According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for
this world to recreate, reclaim, 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

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Interviews on Religion: Deconstructing God, Part 3 - John D. Caputo

The Stone is a forum for contemporary philosophers
and other thinkers on issues both timely and timeless.

Deconstructing God

by Gary Gutting
March 9, 2014

This is the third in a series of interviews about religion that I am conducting for The Stone. The interviewee for this installment isJohn D. Caputo, a professor of religion and humanities at Syracuse University and the author of “The Prayers and Tears of Jacques Derrida: Religion Without Religion.”


Gary Gutting: You approach religion through Jacques Derrida’s notion of deconstruction, which involves questioning and undermining the sorts of sharp distinctions traditionally so important for philosophy. What, then, do you think of the distinction between theism, atheism and agnosticism?

John Caputo: I would begin with a plea not to force deconstruction into one of these boxes. I consider these competing views as beliefs, creedal positions, that are inside our head by virtue of an accident of birth. There are the people who “believe” things from the religious traditions they’ve inherited; there are the people who deny them (the atheism you get is pegged to the god under denial); and there are the people who say, “Who could possibly know anything about all of that?” To that I oppose an underlying form of life, not the beliefs inside our head but the desires inside our heart, an underlying faith, a desire beyond desire, a hope against hope, something which these inherited beliefs contain without being able to contain.

If you cease to ‘believe’ in a particular religious creed,
you have  merely changed your mind. But if you lose
faith,’ a way of life, everything is lost.

If you cease to “believe” in a particular religious creed, like Calvinism or Catholicism, you have changed your mind and adopted a new position, for which you will require new propositions. Imagine a debate in which a theist and an atheist actually convince each other. Then they trade positions and their lives go on. But if you lose “faith,” in the sense this word is used in deconstruction, everything is lost. You have lost your faith in life, lost hope in the future, lost heart, and you cannot go on.

G.G.: I’m having some trouble with your use of “deconstruction.” On the one hand, it seems to be a matter of undermining sharp distinctions, like that between atheism and theism. On the other hand, your own analysis seems to introduce a sharp distinction between beliefs and ways of life — even though beliefs are surely part of religious ways of life.

J.C.: After making a distinction in deconstruction, the first thing to do is to deconstruct it, to show that it leaks, that its terms are porous and intersecting, one side bleeding into the other, these leaks being the most interesting thing of all about the distinction. I am distinguishing particular beliefs from an underlying faith and hope in life itself, which takes different forms in different places and traditions, by which the particular traditions are both inhabited and disturbed.

I agree they are both forms of life, but on different levels or strata. The particular beliefs are more local, more stabilized, more codified, while this underlying faith and hope in life is more restless, open-ended, disturbing, inchoate, unpredictable, destabilizing, less confinable.

G.G.: O.K., I guess you might say that all thinking involves making distinctions, but deconstructive thinking always turns on itself, using further distinctions to show how any given distinction is misleading. But using this sort of language leads to paradoxical claims as, for example, when you say, as you just did, that beliefs contain a faith that they can’t contain. Paradox is fine as long as we have some way of understanding that it’s not an outright contradiction. So why isn’t it a contradiction to say that there’s a faith that beliefs both contain and can’t contain?

J.C.: The traditions contain (in the sense of “possess”) these events, but they cannot contain (in the sense of “confine” or “limit”) them, hold them captive by building a wall of doctrine, administrative rule, orthodoxy, propositional rectitude around them.

G.G.: So the distinction that saves you from contradiction is this: Beliefs contain faith in the sense that, in the world, beliefs are where we find faith concretely expressed; but any given faith can be expressed by quite different beliefs in quite different historical contexts. In this sense, the faith is not contained by the beliefs. That makes sense.

Presumably, then, deconstructive theology is the effort to isolate this “common core” of faith that’s found in different historical periods — or maybe even the differing beliefs of different contemporary churches.

J.C.: No! I am not resurrecting the old comparative-religion thesis that there is an underlying transcendental form or essence or universal that we can cull from differing empirical religious beliefs, that can be approached only asymptotically by empirical cases. I am saying that the inherited religious traditions contain something deeper, which is why they are important. I don’t marginalize religious traditions; they are our indispensable inheritance. Without them, human experience would be impoverished, its horizon narrowed. We would be deprived of their resources, not know the name of Moses, Jesus, Mohammed, the startling notion of the “kingdom of God,” the idea of the messianic and so on.

As a philosopher I am, of course, interested in what happens, but always in terms of what is going on in what happens. The particular religious traditions are what happen, and they are precious, but my interest lies in what is going on in these traditions, in the memory of Jesus, say. But different traditions contain different desires, promises, memories, dreams, futures, a different sense of time and space. Nothing says that underneath they are all the same.

G.G.: That doesn’t seem to me what typically goes on in deconstructive theology. The deconstructive analysis of any religious concept — the Christian Trinity, the Muslim oneness of God, Buddhist nirvana — always turns out to be the same: an endless play of mutually undermining differences.

J.C.: There is no such thing as deconstructive theology, in the singular, or “religion,” in the singular. There are only deconstructive versions of concrete religious traditions, inflections, repetitions, rereadings, reinventions, which open them up to a future for which they are not prepared, to dangerous memories of a past they try not to recall, since their tendency is to consolidate and to stabilize. Accordingly, you would always be able to detect the genealogy, reconstruct the line of descent, figure out the pedigree of a deconstructive theology. It would always bear the mark of the tradition it inflects.

A lot of the “Derrida and theology” work, for example, has been following the wrong scent, looking for links between Derrida’s ideas and Christian negative theology, while missing his irregular and heretical messianic Judaism. I like to joke that Derrida is a slightly atheistic quasi-Jewish Augustinian, but I am also serious.

Derrida said he ‘rightly passes for an atheist,’ but if we stop there we miss
everything interesting and important about his thinking about religion.

G.G.: I can see that there are influences of Judaism, Augustinian Christianity and enlightenment atheism in Derrida. But isn’t this just a matter of his detaching certain religious ideas from their theistic core? He talks of a messiah — but one that never comes; he’s interested in the idea of confessing your sins — but there’s no one to forgive them. After all the deconstructive talk, the law of noncontradiction still holds: Derrida is either an atheist or he isn’t. It seems that the only reasonable answer is that he’s an atheist.

J.C.: In the middle of his book on Augustine, Derrida said he “rightly passes for an atheist,” shying away from a more definitive “I am an atheist.” By the standards of the local rabbi, that’s correct, that’s the position to attribute to him, that’s a correct proposition. But if we stop there we miss everything interesting and important about what he is saying for religion and for understanding deconstruction.

G.G.: So if I insist on expressing religious faith in propositions (assertions that are either true or false), then, yes, Derrida’s an atheist. But according to you, the propositions that express faith aren’t what’s interesting or important about religion.

I agree that there’s much more to religion than what’s stated in creeds. There are rituals, ascetic practices, moral codes, poetry and symbols. But for most people, believing that God exists entails believing such propositions as that there’s someone who guarantees that justice will eventually prevail, that no suffering is without meaning, that there is a life after death where we can find eternal happiness.

J.C.: We have to appreciate the deep distrust that Derrida has for this word “atheism.” This kind of normalizing category has only a preliminary value — it finds a place to put him in a taxonomy of “positions” — but it obscures everything that is valuable here. This word is too powerful for him, too violent. That is why in another place he said calling him an atheist is “absolutely ridiculous.” His “atheism” is not unlike that of Paul Tillich, when Tillich said that to the assertion that God is a Supreme Being the proper theologicalresponse is atheism, but that is the beginning of theology for Tillich, not the end.

Derrida is not launching a secularist attack on religion. Deconstruction has nothing to do with the violence of the “new atheists” like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. Derrida approaches the mystics, the Scriptures, Augustine with respect — they are always ahead of him, he says — and he always has something to learn from them. He is not trying to knock down one position (“theism”) with the opposing position (“atheism”). He does not participate in these wars.

G.G.: You keep saying what Derrida doesn’t do. Is there any positive content to his view of religion or is it all just “negative theology”? Is he in any sense “making a case” for religion? Can reading Derrida lead to religious belief?

J.C.: In its most condensed formulation, deconstruction is affirmation, a “yes, yes, come” to the future and also to the past, since the authentic past is also ahead of us. It leads to, it is led by, a “yes” to the transforming surprise, to the promise of what is to come in whatever we have inherited — in politics, art, science, law, reason and so on. The bottom line is “yes, come.”

Derrida is reading, rereading, reinventing inherited texts and traditions, releasing the future they “harbor,” which means both to keep safe but also conceal, all in the name of what Augustine calls “doing the truth.” He is interested in all the things found in the Scriptures and revelation, the narratives, the images, the angels — not in order to mine them for their “rational content,” to distill them into proofs and propositions, but to allow them to be heard and reopened by philosophy. Deconstruction is a way to read something meticulously, feeling about for its tensions, releasing what it itself may not want to disclose, remembering something it may not want to recall — it is not a drive-by shooting.

G.G.: But why call this “religion”?

J.C.: Derrida calls this a “religionwithout religion.” Other people speak of the “post-secular,” or of a theology “after the death of God,” which requires first passing through this death. In Derrida’s delicate logic of “without,” a trope also found in the mystics, a thing is crossed out without becoming illegible; we can still see it through the cross marks. So this religion comes without the religion you just described — it is not nearly as safe, reassuring, heartwarming, triumphant over death, sure about justice, so absolutely fabulous at soothing hearts, as Jacques Lacan says, with an explanation for everything. His religion is risky business, no guarantees.

G.G.: If Derrida doubts or denies that there’s someone who guarantees such things, isn’t it only honest to say that he is an agnostic or an atheist? For most people, God is precisely the one who guarantees that the things we most fear won’t happen. You’ve mentioned Derrida’s interest in Augustine. Wouldn’t Augustine — and virtually all the Christian tradition — denounce any suggestion that God’s promises might not be utterly reliable?

J.C.: Maybe it disturbs what “most people” think religion is — assuming they are thinking about it — but maybe a lot of these people wake up in the middle of the night feeling the same disturbance, disturbed by a more religionless religion going on in the religion meant to give them comfort. Even for people who are content with the contents of the traditions they inherit, deconstruction is a life-giving force, forcing them to reinvent what has been inherited and to give it a future. But religion for Derrida is not a way to link up with saving supernatural powers; it is a mode of being-in-the-world, of being faithful to the promise of the world.

The comparison with Augustine is telling. Unlike Augustine, he does not think a thing has to last forever to be worthy of our unconditional love. Still, he says he has been asking himself all his life Augustine’s question, “What do I love when I love my God?” But where Augustine thinks that there is a supernaturally revealed answer to this question, Derrida does not. He describes himself as a man of prayer, but where Augustine thinks he knows to whom he is praying, Derrida does not. When I asked him this question once he responded, “If I knew that, I would know everything” — he would be omniscient, God!

This not-knowing does not defeat his religion or his prayer. It is constitutive of them, constituting a faith that cannot be kept safe from doubt, a hope that cannot be kept safe from despair. We live in the distance between these pairs.

G.G.: But if deconstruction leads us to give up Augustine’s way of thinking about God and even his belief in revealed truth, shouldn’t we admit that it has seriously watered down the content of Christianity, reduced the distance between it and agnosticism or atheism? Faith that is not confident and hope that is not sure are not what the martyrs died for.

J.C.: In this view, what martyrs die for is an underlying faith, which is why, by an accident of birth or a conversion, they could have been martyrs for the other side. Mother Teresa expressed some doubts about her beliefs, but not about an underlying faith in her work. Deconstruction is a plea to rethink what we mean by religion and to locate a more unnerving religion going on in our more comforting religion.

Deconstruction is faith and hope. In what? In the promises that are harbored in inherited names like “justice” and “democracy” — or “God.” Human history is full of such names and they all have their martyrs. That is why the difference between Derrida and Augustine cannot be squashed into the distinction between “theism” and “atheism” or — deciding to call it a draw — “agnosticism.” It operates on a fundamentally different level. Deconstruction dares to think “religion” in a new way, in what Derrida calls a “new Enlightenment,” daring to rethink what the Enlightenment boxed off as “faith” and “reason.”

But deconstruction is not destruction. After all, the bottom line of deconstruction, “yes, come,” is pretty much the last line of the New Testament: “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.”


This interview was conducted by email and edited. Previous interviews in this series were with Alvin Plantinga and Louise Antony.

Gary Gutting is a professor of philosophy at the University of Notre Dame, and an editor of Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews. He is the author of, most recently, “Thinking the Impossible: French Philosophy Since 1960″ and writes regularly for The Stone.

continue to -

Interviews on Religion: Arguments Against God, Part 2 - Louise Antony

The Stone is a forum for contemporary philosophers
and other thinkers on issues both timely and timeless.

Arguments Against God

by Gary Gutting
February 25, 2014

This is the second in a series of interviews about religion that I am conducting for The Stone. The interviewee for this installment is Louise Antony, a professor of philosophy at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and the editor of the essay collection “Philosophers Without Gods: Meditations on Atheism and the Secular Life.”


Gary Gutting: You’ve taken a strong stand as an atheist, so you obviously don’t think there are any good reasons to believe in God. But I imagine there are philosophers whose rational abilities you respect who are theists. How do you explain their disagreement with you? Are they just not thinking clearly on this topic?

Louise Antony: I’m not sure what you mean by saying that I’ve taken a “strong stand as an atheist.” I don’t consider myself an agnostic; I claim to know that God doesn’t exist, if that’s what you mean.

G.G.: That is what I mean.

L.A.: O.K. So the question is, why do I say that theism is false, rather than just unproven? Because the question has been settled to my satisfaction. I say “there is no God” with the same confidence I say “there are no ghosts” or “there is no magic.” The main issue is supernaturalism — I deny that there are beings or phenomena outside the scope of natural law.

I say ‘there is no God’ with the same confidence
I say ‘there are no ghosts’ or ‘there is no magic.’

That’s not to say that I think everything is within the scope ofhuman knowledge. Surely there are things not dreamt of in our philosophy, not to mention in our science – butthat fact is not a reason to believe in supernatural beings. I think many arguments for the existence of a God depend on the insufficiencies of human cognition. I readily grant that we have cognitive limitations. But when we bump up against them, when we find we cannot explain something — like why the fundamental physical parameters happen to have the values that they have — the right conclusion to draw is that we just can’t explain the thing. That’s the proper place for agnosticism and humility.

But getting back to your question: I’m puzzled why you are puzzled how rational people could disagree about the existence of God. Why not ask about disagreements among theists? Jews and Muslims disagree with Christians about the divinity of Jesus; Protestants disagree with Catholics about the virginity of Mary; Protestants disagree with Protestants about predestination, infant baptism and the inerrancy of the Bible. Hindus think there are many gods while Unitarians think there is at most one. Don’t all these disagreements demand explanation too? Must a Christian Scientist say that Episcopalians are just not thinking clearly? Are you going to ask a Catholic if she thinks there are no good reasons for believing in the angel Moroni?

G.G.: Yes, I do think it’s relevant to ask believers why they prefer their particular brand of theism to other brands. It seems to me that, at some point of specificity, most people don’t have reasons beyond being comfortable with one community rather than another. I think it’s at least sometimes important for believers to have a sense of what that point is. But people with many different specific beliefs share a belief in God — a supreme being who made and rules the world. You’ve taken a strong stand against that fundamental view, which is why I’m asking you about that.

L.A.: Well I’m challenging the idea that there’s one fundamental view here. Even if I could be convinced that supernatural beings exist, there’d be a whole separate issue about how many such beings there are and what those beings are like. Many theists think they’re home free with something like the argument from design: that there is empirical evidence of a purposeful design in nature. But it’s one thing to argue that the universe must be the product of some kind of intelligent agent; it’s quite something else to argue that this designer was all-knowing and omnipotent. Why is that a better hypothesis than that the designer was pretty smart but made a few mistakes? Maybe (I’m just cribbing from Hume here) there was a committee of intelligent creators, who didn’t quite agree on everything. Maybe the creator was a student god, and only got a B- on this project.

In any case though, I don’t see that claiming to know that there is no God requires me to say that no one could have good reasons to believe in God. I don’t think there’s some general answer to the question, “Why do theists believe in God?” I expect that the explanation for theists’ beliefs varies from theist to theist. So I’d have to take things on a case-by-case basis.

I have talked about this with some of my theist friends, and I’ve read some personal accounts by theists, and in those cases, I feel that I have some idea why they believe what they believe. But I can allow there are arguments for theism that I haven’t considered, or objections to my own position that I don’t know about. I don’t think that when two people take opposing stands on any issue that one of them has to be irrational or ignorant.

G.G.: No, they may both be rational. But suppose you and your theist friend are equally adept at reasoning, equally informed about relevant evidence, equally honest and fair-minded — suppose, that is, you are what philosophers call epistemic peers: equally reliable as knowers. Then shouldn’t each of you recognize that you’re no more likely to be right than your peer is, and so both retreat to an agnostic position?

Why is an all-knowing and omnipotent God more likely than
a God who was pretty smart but made a few mistakes?

L.A.: Yes, this is an interesting puzzle in the abstract: How could two epistemic peers — two equally rational, equally well-informed thinkers — fail to converge on the same opinions? But it is not a problem in the real world. In the real world, there are no epistemic peers — no matter how similar our experiences and our psychological capacities, no two of us are exactly alike, and any difference in either of these respects can be rationally relevant to what we believe.

G.G.: So is your point that we always have reason to think that people who disagree are not epistemic peers?

L.A.: It’s worse than that. The whole notion of epistemic peers belongs only to the abstract study of knowledge, and has no role to play in real life. Take the notion of “equal cognitive powers”: speaking in terms of real human minds, we have no idea how to seriously compare the cognitive powers of two people.

G.G.: O.K., on your view we don’t have any way to judge the relative reliability of people’s judgments about whether God exists. But the question still remains, why are you so certain that God doesn’t exist?

L.A.: Knowledge in the real world does not entail either certainty or infallibility. When I claim to know that there is no God, I mean that the question is settled to my satisfaction. I don’t have any doubts. I don’t say that I’m agnostic, because I disagree with those who say it’s not possible to know whether or not God exists. I think it’s possible to know. And I think the balance of evidence and argument has a definite tilt.

G.G.: What sort of evidence do you have in mind?

L.A.: I find the “argument from evil” overwhelming — that is, I think the probability that the world we experience was designed by an omnipotent and benevolent being is a zillion times lower than that it is the product of mindless natural laws acting on mindless matter. (There are minds in the universe, but they’re all finite and material.)

G.G.: Why do you think other philosophers don’t see it that way?

L.A.: To cite just one example, Peter van Inwagen, my friend and former teacher, assesses the situation very differently. He believes that we do not and cannot know the probability that the world we experience was designed by an omnipotent and benevolent being (which I estimate as close to zero), and that therefore the existence of suffering in our world gives us no reason to doubt the existence of God. He and I will be arguing about this in a seminar this coming summer, and I look forward to it. Don’t bet on either one of us changing our mind, though.

G.G.: What about positive cases for God’s existence? When Iinterviewed Alvin Plantinga, he cited religious experiences as making a strong case for theism. Mightn’t it be that he has evidence on this issue that you don’t?

L.A.: Many theists I’ve talked to — including Plantinga — say that they have or have had experiences in which they have become aware of the presence of God. I’ve never had such experiences.

G.G.: That doesn’t mean that Plantinga and others haven’t had such experiences.

L.A.: O.K., if you hold my feet to the fire (which is what you’re doing), I’ll admit that I believe I know what sort of experiences the theists are talking about, that I’ve had such experiences, but that I don’t think they have the content the theists assign to them. I’ve certainly had experiences I would call “profound.” Many were aesthetic in nature — music moves me tremendously, and so does nature. I’ve been tremendously moved by demonstrations of personal courage (not mine!), generosity, sympathy. I’ve had profound experiences of solidarity, when I feel I’m really together with other people working for some common goal. These are very exhilarating and inspiring experiences, but they are very clearly about human beings — human beings at their best.

G.G.: Would you say, then, that believers who think they have good reasons for theism are deceiving themselves, that they are actually moved by, say, hopes and fears — emotions — rather than reasons?

L.A.: I realize that some atheists do say things like “theists are just engaged in wishful thinking — they can’t accept that death is the end.” Theists are insulted by such conjectures (which is all they are) and I don’t blame them. It’s presumptuous to tell someone else why she believes what she believes — if you want to know, start by asking her.

It is disrespectful, moreover, to insist that someone else’s belief has some hidden psychological cause, rather than a justifying reason, behind it. As a “lapsed Catholic,” I’ve gotten a fair amount of this sort of thing myself: I’ve been told — sometimes by people who’ve just met me or who have never met me at all but found out my email address — that I “only” gave up my faith because (a) the nuns were too strict, (b) I wanted to have sex or (c) I was too lazy to get up on Sundays to go to church.

I believe I have reasons for my position, and I expect that theists believe they have reasons for theirs. Let’s agree to pay each other the courtesy of attending to the particulars.

G.G.: But when you talk about reasons in this way, you seem to mean something like “personal reasons” — reasons that convince you but that you don’t, and shouldn’t, expect to convince other people. And you agree that theists can and do have reasons in the same sense that you do. Many atheists hold a much stronger view: that they have good reasons and theists don’t. Do you agree with this?

L.A.: No, I don’t think reasons are “personal” in the sense you mean. Justificatory relations are objective. But they are complex. So whether any given belief justifies another is something that depends partly on what other beliefs the believer has. Also, there may be — objectively — many different but equally reasonable ways of drawing conclusions on the basis of the same body of evidence.

It’s likely that the conscious consideration of reasons plays a relatively small role in our acquiring the beliefs we do. An awful lot of what we believe is the result of automatic unconsciousness processing, involving lots of unarticulated judgments. That’s perfectly O.K. a lot of the time — if the process is reliable, we don’t have to be able to articulate reasons. I think the proper place for reasons — for demanding and giving reasons — is in interpersonal interaction.

G.G.: What do you mean by that?

L.A.: Reasons are the answer I give to someone who asks me why I believe something, or — more urgently — to someone who asks whyshe ought to believe something that I’ve asserted. In the public sphere, I think reasons are extremely important. If I’m advocating a social policy that stems from some belief of mine, I need to be able to provide compelling reasons for it — reasons that I can expect a rational person to be moved by. If I refuse to give my employees insurance coverage for contraception because I think contraception is wrong, then I ought — and this is a moral ought — to be able to articulate reasons for this position. I can’t just say, “that’s my belief, and that’s that.” A sense of responsibility about one’s beliefs, a willingness to defend them if challenged, and a willingness to listen to the reasons given by others is one of the guiding ideals of civil society.

G.G.: But doesn’t a belief in God often lead people to advocate social policies? For some people, their beliefs about God lead them to oppose gay marriage or abortion. Others’ beliefs lead them to oppose conservative economic policies. On your view, then, aren’t they required to provide a rational defense of their religious belief in the public sphere? If so, doesn’t it follow that their religious belief shouldn’t be viewed as just a personal opinion that’s nobody else’s business?

No one needs to defend their religious beliefs to me — not unless they think
that those beliefs are essential to the defense of the policy they are advocating.

L.A.: No one needs to defend their religious beliefs to me — not unless they think that those beliefs areessential to the defense of the policy they are advocating. If the only argument for a policy is that Catholic doctrine says it’s bad, why should a policy that applies to everyone reflect that particular doctrine? “Religious freedom” means that no one’s religion gets to be the boss.

But usually, religious people who become politically active think that there are good moral reasons independent of religious doctrine, reasons that ought to persuade any person of conscience. I think — and many religious people agree with me — that the United States policy of drone attacks is morally wrong, because it’s wrong to kill innocent people for political ends. It’s the moral principle, not the existence of God, that they are appealing to.

G.G.: That makes it sounds like you don’t think it much matters whether we believe in God or not.

L.A.: Well, I do wonder about that. Why do theists care so much about belief in God? Disagreement over that question is really no more than a difference in philosophical opinion. Specifically, it’s just a disagreement about ontology — about what kinds of things exist. Why should a disagreement like that bear any moral significance? Why shouldn’t theists just look for allies among us atheists in the battles that matter — the ones concerned with justice, civil rights, peace, etc. — and forget about our differences with respect to such arcane matters as the origins of the universe?


This interview was conducted by email and edited. The previous interview in this series was with Alvin Plantinga.

Gary Gutting is a professor of philosophy at the University of Notre Dame, and an editor of Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews. He is the author of, most recently, “Thinking the Impossible: French Philosophy Since 1960″ and writes regularly for The Stone.

Interviews on Religion: Is Atheism Irrational? Part 1 - Alvin Plantinga

The Stone is a forum for contemporary philosophers
and other thinkers on issues both timely and timeless.

Is Atheism Irrational?

by Gary Gutting
February 9, 2014

This is the first in a series of interviews about religion that I will conduct for The Stone. The interviewee for this installment is Alvin Plantinga, an emeritus professor of philosophy at the University of Notre Dame, a former president of both the Society of Christian Philosophers and the American Philosophical Association, and the author, most recently, of “Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism.”


Gary Gutting: A recent survey by PhilPapers, the online philosophy index, says that 62 percent of philosophers are atheists (with another 11 percent “inclined” to the view). Do you think the philosophical literature provides critiques of theism strong enough to warrant their views? Or do you think philosophers’ atheism is due to factors other than rational analysis?

Alvin Plantinga: If 62 percent of philosophers are atheists, then the proportion of atheists among philosophers is much greater than (indeed, is nearly twice as great as) the proportion of atheists among academics generally. (I take atheism to be the belief that there is no such person as the God of the theistic religions.) Do philosophers know something here that these other academics don’t know? What could it be? Philosophers, as opposed to other academics, are often professionally concerned with the theistic arguments — arguments for the existence of God. My guess is that a considerable majority of philosophers, both believers and unbelievers, reject these arguments as unsound.

Still, that’s not nearly sufficient for atheism. In the British newspaper The Independent, the scientist Richard Dawkins was recently asked the following question: “If you died and arrived at the gates of heaven, what would you say to God to justify your lifelong atheism?” His response: “I’d quote Bertrand Russell: ‘Not enough evidence, God! Not enough evidence!’” But lack of evidence, if indeed evidence is lacking, is no grounds for atheism. No one thinks there is good evidence for the proposition that there are an even number of stars; but also, no one thinks the right conclusion to draw is that there are an uneven number of stars. The right conclusion would instead be agnosticism.

In the same way, the failure of the theistic arguments, if indeed they do fail, might conceivably be good grounds for agnosticism, but not for atheism. Atheism, like even-star-ism, would presumably be the sort of belief you can hold rationally only if you have strong arguments or evidence.

The failure of arguments for God would be good
grounds for agnosticism, but not for atheism.

G.G.: You say atheism requires evidence to support it. Many atheists deny this, saying that all they need to do is point out the lack of any good evidence for theism. You compare atheism to the denial that there are an even number of stars, which obviously would need evidence. But atheists say (using an example from Bertrand Russell) that you should rather compare atheism to the denial that there’s a teapot in orbit around the sun. Why prefer your comparison to Russell’s?

A.P.: Russell’s idea, I take it, is we don’t really have any evidence against teapotism, but we don’t need any; the absence of evidence is evidence of absence, and is enough to support a-teapotism. We don’t need any positive evidence against it to be justified in a-teapotism; and perhaps the same is true of theism.

I disagree: Clearly we have a great deal of evidence against teapotism. For example, as far as we know, the only way a teapot could have gotten into orbit around the sun would be if some country with sufficiently developed space-shot capabilities had shot this pot into orbit. No country with such capabilities is sufficiently frivolous to waste its resources by trying to send a teapot into orbit. Furthermore, if some country had done so, it would have been all over the news; we would certainly have heard about it. But we haven’t. And so on. There is plenty of evidence against teapotism. So if, à la Russell, theism is like teapotism, the atheist, to be justified, would (like the a-teapotist) have to have powerful evidence against theism.

G.G.: But isn’t there also plenty of evidence against theism — above all, the amount of evil in a world allegedly made by an all-good, all-powerful God?

A.P.: The so-called “problem of evil” would presumably be the strongest (and maybe the only) evidence against theism. It does indeed have some strength; it makes sense to think that the probability of theism, given the existence of all the suffering and evil our world contains, is fairly low. But of course there are also arguments for theism. Indeed, there are at least a couple of dozen good theistic arguments. So the atheist would have to try to synthesize and balance the probabilities. This isn’t at all easy to do, but it’s pretty obvious that the result wouldn’t anywhere nearly support straight-out atheism as opposed to agnosticism.

G.G.: But when you say “good theistic arguments,” you don’t mean arguments that are decisive — for example, good enough to convince any rational person who understands them.

A.P.: I should make clear first that I don’t think arguments are needed for rational belief in God. In this regard belief in God is like belief in other minds, or belief in the past. Belief in God is grounded in experience, or in the sensus divinitatis, John Calvin’s term for an inborn inclination to form beliefs about God in a wide variety of circumstances.

Nevertheless, I think there are a large number — maybe a couple of dozen — of pretty good theistic arguments. None is conclusive, but each, or at any rate [when we take] the whole bunch taken together, is about as strong as philosophical arguments ordinarily get.

G.G.: Could you give an example of such an argument?

You don’t even need arguments to have a rational belief 
in God. Belief in God is grounded in experience.

AP: One presently rather popular argument: fine-tuning. Scientists tell us that there are many properties our universe displays such that if they were even slightly different from what they are in fact, life, or at least our kind of life, would not be possible. The universe seems to be fine-tuned for life. For example, if the force of the Big Bang had been different by one part in 10 to the 60th, life of our sort would not have been possible. The same goes for the ratio of the gravitational force to the force driving the expansion of the universe: If it had been even slightly different, our kind of life would not have been possible. In fact the universe seems to be fine-tuned, not just for life, but for intelligent life. This fine-tuning is vastly more likely given theism than given atheism [that is, should we argue for God's rational existence].

G.G.: But even if this fine-tuning argument (or some similar argument) convinces someone that God exists, doesn’t it fall far short of what at least Christian theism asserts, namely the existence of an all-perfect God? Since the world isn’t perfect, why would we need a perfect being to explain the world or any feature of it?

A.P.: I suppose your thinking is that it is suffering and sin that make this world less than perfect. But then your question makes sense only if the best possible worlds contain no sin or suffering. And is that true? Maybe the best worlds contain free creatures some of whom sometimes do what is wrong. Indeed, maybe the best worlds contain a scenario very like the Christian story.

Think about it: The first being of the universe, perfect in goodness, power and knowledge, creates free creatures. These free creatures turn their backs on him, rebel against him and get involved in sin and evil. Rather than treat them as some ancient potentate might — e.g., having them boiled in oil — God responds by sending his son into the world to suffer and die so that human beings might once more be in a right relationship to God. God himself undergoes the enormous suffering involved in seeing his son mocked, ridiculed, beaten and crucified. And all this for the sake of these sinful creatures.

I’d say a world in which this story is true would be a truly magnificent possible world. It would be so good that no world could be appreciably better. But then the best worlds contain sin and suffering.

G.G.: O.K., but in any case, isn’t the theist on thin ice in suggesting the need for God as an explanation of the universe? There’s always the possibility that we’ll find a scientific account that explains what we claimed only God could explain. After all, that’s what happened when Darwin developed his theory of evolution. In fact, isn’t a major support for atheism the very fact that we no longer need God to explain the world?

A.P.: Some atheists seem to think that a sufficient reason for atheism is the fact (as they say) that we no longer need God to explain natural phenomena — lightning and thunder for example. We now have science.

As a justification of atheism, this is pretty lame. We no longer need the moon to explain or account for lunacy; it hardly follows that belief in the nonexistence of the moon (a-moonism?) is justified. A-moonism on this ground would be sensible only if the sole ground for belief in the existence of the moon was its explanatory power with respect to lunacy. (And even so, the justified attitude would be agnosticism with respect to the moon, not a-moonism.) The same thing goes with belief in God: Atheism on this sort of basis would be justified only if the explanatory power of theism were the only reason for belief in God. And even then, agnosticism would be the justified attitude, not atheism.

G.G.: So, what are the further grounds for believing in God, the reasons that make atheism unjustified?

A.P.: The most important ground of belief is probably not philosophical argument but religious experience. Many people of very many different cultures have thought themselves in experiential touch with a being worthy of worship. They believe that there is such a person, but not because of the explanatory prowess of such belief. Or maybe there is something like Calvin’s sensus divinitatis. Indeed, if theism is true, then very likely there is something like the sensus divinitatis. So claiming that the only sensible ground for belief in God is the explanatory quality of such belief is substantially equivalent to assuming atheism.

G.G.: If, then, there isn’t evidence to support atheism, why do you think so many philosophers — presumably highly rational people — are atheists?

Some people simply don’t want there to be a God. It
would pose  a serious limitation for human autonomy.

AP: I’m not a psychologist, so I don’t have any special knowledge here. Still, there are some possible explanations. Thomas Nagel, a terrific philosopher and an unusually perceptive atheist, says he simply doesn’t want there to be any such person as God. And it isn’t hard to see why. For one thing, there would be what some would think was an intolerable invasion of privacy: God would know my every thought long before I thought it. For another, my actions and even my thoughts, would be a constant subject of judgment and evaluation.

Basically, these come down to the serious limitation of human autonomy posed by theism. This desire for autonomy can reach very substantial proportions, as with the German philosopher Heidegger, who, according to Richard Rorty, felt guilty for living in a universe he had not himself created. Now there’s a tender conscience! But even a less monumental desire for autonomy can perhaps also motivate atheism.

GG: Especially among today’s atheists, materialism seems to be a primary motive. They think there’s nothing beyond the material entities open to scientific inquiry, so there there’s no place for immaterial beings such as God.

AP: Well, if there are only material entities, then atheism certainly follows. But there is a really serious problem for materialism: It can’t be sensibly believed, at least if, like most materialists, you also believe that humans are the product of evolution.

GG: Why is that?

AP: I can’t give a complete statement of the argument here — for that see Chapter 10 of “Where the Conflict Really Lies.” But, roughly, here’s why. First, if materialism is true, human beings, naturally enough, are material objects. Now what, from this point of view, would a belief be? My belief that Marcel Proust is more subtle that Louis L’Amour, for example? Presumably this belief would have to be a material structure in my brain, say a collection of neurons that sends electrical impulses to other such structures as well as to nerves and muscles, and receives electrical impulses from other structures.

But in addition to such neurophysiological properties, this structure, if it is a belief, would also have to have a content: It would have, say, to be the belief that Proust is more subtle than L’Amour.

GG: So is your suggestion that a neurophysiological structure can’t be a belief? That a belief has to be somehow immaterial?

AP: That may be, but it’s not my point here. I’m interested in the fact that beliefs cause (or at least partly cause) actions. For example, my belief that there is a beer in the fridge (together with my desire to have a beer) can cause me to heave myself out of my comfortable armchair and lumber over to the fridge.

But here’s the important point: It’s by virtue of its material, neurophysiological properties that a belief causes the action. It’s in virtue of those electrical signals sent via efferent nerves to the relevant muscles, that the belief about the beer in the fridge causes me to go to the fridge. It is not by virtue of the content (there is a beer in the fridge) the belief has.

GG: Why do you say that?

AP: Because if this belief — this structure — had a totally different content (even, say, if it was a belief that there is no beer in the fridge) but had the same neurophysiological properties, it would still have caused that same action of going to the fridge. This means that the content of the belief isn’t a cause of the behavior. As far as causing the behavior goes, the content of the belief doesn’t matter.

GG: That does seem to be a hard conclusion to accept. But won’t evolution get the materialist out of this difficulty? For our species to have survived, presumably many, if not most, of our beliefs must be true — otherwise, we wouldn’t be functional in a dangerous world.

Materialism can’t be sensibly believed, at least if,
like most materialists, you also believe in evolution.

AP: Evolution will have resulted in our having beliefs that are adaptive; that is, beliefs that cause adaptive actions. But as we’ve seen, if materialism is true, the belief does not cause the adaptive action by way of its content: It causes that action by way of its neurophysiological properties. Hence it doesn’t matter what the content of the belief is, and it doesn’t matter whether that content is true or false. All that’s required is that the belief have the right neurophysiological properties. If it’s also true, that’s fine; but if false, that’s equally fine.

Evolution will select for belief-producing processes that produce beliefs with adaptive neurophysiological properties, but not for belief-producing processes that produce true beliefs. Given materialism and evolution, any particular belief is as likely to be false as true.

GG: So your claim is that if materialism is true, evolution doesn’t lead to most of our beliefs being true.

AP: Right. In fact, given materialism and evolution, it follows that our belief-producing faculties are not reliable.

Here’s why. If a belief is as likely to be false as to be true, we’d have to say the probability that any particular belief is true is about 50 percent. Now suppose we had a total of 100 independent beliefs (of course, we have many more). Remember that the probability that all of a group of beliefs are true is the multiplication of all their individual probabilities. Even if we set a fairly low bar for reliability — say, that at least two-thirds (67 percent) of our beliefs are true — our overall reliability, given materialism and evolution, is exceedingly low: something like .0004. So if you accept both materialism and evolution, you have good reason to believe that your belief-producing faculties are not reliable.

But to believe that is to fall into a total skepticism, which leaves you with no reason to accept any of your beliefs (including your beliefs in materialism and evolution!). The only sensible course is to give up the claim leading to this conclusion: that both materialism and evolution are true. Maybe you can hold one or the other, but not both.

So if you’re an atheist simply because you accept materialism, maintaining your atheism means you have to give up your belief that evolution is true. Another way to put it: The belief that both materialism and evolution are true is self-refuting. It shoots itself in the foot. Therefore it can’t rationally be held.


This interview was conducted by email and edited.

Gary Gutting is a professor of philosophy at the University of Notre Dame, and an editor of Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews. He is the author of, most recently, “Thinking the Impossible: French Philosophy Since 1960″ and writes regularly for The Stone.

God and Time: The (Quantum) Physics of Time

Having recently "enrolled" in Brian Greens' World Science U I thought it might be appropo to review the section on time itself from a quantum mechanical perspective. Previous recent articles here at Relevancy22 have looked at this topic from an introductory theological and philosophical construct. So perhaps we should also look at it from a scientific aspect gathering up as much as we know about it according to today's scientific thoughts and insights. Below you will find two links - a link to Studies in Time and another on the general math and physics courses provided by World Science U. Enjoy.

R.E. Slater
March 13, 2014

World Science U - Studies in Time

World Science U - Home Page

continue to -

God and Time: God is Not Eternal

God is Not Eternal

by Tony Jones
[additional remarks by r.e. slater]
February 12, 2014

Writing a book on the atonement is like peeling the layers of an onion. Every theological dilemma you [think you] solve only brings up two more dilemmas. So it was that I needed to write a section in the book on God’s relationship to time, because it seemed to make no sense to talk about God’s relationship to Jesus’ crucifixion unless I could explain God’s relationship to time.

So a couple weeks back, I wrote a post arguing that God is not outside of time [that is, in the classic description of time. But that God is alongside of, or within time, in the process sense of time. - r.e. slater]. When reading that, Keith DeRose sent me Nicholas Wolterstorff‘s classic essay, “God Everlasting” (in Contemporary Philosophy of Religion, New York: Oxford, 1982).

In that essay, Wolterstorff argues that God is not eternal, God is everlasting.

His argument proceeds thusly:

1) The biblical narrative clearly tells of a God who changes, and any hermeneutic that denies this is tortured.

2) Any being who changes is necessarily, in part, temporal.

3) “Eternal” is a totalising characteristic. It is not possible for a thing to be partly temporal and partly eternal.

4) Therefore, God is not eternal.

Money quote:

What I shall argue is that if we are to accept this picture of God as acting for the renewal of human life, we must conceive of him as everlasting rather than eternal. God the Redeemer cannot be a God eternal. This is so because God the Redeemer is a God who changes. And any being which changes is a being among whose states there is temporal succession. Of course, there is an important sense in which God as presented in the Scriptures is changeless: he is steadfast in his redeeming intent and ever faithful to his children. Yet, ontologically, God cannot be a redeeming God without there being changeful variation among his states.
Some will argue that God could be eternal and still involved with time. Wolterstorff debunks that claim in a section that begins,

As with any argument, one can here choose to deny the premisses rather than to accept the conclusion. Instead of agreeing that God is fundamentally noneternal because he changes with respect to his knowledge, his memory, and his planning, one could try to save one’s conviction that God is eternal by denying that he knows what is or was or will be occurring; that he remembers what has occurred; and that he brings about what he has planned. It seems to me, however, that this is clearly to give up the notion of God as a redeeming God. And in turn, it seems to me that to give this up is to give up what is central to the biblical vision of God. To sustain this latter claim would of course require an extensive hermeneutical inquiry. But lest someone be tempted to go this route of trying to save God’s eternity by treating all the biblical language about God the redeemer as either false or misleadingly metaphorical, let me observe that if God were eternal he could not be the object of any human action whatsoever.
For me, in solving the enigma that is the crucifixion of Jesus, God’s relationship to time is essential, and Wolterstorff opened a new vista of understanding in this essay. It’s that last sentence that really seals it for me. I don’t see any logical way that an eternal being could be engaged in temporal human affairs, and surely not in the way that’s described in the Bible.

What do you think is God’s relationship to time?

- Tony

* * * * * * * * * *

God and Time:
The Mystery of the Incarnate God Eternal

"Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh" means "I will be that who I have yet to become."
- God (Ex 3.14)
An Eclectic Doctrine

Sometimes there are areas in Christian doctrine that you may properly be an eclecticist. I think the doctrine of God and time may be just one of those doctrines. I'm reminded of that every time we sing Troy Hatfield's song Matchless at Mars Hill where Troy unconsciously jumbles up the classical idea of God's unchangeableness with God's imputed changeableness.... "A God who was, and is, and will be, constantly unchanging, immutable, unspeakable, full of grace, the God-man who came." Who entered into our time and space and was. And there's the crux of it. "God was, and is, and will be."

A God who came into time and out of eternity. Into creation's experiences of time, and out of time's timelessness as the Greek Classicists and early Church Fathers had conceived of it. A God who became incarnate; Who lived with us and died for us. Who would renew all creation and mankind by His lived life and experiential death. Who was Himself, the timeless One, became the corruptible One - in the sense of bearing a dying body, and not bearing a sinful soul. Who became the changeable One at the time of His incarnation forward through to His death. Who now lives with all of creation's temporality as the eternally incarnated Redeemer of creation.

The Metaphysics of Becoming and Being

This ontological truth (ontology = speaking of God's being, attributes, and character) cannot be explained, understood, or imagined. It just must be accepted. A God who Himself had become and now is - mutable, changeable, temporal. Forever affected by the very creation He created within time and space. We cannot understand it. We cannot explain it. We can only state it and present it. The idea that a holy, eternal God can forever now be the Incarnated, holy, eternal God. No less divine but wholly glorified by His incarnation (which is what you would expect when finding anything touched by God's own presence). Who is both creature and Creator. Who is timeless Saviour become willful Redeemer. It is a paradox which is beyond our experience and metaphysical categories (metaphysics = simplistically, anything "spiritual." Something that is not physical but can be decribed meta-physically). We just know God is. Who once was and has become. Who, like us, was, is becoming, and will be, in the past, present, and future tense of our understanding.

It is this God that is the God who has entered into creation's time and become a God who is in process like we are today (a simplistic description of "process theology"). Who is in Himself experiencing the eternal process of "becoming and being" as the incarnate, resurrected Saviour of man. Who is no less flesh and blood than we are today. Whose future is our future when we die. And like us (anthropomorphism = bearing man's image) has become us, even as we are like Him (theo-morphism = bearing God's image) and are, and will be, in both the past-present-and-future sense of the word. We each share the other's image because of God's incarnation through Christ Jesus our Saviour. It is a mystery but one we must be mindful not to forget less we make of God an idol untouchable. One too holy, too distant, too unfeeling, from our own experiences. But whom we do understand can be all this and more if it were not for His holy incarnation that bridges the gap between our humanity and His divinity.

What Do We Mean by "God Being in Process?"

Now the question. Actually two.... If we have a lover, spouse, or friend, who forever was fixed in time from the first day we had met him or her, would that be satisfying to us today? To know someone who never changes. Never grows old with us. Whose experience of time is forever fixed in what was once was? Would this be satisfying to us? Would that friend, lover, or spouse, be able to meet our needs? Or match our experiences? Or breach our understanding of time and death? In a limited sense, yes. And in another sense of providing to us the comfort of our past, yes. But it would be akin to something similar to our fond memories of past loved ones who had died but are no longer with us today. Who were but who are no longer present with us in the continuing experience of our flesh. It's trials and travails.

However, loved ones who are in the process of dying (there's that word again. It speaks of both life and death and life beyond).... Who are remembered - perhaps like my father's long illness or, as a beloved child we once remember from many years ago as a parent - they are forever fixed in time and space and no longer able to reach out to us in meaningful ways that our current timeful experiences of life will demand. We would share ourselves with them but find a gap, an emptiness, there. An experiential gap that is unbridgeable - unless they were able to move forward with us in time and space to appreciate our experiences in the now. The here. The present. This is what we call relationship. Relationships must be living, not dead. We cannot share with a dying parent or loved one as they let go of this mortal veil of flesh to push onwards. We cannot commune with a pleasant memory of a past childhood or family life that no longer lives with us except in the past. This things are mortal. They are past. They continue forward only in our minds and hearts and not as living present relationships.

Thus, if we only had the memory of a dead God and Saviour than it is only that. A dead memory and not a living relationship. For God to be a living God is to be a God who must continue in His relationship with us into our future tense. And not only with us but with all of His creation in its future tenses. If He had only died and remained in the grave than there would be no present tense "I-Thou" relationship which could continue. To do this God must be resurrected from the grave, and raised into glorification, as the divine, but incarnate (not re-incarnated), God of the universe. (Pauline sidetrack: in a sense God is re-incarnated in us even as our past is re-incarnated in us. But not ontologically. But existentially = as something that is "live out through our past experiences." That is, we are not God. Nor are we other people. However, our relationship with God, or with others, will reproduce their mind, their heart, their passion, in-and-through us. Just not themselves, excepting God's Spirit of course, who lives in us, and through us, and permeates all creation, infilling it with His presence). A God of the universe who would continue with us alongside our time-and-experience, even as He would continue alongside of our own past when having died to it and parted from it. Otherwise there is no now, no here, no future promise, no there, is, and will be. All would be nothingness and nothing. Without future, hope, or promise.

This God must be a living God. Not a dead God only beheld from the grave. And not a timeless God who had never known incarnated. Or walked this earth as a flesh-and-blood but very mortal human. This God must be a God who continues forward both within time and space, and without (or outside) of time and space. Even so, it is this latter part that we seem to mangle and confused. For it is the "within" part that we do seem to understand more readily than the "without" part... that we do now have a living Saviour who is with us, but who is apart from us as divine Spirit.

Hence the concept of process.... Process theology is a dynamic (and not static) concept of God that says that God continues to live though dead - and not impassionately apart from His creation (sic, deism, pelagianism, in all their gnostic forms). But passionately. Who continues to become and be through creation's experiences. Or our own. Or the church's experiences in this world. Which is part two of our question. How can a dead God remain with us? At Calvary's cross He did die. A place where He was forever affected by His humanity by His divine death. A death that became as a result of His incarnation. A death that He would meet - as we each will - simply because He lived even as we do now today live, and breath, hunger and thirst, know tiredness, suffering, aches, and pain of heart. In this mortal flesh we do know that every living thing dies. We see it everywhere about. We know of only one man that never died - Elijah. A prophet of God who was raised up as a living, non-dead, being. But it is through Elijah's story, and that of Lazarus'  miraculous "raising from the dead," that we would understand Jesus' resurrection. An "alive-but dead-but made alive again" resurrection into the heavens by the hand of God.

Enter Radical Theology's "God is Dead"

It is this kind of Process Theology that can better inform us of God's continued presence with us which a Radical Theology will then acknowledge as an event described as the "Death of God" when reflecting on this momentous event. Which is quite unlike the movie depiction of the "God is Dead" movement that serializes a Hollywood charicature of the "Death of God" movement. In reality, a true theology will take this event's implications very seriously. That God did die and that we must now know what it means for our present tense society, humanity, creation, church, Christianity, and future expectations. But we've strayed off topic again and must return to the topic at hand....

A Process Theology can better handle God's death when coupled with His resurrection, and not apart from it. Even as we can best understand God's death when beheld in the light of His resurrection. But it is the "without" part of God dwelling "outside of" time and space that we may have the greatest struggle with. And in fact, we must now admit into our definitions and classical ideas of "eternality" that God is no longer the unaffected eternal God. But the affected eternal God who must now dwell within all time and space. Who no longer is separate from it - if He ever really was. That perhaps classicism itself is to blame for making this God we worship so timelessly eternal that we see Him too far away from ourselves. If we say that God is love than how do we know that this God can love?

The very idea of God's "love and grace" seems meaningless without its actual experience of love and grace (whether before God's Incarnation or after it). Have you noticed that platonic love is seldom written about or moanfully sung?. But romantic love - deeply entangled love - is. It fills all the music industry with its messiness and frailty. Its crucible of a heaven-and-hell painfully experienced deeply within the souls of our being. Our anger and frustrations. It affects everything we say and do - our passions, drives, and nature. However, divine love cannot be meaningful if it dies in the grave, or never lived at all. It must somehow live in the present and future tenses of its expectations of being and becoming.

And yes, spirits, even divine Spirits, must admit some form of eternality because spirits by our very definition and ideas are seemingly "unaffected" by timeful events.... Or so we think. However, it is that very idealised human idea of "spirit" that must change from its classical sense to its process sense. We can no longer think of God as Spirit without thinking of God as an affected and affecting Spirit. It would be both biblical and right to aver that God ever loved in eternity even as He will ever love throughout eternity everlasting. But even more so, as our Incarnate, glorified God, He now is one with His creation. This divine love has been made plain to us through Jesus God's Son and very Self come among men.

Otherwise how can a dead God continue to love if we are to take the "Death of God" seriously? How can a dead God be alive and present with us now? How can His grace and mercy, peace and justice, hope and force of life, be our present guide and salvation? Nay, this God who is dead must somehow live. And live both within and without eternity as both divine Spirit and incarnated God. He must be resurrected from the grave. From hell. From the separation of Himself from Himself even as the Son was forsaken by the Father. He must be a God who is glorified on the basis of His incarnation and defeat of death, grave, and hell, by penalty and resurrection. Even as the believing son or daughter of God must even so live beyond death. He must be a God who lives with us in this life even as He will live with us in the next life to come. In eternity everlasting.

Which doesn't mean that our dead loved ones might commune with us now in this life as they once had.... But for the Christian, there is the strong knowledge that those dead loved ones will be communed with again on the other side of the grave. And until then they rest in God. They remain in Him even as we shall someday rest in God. And know that by the saving work of Christ our Saviour - based upon His own death and resurrection - that we will likewise rise with Jesus into the fellowship of God everlasting. Who in Himself was, and is, and ever will be, the Prince of Life. Our Prince of Life. Our Promise and Keep. Our strong fortress that prevails over death, the grave, and even hell itself.

The Incarnate God Who Died and Lives Again

Which brings us back to thought number two... how does a God who died now live? We have answered it on a Spirit level (or metaphysical), but we must also answer it on an existential level (an experiential, knowledge level, on the plane of our being). The short answer is that God is dead and we must acknowledge His death (back to Radical Theology again). This too is a paradox which forces us to admit that the Eternal, Unchanging One is no longer eternal and unchanging. That He has died and no longer lives as He once was apart from Calvary's Cross. And this is the part we will struggle with so firm our convictions that He walks with us "in the garden alone" as the old hymn says. That His Spirit does ever live and is with us by His eternal presence. And yes, this is true. But it is also true that His discourse with man is not like it once was in the Old Testament. And here is the tricky part then. Just what is it now since the days of the New Testament? Since the days of His death and resurrection?

I might offer one suggestion. That God continues today with His church (and with all of mankind) through His infilling Spirit of Pentecost. That is, it is through God's very Spirit that He communes with man today (though I suspect that even in the Old Testament He did so when speaking to the saints and priests of old, and beholding their commune with God). For this old world to see God means that it must see God through us, His church, His body and bride. How? By His own wounded hands and feet which act through us by His living miracles of healing, prophesying, evangelizing, of doing good works through us. We are His tongue and words (logos). His presence (spiritos). His feeling and composure (pathos). His nurture and grace (agapos). Truths which will place a lot of responsiblity upon our shoulders when we think of it in this way. Which doesn't mean that God by His Spirit can do nothing alone apart from us. But that, like with the Patriarch's and Israel's spiritual responsibility in their day, even so the church must now bear the love and grace of God, and the burden of the Lord Jesus Christ, through us, His living church.

Henceforth, and forever now, do we know that the God who lived, and who has died, must now live again in the resurrected sense of His living church. Who is a God who still reaches out through His Spirit to infill, transform, and conform, our very lives so that they may reach out to friend and family, foe and enemy, in the love and grace and divine power of His Almighty, Holy Spirit. We are not alone. We have a living God who is not dead. But a God who did die and lives again. Who is our pattern for both life and eternity. Who is in Himself the unexplainable One. Our mystery and paradox. Our enigma and riddle. But One whom we trust, and know, and desire to live and serve though all our mortal-immortal life. Even so dear Lord come. Come into our lives and help us die to sin's deaths and live to graces sustaining affects. In all our weakness. In all our frailty. By your strength and help and Spirit. Amen.

R.E. Slater
March 19, 2014

video may be found here -

Aaron Niequist live at Willow Creek Church singing Matchless -

by Troy Hatfield
Mars Hill Church, Grand Rapids, MI

Long before

Our time began
Long before I was

Heaven rang--creation rang

The matchlessness of God

Majesty unspeakable

We boldly bless Your name

In awe of love--in awe of grace

The God, the man who came

Praise to the constantly unchanging

You were

You are
And You will be

You were

You are
And You will be

God even though immutable

Revealing still today

The story moves--our parts still prove

Significant in ways

We praise the constantly unchanging

You were

You are
And You will be

You were

You are
And You will be

Beauty, glory

Just and holy
Righteousness and truth
Faithful leader, gentle healer
Matchless God are You

Beauty, glory

Just and holy
Righteousness and truth
Faithful leader, gentle healer
Matchless God are You

You were

You are
And You will be

You were

You are
And You will be



©2003 zonkeydonkeytunes

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under "God and Time" here -