Sunday, May 11, 2014


American teenager emailed a Christian organization: 'This term we're studying God. Please send information, full details, leaflets etc.' 

What we are we postmoderns supposed to do with all that medieval stuff?

If God is like Jesus, nothing's too good to be true... 


God is good at asking questions...

Humans invented God, stopped believing in Him, and killed Him as well. Roughly the argument, roughly worded, famously stated by Nietzsche - deep influence on 20th and 21st century thinking. Progressive death of God from the Enlightenment (which was not so much anti-religious as anti-Church). through Romanticism, to the present day. Terry Eagleton ('Culture and gthe Death of God') suggests post-modernism 'will be seen as the time when the deity was finally put to death.'


New Atheism -


5.         For Myriam Renaud (University of Chicago), God is the ultimate reference point guiding and orienting our lives. Given the daily violence that perpetrators claim is condoned or demanded by God, a passive moral relativism toward concepts of God is not tenable. Renaud thus asks: how can we determine whether a concept of God is validly moral?

Renaud elects to “think with” the American theologian Gordon Kaufman (1925-2011) who argues that no knowledge of God, whether cognitive or experiential, is certain. For Kaufman, the God of Whom we speak is a concept that we imaginatively construct. He develops a theological method to help theists construct, or more likely, reconstruct their concepts of God.

Seeking a strong moral test with global buy-in to identify validly-moral concepts of God—whether generated by Kaufman’s method or not—Renaud turns to the Declaration Toward a Global Ethic. The Global Ethic’s four directives were drafted by the German theologian, Hans Küng, vetted by religious ethicists from various traditions, and ratified by several thousand delegates at the 1993 Parliament of the World's Religions. The Global Ethic claims to make explicit the shared moral directives that are, by and large, implicit in the world’s cultural and religious traditions. Though the directives are often ignored, all of the traditions already accede to them, endorse them, and are bound by them.

To test the claim that directives are held in common, Renaud teases out the Global Ethic’s assumptions about the highest human good. She compares these to the UN Development Programme’s metrics of human development (i.e. human good). She finds a strong correlation between the two. Accordingly, Renaud advocates relying on the Global Ethic to evaluate concepts of God to determine whether they are validly moral. 

6.         God, for keynote-speaker David Tracy (Emeritus, University of Chicago), is infinite love. Tracy identifies, in the history of ideas, moments when God, the infinite, intersects with ethics.

The historical arc drawn by Tracy begins with the ancient Greek philosopher, Plotinus (204/5-270), who first conceives of God as infinite—the infinite One who is also the Good. The One, the dynamic source of all reality, is impersonal, uncaring, and ineffable. Still, for Plotinus, all of reality is good since it emanates from the One, the Good.

Tracy next focuses on the Cappadocian Father, Gregory of Nyssa (335-395), for whom God is infinite and therefore incomprehensible to our finite minds. Unlike Plotinus’ infinite One, Gregory’s Christian God is infinite love. We, with our infinite love for the infinite God, stretch in this life into infinite life, reaching toward unreachable knowledge of God. For Gregory, it is good to stretch; change is a constant and it is a good.

Tracy’s retracing of history ends with the twentieth-century Jewish philosopher, Emmanuel Levinas, who, unique in his time, developed an ethics of the infinite. For Levinas, the Other [person] is radically Other. This Other makes an infinite claim on us; indeed, the Other’s most fundamental command is “Don’t kill me.” The God who comes to mind is the Ultimate Other.

Tracy hopes that attention to the concept of the infinite will eventually become as standard in the history of ethics as it has become in mathematics. The advantage? God as infinite opens, rather than resolves evil, tragedy, and the hidden.



What Hitchens got wrong: Abolishing religion won't fix anythingChristopher Hitchens (Credit: Twelve Books)

Religion has once again become the “opiate of the people.” But this time, instead of seducing the proletariat into accepting its position in a capitalist society, it lulls atheists into believing that abolishing religion would bring about utopia.

It is rather disturbing trend in a country whose greatest reformer was a Reverend — Dick Gregory has said, “Ten thousand years from now, the only reason a history book will mention the United States is to note where Martin Luther King Jr. was born” — to believe that religion is the root of all evil. And yet this is what the “New Atheism” (an anti-theist movement led originally by Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett and the late — and great — Christopher Hitchens) movement asserts.

The fundamental error in the “New Atheist” dogma is one of logic. The basic premise is something like this:

1. The cause of all human suffering is irrationality

2. Religion is irrational

3. Religion is the cause of all human suffering

The “New Atheist” argument gives religion far, far too much credit for its ability to mold institutions and shape politics, committing the classic logical error of post hoc ergo propter hoc — mistaking a cause for its effect.

During the first Gulf War, Christopher Hitchens famously schooled Charlton Heston, asking him to name the countries surrounding Iraq, the place he was so eager to invade. A flummoxed Heston sputtered, naming a few random Middle Eastern countries (including, rather humorously, the island nation of Cyprus).

But then Hitchens decided that, in fact, bombing children was no longer so abhorrent, because these wars were no longer neocolonial wars dictated by economics and geopolitics but rather a final Armageddon between the forces of rationality and the forces of religion. The fact that the force of rationality and civilization was lead by a cabal of religious extremists was of no concern for Hitchens. To co-opt Steven Weinberg, “Good men will naturally oppose bad wars and bad will naturally support them. To make a good man support a bad war, for that, you need an irrational fear of religion.”

Somehow the man who denounced Kissinger’s war crimes now supported Bush’s — both wars, of course, supported by the scantest of logic. The man who so eloquently chronicled the corruption of the Clinton administration became the shill of his successor.

Ruber Cornwell wrote of Hitchens in The Independent,


God is who you need - lawmaker, king/ruler, deliverer from enemies - also God as merciful, as concerned for all peoples (Abraham - blessed to be a blessing; Peter and Cornelius; Jesus: rain on just and unjust; Paul - Jews and Gentiles)



God is free - free to risk giving angels and humans free will, including the freedom to reject him. Does God cause people to sin? Absolutely not says Paul (Gal. 2:17). God is not a cosmic chess-player, moving all the pieces on the board: we - angels and mortals - are free to do evil. God does not stop bullets fired at innocent people; God doesn't thwart teenage liaisons or prevent the teenage pregnancy. Something very risky is going on here... 


What is God like? Michelangelo, painting the creation on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, portrayed God as a bearded, kindly, mature male reaching out with his fingers to a younger version of himself. Or there's God as the grumpy but soft-hearted Mr. Wilson in the Dennis the Menace comic strips, Or the absent father: so busy working that he is never around. Or a stern and unforgiving judge. 

Jesus' three stories: God is like a shepherd searching for a lost sheep; God is like a woman searching for a lost coin; God is like a father welcoming home a lost son


A crazy little thing called love

David Brooks

May 14, 2008

A new group of assertive atheists is doing battle with defenders of faith.

IN 1996, Tom Wolfe wrote a brilliant essay called "Sorry, but Your Soul just Died," in which he captured the militant materialism of some modern scientists.

To these self-confident researchers, the idea that the spirit might exist apart from the body is just ridiculous. Instead, everything arises from atoms. Genes shape temperament. Brain chemicals shape behaviour. Assemblies of neurons create consciousness. Free will is an illusion. Human beings are "hard-wired" to do this or that. Religion is an accident.

In this materialist view, people perceive God's existence because their brains have evolved to confabulate belief systems.

Put a magnetic helmet around their heads and they will begin to think they are having a spiritual epiphany. If they suffer from temporal lobe epilepsy, they will show signs of hyper-religiosity, an overexcitement of the brain tissue that leads sufferers to believe they are conversing with God.

Wolfe understood the central assertion contained in this kind of thinking:Everything is material and "the soul is dead". He anticipated the way the genetic and neuroscience revolutions would affect public debate. They would kick off another fundamental argument over whether God exists.

Lo and behold, over the past decade, a new group of assertive atheists has done battle with defenders of faith.

The two sides have argued about whether it is reasonable to conceive of a soul that survives the death of the body and about whether understanding the brain explains away or merely adds to our appreciation of the entity that created it.

The atheism debate is a textbook example of how a scientific revolution can change public culture. Just as The Origin of Species reshaped social thinking, just as Einstein's theory of relativity affected art, so the revolution in neuroscience is having an effect on how people see the world.

And yet my guess is that the atheism debate is going to be a sideshow. The cognitive revolution is not going to end up undermining faith in God, it's going to end up challenging faith in the Bible.

The momentum has shifted away from hard-core materialism. The brain seems less like a cold machine. It does not operate like a computer. Instead, meaning, belief and consciousness seem to emerge mysteriously from idiosyncratic networks of neural firings.

Those squishy things called emotions play a gigantic role in all forms of thinking. Love is vital to brain development.

Researchers now spend a lot of time trying to understand universal moral intuitions.

Genes are not merely selfish, it appears. Instead, people seem to have deep instincts for fairness, empathy and attachment.

Andrew Newberg, of the University of Pennsylvania, has shown that transcendent experiences can actually be identified and measured in the brain (people experience a decrease in activity in the parietal lobe, which orients us in space). The mind seems to have the ability to transcend itself and merge with a larger presence that feels more real.

This new wave of research will not seep into the public realm in the form of militant atheism. Instead it will lead to what you might call neural Buddhism.

If you survey the literature, you can see that certain beliefs will spread into the wider discussion.

First, the self is not a fixed entity but a dynamic process of relationships. Second, underneath the patina of different religions, people around the world have common moral intuitions. Third, people are equipped to experience the sacred, to have moments of elevated experience when they transcend boundaries and overflow with love. Fourth, God can best be conceived as the nature one experiences at those moments, the unknowable total of all there is.

In their arguments with Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins, the faithful have been defending the existence of God. That was the easy debate.

The real challenge is going to come from people who feel the existence of the sacred, but who think that particular religions are just cultural artefacts built on top of universal human traits. It's going to come from scientists whose beliefs overlap a bit with Buddhism. In unexpected ways, science and mysticism are joining hands and reinforcing each other.

That's bound to lead to new movements that emphasise self-transcendence but put little stock in divine law or revelation.

Orthodox believers are going to have to defend particular doctrines and particular biblical teachings. They are going to have to defend the idea of a personal God, and explain why specific theologies are true guides for behaviour day to day.

I'm not qualified to take sides, believe me. I'm just trying to anticipate which way the debate is headed. We're in the middle of a scientific revolution. It's going to have big cultural effects.


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