God with No Strings Attached?

David Hayward has created another thought-provoking cartoon. It illustrates the difficulties inherent in speaking about God. God, as the ultimate reality, transcends our understanding. For that very reason, those who desire certainty regularly fall prey to those who offer them substitutes, the less than ultimate, who claim to being God closer to them and to their comprehension. And as part of the package, they tend to offer control, guilt, and abuse.

The question that remains is whether we can disentangle God from these things, since by definition we do not have direct access to God. And so the issues that David’s cartoon depicts are not just things that others tie to God, but things that we are prone to tie to God.

It seems to me that all we can do is emphasize that movement in the direction of God is movement away from abusiveness, and bullying, and hatred.

Sometimes, when we move far enough in the direction of God, those strings can actually break. That’s the experience that has transformed lives profoundly and not just superficially. The experience that deserves the label “salvation.”

  • Jeff

    What causes you to believe that moving away from abusiveness, bullying, and hatred gets you any closer to God. Unless, perhaps, you can offer some source of trustworthy information to give us an inkling of understanding of God

    • Herro

      An excellent question. I would like to go the extra (impolite) step and just flatly claim that James doesn’t have any good reasons for claiming that. He’s just abscribing values he considers positive to “the ultimate reality”.

      How the heck could he know (and what would it mean?) that “the ultimate reality” is “in the opposite direction” of hatred?

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

        My reasoning is that, if God is the ultimately transcendent, then that which moves us to transcend ourselves, our narrowness and separation, and connect with others, is a move in the direction of transcendence.

        • Herro

          “The ultimately transcendent”? I see that both the vague statement “the ultimate reality is transcendent” and the statement “I transcend my narrowness” contain the word “transcend”, but I don’t see in what sense you think these are the same thing. I could just as well say “I transcend my innate sense of empathy” or something like that.

          • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

            If empathy involves transcending the self and opening oneself to another, then transcending empathy would in essence be a double negative, canceling itself out.

            • Herro

              So by transcending my innate sense of empathy I don’t transcend the self! James, I don’t see how any of this isn’t just play on words (in this case the word transcend). I could go on and say that 99,99% of the universe doesn’t feel empathy, so by not feeling empathy I’m transcending the human species and connecting with 99,99% of the universe.

              • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

                Again, the normal use of transcendence makes it naturally applicable to ways in which certain biological organisms have evolved the capacity for empathy, and not at all naturally applicable for an attempt to move in the opposite direction after one’s species has done so. I don’t see any play on words here, except when you try to suggest that transcendence can also mean its opposite.

                The TV series Fringe offers a good treatment of the difference between genuine transcendence of our current form of existence future by human beings, and an attempt to shed empathy and love in order to enhance other aspects of humanity.

                • Herro

                  James, the play on word is that there doesn’t seem to be any connection betwen the claim “The ultimate reality is the ultimately transcent” (*what does that even mean*?) and some organisms having some emotions to other organisms, other than you being able to use the word “transcend” in both cases, just as I can use that word in other cases.

                  The point of the cartoon is that there are things that people are prone to tie to their idea of god. Among liberal Christians those things are stuff like opposition to hatred, bullying and abusiveness. And now you’re telling us that it just happens to be that “the ultimate reality” is contrary to those things. What a coincidence!

                  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

                    It isn’t a coincidence. What people mean by God, and how they speak of God, reflects their core values and convictions.

                    • Herro

                      Exactly. And that’s what I think happened here, rather than the “ultimate reality” actually being anti-bullying.

                    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

                      Did you misunderstand what I originally wrote?

                    • Herro

                      I don’t think so. But I think I’ve made it clear that I don’t understand much of what you say (e.g. movement in the direction of the ultimate reality).


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