I much enjoy the Evolving Thoughts blog. One reason is John Wilkins’, um, what would you call it, let’s go with “philosophical sophistication”. See for example his thoughts on the whole Wafergate issue. Or my growing collection of Evolving Thoughts bookmarks.
Relevant to the discussions on my blog, Wilkins’ “random thoughts” from a recent post of his:
One of the commentators thought that I was wrong to say that it’s hard to find a religion that lacks supernatural beings, and instanced Buddhism, Confucianism and Jainism. A quick trip to the Encyclopedia of Religion sorted that mistake out: there’s a common distinction between popular and elite religious forms, and just like you can find Catholicism without the saints, you can find Buddhism without the devas, Brahmin, or various family gods, etc., but it isn’t the popular religion. And that got me thinking…
I have criticised PZ Mangle and others for attacking the popular forms of religion and not dealing with the intellectual (read: elite) forms. Here I am being criticised in the same manner. Poetic justice, perhaps? It raises an important point about my project: in order to understand religion, you absolutely must not deal with the “pure” philosophical forms alone. In fact, they are very often the province of the “clergy”: those whose lives are devoted to the religion, and who are supported by the popular religious. It’s hard to envisage a church of Tillichs, for example.
The little I know of Tillich‘s views so far, I like very much. I became acquainted with the name when I heard Spong is very much influenced by Tillich’s theology. Wikipedia mentions, about Tillich’s theology:
God is called the “ground of being” because God is the answer to the ontological threat of non-being, and this characterization of the theological answer in philosophical terms means that the answer has been conditioned (insofar as its form is considered) by the question.
Back to the divide between the “elite” and “popular” forms. Wilkins mentions the “elite” form being that practised by the “clergy”, and the “popular” form that by the congregation: this is something I’ve heard from various sources. One of my recent sources was a pastor of a Dutch-Reformed church (not in Stellenbosch, btw — it was through gtalk). He mentioned something that was discussed in the Synod: the greatest portion of the Dutch-Reformed congregation considers the Bible the literal, word-for-word word of God, while the preachers/pastors don’t see it that way. There is a chasm… He also mentioned how hard it is to get a congregation to think. They’re often there for some words of wisdom that they can easily go and apply in their lives, rather than to have their own thoughts challenged.
This chasm is indeed a problem, and how to get it “fixed” is very far from easy. Rocking the boat too much (e.g. writing this blog post?) gets the “Bible Believers” (propaganda term) running from the “theologically/scholarly informed” Dutch-Reformed church to fundamentalist “Bible Believing” churches. In fact, I suspect this may be what Angus Buchan (of Faith Like Potatoes fame) may have been alluding to when he endorsed Shofar with the words “It’s a church that’s transparent with no hidden agendas. […] I’ll tell you one thing about them: what you see is what you get.” (That was in Shofar’s marketing pamphlet at the beginning of the year.)
So that’s one way of getting your congregation and your leadership to be on the same page: get the leadership on the same level as the congregation. Another solution: get the congregation onto the level of the leadership instead. This is much of what I see happening on the more radical branches of the emerging church movement, which can also be considered a “publishing movement”. Ditto for the books of the liberal theologians. (And that is the angle of this blog as well: I want to share what I’ve come across with regards to Bible scholarship, and play my own part in the evolution of religion.)
Back to Wilkins, these “random thoughts” of his are about a recent grant application of his, for a project on the evolution of religion:
So I must consider (not critique, this is not that project) all forms of religions, and not fall into the philosopher’s trap of dealing solely with the philosophical. Nor shall I do the reverse, and reject the elite forms as irrelevant. We want to know how the whole kit and kaboodle evolved (always wanted to use that phrase here).
The interaction between the two must indeed be quite interesting. I wish Wilkins the best for his research, and look forward to any interesting blog posts that may come of it.
Next post should be on “The God of Philosophy and the God of Faith”, stealing Peter Rollins’ material, who has another particularly interesting and somewhat contrasting take on the role, or lack thereof, of the “philosophers’ God” — an “intellectually informed” form of Christianity, but focusing on the faith experience/life and de-emphasizing the philosophers’ God.