Wednesday, 24 April 2019
What's wrong about chatting with God? (e.g. like Don Camillo)
On this blog I often 'fulminate' against regarding God as an abstraction - something I regard as an error by which Christians 'collapse into' pure monotheism; characterised by an emphasis on worship and submission without need for comprehension or (more than minimal) agency.
The historic and continuing success of Islam at displacing Christianity is (I believe) ultimately because it is based-upon the clear authority of an absolute and abstract conceptual God; and so much more coherently than mainstream, traditional Christianity: this purity of monotheistic power being what many (past and current) Christians apparently most want from their deity (rather than what Jesus showed and told and tells us).
At another extreme is the causal, chatty, man-to-man way of relating to God; which I associate with the short stories about the Italian priest Don Camillo, written by Giovannino Guareschi. If you don't know these tales, I'd certainly recommend them as very enjoyable pieces.
One feature is that the parish priest Don Camillo pops-into his church, addresses Jesus on the cross, and has two-way conversations with God (or Jesus on the cross) characterised by a very down-to-earth and humorous tone. In context, these are great fun; but theologically there is a lot wrong with having a chat with God as if he were a cosmic uncle or bishop.
Don Camillo is Roman Catholic, but this a style that may also be associated with 'low church' protestants; who may report an active spiritual life of this 'conversational' type; reporting their prayers in such a way.
What is wrong with such a mode of interaction with God is that it is mundane, worldly, shallow, materialistic. Modern Man craves and needs so much more.
A chatty, friendly relation with God is no different in quality from our relations with other people in this materialistic world. Modern Man is alienated - that is, he finds life shallow, meaningless, purposeless - and adding God as just another 'pal' (albeit a cosmic and powerful pal) to one's collection of friends does not address this deep sense of isolation.
(Alienation is the experience of subjectivity being cut-off from objectivity; the problem of solipsism - regarding the external world as unreal, combined with the problem of regarding our own self as unreal, labile, unreliable...)
I am saying that Don Camillo is absolutely correct that God is indeed a Being, a Person; and that we ought-to relate to him as a person; but relating to God as we relate to other modern people in a mainstream kind of way is grossly inadequate. Don Camillo relates wrongly to God, because he relates wrongly to everybody; if he was real his life would be alienated, his contact at secondhand.
In sum, we do not want merely to communicate with God (or other people) - no matter how comfortably or comfortingly; we want more. We need more - because that is not enough, nothing-like enough...
The 'everyday' does not answer. We want to experience direct contact, to have a direct and shared knowledge of God, and of other persons - bypassing the distance and uncertainty of language, bypassing the problems of intention and understanding - a direct, shared, knowing.
This is not highfalutin, not abstract, not an intellectual process at all; it is as down to earth as Don Camillo - but it is conscious and freely chosen. Many of us have experienced it with love - that wordless and direct and conscious knowing that answer all our craving, and in-which we are (for a while) perfectly satisfied.
Don Camillo is depicted as if perfectly satisfied; but he is like a child or someone from an earlier simpler and much-less-conscious era. In reality he would not be - he is an educated man, trained in abstraction. He cannot be unconscious, spontaneous, genuinely simple.
We are not Shire hobbits, and cannot go-back to that spontaneous rustic instinctive life. If taken as a life plan, that would be a false fantasy, a pretence, an ineffective fake; no matter how enjoyable the fantasy may be to read-about.
But we cannot stay where we are now, stuck in our alienation; because here we despair, here we are existentially isolated and paralysed by doubt; and our societies are are consequently demotivated unto death.
The proper course is to go forward beyond communication to communion, beyond conversation to intuition. To do this requires Love, and to realise that Love is not an emotion but a chosen commitment to shared purpose.