GOD: An Autobiography, As Told to a Philosopher - The Podcast

117. Scott Interviews Richard and Jerry | Series: Two Philosophers Wrestle With God | Final Dialogue [Part 2]

March 09, 2023 Jerry L. Martin, Scott Langdon, Richard Oxenberg
GOD: An Autobiography, As Told to a Philosopher - The Podcast
117. Scott Interviews Richard and Jerry | Series: Two Philosophers Wrestle With God | Final Dialogue [Part 2]
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Dr. Jerry L. Martin gives a very special announcement in a touching sign off for the praised series: Two Philosophers Wrestle With God.

Join us for the final episode concluding the celebrated series featuring a years-long dialogue between two philosophers. Explore themes of paradox, ontology, theology and epistemology in this discussion on God and the great meaning found in the adventure of life.

MEET THE GUESTS- Dr. Richard Oxenberg

FIND THE SITES- Theology Without Walls | What is God: An Autobiography

BUY THE BOOKS- God: An Autobiography, As Told To A Philosopher | Theology Without Walls: The Transreligious Imperative | On The Meaning Of Human Being: Heidegger And The Bible In Dialogue

LISTEN TO RELEVANT EPISODES- [Two Philosophers Wrestle With God] Scott Interviews Richard and Jerry [Part 1]; How To Live [Part 1] [Part 2]

-Share your story or experience with God-

God: An Autobiography, As Told To A Philosopher, is written by Dr. Jerry L. Martin, an agnostic philosopher who heard the voice of God and recorded their conversations.

The podcast began with the Dramatic Adaptation of the book and now has several series:

WATCH- Does God Really Love Us? 

#twophilosopherswrestlewithgod, #philosophyandreligion, #godanautobiography, #experiencegod

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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 117.

Scott Langdon [00:01:09] Hello and welcome to episode 117 of God: An Autobiography, The Podcast. I'm Scott Langdon. And today, as we bring our dialogue series Two Philosophers Wrestle With God to a close. We return for part two of my discussion with doctors Jerry Martin and Richard Oxenberg. Turning their conversations into a set of 12 dialogues has been an amazing education in philosophy and theology for me and the team here at the podcast. And this series has been such a joy to work on. The good news is, even though the dialogues are finished here on the podcast, they're not exactly gone for good. Make sure you listen all the way to the end of this episode for Jerry to make a big announcement. For now, let's get back to my conversation with Jerry and Richard. I hope you enjoy the episode.

Scott Langdon [00:02:00] One of the things that I discovered is that God was working with me using the tools that I have. Where I was when I first encountered Jerry and the book and this project was, you know, looking for a job and looking for a job with purpose and something that, you know, stimulated me. Here were two retired philosophy professors and I could come and work for them and sort of sit at their feet and ask them questions as a side hustle- like that was awesome! What a great idea! And but when everything sort of started to come together and we came to the idea for the podcast and then I was digging into the material and I started to realize that as I was portraying Jerry and Jerry was portraying, if you will, the voice of God, that it was sort of this one step back, sort of meta version in a sense, because I was playing Jerry, and Jerry playing the voice of God it was like Scott was hearing God.

Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:03:05] Oh. Hmm. Yes.

Scott Langdon [00:03:05] Does that make sense? So, in a similar way that-- in a similar way that Jerry had his experience where he was doing his thing and God spoke to him and communicated an intention and Jerry back and forth, I felt like I was having that in the personhood of Jerry that I could enter as an actor. And then Jerry was facilitating God. And I know there is a-- there's a layer there, it seems. But being engaged in it in that way, not only did I just-- I mean, I understood that Jerry was Jerry and giving, you know, playing the voice of God, if you will. But yet what I internalized was a life altering moment and continuation of moments that I believe was God speaking to me. Does that make sense to you in a way?

Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:03:56] That made perfect sense to me because I think that we all have a longing for God. You know, I think it's just the way that we're built. And what does that mean? What's that longing for some kind of universal connection. Connection to what is fundamental in being and in reality. And that's one of the things that's so compelling about Jerry's book is that God is speaking to us. It almost you know, it almost might not matter that much what He's saying, just as long as it's not really nasty. You know, just the fact that He's speaking to you is itself the message. Right? I mean, the message is in the fact that speaking to you makes you personally feel connected. And I think almost-- and I can completely understand that I've done some acting myself in my time. And so, when you get into the character, right, you can you know, there's a part of you that is always in that character that you're playing. Yeah, I think that to feel addressed by God in that way and I'm not sure I have, but I can certainly imagine how it would be a very, very powerful experience.

Scott Langdon [00:05:31] So Jerry, when we were doing the audio adaptation of the book and you were playing the Voice of God, there was a sense in which, you know, you were trying to get the words out, you know, as accurately and as truthfully as possible. And so, you were voicing the voice of God, as you heard it. In the dialogues with Richard, you're now talking about that experience. And it's almost like in the third person kind of way because, you know, God was talking and you're telling Richard what you had heard in that way. And it's different than the podcast where you are being the voice of God. What was it like doing the dialogues and talking about the experience that you had?

Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:06:14] Well, I don't know if this is a trait of personality or from being a trained philosopher, but I always look at what I have been told as if it's a text I'm encountering. I mean, I lived it and so I have it from the inside. But I always think, here are all the things I've been told, now what do I make of those? And in part, what is my skeptical side's make of it? My doubting side philosophers are trained to doubt and to question. So, what does that side make of it? There's the intellectual side, the various things, I believe- how is this going to relate to the other things? My own cognitive impulses, you might say, instincts to believe this, that, and the other to conceptualize the world a certain way. One thing may be relevant here is that I always try to avoid being what I call the theologian of the book. These are revelations to Jerry. Jerry is reporting them. Jerry is not creating them. Jerry is reporting them. And as I mentioned, when I quote God, I don't even correct the grammar. It's exactly as I was told. And I'm told all kinds of things. And any logical interpretation I give, I recently had occasion to play some of it out, but it's going to be a partial understanding. Like when you read biblical theology, that's one person who has drawn out certain themes that struck that person as important in the Bible. Someone else comes along not actually contradicting the first one but emphasizing a different set of themes. And I very much had that experience with Richard. Richard read the book in a very different way. And yet in every case, cited chapter and verse in the book. So, these were things I was told. If I were telling it, I would-- Richard, of course, was more interested in the question of how revelation works than I was. I simply said early on, who knows the physics of divine voices. And since I had the concrete experience that sort of seemed to be all I needed. But of course, Richard, standing outside this experience, very curious about, as Richard said, Jeremiah, Issiah, Mohammed and all these characters, how does that work? How does that work? Does God speak American English quite the way Jerry does. And I was always aware I'm the instrument for this, and God at one point said I had to go read some things. So then I started on the ancient scriptures and so forth, put something in my head for God to work with. So, you know, God, had to work with this material. And you wonder, why is that so? But that is part of how it works. But I wasn't as curious about that as Richard was, and then Richard next, as I recall it, turns to see what's the ontology of the book. I'm an epistemologist, not an ontologist, not a metaphysician. I don't try to figure out what's the grand scheme of things. Richard rather naturally has that turn of mind and immediately goes to a place that for me would have been last, and almost a side thought of the God beyond God. I mean, I found that so weird to think-- when that first came to my attention, I stopped praying for six months. I thought, "No, this is too weird." And then I ran across it in the Indian tradition. Well, just because something was weird to me doesn't mean it's improbable or false. So I came back-- But as Richard was reconstructing it, well, it's true in a way, the God beyond God is the God out of whom the God of our world comes, the beyond God seems to sort of enter our world and actualize itself in our world. And so that's the linchpin, you know, ontologically in the structure, what's most real and what's unfolding from that. And so I thought, well, that's fascinating. And I know when you and I, Scott, have talked, you emphasized the non dualist aspects and Richard was just mentioning those. Those are there too. And I don't emphasize them. That has to do with other elements in how I think about life, I suppose. But anyway, in all three of these-- here are three slightly different interpretations or emphases that aren't contradicting each other, they're drawing, making central a different set of themes in what one appropriates from the book, what one takes from the book. And I never wanted to be the theologian of the book because there's more to it than my interpretation. There's Richard's and Scott's and the next persons. And I assume each person is bringing different intellectual insights to bear, appropriating different life material as well. People-- you may find what you need to find there. And as long as it's there, then it's truthful.

Scott Langdon [00:12:00] One of the things that was interesting to me, Richard, encountering your dialogues and breaking them apart and really working with them is your background. And it's fascinating to me because of Jerry's background in terms of what he brought to the book theologically.

Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:12:17] Yeah. You know, I have, I guess, a-- I just tend to try and understand things in a systematic way. It's just the way my mind works and the way my mind puts it all together. And if there are logical incoherencies or things that just don't fit, so then that troubles me. You know, and then I have to work at it and try and decide whether it's just a paradox, because there are endless paradoxes when you start thinking about ultimate reality, is it a paradox that we can resolve? Or is this a real contradiction that we have to exclude? And it's just the way my mind works. So, the way that the book is laid out, it's not laid out in a systematic form. It's laid out in this conversational form. And so, I sat down with the book, and I spent a lot of time doing this because I just wanted to get it- I wanted to get the structure. I wanted to find out whether there was something really, truly coherent here. And I was very happy. So, I had the exact opposite experience of Jerry when it started talking about the God beyond God, I said, "Ah, okay, here's the key. Here is the key. Here's how it's going to all fit together." Because what could it possibly mean to have a God who suddenly experiences Himself for the first time surrounded by nothing? Now, how could a God suddenly wake up to Himself surrounded by nothing and this be God? What? How did He get into that situation- you know, was He mugged somewhere along the line? You know, I mean, so you had to have something to be the foundation of that. And finally, when the book starts talking about the God beyond God, that's where we get the foundation. My great attraction to Paul Tillich as a theologian is in the way he understands God, not in metaphysical terms, but as what he calls the object of ultimate concern. And there is a way in which the God beyond the God dimension also for me answered that question as I came to read it. And it's very fascinating to me that this God, the God of this world, speaks of His first experience of life, so to speak, as being an experience of loneliness. An experience of being alone and of needing to somehow resolve that being alone. Now, how could it possibly be that God would have an experience of being alone? Because an experience of being alone is an experience of hunger. It's an experience of hunger for something else, for companionship. And there has to be, in one's nature, a basic need for and orientation to companionship in order for one to feel the privation of that in being alone. And so where did that basic need come from? And the way, anyway, I came to see it, and it actually corresponded with ideas that I had been thinking through before I ever read Jerry's book, that somehow the God beyond God represents this very diffuse but ultimate oneness. It's diffuse in the sense that, and the book expresses this beautifully, I think, in that even though it's a kind of ultimate oneness, it doesn't have concretion, it doesn't have actuality. It's kind of like being in a twilight state, but it's also not lonely. It's a piece. Right? But in order to make it into something concrete, in order to actualize its potentialities, it has to become particularized. And that first image of God who becomes aware of Himself is a kind of particularization of the God beyond God. And that particularization itself creates a, at least as I see it, creates a kind of gap between that one particular being and then the whole out of which that being comes, and that gap is then experienced as this nothingness that I find myself in the midst of and that I somehow have to resolve through creating this world of other particular beings who are going to finally make their way into relationship, into loving relationships with one another, to resolve their own sense of loneliness. And that just came to me to seem the big picture that was being presented.

Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:18:00] Yes, that's beautifully stated, Richard The line I remember is the, "personal is interpersonal." It's not life actualized fully, and there's already this nub of sense of direction that it's not enough just to be here. And there are a bunch of atoms swirling in the early days of the universe. Okay, that's fine. But there's got to be more. And so, and what is delighted is for God, when the life forms start to emerge and God sort of seems to draw them forward a bit. And they still aren't quite adequate for pull. For God to be a person, He has to have other persons and it goes on from there.

Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:18:46] There's one line in the book that I highlighted in red in which I think you ask God, "Well, what is the ultimate purpose of it all?" And God says in one sentence, well, "The purpose is to create the many out of the one and then bring them back into oneness." Right? In other words, there's this the creation of all this many and then that creation of the many creates distinction and creates separateness and creates alienation even. That's where all the discord and disharmony comes in. And then there is the many, then have this urge, this need really, to come back into relation with one another. But they don't just simply fold back into a kind of undifferentiated unity. What they do is they enter into hopefully a harmonious, loving relations in which they retain their distinctness but are no longer alone. They are now part of the whole and see themselves as part of the all. And to me, this is just an elaborated way of expressing what in Christianity is called the great commandment. How do you achieve eternal life? I think this is in the Gospel of Luke, and the answer is love God with all your heart, mind and soul. God being the ultimate and your neighbor as yourself. In other words, it's not that you love God to the exclusion of anyone else, but you create a loving relationship with a horizontal relationship with what is horizontal to you, your neighbors, and a relationship of what is vertical to you, God. And if you can get all that together in an act of love, that's eternal life.

Scott Langdon [00:21:20] When you talk about drawing together into the one, the longing that I had to learn more about it, the desire that I had to be closer to God, never-- I never could give up on God. I just never could be an atheist that, like you, I always knew that if I was pushing against it, then I was pushing against something. I was actually in a relationship to it if I was pushing against it. And so I wanted to really explore that idea. And I have gotten much more peace in knowing that there is no place that I can go where God will not be because God is so innately, God is, I am God. And yet I wouldn't say I am God, you know. But in that sense, I talk about it like an actor playing a role, playing a character that there is no place that Fagin in Oliver can go without me if I'm in that production. You're not seeing-- you're seeing me, but you're seeing Fagin. So, in that sense, when I look at you, I'm seeing God in your particularity, seeing Jerry as God in Jerry's, in that particularity. So, each of us have this little piece of the experience. I heard a wonderful spiritual teacher say, "You are the experience God is having." And that just blew my mind. And I hadn't been open to that until I got to work with this work.

Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:22:45] And of course, that's related to this notion of God as a suffering God. That God is suffering with us. And, you know, one time I had this little epiphany, I guess, when looking at a crucifix in a Catholic church and trying to understand what it could mean. As a kid growing up in a Jewish family, it was a rather horrific image. I couldn't imagine, you know, why would anybody want to worship that? But, you know, when I grew older, I had this little moment when I began to see the actual message of this, which is I'm not sure, I think you can find it in Christian theology, but maybe not as well-stated as it might be, that this is an image of the way in which God is suffering with us. That God suffers with us, that God is not just a passive observer who is not affected. In a way the mess we make of life is as much a mess for God as it is for us. And God wanting to save us from that is because He's wanting to save all of us. He's here in the boat that He's trying to save with us. And I think once you once you start understanding that and feeling that and once it becomes a reality for you, it just changes the whole texture in a way of what suffering is. Because this punitive idea, this idea that there's a God up there who's sitting in eternal bliss, but just for some odd reason, want to torment people who are doing things that He thinks are wrong, I mean, it does-- every time you get a toothache, you know, you start wondering, well, what did I do to offend God today? And, you know, that's just not a I don't think that's a psychologically or spiritually healthy way of being.

Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:25:04] You know, I hear from people on the website, they write, "Oh, I'm angry at God. I feel cut off from God. I can't pray because I'm just so fed up." And I say, "That doesn't mean you can't pray. That's what you tell God. The key element of prayer is being honest. You have to let God know how it is for you. You do often hear this kind of atheist line- I hate God, and I don't believe in Him.

Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:25:33] Yeah, well, that's again, that goes back to what I was talking about in terms of the experience of betrayal, you know. And so that underlying, that militant atheism that, you know, hatred of God is betrayed love of God and the intensity of the hatred is in direct proportion to the intensity of the love. And the love doesn't go away. I mean, you know, of course true atheism would be complete indifference. But as long as you've got some passion about it, you know there's something going on there. Yeah. No. And I guess in my mind, the way that it works, I find that I have to address the contradiction or the apparent contradiction. They are both there and in terms of being honest, so I have to say to myself, "Honestly, these things don't make sense together." And my in a way, it's my passion for honesty, if you might put it that way, that forces me into trying to be systematic about it. Well, how can we put it all together so that these apparently disparate, incoherent pieces will make sense? And very often for me, when I succeed in doing that, all of a sudden, I have a more full and more complete vision of what is true than I did before that works nicely, that is like the opening of a gate that I can now go through, and I find myself in a place that has a little bit more light in it.

Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:27:16] We're all beneficiaries of that impulse. And I think one of the great things that we find in life is this, you know, I love diversity in a way more than unity. But of course, you have to have both. And the God book is a book of both/and in many respects. You stated that beautifully right at the beginning of our discussion, of this kind of amazing inclusiveness. And my sense of life is that people have different talents, and they have different life experiences, they have different life challenges, and they can have different turns of mind. William James is always talking about this in terms of temperaments and the tough minded and the tender minded, that kind of thing, the optimist and the pessimist. And he says, you think they're all going to come up with the same religion? They're different turns of mind, but all those differences together add to the richness. So, we don't just want a Jerry Martin particular turn of mind. We don't want just a Richard Oxenberg metaphysical vision, turn of mind and so on down the list of many other things than just those two and some poetic, some, you know, many other things.

Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:28:41] And they complement one another.

Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:28:43] They complement each other. They're like the tuba and the violins. You know, they're very different. And each one, it'd be a very bad orchestra if the tuba tried to play the violin part and the violin tried to play the tuba. Right. But listen to them together. And part of what we need to do as individuals is kind of figure out, well, am I on tuba or a violin or this or that, and how then can I bring that to fruition in my spot in life in a way, hopefully that works with the people around me and then you've got it. And for me, at least, God is an instrument of that kind of harmony. It's not a result of it or something like that, but God is the instrument of that harmony, that the very ability to be truthful with oneself, that's a kind of divine gift itself. And these intellectual gifts have a divine element too. God says, "I'm often speaking through things that just seem like your own thinking." And Aristotle says the aha experience, the active intellect, the aha experience is divine. The sensory experience of taking in a bunch of stuff and collating it is human. or animal, you might say, but insight is a divine bolt even under secular auspices.

Scott Langdon [00:30:23] Well, I want to take this moment to thank you both for an incredible year for me personally, working with your dialogues, breaking them apart, studying them, listening to them, walking them with my dog in my ear. My dog and I walk, and I have them in my ears. And it's been a real instrument for me, for, you know, not just understanding the book better, but really understanding how I fit into things, how God relates to us and how we are to be in tune with God. It's been a great pleasure to be with you both. And then today, Richard finally meeting you and having you with us, it's been a great pleasure. Thank you so much for being with us.

Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:31:09] Well, thank you, Scott. And thank you so much for doing everything. And wonderful meeting you as well. Yeah. Thank you.

Scott Langdon [00:31:17] And Jerry, we'll talk to you again next time.

Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:31:19] Yeah. And thanks to God for bringing us all together.

Scott Langdon [00:31:22] Amen to that.

Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:31:46] Well, we certainly hope you got as much out of these dialogues as Richard Oxenberg and I did. Personally, I thought the dialogues were terrific. We discussed with a serious sense of purpose all the vital issues that God: An Autobiography raises. Dr. Oxenberg led the inquiry by posing key questions that covered the topics in the book. In the process, he developed an ontological interpretation that, among other things, provides a persuasive response to the problem of evil or suffering. As we finished the final episode, I suggested that we turn these dialogues into a book. I'm pleased to report that he readily agreed. We will keep the dialogue format, an informal tone. However, we will edit for greater clarity. And we will here and there provide background to make it easier to follow the discussion and to get more out of it. The book should be available by this spring. We'll keep you posted. Thanks for joining us in this lifetime adventure.

Scott Langdon [00:33:11] 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 questions@godanautobiography.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. 

God Is Working With You And The Tools He Gave You | Different Interpretations
Theology, Ontology And Paradox
Distinct But Loving Harmony
A Suffering God | Betrayal, Trust And Love
Diversity And Unity | Complementary
A Lifetime Adventure | Special Announcement
Outro And Contact Information