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
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
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)
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

Monday, May 5, 2014

Who is God for You? Is He Like Us? Us Externalised? Or Wholly Other?

God is (the) Real

by Peter Rollins
March 25, 2014

On twitter I occasionally get asked what I think about the existence of God. It’s usually asked by someone who has a solid grasp of what the term “God” refers to, and they assume that it has the same meaning for everyone else. Hence there is confusion when I reply that I can’t answer in 140 characters. The response is usually that the question is an easy one to answer: yes, no, or not sure.

However the word “God” is anything but simple or stable, and so an answer to the question of “do you believe in God” must be preceded by the question, “what do we mean by the term ‘God’.”

In order to approach an answer to this question I want to make use of a tripartite frame that Lacan developed to understand our subjective world. Lacan taught that our inner universe can be understood through reference to three interconnected registers: the Imaginary, the Symbolic and the Real.

These are somewhat slippery concepts to get a handle on, but for our purposes we can make use of them without fully defining them. To do this I’ll refer to what it means to treat someone through the filter of the first two registers.

We treat someone at the imaginary level when we see him or her as fundamentally like us. In other words, they are someone who we can admire, love, hate, be jealous of etc. This is relatively easy to understand as we’re broadly aware of the way we exist in competition, or solidarity, with those around us.

When we treat someone in a more symbolic way they operate as a type of stand in for a more basic type of relation. To understand this we can think of how a person might treat their analyst. For example, an individual might relay a dream during their session and then say, “I know what you’re thinking, you’re thinking that I resent my mother.” In actual fact the analyst (who is not an expert on your unconscious) is unlikely to have an immediate interpretation of what they’ve said. The claim, “I know what you’re thinking,” is more likely to reflect what the person themselves is thinking, but are unaware of. At this point the analyst might respond by showing surprise or interest in the fact that the analysand (i.e., the patient) assumed what they did. In this exchange the analysand treats the analyst in a more symbolic way. The analyst effectively becomes a type of screen upon which the person’s unconscious is projected (and thus can reflect that projection back to the speaker).

In terms of religion, when the word “God” is employed I would argue that it is used primarily in one of these registers. In popular discourse “God” is basically understood in an Imaginary manner. God is a being like us, a being who speaks, thinks, desires etc. God is a being who we can love, hate, argue with and make up to. The difference between the theist and the atheist here revolves around the idea of whether this God exists or not.

In traditional theological circles God operates more on the Symbolic level. Here God is not named as such, it is claimed that what we say about God reflects ourselves and that we must speak of God as “beyond being,” “ground of being,” or in some other way that avoids the idea of us “speaking of ourselves in a loud voice” (Karl Barth). It is claimed that there is an ineffable reality to God that cannot be penetrated; yet this impenetrable God exposes us to ourselves.

In addition to the Imaginary and the Symbolic registers, Lacan also spoke of the Real. For Lacan, the Real is that which breaks into our Imaginary and Symbolic constellations. The Real is a rupture. The Real cannot be imagined or symbolized, it does not occupy a place, and yet it takes place. The Real is a crack within our existing political, religious and cultural configurations, a resistance that prevents systems from claiming absolute knowledge. It is a destabilizing event that threatens to disrupt the balance maintained by our ideological commitments.

It would seem to me that primitive religion understands God in a predominately Imaginary register (beginning from the Greek gods of antiquity right through to the gods of Western fundamentalism), while theology tends to treat God at the level of the Symbolic (onto-theology and apophatic thought = "speaking of God through negation"). In contrast I employ the term “God” primarily as a name for the Real. Indeed the collectives that I’m part of setting up are primarily committed to this idea of evoking the Real.

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