Monday, April 27, 2009

Spirit of the Living God

This past Sunday our discussion group was studying Chapter Ten of Lloyd Geering’s book, ‘Christianity without God’. Chapter Ten is titled ‘Why Christianity must become non-theistic’.

Geering states, near the beginning of the Chapter, “If we think of God as ‘a superhuman person regarded as having power over nature and human fortunes’, we are using a descriptive definition. But if we take ‘God’ to refer to the highest values which motivate us, then we are using a functional definition.”

Someone mentioned the confusion this causes when we use the word ‘God’ to refer to two different things (definitions). It often becomes difficult to discern which ‘God’ the speaker or writer is referring to. Several people agreed, adding that even if one knows that the speaker is referring to the functional definition, confusion is created because of the ‘baggage’ surrounding the word ‘God’; caused by several thousand years of using the descriptive definition.

We discussed the desire to refer to the functional definition with a new or different term but this would, admittedly, cause great consternation and anxiety among those Christians who are not ready, willing or able to move away from the descriptive definition. The word ‘Ruach’ (the Hebrew word for spirit or breath of life) was mentioned. Ruach might be used to refer to “the highest values which motivate us”, i.e. love, compassion, tolerance, inclusiveness, justice. Expressed is this way, ‘the Ruach of life’, might give rise to an utterance of our new meaning for the word ‘God’.

Still, for those not disposed to advancing the intellectual integrity of the Church, this would seem unnecessary, even blasphemes.

Later, during the morning worship service, the congregation sang the familiar old hymn, ‘Spirit of the Living God’….

Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on me,
Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on me.
Melt me, mold me, fill me, use me.
Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on me.
As I sang the words of this song, my thoughts went back to our group discussion, and I began to ask myself.... “ When we refer to the functional definition of ‘God’ as love, compassion, tolerance, inclusiveness, and justice… are we not referring to how we as humans ought interact with each other in living out our lives? Is it not a manifestation of the Ultimate expression of life itself?” And in this context are we not speaking of the ‘Spirit of a Living God’?

This thinking does not solve the confusion factor mentioned earlier, but perhaps it could serve to help those who are concerned about the baggage surrounding the word ‘God’ when used in the functional context.

I’ll let you decide…..

barry e

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Dedication to Reality

Excerpt from 'The Road Less Traveled' - M. Scott Peck

….The third tool of discipline or technique of dealing with the pain of problem solving, which must be continually be employed if our lives are to be healthy and our spirits are to grow, is dedication to the truth. Superficially, this should be obvious, For truth is reality. That which is false is unreal. The more clearly we see the reality of the world, the better equipped we are to deal with the world. The less clearly we see the reality of the world – the more our minds are befuddled by falsehood, misperceptions and illusions – the less able we will be to determine correct courses of action and make wise decisions. Our view of reality is like a map with which to navigate the terrain of life. If the map is true and accurate, we will generally know where we are, and if we have decided where we want to go, we will generally know how to get there. If the map is false and inaccurate, we generally will be lost.

While this is obvious, it is something that most people to a greater or lesser degree choose to ignore. They ignore it because our route to reality is not easy. First of all, we are not born with maps; we have to make them, and the making requires effort. The more effort we make to appreciate and perceive reality, the larger and more accurate our maps will be. But many do not want to make this effort. Some stop making it by the end of adolescence. Their maps are small and sketchy, their views of the world narrow and misleading. By the end of middle age most people have given up the effort. They feel certain that their maps are complete and their Weltanschauung (worldview) is correct (indeed even sacrosanct), and they are no longer interested in new information. It is as if they are tired. Only a relative and fortunate few continue until the moment of death exploring the mystery of reality, ever enlarging and refining and redefining their understanding of the world and what is true.

But the biggest problem of map-making is not that we have to start from scratch, but that if our maps are to be accurate we have to continually revise them. The world itself is constantly changing. Glaciers come, glaciers go. Cultures come, cultures go. There is too little technology, there is too much technology. Even more dramatically, the vantage point from which we view the world is constantly and quite rapidly changing. When we are children we are dependent, powerless. As adults we may be powerful. Yet in illness or an infirm old age we may become powerless and dependent again. When we have children to care for, the world looks different from when we have none; when we are raising infants, the world seems different from when we are raising adolescents. When we are poor, the world looks different from when we are rich. We are daily bombarded with new information as to the nature of reality. If we are to incorporate this information, we must continually revise our maps, and sometimes when enough new information has accumulated, we must make very major revisions. The process of making revisions, particularly major revisions, is painful, sometimes excruciatingly painful. And herein lies the major source of many of the ills of mankind.

What happens when one has striven long and hard to develop a working view of the world, a seemingly useful, workable map, and then is confronted with new information suggesting that that view is wrong and the map needs to be largely redrawn? The painful effort required seems frightening, almost overwhelming. What we do more often than not, and usually unconsciously, is to ignore the new information. Often this act of ignoring is much more than passive. We may denounce the new information as false, dangerous, heretical, the work of the devil. We may actually crusade against it, and even attempt to manipulate the world so as to make it conform to our view of reality. Rather than try to change the map, an individual may try to destroy the new reality. Sadly, such a person may expend much more energy ultimately in defending an outmoded view of the world, than would have been required to revise and correct it in the first place.

- M. Scott Peck