Tillich-ish, Pt. Eleven: The Divine Disjunction
As for the latest: I disagree. :) I think what you thought was the message’s “own terms” was more likely an inherited set of assumptions. I think discovering the proper terms on which to relate to any object (let alone the Bible!) is far from obvious (look at how Science’s skepticism about it’s own assumptions has led to numerous world-shattering insights into what we thought we knew). I think the “on it’s own terms” of the Bible is an ever present question, and ought not be an assumption. God as another object in the world of objects shows up tucked within your “message about God on it’s own terms.”
- – -
Here’s a few quick thoughts on your Euthyphro meditations, Ivan.
“I don’t have any worry about morality being subject to the contingency of God.”
Wonderful. You’re moving in the right direction then. So long as you don’t think you can have both a necessary/eternal being and an existing being, you’re good. If God’s essence is God’s existence are identical (simplicity), then God does not exist, God is eternal and existence is grounded in God. Your doxology is on the right track. The trick is to now get that cashed out in consistent conceptual terms (which, of course, ultimately negate themselves, but one really does learn something in the process, even if what one learns is extent to which one does not know [which, with God, is the first step in knowing!]).
“I think in terms of eternity and creation—even while realizing that my understanding as a temporal (and finite, and sinful, etc.) being is extremely limited—and consider God’s eternal triune existence. God is, full stop. Outside of time, with nothing whatsoever to do with man or matter, God is. God is not constrained or bound by anything at all.”
Right, again, all these things are moving in the right direction. I want you to notice something very important here (and hopefully this will help you understand a bit more clearly what I’m up to).
You are using the categories of existence to describe the how God is not bound by the categories of existence.
This does two things.
1. It forces the symbolic use of any of the categories of existence when applied to God (i.e. causality, temporality, substance, spatiality). The categories of existence are all we know, our language is formed around them. As such we don’t have any other way of speaking of God except by way of our categorically formed language. The troubles start when we confuse ourselves into thinking our categorical language of God (which is all language) is more or less literal. This is understandable, but it leads to all sorts of ridiculous and not so ridiculous problems.
2. Symbolically speaking, God is now the “ground” of existence. To argue that God exists is to deny him.
Here is one of my favorite all time passages of any book I’ve ever read. It’s a passage from Marilynne Robinson’s “Gilead.” Robinson is an absolutely amazing woman. She’s a big fan of Calvin, and as a result many within the neo-reformed movement have made haste to cozy up to her, yet it is my opinion that she gets the fundamental point I’m trying to make in a way that I’ve yet to see from any within that movement.
- – - – - – - – - -
God. Perhaps we cannot speak very precisely or accurately about God, perhaps we cannot say that God exists, perhaps we cannot even say that God is. But there is still a very salient and crucial different between God and no-God. The latter is most definitely conceivable and possible. And if we try to bend and stretch the former so that it engulfs the latter, and itself becomes conceptually unavoidable—well then it seems to me that we’ve bent and stretched so far that we’re no longer engaged in the same discourse. We’re no longer talking about God or no-God, a discourse that might have shattering consequences for how we see and think and live. Instead we’re creating categories to talk collectively about everything at once. And this might evoke “religious” feelings of awe or dependence or peace. But it seems more therapeutic than philosophical or theological to me, since when we get down to brass tacks, I don’t see how it can say anything substantive. It seems to offer feelings, but ultimately no intellectual or existential substance.
Right? Or am I still slow of heart to believe?
As for my assumptions, I think some ambiguity may be creeping into our conversation around that very word assumption. I’ll definitely cop to acquiring beliefs about God that you might object to, such as God being distinct from my self (albeit while also dwelling within me, and having created me in His image), and God being distinct from the material universe that He created (albeit while still filling and ruling it). But I don’t think it would be accurate to call these beliefs assumptions, since I did not at any point assume that they must be the case. I did not, for example, assume that if there is a God, this God must be some sort of immaterial spirit; and then begin inquiring as to whether or not this sort of God in fact exists. Instead I encountered the Bible, accepted it, and strove to more and more faithfully believe (and obey) what it said—no more, no less. (This is terribly clichéd Protestant and Evangelical rhetoric, of course, but I think my biography and my prior writings make it at least a bit more credible in my case than in most.)
You wrote that “Symbolically speaking, God is now the ‘ground’ of existence. To argue that God exists is to deny him,” and I think that this may be problematically playing on two different senses of the word exist. I can readily agree that God is the ground of existence in the sense of being the ground of all non-God entities. In this sense, God is not among all those existing entities, and He Himself does not exist. However, as Robinson wrote in the passage you linked to, “He would have to have had a character before existence which the poverty of our understanding can only call existence.” In this sense, God certainly does exist. (I mean, unless I’m right about the whole atheism thing, of course.) I think if we’re clear with our language here, there may actually be no problem.