Borg and Crossan on what we mean by "God"

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Borg and Crossan explain the difference between supernatural theism and panentheism. Borg reiterates his in response to atheists who say they don't believe in God--"Tell me about the God you don't believe in"--and he points out that usually this is the God of supernatural theism.

10 comments:

CT said...

Let me be the skeptic for a minute. We had a definition of God where god was the great supernatural being in the sky with the power to influence events on earth. And we can probably put that creation down to our own anxieties in that we want to have some control over the uncontrollable. The weather, the world and our own mortality are out of our control so we create a being that has control - giving us control vicariously through this being - thus relieving our anxieties.

Over time that definition is revealed to have many weaknesses and inconsistencies - and ultimately many (most ?) people reject it.

Then theologians look to re-define God in a way that meets those objections. But why ? What are the events, objects or experiences that point to the existence of any such being or entity ? Panentheism is fine as a new understanding of God - but do we need a new understanding to make sense of our world ? If this God does not exist , or ceased to exist, would this impact our lives ?

Crossan & Borg talk about wonder and amazement and driving forces - but cant we find fairly simple alternative explanations for each of these ? It just seems to me that a new definition has been found where the main goal is to put something out there that the atheists cant dispute. The new model might achieve that but where is the positive evidence pointing to this God 'reality' ??

JimII said...

I was at a Borg presentation where he made a strong argument that both the panentheistic and the supernatural theism ideas have always been present. In the Hebrew creation myths, we see both. The first story is the supernatural theist calling the world into being with it mere words. Likewise, the second story of God scooping up earth (adam) and blowing life (spirit) into it. Also the Psalms have the God is everywhere idea. The idea that all things are in God.

I understand the skepticism though.

JimII said...

Mystical Seeker, I've added some new graphical comparisons you might enjoy.

http://propheticprogress.blogspot.com/2009/04/resurrection-texts-comparison.html

PrickliestPear said...

CT,

It kind of depends on what you mean by "evidence."

You are correct that "wonder" and "amazement" can probably be explained without recourse to panentheism.

To someone who has had a mystical experience, however, the notion of "panentheism" may reflect what they have understood and affirmed based on that experience.

To someone who has not had such an experience, evidence becomes more problematic. One could acknowledge the number of accounts of mystical experiences across numerous traditions that, despite their variety, similarly attest to the transcendence and immanence of the divine.

Or one could deny that such experiences happen at all. Similarly, a eunuch could deny that people have orgasms. And who could blame him?

CT said...

Good pint Prickly.
In fact it's at the essence of belief. In our mid-20s my wife and I used to attend a bible study group. We were both dubious about the intervention of God in our lives and we put that to the other group members. We argued that we had no experience we could readily identify as supernatural or other-wordly in any sense.

The group read our summary then started to share their experience of divine intervention. The five other couples came up with an amazing bunch of random events - the most memorable being God proving a full set of Green traffic lights one night when they were very late coming home. The other 'experiences' were of a similar nature. No one stopped to ask the obvious - you mean God changed the traffic lights but let the Holocaust proceed ? The study group came not long after the pastors wife explained how her niece was allowed to buy a concession train ticket even though she didnt have her ID card - but only after she prayed for intervention. What sort of God are we talking about here ? (These discussions effectively ended our regular church attendance)

The suspect validity of these experiences has been further confirmed by the number of friends who told me of the reality of their religious experiences only to leave their religious belief behind at a later stage of their lives. One charismatic who felt speaking in tongues was absolute confirmation of divine intervention - only to ignore this experience and reject religion altogether. Is it possible to experience an identifiable intervention from God without being forever changed ? It is possible - but only if the event has other explanations. More feasible explanations.

The Australian Readers Digest April 2009 has an article - 'Touched by the divine' - first one has family whose house burnt down. Looking through the ashes their son finds an old magazine article with the words 'Count your blessings'. A good message for the boy, but what about all of the other families who didn't find a hidden message in the ashes ? What about the fact that houses burnt down and people were burnt alive ? Take any disaster and you will eventually find an event where something good happens - after several bad-luck events you are due for a good-luck event but you cant then assign that event to God !

Surely the burden of evidence (we'll forget about proof) falls on the person claiming divine intervention. If the overwhelming evidence is that such events are pure chance then you have to show reason to think otherwise. And the reason must be more than our desire to believe that someone up there is interested in our day-to-day lives.

Mike aka MonolithTMA said...

Fascinating stuff to a certain extent, but technically this is just raising the bar, like CT said they are just re-defining God.

The whole god concept can be watered down to the point where, as CT points out, it doesn't matter if this god exists or not.

"Tell me about this god you don't believe in."

Which one?

Fun stuff. :-)

Mystical Seeker said...

It is not "just redefining God" because God has never had a single definition to begin with. One of the problems with most common atheistic critiques of the concept of God is that they presuppose that a given conception of the Divine is the only "real" one somehow, and everything theology that deviates from that is "redefining" the concept of God. Thus it becomes easy to set up a straw man that is easily knocked down. Then you end up with people like Dawkins or Hitchens who don't bother to address theologians like Tillich or Hartshorne, who pretty much wear on their sleeves their ignorance of the diversity of theological conceptions of God.

As for whether it matters whether God exists or not, I would suggest that that is like asking whether or not poetry matters. Not everyone is spiritual, but many people are, and it seems to be a part of the human condition. God matters to many of those with a spiritual bent, and does not matter to those without one. To tell those with a panentheistic understanding of God and for whom their faith is important that somehow God "doesn't matter" to them because their conception isn't the same as that of asome particular orthodoxy is, I think, presumptuous. Religion matters to many people who seek a higher purpose and who see God as part of an overriding metaphysical framework that gives depth and meaning to the world--something beyond themselves. Not all religious conceptions are founded on a basis of divine omnipotence--Buddhism, for example. God is a more diverse concept that many people realize, and unfortunately it often seems that fundamentalists have managed to define the terms of the discussion not only for themselves, but for atheists as well.

Mike aka MonolithTMA said...

First off, most atheists are arguing with fundamentalist Christianity and unfortunately far too often lump all theists in with them.

"One of the problems with most common atheistic critiques of the concept of God is that they presuppose that a given conception of the Divine is the only "real" one somehow, and everything theology that deviates from that is "redefining" the concept of God."

That belief also comes out of fundamentalist Christianity, unfortunately atheists end up adopting the view that all theists think that the Christian God is only the fundy version.

I completely agree that asking whether it matters if God exists is like asking if poetry matters. I can no more convince a poetry lover that it doesn't matter than I can a lover of God that God doesn't matter.

In fundamentalist Christianity it's a matter of eternal life or death and it completely matters whether God exists or not. In some more liberal Christian theology or panentheistic theology there don't seem to be any eternal consequences.

So in the panentheistic world view one may be very happy and content, and find profound meaning in their views, and it may completely matter to them, but if I am happy, and content, and find profound meaning in my life as a non-believer does it really matter that I don't see God?

When I said "The whole god concept can be watered down to the point where, as CT points out, it doesn't matter if this god exists or not." I didn't mean it as a negative, though now that i read it, it may come off that way, and I apologize.

Mystical Seeker said...

Mike, thanks for clarifying what you meant. I apologize if I misinterpreted your comments.

In fundamentalist Christianity it's a matter of eternal life or death and it completely matters whether God exists or not. In some more liberal Christian theology or panentheistic theology there don't seem to be any eternal consequences.I think that is frequently true in general; it certainly reflects my own viewpoint.

So in the panentheistic world view one may be very happy and content, and find profound meaning in their views, and it may completely matter to them, but if I am happy, and content, and find profound meaning in my life as a non-believer does it really matter that I don't see God?I am not sure if all panentheists believe that or not, but, again, that is how I view it. I know that Borg, for example, has written of his respect for other religious paths other than his own. His argument is simply that each person should take their own chosen religious path seriously, but that doesn't mean that other religious paths are "wrong". I would certainly add that not only do I think that different religious paths have validity, but the lack of any religious beliefs is also perfectly valid for individuals so don't see the value in religious faith. I am very much a "live and let live" person, but I'm not sure how much that is true of all panentheists. However, as a rule, my experience has been that the panentheists I've encountered tend to take a tolerant stance, although I don't know that it is inherent to panentheism.

Mike aka MonolithTMA said...

Sorry, it's Monday and sometimes my incredulity comes across as an attack, or appears to be similar to arguments made by those who do attack.

The only thing I vehemently attack is the exclusivity of fundamentalist Christianity, and even then I try to be nice. ;-)

In my experience panentheism comes in many forms. Quite a few Christians are panentheists, though they don't know it, and would vehemently deny being such.