Our God.  My God.  No god. The Evolution of “Float Your Boat Theology”

Our God.  My God.  No god. The Evolution of “Float Your Boat Theology” August 12, 2019

Editor’s Note: This post points out how requirements and expectations for religious affiliation have changed over the years. I know this from my experience as a layperson.  When my husband and I were leaving the Episcopal Church because I no longer believed in God (he hadn’t believed for a long time), several of our church friends confided that they didn’t believe either, but liked the community, so why not stay? Good question – which a lot of people in the liberal churches have answered by staying on. Personally, as much as I liked the community, I couldn’t stand going through the motions every week and couldn’t understand how they could either. Whatever floats your boat. /Linda LaScola, Editor

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By Bob Ripley

It’s a sad irony for those clergy who lost their vocation when they left their faith in a god they once imagined.  The irony is that fellow clergy continue their vocation proclaiming a god former clergy could never have imagined or proclaimed.

I’ve been acutely aware of this since leaving the faith after my retirement from ministry.  While I once embraced a conservative theology of a god who made the world and was active in Creation, colleagues who embrace a more radically liberal theology continue to proclaim a god I cannot comprehend, let alone worship.

This is all because while monotheism says there is one god, there is no one understanding of the one god.  Believers have their own belief system, which tends to evolve with life’s twists and turns.

Case in point.  I did a little experiment last week and asked my Facebook friends who are believers to share some definition of their deity.

The responses include:

the Universe is God … no heaven, no hell

all loving but not governing

Life is way too miraculous to be random.

A source of power within me, to be channeled to do my best in whatever I choose.

Heaven is created by people. So is hell.

Then I perused the worship of congregations in my city.  One refers to “God the still-point of the circle, ‘round whom all creation turns”.

I even looked at the website of the denomination I served for 34 years, the United Church of Canada.  Under the rubric ‘What we Believe’ it says that

“God is Holy Mystery, beyond complete knowledge, above perfect description….”

Under Faith and the Bible, I read,

“The Bible is the shared standard for our faith, but members are not required to adhere to any particular creed or formulation of doctrine.”

To me, it reads like,

“Hey, whatever floats your boat.”

Rather than having my former conservative theology get bent out of shape, maybe I should honor the honesty.  After all, no Christian is required to adhere to any particular creed.  Faith is fluid.  Believe in the god with whom you feel comfortable, or the one you can imagine at this point in your life even if it’s different than an earlier understanding of god.  As a former, still active, United Church colleague said to me recently over lunch, with a straight clerical face, god is like the Force in Star Wars.

Whatever.

So what about clergy who could no longer hold to their idea of god and chose or, sadly, were forced to leave their job with the residual perks of finance and prestige?  It feels ironic that others can continue when they couldn’t.  Even a tad unfair.

Maybe they could have just gravitated to a god who is an ethereal force of love in the cosmos, and carried on.

Nah.  I couldn’t have done it then.  And can’t do it now.  Despite the anguish and losses, I tip my hat to all who have the integrity to leave the ministry when faith leaves.

**Editor’s Questions: Those of you who, like Bob, left religion or were forced to leave because you stopped believing in the God of the Bible – What do you think about all this.  Any Liberal clergy or churchgoers reading here?  What’s your opinion of this?

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

Bio:  Bob Ripleywas a syndicated religion columnist, broadcaster, former preacher and author of Christian devotional material.  His book which came out in October, 2014 is titled Life Beyond Belief: A Preacher’s Deconversion. Find out more about the book and his other writing here.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • ThaneOfDrones

    Methinks it is like a weasel.

  • Ann Kah

    The answer to “Why not stay in the church” was because I didn’t want to lie to myself any more.

    I can’t understand how people who think themselves to be moral can do that, mouthing the words they don’t believe just so they can stick with the people who do believe. Do they ever look around at the pews and wonder if other people are non-believers too? That would mean you have friends in church who are willing to lie to themselves, and to the church, and to each other. Does that sound like “friends”?

  • Mark Rutledge

    My definition: God is love. God is justice.

  • HairyEyedWordBombThrower

    If we have concepts of ‘love’ and ‘justice, why would we then need ‘god’?

  • See Noevo

    The one and only God is the God proclaimed by the one and
    only church established by Jesus Christ (i.e. the Catholic Church).

    If you want a different God, a different Jesus, just search through the chaos
    that is Protestantism. Maybe one of their 40,000+ and counting different
    Jesus-es will sooth your “itching ears” (cf. 2 Tim 4:3)

  • ElizabetB.

    It sounds to me like measuring everything by “my former conservative theology.” Anyone who does not believe that should not be clergy.

    As a certified wishy-washy, I just think there are too many different ways to think about “god” to define once for all who should leave and who should stay.

    Interesting question! & thanks!

  • ctcss

    I would tend to at least partially concur with ElizabetB. Assuming that God is unvarying in nature and intent, it’s not so much a “whatever floats your boat” approach, as it is people trying to wrap their heads around what God actually is.

    IMO, God does not change. Rather, it is people’s concept of God that changes, hopefully, in this process of change, drawing nearer to what it is that God actually is as believers wrestle with scripture and with themselves.

    As I see it, the Bible is, in many ways, a record of people’s wrestlings with these concepts and their outcomes. That’s one of the reasons I like the Bible, because I like the idea of spiritual growth and redemption and I see the narratives showing the possibility of of such things. For example, if the story of Jacob was just about a person who was trying to succeed in life by cheating others, there wouldn’t be much point to it. I see that kind of behavior all the time in everyday life. Rather, what I like about the story is the fact that despite the less than ideal behavior Jacob engages in, God is still available to him, offering him a better way forward if Jacob is willing to take up the offer.

    And, as I see it, it is a persistent, loving offer which carries with it the requirement to be willing to change one’s mind. Which, to me, is very reassuring since I am very much aware of how easy it has been for me to screw up things in my own life. After all, if Jacob, David, Saul/Paul (just to name a few) can screw things up horribly and still not be abandoned by God as failed, worthless, and discardable, then maybe I can learn from those stories and repent (i.e. to rethink, to reconsider) and make my own way forward with God’s persistent and loving help.

    So, to me, it is not just a simplistic “whatever floats your boat” concept as it is a “whatever helps right your boat, takes it off the rocks, repairs it, and allows you to sail forward again” concept.

    Theology, after all, is not supposed to shackle us to to some limited idea of God that we entertained at some point earlier in our lives. Rather, it is an invitation to continue to learn and to grow closer to God in one’s life.

    Just my thoughts.

  • HairyEyedWordBombThrower

    And you’re allowed to believe your shared delusion, AS LONG AS YOU DON’T FORCE IT ON THE REST OF US *GOOD* PEOPLE.

  • Sophotroph

    Your kind have had centuries to establish any of that.

    You failed.

    Time to move aside and let the adults take the reigns. God knows (ha) you’ve done enough damage pretending you know how any of it works.

    Your time is over.

  • ElizabetB.

    An appealing theology!

  • ThaneOfDrones
  • Linda LaScola

    yay! You’re back!

  • Linda LaScola

    Well, maybe we don’t really need god, but since we already have him, we just redefine him.

    Sort of like refinishing an old sewing machine table and making it into a computer desk.

  • Linda LaScola

    could be that they don’t see it as lying — but as re-interpreting.

  • No theist, anywhere, anytime, has been able to tell us where to find reliable, verifiable data about god(s). They can’t agree on whose scriptures, revelations, visions, prayers, etc. are authentic. Ripley is correct: “there is no one understanding of the one god. Believers have their own belief system, which tends to evolve with life’s twists and turns.” Whenever anyone claims that God is this or that, I want to know the epistemology. I have written countless times in the margins of theology books: “How does he KNOW this?” Trace ANY particular claim, e.g., God is love or justice, back to the person who thought of it for the very first time, no matter how many thousands of years ago. So the buck stops with THAT person. Now, was the claim based on revelation, imagination, or hallucination? And what is the reliable, verifiable DATA that is was truly based on revelation?

  • ElizabetB.

    The more I think about this, the more I like this metaphor : )

  • Why not just stay…?

    The short answer is I just couldnt. I tried but it was making me literally sick.

    I dont know what to think of others who can stay. We all manage our lives in our own way.

  • Linda LaScola

    Test

  • Phil

    On these blogs I continually ask “How do you know this” in response to a multitude of unsubstantiated assertions. I have never had a reply. They all got off at a tangent and avoid any answer.

  • ctcss

    I don’t know what Mark thinks, but the problem of human concepts vs God from my perspective is that human concepts are often rather crude and inadequate approximations. For instance, we try to effect justice but it’s not a target we hit without any problems occurring or mistakes being made. And for something like murder, we might correctly identify and convict the murderer, imprison them, or perhaps even execute them. But the only true justice would be for the murder to never have occurred, thus bringing blessing to both the victim and the perpetrator.

    Similarly, human love can be painful, foolish, tragic, unwise, dangerous, etc., a hit or miss proposition that is not exactly something to write home about. But the kind of love that I would associate with God would be infinite, universal, and eternal. Furthermore, it would have to also be wise, intelligent, kind, and to bring healing to troubling human situations, rather than causing such things.

    The point being, I would prefer a higher ideal than a lower one and I associate God with such high things, not the fragile, limited, flawed, ignorant, and often mistaken human approach and view of things.

    Just my thoughts.

  • (This seems to have been the last post with comments enabled.)

  • Susan Jane Elohim

    Hey I never read atheists any more and now I know why. You twist yourselves into mental puzzles instead of simply being doers of God’s Word. Cf. James 1:22 passage on it.

    Go read the free ebook God’s Plan For All and don’t be a victim of false teachings. God has always entrusted the Gospel to men but some of the people following Him are like Judas and not trustworthy.

    You need to establish the truth clearly in your own mind before you can obey it and act on it.

    Jesus is the truth but a lot of false pretenders try to hang around him trying to take his throne on Earth like the popes do.

    Be sure to read the free ebook and get saved and baptized. Then take it one day at a time while you build your relationship with God.

    Why wouldn’t you be adopted into God’s family?

    Is it because you took to heart a lot of lies and erroneous thinking about God and Jesus.

    That book will help sort the truth out. So read it…and seek…God reward’s active seekers….not spiritually lazy skeptics that question things superficially without even trying to live God’s way..

    God is the Maker of Men if He wants to Remake you then why learn to protest about it? Saul’s protests on the Road to Damascus didn’t stop God did they? Saul was God’s chosen instrument. Try being surrendered to God like a pen in His hand and see if he does not use you. Right now why would he pick you when all you do is protest, question and complain.

    Blessings on everyone reading!