Quaker Universalist Conversations

“Theomorphology”: Reflection by Andrew Wood

Theomorphology fr. Gr. THEO + MORPH + LOGY: the theory that the concept of the divine is continually and always in the process of evolutionary change.

At the very heart of Christianity is the assertion that, while everything else changes, God doesn’t. In and beyond this transient life, God is an immutable permanent fixture. For most of Christian history this idea, that God is the eternal, unyielding, unchanging rock of ages, has fortified believers in a world where everything else seems uncertain, treacherous, finite and mortal. People have longed for something that is not transient. And because nothing in this world can fulfil that longing, the idea of a God ‘out there’ seems to be the only answer.

From there it is only a short step to the further idea that everything associated with the God ‘out there’ is infinitely superior to everything associated with our human existence on this planet. The great dichotomy between mortal and immortal, changing and unchanging, wise and foolish, righteous and sinful rests on this assumption.

I have a real problem with the “immortal, invisible, God only wise”. It seems to me that, given the opportunity to write on the ultimate blank page, ‘He’ made some curious decisions, not at all in keeping either with his creation or with the scriptures that he subsequently revealed to his human creatures.

The concept of a deity “the same yesterday, today and forever” frankly strikes me as highly unlikely. Such an entity would by its nature be at odds with the character of everything we see and know, from the most microscopic to the most immense constituents of the deity’s creation. All things change, nothing remains the same. Everything is dynamic, nothing is static.

Lift your eyes to the most ancient and lofty mountains and you can be sure that, solid and immovable as they appear, in the fullness of time they will be utterly changed. The transformation, slow by human reckoning to be sure, is continuous and unstoppable. This ineluctable process, by which geological structures, and therefore geographical features, are ever-changing, is known as ‘Geomorphology’. It seems appropriate to coin the term ‘Theomorphology’ to describe the theory that I wish to propose, which posits that the concept of the divine, far from being immutable, is continually and always in the process of evolutionary change.

I suspect that the concept will not be as strange or challenging to devotees of the ‘Eastern’ religions – Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism – as it may be to followers of the ‘Western’ religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The Hindu belief in avatars or successive manifestations of the divine, and the belief in the serial incarnations of the Buddha (although he is not a divinity), present a flexible, developing idea of divinity wholly alien to Christianity.

Part of the attractiveness of those Eastern religions is that they are far more concerned with human spirituality than is the Church which, from the time of Constantine, has been inextricably bound up with temporal power and material wealth: organised Christianity is actually far more earth-bound than you would think if you simply listened to the sermons of the ‘professors’ in the steeple-houses. There have always been very good excuses for leaving the bones of the text, “sell all that you have and give to the poor”, on the side of the ecclesiastical plate.

In broad theomorphological terms, it is possible to trace the evolution of the Divine; beginning with the metaphorical ‘fossil record’ of paganism in various parts of the world. From our complex and sophisticated 21st Century viewpoint, it requires an almost impossible leap of the imagination to put ourselves in the position of our prehistoric ancesters. If we try, however, we can discern, if only faintly, the environment in which the concept of ‘something other’ began. There would have been much that was inexplicable, like lightning, and yet other things that seemed to work to a pattern, like sunrise and sunset. With no scientific method to guide them our ancestors concluded – not unreasonably – that these phenomena were caused, willed by something other and, equally naturally, they began to image this ‘other’ by projecting human characteristics on to the ineffable, and so began mankind’s spiritual journey through myth and legend, spirits and demons, many gods and one God.

Christian theologians have assiduously distanced their Divinity from mythology – that is the weaving of imaginative and elaborate stories around a god or gods; storytelling with a purpose. But Christian belief about God displays many of the same elements as the myths of the Greek and Roman gods and still relies on the super-human for its imagery.

In the two thousand years since the man Jesus walked the earth, the Church and its theology have undergone elaboration and change. There has been a lot of schism – including the birth of Quakerism – and not a lot of uniting; but the immutability of God has always stood above the flood of doctrines and dogmas; so resolutely that the divine has assumed some of the characteristics of the ultimate graven image.

Perhaps now it is time we recognised that, whatever the divine may be, it is not ‘super-man’. The face and nature of the divine do not resemble us in appearance or qualities, nor is it a deity that in any way is ‘out there’. The old God is dissolving and being remade as a dynamic ‘spirit within’. “That of God” which each of us possesses is not a fragment or a facsimile of God, nor is it a metaphor; it is the Divine. We can only encounter it in each other, we can only worship – honour it – by becoming more truly human. Time to repatriate the divine to its true home – the human spirit.

by ANDREW WOOD <a.wood847@btinternet.com