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July 5, 2011


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On Sunday June 5 the Rev. Dr. Roger Ray and I shared the pulpit at Community Christian Church in Springfield, Missouri in what Dr. Ray calls a “dialogue sermon.” Our “dialogue” addressed the question “does God control the wind?” The sermon consists of three exchanges between us. One part of the exchange will be published on this blog over the next six weeks. This essay is the fifth in the exchange. Dr. Ray will have the final word.

Charles Hedrick, Dialogue Sermon (#5):

There is still a rather large elephant in the room! Let me rephrase: “God has abandoned direct hands-on management of the natural world. It runs itself with no direct divine oversight.” One must affirm something like that to avoid making God responsible for Mother Nature’s disastrous excesses. People of faith usually separate the problem of Nature’s excess from the idea that a benevolent God is running the world in two ways. One way is to avoid calling them “acts of God” but rather “natural disasters,” which is a way of affirming that God is not responsible—but without bothering to address the nature of God directly. The other way is to appeal to human finitude: “The ways of God are beyond human comprehension,” which is a way of admitting that God was responsible for the disaster but appealing to the idea that somehow the disaster fits into a benevolent divine plan.

I do not think the idea that God is integral to human existence is so easily separated from the idea of God’s relationship to the universe. If God is relates in some way to us, we must also acknowledge that God in some way is related to the natural world. If we describe how God is related to one, we must also be willing to describe how God is related to the other—in order to be intellectually honest.

You use the word “exist” to describe God, which is a way of bringing God into the world of time and space. I have given up the use of that expression and simply say “God is.” To claim that God “exists” in a world of time and space is to attribute “creatureliness” to God. To say God “exists” raises the question: exactly where? Converting God into Creature-Who-Wills makes God pervious to the same ailments that afflict us: mutability and decay. Rather, God is outside, over, against, and around the world of human decay and renewal. God does not exist in that world like we do!

However, God is clearly within the world of time and space in our human consciousness, or, to put it another way, in the fertile concept “God”—a concept that seems to endemic to the human condition. If I may use your word, our concepts of God “inspire” human beings to sacrificial humanitarian acts, but also to acts most would regard as unconscionable—both done in God’s name!

I respectfully disagree: “the thousands of well-meaning people flowing into Joplin to give aid to the victims and survivors” is not an “act of God,” but an act of average people “inspired” by a particular concept of God. Construing their acts as “godly” is your hermeneutic—the Westborough Baptist Church folk regard their acts as “godly,” as do all folk who name God as sanction for their behavior. As I said: our problem is sorting the wheat from the chaff.

Without a spin, Mother Nature’s—or God’s, destructive footprints in history are easily seen. What the concept “God” inspires in us positively, however, is more difficult to see. Those things are mostly personal, unknown, and usually unsung.

Charles Hedrick
Posted by Charles Hedrick at 6:00am

Hi Charlie:

Your last post raised the following two questions for me: First, assuming the absence of any personal deity, what should we make of all the people in the world who seem to have a "sixth sense" for the existence and desires of supernatural beings? Conversely, given the existence of one or more personal deities, why would such beings create people who lacked that "sixth sense" (e.g., Buddhists, atheists, agnostics, and non-religious people)?


Posted by Lee Penya on 07/08/2011 at 6:11pm

These are good questions for which, unfortunately, there can be no definitive answers—except in confessions. Whenever anyone poses a question that relates to the existence of gods, answers are necessarily speculative. So here is my speculation (others will no doubt have other speculations). I do not know if human beings are “hard-wired for faith,” as Dr. Ray puts it. But others think that that to be so. Nicholas Wade wrote a book entitled, The Faith Instinct. How Religion Evolved, and Why it Endures (Penguin, 2009). He thinks (according to reviews; I have not read the book) that we humans have a “God Gene.” I suspect, however, that we humans have an instinct for survival and that religion and superstition have to do with human survival. Superstition and Religion are two sides of the same coin in other words, and work pretty much the same way (see “Magic, Superstition, and Faith,” blog of May 20, 2009 in my Archive). In general, superstition deals with our effective survival in the world, while religion deals with our continued survival after death. I think of this “survival instinct” as an extended spectrum with crass superstition at one end and at the other end lies ethical, philosophical, non-mythological, etc. ideas of “God.”

Posted by Charles Hedrick on 7/11/2011 at 2:12pm