The blow that brought the Enlightenment to its knees was certainly the one delivered by a patent clerk with his theory of relativity. Equally important in bringing down the hubristic enterprise, though less well known, was the contribution of Kurt Gödel. His incompleteness theorem undermined the efforts of his generation’s greatest mathematicians, who were determined to reduce all of mathematics to a handful of axioms that must be taken on faith, though in the positivist tradition, none of the thinkers involved would use such a word as faith.
Gödel’s proof states that you cannot prove the system of mathematics from within that system, a move every bit as destabilizing as Einstein’s relativity. It should come as no surprise then that both men had faith in the divine, though neither could be classified as religious.
This may seem like a strange starting point for a theology. How can you move from math and physics to God? I would ask, how can you not? I hope the similarities between Gödel’s thought and my theology will unfold as I work through some of my theology here.
I begin with an apophatic theology, that is a belief that God is unknowable. The very statement that God is unknowable is an example of the problem. The moment I make it, I have claimed to know something about God, a bind known as aporia. In any case, that is my axiom. For God to be God as humans have conceived, God must be beyond human ability to conceive. Any theology that points to God must begin by acknowledging its limitations.
The starting point for theology is the human enterprise of reacting to and theorizing the divine. The theologians task is like that of the artist. A work of art is not a thing in itself, but is a pointer to something just beyond, some transcendent other. Theology never describes the divine, theology simply points to the divine, which can never be contained or described adequately.
Some would argue that we can know the divine through revelation. But who gets to decide what revelations count? Moses and Jesus are in, but others, from cult-leaders to founders of world religions, are out? Don’t get me wrong, I am a Christian, though I do recognize the “scandal of particularity” when one begins to ask how a loving God can love one ancient tribe more than all the others. But let’s face it, even the Christian tradition, with its notion that the Holy Spirit acts to insure the integrity of Scripture and the Church, is filled with a history of schism and uncertain texts. I believe in the Holy Spirit, just not as Divine Copy-editor and Cop.
But back to the task of theology: one measure of a theology’s authenticity might be that it serves as a pointer, and that it acknowledges its inability to contain the divine.
The other trait I seek in a theology is that it un-makes itself. I do not yet have the words to clarify this, but I do have an image. It is the double helix of our DNA. We think of it as stable, but in truth it is dynamic. Segments unzip, build copies and proteins, reform, sometimes changing in the process. This dynamism that is so basic to life is, I believe, as crucial in a theology. In a theology this might manifest as a theology that is elegant and well-formed, but contains within it a paradox that, from the human perspective, destabilizes the entire structure.
Enough rambling. Not every idea that makes it to this blog will be well-formed. My own theology is unmade and remade every time I study Scripture, pray, participate in the Sacraments of the Church. And I have not determined how we prevent false and dangerous doctrines from developing if theology is always dynamic, always inadequate. The image of faith/theology as DNA would suggest that some mutations are advantageous and survive, while others die out. This would mean that any robust faith contains the divine. That is a claim I cannot make.
Have a blessed Sunday!