Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Re: Theology for Skeptics by Dorothee Soelle

My interests roam around randomly.  The Kindle makes this easier to do.  After the football games Saturday and with my wife asleep on the couch I would read one thing for a while and then another.  Ended up reading from five different books that night.  I'll be perusing something and the reference they give causes me to shop the Kindle bookstore and then that leads me to other interesting things and on and on.  Somehow convinced myself that I needed to download Theology for Skeptics by Dorothee Soelle.  Why would a Southern white guy geek like myself be interested in her?  Well, amazingly, I was introduced to her by an article in Wineskins!  This publication is relatively progressive for the Churches of Christ.  I was quite surprised to discover a book review of another of her books, The Silent Cry - Mysticism and Resistance.  Which I bought and read six years ago.  Loaned out my copy.  Dorothee was born the same year as my Dad, 1929.  She came from the same Protestant group as Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  She was Protestant and a Mystic.  She was a feminist.  Come to think of it.  I've never read anything by an authentic feminist.  Only bumper sticker type snippets from the right and the left.  Here are some interesting quotes I've encountered so far in Theology for Skeptics. 

Theology for Skeptics (Dorothee Soelle)
- Highlight Loc. 91-96

I am reminded by this way of thinking about God of  a cheeky song from Vienna, in which a young man  from a wealthy home carries out all possible mischief at the expense of others and then in the refrain sings  reassuringly: 'Papa will set things right." Many  believers have never gone beyond this childish image of  God; they have never learned to assume responsibility  themselves. Their relationship to God remains childish;  they do not want to be friends of God but want to  remain subordinates and dependents. But must we really speak in this way? God is mighty,  we are helpless - is that all?

- Highlight Loc. 101-4

This woman (whom Dorothy met at a church meeting in Hamburg) did not look up to heaven in order to be  comforted by an Almighty Father. She looked within  and around herself. She found "that of God," as the  Quakers often say, in herself, the strength for resistance,  the courage for a clear no in a world that is drunk  on the blood of the innocent. And she found another  gift of the Spirit, the help of other brothers and sisters.  She was not alone. She did not submit herself to a God
who was falsely understood as fate.

- Highlight Loc. 112-13 |

I did not  rid myself of God like many who had handed over  responsibility to God alone; rather I grasped that God  needs us in order to realize what was intended in  creation.

- Highlight Loc. 185-88

The most important questions about the dominant  theology posed by an emerging feminist theology are  directed, iconoclastically, against phallocratic fantasies,  against the adoration of power. Why do people venerate  a God whose most important quality is power, whose  interest is subjection, whose fear is equality? Why  worship a being who is addressed as "Lord," whose  theologians must testify to his omnipotence because  power alone is not enough for him? Why should we  honor and love a being who does not transcend the  moral level of contemporary culture as shaped by men,  but instead establishes it?

- Highlight Loc. 208-12 |

When it is understood that we can speak only symbolically   about God, every symbol that sets itself up as  absolute must be relativized. We cannot live without  symbols, but we must relativize them and surpass them  iconoclastically. God in fact transcends our speech about  God, but only when we do not lock God into prisons  of symbols. Feminist theology does not deny that  "father" is one mode of speaking about God, but when  we are forced to make it the only mode, the symbol  becomes God's prison. All the other symbol words  which people have used to express their experience of  God are thus repressed by means of this obligatory  language or else pushed down to a lower level on the  hierarchy.

- Highlight Loc. 220-21 |

To be free of images of dominance,   theological language can go back to the mystical  tradition. "Wellspring of all good things," "living  wind," "water of life," "light," are symbols of God without   authority or power and without a chauvinistic  flavor.


Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Supernatural Rationalists?

Some ten or so years ago I learned of a Church of Christ thought leader who said that "we" were unique among conservative religious groups in that "we" have a both a high view of scripture and a high view of reason.  It struck me as expressing a lot of truth.  Most of the rest of the religious world holds that the two are mutually exclusive.  I think our spiritual primogenitor, Alexander Campbell, could be characterized both as a rationalist and inerrantist.  From a hundred years ago comes an illustration pertinent to my personal history.  My Dad related to me many years ago that his Grandaddy as a young man was taught by his older brothers, who were Baptist ministers, that he needed to have a conversion experience in order become a Christian.  However, as he related to my Dad, he could not seem to get it the Spirit or the feeling they said he should have.  Eventually Grandaddy found the Church of Christ where an emotional experience was NOT required for getting right with God and where emotions, feeling, and the miraculous in the modern world are downplayed.  He was told to just follow clear and easy steps culminating in baptism and that would do it.  Grandaddy was a fan of a minister named Bynum Black.  I have a 1960's  facsimile of a periodical, the Eye-Opener, published by this minister back in 1900.  I grew up in the county where this originated.

It is common even today for people to communicate that they have had a call to the ministry.  Usually it is not conveyed as a direct communication from the spirit world or from God but sometimes, I'm not sure.  My Dad in my younger years would preach a skepticism that people received a supernatural communication to preach.  It was part of the family heritage evidently.  Below is a cartoon from the issue making fun of this.

The cartoon mocks a man who is out plowing his field who interprets sounds made by his donkey to be a message from God and his call to preach. 

This and other examples I may describe sometime later illustrate how our group downplays feelings and the supernatural in comparison to other religious groups.  Accounts of the miraculous that occurred after New Testament times were/are always met with skepticism.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Thoughts on Consciousness

Three Quarks Daily is a web site that presents numerous interesting comments and links to thoughtful and thought provoking writings.  Yesterday I came across a TQD link to a discussion of Thomas Nagel's new book, Mind and Cosmos.  The Amazon blurb summarizes: 

The modern materialist approach to life has conspicuously failed to explain such central mind-related features of our world as consciousness, intentionality, meaning, and value. This failure to account for something so integral to nature as mind, argues philosopher Thomas Nagel, is a major problem, threatening to unravel the entire naturalistic world picture, extending to biology, evolutionary theory, and cosmology.

There was a time in my life when I could not perceive a way out of reductive physicalism.    It says, in a nutshell, that our world is comprised of atoms and these atoms follow unyielding laws.   So, we are therefore  merely complicated robots.  Laplace perceived this and expressed this way back in 1814, (lifted from Wikipedia).

We may regard the present state of the universe as the effect of its past and the cause of its future. An intellect which at a certain moment would know all forces that set nature in motion, and all positions of all items of which nature is composed, if this intellect were also vast enough to submit these data to analysis, it would embrace in a single formula the movements of the greatest bodies of the universe and those of the tiniest atom; for such an intellect nothing would be uncertain and the future just like the past would be present before its eyes.
—Pierre Simon Laplace, A Philosophical Essay on Probabilities

But I also knew that the way out of this would have something to do with the nature of consciousness.  The material reductionists like Daniel Dennet and Richard Dawkins are wrong.  Science, according to Nagel, has not been able to explain conscious experience.  I agree.  And, he contends that it cannot.  I'm an agnostic on that one.  But, the important thing to me is that wrestling with the issue helps to point the way to meaning, purpose, God, and spirituality in general.  The long history of the cosmos has been a development toward consciousness.  It must be a property of the universe and a non material one at that.  Or another way of looking at it is that the universe "desired" to become conscious.

Why include the picture above?  Well, it is good to show pictures at least once in a while and this is one I took recently.   It is of my wife gazing at olives on a tree in the medieval town of San Gimignano in Tuscany.  I'm fascinated by trees and their meaning.  The image produces as we look at it certain feelings, a whole wealth of them.  How?  That is the big mystery. 

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