left biblioblography: Allegories Gone Wild – The Theology That Boasts Of Emptiness

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Allegories Gone Wild – The Theology That Boasts Of Emptiness

Cross posted @ God Is 4 Suckers!


Nothin' from nothin' leaves nothin'
You gotta have somethin'
If you wanna be with me
Nothin' from nothin' leaves nothin'
You gotta have somethin'
If you wanna be with me – Billy Preston, Nothing From Nothing

Apparently, there’s a new rage in religious quarters. It’s called kenotic theology. Kenosis

is a Greek word for emptiness, which is used as a theological term. The ancient Greek word κένωσις kénōsis means an "emptying", from κενός kenós "empty". The word is mainly used, however, in a Christian theological context, for example Philippians 2:7, "Jesus made himself nothing (ἐκένωσε ekénōse) ..." (NIV) or "...he emptied himself..." (NRSV), using the verb form κενόω kenóō "to empty". See also Strong's G2758.

In Christian theology, Kenosis is the concept of the 'self-emptying' of one's own will and becoming entirely receptive to God and his perfect will. It is used both as an explanation of the Incarnation, and an indication of the nature of God's activity and condescension. Mystical theologian John of the Cross' work "Dark Night of the Soul" is a particularly lucid explanation of God's process of transforming the believer into the icon or "likeness of Christ".

Yes, it does sound like some form of a Zen koan, does it not? I’ve heard this in some variety or form over the last few decades: the ‘emptying’ of oneself, to become some sort of vessel for mystic forces, or in the Eastern tradition, that act of emptiness in order to achieve/receive some kind of spiritual insight.

In fact, it’s very much like the concept of zazen, or ‘opening the hand of thought’. However, the differential is that in Western thought, the act of ‘opening’ is the process of inviting something in, whereas in Eastern modalities, it’s the simple act of release.

On our side of the ocean, the act of actual quietude, that silencing of the internal dialogue, is viewed (usually) with some degree of doubt and/or horror, as if silence as well as stillness is indicative of non-existence or identity loss (which is quite silly: a quasar very active, perhaps noisy, while a growing tree is neither). As a Westerner, it provides a degree of difficulty for myself – the martial art I engage in seeks stillness in motion, a paradox not a contradiction. There are countless studies showing that meditation itself, that ‘emptying of the self’ is a huge reliever of stress (that holdover of the fight/flight impulse we’ve been struggling with for years), so I shan’t belabor that point.

But the Occidental mind always seems to need a prime mover, a direction – aghast at the concept of free-floating in freefall, even if only for a few minutes each day.  Ergo, insert Father Figure (this is some sort of weird reverse Oedipal Rex complex), who ‘fills’ the ‘vessel’.

What brings us to this? Why, evolutionary Christology. Basically, this is an effort to synchronize religion with evolution.  This excerpt is from The Examined Life On-Line Journal:

Did the pre-existent God come down from Heaven and become man in the person of Jesus, or did Jesus the man achieve divinity? This question emerges as a consequence of the work of a number of Catholic theologians, although most of them would probably reject the question in that form.

Personally, I reject the question in its entirety.

God-Man Unity

In his “The Theandric Nature of Christ”, David Coffey sets out “to concentrate on the unity of Christ without thereby devaluing his humanity over against his divinity.” His study “transfers the focus of his unity from the divinity to the humanity, so that the former is clearly seen to be actualised in the latter.” Coffey argues that the theandric, or divine-human character “of Christ’s human nature emerges from a critical study of Karl Rahner’s Christology that deepens our understanding of human nature itself.” (1999,405) He notes that in a 1958 essay Rahner had argued that human nature has “when assumed by God as his reality, simply arrived at the point to which it strives by virtue of its essence.” (1999, 411-12)  This view proposes a deeper understanding of human nature - that human nature is essentially oriented towards its own divinisation, while Coffey maintains that Christ’s divinity is actualised within his human nature.

Theandric? So…is there a Homo Theanderthal in the works somewhere?


So from Hulsbosch, Schillebeecks, Schoonenberg and North we have agreement that latent possibilities, which are somehow contained within matter itself, evolve to reveal Jesus the God-man. From Rahner we have human nature striving towards divinisation by virtue of its essence. If human nature strives towards divinisation “by virtue of its essence” and if Jesus represents “an unfolding of possibilities which were somehow latent within matter itself”, we must try to understand those processes through which this occurs. We need to find how human nature strives towards its divinisation and how the possibilities that are latent in matter are realised. We have to ask:

A) How do the latent possibilities within matter come to be realised, and in particular, what form of evolutionary process might realise these possibilities?

The answer here, is almost Zen in and of itself: there were no latent possibilities, and the matter realized itself.

(B) Within an evolutionary process, how might humanity achieve the divinisation that it pursues by virtue of its essence? What evolutionary process could humanity utilise in its striving towards divinisation?

Well, ZERO comes to mind, as there is no ‘divine’  -  this is presupposition liberally mixed with psychobabble.

(C) As Jesus has achieved the divinisation that humanity pursues by virtue of its essence, what is the nature of the process that produced Jesus?

Again, presupposes Jay-bus even existed. Even if he did, was his birth a result of parthenogenesis (the virgin birth)? Is there some way to analyze the DNA? Oh, that’s right: they can’t even find the tomb, so how would this apply at all?

The ultimate divinisation, or deification, of man is Christian teaching, but how this might happen has always been obscure. This problem is highlighted by E.L. Mascall, who says: “The vision of God, union with God, assimilation to God – in such terms Christianity, basing itself on the Bible itself, has consistently described man’s end and beatitude. Yet it is by no means easy to see how such a destiny is consistent with the radical distinction between God and the creature. To be a creature is to exist with a derived existence; to exist with an underived existence is to be God; there can be no half-way house. How then can a creature be deified? – for this is the term which Christian theology has dared to use.” (1949,184) He contrasts the rational conviction of the “absolute distinction between God and creatures” to the equally firm faith conviction “that we can literally become ‘partakers of the divine nature.’ (2 Pet. I,4)” (1949,185)

This is all really too much. Until they can find ‘deity’, capture it, analyze it, and sell it along with Estee Lauder products, this is all a bunch of metaphysical rubbish.

And at this point, the author screws the pooch:

I argue that Mascall proposes a false dichotomy between a derived and an underived existence when he argues that there can be “no half-way house” between underived being and derived being.  Once evolution is understood as a process that involves both self-organisation and self-creation, we can postulate an intermediate position between a derived and an underived existence. This intermediate position, as the product of a process of self-creation, can be closer to the underived existence of God than to the derived existence of a creature. In my dissertation on “The Process of the Cosmos” I develop a Natural Theology, based on contemporary Cosmology, which identifies the role of human moral-cultural self-creation in the overall process of the Cosmos.

So, this runs fairly contrary to all expectations of the ‘religious evolutionists’. By the very operational definitions of ‘self-organisation’ and ‘self-creation’, it relegates their deity to near-nothingness, a bystander instead of a proactive ‘creator’.  If something ‘organizes’ itself, then no external participants need apply. The same goes for the ‘creation’ part.

The author attempts to back pedal here:

The natural theology of “The Process of the Cosmos” is not significantly affected by Biefeldt’s conclusion, indeed it argues for an understanding of God who does not intervene, or who intervenes minimally, and who certainly does not intervene in the normal life of the world. In “The Process of the Cosmos” I argued that God initiated each new Emergent stage. I now resile from all intervention by God in the process of the cosmos, once the process has been initiated, except for the initiation of life, which would seem to have been associated with a transfer of information and energy. The initiation of the cosmos, the first Emergent, is clearly associated with a transfer of information and energy. It is not affected by Biefeldt’s argument.

But this is Aquinas’ ‘Uncaused First Cause’ argument revisited, not a demonstrative proof of any sort.

The rest is a grab bag of analogical arguments, some copy/paste from different ‘philosophers’, and in general, an entertaining read.  Mind you, subtract ‘gawd’ from the equation, and the house of cards crumbles, but it’s interesting to see the thought processes of those who are at least making the effort to acknowledge evolution, but unwilling to forgo their superstitions.

Till the next post, then.

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