Where We’re Spending August

Where We’re Spending August June 21, 2014

Another funny New Yorker cartoon. But it shows the problems with imaginging an afterlife. Do problems like living far from one's inlaws go away? If so, that raises theological issues of its own.

See also Jerry Coyne's post, which makes some important points about the problems of imaginging God as like a vertibrate, as humans are, but incorporeal. He somehow seems unaware that there are theologians who have made the same points and continue to do so.


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  • Herro

    >He somehow seems unaware that there are theologians who have made the same points and continue to do so.

    When I read Coyne’s post, it seems to me that he’s clearly aware of this:

    >Those gaseous theologians like David Bentley Hart and Karen Armstrong, of course, decry the concept of such a humanlike God. That’s not the real God, says Hart, and those atheists who argue against it are wasting their time. The real god is ineffable (though somehow Hart knows that He/She/Hir/It loves us); it is a Ground of Being.

    So why do you think that he “seems unaware “of these theologians? :S

    • Oh, he’s aware that there are such theologians – what puzzled me was his suggestion that they ought to be trying to persuade their fellow-religionists of their views, as though they were not already doing that. Sorry, I ought to have expressed that more clearly.

      • rodney

        My impression was that Hart, for example, claims to be voicing the views of most of his co-religionists, and saying that his view was the mainstream Christian view, which atheists miss. Or have I got that wrong? I have one of his books, not read it yet.

        • I would be very surprised if he were saying that. He may have said that his view is one that many Christian intellectuals have held. But that doesn’t mean that it has been the popular view. The views of academics and of others are often different – even when the public claims to accept what the experts say.

          • Michael Wilson

            I do think that Christian intellectuals need to try better at reaching a mass audience. There seems to be a bubble around intellectuals generally that supposes that people that can’t grasp university level ideas aren’t worth conversing with or that every one can understand university level arguments. Christian intellectuals need to evangelize to the masses and not just their classes.

  • Michael Wilson

    I give the issue of afterlife a lot of thought, and you have had a few post on the issue. It seems to be an issue that might overlap your interest in sci-fi and I wonder if you could create a post linking to some contemporay thoughts among progressive theologians on this topic.

    • There have been some interesting discussions of the underlying subject of humans as psychosomatic unities, at the intersection of BIblical studies, neuroscience, and theology. Keith Ward has a chapter on this and also the implications for afterlife in The Big Questions in Science and Religion.

  • arcseconds

    My take on this is that belief just isn’t anywhere near as important as people think it is for religion.

    For sure, there is a vaneer of importance given to it, with credos and catechisms and statements of faith, and schisms and persecutions resulting from rejecting those things. But as far as I can tell, no-one actually bothers to check that when someone says “We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of all things visible and invisible” they mean anything like the same thing as the next person in the pew. One person could believe in a big man in a white robe and a beard in the sky who flies around with baby cherubim and created Adam just as depicted on the Sistine Chapel ceiling. Another could believe in the ‘God of the philosophers’ — an an immaterial, locationless, and inhuman but nevertheless rational entity that knows everything and can do everything. Yet another could beleive in a Hegelian Absolute, etc…

    What’s important is that certain sentences are assented to, not that the same thing is understood by those sentences.

    While sometimes of course this kind of thing is discussed, and theologians think it’s kind of important, if consistency of belief was really the most important thing, religion would look very different. One would expect all the ‘Ground of Being’ Christians to gather together, and all the anthropomorphic Christians to gather together, not remain in their different sects and congregations.

    (What would happen to children? Would they go to ‘thoroughly anthropomorphic sunday school’ with children from parents of all stripes, and then maybe graduate to a different congregation when (and if) their ideas mature?)

    One important piece of data here is that people who are or were once observantly religious often report that they simply had no idea of the diversity of beliefs in their congregation. The fact that the minister often has a very different idea of God than many members of their congregation is also worth noting.

    Having understood this, I think we can make some sense of theologians kicking back more at atheist criticism of religion being irrational supersitition than they do their own co-religionists for having very different ideas of God. In many cases I imagine they perceive themselves to be under attack by atheists in a way that they are not from their co-religionists, so they are defending themselves from whence the attack originates. Convincing their co-religionists they might regard as somewhat important, but probably not more important than the preservation of the religious practice and tradition. Plus if an atheist critic maintains that religion is always a matter of irrational superstition involving preposterous anthropomorphic deities, then it doesn’t necessarily matter if some of their co-religionsts do believe in those things, the fact that some people do not, and yet are religious, is already proof against the critic’s claim.

    • Your point about the ways of thinking that are natural and appropriate for different stages of cognitive and psychological development is an important one. I don’t think the different stages require different congregations, as long as churches don’t let adults who have not managed to graduate from kindergarten in their spirituality set the curriculum for all grade levels.

      • arcseconds

        At the Crooked Creek Baptist church, I seem to recall you mentioning that there are many people considerably more theologically conservative than you are, people from quite different religious backgrounds, and (I think) a couple of atheists?

        If that’s correct, the fact that you all worship together is proof that whatever it is you’re doing there, believing the same things or even trying to believe the same things isn’t one of them, wouldn’t you say?

        • This is certainly a church where we have a stronger focus on praxis than theology, in general. But It has to be added that that characteristic of the church makes some of the conservatives – though not all – extremely unhappy.