The Incomplete Human: Homo Faber, Homo Sapien, and Homo Adorans in Search of Homo Spiritualis (Reflection)

Miriam_Anselm-Friedrich-Feuerbach1I am indebted to both the brilliant philosophy of Karl Marx and the exquisite theology of Alexander Schmemann for having a chance to reflect today on understanding our humanity, though I am, admittedly, only crudely reflecting anthropologically, and not necessarily philosophically or theologically.

Broadly, the term homo sapien refers to the modern human species as differentiated from earlier hominid species and, of course, other so-called lesser animal species. Homo sapiens were distinguished because of their ability to think critically and to develop complex language. However, this being accepted cosmologically doesn’t tell us anything ontologically about homo sapiens. It doesn’t add anything to the question, why or what is a human? Homo sapien is woefully incomplete as a descriptor of human beings.

For a deeper understanding, we need only to discover that early homo sapiens were already burying their dead in what is likely an indication of humans as religious beings: homo adorans. Whether this is thought to be primitive behavior because of early homo sapiens limited brain development is not so easily proven. The historical record indicates, most provocatively, that to be human is to be religious, that is, to be in awe of a being of divine origin. However, for most mainstream Christian theologians, stuck in a box of magisterial or dogmatic doctrine, this empirical observation may become ammunition for the continued belief in the reductionistic notion, paraphrased from both the Westminster Creed and the Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church, that the chief end of humans is to glorify God. Anthropologically speaking, homo adorans is certainly not the chief end nor the primary distinguishing factor of humanity. It is but one, albiet important, factor. Thus, homo adorans is, as well, limited and incomplete in understanding the ontology of humanity.

This is true, furthermore, because long before homo were sapien or even adorans, they were homo faber—hominid beings who worked with tools and creatively produced. Now, other “lesser” animals did work with tools, but, again, the distinguishing factor here is the significant degree in the difference between early homo and their closest relatives in the animal world. The fact of homo faber may be why Marx has used homo faber as the primary (or even sole) basis for examining the material and historical record of homo sapiens (at first cooperative but then through increasing class struggle). Nevertheless, Christians should not be scared off by Marx’s discarding of homo adorans in favor of homo faber. Homo faber is no more empirical (or material) than homo adorans simply due to the length of time that homo has been involved with an activity. Certainly, the later capacity of homo sapiens to discern the reality of divine transcendence could be considered as empirical/historical evidence of the evolution of the species, not simply metaphysics.

It is homo sapien becoming homo adorans, not homo faber becoming homo sapien, that makes us more human. Yet, from a Scriptural point of view, conversely, we ought not disagree too hastily with Marx, because the Scriptures clearly indicate that immediately after humans were “created” they were put to work: “And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there God put the human, who had been created, to cultivate and keep it.” (Genesis 2:8; 15). Still, homo adorans, though created by a mythologically perfect divine being, is, again, incomplete because “It is not good for humans to be alone” (Gen 2:18). (Being human is “very good,” but it is not good to be separated from the rest of life which is also “good”.)

Thus, it is homo spiritualis that we aspire to, because it is only homo spiritualis whose very existence can be understood to be “inspired” by the breath of the Divine, and it is homo spiritualis who is contemplating ultimate meaning because of her or his inter-connectedness with all of life. It is homo spiritualis that can bring homo faber, homo sapien, and homo adorans to completion. It is homo spiritualis, then, that can mystically and scientifically discern how to live and work in harmony with all of life, politically, economically, and socially. It is homo spiritualis who has the potential to integrate together abstract thought, phenomenon, creative work, and worshipping awe to become truly Human.

© Paul Dordal, 2018

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Growing Beyond Conventional Christian Faith

Arm TreeChristian spiritual development sometimes comes at a cost, especially if you are deeply religious (i.e., committed to a particular denomination or a tradition of theology). Many religious people are conditioned by their churches/pastoral leaders to stay at the level of spirituality they are at. Conventional Christians are threatened by the notion of growth in spiritual understanding because spiritual growth takes effort and is often very unsettling. Spiritual growth requires change: change in thinking, change in behavior. Those who are growing spiritually are often misunderstood by their friends and family who don’t see anything wrong with their conventional understanding of faith. Sometimes, Christians who are truly growing are viewed as falling away from their faith, when in fact they are maturing.

Below, I offer an example for Christians to test their desire or ability to grow spiritually.

Conventional Christian faith views Jesus’s death and resurrection as a transaction. In simple terms, Jesus came to change God’s mind about people. This is the conventional theology of salvation, whereby Jesus died a violent death to appease an angry, wrathful God. Jesus was killed as a replacement for the death that all humans deserve (because we are sinful). God killed Jesus in order that we could go to some far-off heaven when we die. This violent vicarious atonement theory has been the standard Christian theology of salvation for over 1000 years for hundreds of millions of Christians. It’s not just the belief of fundamentalists and Evangelicals, but mainline Protestants and Catholics as well. But it isn’t true; it is a theory. This theory promotes violence, justifies oppression, and leaves most people with a harmful, false belief that they are inherently evil, thus trapped in unhealthy feelings of guilt and toxic shame.

To grow spiritually is to consider afresh the basic narrative of Christian faith. It is to see the Bible with a renewed set of eyes. Jesus did not come to change God’s mind about people, Jesus came to change people’s minds about God. Jesus came to change our minds about a God who we erroneously were taught was angry and wrathful, but who in fact is absolute unconditional love. Humans are not separated from God by our sin. Humans were not created sinful, we were created good. The original blessing is a much more important and biblical starting point than original sin when considering our anthropology. Though we do sin, God loves us and never leaves us. Thus, Jesus’s death on the cross occurred not to appease an angry God but was the result of power-possessed rulers who could not accept the God of love, the God of peace, the God who is opposed to injustice and oppression. Jesus’s resurrection was God’s answer to the cross. It was, as Marcus Borg says, “Rome who executed Jesus, but God who vindicated him.” The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus is primarily a picture of the process of individual and collective transformation and not just a transaction.

This is not a subtle shift in thinking, but one that will move you out of the oppressive, overly-individualistic, exclusivist, and Empire-supporting Christian “faith” that was corrupted and co-opted by Constantine and others over the centuries.

Are you stuck in a false construct about a God who is violent and requires appeasement (like the mythical gods of ancient idol worshippers), or are you ready to grow spiritually into a belief about a God who is True Love? Are you ready to be in a relationship with a God who wants to transform you into a whole, loving person, a God who wants to transform our world into what I call the Commonweal of Love (what Jesus called the Kingdom of Heaven)? Spiritual growth means moving away from an old way of thinking (and possibly even an old community of faith) and finding the narrow path of Jesus. Spiritual growth requires risk, yet replaces your old, broken wineskins with new wineskins that can handle the glorious New Wine of Jesus.

Contact me if you would like to have a discussion about this. I would love to talk with you about a new vibrant way to live the Way of Jesus.

© Paul Dordal, 2017

 

Zoe, Agape, Kairos: A Material Spirituality (Reflection)

dance editThe material world is, and the spiritual world is. As we live in the here and now of the material, temporal realm, we, nevertheless, integrate our spiritual, eternal lives in the here and now as well. Spiritual people do not separate the natural from the supernatural; they never negate the physical to validate the metaphysical.

Yet, the body is barren without the breath of the spirit (pneuma), as the spirit is formless without the body (soma). Beauty cannot exist without both as the body is lifeless without the soul, and the soul cannot be beheld without the body.

The relational perichoretic of the Trinity brings this notion to the really real—the supranatural. The Father is the creator of biological life (bios) and gives second-birth by the spiritual life (zoe). The incarnated Child takes physical love (eros) and elevates it through the self-sacrificial Cross (agape). The Mother Spirit labors to effect the movement of evolution (chronos) and moves to effect needed revolutions at just the right time (kairos).

Thus, matter/intellect and spirit/emotion are always working together, as positive theses and anti-theses, to generate new syntheses that create the possibility of an eschatologically free, equal, just and beautiful world: The City (polis) of God.

© Paul Dordal, 2017

Knowing God: Truth As Paradox (Reflection)

ParadoxJesus said that eternal life was “to know the only true God and Jesus Christ, whom God sent” (John 17:3). From this verse and many others like it, there seems to be a real comprehensibility of God—a salvific knowing where we join God in intimate relationship.

Yet the moment we believe we have come to “know” or “grasp” God, we suddenly realize that what we have believed cannot be God. For God to be truly God would mean that God is beyond knowing. The finite just cannot fully grasp the infinite. Our thoughts and words will never completely make God comprehensible. St. John would later try when he said quite clearly that God was pure or perfect love (1 John 4:8).  But even this is impossible for us to take hold of. God is simply greater than our capacity to comprehend.

We soldier on, nonetheless, in our pursuit of knowing God or we wither in despair. A.W. Tozer said, “The yearning to know What cannot be known, to comprehend the Incomprehensible, to touch and taste the Unapproachable, arises from the image of God in the nature of humankind.”[i] This yearning to know, though, is so elusive that we are often filled with angst, and rightfully so. Hopefully, we will recognize that within this unease is the necessary prompting to search all the more. We all want, yes, we all need, to “know” God. To truly be alive, we must be in relationship with Divine Mystery.

So, how can we really know God? In the Hebrew language, this knowing (yada) is akin to the passionate feelings and sexual intimacy shared by lovers. Adam knew Eve. We don’t simply know about God. We are to know God personally, even intimately. Of course, we need to tread carefully here. But I do want to emphasize that this “knowing” is not only factual or intellectual. It is yada! We must be able to “feel” God to know God. Our feelings are facts too!

Now, beyond the “feeling” of God, as important as that is (for our feelings, like our thoughts, are elusive as well), we are called to approximate the knowing of God as true Truth with our minds. We must know this Truth in a way which we might even communicate it to others with words and actions.

But how do we know anything? Other than those who believe that all knowing is illusory (which would still be a knowing), most of us know that we know. Still, can we know anything for certain?

Without getting overly academic, our ability to know, especially as expressed in modern terms, is usually placed somewhere along two poles (a continuum) of the purely subjective (absolute idealism) or the completely objective (naïve realism). The acclaimed missiologist Paul Hiebert gave a listing (or a taxonomy) of how we can know, and settled on the, still modernist, view of critical realism. Hiebert said, “In critical realism we speak of the Truth with reference to reality. We also speak of a truth—our partial understandings of the greater Truth. Our understandings are objective (to the extent they are tested against reality) and subjective (because they are ours as humans in our specific cultural and historical contexts).[ii]

This is a great start to understanding how we might know the Truth, but it still does not account for the perplexingly contradictory truths of Scripture. If we are to take Scripture seriously, then the Incarnation, the Trinity, and the reality of Jesus’s glorified resurrected body are neither objective or subjective truths—they are simply preposterous.  They are paradoxes. To grasp these truths one needs to pull the objective and subjective poles of the paradox tightly together. Ron Rolheiser said, “To let go of either pole of a paradox, to reduce the tension, is to fall from wisdom. Hence, as we struggle theologically and spiritually with certain key questions, we must be careful to always hold two, seemingly contradictory, truths together.”[iii]

Now, of course, this all may seem like metaphysical nonsense to some—bourgeois philosophizing. Who has time to care about such things? What does it really matter? Most humans simply want to know how to live a fulfilling and happy life. But that’s it, isn’t it? We all do want to know God!

As my new book In Search of Jesus the Anarchist is coming out in just a few weeks, I am preparing you to deal with the paradox of my outlandish title. How can Jesus be an anarchist? But Jesus was an anarchist because he was completely free and yet in complete submission to God, who is Jesus’s equal. What a paradox!

I deal a lot with paradoxes in my new book, especially the paradox of freedom and equality. Can we be both free and equal? In several recent conversations with Christians I know, even those who are open to explorative theology, the notion of equality seems to them an impossibility. Of course, if equality is an impossibility, then so is freedom.

Freedom and equality are two poles of a paradox called Jesus, who is the Truth! Anarchism rightly defined, for those who are still unaware, is simply freedom and equality lived out in paradoxical tension. Freedom and equality come together as we struggle to hold them together. And as we hold them in tension, we realize our Great Commission: to set the world free in Jesus so that all can live in justice and in peace (Jn 8:32; Lk 4:18-19).

© Paul Dordal, 2017

[i] A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy. San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1961, 9. [Updated to gender neutral by the author].

[ii] Paul G. Hiebert, Anthropological Reflections on Missiological Issues. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1994, 71

[iii] Ron Rolheiser, “Truth is Found in Paradox.” Downloaded from http://ronrolheiser.com/truth-is-found-in-paradox/#.WN-3i_nythE on December 3, 2016.

Jesus Saves? (Reflection)

jesus-savesYears ago there was a woman who called into a Christian music radio station and excitedly told the D.J. that her daughter was listening to the station and “got saved.” The station played the recording of that call-in over and over again. Every time I heard it I asked myself, What did she get saved from? How did she get saved by listening to music? Now that she is saved, does she know why Jesus saved her? With deeper reflection, we must all ask what does it even mean to be saved?

Why did Jesus save you and me? In my experience with the Church’s doctrinal teaching, theologians seem to focus too much on the how of being saved; who’s in out, who’s out; and how it happens. But since we cannot know for sure how one is saved, thus who is and who is not saved, what is really gained from focusing so much on the how? The why question seems eminently answerable; the how question will always be an enigma.

I believe Jesus saved me so I could be in a deep, abiding relationship with God. This relation with our Creator through Christ is the only lasting satiation of the existential angst that we all experience because of our finite separation from an infinite God. By Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection we are all given intimate access to God as we open ourselves up to transcendent mystery.

Additionally, Jesus shows us, through his incarnational relationship to and with humanity, what it is to be in abiding, loving intersubjectivity with all creation. This includes primarily human relationships of love and compassion, but also the ecological connections we have as individuals with the whole world.

So, simply, we are saved to be one with God and with each other through Christ in an ongoing process of sanctification. Nevertheless, this pietistic understanding of faith is only half the story. Though we are ultimately saved on earth for eternal life with Christ in beatific union in heaven, we are also, and maybe more importantly, since we all live in the here and now, saved by Jesus so that we can abide with him as he brings heaven to earth through our Christian witness.

Thus, we are not saved just so we can go to heaven when we die; we are saved by Jesus so that heaven can come to and through us on earth as we live in Christ.

© Paul Dordal, 2016

Trinitarian “Intensionality” (Reflection)

TrinitySundayYesterday was Trinity Sunday on the liturgical calendar. I enjoy preaching on this Sunday because the Trinity is one of the most misunderstood core doctrines of the Church. Unfortunately, some also believe the Trinity to be an irrelevant doctrine. When I personally reflect on the doctrine of the Trinity I am blessed with mysterious insights and comforting assurances of the reality of God. But I also understand that doctrinal preaching is not the most well-received sermon style. So, I endeavor to make preaching doctrine not merely informational but transformational as well.

I attended a conference on Friday that was addressing race relations in the Church. I had a sense while listening to the conference speakers that the issue of divisions between the races is an area where the doctrine of the Trinity could have direct relevance for Christians. So in my sermon yesterday I used race relationships to help the attenders at chapel to understand the Trinity. I won’t rehearse my sermon here, but I do want to share briefly with you some reflections on how I came to my own understanding of how the Trinity intersects with race relations.

One of the eminent speakers at the conference I attended repeatedly used the term “being intentional” in her remarks about how to address racial divides in the Church. As I heard her speak, I believe the Holy Spirit gave me the word “in-tensional” to reflect on.

As I reflected on the word “in-tensional” I was reminded of an article I read a while back on Ego Development by Dr. Susanne Cook-Grueter, an expert in the area of personal development. She believes that individuals who are psychologically mature have developed an ability to discern and live comfortably in the tension between polar opposites (polarities). She notes that mature individuals are able to discern between seemingly value-laden (good/bad; wrong/right) and value-neutral (tall/short; boy/girl) polarities. Cook-Grueter said, “Since ego development theory is about meaning making, how we deal and work with polarities becomes a significant dimension to focus on in the context of enhancing our self-awareness and facilitating development.”

So what does this have to do with the Trinity? Well, first of all our language is not capable of understanding how three can be one or one can be three. Thus, believing in the Trinity has the potential of becoming polarizing. You see, the Trinity is a mathematical conundrum, but a paradoxical truth nevertheless. If we think of paradoxes as polarities (we value them as right/wrong), then there is no way we can live in the tension of those two poles (One God cannot be Three Persons/One God can be Three Persons). Hence for me the Trinity as a Mystery is not a tension to be solved, but a grace to be lived in. This is what I believe was the basis of my neologism of “intensionality.”

St. Paul said, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female–for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Ga 3:28, NET). Here the apostle is addressing the issue of tensions and polarities. This is not to say that a person’s Jewishness/Greekness or Blackness/Whiteness is obliterated because of his or her being in Christ. St. Paul is saying that the tension of the polarities is absorbed in the Trinitarian understanding of Christ, who exists in perfect tension with the Father and the Holy Spirit. The two can become one (or three as in the Trinity)! For all those interested in identity politics this may be a way to move towards integration out of the endless polarizations of divisive identity constructs: race, gender, ethnicities, diseases, etc.

Race relations are tense; they are in tension. The way forward is to sit in the tension of our differences—to be intentional and “intensional.” The way forward is to look to the doctrine of Trinity as our example of mystical and practical integration.

© Paul Dordal, 2016