Quotes & Sayings

We, and creation itself, actualize the possibilities of the God who sustains the world, towards becoming in the world in a fuller, more deeper way. - R.E. Slater

There is urgency in coming to see the world as a web of interrelated processes of which we are integral parts, so that all of our choices and actions have [consequential effects upon] the world around us. - Process Metaphysician Alfred North Whitehead

Kurt Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem says (i) all closed systems are unprovable within themselves and, that (ii) all open systems are rightly understood as incomplete. - R.E. Slater

The most true thing about you is what God has said to you in Christ, "You are My Beloved." - Tripp Fuller

The God among us is the God who refuses to be God without us, so great is God's Love. - Tripp Fuller

According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater

Our eschatological ethos is to love. To stand with those who are oppressed. To stand against those who are oppressing. It is that simple. Love is our only calling and Christian Hope. - R.E. Slater

Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger

Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton

I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – Anon

Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII

Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut

Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest

We become who we are by what we believe and can justify. - R.E. Slater

People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – Anon

Certainly, God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater

An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater

Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann

Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner

“Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh” means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14) or, conversely, “I AM who I AM Becoming.”

Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton

The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens, we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – Anon

The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul

The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah

If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer

God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – Anon

Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson

We can’t control God; God is uncontrollable. God can’t control us; God’s love is uncontrolling! - Thomas Jay Oord

Life in perspective but always in process... as we are relational beings in process to one another, so life events are in process in relation to each event... as God is to Self, is to world, is to us... like Father, like sons and daughters, like events... life in process yet always in perspective. - R.E. Slater

To promote societal transition to sustainable ways of living and a global society founded on a shared ethical framework which includes respect and care for the community of life, ecological integrity, universal human rights, respect for diversity, economic justice, democracy, and a culture of peace. - The Earth Charter Mission Statement

Christian humanism is the belief that human freedom, individual conscience, and unencumbered rational inquiry are compatible with the practice of Christianity or even intrinsic in its doctrine. It represents a philosophical union of Christian faith and classical humanist principles. - Scott Postma

It is never wise to have a self-appointed religious institution determine a nation's moral code. The opportunities for moral compromise and failure are high; the moral codes and creeds assuredly racist, discriminatory, or subjectively and religiously defined; and the pronouncement of inhumanitarian political objectives quite predictable. - R.E. Slater

God's love must both center and define the Christian faith and all religious or human faiths seeking human and ecological balance in worlds of subtraction, harm, tragedy, and evil. - R.E. Slater

In Whitehead’s process ontology, we can think of the experiential ground of reality as an eternal pulse whereby what is objectively public in one moment becomes subjectively prehended in the next, and whereby the subject that emerges from its feelings then perishes into public expression as an object (or “superject”) aiming for novelty. There is a rhythm of Being between object and subject, not an ontological division. This rhythm powers the creative growth of the universe from one occasion of experience to the next. This is the Whiteheadian mantra: “The many become one and are increased by one.” - Matthew Segall

Without Love there is no Truth. And True Truth is always Loving. There is no dichotomy between these terms but only seamless integration. This is the premier centering focus of a Processual Theology of Love. - R.E. Slater


Note: Generally I do not respond to commentary. I may read the comments but wish to reserve my time to write (or write from the comments I read). Instead, I'd like to see our community help one another and in the helping encourage and exhort each of us towards Christian love in Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior. - re slater

Monday, November 14, 2011

Classic Evangelical Epistemology, Part 3

Bounded or Centered Set?
Part 3a
August 17, 2011 in Bible Thoughts with 18 Comments

As I have been in my grudge match to the death with the Rule of Faith as a “rule,” one critique I regularly find myself bringing is that it creates a bounded set. My instinct has been that so conceptualizing the Christian faith is not only a category mistake but ethically disastrous.

In short, once we have defined Christianity as a set of beliefs that must be maintained in order to be faithful Christians, then Christian ethics boils down to maintaining “the faith” that is so delineated.

What should Christians do? Defend the borders.

I have recently stumbled upon the work of Paul Hiebert. Here is what he says about bounded sets:
  1. The category is created by listing essential characteristics something must posses in order to belong to the set
  2. The category is defined by a clear boundary
  3. The objects form a homogeneous group
  4. “Bounded sets are essentially static sets”
  5. Within Western conceptual categories, bounded sets tend to be ontological sets, reflecting an absolute, unchanging nature of reality.

Two things strike me here: the quote, point 4, is the one that I most often rail against here. Christian theology is not a static set, but something dynamically in process in the ongoing story of the church. 

The church has to grow up to the fact that things are not simply givens, so we cannot take an 1800 year old statement as the defining marker of who we are and what we should do.

But here’s the other problem, as Hiebert lays it out. On point 2, the category is formed by a clear boundary.

What does this mean in practice? He says:
Most of the effort in defining the category is spent defining and maintaining the boundary. Not only must we say what an apple is, we must also clearly differentiate it from oranges, pears, and similar objects that belong to the same domain but are not apples. The central question, therefore, is whether an object is inside or outside the category.

The ethic entailed in a bounded-set system is defining and maintaining the boundary.

When we envision Christianity as a bounded-set, we are consigning ourselves to a lifetime of boundary guarding. Absent from all this, of course, are other measures of Christian fidelity–such as embodying the self-giving love of Christ or even walking in accordance with the ethics of the Sermon on the Mount.

Christianity-bounded by the “Rule of Faith” becomes, throughout Church History, a self-referential religion, concerned with keeping itself together, and keeping out the heterodox.

This is not to say, of course, that it is without biblical precedent. There were, after all, the disciples who bravely fended off the would-be intruders upon their bounded world: “Lord, we saw a man casting out demons in your name, but he was not with us, so we forbid him!”

So what is a centered set? Stay tuned…

About J. R. Daniel Kirk: Professor at Fuller Seminary, resident of San Francisco, consumer of dark chocolate, brewer of dark beer, reader of Flannery O'Connor, watcher of the Coen Brothers, listener of The Mountain Goats.

Bounded or Centered Set?
Part 3b  
August 18, 2011 in Bible Thoughts with 16 Comments
…a centered set is created by defining a center or reference point and the relationship of things to that center. Things related to the center belong to the set, and those not related to the center do not. Kingship groups… are relational categories.

Relational categories.

That’s more like it.

We all belong together, not because we are circumscribed by a common speech recited on Sunday mornings that tells us how to read the Bible, but because we are all related to Christ, and to God as God’s children, in Christ.

That is a better way to conceive of our identity.

Centered sets have a couple of advantages over bounded sets in terms of being a conceptual framework for Christianity. There are two variables that this way of conceptualizing relations can account for.

One: some folks will be closer to the center than others. All might be in some sort of relationship, but there are degrees of proximity to the defining center.

Two: people might be in motion toward or away from the center.

Part of the flexibility of this is that individuals aren’t the only ones who might be related to a Christian center (= Jesus). Whole churches, denominations, or even the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic church might at times be closer, at times farther, at times moving toward and at times moving away from Christ.

If Christ is the center of our set, the church resumes its rightful place as people who are always in a dynamic relationship with him rather than being erected as a static framework that, itself, defines the set.

Both in its move from the church as defining agent (Rule of Faith) to Christ (the center of our centered set), and in its recognition of the inherently dynamic nature of all relationships and reality, the centered set more faithfully depicts what Christianity is, and therefore opens up better possibilities for interpreting the Bible and acting faithfully in the world.

About J. R. Daniel Kirk: Professor at Fuller Seminary, resident of San Francisco, consumer of dark chocolate, brewer of dark beer, reader of Flannery O'Connor, watcher of the Coen Brothers, listener of The Mountain Goats.  

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Classic Evangelical Epistemology, Part 2

When I was a child
August 15, 2011 in Bible Thoughts with 7 Comments

When I was a child I thought that the world of my elders was an infinite set of givens.

In The Sparrow, the wise older married woman says she has to decide afresh every ten years if this new person who is completely different from the man she married (and from the man she recommitted to ten years previously) is worth learning to love afresh.
Married people: you don’t “arrive” at your life goal when your kid is born.

Grad students: you don’t “arrive” when you get your job. In fact, landing that great job, sometimes landing a large amount of dollars in a cool city to go with it, can make the failure to experience “arriving” a thoroughly depressing affair.

I was at a fortieth birthday party a few months ago. At one point, the conversation turned to words of wisdom from other men who had passed that milestone. One that stuck with me was this: “If you’ve been diligently pursuing your vocational goals, you have probably accomplished most of them by the time you turn forty. Now you have to figure out how to look toward the future without that kind of hopeful vision for the future driving you.”

In other words, the idea that you’ve done it all already, and haven’t yet arrived, is where the midlife crisis comes from.

Life is full of dynamic processes. We are part of that dynamism as we change, grow, and contribute to our world. And, the world itself is ever changing and opening up new possibilities and heading in unexpected directions and, sometimes, leaving us behind.

There’s a point in all this for theology, but I’m out of space and will have to take it up tomorrow. So here’s a teaser: the baby church in AD 200 had the luxury of thinking its faith was a given for all places and times. The church in AD 2000 should be looking at the world with a more sober grownup’s vision.

Theology Doing Away with Childish Things
Perhaps what we thought was a given needs to be reaffirmed, restated given that the parties in the agreement (the church and its members) are both completely different now.

The idea that one statement, or a cluster of like statements, can continue to define the relationship for two thousand years rests on a static view of the world that does not measure up to reality. The church did not “arrive” when it articulated the rule of faith. It said what needed to be said circa AD 200.

But this does not answer the question of what is necessary or sufficient to be said or done in AD 2000. We must regularly say afresh what needs to be said. This is not only because the world is dynamic and in flux, and not only because the church is dynamic and in flux, but also because God continues to be dynamically at work in both the world and the church.

Catherine Keller - On Entanglement, Interconnectedness & Synchronicity

When reading through Catherine's much appreciated interview it caught my attention if what she was referring to in terms of theological entanglements or spiritual interconnectedness was perhaps the same concept put forth here not  many months ago pertaining to the concept of synchronicity (LOST in Purgatory, "Synchronicity," Part 2 of 2).

I had thought at the time when discovering the concept many years earlier, that this concept was at once singular and multifaceted; rare in observance but readily performed in everyday life; a substance (both metaphysical and temporal) bound to the immortal person and being of God in His power, presence, being and divine embrace of His creation basically understood then, as now, as a "joined collective dynamic."

And so, Catherine draws this same coincidence out from within her own view of process theology, whereas I, whether rightly or wrongly, whether inconsistently and naively, have done the same through my bias towards classical theism (that I have since revised as relational theism; see sidebars for further discussion). Let us then consider her interview and the greater matters of how God works through us, the world, time and attention in mysterious and marvelous ways hidden from us but yet ever in plain view!

R.E. Slater
November 14, 2001

* * * * * * * * * * * *


Quantum Theology: Our Spooky Interconnectedness:
An Interview with Catherine Keller
November 2, 2011

*Beatrice Marovich is a PhD candidate in the Graduate Division of Religion at Drew University in Madison, NJ. She also works as a writer, editor, and communications consultant, specializing in ideas at the crowded intersection of theology, philosophy, faith and public/political life in North America.

Before I knew anything much at all about theology, I knew about creationism—theology’s old anti-evolutionary fracas. I knew, in other words, that in the worst case, theology and science were at war. In the best case, I assumed, they had a rather awkward relationship—something like bad first date. And then I read Catherine Keller’s Face of the Deep: A Theology of Becoming (Routledge, 2003).

What occurred was nothing short of a paradigm shift. What Keller was up to was beyond me—in the very best way. She wasn’t doing apologetics (defending theology from its outside objectors). Instead, she was pulling playfully from the feisty texts of her tradition (in this case, the first book of Genesis, the creation story) in order to cast an evocative, spirited, poetic web over the cosmos that scientific research was revealing to us. I realized that there was no one else I’d trust as much to help me wade into this ancient discipline—theology. Here, Keller speaks with me about her forthcoming book.

BEM: Let’s start simple. The book youre currently working on is called Cloud of the Impossible: Theological Entanglements. Perhaps the first question I should ask is: What is a “cloud of the impossible”?

CK: Well, it’s a metaphor that just engulfed me and wouldn’t let me go. I tried to work with other names. But it wouldn’t go away, this little cloud.

It comes from Nicholas of Cusa, who’s a theologian of the 15th century. It’s a phrase that he uses in his book called The Vision of God. When he talks about the cloud of the impossible he’s talking about the cloud that, at a certain point in your spiritual journey, you just can’t avoid if you want to evolve. The cloud that you simply can’t not enter, if you’re not going to settle for clichés and incoherencies, or repressed questions, in your spirituality.

So this cloud that you have to face… what is it? Well, for him, it’s a point of dire contradiction. It’s when two different things that you believe come into conflict and contradict each other.

What does the cloud of the impossible have to do with God?

Cusa says that we have to face the contradictions that the cloud confronts us with. The fundamental contradiction that haunts him throughout all of his work—and attracts him as well—is that we are utterly finite creatures who don’t have the capacity to grasp the infinite, which is God. So it’s a contradiction between finitude and the infinite.

But the contradictions, for me, can also be the contradictions between our life calling and a relationship to a loved one, or the contradiction between our ecological awareness and our economic practice. In his cloud meditation, Cusa suggests that these contradictions (which seem to be utterly resistant to our reason, which strike us as utterly impossible to resolve) suck us deeper into the cloud. We’re drawn ever deeper, until we hit a wall. We come to an awareness of a wall that seems to be woven of these intractable, irreconcilable opposites.

But Cusa describes this as the wall of the coincidence of opposites: coincidentia oppositorum. It’s the very realization that these opposites are interwoven that points to something else, a sort of third way. It’s a struggle to get there. There’s a kind of logic of “either-or” that has to be overcome. But then a gate opens and, at least for a moment, one is in paradise. This moment never lasts. But, for Cusa, the experience of the divine is precisely that: coming smack up against this contradiction and then, if we hang in there, the opening.

Is this the impossible?

That’s the impossible transmuting into possibility itself. It’s the possibility within the impossible.

Your book is also going to cover a kind of correlate phenomenon of impossibility in the world of physics?

I’ve been fascinated with a kind of quantum apophasis*. What we face in this field is a kind of fundamental contradiction between relativity theory (which is classical) and quantum physics, which “unsays” the laws of classical physics. I think this contradiction is its own cloud.

Brian Greene, a physicist at Columbia opens The Fabric of the Universe with a dramatic image of physics being under a dark cloud, which is this basic contradiction. So a lot of physicists are looking for the coincidentia oppositorum between these not entirely reconciled sets of laws. But the contradiction itself isn’t something that I, as a theologian, am looking to solve. I’m more interested in a phenomenon that comes out of this cloud, out of what Einstein called “spooky action at a distance”—quantum entanglement.

In classical physics, nothing can happen faster than the speed of light because no signal can propagate faster than the speed of light. But what was showing its ghostly face in quantum entanglement is a kind of influence that seems to be instantaneous and seems to take place between two connected particles, no matter how far away they are. So, rather than become more and more indifferent to one another the further away they are, these particles will forever respond to each other instantaneously as though you are effecting both of them in the same way, at the same moment [known as the Laws of Mutual Entanglement - res].

They’re entangled?

Right. It looks like, from a certain point of view, nothing is separate from anything at all. As the novelist Jeanette Winterson puts it, in her book Gut Symmetries: our separateness is a sham.

But what is a theological entanglement?

My book [laughs]. It’s a way of understanding our sometimes spooky, sometimes trustworthy, relationships… theologically.

Theological entanglement is a way of reflecting on our relationships—all of our relationships, at once, together. When we do this, we get to such an impossibly infinite place that, I think, we resort to God language. The metaphors of the divine, of a love that permeates all things instantaneously, an embrace that holds everything everywhere in its mindfulness, a spirit (even a holy ghost) that has the character of spooky action at a distance is a metaphor by which can gather our very mysterious interdependencies (as creatures) on each other.

We are constituted, in every moment, by our relations. Some of them we compose, but they comprise the conditions in which we are composed. Theological entanglement is a form of what’s called “relational theology.” Entanglement is meant to give a more physical, and spooky edge to our interconnectedness.

This isn’t just about the apophasis of an infinite God, but about the element of unknowability in all of us—as creatures made in the image of the unknowable. It looks, even from the vantage point of quantum indeterminacy, that every creature has an element of the unknowable or unpredictable to it. For every electron, you’re unable to measure (simultaneously) its location and its momentum.

What do you think your readings in quantum physics have done for your theology?

My study of physics strengthens my faith, because it exposes the depth of the mystery of what theologians call the incarnation. There is a way in which various branches of science, in a kind of postmodern vein (the corners of scientific fields where reductionism has not obtained for decades) the mystery of our interdependence is actually fleshed out with a kind of precision that I think theologians should be aware of. The universe that is showing itself in various fields, (not just quantum physics, but the fractals of chaos theory, for example) is a universe far more appealing to theology than was the [classic] universe of the past 300 to 400 years—made up of bits of dead, impenetrable matter, interacting predictably in a mega-machine.

The more you get into these cutting edges of science, the more the mysterious materializes. It turns out, even, that what we call “matter” is ultimately a kind of myth. You can’t really say this, as a theologian. It sounds like you’re trying to turn the actual world into some kind of illusion. That’s not what I’m talking about. Rather, I’m saying that what we call matter is something much more mysterious, subtle, apparently interconnecting faster than the speed of light, just pulsing in its inter-linked processes with the unknown. I think all of us have a lot to learn there. Clearly the scientists are not going to be, for the most part, reflecting on the possible meanings of their own science. That’s not what they’re trained for. This is why transdisciplinary work is so crucial.

Should we be afraid to reflect, theologically, on the meaning of scientific data, or the findings that come out of scientific research?

We should be careful. We should do a lot of reading before we jump to conclusions. But I think that’s true for any form of responsible thinking. There’s a lot of great, accessible material out there today, however. So I don’t think there’s any real reason to be afraid. To cite Cusa: the problem is not our ignorance. That’s unavoidable. But if we realize the shape of our ignorance, then we can learn a lot more.

And we don’t have to be afraid that we can’t know it all. We can’t all be physicists. I’m always very knowing of my own ignorance of the natural sciences. So I’m grateful for how much is being communicated across disciplinary boundaries. And I hope that this can, increasingly, go both ways. Perhaps, now, as the planet heats up and cooperation—not just between disciplines, but populations—becomes more and more a matter of life and death, there will be more interest in transdisciplinary conversations.

Perhaps theologians, pastors, spiritual leaders, people who are spiritually attuned to irreligious forms of creativity, will find some new ways to communicate about these things. But if science is left out of the mix, we will always be off in lala land. We need the incarnational practice of taking into account the most precise knowledge we can find, in the face of the mystery of our embodied existence.

As a theologian, what do you think is left out of the mix if God, or the divine, isn’t entangled with other forms of knowledge?

I think if God-talk simply drops out of sophisticated discourse and is just replaced by a wide range of philosophical, spiritual, poetical metaphors that avoid the Abrahamisms of the past, what’s left behind is simply our consciousness of who we are. That is, if we shift into atheism in the name of being in the know, we’re actually shifting into an unknowing ignorance.

We’ve been comprised by these traditions, massively. So to think that we can simply repudiate them by dismissing their more vulgar and clichéd forms is to do violence to what the prophetic and poetic strands of atheism always were: a more spiritually and affectively alive sense of life.

It’s possible to avoid God-talk for long stretches of time. Any canny Christian can do that, in order to make friends and influence people. Or just to get relief from bad clichés. But, at a certain point, one has to face up to the profundity and brilliance of the conceptual work that was done in the Western world for more than 1500 years, when it was dominated by the discipline of theology.

But we don’t want to reduce post-Christian criticisms of Christian idolatries to mere anti-faith, either. It wouldn’t do justice to the depths of the agnostic and atheist traditions which are, themselves, deeply prophetic traditions. Still, I think it’s important to stay mindful of God-tropes. Being mindful of these metaphors doesn’t necessarily cause us to believe in them. But we might find that the whole language of belief falls short of what’s meant by faith, anyhow—faith has never been a matter of little bits of knowledge parading as certainty.


I find this subject fascinating and look forward to seeing Keller's book; however, it is somewhat disturbing for Keller to refer to "theology" and assume Christian theology only, and for the article to neglect to mention important influences that predate Cusa like the fourteenth century Christian work "The Cloud of Unknowing"**; not to mention far earlier apophatic works from Eastern Orthodox, Islamic, Buddhist, Hindu, and Jewish sources. Indeed, Keller's discussion of opposites reminded me of nothing so much as the Zen way of putting the conscious mind into crisis by posing riddles — koans — which scramble the brain's tendency to make sense and order out of everything. And while Zen is not considered a theology, as such, including Buddhism in a discussion of "unknowing" is surely appropriate.

"Religious" cultures did not, for the most part, emerge in isolation. Historians find increasing evidence of cross-cultural influence that goes back thousands of years (recalling that peoples interacted through trade, conquest, and settlement before times for which we have written records). Historians of Western religion are pointing more and more to outside influences on Christianity by noting that Thomas Aquinas and other European theologians read the Jewish thinker Maimonides, who in turn is thought to have been influenced by Islamic philosophers such as al-Farabi and al-Ghazali, who themselves were heirs to ancient Greek and other philosophies. And back into the mists of time and place the influences go.

For this interview to make it appear as though Cusa put something new together when there are many earlier sources (even if one stays within the Christian tradition) is alarming. To neglect to even mention "The Cloud of Unknowing" when the title of Keller's book is clearly a reference (if not an homage) to that important work is something of a travesty.

Indeed, the focus on Christianity in this article — not overt yet obvious to the reader — adds fuel to a polarization of traditions which is, sadly, becoming increasingly popular today. Writers of such pieces need to be very careful to avoid reinforcing such misconceptions.

Keller's thinking about quantum mechanics and religious mysticism has been anticipated by a number of thinkers. For example, the 1996 edition of "The Cloud of Unknowing" (published by Doubleday, text edited by William Johnston [1973]) features a foreword by Huston Smith, in which Smith writes about the importance of quantum mechanics to our consideration of works like "The Cloud". I'm sure (at least one would expect) that Keller pays due credit to earlier thinkers — and to earlier works than Cusa's from around the world — in her book, but a sentence or two in this article would have sufficed to put her work into context.

– Beth, Dept. of History, University of Massachusetts, Amherst

* * * * * * * * * * * *

*Apophasis - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apophasis


Apophasis was originally and more broadly a method of logical reasoning or argument by denial—a way of describing what something is by explaining what it is not, or a process-of-elimination way of talking about something by talking about what it is not.

A useful inductive technique when given a limited universe of possibilities, the exclusion of all but the one remaining is affirmation through negation. The familiar guessing-game of Twenty Questions is an example of apophatic inquiry.

This sense has generally fallen into disuse and is frequently overlooked, although it is still current in certain contexts, such as mysticism and negative theology.


An apophatic theology sees God as ineffable and attempts to describe God in terms of what God is not. Apophatic statements refer to transcendence in this context, as opposed to cataphasis referring to immanence. It stands in contrast with cataphatic theology.

Apophatic theology (from Greek ἀπόφασις from ἀπόφημι - apophēmi, "to deny")—also known as negative theology or via negativa (Latin for "negative way")—is a theology that attempts to describe [the transcedent] God, or Divine Good, by negation. To speak only in terms of what may not be said about the perfect goodness that is God.[1] It stands in contrast with cataphatic theology that speaks to the immanence of God.

In brief, negative theology is an attempt to achieve unity with the Divine Good through discernment, gaining knowledge of what God is not (apophasis), rather than by describing what God is (cataphasis).

The apophatic tradition is often, though not always, allied with the approach of mysticism, which focuses on a spontaneous or cultivated individual experience of the divine reality beyond the realm of ordinary perception, an experience often unmediated by the structures of traditional organized religion or the conditioned role-playing and learned defensive behavior of the outer man.

Apophatic Theology

In negative theology, it is accepted that the Divine is ineffable (inexpressible), an abstract experience that can only be recognized or remembered—that is, human beings cannot describe in words the essence of the perfect good that is unique to the individual, nor can they define the Divine, in its immense complexity, related to the entire field of reality, and therefore all descriptions if attempted will be ultimately false and conceptualization should be avoided; in effect, it eludes definition by definition:
  • Neither existence nor nonexistence as we understand it in the physical realm, applies to God; i.e., the Divine is abstract to the individual, beyond existing or not existing, and beyond conceptualization regarding the whole (one cannot say that God exists in the usual sense of the term; nor can we say that God is nonexistent).
  • God is divinely simple (one should not claim that God is one, or three, or any type of being.)
  • God is not ignorant (one should not say that God is wise since that word arrogantly implies we know what "wisdom" means on a divine scale, whereas we only know what wisdom is believed to mean in a confined cultural context).
  • Likewise, God is not evil (to say that God can be described by the word 'good' limits God to what good behavior means to human beings individually and en masse).
  • God is not a creation (but beyond that we cannot define how God exists or operates in relation to the whole of humanity).
  • God is not conceptually defined in terms of space and location.
  • God is not conceptually confined to assumptions based on time.
Even though the via negativa essentially rejects theological understanding as a path to God, some have sought to make it into an intellectual exercise, by describing God only in terms of what God is not. One problem noted with this approach, is that there seems to be no fixed basis on deciding what God is not, unless the Divine is understood as an abstract experience of full aliveness unique to each individual consciousness, and universally, the perfect goodness applicable to the whole field of reality[citation needed]. It should be noted that this is also a kind of definition, namely that the Divine is an experience, which - because of the very definition of apophatic theology - the then Divine cannot be.

Cataphatic Theology

(sometimes spelled kataphatic) theology is the expressing of God or the divine through positive terminology. This is in contrast to defining God or the divine in what God is not, which is referred to as negative or apophatic theology.

To speak of God or the divine kataphatically is by its nature a form of limiting to God or divine. This was one of the core tenets of the works of St Dionysus the Aeropagite. By defining what God or the divine is we limit the unlimited as Saint Dionysus outlined in his works. A kataphatic way to express God would be that God is love. The apophatic way would be to express that God is not hate; or to say that God is not love, as he transcends even our notion of love.

Ultimately, one would come to remove even the notion of the Trinity, or of saying that God is one, because The Divine is above numberhood. That God is beyond all duality because God contains within Godself all things and that God is beyond all things. The apophatic way as taught by Saint Dionysus was to remove any conceptual understanding of God that could become all-encompassing, since in its limitedness that concept would begin to force the fallen understanding of mankind onto the absolute and divine.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

**The Cloud of Unknowing
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Cloud_of_Unknowing
The Cloud of Unknowing
Original titleThe Cloude of Unknowyng
LanguageMiddle English
Subject(s)Spiritual guide to contemplative prayer
Genre(s)Christian mysticism
Publication datelate 14th century
Followed byThe Book of Privy Counseling

The Cloud of Unknowing (Middle English: The Cloude of Unknowyng) is an anonymous work of Christian mysticism written in Middle English in the latter half of the 14th century. The text is a spiritual guide on contemplative prayer in the late Middle Ages.

Manuscripts of the work are today at British Library and Cambridge University Library. [1][2]

History and influence

The Cloud of Unknowing draws on the mystical tradition of Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite and Christian Neoplatonism[3], which focuses on the via negativa road to discovering God as a pure entity, beyond any capacity of mental conception and so without any definitive image or form. This tradition has reputedly inspired generations of mystical searchers from John Scotus Erigena, through Book of Taliesin, Nicholas of Cusa and St. John of the Cross to Teilhard de Chardin (the latter two of whom may have been influenced by "The Cloud" itself). Prior to this, the theme of "Cloud" had been in the Confessions of St. Augustine (IX, 10) written in AD 398.[2]

This work had already become known to English Catholics in middle 17th century, later ascetic and Benedictine mystic, Augustine Baker (1575-1641), wrote an exposition on its doctrine. Today a transcript of the work dated 1677 is at the Ampleforth College , apart from several at the British Library. English mystic Evelyn Underhill edited an important version of the work in 1922. [3]


The book counsels a young student to seek God, not through knowledge and intellection (faculty of the human mind), but through intense contemplation, motivated by love, and stripped of all thought. This is brought about by putting all thoughts and desires under a "cloud of forgetting", and thereby piercing God's cloud of unknowing with a "dart of longing love" from the heart. This form of contemplation is not directed by the intellect, but involves spiritual union with God through the heart:
"For He can well be loved, but he cannot be thought. By love he can be grasped and held, but by thought, neither grasped nor held. And therefore, though it may be good at times to think specifically of the kindness and excellence of God, and though this may be a light and a part of contemplation, all the same, in the work of contemplation itself, it must be cast down and covered with a cloud of forgetting. And you must step above it stoutly but deftly, with a devout and delightful stirring of love, and struggle to pierce that darkness above you; and beat on that thick cloud of unknowing with a sharp dart of longing love, and do not give up, whatever happens."[4]
In a follow-up to The Cloud, called The Book of Privy Counseling, the author characterizes the practice of contemplative unknowing as worshiping God with one's "substance," coming to rest in a "naked blind feeling of being," and ultimately finding thereby that God is one's being.

The practical prayer advice contained in The Cloud of Unknowing forms a primary basis for the contemporary practice of Centering Prayer, a form of Christian meditation developed by Trappist monks William Meninger, Basil Pennington and Thomas Keating in the 1970s.[5]

Ch. 39-40 quotation: other versions
Evelyn Underhill (1922/2003)
And if we will intentively pray for getting of good, let us cry, either with word or with thought or with desire, nought else nor no more words, but this word “God.” For why, in God be all good.. Fill thy spirit with the ghostly bemeaning of it without any special beholding to any of His works—whether they be good, better, or best of all—bodily or ghostly, or to any virtue that may be wrought in man’s soul by any grace; not looking after whether it be meekness or charity, patience or abstinence, hope, faith, or soberness, chastity or wilful poverty. What recks this in contemplatives?.. they covet nothing with special beholding, but only good God. Do thou.. mean God all, and all God, so that nought work in thy wit and in thy will, but only God.[6]
Middle English original
And yif we wil ententifly preie for getyng of goodes, lat us crie, outher with worde or with thought or with desire, nought elles, ne no mo wordes, bot this worde God. For whi in God ben alle goodes.. Fille thi spirit with the goostly bemenyng of it withoutyn any specyal beholdyng to any of His werkes whether thei be good, betir, or alther best, bodily or goostly—or to any vertewe that may be wrought in mans soule by any grace, not lokyng after whether it be meeknes or charité, pacyence or abstynence, hope, feith, or sobirnes, chastité or wilful poverté. What thar reche in contemplatyves?.. thei coveyte nothing with specyal beholdyng, bot only good God. Do thou.. mene God al, and al God, so that nought worche in thi witte and in thi wile, bot only God.[7]
From a description of how to practice contemplation (from chapters 39 and 40):
When we intend to pray for goodness, let all our thought and desire be contained in the one small word "God." Nothing else and no other words are needed, for God is the epitome of all goodness.. Immerse yourself in the spiritual reality it speaks of yet without precise ideas of God's works whether small or great, spiritual or material. Do not consider any particular virtue which God may teach you through grace, whether it is humility, charity, patience, abstinence, hope, faith, moderation, chastity, or evangelical poverty. For to a contemplative they are, in a sense, all the same.. Let this little word represent to you God in all his fullness and nothing less than the fullness of God.[8]
From elsewhere (chapter 23, The Book of Privy Counseling):
"And so I urge you, go after experience rather than knowledge. On account of pride, knowledge may often deceive you, but this gentle, loving affection will not deceive you. Knowledge tends to breed conceit, but love builds. Knowledge is full of labor, but love, full of rest."[9]

Popular culture


Tripp Fuller on "Welcoming & Embracing"

Identity Politics Are Not the Gospel

Back in August we Friars and Fools were guests on Pastor Nar’s podcast Losing My Religion. During the episode we called out the Homebrewed Christianity crew for a “theology-off” (whatever the hell that is). The host of that fabulous podcast, Tripp Fuller, responded in good humor on Twitter and later encouraged us to come to Soularize so we could share a beer and geek out over some good theology together. We accepted.

At Soularize Tripp and Bo did an awesome live version of their podcast, hosted a few different workshops and we got to talking process theology, postmodern philosophy, and identity politics. We turned the camera on Tripp during one of these conversations for some awesome, offensive, insightful pontificating. Enjoy.

Want more? Watch the second part.

Tripp Fuller

Tripp Fuller(@TrippFuller)is married to an awesome lady Alecia and has a handsome little baby boy named Elgin Thomas (aka E.T.) and Pebbles, the Schnoodle. He and Alecia are both graduates of Campbell University (where they met), the Divinity School of Wake Forest University and ordained ministers. He is working on his PhD in Philosophy of Religion and Theology at Claremont Graduate University. A few other things he digs are books, cigars, pipes, Shaq, guitar, pirates, fishing, the Counting Crows, and good conversations about Religion and Politics. His podcast, Homebrewed Christianity, is the most time consuming hobby he has ever had besides reading and blogging through Wolfhart Pannenberg’s 3 volume systematic theology.



I am no longer "Open & Affirming, but Welcoming & Embracing."

"Why do I have to be in the bounded set of the alphabet?"

"We start playing politics with people. And with politics comes
all that it means to justify our positions."

"What does it mean to be made human anew in light of God's coming, the gift of
divine light given to all the world in Christ?"

"Gay people don't prey upon you."

"If your welcoming and embracing you're welcoming everything God made,
and every person God made, in the image of God that they are bearing."

"Rather than focusing on one type of set of people, you are
welcoming the very gift of God that God made in everyone."

"[We] are to embrace all the crap and beauty in a person's life
without ideological constraints or pre-conditions...
A life that God comes into and radically transforms."

Can There Be Worldwide Common Cause between Christians & Muslims?

"Revolutionary ideas do not come from books and manifestos,
but from experiences and connections with different peoples."

 Tarak Barkawi, Senior Lecturer in the Centre of International Studies, University of Cambridge.

The Peace of All Nations found
in Cooperation, Trust and Goodwill
The following opnion-column was submitted to the Muslim newspaper Aljazeera by a Muslim professor of Internation Studies of the University of Cambridge, England. It provides a vision created by the unappreciated and oft-overlooked common men and women of the world - who seek justice amongst the unfortunate; who are willing to seek peace within their own communities; and who wish to remove unjust political contexts from where they must live and work. To the common goal of creating a system of good welfare to all who hope to find life, liberty and justice within the oppression of their own religions, cultures and the mis-founded attitudes of family, relatives, friends and neighbors.

The Ottoman Empire's Symbol of Peace
stylized in calligraphy as an Ostrich
The question must be asked, "Is it possible in this diverse world of ours that Westerners, Asians and Muslims can lay down their attitudes of superiority in a multi-racial, multi-regional, multi-cultural resistance movement? Or will we continue to suffer from repression, regression and from the paucity of words and actions of support to coalition, solidarity and selfless actions of peace amongst one another?"

World Peace Logo
The choice is ours to re-work into our own religious contexts of beliefs and attitudes, and into the peaceable structures of inter-cooperation, protection and asylum to all the world's participants.... More plainly... "Can Christianity learn to become peaceable with Islam and the Middle-Eastern peoples threatening terror to the West? Can Islam learn to become peaceable with Christianity and the West who have responded in kind? And can both Christianity and Islam learn to become peaceable with the Asian religions and attitudes of the Far East?" We are all humanity's brothers and sisters. Surely there can be a way found.

Chinese Symbols of Peace
Moreover, it is this author's opinion that within Christianity this mindset and behavior can be possible through Jesus. But insofar as it is promised in the Bible that the Christian Jesus is mankind's God and Savior, not just our own privately-kept, iconic form of  Jesus. Where is found God's promises of peace in Jesus' personage, ministry and Gospel. And to that same degree I believe Christians must find a way to communicate and live that out with one another, and with those who believe differently from the Christian religion. At the last, it is a heart issue, "Is it not?" For the God of love has come through Christ Jesus His Son commanding us to "Love one another." Love conquers fear. Love conquers strife. It seeks all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

This is the love of Christ Jesus. And it is infectious once caught, no matter what the religion, the culture, the resistance. God's love allows men and women to find Jesus within their own religions, cultures and family structures. To this we must be supportive. But not to our own Westernized or Americanized version of what we think the Christian Gospel must look like. We must adopt the attitude that God is quite capable of allowing His Love and Revelation through Jesus to be assimilated within all the communities of the world, and not just our own ideas of it. To know that Christianity may live and breathe differently from our own versions and inculcations of it, but that its centrality of doctrine and focus will still be substantially the same in Jesus. This will be the work of God and His Spirit. Not our own. Our trust then is in God, not ourselves. He will work it out. But it is our responsibility to LIVE it out.

Japanese paper cranes of Peace
So then, learn to love, to serve, to become peacemakers. To better behave our actions and jingoisms before one another. And to seek the peace of God with all men everywhere. That is the way of God. It is the way of Jesus. It is the way of God's love.

R.E. Slater
November 14, 2011

1 Corinthians 13

The Way of Love

1If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned,[a] but have not love, I gain nothing.

4 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;[b] 6it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

8Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. 9For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. 11When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. 12For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.

13So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

Citizens of Toronto Create the
Universal Symbol of Peace

Many Hands, One World
Free & Interdependent

Can Ron Artest's Name-Change
Bring "Metta World Peace"?

A vision of the whole human race

Source: Al Jazeera

Last Modified: 09 Nov 2011

Tarak Barkawi is Senior Lecturer in the Centre
of International Studies, University of Cambridge.

"Revolutionary ideas do not come from books and manifestos,
but from experiences and connections with different peoples."

The Arab winter will see a 'counter-revolution', as new forms of repression are imposed [GALLO/GETTY]

On February 22, 1803, Colonel Edward Despard was hung and beheaded in London for organising a revolutionary conspiracy to overthrow King George III and establish a republic in Britain.

Among the crowd of 20,000 in front of the gallows was Colonel Despard's wife and partner in conspiracy, Catherine, an African American who Despard met during his military service in the Caribbean. She helped him compose the speech he made with the rope around his neck:

"... his Majesty's Ministers... avail themselves of a legal pretext to destroy a man, because he has been a friend to truth, to liberty and to justice. Because he has been a friend to the poor and the oppressed. But Citizens, I hope and trust, notwithstanding my fate ... that the principles of freedom, of humanity and of justice will finally triumph over falsehood, tyranny and delusion, and [over] every principle inimical to the interests of the human race."

What Despard meant by the "human race" was far in advance of the political theorists of his time. He included in this concept not only white males, but women and men of every colour and every status and class, native peoples, slaves and all the mixtures of white, brown and black that he had encountered during his service in the Americas.

How did the son of a family of small, Irish landlords, who became an accomplished professional soldier, develop such an expansive view of humanity?

As a boy in Ireland, he watched peasants driven off the land as English-backed landlords enclosed land that had been held in common. As a young officer building fortifications in Jamaica, he was nursed by Afro-Caribbean women. He learned to effectively command multi-racial work parties, and saw firsthand the terror used to enforce discipline among slaves, sailors, soldiers and workers.

Along with a young Horatio Nelson, Despard led a harrowing expedition to evict the Spanish from Nicaragua. They successfully captured the main Spanish fort but then their men began to die from starvation and disease.

Challenging societal norms

Survival was possible only by cooperating with nearby free communities of Mosquito Indians - composed in fact of native Americans, runaway slaves and lower class whites who preferred freedom to backbreaking labour. (Nelson, who became Britain's greatest naval hero, would later unsuccessfully appeal for clemency for Despard and for a pension for Catherine.)

Despard then became the Crown's leading official in British Honduras. There he sought to distribute land to indigent men and women of colour. He set aside lands for common use; sought to keep food prices down "for the poorer sort of people"; and worked with Indians who understood the local ecology.

The landlords and big merchants were outraged. One railed that Despard had placed the "lowest Mulatto or free Negro" on an equal footing with the wealthy whites.

People of different origins can find a common cause, and work together for change [GALLO/GETTY]

Not to be trifled with, the landlords and merchants appealed to their networks in London and had Despard removed. Despard and Catherine returned to London and started plotting their conspiracy which ended on the gallows.

What does the story of Edward and Catherine Despard offer us today, as we live through another moment of upheaval, revolution and counter-revolution?

One thing the Despards teach us is that new political ideas do not generally arise from intellectuals and theorists alone. Rather the cut and thrust of experience and practice throws up new political possibilities. 'Practitioners' like Despard draw on their stock of ideas to develop new and creative responses to the situations that confront them.

It is worth remembering that many of those we regard as great thinkers were also practitioners. Karl Marx was a revolutionary not an academic, and his comrade Friedrich Engels managed a factory. Karl von Clausewitz, the philosopher of war, was a Prussian officer with much experience of war. Socrates too was a veteran soldier; Freud a working psychologist; Keynes a civil servant. Gandhi was an activist.

Even Rene Descartes, the supreme rationalist philosopher, was a professional soldier who sought to 'gather experiences'. His worry that he might be a brain in a vat, fooled by his senses, was perhaps an early modern case of PTSD.

Despard developed his expansive concept of the human race because he had lived and worked in the multi-racial world of the 18th century Atlantic, not because he had read Immanuel Kant. In any case, Kant's cosmopolitanism was profoundly limited by comparison with Despard's. Kant [falsely] believed that "Humanity achieves its greatest perfection with the White race".

In Haiti in 1801, revolting slaves managed to produce a constitution that went well beyond the liberal thought of the day. All slaves were freed and everyone made equal before the law. The US Constitution of 1787 regarded slaves as three-fifths of a person so that their white owners could have more representation in Congress.

[The Arabian Spring] Counter-revolution

And so, when we look upon the Arab Spring, we should not interpret it as a matter of Arabs having finally read John Locke and Thomas Jefferson and applied Western ideas. We should look instead for the new ideas, the new possibilities, the new politics created up by the protesters, activists and ordinary people who have made revolution.

We should be cognizant too that the Arab Winter will be a university of counter-revolution, as new forms of repression, of neo-imperialism and of exploitation are developed in response to novel circumstances.

The Despards-of-the-world have one last, difficult lesson to teach us. For over two centuries, liberal political theorists have been writing of human rights and democracy. Their well-intentioned acolytes have sought to spread the word around the world.

Yet today, despite globalisation and multiculturalism, it is difficult to imagine political activism, cooperation and resistance across lines of race, religion and region that match what the Despards achieved.

Think about it: A lordly Irish officer in the 18th century finds common cause, even love, with Indians, Africans and all manner of oppressed folk, and returns to the West as a revolutionary citizen of the world. Catherine, too, of slave origins and "violently in love" with her husband, crossed lines to help organise London's sailors (white and black), longshoremen, and other workers in the failed plot to create a republic.

Here and there, in our time, Westerners, Christians and Muslims may find common cause - as in the Palestinian solidarity movement; or whites, blacks and mixed race people, as in the resistance to the apartheid regime in South Africa.

But in a jingoistic age, when Westerners, Asians and Muslims are all convinced of their own superiority, a multi-racial, multi-regional, multi-cultural resistance movement on the model the Despards cooked up is almost unthinkable.

Despite our own delusions, we have regressed - not progressed - from the Despards' vision of the whole human race.

Tarak Barkawi is Senior Lecturer in the Centre of International Studies, University of Cambridge.

Al Jazeera readers can find out more about the Despard conspiracy in Peter Linebaugh and Marcus Rediker’s The Many-Headed Hydra: The Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic (London: Verso, 2000)

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.

Source: Al Jazeera