Shuck and Jive

Opinions expressed here are my own and do not represent the views of the congregation I joyfully serve. But my congregation loves me!

Monday, May 18, 2009

"God" and Hope

I am happy to see Mystical Seeker blogging again. A post of interest is a reflection on the concept of "God" by Michael Dowd and another is comment on a video in which Marcus Borg and Dominic Crossan also speak about what they mean by "God." I was less happy with the video as Crossan comes across as snippy, dismissive, and not altogether accurate about atheism.

I have a soft spot for atheists in part because they are a marginalized group in our country. To illustrate, the two groups on ETSU's campus who have their posters torn down or defaced on a regular basis are the LGBT group and the Atheist group.

I have much in common with the atheists I know as we engage in projects for LGBT rights, reproductive choice, separation of religion and state, and advocacy for the environment, social justice, science, and peace.

I am amused and delighted by their critiques of the supernaturalism of my fellow religionists. This supernaturalism expresses itself in everything from creationism to a belief in an interventionist deity who cares that I find a parking space at Wal-Mart (but for some reason leaves the hungry and impoverished to their own devices).

Atheists have been helpful in regards to interpreting sacred texts. They embrace higher criticism and point out my inconsistencies in interpreting these texts. In fact, I identify philosophically and ethically more with many of my atheist friends than I do with religious believers, including those in my own denomination.

I do take a different path, however. I value the religious imagination. I still use the symbol "God" (although I don't know how to spell it--G-d or Godde or God/dess). I don't use this symbol as an explanation for how the universe works. I embrace science for that. I don't use this symbol as an explanation for ethics or morality. Reason and compassion do as well or better than following the dictates of an ancient holiness code.

I exercise my religious imagination and all that goes with it (wisdom texts, sacred celebrations, sacred songs, liturgy, communities, and so forth) because of its hopefulness. Perhaps it is corny. Maybe I am engaging in little more than infantile regression. To be clear, I am not saying that atheists are not hopeful. Atheists are some of the most courageous and hopeful people I know.

It is just that for me, the religious imagination (including the symbol "God") shows me a light at the end of the tunnel. Religious imagination provides me with the poetry of sorrow and the possibility of surprise.

I have been told that the next twenty years will be nothing like the last twenty. The planet has reached its tipping point in supporting a human population that is intent on ravaging its hospitality. All of our ideologies, theologies, and philosophies will be tested to their limits. I like to think that the Universe is rooting for us. My religious imagination is how I express that hope.

Whether atheist or religious, we have common ground. We have a common planet. May we find a way to get beyond our posturing and find a common future.

Since it is the season for commencement addresses, I recommend this one from Barbara Kingsolver. She spoke about hope at Duke last year. You can listen too.

You’ll see things collapse in your time, the big houses, the empires of glass. The new green things that sprout up through the wreck –- those will be yours.