People certainly do not all mean the same thing when they use the word “God” – whether they capitalize it or not, whether they think in singulars or plurals or weirder mysteries, whether or not they worship the essence that, for them, the word signifies, or the functional society formed in response to what is signified, or, indeed, whether they find the word useful or culturally (ir)relevant or dangerous in themselves or in the world. “God” is not simple.
A friend of mine posted today the very true statement, “Three things god isn’t: Christian, male and white!” For only about two millennia has the signifier Christian even existed. And not only was God not one, neither was the very human Jesus. The sexual human body and the gendered human soul are sometimes mined for metaphors in reference to a narrative character who in some fashion illustrates the divine or the ultimate, God who elsewhere is referred to as spirit, not as literal body. And the racial category of whiteness is a construct that was brought into being with intentions of social and political power and control, not to describe an objective or scientifically discoverable reality. “White” describes no one – divine or human – in the ancient texts of the descendants of Jacob or of the nominal followers of Jesus.
My friend’s statement is a corrective, a needed corrective to millennia of world-dominating theologies that cast “something” not at all human in the guise of the more powerful members of a now ancient, archaic society. Straight, white, Christian, men with power cast their God in their own mold and used worship of the image they created to maintain their own power over others, steal the land and resources and livelihood of indigenous non-Christians, keep power out of the hands of people whose sexual and gender identity they had not placed on the pedestal of their God, and keep generations of people of color in the institution of slavery and its heir systems and related systems of inequity.
Some people chose the resurrection of the urGoddess as the way to break the power of the dominant false images of the divine. As a corrective, they certainly weren’t wrong. Their goals were of equity and collaborative engagement rather than dominance and control.
But there is also a long strand, as ancient as recorded thought itself, that understands the ultimate as essentially unknowable. And woven of that strand: negative theology, known (by people who like words others do not understand) as apophatic theology, an approach that does not try to define God by what God is but to outline God by what God isn’t. Negative theology or closely related concepts are strands within “Abrahamic” religions over time. From Moses to Maimonides to Derrida.
And so, as we always knew, what is most important in theology – any theology – is how it is made operational, not its purity of thought. God is not Christian, Western, American, conservative, male, straight, cicgender, white, rich, nor any signifier of power within the dominant histories of our nation(s) and of global civilization(s). And we operationalize this, i.a., by being on the side of people and peoples whom dominant structures would oppress and keep out of the halls and avenues of power.
AND God is neither Christian nor nonChristian, Western nor nonWestern, American nor nonAmerican, conservative nor nonconservative, male nor nonmale, straight nor nonstraight, cisgender nor noncisgender, white nor nonwhite, rich nor nonrich, powerful nor nonpowerful. We all, together and only together, comprise an image of God, still incomplete. So widen the lens angle and take in all terrestrial entities and realities. And the image is still incomplete. So set a space telescope outside the distorting lens of earth to look back to the beginning itself, and the image is still incomplete.
No matter what language of spirituality I choose to use, for me the word “God” signifies some totality of what is that is always more than the maximum knowable or understandable or reason-able or observable. The totality is not any thing – not even our glorious and infinite universe. It is not even the multiverse. But, perhaps, positive and negative, real and potential isness itself.
אֶהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה
Ehyeh asher Eyeh.
I am that I am.
I am wasness, isness, becomingness. I am always changing. Possibility is my name.
The operationally important aspect of such “God” conceptualization is that evolution and change are necessary. We do not have to repeat what was the order of things and the inequity of the past. We can move into a future reaching for greater justice.
And anyone who gets to that possibility and seeks to actualize it without a God concept is doing just fine. And anyone who uses their God concept to get there is doing just fine.
What is important is not what you believe but how you believe what you believe, how you use what you believe, what values you hold, to participate in moving humanity and the world we inhabit to a more just place tomorrow than today
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Written by Rev. Paul Oakley
Saturday, July 23, 2022
Originally posted on his FB timeline with privacy setting set to Friends