Religions aren't all saying the same thing, but they share glimpses of the many sides of God and point to an ultimate shared project. Join Scott Langdon as he connects Dr. Jerry L. Martin and Dr. Richard Oxenberg for a profound philosophical and spiritual dialogue from the series Two Philosophers Wrestle With God, Dialogue 10- The Essential Project Of The Divine.
Dr. Jerry L. Martin is a philosopher and author of the true story God: An Autobiography, As Told To A Philosopher, and is the founding chairman of the Theology Without Walls group at the American Academy of Religion.
Dr. Richard Oxenberg is a professor at Endicott College and has published several articles on ethics and theology, including his book: On The Meaning Of Human Being: Heidegger And The Bible In Dialogue.
Read God: An Autobiography, As Told To A Philosopher.
Begin the dramatic adaptation of God: An Autobiography, As Told To A Philosopher
Related Episodes: [Two Philosophers Wrestle With God] Eastern Religions [Part 1] [Part 2]; World Religions [Part 1] [Part 2]
Quoted Episodes From [Dramatic Adaptation] 18. God Explains Polytheism In A Way I Understand| 32. God Explains Buddha| 39. Upset By God, I Stop Praying| 40. God Explains Infinite Worlds And Their Purpose
Related Content: [Video] If God Spoke Today, What Would He Say?
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 97.
Scott Langdon [00:01:09] Hello and welcome to Episode 97 of God: An Autobiography, The Podcast. I'm your host, Scott Langdon. We return this week to our series Where Two Philosophers Wrestle With God for part one of the tenth dialogue between doctors Jerry Martin and Richard Oxenberg. In dialogues eight and nine, Jerry and Richard talked about what God was up to in the religious traditions of the East and the West. Here, in dialogue number ten, they focused their discussion on tying it all together, revealing God's essential project. So, here is part one of dialogue number ten, we're calling the Essential Project of the Divine. I hope you enjoy the episode. We begin with Jerry speaking first.
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:02:00] What is our topic today, Richard Oxenberg?
Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:02:04] Well, I thought that the last two sessions we did sort of looked at the Western religions and then the Eastern religious side, and one of the basic themes of the book is that all the religions are expressions in a sense of the one project. Right? The essential project of the Divine.
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:02:26] Yes. Yes.
Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:02:28] And, so, what I thought we might try to do today is to sort of pull it all together and see how the different religions-- first of all, identify this single project, in some sense, and then talk about how the different religions are expressions of that one project.
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:02:48] Yes.
Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:02:49] That's what I thought might be an interesting thing for us to work on today.
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:02:54] Yes. What puzzled me at the beginning when I was told to go read these foundational scriptures of different traditions, and you know, why, what are we doing here, what will we learn? But, then it does all give them some preview of what it might come to, but it all becomes much clearer as the story unfolds, and how the divine manifests Itself in these multiple ways.
Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:03:21] Yeah, yeah. And of course, you know, what's really interesting about it is that it leads to this notion that there can be a harmony of the different religions. That we can see them not as rivals and competitors, but as, in some sense, harmonious. I think the way it's put in the book is different pieces of a bigger puzzle.
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:03:47] Yeah. And it's different from some other similarly nice visions' understandings, because it does not require that they all say the same thing.
Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:03:57] Right.
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:03:58] And it explains why it's important and valuable that they don't all say the same thing. Most people trying to, you know, with this intuitive sense that you have when you do a serious study of the religions, they do seem to echo each other in certain ways. Yet you look up close, and each one has its own quite different vocabulary, rituals, theologies, you know, and so forth.
Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:04:23] And different emphases.
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:04:25] Different emphases.
Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:04:26] Different emphases. That's right. I mean, you can almost find everything in each one of them if you look hard enough.
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:04:32] Yes, that's right.
Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:04:33] Emphasized, differently.
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:04:35] Very much emphasized differently. Yeah.
Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:04:38] So, anyway, I thought we might begin by just looking at a quote that had always sort of, I have always thought as at the very center of this whole book.
Dr. Jerry L. Martin Okay.
Dr. Richard Oxenberg And, you know, it's what the Atman, you're speaking to the Atman of God, which I guess, the Atman of God is also called the God beyond God. Right? Originally, I think He'd named the God beyond God, and then when you get into the whole discussion about the Atman, He takes on this other synonymous name.
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:05:04] And it's and it's the God, as you pointed out, more, I guess I sort of knew this, that it's the God who at the beginning of the book, the beginning of the story of God with creation, it's the God before, you might say, before the world is created.
Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:05:23] Right. Yeah.
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:05:24] Yeah, and when there isn't much description to God, and you nicely picked up on this question, then, okay, what's going on with that, and why, you might say, is the God beyond God entering, slash, creating- entering, creating, and thereby entering our world? And it turns out other worlds as well.
Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:05:47] And here's where we get the sort of statement of the sort of basic thing that's going on.
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:05:54] Yeah.
Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:05:54] And on page 312 (episode 40), the quote is, this is the Atman of God speaking, the God beyond God speaking, "This is the ultimate story, the ultimate meaning of it all.”
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:06:04] Yeah.
Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:06:05] “I have a project to complete. It is in the nature of reality that the world, the totality of worlds plus me.” (So we're now talking about everything.) "is here for a purpose. There is a goal." And then you ask, "What is the goal?”
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:06:23] Yes.
Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:06:25] Quite a pertinent question at that moment.
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:06:26] Yes, that's a very pertinent-- I kept wanting to know what's the purpose of all this?
Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:06:30] Right? And, so, the God behind God says, "The goal is completeness. Connectedness.”
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:06:36] Yes.
Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:06:37] “To create the many, and to pull them back into the one.”
Dr. Jerry L. Martin Yes.
Dr. Richard Oxenberg So, I always thought that that was a central statement here. This is the big, grand project. Right?
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:06:48] It's the purpose of it all.
Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:06:51] It's rooted in a kind of metaphysical, just a metaphysical reality, what we might even think of as a metaphysical fact. Right? And, you know, the way that we might express it is to say that there is an original oneness. Right? That is capable, and almost in need of expressing itself in a vast multiplicity of more limited forms, and this is the many emerging out of the oneness.
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:07:25] Yes.
Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:07:26] And that very process, and maybe we'll look at some quotes a little later that expressed that, but that very process of expressing itself in this great multiplicity creates, in a sense, a problem and a challenge, a goal that then need to be resolved through bringing this great multiplicity into some kind of harmony. Right? I mean, would you. Does that sound right?
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:07:56] I want to add here that the motives of God expressing Himself, Herself, Itself is to be real. It's not just God is feeling- oh, I wish I had an audience.
Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:08:10] Right.
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:08:11] You know, like an unemployed actor. It's to be real because the state, that kind of primal state of the divine, is sometimes described as a Nothingness. It's a Nothingness full of potentiality, but there's not much going on there, a sort of placid, quiet, you know, and not quite real. That's the only way to become real, is to become particular in a world, you might say. And then I think you are going on, Richard, in a way, that seems quite right. Okay, now, there is both an actualization of the divine, but there are now challenges, there are now problems.
Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:09:02] And what we learned, which you wouldn't necessarily get from this particular quote, but what we learned throughout the course of the book--
Dr. Jerry L. Martin Yeah.
Dr. Richard Oxenberg Is that what is meant here by pulling them back into the one is not merely folding up the multiplicity of things back into the same oneness that gave birth to it all.
Dr. Jerry L. Martin Right. You're right.
Dr. Richard Oxenberg Right? It's really more like, I almost think of it as a kind of holographic image where each particular becomes aware of it being a part of the one while still retaining its particularity. And that seems to be the goal here, that's what allows everything to be brought back into the one, into a kind of harmony.
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:09:54] Yes, exactly. Yes. Yes. I often picture that when we look at those kinds of passages as if in some kind of local town event, maybe the annual town fest fair or something, everybody brings their own instruments. And some of the instruments, I don't know if you've ever seen these kinds of things, where they're not really what we think of as instruments at all. Somebody is playing a saw, or tapping on bottles of water, you know, and slapping their knees, and one has to as everybody brings their "instruments" together, you've got to somehow, you've got the diversity, everybody's got their own interesting equipment, but now, how do you make music out of it? How do you put it together into something that actually is harmonious, that makes sense? And that's the challenge of a world, because the world has that kind of diversity and even more including, I'm imagining, townspeople who mainly are well, well intentioned, but of course, some of the people who are showing up are not well intentioned. Their goal is to frustrate. So anyway, the challenge of a world is to make some harmony. Out of all that extreme diversity, and multiplicity of motives.
Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:11:08] And in some sense, you've got to maintain two awarenesses at the same time. You have to be aware of your own part, right? If you're playing the saw, you have to know how to play the saw.
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:11:17] Yeah, your own particularity.
Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:11:19] Your own particularity.
Dr. Jerry L. Martin Yeah.
Dr. Richard Oxenberg But you also have to be aware of the context in which you are expressing that particularity so that it can blend in with all the other particularities. That becomes the great challenge, and of course, that's where we can run into problems where various particularities don't blend in, and now we've got, we've got issues. So, in some sense then what we get, or what I'm reading, is that the various religions of the world as they emerge, all have as a basic central goal this bringing the particular into some sort of awareness of, and harmony with the whole. That is, if we had to say that, you know, there is one thing that religion is all about, this is what all the different religions are about. Just as they are each an attempt to bring the particular into an awareness of the whole, they each also are particulars.
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:12:37] Yes, they then themselves to mistake themselves as the whole, to think that they got all the truth, that they are the whole story of the divide. And then you have this conflict of dogmatisms, each one claiming I'm the only truth, you're falsehood, you're heresy, or whatever, you're the enemy. And part of what God: An Autobiography does is explain- oh, no, each one has picked up on one aspect of the Divine and is bringing It to actualization. But, in your terms, as one particular expression of the divine, and now at our point in time, and in light of God: An Autobiography, we have this challenge. Okay, well, what do we make then, of the many ways of being of cultures, of individuals, including of religions, that each is, as you said at the beginning of this, now we have a problem that we have a diversity of people, and cultures, and including religions, and so forth, but now we have the problem that they're so often in conflict, and often not even well-intentioned conflict.
Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:14:31] And part of that problem, has to do with a basic problem inherent to the idea of revelation. Right. Which, as I read it in the book--
Dr. Jerry L. Martin Yes.
Dr. Richard Oxenberg Is God is limited in His, Her, Its capacity to reveal Himself by the limitations of those to whom He is revealing Himself.
Dr. Jerry L. Martin Yes.
Dr. Richard Oxenberg In other words, the electromagnetic spectrum can only reveal itself to our senses, in accordance with what our particular senses are able to pick up of it.
Dr. Jerry L. Martin Yes.
Dr. Richard Oxenberg There's a big spectrum beyond what our senses can register.
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:15:22] Yes. And some other creatures, bats, and whatever can register other, and dogs with their acute hearing can register things that we don't register.
Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:15:34] We might say something similar about Revelation, that each different culture, each different epoch. In a sense, is able to pick up different things about the divine, and that is what in some sense accounts for the great diversity of religion.
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:15:54] Yes.
Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:15:54] That we see.
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:15:56] One tends to talk in terms of limitations, and God certainly does talk in those terms, but it's also, I often think of something like empowerments. You might say, you know, any one mode of music is limited to that mode of music to a string quartet or something, can only do what string quartets do. That's the way to empower that kind of music. If things can only become actual through these particular mediums, and what God says about cultures is that each culture has certain talents, concepts, affinities, such that, you might say, virtually evokes an aspect. I'm not using language from the book exactly, but virtually evokes an aspect of the divine.
Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:16:51] Yeah. That's interesting, and of course, that would go hand in hand with the idea that God's revelation to human beings, that's an interesting sort of twist in the book, God's revelation to human beings, is in some sense, dependent upon the human being's awareness that God becomes aware of God as the human being becomes aware of God. there's this dialectical process going on.
Dr. Jerry L. Martin Yes. Right.
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:17:25] The human beings almost evoke that aspect.
Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:17:29] Right. Right. Right.
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:17:32] Which means actualized is Itself only at that moment.
Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:17:36] It's not quite as simple as one person speaking to another person.
Dr. Jerry L. Martin Right.
Dr. Richard Oxenberg In the way that we think of it. It's not one person giving information to another person. It's a kind of process of discovery.
Dr. Jerry L. Martin Yes, right.
Dr. Richard Oxenberg The human being discovers, and as the human being discovered, the divine, in a sense discovers Itself through that discovery.
Dr. Jerry L. Martin Right.
Dr. Richard Oxenberg And an interesting quote on page 301. God is speaking now of the revelation that He gives to you.
Dr. Jerry L. Martin Right.
Dr. Richard Oxenberg Which I guess fits into this whole pattern in an interesting way.
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:18:13] Yeah–
Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:18:16] Right. (Episode 39) He says, "I manifest myself to you in a limited way. Each particular manifestation is limited. You should never assume that this simple, conversational person is all there is to me. I also light the stars and move the heavens. I generate matter and motion. I draw life forward toward its end and many more things."
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:18:40] Yes.
Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:18:40] In effect, in reading the book, we're getting itself a kind of limited, narrow band, you know, that expresses itself in this particular way. We should not take that to be definitive of what God is definitively the only window.
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:19:03] So we may be definitive without being the only truth about God. We can now use the word of definity, but it doesn't cast doubt on it, other than there are other ways of telling God's story too that God did not share with me, and that might have equal validity.
Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:19:23] It's a window. It's like they are all these different windows into which, or through which, we can see aspects of the divine.
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:19:33] Yes.
Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:19:33] And they're all valid in some sense, and they're all limited in some sense. Right? And in a sense, we need to be aware of both of those things. And so another quote from Page 90, and this sort of says it all in the big, broad sense.
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:19:50] Yes.
Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:19:52] (Episode 18) "I came to all people, but arrived in different guises. I came to the American Indians as the Great Spirit, to the Muslims as Allah, and so on. I came to the Hindus in many forms, and hence their many stories.” So, once again, we get this notion, now, as you said at the beginning, the Great Spirit is not Brahman, and Brahman is not Allah.
Dr. Jerry L. Martin Right
Dr. Richard Oxenberg It's not as if they're all just saying the same thing.
Dr. Jerry L. Martin No.
Dr. Richard Oxenberg But they are each windows into a divine truth that somehow transcends all of them.
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:20:37] And actualized by them. You know, that aspect of the divine becomes real at the time of the revelation, you might say, or through the revelation.
Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:20:54] Yeah, and that's also an interesting point, because it's related to the whole notion that the original divine unity is impelled in some sense to express Itself, and even fulfill Itself through the various particularizations that are possible for It.
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:21:17] Yes.
Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:21:17] So that, it's not simply that these different religions are limited windows into a greater whole, that it would be better for us to get to it, if only we could get to that greater whole we could do away with all the other religions. It's almost as if the different religions are different, to put it this way, different dances.
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:21:41] Yeah.
Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:21:41] That one can do in relation to the divine, and each dance has its own beauty, and its own value, and its own validity in itself. Does that seem to make sense?
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:21:54] That's one metaphor, each dance would express one aspect of the divine. And there will be new dances that express new, you might say, emerging aspects of the divine. Not a static picture at all, and so it's hard to know what metaphor to use, but it's better to think of some dynamic metaphor than just a static thing. We're looking through a window as if, well, if we stuck our head out the window, we could see all around 360 degrees or something. No, it's not like that. The reality of God is emerging through these interactions, through these reactions of cultures. So God is expressing the God's self. The cultures are receptive to parts and are reacting to aspects of the God's self that God had not realized. And so, you know, oh, here they are, and so He says, you know, "I started giving laws to the ancient people of Israel and became a lawgiver." It kind of like a new thing, He had not-- God sets norms in every culture, but not necessarily as commandments, you know, Ten Commandments. But God discovered that aspect of God's reality.
Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:23:24] And even at one point, He says, which I also found interesting, there's a quote from 243 (Episode 32), "You relate to me personally and see the other revelations as glosses on that experience." You know, on that experience of there's I thou person to person relationship, but they could just as well see your relation to a personal God as a gloss on Brahman or Buddha or the Tao.
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:23:52] Yes.
Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:23:53] In other words, it's not that one is more valid than the other. It's that each of them are valid--
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:24:02] Completely valid, presumably, or valid enough. They're genuine expressions of the divine and the whole book God: An Autobiography is dialogues of me and God. You know, I pray about text but then I ask God, what does this mean? What are You doing then? And I don't do anything Daoist, myself, other than read the text, and then pray. What does this mean? What was going on, and what was God doing vis-a-vis the Daoist, the Buddhist, etc. So, I asked that, but it's difficult because how much empathy can one person have to kind of think, oh, well, okay, this personal God, as experienced by Jerry and many other people, and central to certain religions, major religions, isn't at all the only aspect of the Divine, may not be the most important aspect of the divine, at least at an equally valid tradition other things are more important, and would be maybe a bit thrown off by overdoing the personal side. It seems that one condition tends to have some point at which they allow a personal dimension to the divine, at some point in their development, or some stream of thinking in that religion–
Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:25:33] But again, they're both, right?
Dr. Jerry L. Martin Yeah
Dr. Richard Oxenberg This is what we were saying earlier, that it's so much a question of emphasis. Because you can find a kind of mystical, a movement toward something like mystical union in the Western religions, and certain branches of the Western religion. But that's not what's emphasized. What's emphasized in the Western religion is the person to person relationship. But that tends not to be what gets emphasized. It emphasizes what is beyond the person to person, and it seems as if what we have to say, or at least in my mind, what we have to say, is that the actual reality of the divine is beyond both of these things, in some sense, and capable of manifesting Itself in this way, and in that way, but is somehow not fully expressed in either one of those ways.
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:26:34] Yeah, I tend not to talk that way, but it's for philosophical reasons. Some philosophers like to always find that behind the phenomena, there's some other reality that's somehow already had them all or something. Well, we've already discussed they weren't already there. It's certainly the divine has all these potentials, but I tend to see it from the other side. These are the actualization of the divine. You know. The religions are apprehending them. This is the divine, and the divine has these multiple aspects. It's not that they are hints or partial about something else, what would that other thing be? So, but anyway, that's the sort of philosophers talk about things either ways, and we're not interested in those ancient debates. So, put it either way, and I'll be happy.
Scott Langdon [00:27:53] 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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.