Rise (and fall) of rational Theology

When I mentioned King James Bible in an earlier post, I deliberately left out the turmoil of Continental Europe. The 17th century brought on wars that have somewhat falsely been called religious wars, but are generally the 30 years war.

It was about formerly Catholic princes, king, dukes etc. pitting their forces against their Protestant counterparts, who wanted their lands. And, to quite an extent, succeeded, except in Italy, Spain and Portugal. This Protestant fervor was brought about a puritanical feeling here, too; translations were made into several languages, and the teachings or the ideologues was that we need no priestly class to dictate to us what to believe and how to look at the world.

That’s about it, if we wish to visit the war in one paragraph. But one more thing must be remembered, One important driver in the war was that people had the Bible translated in German, French and Italian. People were doubting the authority of Priests, who upheld the social order, which was basically a form of slavery.

The philosophical/scientific development seems to have brought on a ‘rational’ or ‘nautural theology’. This theology claims that science proves the existence of God, and seems to be a result of a yearn for at least somethign that could be trusted, when the teachings of the Priests often turned to be against the holy Writ. Newton was certain his discoveries about gravity were an expresssion of God’s power and he was in their thought still ‘visible’ in the nature. There also a little later cam the ‘proof by design’ idea that god had designed everyhting as it is, and the intricate structure of an eye, for example, is one of the clearest indications of there being a plan.

A natural consequence from this was, that when science progressed and learned better the principles of empirisim–testing your hypotheses, not just observing something, letting someone else perform the same test and see if it works.

Well, from retrospect the God of Natural Theology was what has derisively been called “the God of the gaps”, whose domain is ever shrinking if it isn’t quite extinct yet. If nature was God, then how can anyone come to any other conclusion. This is well in keeping with the drive toward absolute certainty that was experienced by Kepler and Newton.

What the whole thing doesn’t really take into account, that although a person can have a sacred experience in nature (even just a breathtaking view), the feeling is all inside us.

I don’t know he physical address of God; I couldn’t sesnd him a postcard.

The Hellenised history of European theology would convince us, that God is wholly other, an ontologically completely differen creature. Actually, we cannot define him, because defining means by very definition putting limits on him. But ratinonal or natural theology seeks to define him, tell us this or that about his characteristics.

Against that Hellenistic idea is a God, who is a Father. If we saw him now, we would see  that we truly are made in his image. Yes, everyone of us would feel he looks familiar. But even when we don’t see him, we think of him as a father, and like Jesus said, if you, being evil, can give good gifts to your children, how much more can your perfect Heavenly Father?

The traditional understanding of God is, that he is omiscient and omnipotent; he is present in everything. What rose from the bankruptcy of natural theology, was a personal God.

Add LDS theology. He doesn’t wish to dwell alone, and has taken upon himself to give us what he has, so that he would have peers; the more the better; he increases, not decreases by having peers. So we should do some basic stuff, but he still gives us the chance. so, we have to perform some things before admittance, so he knows we are trustworthy.

Rational theology says God should be easy; LDS theology says God can only be known by giving him a chance to be a part of our lives, and that we strive to keep his commandments. In other words, just like in Eleusis, the mystos had to go through some preparation including meditation and fast, that includes discarding old notions and being in a state that the Spirit can be with us. The ‘easiness’ in rational theology can definitely be a trap; for one thing, we can find a very simple things in a football match as we do in the testimony meeting. That means we’re taking our preparation too lightly. I suppose many people fall for the rockstar image of some preachers, and the rock-consert atmosphere in the meetings.

Actually, the Spirit is important piece of the puzzle. Nobody knows where God is, but anytime we feel his presence, it is his Spirit, chich communitcates to us his love. And we definitely cannot feel the Spirit unprepared, We must seek; Jesus repeated counsel like, “ask, and you shall receive; knock and it shall be opened unto you.” The message is, “if you don’t ask, nobody will answer”.

As Hume and Kant, I see, that although science can not prove or disprove anything about God, our only alternative is to let our reason take a holiday, and listen to our heart. I don’t, however, like the ideas of Descartes; he was looking for “absolute certainties’, and came up with an incredible (in my mind) explanation for the existence of God.

The early Greek philosophers were of the opinion, that the fact that I’m thinking of something, means it exists. More or less our thoughts create real-life things. Now, originally Descartes turned that on its head saying, that when you empty your mind of anything else, you have on the ‘I’ left. From this he realised, that because he was thinking, doubting, questioning, it meant that he existed. In other words, “I think, therefore I am.” That surely sounds alluring, at least to me. But his next step was to deduce that since he had an Idea in his mind about God, it meant that God also existed. So you see, for Descartes, “cogito, ergo sum” didn’t ‘create’ him, but was an indicator that he himself existed, was reas. But in the next step his own thoughts (idea) seem to have ‘created’ God. So it’s a little confusing to me.

Anyway, add Joseph Smith to the mix, and we get a seminal event: He sees God the Father and Jesus Christ (whatever we take that to mean, he had some kind of vision, that is clear). God isn’t a distant, formless being, but an actual, real Father, who loves us in a way that we dould not even begin to understand as mortals. We still know very little about this God, but that he must be perfect, and he has a way to make us perfect, if we cooperate.

Is this not consolation! For one, we do not have to choose between science and religion; science doesn’t ‘serve’ religion by proving God’s existence, but it helps us learn how this world works, for future purposes (D&C 88:78-80). There should be no conflict between science and LDS faith, because according to the prophets’ teachings, we can accept truth from any source. Brigham Young went as far as saying, “‘Mormonism’ is truth, and truth is ‘Mormonism'”. That is why I’m sometimes shaken by the anti-intellectualism I see in some LDS circles.

I would say, that for as much as we know about God now, our definitions of his characteristics always fall short. We know, for just example, that he loves all of his children, and that we should emulate that, but we cannot say that our love is the same love he has, all things considered.

In any case, Joseph Smith altered the theology radically. I have read some books about him, where he’s portrayed either an out-and-out swindler; in some books he’s seen as a human, who tried to do the right thing, but didn’t always do it. I cannot see him as a villain, but as a prophet, who was a flawed man, like any other prophet. If you read the Old Testament, for example, you see, that practically all of them are shown as flawed people, with weakness.

The only way we can know God, is to open our hearts to him, and that works especially well in prayer. We let his Spirit work with us, and we begin to know and understand. At the same time, we see how far from the right sources pe tend to be lead by traditional Christianity.

Some may think him a heretic, but he actually brought many interesting ideas to theology, which should be taken seriously. Although, in his early writings his background comes through.

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4 comments on “Rise (and fall) of rational Theology
  1. […] from Google Blogs]: Rise (and fall) of rational Theology « Velska's Blog Tags: atonement, charity, facebook, faith, feeds, italy, jesus-christ, love, mormonism, […]

  2. Velska says:

    You may wonder what happened to the 30-year war? It’s coming… 😉

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