Tuesday, January 14, 2014

A Nontheist Theist: Where Uncertainty Meets Devotion

I had a strong internal response to this book passage, which prompted me to write something down so that my head could follow where my heart was leading me.

"The difference between theism and nontheism is not whether one does or does not believe in God. It is an issue that applies to everyone, including both Buddhists and non-Buddhists. Theism is a deep-seated conviction that there's some hand to hold: if we just do the right things, someone will appreciate us and take care of us. It means thinking there's always going to be a babysitter available when we need one. We all are inclined to abdicate our responsibilities and delegate our authority to something outside ourselves. Nontheism is relaxing with the ambiguity and uncertainty of the present moment without reaching for anything to protect ourselves. We sometimes think that dharma is something outside of ourselves -- something to believe in, something to measure up to. However, dharma isn’t a belief; it isn’t dogma. It is total appreciation of impermanence and change. The teachings disintegrate when we try to grasp them. We have to experience them without hope. Many brave and compassionate people have experienced them and taught them. The message is fearless; dharma was never meant to be a belief that we blindly follow. Dharma gives us nothing to hold on to at all. 

Nontheism is finally realizing that there’s no babysitter that you can count on. You just get a good one and then he or she is gone. Nontheism is realizing that it’s not just babysitters that come and go. The whole of life is like that. This is the truth, and the truth is inconvenient."

—Pema Chödrön, from When Things Fall Apart

I immediately wanted to discuss this with someone.  My husband was sitting next to me reading his book, so I interrupted his relaxation, per normal. I read the book passage to him and explained that I had put this book down for six weeks because some of the passages were resonating so strongly with me that I needed a break.  He listened and affirmed me as usual.  Then I wrote this with the intent of sharing it with someone, with anyone, who may also be looking for a broader view of a personal Divine being. Who else wants to be a yogini with her own, personal Jesus? (Or Vishnu? Or Allah?)

Do you think one can be a non-theist and a theist at the same time? I think so. 
I am. I don't feel limited by my conception of God. I agree with Paul Tillich 
but I also pray to a personal God and believe that I carry that God as an 
imprint in myself. I believe God to be immanent, transcendent, continuous and 
also infallible. It all comes down to perception, impermanence and the 
indivisible, perfectly whole nature of reality. We can't perceive God or reality 
from our limited vantage point but that does not mean theism is a faulty way of 
believing, or that nontheism captures the changeable nature of reality more 
accurately. Both are too limited, directly flowing from our constrained, binary 
ways of conceptualizing. 

My spiritual practice has space for both devotion and meditation on emptiness, 
groundlessness, transcendence. All of this can arise and flow simultaneously. 
Trying to parse all of that out and say what is more or less wise or true or 
real, always leads back to dogma. All I can say is that there are many right 
ways, and even circling around and zigzagging can land you right in the center. 
Because I trust, I relate to theists. Because I admit my inability to define 
anything, I relate to nontheists. It seems like I will never be a theological 
Christian or Buddhist and I am quite comfortable with that. Comfortable with 
uncertainty, yet keeping a devoted heart. 

Please message me or share comments if this stirs something in you. Anyone else feel a bit singled out as a spiritual infant still wanting to hold Daddy's hand if you choose theism? Have you ever been told you spend too much time in grey territory? Who else has donned a grey habit? Who thinks black and white hounds-tooth is still in style? Anyone in pinstripes? Color blocking? Tell me about it. 

1 comment:

  1. Ah, so Paul Tillich would probably say that my devotional behaviors are indeed sacred in that they point me to the Ground of Being. Yes, indeed.

    "Alternatively, Tillich presents the above mentioned ontological view of God as Being-Itself, Ground of Being, Power of Being, and occasionally as Abyss or God's "Abysmal Being". What makes Tillich's ontological view of God different from theological theism is that it transcends it by being the foundation or ultimate reality that "precedes" all beings. Just as Being for Heidegger is ontologically prior to conception, Tillich views God to be beyond Being-Itself, manifested in the structure of beings.[45] God is not a supernatural entity among other entities. Instead, God is the ground upon which all beings exist. We cannot perceive God as an object which is related to a subject because God precedes the subject-object dichotomy.[45]

    Thus Tillich dismisses a literalistic Biblicism. Instead of rejecting the notion of personal God, however, Tillich sees it as a symbol that points directly to the Ground of Being.[46] Since the Ground of Being ontologically precedes reason, it cannot be comprehended since comprehension presupposes the subject-object dichotomy. Tillich disagreed with any literal philosophical and religious statements that can be made about God. Such literal statements attempt to define God and lead not only to anthropomorphism but also to a philosophical mistake that Immanuel Kant warned against, that setting limits against the transcendent inevitably leads to contradictions. Any statements about God are simply symbolic, but these symbols are sacred in the sense that they function to participate or point to the Ground of Being. Tillich insists that anyone who participates in these symbols is empowered by the Power of Being, which overcomes and conquers nonbeing and meaninglessness.

    Tillich also further elaborated the thesis of the God above the God of theism in his Systematic Theology."