Analytical and energetic dialogues of philosophical and spiritual discussion between Dr. Jerry L. Martin and Dr. Richard Oxenberg about God: An Autobiography, As Told To A Philosopher. A profound conversation of philosophy, sciences, and religion daring to consider God's perspective in the series Two Philosophers Wrestle With God. The third dialogue covers purpose.
Richard Oxenberg received his PH.D. in Philosophy from Emory University in 2002, with a concentration in Ethics and Philosophy of Religion. He has written and published numerous articles on these subjects, many of which are available online. His book: On the Meaning of Human Being: Heidegger and the Bible in Dialogue, was published by Political Animal Press in 2018. Richard currently teaches at Endicott College in Beverly, MA.
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Related Episodes: [Two Philosophers Wrestle With God] The Big Picture [Part 1] [Part 2]; The Nature Of Divine Reality [Part 1] [Part 2]; Purpose [Part 1] [Part 2]; Revelation [Part 1] [Part 2]; Jerry's Story [Part 1] [Part 2]
Scott Langdon [00:00:17] This is God: An Autobiography, The Podcast. A dramatic adaptation and continuing discussion of the book God: An Autobiography, As Told To A Philosopher by Jerry L. Martin. He was a lifelong agnostic, but one day he had an occasion to pray. To his vast surprise, God answered- in words. Being a philosopher, he had a lot of questions, and God had a lot to tell him. Episode 65. Hello and welcome to Episode 65 of God: An Autobiography, The Podcast. I'm your host, Scott Langdon. This week we continue with our series Where Two Philosophers Wrestle With God. With episode 65, we bring you part one of the third conversation between Dr. Richard Oxenberg and Dr. Jerry L. Martin as they discuss Jerry’s book on which this podcast is based- God: An Autobiography, As Told To A Philosopher. Today, Richard and Jerry talk more deeply about the purpose of God's revelation to Jerry and why God wanted Jerry to tell God's story. If you have any questions or comments about this or any other episode, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. I hope you enjoy the episode. We begin with Jerry speaking first.
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:02:03] Well, hello, Richard Oxenberg. Are we ready to continue our discussion of God: an Autobiography?
Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:02:09] Yes. I'm looking forward to it. And so I thought what we would focus on today is how you see and how God expresses the purpose of this revelation. The question that I was framing in my mind, was in some sense, if we look at the various revelatory communication that God has made over the course of history, each one is in response to a problem that needs to be addressed in some sense. And I'm wondering if maybe we could articulate if there is a way of doing that of what is the problem that this revelatory communication is there to respond to, to put it that way?
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:02:53] Yeah, well it probably isn't a single problem. As I look through the book of, you might say what's new here and what are the surprising or leading messages, there are any number of things one might pick up. But, you recall at the beginning I was told from God to Jerry. I want you to tell my story. And of course, at first I say, well, hasn't it been told already? I'm thinking mainly given my background of the Bible. Yes, but it needs to be told again and in a different way. And the two reasons, one had to do with the state of religiosity in the world today, that the old religions are kind of falling apart. Some don't have the authority that they used to have for people. And a lot of people are just turning away from religion altogether and into various modes of spirituality that are themselves all over the place. A kind of anything goes and that's not a rigidity. A rigid religious framework is not adequate, but anything goes is not a serious spiritual life at all. So that's one problem. And the other was well, a lot has happened since then. And in fact, God says he's evolved. He, she, it, well we won't worry about the pronouns. But God has evolved since then. And a surprising concept to me at that time when I was first given this marching order. But, and then as I began to look around at the world's spiritual situation, if you ask what I take personally to be the main new thrust. 0ne - Is that God is really, really personal. Which means that God really actually wants things of us and that God, in other words, cares about our lives and our actions, what we're doing in a personal way, like a parent for a child or a friend, one good friend for another. And, umm, and the God really, really loves us. And that's not love is a metaphor or some odd and analogical concept. God really loves us. So that the one the most shocking statements in the book shocking me at the time is God's telling me, get more anthropomorphic. And everything we're taught by the philosophers in high theology is to get less anthropomorphic. And we understand some point to that. God isn't walking around on two legs and so forth, even though various religions and myths and so forth have scenes like that. The old man in the sky with a big, long beard and might sit on a throne, that kind of anthropomorphism. But the part that I take it that met his get more anthropomorphic in the sense that we're made in God's image, meaning God is a lot like us. And, you know, we have loves and God has loves. And we want certain things to happen and so does God. So I think that to be one of the main things. And the other is, as you know, I was led to read the ancient scriptures, various traditions and to pray about them. And the story was that God was acting in different ways through the different cultures, including some that don't have current major religions, the ancient Egyptians and so forth. And so I prayed about those. And it was basically the question was, God, what were you up to with the Egyptians, the Israelites, the Chinese, et cetera, et cetera? And there's a big story there of God acting in different ways, showing different sides of God's self through different cultures and developing in the process. I take that to be some of the kind of main things going on here. But there are others one could emphasize.
Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:07:01] Yeah, yeah. I find the whole interest and the idea of they get more anthropomorphic as I read through the book, to be itself somewhat paradoxical.
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:07:14] Yes. Yes.
Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:07:15] Because God is, it's almost as if the, our, conception of the form of the human being has to broaden and change in order to take into account what we're learning in the book so that I'm getting more anthropomorphic, we're at the same time expanding or modifying our conception of what the anthropomorphic is.
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:07:42] Yeah, that's a wonderful insight, Richard.
Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:07:44] And there's a kind of strange dialectic between God and the human being.
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:07:47] Yes.
Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:07:48] Both of whom, as you as it's presented, are somehow not only evolving together, but evolving in dependency upon one another.
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:08:04] Yes.
Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:08:06] God said this in so many words that human evolution, spiritual evolution is dependent upon the human relationship with God and God who calls himself an evolving God, right?
Dr. Jerry L. Martin Yes.
Dr. Richard Oxenberg That His evolution is dependent upon the recognition of human beings.
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:08:28] Yes.
Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:08:29] And that was one of the more...
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:08:31] God is reacting.
Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:08:32] An enigmatic . . . quotes from the book where God says that "actually I evolved in response to the human recognition of this." How do you understand that? I mean that...
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:08:47] I've told earlier when I have no means for making sense of it at all, I'm asking - "I wonder if you're God why does it matter to you, this eternal self-sufficient being? Why should it matter to you whether human beings pay any attention or not?" And God says to me and enigmatically, I say, "Is human recognition important to you?" "Yes.", God replies, "it is essential to my being.".
Dr. Richard Oxenberg Yeah, yeah.
Dr. Jerry L. Martin So you know that the deep cooperative relationship, interactive relationship, when we respond to God, we respond in a way that makes God aware of the aspect of the divine to which we are responding in a particular way. So when the Chinese, for example, respond to the ultimate in terms of a kind of cosmic harmony, God sort of notices that - oh, that's right. And becomes more of a cosmic harmony, sort of rises to that recognition much the way happens with human beings. You find yourself in the leadership of group and you realize, well, they do have leadership abilities I didn't know. And you actually become a better leader as you now recognize that in yourself. So there are those interactions of just that sort between us and God.
Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:10:12] Yeah, um. Yeah, and it's you know, exactly how to sort all this out is I'm still in the process of trying to figure it out. In the sense that the intimate connection between the nature of God and the nature of human beings, in which I have come to think of as the participatory nature of God.
Dr. Jerry L. Martin Yes.
Dr. Richard Oxenberg The God who is revealed in this book is a God that is fully engaged in and participating with the evolutionary process.
Dr. Jerry L. Martin Yes.
Dr. Richard Oxenberg And the process of the development of life and God who is engaged in it, not only in the sense of being united with it in some sense, but also caring about it.
Dr. Jerry L. Martin Yes.
Dr. Richard Oxenberg Needing this evolutionary process to take place in a certain way in order to fulfill the longings and needs, desires of God. So there is this constant dialectical process that's going on. Right down to the life of the individual. Yes, as a matter of fact, you know, I wrote a couple of quotes here. I don't know if I can find that right now. But yes, I mean, God says that, you know, each individual is someone who God is engaged in, right? And that is both ends of anthropomorphic and not anthropomorphic because none of us can be engaged in other people in the way that the God of this book speaks of being engaged in everything. In other words we try and conceptualize what such a being would be like? You don't get well, just sort of like a human being.
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:11:50] No, no.
Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:12:25] God speaks of being... I thought one of the more notable quotes in the book was when God said that we're on the verge of a new Axial Age. And so what do you understand that to mean? What is this new Axial Age that we're entering upon?
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:12:44] We stand on the verge of a new era of spiritual development, something like a new Axial Age. And I think what was the old Axial Age, its term put forth by the philosopher Karl Jaspers around the late 1940s to designate the remarkable time in human history when within a period of about a 500 year give or take span, you have all these kind of religious figures cropping up, Confucius and the Buddha. And I don't know what the timing would work out; Moses and Jesus are pretty far apart. But and Socrates and other wisdom figures in different cultures cropping up and transforming human understanding of the meaning of life and the meaning of the universe. You know, engaging a much larger and deeper understanding than ever before. And it's remarkable transition in human consciousness. And so God is telling me here that in some way analogous to that remarkable, transformative step forward in human consciousness,we're on the verge of a similar step forward, which seems to be connected with, the very phenomenon that I've been let through reading the different scriptures and finding out what God was up to and what's true and each or what they kind of got wrong or overemphasized or neglected. It's not simply an endorsement of every religion that came along, but it's here's what God was actually trying to achieve in this or that venue of human culture. And, um, and once you think start thinking about the divine, not in terms of my religion, your religion, this religion, that religion, ones that are alive, ones that are dead, you know, this kind of as if God is contained within the frame of a religion. And it's not really that God stands outside of all that and some abstract universe, but that God is showing God's self differentially through the different religions. And, uh, and that's really a dramatic new way of understanding the divine.
Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:15:06] Yeah. Yeah. And this is related to, um let me see if I can find this quote, because I think it's important. This is part of the book where you're speaking to what you come to call the "God beyond God".
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:15:14] Yes. Yes.
Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:15:16] And the "God beyond God", says to you the goal, the ultimate goal you're asking for, the ultimate goal of the universe,
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:15:24] Yeah, right, right.
Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:15:25] "is completeness, connectedness, create the many and pull them back into the one.” Right? And then in another place, it said, "the point of reality is to produce a complex, integrated whole diffused with spirit, reflecting a fully developed God." And it just occurred to me, as I was reading this in the context of our discussion of what the revelatory, what the purpose of revelation of this revelation is.
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:15:56] Yes.
Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:15:57] That the whole Theology Without Walls project. . .
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:16:01] Yeah. I was told in light of this God experience through the different cultures, start a new theological project called Theology Without Walls. And I've done that. And it's received considerable interest.
Dr. Richard Oxenberg Yes, yes. And so that's promising. As far as the new Axial Age. There does seem to be an opening of mind in this direction.
Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:16:29] Yes. And it seems to fit very well within this general goal. Right. The general notion that the nature of reality is to, first of all, express itself in difference right? In all the different forms of different that it is capable of and then somehow integrating the difference into a kind of complex but harmonious wholeness.
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:16:58] Yes.
Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:16:59] And in some sense, the Theology Without Walls project, It seems to me, is an attempt to do that with respect to religion itself. Right? To both acknowledge the differences and all of the different religions. While again these religions, as we all know, have been in contention with one another.
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:17:24] And they are genuinely different. There are people who try to . . .There are people who like to say, I think it makes them feel better if they can say, all the religions say the same thing.
Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:17:35] The same thing.
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:17:36] You do that only if you iron them out, you might say. And get rid of all of the wrinkles. In full body of reality, they're very different. And in articulated forms of there, they're different in the ways, the very ways most important to the participants in those religions. They would not be happy to have this ironed out version so that the Buddhist is saying the same thing as the Southern Baptist and vice versa. But the way you've expressed it, Richard, I think is the view, vision, God is giving me. Which is of enormous diversity and particularity. The particulars never disappear in some kind of universal scheme or put things in the blender and they all look alike. It's quite the opposite. It's a very complex but orchestrated in the end, it's not orchestra yet; that's part of what we're doing is kind of working toward that unity as though you had several different bands come together. At first there are discordant. And you're trying to get them not to play exactly the same, but to play in ways consistent with one another,.
Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:18:54] In ways that harmonize with one another, to, in a sense, make a greater whole then we'd make alone. And I think one of the metaphors you've used to express this or that gets used in the book is the notion of different pieces of a puzzle. Both are different, but that can be put together into a greater whole. Doesn't homogenize them all into ...They don't all become the same piece.
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:19:20] Right, right, right.
Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:19:21] They fit together in a way that is a more complete whole. And it seems to me that this is one of the major thrusts of the revelation.
Dr. Jerry L. Martin Yeah.
Dr. Jerry L. Martin That now I am presenting myself as the divine reality behind all of human spirituality.
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:19:41] Yes.
Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:19:43] And so the question to be asked is now which of the religions is right? But what is right about each of the religions?
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:19:50] Exactly, that's wonderfully framed. Yes.
Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:19:52] And if religious people, which God asking that kind of question, they would both have a different, I guess, a different conception of their own relationship to their own religion. Even conception of their relationship to the world religions, that itself might make for a higher, I guess... Move us up in the spiritual ladder.
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:20:18] Just exactly. levels of understanding and levels of spiritual being. You might say. I ask at one point, does this mean the old religions will, you know, have to fade away or something? And so, no, not at all. God actually uses the metaphor of a division of labor. There can be a division of labor. We can all do the same thing. But you need people like for one aspect of the divine you need people like Buddhist monks who go off and do nothing but meditate and... But that's not the whole of the world's business. You also need people you know, part of the task to the ancient people of Israel was to be kind of partners with God in history. Well, you need people doing that. You need people like Dorothy Day worried about, you know, feeding the poor. There are a lot of things to be done. A lot of aspects of God to be actualized. And so you need that diversity to go on. And it's perfectly fine. The difference is that each one, Dorothy Day, the Southern Baptists, the Buddhists, the whatever the Hindu, the Jew will realize that they're not the only story. They're not . . . what they're doing, which may be what God wants them to do, is nevertheless not the only divine task. The only aspect of the divine reality.
Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:21:42] Yeah. Yeah. I've got an interesting . . .Thought maybe I'd read this one quote. Something of this. This, I believe, is God speaking. "The same theological truth can be celebrated and lived in different ways. The division of labor…”
Dr. Jerry L. Martin Yes.
Dr. Richard Oxenberg “Among different religions can even continue. People selecting the vocation that fits their talents or history or calling, but understanding it in a new way, not as the exclusive path, but as an essential path contributing to the whole."
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:22:15] Yes.
Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:22:16] And that's a wonderful quote.
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:22:18] Yes. Yes. That sums it up there. God sums it up for me.
Scott Langdon [00:22:38] Thank you for listening. To God: An Autobiography, The Podcast. Subscribe for free today wherever you listen to your podcasts and hear a new episode every week. You can hear the complete dramatic adaptation of God: An Autobiography, As Told To A Philosopher by Jerry L. Martin, by beginning with episode one of our podcast and listening through its conclusion with Episode 44. You can read the original true story in the book from which this podcast is adapted. God: An Autobiography, As Told To A Philosopher, available now at Amazon.com, and always at godanautobiography.com. Pick up your own copy today. If you have any questions about this or any other episode, please email us at email@example.com and experience the world from God's perspective as it was told to a philosopher. This is Scott Langdon. I'll see you next time.