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July 11, 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 has been published on this blog over the last six weeks. This essay is the last in the exchange. Dr. Ray has the last word.

Rev. Roger Ray, Dialogue Sermon (#6):

I appreciate the distinction you are making between saying that “God exists” and “God is.” But, with all due respect to our former president, it does rather depend on what the definition of “is” is. If we ask, “Does the color blue exist?” Then we can certainly say that we have seen blue in the sky, in the ocean, in a corpulent cleric’s eyes and elsewhere but we would not claim that there is a singular being which is, by character and nature, THE blue. When we say that “God is” it remains to be said whether or not the word “God” is used to describe our concept of ethical values, good intentions and the places, things and experiences that we regard to be most dear to us or does the word “God” describe an entity which might actually prefer good over evil or perhaps even might prefer red carpet in our church building over our current purple and pink carpets.

I realize that we have come to the end of our public conversation but it seems to me that when you say that both thousands of volunteers streaming in to aid victims in Joplin and the Westborough Baptist Church members coming to condemn Joplin might be seen as “acts of God” from different perspectives, it leaves me to suspect that your view of God’s “is-ness” is a term under which we gather those things and ideas which we personally hold to be sacred but that there is not a sentient entity who prefers love and charity to judgment and hostility. And this may be where we continue to disagree.

While I dismiss any anthropomorphic or sectarian descriptions of God, i.e., God is neither male nor female, nor is there a Jewish deity, a Muslim god or a Buddhist god, but that we are all striving to describe our sense of the “Thou.” And saying that, I would like to add that I agree one cannot defend a notion of an all-powerful, all-knowing and simultaneously all-loving and good deity—because the world contains a lot of undisputed evil. What seems to be absolutely necessary to sacrifice from this trinity is the notion of God being all-powerful. That’s disturbing to many religious folks, but it is basically the answer offered by Rabbi Kushner and others who prefer to say that God weeps with us in our sorrows but does not cause them and cannot always prevent them. In many ways I think our essential problem here is monotheism. The ancient polytheistic religions did a better job of accounting for both good and bad in the universe by describing both good and bad gods.

However, the other side of your argument about the limitations of human understanding is not quite so easy to dismiss. I regularly affirm the comedian, Bill Maher’s, observation that “I believe in God and yet I don’t think that anyone on earth knows as much about God as my dog knows about how I balance my checkbook.” It could be, as you have suggested, that humans are simply “hard wired” for religion but both through an a priori awareness and personal experience, the existence of the Holy who is both external and yet immanent seems to be persistently persuasive. We cannot know, we cannot prove, we cannot accurately describe, manipulate or control and yet neither can we persuasively deny and therefore, we continue to have faith.

Rev. Dr. Roger Ray
Posted by Roger Ray at 6:00am

Reading Dr. Ray's closing statement, I have to wonder to what extent the belief in deities is a product of culture, geography, and the times. As you know, the ancient Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, and Norsemen had considerable pantheons (I understand the ancient Hebrew one may not have been so large as some of these). All of this changed with time. On the other hand, in our day and age, while mainstream Buddhists (who, to my knowledge, engage in spiritual practices such as meditation and compassion-building) do not exclude the possibility that deities exist, they do not affirm their existence or worship any particular deity. So perhaps it would be more accurate to claim that we humans are hard-wired for spirituality but not necessarily for theism. I look forward to your thoughts on this.

Posted by Lee Penya on 7/11/2011 at 11:58am

You ask provocative questions! I believe I addressed this one when I responded to your previous question (notice I did not say that I “answered” it).

Posted by Charles Hedrick on 7/11/2011 at 2:16pm