Archive for the 'Radical Theology' Category

Radical Theology ― Is There More?

William Blake, sconfitta, 1795

William Blake, sconfitta, 1795

The question, “Is there More?” is deceptively simple.  Yet to my mind this may very well be the single most radical ―in the sense of most fundamental, most primary― interrogation one might make of their personal theology.  From this headwater, a vast ocean of religious and spiritual reflection flows.

We are of course, asking ourselves if there is something more to existence than the physical universe/cosmos.  Is there an aspect of reality that is spiritual in nature, rather than physical?  Another way of phrasing this question is to ask, do all dimensions of reality comprise only that which we may experience (or may observe/measure with scientific instruments)?

“Is there More?” may be answered in one of three ways:

 
1) Yes, there are aspects or dimensions of reality that are *not* limited by our physical universe/cosmos.

2) No, the physical universe/cosmos fully encompasses all that exists.

3) Unknowable;  we cannot answer this question.

 
1) Yes, there are aspects or dimensions of reality that are *not* limited by our physical universe/cosmos.

Do note that this is not the same thing as saying one understands all there is to be known about that which comprises More.  In fact, one need not know anything about It at all.  One is simply affirming there is “More.”

Some people hold this belief simply as a proposition, while others have had experiences which compel them to posit there is more to reality than is revealed by scientific, empirical method.  This response proposes there is a dimension of reality from which we are occluded, and which to some degree remains a mystery to us.

This position neither assumes or denies deism or theism;  nor does it assume or deny alternative propositions such as a more abstract “transcendental signifier” such as the “Ground of Being” in the language of Paul Tillich, or the Tao as expressed in Taoism.

2) No, the physical universe/cosmos fully encompasses all that which exists.   

This is a “hard” negation of the proposition of “More” which declares there is nothing more to life than we may observe.  One does remain open to what may be discovered through the application of the scientific method, but nothing more.

We are meat, consciousness is merely an electrochemical accident occurring in the physical brain, and upon death there is only annihilation.  Physics, once fully understood, will explain everything which may be known about the universe.

3) Unknowable;  we cannot answer this question.  

This position we might think of as a form of agnosticism.  The root meaning of gnostic is knowledge, and the root meaning of agnostic ―prefixing gnostic with an a― means ignorance, or lack of knowledge.

In other words, “I don’t know.”  In many ways this strikes me as a very honest, and even healthy position.  Ideally, one knows one is ignorant of a great many things, yet remains open to new information and new experiences.

How do we benefit by orientating ourselves to these three positions?

Religious apologetics is replete with debate between these propositions, as well as the subtle differences of their subcategories (pandeism, panendeism; Confucianism, Zen Buddhism; atheism, pantheism, panentheism, polytheism, agnosticism; etc).  But the point I wish to make is much more basic, and I believe radical (fundamental).

If we identify with the Unknowable view, we give ourselves permission to remain open to many wisdom traditions.  And all enduring religions have wisdom they have imparted for many generations, in many cases over thousands of years.  If one has the opportunity, it is my belief it behoves one to reflect upon the spiritual insights imparted by other spiritual traditions.

I do not mean to imply all religions are the same.  They are not.  But there are a number of tenets most share ―such as some version of the Golden Rule (do to others, as you would have them do to you)― and each enduring religion of which I am aware does offer some value to any sincere seeker.

If we believe there is only the physical universe ―nothing More― we must remain open to new discoveries.  Modern science is replete with discoveries which have completely reversed earlier models of the universe, or have completely upset previous paradigms.

One of the “hard” views of this position holds that all religions are illusionary ―if not delusionary― in nature, and as such are products of a weak, gullible mind.  There is nothing such as spirit-based beings, and those who claim to have encountered such beings are either lying or suffering from a hallucination or a malfunctioning brain.

While I cannot demonstrate this is untrue, I do observe that as the frontiers of science advances, sometimes that which was thought to be foolish is later found to be quite sound in principal, once properly understood.  This suggests to me a higher standard of humility than to denigrate all religious and spiritual teaching and practice as imaginary or magical thinking, or as simply as Iron Age superstition.

To those of us who hold there is More to the cosmos, I would appeal to one’s sense of the transcendent, and suggest that most of us should take this far more seriously than most do.  If this is a true proposition, then the “truth” will be far, far stranger than we can even imagine.

If there is a reality which transcends our own, by definition we are unable to apprehend It.  Therefore, we should be extremely humble in our declarations of Truth, and express a great deal of compassion when dealing with others, and their apprehension of the transcendent.

Is there More?

If we believe there is, or have had one or more experiences suggesting there is something More, then we may wish to embark upon our spiritual quest.

But even if we believe there is nothing More, we may still wish to improve our life and the lives of those we love through the expression of love and compassion.

So for me, while how one answers this question has a great impact upon one’s personal theology (or denial thereof) I still arrive at the same answer as how one might best live their life:  in the words of Bishop Spong…

Love wastefully.

May you be blessed,
Erik+

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Seeking Consonance with the Transcendent

William Blake's "Jacob's Ladder"

William Blake’s “Jacob’s Ladder”

Do you see an apparent contradiction in the following statement?  In my previous essay, I wrote:

  •      “I understand the inner (esoteric) religious experience to be concerned with personal transformation, so as to bring ourselves into increasing consonance with that which transcends our human experience.”

 

If the Transcendent is truly transcendent, then by definition it is beyond our ability to experience.  How then, is it possible to bring oneself into consonance with something one posits must exist outside our universe and experience?  

 

This is the point I will address in this essay.  But first, let’s refresh our memory of certain terms, and provide a frame of reference for this discussion.  The following are the best definitions of “transcendent” when I use terms like “Uncreated/Divine/God” and “Transcendent-Ineffable”:

  Transcendent

  •     Being beyond the limits of all possible experience and knowledge;  being beyond comprehension (Merriam-Webster);
  •     Beyond consciousness or direct apprehension;  beyond or before experience (a priori);  having continuous existence outside the created world (Collins English);
  •     Being above and independent of the material universe (American Heritage);
  •     Not realizable in human experience;  referred to, but beyond, direct apprehension; outside consciousness (Kernerman Webster’s College);

 

The view that “God” (the Uncreated-Divine-Transcendent-Ineffable) is to an indeterminate degree Unknowable, is one of my radical (meaning, foundational) theological tenets.  (I addressed this point in a previous essay).  I find it to be the most certain positive statement I may make concerning the Divine;  more than this, everything else one wishes to say of “God” must reside within the shadow of this observation.  (We forget this at our peril, and the peril of others, as history is replete with examples.)

 

Negative theology (also known as Via Negativa, “Negative Way”) seeks to clarify this point by stating we are unable to make *positive* assertions as to the nature of the Uncreated/Divine/God.  This is because the divine realm is completely unavailable to our human senses.

When using negative theology, we limit our statements to observing what the Uncreated/Divine/God is *not*.  The intention is to specifically limit our statements to that of which we *do* have experience, namely:  objects, events, and persons of this world.  Simultaneously, we assert the Divine always exceeds that which is limited to human experience.

Thus:

  • Our experience is limited to the world in which we live
  • We assert there is a divine world, which transcends our world
  • As human beings, we are unable to directly experience the divine world *
  • Therefore, we are insufficient to the task of describing and defining the divine world
  • But we are able to describe experiences we have as human beings
  • And we may acknowledge human experience is insufficient to fully describe & define the Divine
  • This leads some to the adoption of the Negative Way:  limiting ourselves to stating what the Uncreated/Divine/God is not **

*  This is not to say that the Divine is unable to enter our world;  I believe it may.  But it is to say, that in so doing, what the Divine reveals of itself to us is limited by our ability to perceive it.
**  I am not aware of anyone who thinks the Negative Way adequately reveals the Divine to us.  Primarily it is an exercise designed to make us mindfully aware of our limitations in attempting to describe that which is outside the meaning of time and space, or any other categories of understanding we have access to as human beings.

 

But God Can Do Anything!

I frequently hear the argument that God can do anything, including reveal the entirety of the divine to the mortal.  I disagree.  The problem is this:  we remain mortal;  human.  Anything revealed to us must *still* be filtered through our perception and then cognitively processed by us.  We have bodies, sense organs, and a brain;  and these present limitations.  And so long as we remain human, we will always face limitation.

 

  •      The limitation in receiving divine revelation is not God (the Source), but ourselves (the Receptor)

 

If we use the metaphor of radio waves, the Uncreated sends forth a vast array of radio waves -we may even posit an infinite range of frequencies- but we as the radio receiver are only able to perceive those frequencies which our antenna and filters allow us to receive.  Psychologically, we may also consider more human corollaries.  There have been cases of persons born blind, who later gain vision;  but they cannot make any sense of what they are seeing, because their brains never developed the ability to make sense of the photons hitting their retina.

 

  •      As with one born physically blind, we are all born spiritually blind, in terms of directly seeing the divine realm.

 

The Claims of Mystics

Mystics, however, report experiencing something which they interpret as an aspect of the Divine.  But they have difficulty relating their experience to someone who has not had a similar experience.  Invariably, such experiences lose a great deal when transmitted by the spoken or written word.  A great deal of mysticism struggles with exactly this problem.

Mystics tell us they are able to push their perception to some degree beyond those most persons experience.  For those wishing to explore this more deeply I believe it is helpful to distinguish between perception, comprehension, and apprehension.

Perception is both physical and psychological;  it requires the ability to receive raw input, and it requires the ability to be aware of the input.  Comprehension is a cognitive process;  this is making sense of the raw data we are receiving as input to our perceptions.  Comprehension is a conscious endeavour.

Apprehension is more subtle.  Apprehension is linked to instincts and intuition.  I suspect it is also linked to the human collective unconscious;  which may in turn be linked to the what we might call the divine collective unconscious.  (I believe there is an interesting Jungian argument here, which I will not explore in this essay.)

Thus, through apprehension, we are able to exceed our purely physical (sensory) and psychological (cognitive) limitations.  Through apprehension, the mystic seeks connection with the Divine, pushing back portions of the veil which separates the mortal and divine realms.  And I suspect many mystics would agree that the Divine may simultaneously pull back this veil.

So I do believe the Divine is both willing and able to assist us.  (Which leads to a future discussion regarding the immanent nature of the Divine.)  And I do believe that given sufficient desire, trial, and effort, we may gain greater access to what may be a “shadow” of the divine realm.  Yet there remains a radical, fundamental difference between the divine and human which cannot be fully bridged.

Not even God can fully bridge the gap between the divine and human.  Because to do so, we could no longer remain human.  And we are not capable of being fully human and fully divine.

 

  •      This also opens the door to a discussion about “Christology” -the study of Christ- and theological debate surrounding the questions of Jesus being fully human while simultaneously fully divine.  It took several hundred years for the Church to address these and related questions.  These are extensive discussions and are beyond the scope of this essay.  Christology may be the topic of future essays.

 

Healthy Humility

Developing a healthy sense of humility is very important.  In fact, I believe this to be critical for our spiritual maturity.  This is my starting point when contemplating the Divine.  It may sound strange at first, but I believe having severely limited access to the Divine may actually be beneficial to our spiritual growth.

 

  •      Knowing that the ultimate nature of the Divine is unavailable to human experience, is a very healthy and peace-affirming theological position to assume.

 

After all, if everyone were to admit the greatest depths of the Divine are totally unavailable to our comprehension (that the Divine is in fact “transcendent”), each of us would be *unable* to assume the position that *I* understand the Mind of God –and most importantly– therefore, *you* *lack* this understanding.

 

  •      To believe and accept there are depths of the Divine beyond our ken, is a significant step toward eliminating the religious persecution and victimization of others.

 

It is a sad indictment of humanity to observe this would be a giant step forward.  It would be the end of religious war, and the end of murdering in the name of God!  (The greatest of sins, in my opinion.)  If for no other reason, this makes it an extremely worthwhile theological tenet to adopt (even if only provisionally).

 

Are We Then Bereft of God?

If we can never have any experience of, and are unable to have any contact with, the transcendent elements of “God” does this mean we have no access to any part of the Divine?  Does this mean we are utterly alone and alienated from that which we believe is the Source of existence itself?

Not at all.  We do have the ability to access those parts of the Divine which are manifest in this world.  But we should be mindful that this is only a partial understanding, and affords us an incomplete view of the Divine.  But there are steps we may take to mitigate these difficulties.

Religious Education

In the outer, exoteric sense, this is the role of religion in the public sphere.  This is a beginning point.  We attend public worship, meetings, and study sessions.  Largely, I see this as an effort to educate ourselves.  In this “exoteric” category I would also include private bible study and seminary studies.  We are trying to better understand our own religious tradition, the roles persons play within that tradition, and where we fit into our religious tradition.  (We may further benefit by including the study of other religious traditions;  how they both differ and are similar to our own.)

Public Mysticism

There are also more mystical encounters which take place in the public sphere, which are not about educating ourselves, but are instead focused upon *experiencing* the Presence of the Divine.  In my opinion, facilitating our connection (with what we may experience of) the Divine is the role of the Holy Spirit  (which I equate with the Shakinah in the Jewish tradition).

Several very different examples which immediately come to mind include:  Catholic Eucharist;  Whirling Dervish;  and very active forms of worship, such as Pentecostal, Charismatic, and Appalachian Snake Handling services.  Of these, the Catholic Eucharist is the most introverted expression of public mysticism.

Private Mysticism

For me, this is the deeper experience.  But I may simply feel this way because I am strongly introverted, therefore I have a natural inclination to this path, and a natural disinclination toward being part of a “public spectacle.”  I will point out that each of us should endeavour to be aware that what *we* find natural, may or may not be what another person finds to be a “natural” means of entering an experience of the Holy Presence.

Judge not.  Whether one sits quietly, mumbles under their breath, chants, drums, dances, or whirles in dizzying circles, it is the state of entering a sense of rapport with the Divine which is important, not how one achieves this state.  And this is an internal state, which only the person entering it may judge to be effective or ineffective.  Therefore, use whatever approach works for you.  And feel free to experiment with different means of entering this state.

Inner Mysticism

Inner mysticism may also be called esoteric mysticism, because at its core it is an internal event and experience.  One may enter this state through a public event (Eucharist, Pentecost, etc) or one may enter this state through a private event (contemplation, meditation, drumming, chanting, etc).

The point is that the encounter itself is internal to the person experiencing it.  Whether this encounter takes place in a public space or within a private space is secondary.  Another way of saying this, is that our body just happens to be wherever it is occupying physical space;  however, it is our spirit, that is engaging the mystical experience.

For this reason, I believe the inner-esoteric experience is properly called “spirituality.”  Here we seek to bridge the gap between our (lower case) spirit and the (upper case) Divine Spirit.  In this essay, I will suggest we may think of this process as trying to attain “resonance” with the Divine.  This is an intermediate step (it was preceded by the educational process, and as we shall see, may eventually may lead to a state of “consonance” with the Divine).

Attaining resonance with the Divine, repeated over time, leads to an even deeper connection.  Terms which I find useful in describing this state are establishing a “rapport” with the Divine, or of attaining “consonance” with the Divine.  Both terms are useful.  Rapport is very useful when speaking of the neural-linguistic processes taking place within our body, brain, and mind.  Consonance offers a beautiful musical metaphor for the experience, which also lends itself to the concept of participation in the “Field Theory” of the Divine.  By whatever name one wishes to use as a label for the encounter, the active attempt to bring oneself into a state of rapport/consonance with the Divine is the primary objective of mysticism.

Each of these processes builds upon and refines that which precedes.  First an outer-exoteric religious experience, followed by a spiritual attempt to bring oneself into “resonance” with the Divine, followed by a deepening “consonance” with the Divine.  While the terms used to describe these processes vary, all great religions acknowledge them.

 

Achieving a State of Consonance

It is understanding the role of mysticism as a means of establishing rapport with the Divine which I wish to discuss in this essay.  I propose this may be thought of as a two-step process.  First we determine how to enter a state of resonance with the Divine.  Once we have learned to enter a state of resonance, we refine the process over time, through repetition and exploration.  Ultimately repetitive states of resonance results in achieving a state of consonance.

Resonance & Consonance

The following are the Merriam-Webster definitions of resonance and consonance:

Resonance

  • The quality or state of being resonant
  • A vibration of large amplitude in a mechanical or electrical system caused by a relatively small periodic stimulus of the same or nearly the same period as the natural vibration period of the system

Consonance

  • Harmony or agreement among components

 

Tightly stretched wires which share the same fundamental frequency will vibrate in sympathetic response with one another.  If you have access to a piano or two tuning forks of the same frequency (or a harmonic thereof) you may easily test this for yourself.

If you strike a C-note on a piano, every other wire in that piano tuned to a C will vibrate in resonance with the one you struck.  In fact, the same effect will take place with other musical instruments in the vicinity.  This is an example of sympathetic harmonic resonance.  Sound waves are transmitted by air molecules between the strings, tuning forks, or other musical instruments.

Related effects are well known in modern physics.  Gravitational waves are a form of field effect, electromagnetic field effects are integral to many mechanical and electromagnetic systems, and at the subatomic level, field effect semi-transistors control the flow of electrons in the computer you are using to read this essay.  Thus, we see examples of resonance throughout nature, at all scales.

Consonance is a particularly useful term as it is used when describing musical relationships, because it speaks to an artful impression of which we become aware when listening to a beautiful piece of music (there is also dissonance, which describes the opposite effect).  Personally, I find resonance to be a more abstract, sterile term than consonance.  Consonance conveys a sense of beauty and heart-felt appreciation.  Thus, we seek “consonance of the heart” when seeking union with the Divine.

 

  •      One may measure resonance with a frequency meter.  But one experiences consonance in one’s heart.

 

Is there a “consonant field effect” connecting us to the Uncreated/Divine/God?

I am asking whether the above examples of field effects in the physical realm -gravity, sympathetic harmonic resonance, electrical and magnetic fields- may serve as analogies for a similar “field effect” existing between the human spirit and the Divine Spirit.

 

  •      Might a “spiritual field effect” comprise a subtle connection between the physical and divine realms?

 

I suggest that such a connection does exists.  Further, I am suggesting that understanding our connection between the human and Divine realms as a form of spiritual “consonance” is instructive for a number of practical reasons.

 

First and foremost, it affirms we have access to some aspects of the Divine Spirit while we exist in the physical-human realm.

People who have not felt any indication of such a connection are often doubtful of this assertion, but those who have felt it, no longer question that it exists.  They may question a great deal more, about its nature and meaning, and what to do with/about it;  but this connection itself, has become a part of their personal experience;  thus, it is not a theory, or an article of faith, it is something they know/feel to be as true as the wind upon their face.

It is important to emphasize, this does not mean they also understand or comprehend it.  Being certain a thing exists, is not the same as knowing all there is to know about it, or even assurance one knows anything about it, beyond its existence.

 

Secondly, it suggests we may gain access to the Divine Spirit by conforming ourselves to become first “resonate” and then “consonant” with the Divine Spirit.

This point is critical.  This is what spiritual practices are all about.  Whether one is a whirling dervish, speaking in tongues, or practicing kataphatic and/or apophatic contemplation, all are means of placing oneself in greater resonance with what one perceives as the Uncreated/Divine/God.

And as one deepens one’s spiritual practices, from this preliminary state of *resonance*, one is increasingly likely to develop a resulting sense of *consonance* with the Uncreated/Divine/God.  And mystics indicate this in turn promotes a deepening sense of peace within, which is reflected upon the outer world through the experiences of richer, more peaceful relations with others.

 

  •      Divine Light is engendered in our heart, fills it and cascades, shining forth into the world as the ray of Love

 

How might we engender this sense of consonance within our experience?

We must first discover which of the many ways of experiencing a sense of the Uncreated/Divine/God in our personal lives is effective for us.  This will likely differ from one person to the next.  I suspect our individual psychology, and cultural influences are major contributing factors for such differences.

The uniqueness of our individual psychological and behaviour development influences whether we respond well to active dancing and chanting, or prefer quiet, solitary contemplation/meditation to enter an open spiritual state.  This is a case where the “how” is subjective, and completely secondary, to being able to achieve the state of connectedness with the Divine.

Once we discover one or more ways which promote -for us- this state of connectedness to the Divine, we must determine specifically under what circumstances this effect is experienced.  Equally important is learning what discourages this sense of connection.  Both are effected by our development as individuals:  culturally, socially, psychologically, and spiritually.  We should also be aware that we may discover certain methods are more appropriate given different circumstances.  We each may cultivate multiple means of connecting with the Divine.

 

Participating in the Kingdom of God

Over time, we should anticipate changes within ourselves.  These internal changes lead to behaviour modification, leading to changes in how we interact with other persons.  These mental, emotional, and behaviour changes which take root and blossom within our hearts is the “personal transformation” I speak of as one of the two major goals of leading a spiritual life.  The second major goal of leading a spiritual life takes place when our personal transformation is transferred to our interactions with others.  This is integral to the “transformation of society.”  In fact, I believe it is the only means of transforming the community in which we live.

It is my belief these transformations -personal and communal- are vital elements of what Jesus referred to as the coming Kingdom of God.  It is already present:  in potential.  But it requires our personal, individual, mindful participation to initiate the process.  And we do so by living appropriately spiritual lives;  spiritual lives which over time bring us into closer consonance with the Divine.

 

And how are we to judge whether we are living appropriately spiritual lives?

I believe we find this guidance in the ideals of selfless love, compassion, and loving-kindness.  These become our daily measures of success.  All great religions speak of these ideals.

We should also acknowledge we will trip and fall at times.  To err is human, after all.  The key is to get back up and recommit ourselves to the principals of selfless love, compassion, and loving-kindness, to whatever extent we are able.  It is a moment-by-moment, day-by-day continuing process.  It is a process of spiritual cultivation which we will practice for the rest of our lives.

I believe this is the process of “becoming more fully human” which bishop Spong speaks of in concert with his appeal for us to “love wastefully.”  And if we can remember only a single thing, if we may hold onto only a single thought throughout our daily lives, this is certainly a wonderful, transforming thought:

love wastefully!

 

Selected References:

Radical Theology: How BIG is Your God?

This is the first instalment of a series of essays I have in mind which discuss what I am organizing under the category of Radical Theology.  By radical I mean “root” or “foundational.”  The first two meanings of radical, as defined by Merriam-Wester on-line are:

RADICAL

  1. of, relating to, or proceeding from a root:
  2. of or relating to the origin :  fundamental

Thus, this series of essays is an attempt to examine our most fundamental, radical apprehensions of our study of Theos (which is what Theology means).  So we should also define Theos.  The short answer is Theos means God or gods.  But there is more to it than this:

THEOS

  1. a transliteration of the Greek θεός (Strong’s 2316).
  2. God or gods.
  3. divinely, God’s, God-fearing, godly, and Lord.
  4. While the origin of the word is unknown, according to HELPS(TM) Word-studies, it is thought to have meant “the Creator and owner of all things,” conveying the concept of “the supreme being who owns and sustains all things” (see John 1:3; Genesis 1 – 3).

As we may imagine, the translation of Theos from the Greek is not always obvious.  In a future essay we may address the various ways of interpreting the word Theos, but for now, I want to direct our thought in another direction.

I would like you to think about our universe.  Our understanding of science is not that of the 1st century.  The universe of the 1st century was a three-tiered universe, comprised of earth, the heavens above, and the underworld below.  Our understanding of the nature of the universe is far more complex.  Our universe is also much larger.  Mind-numbingly vast, in fact.

The distance from New York City, NY to Los Angeles, CA is 2,775 miles.  For those interested in biblical comparisons, the distance between Jerusalem and Babylon is about 500 miles as the crow flies, and perhaps twice as far travelling by caravan;  the distance between Jerusalem and Cairo, Egypt is about 265 miles by air, and 330 miles by land.

The moon is nearly 240,000 miles from the earth (roughly the same distance as travelling back and forth between NYC and LA 86 times;  or walking around the entire planet ten times).  The sun is nearly 93,000,000 miles from the earth (more than 33,000 trips between NYC and LA;  or walking around the equator 3,735 times).

And these are small distances, in terms of the universe.  Light travels at 186,000 miles per *second* and takes 8.3-minutes to travel from our sun to the earth;  light requires 100,000 *years* to cross from one side of our galaxy to the other.  The universe is unimaginably vast!  The scale, scope, and dimensions of this are really beyond our ability to hold in our mind.  This is the thought I would ask you to sit with for a time.

Now I ask:  How BIG is your God?  

For me, this is one of our most important Big Questions to ponder.  I also believe this is one aspect of Radical Theological which a great many people fail to fully appreciate.  Another way of thinking about this question is to ask what are the limits of your God?  Is your God limited to this earth?  To this solar system?  To this galaxy?  What about to this universe?

My personal concept of “God” is panentheistic.  A pantheist believes their God is everywhere in the universe.  This sometimes gets a bad name when people diminish the idea as simple animism (each tree, river, and rock having it’s own spirit);  but pantheism is not the same thing as animism, although pantheism may include animism.  So too, panentheism to pantheism.  Panentheism holds the position that God is not only present everywhere within our universe, but simultaneously beyond our universe (basically, that is what the “en” in panentheism means).

Now I would ask you to sit with that thought for a time.

This thought drives me toward the concept of transcendence.  When I speak of transcendence, I mean this as expressed in Kantian philosophy:  that which is “beyond the limits of all possible experience and knowledge;  beyond comprehension” (Merriam-Webster).  Given our access to sensory input is limited to that which resides within this universe, if there is anything beyond this universe, it must by definition transcend our sensory perception.

  • (The argument for non-sensory perception is more subtle, but to my mind in comparison to the scope of a Transcendent Theos, of the same magnitude of limitation.  That which we are able to apprehend of the Transcendent through non-sensory means I will address in a future discussion of Immanence, which lies at the opposite end of the Transcendent-Immanent continuum.)  

Therefore, if we posit a Theos of sufficient significance, there must be aspects of that Theos, which are transcendent to the human condition, and beyond the reach of our perception.  I would go further.  I would argue there are aspects of Theos which are beyond our intellectual capacity, and even beyond the reach of our imagination.

I strongly feel if more persons clearly grasped this meaning of Theos, and felt it in their guts to convey a valid truth, we would easily avoid a great many arguments over specific interpretations of religion and spirituality.  That is why this concept is so important to me.

To have a God this BIG means we admit we cannot know all there is to be known about God/Theos.  This in turn suggests to me the important roles humility, and willingness to be open to how other persons understand Theos, play in our lives, in our spirituality, in our interactions with others, and in our religious observation and traditions.

If our Theos is BIG enough, none of us has full access to Theos.  

We all are limited to partial perceptions of Theos.  We all are limited to partial understandings of Theos.  Therefore, it seems logical that we must be tolerant of what others perceive of Theos.  But I suggest we should go further.  We should strive to learn from others, and inform our own understanding of Theos through what alternate apprehensions of Theos may reveal to us.

It seems so simple to me.  Simple, yet profound.  Which is why I call this Radical Theology.