Re: [asa] D'Souza vs. Hitchens - Surrending the debate

From: Jim Armstrong <jarmstro@qwest.net>
Date: Wed Oct 31 2007 - 14:15:03 EDT

epistemologically
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Well, there's no question that we will differ on this point. However, my
sense is that the the reality of the divine creator is neither defined
by a name nor by the particular model one might use for
conceptualization.

With respect to name, Creator God is who he is. "God" is just our
particular name for a supreme creative being who probably needs no name
at all [the Bible seeming to commend existence, "I am", rather than
title].
Nearly every human being recognizes the existence of such a supreme
being who is responsible for creation, and responsible for their
existence in specific. They have a variety of names for that being,
understandably embodied in their own language. We call Him (Her, It)
"God", but we use many other names as well (apparently numbering about
100 for the Abrahamic traditions, though mostly differing in language
specifics). Many of these we share with Judaism, and we are not troubled
by expressions like G-d or (the somewhat distorted) Jehovah, or probably
even "hashem" if its use is understood. However, we would lose some
fellow travellers (though not all, particularly among missionaries!), if
we were to use a name from another Abrahamic tradition like "Allah".
And yet these are all conveniences of address for the same Abrahamic
God. Noteably, the choice among them does not change the Creator in
any way.

Though perhaps a little harder to accept at the outset, by extension it
would seem that the name assigned to the divine one would have
essentially nothing to do with who God is in reality, or with the
legitimacy of the quest of the seeker who uses any particular
(presumeably reverential) name. Our Scripture puts it this way, "...for
he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder
of them that diligently seek him." It does not say that we must come
using the correct name.

The model used for conceptualizing God is a somewhat different matter.
We all have a variety of understandings (even among Christians who
belong to one of some 30,000 identifiable denominations) about the exact
nature and character of the transcendant being that is assigned our name
"God". No two of these understandings are exactly alike in detail,
sometimes differing in very significant detail. But if truth be told,
even when we speak of "one God", we really don't know with certainty
whether it/he/she is just a single entity, or whether this numbering
thing even makes any sense with respect to the transcendant nature of
God.

In most of our Christian traditions, we are taught to have a problem
with people groups making painted or wood or clay or stone images of
what they think God might look like. The images are idols and those who
reverence them are idolaters. We in our traditions prefer to stay with
mental models, not physical ones - but they are models nonetheless
whether physical or mental. If they are the "other guy's" models, we are
inclined to call them "idols". If they are ours, we call them "icons" or
"art".

But with perhaps rare exceptions, those objects of pigment or wood or
clay or stone are not the deities themselves, but representations. So
are our "icons" and "art".

And that is true of our mental models as well. They too - even the best
or most acceptable-to-us mental models - are essentially inferior
representations, sharing extreme shortfall with respect to the reality
of transcendent God (continuing to use our more familiar appellation).

Most people groups throughout the world have in common an understanding
that they specifically are a people that were created in special
preferred relationship and favor with that supreme being.
At least some people groups understand that that supreme being has also
given them a special task in the world (usually in the nature of
conquerer or ambassador).
Most people groups have an understanding that they must do something(s)
to stay in favor (avoid getting out of favor) with that supreme being.

But at the end of the day, none of the specifics of these understandings
have any effect whatsoever on who/what that supreme being is in reality,
the one whom they seek.

All of these people groups and individuals within them work the same
essential spiritual problem, namely how to conceptualize, relate to and
communicate with the transcendant being who is the Creator (to use
another name as an example).

I think we can reasonably presume that most are also sincere, whatever
degree of devotion they might manifest. But there is nothing in the
preceeding distillation of essentials that says they are seeking
different supreme beings.

What IS different (in some cases, clearly very different) is the human
side of the equation, the name(s), nature, story and history, holy
writings, traditions, understanding of purpose, and practices.

Since every conceptualization of God varies down to a specific
individual, it is pretty clear that no human understanding of a
transcendant being and his/her/its nature and intent can be complete or
wholly accurate, even though those purported 30,000 identifiable
Christian denominations (alone) are doing their best to do so. But in a
broader view, so are the rest of the folks. It seems to be our need for
uniqueness (collective and individual ego, if you will) that underlies
the dismissive characterizing of other religions as seeking (idolizing)
something other than the true supreme being (God, in our language). But
each of those other people groups is equally quick to affirm that their
quest is for the "one true God", just as ours.

A major difficulty in our time (and probably in all times) is - at the
core - how people act in the context of their version of the quest (or
an all too common perversion of it).
But that STILL has nothing to do with the reality of the supreme being
(God as we call "him"), or his position as the "one true God".

The crux of the matter is that there is nothing that would say that the
prayers of anyone intending to reach the "one true God" are somehow
deflected by what someone else might think or understand or say about
them or their prayers. We understand that to be a "direct line". Again,
from Hebrews: "...for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and
that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him." The name "God"
in the passage is our name (and a translation at that), not in any
measure the full reality, but intended to point to that divine reality.

In this discussion, I had no intent at all to dismiss the specific
tenets of Christianity. What I speak of is the universal yearning for
understanding and relationship with the Creator. In that light, it seems
to me unnecessarily dismissive and alienating to categorize those who
seek the Creator with names and models different than ours as
"idolaters". The apostle Paul evidently understood that. Such
dismissive characterization and labelling does nothing constructive to
"...draw all men unto ... [Him]"

P.S. In the extreme case of one who understands that the physical world
is all there is, the label is atheist, not idolater.

Or so it seemeth to me

Blessings - JimA

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Received on Wed Oct 31 15:29:07 2007

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