Wednesday, July 9, 2008

'That Than Which Nothing Greater Can Be Conceived'

The biggest problem I have with evangelical fundamentalism is that the image of God it presents and preaches is - quite simply - not a god worthy of human worship.  In fact, I can think of many, many very fallible and broken people who would demonstrate more kindness, more inclusivity and more compassion than a god who demands human sacrifice so that 'his' anger can be appeased, or who would send people to eternal punishment because they could not bring themselves to believe in 'him'.  A god who in Jesus teaches that I should forgive freely, but then demands that I jump through hoops so 'he' can bring 'himself' to forgive me is not only inconsistent, but hypocritical and  cruel. 

But then, evangelical fundamentalism rarely has the insight of the ages. Were its adherents more familiar with Christianity's great tradition they might have come across St Anselm (1039-1109) and his definition of God: 'That than which nothing greater can be conceived.'  In my narrow-minded limitedness I can conceive of a god more loving and more accepting - in effect greater - than that of evangelical fundamentalism, and so by definition their 'god' cannot be GOD; and I don't think that we should be afraid to say it.  If God needs defending it is from concepts and definitions unworthy of him/her.  Over 600 years after Anselm, Francis Bacon (1561-1626) wrote:  'It is better to have no opinion of God at all than such an one that is unworthy of him [sic]: for the one is unbelief, the other is contumely'* How often do we make statements of God which are actually unworthy of God?  How often to we dare to speak in God's name when what is really called for is silence, reflection and awe?

There is a spiritual arrogance in believing that we can possess - or worse still that we do possess - the whole truth of God; but arrogance is not the worst of it, rather the violence we can wreak on each other when we believe ourselves certain of the divine 'will'.  Our approach to God, I think, has always to be one of humility; one of 'faith seeking understanding' (to quote Anslem again).  I wonder how long it will take until we can stand before God in complete humility, and before the world in complete compassion? 

*I have to admit that I had to look up this word - contumely - and it means 'insolent or insulting language or treatment'; pretty powerful stuff.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I am writing a research paper on Anselm right now, and came across your blog. I was searching out the quote that you have titled your blog with, and hope that you receive my comments, though the post is from a much earlier date.

I appreciate your thoughts and, for the most part, agree with a lot of what you say. However, I fear that much of your understanding of Christendom is based on what people who belong or think they belong to that faith do or have done.

I was also of this sentiment, and, quite frankly, hated God and all who claimed to belong to Christianity. I hated what they stood for and what they presented to me. I now would be considered by most to be an Evangelical, but still have a lot of beef with, myself included, people who claim the name but do not represent who God is. I see the true God and true Christendom lived out in the life of Anselm. Seek a bit deeper into his life and you find a very simple, humble, God loving man who refused to fall down before men, including the Kings of the day, because he felt convicted of where he stands. Would love to continue the dialogue if you are available...