North Seymour Island in the Galapagos about to land on shore, Daphne Island is in the distance/Wikipedia photo by David Adam Kess

From Spokane to the Galapagos: In Search of God

By Thomas Schmidt

In a week I’ll be visiting the Galapagos Islands. The reasons are simple and really, for me, pretty everyday: To try to find a way in which we may, as modern thinkers, express our religious sentiments without doing violence to the intellectual understandings of our recent cosmological and scientific discoveries — the enlightenment and post modern critiques — and to find God. Again.

Recently I was pleasantly discussing the adult Sunday school class video we had just seen at church. One critique voiced by a wise, retired school teacher, was that she believed that God had been taken out of religion, and she felt rather empty after hearing the concepts of contemporary progressive Protestantism. That was a common feeling I could share. I mentioned Lloyd Geering and Don Cupitt, and their trying to fill that void left by the enlightenment and its excommunication of the spirit world and the myth of a personal god with a naturalistic wonderment in the luminous glory of evolving life. I said that, for me , the answer lay in a deeper appreciation of the role of the forces of evolution in our relationships. That brought on the kneejerk reaction against evolution and a split between those who valued naturalism and science, a Humeian position that relocates the accent of religion from an objective spirituality as real as the solid physical objects we could empirically experience, a universal, objective god, to a religion based on individual values derived from our everyday experiences.  The former retreated deeper into Platonic dualism. These traditionalists seem flabbergasted that intelligent people (listening to FOX) still believed in scientific truth when even the scientists couldn’t agree, pointing out that no scientist believed in Darwin’s evolution anymore. They took the disagreement over minor points, like is change slow or could it happen rapidly, and the common misunderstanding of the technical word “theory” as good reason to say that evolution was unproven and false.

Yet, in the Galapagos we see evolution in action, species of birds, plants, and tortoises changing and developing with the weather cycles. There evolution can be seen as an everyday happening. The data gathered, plotted, graphed, and theoretically extended to other species, and even to the ocean currents and rocks that are slowly mineralizing the whole process. Evolution is verified. Life, there, is seen as a moving force, not only within ourselves, but in others, including the guano and lava, and in our relationships with each other. In all glory, life can be experienced as a personal and interpersonal, interspecies force.

Here is God. And none too late. Too often I experience in myself, and in many other people of faith, including unfortunately most progressive ministers,  an ironic fundamentalism that undermines both their personal values and the institutions of the church that traditionally have underpinned these values.  Although many of us value the intellectual achievements of the fundamentalists’ knowledge of the canonical texts and traditions, we must deepen our understanding with cross cultural understandings and the use of scientific history, literary and linguistic methods. This search for what “really was said” and “what did it mean to its audience” has produced a gap between the content of the old myths and our contemporary scripts, especially when we ask,” What is the source of value, and what should we then do? ”  The vacuum has appeared, and threatens to separate every cell of our collective body.

Too often I experience a second order fundamentalism take over. I retreat into a non-argumentative mode, passively repeating the old, often childhood formulas, satisfying myself shallowly with feelings of nostalgia. Tell me the old, old stories.  I see most ministers (present company excepted) fail to do their moral job leading their flock, make a similar retreat. They seem to believe that the lack of connection between what we now know with  certainty, and what we in past cultures thought we knew, is less damaging to our lives than the vacuum being admitted and the task of filling it gotten underway. So they, and I, retreat back into traditional, almost rote, mumblings about the trinity, the post –Easter god/Christ we made of Jesus, the trinity, and some risen, substantial and objective bodily resurrection. We ignore the obvious problems of such a literal understanding of the traditions, such as, whatever happened to the fish and chips Jesus ate at Emmaus? A second order fundamentalism. A turning away from looking at the destruction of life these vacuous yet nostalgic traditions have led to.

Where is God? I catch glimpses of at least God’s shadow all the time, in every face I see, in every leaf that blows in the wind. The footstep following me in the dark.  Maybe I’ll find a bit more of God in the Galapagos, and be able to fill a bit more of the vacuum, along with the many others who are so doing. A simple enough task. Thank God, It’s not all up to me to do more than push on in our pilgrimage.

Simple enough.  After all, it’s a job that won’t be completed until life faces the results of the sixth extinction.  And humans probably won’t be around for that.

About Thomas Schmidt

Thomas Schmidt is a retired psychotherapist and chemical dependency counselor who belongs to the Sufi Ruhiniat International order of Sufi’s and is a drummer in the Spokane Sufi group and an elder at the Country Homes Christian (Disciples of Christ) Church. He is a member of the Westar Institute (The Jesus Seminar people). He studied for the ministry in the late 1950’s at Texas Christian Church and twice married Janet Fowler, a member of a long tern TCU family and a Disciple minister. He was active in the Civil Rights Movement, studying philosophy at Columbia University and psychology in the University of North Carolina university system. He has taught philosophy and psychology, and was professionally active in Florida, North Carolina, and, for 25 years in Spokane. He has studied and practiced Siddha Yoga, Zen Buddhism and, since the mid 1970’s, Sufism and the Dances of Universal Peace. He has three sons and three grandchildren. With the death of his wife, Janet, he is continuing their concentration on human rights, ecology, and ecumenical and interfaith reconciliation.

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