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  • Restorative Readings: The Old Testament, Ethics, and Human Dignity
    Restorative Readings: The Old Testament, Ethics, and Human Dignity
    Pickwick Publications

    Foreword by Walter Brueggemann, my chapter is entitled 'In conversation: The Old Testament, Ethics and Human Dignity'. A superb resource edited by Julie Claassens and Bruce Birch

  • What are we thinking? Reflections on Church and Society from Southern African Methodists.
    What are we thinking? Reflections on Church and Society from Southern African Methodists.
    by Dion A Forster, Wessel Bentley
  • Methodism in Southern Africa: A celebration of Wesleyan Mission
    Methodism in Southern Africa: A celebration of Wesleyan Mission
    by Dion A Forster, Wessel Bentley
  • Christ at the centre - Discovering the Cosmic Christ in the spirituality of Bede Griffiths
    Christ at the centre - Discovering the Cosmic Christ in the spirituality of Bede Griffiths
    by Dion A Forster
  • An uncommon spiritual path - the quest to find Jesus beyond conventional Christianity
    An uncommon spiritual path - the quest to find Jesus beyond conventional Christianity
    by Dion A Forster
Transform your work life: Turn your ordinary day into an extraordinary calling. by Dion Forster and Graham Power.
Download a few chapters of the book here.
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Entries in philosophy (3)

Friday
Dec212018

Adorno, the mystical and the Little Prince

I have been reading the work of the late Frankfurt Schule philosopher, Theodor Adorno, this week.

In his book 'Dialectic of Enlightenment' (written with Max Horkheimer) he makes an interesting point about how quickly, in 'modern' societies, rational progress can become irrational regress.

We fall into the trap of blind domination (domination of nature by human beings, domination of nature within human beings, the domination of human beings by other human beings). In a society where progress is held as the highest value, no matter what the cost, human beings, nature, and even the human self, are sacrificed.

Somehow, in our pursuit of enlightenment we become less and less enlightened and more and more totalitarian.

While Adorno would have appealed to the aesthetic (culture, the arts, philosophy), I would also appeal to the mystical and the spiritual. From Descartes, through Francis Bacon, to Isaac Newton, we seem to have lost touch with the sense of the sacred in creation (which includes both human and non-human creation).

Perhaps the Little Prince was on to something, “And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”

Wednesday
Aug252010

On proof and absence... And God.

I have frequently been asked how I can believe in God when there is so much hardship and struggle in the world, and even when this hardship is evidenced in my own life.

My response is how could I possibly survive if I did not believe in a God who cares, sustains, and love me through such struggles?

Life is not easy - that is a truth that religious and non-religious persons agree upon. There are unexplained and difficult events, experiences and realities, that each of us will encounter in the course of our lives.

However, it is not sensible to say that one does not believe in God, yet one somehow manages to make the illogical step of blaming these bad things upon the God in which one does not believe... Alternatively, since I do believe in God I do believe that God cares for us and sustains us face the bad things that are a part of life.

Without wanting to get too philosophical about this line of argumentation, let me make a point about the notion of 'proof' of God's goodness, or alternatively 'proof' that God does not exist since bad things happen in the world.

Some say that if God existed bad things would not happen in the world. Thus, since bad things do happen it is proof that God does not exist. We'll call this argument the Argument of the proof of absence. Bad things happen, this proves a good God does not exist - God is proved to be absent by the presence of 'bad things'.

However, the mistake that is made in this line of argumentation is that it equates the proof of absence with the absence of proof.

The Argument for the absence of proof is quite different. It says simply because there is no proof of a particular event, or state, at a particular moment or place in time, does not rule out the existence of such an event or state. Let me illustrate the relationship between these two arguments with a silly example.

I am writing this post on my Apple MacBook computer. As I write it there is no Windows computer in the room. The proof of absence argument would say, since there is no Windows computer in the room it can be argued that Windows computers do not exist. The absence of proof argument would more accurately conclude that simply because there is no Windows computer in my office as I write this post cannot be taken as proof that Windows computers do not exist. In fact they could exist elsewhere in the office building, or might not be present since they are not suitable to the task at hand... The absence of proof is a more plausible conclusion than the proof of absence.

Of course my belief in God is based not so much on a dry philosophical argument as real life experience of God's sustaining love. But, it is always interesting to get behind the ideas that shape our beliefs and choices.

Wednesday
Oct172007

If you're going to do it, at least enjoy doing it... She has curves in the right places! A creation spirituality.


To skip my diatribe and see the curvaceous, well rounded, beauty - scroll to the bottom of this post....

I am a theologian, but I am also a student of the natural sciences. Straight from school I spent some time studying science, and both my theology Masters, and my Doctoral work focussed on theology and science.

I have spent years trying to understand atoms, and sub atomic particles, trying to fathom the complexity of the EPR (that's Einstein, Rosen and Podolsky) 'tunneling effect', and how quantum theory can relate to the faith that I have in a God who holds everything in existence moment by moment.

I've just recently had to go through a whole stack of my foundational work in this regard for a book I've just finished writing about the Cosmic Christ (I'll post about that separately). I have a great appreciatoin for the minds that have formed the western scientific paradigm (by my mind the most important of them are), but they have also caused us some problems (which relate to the curves you'll see below):

  • Plato who emphasized, in a clear philosophical system that material reality was distinct (although only a 'poor copy' of the truer spiritual reality it reflected). The positive development was the recognition of material reality as distinct, the negative element was the duality created between spirit and matter.
  • Next, in my mind, was the philosophy of Rene Descartes (the famous 'I think, therefore I am' man. cogito ergo sum, although I have always thought it should be cogito, cogito, ergo, cogito sum (I think, I think, therefore I think I am...) Just kidding. Oh, and by the way, his name is pronounced "day car", NOT "des car tes"!). Descartes' philosophy of being developed the Aristotelian principle of 'matter' being an 'extension of mind' (res cogitans and res extensa). In short, he asked the question "How can I be sure that I TRULY exist?" i.e., how could he be sure that his body, the world, and everything else was not just a dream (like a bad episode of the 80's soap Opera Dallas when JR Ewing was shot - if you're too young to remember - google it! ). So, he couldn't sure that anything that he thought was real (i.e., material reality) could be truly trusted. The only thing that he could be certain of was that he was thinking (i.e., that he was a sentient, thinking being, thinking about what existed) - hence the statement "I think, therefore I am". The positive step in this was that it created an 'objective' and a 'subjective' reality (i.e., something that the res cogitans could observe, res extensa). The downside was that it further removed the sacred, spiritual, and sentience, from material reality - the duality between spirit and matter was widened.
  • Next came the English physicists Sir Isaac Newton, under whose tree (you remember, the one from which the apple supposedly fell that started the whole 'gravity thing') I have stood under in Cambridge! I'll post the photo to prove it! Newton discovered, and suggested, that the whole of the material (objective) Universe could be objectively studied, and that when one did so one could determine clear and definable laws according to which it operated - these are what became known as the laws of physics. By understanding these laws you could thus understand all of material reality! This was quite a positive step for science! It is what made things like building bridges, flight, and car engines possible - engineering would be lost without it. However, the downside was that many people began to disregard, and doubt, the presence of God in in creation (if creation was more like a mathematically precise machine, than a living organism, then God's only role - if God existed at all, was simply to build the clock, wind it up, and watch it unwind).
  • Next came another English philosopher, Sir Francis Bacon, he took Newton and Descartes theories a step further (by they way Newton and Descartes theories become commonly known as Newtonian - Cartesian logic). He suggested that 1) if material reality is separate from 'self', and material reality ran according to clearly deducible 'laws', then by discovering and manipulating these 'laws' one could control the destiny of material reality. The upside of this theory was that it held some truth! If you could work out how to harness the power of water to drive a turbine, to create electrical energy (something that only happened much later), you could get 'something for nothing' (or so it seemed at the time). The downside of this theory is that it is so devoid of any sense of harmony between humans and creation that it lead to the abuses of the industrial revolution, and almost all ecological abuse since! Certainly, America's unwillingness to sign the Kyoto protocol accord smacks of this kind of thinking "It doesn't matter what we do to the rest of creation, after all we're seperate from it! So, if the planet dies, it doesn't affect who and what we truly are - all that we need is to find ways to manipulate it to get what we want". Sad, but true. A further downside of this philosophical approach was that it ONLY VALUED those things that could be measured and quantified - read the works of the father of modern economics, Adam Smith, and you'll see that even people have a value attached to them... What you can earn and produce determines your worth. In the Baconian world, beauty, faith, happiness, and spirit had no value whatsoever because they could not accurately quantified, and because of that they could not be manipulated.
  • For the first time in history material reality was seen as purely functional, completely devoid of God's sacred and loving power... And, so we abused it.
Now, that's the whole problem with the false dichotomy, and duality, that is created between material and spiritual reality! All of creation is God's creation! Sadly, because we no longer recognize that we think that the only place that we can worship is in Church!

Of course there have been MANY significant developments in science since then that show just how material reality is filled with God's divine power and presence. But you'll have to buy my next book to read about that! Ha ha!

So, here's the point that I was getting to when I started writing this post....

When God created the heavens and the earth, God said "It is good..." (Gen 1). Moreover, we are told in Paul's (or the Pauline author's) letter to the Colossians that "...by him [Jesus] all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together." (Col 1:16-17, emphasis mine).

That's what the Bible tells us, theology further shows us that God sanctifies created reality when he chooses to become 'incarnate' in it - the divine enters physical being! Moreover, have you ever thought that when Jesus ascended into the Godhead (Acts 1:9-11) he took atoms into the Trinitarian life! By this I mean, Jesus didn't leave his body behind, Jesus fully God, fully human, and Nicea Constantinople creed tells us, ascended into the divine Trinitarian life.

So, next time we abuse creation, or choose to disregard it - remember that God has sanctified it, and if you abuse creation you are abusing the God who has entered created, material reality, and taken that material reality into the divine life of the Godhead!

The point is that today I decided to take my 1967 Vespa to the Kentucky Fried Chicken drive through! It was a spiritual experience! As I rode that curvy, rounded, beautiful orange scooter, I experienced the joy of being alive to God in Christ. It could feel the goodness of God's creation! God created the air, the sunset, the plants, and let me assure you, God created MY VESPA!


(the one on the left is mine... I used to own the one on the right as well, but she has gone to a good home and been replaced with a beast).

So, my advice is, if you're going to live life, ENJOY IT! Find joy in God's creation, give God glory for what is around you. A creation spirituality, like all spirituality, is a discipline - it takes discipline to say "Lord, I CHOOSE to see you in the world around me, active, alive, keeping all things in being. And, as I see you, I praise and thank you for your beauty, power, and love!"

Oh, and yes, I do enjoy writing as much as I enjoy riding my Vespa! Any other Vespa riders out there who want to join me for an occasional ride in the Pretoria area?

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