Monday, July 17, 2006

Is God an idealist?

OK kind of sounds a stupid question, of course God is an idealist and Christians should be idealists. I am inclined that way myself too! But recently I keep hearing things that make me ask the question with more seriousness. Firstly someone who had written a book on Israel and its troubled history, for her the idealists were the problem, the people sure they were right and prepared to fight for their truth. I heard and understood, but? More recently a discussion on Nazi Germany, if I remember the quote, but this is pretty close if not bang on, 'the vast majority of people who commited these atrocities were not bad people, they believed what they were doing was good, but they where convinced by ideology and this is what enables good people to do evil things'. This by the way was a commentary on Shakespeare plays, and a profound one. The moral? It was the pragmatists who if you like held the moral heigh ground. The ones who valued community, the brining on of all people over the ideology of a certain group.

as an Anglican priest this has a lot of resonances with the current issues that threaten separation in the world wide Anglican communion. But then the issue cuts in all directions, we aren't just talking about those idealist, we are talking about ours. I am talking about my ideals which I hope are drawn out of God, but may in truth be a part of the idol we all build and call God. Can pragmatism in this sense be a means of a divine discovery, of God beyond our own construction of God?

mm. Perhaps the issue is what ideology? If it is to grow the church, to bring people to Christ, to help this nation to be Christian, perhaps then and in so many other ways, all we do is mold the gospel to our likekness. perahaps God does have an ideaology, but one that wants everyone in, that is not interested in preserving this or that doctirine (look at the way the prophets spoke of isreal's worship or how jesus acted toward it). perhaps 'compromise' may hold the deepest value of all, that which is seeking the kingdom of God above my ideaology, which will bear with others seeking that kingdom, beacause it is a kingdom for all.

there is a mission lesson here i think. the mission of God is about reconcillaiation not exclusion, to many ideologies want to exclude and not to reconcile. OK reconsilalitation at any price? well God gave his life for it, what price will we pay? what price am i prepared to pay?


Kathryn said...

Tis that poem again, I think -

He drew a circle that shut me out--
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But Love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle that took him in!

But then we (or rather, I) fall over the danger of being "exclusively inclusive",- I heard myself thinking that I wouldn't choose to be part of a church that welcomed the attitudes displayed by some recently....aarghh....
Thanks for making me think about the cost of reconciliation. Good thing we already pray for ++Rowan at Morning Prayer. Heading there now.

Chris said...

Steve wrote: "The mission of God is about reconciliation not exclusion, too many ideologies want to exclude and not to reconcile. OK reconcilitation at any price?"

As ever, Steve, "food for thought" We so often tend to exclude - even unintentionally - yet we have been given the "ministry of reconciliation".

A friend of mine, who happens to be a priest, says (in so many words) that he would rather err on the side of inclusion rather than exclusion. That's what tends to happen when theology meets pastoral care! For me, it's the pastoral imperative that wins - but others would say that I am too pragmatic (or woolly or universalist??) A tricky one to "reconcile"!

Kathryn - I loved the poem! And the honest admission that we all exclude! It's one of those irregular verbs ...

I discern
You judge
He/she excludes!

Steve said...

Thanks for your comments Kathryn and Chris. yes i liked the poem too! kathryn i think you are spot on too with the danger of being 'exclusively inclusive'. i seem to remember jesus defining love on the standard of how we treat our enemies. our calling to reconcillation might be similalry judged on how we seek to be reconcilled with those who want to stand apart.

Alcuin Bramerton said...

Is God an idealist? This is an important question.

If it is the case that an idealist is a person who strives after the ideal, and that idealism is the search after the best and the highest, then I suggest that God cannot be an idealist.

Someone who strives cannot accurately be described as God. Someone who searches cannot accurately be described as God.

If God was an idealist, it would mean that God had a need - a need to strive and a need to search. God has no such needs. God has no needs at all. Deity has no needs. God, Deity, All That Is, is exactly that: all that is.

God therefore wants, lacks or asks nothing. God is without needs and he requires nothing from anything or anybody. If He did require something from beyond Himself, He would not be the infinite God.

In my view, God is not an idealist. And because we humans are made in God's image, and because we humans are partakers of the divine nature, we are not idealists either. And nor should we strive to be idealists, for this would be to deploy energy against the divine nature of our being. It would be a "sin" against the Holy Spirit.

Steve said...


an interesting post (and a fascinating Blog too)
stuff to think about indeed.
my initial reaction is to wonder if you have IMHO gone too far into greek philosophical thought about deity?
God indeed must be self sufficiant, but a God who choses to create and then passionately realate to a volatile creation perhaos does have desires wants and aspirations for that world and thus perhaps holds an 'ideal' for that world? i think my point is more that human idealism so often becomes judgemental and thus unlike God's 'ideal'. what do you think?

The Emerson Avenger said...

What price are Unitarians ready to pay for unjustly excommunicating a bona fide God believing Unitarian for protesting against the anti-religious intolerance and bigotry of the fundamentalist atheist "Humanist" faction of Unitarian*Universalism?

Steve said...

Emerson Avenger
i am all for open debate about things that matter to folk, so your post stays. it does look like a random attempt to push a cause that you haven't sought to connect to this thread, so i do partly feel that my blog is being hijacked by someones campaign, which is not good. but seeing one of the thmes of the thread was judgemental attitudes by religious people i can see a connection. can i invite you to say a bit more so we can really engage with this story and connect it to the ideas of the thread rather than it being left feelign like a campaign slogan? every blessing

Robin Edgar said...

Sorry to be slow to get back to you Steve. I did not see your response earlier. I thought my post was very much on topic about ideologies, in this case fundamentalist atheism a la Richard Dawkins, that want to exclude and not to reconcile. How many excommunicated Unitarians do you know? I will check back in the next few days to see if you responded or you could browse through The Emerson Avenger blog and post something there.


Robin Edgar

Adge said...

Two things. Surely our Christianity is judged not on who we include, but how we treat those we exclude. And I believe your quote about the Nazi period is quite wrong. Poeple were not blinded by idealism; they simply accepted what they were told. It was the idealists who stood up against the Nazis - Bonhoeffer and the like. Idealism was a vital - and almost the only - internal opposition to Naziism.

Steve said...


thanks for the reply. i note your 'homestead' pages refered to in your blog have been removed so i can't investigate all i want to, but found some other bits through google etc. so i have some more understanding of your long standing falling out with a Unitarian congregation that won't take seriously a spiritual expereince you had back in the 1990's that clealry affected you profoundly. whatever the experience (and the things we expereince can range of course from a mistaken interpretation of something through i beleive to very real encoutners with the divine, the challenge is knowing which are which!) i personally seek to listen to peaople and take them seriously even if at the end i find i can't share someone's understanding. i don't know many Unitarians let alone any who have been excommunicated, but i do know people who have taken unusal spiritul expereinces to churches who have found these two much to handle and rejected or riducled them. i have met most of these folks through the fact they are now practicioners of faiths that took their spiritulity more seriously. churches of all denominations tend to like folks to 'be like them' and are suspiciosu of those who come over different. not sure this is about Humanist fundamentalism or simple (but flawed) human nature.

for me the cross cultural mission agenda always seeks to take the other seriously and suspend our own prejudices (a word of course that means pre judgement, which is what is going on so often when we dismiss something at first hearing) to listen fully to others. the post was about including rather than excluding and that appleis to folk we don't agree with. though also those become part of an inclusive community will also have to come to appreciate that communites tradtions and story and be accepting of that as the framework in which they have become someone who belongs.

Steve said...


thanks for reading clealry sevral bits of my blog and posting your views, it's what this is for!

a couple of comments.

firstly i think your point on who we treat those we exclude is a good one, though still not happy with what could be read there as a charte for excluding people, i might prefer the phrase was 'those who we are not reconcileld with'. Jesus of course told us to love our enemies (but see my second post on ideology too here). but i still think our heart attitude should be one of inclusion, even if those who are not included are also to be loved even if they are our enemies. as far as i am concerend i am no-one's enemy, but i guess others can chose to be mine, or more importanlty to be those who oppose good and support evil. i still believe my calling is to seek to include even these people, but i recognise the grace of God is going to be needed big time for that to happen and it may never happen.

then there's the Nazi's. well i guess folks are going to disagree over this, and if my post read that all germans involved in supporting Nazism where idealists who really beleived in it then it didn't read as i intended. i totally agree many would simply be carrying out orders. but Hitler was very popular with many in germany (indeed in england too prior to the war!) and part of this i feel sure was the appeal to a strong german ethnic ideal that when followed through enabled the architects (and i was primarily thinking of the people in leadership and influence) of the final solution to geneuinely beleive what they did was good and right.

your choice of Bonhoeffer is interesting because i suspect he would have thoroughly agreed with my post. his argument in Letters and papers from prision for a religionless christianity i think chimes well with the fear of idealising what we think are 'from God' but are so often our own creation. his decision to take part in the plot to kill Hitler may be best viewed as a surrender of his ideals for a very pragamtic and morally dubious course of action.

finally i hope my post read as saying eventually 'what are our ideals?' and are they based around the minsitry of reconcilliation or a desire to exclude those who don't share my view.

Robin Edgar said...

Thanks Steve.

The Homestead web sites are unfortunately down but I will try to resurrect them one way or another.

I can assure you that the contemptuous dismissal of my revelatory religious experience as "your psychotic experience" by Rev. Ray Drennan of the Unitarian Church of Montreal and his belittling and maligning of my monotheistic religious beliefs informed by that experience was being nothing but "silliness and fantasy" had everything to do with his fundamentalist atheist "Humanist" prejudices. In fact he preached Sunday sermons at the Unitarian "Church" of Montreal in which he pronounced that God is a "non-existent being" and that belief in God "seems primitive". In an intolerant and offensive opinion editorial attack on the fact that the state funeral of former Canadian prime minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau was a Roman Catholic rite he even suggested that most of the rituals of *all* the world'd religions (except U*Uism of course) are "meaningless".

Feel free to email me if you post a reply so I can get back to you sooner rather than later. If you want to know more about what I am claiming feel free to ask. You might find this initiative worthwhile. Feel very free to share it with others. The next date is August 1st, 2008.

Best Regards,

Robin Edgar

Robin Edgar said...

I guess it would help if I provided an email address -

robinedgar59 at