not necessarily the most definitive - or exactly my own - take on process theology, but it is well written, concise, authoritative and free on the web.  It’s by Dr. John B. Cobb, Jr., Professor of Theology Emeritus at the Claremont School of Theology, Claremont, California.

[Link - http://www.religion-online.org/showarticle.asp?title=1489 ]

 

GRM’s & G-D

 

All this talk is really about the shape and reach of each of our “Grand Reality Models” (GRM’s, if you will), the big world pictures that we develop, revise and refine (intentionally or unintentionally) over a lifetime.  In my world, the “theistic” subset of “theology” includes all of the GRM’s that are centered around some master organizing model of “I-am in the world”, however we choose to name or not name that Being or “beingness”.  As you might expect, a lot has happened in “our” field since some people figured out that the God (version) who declared himself supreme over all the other gods was not himself a monotheist! [1]

 

THEOLOGY SHOULD BE DEFINED GENEROUSLY

 

I’m using the term “theology” loosely here in the universal sense that includes the Buddhists who after all are not “theists” in the strict sense, just “methodists” with a small “m”.  Recently I started work on expanding my own view that “monotheism” has gone through three stages, and we are on the precipice of participating the fourth stage.

 

MONOTHEISM IS A STAGED DEVELOPMENT

 

Staged Monotheism is a description of the historical evolution of our species’ developing understanding of deity that incorporates the implications of the God presence as an emerging Human Idea.  As I tend to see it, the stages are as follows:

 

(a)    In stage one, a single deity rules over the other (putative) deities.

(b)   In stage two, only one deity exists in relationship with human beings.

(c)    In stage three one deity is seen as the ultimate unity of being.

(d)   Stage Four is the realization of the complex multifaceted nature of divine being as the shattered and self-reconciling ultimate unity of being.

 

Each new stage in monotheism does not necessarily negate the former, but it certainly makes the whole notion of deity more thoroughly universal and less available for exclusive sectarian appropriation.

 

ENTER TWO NEW IDEAS ---

G-D IS CREATIVE PARADOX

& RELIGION IS CONNECTION SOFTWARE

 

Here are two other notions I’ve been exploring --

 

1.      The first is that what we call “God” is the one being who enjoys this paradoxical property among others: GOD is the one being able, without temporal paradox, to reach back in time to influence the course of present events by touching the consciousness of us mortal beings at a level which always preserves the state of our ontological independence, the condition that we experience as freedom. These are very subtle contacts, but contacts that can deeply stir and ennoble all of us who are ready to hear.  I suspect that every one of our best epiphanies, insights, and creative inspirations is the product of a divine contact whether we acknowledge the source or not. I suspect that this is the basis if the insight that “It is better to believe god than to believe in God”. And, in my GRM, all the benign acts of human achievement, creation, and grace that result from these contacts are miracles.

 

2.      The second notion is that all religions, religious doctrine and ritual are tradition-supported shared software constructs designed to facilitate connections with our species’ deep moral knowledge, our fellow thinking, feeling and wondering travelers across time and space, and with our species’ ultimate source of moral knowledge and inspiration however known, named or unnamed. Not all of these software constructs can run on “my” platform, but the deeper reality to which they occasionally succeed in connecting us is the same for all humanity.

 

Welcome to “Club Theology”!

 

JBG

 

Except for the quotation from Dennis Green, separately copyrighted, this piece is Copyright © 2007 by Jay Gaskill.  Contact the author for reprint permission (readily given when the author has been kept in the loop, authorship is acknowledged and author contact information provided): Jay B. Gaskill, Attorney at Law - law@jaygaskill.com [Regular mail and telephone contact information is available on request.]

 



[1] As infants, our field of awareness gradually acquires the sense of “I am-ness” by achieving a degree of relational awareness, this is: of one’s own conscious being and of its status as local being, that is, as center of awareness with an increasing grasp of spatial and temporal location. 

 

Because we are thrust into an event space realm dominated by exchange relationships, this dual discovery of our own awareness and its local properties is almost always first brought about through the necessary exchange processes that sustain life, such as being fed by mother.  Throughout the life and development of any conscious being, the sense of “I am-ness” can be pictured as an expanding field into which is assimilated an increasingly rich array of relational detail. 

 

The developing array of relational detail that begins to enrich our “I am-ness” fields, consists of aspects of the surrounding local event space that are in an interactive relationship with local I-am, and an increasingly well integrated and complex set of internal cognitive forms, principles and “thinking models”. Among these models is nested the master organizing model of “I-am in the world”, the nascent, developing global reality model (GRM) whose reach and integration ultimately defines the interface between every local I-am and “the world.”

 

What philosophers call epistemology is the systematic study of commonalities between the GRM’s of local conscious beings as they learn to interact with the world and each other.