Monday, August 31, 2015

"The Uncontrolling Love of God", by Thomas Jay Oord: Review & Commentary

(By Guest Blogger/Writer - Michel Weatherall)

I will begin this book review with a spoiler.
Sometimes we hold onto something so tightly, we cannot ever let it go. We become blind and forget we are even desperately clinging onto it. These are blind Sacred Cows.
I believe many religious traditions are guilty of this and thus struggle with the theological problem of pain, suffering, and evil.

The answer is simple but heretical.
God cannot be both omnibenevolent and omnipotent.

Either God is All-Powerful, but not All-Loving...
or God is All-Loving, but not All-Powerful.
You cannot have it both ways. ("Almighty" and "Omnipotence" are not synonymous. "Divine love preconditions God's almightiness". Pages 188-191).

I personally have come to this conclusion several years ago. I opt with the latter: God's Love trumps God's power. Let me tell you, it isn't a popular position. And not having the theological clout makes this a difficult position to hold.

Thomas Jay Oord sees this clearly.
He expertly juggles herculean theological challenges that - although any serious amature theologian may not know their proper terms or nomenclatures - should most definitely recognize and identify. Christian or not, these challenges are the undertow of our reality, one way or the other, with serious practical implications. They are important questions and should not be disregarded or relegated to the realm of speculative contemplation. 

Personally, I approach these issues from a perspective of 'God' akin to something like the Hindu concept of the Brahman, or the Taoist's Tao, but I still hold onto the Christian belief of God being - not loving - but Love itself. (And in chapter 4, pg. 83, he systematically lists the 'types' of Providence-beliefs, including mine (pg. 94-95). And just in case, my gentle reader, you're curious, my views of God's providence falls somewhere between points 4-5 (God is Essencially Kenotic - God Sustains as an Impersonal Force). My point being, we all begin from a certain paradigm and this book is written with that understanding.)

An old ex-pastor friend of mine used to tell me that I had to be careful how I chose to write about some of the theological concerns and issues I often address. He said, I often had interesting and valid points that certain religious groups would do well to hear and listen to, but the risk was to avoid putting it in such a way as to turn them away.

My friend was right. But sometimes I think there is value in being up front and honest; in thinning out the herd; in weeding out the garden; separating the chaff from the wheat.

This is a book many religious groups would benefit well to study.
Thomas Jay Oord has balls the size of church-bells with some of the theological issues he addresses in this new book. He doesn't shy away or attempt to sidestep some of the most difficult theological challenges there are, but rather embraces them and faces them head-on. No doubletalk, no Christianese, no churchtalk. In fact, he chastises some of these less than satisfactory and submissive answers. This is not a watered down selective theology made to look pretty.

The existence of evil. Free Will vs. Determinism. Libertarian Freedom. A non-all-controlling God. Regularists vs. Necessitarians. Natural Law. Euthyphro's dilemma. Evolutionary Emergence. Divine Kenosis, divine impassibility & mutability, and the list goes on!
This is no light of fluffy read.
I have given his previous book, "The Nature of Love: A Theology" a great review, but my one complaint was that he needed to significantly expand on his concept of Essential Kenosis. This book promises to do just that.

Ultimately, in my humble opinion, this book is a sequel to "The Nature of Love: A Theology". In my review of "The Nature of Love: A Theology" the only real criticism I found was that Thomas Jay Oord's revolutionary concept of "Essencial Kenosis" needed more fleshing out.

In "The Uncontrolling Love of God" he does exactly this, not only going into significantly more detail and exposition, but also summerizing and exploring popular and currently held beliefs and theories that have attempted to address these difficult issues, and ultimately come up short or have failed.

I am an adherent to "Essential Kenosis", have come to these self-same conclusions myself. However, in "The Uncontrolling Love of God", I feel that the author needed to better explain how "Essencial Kenosis" addresses random harmful (genuinely evil) acts.

"Essential Kenosis" adequately explains the existence of pain and suffering in our world while maintaining God's inculpability and inability to intervene when dealing with individuals of free-will or agency. But once "Essential Kenosis" launches into issues of non-agency, or the inanimate, or aggregates, or 'laws of nature', it becomes less than crystal clear.

I admit, part of the fault may fall upon the reader (myself) for I have not given this particular issue thorough thought or exploration. It is definitely something I personally need to better address. But let's be clear here: I am not the one proposing "Essential Kenosis" (even though I edorse it). The burden of onus lied upon the author, Thomas Jay Oord, and I'm not convinced he followed this through thoroughly enough. Maybe this could be material for a new book? (Essential Kenosis, part 3?)

This becomes more problematic and convoluted as he attempts to address the issue of Miracles. Although the section pertaining to divine miracles is detailed, I will do the injustice of simplifying it (it is still worth the read) in saying I feel as if he is dancing and weaving around the problem of divine miracles by redefining it; possibly becoming fixated on 'hammering a round peg into a square hole'. He is attempting to force the Christian criterion of Miracles into "Essential Kenosis" where I am not sure it fits. I think a simple point of its beauty is missed: Essential Kenosis does not have to be exclusively Christian.

There is a near insurmountable challenge present when dealing with Christian Miracles: It is nearly always accepted as God intervening.  The author offers a new paradigm to consider. When free-willed agents (us) interact with God's uncoercive desires and will, this collaborative effort leads to a future closer to God's will or hope for the universe - what we might call the Kingdom of God (not the Heaven of the Afterlife); that maybe, this paradise-like world is within the natural scope of the 'laws of nature'; it is not supernatural, but simply natural; a simply unrealized potential. 

Although I am not a fan of approaching theories based exclusively upon the biblical witness, Thomas Jay Oord goes far beyond this method, building upon observation and evidence from Science, Philosophy and Theology. This book is thoroughly grounded.

"The Uncontrolling Love of God" belongs on any religious, spiritual, or theologian's bookshelf. This is a must read!

Five stars!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author.  I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255.

Friday, August 21, 2015

"The Hunt: Symbiosys", by Michel Weatherall: Book Preview

Due for release October 2nd, 2015!

Following immediately on the heels of The Symbiot, its events segue directly into "The Hunt: Symbiosys".

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Barely eclipsing global extinction, the Gibbons' couple are forced to flee and hide from clandestine forces intent on their eradication.

Centering between Montreal and Tokyo, this sequel introduces an unimaginable new world threat!

A slow burning intercontinental chess match quickly escalates into its fast paced and violent conclusion!

This book drops delicious hints of the advent of Lovecraftian-mythos monsters! Foreshadowing a hidden but impending doom, this entire sequel is haunted by an unnameable undertow which promises to reach fruition in this trilogy's upcoming conclusion, Necropolis.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

The Delusion of Social Media

I know a fair amount of people who live their lives as if they were on a TV show. Believing that somewhere "out there" there is an audience who laughs when they laugh, cries when they cry and cheers them on when they're about to accomplish great things. And why shouldn't we believe this?! For the vast majority, a large part of our education has been through television or TV itself.

Unfortunately, this is a delusion. It simply isn't true. But even more unfortunate is the fact that today, with the advent of Social Media, it can be true... at least to a certain extent.

I know people who will post pics of what they had for lunch today. Their life has an audience now, I'm just not sure that audience really cares that much.

So what is Social Media?  I'm not looking for a legalistic definition. I'm sure you are more than capable of googling the question yourself.

Ultimately, it is a tool, and like any tool, it is neither good or bad. You can use it, or abuse it, or be abused by it.
I know may people and friends who like to count the amount of "Friends" they have on Facebook. Some of them even believe they're really friends. They're not friends. Do an experiment. Post a story that you're in trouble and you need a friend to lend you $ 1,000.00. See how many show up.

Now, Social Media (let me stick with Facebook as it is the largest) is customizable. Like I said, it is a tool. You can create a private small room of close friends to socialize in.

I don't believe Social Media is socializing. It is an interactive forum of sharing information of a social nature. It is the same confusion between knowledge and data. There is a difference.

I believe many people think that a good analogy for Facebook is a group of people socializing in a room. Some close friends and family, some acquaintances, and some strangers. I think that's a bad analogy.

It's more like being in a massive convention hall or auditorium or stadium with many, many more people. You travel and drift through the crowds, surrounded by your immediate circle of family and "Friends", but ultimately you are in a sea of people.

But there's an even better analogy, albeit a bit more desolate and bleak.

Thousands of people standing around the edge of the Grand Canyon, all shouting and screaming their inconsequential stories into the abyss. 

Let's face it, when you post anything on Facebook, you're not sending private messages to your family and friends directly; you're communicating into that great abyss that is cyberspace.

And yes, you can chat and send private messages, but this belongs in the realm of phone calls, talking, texting (maybe) and emails. This is true communicating and possibly socializing. No, Facebook doesn't have to be like this. As I said earlier, it is a tool, to be used or abused.

Another favourite of mine is Twitter. Like Facebook, Twitter too is a tool, but not really a social outlet.

My twitter account gets a few new followers everyday!
At first is feels great!... until you realize they aren't really interested in you or what you have to say. They're interested in using you to build up what they perceive to be their audience.

It is sort of like going out to your local pub on Friday night because it's Lady's Night, only to arrive at the bar filled with men in an awkward silence.

Now, there are people out there that understand what these medias truly are and see the opportunity and advantage they can be. My point isn't that Social Media is bad. Like I said, a hammer is a tool. Whether you use it to build a home to nurture a loving family in or for murder is on you. My point is that many people are delusional as to what exactly it is and isn't.

They abuse it. They are abused by it. They become addicted to it, ironically, at the cost of their real lives.


And finally, there's Blogger and/or Wordpress.
Although these clearly are not Social Media, it is still important to identify them for what they are. 

More or less, they're a soapbox. 

A Soapbox is defined as "a thing that provides an opportunity for someone to air their views publicly", often about politics or religion. 

The problem with having your own soapbox is that everyone on the internet can have a soapbox. You end up with a great many individuals shouting into the void thinking their thoughts, views, opinions and whatnot are important and listened to. 

I suspect sometimes, there are simply too many people shouting.

So let's recap:

Facebook = yelling into the Grand Canyon
Twitter = Lady's Night
Blogger/Wordpress = Soapbox.

So, at the end of the day, I suppose this post puts me into the category of hypocrite, doesn't it? Because here I am preaching on my soapbox. 

What does Social Media put you?