How Do Theologians Learn to Talk Like This?

How Do Theologians Learn to Talk Like This? June 17, 2019

Editor’s Note: I am so glad to find this critique of The NY Times op-ed about the views of a liberal Christian seminary dean (Reposted with permission from theDebunking Christianity Blog). I read the op-ed in the Times when it came out and agree with everything this Clergy Project member says about it, except for at the very end. /Linda LaScola, Editor

=======================

By David Madison

Fine-Tuning Christianity…Until It Vanishes

One of my seminary professors—a bit more cynical than most—wisecracked about Karl Barth’s 12-volume magnum opus on Christian theology, “Nobody knows 8,000 pages about God—not even in German.”

The key word here is knows. Just how does anyone figure out God—has anyone actually done it?—based on hard evidence? It would be greatly appreciated if the legions of Christian theologians and apologists could provide just one page of bona fide God knowledge.

Hence, long ago I got into the habit of scrawling in the margins of theology books, “How does he know this?” And when I came across especially florid sentences: “How do theologians learn to talk like this?” But often I simply wrote, “Theobabble!” in response to nonsense and obfuscation.

Sometimes we come across theological posturing where we least expected it, as was the case last week in an article in the New York Times. The day before Easter, columnist Nicholas Kristof presented an interview with Serene Jones, president of Union Theological Seminary, one of the most prestigious seminaries in the U.S. Was I expecting too much in terms of a reasonable explanation of Christianity? Well, of course, that’s impossible anyway.

But this is the exquisite theobabble we heard from Serene Jones:

“At the heart of faith is mystery. God is beyond our knowing, not a being or an essence or an object.”

Beyond our knowing? This is double-speak. Of course, she knows something about God; otherwise she wouldn’t be in the position she is. If God is beyond our knowing, why do seminaries even exist? Is the Bible, a thousand pages of details about the deity, useless? The authors of the Bible were confident that they knew a lot about God; one of the few non-anonymous Bible writers, the apostle Paul, spoke with certainty about God. He bludgeoned people with his knowledge about how to get right with God.

All those folks who show up at church every week—how many hundreds of millions would that is? —surely are alarmed by the claim that God is “not a being or an object.” What are they worshipping then? Of course, God is a being, the Supreme Being, or simply The Man Upstairs who listens to their prayers. What did Jesus have in mind when he commanded,

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” (Mark 12:30)

How can anyone direct such intense love at a non-being? (Well, of course, people do love fictional characters, e.g., Winnie the Pooh, Harry Potter, etc., but let’s not go there right now.)

Ms. Jones attempts to distance herself from traditional personal theism because she probably knows very well that it is incoherent and unsustainable. And she admits as much:

“…I don’t worship an all-powerful, all-controlling omnipotent, omniscient being. That is a fabrication of Roman juridical theory and Greek mythology. That’s not the God of Easter.”

An awful lot of Christian theology has been written to defend these very attributes of God, and isn’t it risky to suggest that these are the product of Roman juridical theory and Greek mythology? None of them can be traced to the Bible?

Then I ran into this sentence:

“The God of Easter is vulnerable and is connected to the world in profound ways that don’t involve manipulating the world but constantly inviting us into love, justice, mercy.”

How does she know this—any of it? This is full-throttle theobabble. The God of the Bible was perpetually engaged in manipulating the world, and was vulnerable only in the sense that his ego was easily bruised. Her highly intellectualized concept of God—who, somehow, is not a Being—allows her to imagine that he/it is overwhelmingly committed to love, justice, mercy. God “invites” us to embrace these virtues, while he himself declines to do much at all on their behalf. Show us the hard evidence, the unambiguous data that he has. Otherwise this is just so much hot air.

On the day before Easter, Jones’ approach to the resurrection was to deflect.

“When you look in the Gospels, the stories are all over the place. There’s no resurrection story in Mark, just an empty tomb. Those who claim to know whether or not it happened are kidding themselves.”

Would Jones say the same thing about Matthew 27:52-53:

“The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. After his resurrection they came out of the tombs and entered the holy city and appeared to many.”

Of course we know this bubbled out of Matthew’s wild imagination, and we don’t have to kid ourselves about whether it happened or not. How is the resurrection of Jesus any different?

Would Jones be as agnostic about the Romulus resurrection tales? Or about the raising of Lazarus in the John’s gospel? That incident is mentioned nowhere else in the New Testament and comes across as a stunt. John says that Jesus intentionally stayed away from the ill Lazarus, apparently to provide an occasion for Jesus to proclaim, “I am the resurrection and the life.” The story is contrived; it is theology, not history. We don’t have to kid ourselves that it happened.

But Jones herself seems to have little patience with resurrection belief:

“For Christians for whom the physical resurrection becomes a sort of obsession, that seems to me to be a pretty wobbly faith. What if tomorrow someone found the body of Jesus still in the tomb? Would that then mean that Christianity was a lie?”

An obsession? Physical resurrection has been bedrock doctrine since Luke and John went out of their way to describe the functioning body of the resurrected Jesus. And yes, Christianity is vulnerable because of this. Since we can be 100 percent certain that the body of newly alive Jesus never left planet earth (the Ascension to heaven was believable only in first century cosmology), even those who believe that Jesus rose from the dead have to accept that he died again and was buried again. So the grave of Jesus is somewhere. It takes a lot of tortured theology to figure out how Christianity is not a lie. At least traditional Christianity anchored to the resurrection, as has been preached forever. Her rejoinder:

 “Would that then mean that Christianity was a lie? No, faith is stronger than that.”

Well spoken, of course, if you’re a graduate of an Alabama Bible College. Couldn’t the president of Union Theological Seminary do better than that? Faith got Mormonism where it is today, and Scientology, and the ancient Jesus cult.

Of course, the Empty Tomb is iconic for Christians, but we don’t know when that story was invented; our earliest Christian writer, the apostle Paul, apparently knew nothing of it. But there it is, depicted countless times in Western art, and theologians are confident of its great meaning. Jones is sure that the Empty Tomb “symbolizes that the ultimate love in our lives cannot be crucified and killed.” More theobabble: she assumes that “ultimate love” sounds profound, but what does it mean? And, more of the same banal Preacher Talk:

“Something was struggling to be born on that first Easter. It burst forth in ways that changed the world forever.”

Wait a minute: hasn’t she just told us that the God of Easter isn’t involved in manipulating the world? Of course, the ancient Jesus cult did change the world forever when it eventually gained political power.

Kristof also asked Jones about the Virgin Birth, and her answer was spot on for a liberal theologian:

“I find the virgin birth a bizarre claim. It has nothing to do with Jesus’ message. The virgin birth only becomes important if you have a theology in which sexuality is considered sinful. It also promotes this notion that the pure, untouched female body is the best body, and that idea has led to centuries of oppressing women.”

I suspect, in the case of Matthew and Luke (the only places in the NT in which virgin birth is mentioned), ‘sinful sexuality’ was not so much the issue; for them, the absence of a human father guaranteed Jesus’ divine pedigree. But the idealization of Mary (not really in keeping with the sparse NT mentions of her)—especially in Catholic piety—did indeed contribute to sexual stereotyping.

Kristof offered Jones an opportunity to extol Jesus himself:

“For someone like myself who is drawn to Jesus’ teaching but doesn’t believe in the virgin birth or the physical resurrection, what am I? Am I a Christian?”

To which she responded:

“Well, you sound an awful lot like me, and I’m a Christian minister.”

Beware of those who are “drawn to Jesus’ teaching.” They have blinders on, focused on the feel-good sayings attributed to Jesus—and there are quite a few—but conveniently ignore the horrible things he said. You can be ‘drawn to Jesus’ teachings’ only by choosing very carefully the texts to highlight and idealize. Richard Carrier jolts us to attention:

“…the character of Jesus in the Gospels was not the wisest and kindest of beings—he is actually quite loathsome and rarely gives anything but really bad advice…”

How so? How can that be? How can that be a fair analysis? This is not the Jesus proclaimed from the pulpit. But truly, there is so much in the gospels that drags Jesus down and damages his reputation as a great moral teacher. Let’s call this the Carrier Challenge: read the gospels carefully, critically—without the coaching of a priest or pastor—and try to figure out why Carrier would say this. Make a list of shocking, mediocre Jesus sayings, those that would move him into the “loathsome” column. I guarantee you’ll be surprised.

In my series of Flash Podcasts called Things We Wish Jesus Hadn’t Said, I have completed and posted three. Episode 1Episode 2Episode 3.

I do congratulate this liberal theologian for a statement that will bring the ire of the faithful, her blunt takedown of the central doctrine of Christianity:

“The pervasive idea of an abusive God-father who sends his own kid to the cross so God could forgive people is nuts.”

That’s not theobabble!

We have witnessed Serene Jones trying to fine-tune Christianity to make it palatable to her target audience, those who are suspicious of miracle and magic. She deletes virgin birth, physical resurrection, God as a knowable being who manipulates the world, and the redemptive function of the Cross. She also blasted prayer:

“I don’t believe in a God who, because of prayer, would decide to cure your mother’s cancer but not cure the mother of your non-praying neighbor.”

Hasn’t she gutted the faith? But how much can be deleted before it all just vanishes, especially with the Jesus negatives in full view? Why bother even claiming to be Christian? It seems to end up a mild-mannered philosophy.

The interview with Jones brought to mind what conservative Christian blogger and radio host Erick Erickson said recently about Pete Buttigieg:

“But then he is an Episcopalian, so he might not actually understand Christianity more than superficially.”

Ouch! He would have worse to say about Jones, but I’m sure she has a sound grasp of Christianity—and thus sees its multiple insurmountable problems.

But why put so much energy into making it come out right? Why not just move on? There’s a place waiting for her at The Clergy Project.

**Editor’s Comment and Question:  I don’t think she’d made it past the qualifying interview for the Clergy Project.  Do you? If so, Why?

=========================

Bio: David Madison, a Clergy Project member, was raised in a conservative Christian home in northern Indiana. He served as a pastor in the Methodist church during his work on two graduate degrees in theology. By the time he finished his PhD in Biblical Studies (Boston University) he had become an atheist, a story he shares in the Prologue of his book, published in 2016: 10 Tough Problems in Christian Thought and Belief: a Minister-Turned-Atheist Shows Why You Should Ditch the Faith.

>>>>Photo Credits: By Domenico di Pace Beccafumi – The Yorck Project (2002) 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei (DVD-ROM), distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH. ISBN: 3936122202., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=147776   ; By Gage Skidmore, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=79500438

 

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  • Michael Neville

    Theology is guessing about the actions, opinions and biases of an imaginary being.

    • wannabe

      But if you guess right, eternity in heaven! And if you guess wrong, eternity in a lake of fire!

      Guess well, my friend.

      (/s, for those who don’t know me.)

      • Michael Neville

        Pascal’s Toss-up.

  • Geoff Benson

    The simplest of questions, who made god?, in response to the way in which ‘god’ is seen as the solution to why we are here, invariably involves theobabble (I do like this word!). So we hear things like ‘uncaused first cause’, or even ‘god has always existed’, and ‘god exists outside of time’, all of them nothing more than special pleading, none of which survive close scrutiny.

    • “So we hear things like ‘uncaused first cause’, or even ‘god has always existed’, and ‘god exists outside of time’” HOW DO THEY KNOW ALL THIS? Where are the data? The reliable, verifiable data to back up the claims about God?

  • Brian Davis

    Jones’ statements remind me of the claims of alt-med quacks. They are said with great certainty, but with little justification.

  • “At the heart of faith is mystery. God is beyond our knowing, not a being or an essence or an object.”

    Then God is a pointless hypothesis. There’s clearly no reason to believe in him.

    • “God is beyond our knowing” is a dodge when theologians can’t explain evil and suffering, etc. Yet they claim to know so much about him! AND try to enforce all of the God-based rules they’re so sure about.

      • Geoff Benson

        You just need to have faith!

      • So if a physicist claims that fundamental reality is beyond our knowing, is that also a dodge? Here’s Bernard d’Espagnat:

            Things being so, the solution put forward here is that of far and even nonphysical realism, a thesis according to which Being—the intrinsic reality—still remains the ultimate explanation of the existence of regularities within the observed phenomena, but in which the “elements” of the reality in question can be related neither to notions borrowed from everyday life (such as the idea of “horse,” the idea of “small body,” the idea of “father,” or the idea of “life”) nor to localized mathematical entities. It is not claimed that the thesis thus summarized has any scientific usefulness whatsoever. Quite the contrary, it is surmised, as we have seen, that a consequence of the very nature of science is that its domain is limited to empirical reality. Thus the thesis in question merely aims—but that object is quite important—at forming an explicit explanation of the very existence of the regularities observed in ordinary life and so well summarized by science. (In Search of Reality, 167)

        He’s a little more clear about what you get with “limited to empirical reality” in a later book:

            In order to properly understand the nature of this argument, let us first derive from what has been recalled above the obvious lesson that (as already repeatedly noted) quantum mechanics is an essentially predictive, rather than descriptive, theory. What, in it, is truly robust is in no way its ontology, which, on the contrary, is either shaky or nonexistent. (On Physics and Philosophy, 148)

        For more, see pp410–411, which can be seen as a more developed version of the first excerpt.

        • ” if a physicist claims that fundamental reality is beyond our knowing, is that also a dodge?” Are there physicists who claim that? It’s more likely that physicists will say “we don’t YET know the fundamental realities” or “let’s devise better ways to get better data.” And it’s so easy to slip in the word “God” when discussion of “fundamental realities” comes up, because theologians are so used to doing that, and getting away with it. There is so much incoherency in monotheism that theologians are finally driven to “it’s beyond our knowing” when they can’t explain the incoherencies.

          This is the ongoing challenge to theists–and so far they’ve never risen to the challenge: please show us where we can find reliable, verifiable data about god(s). AND all theists must agree: YES, that’s where to find the data. This has not happened, and never will, because theists disagree profoundly on all of the supposed sources of God-data: revelations, visions, prayers, mediations, scriptures. Jews, Christians, Muslims & Mormons cannot agree on which scriptures are authentic words of God. Protestants reject the visions that have fueled Catholic piety for centuries. And when this particular incoherence is pointed out, then again we may hear that “God is beyond knowing.”

          • Are there physicists who claim that?

            I quoted one in the comment to which you’re replying.

            And it’s so easy to slip in the word “God” when discussion of “fundamental realities” comes up, because theologians are so used to doing that, and getting away with it.

            I agree with this. But that treats God as a hypothesis, as a filler of knowledge gaps. What if God instead wants to point out our gaps?

            There is so much incoherency in monotheism that theologians are finally driven to “it’s beyond our knowing” when they can’t explain the incoherencies.

            Yes; I see part of the fracture here as mirroring the fracture of the West. One option is to go Feuerbach and say that God is the projection of humanity. But the other is that a key thing God wants to do is unify (via unity-amidst-diversity, not uniformity) and we have stamped our feet and shouted “No!” at the top of our lungs. This fracture shows up, among other places, in “much incoherency” in the human sciences. After all, the subject matter of the Bible is the human sciences, not the hard sciences. (Silly creationists.)

            This is the ongoing challenge to theists–and so far they’ve never risen to the challenge: please show us where we can find reliable, verifiable data about god(s).

            Tell me how “evidence” would distinguish between God and Satan. As far as I can tell, ontologizing the fact/​value dichotomy makes this in principle impossible. And even without that, think about it for a second: how does miracle power tell you anything about values or morality or beauty or character? If you see flaws in my logic or reason, please do tell.

            And when this particular incoherence is pointed out, then again we may hear that “God is beyond knowing.”

            I disagree that God is beyond partial knowing; I do think God is beyond complete knowing. We are finite and God is infinite. But like science can move through successive approximations + scientific revolutions in studying creation, I think we can move through successive approximations + scientific revolutions in understanding God—as well as our fellow human beings and ourselves. I think the present problem is that to understand God more, we have to become more. Think of how a given sized telescope with given frequency sensitivity won’t be able to explore more than a certain amount of the galaxy. However, our becoming more includes our full being, including character, ethics, morality, and aesthetics. I think we’ve mostly stopped doing this, and if science were to falter for enough decades, plenty of people might think that no further science could be done. How it was done might then slip into myth and we’d just be using its products without understanding them.

          • Raging Bee

            What if God instead wants to point out our gaps?

            What if the invisible pink unicorn in my backyard wants to point out our social failings?

          • Let’s look at the IPU’s texts and see whether they help pierce façades of hypocrisy and self-righteousness (as well as, unfortunately, helping some build better façades).

          • Raging Bee

            Okay, go ahead and quote whatever bits of “the IPU’s texts” you want us to look at, and we’ll see if you have any kind of actual argument to make…

          • You’re the one who presupposed that the IPU is analogous to the God found in the Bible:

            LB: What if God instead wants to point out our gaps?

            RB: What if the invisible pink unicorn in my backyard wants to point out our social failings?

            So, you get to defend that analogy by producing relevant texts from the IPU. If you cannot, then you will have demonstrated that your analogy was in fact a terrible one. You are, of course, always welcome to try again.

          • Raging Bee

            Wow, speaking of theobabble…

          • Hmmm, is this “theobabble”:

            One option is to go Feuerbach and say that God is the projection of humanity.

            ? How about this:

            Tell me how “evidence” would distinguish between God and Satan.

            ? Or this:

            But like science can move through successive approximations + scientific revolutions in studying creation, …

            ?

          • Raging Bee

            How about your whole comment?

        • Raging Bee

          Bernard who?

    • If all you want is more power over reality, then God is not on your side. If you want to know anything about what is good and beautiful, “evidence” is completely worthless once you’ve accepted the fact/​value dichotomy. Of course, what is good and beautiful just gets in the way of power, which I’ll bet is a reason we have a higher incidence of psychopaths in corporate leadership (perhaps political as well?) than in the general population.

      To construe truth as only about utility, only about what lets me dominate creation and other humans, is to say that God-as-truth could only serve as a scientific hypothesis. This is how we get god-of-the-gaps. A proper god hypothesis would let me better impose my will on reality. God would be a mere genie, catering to my whims. What all this precludes is God ever pointing out our gaps. Very convenient, I say. The person who retorts “What gaps?” reminds me of Agent Smith asking Neo what use a phone call is if you are unable to speak.

      • Raging Bee

        If all you want is more power over reality, then God is not on your side.

        No, he’s on the side of whoever is making things up about him in order to gain power over others.

        Accusing atheists of wanting power, is just another blatant stinking example of hypocritical projection by Christian con-artists.

        • No, he’s on the side of whoever is making things up about him in order to gain power over others.

          I see, makes perfect sense of:

          A dispute also arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest. And he said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves. (Luke 22:24–27)

          Yep, definitely.

          Accusing atheists of wanting power, is just another blatant stinking example of hypocritical projection by Christian con-artists.

          Erm, atheists aren’t the only ones who want power. Pretty much everyone does, including most Christians. Ever hear of the alliance/​marriage with Constantine? Or the French Revolution? The problem is when you think the way to win is to destroy/​silence the evil people over there.

          • Raging Bee

            Who, specifically, are you accusing here?

          • I accuse those who would use people as means to an end instead of treating them as ends in themselves. I partially exempt treating as a means to an end, those who insist on treating others as a means to an end. Some amount of lex talionis can be educational and, as far as I can tell, the best route forward. Best to find better strategies, of course.

  • ElizabetB.

    I think for many Process Theologians, “God” is the symbol for Truth, Goodness, and Beauty, and the theologian works out what s/he means by that….

    • Linda LaScola

      But they don’t tell that to their congregations — or don’t say it clearly enough for people to get it.

      • Their congregations show up to talk to The Man Upstairs, to sing songs to him and ask favors. Theologians know that these ideas are incoherent, unsustainable, but, quite right: they don’t explain that to their congregations. They have arrived at God as a symbol for truth, goodness, and beauty, but all the other baggage remains….i.e., the rampaging, wrathful god of both the Old and New Testaments.

        • ElizabetB.

          Thanks for the elaboration, David! I’d be surprised if a Process Theologian were a literalist… I think usually they are working to move their congregations away from bibliolatry. [Last week a pastor told me that he really wanted to include in his sermon the observation that maybe there’s a reason Jesus never wrote anything : ) That particular time he decided not to use it.] …..Then there’s what I call “Crossan’s Razor” — in the book Alexis reviewed for us a while back (How to Read the Bible and Still Be a Christian), he distinguishes true from false pictures of god by whether or not they’re nonviolent…. He might answer “why not just move on?” by arguing that the true “Jesus movement” is one for justice and love, and he just chooses to be part of that….

          • “by arguing that the true “Jesus movement” is one for justice and love” There is so much hype about Jesus being about love, but there is far too much in the gospels that undermines that idea, e.g., Luke 14:26. I’m now working on a series of 25 Flash Podcasts on the topic, Things We Wish Jesus Hadn’t Said. As he is portrayed by the gospel writers, he comes across as cult fanatic. And maybe be never wrote anything because he was illiterate. There is no way at all to verify the story that he read aloud in the synagogue.

          • ElizabetB.

            Yes, I think it’s just an “executive decision” to use justice and love as canon within the canon. Looking forward to podcast listening!!

      • ElizabetB.

        Tho some, like PCUSA Shuck and UCC(Canada) Vosper, do. I have been surprised that John has had as little pushback from the denomination as he has — maybe because many conservative congregations have decided to move on to groups that are not such a “big tent.”

        Actually, I was thinking more about academic theologians like Gordon Kaufman — who probably don’t get many invites! ….What attracted me to the congregation I eventually joined after decades of being a “visitor” was the pastor’s questioning ideas like substitutionary atonement, as in, Why couldn’t a good god just simply forgive? with no compensation? — otherwise, it’s not forgiveness at all….

  • I thank Linda for sharing my article on The Rational Doubt Blog. Way back when i was in seminary, I grew so weary of the theobabble: how did any of my theology professors KNOW all this stuff. And it was often such obtuse babble…which was accepted as eloquence. When I read the interview with Serene Jones all that came flooding back. They STILL talk like this? AND attract the attention of the New York Times!

  • alwayspuzzled

    Interesting symmetry. Theobabble and atheobabble both are mostly babble.

    • Raging Bee

      More like made-up symmetry…

  • mason

    I made a post, it appeared, then disappeared???

    Oh well … what city ya from David in N. Indiana … South Bend my hometown.

    • Born in Lafayette, raised in a title town NW of there, Kentland. This was 3 miles from the Illinois line, 80 miles south of Chicago.

    • alwayspuzzled

      Other Patheos sites are having that problem also. Evidently, something is going on with their list of no-no words.

    • ElizabetB.

      One of my theories has been that it might depend on which word processor one uses to compose a long note. When copied to disqus, maybe some coding registers like spam. I quit drafting and copying from anything other than stickynotes. Sorry to miss your note!

  • Cozmo the Magician

    “Theobabble” My new favorite word. Thank You.

  • Jim Jones

    After you challenge the first claims of any theist, the rest can be dealt with by an endless stream of “How do you know” questions.

  • “The God of Easter is vulnerable and is connected to the world in profound ways that don’t involve manipulating the world but constantly inviting us into love, justice, mercy.”

    How does she know this—any of it? This is full-throttle theobabble. The God of the Bible was perpetually engaged in manipulating the world, and was vulnerable only in the sense that his ego was easily bruised. Her highly intellectualized concept of God—who, somehow, is not a Being—allows her to imagine that he/it is overwhelmingly committed to love, justice, mercy. God “invites” us to embrace these virtues, while he himself declines to do much at all on their behalf. Show us the hard evidence, the unambiguous data that he has. Otherwise this is just so much hot air.

    (A) Were the author to plot on a time line the instances where YHWH is recorded to be “engaged in manipulating the world”, I suspect you would find shockingly little. It might be comparable to the proportion of time [good] parents spend imposing themselves on their children. Don’t run out into a busy street! Much more of the Bible involves attempts to convince people to live differently with predictions that the present course will end in ruin, attempts mostly met with disbelief, mockery, torture, and/or execution. There are two vastly different interpretations of bad things happening, “after which you will know that I am the LORD”: (i) YHWH brought about the calamity; (ii) the calamity was a natural consequence of Israelite (in)action. According to Joshua Berman, divine action is much less in the Tanakh when compared to contemporary documents. (Created Equal, 148–49)

    (B) Any agent which created our entire universe would not be “a being” as understood in any way comparable to beings we observe in our universe. This means our understanding will be at best analogical, not univocal. But we engage in analogical understanding all the time. In fact, attempting to understand a person throughly in a univocal manner is perhaps the worst thing you can possibly do to him/her: you would be declaring any sense in which [s]he is not expressible in your categories to be non-existent or at best, worth crushing. Being careful with exactly what we are justified in saying about God turns out to be good practice for being careful about speaking about other humans.

    (C) The kind of “evidence” required by Dr. David Madison could not, in principle, distinguish between God and Satan. The only “evidence” you could have would be evidence of power, like miraculously restoring limbs to amputees. This is a result of the fact/​value dichotomy, which is deeply embedded in Western thought and belief and action by now. The whole point of Serene Jones was that there is a way to interact with other persons which is not manipulative. However, on pain of self-contradiction, one cannot force anyone to join a non-manipulative relationship. And yet, for a properly rational mind, scientific results (which you get after systematically studying the “evidence”) force one to conclude things. Science, as currently construed, does not have a way to think of non-manipulative interactions. It cannot distinguish between God and Satan.

  • gloriamarie

    I would offer that as much of God that humans are ever capable of knowing is revealed to us in Jesus. I am confident it will take me at least as long as I live to begin to know Jesus, love as Jesus loved, to follow His example.

    As for some the specific comments… “The God of Easter is vulnerable and is connected to the world in profound ways that don’t involve manipulating the world but constantly inviting us into love, justice, mercy.” I can’t see this as theobabble. Before there is a God of Easter there is a God dying on the cross is just as vulnerable and connected to the world as God the baby whose birth is celebrated at Christmas.

  • bill wald

    Writing to the posed question, self-preservation teaches . . . “Money” is the civil god of this world and theologians can’t pay their bills by confessing that God is “totally other” and beyond human understanding.

    After 70 years of “faithfully” going to church, I quit attending because I got tired of being told things that don’t compute and that no human can know. In those 70 years, only two pastors have ever answered a question with, “I don’t know.”

    I have no problem with my not understanding God. Apparently I have no need to know. I have no problem trusting God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit . . . and my Guardian Angel. The one observable “Bible” truth is that we all have a “sin nature,” call it inherited defective DNA if that makes better sense.

    Jesus taught that our entire obligation was to “Love God and work at loving our neighbors as we love ourselves.” The Devil is in the details.

    Truth is where you find it. I understand the Bible as “koan.”

    Definition of koan. : a paradox to be meditated upon that is used to train Zen Buddhist monks to abandon ultimate dependence on reason and to force them into gaining sudden intuitive enlightenment.
    Koan | Definition of Koan by Merriam-Webster
    https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/koan

  • Miklos Jako

    Excellent points. I remain a general theist who believes in the probability of a God not tied to any particular religion. But I agree that Christianity is irrational and demonstrably false. http://www.confrontingbelievers.com/

  • “This is full-throttle theobabble…

    Her highly intellectualized concept of God—who, somehow, is not a Being—allows her to imagine that he/it is overwhelmingly committed to love, justice, mercy.”

    Like all gods ever sincerely worshiped by people, whether it be Yahweh, the Bramhan, Zeus, or any other — they’re all speculation about what a god might be like if there were such things as gods.

    Singer Don Williams in his song “I Believe in You” wanders off into theology and says “I like to think of God as love, he’s down below, he’s up above. He’s watching people everywhere; he knows who does and doesn’t care.” Again, speculation about what a god might be like, but it’s as good as any theologian’s. Theologians try to figure out where their basis leads to, and they wind up out in the weeds.