Thursday, March 27, 2008

THE ELUSIVENESS OF GOD

[After completing this piece, which started out as something much shorter, I decided to cross-publish it on Ekklesia while retaining a big chunk of the original, with links here. This is something I don't usually do - though I do cross-reference and elaborate, obviously. I'm about to be taking a break from this blog and the rest of my work until early April, so it seemed a good place to draw a temporary line, among other things.]

To paraphrase Augustine, and subsequently John Caputo, "what is it that we love when we love our God?" I'm constantly amazed by what some people, both non-religious and religious, assume I must be committing myself to in order to "believe in God" (as I do, though not in the way they are thinking). Six intangible things before brunch, I guess - before resuming my near approximation to "life as normal".

So what lies behind this presumption, a clearly growing one, about the inherent incongruity of bothering with God? (God being a notion which more than a few people in my cultural orbit think less interesting or relevant than porridge, frankly. I don't blame them for that, given what I'm about to say).

Much of the agitated and high profile media to-ing and fro-ing about whether God is 'great, or not' presupposes the most astonishingly naive and positivistic forms of theological or anti-theological realism. Viewed one way, it is mind-boggling that someone as intelligent as Stephen Hawking can dismiss, as he recently appeared to, all philosophy and theology as essentially valueless. But for some it is becoming par for the course.

In a sense, this is not Hawking's fault. In the modern environment it is common for people to use a form of thought developed to accomplish one set of things in order to try to accomplish quite another set of things -- without noticing that this is what they are doing, that it may entail some very basic category mistakes (like thinking of God as a 'thing', for instance), that there are other ways of proceeding, and that we may lack the tools (which are philosophical) to diagnose and posit alternatives to the thought disorders that emerge as a result of our misplaced reductionisms.

Moreover, near ignorance as a basis for commentary on such matters as theology and religious stidies (a set of intra- and extra-disciplinary tools for reasoning about belief) has become almost a symbol of intellectual virility in some virtuously anti-God circles. As a consequence of this, and of the corresponding dominance of religious discourse by neo-fundamentalisms of various kinds, what is reckoned to be a debate about the plausibility or otherwise of the divine, hogged by the so called new atheists and their conservative religious polar attractants, is in fact nowhere near it. It is much nearer to nowhere, in fact.

In his sometimes astute and sometimes patchy New Guide to the Debate about God (SCM, 1992), following on to a certain extent from David E. Jenkins' 1966 Guide in the aftermath of John Robinson's Honest to God, Martin Prozesky made a very important point which has largely been overlooked recently. In the aftermath of Heidegger, Nietzsche et al, it is popularly supposed, he pointed out, that the post-Enlightenment world has pretty much reached the end of God-talk. In reality, however, we may be only just scrabbling to get out of the kindergarten.

If that were so - and the incapacity of much reasoning about matters of belief and rationality suggests it is - then the estimate of the whole situation about how we are trying to tackle 'religion' and its cognates changes significantly. Following falteringly in the footsteps of the the remarkable Nicholas Lash, I tried in 2007 to offer some semi-technical and semi-popular reflections on What difference does God make today? In the same vein, here is a further excerpt from another paper, What is radical about Christianity?, which was originally conceived in relation to a constructive series of discussions between humanists and religionists (it is of course possible to be both). It sums up where I am at on 'the God question', and why I don't think the present vituperation between a certain kind of non-believer and a certain kind of believer is very useful.... [continued here]

[Pic: Apophosis, (c) TheGroovyDude over at Renderosity]

1 comment:

Jane said...

HAppy (early) birthday
This looks really interesting and makes me think of some of Laurent Schlumberger's work on the absence of God. Mias c'est en fran├žais -est que tu lis cela??
One of the great things about the ERF is that the theologians are really in the parishes - there aren't many positions for them elsewhere.

HAve a great holiday - these have been absolutely fabulous posts - when I get back to blogging I shall be linking to them.

The elusiveness of God will accompany home as I take a day off to prepare for the party on Saturday
Enjoy the football!