A reader writes: Any hope of calling myself a theist
I was very excited to read your book 'Why did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha and Mohammed Cross the Road'. I have read quite a few of your books, as well as those of Rob Bell and David Tomlinson, as I find your approach the only one at the moment that gives me any hope of calling myself, at the very least, a theist. However, I often feel that I am left liking what you say, but lacking a rationale to accept it, except that I like it. It becomes the McLaren or the Bell version. However, although I did feel the same about large chunks of your latest book, I felt excited by a section in Chapter 17 p142, which says:‘if the Spirit is ubiquitous and all people are encountering the Holy Spirit simply because we live, move and have our being in the Spirit’s domain, we can understand human religions – all human religions, including our own – as imperfect human responses to our encounters with the Spirit who is present in all creation. That is not to deny the presence of unique divine revelation in anyone religion, nor is it to affirm that all religions are the same, nor is it to imply that the Spirit should be credited or blamed for everything going on in our religions. Instead, it is simply to propose that each religion, based on its unique location and history, would have a unique, particular and evolving perspective from which to encounter the Spirit in a unique way. That would mean that differences between religions would not necessarily mean contradictions. They could simply mean additional data, expressed in different systems of local imagery and language, based on differing encounters with the same Spirit of God, present in all creation across all time. Not only that, but in light of the wildly different local conditions in which they encounter the same Spirit, we might interpret some religious differences in a new light: rather than saying different (contradictory) things about the same thing, various religions could sometimes be saying different (complementary) things about different (complementary) experiences entirelyLet me summarise my thinking in bullet points to make it less bulky. I don't want to put you off!! I tried to read the Bible from cover to cover without commentaries to see what I made of it. I was horrified, bored and totally confused that this should be the stuff that almighty God wanted us to know and live by. So, either a) I didn't like this God anymore, b) this was just stories and there was no God, or c) maybe there was a God, but the Bible wasn't his infallible word to us on the matter I decided to try c) but soon discovered I had no rationale for knowing what was true or what was wishful thinking Sort of gave up Went to Bath in England. Hadn't prayed for months. Looked up at statue of roman god Minerva and kind of prayed 'Were they in touch with you, when they worshipped Minera?' The answer came back in an instant - 'of course'. I had a question and an answer in an instant, with no premeditation at all. I felt this was pivotal, but of course, it was very subjective and cannot be verified. Went to Avebury and stood by the ancient stones. Man had been reaching out according his understanding of the divine (probably) So, from then on, I have been trying the theory out. So often, I think, revelation is a flash, and we put human thought with it, embellish it, and mess it up, turn it into a religion, etc etc. I don't want to do that. HERE IS THE THEORY, ANYWAY We have evolved according to God's blueprint. We are here in the 21st century. Maybe we have more evolution to undergo, especially intellectually, so as eventually to know enough to find the currently unknowable God. All religions contain some right stuff and some revelation, but, also a lot of human commentary and prejudice. Some stuff was right for the people at the time, but not for NOW. All religions are historically, geographically and educationally specific. One day we will get there. One day we will have eveolved suffiently to find God, and all religions, and even more excitingly, even science, will converge. Here is a stupid example, but it helps to explain what I mean: If God were a computer, and we were software in some way, this fact would have been inconceivable to Moses. So, we are all in it together. No need to fight about it. No-one is right, no-one is wrong. We are all evolving and will get there in the end. It kind of makes more sense of evolution. There is a programme on UK TV called 'Scrapheap Challenge', where teams have to build a certain machine from the stuff available (it has probably been put there to be found). In the same way, maybe God has given us all the materials we need on this planet. It is incredible what we have made from this rock orbiting the sun. He is watching and waiting for us to find the wherewithall to find him. I hope you can get the gist. I have loads to say, and better words to say it in, but this is my first bash. Please comment if you have time and inclination.
Thanks for your note. I was struck by the similarity of your theory and what Paul had to say in Acts 17. I wonder if I could adjust one paragraph a bit, from this:
So, we are all in it together. No need to fight about it. No-one is right, no-one is wrong. We are all evolving and will get there in the end. It kind of makes more sense of evolution.
So, we are all in it together. No need to fight about it - but plenty of reason to enter into spirited, respectful, collaborative dialogue. No-one is perfectly right, and we all have a lot to learn from and with one another. We can keep growing, we can get stuck in stagnation, or we can regress ... the choice is ours, as are the consequences. God is always beckoning us forward.
My next book (which I'm finishing up this month) tries to demonstrate how the Bible exemplifies this very reality. A key thinker whose work will help you in this process is Rene Girard, whose work is well explicated by people like Tony Bartlett, MIchael Hardin, James Alison, and James Warren. In their work, the importance of Jesus and his life and message shine through with real beauty. Again, thanks for your note. I think you're on a good track.