NEITHER PHILOSOPHICAL DEISM NOR “JESU-CHRISTIAN THEISM” Endnotes to some pages by Jesús Martínez-Gordo

Let these reflections be accompanied by the appreciation and affection I have for Jesús Martínez-Gordo, a brilliant, fiery lecturer, and esteemed teaching colleague during my good old days at the Faculty of Theology in Vitoria-Gasteiz (Basque Country). These are endnotes to the recent “PLIEGO” (monographic booklet) published in VIDA NUEVA and subsequently posted on ATRIO ( Simple notes on some doubts raised by the text, vigorous as always. Their sole purpose is to help me clarify my position and to keep the debate open among those who are interested in these issues in these times of cultural and theological transition. They interest me, and I hope I am not entirely deluded when I think that the future of the world we dream of also depends on how God and Jesus of Nazareth are referred to. I care a great deal about the God issue, which is a way of looking, feeling, living.

  1. Jesús Martinez-Gordo also cares as much as I do, although we do not formulate the importance in the same terms, of course. His paper is entitled “Why it matters to me whether God exists”. I would never use such a title, in other words, I would not begin by asking myself whether “God exists or not” without somehow first establishing for myself, using some metaphor or other, what I mean when I say God, the Inexpressible, I cannot say it, I can only mumble it. I know that the formless Depth of reality exists, I see it in all forms. It is not a Supreme Entity, but it is in all entities, it conceals itself and reveals itself in all forms. To recognise its Presence not as an ultimate Enigma but as a foundational Mystery seems to me to be the most reasonable thing to do, just as it seems reasonable to me to admire the peace of the countryside and the sky in the midst of all the absurd wars.
  2. It seems less reasonable to me to postulate the existence of a “God Entity”, before and external to the world, as the first cause or prime driver and explanation that is needed for the existence of the world. It has all the appearances of being a construct of the human mind, an arbitrary device created out of thin air by the human need to explain. But “God” as a “device” is superfluous to the cosmological sciences and I believe it is also superfluous to theological reflection on reality as a whole. It lends itself to any smart kid asking the old, pertinent question again: “If God created the world, who created God?” The wise answer is simple: “Human beings created the creator ‘God’ that was needed”. They did so in order to provide a base that would guarantee the world and order, for the sake of morality, the city and the empire. The most ancient known temple ruins indicate that the first gods were imagined some 7000 years ago over in Sumeria. The “God that is needed” depends on human need.
  3. However, Martínez-Gordo argues that, if we deny a “God” at the origin of everything, we are condemned to one of two explanations of the world: science-based materialism or pure chance. I would say that his notion of matter and chance are today alien to the leading scientists and philosophers of science. None of them claim to know what matter is or how (indisputable) chance combines with the (astonishing) regularity or “necessity” observed at both supra-atomic and infra-atomic levels. Matter has nothing to do with that static, inert thing that has been imagined, contrary to “spirit”. Matter is dynamic, interrelated, creative, self-creating. It is energy, relationship, possibility. We do not know what it is, but we can say that it is an inexhaustible and auto-creative matrix of emergent forms. The forms and manifestations that we refer to as “spiritual” ones emerge from it; that means that in the final analysis we could also refer to the formless ground of what we call matter as spirit. Or even, if I may be forgiven, God.
  4. So let us talk about God, certainly, but in a different way. And let’s start by talking in a different way about the world, in line with scientists and poets as well. I cannot imagine any “before or outside” of the world, of the original matter-energy or of the electromagnetic field from whose fluctuation the spark was apparently caused to jump or the Big Bang to occur and which gave rise to this universe (we know nothing as yet of others). For this very reason, I cannot imagine a “God” before time, either outside or inside space, a God Entity, something facing something, someone facing someone. “Before/after”, “inside/outside” are notions relative to those of “space/time”, but these, in turn, are narrow categories that are used so that we humans can locate ourselves in this universe that surrounds us and in which we move. The permanent “origin” of reality transcends these (and all other) spatio-temporal categories. Scientists, poets, mystics are cognizant of this.
  5. I am surprised that this theologian from Bilbao should write: “I am a Catholic believer, transformed into a ‘deist’, rationally consistent, and, at the same time, a ‘Jesu-Christian theist’”. I think I understand “Jesu-Christian theist”, but not precisely what he means when he says he declares himself to be a “deist”. “Deism” is in fact a theological doctrine affirming that “God”, back in the beginning, created the universe once and for all with all its laws, but since then has not said or done anything in a world that continues its course. Neither revelation nor incarnation nor salvation. All that remains is the world and reason forsaken by a sovereign, passive God. The mere postulating of a “God” as a first cause does not strike me as very “rationally consistent”, but affirming an “idle” God Entity or Subject ever since creation strikes me as even less rational and consistent. I would find it hard to understand that this is what Jesús Martinez-Gordo thinks when he admits to being a deist, but that’s what I read.
  6. I find it more understandable that he acknowledges that he is a “Jesu-Christian theist”, but my perplexities and questions remain: Does he mean that he is a theist –in other words, one who believes in a personal God, a distinct subject with respect to the world and human individuals– as Jesus was, or because Jesus was? But does the fact that Jesus believed in a God who intervenes in the world –speaks, heals, rewards, forgives, punishes: all these things that Jesus believed in– mean perhaps that Christians must also imagine God as Jesus did? And for the same reason, why should we not believe that God makes it rain or that the world is geocentric? In any case, would not this theism of Jesus contradict deism?
  7. More questions: Is the following apologetic argument real and consistent? The argument that believers, “in comparison” with non-believers, “are very good people”, as Martínez-Gordo claims, apparently quoting a literal statement by the atheist philosopher Paolo Flores d’Arcais in his famous 2000 (not 2008, as he says) dialogue with the then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, a statement that I cannot find in the transcript of the debate (¿Dios existe?, Espasa, 2008). Flores d’Arcais acknowledges, certainly, that “lacking faith [he does not say which faith] probably makes it much more difficult to renounce selfishness, to sacrifice oneself for others” (p. 83), but he insists that non-believers can and do sacrifice themselves for others. Can anyone know how this is measured and know that the latter can do less and the former can do more? In any case, do not history and the present amply contradict the argument of the ethical or spiritual superiority of Christians and believers (which believers?)? Did not Jesus of Nazareth himself, for all his theism, disprove this in the parable of the Good Samaritan in which he presents a semi-pagan heretic as a model of compassion and commitment towards the wounded man, unlike the Levite and the priest of the temple who pass by on the other side?
  8. Even today I continue to be inspired by the figure of Jesus –not so much a historical Jesus about whom we know very little with certainty, but the Jesus variously remembered in the different Gospel accounts– the figure of Jesus that we continue to remember warmly and say freely in our language of today, which is not that of the dogmas of yesteryear. Not because Jesus is the one who climbed the most “eight-thousanders” or the one who accomplished the feat best, but because it is the land in which I grew up, the source from which I drank, and I want it to continue to be so. The earth and the source are different; the ultimate root and the deep water are the same thing.
  9. The most human, the most Real and credible is revealed to me in the healing compassion, the liberating fraternal freedom, the blessed goodness of Jesus, GOD without inverted commas or qualifiers, beyond any constructed “God”. I know what He/She is not, at least as far as I am concerned: neither an idle deistic creator “God” nor a theistic “God”, a distinct, sovereign actor in the universe. He/She is not “other” of anything or anyone (Cardinal Nicholas of Cusa, 15th century). What He/She IS, I can only catch a glimpse, and I can only say it using numerous, clumsy metaphors. He/She is the Being or the Ground of everything, the Source or permanent Creativity, the Self without ego, the You without otherness, the profound Communion of everything with everything without separation or fusion. The gentle, transforming Breath that moves everything. I see it in Rublev’s icon of Christ the Redeemer, and also in the tree that is growing and the haystack sitting in the middle of the meadow, in the eyes we look at and which look at us in everything. It is not about not believing anything: it is about seeing and creating what we see, so that there may be respite and hope in the world.

Aizarna (Basque Country), 21 August, 2021

(Translated by Sarah J. Turtle)