Saving God

Saving God: Religion after Idolatry

Copyright Date: 2009
DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt7s9wf
Pages: 216
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  • Book Info
    Saving God
    Book Description:

    In this book, Mark Johnston argues that God needs to be saved not only from the distortions of the "undergraduate atheists" (Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Sam Harris) but, more importantly, from the idolatrous tendencies of religion itself. Each monotheistic religion has its characteristic ways of domesticating True Divinity, of taming God's demands so that they do not radically threaten our self-love and false righteousness. Turning the monotheistic critique of idolatry on the monotheisms themselves, Johnston shows that much in these traditions must be condemned as false and spiritually debilitating.

    A central claim of the book is thatsupernaturalismis idolatry. If this is right, everything changes; we cannot place our salvation in jeopardy by tying it essentially to the supernatural cosmologies of the ancient Near East. Remarkably, Johnston rehabilitates the ideas of the Fall and of salvation within a naturalistic framework; he then presents a conception of God that both resists idolatry and is wholly consistent with the deliverances of the natural sciences.

    Princeton University Press is publishingSaving Godin conjunction with Johnston's forthcoming bookSurviving Death, which takes up the crux of supernaturalist belief, namely, the belief in life after death.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3044-2
    Subjects: Religion, Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt7s9wf.1
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt7s9wf.2
  3. Preface
    (pp. xi-xiv)
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt7s9wf.3
  4. Chapter 1 Is Your God Really God?
    (pp. 1-17)
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt7s9wf.4

    Saving God is saving Godfrom us, from our lazy and self-satisfied conviction that our conventional patterns of belief and worship could themselves capture God. God is transcendent; that is, God can come into view, if he comes into view at all, only as a result of his self-presentation. One consequence of this is the difficulty of knowing whethereven as a believeryou believe in God.

    What is it to believe in God? BelievinginGod is not to be reduced to believing in the truth of the proposition that God exists. No doubt the Devil, if there were...

  5. Chapter 2 The Idolatrous Religions
    (pp. 18-36)
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt7s9wf.5

    How can the very one who introduces himself as “I AM,” in Exodus 3, be the proprietary and jealous god of Exodus 20, who so fears Israel’s cuckolding him with the gods of the pagans that he threatens to visit “the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and the fourth generation”? Is it that the anthropocentric accretions of Exodus 20 have already obscured the real nature of the Highest One, so that the original ban on idolatry is itself refracted through an idolatrous prism?

    That, however, unnaturally limits our questioning to Judaism; for directly related questions...

  6. Chapter 3 Supernaturalism and Scientism
    (pp. 37-52)
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt7s9wf.6

    As an approach to the monotheistic religions, the phenomenological method and the question of character contrast with the blanket criticism of religion as a morass of obsolete belief systems that have been shown, by the accumulation of scientific discoveries, to be irrational. Looking at religion through the lens of idolatry may simply preempt such criticism, and preempt itfrom within the religious point of view itself. After idolatry is purged, not every “religion” will actually be a religion, and little in the way of “religious doctrine” will be religious. Few will have actually had a religion, as opposed to a...

  7. Chapter 4 The Phenomenological Approach
    (pp. 53-69)
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt7s9wf.7

    Let us return from these all too brief remarks about naturalism versus scientism to our method and our question. The method was to take the foundational experiences of the major monotheisms on their own terms, and then look at the implied character of the spiritual beings who ostensibly appear in these experiences. The question was: Does the internal phenomenology of the foundational experiences of this or that version of monotheism display the character of the Highest One?

    The method and the question cannot be dismissed merely as a tendentious piece of scientism directed at religion by the spiritually tone-deaf (the...

  8. Chapter 5 Is There an Internal Criterion of Religious Falsehood?
    (pp. 70-79)
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt7s9wf.8

    In the execrated Regensburg lecture, Pope Benedict deploys a criterion of religious falsehood, indeed a criterion of godliness, against the very idea that the Highest One could order his people to use violence as a means to either convert or overcome unbelievers. Unfortunately, the pope’s radical criterion was wholly masked by the public reaction. Benedict’s lecture seemed to his critics to be just an intricate way of opening up a familiar line of criticism of Islam as a religion that tolerates, and even encourages, violence.

    Against that simple interpretation of what the pope was up to, it must be remembered...

  9. Chapter 6 Why God?
    (pp. 80-94)
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt7s9wf.9

    So there is a kind of acquired discernment, indispensable in science and everyday life (and Benedict suggests that it is also indispensable in religious belief), a discernment that allows one to appreciate the force of considerations that go beyond those of pure logic, and beyond the deliverances of decision theory as applied to our standing beliefs and desires. Among these considerations orsubstantive reasonsare not only theoretical reasons but practical reasons, reasons that bear on what we should desire and do. Now many philosophers suppose that at the very least, the ethical—what is valuable or worthy as an...

  10. Chapter 7 After Monotheism
    (pp. 95-114)
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt7s9wf.10

    The inner truth of the ban on idolatry is best understood as the requirement that our worship be directed to the Highest One, and only to the Highest One. We do know that if there is a Highest One, there can be nothing that is more deserving of our fealty. We also know that if there is a Highest One, it deserves our fealty, not arbitrarily, but because of its perfections. We need not know what those perfections are; in fact our very idea of perfection may be extremely limited, but we do know that there can be none more...

  11. Chapter 8 Process Panentheism
    (pp. 115-125)
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt7s9wf.11

    In all theistic traditions the Highest One is taken to be perfectly good. Now in naive atheism and its counterpart naive theodicy, the attempt to justify the ways of God the Benefactor to his unsatisfied client, man, the analogical nature of this honorific predication is ignored, and we are supposed to face such worrying inconsistencies as this:

    If the Highest One is perfectly good, and all-powerful, then there should be no evil in the world that is not necessary for a greater good. Yet there is much evil in the world that is not necessary for a greater good.


  12. Chapter 9 Panentheism, Not Pantheism
    (pp. 126-151)
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt7s9wf.12

    What does the difference between panentheism and pantheism come to, exactly?

    Can it not be made to seem a trivial difference, in the following way? Both share the same ontology; for both, it seems, all that exists is the natural realm, but whereas pantheism identifies God with the natural realm, panentheism replaces the “is” of identity with the “is” of constitution and finds that God is wholly constituted by the natural realm.

    Compare the following,in itselffairly trivial, dispute in philosophy. Kripke claims that water = H2O. Other thinkers point out that H2O can be found in a variety...

  13. Chapter 10 The Mind of God
    (pp. 152-159)
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt7s9wf.13

    We are not Producers of Presence; it is not that our mental acts make things present. We are Samplers of Presence; our mental acts are samplings from a vast realm of objective manners of presentation. It is of the nature of existents to present, in all the various ways in which they can be grasped in this or that mental act of this or that individual mind. The manners of presentation are all there on the side of the things themselves. Those manners of presentation are just the things presenting in this or that way.

    All the manners of presentation...

  14. Chapter 11 Christianity without Spiritual Materialism
    (pp. 160-186)
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt7s9wf.14

    Something remains that cries out for explanation, namely, the apparently nonaccidental connection between supernaturalist theism and religious violence: violence perpetrated in the name of God, and in the name of religions that avow justice and compassion. In raising this issue, we must not forget what the last century taught us all too many times, namely, that the deracinating effect of enforced state atheism can help unleash an unprecedented tide of blood; the crimes of Hitler, Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot cannot be laid at the feet of monotheism. Better to have had “the haven of a heartless world” than the...

  15. Postscript
    (pp. 187-188)
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt7s9wf.15

    Better to end in the middle of things than create a false impression of completeness, or the aspiration to completeness.

    Our exploration of the ban on idolatry has led us to an idea of the Most High as the one whose transcendence is just the other side of his immanence in this world. This world, properly seen, is the outpouring and self-disclosure that is the Highest One. This outpouring and self-disclosure, thiskenosisor self-emptying of Being that envelops everything, is the site of the sacred. So we are “already on holy ground.” A saved human being is just a...

  16. Index
    (pp. 189-198)
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt7s9wf.16