Islam and Queerness
quotations, resources, and proposals
see also Pulse: When Dancing is Political
The wisdom of a Muslim sage
Searching for Alternative Ways of Practicing Islam
Muslims as allies for LGBT community
The Challenge for Muslim Communities
Introducing LGBTQ Lecture Series
More on Panentheism
Panentheism offers a philosophically viable alternative to the image of God (1) as a holy warrior who is almost always angry and who inspires hatred in his followers, and (2) as a cosmic moralist who is frightened by the prospect that somewhere, somehow, some people might be having fun. In pan-en-theism God's primary aim is to promote the enjoyment of creatures, including the highest form of enjoyment, which is love. God beckons us to love people, animals, and the earth -- and likes a good party, too.
For the festive side of God. see Rabbi Bradley Artson's The Hidden Holiness of the Secular New Year and Finding Your Inner Banjo. I will focus on the violence.
Some people think of God on the analogy of a male political ruler who presides over his subjects, issuing commands and threatening reward and judgment. The philosopher Alfred North Whitehead once observed that this involves rendering unto God that which belongs to Caesar. Sometimes this monarchical image of God is accompanied by images of war. The divine Caesar is envisioned as a holy warrior who fights evil with evil, enjoying the vengeance he reaps upon others. Those who fight in the name of this divine Caesar then imagine themselves as on His side, sharing in the vengeance. They feel happy -- as if they have accomplished something for the world and for God -- when others suffer.
Another and alternative way to think of God is intimated in the selection from Acts offered above. In this way of thinking, God is imagined on the analogy of an encompassing and inclusive receptacle -- filled with compassion -- within which all living beings live and move and have their being. This way of thinking about God is sometimes called pan-en-theism, because it emphasizes that all things are "in" God, even as God is more than all things added together. It envisions God, not on the analogy of Caesar, but on the analogy of a spacious and inclusive heart.
In this more pan-en-theistic perspective, God is equally present to all things, just like the ocean is equally present to all fish in the sea. This means that there is nowhere where God is not "always already present." God is "always already present" in Iraq and the United States, in North Korea and in South Korea, in India and in Pakistan, and in many other parts of the world besides. God is everywhere at once, and never reducible to a being among beings in the sky.
How is God present? In two ways: as an indwelling lure toward nonviolent love relative to the situation at hand and as a great compassion who "feels the feelings" of all living beings as those feelings occur, sharing in their joys and sufferings.
In times threatened by violence, the pan-en-theistic perspective can be especially helpful. It suggests that even God suffers from the violence, sharing in the suffering of people on both sides. And it suggests that God is within all people, all over the world, as an indwelling lure toward nonviolence.
Moreover, pan-en-theism suggests that God needs the world for God's will to be accomplished. Just as fish in the ocean have some degree of freedom from the presence of the ocean, such that they can move in this way or that way, so pan-en-theism suggests that human beings have some degree of freedom from God, such that they can act in this way or that. The calling of God within the human heart requires cooperation, on the part of human beings, for its very fulfillment. Without that cooperation there will be tragedy, even in God.
When humans cooperate with the indwelling lure of God, what does it look like? The greatest peacemaker of the last century -- Mahatma Gandhi -- called it "peace." This peace is not simply the absence of violence, it is the presence of joy and mutually enhancing relationships. Whatever words we use, one thing is clear. Today there is a deep desire for this kind of peace to emerge on our planet. All over the planet people want to live lightly on the earth and gently with each other, even as their leaders may sometimes wish otherwise. From the perspective of pan-en-theism, their desire for peace and love is not simply human. It is also divine. It is the very life of God, within each human heart, praying that the will of God might be done on earth as it is in heaven. It is up to us -- all of us -- that this prayer be realized.
-- Jay McDaniel
For Further Reflection
Some people might think that the world is divided into two types of people: those who believe in God and those who do not. But the truth is that the vast majority of people in the world lie somewhere in between. They -- we -- believe that there may be some kind of higher power or ultimate force but we're not sure what it is and don't worry a lot about it most of the time. It is primarily philosophers and theologians -- and religious fanatics -- who want to get very clear about God. The rest of us are at home with uncertainty. Still, there are times when problematic images of God -- God as Holy Warrior and Cosmic Moralist -- so prevail in the public imagination that alternative images are needed. This is where process theology is especially helpful. If you are interested in learning more about the way of thinking about God described above, you might try:
- Loving Abba: Reclaiming a Personal God without all the Baggage by John B. Cobb, Jr.
- God Almighty? No Way! by Rabbi Bradley Artson
- A Different and More Loving God: Imagining God as Love with Help from Thomas Oord
- Panentheism: The Universe as God's Body by Jay McDaniel
- Muhammad Iqbal's Concept of God by Farhan Shah
- The Presence of God in Animals by Bruce Epperly
- Van Gogh's God by Patricia Adams Farmer
- Love's Oblivion: Mary Annoints Jesus' Feet by Teri Daily
- God as Misshapen Zuchini Loaf: Metaphors for God
- Judaism, Love and Justice by Rabbi Bradley Artson