Saturday, January 22, 2005

CC Theology 101

From Beliefnet UU Debate

As far as I know, Nontheism consists of Buddhism, Deism and me.

I'm closer to a deist than a Buddhist, but I'm not a deist.

Like a deist, I believe that there is a God, but that humanity is basically on its own. Unlike a deist, I don't believe that God was a creator who then left the world alone. What I do believe is that God is here and with us, but is a transcendent force.

Tillich says that everything one says about God is metaphor. My chosen metaphor is gravity. Gravity is everywhere, always pulling on and effecting things, but we don't notice it most of the time. Gravity is a wonderful thing, a miraculous thing, we couldn't survive without it. But it works itself so seamlessly into our reality that only physicists and engineers think about it much. It's just a part of "the way things are' for us.

Likewise for God, our transcendent force for good. You can chose to work against gravity if you want to, but doing so really just makes life a little harder.

Now this theology is all well and good, but it does present a few practical problems. I don't "worship" God in any real sense. A being that enjoys worship by beings that don't understand it doesn't seem very-worship worthy to me, and gravity doesn't care if you worship it or not. Petitionary prayer is even more ridiculous from my perspective.

I suppose "My gravity bless you and not send you flinging into space" can be said, but I always feel a little awkward suggesting that God should bless people just the same. In my view, God doesn't give people special blessings. God's there. Pay attention and seek attunement or don't.

Theistic services tend to make me sit there and go "God is watching over me, you say? Well, sort of, but, well, not really, no."

If I wanted to sit in church and disagree, I could, but if I'd wanted to do that, I could have saved my parents some anguish and remained a Presbyterian.

Thus my athiest and humanist sympathies. I prefer athiest and humanist congregations not because I necessarily agree with athiests but because they really talk about how to life a life in tune with God, though they don't use the same language I do. And they do a lot of social justice work. I don't believe that social justice work is a replacement for religion, but if you elieve as I do that God doesn't directly feed the homeless or free the oppressed, the need for human beings to take care of each other becomes glaringly apparent.

I don't use much theistic language myself, unless I'm using it to make the point that I am actually far more religious than people tend to give me credit for as I've done recently, and I don't quite understand other peoples' need to hear it all the time. To me, if we're talking about taking care of one another and living thoughtfully and faithfully, saying that we're going it because we seek the highest and best in everything is not really any different than saying we do it to glorify God.

I think of theistic language as a language. I can translate it easily enough, but I don't think it's any of our place to try to pressure people for whom secular language is a native tongue to speak theistically just to please us, or just to recruit more members or what have you.

But funny, all that doesn't fit in B-net's little "statement of belief" box



Anonymous said...

CC, by my definition (which is no more than that--MY definition), you wouldn't count as a non-theist. Nor would Deists, at least the classic Deists of the 18th and early 19th centuries. As I understand the term, a theist is someone would believes that God exists, whatever they understand by that term and whether or not they choose to worship or interact with that God in any way. Thus the Deists, who were strong believers in God but not in many aspects of Christianity (such as unique revelation) were certainly theists, and you too are a theist.

On the other hand, a non-theist is someone who does not believe that there is a God, however defined. I contrast this with the idea of an atheist, which is provoking the flame war between Rieux and Peacebang over at Philocrites. An atheist is someone who does not believe that there is a God, and for whom this fact is an important defining aspect of their approach to religion/life. A non-theist shares with the atheist the lack of belief in a God, but to the non-theist it is not a matter of particular importance. Thus, you're right to call out Buddhists in this respect: Buddhism has never supported the idea of God, but that's because the issue has never mattered to Buddhists one way or the other--they've got other fish to fry, so to speak. Meanwhile, few people would call Buddhists atheists. After all, Buddhism includes a great multitude of supernatural/ascientific beliefs, such as in powerful savior bodhisattvas, forces such as karma, reincarnation, etc.

I haven't follows the Beliefnet discussion, so if I've just replicated arguments from there, I apologize.


Chalicechick said...

As always, you post thoughfully and well, Jeff.

My definition of non-theist is someone who does not believe in God as most people understand God, but believes in "something supranatural."

While Jews, Christians and Muslims have some differing ideas about God, their views of God are recognizable as different aspects of the same being. My definition is farther from that and most of the generalizations one can safely make about theists.