God Is Not Real

Many Christian theologians in the modern era have been cited as saying that God is not real, or to put it a bit more strongly that God does not exist.  As it turns out, they are not actually saying anything different from than Christian theologians from time immemorial.  We moderners just like to say things in ways that are a bit more…well, shocking.    Let me explain what I mean by this considering two possible errors that people sometimes make in thinking about the existence of God.  The modern worldview envisages reality having two highly distinct layers: a material one and a spiritual one.  For most modern people, God—if there is a God—is “out there” somewhere not connected in any deep sense to creation.  Instead, he created the world and subjected it to a set of rules by which it continues in existence, like a watch maker who makes a watch such that the gears do the work of keeping time.  Electrons swirl around nuclei repelling and attracting to magnetic poles.  Cells divide.  Planets orbit around the sun.  The whole thing just works.  Of course, just as a watchmaker may have to repair a watch, God may at times intervene in his creation in miraculous way.  But, for the most part, if everything is working normally God leaves creation to run itself—a Cosmic Supervisor.  This view is called deism, the idea that God is utterly separate from creation.  In theological terms, deism affirms the transcendence of God, the doctrine that God is beyond creation.  But it ignores the immanence of God, that God is closely and covenantal bound to creation.

In this postmodern world, however, we have reverted to an understanding of the world that is not so bifurcated, more organic.  We postmoderners do not imagine that there are two distinct worlds, one physical and one material.  Rather, like the ancients, we picture the spiritual breaking into the physical realities of our everyday lives all the time.  Demons are exercised in our movies.  In our churches we are taught to seek the will of God for common everyday decisions.  Angles even play on our baseball teams.  In our postmodern world, we are less tempted by deism than by pantheism.  From pan meaning “all” and theos meaning “God,” pantheism is the doctrine that God is everything.  God can be found in the smell of the sap from a budding tree, by looking into the vast ocean, or in the face of the poor, because God is the trees, the ocean, and the poor.  Pantheism, the opposite of deism, affirms divine immanence, but it ignores God’s transcendence. 

According to Christian theology both deism and pantheism are misunderstandings of God.  The Christian tradition affirms that God holds these two: transcendence and immanence in dynamic tension. The theological term for what we’ve called the dynamic tension of divine transcendence and immanence is ontological disparity.  Ontology, from ontos, means having to do with being or reality.  The ontological disparity of God means that God is not just a different being from you and me; God is a different kind of being, a different sort of reality.  Try this thought experiment: imagine a woman lying on a couch and dreaming of a boy playing of a swing set.  Think about the relationship of the boy to the woman.  In a certain way of speaking, this is a real boy.  He has some reality.  He’s a real dream.  But now imagine that the woman, startled by a sudden noise, awakes.  What happens to the boy?  He is gone.  The woman’s being is in no way affected by the boy’s, but his being is utterly dependant upon her.  If later in the day she remembers the dream, she thereby brings the boy back in to existence by the mere imposition of her will.  She is the source or ground of his being.  Now think about the woman’s relationship to you.  This is something like what we mean when we talk about the ontological disparity of God.  God’s reality is different, deeper, more real than ours.  Properly speaking, God is not real.  Rocks are real.  Trees, birds, humans and dreams are real. God is reality itself, and thus all things that are real have their reality in God.  In much the same way that the boys reality was dependant upon the woman’s and hers upon you, the reality of all real things are dependant upon Reality Himself.



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4 responses to “God Is Not Real

  1. bwinwnbwi

    Try this (this is how I understand God): Reality, material stuff, deism, is a product of our interpretation of reality, a reality that ,on some level, remains open to empirical confirmation–predictability. But ,as you say, God also is in everything ,–pantheism. Now, let the ontological disparity–the tension that keeps apart transcendence ( our interpretation of reality) and immanence, (the God that exists in everything), be the consequence of the free will/logic connection. In other words, logical implication is what allows for our interpretation of reality, as it also implies the God that exists in everything. However, the God that exists in free will is not necessarily connected to all acts of free will. The God of free will is only connected to the acts that imply the God/logic/freedom connection–or those acts that affirm God. Thus, it is only a partial truth when you say:

    ” In much the same way that the boys reality was dependent upon the woman’s and hers upon you, the reality of all real things are dependent upon Reality Himself.”

    …because the God/connection with “real things” must be consistent with the positive qualities that evolved creation, life, and free will, i.e., the qualities that imply nurturing, growth, life, love (not hate), and freedom for all (not barbarianism, despotism, slavery, injustice, and all other forms of unnecessary suffering. Thanks for the opportunity to post.

    • Joe

      Thanks bwinwnbwi, for your comment. It’s always nice to have readers join the conversation. Let me just clear a couple of thing before I respond the the bulk of your comment: (1) I do not say that “God…is in everything,” which would be panintheism, a form of the old pantheistic misconception. Rather, I suggest that God is immanent, while at the same time being “completely other”–transcendant. (2) This is the point of what I call “ontologoical disperity” that God holds immanence and transcendance together in dynamic tension (not keep them apart, as you suggest).

      But on to the point. Your comment seems to be rooted in the contention that things are contingent for their being or reality upon God only insofar as they are “good, life-giving, loving, in a word God-like.” I think you’re right. St. Augustine’s definition of evil (or perhaps, death or hatred) is parasitic non-being. Evil is like a hole in a shirt. It does not exist (has no reality or being), but only corrupts that which does exist (being, reality, what have you). So, everything that exists (being, reality) is contingent upon God. And everything that exists is good, as God says looking over his creation. Things which are evil (death, hate etc.) are not contingent for thier reality upon God, because they have no reality. They are non-being–parasitic corrputions on real things.

  2. bwinwnbwi

    Thanks for the reply. I don’t get to reply to a reply very often. Two things, 1)My ideas are based on an argument based on a conservation principle, thus I agree when you say:

    “God is immanent, while at the same time being “completely other”–transcendant. (2) This is the point of what I call “ontologoical disperity” that God holds immanence and transcendance together in dynamic tension (not keep them apart, as you suggest).”

    My position is that God must be completely other in order for God to be immanent, immanent in most things that is (the exception being the negative potential implicit in free will). In other words, only those things that are not a corruption of the liberation of divine freedom are, as you say, God-like. 2)However, mortality (death) is the exception because without it there would be a violation of the conservation principle. And, further, when non-being (death} is raised to the level self-consciousness in the form of non-being occurring in being, the critical thinking potential to keep consciousness in touch with, as you say, “the good, life-saving, and love,” arises. Take care.

    • Joe

      Thanks again. How ’bout a reply to a reply to a reply to a reply?

      I’m not familiar with “conservation principal,” but it sounds vaguely akin to Barth’s notion of the freedom of God, which I can dig. Any suggestions on where I can go to read up?

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