A Religious Liberal Blog

This site hopefully can provide some vehicle by which I can comment, complain, and once in a while praise the state of religion in this country and around the world from a liberal protestant perspective.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005


I just recently posted this on Rockridge Forums which is holding a series of discussions with religious progressives online on how to engage issues of faith and the public arena. There's a lot of good posts to read though. It's worth checking out and participating in. Here's my contribution to the discussion:

I think a helpful way to approach the question of how the idea of God is framed is to first ask the question: what is the major problem/s of human existence? Usually a religious answer is in response to a human problem, so how we frame this problem will provide a context by which various religious answers can be offered and evaluated.

In the western religious tradition this usually has revolved around the question of salvation..how can I be transformed in ways in which I cannot transform myself, how can I be saved from the destructive propensities of life and pointed to the best possible? If we take this as a way of approaching the problem, than we might ask what operates in the world to do just that?

By locating this saving activity in the world, we make it a public issue (which I think is an issue for liberals, how to take religious claims seriously when we're fighting over competing private revelations)...that is, it calls not for a revealed answer but for an open inquiry into what conditions, forces seem to operate which transforms human existence to the better.

It's a naturalized account that opens this issue for all, not just for this or that religion. It means that everything from biology to economics to education to various religions can have resources to bear on investigating what acts in a transformative manner and how do we best relate ourself to such a reality/ies

God in such an account becomes an evaluation of those forces which make for transformation, for good (which was one of the categories Lakoff gives us to consider). In such an account God is not an object but rather a way of talking about that which acts to transform human life and therefore calls for or solicits a religious response, perhaps of gratitude, piety, a giving one's self to such saving work.

In this way religious faith is not as much determined by particular religious forms as much as it is by a certain self giving to forces which work to save, transform human existence (in this sense some of the most religiously faithful people I know are atheists who are working for change and a better society).

There's a number of routes to take with the issue of progressives and religious faith, but I think this route is particularily fruitful in that when religion is naturalized we can get rid of some of the barriers, exclusivity which demarcates religion from other areas of life..it opens up the religious question to the non theist and theist alike.

4 Comments:

At 10:36 AM , Anonymous J-Tron said...

Interesting. I definitely see some value in what you're saying, particularly in that it motivates us to look at the way God already acts in the world, the way that we have to be responsible for our own productive or destructive actions, and the attempt to de-objectify (what Robinson would have called "demythologizing") God.

I am, however, as always, a bit apprehensive about any model of understanding religion that is so thoroughly anthropological that God becomes either an afterthought or a symbol for the products of human invention. Of course, this is the orthodox framework from which I come, so it's natural that I would be critical of anything that claims to be "non-theist." But I think it is highly problematic to claim a Christian name for a philosophy that leads to God emanating from us rather than us being created in the likeness of God.

 
At 11:17 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

The problem with any conceptual approach to God is that it can't get you there. The only direct approach to the ultimate nature of reality is through meditation, and it must ultimately involve dropping any concepts to get to the state of unfiltered awareness. As many Christian mystics have described, God is a Mystery. No way to describe it adequately to those who haven't ever been there.

 
At 12:29 PM , Blogger Dwight said...

J-tron
Those are important concerns. What wasn't emphasized enough in my piece was that the forces which are working for transformation are supra human, that is they are beyond human will, imagination and effort, and they help shape and mold these very things.

Our valuation of such activity is the religious response but such activity is not created because of our response, so there still remains a creature/creator divide which I agree is a key feature of orthodox Christian thought. God is at work in the world, religion is a response to this work.

Anon
I'm not a good mystic myself though I treasure the writings of many who are. I do think God is more than our concepts and that we can never know the depths of God..heck I can't know myself and other people fully.

But a distinction I'd raise is this: we may not know everything but we can know something, or at least have enough knowledge to relate to these salvific realities in ways which are more or less optimal. I may not know fully my spouse but I know enough to relate to them in a manner which makes sense given the nature of the relationship.

 
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