The below is an attempt to articulate for myself where I currently am, theologically; which is somewhere quite different than I was a year or two years ago. The theme is pretty similar to the preceding post, but hopefully less rambling and more systematic. Part of it is pretty much consolidated, in other parts I am still grasping at something I cannot yet quite articulate.
A side-note: I'm amused to find that I'm still decisively influenced by Whitehead and Hartshorne, but not so much anymore by their philosophy of God: I pretty much repudiate the primordial/consequent distinction as they put it. But more in the non-overt import they assign to creativity, novelty, as a central feature of the universe. And while I was re-reading the below, it struck me that what Whitehead regarded as the telos of the universe and named 'beauty', namely, (...) the mutual adaptation of the several factors in an occasion of experience which involves that: the subjective forms of these prehensions are severally and jointly intervowen in patterned contrast (Adventures of Ideas p. 324-325); alternatively that All aesthetic experience is feeling arising out of the realization of contrast under identity (Process and Reality p. 396) pretty much conforms to the somewhat-Hegelian notion of love which I am grasping towards: the free self-determination of 'Others' yet united, emptying themselves into the other and determining themselves 'through the eyes of another'. Without gobbledygook: love is the self-giving, self-emptying which adds, rather than destroys, one's individuality.
And it is the secret to existence, to "what is", and the nature of he-who-is. The telos of the universe. This is a new thought for me, and one I still need to chew on.
Science cannot be in a conflict with revealed truth of religion. Science deals with the general, external, quantifiable aspects of reality; where revelation deals with the particular, irreducibly individual aspects. ”The heavens proclaim the glory of God”, and the scientists chart the heavens, but to see the glory of God in them is a function of personal revelation; a gift of the Holy Spirit.
The kind of truth (natural) science deals with is likewise general, abstract and in a way ultimately circular: for a correspondence between a proposition and reality to become intersubjectively verifiable, falsifiable or even communicable, it has to be to a degree abstract and then will become part of a more or less coherent system based on certain basic propositions, and validated through that system. The kind of truth art, poetry and perhaps the human sciences deal with is particular, concrete and cannot be abstracted beyond the involvement of a subject, it involves an ”understanding” in analogical and metaphorical thought, rather than induction and deduction. It is by its nature dialectical and paradoxical.
The truths of religion are truths of the second kind – and both are truths. Art, poetry, religion and history convey truth about the world just as much as the natural sciences do. To the extent that they convey truths of great existential import, and deal with the particular, concrete and actual aspects of reality which lie beyond the purview of the natural sciences, they can even be said to be dealing with more fundamental, ”greater” truths.
Scripture is inspired witness to God's self-revelation in human history, culminating in Christ's revelation of God in death and resurrection. This self-revelation is the Word of God: a series of events which symbolically refer to a deeper reality. Christ is the incarnate Word. Scripture as text is not the Word of God but its witness. The meaning of Scripture is the Word; however, a Word conveyed through the language, cultural traditions and frameworks of its human witnesses. This said, Scripture is the only witness to God's self-revelation we have.
An implication of this would be that at least some of the supernatural events recounted in Scripture must be regarded as symbolic in nature and having literally occurred at the same time: they are symbolic precisely in virtue of having occurred as historical events. This would go at least for the resurrection and probably the healing/exorcizing activities of Christ.
God is a necessary being: conceptually, he is either actual or conceptually impossible. This implies that God is not an instantiation of given universals: by his nature, he is irreducibly particular, individual, concrete and perhaps particularity, individuality, concreteness in itself. This also implies God is transcendent, meaning that his reality is greater than the visible and invisible world we live in: he encapsulates the universe.
God the Father: God-as-God, God in himself and for himself. God the Son: God as revealed and as self-revealing for us, as the Word, in and through his creative work. God as the Holy Spirit: God as immanent in his creation and in that sense understandable to us through reason, the analogy between our human consciousness (created in the image of God) and the order of the universe. There is some similarity to Whitehead's primordial (transcendent) and consequent (immanent) natures of God, but God the Father would actually involve both the primordial and consequent nature, as would God the Son: God the Son would be the revelation of God through God's immanence, his interaction with and creative work in the universe.
The conception above is problematical: it seems to be somewhat Modalistic, though it does not imply a sequence of Divine natures (God the Father as turning into God the Son) as Modalism is generally taken to do. It is extremely difficult to regard the three sides of the Trinity as three Persons as in traditional Trinitarianism. However, I feel that in Trinitarian conceptions of Deity the focus has all too much been on what God is, and not on what God does; with its substances and Persons, it tends to become overly abstract and perhaps wedded to a late Hellenic framework of thought which we now have lost. The Biblical answer to the question who God is is very simple: ”I am who I am”: God is He-who-is, the supreme and sovereign, ultimate individual. For the rest, the focus should be on what God does, and what does what God does tell us about God?
Creation may best be seen as creation out of chaos, rather than creation out of sheer nothingness: this would fit the Biblical narrative better (”Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.”), and it means we are not wedded to a view of the universe having had a temporal beginning. Even if the general acceptance of an eternal universe appears to have subsided in favour of a Big-Bang picture, religion should not make itself dependent on this. Creation is ongoing: creation is another aspect of God's 'eternity' breaking into time, but not at any particular point in time. God wrestled the Leviathan and still wrestles it: right here and now.
The question ”Why does anyone exists at all?” in as far as it helps to understand God's creation is not so much a question after the existence of space, time, matter (with all its features) as apposed to sheer nothingness: but rather a question after raw actuality. What is it about existence that evades all scientific description? It is the ”thisness”, the ”here-and-nowness”, the particularity of things, and it is in these that God's creative activity reveals itself.
Rather than seeing God as the supreme author of scientific laws, God should be regarded as present in the contingency and novelty of what escapes the laws of nature. The notion of God as a lawmaker who is otherwise unconcerned with creation is Deistic and also wedded to a notion of laws of nature which may well be wrong: the laws of nature may well be statistical and emergent out of the basically non-deterministic goings-on of stuff, petrified ”habits” as Peirce and Sheldrake have it.
God's creation-out-of-chaos would mean creation of life out of death; of freedom out of deterministic law; of genuine novelty. God relates to his creation as to another subject in which he (as activity) ”pours himself out”, and which he yet allows to determine itself in freedom. This is revelatory of God's essential nature: that of love. God empties himself in his creation as an act of love, and yet he remains; God's creation likewise remains individual and other, though hopefully at the end of times, united with God.
Thus, God creates the universe to respond to him freely: the individual behaviour of his creatures is not determined and therefore not known by God; and it is besides the point to wonder whether God could 'force' his creatures to act in a certain way as doing so would go against his essential nature (love). So God would be neither omniscient nor omnipotent – even though he remains transcendent, and is unsurpassable by any of his creatures in both knowledge and power. Better, perhaps, would be not to speak in abstract qualities such as omniscience and omnipotence but in relational concepts: awesome, fearsome, glorious, merciful.
SIN AND EVIL
God's creative activity is creating life out of death; actuality out of possibility; genuine novelty out of determining antecedent conditions. He does not nullify death and necessity, but rather works through and beyond death and contingency. And the seventh day has not yet come, God's work is still ongoing. Hence, there remains raw contingency in the universe, including that of natural evil and natural disaster.
God has also endowed his creatures with a certain freedom to determine themselves and the form of their own actuality: a very small amount of freedom in case of small particles, perhaps, and more in the case of living nature and intelligent life. This freedom is only meaningful as contextually limited: a freedom which is unconstrained by any antecedent conditions is meaningless as a creature thus ”free” would be unable to affect its own circumstances, and its own course of development, in any way. This restriction is in itself a source of evil in that the same restrictions that make free action meaningful also imply the possibility of partially determining and constraining the self-determination of the rest of creation.
More specifically, free creatures have the power to assert themselves over other and enter into manipulative relationships with the rest of creation. This is seen in biology, biological evolution and specifically in human society. Specific to the human consciousness is that we have a power to shape our surroundings to our own will unmatched among the rest of creation, but that hand-in-hand with this comes a sense of alienation, from the rest of creation (to which we relate often very destructively) but also, with our peculiar consciousness of self, of other minds and other people. The fall of Adam and Eve describes this in mythical terms: Adam and Eve eat from the forbidden fruit, and suddenly become aware that the other is an Other, a stranger (and yet so similar), and of their own irreducible selfhood and loneliness, and with that comes shame and the desire to hide from God. From the Garden of Eden, where people and God walked together in bliss, comes a terrible and unbridgeable chasm between us and God. The story of Adam and Eve is mythical, but its subject-matter, original sin, is not.
Original sin is a feature of human nature; one which affects everything we do, and one from which we cannot escape. We cannot perfect ourselves, not by moral law, not by cultural evolution or by political ideology. In our alienation, we cannot refrain from building up walls to God and to others; to enter into manipulative relationships with others and to sway power over them (or come under someone else's sway) and even the love that may grow between people is shackled and blinded by a foreignness to each other that can never be quite overcome.
Individual sin, over and beyond original sin as a condition, is always an offense against God, which is an offense against love. Sin should not be abstracted into the breaking of a particular law: as the Sermon on the Mount makes clear; it is always the intention, the heart, of any particular action that matters. Sin is a turning away from God and the self-sacrificial, freedom-bestowing love that God represents for other things that seem so much more important: power, fame, wealth, all those small transitory glories which are inevitably sealed by death, which only God's love can conquer.
Jesus Christ is the incarnate Word of God: he reveals God through his actions, his healing of the sick and the lame, his association with the poor and the wretched of the earth, and finally his shameful death and his triumphant resurrection and victory over death. I do not want to speculate in whether or in which manner Jesus' consciousness combined the human and the divine: this focuses again too much on state, and it is process what we should be worried about: what did Jesus do, and what do his actions mean? Yet it should be perfectly clear that there is no room for demythologizing Jesus, or supplanting the New Testamentical Jesus with a ”historical Jesus” of our own making: the revelation of God in Jesus is God's eternal nature 'breaking into' the temporal world through a sequence of events that reveal that eternal nature; and the resurrection is essential to that revelation. To put the matter starkly: we stand or fall at Emmaus. For if Christ was not resurrected and did not appear to the twelve in a very real and literal fashion, then all is lost; the reality we confront is wholly a reality of sin and of death, and there is no hope beyond that.
Christ's narrative is paradoxical: he appeared as a carpenter's son in an outlying area of the Roman Empire in a province, Galilee, that was even seen as somewhat dubious among the Jews at the time; he offended just about any religious or secular power that he encountered during his short mission - and offended the radicals who wanted to fight that power (and, presumably, supplant it with another one of their own) as well, by gratuitously forgiving sins, associating with the scum of the earth at the margins of society, and proclaiming a Kingdom of God that transcended any moral law as well as any human sense of justice and tit-for-tat (the prodigal son; ”the first will be the last”); eventually was ingloriously nailed to the cross only to be miraculously resurrected after three days.
(Note: a good test of religious progress is whether you find Jesus ridiculous, whether you find him offensive, or whether you find your saviour in him: but there is no third way. It's either one of the three. To the philosophically somewhat literate atheist who approaches the gospel, Jesus cannot be but ridiculous. To the awakening religious consciousness which still likes to think highly of himself and his own moral standards, and likes to retain his tidy and well-organized views on the cosmos, on morality, and on justice, Jesus is utterly offensive. And maturing from that to a Christian religious consciousness is a messy and painful process, which involves quite literally that what the Dawkinistas like to think they do: Questioning everything. I'm not quite there yet. There are quite a few things about Jesus that I still find quite offensive. Which means my internal life at the moment resembles a peaceful fishing village after the Vikings decided to pay a visit. I am not sure how that reflects on the readability of these last few posts.)
Christ was love incarnate, and the standard he proclaimed, in his overt sermons as well as his parables was one of love – and as such almost offensively gratuitous, bestowed upon the undeserving as well as upon the deserving, rooted in the particular and concrete in a way that made a mockery of moral law and righteousness and justice. And in his life, death and resurrection, Christ embodied love: for it is love, God's creativity, that creates life out of death, raw and vibrant actuality out of abstract possibility, that ”makes everything new” and that made Jesus - nailed upon the cross and in that fashion embodying, symbolizing our sins, our brokenness, the grip that death has over us – alive after three days.
There is a dialectical movement going on here. Christ did not replace the old moral law with a new moral law; rather, he proclaimed a standard which transcended morality. He did not replace the old kingdoms and principalities with a new and better one; rather, the Kingdom he proclaimed transcended and transcends all temporal powers. And he did not simply deny death and suffering, stepping off the cross as he was challenged to do; rather, he underwent suffering and death only to pass through them and arise from them in triumph. Transcending death and suffering, and in that way, achieving a victory much more complete than any simple denial could be. ”Death, where is thy sting?”
The particular sequence of event in 1st century Palestine that is at issue here happened in time, but was not of time. In that they embodied God's eternal nature. And in that sense, Christ's victory over death was not something that happened back then, and is over and done with now. It has – Christ has conquered death – and yet at the same time, his suffering, death, and triumph, is happening here and now and at every point in history, in God's eternal present.
But as a particular sequence of events, what they reveal is a reason for hope: that the suffering and death that await us will not be the end of it; that sin, temporal powers, alienation that chain us may not have the last word. That regardless of our wretchedness God may - on the seventh day, the big Sabbath of the world, the end of history – restore and renew us. The same, yet different. That creation as a whole may thrive in the union with God that Christ attained, united in love yet individual and free.