Saturday, August 10, 2013

The James Moar Emails. Epistemology and God: Seeking God, Yes, But Finding Him?

"Speak to me God!"

My last post was about epistemology, a subject very pertinent to what follows.

I’m using this post as an opportunity to release this PDF document  (which can be downloaded) recording an email correspondence I had with somebody called James Moar who was attending my church at the time* (Circa 2011). James was having difficulties with his faith and his opening correspondence was very candid about this fact. His problem was basically epistemic: Does our experience of life justify a belief in God’s existence and our belief in His daily involvement in our lives? Is God just a fantasy object, a product and only a product of the human imagination? I felt that James’problems with the faith had an existential component in that it was sourced very much in his own particular experience or lack of experience of God. This opened the way for him to query the authenticity of Christian experience in general. In fact the last line of his first email went thus:

I'm beginning to think that Christianity is just a package of group behaviours and narrative weaving based on a narrow selection of anecdotes.

I had to agree that this observation by James was not only challenging but also had a lot of truth in it: In evangelical and fundamentalist Christian communities one finds that otherwise fairly prosaic events, simply the cosmos doing business as usual, are interpreted using what appears to be very a intimate knowledge of the Divine mind. Oft times all these interpretations look to be very fanciful and arbitrary “spiritual spin”.

James appears to have been influenced by the impassioned evangelicals in as much as he was taking them at their word that God’s presence is very manifest and apparent. However, he was beginning to think that God’s presence is less manifest in the genuinely sensational than it is in sensational spiritual spin! That spin is capable of sensationalising even the most humdrum! It is no surprise then that James was looking for the authentic “in-yer-face” empirical evidence for God and not just melodramatic “spiritual spin”. The Christian experience, the evangelical Christian experience especially, with its baroque interpretative elaborations had begun to look to him like an all too human fabrication constructed on very shaky foundations.

I am afraid to say that all told I wasn't a lot of help to James; it goes without saying that I can’t provide “in-yer-face” spiritual experiences in order to fix an existential crisis. Also, I'm not sure how far he was prepared to move away from the hard, well pronounced and heavy lines of evangelicalism to the lighter touch of a broad brush impressionistic Christianity; my feeling was that for him it was evangelicalism or nothing. All I could do was point to some of the general features of the human predicament that theism addresses in a post-facto way. (See my last post on epistemology). Consequently, our discussion revolved around the validity of using an a priori theological epistemic rather than attempting to synthesise theology from basic experience a posteriori. A posteriorism, though, is very much in accord with James evangelical desire for some spiritual revelation, something which I could not address of course.

If we are going to find God we have to find God in the commonplace and not just in the paranormal.

* This correspondence has been published with permission.

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