Of Atheists and Apophatics…

An interesting article recently appeared in the New York Daily News, by one of the “celebrity atheists,” Daniel Dennett: The Unbelievable Truth: Why America has become a nation of religious know-nothings. In this article, Dennett argues that non-believers — agnostics and atheists — are, generally speaking, more knowledgeable about religion than are those who believe.

I’m not quite ready to accept the triumphalist way in which Dennett interprets his data. He suggests that atheists know more than true believers about religion because faith requires either willful ignorance of religion’s inherent irrationality, or else the adoption of a complex, metaphorical/mythical understanding of theology. I think there’s more to it than that: as he himself says, atheists are more likely to investigate religious claims as part of their process of rejecting them;  also, he doesn’t address the question of how personal spiritual or religious experience shapes the beliefs that people adopt. Still, whatever we may think of how Dennett interprets his data, the basic point: that Christians know less about their own faith than those who have rejected the faith — is something worth pondering.

Dennett also goes on to imply that many clergy have embraced the idea that faith is irrational (suprarational), but won’t admit it, either to protect their job or to spare their congregations the pain of wrestling with the difficult truth. I doubt if matters are quite that simple, but I would agree that many people in positions of leadership within the church — both clergy and ordained — often wrestle with finding a way to articulate a faith that has grown beyond the simplicity of “God said it, I believe it, that settles it.” I just don’t think such wrestling is evidence that clergy are either frightened or lazy (I think Dennett is being rather mean-spirited in his assessment of clergy). Rather, I think this points to the vastness of the Divine Mystery and the impossibility of truly putting it into words, especially words proclaimed in a 15- or 20-minute homily — which, for many people, is the only religious instruction they receive all week.

With all this in mind, here’s an interesting perspective that comes from Becky Garrison, a fellow author whom I met when I was in Oregon recently. Becky has begun to describe herself as an “Apophatic Anglican,” and this helps to explain what she means by this:

As part of a panel discussion at Journey Imperfect Faith Community, a number of us were asked to explore the faith label we use to classify yourself. I said I was an Apophatic Anglican, which I described as follows:
“The more I continue to enter the cloud of the unknowing, the more I realize just much I cannot know a God that is outside the time/space continuum But something happens when two or three are gathered together in the name of Jesus. And the Anglican part is because I enter into the mysteries through the Anglican ritual. And Anglicanism is one of those traditions, where I can actually leave my brain intact. I don’t have to park my brain at the door when I come in to partake of the mysteries.”

I was asked to further describe “apophatic” as the tradition of negative theology by which you define God by what you do not know. (And BTW-and it’s not apathetic but apophatic. :-) )

What does it mean to live out a faith where we live out the teachings of Christ while walking in the cloud of the unknowing?

More than once on this blog I have described my own faith as a sort of Holy Agnosis. I think Becky’s “Apophatic Anglicanism” is cut from a similar cloth. As an alternative to either defiant fundamentalism or cynical secularism, the path of the apophatic, or holy agnostic, rests comfortably in the paradox and mystery surrounding what we religionists hold to be true — even if such “holding” happens in a place beyond certainty.

Dear readers, what do you think? Are you a believer who doesn’t really know much about your own faith? Or someone who has learned what religion really has to say, and walked away from it? I assume the answer to these two questions would be “no” or else you wouldn’t be reading this blog. So… might you be an “Anglican Apophatic” (you can use your own faith tradition if it’s different from Anglicanism) or a “Holy Agnostic”? And what about Becky’s question: what does it mean to live the teachings of Christ in the midst of profound unknowing?


Concerning Sheep, Goats, and the Unconditional Love of God
In Memoriam: Kenneth Leech
Simplicity and Silence
About Carl McColman

Author of Befriending Silence, The Big Book of Christian Mysticism, Answering the Contemplative Call, and other books. Retreat leader. Speaker. Professed Lay Cistercian.

  • http://monkeymindonline.blogspot.com James
  • Al Jordan

    I have been a student of religion virtually my entire adult life (and I’m no spring chicken) and a seeker after truth. Needless to say this has led me into and through some interesting places, and at times very confusing and uncertain places. I grew up mainline protestant in the deep south uncomfortably ensconced in the Bible belt. Very early on as a young adult, I affiliated with the Episcopal (Anglican) church because of the mystery, ritual and the perceived solemnity of sanctity (and I might add to the great chagrin of my family.) Through the years there were periods of drifting away, exploring other faiths and generally muddling through my spiritual life as I tried to make sense of what I believed and what I didn’t. This course of evolution ultimately led me to the Catholic Church, primarily for its belief in the “real presence.” It was the real presence I was seeking, not the doctrines, dogmas and ponderous theology. Not that those things are not important, but they are the bucket, not the bathwater.

    To make a very, very long story short, the place I’ve come to is a complete revisioning of my Christian faith that is more apophatic, experiential and inclusive of other faith traditions. If I had to put a label on my faith at the present, I suppose I would have to say I’m a double belonger in that I find refuge both in the Christ and in Buddha. Buddha nature is the clear sky, limitless and open and non dualistic, and Christ consciousness is the sunshine and presence that fills that sky and informs my actions in the world. The two streams merge for me. A very excellent book that describes this much better than I can is authored by Paul Knitter, the Paul Tillich professor of theology at Union Theological Seminary, a Catholic theologian, whose book “Without Buddha, I Could Not Be a Christian.” Knitter describes himself as a “double belonger” because much of what he has learned and practiced from Buddhism has informed his Christianity with new meaning and power. He seems to be able to pull off drawing from two wells and integrating that into a complete spirituality. Knitter also discusses at length the notion that we find certainty, paradoxically, as Pema Chodron formulates, in “groundlessness,” not in rigid belief structures. A very enlightening read. Well, my grandchildren are beginning to stir, so have to cut an already too long comment short.

  • http://www.beckygarrison.com Becky Garrison

    Great meeting you in Portland. Looking forward to the dialog.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/carlmccolman/ Carl McColman

      Thanks, Becky. Some of the readers of this blog are pretty staunch “guardians of orthodoxy,” so it will be interesting to see how people respond. I personally don’t think there is any contradiction between Christian orthodoxy and apophatic agnosis, but clearly not everyone sees things the way I do!

  • mike

    “to rest comfortably within the paradox and mystery” says it well enough for me. To accept there are no boundaries to This you must first experience and accept, perhaps it is better to say here intuit, there is a bedrock truth within it. Wander as you will but do not do this lost. How stark and barren this would be.

    However, “resting comfortably within paradox and mystery” accepts this way of being also as truth. No boundries to unknowing cannot be dismissed.

    When I write these words what happens is metaphor. Is anything in daily life at all different in a fundamental manner than writing these words?

  • http://www.philfosterlpc.com phil foster

    As we used to say in seminary – “reverent agnostic.” Still works for me.

  • Ellen N. Duell

    I send the song of the “Grail”, a movement of women for shared spirituality and commitment to work for justice:

    “God, the mystery of our lives, life-giver to the universe,
    Though beyond us, yet within us–our horizon–
    Calls each one by name.”

    We cannot define God, our Creator, nor can we prove His/Her existence by the scientific method. Therefore, if we are moved to love God, we must accept mystery and uncertainty as part of our faith and as affecting our practice.

  • Russ

    A label? It is much easier for me to identify what I am not, than what I am. I am not broken, (maybe separated), I am not laden with guilt (unresolved regret), and I do not require salvation! (whatever that means).
    This is the point where all of my spiritual experience begins. Too reunite that which is separated into the consciousness of the one or the all. Too resolve regret through forgiveness. This is where I am safe (saved). Not complex, not easy!
    I was not raised (by definition) as a Christian. We followed the teachings and lessons from the Bible, but learning scripture and verse was not required. A bite of a handicap, but am I required to know the bible to know God?
    It is my belief that one cannot not think their way to joy, happiness, and contentment. The atheists that know seem to be lacking in these areas. The thing is they don’t even know it. They are afraid to let go, and have fun with the knowledge of unknowing. I say this as former ambivalent agnostic. I guess I feel blessed to now know, that I really don’t need to know. Just live with faith. Have fun, don’t take things to seriously. It’s out of my hands. To be open too recognize the thrust of grace when it happens, and it happens all the time.
    A label, hmm I don’t know and that’s Okay!

  • Jim

    I have a different premise.
    Prefering the all giving, non judgemental, compassionate God that is the God of choice for most Christians today when coupled with a “I just want to get along” attitude has led to a level of apathy and laziness that is a hinderance to personal spiritual growth and a danger to our society. Neither of these would be recognized or accepted principals supported by our great teachers regardless if they were named Benedict or Martin Luther.
    Does the fact that we are incapable of ever knowing it all relieve us from standing for what we do know? If we cant articulate what we do know can we ever stand for anything?
    This religion of the day is articulated clearly by its current leader

    “At some fundamental level, religion does not allow for compromise. It’s the art of the impossible. If God has spoken, then followers are expected to live up to God’s edicts, regardless of the consequences. To base one’s life on such uncompromising commitments may be sublime, but to base our policy making on such commitments would be a dangerous thing.”
    This same leader has also said
    “It’s about listening to what our scientists have to say, even when it’s inconvenient – especially when it’s inconvenient,”
    “Because the highest purpose of science is the search for knowledge, truth and a greater understanding of the world around us. That will be my goal as president of the United States.”
    So the only truth to him seems to be that which man can “truthfully” define for himself but it would be dangerous to base our policies on the wisdom of our creator after all we might be called a fundamentalist or something.
    Yes the king of pragmatism rules today, and we follow Godless leaders snugly behind the cloud of the unknowing. Its no wonder our churches are empty and we are a bunch of religious know nothings.

  • John L

    I’ve often thought about praxis and theosis in terms of perfecting identity (cataphatic) versus losing identity (apophatic). Jesus seems to lean towards the losing or “unifying” of religious identity, while Paul often seems just the opposite. Somewhere there is a balance, and sometimes I sense that the best attributes of cataphatic and apophatic are really approaching the same ideal from opposite directions. Perhaps it is more like a “Myers-Briggs” distribution – certain people being naturally more apophatic and some more cataphatic. Personally, I understand spiritual life and practice mostly in negative / non-dualistic metaphor and language.

  • I-Don’t-Know What

    I don’t know. I am always wary, very wary, of people who have forgotten something or don’t understand something and automatically conclude that it is the result of “penetrating deeper into “the Cloud of Unknowing.”” Or people who have confused simply “not knowing,” with “recollection, ” or “unknowing” (not the same things); or “ignorance” with “Holy Ignorance”…Or people who have had a bad day, or a bad week, or a bad year….and immediately conclude that they have entered into the “Dark Night of the Soul.” What they really don’t know, nor understand, and are ignorant of, is the fact they they really don’t know what they are talking about!

    Over time, and especially in modern times, it is regrettable that terms like the “Cloud of Unknowing” and the “Dark Night of the Soul” have become merely cliche’s and void of their true meanings.

    Rather than offer readers of this blog a dogmatic explanation of these terms , which they would probably not accept, I would suggest that they view the movie “Into Great Silence” in order to answer the question: “What does it mean to live the teachings of Christ in the midst of profound unknowing?”

  • lightbearer

    to al jordan
    yeah i can identify with that but you put it much better than i could even think it
    this is what i refer to as holy spirit, big mind, buddha nature
    i am on the verge of accepting bodhisattva ordination……have been on that verge a while
    but find
    all of these beliefs and non beliefs abit of a bottom pincher
    al you have cleared my mind, i think
    carl the big book of chrstn mysticism…….can i suggest a monastery here for my donation
    your posts are getting more interesting all the time

  • Catholic Leaning East

    The older I get, the more I think that Jesus’ message was a radical one–and that neither I nor my church is anywhere near living up to that message. Right now, I am a “Catholic leaning East”. The only prayer I feel non-hypocritical in saying is “the Jesus Prayer”: Jesus, have mercy on me, a sinner.

    I am a bit of a paradox in belief: I love ritual and specificity in liturgy, but am increasingly annoyed and discouraged with over-specific dogma. Yet, I am more conservative than some in many of my beliefs.

    I have to cling to the idea that God is beyond anything I could conjure up myself.

  • Gerhard

    I know Carl personally and I can assure you that when people like him say: “I don’t know,” it is after a lifetime of study,
    and not out of laziness. These terms of “unknowing” are very specific and even technical, if you will. You won’t know that
    you don’t know until you’ve walked a certain path. Until then, you kind of know everything — so much that it’s real easy to
    reprimand those lost souls who don’t know — but who do know there’s Someone out there.

  • Simon Whitney

    Dear Carl

    I wonder if it is not a contradiction for a website that deals with mysticism and contemplation to say that God cannot be known?

    Would it be fair to say that some people are confusing being in the cloud with contemplation of God?

    Could one go so far as to say that they might be worshipping the cloud in the mistaken belief that it is God?

    Don’t get snarky with me now – these are serious questions.

    (I’m with the comments by “I-don’t-know what” and Jim. Which probably doesn’t surprise you!)

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/carlmccolman/ Carl McColman

    Aw, come on, Simon, can’t I get at least a little snarky with you?

    Seriously, though, your serious questions are frankly well worth considering. I think the first one makes the weakest argument, since the declaration “God can’t be (fully) known” has been part of the tradition at least since the days of Ps.-Dionysius. But I’m willing to grant that your other two queries are important cautionary points for anyone engaging in the spiritual life to consider.

    Believe it or not, I agree with you that woolly thinking is no substitute for a serious, committed, engaged life of spiritual practice. After all, Jesus said we are to love him with all our mind (Matthew 22:37), not just the ‘contemplative’ bit.

    Now, having said that, I believe that many so-called orthodox or fundamentalist Christians do engage in woolly thinking to the extent that they build their faith on the flimsiest of foundations: on emotion and experience, and little else. Not accusing you of this, Simon, but I think this is the point behind Dennett’s research: he claims that religious fervor in the United States is fueled by religious illiteracy. And I agree with him. Where he and I disagree is that he thinks that people will naturally abandon the faith if they truly learned what it has to say. I think that many people would (John 6:66 comes to mind), but that others might be called into a more apophatic approach to faith — not by lack of knowledge, but by knowledge which propels them to the very brink of mystery.

  • John L

    “that others might be called into a more apophatic approach to faith — not by lack of knowledge, but by knowledge which propels them to the very brink of mystery.”

    Two quotes come to mind..

    “The purpose of life is to be defeated by greater and greater things.” -Rilke

    “Every year you grow, you will find me bigger.” -Aslan to Lucy, Prince Caspian

  • I-Don’t-Know What

    Can I jump in again?

    First, it is incorrect to say that “God cannot be known.” Indeed, God is beyond our total comprehension despite Him revealing Himself. No doubt. But, there are other ways of knowing God, besides mere intellectual comprehension. Especially if one is really in “the Cloud.” I think Ruuesbroc described it best when he wrote that when one is in the Cloud (the faculties of the Soul are united with God), one is then “beyond reason, but not without reason.”

    It is the outpouring of the Spirit (Rapture) that brings all of this about.

    “Being in the Cloud” is the perfect contemplation of God. This is why I object to people, or am wary of people, who claim to be entering the “Cloud of Unknowing.” Entering the Cloud requires “rapture.” That is a very sudden event. It is not gradual.

    So, therefore, when one is “in the Cloud”, then reason dictates that one is partaking in the life of the Trinity. This is beyond our human comprehension (we are creatures after-all), but when one returns to his senses, one realizes what has happened.

    So being in the Cloud is exactly that, BEING! Being one with God (at least as far as this mortal life will allow). So if one does “worship the Cloud” (this state of being…), one does indeed worship God (because one is then one with God). That means it is all heart (or Will, if you will), beyond the human intellect. I know of no difference between God and the Cloud.

  • Jane

    Excellent Carl

    Apophatic Anglican. That is pretty good and might just encourage others to begin the journey for themselves. It seems to get us away from having to ‘distill’ everything.


  • I-Don’t-Know What

    Here is a great quote for those who wish to contemplate in the Cloud.

    “You must not suppose, sisters, that the effects I mentioned always exist in the same degree in these souls, for as far as I remember, I told you that in most cases our Lord occasionally leaves such persons to the weakness of their nature.” – St. Teresa of Avila, the Interior Castle, Seventh Mansion, Chapter 4:1.

    She got that right. No one who has entered the Cloud is thereby automatically a Saint. Not even Moses!

    Too often theologians and others simply overlook this fact and believe that anyone who has entered the “Cloud” is automatically perfect! Virtue takes time. If I have learned nothing else, I have learned that, “In time, things take time.”

  • I-Don’t-Know What

    Sorry….maybe I talk too much. Bowing out for now.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/carlmccolman/ Carl McColman

      Sorry….maybe I talk too much. Bowing out for now.

      Ah, the fundamental paradox of blogging about contemplation. I feel this one every day.

  • I-Don’t-Know What

    Sorry Carl, but I really love the topic. In reference to this atheist-guy, his view point is really funny. At least to me.

    First of all , I wish to address Big-Banger scientists. Do they even know who came up with this theory? It was Georges Lemaître. A Catholic Priest and a Jesuit no less. Look him up on Wikipedia. What?! A Catholic Priest came up with the Big Bang Theory? Yep.

    Second, what does the Big Bang Theory state? It states that everything, matter, time, energy, and space came into being at the Big Bang.

    Let’s look at this this from another prospective. I’ll state it another way. What happened at the Big Bang?

    That means, when the Big Bang happened, at no time (since time did not yet exist) and in no place (since space did not exist), nothing ( while no matter yet existed), “exploded” (without energy, since energy did not yet exist either). This is the current scientific theory, like it or not. And people get fired for not holding to the Big-Bang Theory?

    Is that rational? Nothing, exploding, without any energy, at no time, and in no place? What are the odds of that. ZERO, I would guess. And despite all this, atheists must add that there is no reason for it! What SH_T just happens? Hardly scientific. Why? There must be a reason for life.

    SH_T does not just happen. There is a reason for everything. Such questions are simply beyond the realm of science and therefore “theology” remains the “Queen of Sciences.”


    OK, I am really out this time.

  • Al Jordan

    Let’s assuage our guilt about blogging about contemplation. It’s simply the outworking of interior work. I really enjoy hearing about others’ experiences. And I especially appreciate what “I-Don’t-Know” has to say above. Anything less and I would have been short changed.

    “And to know him is eternal life.” The life (essence) is in the knowing as in intimacy that and union that comes with contemplation.

  • Jim

    I dont want to be snarky but I found this comment from you disapointing

    “now, having said that, I believe that many so-called orthodox or fundamentalist Christians do engage in woolly thinking to the extent that they build their faith on the flimsiest of foundations: on emotion and experience, and little else.”
    I found this to be an elitist judgemental comment almost on par with “clinging to their guns and religion.”

    Conceding to Dennet on this point may seem like a clever and civil way to debate his point but your counter has already conceded his main point -most christians are idiots.

    Our awesome God finds numerous ways to touch all of his children I caution against trying to judge anothers experience. It is that kind of attitude that created great doubt about many great witnesses from Sister Faustina to Bernadette. Our church fathers have learned from some of these experiences to not judge so quickly what might initially seem an unlikly witness.

    Jesus advised thatwe should be “like little Children to enter into the kingdom of heaven” I might even be so bold as to suggest that your Anglican friend and a maybe a few others on this board might benefit from sometime when they “park their brain atthe door.”

    God will find you through your heart not your brains. Dont let your brains get in his way, they are our biggest obstacle. Let Go and Let God!

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/carlmccolman/ Carl McColman

      Jim, I think you may be projecting just a bit here: I certainly did not say “most Christians are idiots.” But I stand by my experience that many Christians who I’ve encountered over the years, who insist on upholding a particular way of thinking about faith (what I’ve heard clergy describe as “pre-modern”), often appear to do so at the expense of serious engagement with philosophical, scientific, or interreligious criticism of their position. Refusing to engage in dialogue does not make the issues go away. This is not to say that all or even most Christians fall into this category (I used the word “many” which does not necessarily mean a plurality). But some do. And to the extent that this “some” insists on speaking for all Christians, then all Christians pay the price of terms of how we are perceived by non-Christians.

  • http://www.beckygarrison.com Becky Garrison

    I have always argued for what Rowan Williams termed a mixed economy of church whereby traditional church exists alongside new forms of church. If someone has found a spiritual path that works for them, I’m inclined to leave them alone unless they are causing harm to themselves or others.

    But the staggering drops in church attendance over the past few decades here in the States indicates that for many people, this form of church isn’t working. As a pre-natal Episcopalian (my father was a priest), the traditional Book of Common Prayer service can bore me to tears as I feel I’m on spiritual autopilot. But through my own discovery of Celtic Christianity (esp. as I found expressed in the UK and the Pacific Northwest) breathed a new life for me in partaking of these ancient Anglican rituals.

    And by tuning into more of the mystical side of the tradition (esp. the work of St. John of the Cross), I am finding areas of spiritual common ground with spiritual atheists in that we are both seeking something outside of ourselves.

  • Jim

    I didnt say you said “most”he did, I said your argument supported his hypothesis more then it denied it.

    Ok, but how far do you go in being worried about how you are perceived by non christians – I contend that we spend to much time among ourselves arguing about aspects of specific dogma largly because of our fear of being criticized or ridiculed by the socalled intellectual elites, playing on their terms isnt going to change them giveit upman.

    Few have been converted thru the power of intellectual pursuasion. I know I wasnt, I
    doubt you were either.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/carlmccolman/ Carl McColman

      Some good questions, Jim. I think one of the issues is whether we are trying to convince others (ie., non-Christians) that we’re right and they’re wrong, or are we simply trying to be the people God calls us to be, and then not worry about how others see us. I think the latter makes more sense, but as you know I’m Catholic and not really in the business of “winning souls for Jesus.” I figure that’s the Holy Spirit’s job, not mine.

      The fact that I agree with Dennett’s premise (that Christians are under-educated) does not, in my mind at least, have anything to do with so-called elites, either inside or outside the church. I think it’s a simple statement of fact. Where I part company with Dennett is the conclusions that need to be drawn. He seems to think that religious illiteracy is an argument against religion. But I would say it’s an argument against fundamentalist religion. I think that the more people (not just Catholics, Christians of all persuasions) become educated about the splendor of Christian thought, the more we will see Christians become less worried about “what others think” and more committed to living the transformed life that Christ promises us. This includes (but is not limited to) embracing a profound spirituality, leading up to and including contemplation. Like you point out, Christian spirituality is ultimately about a lot more than mere intellectual prowess. But this truth does not excuse us from needing to be well-informed in our faith. We are commanded to love God “with our whole minds.” And whether we like it or not, there’s a lot of remedial work that needs to be done. For example, because we live in a society that is so hostile to contemplation, most people (whether Ph.D.s or high school dropouts) need to be educated about what contemplation is, if there is ever to be any hope of wide-spread acceptance of this beautiful (but largely misunderstood) dimension of the Christian life.

  • Jim

    Yes, yes, yes…
    I know Im splitting hairs at this point but I feel I must say I am a bit uncomfortable with the use of the term “under educated” I see the bigger issue being low priority and part time commitment or laziness. Greater commitment and effort may or may not result in greater level of education or understanding, it will not result in complete unity of belief amongst all believers. It will result in a deeper apreciation and sense of wonder with the mystery of our God.

    The other statement that confuses me is when I think you imply that it is fundamentalist that are guilty of worrying about what others think. Seems all shades of Christians are guilty of that. To many christians are more ready to challenge and ridicule the beliefs of other christians then theyare willing to challenge the dangerous secular immorality all around us.

    Not everyone can or should be responsible for intellectual defense. We each have our unique gifts and should apply them to the best of our ability, you are doing so in an exemplary fashion. Your effort to attract others to the beauty of contemplation is a worthy endeavor, I do not mean to question or challenge your admirable and effective efforts for that cause.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/carlmccolman/ Carl McColman

      In identifying that we (Christians) tend to be under-educated, I’m not presuming to have all the answers as to why we are, or what we need to do to address the problem. I tend to think that problems like this have both structural and individual causes: so in this case, it would be both individual laziness and a cultural assumption within Christian institutions that education isn’t really that important. I think both of these kinds of problems need to be addressed. And of course, Christians who have a Ph.D. in religious studies will always have a different understanding of their faith than do those who never make it past getting a GED. But I’d be willing to bet that there is plenty of room for improvement for believers of all education levels. Incidentally, I’m not too worried about whether someone can recite Aquinas’ five proofs or explain the Chalcedonian definition. I think the point here is not that we should be amassing more and more facts and figures, but that we would be doing well to learn to think theologically and to comprehend just how countercultural our faith is. In other words, learn the spirit of the law, not just the letter. And not just the “law” either, but also the creed, the theology of the sacraments, and the wisdom of the Bible.

      No argument that Christians spend too much time bashing each other. You’re right, sad to say. Would a more literate community of Christians figure out that it’s better to fight a common cause than to just keep going after each other? We can only hope.

      Thanks for the vote of confidence in the work I’m doing. I know not everyone is meant to be a geek like me! But I think we can all try to raise the bar somewhat, even if just in our own personal circumstances. Why not opt for excellence in our faith, as in any other area of our lives?

  • Jim

    Thank you for your great patience with me, I am sorry if my argumentative style has disrupted the friendly, informative and civil tone of your blog. God Bless

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/carlmccolman/ Carl McColman

    Jim, compared to some of the good folks who leave comments here, you are a paragon of civility!

    See you tomorrow.

  • http://bigalscorner.blogspot.com Alan Ward

    I’ve studied theology a great deal but I increasingly understand the truth of the statement that says “the more you learn the less you understand” — and I am starting to see that lack of understanding as okay… maybe even good.

    From what I understand, the Eastern Orthodox seem to embrace the apophatic approach to theology more than we “Western” Christians do. We in the West put lots of emphasis on “knowing God” by learning facts about him and that’s not a bad thing, but there is a whole other kind of “knowing” that you don’t do in textbooks. You only do it by experiencing life and struggling to find the Divine in the midst of it.

    My experience is that often the “curriculum” for this other kind of learning is quite rigorous for it often is found through personal hardship and suffering. All experience can teach us and reveal God to us, but there’s something unique to the “tough” times that can really help us grow in “knowledge” of God — if we choose to learn the lessons the hardship teaches. But beware because as a famous Jedi once said, you might have to begin by, “Unlearning what you have learned…” and that can be a bit scary… I know it has been for me… It will feel like if you let go of it you will have nothing left to cling to… and then maybe God’s hand will catch you…

  • Eric Allaby

    Enjoyed the blog. One problem that was not addressed is that our sense of knowing has been defined by Newton. This is what I would call monochromatic truth. As you learn to see truth in a broader spectrum of colours, knowing can reach farther, beyond the limits of physical truth and into realms where we discover faith. And perhaps the realm of unknowing in a Newtonian sense may still show us truths that can bring us closer to God.