MD God relieves from suffering?

From: Wim Nusselder (
Date: Sun Apr 13 2003 - 22:28:07 BST

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    Dear Sam,

    You agreed 17 Mar 2003 12:13:46 -0000 (on second thoughts) with Platt's
    'Looking to God for relief from suffering is not foreign to the Christian

    This reminds me of what a well-known Protestant theologian in the
    Netherlands, Harry Kuitert, wrote in a recent article, explaining why he
    writes 'god' and not 'God':

    'At last in the long chain of evolution creatures appear that can speak and
    that create themselves with their words (by putting things in words) a
    habitable world: a world as they imagine that it is. Part of this world is
    the depiction of a heaven full of gods; they are standard ingredients of
    religious imagery; faith history starts with it. It continues with constant
    doctoring, changing these original religious images, until today.

    The word "god" is a perfect illustration. Originally it is a common noon,
    written small. In the Old Testament you still find this: every people has
    there it's own god, Israel too. Only when one of these gods wins, Israels
    god, the word god can become a proper noun, capitalized. That's how most
    people use it: as proper noun.

    My point is, that the word god, and the image it evokes, until today,
    unmistakably drags along its origin: it stems from religious mythology. Gods
    are blown up humans there, they belong to the people that worships them
    (national deity) and are indispensable: without god no luck, and conversely:
    who has luck apparently has a god. That too until today: if someone is
    lucky, you hear him say: "there must be a god!". Like people used to say.
    So the word god is inextricably bound up with mythological imagery, which
    regulates the way it is used. God is always a personlike someone, he (that
    too!) is there to assist in trouble and to be thanked when saved (that is if
    you are saved yourself, we forget our neighbor). If he doesn't save us
    trouble, we don't need him anymore. Until today. In my book I call that
    consumer religion.

    Not capitalizing should alert us to the fact that we are dealing with
    mythological imagery, that doesn't do justice to God (capitalized for this
    occasion). At least, that's what the old church fathers said, to whom we owe
    our theology. According to them the biblical depiction of god is that of
    religious myth and not to be taken seriously; the biblical images of god are
    appearances. The bible doesn't speak properly about god, they say literally:
    god isn't anthropomorphic, he isn't the possession of his people, he is no
    or she even, he is a unique, simple, eternal, spiritual being, invisible,
    unintelligible, unchangeable, etc.. As stated in article 1 of the NGB [the
    creed of the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands]. That abstract image of
    god is a noble attempt of theology to repair the image of god of the bible,
    by removing its mythological features. Why? Because the myth lacks
    transcendence, they said, and god should be transcendent or otherwise he
    isn't god.

    How to repair the mythical image of god? For instance with the idea that he
    was there before we were. He is after all creator, isn't he? And a creator
    precedes his creature. Crystal clear one would think. But were does this
    creator come from? He is part of the creation story and the creation story -
    even all Reformed recognize that this is a religious myth. But you can't
    take one character out and make it into an exception, telling that god is
    "real" and NOT a character from religious imagery, can you? Of course you
    can make that image "real", but then we are dealing with a man-made

    Whether we have to take a mythical image for true or its theological
    reconstruction, we meet with so many impossibilities, that I use a small
    letter for god, meaning: be aware that we are dealing with a human
    construction. Be aware too, that most people leave the church because this
    very image of god is of no use to them, or make consumerism of it. Even
    worse in fact.

    The most important objection however is, that creating images never leads
    one to real transcendence. You can arrive at theological and philosophical
    descriptions of what we could mean with transcendence, and then devise a
    being that meets the requirements for that. But that is no transcendence, it
    is at best an abstract formula, which you can only understand if you studied

    Transcendence cannot be caught in an image or formula, transcendence
    happens, occurs, befalls you, is an experience that is unconditional and
    universally binding. Our postmodern culture has forgot how to think in those
    terms. Everyone is allowed to have his or her own image of god; we will
    respect him or her in it. I have no problems with that; it is a necessary
    stage, the stage of not charging others with heresy anymore; it all fits
    with my idea that we are dealing with our own images if we talk about god.
    If that is all, the postmodern emptiness looms ahead, in which everything is
    allowed and nothing matters anymore. I try to rise above that emptiness, by
    searching for the only real experience that does matter and that is
    universal. I find it in 'Where is Abel, your brother?'. That is the word
    that addresses us, the word that founds our world of words, the Word in the
    words. There is a capital again. If anyone means with God (capitalized) that
    we experience transcendence in our world, I agree! But if it means holding
    on to the mythological image of a really existing being, than I -and lots of
    others- pull out. Then you are dealing with a religious misunderstanding.'

    Thus far Kuitert, translated from Dutch.

    Needless to say that the book in which he expounds these ideas ('Voor een
    tijd een plaats van god', translated 'For a time a place of god') meets with
    a lot of criticism among ordinary believers of his church (and gives others,
    who have drifted away from it, some hope again that Calvin's 'semper
    reformanda' -keep reforming- is still being taken seriously by some in the
    Reformed Churches).

    I fully agree with his plea to demythologize religion and God.
    I disagree with his alternative: identifying 'god' via 'spirit' (that
    temporarily lives within man) with 'the power of the Word'. According to me
    this 'postmodern emptiness' he tries to overcome is created by the very
    'power of the word' that is turned against itself, making all meaning of all
    words relative and contentious. It is not with words that this emptiness can
    be overcome, but by the direct experience itself which these words refer to.
    I do capitalize 'God' (or I avoid it by writing about 'divine guidance' if I
    expect it to be misunderstood by those I write with), because as proper noun
    it refers to (points to the moon of) the highest and most valuable we can
    experience: direct, personal, intimate relationships.

    It seems to me that his treatment of mythology, theology and transcendence
    is very relevant to our discussion whether mythology and theology refer to
    social or intellectual patterns of value (or both) and how they relate to
    Could Kuitert's 'only real experience that does matter and that is
    universal' and his 'transcendence' refer to Pirsig's DQ?
    His explanation of how theology tries to demythologize religion means to me
    that theology should not be lumped in with the mythology that is part of
    religion. For me both mythology and theology refer mainly to intellectual
    patterns of value that refer to (stand for) religious experience. They do so
    in different ways and theology does so at an evolutionary higher level (a
    higher sub-level of the intellectual level).
    His explanation that neither mythology nor theology 'leads one to real
    transcendence' fits in with the idea that DQ is not to be found even in the
    highest quality intellectual patterns of value. They can never do more than
    'point at the moon'.

    With friendly greetings,


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