Thursday, May 14, 2009

"Tell me your image of God, and i will tell you your politics."


I attended a seminar in Pgh with Mom the other day. The theme was "Radical Abundance: A Theology of Sustainability."

One of the speakers, David Korten, shared an interesting story.

Here is the gist of it, which I found at Tikkun Magazine.

Some years ago I was privileged to share a conference platform with Jesus scholar Marcus Borg. I will never forget his defining statement: "Tell me your image of God, and I will tell you your politics." Borg explains that the many scriptural images of God are of two basic types. One is the patriarch with the flowing beard: the God we visualize in human form, the God of Michelangelo's famous painting in the Sistine Chapel, who lives in a distant place we call Heaven. The other image of God is as a spirit manifest in all being.

The patriarch image sets up a hierarchy of righteousness and domination running from those closest to God to those most distant. It leads to a competitive individualistic politics of separation, domination, favor seeking, and wealth accumulation. It is the foundation of the Calvinist belief that the rich and powerful are by definition God's most favored, and that financial success and Earthly power are marks of special righteousness. Within this belief system, the world is whatever God the patriarch wishes it to be, and it is beyond our means to change it for better or worse.

By contrast, the spirit image-by which we recognize the face of God in every human being, animal, insect, and grain of sand-leads to a politics of community, shared purpose, and mutual service. Everything in creation is both manifestation and agent of a great spiritual intelligence seeking to know itself through the creative exploration of its possibilities. Within this belief system, to do harm to another being is to harm oneself. We see ourselves as agents of that creative journey and find our ultimate fulfillment in devoting ourselves to it.

There is a striking difference between the image of God evoked by the language of public discourse and the image of our inner understanding. The God of our public discourse and of most formal religious liturgy is the male patriarch to whom we pledge our faith and obedience in hope of winning favor now and in the afterlife. Because the very word "God" so strongly evokes this image, I generally prefer to discuss matters of faith in the language of spirit or creation. This may well be, in any case, the way most people see things.

Bob Scott, director of the Trinity Institute, recently sent me the results of a national survey he commissioned in his earlier capacity as editor-in-chief of Spirituality and Health magazine. The findings suggest that most people's private beliefs align much more closely with the spirit image of God than the patriarch image.

Eighty-four percent of Americans view God as being "everywhere and in everything," rather than "someone somewhere." Given a list of characteristics and asked to pick the one that describes God best, 71 percent chose "loving." Only 5 percent chose "remote," and only 2 percent chose "judging" or "controlling." I find quite stunning the contrast between what these results reveal of our private images of God and the image evoked by the language of our public discourse and liturgy.

In our lecture, he went on to say that we must work to make our institutions (churches, banks, etc) reflect our private images of God.

Personally, I find that I slide back and forth between both of those images.

Anyway, if you have any thoughts on this, feel free to comment.


BigMama said...

I'm with you -- I'm not sure that it's quite as cut & dried as he presents here.

Sounds like a fascinating lecture. Did he offer any suggestions on how to bring the institutions more in line with the "person" God? I don't disagree with that premise, just wondering how to make it a reality!

hillsideslide said...

Korten stressed the importance of discussion groups, of conversation. He noted that back in the day, women felt overwhelmed and like failures... until they shared their stories with one another and realized that it wasn't them, it was the system that was broken. then, they acted to change things.

my big take-away from that part of his lecture was that although we all behave one way institutionally, our core common beliefs and ideals are more in line with the Spirit side of things- and that's the majority of people. we are closer than we think.

it reminded me of when people would question MLK on nonviolence... like, sure that sounds nice, but it doesn't work.

he was all- yes. it does. we do it every day all the time. we constantly forgive, love, move on, help out, share, etc. we do it with our family, our friends... whoever we interact with.

It's like the emperor's new clothes, these Institutions. everyone goes along. people just gotta say: this is not working. this is not right.

Anonymous said...

hillsideslide, In response to your post A theology of sustainability :

Industrial Society Destroys Mind and Environment.

Industrial Society is destroying necessary things [Animals, Trees, Air, Water and Land] for making unnecessary things [consumer goods].

"Growth Rate" - "Economy Rate" - "GDP"

These are figures of "Ecocide".
These are figures of "crimes against Nature".
These are figures of "destruction of Ecosystems".
These are figures of "Insanity, Abnormality and Criminality".

The link between Mind and Social / Environmental-Issues.

The fast-paced, consumerist lifestyle of Industrial Society is causing exponential rise in psychological problems besides destroying the environment. All issues are interlinked. Our Minds cannot be peaceful when attention-spans are down to nanoseconds, microseconds and milliseconds. Our Minds cannot be peaceful if we destroy Nature [Animals, Trees, Air, Water and Land].

Chief Seattle of the Indian Tribe had warned the destroyers of ecosystems way back in 1854 :

Only after the last tree has been cut down,
Only after the last river has been poisoned,
Only after the last fish has been caught,
Only then will you realize that you cannot eat money.

To read the complete article please follow any of these links.

Industrial Society Destroys Mind and Environment

Industrial Society Destroys Mind and Environment

Industrial Society Destroys Mind and Environment

Industrial Society Destroys Mind and Environment

Delhi, India