Let me suggest a generalization regarding specificity and theology:
The more specific one gets about the nature of God, the more cultic one sounds. Conversely, the more one talks about God in panthesistic or panentheistic terms, the more it becomes difficult to separate this position from atheism.
This is an elaboration of my statement from the first post in this series, that whenever someone asks, “Do you believe in God?” what they are really asking is “Do you believe in God the way I believe in God?”
For instance, you can go down the path of asking, “Is God male?” Note that this is an important theological question. Churches from Catholic to Baptist, as well as Jews from orthodox to reform, continue to struggle with the role of women in their churches, and the role of sexuality itself in day-to-day human life.
A mainstream Protestant theologian would likely say “No,” that God is without gender, but that human society has classically articulated God using male language. Conservative Catholic and Southern Baptist theologians would likely say something like “men and women are equally loved by God, but they have different roles.” In other words, there is something about “maleness,” above and beyond sexuality, that is somehow required for ultimate divinity.
A good Mormon, on the other hand, would say that, no doubt, God is male. As articulated by their fifth prophet/president, “As man is God once was, as God is man may be.”
We can go even deeper, asking if, then, God has a penis. You can be pretty sure that, if the answer is “Yes,” the speaker is on the cultic fringe of Christianity, while more mainstream Christians would likely back even further away from you for asking the question. (An even better question is “Does God have nipples?”)
Likewise, if we get into questions like, “Did God directly cause of a devastating hurricane?” most moderate, mainstream theologians will point to “nature” as the cause, while the fringe will applaud divine retribution.
As we point the finger more and more toward “natural events,” however, we drift toward the end of the spectrum where “God” and “Nature” become hard to differentiate. Here we start getting into theologies general described as pantheism or panentheism. While there are historical differences between these two theologies, I still see difference between them as the finest of hairs. But importantly, it is often hard to tell the difference between either of these theologies and atheists like the late, great Carl Sagan, who see “wonder” in the physics of the universe. Pantheists/panentheists are more comfortable using traditional religious imagery that atheists prefer to avoid, but both would see “ultimate causes” in the natural, rather than the supernatural, order.
In short, sometimes the difference between a theologian and an atheist is simply in the symbolic language used, and not in the substance.
The previous entry in this series is here.