March 21, 2019

Another Look: An Ordinary God

There Were Seven in Eight. Jackson Pollock

Another Look: An Ordinary God
From 2014

O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
‘For who has known the mind of the Lord?
Or who has been his counselor?’
‘Or who has given a gift to him, to receive a gift in return?’
For from him and through him and to him are all things.
To him be the glory for ever. Amen.

• Romans 11:33:36, NRSV

• • •

In an opinion piece at RNS, Mitchell Stevens argues that, while society is not becoming less religious, the “god” people worship has generally become diminished. God is a mere shadow of his former self.

God is not, to borrow Friedrich Nietzsche’s image from 1882, dead. And neither is religion approaching extinction, despite what its staunchest opponents may have wished. The number of people in the world who have rejected religion has been rising rapidly; nonetheless, as of 2012 only 13 percent of the world’s population would describe themselves as convinced atheists, according to a global survey by WIN-Gallup International. Here in the United States, only 5 percent would accept that designation.

However, religion has been growing much less important. God once was seen as commanding the entire universe and supervising all of its inhabitants — inflicting tragedies, bestowing triumphs, enforcing morality. But now, outside of some lingering loud pockets of orthodoxy, we have witnessed the arrival of a less mighty, increasingly inconsequential version of God.

Stevens supports his case by making the following observations:

  • Religions explain much less than they used to.
  • God is being given less credit for the outcomes of our personal experiences.
  • The worship of this God is also less demanding, and religions tend to impose fewer restrictions on adherents. People are also less likely to go along with the standards religions might promote.
  • Most today hold their religious beliefs more lightly than their ancestors.

The commenter quotes the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, who predicted that religion would not be “o’erthrown” but simply become “unregarded.” Then he concludes:

Religion’s supporters can take comfort in the fact that, so far, most minds still find room for some sort of God. But as religion recedes and we contend less and less with the strictures of ancient holy texts, it is an increasingly distant, indistinct, uninvolved, ordinary God.

• • •

Mitchell Stevens is describing life in a secularized age, with little room for transcendence, mystery, awe, and humility. In our world, humans can recreate any sort of miracle or spectacle by means of CGI on a 3-D Imax movie screen, and so it has become hard to be “wowed” by almost anything. The most distant stars in the universe and the smallest particles of matter seem accessible to humans, and the fact that I can view them all and hear them explained in my living room or on the device in the palm of my hand threatens to diminish the wonder of life itself.

As I sit here tonight with my laptop, I have easy and quick access to a quantity of information my ancestors could never have imagined even existed. They gazed into the night sky and felt miniscule. They could explain so little, compared to what we know today. Sure, we still face intractable challenges like cancer, poverty, and warfare, but the very fact that we see them as “challenges” rather than as “powers and principalities” holding dread sway over us signals that we live in a different age.

Is it possible for us to imagine anything we cannot ultimately master, given enough time and resources?

Is it still possible for us to imagine a God who is beyond our knowledge and control?

Where is this leading? Religion may have a future, but what of God?

Comments

  1. Christiane says:

    “Is it still possible for us to imagine a God who is beyond our knowledge and control?”

    Maybe our problem is too much ‘over-stimulation’ from the wrong sources,
    when instead, we desperately need to ‘come away’ for a while to the ‘still waters’

    ” . . . ask now of the animals, if they may speak to thee;
    and of the birds of the air, if they may declare to thee.”
    ” Or speak to the earth, and it shall teach you:
    and the fishes of the sea shall declare to you . . . . ” (from the Book of Job)

    http://fibrechannel-europe.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/alaska-landscape-1-fancy-design-ideas-photography-jeff-schultz.jpg

    “And I have felt a presence that disturbs me with the joy of elevated thoughts;
    a sense sublime of something far more deeply interfused,
    Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns, and the round ocean and the living air,
    And the blue sky, and in the mind of man:
    A motion and a spirit, that impels all thinking things, all objects of all thought, and rolls through all things.. . . ”

    (from ‘Tintern Abbey’, Wordsworth)

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > Maybe our problem is too much ‘over-stimulation’ from the wrong sources,
      > when instead, we desperately need to ‘come away’ for a while to the ‘still waters’

      Coming away and tuning out is a luxury activity; unaffordable to the majority of humanity.

      • I think people make choices. I think we ‘tune out’ when we are too stimmed by all the noise and motion and fast-paced action that surrounds our modern lives; and if we want to ‘re-tune’ ourselves, exiting the fast lane for a more peaceful world will involved ‘giving up’ what we may think we ‘need’, but IF in the end, we are abandoning that which has entrapped us. . . . well, then . . . .

        some thoughts

        I’m not suggesting going whole hog and living ‘off grid’, but a lot of people are voluntarily choosing to simplify their existing ways and are beginning to feel more ‘at home’ with less of the material glitz . . . they are describing the benefits of a chosen simplified living arrangement and, for them, this has offered a more ‘at home in the world’ sense of being . . . . ‘time’ awareness changes, what has impressed seems no longer of real value, and even solitude takes on the feeling of a blessing as silence is welcomed for its healing gifts

        I don’t think ‘money’ is a barrier to ‘coming away’ at all, but we must get a bit de-programmed from our long captivity in the clutches of ‘consumerism’ . . . . we find that less is more, and we did not know it

      • Randy Thompson says:

        Adam, you’re largely right here, I fear. However, those who most need to get away (“coming away and tuning out”) are ministers, and they can (unless they are bi-vocational). Their effectiveness hinges on this “alone time” with God. Sadly, too many of them have bought into a corporate model of “leadeship” where retreats don’t easily fit in, or are done with less of an interest in wasting time with God and more in improving leadership effectiveness.

        • Christiane says:

          Hello Randy,

          you wrote: “Their effectiveness hinges on this “alone time” with God”

          You would understand the longing in the prayer of Aidan of Holy Island, Lindisfarne, a ‘tidal island’ attached to the mainland only when the tide receded to form a ‘land bridge’ twice a day.
          But when the tide came in and covered the land bridge, Lindisfarne was once more an ‘island’ isolated from the busy mainland, and the monks were left to pray in peace.

          Here is Aidan’s prayer, written long ago in northern Britain
          circa 635 A.D.

          “Leave me alone with God as much as may be.
          As the tide draws the waters close in upon the shore,
          Make me an island, set apart, alone with You, God, holy to You.

          Then, with the turning of the tide
          prepare me to carry Your Presence to the busy world beyond,
          the world that rushes in on me till the waters come again
          and fold me back to you.”

  2. It’s a incorrect to think that God was more highly regarded in past ages. Perhaps some people, or most people, thought about God more (although I think that’s debatable, too), or the invocation of God played a greater role in intellectual, societal, and governmental discussion and rhetoric. But God, and specifically God as he is made manifest in the cruciform and weakness of Jesus Christ, has always been set aside whenever it suited human need or desire to, or used as a pretext and rationale for doing what humans wanted to do anyway. I would say what was more highly regarded was the the use of the intellectual and moral “idols” that could made out of God. It is better that that habit has fallen into disrepute, at least in some places in the world, among some people; but I’m not sure that habit has been totally left behind, I still think it’s strong in many places — would that it weren’t, and we would be satisfied with the broken God, “the God edged out of the world and onto the cross”, as Bonhoeffer put it.

    • Agreed on all counts.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      Agree; I am skeptical the median human was actively all that more “religious” than now. The Powers used more religious rhetoric, as that was the rhetoric – the way of talking about power – available to them.

      The peasant was simply screwed, and we have no idea how they felt about things like prayer.

      • +111

        Religion in the past was more equated with power, which maybe made it see more “present.” The fact it is “less so” is maybe a good thing.

  3. “God is not, to borrow Friedrich Nietzsche’s image from 1882, dead.”

    “God once was seen as commanding the entire universe and supervising all of its inhabitants — inflicting tragedies, bestowing triumphs, enforcing morality. But now, outside of some lingering loud pockets of orthodoxy, we have witnessed the arrival of a less mighty, increasingly inconsequential version of God.”

    Sounds pretty dead to me.

    • Sounds like a peaceful God to me, who does not intend to use violence or force to consummate his creation.

      • But not of course the God of the Bible.

        • I do see this God in the crucified Christ, and in the risen Christ who comes to his disciples, and the world, offering not judgment and violence but “Fear not.” It is through the Bible that I meet him, and hear his counsel to not fear.

        • Christiane says:

          Only Our Lord can put light on the sacred Scriptures. For those who have attempted ‘literal’ understandings of that which may be written as allegory in the ways of an ancient literary tradition, it is easy to see how such people stumbled and fell in their pride thinking they could ‘figure out’ literally ‘the meaning of Scripture’; when only Our Lord can open our eyes and our hearts to its meaning completely.

          And we know that even now, we ‘see through a glass darkly’ so still we have among us the smug who literally take the holy Scriptures and go around mouthing ‘the Bible says’ . . . . with no thought of Christ the Revealer of truth, the Revealer of God

          ?

          no wonder you get those who see God as ‘wrathful’ and from that viewpoint they develop an entire man-made ‘church’ that throws stones at ‘the others’ and ‘points the finger’ at the ‘others’ and sees themselves as ‘righteous’ . . . . no wonder

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          But not of course the God of the Bible.

          As in “SMITE! SMITE! SMITE!”?

  4. john barry says:

    Would love to be able to stick around to see how this new era of no belief in God or a higher power works out. Personally, most people do not have a real clue on how the “things” they rely on really “work”, they just use them and accept they will always be. When the push comes to shove where will people go to find solace and comfort as well as hope?

    God does not need the world but the world needs God, the world just does know it. Be still and know I am reason does not work out too well historically . If you do not believe in God he is certainly dead.

    Still love the old NYC subway graffiti slogan “Nietzsche is dead” tagged God. Or to put it another way, you did not build this yourself. One day we will all know for sure like Nietzsche.

  5. Susan Dumbrell says:

    Jackson Pollock, Blue Poles, (Number 11, 1952) purchased by the National Gallery of Australia in 1973 for A$1.3 million.
    I have viewed it twice.
    My opinion is that it is just a hype which surrounds it.
    I also believe we are forced to have appreciation for this painting or that other work of art or writing etc etc just because it is presumed to be of value.
    I ask, of value to whom?
    There is so much which is foisted on us in so many realms of ‘this is of value’.
    Our personal vision or opinion is defined for us.
    Some aspects of religious theology and practice are similar. Also in politics in what ever country you live.
    Is it of true value or are we being hoodwinked in so many aspects of our every day lives.
    Scepticism is not allowed or laughed at.
    There is always a person of power who wants to define our opinions for us.

    Blue Poles is now estimated to be worth between $100 million and $350 million.

  6. Adam Tauno Williams says:

    “””Is it possible for us to imagine anything we cannot ultimately master, given enough time and resources?”””

    This strikes me as a very Evangelical interpretation. Believing people tend towards mighty arrogance; the whole we-are-little-rebel-gods meme.

    That Evangelicals believe that about people is disturbing. What people know today, if anything, is that they are screwed. They now know that preacher men have been making promises for centuries upon which they never deliver. They know we’ve looked into the deeps of the heavens and found ice, fire, blistering radiation, and vast emptiness. They know we’ve looked down into the quantum and found there the ability to incinerate cities at the snap of our fingers.

    “””but the very fact that we see them as “challenges” rather than as “powers and principalities” holding dread sway over us signals that we live in a different age.”””

    I suggest the Great Thinkers and Theologian spend a couple weekends watching the TV targeted for young audiences. Its’ dark, the gods are capricious, leaders are frauds, and nothing ends well. With ever more powerful tools what the person is forced to recognize every more deeply is how they are entirely screwed.

    Who looks out at 21st century America and sees either Optimism or Moral Arrogance? I question anyone who sees that.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Who looks out at 21st century America and sees either Optimism or Moral Arrogance?

      Someone sealed in a Bubble.
      Whether of their own making, their subculture’s, or Social Media AI Algorithms.

    • Christiane says:

      I like to think of ‘hope’ as not being the same thing as your description of ‘Optimism’

      Always liked this definition of ‘hope’:

      ““Hope is an orientation of the spirit, an orientation of the heart;
      it transcends the world that is immediately experienced, and is anchored somewhere beyond its horizons
      . . . It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense,
      regardless of how it turns out.” (Vaclav Havel)

      I like to think that our Christian hope IS anchored ‘somewhere beyond the horizons of this world’, although seeing the ever-increasing climate change symptoms attacking the Earth, I understand when young people decide not to bring children into this world . . . I understand. But it breaks my heart.

  7. Clay Crouch says:

    Isn’t it possible that the old God and gods need to die? Who needs or wants vain, thunderbolt-throwing, capricious divinities who have more in common with that crazy next door neighbor than an all loving comforter? Isn’t that what the crucified and resurrected God is showing us?

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      Here is a problem: Vain capricious gods are easier to believe in.

      Capricious and Arbitrary accords with the lived experience.

    • This is a good question, Clay. Perhaps the question should be framed as — What should we consider beneficial about our different conceptions of God today and what have we lost?

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        > we consider beneficial

        The power of Divine Fear Mongering is greatly diminished. It seems as if the slice of the population who can be intimidated by religious rhetoric is now a minority and in rapid decline. This – potentially – reduces the power of people who have no business having power over others.

        > what have we lost?

        This is a harder question. The answer may be Nothing.

        I am not pessimistic about this.

        This may be true: “religions tend to impose fewer restrictions on adherents.” Yet I meet all manner of people who are willing to take restrictions upon themselves; mostly around issues around which The Church’s response has been nearly complete silent: housing, place, diet, energy, waste, neighborliness, etc… There is no shortage of very impressive people. Many of those may have left Religion behind; yet I believe more so because Religion [The Church] lacks sufficient courage, wisdom, courage, vision, and courage to follow them. There is plenty of room in the world for Religion [The Church]; I suspect we need her to die a bit more before she can come to life again.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          Yet I meet all manner of people who are willing to take restrictions upon themselves; mostly around issues around which The Church’s response has been nearly complete silent:…

          Including the toxic version.
          i.e. Can-You-Top-This, More-Woke-Than-Thou, St Rose of Lima-level Asceticism.

    • Clay Crouch wrote:

      “Isn’t it possible that the old God and gods need to die?”

      That might be a good idea if humans created God, but God was not created and won’t be dying.

      We need to remember that the crucified and resurrected God who is a loving comforter will be coming back, as the Nicene Creed says, “to judge the quick and the dead” with perfect justice and it may not be very comforting for many.

      • Clay Crouch says:

        Of course I was speaking metaphorically about the death of God. I do think that the sweep of scripture demonstrates that man has fashioned God and the gods more in his own image than in the image revealed in the incarnation. Jesus bears little resemblance to the retributive God portrayed in many of the accounts of His interaction with man.

        • Hello Clay,

          you wrote: ” Jesus bears little resemblance to the retributive God portrayed in many of the accounts of His interaction with man.”

          You can trust that Jesus is the fullness of revelation.

          That ‘God of Wrath’ thing is a ‘literal’ viewpoint that overlooks the tradition of ‘the Ban’ in Old Testament writings . . . here is some information about ‘the Ban’ as it is called from my tradition:

          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1A65Wfr2is0

          • Clay Crouch says:

            Christiane,

            Thanks for sharing this. I like and respect Bp. Barron and have watched a good number of his videos. I do indeed trust that in Jesus dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily. I was attempting to point out that man’s understanding of God shows an evolutionary arc, much like the seven seals on the great scroll.

  8. From the op:

    “Is it possible for us to imagine anything we cannot ultimately master, given enough time and resources?”

    Humans have mastered a lot, but humans have not come close to mastering everything. We (humans) can’t even master ourselves. Thinking that we can master everything, even with unlimited resources, is the epitome of hubris.

    “Is it still possible for us to imagine a God who is beyond our knowledge and control?”

    We can know God, but not completely, nor can we fully understand his ways. If we don’t let the above mentioned hubris get in the way, the answer to this question is yes.

    “Where is this leading? Religion may have a future, but what of God?”

    I don’t know where this is leading. God has an eternal future, but religion as we know it may not have any future.

  9. It seems to me that newer conceptions of God or rejection of some older conceptions don’t necessarily make ” little room for transcendence, mystery, awe, and humility” as is implied by the post.

    • Please expand. This has been my experience in observing the way people conceive of God today.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        I agree with SteveA.

        Where was/is the wide spread openness to transcendence, mystery, awe, and humility in my parent’s generation? Or my grand parents generation? I don’t see it; certainly not in those in my parent’s generation.

        When did it go into steep decline? It is difficult to discuss this without some specifics. Why does the author believe that people were more open to transcendence, mystery, awe, and humility?

        I do believe people believe less in Divine Retribution; I also suspect that is a facet of prosperity more than anything else. His article only concretely cites statistics on perceptions of Sexual Sin [abortion, marriage, etc…] so it seems more about Retribution than Transcendence.

        • Neither have I experienced any evidence that my parents and grandparents, or their contemporaries, were more open to transcendence and mystery than the people of our own era. And I don’t see historical evidence of greater openness to such things from previous eras, either.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          His article only concretely cites statistics on perceptions of Sexual Sin [abortion, marriage, etc…]

          Could this be an artifact of Christianese tunnel vision on Pelvic Issues?

      • Sorry Mike, I hit the send button then drove a hundred miles to see my folks. Just now back and finished with chores. Adam made some good points, I agree. It is my subjective opinion that transcendence and mystery keep some people on the theistic side. There are a number of different views of who and what God is. The question of God’s existence bothered me a lot in my twenties. Then a friend advised that the real question was not whether or not God exists but what are God’s attributes or characteristics. This meant I could jettison a version of God I had thought was necessary and was free to explore other conceptions and to live with uncertainty and mystery. Until he helped wake me up, I had been in the thrall mainly of a certain American Protestant way of perceiving God. A couple of years ago, I got a big kick out of a Michael Hardin video where he was in discussion with a professed atheist, Aron-Ra. The latter had the first opportunity to talk and gave his reasons against. When it was his turn, Hardin said that he did not believe in that God either. Tom aka Volkmar has had the good fortune of meeting Michael Hardin.

    • One just need read Anne Lamott’s book “Help, Thanks, Wow” to see that a much different concept of God than as viewed in the past doesn’t limit the awe and mystery in Him and His presence.

  10. My view is that as evangelicalism has devolved, it has brought God down to meet us at a more manageable buddy level. Transcendence and mystery are no longer our spiritual experience; holiness no longer our objective. I can name any number of evangelicals I consider to have practiced holiness as a spiritual discipline. Unfortunately, they are all dead. Holiness is a word carrying a lot of freight, and there are a lot of fake copies, but I know the true one when I see it. But I don’t so much anymore, where musty old words like “holy” or “sacred” are a thing of the past. We love the awe-someness of the circus, but when you no longer have a sense of awe in God’s presence, it’s a good bet he probably is no longer there. Its not God who is becoming distant, indistinct, uninvolved, ordinary, its we that have forgotten our calling.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      My view is that as evangelicalism has devolved, it has brought God down to meet us at a more manageable buddy level.

      This could be overcompensation for Hyper-Pious portraits of God as Uber-Holy, Uber-Sacred OTHER.

      Wasn’t the Incarnation of Christ supposed to bring “this OTHER in the sky” down to a one-to-one human scale?

      A lot of Medieval devotion had Christ so Divine He had ceased to be human. “Buddy Christ” just overshot in the other direction.

  11. Randy Thompson says:

    I got to thinking about this:

    “Is it possible for us to imagine anything we cannot ultimately master, given enough time and resources?”

    My answer to that question, with a nod to G.K. Chesterton: “The rest of my afternoon.”

    Tomorrow too, for that matter.

    We see approaching us what we think is the future. What arrives is often quite different. Have you ever noticed that the projections of what people think the future will be always end up looking like life as it is right now? For exaple, the future envisioned by the 1938-39 NY Worlds Fair looked a lot like 1938.

    “Mastery” of the future is at best an educated guess.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Something from my 40+ years in SF litfandom:
      EVERY VISION OF THE FUTURE(TM) HAS TO MAP INTO THE PRESENT TO BE UNDERSTANDABLE.
      — paraphrase of a preface to a Poul Anderson SF novel

      The trick is Balance. It has to map into the Present, yet not be too tightly tied to the Present. Else the Future of the vision gets “Old-Fashioned” pretty fast. This is especially prevalent in Near-Future SF (shared by Christian Apocalyptic) — once The Future is written, that Future is fixed. And if that Future is “Twenty Minutes Into The Future”, it has to tie-in to an ever-moving Present. Type Example: The Second Russian Revolution invalidated a LOT of Future Histories (and Book of Revelation choreographies) which depended on the USSR and Cold War continuing far into The Future (if not literally Unto the End of Time).

  12. Iain Lovejoy says:

    It is odd that the revelation of how much vaster creation is than we can imagine, and a fuller understanding of its dazzling complexity and order should diminish our concept of God, rather than increase it. I suspect that this is because we have stopped seeing God as principally the author of Creation and rather as, as Stuart says, principally our “buddy” to assist us, make our lives easier and invite us to abandon creation and join his country club in the sky when we die. We have turned God into our “imaginary friend” precisely as atheists accuse him of being, and as a result the vastness and complexity of creation dwarfs rather than glorifies him.
    I fear we have shrunk God in order to commodity and sell him. God no longer saves the world: he grants his special friends an escape route from it, if they sign on the dotted line. The church sells us escape from the world into an exclusive piety and then subsequently a ticket out of the world entirely. The church’s God is dying because he can’t compete with the grandeur of the creation he promises escape from.
    What the church should be offering, but isn’t, is escape from the lethal prison of our own sinful nature, because of which we are destroying the world and ourselves, but it doesn’t because that would mean putting off the punters by expecting something from us, and that would be hard. Fundangelicals tell us it’s God, not our sins, that is our jailer and that God will let us out into paradise as is if only we will buy their snake oil, and liberals try and pretend that were’re all fine already and the bars aren’t there. Neither offers and solutions.
    We have already killed God: secularism is growing because more and more people are noticing he’s dead.

  13. I believe the is a fundamental, possibly even revolutionary, change taking place in the God-image. That is to say, the perception of God from the human point of view. God is certainly dying in some form but that always gives way to new life.

  14. Some ideas we have had about God need to die. I am impressed by Tom Wright’s story from when he was a university chaplain and met a lot of students who told him (some even sheepishly) that they didn’t believe in God; when asked to describe how they understood God, Tom would say, “I don’t believe in that God, either.” Of course, he did not leave it at that. Fr Stephen has similar stories.

    The other part to this is the “disenchanting” of life due to our Western culture’s wholesale acceptance of a materialistic, nominalistic view of reality, followed hard on the heels by consumerism and the wish for “personal peace and prosperity” (F. Shaeffer) Not saying that everyone is infected with this, but it is the ocean in which we swim and it’s hard to break away. I think the average peasant of yore may not have understood all the highfallutin’ theological talk, or maybe didn’t even care about it; at the same time, the culture in which that person swam would have integrated and affirmed the numinous and transcendent, and that peasant may have actually experienced it. Even if we don’t guffaw at such a notion nowadays, even if we still respect the transcendent, we’re so firmly entrenched in a two-storey view of the universe that it’s extremely difficult to expect that possibility without at least mentally throwing it into that upper storey.

    Reality is One Thing; that fact has been hidden/lost/abandoned for various reasons.

    Dana

    • Heather L Angus says:

      By e.e. cummings:

      pity this busy monster, manunkind,

      not. Progress is a comfortable disease:
      your victim (death and life safely beyond)

      plays with the bigness of his littleness
      — electrons deify one razorblade
      into a mountainrange; lenses extend
      unwish through curving wherewhen till unwish
      returns on its unself.
      A world of made
      is not a world of born — pity poor flesh

      and trees, poor stars and stones, but never this
      fine specimen of hypermagical

      ultraomnipotence. We doctors know

      a hopeless case if — listen: there’s a hell
      of a good universe next door; let’s go”

    • I think the average peasant of yore may not have understood all the highfallutin’ theological talk, or maybe didn’t even care about it; at the same time, the culture in which that person swam would have integrated and affirmed the numinous and transcendent, and that peasant may have actually experienced it.

      Such an experience would certainly have been possible for a peasant of that era, but also just as possible for a businesswoman or truck driver of this one. The religion and spirituality section of any bookstore or library, and countless online sites, are full of accounts of just such experiences happening in our own time; I don’t see any evidence that the peasant’s era was especially privileged in this matter, at least none that doesn’t involve a hefty dose of questionable speculation about the impact of religion on the consciousness of people and societies centuries removed from us.

      • Christiane says:

        It might not be possible for the humble, no, except THEY ARE the recipients of God’s grace.

        The Virgin Mary, Jeanne d’Arc, Bernadette Soubirous . . . .

        Mary said, in her magnificat, these words:

        “my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for He has looked on the humble estate of His servant.
        For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;for He who is mighty has done great things for me,
        and holy is His name.”

        • I don’t deny that people of the past had these kinds of experiences; but I also don’t think they were privileged with a greater likelihood of having them than people of our era. And as for peasants, their voices are so little recorded in the historical record that almost everything we might say about them and their inner experience is conjecture.

          • Christiane says:

            the great cathedrals were built for them that could not read, and the buildings visually told The Story in stone and in wood and in stained glass for the masses prior to the time of the printing presses . . . . even the ‘stations of the Cross’ were ‘pictured’ and symbols were there, the basin of holy water for blessing, the bread, the wine, the physical making of the sign of the Cross

            a lot of the first millenia of the Church was not just for the learned, but took into consideration the needs of those who were illiterate and still possessed a desire to know Christ

            for the modern Christian, this all seems irrelevant, but in those first centuries, what was conveyed was not through peoples’ abilities to read . . . but still ‘the Story’ was told visually, orally, in symbol, and in participation physically through baptism, the Eucharist, and all the ways open to ‘peasants’ . . . the Church didn’t dismiss ‘peasants’, it embraced them

      • Of course anyone can have that experience. The point I was trying to make is that the view of reality for that peasant was in fact different than it is for most of the world now. We have discarded it for something else (cf Lewis’ “Discarded Image” which I need to read!). Should such a view be privileged? I think it should, because it gave meaning to everything. Nominalism evacuates meaning – and/or it makes the individual the sole arbiter of meaning. Without meaning we are well and truly lost; we have no basis for holding or promoting any kind of values – values become phantoms that exist only in an individual’s mind.

        Dana

        • Sorry, Dana, I just don’t to see how we can plumb the depths of the inner experience of a medieval peasant well enough to know its contents or character. It’s a blank screen to us.

          • Humans are humans.

            • Yes, that’s my point, actually. Medieval peasants had the same access to such experiences as we do, to the degree that they were equally human with us. They had no privileged access with regard to them, as far as we know, and we have to read into their experience a lot more than we get from our own to think that they had a special openness to transcendence that we don’t. There is no historical warrant for such an assumption, particularly since the voices of peasants and other “nobodies” are so absent from the historical record. It’s guesswork based on extrapolation from our speculations about how religious culture impacts consciousness to say that there was such a difference between them and us.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        The religion and spirituality section of any bookstore or library, and countless online sites, are full of accounts of just such experiences happening in our own time

        Don’t forget the “Paranormal” section (which used to be called “New Age” which itself used to be called “Occult”). In bookstores, that often acts as a dumping ground for stuff which doesn’t fit into any other category; especially if it has some sort of Weird angle. (I once scored a nonfiction essay collection from one of my favorite SF authors in the Paranormal section; it was speculation about extraterrestrial life and intelligence so it wound up in the UFO stack.) And if you do “Weird Fiction”, Paranormal bookstore sections, YouTube channels, and Websites are full of source/research material.

        • Yeah, not all that openness to transcendence is or was a good thing, either now or in the past. Plenty of junk gets mixed in with the good stuff. It all sits side by side, the valuable wares with the trash. It’s always been that way.

  15. Is it still possible for us to imagine a God who is beyond our knowledge and control?

    Well, yes it is possible for me, and if it’s possible for me, it must be for others as well, because I’m not so special. The more aware I am of how beyond my knowledge and control existence itself is, something that modern science and ways of knowing have taught me, the more open I am to God’s transcendence and freedom.

  16. Christiane says:

    “Is it still possible for us to imagine a God who is beyond our knowledge and control?”

    yes, if you are crushed by sudden grief, and pray, and are then sheltered with an enveloping peace in the midst of that grief, yes

    something of this God can not only be ‘imagined’ but can also be ‘experienced’ and there are no words to describe this when it happens except to give thanks for the mercy of it

  17. Klasie Kraalogies says:

    When you ask “Where is this leading?”, I am sorely temoted to answer :).

    Jokes aside though, in my journey, I started grasping the trajectory of religion when looking back at where it comes from. And since you touch on it in your piece, I think you are on the track of potential answers.