This Book Study will begin October 29, 2017
The “death of God” movement famously declared that belief in the God of Christian tradition is meaningless in the modern world. Does this herald the death of theology, too? No, suggests Galston. At its best, theology is the place where tradition pushes itself to the limits of its own thought. Problems arise when theology holds onto an old version of God, emphasizing a closed approach to religion. How can communities foster a more open-minded and flexible approach to theology? How can theologians respond to the pressing concerns of modern culture sensitively and intelligently without clinging to outdated metaphors for God? Marking key features and turning points in Western theology, Galston combines expertise in the philosophy of religion with practical experience as a facilitator in a wisdom-based community, to guide readers through questions surrounding the future of religion.
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Week 7 Questions
1 – What do you think about theology being a quest for meaning? 181
2 – How would you describe the (or your) struggle to be human? Does sacred have a place therein? 184
3 – What does salvation look like to you? 186
4 - “[H]ow [do you think] should God be created?” 190
5 – Comments on the last paragraph? 194
6 – Do you have a better understanding of theology than you had before the book? Explain. 198
Response to Week 7 Questions
Week 7 Questions
1. What do you think about theology being a quest for meaning? [p. 181]
I would agree that it is, even if we’ve yet to move that “meaning into a final claim of fact.” However, I would disagree with Galston’s conclusion here that “There is no quest for meaning with a God who cannot be anything but factual or non-existent.” Yes, our current concepts of God are not factual; but, on the other hand, that doesn’t make God non-existent either.
Like religion itself, I remain to be comfortable with – in Galston’s words – “an open question that concerns a vision…something through which one might find orientation in life.” If that’s his idea of God within his definition of Enlightenment theology, it’s an insight worth pursuing.
I would posit a reconception of Galston’s idea, however – of a God that “almost is” – and say that I have a theology that is more of a “now, but not yet” feeling – i.e., I feel (and, yes, I would use that intuitive word) the presence of God, but I don’t believe that I will ever know fully what that presence is (therefore my appreciation for 1 Corinthians 13: 12, in response to question #1 from Chapter 9, above).
I would agree with Galston, though, when he says:
“…in truth the task of Enlightenment theology is not to get out of time
or beyond the flesh. The task is to get into the world…to be in solidarity
with such problems that define the struggle to be human” [p. 184].
That’s what has made the study and practice of religion important to me.
2. How would you describe the (or your) struggle to be human? Does sacred have a place therein? [p. 184]
As a result of my spiritual journey, I have come to embrace the Hebrew concept of shalom at the center of my being, and try to use it as a fundamental guide in the ways that I try to relate to the rest of my world. The more common translation of that word has been “peace” – and it is that; but in Jewish theology it’s much, much more. Etymologically, it also means “wholeness,” “well-being,” “health,” and “harmony.” In that, it is very close to what the psychologist, Abraham Maslow, called “self-actualization” – becoming all that one was created to be. It is one way that I “struggle to be human.”
And, yes, it has been – and still is – both a sacred and a life-long pursuit.
3. What does salvation look like to you? [p. 186]
I’m not sure that I could say with any degree of certainty, but it probably would be something like that concept of “self-actualization” – that, in fact, I might come to realize my fullest potential, in this life, and became the best person that I was able to be. It is not a kind of “restoration” or “healing or returning to a healthy state” [p. 184] as Galston pointed out has been the aim of orthodox Christianity. It’s more like evolving toward perfection – which is a very Wesleyan concept, by the way. John Wesley believed that we might all be “going on to perfection” – by virtue of what he called “sanctifying grace” – even though none of us would fully get there (cf. Paul’s comments in 2 Corinthians 12: 7-10 in the context of John Wesley’s 1872 sermon on the dangers of assuming “Christian Perfection.”).
Just a postscript: Unfortunately, his brother, Charles, penned a hymn that he entitled “The Promise of Sanctification” which really muddied the waters. Witness what that Wesley theologian said in a couple of verses as he presented that hymn in the form of a plea to God:
That I thy mercy may proclaim,
That all mankind thy truth may see,
Hallow thy great and glorious name,
And perfect holiness in me.
Now let me gain perfection’s height!
Now let me into nothing fall!
Be less than nothing in thy sight,
And feel that Christ is all in all!
Sadly, that has been orthodox Christianity’s plea for far, far too long. There is no God – then or now – who reaches down from a mythical place called “Heaven” to save us all through the sacrificial blood of “His” son, Jesus.
4. “[H]ow [do you think] should God be created?” [p. 190]
I would agree with Galston’s bold statement along with “modern cosmology that there is no one out there whose name is God” [p. 188]. We’ve made “Him” up. So, it’s an exercise in futility to “create” God. God is either really Real, or God is not. Period.
What, then, should we do? We should keep our minds and hearts open at least to the possibility that there is a Force behind all of creation – a Prime Mover of all that is – even though we don’t know enough about that concept to even put it into words. As Galston notes, “the word I use to indicate that thing has a complex history and diverse meanings” [p. 189]. That is so true with the concepts for any god that has come down throughout history. In a very real sense, though – as Galston points out here – “words create the interpretive frame of any given experience” and “without language there is no relationship.” So, whatever word we come up with to explain just who or what “God” is, will be limited by language. Our relationship is far more profound, far more mysterious, than we can ever put into words – given those limitations of language.
In the end, then, it’s not up to us to “create” God. It’s up to us to be fully present and aware whenever (or if ever) such an entity is discovered or enigmatically reveals itself. In that event, I suppose that I hold more hope in science than I do theology. And yet, I do agree with Galston when – speaking from the imaginative perspective of the parable – he says: “There is not one choice and not one path” [p. 193].
5. Comments on the last paragraph? [p. 194]
The gift of theology is the impetus and energy that it gives to continue to ask questions about the ultimate meaning and purpose of life. As sentient beings, we should continue to wonder where we’ve come from and where we may be headed – without knowing the one, we may never be able to discover the other.
Still, for me, God is more than simply “a human future.” Yes, “we still need ‘religion’ to awaken…poetic acts in the struggle to live now,” but it may never be able to fully answer, with any degree of finality, who or what God is. At its best, religion can guide us in what we value, in our commitment to whatever matters most in life – as with the very etymology of the word – what “binds” us together (from the Latin, “religare”) as a community and as a people.
6. Do you have a better understanding of theology than you had before the book? Explain. [p. 198]
I don’t think that I have “a better understanding of theology” (I do have a Master’s Degree in the field, after all). But it has been helpful, if for no other reason, than it confirms my own conclusion (to which I’d already come many years ago) that we made God in our own image from the very beginning – rather than the other way around. And yet this god-image often expresses, very well, the “hope, dreams, transformations, and the call for justice” [p. 196] that make our life worth living.
So, I wholeheartedly agree with Galston’s conclusion that “the value of theology is really found…in its capacity to reimagine the world” [p. 197]. We have been given courageous prophets and wise counselors within that enterprise to help us do just that.
May we, now, have the courage and wisdom to follow where they have been leading us.
Week 6 Questions
1 – What’s your reaction to the first paragraph? 145
2 – Compare the cosmic Big Bang with “the theological act of forming community, of creating the presence of God out of nothing.” 147
3 – In the long paragraph on pg. 149, “Even Jesus as the Christ...”, where should (and NOT) the word Jesus be replaced with the word Christ?
4 – How much do you “worship” consumerism and technology? 152
5 – How much of your current religious outlook do you think was created for you in your childhood? 154
6 – Explain “Out of nothing, religion creates life.” so that a scientific materialist like me can understand. 159
7 – How is Jesus an allegory for (Jesus) Christ and not the other way around? 163
8 – If you were to choose a parable to convert to an allegory, which would it be? 167
9 – I don’t understand pg. 169.
10 – Explain: “Recasting the point of religion … not with the closing but the opening of time.” 173
Responses to Week 6 Questions
Week 6 Questions
1. What’s your reaction to the first paragraph? [p. 145]
I get it that Galston is saying that just because you can’t prove the presence of God it doesn’t mean that God does not exist. But to come up with the concept that God is, therefore, “almost” real seems disingenuous to me. The problem isn’t that God is “very nearly” there; the problem is with our perception of God’s presence – or, for some, God’s absence. We are the ones who are “almost” there in our understanding of that Mystery. An analogy comes to my mind: Just because my wife isn’t home yet doesn’t mean that she “almost” exists. I know for certain that she does. I’m just less certain about God.
In reference to Galston’s point, an analogy might be like seeing footprints on the ground everywhere. Something made them, but I don’t know enough about the being that did to say whose footprints they are. I perceive “God’s footprints” everywhere – in nature, in life itself, as well as in all of the cosmos. So, for me, God is present everywhere – not just “almost” but clearly here. I just don’t know for certain who – or, okay, what – I am perceiving.
The scripture passage that has always come to my mind are these lines from that hymn on love – that Paul may have borrowed from somebody else (1 Corinthians 13: 12):
“For now we see as through a glass, dimly but then we will see face to face.
Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.”
I just don’t know enough about this Reality to say much more than that.
2. Compare the cosmic Big Bang with “the theological act of forming community, of creating the presence of God out of nothing.” [p. 147]
That you’re asking us to compare the creation of the cosmos itself with one infinitesimal portion of it seems a little bit like comparing the cataclysmic creation of all that is to the explosion of a single string of firecrackers on one 4th of July. The two are more like a contrast between the infinite and the mundane. So, in my opinion, there’s little comparison.
Not surprisingly, then, I take issue with Galston’s lead-in on the former page where he makes the strange and sweeping statement that “Religion exists only because there is no God but an absence of God” [p. 146]. While I do reject the anthropomorphic deity created by our ancestors (and, more particularly, by the religious troika of Judaism, Christianity and Islam), that doesn’t then mean, ipso facto, that there is no Creator or Creative Force at work – before, within, and beyond our limited knowledge of reality.
I do understand Galston’s position that by eliminating God our only hope for a viable future is in ourselves – thus, the title of this book, God’s Human Future. He says it a bit more understandably on this page, in my opinion, when he says: “Religion is about creating God while it awaits God.” Yes. In the absence of proof, in the absence of any certainty about who or what God is, we ought to be about living the very best kinds of lives of which we’re humanly capable. But it isn’t “creating the presence of God out of nothing.” As we perceive the wonders of the universe, it’s about responding out of a deeper sense of the need for order in the midst of chaos, of the need for healing before the reality of disease, of creativity in the midst of destruction, of community in the face of disunity, of compassion overcoming enmity, and of the power of love that can always conquer hatred.
That would be a “theological act” worth taking – with or without God.
3. In the long paragraph on pg. 149, “Even Jesus as the Christ...”, where should (and NOT) the word Jesus be replaced with the word Christ?
As with that question above, I’d first like to back up to the page just before where Galston says this:
“…every human idea about God is as a partial way of understanding God and
not the whole idea of God. … Only by removing all the qualities that substitute
for God do we begin to understand the transcendence of the idea of God” [p. 148].
So, all of our ideas about God at this point are sheer conjecture. As we know, the term “Christ” literally means “anointed one” – one who’s been dedicated to the service of God. In that sense, the Christ-figure could become incarnate in any one of us – as exemplified in the Books of Acts where Luke lifts up this same image, saying, “For in him we live and move and have our being. As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring’” [Acts 17: 28].
I do think that I understand the reason for this question, however. As the title of “the Christ” has been applied by the Church only to one Jesus of Nazareth – and elevated to the second part within the doctrine of the Trinity – it remains to be dogmatic mythology and ought to be removed as a “substitute for God” due to all of the confusion that it’s caused.
4. How much do you “worship” consumerism and technology? [p. 152]
Not at all. Worship to me means showing a deep reverence toward something or someone that I would consider sacred – and it surely isn’t “consumerism and technology.”
5. How much of your current religious outlook do you think was created for you in your childhood? [p. 154]
It is a significant amount, as my parents were not at all dogmatic Christians and my father taught the Junior High Sunday School Class that I was in. As an engineer and mathematician, he was a scientist, first, and rejected biblical literalism. Even so, he and his parents and his in-laws were deeply religious people and very active in the church – so we all were.
I also recall with great fondness the profound philosophical and religious conversations that we had around the kitchen table at my paternal grandfather’s home deep in the woods of rural Pennsylvania. As young boys, my brothers and I were always welcomed into this adult conversation and made to feel that even our, often juvenile, contributions were heard and considered.
I credit much of who I am, then – as a person, a husband, a father, a pastor, and now a grandfather – to times such as these that I spent embraced and surrounded by my family. They are priceless to me.
6. Explain “Out of nothing, religion creates life.” so that a scientific materialist like me can understand. [p. 159]
On the surface, it doesn’t make sense to me either – and I consider myself a freethinking theologian (well, a heretic to some). I do consider the scientific process and rational thinking to be every bit as important in guiding us toward experiencing a life of greater quality as I do addressing the questions that arise out of theology. Not surprisingly, however, I am markedly more concerned about spiritual, intellectual and cultural values than I am about material things.
That being said, what I hear Galston saying here is that without a certainty about God (In his odd model “a God who almost is”) – i.e., with “nothing” there but spirit and intuition to guide us – religion has shown us how to come to value those things that bind us together. They are things like love, family, compassion, empathy, forgiveness, curiosity, inspiration, and courage. These are the kinds of things that ultimately lead to the creation of a community that many of us consider life-giving – therefore, sacred.
7. How is Jesus an allegory for (Jesus) Christ and not the other way around? [p. 163]
It is an odd way for Galston to say it, but when he says that “in the Christian gospels, the historical Jesus is used as an allegory for Jesus Christ,” I think that he’s referring to how those first interpreters began to see Jesus of Nazareth as more than just a man; he became more than an icon; he became the symbol “of a second story” [p. 162] – the one who was meant to show us the essence of God. Regrettably, however, it wasn’t long before the allegory outlived and replaced the man, and made him into God Himself.
8. If you were to choose a parable to convert to an allegory, which would it be? [p. 167]
With all that’s going on in both the Church and the State right now, I’d turn them all into an allegory using the parable of the “Blind Leading the Blind.” Consider Luke’s version (6: 39-42) with those two key questions that Jesus asks: “Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit?” Sounds to me like it would fit the institutional Church as well as the federal government, wouldn’t you say?
The allegorizing is bad enough throughout here as Luke has Jesus give some practical examples – as well as the consequences of being “blind” and hypocritical. But it’s nothing in comparison to Matthew who really takes off with it (15: 10-20) as he has an even longer and more detailed description – along with the “meaning” and “explanation” of it – as he has both the disciples and Jesus do the explaining.
How do you know what you know? You have to be carefully taught.
9. I don’t understand pg. 169
I am SO tempted here to respond by saying, “Go ask your pastor!” …but I won’t.
I would sum it up by highlighting just three statements that Galston makes on that page:
• “In allegory, those who can see the secret of history will get their reward at the end of history.”
Can you not hear the voice of the traditional Church here? Instead, Galston clarifies the power and challenge of the parable this way:
• “…the spirit of a parable will not allow for a hidden allegorical resolution.”
Period. And, finally, he concludes with this:
• “The spirit of the parable understands this present struggle as a type of gift to life…that the struggle awakens a transformative vision in the here and now.”
That’s about as direct and as challenging as most any of the wisdom sayings of Jesus can be.
I’m reminded of something that Mary Oliver asks in closing one of her more famous poems, “The Summer Day”: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” [*See the full poem below.]
10. Explain: “Recasting the point of religion … not with the closing but the opening of time.” [p. 173]
As Galston points out (and rightly so I would add) at the bottom of the previous page, we…
“…do not actually need the Church. What is needed is community…in which
progressive and independent understandings of Christianity can be pursued.”
So, “recasting the point of religion” involves recreating the Church “but outside the Church” so that it might pursue a more authentic form of Christianity. The point of religion never was meant to close us up in a box of dogmas created somewhere back in the 4th century. It’s time to open up that box of doctrine and dogma and create a new way of being the Church. It’s long past time for a reformation that may very well revive the message and the messenger.
But, as Galston concludes, it will mean “living intentionally” in this kind of community, and with this kind of refreshed vision, theology may finally begin to “answer the question about why religion as such is still a basic human value.” Because it is.
* The Summer Day
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper I mean—
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down—
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
Week 5 Questions
1 – Why do you ( or NOT ) believe in the cosmological argument? 132
2 – Continue with the teleological argument. 133
3 – And again with the ontological argument. 134
4 - “Therefore God Exists.” Comments. 137
5 – Where do you think the idea of God came from? 141
6 – How is your God valuable to you? 144
Responses to Week 5 Questions
Week 5 Questions
1. Why do you (or NOT) believe in the cosmological argument? [p. 132]
I wouldn’t say that I “believe” in the cosmological argument as Galston recapitulates it. I do consider it to be the closest thing to a sound scientific argument, however. Things don’t just happen without causation – whether it’s an object put in motion or the creation of the universe. To then posit that “God” (or any other deity imagined by human beings) was the prime mover, conflates the one with the other. I simply do not know. For me, it is the greatest Mystery at the heart of reality. I seek a purpose behind it, but I haven’t concluded that a single sentient all-powerful being is the definitive answer. I stand in awe and wonder before it all. I always have.
2. Continue with the teleological argument. [p. 133]
As we’ve discovered how to use things, we may, indeed, have given them a purpose. That doesn’t mean, however, that everything – alive or dead – has a single purpose. A rock may have been used as a weapon at the beginning, then used for a wall, and eventually its chemical makeup taken apart to create yet something else entirely. Human beings give things purpose (again, whether they’re alive or dead). There may, indeed, be a “designer.” But, again, to then make the leap that the designer is the being that some have extrapolated as “God” is simply conjecture – yet another non sequitur. We don’t know enough about that Mystery to say “who” or “what” that is.
3. And again with the ontological argument. [p. 134]
In much the same way as in those first two arguments, it’s us who determine “what is better and what is worse, what is greater and what is lesser, what is good and what is bad.” Not some “Absolute Perfect Being” that we’ve come to label as “God.” That is yet another supposition – an assumption – but, regrettably, nothing that we can prove.
Each of the above “arguments,” then (cosmological, teleological and ontological), are just that: arguments. While I might lean more toward affirming a portion of the cosmological argument, each remains to be an assertion – but without definitive rational support. They’re guesses – even though they may be justified or make some sense to those who made them up. We have no evidence that any such conclusions are, in fact, true.
4. “Therefore God Exists.” Comments. [p. 137]
I do agree with Descartes conclusion “that only the knowledge about his own existence was free of doubt” [p. 136]. We are thinking beings. That is a certainty. What’s more, “as long as there is reason to doubt something we remain insecure in our knowledge about it” [loc. cit.]. Where Descartes’ logic breaks down (in a huge way, it seems to me) is for him to conclude that simply because “God cannot be his own creation” … “therefore God exists.”
It’s worth noting, as Galston points out, “Descartes wanted God to exist and wanted to defend the integrity of Christian faith” [pp. 137-138]. By giving God all of “the usual qualities: perfection, power, eternal being, independence, supreme intelligence, etc.”, he invents God – literally brings God into being without any proof at all.
5. Where do you think the idea of God came from? [p. 141]
I think that the first time a human being gazed in wonder at something greater than him/herself, that human being enwrapped within it a power beyond his wildest imaginings. Then he/she and the community began to believe in one or more of those imaginings and envisioned that they were really real. Over time those mental images became conclusions about an Almighty Creator that were then codified into a system of belief that almost everyone has taken for granted.
As Galston rightly points out there, “we create fantasy all the time.”
6. How is your God valuable to you? [p. 144]
I don’t have any one clear image that I would name as “my God.” All I have is a love of beauty, a love of life and family, a love of the human potential for justice and creativity, a love of the powers of creation itself, and a deep awe in response to the wonders of the cosmos. Beyond that is Mystery. And just as I may have been given an answer to one question, I have been invited into yet another question. So, I continue to experience a longing for the More. All of that, in and of itself, is valuable to me. It is what my spiritual journey is all about.
But none of it, in itself, is God. So, I agree with Galston (along with those philosophers which he quotes) that “God is no longer a source of reason but accountable to reason.”
Week 4 Questions
1 – How does logos fit into current culture? 95
2 – What would your reaction be to someone burning your letter of complaint (in front of you and the whole body)? 100
3 – What do you think about the ideas of Arius (Arianism)? 104
4 - “Jesus Christ … must be of one substance with the Father … in order to be the savior ...”. What do you think? And what ideas come to mind when you are asked this question? 106
5 - “Constantine in this way was both the birth and the death of Christianity.” What does the word Christianity mean in that quote? 109
6 - “we become human in religion when we learn about ourselves from those places outside ourselves.” Comments? How does your answer change if “in religion” is removed? 115
7 - “[H]ow can a faith tradition be subject to the changing predilections of historical research?” 118
8 – What would Christianity look like if instead of divinizing Jesus, the church had raised wisdom to being coequal with God? 119
9 – Where is justice when bad laws are made and enforced? 121
10 – How does the concept of God have life after death (for you)? 125
Responses to the Questions for Week #4
1. How does logos fit into current culture? [p. 95]
Galston’s interpretation aside, logos, as it’s been understood in philosophy, is primarily something like a rational principle that governs and is moving the universe toward maturation. In the original Greek, though, it meant a “word, saying or discourse” that further explained such a premise as this. Later (largely through the interpretation of John’s Gospel – esp. 1: 1-14), it came to be understood as the “divine word” or “reason incarnate” believed to be uniquely revealed in Jesus as the Christ. Citing Constantine, Galston assumes that this logos was that rational principle that replaced “the deceptions of emotion” with the stability of reason.
Unfortunately, “current culture” has been so saturated with the Johannine understanding of the Logos (with a capital “L”), that it’s become consonant with “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14: 6) embodied in Jesus as the Messiah, the one and only Christ (the “anointed one”). So, we conclude that it’s certainly not something that we could emulate in our own lives.
But, then, I like Galston’s observation there that it matters because “it concerned answering how the human spirit, the living part of us, gets into the right program of life.” How can we integrate body, mind and spirit so that each of us can finally begin to live healthy and more productive lives – to live as we were meant to live? How, indeed. It remains to be the greatest question and challenge that still confronts the human race. Jesus just provided us with a preeminent archetype of how it might be done.
2. What would your reaction be to someone burning your letter of complaint (in front of you and the whole body)? [p. 100]
To have “my letter burned” (i.e., my dissenting opinion in the face of orthodoxy) would mean that my point of view is not welcome within the collegium. In a way, that already has happened as I was condemned by the Church for joining other colleagues in presiding at the “Holy Union” of two lesbian friends of ours (see the background at www.umaffirm.org/cornet/calnev.html).
I’ve also been publicly silenced by United Methodist bishops for advocating a revision of the doctrine of the Trinity – along with other points of view at variance with the Church. My reaction has not been to leave The United Methodist Church (although I’ve been urged by some colleagues that I should), but to stay within it hoping that, one day, it truly would open its doors (along with its mind and heart) to diverse interpretations of scripture and theology.
As John Lennon wrote in his song “Imagine” – “You may say I’m a dreamer. But I’m not the only one.”
So, I’m still here.
3. What do you think about the ideas of Arius (Arianism)? [p. 104]
To back up a bit into ancient ecclesiastical history, Arius, a presbyter (priest) from Libya announced, essentially that if God, the Father, gave birth to the Son (Jesus), then he must have had a beginning in existence, and from this it follows that there was a time when Jesus did not exist. The argument caught on for a while, but Bishop Alexander – along with his then chief deacon, Athanasius – fought against Arius, arguing that it denied the Trinity. Christ is not of a “like substance” to God, the Bishop and Athanasius argued, but absolutely the same substance. To Athanasius (who later became the Bishop of Alexandria in exile) this was no splitting of theological hairs. Salvation itself was at issue – i.e., only one who was fully human could atone for human sin; and only one who was fully divine could have the power to save us.
All of this, as far as I’m concerned, is ridiculous theological hair-splitting. Jesus, neither as man nor preexistent Christ, holds salvific power over us. So, I don’t think that any such concept need be used. For Galston to claim, then, that “the theology of Arius was a type of Enlightenment theology where an individual can realize the Christ nature of the self” [p. 105] is somewhat of a non sequitur. None of us – not even Jesus of Nazareth – has been “anointed” by God (the literal meaning of the term “Christ”) for some special messianic function. As Galston finally (but then correctly, in my opinion) says a couple of pages later, however, “No human anywhere also just happens to be God” [p. 107].
The closest thing, for me, to “salvation” of any sort would be for each individual to reach his or her fullest potential as a human being – what the noted psychologist Abraham Maslow referred to as “self-actualization” at the pinnacle of his classic hierarchy of needs (see https://www.cengage.com/resource_uploads/downloads/0495570540_162121.pdf). That’s what I’d call true “enlightenment” – but we don’t need some kind of divine savior to get us there. For different reasons, then, I would tend to agree with Galston’s further statement that “enlightenment is found in trusting the natural order of the cosmos and not necessarily the order of the Church” [p. 105].
4. “Jesus Christ … must be of one substance with the Father … in order to be the savior ...”. What do you think? And what ideas come to mind when you are asked this question? [p. 106]
[I’d repeat what I just said above in my response to question #3 above.]
What further “idea” comes to my mind when I’m asked this question, however, is to ponder further the very nature of spirituality. With my Scottish ancestry still flowing through my DNA, I’ve embraced that Celtic stream of spirituality that has its deep and rich origins in the mystical traditions of both the Hebrew and Christian Testaments. What’s most widely recognized about it is its emphasis upon creation itself. It began with the memories of my childhood in which I experienced at the deepest of levels a type of communion with God in nature – that the whole of life is sacramental. Some of the old prayers from the Western Isles of Scotland speak of the lights of the skies – the sun, moon and stars – as graces, the spiritual coming through the physical. God is experienced as the Life within all life.
So, to listen to the Creator is to listen deeply within ourselves, including deeply within the collective life and consciousness of the world. I learned of this in the nineteenth century teachings of Alexander Scott (declared a heretic by the Church) and in the writings of the novelist, George MacDonald. They continually portray the elements of the earth as expressions of God’s grace and goodness and see God in the ordinary and everyday instead of exclusively in the doctrines and authority of the Church.
I also discovered in the 4th-century writings of Pelagius a similar emphasis on the life of God within creation – not only the essential goodness of creation but, very specifically, the essential goodness of humanity. Pelagius, of course, was excommunicated by the Church as a heretic for that point of view. It was the Celtic Church’s emphasis on the presence of God at the heart of all life and within all people that set up its confrontation with Augustine of Canterbury’s Roman mission in the year 597. Even though it was formally rejected by the Church, this stream of Celtic spirituality survived. You can see it in the art of the Celtic world where their designs symbolized the interlacing of God and humanity, “heaven” and earth, spirit and matter.
Of course, all of this didn’t begin with the Celtic Church and with people like Pelagius. It was part of a very ancient stream of contemplative spirituality – including the wisdom tradition that we see in the Bible. It is a spirituality characterized by a listening within all things for the life of God. If there is anything like salvation being offered to the human race, that is its substance. Right there.
5. “Constantine in this way was both the birth and the death of Christianity.” What does the word Christianity mean in that quote? [p. 109]
To me it refers to what might have been (i.e., the “birth” of enlightenment in realizing one’s full potential as a human being) but wasn’t (i.e., what Nicaea claimed, which was a “death” required by orthodoxy).
6. “…we become human in religion when we learn about ourselves from those places outside ourselves.” Comments? How does your answer change if “in religion” is removed? [p. 115]
The context Galston is offering here is in his comment just before: “We cannot truly be human in the limitations of any one religion, for every religion in theory teaches us to move beyond the borders of our egos.” So, yes, we can learn more about ourselves and what it means to be fully human by looking at how other cultures understand the nature of the Sacred.
Since we are talking about religion, to remove that context may remove the mystical contemplation of the Sacred that some (including me) often associate with it. However, I claim that religion can also be the ways in which we, as a community, come to interpret and live out the life we hold in common – i.e., everything that binds us together. It could include something very much like devotion to a “higher good,” but even seen from a more secular or agnostic point of view. From that perspective, the only thing that changes about my “answer” above, then, would simply be the deeper appreciation of “those places outside ourselves” that we might experience by being in dialogue with others not like us.
7. “[H]ow can a faith tradition be subject to the changing predilections of historical research?” [p. 118]
It just is and, in fact, always has been. Galston’s simply pointing out here that conservative theologians such as Luke Timothy Johnson actively resist subjecting their idea of Jesus “to the frailty of historical research.” To do so would force them to change their conclusions and revise their whole carefully constructed theology. This is how the Church resists change.
8. What would Christianity look like if instead of divinizing Jesus, the church had raised wisdom to being coequal with God? [p. 119]
Jesus would’ve remained the great teacher of wisdom that he actually was and we wouldn’t be arguing about the nature of some cosmic Christ – let alone be subject to the all-powerful pronouncements of the institutional Church concerning such a being. We’d be listening to what Jesus said and appreciating more deeply how he lived out his life. We might – just might – then, have the courage to do the same.
There’s still time.
9. Where is justice when bad laws are made and enforced? [p. 121]
10. How does the concept of God have life after death (for you)? [p. 125]
Because life is creative and will go on – even though ours, finally, will come to an end.
Week 3 Questions
1 – What do we do today that is like “cutting a covenant”? 63
2 – What prophetic voices are you hearing today and how do they fit in with or help define a theology or view/understanding of God? 67
3 - “With covenant comes a book.” Comments? 68+
4 – How do you “struggle to interpret the covenant in a new setting”? 72
5 – List (Diagram) the open and closed aspects of the three important features of covenant theology. Does this help your understanding? 75
6 – How do we continue to “proclaim Jesus as the parable of God.”? 80
7 – Can you tell yow your theology has been influenced by Christian allegory? If yes, how? 81
8 – Do you think Mark really missed that Jesus’ parables were works of art, meant to be interpreted afresh each time, or that Mark had an agenda that he promoted with his interpretations? 83
9 – Is our author “over interpreting” the parable of the sower? 86
10 – How does this chapter advance our understanding of theology?
My Responses to the Questions of Week 3
Week 3 Questions
Chapter 4 – Covenant Theology
1. What do we do today that is like “cutting a covenant”? [p. 63]
A covenant is somewhat like a contract – an agreement between two or more parties to do or not to do something that’s specified by everyone “signing on” to the contract. But the comparison ends there. In the ANE (Ancient Near East), a covenant was much more serious. As Galston points out, “A covenant was a serious deal, usually between a dominant and a subordinate party. … To break a covenant was deeply insulting both to the dominant party and to its gods; it was also, of course, extremely dangerous” [p. 62]. So, as Galston rightly explains there, to “cut a covenant” wasn’t just to come up with a simple agreement – in business, trade or otherwise. “It was more like reaching a settlement between two often unequal sides, and the stronger side set the terms.” The “bond was literally written in blood.”
With that background understanding, contemporary parallels might be the Roman Catholic Pope speaking ex cathedra (literally from the “throne of Peter” as the voice of God) on matters of doctrine, or the United Methodist Council of Bishops interpreting for the entire denomination how The Book of Discipline should be interpreted, or a dominant legislative power determining how the tax burden should be defined and applied. In each of these examples it is a dominant authority deciding what’s “best” for an inferior class. Why would the powerless ever enter into such one-sided “agreements?” All too often it’s either because they “have no choice” or that the alternative comes with dire consequences (e.g., excommunication, imprisonment, or worse).
2. What prophetic voices are you hearing today and how do they fit in with or help define a theology or view/understanding of God? [p. 67]
When it comes to theology and biblical studies, the most obvious (at least for me) would be the scholarship and voices of the Westar Institute (initially known, simply, as the “Jesus Seminar”). I’ve gone as far as to say that my relationship with them as an Associate literally saved my vocation – affirming my decision to remain in the ordained ministry.
In the secular world, these prophetic voices are represented by the “Black Lives Matter” movement or the countless numbers of refugees and immigrants trying to find safe homes and meaningful work. The voices are women demanding equal rights at home and in the working place, as well as justice against their sexual predators. The voices are coming from within the LGBTQIA community demanding that the dominant (i.e., heterosexual) class not be able to define their sexuality. It’s the voices of the homeless looking for housing or the starving their next meal. It’s wherever voices are raised on behalf of people who are struggling with issues such as these.
These voices should be telling us that all is not well with our world. They should compel us into “a theology or view/understanding of God” that will heal these wounds, bring together our fractured communities, provide justice where there is none, bring hope to the hopeless and offer love to those who so desperately need it and yet have never found it.
3. “With covenant comes a book.” Comments? [pp. 68+]
With almost any contract of legal standing, there’s a written document to which the parties involved refer that spells out the details of their covenant/agreement. Some are longer than others – i.e., from a one-liner, to just a few pages, to book-length. However, as with any binding contract, many questions should be asked: Who wrote it? Are there parts of it that are more important than others (e.g., verse, chapter, book-within-the-book)? Who holds the real power behind its terms? As you carefully study those terms, who stands to win or lose in the end? Is what is given and what is taken of equal worth? What happens when any of the, so-called, signatories default on the agreement? The questions are endless.
As Galston points out:
“For some writers of the Bible loyalty to God in covenant means reducing the interpretation of the book to the interests of the group.
For other writers it is rather the very nature of the covenant to shatter group thinking with the imperative of justice” [pp. 67-68].
Oddly enough, with this “book” – this recorded document that we’ve come to call the Bible – that it would have both “words of promise and of warning” doesn’t make it unique among contracts. In most contracts, if all of the agreements are adhered to, it can be said that the promises have been met. But there are always warnings about what will happen if they aren’t.
As Galston shrewdly notes there, what makes the Bible unique is that “the literal words in the books are not the covenant.” They only “witness to the true covenant, which is the spiritual ‘Word’ of the covenant.” How in the world, then, does one find out what that is? The comics among us would say, “That’s why we have lawyers.”
I’m reminded at this point of that classic convoluted statement which goes something like this: “I know that you think you understand what I said. But what you heard is not what I meant.” We have been talking past each other for a long, long time.
If the words in our covenant/contract – the “book” – only point to some other “revelation but are not identical to revelation,” as Galston claims here, we’re going to have problems. And we have, haven’t we? In spades. The assumptions and interpretations of this particular book, the Bible, were all over the place from the very beginning. Some of the terms are not only easily misconstrued, but seem to directly contradict each other. It’s good that Galston reminds us, then, that “we need to remember that the Bible is not really a book.” It is, in fact, “a product of cultural history and experience” which has necessarily imbued it with all manner of opinion, prejudice, points of view and errant conclusions. When we read it literally (or as “the gospel truth”) we’ve ignored its context and the history of the authors – along with their cultures and institutions – that created it.
Nothing about the Bible is “inerrant” or “infallible.” What, then, does that do to the covenant? If it doesn’t mean that we should rewrite it – or at least think it through again – than you tell me what, if anything, it’s still good for?
4. How do you “struggle to interpret the covenant in a new setting”? [p. 72]
My struggle remains with the institutional Church which continues to claim that they – and only they (represented in our denomination both by the Council of Bishops and the Book of Discipline) are they final arbiters “to interpret the covenant.” My struggle has been to try to work within the institution, alongside others (both lay and clergy), to bring about another reformation of the Church. If my friends and colleagues haven’t felt like it, all too often I certainly have felt like the Sisyphus of Greek mythology – condemned to roll an immense boulder up a hill, only to watch it come back down and knock him off of his feet, and then do it all over again for eternity. I’d never claim to be cursed for eternity over my disagreements with the Church, but it has been a relief to at least retire from it for a while. At least I am no longer confined by it or subject to its pronouncements.
5. List (Diagram) the open and closed aspects of the three important features of covenant theology. Does this help your understanding? [p. 75]
1. the prophetic call for justice
2. recorded document/book
3. open to critical thinking
4. allowance for mysticism
5. allowance for interpretation & renewal
1. literal reading of the text
2. an authoritative book frozen in time
3. infallible and inerrant
4. insistence upon fundamentalism
5. insistence upon traditional beliefs
I think that speaks for itself.
Chapter 5 – “Jesus the Teacher of Nothingness”
6. How do we continue to “proclaim Jesus as the parable of God.”? [p. 80]
Jesus remains to be the logos for what it means to be a fully human being. In philosophy this term is used to refer to “the rational principle that governs and develops the universe.” That’s a bit much to lay on any human being – even Jesus of Nazareth. I don’t offer it to mean, as well, that this Jesus is some kind of “divine word” or reason incarnate in him as “the Christ” (literally, “the Chosen One”). He simply lived well. He responded to his deeper calling.
That’s why I like the ways in which Galston begins this chapter talking about poetry and the poet who chooses to live within his/her imagination. As he says, “The nature of art is interpretation…not formula but vision, and every vision, to be effective must engage others, an individual or community, in the question of meaning” [p. 77]. That was the genius of Jesus. He spoke with a poet’s voice – which is akin to speaking in parables.
Just to illustrate this point, one of my favorite poets, Mary Oliver, wrote this in her poem entitled "Wild Geese:"
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting - - -
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
That is an astonishing revelation about what it means simply to be a human being – and it may not be Mary Oliver’s best poem!
This is how we might “proclaim Jesus as the parable of God.” Again, as Galston has introduced him, he says: “The trouble with the historical Jesus is that he was a poet. The form of his poetry was the artful and invocative parable…” [p. 78]. And later, “Just as a poem is not really about the poem, the parables of Jesus are not about the parables.” They “are the way Jesus cast human life out on the horizon to behold, to wonder about, and to re-image” [pp. 78 & 79]. That’s Jesus as parable. We, now, are called to recapture his voice, along with his poetic vision, and reimagine what it means to live as human beings called to community.
Unfortunately, too much cultural interpretation and allegorizing by the gospel writers robbed Jesus of his poetic voice long after others silenced both that voice and the poet. In the centuries that followed, tragically, the Church has continued to do the same.
7. Can you tell how your theology has been influenced by Christian allegory? If yes, how? [p. 81]
Like far too many lay people in the Church, I initially accepted many of the parables as they had been allegorized by scripture and “explained” by the Church. Like everybody else I asked my pastors and teachers, “Tell me what it means.” Years later, and with the help of wise teachers, I learned to listen to the voice of Jesus in the context of my own life. I have been astonished by just how much more alive his message has become.
8. Do you think Mark really missed that Jesus’ parables were works of art, meant to be interpreted afresh each time, or that Mark had an agenda that he promoted with his interpretations? [p. 83]
Whether it’s obvious on its face or not, every single author within the scriptures had a point of view – that includes Mark.
9. Is our author “over interpreting” the parable of the sower? [p. 86]
While parables certainly can be “over-interpreted” (witness how interpreting them as allegories have narrowed the possibilities of their meaning), I don’t think that Galston goes too far. I agree with him that “The parables withhold something, they draw back, and take with them a final resolution.” It’s like “an emptiness within the parable…invite[s] us into their vision.” It’s up to us, then, to reimagine just what that resolution, what that vision, might be. This is the way of real wisdom: as it gives us an answer to our question, it then invites us to ponder another – often deeper – question. In that way truth leads to yet another truth.
10. How does this chapter advance our understanding of theology?
As with so much of Galston’s book, I think that the study of theology – and our encounters with it – opens up a heretofore closed system (e.g., the doctrines and dogma of the Church). We then are “allowed” to imagine how we not only can re-experience and reinterpret the life and voice of Jesus, but the very nature of the Sacred itself.
Week 2 Questions
1 – Our author compares religion to superstition. How does your religion compare to superstition? 23
2 – How would you change Christianity so that it did (does) not deny reality? 25
3 – How does your savior work? 27
4 - “The purposes for gathering within the boundaries of religion are rarely reasonable...” Is our group a counter example? 31
5 – How have you acted strong or weak in church? 39
6 – How are “Religious Studies” safe and Theology unsafe? 46
7 – Describe an experience you had of “waking up the avatar within”. 51
8 – Do you think people can rule justly? Why? 53
9 – If God is Absolute Reality, what’s the use of theology? 56
10 - “It is not a question of intelligence. It is a question of willingness to participate in the world.” Comments? 59
Responses to Week 2 Questions
Week 2 Questions
1. Our author compares religion to superstition. How does your religion compare to superstition? [p. 23]
I want to say, at the outset, that my definition of religion may be different than Galston’s. It’s more than simply a “philosophy” – more than just a “love of wisdom.” Simply put (as I noted earlier), I think of religion as a commitment to whatever matters most in life – that which binds us together as a human community. In that sense, I think Galston is right when he says here: “Religion is about how wisdom plays out in life. …a way of reflecting on and practicing a certain lifestyle.” It does lead to rituals and liturgical expressions, but those are signposts that are meant to help us focus on our deeper commitment and are not the heart of the matter. Such a “symbolic system” is, indeed, “made up,” as Galston notes, but “a religion, nevertheless, in its symbols reflects the human quest for meaning” [p. 26]. I would agree.
In response to the above question, then, I suppose the ways that my understanding of religion may seem superstitious, are the ways in which I keep open the possibility of a deep Mystery that is at the heart of creation. As that is not based upon certainty and first-hand knowledge, you could call it “superstitious.” That I give that Mystery a kind of propitious significance might also seem “superstitious,” but I don’t think so. I just cannot hold to the premise that all of reality suddenly came into being out of nothing. There must be some kind of Prime Mover or Force behind it all. I do not give it sentience, however, as if this Force (call it “God” if you like) decided to create everything that is ex nihilo.
I think it is reasonable, and does make scientific sense, that Something is/was behind it all. I just have no idea what that “Something” might be – hence the concept of Mystery. But that’s not like (it seems to me) superstition which posits an actual belief in some kind of Supreme Being. I have no irrational fear of this great Unknown, or believe that this Force is somehow acting upon or controlling my life – other than, as a finite human being, I was born and will die.
I do not blindly accept any belief or notion about a “God,” so don’t feel as if my curiosity about this Force is related to any doctrine or codified system of belief. It does feel like a theology to me, though, in that I have always been in search of religious truth – again, some greater Reality that somehow binds us together as a human community. Galston does, finally, recognize something like that when he says that religion – even if it is “just” a philosophy – is “applied in specific practices and beliefs to the psychological task of dealing with life” [p. 27].
I do wonder, however, just what will happen next. What is all of this about, finally?
2. How would you change Christianity so that it did (does) not deny reality? [p. 25]
I would get rid of all fundamentalist pronouncements about “God” as some kind of supernatural supreme being who demands absolute allegiance to one – and only one – way of being human. Not far behind that would be to reform the institutional Church in its claims to be the voice of authority over all things religious. Let the local community decide what is of ultimate importance – just as long as its decisions are based upon universal truths such as love, compassion, justice, peace, reconciliation and that it has a healthy appreciation for reason as well as scientific discovery.
I wholeheartedly agree with Galston, then, when he concludes there with these words:
“When religion stands in place of facts and becomes an absolute truth,
it ends up having very little value to offer humanity. There is no point
to religion if it simply becomes the denial of reality.”
3. How does your savior work? [p. 27]
Such a person (guidelines or ways of being – if you would allow me an inanimate “savior”) would call me back to universal scientific and philosophical truths. In other words, to “save” me he/she/it must provide, whenever possible, that which is accurate, authentic, factual, and legitimate – or at least provide me with as much of the whole story as is possible in the face of the Mystery and uncertainty of the universe. That would have redemptive power.
4. “The purposes for gathering within the boundaries of religion are rarely reasonable…” Is our group a counter example? [p. 31]
If we’re not “a counter example” we certainly are an effective and reasonable alternative!
5. How have you acted strong or weak in church? [p. 39]
I think that my strength – first as a lay person and then as a pastor – has been to avoid absolute pronouncements about theology and to be open to and to then encourage different points of view. If I have been weak, it’s been as I’ve allowed others (particularly those in authority) to dictate just what it was we were expected to believe and how we were expected to behave. I have both been silenced and kept silent all too often and for far too long.
6. How are “Religious Studies” safe and Theology unsafe? [p. 46]
Often, religious studies leave one open to consider one’s own concepts of truth and divinity while Theology (with that capital “T”) assumes a particular deity to which one must be loyal and whose perceived pronouncements one must follow.
I like Galston’s comment there, however, that “When the gods die an age of anxiety is born. It is the fate of a theologian to carry this burden forward to a new day.” Let’s do that. In my better moments, I’ve been attempting to do just that.
7. Describe an experience you had of “waking up the avatar within.” [p. 51]
I think that it’s a bit presumptuous that I would be up to the level of “avatar” as Galston defines it: “finding divine qualities…within the self” [p. 1], “an incarnation of the divine” or even “the realization of the divine essence” [p. 2] within myself. What’s more, later, Galston says that the “avatar incarnates or makes present in the secular world the divine principles of knowledge and order” [p. 50]. On the other hand, I am intrigued by his simple statement here that “Enlightenment theology is all about waking up the avatar within.”
So, how about this: I once got caught in a “dialogue” with Bishop Talbert on the floor of Clergy Session (i.e., in the presence of only clergy) over the doctrine of the Trinity. You should know that to serve as clergy “in good standing” within The United Methodist Church, we must affirm that doctrine. I was pointing out to Bishop Talbert and my colleagues what, to my mind, I thought were the limitations of its gender-limiting imagery for such an infinite concept of being. I think the bishop sensed where I was going and bluntly asked me, “Do you believe in the Triune God?” When I quickly responded, “Yes,” he heard the “but…” which clearly was coming, and he shut me down and moved on. Later, after the session ended, I was approached by one of our female colleagues who thanked me for speaking up because, she said, that she would never have been heard as I had been, simply because she was a woman.
Was that an “avatar” moment? You tell me.
8. Do you think people can rule justly? Why or why not? [p. 53]
Yes. If I did not I would have to give up on humanity. I am more hopeful than that.
9. If God is Absolute Reality, what’s the use of theology? [p. 56]
That’s a tricky one. To be “absolute” infers complete perfection, without limitation, unrestrained – but also often arbitrary, even despotic. That is unreal. That is not God. But if theology is about the study of religious truth (and I believe that it is), theology – its study and practice – remains to be very useful.
So, I like what Galston says on the very next page: “God is a metaphor for ultimate reality.” And if our concept of divinity “is not ‘something’ or ‘somebody,’ but a final point of stillness”…, then “Every human being can realize the trace of [that] stillness in their activities of life” [p. 57].
10. “It is not a question of intelligence. It is a question of willingness to participate in the world.” Comments? [p. 59]
In the final analysis, one’s ability to be fully human – in Galston’s words, “capable of bringing the insight of peace to any situation of anger or violence” – is not about one’s IQ or level of education. Even those with limited intelligence can participate in caring for others and for their community and the world – if they’re willing and are given the freedom to do so. Again, as Galston concludes there, “Every human being is an avatar, an enlightenment waiting to happen.” May it be so.
Week 1 Questions
1 – After reading the first few pages, does your own theology fit the Enlightenment or Covenant model better?
2 - “Every time the world changes, God changes.” Comments? pg. 4
3 – Describe the Bible in 25 words or less. pg. 10
4 – Where do you think God acts (his) worst in the Bible? pg. 11
5 – How do you see the authority of the Bible? pg. 13
6 – Comment on your own ability to read the Bible with a pre-scientific mindset. pg. 14
7 – What new thing did you learn from pages 16 – 18 about the Gospels?
8 – Without reading ahead (into chapter 2), what value does religion have? pg. 22
Responses to Week 1 Questions
Week 1 Questions
1. After reading the first few pages, does your own theology fit the Enlightenment orCovenant model better?
While I have some troubles with both, the Enlightenment model fits a bit better with my own approach – i.e., “finding divine qualities behind natural fluctuations and within the self” [p. 1] and arising “from the wisdom tradition in which the actualization of the divine reality happens in the lifestyle of individuals or communities” [p. 2]. I should say (confess?) at the outset, however, that I think humanity has created “God” in its own image, and not the other way around. I really do not know who or what “God” is.
2. “Every time the world changes, God changes.” Comments? pg. 4
If “God” is an absolute reality, “God” doesn’t change; it’s our understanding of “God” that changes as our perception of the world changes. Whenever the “old world stops working,” it’s not that “so does God.” It’s just that we’ve had to rethink our concept of “God” because, invariably, that earlier concept of ours no longer makes sense. In fact, that “God” never really existed in the first place; “He” was a figment of our overactive imagination.
I really like Galston’s image, then, of theology as parable and certainly that “religion is a human creation,” so we need to re-create just what it means to be religious – as well as Christian. Our task, as he puts it, is then “to re-imagine, re-create, and even permanently re-cast the world with engaging hope” [p. 5]. And that’s going to take a completely new concept of theology – in fact, an entirely new concept of “God.”
What’s more, for Galston to say that “God’s future and the human future are the same thing,” means to me that we are the only savior of creation that there is. It’s not going to be accomplished by one Jesus of Nazareth coming back to life to save us from ourselves.
3. Describe the Bible in 25 words or less. pg. 10
The Bible is a literary collection created by human authors over a period of sixteen centuries that attempts to interpret their experiences of the Holy.
4. Where do you think God acts (his) worst in the Bible? pg. 11
Let’s be clear: the actions attributed to “God” in the Bible are a human interpretation, at best, but are, more likely, simply a complete invention of the authors and their cultural points of view. The books of Daniel and Revelation, however, seem to me to be the worst portrayals of “God” simply because – as they’re both the same type of apocalyptic literature – they purport to detail visions of “the end times” when it was thought that judgment, vengeance and bloodshed would be at its worst.
Along with Galston, however, I believe that “the record of violence is not really by or about ‘God.’ It is the human beings who wrote these texts who bear responsibility for their content” [pp. 11-12]. Sadly, the fact that we’ve given them the weight of truth – that they do not deserve – is a tragedy that we continue to wrestle with even to this day. Again, with Galston:
“The real content of the Bible betrays its humanity in both its beautiful and
disparaging prose. The Bible holds the prejudices of ancient cultures and
through them invokes the many tragedies of modern life when people take
it too seriously as supernaturally revealed truth. These comments do not
discount the amazing things that can be found in the Bible, such as stories
of forgiveness, of courage, of compassion, of justice seeking, and of peace.
[But] … the Bible is a human creation, arising as it did over centuries as an
amalgamation of writings and oral traditions. … Sometimes its pages are
inspiring and sometimes outrageous. They are so, and are both, because
they are the creation of human beings” [p. 12].
5. How do you see the authority of the Bible? pg. 13
I don’t really see it as “the authority” in any ultimate sense. Because it was created, compiled, edited and redacted by human authors, their cultures, and their oral traditions, we must take into account all of those points of view before we decide that what we find revealed there is worth giving any power or influence over our lives.
6. Comment on your own ability to read the Bible with a pre-scientific mindset. pg. 14
I think that I can separate what I’ve come to know about reality from the “pre-scientific mindset” represented in the Bible. Because Scripture was never meant to be read as scientific fact, or even credible descriptive history, I can accept that most of it represents (as Galston puts it there) “a writer’s theology, that is, the writer’s theo-centric view of the world.” And I wholeheartedly agree with his conclusion that “none of these forms of writing, these genres like narrative writing, biographical writing, wisdom writing, and prophetic writing, are literally true.” At best, they’re inspirational in that “they project a vision for the future” which might lead us toward a more just and compassionate world community.
7. What new thing did you learn from pages 16 – 18 about the Gospels?
Nothing really. For the most part it’s what I learned while working on a Master’s Degree in Theology at Duke University. Knowing the history and sources of the Bible is critical to understanding how it was created and where its points of view came from.
8. Without reading ahead (into chapter 2), what value does religion have? pg. 22
I learned years ago that the concept of “religion” can be understood as the ways in which a community comes to interpret and live out the life that it holds in common – i.e., all that binds it together (from the Latin word religare which means “to bind”). Religion often then becomes a personal and/or communal devotion to a “higher good.” It also can lead to a conscientious concern for and a commitment to whatever matters most in life to a community – what it values.
As Galston points out at the close of this chapter, it’s not whether or not any religion is true, finally, it’s what we value about it that gives it its importance and significance.