Thursday, April 17, 2014

I Said I Don't Like The Word Supernatural

Let me expand on something I wrote the other day, complaining that I don't like that word supernatural.
Liberal theologian and preacher Harry Emerson Fosdick once wrote:
As the reign of law extended its domain over one field after another --astronomy, geology, physics, chemistry, biology, psychology --there was less and less room for supernatural intervention to operate in, so that, if God was located in the supernatural, he was being slowly crowded out. See! Supernaturalism is not the stronghold of religion. It nearly ruined religion.
He was grappling with a problem that vexed me many years later. I had heard of the "heretic" Fosdick in sermons by fundamentalist Christians, but how inspiring were his writings to me when at last I became curious enough to examine them for myself
I was weaned on supernatural religion, which, as Fosdick so precisely expressed it, split "the universe in two -- on one side nature, run by natural laws, on the other side the supernatural that ever and again breaks into the natural, disturbs its regular procedures, and suspends its laws."
That's right! There it is. How does one believe in God, a Creator, not in the literal interpretation of Genesis sense, but rather as the very ground of being, the Logos or mind behind creation?
Can those of us with a spiritual bent make sense of our intuitions, elevate ourselves and our fellow humans above the "meat machines" that scientific reductionists would make us out to be, and grasp at the concept of divine purpose without turning our backs completely on modern science in favor of the old supernatural concept?
Again I was helped by Fosdick's elaborate explanation and illustration:
That this one world is God’s world is more than some folk can believe. They gratefully accept this law-abiding cosmos and stop there. Sometimes they almost seem to be saying that scientific laws explain the universe. But after all, these laws are simply our human statements of the way the universe habitually acts. They are, as it were, the grammatical rules we have drawn up from observing the regular procedures of the world. Consider, for example, Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. What a marvelous upthrust of creative genius it is! Nevertheless, grammatical rules are there and they can be set down in order. But grammatical rules do not explain Romeo and Juliet. They do not touch the hem of its explanation, nor do they set limits to the possible creativity of the genius that produced it. No more do our natural laws either explain or limit the creative processes of this living universe and its God.
Now there was a model I could use. Science in no way is a threat to the spiritually minded.  Ignorance is not and cannot be bliss. Nor must we limit ourselves to a study of the rules with the view that the rules are the thing in itself. The awe-inspiring intricate beauty is there and is undeniable to those who have eyes to see.  

As I suggested, the word supernatural is loaded - loaded with potential for grave misunderstanding. A supernatural outlook that makes God an observer and occasional meddler rather than the very grounding of the Cosmos is an outlook for the spiritually immature, for those who don't recognize that religious thought and language is the thought and language of myth and metaphor.

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