If you rely on News Feed in Facebook to find my posts, you're missing most of them. On average, only 16% of updates in Facebook make it into News Feeds. Let me suggest that you subscribe to me in Facebook, follow me on Twitter (@ccengct), or use an RSS reader.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

I'll stick with supernaturalism

For several years my spiritual life has been stuck in neutral while I reassessed traditional Christianity in light of recent writings that argue a non-supernaturalist view of Christianity and of monotheistic religion in general. John Shelby Spong is often recognized as a leader among non-supernaturalists, although there are other theologians who think similarly but have more depth.

I acknowledge that many people think of Jesus in purely human terms, e.g. as an expert ethicist. Many also think of God in a panentheistic sense, with little or no room for an incarnation, a resurrection, an after-life, or existence beyond the universe that we see, smell, touch, feel, and hear. I respect their views, and I certainly cannot prove they are wrong – even if I were inclined to try, and I’m not.

But for me personally, the combination of a panentheistic God and a purely rabbinical Jesus, conveyed through a non-sacramental religion, just doesn’t hold my attention. It’s too cerebral and too emaciated for me. I find that if I go down that path, I might as well be fully agnostic. Supernaturalism is efficacious in my life.

A friend of mine observed that “theological reconstruction is obviously a far more difficult task than is theological deconstruction.” How true. Perhaps over time the non-supernaturalists will succeed in establishing a religion that goes far beyond the Force of Star Wars to seize the innermost psyche of people like me. Perhaps they won’t.

Until future generations determine that question, there are a few things I’m sure of. First, theological deconstruction and reconstruction are not to be suppressed, ignored, or derided. Not all of it is good work, but not all of it is bad work either. I see this process as a reformation comparable in scope to the Reformation, and it’s still at a very early stage. There is room under a big tent, so long as both the supernaturalists and the non-supernaturalists respect the opposite position and drop assumptions of infallibility and inerrancy. Hubris is a bad thing.

Second, folks like Christopher Hitchens and Bill Maher come and go. There is nothing new or compelling in their outlook. I don’t think I am mentally deficient or deluded merely because I am open to a supernatural existence, although they may assert otherwise. It’s important for supernaturalists to patiently and respectfully hold their ground, both admitting the inherent difficulties of their position and affirming its plausibility and value. (Yes, I wrote plausibility in reference to the impossibility of conclusively proving supernaturalism to be false.) While the Nicene Creed may need some work in future years, I won’t ask Hitchens or Maher to edit it for me.

Third, the principles of the Reformation that purge Christianity of extreme supernaturalism must be upheld. We should stop long-challenged practices like the veneration of relics of saints that merely provide fuel for Hitchens and confuse the real questions.

Fourth, we should pay attention to what evolutionary biologists tell us about ourselves. These biologists are fallible, of course.

Fifth, we must not feel uneasy with or threatened by unanswered or unanswerable questions. They are the essence of the human circumstance. If you don't run across an unanswered or unanswerable question from time to time, think harder. Even mathematics has many paradoxes, and it’s never been the same since Kurt Gödel wrote about incompleteness (while still in his 20s!).