A TIMELY REVOLUTION IN CHRISTIAN THINKING

There is a revolution slowly happening in Christian thinking and it is very timely as it focuses on the sacredness of the planet. This revolution has come about due to the theory of evolution and the rediscovery of a 14th century mystic, Meister Eckhart.

    The theory of evolution has been integrated into Christian thinking by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a Jesuit priest, and the rediscovery of Eckhart has been largely due to Matthew Fox, a former Dominican priest whose radical ideas caused Cardinal Ratzinger (before he became Pope Benedict) to force Fox to leave the church. Fox is now an Episcopalian (Anglican) priest, and still has a huge following.

    The revolution has been the gradual replacement of “fall/redemption theology” with “creation spirituality.” Fall/redemption theology in brief is the idea that human beings are broken due to original sin and need a redeemer to save them. Creation spirituality in brief is the idea that the universe is glorious, an original blessing, and that should be our starting point, not the fall of humanity.

    I think Fox’s mistake, and the reason creation spirituality has only gradually caught on, is that he put it in opposition to fall/redemption theology. Fall/redemption theology has a lot of backers since it is realistic about human sin and our five-thousand-year history of wars and corruption; it has been the dominant theology for the whole history of the church; and the Bible and most church services are full of it.

    On the negative side, it starts with the negative – we are fallen; it is based in Augustine’s warped theology (according to Fox) of original sin; and if we don’t repent of our sin, we are cut off from God and bound for hell. So, it is guilt and fear-inducing.

   Based on Meister Eckhart, Fox by contrast starts off with the goodness of creation as witnessed by the first chapter of Genesis, the first book in the Bible, in which God created everything as “very good,” including humans. Fox’s creation spirituality is joyful, focused on our fourteen-billion-year-old universe, instead of on human sinfulness, and is realistic about four “vias” or ways of spirituality that are found in Eckhart.

    In summary, the “via positiva” is about our universe as an original blessing and our awe when we contemplate it; the “via negativa” is about our fallenness, evil, and suffering; the “via creativa” is our recovery from sin and destruction; and the “via transformativa” is about communal social justice.

    A breakthrough occurs when one realizes that it is not the case that fall/redemption theology is not true, it is just that it is too narrow. We are broken and need a redeemer, and creation spirituality includes that but is much broader in its scope.

    Not only that, but creation spirituality is thoroughly biblical. The via positiva takes in not only Genesis 1, but also the celebration of nature throughout the Bible and by Jesus – his parables are full of the flowers, birds, animals, and harvest. The via negativa is not only in Genesis 3 but also throughout the Bible in the Jewish people’s subjection to slavery and exile, and in the crucifixion of Jesus. The via creativa is in the ongoing recovery of the Jews from hellish situations and in the resurrection of Jesus. And the via transformativa is in the social justice teachings of the Jewish prophets and in the era of the Holy Spirit after Christ’s resurrection, which formed a church community built on the sacred value of each person and on social justice.

    Creation spirituality is found, according to Fox, not only in Eckhart. It is latent in Thomas Aquinas, who was the major Christian theologian for centuries. In the past sixty years it is clearly in prolific writers like Thomas Merton, Richard Rohr, Ronald Rolheiser, Elizabeth Johnson, and Ilya Delio. It is obvious in “On Care for Our Common Home,” a major encyclical by Pope Francis. It is also in popular Protestants such as John Philip Newell’s rebirth of Celtic Christianity which is very creation-centered.

    Rather than putting creation spirituality in opposition to fall/redemption theology, Fox should have noted it does not negate it, but rather includes and transcends it. Creation spirituality is simply a broader, more biblical theology than fall/redemption.

 

Bruce Tallman is a London spiritual director and religious educator of adults. brucetallman.com

     

HOW TO INTELLIGENTLY APPROACH GOD’S WRATH IN THE BIBLE

The Bible, although inspired by God, came to us through human beings, and so there were often two steps forward and one step back in understanding God, until we arrive at Jesus, who is the best “hermeneutic” or “means of understanding” the Bible.

    In approaching God’s wrath in the Bible, we ideally would move from a vengeful God, which is what the ego wants, to the merciful God of Jesus, which is what the soul wants. However, humans have always lived in ego-based, divisive, reward and punishment cultures in which wrongs should be punished. On the other hand, God is soul and grace-based and responds to wrongs not by punishment but by love.

    Much of the wrath of God, in the Old Testament at least, was due to human authors failing to separate God and nature: floods killing people, poisonous snakes biting Israelites in the desert, bears mauling children, must be from God, since everything that happens is from God. This mentality is still with us today when insurance companies refer to floods, hurricanes, and earthquakes as “acts of God.”

    However, God and nature are not the same. God is in all nature, but these so-called acts of God are not God’s will, they are due to nature obeying natural laws about heat, gravity, and tectonic plates. The Old Testament writers knew nothing of these laws.

    Despite this, there are many instances in the Old Testament of God’s loving restoration. It was prophesied that God would restore us through a Messiah (Isaiah 53:5-6). In Ezekiel 33:11 God says, “I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live.” And the prophet Micah declares “Who is a God like you, who pardons iniquity? You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea” (Micah 7:18).

    We also find God’s restorative justice in the New Testament. Zacchaeus was hated because he collected taxes from his fellow Jews for the occupying Romans, but Jesus tells Zacchaeus he wants to have dinner with him. Zacchaeus is stunned by the grace of Jesus and says, “Behold Lord, half of my possessions I will give to the poor,” and Jesus responds, “Today salvation has come to this house, because Zacchaeus too is a son of Abraham.” Jesus thus restored him to the Jewish community (Luke 19:8).

    What then do we do with the “hard sayings” of Jesus? In Matthew 5:29-30, he says it is better to cut off your hand or pluck out your eye if it causes you to sin, than to end up in hell; the sheep (who took care of the poor) go to heaven and the goats (who didn’t take care of the poor) go to eternal torture in hell (Matthew 25: 31-46).

    Context is important here. Jesus was speaking to Jews, Romans, and Greeks who were masters of rhetoric – the art of dramatic speech to make a point. Jesus knew it was not the hand or the eye but the heart that caused sin. He didn’t expect people to actually cut off their hand or pluck out their eye, as if that would solve anything. He is speaking dramatically here to make the point that sin and not taking care of the poor are extremely serious. They destroy human community and create hell on Earth. He knew people do not change easily, so he had to speak dramatically to make his point.

    Jesus also said other hard, countercultural things such as love your enemies, which is the essence of restorative justice: God does not punish his enemies, God destroys them by loving them more and making them his friends. This is the essence of wisdom.

    This spirit of restorative justice carried on in the early church. “If anyone has caused sorrow, you should forgive him and reaffirm your love for him” (2 Cor. 2: 5-8) and “If anyone is caught in any trespass, restore him in a spirit of gentleness” (Gal. 6:1).

    This idea of God as a God of love not punishment has continued in the modern church. The largest Christian denomination, Catholicism, has never said that anyone, even Hitler or Stalin, are definitely in hell. On the other hand, it has said that many people are definitely in heaven: the saints and martyrs.

    Jesus was all about restorative not retributive justice. His great commandments, to love God with all your heart and to love others as you love yourself, were meant to restore the original unity between God and humans found in the Garden of Eden. And as I concluded in an earlier article, the healthiest image of God is that God is a God of pure love, not a mixture of love, wrath, and punishment.

Bruce Tallman is a spiritual director and religious educator of adults. btallman@rogers.com

GOD’S JUSTICE IS ETERNAL LOVE NOT ETERNAL PUNISHMENT

 You may find the idea that God is only pure love, not a mixture of love and wrath, revolutionary if you grew up as I did with an idea of God as an angry old man in the sky constantly watching us so he could punish us for our sins.

    Although I have grown beyond that image intellectually, the vestiges of it are still deeply planted in my brain and make it difficult for me to totally trust God. Even as an adult I used to think that, on the one hand God was purely loving, and yet on the other hand we had to maintain God’s “holiness,” by which we meant “hatred of sin,” and since sin has to be punished, God’s justice was always punitive and wrathful.

    But what if God’s justice is only restorative not punitive, and God is forever only pure love? What if, as the Franciscan priest Richard Rohr always says, “Jesus came not to change God’s mind about us, but to change our minds about God.”

    The best human being would do everything they could to fully understand and help others, not punish them. However, we live in a dualistic, tit-for-tat culture that divides people up into good and bad. The bad are your enemies and the culture tells us enemies are to be punished and destroyed.

    This punitive cultural attitude even infects our churches and warps our theology. Jesus taught that we should love our enemies, but many Christians do not believe that God does this, God condemns sinners to be tortured forever in hell.

    Jesus taught that we should forgive seventy times seven, that is, forever. But many Christians do not believe God does this, God sends people to eternal torment in hell.

    Why would someone as great as God, who has infinite power, knowledge, patience, kindness, love, forgiveness, compassion, and mercy choose to eternally destroy infinitely small, vulnerable creatures because of the stupid things they do, usually out of their own ignorance and brokenness? Doesn’t that make God infinitely petty, unloving judgmental and angry – qualities we don’t admire in any human being?

    Even in civil courtrooms, the length of the sentence must fit the crime – we don’t send people to lifelong imprisonment for stealing a loaf of bread for their family because they are food insecure. Eternal punishment therefore does not make sense. What could we possibly do that would warrant, not just imprisonment but torture, and not just for a lifetime but forever? Forever is an awfully long time, particularly if you are being tortured! This idea makes God a monster who is eternally vengeful, something we admire in no one. This idea makes atheists not believers. Surely, God is far greater, not far lower, than the best human being?

    Maybe God’s holiness is God’s infinite and eternal love, forgiveness, compassion, and mercy? Maybe God’s holiness is like the story Jesus told about the father of the prodigal son who runs out to meet and embrace his son and celebrates his return, rather than punishing him for squandering his father’s fortune? Maybe God’s holiness is like Jesus who, when a woman is caught in adultery, rather than stoning her for her sin, as the elders wanted him to, says, “I don’t condemn you, go and sin no more.”

     I think the idea of hell as a place of eternal torture is a projection of our worst fears onto God and religious leaders used this to control people. It is easy to control people who are afraid. I also believe though that there is a hell, not as a place but a state of mind. We create our own hell or heaven on Earth by the choices we make. I suppose it would be possible to make eternally bad choices and so condemn yourself to eternal hell, but I don’t think God condemns us. Rather, God would eternally pursue us until we gave in to God’s eternal love.

    Of course, this brings up all the verses in the Bible about the wrath of God. There are good theological responses that give alternative ways of interpreting these verses, but I reserve my answers for another article. Suffice it to say for now, that the Bible is full of examples of God’s restorative not punitive justice. For now, let us merely consider and savor the idea that God’s holiness and justice are found in God’s eternal love not eternal wrath, that God is only loving not both loving and wrathful.

Bruce Tallman is a spiritual director and author of God’s Ecstatic Love (Apocryphile Press, 2021). See www.brucetallman.com/books

 

 

 

   

   

A CULTURE OF LIES

 

Liberal Protestant theology has its roots

in Friedrich Schleiermacher who spoke of

the basic goodness of humans/the inevitable progress of culture/

the ethical imperative of love, and played down

sin/the judgment of God/the miracles of Jesus/the Resurrection –

Schleiermacher bought into secular beliefs in his landmark book

On Religion: Speeches to its Cultural Despisers.

 

But Schleiermacher was naïve:

so much of contemporary politics/advertising/sex

violates the Fourth Buddhist Precept of Mindful Speech –

people lie to start wars/get votes/sell products/have sex –

it’s a culture of lies that bows to the Father of Lies –

Schleiermacher should have titled his book

On Religion: Speeches to Cultural Liars.

 

According to Buddhism:

a Bodhisattva is not contained in the world –

rather she contains the world

and holds it in her jewelled hands.

 

According to Islam:

Mohammed supernaturally received fragments of the Koran

in a trance between 610CE and his death in 622CE –

he was illiterate so he simply recited what Allah taught.

 

According to Christianity:

doctrine saves no one

salvation comes from an existential confession

that for you, personally, “Jesus Christ is Lord!”

Christianity based on doctrine alone is dead –

Christians must be involved

in the suffering of the world.

 

To this end Jesus criticized the cultured men of religion –

the Pharisees – for their hypocrisy

and then attacked the cultured men of affairs –

the Sadducees – for their oppression of the poor –

Jesus wanted the leaders to model a spiritual kingdom

whereas the Pharisees and Sadducees

modelled the kingdom of Rome

a culture of lies just like our own.

LIVING IN BABYLON

Major structural injustices in which we

live/move/have our being

create haves/have-nots

and are hugely immoral – but most religions

while preaching personal and interpersonal ethics

ignore systemic evil and most believers accept

massive injustice as “the way things are” never asking

“How can individuals be moral in an immoral culture?”

 

The typical response of Christians living in

our Babylonian culture, in exile, is:

try to be faithful husbands and wives

raise virtuous children who are

compassionate/contemplative/seek justice

and who kick at the darkness till it bleeds daylight.

 

Catholics adopt Protestant practices:

daily Bible reading/speaking in tongues

and Protestants adopt Catholic practices:

praying the Divine Office and trying out

Benedictine/Franciscan/Ignatian prayer styles

and perhaps this is the Holy Spirit

weaving the entire Church together

so we all may be one

or maybe this is just rearranging

the deck chairs on the Titanic

as long as the structural injustices persist.

 

Hopefully, the Contemplative Way

will save and transform us:

because sometimes contemplatives

as they are liberated from all addictions/attachments

gain psychic powers/siddhis such as

telepathy and clairvoyance – genuine contemplatives

always hide these super-powers

but maybe they could use them to fight injustice?

 

In any case, the ultimate secret of the spiritual life:

“ever-present divine awareness” is not hard to attain

for anyone and is impossible to avoid

according to Lao Tzu/Shankara/Paul/Augustine/

Plotinus/and Teresa of Avila because it is always there

and awareness of the divine is the only thing

that makes living in Babylon bearable.

HEARTS ON FIRE

If you want to be a real help to your temple/church/

Buddhist sangha first light the fire

of love/tolerance/understanding in yourself

so you can inspire others to do the same.

Otherwise, no matter how beautiful the edifice

it will be a false temple/church/sangha.

 

If you are not on fire for God

it is because your image of God is old school –

God is transcendent/detached from human life.

The theory of evolution forces us

into a new image of God as immanent –

God arises from within everything.

 

Teilhard/Merton/Panikkar/Griffiths

all call for inner renewal as the key to living Christ

in the 21st century. These four deceased

but alive mystics can be our guides

for living in an evolutionary world.

 

Religion is falsely thought of as contentment –

an idealistic escape from the stresses of harsh reality.

However, religious discontent is synonymous

with spiritual renewal – discontent that the world

is not like God’s dream

of peace and justice for all.

Prophetic religion is not about certainty and security.

 

Earthly attachments to comfort/porn/money

control the soul/end the spirit’s freedom/

cut us off from God.

As we value and pursue foolish things,

foolish fears, like losing our comfort, result.

 

“Conversion” according to Bernard Lonergan

is the experience by which one becomes

an “authentic human being.”

And Lonergan affirmed conversion as holistic:

it involves the whole person in all our dimensions:

intellectual – loving God with our mind

ethical – loving God with our body

and religious – loving God with our heart on fire.

THE INTER-SPIRITUAL GOLD STANDARD

Inter-spirituality – religions getting along

and learning from each other – is an ideal

like the ethical gold standards:

economic egalitarianism

abandonment of militant nationalism

nuclear disarmament

which are promoted by globalism

and multiculturalism.

Conservative spirituality needs to loosen up

its fixation on ethnocentric myth

and learn how the Spirit expresses itself

in worldcentric reason

and postconventional love.

The Church is both human

since it exists within time

and is subject to forces of history and culture

and it is also divine

because it resolutely presses towards

the final Kingdom/Queendom/Kindom of God.

“Christians must resolutely strive towards

justice in the real, ambiguous world

where grace and sin abound.”

– Reinhold Niebuhr

The idea of God/Christ/religion evolving

rests on the notion that humans evolve –

in fact, technology has become so pervasive

we have evolved into a new species –

techno-sapiens.

At the microlevel of subatomic particles

there is an unceasing flow of energy

too vast for our minds to comprehend.

The Universal Christ is this energy incarnate

in every church/religion/all humans/the universe –

the Universal Christ is the inter-spiritual

gold standard.

THE ALL-INCLUSIVE CHRIST

God is choosing us now

but we are spiritually starving

in the midst of spiritual plenty

because we guard our material nothings

and we are not adept at prayer

because of distraction and laziness.

The remedy? Vigilance and conversion of heart.

When humans form a church

we open our small individual self

to become a much larger Body

of understanding and love.

Some churches believe

salvation happens in community

when we are one with our sisters and brothers

but sometimes their idea of community is too narrow –

White/straight/male.

Those who are “spiritual but not religious”

protest against churches of any kind

out of anger/sadness/boredom or disconnection –

the feeling of having no voice or control.

Excluded by Church

they in turn exclude Church.

Also, the notion of “God’s Providence” –

“God will provide”

sounds like escapism and irresponsibility –

we, not God, should take care

of the Earth and the poor.

But this notion of Providence

was the basis of thousands of years

of spiritual meaning – that God would

get us through immense difficulties.

Many mystics find that

only through severe struggling

can they move out of introspection

from seeing to acting

but then they become sharp-eyed

spiritual and political visionaries.

Like Thomas Merton they become cosmic lovers

who include everyone – gay/Black/women/

disabled/refugees/criminals/

even White/straight/men – everyone!

GOD DRAWS US THROUGH PRAYER

 

 

The way to God that appeals today

is the way of the mystics

the way of love, not metaphysics.

 

Western theologians resisting Asian theology

marginalize themselves

from strong mystical currents

energizing Asia and the world –

many people turning East

to Hinduism/Buddhism/Taoism

for Enlightenment.

 

In Confucian philosophy

the Way of Man is in order

when in harmony with the Way of Heaven –

and out of order when not in harmony –

but humans never achieve total harmony.

The great Protestant theologian, Reinhold Niebuhr

castigated secular and Christian liberals

for not recognizing the power

of original/cultural sin to destroy

their utopian visions of human progress.

The best we can hope for, said Niebuhr

is proximate, not total, justice.

 

Good and evil are mixed

in everything – even the best we do –

permeating our very being

morally and spiritually

creating anxiety/guilt/shame

threatening loss of our destiny.

 

Being self-critical is a great threat

to those who rule by might and right –

it prevents destroying their ideological enemies.

Humorlessness is the real enemy –

the inability to not take oneself seriously.

Humorlessness is projected onto God –

most humans would never torture others

but some Christians proclaim God does –

this bad news counters the good news

causing agnosticism and atheism

among highly ethical people.

 

To sort this confusion:

“Use your single prayer-word to beat on

the cloud of darkness above you

and consign all distractions to

the cloud of forgetting below you.”

– The Cloud of Unknowing

 

“Prayer is not primarily saying words – it is a stance

of living in Presence

of being aware of Presence

of delighting in Presence.”

– Richard Rohr

 

God does not move since God is everywhere present –

the foolish think God is distant –

humans move closer to or further from God –

God always stands at our door

no matter our faults/shortcomings/sins

hoping we will let the Universal Christ in.

 

“We start the spiritual life thinking

we are pulling heaven toward us –

later we realize heaven is pulling us toward it –

and the brilliant diamond of our True self

is cut into multi-facets

by God not us.”

– Dionysius the Areopagite

 

It is this pulling that fully converts us.

For Bernard Lonergan full conversion involves

intellectual, moral and religious conversion –

intellectual conversion goes beyond the sensory universe

and sees as the mystics see.

 

Faith is a mystical resurrection –

a belief in and obedience to the Author of Life

who commands us:

“Choose Life!”

 

It is choosing life that leads us

not to utopia

but proximate justice.

Faith begins the journey

towards the full love and justice of God.

 

3 Big Ideas for April 23, 2019

  1. In the Jewish Book of Wisdom it says that Wisdom was there in the beginning, co-creating everything with God. Wisdom is an early intuition of the Cosmic Christ or the Holy Spirit. In the Christian scriptures Christ is seen as the wisdom and power of God. By applying themselves to philosophy, history, science and the arts, people are enlightened by that Wisdom or the Cosmic Christ who is all around us and was there from the beginning.
  2. Christian praxis (practice) is meant to spread the kingdom of love, the reign of God, by transforming social structures and laws that oppress people. The classic example would be the Jim Crow laws in the United States that kept everything segregated even though slavery had officially ended. Blacks got the worst schools, medical care, etc. The great Protestant theologian, Reinhold Niebuhr, wrote that “Justice is the proper distribution of love throughout society. Only love can transform us while uniting us to everything. Love is the opposite of segregation.
  3. In 1998, two independent teams of scientists discovered “dark energy,” an anti-gravitational force that is causing the universe to accelerate its expansion. 70% of the universe is dark energy, 25% is dark matter, only 5% of the universe is visible. Science keeps revealing how mysterious God is. Einstein said that it is not that one thing is a miracle, everything is a miracle!