Now that I am deep into it (chapters 5-8), I've been asking myself why I'm reading this book. What was I thinking? Now I remember. In the book description Mark Johnston disparages the "new atheists" for being undergraduate atheists who merely dismantle undergraduate theism. He was promising something more sophisticated...and to make it even more enticing, he promised to "save God" from theists as well. The view on offer is "God without the supernatural." I just had to find out what that was about.
Note to Johnston: it might not be the best idea to present religious ideas starting with a boast that they are sophisticated and superior, because it does invite attack and mockery. It's going to take all the restraint I have not to say "so this is the sophisticated stuff?" I will not do that. I swear I will not.
From what I can tell, there's nothing in this book in the way of proof of the existence of God. I think Johnston is addressing himself to someone with a "religious sensibility" and not trying to induce such a thing in people who don't have it. What he's trying to work out is what God is, not whether God exists, and he wants to do so in a way that doesn't make religion "idolatrous"--the worship of something not worth worshiping; and doesn't make religion incompatible with reason and science. The chapters that lay out these goals are clear and interesting.
Johnston wants to move past polytheism, past henotheism (the view that one of the gods is higher than the others--probably the view of the bible), past a sort of naive monotheism, and even past monotheism itself (the view that God is a substance separate from the natural world). He also wants to protection religion against traditional weapons in the atheist arsenal (the argument from evil, for example), by making use of non-undergraduate theological concepts (Thomas Aquinas's notion of analogical predication, for example. Amusing side note: I wrote a paper about that when I was as an undergraduate).
OK, all very interesting. But pray tell, what is God? What Johnston has to offer here is "panentheism". "All in God and God in all." That's got a nice ring to it, but what does it mean? This is a formulation he repeats many times:
The Highest One = the outpouring of Existence itself by way of its exemplification in ordinary existents for the purpose of the self-discosure of Existence itself.This is glossed using ideas from process theology, Heidegger, and other thinkers. After reading the last two chapters, I will do my level best to explain what he means But my reaction so far is this: at best, panentheism strikes me as an optional (and barely intelligible) layer of poetry that could be added to our more serious and robust views about the world. But I'll wait until I get to the end to reach a final verdict.
My previous posts about the book are here:
1. Saving God...Saving What?
2. Can you know if you believe in God?
3. Saving God
4. More Saving God