Academic journal article Journal of Ecumenical Studies

Skepticism, Pluralism, and the Presence of God

Academic journal article Journal of Ecumenical Studies

Skepticism, Pluralism, and the Presence of God

Article excerpt

I.

In writing about the presence of God in this essay, I assume a rather thorough skepticism about comprehensive worldviews, whether those worldviews are grounded in philosophical, theological, or other approaches. I take quite seriously, however, human experiences that are often described as experiences of the "presence" of God. I include within these experiences those that are at the root or beginnings of great communal theistic religions, such as Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. These may be described as originative or foundational experiences, since a long history of human worship and understanding of God traces back to each of them. I am also interested in alternative experiences that are sometimes described as experiences of God, such as the "higher power" experienced by some people in twelve-step programs, and I am very interested in individual experiences of God that may either be inspired by originative experiences or be at significant variance with dominant religions.

An even more inclusive discussion might explore the relation in Hinduism between the absolute God Brahman and the more accessible Gods, such as Shiva or Vishnu. In this paper, I distinguish between the primordial reality and the reality of a presence. It would be interesting to explore whether these categories are relevant to the Hindu pantheon. In Islam, the Sufis are perhaps the most relevant group in a discussion of God's presence. Buddhism is a very complex matter, in this respect. Only Jainism seems to lack a contact point with God's presence. As William Dalrymple puts it, the Tirthankaras one sees "in [Jain] temples represent not so much a divine presence as a profound divine absence." (1) However, this essay will be developed with Western monotheism in mind. My most compelling examples will be from communities and individuals with Jewish and Christian roots.

I will explore here concrete, even intimate descriptions of the presence of God, accounts developed within both communities and individual lives. I will also explore fairly abstract philosophical issues to provide a vocabulary and a possible context for interpreting these reported experiences or moments of awareness. However, I do not commit to any definitive interpretation. Several themes will recur in this essay: (1) One can take very seriously human awareness of a liminal or divine "presence," even while maintaining a noncommitted or skeptical stance toward final theories of "everything" or any definitive or inclusive metaphysics. (2) Ecumenical discussion is best served by hearing the various accounts of divine presence, without committing to any particular meta-interpretation of those accounts. An appropriate stance can combine deep interest in and care about narratives of presence with a skeptical view of human ability to know it all. (3) My approach is pluralistic in several ways. Obviously, it is open to narratives of presence from many religious traditions, both individual and communal. Also, my view takes seriously the pluralism of the crucial concept of "personhood." Since persons have privacy as well as presence (and, if God is personal, God has both deep privacy and available presence), there is always a differentiation of personal beings from one another, each of which has an unknowable privacy. Finally, suggestions about any ultimate reality must allow for a possible pluralism of irreducible realities. There may not be a single One including and grounding all lesser realities. The experience of presence may be irreducible, but not the only finality. Even a concept of space must allow for personal, pluralistic space, with pluralistic spaces defining the relation of God and finite persons.

The six sections of this essay involve distinct topics and different styles and resources. They might be thought of as six courses in a tasting menu. Somewhat less metaphorically, they are six vignettes in search of a God. (2) The variations in my approach correlate with a God who, I claim, appears intermittently. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.