Adventures in Post-Theology

There’s one episode of the cartoon series Doug that I recall in vivid detail. Doug and his classmates are playing baseball. Everyone’s doing fine, except poor Doug, who keeps striking out. It’s late in the game, the score’s tied, and Doug’s up to bat. Patti notices something: Doug, who’s a leftie, is swinging from the right. She corrects Doug’s form, he hits the ball, and the game is won.

It’s ridiculous, right? Something so obvious — Doug being a southpaw — getting overlooked by Doug himself when he tries to swing a bat. How could anyone overlook something like that?

Yeah, well, have I got a story for you. See, I’d been under the impression that I was a Theist for the past few years. And it didn’t occur to me, until after some intense introspection, that I’m actually not.

But that doesn’t make me an atheist.

So what, exactly, is God?

There is one thing I’m sure of: God is Love. In the broadest sense, every act of charity or kindness, every night a parent cares for a sick child, whenever someone in privilege finally learns to empathize with those beneath their social station, there God is found. Martin Buber said that God is found in the face of a stranger you meet for the first time, yet that’s not quite it for me. God can be found in the collective actions of all creatures, in compassion and love.

When Olly wakes me at 5AM by cuddling me, there God is found.

Okay, great. But beyond that?

I see God in the Blue Ridge mountains, but that is me expressing an appreciation for that sublime beauty. I’m not seeing some intelligent design at work, because I believe in geological and ecological forces, not a cosmic gardener.

In fact, I don’t believe in anything supernatural at all, and that’s where things get theologically tricky. Miracles don’t happen without natural cause. Prayer “works” because it forces those who pray to express gratitude (which is scientifically proven to improve mental health) and can be a focus for intuition (which is just the subconscious mind at work). The places I find God aren’t supernatural in origin.

And, of course, I don’t believe Jesus is God. (Yup, still a Unitarian).

I had relied on Process Theology to get me through some of the rough edges around faith and science. Process Theology, as described by Alfred North Whitehead, says that God changes with the universe. Yet even that presupposes that God can exist outside of the confines of the natural, which I just don’t believe anymore.

When I had this realization, I kinda freaked out, because it challenged a core tenet of Theism.

Theism is dependent on Panentheism, meaning that God must exist outside of the realm of the natural (but inside of it as well). If there is nothing supernatural about God, that would make me a Pantheist at best (which equates God with the Universe in total). I used to consider myself one, but I don’t know if God exists everywhere.

If you don’t believe in supernatural (or at least extra-natural) forces, then you can’t be a Panentheist. Panentheism is a soft dependency of Theism in general, unless you get into weird dualistic theologies, and I sure don’t. So no, I’m not a Theist.

But … BUT … you can still believe in a God of a different definition.

I might be a Spinoza-type Pantheist, but I think a closer definition is Post-Theism. There are a few philosophies under that umbrella, but the gist is that humans have evolved beyond a need for a traditional Theist interpretation of God. Humanism, in religious and secular flavors, is a consequence of that. In fact, I would consider my ethics to be that of a religious humanist.

Some unexpected collateral damage: I wouldn’t consider myself a Christian. (I wasn’t before according to some, since I’m very much UU!) The carpenter-turned-rabbi would say that I only have to follow him to be one, but he and I believe in very different concepts of God. Claiming to be one without believing in anything miraculous like, for instance, the resurrection, doesn’t feel right to me.

Labels don’t really matter unless you put stake in them. As a UU, they shouldn’t matter to me at all, given how we pull from all the world’s religious traditions. But I was a very prominent UU Christian at my church until recently, so I didn’t want to let people down by saying “well, actually…”. I think they’d understand — some might even be relieved to hear I don’t believe “all that nonsense” — but I would hope that my church is supportive of UU Christians in the future.

I shouldn’t be so surprised. An unchanging, all-powerful God never sat well with my belief in the Buddhist conception of impermanence. Sometimes you trip over something you should have seen from a mile away.