Paul Tillich

While at the Half Price Bookstore the other day, I picked up two books on Paul Tillich along with the book I got on Postmodernism I posted about recently. I’m not exactly sure what inspired me to buy them. I think I had gotten Tillich confused with Teilhard de Chardin whom Milosz and Merton had been discussing in their letters. (Both said they didn’t much like him.) Whatever possessed me, I’m glad I got them because I’ve enjoyed Tillich. I’ll give some time to Teilhard and figure out why it is that Merton and Milosz don’t like him another time.

Tillich is a Protestant Theologian and I’m kind of amazed at how comfortable I feel reading him. He comes at things in a way that makes me feel right at home. Tillich refers to God a lot, but like Merton and ACIM, his use of God does not refer to the traditional, mythic God – it isn’t a transcendent judge.

For Tillich God is the symbol of our “ultimate concern”. God is whatever concerns us ultimately, whatever is most important in our lives. Tillich says this is true even if you deny God. “Where there is ultimate concern, God can be denied only in the name of God.” Likewise, for Tillich, faith, and religion are “ultimate concern”. Paradoxically, he sees religion itself as one of the greatest dangers to religion because when a religion becomes rigid, it suppresses the inquiry, the dynamic, the love, and the insight that gave it its original inspiration and growth. It therefore denies the “ultimate concern” rather than reaches for it.

Ken Wilber says that Tillich’s God as “ground of being” is right on target and even Sam Harris (the guy who wants to put an end to all of religion and wrote The End of Faith) has no problem with Tillich recasting faith “as a spiritual principle that transcends mere motivated credulity.”

Interestingly, Merton and Tillich have a lot in common, too. One thing they share is the idea of kairos. I’m wondering if this at all fits with Fuzzo’s comment on my post on Postmodernism? Fuzzo wrote:

“…now, what’s really cool about all this is that the very same thing happened in America at the end of the first world war. it returned in a very weak wave as the war in vietnam drew to a close, and now here it is again – full blown – aided by the information age…”

In Morality and Beyond, Tillich says kairos is a Greek word that means “the right time”. He writes:

All great changes in history are accompanied by a strong consciousness of a kairos at hand. Therefore, ethics in a changing world must be understood as ethics of the kairos. The answer to the demand for ethics in a changing world is ethics determined by the kairos. But only love is able to appear in every kairos. Law is not able, because law is the attempt to impose what belonged to a special time on all times. An ideal that appeared at the right time and was valid for this time is now considered to be the ideal for history as a whole, as that form of life in which history will find its end. The outcome of this attitude is inevitably disillusionment and the rise of ethical libertarianism and relativism. This is the point at which the dynamic-naturalistic solution, despite its destructive consequences, was in the right, and still battles rightly against Catholic and bourgeois ethics. Or, expressed in terms of church history, this is the point at which Luther was right in his opposition to Aquinas and Calvin. Love, realizing itself from kairos to kairos, creates an ethics that is beyond the alternatives of absolute and relative ethics.

Tillich wrote about kairos existing at the end of World War I and encouraged his contemporaries to respond to that kairos. He was disappointed when it passed thanks to Hitler’s rise to power. Merton likewise wrote about kairos during the American Civil Rights movement and was likewise disappointed that people failed to respond to it. In an article entitled “Religion and Race in the United States” in the New Blackfriars magazine (Vol. 46 Issue 535 Page 218 January 1965) Merton wrote:

Is it possible that when the majority of Christians become aware that ‘the time has come’ for a decisive and urgent commitment, that time has, in fact, already run out? There can be no question now that the time for a crucial Christian decision has come and gone. In 1962 and finally in 1963, there were “moments of truth” which have now passed, and the scene is becoming one of darkness, anarchy, and moral collapse.

Fuzzo says we are here again, full blown. Is this another kairos?

According to Tillich, in order to recognize kairos, it is important to realize “a moral act is not an act in obedience to an external law, human or divine. It is the inner law of our true being, of our essential or created nature, which demands that we actualize what follows from it…An antimoral act is not the transgression of one or several precisely circumscribed commands, but an act that contradicts the self-realization of the person as a person and drives toward disintegration… Freedom is replaced by compulsion. Deliberation and decision, the hallmarks of freedom, become mere facades for overwhelming drives that predetermine the decision. The voice of man’s essential being is silenced, step by step; and his disintegrating self, his depersonalization, shows the nature of the anitmoral act and, by contrast the nature of the moral act.”

It’s also important to understand “love”. If we simply understand it as an emotion, we have misunderstood it. “Love, in the sense, of agape, contains justice in itself as an unconditional element and as its weapon against its own sentimentalization.” This love has very little to do with pity, as was noted by Nietzsche. “…love liberates us from the bondage to absolute ethical traditions, to conventional morals, and to authorities that claim to know the right decision perhaps without having listened to the demand of the unique moment…It breaks the prison of any absolute moral law, even when vested with the authority of a sacred tradition. Love can reject as well as utilize every moral tradition, and it always scrutinizes the validity of moral convention. But love itself cannot question itself and cannot be questioned by anything else.”

Tillich says that it is a moralistic distortion to classify the “teachings of Jesus” as another law. It is his word (not his “teachings”) that point the way to the new reality in which the law is not abolished, but has ceased to be commanding. (Fuzzo mentioned that he thought language was everything.)

In Love Power and Justice (which was written before Morality and Beyond) Tillich claims that “Ontology is the elaboration of the ‘logos’ of the ‘on’, in English of the ‘rational word’ which grasps ‘being as such’”. He claims he wants us to turn to something older than naive nominalism and realism to a philosophy that asks the question of being before the split into universal essences and particular contents took place. He says that this philosophy is older than any other and is the most powerful element in all great philosophies of the past. It is the philosophy which asks the question: “What does it mean that something is? What are the characteristics of everything that participates in being?” This is the question of ontology. The way to verify ontological judgments is not through experimentation, it is through experience. (Authenticity rather than authority?)

The problems of love, power and justice categorically demand an ontological foundation and theological view in order to be saved from the vague talk, idealism, and cynicism with which they are usually treated. Man cannot solve any of his great problems if he does not see them in the light of his own being and of being-itself.

I could probably easily work through two weeks of posts based on all that I highlighted in these two books. But alas, I’ve got other things I want to get to like Nietzsche and Buddhism and Nietzsche and ACIM. St Theresa’s recommendation about Translucence, Dreyfus’s class on Heidegger. The list goes on and on… So I will have to come back to Tillich and study him in more depth at a later date.

Tillich was heavily influenced by Heidegger (and Kierkegaard, of course) which makes me that much more interested in getting to Dreyfus’s class. I’d been looking for Being and Time at the used bookstores for months because it’s an expensive book and found it on Sunday, the same day I found these books by Tillich. Synchronicity on top of synchronicity – so much fun. I had no idea Tillich would fit in so well with existentialism or Merton! (And, potentially, Fuzzo’s comment on Postmodernism.)

Holy the Firm by Annie Dillard

I started Holy the Firm after I finished Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, yesterday and finished it today. It’s a short little book but dense. I liked it better than Pilgrim although I am glad I read Pilgrim first. Holy the Firm seemed much more down to earth to me even though Pilgrim was all about earthy things.

I actually have more thoughts on this book than I did Pilgrim, too. I don’t really think these are spoilers, but be warned…

Dillard writes: “The higher Christian churches – where, if anywhere, I belong – come at God with an unwarranted air of professionalism, with authority and pomp, as though they knew what they were doing, as though people in themselves were an appropriate set of creatures to have dealings with God. I often think of the set pieces of liturgy as certain words which people have successfully addressed to God without their getting killed. In the high churches they saunter through the liturgy like Mohawks along a strand of scaffolding who have long since forgotten their danger. If God were to blast such a service to bits, the congregation would be, I believe, genuinely shocked. But in the low churches you expect it any minute. This is the beginning of wisdom.”

For some reason, I was under the impression she was a Roman Catholic. But this seemed very Calvanistic to me. So I looked it up and sure enough, she was raised Presbyterian. She didn’t convert to Catholicism until the 1990s. Pilgrim and Holy the Firm were written in the 1970s, long before her conversion. This is the typical Calvanistic struggle of believing that nature is evil. No matter how intune we are with nature, if we were brought up with that depravity of man thinking, we’re going to have a hard time reconciling the problem of evil. (It’s difficult to reconcile in Catholicism, too – but it presents a different version of the problem within Catholicism.) Dillard doesn’t resolve it in this book although she comes up with a lot of interesting ideas.

I do thinks she is right that the lower churches have a sort of wisdom the higher churches don’t. This is a huge generalization but I’ll throw it out there anyway because I think it fits with what Dillard is saying: people in lower churches go to church to express their experience of death and pain while people in the higher churches go to try and make themselves immune to it. Wisdom doesn’t come through the avoidance of pain. It comes with the acceptance of suffering.

There is a great documentary called "Searching for the Wrong Eyed Jesus" made by some British guys who went deep into the American south and filmed what it was like to live there. It’s absolutely fantastic. The thing about the extremist religious element in the south is that it is nothing like corporate fundamentalism. Corporate fundamentalism is as intentional as is any major marketing endeavor. But the religious fanaticism of the deep south is far more like an artistic expression than it is business like or controlling.

Dillard writes:

Scholarship has long distinguished between two strains of thought which proceed in the West from human knowledge of God. In one, the ascetic’s metaphysic, the world is far from God. Emanating from God, and linked to him by Christ, the world is yet infinitely other than God, furled away from him like the end of a long banner falling. This notion makes, to my mind, a vertical line of the world, a great chain of burning. The more accessible and universal view, held by Eckhart and by many peoples in various forms, is scarcely different from pantheism: that the world is immanation, that God is in the thing, and eternally present here, if nowhere else. By these lights the world is flattened on a horizontal plane, singular, all here, crammed with heaven, and alone. But I know that it is not alone, nor singular nor all. The notion of immanence needs a handle, and the two ideas themselves need a link, so that life can mean aught to the one, and the other.

This, to me, is the typical Christian struggle (Catholic or Protestant). If you revere nature and think God is within it, how do you balance that with a monotheistic world view that says God is separate from his creation? If you value nature and are Christian, at some point, you have to entertain this struggle. There is no way around it. Pantheism throws the absolute out the window altogether. Monotheism makes nature evil. Of course we can talk about Panentheism now, but clearly Dillard is one of the thinkers who was bringing that sort of understanding into focus.

The question for Dillard, as it is for all pantheists and panentheists, is whether God touches anything. She asks, “Is anything firm or is time on the loose?” It’s possible I don’t fully understand her question, but if I do, I think it is the wrong question. I used to ask something similar: If God is in everything and we are God, what happens if the universe comes to an end? Does God come to an end, too? I had been brought up with the idea of an external God in the Calvanistic tradition. Methodists were not Calvinists, but nevertheless I was brought up to believe God was good, we were bad, and he could kill us all off if he wanted and would go on just fine and dandy, probably better without us. We were to love God, not God’s creation. But if you change that and say that God is God’s creation, then what becomes of God if the creation dies? I think that is very similar to what Dillard is asking – is anything firm or is time on the loose?

Dillard wants nature to be “real” even though she recognizes everything as “transluscent”. She still wants the Absolute even though she can’t quite make sense of it. She writes,

These are only ideas, by the single handful. Lines, lines, and their infinite points! Hold hands and crack the whip, and yank the Absolute out of there and into the light, God pale and astounded, spraying a spiral of salts and earths, God footloose and flung. And cry down the line to his passing white ear, “Old Sir! Do you hold space from buckling by a finger in its hole? O Old! Where is your other hand?” His right hand is clenching, calm, round the exploding left hand of Holy the Firm.

This Holy Firm is an idea that she says comes out of Esoteric Christianity (mystical Christian traditions).

It is a created substance, lower than metals and minerals on a ‘spiritual scale,’ and lower than salts and earths, occurring beneath salts and earths in the waxy deepness of planets, but never on the surface of planets where men could discern it; and it is in touch with the Absolute, at base. In touch with the Absolute! At base. The name of this substance is: Holy the Firm.

I think this gives her is a way through the middle of monotheism and pantheism. It allows her to hold on to an idea of an Absolute although she clearly has an almost pagan view of the world. It’s probably some of the first panentheistic musings in western Christian thought after the advent of rationalism and Protestantism. What interests me is that Dillard claims Eckhart and other Catholic mystics of the middle ages were pantheists. I wonder if the mystics were more comfortable with the illusory nature of reality and didn’t need nature to be “real” in the same way those of us who have been brought up in rationalistic societies do?

I also wonder if Native American Spirituality has within it this same sort of struggle with nature as evil? I don’t know enough about it to know for sure, but it seems to me they wouldn’t because they have so many gods and a lot of them are trouble makers. I think this struggle probably comes specifically out of western idealism which adopted Greek philosophical abstract idealism. Our ancestors were raised with an abstract God that was “good”. The Enlightenment got rid of “God” in favor of rationalism but maintained the abstraction.

Anyway – I loved this book! It’s so beautifully written and extremely personal. Her interest in Roman Catholicism is apparent in both Pilgrim and Holy the Firm. But both books feel very Protestant to me. Catholicism just doesn’t have that same struggle of nature being evil that Protestantism has. It’s far more pagan, in a sense, and much more open to mysticism. Ecumenical efforts have been merging a lot of Catholic and Protestant idealism together since the 1960s so the differences aren’t as extreme as they once were – especially now. And this has been both good and bad. But I can understand why Roman Catholicism would have appealed to Dillard more than the Calvanistic religion she was brought up in.

I’m definitely going to have to read one of her more recent books and see if she managed to come to a more satisfying resolution.

God in the Bath by Stephen Mitchell

Just finished reading a little book called God in the Bath, Relaxing in the Everywhere Presence of God. I bought it because I thought it was by Stephen A. Mitchell, the translator and poet. But this book is by Stephen Mitchell the UK Church of England priest, not Stephen Mitchell the poet/translator. 

It was a short read and I guess worth reading. Kind of a lighter version of Marcus Borg or John Shelby Spong. What’s interesting is that I never stopped to think that Christianity would be different here than in the UK until a gentleman made that suggestion on my blog.

Mitchell quoted some shocking statistics for the UK religious culture, which is not particularly large. Only 35% of people claim to believe in God. (It’s 77% in the U.S. – down from 90% in 2003). The U.S. is touted as a “Christian” nation, so it was interesting to get a UK priests take on Christianity. He’s every bit as worried about it’s continuation and how it will continue as Spong or Borg and has a very similar philosophy. Members are leaving in unprecedented numbers and fundamentalism is increasing. That’s how it is here in the U.S., too – just on a way bigger scale. 68% of the 77% of people who claim to believe in God call themselves “born again” Christians.

Mitchell’s main point is that religion, faith and God can only be understood metaphorically. I think it safe to say that he has a panentheistic understanding of God rather than a monotheistic one. He quotes Epimenides’ Hymn to Zeus (6th Century BCE):

The Cretans:

always liars

evil beasts

idle bellies –

they fashioned a tomb for thee

O holy and high one

but though art not dead

thou livest and abidest forever

for in thee we live and move and have our being.

Mitchell agrees that this appears to be too pagan an understanding for Christianity, but says it is Orthodox Christianity. The Apostle Paul later borrowed the phrase, “for in thee we live and move and have our being”.

The question “Who made the world?” according to Mitchell is an inappropriate question. A better question would be”Who makes the world”. And that a faith that begins by seeing life as a curse rather than a blessing is not Christianity. (Wonder what he thinks of Augustine’s depressing “fallen man theory”? Either he would dismiss it as Karen Armstrong, Spong, etc. do as Augustine’s depression, or he would have a completely different explanation for it than I’ve heard before.)

Because God is that in which Christians live, move and have their being, Mitchell claims they do not reject any one thing in favor of another, nor reject everything in favor of something beyond all things. If Christians truly believed this, I don’t think people would hate Christianity so much. This is definitely not a widespread belief among Christians in the U.S. In fact, it is holding this belief that get Christians in trouble with their fellow Christians. We are told we are not “true Christians” because in order to be a true Christians,you have to believe that it is man’s destiny to destroy himself and you have to reject all teachings and ways of being that are “of Satan”. (Like homosexuality, same sex marriage, Buddhism, Paganism, Atheism, Evolution…)

Mitchell also says that if Christians are to be faithful to the creeds, they will not say that they believe something called God exists. “Rather they will say that they will put all of their energy and living into an acceptance of the whole of life, into that in which they live and move and have their being…”

He quotes Augustine:

What is it therefore to believe in him? It is in believing to love, in believing to delight, in believing to walk towards him, and be incorporated amongst the limbs and members of his body.

Mitchell writes that Christians have always been careful to say that God’s blessings are undeserved, and that’s a part of the problem.

[That’s definitely true in the U.S. There is an American paradox of believing we have been “chosen” by God and are therefore very deserving of our blessings. If you try and take them away from us, God will be on our side and you will lose. But at the same time, there is this underlying belief in the fallen man theory which says we do not deserve God’s graces at all. So if we get them, we hold onto them for dear life rather than expecting manna to fall from heaven and believe we (or they) are being punished when the blessings are taken away.]

Mitchell explains the difference between agape and philo (ancient Greek terms for love that show up in the Bible). On the whole philo expresses the love of friendship and the love that can exist between members of a family. It is love that is inspired by, and responds to, the attractiveness of its objects. Agape love, on the other hand, is an unconditional love that does not depend upon the attractiveness of its object. “Love your enemies”. Therefore, even if the person is unlovable, hateful, vengeful, or despicable, if we love God, they are to be loved. That is what it is to love God. That is the way the words are used in our Christian tradition.

Mitchell says the believer isn’t asked to believe six impossible things before breakfast, but to love the impossible. That where all else has failed and we have every reason to give up, we still maintain courage and and affirming attitude to life.

“We are the image of the creator God. Life in the spirit is life in the imagination of God… To take imagination out of religion is to take the spirit out of our faith. Literalism in faith is like insisting that a play be performed for all time with the same costumes and stage directions. It robs it of its ability to speak to us. Fundamentalism in religion is like insisting that we all live the same way, wear the same clothes, and speak the same language. It denies of our responsibility and robs us of our individuality. To avoid religious fanatacism we must recognize the symbolic, metaphorical and creative aspects of faith.”

I think Mitchell is right on here and I also think this is why Christianity is unlikely to continue with the depth and meaning it was originally intended to have, although Mitchell believes it can and must continue.

He uses the example of Opera – that less than 1% of the population or something like that attend the opera because it takes a certain amount of education to appreciate it. The same is true of Christianity. If you are truly going to appreciate it, you have to spend a lot of time understanding the symbols, metaphors, and history. You can’t just go to a church that makes you feel good, call yourself a Christian because you joined the church and have an appreciation for Christianity in any sort of historical sense. Your only appreciation will be in the current cultural sense.

I find this interesting because most Christians in the U.S. claim they are abiding by the historical world even though most have very little concept of the times in which the Bible was written or the literary styles, language etc. The English version is the literal version and that’s all they need to know. The Old Testament isn’t really important – it’s not even really Christian. It’s really just the English version of the New Testament that matters. No need to study the ancient Hebrew or the Greek. No need to study the myths that preceded the myths of Christianity. No need to study Ancient Rome and the fact that they crucified people by the thousands or that this method was seen as more humane than the previous method of impalement. No need to understand the Jewish laws in order to recognize that Jesus’ parables were usually scathing indictments on the existing laws or that riding into Jerusalem on a donkey would not have been seen as a humble act by the elite class of Jews.

Who is going to study this stuff in today’s day and age? The kids barely even learn anything about mythology anymore. The liberal arts are not seen as important. And unless people are willing to educate themselves about the religion in which they are involved, religion becomes a weapon!

Mitchell thinks we can turn the tide and maybe he is right. But I think a good portion of the 68% of “born again” Christians here in the U.S. wouldn’t even consider Mitchell to be Christian. We are brainwashed here with a sort of puritan literalism. Maybe the Catholics and some of the Episcopalians and people up north escape the brainwashing, but puritan ideals and U.S. capitalism pretty much go hand in hand so even those espousing atheism around here still carry around with them a puritan idealism that is difficult to escape.

I can’t help but wonder if it isn’t better to let Christianity die out rather than try to reform it? It’s not that I don’t have faith in people, because I do. What I don’t have faith in is religion as an institution. I just think Christianity has way too much baggage associated with it to be reformed. I really do agree with Thurman that if we don’t have some sort of evolution of consciousness, "the religious wars of old will look like a tea party".

We need something that shares these values of Christianity Mitchell claims are orthodox, but isn’t so dead set insistent upon remaining “Christian”. We need new metaphors. Those in Christianity are 2000 years old, some older. That’s not to say they don’t still apply, because they do. But you have to dig deep and hard to understand the application and most people do not have the time or are not willing to do that.

Religion is every bit as impermanent as is humanity. Hold on to the teachings! Don’t lose sight of them, and if there is a way to reclaim the institution, then reclaim it. But if there is another method of bringing the teachings to modern day society that exists outside of the institution, then at least some of us need to pursue those possibilities rather than placing our energy into reviving the institution of old. More power to those of you trying to revive it though!! I may decide to join you later. But for now, I think I will pursue another path.

I Thought I was a Monotheist, but I’m Not!

Still working through the difference between Panentheism and Monotheism. Bare with me…

Panentheism is not yet defined in the dictionary – at least not in any I could find. There is plenty of information available on the internet, however. One of the most helpful I found for differentiating panentheism from other beliefs was Dr. Laughlin’s class notes at Otterbein College.

Many sights I looked up claimed that panentheism falls under monotheism. This is what I had originally thought, too, but apparantly this is not correct. Laughlin classifies monotheism as a theism, and panentheism as a monism.

The difference appears to lie primarily in whether you believe God (or the gods) to be “out there” and separate from you (theism); or if you believe that God can be found within all that is (monism). Panentheism is a little of both, and so somewhat difficult to classify.

Religioustolerance.org classifies beliefs into 4 categories: Theism, Deism, Pantheism, and Panentheism. Again, monotheism falls under theism and Panentheism gets it’s own category.

From Wikipedia.com : “Panentheism is the view that God is immanent within all creation and that the universe is part of God or that God is the animating force behind the universe. Unlike pantheism, panentheism does not mean that the universe is synonymous with God. Instead, it maintains that there is more to God than the material universe. In panentheism, God maintains a transcendent character, and is viewed as both the creator and the original source of universal morality.”

According to Laughlin’s notes, panentheism is a fairly modern invention – a synthesis or mixture of Western theism and Eastern monism.

After reading through this information, I can now say with complete certainty that I am not a monotheist!

I had always believed I was!! I just never thought to question it until Joseph Campbell punched me in the stomach.

[For more info. on Panentheism, check out this article.]

A Very Brief History of Monotheism

Joseph Campbell’s statement that the Semetic idea of monotheism is the single most destructive myth in world mythology is harsh. (Maybe he didn’t exactly put it that way, but it hit me that way! He definitely insinuated that the monotheistic God is a demiurge the introduced evil into the world and that the Jewish myth is self-centered and self-serving.) I have let go of many of my ideas about God throughout my life, but when I heard this, my stomach buckled as though I’d been hit. It went completely against everything I thought I believed. But I so admire Joseph Campbell that I had to look into it.

About a year ago, I was reading several Ancient Texts (the Tao te Ching, the Baghavad Gita, Job and the Psalms) with a group of people and one of them suggested that I was a panentheist. I had been aware of panentheism since flirting with becoming a theology student. I think I defined it as a sort of monotheism. But after hearing Campbell’s statement that the Jewish myth of monotheism has been the single most destructive myth in mythology, I felt compelled to look further into it..

For days, I searched the internet for information on panentheism and monotheism. Wikipedia was tremendoulsy helpful, as was Maggie Macary’s weblog on myth and culture among numerous others. (I posted something similar last year, so my apologies for the repetition, but it’s on my mind right now…)

Here is some of what I learned:

The first God in Genesis is El (also known as El-Elohim, Elohe Yisrael, and El-Elyon). This was the Ancient High God of the Canaanites and of the northern Israelite tribes of Samaria. El-Elohim means God of Gods. Martin Buber says this God was a monopluralistic God – kind of like a “god cloud” composed of many gods. (plural divinity without individuation). It was the first God in Genesis. Abraham’s God and that of the northern tribal kingdom.

Yahweh is the 2nd God in Genesis. Yahweh is a single tribal god from the Negev desert also known as Jehova – the warrior God or “God of Hosts” (which I think means God of Armies – although I was a little confused on this point because different sources say different things). He is a divine hero to the people in the southern tribal kingdom. This was the God of Judah.

Yahweh-Elohim is the third God in Genesis and this God marks the beginning of monotheistic thought. (6th century BCE) This God is a synthesis of the gods of both the southern and tribal kingdoms.

Joseph Campbell writes that there were 5 texts used to create this God: The Yahwist (J) Text, which represented the mythology of southern kingdom of Judah in the 9th century bce; The Elohim (E) Text, which represented the mythology of the northern kingdom in the 8th century bce; The ritual code of Holiness or the (H) text from the 7th century, bce; The ritual code of the Deuteronomists (D) also 7th century bce; The post-Exilic priestly writings know as the Priestly (P) text in the 4th century bce (101-102).

Apparently,the Levitical priests returned from captivity in Babylonia to their fellow Jews practicing polytheism. They felt a reform was necessary so they had some people called Redactors (something akin to editors) combine the 5 existing texts. This syntheized the monopluralistic “God of gods” of the northern tribes with the hero warrior God of the southern tribes.

This deity becomes the Omnipotent, Omniscient God who says “You shall have no other Gods before me.” (Exodus 20:3) This sets up a moral and ethical problem because this is the only theistic god in all of the major world mythologies that claims to have dominance over everything in the universe. This gives the Semetic religions the moral right to claim that their God is superior to all other Gods.

Do you see the problem here?

Judaism did not start out as a monotheism, it evolved into one through the encouragement of human beings! I suppose you could argue that they were divinely inspired, but you also have to admit that it is certainly convenient – to have as your god THE one and only God?? Or at the very least – the God before all others?

This view of God was not challenged at all for 15 centuries! Can you imagine? 15 centuries! All these generations of people just taking it on faith for century after century because their god is THE God and who doesn’t want that?

It’s not easy to have to face this stuff! It’s not pretty.

Mythos & Yahweh

Not too long ago, I watched Joseph Campbell’s Mythos and found it quite disturbing. He said that the Judeo/Christian/Muslim God is a demiurge according to Gnostic tradition – and he seemed to strongly agree.

I looked up demiurge. It’s a deity in Gnosticism, Manichaeism, and other religions who creates the material world and is often viewed as the originator of evil.

If you decide to call something good, then I suppose that creates evil, right? It reminds me of a discussion I had with my teacher on Milton in highschool. Beelzebub was God’s angel and simply wanted God’s power. He didn’t necessarily think of himself as evil. Humanity agrees to this evil whenever they desire this same sort of power – which is all of the time and in all of us. So I guess you’d have to say God created evil by setting up the crazy dynamic. If you create something and call it good, then some of the things you create are also going to have to be called bad. There is absolutely no way to have one without the other. Good creates evil and evil creates good. That’s simple logic. God calling it bad is what makes it evil. So God created evil. OK. I can buy that.

But I guess what still bothers me is Campbell’s insinuation (or maybe it was a direct denouncement) that the Jewish Myth is a very faulty and self-serving myth. What does this mean exactly? Does that mean it has no beauty? That it is less truthful than other world myths? That it has primarily served to create a cancer in the world? In ways, that surely seems to be true. Horrible things have been done in the name of this Judeo/Christian/Muslim God. Our current war feels very much like a religious war – the “evil doers” are out there and the “good” who need to be protected are here in America.

It’s kind of harsh to think about. That this myth that I have loved and lived by most of my life has created more hatred than those of other world religions because Yahweh was so hung up on himself that he demanded there be no other gods before him. Hmmmm…. I’m not sure what I think of this yet. It makes a lot of sense. But it’s still really harsh.

God is a Verb

I took a class on the Psalms several years ago from a fascinating character named Rabbi Monty Eliasov whose synagogue is probably a bit “out there” as far as Judaism goes. One of the things he is involved in is a comparison of Native American spirituality and the “aboriginal wisdom” of Judaism.

Rabbi Monty also happens to be an expert in Ancient languages so it was fascinating studying the Psalms with him.

Several years ago, my husband and I invited ourselves to a round table discussion John Cobb was holding for Fuller Seminarians. John Cobb is a retired Methodist Minister and professor. He was among the first to introduce Process Theology (based upon Alfred North Whitehead’s Process Thought). According to process theology, God changes as we change and is reliant upon us for this change. There is no way to separate us from God. We are mirror images of one another. God to us, us to God. The difference being, of course, that God is privy to all of us, and we are only privy to ourselves. So at any given moment, God is able to order the actions of the universe and offer us the next best step to take. This choice is always available to us. But so is the choice to choose from our past. In Process Theology, the tendency to make choices based upon our past, rather than the choice God offers us, is the nature of sin. I’m greatly simplifying the theology and might be massacring it. But I think that’s the general gyst. 

Process Theology was what happily moved me away from the view of God as an entity that I had been struggling against all of my life. My experience of God was not an experience of a thing so thinking of God in terms of a noun, whether a kindly old man with a beard or some sort of loving entity, never really worked for me.

Rabbi Monty was the first person who actually explained to me why God would not have been considered a noun in the Old Testament. God is a verb. Not a noun. It wasn’t until the Jews became Hellenized that God took on the qualities of an object.

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English, of course, is based upon Greek philosophies. And these philosophies are very different from those of the Ancient Hebrews. I found an interesting site that shows the differences between Ancient Hebrew thought and Greek thought here.

Here is a summary:

1. Greek thought views the world through the mind (abstract thought). Ancient Hebrew thought views the world through the senses (concrete thought).

For instance, the Hebrew term for anger (an abstract term) is translated as “nose” which is concrete rather than abstract. Anger is the flaring of the nostrils. You can see it. When you get angry, you breathe hard and your nostrils flare. But to say slow to nose in English makes no sense. So an abstract term has to be substituted for our translation for the concrete Hebrew term.

2. Greek thought describes objects in relation to its appearance. Hebrew thought describes objects in relation to its function.

An example would be the description of a pencil. In Greek thought, you’d use adjectives – “it is yellow and about 8 inches long”. The Hebrew description would involve a verb – “I write words with it.”

3. The Greek culture describes objects in relation to the object itself. The Hebrew culture describes objects in relation to the Hebrew himself.

In Greek thought, we’d describe the pencil by saying “the pencil is _______”. In Hebrew thought, we’d describe the pencil by “I write”. Hebrew does not have the word “is”.

4. Greek nouns are words which refer to a person, place or thing. Hebrew nouns refer to the action of a person place or thing.

For instance, knee and gift in Greek thought are words that stand on their own and impart no action. But in Hebrew the root words for both are the same. Knee is “the part of the body that bends”. Gift is “what is brought with a bent knee”.

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It’s a mistake to think of the Israelites as God’s chosen people as meaning that God chose the Jews to be special. There is no subject doing something to a passive receiver because Hebrew language doesn’t work that way. It doesn’t’ separate the doer from the doing like Greek thought does. And, it doesn’t separate the receiver of the doing from the doing, either. Both are actively involved in the choosing.

The better translation might be that the Jews chose God. But that doesn’t quite cut it either. There is too much separation for that to be Hebrew thought. It’s an active covenant between God and the people who have Chosen him. (God’s Chosen People).

I think the anonymous commenter was correct – the struggle was for peace. Shalom (inner calmness). This peace, of course, would have been seen as active as is everything in Hebrew.

From Buckminster Fuller:

For God, to me, it seems

is a verb

not a noun,

proper or improper;

is the articulation

not the art

is loving

not the abstraction of love.

Yes, God is a verb,

the most active,

connoting the vast harmonic

reordering of the universe

from unleashed chaos of energy.