Ways of Conceiving the Divine:
|Basically, your text presents three main positions
in understanding the divine. These three positions must be
understood as part of a continuum or spectrum.
The main characteristic of Deistic understandings of the divine
is that the God or gods are understood as individual beings. There
is some degree of separation or transcendence from the ordinary
world. Deistic understandings can be polytheistic or
A. Polytheistic Deism
Polytheistic deism holds that there are many
gods/goddesses. Although they are to some degree separated
from the ordinary world, they are usually thought of as belonging to
the natural order. The example that is found in your text book is
the Navaho understanding of the “Holy People.” These are
beings with great
power, but their power has limits. Note also that they are not
necessarily morally perfect beings. They have weaknesses and are
subject to jealousy, bribery, etc. A similar concept is found in the
religion of ancient Greece.
B. Dualistic Deism
Dualistic deism is always monotheistic. It holds that there is a
divine creator or source of all things that completely transcends
the natural order. Since the deity is ultimately transcendent,
he is not directly involved in the natural order. Dualistic deism
understands God as a cosmic clock maker. He made the universe, wound
it up and then let it run on its own. The best examples of
this understanding of the divine is Aristotle's concept of the
"unmoved mover." Deism was very popular in the 18th century and a
number of influential leaders (e.g. Thomas Jefferson) in both the
American colonies and Europe were dualistic deists.
|Pantheism is the belief that all things are an
expression of a single underlying reality. Put another way,
"God is everything, and everything is God." Some forms of
pantheism may be classified as monism: the belief that there is
simply one substance and any perceived separation of distinct
objects is an illusion. Like Deism, pantheism can be divided into
A. Dualistic Pantheism holds that
the natural order is a a manifestation or superficial appearance of
One Divine Reality. Generally some sort of enlightenment
(philosophical, religious, etc.) is needed to apprehend this unity.
Examples of dualistic pantheism include the philosophy of Sankara
who argued that Brahman is the One Eternal soul. Brahman is
thus the One that is all and is in all. In Buddhism, the
complex doctrine of emptiness (Shunyata) believes that emptiness or
the void is the essential reality underlying all things. In Chinese
religion, the Tao is the one force present in all things.
B. Materialistic Pantheism believes
that only the physical universe is real. Thus, the unity of
all things is found in the material world. As examples your
text book cites the Greek Philosophyer Epicurus (341-270 BC) who
argued that eternal atoms are basis of all things. A
form of materialistic pantheism is the scientifice materialism of
|III. Transcendent-Immanent Positions
Standing between the transcendent concept of deism and the
immanent concepts of pantheism is a position that the author
describes as "transcendent-immanent." This understanding of
the divine is always monotheistic. It holds that God is both
beyond and within the world. On the one hand, God is
completely transcendent - totally different from the natural order
(remember Otto's idea of the "wholly other"). On the other hand, God
is present in the world. For example, in Judaism, God's
presence is in the Torah. Christianity, holds that God is present in
the world through the logos (word) that was incarnate in Jesus.
Moreover, the transcendent-immanent position holds that while God is
transcendent, he is also active in the world. Common ways in
which God is believed to be active are the spirit or the voice of
Your text points out that the
concept of "spirit" is often used to help conceptualize the divine.
Interestingly, in a number of traditions, the word "spirit" is
derived from the same word that means "breath." It can signify the
life force of a human being (sometimes translated "soul") and/or the
divine agency that empowers humans. Of interest is the concept of
the kami in the Japanese religion, Shinto. Kami are thought
of as "spirits" of places, nature, deities or ancestors. The
kami have the ability to bring blessings and harmony to one's life.
The goal of Shintoism is to live in harmony with the kami.
In Judaism, the "spirit" is used to conceptualize the force that
issues from God to endow people with knowledge, discernment.
It is God's spirit that also bestows leadership abilities and the
ability to prophesy.
In Christianity, it is believed that the ministry of Jesus was
empowered by God's spirit. Consequently, the church came to
hold that the spirit of God (the "Holy Spirit") was a distinct
person of the Trinity, equal with God the Father and the Son. In
religions with a transcendent-immanent position, God is often
thought to be immanent - active and present in the world - through