In his TED Talk, the Canon Pastor of Exeter Cathedral in the UK, Tom Honey, explained some of the dilemmas involved in challenging images and ideas attached to the traditional notion of God within his congregation. He explains the way that ‘most people, both within and outside the organized church, still have a picture of a celestial controller, a rule maker, a policeman in the sky who orders everything, and causes everything to happen,’ and how in time he had become ‘more and more uncomfortable with this perception of God.’ He says, ‘Isn’t it ironic that Christians who claim to believe in an infinite, unknowable being then tie God down in closed systems and rigid doctrines?’
Honey describes his inclination toward more feminine notions of God that that recognise that God is, by definition, unknowable. Such notions are well known ‘liberal academic circles,’ he says, yet church leaders have tended not to share these ideas with their congregations. He explains: ‘clergy like myself have been reluctant to air them, for fear of creating tension and division in our church communities, for fear of upsetting the simple faith of more traditional believers. I have chosen not to rock the boat.’
The tsunami in 2004 provided an impetus for him facing this fear and confronting the ideas that orthodoxy attached to God. Honey could not reconcile the idea that God was in control of the horrific deaths of so many people. He critiques the lyrics of a song they used to sing: “The wind and waves obey Him.” ‘Do they?’ he asks. ‘Does God demand loyalty, like any medieval tyrant?’ Can we really believe in ‘A God who looks after His own, so that Christians are OK, while everyone else perishes? A cosmic us and them, and a God who is guilty of the worst kind of favoritism?’ Honey does not suggest rejecting the existence of God altogether, he suggests questioning what images and ideas we are attributing to God.
‘what if God doesn’t act? What if God doesn’t do things at all? What if God is in things? […] In the natural cycle of life and death, the creation and destruction that must happen continuously. In the process of evolution. In the incredible intricacy and magnificence of the natural world. In the collective unconscious, the soul of the human race […] In presence and in absence. In simplicity and complexity. In change and development and growth.’
Tom Honey’s talk illustrates the difference between what theologians refer to as “classic theism” and “panentheism”, which is what I am currently writing my MPhil thesis on with a full draft due this month (hence why my blog entries are presently few and far between).