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BillM

Theism - What Would It Take?

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8 hours ago, Jack of Spades said:

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?

I think that's a very good question to ask, Jack. How we image God does matter. There are, as you have said, probably as many different kinds of theism as their are people. I find Process Theism appeal. I also find Open Theism appealing. Few Christians (present company excepted) probably know what these even are. These are, of course, still human ways of conceiving of God and God's relationship to the world. But supernatural theism is, by far, the most dominant form in the West. And it is the easiest for the atheists to attack. These atheists may consider it to be an attack upon God, but I don't. I don't believe in the God that the atheists are attacking. But finding an image of God that works for modern culture is a challenge.

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3 hours ago, BillM said:

I think that's a very good question to ask, Jack. How we image God does matter. There are, as you have said, probably as many different kinds of theism as their are people. I find Process Theism appeal. I also find Open Theism appealing. Few Christians (present company excepted) probably know what these even are. These are, of course, still human ways of conceiving of God and God's relationship to the world. But supernatural theism is, by far, the most dominant form in the West. And it is the easiest for the atheists to attack. These atheists may consider it to be an attack upon God, but I don't. I don't believe in the God that the atheists are attacking. But finding an image of God that works for modern culture is a challenge.

I am familiar with process theology but I never fully associated it with theism and dialectical theism which even the author says is panentheism by another name. I always thought the big difference was that the theist believes that God is a (supreme) being, external to the natural world who intervenes in that world via miracles. There are panentheistic 'themes' in the bible but I agree that it is theism that is the dominant 'ism' in the west, found in Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

Jack had said: "Mysticism usually means inner experience, not natural senses." However, I think in theism, the belief is still that it is a person, perhaps external, being that reveals himself to the one who then has the inner experience. The difference for me is that the theist seems to be saying or believes that he or she has been chosen (again the idea of favoritism) to receive the revelation or communication or experience and my reading of some Christian mystics and panentheism is that rather than being chosen, it is the individual person who perceives 'what' is and has always been present in creation; they 'see' or conceive a deeper reality (no favoritism, human response to Reality). I have never felt chosen, nor do I think I would want to be special 'from above'(for this would suggest something about God that I neither like or accept) but I have made efforts to think about and conceive (see) the Presence in creation. This though is seeing aided by reason and then the decision to say, "okay" and go with it (i.e. a faith decision). However, I am not favored from above, it is the work of 'looking into' the this world; and it is possible for others to see or perceive also. My belief: there are no favorites but we are all special (sort of like how each of the children of very wise and loving parents can feel).

 

Edited by thormas

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Thormas, without consulting a dictionary, theism simply means believing in a god (or gods).

We then add modifiers to further describe how we believe in this god (or gods). Supernatural theism posits a deity who is above or outside of nature. It usually then stipulates that this deity can, therefore, control nature and break nature's laws if it chooses to do so, hence we get prophets who can speak for this god or this god does miracles to demonstrate that he is in control and prove his existence via magic tricks.

Pantheism usually says that god was once a being but, at creation, divested god's self into all creation. God is no longer transcendent (above nature) and can only be found in nature. IMO, deism is a form of pantheism. The deity of pantheism is not a personal god. In other words, god is not involved in each person's life, does not have a plan for each person, and does not reward or punish a person after death. God, in this view, is synonymous with nature. If the universe ceased to exist, so would god.

Panentheism usually says that god is still transcendent (more than nature), but that all of nature is "inside" god, perhaps as a mother carries her unborn child. I think this is what Marcus Borg refers to when he says that god is "womb-like." Though god is more than the universe, still, in god, we live, and move, and have our being. Panentheism has, IMO, more of a personal concept of god than pantheism does. But it posits that god works through creation, rather than intervening from outside (as in supernatural theism) or not working at all (as in Pantheism). God, in Panentheism, is usually more of a Consciousness that influences towards good, wholeness, justice, peace, etc.

Who is to say who is right?

The theistic, supernatural god speaks up in scripture and through preachers who speak in tongues to assure us that he exists. And if we don't believe, we go to hell. The pantheistic god doesn't speak at all, except for, perhaps, in pictures, in nature. The panentheistic god speaks through intuition, leanings, gentle nudges, the inner voice.

Again, I think all concepts of god are human constructs. I suspect we must each find the concept (or synchronicity of them) that works for us, that helps us each make sense of ourselves, our world, and life as we experience it.

Edited by BillM

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1 hour ago, BillM said:

Thormas, without consulting a dictionary, theism simply means believing in a god (or gods).

We then add modifiers to further describe how we believe in this god (or gods). Supernatural theism posits a deity who is above or outside of nature. It usually then stipulates that this deity can, therefore, control nature and break nature's laws if it chooses to do so, hence we get prophets who can speak for this god or this god does miracles to demonstrate that he is in control and prove his existence via magic tricks.

Pantheism usually says that god was once a being but, at creation, divested god's self into all creation. God is no longer transcendent (above nature) and can only be found in nature. IMO, deism is a form of pantheism. The deity of pantheism is not a personal god. In other words, god is not involved in each person's life, does not have a plan for each person, and does not reward or punish a person after death. God, in this view, is synonymous with nature. If the universe ceased to exist, so would god.

Panentheism usually says that god is still transcendent (more than nature), but that all of nature is "inside" god, perhaps as a mother carries her unborn child. I think this is what Marcus Borg refers to when he says that god is "womb-like." Though god is more than the universe, still, in god, we live, and move, and have our being. Panentheism has, IMO, more of a personal concept of god than pantheism does. But it posits that god works through creation, rather than intervening from outside (as in supernatural theism) or not working at all (as in Pantheism). God, in Panentheism, is usually more of a Consciousness that influences towards good, wholeness, justice, peace, etc.

Who is to say who is right?

Again, I think all concepts of god are human constructs. I suspect we must each find the concept (or synchronicity of them) that works for us, that helps us each make sense of ourselves, our world, and life as we experience it.

Also, without looking at a dictionary, I think theism also suggests that the god or gods are external to us. What you have called supernatural theism is how I always understood it. So agreed on the miracles as demonstrations or assistance and the prophets and priests who speak for the god/gods.

Never defined pantheism this way (variations on a theme), rather understood it as 'from the beginning' god and the world were the same and/or that the world is the self-expression of god as he seeks to know and fulfill himself. But generally, agreed. I don't define deism as pantheism: there is a god who is external and at a distance but has no involvement with man or the natural world. Like the clock maker, he just set all in motion and took off for places unknown.

Agree on panentheism, not sure if I would defined as consciousness (although I think Spong moves to this) but not opposed. I have always define the god of panentheism as Being which is Love. But again, agreed.

As to who is right: it is belief, so it is choice (and a construct). However, I think each tells a story and panentheism's story resonates with me and is a piece with the Christian Story.  I think if Christianity moves its 'setting,' as it must, from the ancient 3 tiered world view, and, acknowledging a modern worldview (that is how we, generally, understand ourselves and the universe), retells its story, it moves to a panentheistic presentation of god and man. I think such a retelling helps people to see and hear, sometimes for the first time. And, of course, although I can't imagine it, if in the future, another world view becomes dominant, Christianity must retell its story again for the people of a new age.

I don't think denim, pantheism or supernatural theism do justice to or are ultimately compatible with the Christian story. Panentheism is its most hopeful language.

Edited by thormas

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Thormas, didn't Jesus cure the leprechaun?

Agree on panentheism.  Even Calvin agreed on this in his notes on the NT.  We exist within God, but we are not gods ourselves.

Edited by Burl

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No, Burl, the leprechaun died and Jesus raised him to the pink hearts, yellow moons, orange stars, and green clovers. Admittedly, magically delicious!

FWIW, I see Jesus pantheistically also. Paul, in 2 Cor 5:19, says that "God was in Christ." He doesn't say that Christ was/is God. Paul was a Jew of Jews. He knew how monotheistic they were.

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2 hours ago, Burl said:

Thormas, didn't Jesus cure the leprechaun?

Agree on panentheism.  Even Calvin agreed on this in his notes on the NT.  We exist within God, but we are not gods ourselves.

No, I think leprechauns are the equivalent of angels :+} Although Bill's interpretation makes sense also since they are now 'heavenly delicious.'

Calvin, thought he was a predestination guy but have never studied him, seems scary. But I do agree within God but not gods.

Edited by thormas

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1 hour ago, BillM said:

No, Burl, the leprechaun died and Jesus raised him to the pink hearts, yellow moons, orange stars, and green clovers. Admittedly, magically delicious!

FWIW, I see Jesus pantheistically also. Paul, in 2 Cor 5:19, says that "God was in Christ." He doesn't say that Christ was/is God. Paul was a Jew of Jews. He knew how monotheistic they were.

Did you mean pan or panentheistically?

Paul not only said "God was in Christ" he also said (as you referred to earlier) that we live, move and have our being 'in' God. This is the same panentheistic statement - good catch on Paul's monotheistic belief.

Edited by thormas

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Oops, Thormas, yes, I meant "panENtheistically."

And, of course, when Paul was making his allusion to panentheism on Mars Hill, he was quoting the Greek philosophers.

I don't doubt that much of the bible is written from a supernatural theism perspective. That is the natural language of worship, the "I and Thou". God is in heaven, we are on earth. Never (or seldom) the twain shall meet. But I also think that, occasionally, the scriptures make great strides in supporting the notion of panentheism.

David says that there is no where he can go from God's presence. The bible often speaks of the whole earth being filled with God's glory (the shekinah, which is actually a feminine form of the spirit). Joel's prophecy (in his best understanding) that the spirit would be poured out on ALL flesh. This is not just Christians, and it is not just humans. The whole problem of the Trinity (a doctrine that Jesus never taught) goes away when we understand that God was in and working through Jesus of Nazareth.

One of the major problems that I see with the world's religions, including Christianity, is the tendency to stick God in a box or a book. Such religions relegate the world into the saved and the damned, those with the spirit and those without, those in the "right" religion and those in the "wrong" religion. All of this stems, IMO, from the supernatural theism doctrine that we don't bear God's image, that our sin separates us from God, and that God is not here.

I certainly don't have all the answers. This is just the kind of stuff that I think about when I don't get a decent beer. But I tend to think that we all have the "radios" inside us to "have ears to hear." But religion says, "No, you need a middle man. You cannot trust your radio. You are a sinner." Therefore, few of us tune in. I do wish God had a loudspeaker as he seemed to have in bible days, where there was little doubt that he spoke and what he said. But it seems he has given us all these radios to tune into our hearts, to listen in silence, to cultivate what might be called "spiritual discernment." Panentheism says that this is available to everyone, regardless of race, religion, culture, status, or any of the other borders that our cultures and religions want to erect to keep God in a box.

Edited by BillM
Baad Speeling

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9 hours ago, BillM said:

But supernatural theism is, by far, the most dominant form in the West. And it is the easiest for the atheists to attack. These atheists may consider it to be an attack upon God, but I don't. I don't believe in the God that the atheists are attacking. But finding an image of God that works for modern culture is a challenge.

 

Whether supernatural theism is the de facto dominant form in the West is a bit arguable. I think there is a distinction between a form of theism that confesses to supernatural dogmas, yet practices only the kind of stuff that sticks within the realm of humanly possible, and the kind of theism that includes active pursuit for supernatural reality in it's practice. A fine study case is what people think of prayer, do they think it has the power to change the reality, or is it a form of self-therapy. One talks about supernatural, the other one (at least tries) to walk the walk too. 
 

When rationalism and scientific world view are the cultural truth, the pursuit for supernatural seems to create a false dilemma of having to choose between supernatural and reason. I believe this to be one underlying reason for why supernatural - focused Christian groups in the West are prone to descending into irrationalism. Such as snakehandling, refusing to take meds as a show of faith, or numerous forms of wierd ritualism. These groups have on some level believed the false dilemma, and think that they have to reject reason in order to believe in supernatural. Personally, I refuse to believe that I have to choose between being a normally functioning, thinking human being and that of actively embracing spiritual, supernatural reality. I take the nature of Jesus to be the model with this, both human and God (spiritual) at the same time. Jesus walked on water, but didn't refuse to use boats. The Western false dilemma of supernatural insists that I would have to do either one and there is something inconsistent in doing it both ways.

Edited by Jack of Spades
typos

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14 hours ago, Jack of Spades said:

I think there is a distinction between a form of theism that confesses to supernatural dogmas, yet practices only the kind of stuff that sticks within the realm of humanly possible, and the kind of theism that includes active pursuit for supernatural reality in it's practice.

I suspect this is true, Jack. Many people say, "God is in control" and then live their lives as if they have free will. They pray for the sick, but go to doctors. I tend to think we are pragmatic people living in a natural world, but we hedge our bets by still confessing to supernaturalism. It is an interesting time.

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17 hours ago, Jack of Spades said:

Whether supernatural theism is the de facto dominant form in the West is a bit arguable. I think there is a distinction between a form of theism that confesses to supernatural dogmas, yet practices only the kind of stuff that sticks within the realm of humanly possible, and the kind of theism that includes active pursuit for supernatural reality in it's practice. A fine study case is what people think of prayer, do they think it has the power to change the reality, or is it a form of self-therapy. One talks about supernatural, the other one (at least tries) to walk the walk too. 
 

When rationalism and scientific world view are the cultural truth, the pursuit for supernatural seems to create a false dilemma of having to choose between supernatural and reason. I believe this to be one underlying reason for why supernatural - focused Christian groups in the West are prone to descending into irrationalism. Such as snakehandling, refusing to take meds as a show of faith, or numerous forms of wierd ritualism. These groups have on some level believed the false dilemma, and think that they have to reject reason in order to believe in supernatural. Personally, I refuse to believe that I have to choose between being a normally functioning, thinking human being and that of actively embracing spiritual, supernatural reality. I take the nature of Jesus to be the model with this, both human and God (spiritual) at the same time. Jesus walked on water, but didn't refuse to use boats. The Western false dilemma of supernatural insists that I would have to do either one and there is something inconsistent in doing it both ways.

If theism was/is not the dominant form in the West - what is? And what theism does not have a focus on the supernatural?  Can you explain your 2nd sentence? Even with the example of prayer - prayer is to the supernatural Being. Those who pray and don't get the answer they want, will often say that is God's answer or he will answer in his good time and those that engage in self-therapy (not sure I've heard of this one) are still praying, it seems.

Even when I was a theist we prayed to God, we worshipped in Church, we sought forgiveness and we tried to be his image but even our Mass ended with - go out into the world and do it, "Go Love and Serve the Lord" in the only place we could - the world.  We didn't pursue the supernatural, we paid homage, we sought guidance but, if anything, we pursued or did God's work in our world. So not sure about your distinction. 

You make a good point to begin the second paragraph but just not sure what "pursuit for supernatural"  means or looks like. You have a point about the snake handlers and others - I always thought it was something they were into, not a dilemma?? But interesting.

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5 hours ago, BillM said:

I suspect this is true, Jack. Many people say, "God is in control" and then live their lives as if they have free will. They pray for the sick, but go to doctors. I tend to think we are pragmatic people living in a natural world, but we hedge our bets by still confessing to supernaturalism. It is an interesting time.

 

Praying for the sick and going to doctor is not what I meant by supernatural-free theistic practice. That would be a perfect mix of both, natural life and pursuit for supernatural, the ideal way imho. I've met lots of Christians who don't believe that God heals, and don't pray for it. Just for an example. But again, I live in a rather secular place, so I might be biased to think that Christians generally are more rationalists than they globally speaking might be.

 

1 hour ago, thormas said:

If theism was/is not the dominant form in the West - what is? And what theism does not have a focus on the supernatural?  Can you explain your 2nd sentence? Even with the example of prayer - prayer is to the supernatural Being. Those who pray and don't get the answer they want, will often say that is God's answer or he will answer in his good time and those that engage in self-therapy (not sure I've heard of this one) are still praying, it seems.

 

Now that I think of it, maybe there is not a fundamental distinction, but rather the difference is in intensity. Or in the level of expectation in how much God is supposed to be interested in interventions.

 

Let's take another example from our conversations earlier and use the trinity - doctrine as an example. Supernatural-including version of practice would be there to assume that God will somehow give a mystic understanding of it through faith. Therefore the fact that the doctrine on the surface-level is somewhat irrational, wouldn't be a problem, if there were a path to find a spiritual, mystical knowledge of this seemingly irrational doctrine. A supernatural free version would either 1) confess it as a blind faith - kind of a thing, it just is so without any explanation or 2) would seek to correct the seeming irrationality of it by ditching the doctrine.

 

In my opinion, if all supernatural interventionism is rejected, faith becomes a rather authoritarian concept where things are just believed because someone says so and that's it. I find mysticism to be much more satisfying version of religion, the one I find most worthy of practicing. In mysticism, things that make little rational sense can be often understood in spirit, through personal revelation, kind of as a series of mini-enlightenments. It's neither blind faith on authority, nor figuring religion out rationally. It's just playing on an alternative playfield. I can accept that I don't understand some things I believe in with my brain, but mysticism provides me with an an alternative way, to seek to understand them through personal spiritual revelation.

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