Last night I did a podcast with my friends Bo and Tripp for their Homebrewed Christianity event with Reza Aslan--I was the 'opening act' if you will. We had a pretty wide-ranging discussion about what it means to be human in the 21st century and how that affects the ways in which we think about faith/belief etc. We talked a little about my own theological trajectory in the past few years which I outlined as taking in a couple of different factors. I think about theology chiefly after two significant 'events.' Theology after the 'death of god' and theology after the death of the self.
There is lots of talk about death of god theology these days. There have been a few less than friendly social-media exchanges over certain interpretations of that project, principally around radical theology and various interpretations of what that means. It highlights the problem with labels and naming things--the minute you do, someone usually takes issue with your particular interpretation of the contours, or appeals to some kind of assumed legitimate criteria for speaking about this or that, that one supposedly violates, misses or doesn't understand. I find most of it petty and not worth the effort of addressing, it is the kind of stuff that makes people walk away from institutions and groups of all kinds, but that's another conversation.
So I have been working through ideas around the post-metaphysical world and death of god theology, but I am also interested in the shifting world of the self and what that heralds for faith. I have never been that 'god-fixated' that may sound funny from someone who has spent more than thirty years in public dialogue about faith and religion, but god has always been a difficult issue for me, but it is only in the past few years that I have faced that fully and freed myself of other people's obligations for what constitutes faith (my rather general and dismissive dictum about this is that dogma is the noise of other peoples thinking and sometimes I have to tune it out). Where I have come to with some of this is captured in a perspective drawn from Altizer and others, that I cannot dismiss the present world for a transcendent one and that a continual reflection/obsession/focus on 'god,' particularly the metaphysical view of god, keeps lifting us out of this world, and I am interested in fully living in the present, in the here and now.
I have been living for a while with a few ideas drawn from here and there that I have been returning to over and over in an effort to harness and focus my own thinking on what all this means. Of particular importance has been a section of Bonhoeffer's letter about religionless christianity. I've written about this before so forgive repetition, but I am in a cycle of thinking and I tend to view and review until my thinking comes clear.
"How do we speak of god without religion i.e. without the temporally conditioned presuppositions of metaphysics, inwardness and so on...How do we speak in a secular way about god?"
Bonhoeffer's little comment has fueled a long journey of thinking for me. And I have taken that two-pronged comment, along with similar ideas from others and myself, as a starting point. The one side--the 'temporally conditioned presuppositions of metaphysics' has gained a lot of traction and there is plenty of thinking in that arena , its the 'inwardness' comment that has had me wrestling lately. I think he is talking about the inwardness of subjectivity. Elsewhere and earlier Bonhoeffer writes that,
"we must finally rid ourselves of the notion that the issue...is the personal salvation of the individual soul...in such religious methodology human beings themselves remain the central focus." (you could do yourself a real favour and read Jeffrey Pugh's Religionless Christianity for a much clearer and expanded perspective on these ideas).
It would seem that the consciousness of the world has changed. Mark I. Wallace, in his book, Fragments of the Spirit, names both the 'de-priviledging of metaphysics' and the 'erasure of the self' as two significant challenges to Christianity in the third millennium. What does this mean? Well to me, it heralds a shift in human self-understanding away from the subjective and static view of the self, bequeathed to us by the Greeks and others that has driven our understanding of the self for centuries. I believe this is being eclipsed by a more mobile and fluid understanding of the self, where inwardness is not of prime focus. Two things going on for me--we can reference ourselves without a working hypothesis of God (Vattimo) and we can now consider ourselves without the anthropocentric impulse of the Enlightenment.
What are the implications of this? Well, they are immense. It throws into question how we engage with life, ourselves, each other. It challenges assumptions about what is prioritized in religion--'spiritual disciplines' for instance, in that I believe that most disiciplines are rooted in ideas of the self that no longer hold true (at least for me) and therefore must be revisited. I also think we are liberated to pray as Jesus invited us to pray, i.e. communally--'our father'--it is a form of prayer not anchored to a technology of inwardness. I think I'll stop there because I have things to do but I'll return to flesh this out at a later date. But then I'll talk about prayer, and why I don't.