Richard Dawkins is in the U.S. this week presenting at a conference in Arizona called the Origins Symposium, where he's talking about what Darwin got right and what he got wrong. Apparently the interesting part of the symposium has been a discussion of what preceded DNA in the evolutionary process. Stephen Hawking and his daughter presented, too, to give an astrophysicist's perspective on the beginnings of time.
I remember when a similar symposium was held in Italy and John Paul II encouraged the dialogue, but warned Catholics not to question what happened before the "big bang", implying that the big bang was the "God moment" of creation.
It may be pointless to ask what happened before the Big Bang, but I don't see any harm in it.
This was a cool post. So I linked it. :D
2009-04-07 02:20 pm (UTC)
Apophatic theology and the new athesism
2009-04-07 02:57 pm (UTC)
Re: Apophatic theology and the new athesism
I particularly like that characterization of missionary Christianity as "classroom religion".
"Apophatic". It seems like I never came across that word before.
It's one of the words I love. Like katabasis.
The Greeks always had a word for it :)
One of the things my husband noticed before he wrote his book on polytheism is that atheist arguments almost always are aimed squarely at the single vast omnipotent god of desert monotheist religions. If you stop defining deity as single and omnipotent, a lot of the arguments for atheism dry up and blow away.
I like apophaticism as a means of discussing the One that stands beyond the gods in the works of Neoplatonic writers. It's also not a bad place to start in describing how, when you make deeper contact with them, the gods stop being these quite comprehensible personalities and patterns and instead show themselves as vast and complex beyond imagination or description. They're content to wear costumes for us to see and speak to because that works, but they aren't the costumes.
I agree. Sometimes the whole Dawkins thing strikes me as a little, local quarrel- a family quarrel, in fact. I wonder whether he and his allies realise that there is more to religion than the soft targets he mainly attacks.
I've tried to mention to atheists of my acquaintance that polytheistic religions don't hold the beliefs that they object to --- but the most common response seems to be a sort of colonialist "Oh, well, polytheism, that's something those primitive (ie non-white) people on other continents believe in. Nobody civilized believes in polytheistic religions."
I guess that makes me uncivilized, then. Better uncivilized than a patronizing wanker, IMO. ;)
The new atheism is very parochial. It defines religion in terms of the reactionary fundamentalism of small town America- and seems largely oblivious to all its many other faces.
I know- from experience- that polytheism can represent a very subtle approach to the mystery of the divine.
That's what my Buddhist former son-in-law says. Interesting...
Buddhism is essentially apophatic.
I learned something today. Thank you! :)
I encountered the word in Karen Armstrong's A History of God, and it's one of the concepts that has most strongly influenced my spiritual perspective in the last couple of years. When God is defined by positive attributes -- God is loving, or is wrathful -- most people seem to go from that to projecting very human qualities even onto what they claim is an ineffable deity. And it's a short step from there to using that crude idol of God as an excuse for all manner of horrible behaviour.
One of the things I like about Sufism, and the Orthodox tradition in Christianity, is the emphasis on apophasis. (Sorry, I didn't mean to put two such similar Greek words so close together!) When one's theology isn't occupied with what boils down to an old man in the clouds, there's more room left for the Mystery.
Unfortunately it's much easier to think of God as an angry old man than as an empty space. Buddhism- which started out as essentially apophatic- quickly broke up into all manner of demon-haunted sects.
Apophasis always has been- and perhaps always will be- "caviar to the general".