All aboard the via negative

All aboard the via negative March 9, 2015

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On Saturday, I wrote on my Facebook page,

Some take the via negativa and arrive at a number of versions of theism. Some hold on to nothing more than an echo of God. Others, like myself, take it to the last stop and realize there is no God at all and that God was always the echo of our own voices.

This comment generated quite a little conversation over there.

Someone felt I was being over-confident about my destination because, among other things, I referred to atheism as the “last stop.” To be clear I’m not saying it’s the last stop because I’m right and I have some proof that atheism is true. I’m saying it’s the last stop because the via negativa is a way of approaching the question of who God is by saying what he isn’t. The last thing you can say in the progression of negation is that God simply isn’t. This approach to theology whittles away the content of the word “God” and, over time, has recinded God’s authority and agency in our world, to the point where you have almost nothing left.

In doing some research for another post which will be up shortly, I ran across this video of the late Marcus Borg, champion of liberal theology. This video illustrates exactly what I was taking about. Borg helped many Christians, including me, think differently about the Bible and faith in ways that were profoundly liberating, but watching this now, I can’t relate to what he’s saying.

I never got a sense from his writings and academic lectures that he was such a mystic. I don’t think I have a mystical bone in my body, to be honest. Modern Seventh-day Adventism speaks of mysticism as one step from Satan worship, so I wasn’t trained to think in this way. For my part, when I listen to him describe the problems he had with the traditional conception of God, I’m right there with him. What I don’t understand is why he didn’t go all the way to the “last stop” on the via negativa. I suppose it’s because he saw the world as this divinely infused place. I get that. even though I wasn’t much of a mystic I saw the world as divinely animated.

In talking with Rob Bell the other day, he has a similar view. It could be described as panentheism in some respects. It certainly isn’t atheism, as this theologian says. In the video Borg strongly asserts that he believes that God exists in the same way he believes elephants exist (6:15). A remarkable claim indeed.

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