Monday, January 6, 2014

"Is God Dying?"

A few weeks ago, with my son ensconced in his drum lesson, I settled in at the library across the street to do some light magazine reading for pleasure.  It's still satisfying reading things that aren't screens, although I'm one of an increasingly small number of folks who actually do this.

The magazine in question: the December issue of Scientific American, which teased me in with an article written by a couple of psychologists on a recent study tracking the impact of internet use on the human capacity to remember.  It was...well...about right.  The author suggested that humans evolved to rely on distributed social memory, meaning, if you didn't know something, your friend would.  That's just part of the way human beings think and store information.

Now, our "friend" is Google, and we're increasingly using it to store our memories.  I've written about this before, of course, but I also live it out.  That's the point of this blog, after all.  It's my cloud-memory, set to "share" so that it can be yours, too.

But that article led me to another article.

"Is God Dying," it asked.  

It was an article by an atheist/skeptic, writing on the varying different studies showing a decline of religiosity in developed countries.  It was, to be fair, not a polemic at all, just a teaser title to suck in the reader.  Because the idea of God dying because certain human faith traditions are diminishing/changing is absurd.  If God exists, our faith or lack of faith is immaterial to that existence. 

But the concept underlying the question sent my mutant brain on a related but unintended path.

God is not dead or dying.  But is God alive in the first place?

I mean, sure, yeah, we Jesus folk will talk about the Living God...but when we think about life, and what it means to be alive, I'm not sure our statements about the Divine really mesh with the way that we understand what it means to be a living being.

In a biological sense, living systems have certain characteristics.  As we look out into the immensity of our universe, humankind hopes that somewhere, somehow, we might find that we're not the only ones here.  And as biology has struggled to come up with ways to understand what fundamentally constitutes "life," so's we'll have some clue of what it is when we stumble across it out there in the vastness, they've come up with some fundamentals.

Like: Life changes.  Life grows.

Has that ever been a part of the way we understand God?  I'm not sure that it has.  The idea of immutability, unchangeability, and permanence are kinda sorta core concepts when we consider God's identity.  Even if we factor in the radical generativity and "fecundity" of the divine, that change and growth is bounded by God's atemporal nature.

Like:  Life reproduces.

Yeah, I know, we say Jesus is the Son of God, but Christianity has never meant by that anything like the whole "Zeus as a Goose doing the humpty-hump with Leda" thing.  God creates and begets.  God doesn't reproduce in the same way that organic systems reproduce.  You want to quibble with that, I'll invite you to engage with the millennia of orthodox Christian exploration of the concept.  When you're done, come back and let's about a hundred years or so.

I think, ultimately, that the idea of God being "alive" seems to be a category error, particularly if we understand life in biological terms.