Posted by: Kimber Terese | March 3, 2009

The New Theism

What is the significance of our experience with the new?

I have an old box on my windowsill that my parents brought back for me from Hawaii several years ago. As I study it, I notice its detail and fine qualities. I begin to appreciate it more in its aesthetic appeal. However, I also begin to grasp how neglected it has been for a great deal of time. I may have kept it for its memory, or even simply for its beauty, but this fact is simply not realized on a day to day basis. The truth is that most often when I look at this object, I see nothing more than a static image among others in my cognitive schema. It rests diligently in the same spot every day, and I have no intention of altering this.

When going through my closet and emptying out old clothes, shoes, etc. (yes, I am a stereotypical girl who could never have enough closet space), I encounter a similar experience. Before deciding to give a piece of clothing away, I try it on and determine whether it is of use anymore. Does it fit? Is it worn out? If I find the article unable to match my criteria for what is useful, it goes into the “NO” pile. However, what I come to realize more and more as I test my possessions, is that I am not simply looking for “useful”, but rather bored with what is “old”. Sure, this shirt fits perfectly fine. Yeah, maybe you could say it’s a fit faded. Useful? Well, I don’t know, I haven’t worn it in a while. Does that count? Yeah, I should probably throw it into the pile. I will probably find something newer and better anyway…

Taking a step back from these superficial topics, my experiences lend me toward an intriguing look at theology and religion. A classmate spoke up about attending a different religious service on Sunday than your own. For her, she explained, this enlivens the spiritual experience of coming closer to God. Another classmate noted the “boredom” that comes with a stagnant service, but called into question the way our expectations influence this reaction. We are not always satisfied with what feels old. And if we are not, should we consider our personal assumptions of the world around us?

If God has become a static image among the others, then we must find a way to shake things up, in a sense. As Elizabeth Johnson describes, the Divine is incomprehensible and unattainable. Our search to define and redefine God should truly never end. Like my box from Hawaii, if theology remains in one place, it becomes overlooked, underdeveloped, and meaningless.

At the same time, we must be wary of making God into an idol of the “new”. Our yearning for the undiscovered must be complimented by a respect for the traditional. We must realize our search is not simply for something exciting and fresh, but for the ultimate truth. We should think carefully before throwing out what may be perfectly good, keeping a keen eye out for hidden flaws.

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Responses

  1. I like how you say that we need to keep an eye out for hidden flaws. I think this is a particular challenge in theology because words such as “heresy” are so intimidating. It can almost feel sometimes as if recognizing flaws and admitting to them delegitimizes all that we have right. I think its important to recognize that even if part of what we think is a little off, we can still have the right idea in general which ultimately leads us to the right conclusion. I think this concept is what makes interreligious dialogue so difficult. People get stuck in thinking “if they are right then I must be wrong” and I don’t think this is necessarily the case. So I think you said it very well Kimber when you said that we should hold onto the things that are good while maintaining a willingness to admit and address flaws.


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