Saturday, 12 May 2012


It should first be noted that, while most people today would assume that the obverse of belief in God is atheism, this is not the biblical view - and, as I will demonstrate, it is not Niebuhr's view either.The true obverse of the affirmation of God's existence, whether made scientifically or dogmatically, is not the counterfactual, "God does not exist." For only a fool would say "there is no God" (Psalms 53:2), since such a denial could not possibly be proven. How can anyone prove that anyone else does not exist?
Idolatry is the radical obverse of the conviction that God exists because idolatry radically displaces the One God with some other god or gods, and idolaters are as convinced of their other god or gods as theists are convinced of their One God.

- David Novak on "Reinhold Niebuhr", "Idolatry: the Root of All Evil"

Despite the fact that his argument is in one respect not persuasive ("for only a fool would say..." seems to unjustifiably set aside the possibility of real, intellectually determined atheism)*, I find this perspective quite helpful.

This is because I am currently less concerned with finding orthodox[ies], and moreso with the purgation of idolatry from my actions and patterns of thinking. One might argue this presupposes a certain image of God, and I would think this is true. But this is God as a negation, God as an interrogation and a question, "is this [action, thought or belief] really absolute? Have you really here found that 'abiding ground' on which to build'?" and even as accusser and challenger, "you can't stop here! you have not found rest!

The God of the Hebrew Scriptures is very frequently a God of negation. A God whose face we are not permitted to see, who gives his name in the riddle of "I am who I am", and whose people consequently wander the desert and dwell in tents. Inscribed into the memory of the Hebrew People is that their God is one who always has them on the move. They eat the Passover with their loins girded, prepared to exit the land of bondage into the land of wandering. And when they do have a homeland, when they finally do build Jerusalem and its temple,  prophets are raised up to critique their ways and their cult. The city is taken away from them, the temple is destroyed. Their city of stone is lost. Paradoxically, the biblical longing is for a city of "living stones". The characeristic hardness of stone comes at the cost of it being inert and inanimate. The desire for a "living stone" is therefore the desire to unite the organic; that is change, impermanence, instability, and its opposite; to find the "still point" in the movement and "dance" of life itself or, conversely, to make that dead-point the site of movement and flux. 

Maybe this is the wisdom in the trope of "Pilgrim People of God". We live in tents wandering with the ark, we yearn for buildings and a proper place where this Presence can rest. Yet, it will only be so in that place where rock and flesh are one together. 

Perhaps if there is anything to take from this post, it's that we should always regard that we have less of God than we imagine we might. And this empty space is the spur in the boot. 

*I suppose we could agree with the Psalmist and say that all people have a god or gods, insofar as all people regard (self consciously or not), with some degree of consistency, some thing, state, feeling, or idea as absolute and the highest determiner of all their actions. We believe in something through our actions and reactions, not necassarily through our creeds.

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