God, rid me of God

I’m on a journey.  Since having left the wild and wacky world of “primitive Christianity” (house church with a splash of new-monasticism and a strong sprinkling of fundamentalism) I have essentially been searching high and low for a place to hang my hat.  It is taking me across some interesting places.  Many of the posts I’ve thrown up in the last several months are themed towards this.  It isn’t exactly a worldview, but I am attempting to come to grips with both the content and implications of the places where I am.  In response to a recent comment I posted the following, and I think it’s a fitting description of where I am currently and what interests me:

The Project: Religion With/Out Religion

For the past while, I’ve been attempting to find some sort of working model for what Bonhoeffer called “religionless Christianity” and Derrida called “religion without religion”. Those seem, to me, to be very important concepts–and they resonate with me, they speak to me. Can God be the good news of the religionless without converting them to being religionFULL?  I would say, yes…and I’m trying to flesh out what that means. Part of what my war on certainty has affirmed is that almost everything requires a choice–a value decision. There really isn’t anything that is just “plain truth”, no matter how much science (or their kissing cousins fundamentalists) believe so. They are choosing the narratives that make sense to them. I believe this is Polkinghornes point from my last blog post of quotes(by the way–his charge was, i believe, more or less leveled at rationalists who come up with a utilitarian model of a clocklike universe…that lacks any sort of life, beauty, mystery, or wonder…).

The (Un)Wholly Other

I have also been meditating on the im/possiblity of God.  Or rather the impossible as God.  One way of thinking about this is that God is wholly other. In other words, we mostly fail to see God. Our intellect, our very ability to perceive God, is what is ill-equipped to witness God. Another way of thinking about this is that our imaged thoughts of God do not allow for God. This is why Meister Eckhardt cries out, “God, rid me of God!” Our concepts of God prevent us from experiencing God…often. However, God cannot be wholly other…else we would miss God altogether. There is, admittedly, an element that lies within our constructs causing an awareness. We are not totally oblivious to God.  There are aspects of the unknowable which, surprisingly, are  knowable. 

Here comes the first critical choice…on one hand you could say that the human species has evolved this collective consciousness of God…it cannot exist without having an Other to live with…This view seems to say that there is a God construct that our survival instinct depends on.  But that is a supposition, an interpretation, and hardly the only assumption to be drawn (I would also add it’s not even an assumption that bears out in our normal existence.) Far more common sense, frankly, is that the thing which we desire, and can sense (if not altogether perceive) is communicated by that which desires us (and wishes us to sense it). Just as hunger testifies to the dependence on and the existence of food, so too our own awareness to the wholy other speaks of the wholly other which is in relationship to us.   This to me, makes God, once more–loving, relational, and personal. God as being, or more than being, or less than being (I don’t know) is engaged in whispering and wooing.  Our awareness describes not constructs but communication.  I recognize that this is as a subjective choice, a value decision…but to me it paints a much more beautiful picture than the other subjective choice that opts for the other side of things.

Loving Love

Having said that, I’ve taken up the Augustinian question, that Caputo alliterates, “who do I love when I love my God?” And I’m trying to find a working articulation of what exactly I mean when I speak of God. Personally, I am coming to the Johannian (as in the epistle writer) view, that the first name of God, is love. That love, in all its forms, pure love is God. Love is something intangeble…always drawing us into action, but never quite resolving in that event…it requires more of us. God is that which we desire, but also that which desires us and pulls and propells us towards the event of love. Love in this case is so deeply intimate that to describe it impersonal, or unrelational, would be to demote it. Love requires such relating and such personhood.

If God is Love…Then Who Are We?

“If Love is the first name of God, then ‘of God’ is the name of those who love”. We’re always looking for who’s in and who’s out… To me, love, is the dividing line…always. This is why a secular person who’s life is for the other, is always a religious or God filled life. And a religious person who is only for themselves and what they consider right and wrong is not at all religious and God filled. The people of God are those who are lovers.

The (non)Spiritual Journey

The spiritual journey then is discovering that love…both in terms of our own sense of Belovedness and in terms of being a channel through which that love may flow.

So…these are the places I am coming to…I’m using, perhaps, overly vague language…and doing so because I deeply believe that the Christinese that we have so often used, no longer has place in this world. It has lost the right to speak. it has, to often, been complicit in evil for to speak of lofty good. It’s words are poison. This is the project I’m attempting to develop. I recognize that both cardinals and ordinary Christians alike may not be very happy about the direction its going. I suppose that’s the price I’ll have to pay for thinking about Christianity without Christianity.  But, I have to try…I can do no other.

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12 Responses

  1. “To me, love, is the dividing line…always. This is why a secular person who’s life is for the other, is always a religious or God filled life. And a religious person who is only for themselves and what they consider right and wrong is not at all religious and God filled. The people of God are those who are lovers.”

    This is well-said. I have been on a similar journey as of late (and I am enthralled with Derrida, who explores concepts that seem to beckon you). The more I honestly seek God, the more I tend to discover that God is Love, and that if you’re on the side of Love, you’re probably on the side of God.

    However, I think that recognizing Love as God is as important as recognizing God as Love. There’s something about the relationship (relationship or just identity?) that seems to require recognition of both sides/the whole.

    I haven’t quite flushed that out. But, I look forward to reading future posts.

    • Brittany, thanks for the comment. It is tantalizing isn’t it? As soon as we say that God is Love, which even his earliest disciples didn’t hesitate in doing so, we are perilously close to acknowledging that love is God. It’s enough to make bishops and pastors more than a little squeamish when hearing that. But I, like you, think that this forms a whole. This is what I mean when i ask, “what do I love when I love God?” In a sense, it’s always…Love… On the other hand, it’s bigger than that as well. I suspect that there is a tendency to boil love down, to reduce it to random acts of kindness, attitudes, or actions. I suspect that Love is far more intangible than this. It is elusive and something that invites and invokes us to draw near, then recedes beyond our horizons.

      I’m excited to visit your own blog! See ya.

  2. “Can God be the good news of the religionless without converting them to being religionFULL?”

    That is the question, isn’t it? And I think our answer depends on whether or not we think we’re entering a spirituality/values-neutral ‘secular’ space or not. While I sometimes long for ‘the secular,’ with the same kind of pining I imagine an archetypal agnostic longing for ‘the Sacred,’ I’m not sure that it exists.

    I think that secularization is a real force, but it simply provides space for narratives and spiritual sensibilities to spring up – it is not an end unto itself – at least, not a very sustainable or generative end.

    I feel like people of faith (and people of doubt! and those who dance on the edge of them both) are at a unique juncture of history. Postmodernity has been like a strong mouthwash that has cleaned the palate of Western civilization. It’s been refreshing to see how power abuses metanarratives and how we are, indeed, a storied, collective, and transrational people. But leaving it at these generalities will not do – not for me, at least. Nobody wants to chug Listerine, unless you’re a severe alcoholic.

    So at this point of palate-cleansing, I think we have two strong options ahead of us: re-traditioning or discovering/articulating new mythologies. I’m personally in favor of both. Re-traditioning involves a careful and loving retrieval of the best of our language, ritual, history, and practice. Discovering new mythology is an active listening to our culture today – listening to science, popular culture, socio-political movements both mainstream and fringe. I don’t think I have to detail how either approach, taken by itself, could become insular and lop-sided. If, however, the Tradition and our emerging cosmologies talked with each other, under (if you’ll permit me to use such overtly Christian lingua franca) the aegis of the missional impulse of God in Christ – or the Spirit’s renewing work of (re)creation – the two are met and the old stories find new vitality. I see work like this being done with books like Jesus in the New Universe Story or in the work of theologians like Leonardo Boff (especially Cry of the Earth, Cry of the Poor) or integral practitioners like Roland Stanich.

    I resonate with your judicious use of Eckhart (Meister, not Tolle – though he ain’t bad either) though, and I hope the postmodern critique of conceptual idolatry is always with us. There is an unreflective, wooden certainty that really is (as Brian McLaren suggested to us years ago) a cancer. At the same time, I think we can echo the Quakers and speak of a faith beyond belief that’s a knowing, a Center that we can stake our lives upon even while we doubt our own existence at times. It’s the wild-eyed leap of faith, the passionate lovers’ embrace, the heart that sings ‘Yes’ to God & his cosmic Christ. It is truth that converts the soul to a fuller apprehension of reality, and it is a verity worth dying for.

    • I don’t disagree with what you’ve said Mike. I actually think a “religionless Christianity” creates opportunity for a religionFULL Christianity…of a different variety I think. As you elucidate, in not so many words, we are all in the process of building our own little religions and myths and belief systems and the idea of a purely neutral “secular” concept is contrary to what we understand about the human condition. In that sense, religion–like the poor–is always with us.

      Maybe then my comments, and quest, lie closer to what you’re striking at when you speak of “Discovering new mythology … listening to science, popular culture, socio-political movements both mainstream and fringe…” It is using a new language to embody some very old thoughts (i would argue far older than Christianity). And imbedded in those new linguistics, perhaps a singular and real event.

      • It is using a new language to embody some very old thoughts. And imbedded in those new linguistics, perhaps a singular and real event.

        Yes indeed. It’s like my friend Michael Dowd talks about, REAL-izing our sacred stories.

        …I would argue far older than Christianity

        Well sure – at least as old as Judaism, and of course Judaism arises in a particular historical situation, in conversation with neighboring faiths of its time, drawing its distinctiveness from an idea of covenantal calling-out, drawing on a nearly-universal myth of paradise lost…

        But I am curious what you’re arguing for when you argue for looking at new mythos and and naming them in ways resonant with pre-Judeo-Christian mythos…to what end? Greater universality? I’m in favor of common ground and common faith-language as far as we can take it (which is, I think, one of the primary aims of the Intregral project) – nonetheless, insofar as one endeavors to be a ‘Christian without Christianity,’ one is still compelled to give pride of place to the illumination of the divine in the face of Jesus, specifically – a fidelity to, and fascination with, the shape of the Jesus narrative in a Hebrew-Christian context.

        I’m not saying (for the sake of your journey here) that you *ought* to favor Jesus per se – perhaps its just religious chauvinism that needs to be transcended for a more truly global faith that you will play a part in pioneering (!). But – insofar as the idolatry-smashing God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob plays a role – the God Christians conceive of being a united community of Abba, Son, and Ruah – well, this God is a jealous God. :)

        • And because I love the judicious use of pop culture, allow me to cite lyrics from Like A Stone from Audioslave:

          on a cobweb afternoon
          in a room full of emptiness
          by a freeway i confess
          i was lost in the pages
          of a book full of death
          reading how we’ll die alone
          and if we’re good we’ll lay to rest
          anywhere we want to go

          in your house i long to be
          room by room patiently
          i’ll wait for you there
          like a stone i’ll wait for you there
          alone

          on my deathbed i will pray
          to the gods and the angels
          like a pagan to anyone
          who will take me to heaven
          to a place i call
          i was there so long ago
          the sky was bruised
          the wine was bled
          and there you led me on

        • Part of the job, I think, is to take both the words and ministry of Jesus very seriously in his context, and to then place them in a bigger schema–ours for instance (which, if not bigger is at least very very different). So, on one hand we’re proclaiming the particularity of the Jesus story and on the other we’re affirming that we’re part of that story as well. “Include but transcend”, in a manner of speaking.

          I think what I hear you asking is, “Where’s Jesus in all this man?” And, I think that’s a fair question. I would say this, without giving a fully elaborative post: I believe that Jesus and the story that surrounds him to be both universal in its scope (in that it seems to be a SUPER religion that brings many into focus and to bear) and completely unique (in the sense that it seems to end cycles of violence that have long been embedded in cultural/religious myth). I also believe that Jesus, as depicted by the Gospel writers and by the early church fathers (including Paul and John, etc), depicts God at His most Godlike…a weak force, without sovereignty, soliciting love and engaging in a personal, highly relational, solidarity with “the least of these.” To me, this is really revolutionary. While it seems as though Jesus has many faces to many people (I mean, Hitler whips out the New Testament at the old ladies bible study…really?!?!?!), he also has a face to me…and an importance that I can’t deny–nor would wish to. I would say that two theologies: Christ a crisis in the life of God, and Christ, the weakness of God…enable me to bring the face of Jesus into view once more…

  3. PS: Related to this, I’ve really wanted to check out Charles Taylor’s mammoth tome, A Secular Age

  4. Thank you so much for this post. This is exactly where I am spiritually as well. I find it interesting how many alarm systems religion has put deep inside of me. They keep ringing every time I try to walk toward Christianity without Christianity. It makes me want to run terrified back to a pew! I keep hearing the inner words: “You are really becoming a Buddhist or a Christian Scientist” as if that was bad – another alarm system…But, as you stated, I can’t go back. I will admit I am confused and a bit scared about where I am going.

    • I know how you feel Ron, that is interesting isn’t it? What an interesting journey. I trust we’ll always be open to the terrain it covers.

  5. I hear you, people. I too left christianity without leaving God. I went through Catholisiim, charismatic fundametalist, and evangelical. I have one things to say about it, IT DON’T WORK.

    Christianity does not preach the gospel of grace and peace which Paul preached.

    1] Christianity does not preach the finnished work of the cross.
    2] Christianity does not believe we are all holy, righteous and perfect in Gods eyes. Christianity still beleives we are sinners in Gods eyes.
    3]Christianity does not preach, we have been taken out of the sin of Adam, and placed into the righteousness of God at the death burial and ressurection of Jesus.
    4]Christianity does not believe God loves all, accepts all, and approves of all humanity.
    5] Christianity does not beleive God is not angry, He has been satisfied, appeased and pleased in His Son Jesus.
    6] Christianity does not believe we are all ONE with God.

    The understanding that we are ONE with God is vitally important. It’s NOT, God up there, we down here, and we down here struggling and striving in our OWN righteousness to get our deeds just right before God, so God can bless us. We need to accept the righteousness of God which was imputed on us in our ONENESS
    God sees us righteous, weather we do it right or weather we do it wrong,
    Also, its not us praying longer, harder and better to get God to change situations, and prevent happenings.
    Happenings is just life, and it is not because we didn’t do something longer harder and better.
    No, no, no, we are all holy, righteous and perfect in Gods eyes. We are one with Him.
    Paul says in Romans,” the Gospel is the POWER of God, for therein the righteousness of God is revealed to you.”
    The moment I realized I was one with God, I burst forth in freedom and power of God to live my life out of my heart, with no fear of judgement, guilt and condemnation from God.
    We are the power of God in our oneness with God.
    Try it, get rid of the concept of God up there watching you, but know you are joinrd to Him.
    It will set you free.
    There is no bad news in the good news.

    Gina

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