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rjunker

Contradictions When Using The Word "god" And "non-Theism&#

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Would anyone like to shed light on the confusion around the definition of theism? When Spong defines non-theism, I understand that he is defining a God that is not "a being" or "supernatural" something within the realm of time and space. How can one continue to use the word "God" and "non-theistic" in the same thought pattern? When the definition of the wore theo is 'of or pertaining to God'!!! It seems like Spong is totally contradicting his own argument by using the two terms interchangeably. Please shed some light or join my confusion. Thanks!

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Theism, in the field of comparative religion, is the belief in the existence of deities. In popular parlance, the term theism often describes the classical conception of God that is found in the monotheistic and polytheistic religions. The term theism derives from the Greek theos meaning "god".

 

Thomas Merton a Christian Mystic said “To be grateful is to recognize the Love of God in everything He has given us everything. Every breath we draw is a gift of His love, every moment of existence is a grace, for it brings with it immense graces from Him. Gratitude therefore takes nothing for granted, is never unresponsive, it is constantly awakening to new wonder and to praise the goodness of God. For the grateful person knows that God is good, not by hearsay but by experience. And that is what makes all the difference.”

 

The church uses laws and authority to reach a mind conditioned to the five senses in order to bring us to God while I would interpret Spong is telling us to use multidimensional, spiritual experiences to develop a spiritual consciousness inside that goes deeper within the soul. In other words, the institution is finding God in the outward expression of our mind, separate for our inner being while i feel Spong is telling us to discover the innermost secret of God in the deepest privacy of our soul.

 

rjunker, welcome and thanks for the presenting a great concept to discuss.

Edited by soma
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Welcome, rjunker! As Soma has said, theism relates to the belief in the existence of deities. But theism comes in many different forms. If we postulate that god(s) exists, then the next step is to describe how we think that god(s) is related to us and the world. The kind of theism that I think Spong is against is what is traditionally called "supernatural theism." This kind of theism postulates God as a being who exists over/above/against the world, but who intervenes (meddles) with it from time to time, either according to his divine will or in accordance with answering prayers. In "supernatural theism", God is a superhuman entity, a very anthropomorphized deity who is "in control" of the universe. And, truth be told, this is the general picture of God in the bible - a deity who is not here with us except on rare occasions, but who rules from heaven.

 

From my readings of Spong, I think he still sometimes thinks of God as a being (even though his recent language seems to support his evolving beliefs in God as more of our highest human ideals i.e. being all we can be, loving wastefully, living fully). Spong seems to be becoming more of a mystic as he is getting older, embracing process theology and a sort of pantheism.

 

PS - another form of theism that is not as well known now as it used to be is deism. Deists believe in God, but they don't believe God intervenes or meddles in the world. Instead, the world operates according to natural laws, not according to supernatural will.

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Yes, this is a great topic, and one that deserves serious thought and discussion.

 

When Marcus Borg visited our church several years ago, I recall him saying about someone who claims not to believe in God, "Describe for me the God that you think you don't believe in." Then, a response. And then "Well, I don't believe in that God either." Borg made a telling point. And of course he DID believe in God, as does Jack Spong.

 

Being curious about these questions, I just looked up on the web the "definition" of God. Here is what the Oxford dictionary says:

 

GOD: NOUN
  • 1(in Christianity and other monotheistic religions) the creator and ruler of the universe and source of all moral authority; the supreme being.

  • 2(in certain other religions) a superhuman being or spirit worshipped as having power over nature or human fortunes; a deity

When Spong says he is a non-theist, he is saying that he does not believe in God as defined just above. He and many other writers in Progressive Christianity have chosen the term "non-theistic" to convey that they don't subscribe to the above understandings of God: They do not understand God as a "Being". But we can be absolutely certain that Bishop Spong does believe in God, as do many other progressives who have written in this area.

 

So, rjunker, I believe you are quite right from a logical perspective and a traditional understanding of the meaning of God. But for me, the definitions in the Oxford dictionary are too limiting and they miss the mark of what we may mean by the term "God" in the 21st century. As I've read Jack Spong's columns and books, I've gained an appreciation for his more expansive understanding of "God" -- one that quite a few religious thinkers of our time seem to embrace.

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jemerson, I agree with your take on Spong. Some theologians have used the term panentheism (with some additional definition), some like Spong have moved from noun to verb, and others, like John Macquarie, have moved from 'classical theism' to what is called a dialectical theism. Referring back to rjunker's original point, I think it is okay to both move beyond theism and still use the term God. And this for simplicity sake. To use the word God, most know immediately that the writer is suggesting there is 'something' that transcends man and nature. Then, if they are not a traditional theist the onus is on them to explain. As examples, some use (again, Spong included) 'ground of Being' and others, like Macquarie, use 'Letting Be' -thinking it is more dynamic than ground of being.

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The Book of Job makes it clear that we will never think of God correctly. We can visualize some woo woo concept or visualize an old man named Howard. We are going to be wrong whatever visualization we pick.

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The Book of Job makes it clear that we will never think of God correctly. We can visualize some woo woo concept or visualize an old man named Howard. We are going to be wrong whatever visualization we pick.

 

Perhaps Job wasn't thinking correctly either when he wrote that! :)

 

My point being, if we are always going to be wrong about how we think of God, then so were the authors of the various books of the bible. Men writing opinion pieces (even if with the best of intentions) which today are revered by many as the 'correct' word of God, not to be challenged, questioned, or of course disregarded.

Edited by PaulS
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Perhaps Job wasn't thinking correctly either when he wrote that! :)

 

My point being, if we are always going to be wrong about how we think of God, then so were the authors of the various books of the bible. Men writing opinion pieces (even if with the best of intentions) which today are revered by many as the 'correct' word of God, not to be challenged, questioned, or of course disregarded.

Job is wisdom literature. A fictional morality tale.

 

Aesop's fable of the fox and the grapes is fictional, but it is also true. True, but not factual. Literature is often like that.

 

You should read it. Considering how the story is so widely referred to in Western culture a familiarity with Job should be part of every educated person's basic fund of knowledge.

Edited by Burl
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... we will never think of God correctly. We can visualize some woo woo concept or visualize an old man named Howard. We are going to be wrong whatever visualization we pick.

 

This requires omniscience on your part Burl. For all you (or I) know I might have a perfectly accurate visualization of god. Note I don't believe it ... but I can't assert it like you do.

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This requires omniscience on your part Burl. For all you (or I) know I might have a perfectly accurate visualization of god. Note I don't believe it ... but I can't assert it like you do.

I thought I might have been wrong once, but I was mistaken.

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I thought I might have been wrong once, but I was mistaken.

Burt,

 

Thanks for the laugh! :) I was reading through all these serious and thoughtful comments, and then got to your last. LOL.

 

"What does the Lord require of us? ... Justice, kindness, and humility..." In line with the last several comments above (yours included), I wonder if "humility" suggests that none of us and no human culture can really have a corner on describing God or assigning attributes to God. And I'd add that perhaps we learn something from each other's efforts -- no matter how far they may be from our own.

 

To return to rjunker's original question, yes, we see the logical conflict, but perhaps Spong and others are helpful in giving us permission to move beyond the 2000-year-old human constructs, and to imagine possibilities that may be more helpful to many of us in the 21st century.

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Burt,

 

Thanks for the laugh! :) I was reading through all these serious and thoughtful comments, and then got to your last. LOL.

 

"What does the Lord require of us? ... Justice, kindness, and humility..." In line with the last several comments above (yours included), I wonder if "humility" suggests that none of us and no human culture can really have a corner on describing God or assigning attributes to God. And I'd add that perhaps we learn something from each other's efforts -- no matter how far they may be from our own.

 

To return to rjunker's original question, yes, we see the logical conflict, but perhaps Spong and others are helpful in giving us permission to move beyond the 2000-year-old human constructs, and to imagine possibilities that may be more helpful to many of us in the 21st century.

Absolutely. It's more than just learning from each other. Prayerfully done it is worship.

 

I think you are right that Spongishness is generally positive, but this really impacts only educated, high IQ Western Christians with an interest in systematic theology. An elite minority. It often feeds an intellectual class which looks down on everyday Christians as superstitious and ignorant.

 

The vast majority of growth in Christianity is in the southern hemisphere and is pentecostal in orientation. I venture that 98% of world Christianity could not describe the differences between a Spong and a spork.

Edited by Burl
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Spongishness?? Really? Is this site, which runs Spong's site and seemingly supports or at least encourages his and like minded 'reformations,' also best characterized and dismissed with a 'ness' - as in Progressivechristianness?

 

I think Spong is one who is read specifically by many who are not part of any elite. Thus his appeal.

Many everyday Christians/people read Spong - and are hungry for something that will enable them to move beyond what they find inadequate (and perhaps even superstitious) in their own traditions - traditions that many still love but no longer resonate in their lives.

 

Now having said this, I don't agree with everything thing that Spong presents but the guy is onto something and perhaps just as important, he has the passion, discipline and will to do something about it: write.

 

As for Pentecostals and growth in the southern hemisphere - I wonder, without knowing or having researched it - if the time will come when this orientation needs a 'reformation' also.

Edited by thormas
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The vast majority of growth in Christianity is in the southern hemisphere and is pentecostal in orientation. I venture that 98% of world Christianity could not describe the differences between a Spong and a spork.

 

Over forty years ago as an engagement gift we got a set of Splades ...each could be used as a fork, spoon, and knife (not necessarily at the same time). The cutting utility was out of necessity fairly minimal. I think a spork would have been more descriptive. We still have the complete set.

 

http://www.steelcitycutlery.com/partyforks.html

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". . . his and like minded reformations . . . is exactly what I meant by Spongishness. Not Spong personally, but his general direction.

 

Personally, I find rejection of traditional Christianity to be divisive and lazy. It is simply modernized iconoclasm, and throws the baby out with the bathwater. I prefer restoring misplaced meaning to symbols, rites and rituals. That leads to a deepening of faith and understanding between denominations and sects.

 

Read Baylor's Phillip Jenkins for background on world christianity. His classic 'The Next Christendom' is becoming dated, though.

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Over forty years ago as an engagement gift we got a set of Splades ...each could be used as a fork, spoon, and knife (not necessarily at the same time). The cutting utility was out of necessity fairly minimal. I think a spork would have been more descriptive. We still have the complete set.

 

http://www.steelcitycutlery.com/partyforks.html

Dude! These are awesome! I was only familiar with the cheap plastic ones, and I have to buy a wedding gift for an old friend who is getting married at 66 and lives in a Brooklyn apartment. These are perfect!
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". . . his and like minded reformations . . . is exactly what I meant by Spongishness. Not Spong personally, but his general direction.

 

Personally, I find rejection of traditional Christianity to be divisive and lazy. It is simply modernized iconoclasm, and throws the baby out with the bathwater. I prefer restoring misplaced meaning to symbols, rites and rituals. That leads to a deepening of faith and understanding between denominations and sects.

 

Read Baylor's Phillip Jenkins for background on world christianity. His classic 'The Next Christendom' is becoming dated, though.

 

Burl,

 

Pleaseeeeeeeeee! Like minded reformers in the general direction of Spong divisive and lazy? Lazy is just absurd on its face but especially after a review of some of those who have made such efforts and divisive in already part of Christianity. Not sure how you parse reformation from restoration, for me the best of the reformers are attempting to restore and give new life. I have read and enjoyed a couple of Jenkin's books.

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Burl,

 

Pleaseeeeeeeeee! Like minded reformers in the general direction of Spong divisive and lazy? Lazy is just absurd on its face but especially after a review of some of those who have made such efforts and divisive in already part of Christianity. Not sure how you parse reformation from restoration, for me the best of the reformers are attempting to restore and give new life. I have read and enjoyed a couple of Jenkin's books.

Burl's easy-peasy church reform program:

 

1) Eliminate the corporate church and give divide the assets between the congregations.

 

2) Eliminate appointments and have each congregation select their own leadership.

 

3) Leave everything else up to God.

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3) Leave everything else up to God.

 

Why not leave everything up to God, and we can get on with our lives and not worry about our orthodoxies and textual interpretations?

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Why not leave everything up to God, and we can get on with our lives and not worry about our orthodoxies and textual interpretations?

Please explain your conception of God so I can answer.

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Please explain your conception of God so I can answer.

 

It's identical to yours in that you have only been wrong once and it was not about God.

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It's identical to yours in that you have only been wrong once and it was not about God.

Finally we agree on something! :-)

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Finally we agree on something! :-)

 

And your explanation?

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For the second time, give me your solid definition of God so I can answer.

 

Or are you simply trolling me?

 

The subject is Spong and church reform. Let's stay focused on that. What have you read by Spong, and how would you reform your church? We can compare strategies.

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Job is wisdom literature. A fictional morality tale.

 

Aesop's fable of the fox and the grapes is fictional, but it is also true. True, but not factual. Literature is often like that.

 

You should read it. Considering how the story is so widely referred to in Western culture a familiarity with Job should be part of every educated person's basic fund of knowledge.

I have read Job.

 

What I am saying is that the story of Job is somebody's opinion and thoughts. I understand that it is fiction but I don't at all agree that it is also true.

 

But whatever the case, what I meant by the comment is that if the Book of Job makes it clear that we will never think of God correctly, then what confidence from the Book of Job can we have that the author of Job was thinking of God correctly.

Edited by PaulS
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