Thursday, November 17, 2011

What is God - a semi-heretical, Christian approach

A few times recently (and, many times in the past), I've referenced the fact that I am an extreme non-literalist believer. I don't believe in the kind of God who literally listens to our prayers and then decides, based on some semi-known criteria, whether to respond positively, or not. For some reason, these past few times, I've had a number of people, some of whom know me quite well, ask what, exactly, I do believe.

I was a bit surprised by the question, because it often feels to me that I'm always talking about that these days. But, I've realized that that's only true with a small number of people - I've had some sporadic, and some ongoing, conversations with some people, but there's no way that many others would really know what I believe.

I've been meaning to write specifically about it, but it's hard - as much as I talk about it, trying to get it down into a cogent, relatively concise form is tricky. I'll do it, but I'm not sure exactly how or when. Maybe I'll make a series out of it, here on this blog.

But, interestingly, I came across an article a couple of days ago by Andrew Sullivan. Sullivan is a relatively well known writer, and it turns out that he's also a very devout, but very non-literal believer. He obviously views Jesus much differently than I do, but a great deal of what he says resonates strongly with me:

Nonbelievers need to let go of anthropocentric, grey-bearded beings in the sky for God itself, the highest consciousness of all, and the force that gives this staggering beauty, available to us all, love.

This kind of belief is criticized on several levels. The most common, although it comes in various forms, is that it's not valid in whatever religion we're talking about - it's heresy. It's a new, convenient way to think that has nothing to do with this ancient tradition. But, there are at least two very important responses to that. First of all, it's not new. People of (nearly?) all religions have been thinking this way for centuries:

Go read the Nicene Creed. Then try to understand it. You can do so with a nineteenth century literalism; or you can do so in manifold ways that have varied throughout the centuries. They are flawed human words trying to express the inexpressible; language to convey the ineffable.

But, maybe more importantly, we have the second response: so what? So what if it's heresy.

Look, I love Judaism, and I think that our tradition is an inexhaustible source of mening and inspiration. But, just because something is Jewish, or is old, doesn't make it true. My goal in a religious life is to uncover truth. If that truth comes from tradition, then that's wonderful - there are many advantages to finding truth in tradition. But, if that truth is novel, then so be it. Truth is truth.

Seeking God is seeking truth. That much, I believe, has always been true.

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