Ten theological points beyond theism

For quite a few people, the title “After God” may cause deep dismay, or worse. But let’s take a look at the subheading: “Another model is possible”, which refers to the “God model”. Not God as a foundational Reality, but “God” as an interpretative model, as a theoretical framework for understanding reality. Unlike fashion, models do not change from one summer to the next. They are much more stable, they can last for centuries, even millennia. Geocentrism, for example, starting long before Ptolemy, lasted for millennia until Copernicus and Galileo. Newton’s mechanicism lasted just over two centuries until Einstein’s relativity. Everything is changing faster and faster.

I am putting forward 10 theological points for reflection and critical debate in this time of transition towards a post-theistic model.

  1. The predominant God model in theistic religions is an entity or a supernatural Entity, single or plural, nearly always portrayed as a male human being, often omnipotent and creator of the world, or at least endowed with the power to intervene in the world from inside or from outside, in any case as an autonomous subject, as someone.
  2. This portrayal has a date of birth. It was probably conceived by the human imagination some 7000 years ago in ancient Sumeria (Iraq), the cradle of the oldest known civilisation. There we find the ruins of the oldest known temple in the world dating back to the 5th millennium BCE. The temple was the dwelling place of “God”, with a clergy to look after him and to lead the religion.
  3. That idea of God and the theistic religious system arose and became standard no doubt because it offered society some evolutionary advantage. It is the basic law of evolution in general and of life in particular. That model has its days numbered.
  4. But going beyond theism is not just a matter for this day and age. The deepest experience of the Real has moved sages, mystics and prophets in all traditions to go beyond the God model, beyond any mental and institutional image of the Absolute. Confucius and Laozi in China, Buddha, Mahavira and the authors of the Upanishads in India, Parmenides, Pythagoras and Heraclitus in Greece… substituted the Absolute that cannot be represented: Heaven, Dao, Brahman or Shunyat for the represented “God”. Centuries earlier, Zoroaster in Persia changed God, did away with the human portrayal and adopted the formless fire, transformer of all form, as the only image.
  5. Israel places us squarely in the Semitic world, but its monotheism and eschatology received a deep Persian, Indo-European imprint. The great prophets of Israel taught that the first commandment of God’s Law is: “You shall not make for yourself a carved image” (Ex 20:4*). We cannot do without images and words, but they are only valid insofar as they open up the beyond to us, the Absolute without image and the Mystery without word, in ongoing transition. Only metaphors and metaphorical stories remain. At the ford or pass of Jabbok, Jacob wrestles with his image of God and defeats it, is wounded as a result of this struggle, but is also blessed (Gen 32:23-33). Fleeing from Pharaonic power, Moses the transgressor goes into the desert, and there, on a “pagan” mountain, he meets the nameless Mystery in the Burning Bush, only four unpronounceable consonants (YHWH): “I am who I am” (and who you are and Being as it is) (Ex 3). Elijah, also a fugitive from royal power and its professional prophets, but himself possessed by the ideology of the one omnipotent God, the supreme idol, had to learn that such a “God” does not exist, that the Absolute is neither a mighty wind nor a terrible earthquake nor a devouring fire, but a low, barely audible whisper (1 Kings 19). Each time they found God beyond “God”.
  6. We Christians, too, can and must go beyond Jesus’ image of God. Jesus undoubtedly remained a theist, but he went beyond the conventional image of God on many points, but not on all of them. In fact, the Christian mystical tradition went beyond Jesus on that point. Meister Eckhart, for example, distinguished between Divinity and God: he affirmed Divinity as Nothingness, or as Allness stripped of any attributes, and denied the reality of God with attributes. “O God, deliver me from God,” he said.
  7. For an increasingly large number of deeply committed, sincere Christians today, it is not only permissible, but also imperative, to abandon any theistic image of God or the Absolute, and in this respect to go beyond Jesus. We do not believe what we want, but what we can (J.M. Mardones), within the “available credibility” of our day and age (P. Ricoeur). Today, the existence of an Entity preceding the world, enduring without it and the first creative cause of it, is scarcely credible. Beyond any dualism between the physical and metaphysical world and between matter-spirit, beyond the temporal scheme before/after, beyond any opposition between transcendence-immanence, the world is animated by a creative dynamism that renders it self-creating. That ceaseless, eternal creativity is God or the divine, the heart of the self-creating world.
  8. So what remains after “God”? After “God”, God remains. Or, if one prefers not to use such a misleading term as this –although all terms in all dictionaries are misleading– one can say: “After ‘God’, what remains is the Real”, which we are part of. The Real: everything that exists, that is previous to us and larger than us, the infinitely large and infinitely small universe. The Real constitutes forms, but not only forms, it also constitutes the Infinite Depth that opens up in every form of the infinitely large and the infinitely small. The Real is beauty that draws and moves us. The Real is the Breath of Life that moves and unites and creates all, in an infinite creativity of inexhaustible possibilities. The Real is self-awareness of the I, otherness of the you, communion of the us. The Real is worthy of faith, of unending trust despite everything. After “God”, there remains the Real, with the dynamic fontal Mystery that pulsates in its Depth.
  9. The first and ultimate Real, the fontal Absolute, is not an impersonal “It”, but neither is it an “I” opposed to a “You”, nor a “You” opposed to an “I”, which would be two. Rather, it is the Absolute “I” that shares no limit or boundary with anything. It is the Absolute “You” that entails no separation nor separates anything. The absolute Real, of which we are a part, is Transpersonal, in other words, infinitely more than “personal” in the sense in which this term is understood (individual self-aware hub distinct from another individual self-aware hub). The absolute Real is more than personal, so that in our relationship with Him/Her/It there is neither fusion into one nor separation into two.
  10. Can we still call this creative fontal Reality God? Each one of you can decide for yourselves. In this era of transition, I am not going to give up calling it God, as well, without fixing it in any image. What matters is not how we believe in it, but how we create it. What matters is not what we call it, but how we embody it, how with each step we take and each breath we breathe we allow ourselves to be inspired by the Breath of Life, the Soul or the Heart of the world –these are turns of phrase– and we are kindled in the flame of love that is not consumed. What matters is that this creation, groaning in labour pains, should reach its most real possibility, its most complete liberation in compassion for the wounded near and far. What matters is that creative goodness should be the most real and that God beyond “God” may become all in all (1 Cor. 15:28) on this small planet and throughout the universe or multiverse.

Aizarna (Basque Country), 29 June, 2021


(Translated by Sarah J. Turtle)