So did you hear the one about the dyslexic atheist? He denied the existence of dog.
If you had been in the chat room during the rebroadcast of this week’s episode you would have had warning that that joke was coming. So let that be your invitation to join in the chat during each week’s live episode and rebroadcast. We always have a fun time and often have lively discussions that lead to deeper insights into the topic. If you want to check it out, you can read the transcripts on the Darkwood Brew site. The log of this week’s rebroadcast chat is here (though reading it without the episode running is similar to reading only one half of a dialogue, you know like reading the New Testament epistles)
The joke came from my thinking about Eric’s story about the relationship between himself and his dog. When I mentioned in chat that I am not a fan of anthropomorphizing either the dog or God, it sparked a wonderful conversation that informed my thinking.
I appreciate the value of the metaphor, plus I acknowledge the inherent limits of stories to capture complex truths in their entirety (a good reason to avoid being too literal in one’s reading of the Bible), but I consider it a particularly human foible to try make things that aren’t like us more familiar by forcing a square peg in a round hole. Pets are a great example of how we attribute human emotion and motivation to them. Are our dogs truly loyal and affectionate or are they simply responding to conditioning that assures them food and shelter? The metaphor was about trying to get inside the dog’s head to try to understand the human providing these things. It is an interesting thought game to imagine the limitations involved in comprehend humans using only a dog brain and how that corresponds to our attempting to understand God with our human brains. What got me to thinking was how even for this analogy to work, we must make assumptions about how a dog might think, or just imagining that they do. So a story about how anthropomorphism limits our understanding of God just as a dog’s “canidomorphism” limits his or her understanding of humans only works if we first anthropomorphize the dog! The point about the limitations of our knowledge is illustrated not only by the analogy but also in the creation of it.
The excellent pot stirring that is the chat room pointed us in the direction of God’s revelation to us via the Bible and our being made in the image of God. Both of these things are subject to, well, subjectivism. Is the Bible the story of God telling humans about God or, as I believe, humans recording their best attempts at understanding God (even in the limited way that a dog may understand a human). Are the human-like qualities of God in scripture there because God revealed them to us or we ascribed them to God? And when we say we are created in God’s image, how are we not so sure that we have in fact simply created God in our own image? Freud contended that that is precisely the case. And Annie Lamott provides the litmus test for knowing when we have created God in our own image: it is when God hates all the same people we do!
One of the interesting dilemmas in chat is that we don’t have the luxury of a pause button, so the multitasking of multiple conversations and reactions only adds to the mix, we don’t get to sit and watch things settle. But sometimes the spirit of God, like the wind to which it is compared, gets things swirling in ways that inspire. The conversation in the episode moved on to perspective as we were considering perception. We noted in chat that the distinct perspectives that two people have even when standing side by side subtly changes each one’s perception of whatever they are experiencing. This dance with the spirit involving real time thoughts coming from multiple directions provided a live example of that very thought.
As I came back to the conversation in order to write this blog, I realized that all of this collective thought on anthropomorphism was a lesson about the communal nature of incarnation. In the chat, I compared anthropomorphism to forcing square pegs into round holes. LuvinTheBrew provided a wise response, “But what if God fits God’s own self through a round hole? (along with triangle ones and rectangle ones etc).” Precisely! If we are to know God and have a personal relationship with God (the point that MaryAnn raised in her blog last week /knowing-god/ that started this whole conversation in the first place) then it will be because God comes to us, not us to God. Whatever else Jesus taught us and showed us in his life, he gave us a model of a relationship with a personal God. However we define the doctrine of incarnation, it is at minimum God fitting God’s self into whatever shaped holes we have to perceive God with. And it is very personal, for each of us has our own unique perception, so when we gather as a group attempting to make sense of it, of course we all sound different to each other. BUT, when we do gather as a group to seek an experience with God who is both as distant as the farthest star and and near as our next breath, we somehow perceive God in our midst.
If even in the digital space of a chat room I can experience the presence of a personal God in the midst of a virtual gathering, then there must be some validity to the way this limited human brain of mine perceives the image of a God beyond understanding. And perhaps the key to understanding is not trying to contain it all in my individual limitations, but to seek it in the collective human experience. Just like connecting all our individual computers to create a super-computer to take on otherwise unimaginable computations, we will better expand not only our understanding of God’s nature, but also better experience a personal relationship with God we we do so in community.