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BillM

Theism - What Would It Take?

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35 minutes ago, BillM said:

Thormas, I won’t address all of the passages you reference, and I’m doing this just from memory, but I seem to recall that at Jesus’ baptism, the skies part and there is a voice from heaven which says, “This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased.” 

Bill,

The baptism scene, if I remember correctly is altered somewhat across the gospels. However, interpretationI depends on how one understands the Bible: divine revelation/authorship or human authorship and a religious community's growing insight and understanding of God. For me it is the latter. The baptism is the synoptic gospel way to show that 'this man' who comes to be baptized is special and the words placed on the lips of the Baptist function to create a separation between the men, establish the priority of Jesus and possibly deal with something which could've been awkward for the early church: that Jesus began as a disciple/follower of the Baptist. 

I do believe that Jesus, stood on the shoulders of the Jewish community (centuries old) who was particularly sensitized to the present and reality of God in their lives. And, that Jesus was a man who grew in "wisdom, grace and knowledge" and came to 'know' the Father. So I too believe he spoke what he had learned 'from the Father.' I simply don't understand it as a theist.

As for Paul, not sure what account records others hearing the voice, thought it was only him according to the story. 

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Thormas, though I'm not a fan of proof-texting, here are the passages I referenced:

"As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” - Matt 3:13-17

A voice from heaven spoke.

"As he (Saul) neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” “Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked. “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; THEY HEARD the sound but did not see anyone." - Acts 9:3-7

Saul and his companions heard the voice.

“About noon as I (Saul) came near Damascus, suddenly a bright light from heaven flashed around me. I fell to the ground and heard a voice say to me, ‘Saul! Saul! Why do you persecute me?’ “‘Who are you, Lord?’ I asked. ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting,’ he replied. My companions saw the light, but they did not understand the voice of him who was speaking to me." - Acts 22:6-9

Saul hears a voice and understands it. Saul's companions also heard the voice but didn't understand it. Was the voice gibberish to them? If the voice caused vibrations in the air, as voices do, why would Saul understand it but not his companions?

Granted, as you say, it may come down to how we view the bible. I came to believe, quite a few years ago now, that the bible was not infallible and inerrant, that it is not the literal words of God (unless God is fallible and errant, another subject). So what we have, then, are simply the words of men, nothing more. Therefore, IMO, it doesn't follow that the bible gives us an accurate understanding of God. Rather, it tells us how ancient humans understood God. Some say the wheel needs to be fixed. I suspect it needs to be reinvented. :)

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37 minutes ago, thormas said:

Seems the whole story of God is the story of Love.

I truly wish that were true, Thormas. One of the reasons I lost my faith is that God, in the bible, is NOT love. According to the scriptures, he allows the Deceiver into the Garden of Eden, knowing it would result in death for all of mankind. He punishes all humans for the sin of two people. Later, he drowns the whole world (including women and children) except for 7 people. Later, he tells Abraham to kill his son, and Abraham is considered to have faith for being ready to obey God's commands. Later, he hardens Pharoah's heart, leading to the death of untold Egyptians. Later, he kills all of the firstborn of Eqypt two-years-old and young for Pharoah's stubbornness. Later, despite promising the Hebrews they would go to the Promised Land, he allows them all to die in the desert. Later, he commands Joshua and the Hebrews to enter neighboring nations and slaughter everything that breathes (including women and children, excluding virgins which are war booty). Later, he tells his people to mutilate their sex organs and gives them 613 laws which have death as the punishment for not obeying. Later, Jesus is a human sacrifice to appease God's wrath. Later, he tells people, through the apostle Paul, that women are to be obedient to their husbands and that they can only be saved through child-birth. Later, he tells people that slave owners should treat their slaves kindly. And, lastly, the bible ends with God casting people into everlasting torture.

Given all of this, and this is just the tip of the iceberg, I would disagree that "the whole story of God is the story of Love." If we are going to be honest to the testimony of ALL of the scriptures, God is not always a loving Being. He, of course, has his good days. But he has just as many bad where he is angry and immoral. He loses his temper and tells people to do things which would result in us being locked up or executed today. The only way I could claim that the God of the bible is Love is to remove about half of it. I'd rather people read it for what it is -- human failings and successes given the mask of Divinity.

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1 hour ago, BillM said:

But in the bible, generally, God speaks (either to a prophet or to people), and people hear. It is usually audible, inciting how transcendent (other) God is from us.

 

In the NT, it seems like the standard communication method is "feeling something in ones spirit", visions and dreams, though. Like f.e. Peter on the roof having the animal vision, or Paul seeing a vision of a Macedonian man asking him to come over etc.

 

1 hour ago, BillM said:

Lastly (because I’m not a fan of reading long posts, though I seem to write them far too often), I’m not sure that I agree with Jack’s comment

 

The quotes make my posts look much longer than they actually are ;) 

 

1 hour ago, BillM said:

What I have had is, common to human experiences, intuitions, leanings, moments of unction, fairly strong influences that I should pursue a certain path. The problem is, how do I know that these things are not just *me* instead of *Divine*? Some would say that there is no difference. And while I might agree with that in theory, that is not the bible’s way of describing how God communicates. So, again, not a criticism, but if the god that speaks to me internally is not the God of the bible (who speaks externally, audibly and actually vibrates the air), then I’m forced to question if the god I experience is the God of the bible or Christianity.

 

 

Thankfully, this god of my experience never tells me to kill my neighbors or to sacrifice my children or to treat slaves kindly. I suppose that you could say that the god of my experience is love, a kinder, gentler god. But the god of my experience, whether it is only a phantasm in my mind or some kind of all-pervasive Presence, is not much like the God of the bible, does not seem to be either Yahweh or the Father of Jesus. In fact, I’ve come to trust this Inner Light more than the portrayals of God in the scriptures and in the Christian tradition. For many, doing this would definitely qualify me as a heretic.

 

I am dealing with a similar conflict myself. The God I know through experience and intuitions etc. seems to be much more of a peaceful, understanding and a nice guy than the God of the Bible, especially the OT one. On the other hand, especially teachings of Paul and some teachings of Jesus heavily resonate with me. So, I am caught in-between of Christianity and something else that I can't quite define. I have tried other religions, it doesn't work, too much of the Bible is indeed my religion and I lose that if I try any other approach.

 

Right now I feel like I'm too Christian to be anything else, but not Christian enough to be a proper Christian either.

Edited by Jack of Spades
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I hear ya, Jack.

If I wear the label at all nowadays, I'm a "cafeteria Christian." I reserve to myself the right and responsibility to choose from the bible, from Christianity, and from the Church those things that I think are sensible and moral, humane and compassionate, inclusive and community-building. I "eat" only what tastes good to me. Neither orthodoxy nor tradition force feed me from their menus.

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2 hours ago, BillM said:

Granted, as you say, it may come down to how we view the bible. I came to believe, quite a few years ago now, that the bible was not infallible and inerrant, that it is not the literal words of God (unless God is fallible and errant, another subject). So what we have, then, are simply the words of men, nothing more. Therefore, IMO, it doesn't follow that the bible gives us an accurate understanding of God. Rather, it tells us how ancient humans understood God. Some say the wheel needs to be fixed. I suspect it needs to be reinvented. :)

Bill,

Although I agree with your take on the Bible, I don't see it as only how ancient humans understood God. By that I mean, I think the human insight was cumulative (and therefore has enduring value) and there is something timeless about what it means to be human in any age. Perhaps the problem was literally assigning authorship to God and then the 'necessary' role of some of his followers to safeguard, at all costs, the 'word of God' and past it unchanged even to the 21st C. With this comes a fear of new interpretations of or new insights added to the ledger. Thus, the need to be fixed and reinvented.

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3 hours ago, BillM said:

I truly wish that were true, Thormas. One of the reasons I lost my faith is that God, in the bible, is NOT love. According to the scriptures, he allows the Deceiver into the Garden of Eden, knowing it would result in death for all of mankind. He punishes all humans for the sin of two people. Later, he drowns the whole world (including women and children) except for 7 people. Later, he tells Abraham to kill his son, and Abraham is considered to have faith for being ready to obey God's commands. Later, he hardens Pharoah's heart, leading to the death of untold Egyptians. Later, he kills all of the firstborn of Eqypt two-years-old and young for Pharoah's stubbornness. Later, despite promising the Hebrews they would go to the Promised Land, he allows them all to die in the desert. Later, he commands Joshua and the Hebrews to enter neighboring nations and slaughter everything that breathes (including women and children, excluding virgins which are war booty). Later, he tells his people to mutilate their sex organs and gives them 613 laws which have death as the punishment for not obeying. Later, Jesus is a human sacrifice to appease God's wrath. Later, he tells people, through the apostle Paul, that women are to be obedient to their husbands and that they can only be saved through child-birth. Later, he tells people that slave owners should treat their slaves kindly. And, lastly, the bible ends with God casting people into everlasting torture.

Given all of this, and this is just the tip of the iceberg, I would disagree that "the whole story of God is the story of Love." If we are going to be honest to the testimony of ALL of the scriptures, God is not always a loving Being. He, of course, has his good days. But he has just as many bad where he is angry and immoral. He loses his temper and tells people to do things which would result in us being locked up or executed today. The only way I could claim that the God of the bible is Love is to remove about half of it. I'd rather people read it for what it is -- human failings and successes given the mask of Divinity.

But you have already answered this: it is not the 'word of God' or the definitive take on God; it is human insight and coupled with the belief in tribal gods that the people of Israel were part of and grew out of, it is not very surprising to see the remnants of such tribalism in the stories. As for the creation story, compared to other ancient creation  myths, it is an amazing statement on why the world is created and the relationship of man to woman and human to the divine. And it helps to come to grips with there belief and yet the reality of life they experience which is full of strife, struggle and death. Hell, people still agonize over these issues - although modern man has, perhaps, distracted himself from the 'dread.' Plus the story takes an incredible turn with the NT and Jesus. And, on close inspection, not all the gospels have Jesus' death as appeasing the wrath of God.  As for Paul, many of his letters are not his and he also writes and approves of woman in power in the early church (I have learned to read this guy very carefully and context, always context is important - after all, he literally expected that the world would end in his lifetime). 

Also, I think a great deal of the trouble came afterwards with people like Augustine. Yet, still all did not agree: one of the early Church Fathers did not accept an eternal hell, did not believe in a perfect beginning and knew that mankind was an 'infant' subject to mistakes yet capable of growing into a 'perfect' humanity  - which was in the future not in the past. Still other Greek Fathers spoke of the deification (becoming god?) of man. 

If one doesn't accept the Bible as the word of God and does not read it literally, then it is possible to shift through the story of a people to the insights that speak to you and reflecting on your own experiences (yet for me, trying to remain faithful to the best of the biblical tradition) retell the story so it might speak to others. That is what the best of theologians have been doing: telling the 'Christian' Story so it can be heard by new generations and actually be 'good news.'

Given this, wading through the stories of fallible men, looking at its later chapters and its main character, I believe, one can say the story of God, and the true God - is Love.

People  should read it for what it is -- human failings and successes, attribution of these to a god and limited but growing insights about Reality that still speak to people centuries later. The god of the stories might not always be loving but God?  Never a doubt.

 

Edited by thormas

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2 hours ago, BillM said:

I hear ya, Jack.

If I wear the label at all nowadays, I'm a "cafeteria Christian." I reserve to myself the right and responsibility to choose from the bible, from Christianity, and from the Church those things that I think are sensible and moral, humane and compassionate, inclusive and community-building. I "eat" only what tastes good to me. Neither orthodoxy nor tradition force feed me from their menus.

Agreed, I always like cafeteria style

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1 hour ago, BillM said:

I hear ya, Jack.

If I wear the label at all nowadays, I'm a "cafeteria Christian." I reserve to myself the right and responsibility to choose from the bible, from Christianity, and from the Church those things that I think are sensible and moral, humane and compassionate, inclusive and community-building. I "eat" only what tastes good to me. Neither orthodoxy nor tradition force feed me from their menus.

 

I'm all for selective individualism myself. I just happen to emphasize a different side of the buffet. What interests me in Christianity is the supernatural, and spiritual experience. The moments of supernatural reality showing up in the midst of everyday life is an echo of the lost paradise that has somehow found it's way into a forgotten world. A reminder of sense of harmony from another dimension of everlasting peace and purpose, without a shred of conflict or suffering. For me, faith functions much more like an addiction than a rational, calculated choice of an investment. For an addict, it's not that important how much sense his addiction makes, if it makes some sense, that's great, but if it doesn't, it's not a dealbreaker. (Why you looking at me like that guys, it was a totally great metaphor, right?)

 

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1 hour ago, Jack of Spades said:

What interests me in Christianity is the supernatural, and spiritual experience.

I'm very much the opposite, Jack. I'm not saying you are wrong, BTW, just that it is the natural teachings and ways of Jesus that appeal to me. Things like clothing others, feeding others, caring for the poor, visiting prisoners, helping the thirsty, sheltering the homeless, standing up for justice, forgiving others, loving others.

As a naturalist, the supernatural claims of Jesus and of Christianity leave me scratching my head. There are, of course, no ways of testing or proving these claims because the supernatural is, by definition, outside of the realm of science which can only test and verify the natural world. So I find things like Jesus being born of a virgin with no earthly father, Jesus turning water into wine, Jesus walking on water, Jesus casting out demons, Jesus raising the dead after 3 days, the resurrection, and the ascension to be, while orthodox, completely against the laws of nature (which makes them miracles) and, therefore, highly suspect as actual historical events. Christians often counter by saying that the canon is now closed, God is done working that way, and the goal now is to have faith in the supernatural happenings of the past.

Yet, Christians claim that this same "Jesus" now lives in their hearts. If this is ontologically true, they should be able to do all the things that Jesus did and, by his own claim, do even greater things. But I don't find this to be the case. What Christians do seems very much natural to me, with no supernatural involved. This doesn't mean that I don't believe in the spiritual. But I define being spiritual as being connected to others and our world, not as some higher plane of existence or being possessed by some kind of outside-of-nature transcendent spirit. But, again, that is me. YMMV.

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13 minutes ago, BillM said:

I'm very much the opposite, Jack. I'm not saying you are wrong, BTW, just that it is the natural teachings and ways of Jesus that appeal to me.

 

I have figured that much out from the thread so far. For the record, I'm used to being in the minority in progressive/liberal Christian online talks. My path is rather different, but I am fine with "live and let live" when it comes to religion. I might disagree with naturalist Christians, but they're often enough good people, so I have a level of respect for their path.

 

18 minutes ago, BillM said:

Yet, Christians claim that this same "Jesus" now lives in their hearts. If this is ontologically true, they should be able to do all the things that Jesus did and, by his own claim, do even greater things. But I don't find this to be the case. What Christians do seems very much natural to me, with no supernatural involved.

 

I call this "miracle gap" between the Bible and the reality of modern Christianity. I don't like trying to do intellectual aerobics in trying explain away the miracle gap, it's there and it's a bothersome observation. That however doesn't necessarily mean that it ought to be so. I've encountered plenty of wierd stuff, but I wouldn't call them miracles. The phenomenons I have encountered are the kind of things that make supernatural activity much more easier to believe in, but not the kind of things that would be undeniable miracles. It's rather so far been on the scale of "how likely this is to be a coincidence".

 

The question for a supernaturalist is not that much "is the Gospel-style miracle action movie still playing" - it obviously isn't. The question is rather "how to fix it?". There is a case to be made that the seeming lack of supernatural activity is a result of poor spiritual state. I am aware that this approach can take an unhealthy form that results in very mean victim - blaming, but that's only the dark side of it. There is a much healthier way, which can be an inspiring call for a spiritual treasure hunt. I am not satisfied with what I have now, I am on the search for more. 

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20 hours ago, Jack of Spades said:

 

I'm all for selective individualism myself. I just happen to emphasize a different side of the buffet. What interests me in Christianity is the supernatural, and spiritual experience. The moments of supernatural reality showing up in the midst of everyday life is an echo of the lost paradise that has somehow found it's way into a forgotten world. A reminder of sense of harmony from another dimension of everlasting peace and purpose, without a shred of conflict or suffering. For me, faith functions much more like an addiction than a rational, calculated choice of an investment. For an addict, it's not that important how much sense his addiction makes, if it makes some sense, that's great, but if it doesn't, it's not a dealbreaker. (Why you looking at me like that guys, it was a totally great metaphor, right?)

 

I must ask: is the echo of the lost paradise poetry or do you take Genesis literally? And, again is the talk of another dimension poetry? 

Next, I think there is a space between faith as an addiction and faith as a calculated investment. Faith shares something with falling in love, choosing a partner: there is an element of the 'addictive" in that one can't live without the other but there it is also a choice and a decision (with probably, hopefully, some thought put into it) to consciously accept and live a certain way (with this other). As mentioned previously (with reference to Macquarrie), there is a dialectic between the seeming, opposing elements, if this example between the supernatural, spiritual and the natural (teachings of Jesus). Christianity has and must have both.

 

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21 hours ago, thormas said:

Agreed, I always like cafeteria style

I'll stick with fine dining and skip the buffet.

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17 hours ago, Jack of Spades said:

The question for a supernaturalist is not that much "is the Gospel-style miracle action movie still playing" - it obviously isn't. The question is rather "how to fix it?". There is a case to be made that the seeming lack of supernatural activity is a result of poor spiritual state. I am aware that this approach can take an unhealthy form that results in very mean victim - blaming, but that's only the dark side of it. There is a much healthier way, which can be an inspiring call for a spiritual treasure hunt. I am not satisfied with what I have now, I am on the search for more. 

Not sure how we would measure the present "poor spiritual state" with the same poor state in past eras. Even in Biblical times, you have the people of Israel who again an again and again and again lose faith and create 'false' gods to worship - yet good people still existed and the 'miracles' occurred. And consider Jesus: he was rejected by all - except a small group of disciples and followers (and many ran in his hour of need); talk about a poor spiritual state, yet for Christianity, it resulted in the greatest miracle. So too in any age, there is a mixture of those lost, those who deliberately go another way and good people. On this reckoning, if there was 'supernatural activity' in some of those ages, that activity should be present in any age. One wonders, then, if there was ever such supernatural activity as recorded in the bible.

The paradox (and the wisdom) of Christianity is that the spiritual (or God) is not found in another dimension and not found above and beyond the natural: the spiritual is not found in the super-natural. Jesus proclaims the treasure found in the beginning of his public mission: "Behold, the Kingdom of God. "  The Jews and Jesus believed that God would establish his Kingdom here, 'this world' would be (become) The Kingdom of God. The paradox of Christianity is that the supernatural is in the natural; it is in the natural that one finds the 'supernatural.' For Christianity, God's is incarnate; he is only found with us (Emmanuel).

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8 minutes ago, Burl said:

I'll stick with fine dining and skip the buffet.

But I have been to those conferences and weddings where the fine dining is 'squeezy chicken.'  At least with the buffet you won't starve :+}

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2 hours ago, thormas said:

I must ask: is the echo of the lost paradise poetry or do you take Genesis literally? And, again is the talk of another dimension poetry?

 

It wasn't meant to be a dogmatic statement. Rather an eyewitness description of a mystical experience. Based on what I know about history (quite much) and archeology (very little), I find it rationally unlikely that Genesis is literally true. I do believe in spiritual "dimension". I don't believe it to be a separate dimension/plane in a way shamans think of it, but rather I see it as something that is intermingled in our world.

 

2 hours ago, thormas said:

As mentioned previously (with reference to Macquarrie), there is a dialectic between the seeming, opposing elements, if this example between the supernatural, spiritual and the natural (teachings of Jesus). Christianity has and must have both.

 

I think my life needs them both. But for the natural part, I'm not so sure if I need Christianity or any other religion to teach me that. That's something humans can figure out on their own pretty much. We have our hearts and heads for that, and I think putting them in good use gets us going pretty well in figuring out the natural world.

 

2 hours ago, thormas said:

Not sure how we would measure the present "poor spiritual state" with the same poor state in past eras. Even in Biblical times, you have the people of Israel who again an again and again and again lose faith and create 'false' gods to worship - yet good people still existed and the 'miracles' occurred. And consider Jesus: he was rejected by all - except a small group of disciples and followers (and many ran in his hour of need); talk about a poor spiritual state, yet for Christianity, it resulted in the greatest miracle. So too in any age, there is a mixture of those lost, those who deliberately go another way and good people. On this reckoning, if there was 'supernatural activity' in some of those ages, that activity should be present in any age.

 

A fair point. There are lots of historical and present day accounts of miracles though, so we can't say that such occasions are a completely unknown thing, although the credibility of the accounts is another story. 

 

2 hours ago, thormas said:

The paradox (and the wisdom) of Christianity is that the spiritual (or God) is not found in another dimension and not found above and beyond the natural: the spiritual is not found in the super-natural. Jesus proclaims the treasure found in the beginning of his public mission: "Behold, the Kingdom of God. "  The Jews and Jesus believed that God would establish his Kingdom here, 'this world' would be (become) The Kingdom of God. The paradox of Christianity is that the supernatural is in the natural; it is in the natural that one finds the 'supernatural.' For Christianity, God's is incarnate; he is only found with us (Emmanuel).

 

The way I see it is that the supernatural and the natural are not opposed to one another, yet they are not one and the same either. Saying that they are one, is in my opinion a leap I wouldn't take. Jesus was both, a man and a God, but his humanity didn't make him God, nor his divinity didn't make him a man. His supernatural existence didn't make him a man, and his natural body didn't make him a God. The two existed together, in harmony, in the same space, but were not the same. To say that they existed in separate dimensions is pretty close.

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3 hours ago, thormas said:

The paradox of Christianity is that the supernatural is in the natural; it is in the natural that one finds the 'supernatural.' For Christianity, God's is incarnate; he is only found with us (Emmanuel).

This. I don't think that this is the stance of Christianity, but I do think that it is the truth to which Jesus pointed. God's Presence doesn't descend from the sky. Rather, it is in each of us. Being spiritual doesn't mean being above the world in order to escape it. Rather, it means going deeper into the world to connect, love and transform it. God is not found in temples, books, or institutions. Rather, God is discovered, recognized, and celebrated in each other. Namaste.

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1 hour ago, BillM said:

This. I don't think that this is the stance of Christianity, but I do think that it is the truth to which Jesus pointed. God's Presence doesn't descend from the sky. Rather, it is in each of us. 

 

The whole topic in the Bible is rather messy. On one hand, Jesus says that you see Christ in a fellow man, and to serve a fellow man, is to serve God. In another occasion he says that the world doesn't have the Holy Spirit (God's presence in them) and this is why they reject him. Then he gives his followers (some version of) Holy Spirit to perform miracles, and yet soon after the Spirit comes (again?) at Pentecost. The people hearing Apostles receive Holy Spirit, but some of them don't until they are baptized. Paul refers to Christ in us as an exclusive thing for believers.

 

The traditional Christian theology offers the answer that these are two different things; Imago dei (everyone), and Christ in us (not everyone). Then some versions of Christianity go further and make 3 distinctions, Imago Dei, Christ in us, and special power presence of the Holy Spirit.

 

1 hour ago, BillM said:

Being spiritual doesn't mean being above the world in order to escape it. Rather, it means going deeper into the world to connect, love and transform it. God is not found in temples, books, or institutions.

 

This sounds to me like saying that going to a field is never escapism and going to a forest is always escapism. Kind of misses the point in my world view. The accusation that seeking spiritual is escapism only makes sense if we have already decided that there is no any kind of supernatural reality to be found. It's possible to be escapistic in ones seeking of supernatural reality, but it's not that different to me than the difference between working and workaholism. The state of the mind is what makes the difference.

In some cases it's the subjective access to something that makes the difference between a fantasy and a reality. Saying "When I grow up, I will be a king" can be childish escapism, but it could also be something else, if said by someone in an actual royal family. While the royal child might not have entirely realistic grasp of what being a king will be like, the statement itself is not nonsense.

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3 hours ago, Jack of Spades said:

I think my life needs them both. But for the natural part, I'm not so sure if I need Christianity or any other religion to teach me that. That's something humans can figure out on their own pretty much. We have our hearts and heads for that, and I think putting them in good use gets us going pretty well in figuring out the natural world.

You may not need Christianity for the natural world but I was trying to make the point that Christianity needs or pertains to both: if it goes too far in either direction it loses something essential and becomes distorted.

3 hours ago, Jack of Spades said:

The way I see it is that the supernatural and the natural are not opposed to one another, yet they are not one and the same either. Saying that they are one, is in my opinion a leap I wouldn't take. Jesus was both, a man and a God, but his humanity didn't make him God, nor his divinity didn't make him a man. His supernatural existence didn't make him a man, and his natural body didn't make him a God. The two existed together, in harmony, in the same space, but were not the same. To say that they existed in separate dimensions is pretty close.

I partially agree. They are not one and the same but there is more to it: one is 'in' the other. As Paul writes, "we live, move and have our being in God (the 'supernatural')" or, conversely, God is ever-Present in creation (the natural). I do agree that God is 'other' or 'More than' but man can only become his true self if he embodies the 'supernatural' or Divinity. 

 I do disagree with your statement on Jesus. It was precisely the incarnation of divinity/Love by the man Jesus that made him (truly) Human. To put it even more starkly: man must become God to be Human and becoming Human makes man (a Son of) God.  All I have said is that man/woman must incarnate Love; he/she must be Love.

The caveat is that the very creation of man, the very possibility for his (true) Humanity is God. God calls, man responds and the Beloved becomes One with the Lover. This, I think, is the first of the ten commandments: I Am and there is nothing else (the only Life is God). 

The true humanity of Jesus did make him (First Born Son of) God but this was (is) only possible because Jesus took up the life of God. There is a 'sameness' although we are not and will not be God: we are by birth, born to become the sons and daughters of God (this is panentheism not pantheism).

2 hours ago, BillM said:

This. I don't think that this is the stance of Christianity, but I do think that it is the truth to which Jesus pointed. God's Presence doesn't descend from the sky. Rather, it is in each of us. Being spiritual doesn't mean being above the world in order to escape it. Rather, it means going deeper into the world to connect, love and transform it. God is not found in temples, books, or institutions. Rather, God is discovered, recognized, and celebrated in each other. Namaste.

Not sure Bill, I think it is Christianity, but it was lost in the one-sidedness of theism and the world view that dominated when the religion was born. I think this theme of divinity in/with humanity runs through the biblical story but has been overlooked.

I agree that the Presence is (potentially) in each of us but it must be 'taken up' (the cross when 'taken up' symbolizes the death to selfishness and raising up love in one's life) or actualized. I think the his followers experience this full actualization in Jesus and thus the need and the struggle to say something about it, about him. And I agree: it is the actualization of the presence and love that is God that transforms the world. I think Jesus spoke to this possibility when he began his ministry with the words: "behold, the Kingdom (the Presence) is upon you." 

Edited by thormas

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21 minutes ago, Jack of Spades said:

The accusation that seeking spiritual is escapism only makes sense if we have already decided that there is no any kind of supernatural reality to be found.

That is exactly my point, Jack. In Western culture, to be "spiritual" is to be "other worldly." Depending on who you are talking to, this may refer to another state of consciousness, another dimension, or, possibly, an alternate universe. But the goal is still the same -- to be "spiritual" is not to be "here". It is to be outside or distinct from the natural universe, from what we can, with some confidence, verify as being real.

In this sort of "spiritual", one can believe in and claim experiences of fairies, pixies, leprechauns, angels, demons, spirits, ghosts, aliens, ESP, communication with the dead, and, of course, hearing from the Being who lives just above our clouds in an invisible (but claimed to be real) realm. All the claims are anecdotal, and, by definition of being outside of verifiable reality (nature), said not to be questioned by those who have a more rational bent who seek some kind of evidence rather than just a personal, subjective claim.

In our culture, to be spiritual is to be unnatural, not part of the natural universe. Methodist minister, Michael Dowd, illustrates how this affects the Christian story with in this quote:

"An unnatural king who occasionally engages in unnatural acts sends his unnatural son to Earth in an unnatural way. He’s born an unnatural birth, lives an unnatural life, performs unnatural deeds, and is killed and unnaturally rises from the dead in order to redeem humanity from an unnatural curse brought about by an unnaturally talking snake. After 40 days of unnatural appearances he unnaturally zooms off to heaven to return to his unnatural father, sit on an unnatural throne, and unnaturally judge the living and the dead. If you profess to believe in all this unnatural activity, you and your fellow believers get to spend an unnaturally long time in an unnaturally boring paradise while everyone else suffers an unnatural, torturous hell forever."

This is what conservative theism proposes. If the theistic God is a supernatural reality, and we are but natural creatures dwelling in a natural universe, one would think such a God would find a "natural" way to reach us. But Christianity is a religion of the supernatural. It is, by its own admission, a mystery, incomprehensible, unverifiable, not subject to understanding or logic. And this is precisely why only faith is required.

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1 hour ago, BillM said:

This is what conservative theism proposes. If the theistic God is a supernatural reality, and we are but natural creatures dwelling in a natural universe, one would think such a God would find a "natural" way to reach us.

 

He clearly hasn't. If there was verifiable proof of God, that would have been figured out by now. What follows is that either there is no God, or God has chosen an unnatural aka supernatural way and expects us to follow the unnatural path, that works by some other rules than by the rules of rationalism. Basically the alternative rules offered seem to be either some piece of revelation or a personal experience, or mix of both.

 

On another note, I just read your starting post again to remember where this all started, and I can now see that I missed something in it. I feel like the bar you set up for mystical theism to be valid is extremely high. It's practically 'mysticism' to the degree of it being verifiable proof. The requirements you set there for the mystical experience to be credible is proof by natural senses. Mysticism usually means inner experience, not natural senses. The logic there is that of rationalism, not that of mysticism. It would be a super intense, extreme form of mystical experience which is not how it (either ever, or very rarely?) works in real life. My apologies, I got hung up on the word 'mystical theism' from the start and have assumed thus far that we're talking about an inner experience here. I think that since your bar is set to "verifiable by natural senses" - it's a good bet it's never going to happen, you just said it yourself that "by it's own admission" Christian tradition promises no such thing. I am afraid we have been talking about a slightly different things here all the way.

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14 minutes ago, Jack of Spades said:

I feel like the bar you set up for mystical theism to be valid is extremely high. It's practically 'mysticism' to the degree of it being verifiable proof. The requirements you set there for the mystical experience to be credible is proof by natural senses.

Yes, Jack, I did set the bar high. I set it to "biblical" standards. What I meant by mystical was not necessarily an inner experience, but a one-on-one, personal experience. Perhaps I misused the word, I don't know. But what I was getting at is that when people in the bible experience the theistic God, they hear with their ears, they see with their eyes, sometimes they touch (if Jesus is God as Christianity insists that he is). Some Christians believe that they actually taste God when they take Communion. All I was saying is that I have had no such personal, theistic confirmation.

To me, I'm more comfortable with panentheistic notions of God. As you probably know, in panentheism, while God may be more than nature, God is also considered to be part of the natural world. Something of the Divine can be seen and heard and touched in the natural world. These experiences often lead panentheists to feel "at one" with God. But the experiences are still, IMO, mystical, because these experiences are deeply personal, deeply one-on-one. They don't depend upon a supernatural Deity breaking into the natural world via a miracle. Rather, they often reflect the openness of the person to experience the More or the Sacred or the Divine or God in the everyday wonder that is life.

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1 hour ago, BillM said:

Yes, Jack, I did set the bar high. I set it to "biblical" standards. What I meant by mystical was not necessarily an inner experience, but a one-on-one, personal experience. Perhaps I misused the word, I don't know. But what I was getting at is that when people in the bible experience the theistic God, they hear with their ears, they see with their eyes, sometimes they touch (if Jesus is God as Christianity insists that he is). Some Christians believe that they actually taste God when they take Communion. All I was saying is that I have had no such personal, theistic confirmation.

 

 

Yeah it's a biblical set of rules, but not *the* biblical path. There are many versions in the Bible too. Act seems to promote more the inner experience - route.

 

1 hour ago, BillM said:

To me, I'm more comfortable with panentheistic notions of God. As you probably know, in panentheism, while God may be more than nature, God is also considered to be part of the natural world. Something of the Divine can be seen and heard and touched in the natural world. These experiences often lead panentheists to feel "at one" with God. But the experiences are still, IMO, mystical, because these experiences are deeply personal, deeply one-on-one. They don't depend upon a supernatural Deity breaking into the natural world via a miracle. Rather, they often reflect the openness of the person to experience the More or the Sacred or the Divine or God in the everyday wonder that is life.

 

Traditional Christianity aside, theism can mean pretty many things. Panentheism, pantheism, animism, beliefs in oneness etc. are scientifically and rationally about as credible beliefs as theism generally (not any particular form of it).

 

I wonder, in the modern world, has the concept of theism became so polluted with images of both traditional Christianity and the counter-images (= attempts to ridicule the traditional Christian image of God) by atheists etc. that any more flexible form of theism is the collateral damage of this war of images? To me it seems like theistic Christians are eager to market their God with images of fear (sinners go to hell etc.), whereas a group of culturally very influential atheists are marketing their atheism by attaching images of shame (ridicule, absurdity, parody etc.) to Christian God and by extension, to idea of gods generally. I think due to these ideological dynamics, theism has become a battleground of images of fear and shame, neither of which is particularly appealing feeling. Such subconscious images are a powerful cultural and emotional force when it comes to appeal of beliefs, as they can determine how we subconsciously feel about such beliefs.

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4 hours ago, BillM said:

That is exactly my point, Jack. In Western culture, to be "spiritual" is to be "other worldly." Depending on who you are talking to, this may refer to another state of consciousness, another dimension, or, possibly, an alternate universe. But the goal is still the same -- to be "spiritual" is not to be "here". It is to be outside or distinct from the natural universe, from what we can, with some confidence, verify as being real.

In this sort of "spiritual", one can believe in and claim experiences of fairies, pixies, leprechauns, angels, demons, spirits, ghosts, aliens, ESP, communication with the dead, and, of course, hearing from the Being who lives just above our clouds in an invisible (but claimed to be real) realm. All the claims are anecdotal, and, by definition of being outside of verifiable reality (nature), said not to be questioned by those who have a more rational bent who seek some kind of evidence rather than just a personal, subjective claim.

In our culture, to be spiritual is to be unnatural, not part of the natural universe. Methodist minister, Michael Dowd, illustrates how this affects the Christian story with in this quote:

"An unnatural king who occasionally engages in unnatural acts sends his unnatural son to Earth in an unnatural way. He’s born an unnatural birth, lives an unnatural life, performs unnatural deeds, and is killed and unnaturally rises from the dead in order to redeem humanity from an unnatural curse brought about by an unnaturally talking snake. After 40 days of unnatural appearances he unnaturally zooms off to heaven to return to his unnatural father, sit on an unnatural throne, and unnaturally judge the living and the dead. If you profess to believe in all this unnatural activity, you and your fellow believers get to spend an unnaturally long time in an unnaturally boring paradise while everyone else suffers an unnatural, torturous hell forever."

This is what conservative theism proposes. If the theistic God is a supernatural reality, and we are but natural creatures dwelling in a natural universe, one would think such a God would find a "natural" way to reach us. But Christianity is a religion of the supernatural. It is, by its own admission, a mystery, incomprehensible, unverifiable, not subject to understanding or logic. And this is precisely why only faith is required.

This is very good and helpful summary and I love the Dowd quote. But, I don't agree with all of it. There is a substantial, though not dominant, 'this world' spirituality from Jesus to the present, including Church Fathers, mystics and theologians; it is not the typical take on Christian spirituality. And, I disagree that there is or can ever be evidence for any take on the spiritual, be it this or other worldly. There is and must be a rational element to belief: reason must play its part and one's belief must make (some) 'sense.'  Then comes "the leap of faith.' 

Finally, as an Irishman, I do take exception to the inclusion and dismissal of leprechauns. 

 

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Well, Thormas, as another Irishman, I'm not saying that leprechauns don't exist. Just that I've never seen one, except in pictures, TV, and on the front of an occasional cereal box. The nice thing about leprechaunism (is that the right term?), is that, as far as I know, you don't go to hell if you don't believe in leprechauns. I do hear that you can get quite stoned at their Communion services, though. :)

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