Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Bishop Sprong’s The Lecture Tour of Germany, Part III: Marburg

The subject of the lecture in Marburg was how to develop a non-theistic understanding of God. I am no longer able to make sense out of the traditional theistic definition of God as “a Being,” who exists somewhere external to this world, who is a supernatural power and who can come to our aid in time of need or in answer to our prayers. I am therefore not a “theist” and the English language suggests the only alternative to being a theist is to be an atheist. I am not an atheist either. Indeed I have an overwhelming sense of the wonder and mystery of God, but few if any words with which to convey that conviction.

In this lecture I sought to root a non-theistic understanding of God in the universal expression of separation that I believe accompanied the birth of self-consciousness. To be self-conscious is to view life from a center inside the self instead of seeing oneself as an undifferentiated part of nature. Self-consciousness is the experience in which time is known as the medium in which we live; it is thus also the source of the chronic anxiety that grips all human life and in which we are forced to view ourselves as mortals, who are destined to die. No other living creature has to manage this much reality. It is self-consciousness that creates the great divide between human beings and the world of nature, including the merely conscious but not self-conscious parts of nature.

Out of the anxiety, or as the Germans would say, out of the angst of self-consciousness we create religious systems designed to please the external deity as a part of our search to find security. Religion is motivated to win divine approval so that God will do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. Thus religion, I now believe, represents a necessary stage in the childhood of our humanity, but one that we must inevitably outgrow when we finally stop playing parent-child games with God. The next step in human development will come, I believe, when we dare to step into human maturity and begin to experience God as the life force, empowering us to live fully, the love force freeing us to love wastefully and the being of God – what Tillich called the Ground of Being – giving us the courage to be all that we can be. It is in terms of this understanding of the God experience that I now understand and seek to communicate the Christ story. I see Jesus not as the divine visitor, but as one who lived fully, who loved wastefully and who dared to be all that he could be and in this process opened us to who God is. Jesus broke the boundaries that still keep us in childlike fear and dependency. The Jesus I now see does not rescue me from a fall that never happened, even mythologically, but he is the one who calls me and empowers me to enter a new dimension of what it means to be human. This God experience in Jesus invites me to step beyond tribe, gender, prejudice and even religion to be part of a universal consciousness.


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