Tag Archives: Tony Jones

Hey Tony Jones, God is Not Real

Tony Jones recently challenged “progressive theo-bloggers” to dismount our normal hobby horses for one post and say something substantive about God. I may be a progressive theo-blogger, not sure. Just in case, here’s my go at saying something about God.

God does not exist.

Let me explain… Let’s consider two possible errors that people sometimes make thinking about God.  The modern world tends to think of reality in 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 to the world in any deep sense.  Instead, God 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 sort of 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 more organic, not so bifurcated.  We postmoderners do not imagine that there are two distinct worlds, one physical and one material.  Rather, like the ancients, we picture the spiritual and the material as interlocking and overlapping realities. 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 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.  Ontological, 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 manner  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.



Filed under Uncategorized

Church, State and Same-sex Marriage

It’s a bit old now, but I just came across Roger Olson’s proposal to put an end to the same-sex marriage debate. Olson argues that we should

reserve marriage to the churches and other religious organizations…[and] let the government issue civil union licenses to any two people who desire such a relationship which gives them certain privileges in the eyes of the law (e.g., joint property)… [On this arrangement,] each church would decide who they recognize as really married. (Just as they do who is really ordained or really baptized.) A church would not have to recognize as married every couple that has a civil union. And the government would not recognize a church’s marriage as a civil union. The two would be entirely separate–just like church and state are supposed to be.

You can read the rest here.

This two marriages proposal isn’t really new. It’s the position I’ve held for several years now. I first heard it from Tony Campolo when I was in college. And Tony Jones’ related manifesto is now available on kindle.

But here’s my question: Would this proposal, if it won out, really put an end to the same sex marriage debate? That is, would the constituents at either extreme of the spectrum be happy with it? I suspect not, but it’s worth asking the question.

To my conservative friends: Would you be happy to allow the state to give tax breaks any other privileges to whomever would chose to commit to partnership, provided that we agree that what the state is doing is not marriage, but something different all together. If not, why? Especially now that many social conservatives joined also in the fight for a smaller government, why not put our money where our mouth is? Why not take the power of defining marriage away from the government?

To my progressive friends: Does this proposal, which would level the playing field in terms of government privileges, really give everyone a fair shake? If not, why? Especially for my LGBT friends: Do you feel—this is my uneducated theory—that this still leaves unanswered the question of whether the government will sufficiently recognize (honor?) same-sex unions?


Filed under Uncategorized