Knowing it All

absolute-truthDuring this time of year when we want to escape the cold midwestern winter it only makes sense to go where it is warmer.  Unfortunately, I’m not that bright and went up north to spend a weekend with my “brothers-from-another-mother” up in Wisconsin.  As always tends to happen around the breakfast, lunch, or dinner table, political “discussions” break out usually in the form of one person espousing what are no more than his own opinions, but are presented as though they are the only option a sane person with an IQ higher than his shoe size could arrive at.  It is later in the evening after dinner and some wine that the religious discussions begin.

I always go away and do the dishes when the political rhetoric is heating up, but I will usually stay and banter for a short while during the religious ones.   Ultimately, though, people will try to razz me by saying that they are atheists and are thrown off when I tell them that I have no agenda to prove them wrong.  I have no need to convince folks of a particular faith system or even to believe that there is a God – however one defines this term.  Rather, I will say that absolute truth is a hard thing to come by and those who have it really don’t have it.  I don’t opine that we should be relativists, but I certainly don’t think that we can stand for very long on absolutes when it comes to defining God.

It is extremely difficult, likely impossible in fact, to “prove” that one is right in either of these discussions.  This is why I don’t waste my breath on political discussions.  When it comes to theology, however, I have to ask myself what we are really studying in this academic subject.  Are we studying God?  I would opine that we are not.  To “do” theology is to explore the various ideas that humankind has developed over the years about the Divine.  But, they are just these – our own ideas.  Theology is not the study of God-self.  I don’t think that God can be known outside of experience, but regardless, it troubles me when self-professed theologians purport that they own absolute truth and have evidence to back it.  It’s even worse when folks base their ideologies on these truths “because the Bible says so.”  More often than not such truth claims are based upon biblical texts taken egregiously out of context and used in a way that the original authors likely never intended.

Despite my reticence to embrace absolute truth claims, I do not propose that we all become relativists.  I think what we run a risk of losing the opportunity to experience the Divine if we merely say that all religions are the same  because they are clearly not.  Each religion grows out of a particular cultural context and history for specific reasons and it would be irresponsible to push those reasons aside.  To say that they are all the same is to come to a conclusion and I would say that, when it comes to God, there are no conclusions.  It is as Catherine Keller said in her book, On the Mystery: Discerning Divinity in Process: “When we think we’ve finally got it, have we already lost it?”  I would say yes.

Our search for God is just that – a search.  It is a journey that takes us places that we could have never imagined and could never have seen were we to have our minds hardened by the pretty little bow we have placed around our own version of absolute truth – forever dooming it from being transformed by God.  Keller says that, “Abstracted from it’s living relationships, even a proposition about divine love can be cited ‘in bad faith.’  It can be turned into a terrorizing absolute.  Such abstraction from text and context, whereby a proposition can then be reinserted unilaterally into any life situation, is the temptation of all forms of truth-language, but above all of theology.  It is the fertilizer of every atheism.” (emphasis mine)  

When people are busy creating their own form of God and imposing it upon others “for their own good,” it has the same effect as the framing that happens on either side of the political aisle.  People define things in their own chosen words leaving others to agree or disagree with no middle ground.  When we describe God and “think we’ve finally got it” we force a necessary atheism for those who have not experienced that God.  If what you describe is God and I cannot bring myself to believe in this God, then I do not believe in God and am therefore an atheist.  Instead of trying to make sense of the Divine, why can’t we just embrace the mystery that God is and enjoy the journey of new and breath-taking experiences?  Why do we have to hold the keys to the truth?  Perhaps we would be better served by NOT giving up on thinking, or on the search for God, but instead embracing that which we discover rather than setting it aside because it doesn’t match our pre-defined notions.  This would be to allow a very large God in process remain in process with the ability to work wherever that God may be found.

I wouldn’t say that I agree with Augustine on everything or even remotely so, but I think he was dead on when he said, Si comprehendis, non est Deus – “If you have understood it, then that what you have understood is not God.”  When it comes to God, let’s stop worrying about being right and start being real.

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One Response to “Knowing it All”

  1. John Lovestrand Says:

    Very well put. I too shy away from political discussions, except with my very closest friends, as too often there is a lack of civility or willingness to listen to alternative views.

    Regarding “proof” of the Divine, I like the oft-repeated challenge to “prove” the existence of love.

    “Does your Mother love you?”, the question is posed.

    “Yes” is the immediate answer.

    “Prove it!” comes the playful retort.

    It’s ethereal, intangible — not subject to “proof” in a legal sense. But no less real. It does exist. It is felt, experienced, embraced. It is elastic — sometimes strong, other times fleeting.

    Perhaps too simplistic, but I find comfort in similarly avoiding the attempt to “prove” the existence of God.

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