Is "Radical Theology" Radical?

Article excerpt

EVER SINCE SPINOZA, MANY MODERN JEWS AND Christians have struggled to offer an alternative to Spinoza's atheism or, more accurately, his a-theism (a dis-belief in the personal transcendent biblical God who commands), while essentially agreeing in principle with his deconstruction of the personal God of the Bible. Spinoza, of course, was not an atheist like Richard Dawkins. He was simultaneously a "God-intoxicated man" and banished from the Jewish community because of his blasphemy. This model of God intoxication and institutional religious rebellion is a central theme of modern religion in the West. And it surely doesn't begin with Spinoza. We can find resonances of this perspective in the medieval Christian mystic Meister Eckhart, the Sufi poet Rumi, the Zohar, the Protestant mystic Jakob Boehme, and modern Hasidism. In America, Ralph Waldo Emerson and David Thoreau, Thomas Wentworth Higginson, William James, Canadian Richard Maurice Bucke (Cosmic Consciousness), Krishnamurti, Allen Ginsburg, and New Age religion have all been traveling more or less in the same Spinozistic trajectory: they have replaced biblical theism with an alternative notion of a God who is ever-present, a sense of ineffable wonder, or a theology that is nondualistic (God and world)- anything but a radically transcendent God who commands and who enacts eternal retribution for eating a crumb of leaven on Passover.

Arthur Green has been at the forefront of constructing an atheistic, or a-cosmic, Jewish theology for a new generation of religious seekers, especially those raised in the continuity-obsessed and uninspired world of post-war American Judaism. Yet I ask myself what is so radical about a God-idea that Jews, Christians, and Muslims have struggled with for centuries? Non-duality? Radical immanence? Pantheism (or its problematic cousin, panentheism)? A-cosmism? Are these radical in the twenty-first century? I would like to see a sharper definition of "radicalism" in Green's new project. While the periodic re-tuning of these ideas for a new generation is a necessary exercise, and Green is a master at doing so, my fear is that his work also perpetuates what we do not want to face: the fact that we are essentially already a-theists. Gershom Scholem struggled with this mightily, defining himself alternatively as a "believing" secularist and a religious anarchist. As a-theists, or religious anarchists, we may believe in something (or not), we may experience something (or not), out there, in here, but we need not make it appear seamless with a tradition that rests, at its best, on paradox and the very negation of Aristotle's law of the excluded middle (that a proposition must be either true or not true). …