The gist is this: most of what goes by the name of religion is really idolatry—especially the appeal to supernaturalism. The only kind of God that satisfies the ancient claim of being the “Highest One” is a God of this world, offering no selfish fantasy of paradise in the next. This God is perfectly in tune with the immanent, Carl Sagan-ite account of science, yet one can also find information about Him in scriptures and religious traditions, selectively read. It’s a God that calls to mind, for instance, Spinoza’s “God or Nature”; J. N. Findlay’s 1948 paper claiming that the object of the ontological argument for God’s existence must be something higher than the God of religion; and sociologist Philip Rieff’s critique of the gods we invent to serve our own desires—religious, clinical, and otherwise. The second half of Saving God features a series of technical moves that, as best I can gather, is an attempt to squeeze some kind of Heideggerian phenomenology into the back door of analytic philosophy, which in turn makes room for introducing a close-to Hegelian view of God as Being’s self-disclosure to beings in history—yada, yada, yada.All this is to say (and here I am imitating Johnston’s alternating rhetoric referred to above) that God is here and now, not beyond. Inscribed in all the fluff and error of religion—even in the story of the Christian Passion—there are basic truths about the universe and the Mind that pervades it which philosophy, fortunately, has the means to extract.
Ye gads. Heidegger? Hegel? Capital-M Mind? I actually wouldn’t mind reading this book one day, but this all sounds terribly reminiscent of Ken Wilber, to name another modern Idealist who tries to buttress run-of-the-mill spiritualism with what appears to be a familiarity with science and philosophy. I don’t really mean to suggest that Johnston is on a par with a goofy hack who sells an Integral Life Starter Kit for $200, but I don’t find this description too encouraging.
I say again: this desperate attempt to preserve something called God by simultaneously defining it as Everything and Nothing is only ever going to appeal to a small group of intellectuals. Most people are not even remotely interested in a God that doesn’t answer prayers and reserve us a seat in the afterworld next to all our family and friends. I am amused, however, at the fact that it’s apparently okay for believers to tell the vast majority of their fellows, “Religion: Ur Doin It Wrong,” but if an atheist says the same thing, they’re being arrogant and intolerant. Whaddayagunnado.
And speaking of mirth, this sounds promising: “…yet one can also find information about Him in scriptures and religious traditions, selectively read.” Selectively read, eh? You mean as in cherry-picking scriptures and traditions for whatever appeals to your experience as an educated, twenty-first century Westerner, ignoring any contextual or historical details that contravene the message you’re determined to see? You don’t see a potential lack of intellectual integrity in this approach? I can admire the brass balls on Thomas Jefferson, acting as a one-man Jesus Seminar long before it existed, brashly cutting out all the parts of the Gospels that he felt didn’t belong with the model of Jesus he was envisioning – one who turned out to totally agree with Thomas Jefferson, will wonders never cease – but I daresay it probably wasn’t his proudest scholarly achievement.