Last week we concluded the identification of eighteen ‘principles of reinterpretation’ that we will use to address the traditional teachings of Western religion. Since all religions in some way address and attempt a definition of the underlying ‘ground of being’, that of God, we will begin here.
Where to Start?
The concept of God as found in the many often contradicting expressions of Western religion can be very confusing. Given the duality which occurs in both the Old and New Testament (such as punishment-forgiveness), layered with the many further dualities introduced by Greek influences in the early Christian church (such as body-soul) (”The Evolution of Religion, Parts 1-10, Sept 3, 2015 to Jan 7, 2016), and topped by many contemporary messages that distort the original texts (such as the “Prosperity Gospel”) this is not surprising. Finding a thread which meets our principles of interpretation without violating the basic findings of science but staying consistent with the basic Western teachings can be difficult.
A perhaps surprising starting place might come from the writings of one of the more well-known atheists, Richard Dawkins. Professor Dawkins strongly dislikes organized religion, but in his book, “The God Delusion”, he casually remarks
“There must have been a first cause of everything, and we might as well give it the name God. Yes, I said, but it must have been simple and therefore whatever else we call it, God is not an appropriate name (unless we very explicitly divest it of all the baggage that the word ‘God’ carries in the minds of most religious believers). The first cause that we seek must have been the simple basis for a ‘self-bootstrapping crane’ which eventually raised the world as we know it into its present complex existence.”
Here we find an excellent outline of the nature of the ‘fundamental principle of existence’:
– It must be the first cause of everything
– It must work within natural processes
– It must be an active agent (“a ‘self-bootstrapping crane’ ”) in all phases of evolution from the Big Bang to the appearance of humans
– It must be an agent for increasing complexity (“the raising of the world as we know it into its present complex existence”)
– It must be divested of “all the baggage” (such as magic and superstition) of many traditional religions)
– Once so divested, “God” is an appropriate name for this first cause
Dawkins goes on to claim that such a God cannot possibly be reconciled with traditional religion. Paradoxically, he fails to grasp how acknowledging the existence of a “first cause” which raises everything to its current state is indeed at the core of all religion and offers an excellent place to begin this reconciliation. Our process for this ‘reconciliation’ is of course that of ‘reinterpretation’.
For an example of such reinterpretation, in our preliminary outline above we find a reflection of Pope John Paul II’s statement on science’s relation to religion:
“Science can purify religion from error and superstition.”
So here in this starting place we can begin to see a view of God that is antithetical to neither science nor religion, but one in which John Paul II echoes Teilhard when he sees it as one in which:
“Each can draw the other into a wider world, a world in which both can flourish.”
But What About the Baggage?
Both John Paul II and Richard Dawkins recognize that Christianity has developed a complex set of statements about God. How is it possible to put these statements into a context which is consistent with the simple outline offered above: to ‘divest them of their baggage’? This is the objective of this last section of the blog.
The way to go about it? We will use those ‘principles of reinterpretation’ which we identified in the last two posts to ‘divest the baggage’ in which the traditional statements about God are frequently wrapped.
A Preliminary Definition of God
To start this process, I offer a simple working definition of God:
“God is the sum total of all the forces by which the universe unfolds in such a way that all the entities that emerge in its evolution (from quarks to the human person) each have the potential to become more complex when unified with other entities.”
The question could be asked, “But isn’t this just Deism?’ We addressed this question in the posts, “But Isn’t This Just Deism?”- 6-20 August, 2015”, and noted the differences between our definition and that of Deism. In summary, the Deists, most notably represented by Thomas Jefferson, conceived of a ‘ground of being’ which was responsible for everything which could be seen at that time. In their minds, in order to strip “the baggage” from the religious expressions of their time, God had to be understood as a designer and builder of the world, but once having built it, retired from the project. Theirs was a static world and in no need of continued divine involvement. As they saw it, Man, given his intelligence by God, was capable of operating the world independently from its creator.
The Deists were off to a good start, but without the grasp of the cosmos and its underlying process of evolution that we have today, they were unable to conceive of a continuing agent of an evolution which continually manifests itself in increasing complexity. Their static world postulated either an uninvolved God or (as they saw traditional religion’s belief) a God continually tinkering with his creation.
The Next Post
Next week we will begin to examine conventional conceptions of God, starting with that of ‘person’.