Sunday, April 24, 2016

'God As I Understand Him'?

(Continuing my thoughts on a 12-step group for people raised by addicts.) 

If anyone is familiar with 12-step groups, you may be familiar with a move that I think of as "the Twelve Step Two-Step", dancing around the introduction of God, usually by introducing him as "God as I understand him" or "a Higher Power whom some of us choose to call God." Once the two-step is over, the understanding of God is recognizably Christian, with the emphasis on a loving father. The "Our Father" is the closing prayer at many meetings. (The meetings themselves are recognizably liturgical in format, with opening and closing prayers, and a set format in between. Often studies of a group's distinctive 'Big Book' or daily reader replaces Bible study, and readings from the group's literature takes the place of Bible readings.)

"God as I Understand Him" is an awkward phrase. It takes awhile to say, and is complicated compared to simply saying "God". The long form of the phrase is meant to stop arguments about different understandings of God. As I mentioned before, the group does in fact have dogmas: there are some views of God that they would try to change, such as seeing God as indifferent or unloving. Those who are from a dogma-oriented background, who enjoy certainty and precision, may see some risks or hazards in that approach. I'd like to balance that by mentioning some benefits of this approach.

"God as I understand him" focuses our thoughts briefly on a few genuine facts of life, based on the fact that humans are finite, that the sum of human knowledge is still short of divine knowledge:

  • My understanding is incomplete
  • I have hope to grow and understand more
  • I have cause for humility
  • I have reason to be open to what others say
  • Your understanding is incomplete
  • You have hope to grow and understand more
  • You have cause for humility
  • You have reason to be open to what others say
  • People with different understandings can still say things that add to each others' growth

For the purpose of a support group, it seems to be worthwhile to put some limits on dogma (particularly with the current divided state of religion) so that the support group can provide that needed support.

There are those who will see a risk -- or an insult -- in taking ideas derived through the systematic study of theology and presenting them on the same level as any private unstudied opinion. And yet those additional dogmas may offer no gain to the group, for the group's specific purpose.

And again, for me, the passion is for unity on a solid foundation. For the church as a whole, there are churches that are very fond of dogma in general, and of their own dogmas in particular (which they are very sure are correct). There are a few churches that seem to distrust the idea of dogma, on general principle.

What is dogma for, and how far can it go legitimately?

No comments: