Theoconceptualist Theology

My approach to theology is a little different than my approach to religion because it deals with a different domain of philosophy. Whereas religion deals with ethics and social structure, theology deals with epistemology (the theory of knowledge).


This is quite a different view than most people take. Most think of theology (the study of God) from a metaphysical perspective (the fundamental nature of reality) and therefore try to solve ontological problems (the nature of being). This is why debates about whether God is immanent (present throughout the universe) or transcendent (outside of the universe) are so pervasive and perceived of as so important. Neither of these can be shown or not shown, nor will they ever be able to be shown or not shown. We don't need to worry about this. When we look at both ideas from an epistemological perspective we can see that either way God is a real conceptual entity. If we are willing to admit that we don't know the answer to the metaphysical and ontological questions then we are free to accept the conceptual existence.

This moves God from "out there" to "in here." This has major consequences. If we think of God as "out there" (either immanently or transcendentally) then we will either try to reach salvation through doing works "out there," or having faith in "out there." But if we change our focus to "in here" then things come more clearly into view. Now what we need is neither works nor faith, but knowledge. A better knowing of this conceptual reality. This third way, salvation through knowledge, is not an island however. To pursue and gain knowledge you must have faith that there is knowledge to be gained, and that you can make progress towards it. This pursuit will in itself require action, and as more knowledge is gained then more works will emanate from this knowledge. So we see that when we have the proper focus of salvation through knowledge then we require faith as a means and works as an effect. There is no split, no division, there was simply a missing piece. Faith and works revolve around knowledge.

What are the ways to this knowledge? This involves some of the ideas that I laid out in "The Impetus for Theoconceptualism", but also more. Each person experiences the world as an individual, so knowledge must focus on the individual. There are the three levels of knowledge that we must know about: the procedural (acting out in the world), the episodic (representation of situations in the world), and the semantic (words that represent things in and not in the world). This knowledge emerges over time and grows from one level to the next, where it can be compressed, manipulated, and communicated. Alone we can learn little over long periods of time, but together we can learn much over short periods of time. There is information just outside of what we know that can be learned based on what we already know. Beyond this we can't understand. We need a "more knowing other" to help us develop the knowledge within this "zone."

We cannot, however, leave lower levels behind because we have access to higher levels. The lower levels are our solid contact with reality and must be constantly referred back to to make sure that our concepts have not gone astray of reality. Our understanding of the world is a reflection of the world, there is a complementarity between our understanding and reality. Neither can make progress without the other. To solve the problems within we must go without, and to solve the problems without we must go within. This is the only way.

Each individual is a seeker of knowledge, a seeker that must learn from the seekers of knowledge that have come before. A seeker that must work with concepts, images, and actions. Narratives are one of the best sources of this knowledge. Dreams are part of our own emergent narratives. Meditation can help us connect with reality more directly through our senses and perceptions. Acting in the world is another source of knowledge that cannot be forgotten. Dialogue about our actions, dreams, perceptions, and narratives helps us search out new knowledge contained within that we have not yet recognized. We must awaken conscience, expand consciousness, and integrate what is not conscious. This involves confronting things within and without. All of this can only be done by an individual, an individual with the help of others. This is why the individual is sacred, because it is only the individual that has an innate disposition to the seeking of knowledge. Some travel further than others, but it is the inherent right of all to seek. That is why the priesthood is both limited and universal.

Here are some notes for the curious ones.

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Jean Piaget gave some interesting lectures on immanence and transcendence in the late 1920s and early 1930s in Switzerland in French that have never been translated into English (except by the computer program I used when I wanted to read them). "Deux types d'attitudes religieuses: Immanence et transcendance" and "Immanentisme et Foi Religieuse".

Viktor Frankl's concept of Dimensional Ontology lends itself as a great answer to why neither immanence nor transcendence alone are good answers. "The Will to Meaning" is a great book to start with.

Jerome Bruner and Endel Tulving both laid out the three levels of knowledge independently.

Lev Vygotsky founded social development theory and invented the "zone of proximal development" and the "more knowing other" terms.

Ilya Prigogine makes some excellent remarks about knowledge that directly relates to immanence and transcendence in "Only an Illusion".

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