David Gelernter is always worth reading.
Motto: Study everything, join nothing.
Selected for the The Times of London's 100 Best Blogs List (15 February 2009)
David Gelernter is always worth reading.
Karl White refers us to this quotation from a John Gray piece on William Empson in The New Statesman.
Empson’s attitude to Buddhism, like the images of the Buddha that he so loved, was asymmetrical. He valued the Buddhist view as an alternative to the Western outlook, in which satisfying one’s desires by acting in the world was the principal or only goal in life. At the same time he thought that by asserting the unsatisfactoriness of existence as such – whether earthly or heavenly – Buddhism was more life-negating and, in this regard, even worse than Christianity, which he loathed. Yet he also believed Buddhism, in practice, had been more life-enhancing. Buddhism was a paradox: a seeming contradiction that contained a vital truth.
Is Buddhism more life-negating than Christianity? No doubt about it. Empson is right on this point if not on the others. I would put it like this.
Both Buddhism and Christianity are life-denying religions in that they both reject the ultimacy and satisfactoriness of this life taken as end-all and be-all. But while Christianity denies this life for the sake of a higher life elsewhere and elsewhen, Buddhism denies this life for the sake of Nirvanic extinction. The solution to the problem of suffering is to so attenuate desire and aversion that one comes to the realization that one never existed in the first place.
Now that is one radical solution! It should appeal to anti-natalists and Schopenhauerian pessimists. And yet there is much to learn from Buddhism and its practices. Mindfulness exercises and other practices can be usefully employed by Christians. Christianity and Buddhism are the two highest religions. My own view is that a spiritual practice that draws on the resources of both is the way to go. They are of course incompatible in their metaphysics. But metaphysics is a product of the discursive intellect and to be transcended in any case. Both religions terminate, 'ultimate,' if you will, in the Mystical.
For Buddhism the problem is suffering. All is ill, suffering, unsatisfactory. The cause is desire as such. The solution is the extirpation of desire. The way is the eight-fold path. I have just summed up Buddhism in five sentences.
Pace the Buddhists, the problem is not desire as such, but desire inordinate and misdirected.
Buddha correctly understood the nature of desire as infinite, as finally unsatisfiable by any finite object. But since he had convinced himself that there is no Absolute, no Atman, nothing possessing self-nature, he made a drastic move: he preached salvation through the extirpation of desire itself. Desire itself is at the root of suffering, dukkha, on the Buddhist conception, not desire for the wrong objects; so the way to salvation is not via redirection of desire upon the right Object, but via an uprooting of desire itself.
Christianity enjoins redirection of desire upon the Right Object.
The two great religions have this in common: both preach the nihilism of the finite. I would say that any religion worth its salt must preach the nihilism of the finite, namely, the understanding that in the last analysis nothing finite is ultimately real. In fact, I would erect this into a criterion of the religious nature. If you have the insight into the nihilism of the finite, then you have a religious nature. If you do not, then you do not.
But while both of these great religions preach the nihilism of the finite, Christianity in its highest manifestation -- Thomistic Catholicism you could call it -- takes a positive line with a respect to the Absolute: the ultimate state and goal is not one of Nirvanic extinction and nonbeing, but of participation in the divine life via the Beatific Vision.
We are now hard by the boundary of the Sayable as we ought to be if we are serious truth seekers.
We can now define the worldling or secularist and the nihilist.
The worlding takes this world to be ultimately real, and the only reality. He is spiritually dead to its ontological and axiological deficiency. He is a Platonic troglodyte, if you catch my drift. He is incapable of transcendental speleology since he cannot see the Cave as a Cave.
The nihilist is spiritually awake as compared to the worldling. The nihilist sees the nullity and the vanity (vanitas = emptiness) of the finite and transient, but thinks it exhausts the Real. The adolescent nihilist's T-shirt reads: The finite sucks! (on the front) and There's nothing else! (on the back).
If man is made in God's image and likeness, does it follow that God is essentially embodied?
Faciamus hominem ad imaginem et similitudinem nostram . . . (Gen 1, 26) Let us make man in our image and likeness. . .
Et creavit Deus hominem ad imaginem suam. . . (Gen 1, 27) And God created man in his image. . .
I used to play chess with an old man by the name of Joe B., one of the last of the WWII Flying Tigers. Although he had been a working man all his life, he had an intellectual bent and liked to read. But like many an old man, he thought he knew all sorts of things that he didn’t know, and was not bashful about sharing his ‘knowledge.’ One day the talk got on to religion and the notion that man was created in the image and likeness of God. Old Joe had a long-standing animus against the Christianity of his youth, an animus probably connected with his equally long-standing hatred for his long-dead father.
Recalling some preacher’s invocation of the’ image and likeness’ theme, old Joe snorted derisively, "So God has a digestive tract!?" In Joe’s mind this triumphal query was supposed to bear the force of a refutation. Joe’s ‘reasoning’ was along these lines:
1. Man is made in God’s image.
2. Man is a physical being with a digestive tract, etc.
3. God is a physical being with a digestive tract, etc.
But that’s like arguing:
1. This statue is made in Lincoln’s image.
2. This statue is composed of marble.
3. Lincoln is composed of marble.
Joe’s mistake, one often repeated, is to take a spiritual saying in a materialistic way. The point is not that God must be physical because man is, but that man is a spiritual being just like God, potentially if not actually. The idea is not that God is a big man, the proverbial ‘man upstairs,’ but that man is a little god, a proto-god, a temporally and temporarily debased god who has open to him the possibility of a Higher Life with God, a possibility whose actualization requires both creaturely effort and divine grace.
In Feuerbachian terms, the point of imago dei is not that God is an anthropomorphic projection whereby man alienates his best attributes from himself and assigns them to an imaginary being external to himself, but that man is a theomorphic projection whereby God shares some of his attributes, such as free will, with real beings external to him though dependent on him.
Which is true? Does man project God, or does God project man? Is man the measure, or the measured? Does man 'create' God, or God man?
Note first the following asymmetry. If God is literally an anthropomorphic projection, then God does not exist. It would be absurd to say that God exists as an anthropomorphic projection when it is built into the very concept of God that he be a se, from himself, i.e., incapable of any kind of ontological dependency. But if man is a theomorphic projection, then man exists to a degree greater than he would exist if there were no God. For if man is a creature of God, and indeed one created in the image and likeness of God, then man has the possibility of a Higher Life, an eternal life.
The paradox is that when atheistic man tries to stand on his own two feet, declaring himself independent of God, at that moment he is next to nothing, a transient flash in the cosmic pan. But when man accepts his creaturely status as imago Dei, thereby accepting his radical dependence, at that moment he becomes more than a speck of cosmic dust slated for destruction. Thus Jean-Paul Sartre had it precisely backwards in thinking that if God exists then man is nothing; it is rather that man is something only if God exists. For if man exists in a godless universe he is but a cosmic fluke and all the existentialist posturing in the world won't change the fact.
Is "image and likeness" a redundant phrase, or does it mark a distinction? Arguably the latter. To be created in God’s image is to be granted the potentiality for sharing in the divine life, a potentiality that may or may not be actualized and is shared in equally by all human beings without their consent. Likeness, however, results from man’s free actualization of that potentiality. Whereas the image of God is imposed on man, likeness to God is not, but requires the free cooperation of the creature. (Cf. Harry Boosalis, Orthodox Spiritual Life, St. Tikhon’s Seminary Press, 1999), pp. 28-29.)
I am not free with respect to the image of God within me since I am not free to renounce my potential for divine sonship; but I am free with respect to the likeness since it is up to me whether I actualize the potential.
Well, does God exist or not? Before one can answer this question, one must understand it. In particular, one must understand that it cannot be dismissed as one the answer to which is obvious. To wax Continental for a moment, one must restore the question (die Frage) to its questionableness (Fragwuerdigkeit), where ‘questionable’ means not only able to be questioned, but, as the corresponding German term suggests, worthy of being questioned, of being raised as a question. And for that it is necessary not to take phrases like imago Dei in a crude materialistic way in the manner of old Joe and so many others.
One reason so many are atheists is because they are crude materialists: they cannot conceive how anything could be real that is not material. This, in turn, is aided and abetted by, and perhaps grounded in, their concupiscence: The lusts of the flesh have persuaded them that the sensible alone is real.
One must see that there is nothing obvious in the Feuerbachian suggestion, even though the weight of our culture favors this obviousness; one must see that the opposite and much much older suggestion, according to which man is a theomorphic projection, is just as reasonable.
But reasonable is not the same as true; so in the end one must decide what one will believe and how one will live.
In these regions of inquiry one cannot prove anything. To think otherwise is to fail to grasp the concept of proof.
A rather obvious point swam before my mind this morning: there is nothing specifically Christian about the content of the Pater Noster. Its origin of course is Christian. When his disciples asked him how they should pray, Jesus taught them the prayer. (Mt 6:9-13) If you carefully read the prayer below you will see that there is no mention in it of anything specifically Christian: no mention of Jesus as the Son of God, no mention of the Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us (the Incarnation), no mention of the Resurrection, nothing that could be construed as even implicitly Trinitarian. So I thought to myself: a believing Jew could pray this prayer. There is nothing at the strictly doctrinal level that could prevent him. Or is there?
Christians pray the Psalms. Do any Jews pray the Our Father? Would they have a good reason not to? No more than a Christian would have a good reason not to incorporate into his prayer life Plotinus' "It is by the One that all beings are beings" despite the non-Christian provenience of this marvellous and beautiful saying.
PATER NOSTER, qui es in caelis, sanctificetur nomen tuum. Adveniat regnum tuum. Fiat voluntas tua, sicut in caelo et in terra. Panem nostrum quotidianum da nobis hodie, et dimitte nobis debita nostra sicut et nos dimittimus debitoribus nostris. Et ne nos inducas in tentationem, sed libera nos a malo. Amen.
OUR FATHER, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Amen.
UPDATE (31 May). Andrew Bailey comments:
A long-standing tradition at the Center for Philosophy of Religion at the University of Notre Dame was to recite the Our Father before meetings. Many (but not all) Jewish philosophers associated with the Center would join in these prayers in the years I was there. I asked about it once, and the answer I got was along these lines: "Of course I pray the prayer. Whoever wrote it -- whether Jesus of Nazareth or one of his disciples -- was definitely a Jew, after all."
William F. Vallicella
William E. Mann, God, Modality, and Morality (Oxford University Press, 2015), ix + 369 pp.
This is a book philosophers of religion will want on their shelves. It collects sixteen of William E. Mann's previously published papers and includes “Omnipresence, Hiddenness, and Mysticism” written for this volume. These influential papers combine analytic precision with historical erudition: in many places Mann works directly from the classical texts and supplies his own translations. Mann ranges masterfully over a wealth of topics from the highly abstract (divine simplicity, aseity, sovereignty, immutability, omnipresence) to the deeply existential (mysticism, divine love, human love and lust, guilt, lying, piety, hope). As the title suggests, the essays are grouped under three heads, God, Modality, and Morality.
A somewhat off-putting feature of some of these essays is their rambling and diffuse character. In this hyperkinetic age it is a good writerly maxim to state one's thesis succinctly at the outset and sketch one's overall argument before plunging into the dialectic. Mann typically just plunges in. “The Guilty Mind,” for example, begins by juxtaposing the Matthew 5:28 commandment against adultery in the heart with the principle of mens rea from the criminal law. From there we move to a certain view of intentional action ascribed to a character Mann has invented. This is then followed with a rich and penetrating discussions of lying, strict criminal liability, the doctrine of Double Effect (307-9) and other topics illustrated with a half-dozen or so further made-up characters. One realizes one is in the presence of a fertile mind grappling seriously with difficult material, but after a couple of dense pages, one asks oneself: where is this going? What is the thesis? Why is the author making me work so hard? Some of us need to evaluate what we study to see if we should take it on board; this is made difficult if the thesis or theses are not clear.
I had a similar difficulty with the discussion of love in “Theism and the Foundations of Ethics.”
Central to Christian moral teaching are the two greatest commandments. “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole mind” and “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” (Matthew 22:35-40) Mann raises the question whether love can be reasonably commanded. Love is an emotion or feeling. As such it is not under the control of the will. And yet we are commanded to love God and neighbor. How is this possible? An action can be commanded, but love is not an action. If love can be commanded, then love is an action, something I can will myself to do; love is not an action, not something I can will myself to do, but an emotional response; ergo, love cannot be commanded.
One way around the difficulty is by reinterpreting what is meant by 'love.' While I cannot will to love you, I can will to act benevolently toward you. And while it makes no sense to command love, it does make sense to command benevolent behavior. "You ought to love her" makes no sense; but "You ought to act as if you love her" does make sense. There cannot be a duty to love, but there might be a duty to do the sorts of things to and for a person that one would do without a sense of duty if one were to love her. One idea, then, is to construe "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself" as "Thou shalt act towards everyone as one acts toward those few whom one loves" or perhaps "Thou shalt act toward one's neighbor as if one loved him." The above is essentially Kant's view as Mann reports it (236 ff.) .
As for love of God, to love God with one's whole heart, mind, and soul is to act as if one loves God with one's whole heart, mind, and soul. But how does one do that? One way is by acting as if one loves one's neighbor as oneself. So far, so good. Mann, however, rejects this minimalist account as he calls it. And then the discussion becomes murky for this reviewer despite his having read it four or five times carefully. The murkiness is not alleviated by a segue into a rich and detailed discussion of eros, philia, and agape.
“Modality, Morality, and God” is written in the same meandering style but is much easier to follow. It also has the virtue of epitomizing the entire collection of essays. Its topic is the familiar Euthyphro dilemma: Does God love right actions because they are right, or are they right because God loves them? On the first horn, God is reduced to a mere spokesman for the moral order rather than its source, with negative consequences for the divine sovereignty. On the second horn, the autonomy of the moral order is compromised and made hostage to divine arbitrarity. If the morally obligatory is such because God commands it, then, were God to command injustice, it would be morally obligatory. And if God were to love injustice that would surely not give us a moral reason for loving it. Having set up the problem, Mann should have stated his solution and then explained it. Instead, he makes us slog through his dialectic. Mann's solution is built on the notion that with respect to necessary truths and absolute values God is not free to will otherwise than he wills. In this way the second horn is avoided. But how can God be sovereign over the conceptual and moral orders if he cannot will otherwise than he wills? If I understand the solution, it is that sovereignty is maintained and the first horn is avoided if the constraint on divine freedom is internal to God as it would be if “absolute values are the expression of that [God's] rational autonomy.” (168) Thus God is not free as possessing the liberty of indifference with respect to necessary truths and absolute values, but he is free as the rationally autonomous creative source of necessary truths and absolute values. Thus God is the source of necessary truths and absolute values, not their admirer. Does Mann's solution require the doctrine of divine simplicity? I dont think so. But it is consistent with it. If knowing and willing are identical in God, then the truth value and modal status of necessary truths cannot be otherise in which case God cannot will them to be otherwise.
At the center of Mann's approach to God is the doctrine of divine simplicity (DDS). But as Mann wryly observes, “The DDS is not the sort of doctrine that commands everyone's immediate assent.” (260) It is no surprise then that the articulation, defense, and application of the doctrine is a recurrent theme of most of the first thirteen essays. Since DDS is the organizing theme of the collection, a critical look at Mann's defense of it is in order.
One of the entailments of the classical doctrine of divine simplicity is that God is what he has. (Augustine, The City of God, XI, 10.) Thus God has omniscience by being (identical to) omniscience. And similarly for the other divine attributes. The Platonic flavor of this is unmistakable. God is not an all-knowing being, but all-knowing-ness itself; not a good being, or even a maximally good being, but Goodness itself; not a wise being or the wisest of beings, but Wisdom itself. Neither is God a being among beings, an ens among entia, but ipsum esse subsistens, self-subsistent Being. To our ordinary way of thinking this sounds like so much nonsense: how could anything be identical to its attributes? It seems obvious that something that has properties is eo ipso distinct from them. But on another way of thinking, DDS makes a good deal of sense. How could God, the absolute, self-sufficient reality, be just one more wise individual even if the wisest? God is better thought of as the source of all wisdom, as Wisdom itself in its prime instance. Otherwise, God would be dependent on something other than himself for his wisdom, namely, the property of being wise. As Mann points out, the Platonic approach as we find it is the Augustinian and Anselmian accounts of DDS leads to difficulties a couple of which are as follows:
D1. If God = wisdom, and God = life, then wisdom = life. But wisdom and life are not even extensionally equivalent, let alone identical. If Tom is alive, it doesn't follow that Tom is wise. (23)
D2. If God is wisdom, and Socrates is wise by participating in wisdom, then Socrates is wise by participating in God. But this smacks of heresy. No creature participates in God. (23)
Enter property instances. It is one thing to say that God is wisdom, quite another to say that God is God's wisdom. God's wisdom is an example of a property instance. And similarly for the other divine attributes. God is not identical to life; God is identical to his life. Suppose we say that God = God's wisdom, and God = God's life. It would then follow that God's wisdom = God's life, but not that God = wisdom or that wisdom = life.
So if we construe identity with properties as identity with property instances, then we can evade both of (D1) and (D2). Mann's idea, then, is that the identity claims made within DDS should be taken as Deity-instance identities (e.g., God is his omniscience) and as instance-instance identities (e.g., God's omniscience is God's omnipotence), but not as Deity-property identities (e.g., God is omniscience) or as property-property identities (e.g., omniscience is omnipotence). Support for Mann's approach is readily available in the texts of the doctor angelicus. (24) Aquinas says things like, Deus est sua bonitas, "God is his goodness."
But what exactly is a property instance? If the concrete individual Socrates instantiates the abstract property wisdom, then two further putative items come into consideration. One is the (Chisholmian-Plantingian as opposed to Bergmannian-Armstrongian) state of affairs, Socrates' being wise. Such items are abstract, i.e., not in space or time. The other is the property instance, the wisdom of Socrates. Mann rightly holds that they are distinct. All abstract states of affairs exist, but only some of them obtain or are actual. By contrast, all property instances are actual: they cannot exist without being actual. The wisdom of Socrates is a particular, an unrepeatable item, just as Socrates is, and the wisdom of Socrates is concrete (in space and/or time) just as Socrates is. If we admit property instances into our ontology, then the above two difficulties can be circumvented. Or so Mann maintains.
Could a Person be a Property Instance?
But then other problems loom. One is this. If the F-ness of God = God, if, for example, the wisdom of God = God, then God is a property instance. But God is a person. From the frying pan into the fire? How could a person be a property instance? The problem displayed as an inconsistent triad:
a. God is a property instance.
b. God is a person.
c. No person is a property instance.
Mann solves the triad by denying (c). (37) Some persons are property instances. Indeed, Mann argues that every person is a property instance because everything is a property instance. (38) God is a person and therefore a property instance. If you object that persons are concrete while property instances are abstract, Mann's response is that both are concrete. (37) To be concrete is to be in space and/or time. Socrates is concrete in this sense, but so is his being sunburned.
If you object that persons are substances and thus independent items while property instances are not substances but dependent on substances, Mann's response will be that the point holds for accidental property instances but not for essential property instances. Socrates may lose his wisdom but he cannot lose his humanity. Now all of God's properties are essential: God is essentially omniscient, omnipotent, etc. So it seems to Mann that "the omniscience of God is not any more dependent on God than God is on the omniscience of God: should either cease to be, the other would also." (37) This is scarcely compelling: x can depend on y even if both are necessary beings. Both the set whose sole member is the number 7 and the number 7 itself are necessary beings, but the set depends on its member both for its existence and its necessity, and not vice versa. Closer to home, Aquinas held that some necessary beings have their necessity from another while one has its necessity in itself. I should think that the omniscience of God is dependent on God, and not vice versa. Mann's view, however, is not unreasonable. Intuitions vary.
Mann's argument for the thesis that everything is a property instance involves the notion of a rich property. The rich property of an individual x is a conjunctive property the conjuncts of which are all and only the essential and accidental properties, some of them temporally indexed, instantiated by x throughout x's career. (38) Mann tells us that for anything whatsoever there is a corresponding rich property. From this he concludes that "everything is a property instance of some rich property or other." (38) It follows that every person is a property instance. The argument seems to be this:
A. For every concrete individual x, there is a corresponding rich property R. Therefore,
B. For every concrete individual x, x is a property instance of some rich property or other. Therefore,
C. For every concrete individual x, if x is a person, then x is a property instance.
I am having difficulty understanding this argument. The move from (A) to (B) smacks of a non sequitur absent some auxiliary premise. I grant arguendo that for each concrete individual x there is a corresponding rich property R. And I grant that there are property instances. Thus I grant that, in addition to Socrates and wisdom, there is the wisdom of Socrates. Recall that this property instance is not to be confused with the abstract state of affairs, Socrates' being wise. From what I have granted it follows that for each x there is the rich property instance, the R-ness of x. But how is it supposed to follow that everything is a property instance? Everything instantiates properties, and in this sense everything is an instance of properties; but this is not to say that everything is a property instance. Socrates instantiates a rich property, and so is an instance of a property, but it doesn't follow that Socrates is a property instance. Something is missing in Mann's argument. Either that, or I am missing something.
There is of course no chance that Professor Mann is confusing being an instance of a property with being a property instance. If a instantiates F-ness, then a is an instance of the property F-ness; but a is not a property instance as philosophers use this phrase: the F-ness of a is a property instance. So what do we have to add to Mann's argument for it to generate the conclusion that every concrete individual is a property instance? How do we validate the inferential move from (A) to (B)? Let 'Rs' stand for Socrates' rich property. We have to add the claim that there is nothing one could point to that could distinguish Socrates from the property instance generated when Socrates instantiates Rs. Rich property instances are a special case of property instances. Socrates cannot be identical to his wisdom because he can exist even if his wisdom does not exist. And he cannot be identical to his humanity because there is more to Socrates that his humanity, even though he cannot exist wthout it. But since Socrates' rich property instance includes all his property instances, why can't Socrates be identical to this rich property instance? And so Mann's thought seems to be that there is nothing that could distinguish Socrates from his rich property instance. So they are identical. And likewise for every other individual. But I think this is mistaken. Consequently, I think it is a mistake to hold that every person is a property instance. I give three arguments.
Rich Properties and Haecceity Properties
Socrates can exist without his rich property; ergo, he can exist without his rich property instance; ergo, Socrates cannot be a rich property instance or any property instance. The truth of the initial premise is fallout from the definition of 'rich property.' The R of x is a conjunctive property each conjunct of which is a property of x. Thus Socrates' rich property includes (has as a conjunct) the property of being married to Xanthippe. But Socrates might not have had that property, whence it follows that he might not have had R. (If R has C as a conjunct, then necessarily R has C as a conjunct, which implies that R cannot be what it is without having exactly the conjuncts it in fact has. An analog of mereological essentialism holds for conjunctive properties.) And because Socrates might not have had R, he might not have had the property instance of R. So Socrates cannot be identical to this property instance.
What Mann needs is not a rich property, but an haecceity property: one that individuates Socrates across every possible world in which he exists. His rich property, by contrast, individuates him in only the actual world. In different worlds, Socrates has different rich properties. And in different worlds, Socrates has different rich property instances. It follows that Socrates cannot be identical to, or even necessarily equivalent to, any rich property instance. An haecceity property, however, is a property Socrates has in every world in which he exists, and which he alone has in every world in which he exists. Now if there are such haecceity properties as identity-with-Socrates, then perhaps we can say that Socrates is identical to a property instance, namely, the identity-with-Socrates of Socrates. Unfortunately, there are no haecceity properties as I and others have argued.1 So I conclude that concrete individuals cannot be identified with property instances, whence follows the perhaps obvious proposition that no person is a property instance, not God, not me, not Socrates.
The Revenge of Max Black
Suppose we revisit Max Black's indiscernible iron spheres. There are exactly two of them, and nothing else, and they share all monadic and relational properties. (Thus both are made of iron and each is ten meters from an iron sphere.) There are no properties to distinguish them, and of course there are no haecceity properties. So the rich property of the one is the same as the rich property of the other. It follows that the rich property instance of the one is identical to the rich property instance of the other. But there are two spheres, not one. It follows that neither sphere is identical to its rich property instance. So again I conclude that individuals are not rich property instances.
If you tell me that the property instances are numerically distinct because the spheres are numerically distinct, then you presuppose that individuals are not rich property instances. You presuppose a distinction between an individual and its rich property instance. This second argument assumes that Black's world is metaphysically possible and thus that the Identity of Indiscernibles is not metaphysically necessary. A reasonable assumption!
The Revenge of Josiah Royce
Suppose Phil is my indiscernible twin. Now it is a fact that I love myself. But if I love myself in virtue of my instantiation of a set of properties, then I should love Phil equally. For he instantiates exactly the same properties as I do. But if one of us has to be annihilated, then I prefer that it be Phil. Suppose God decides that one of us is more than enough, and that one of us has to go. I say, 'Let it be Phil!' and Phil says, 'Let it be Bill!' So I don't love Phil equally even though he has all the same properties that I have. I prefer myself and love myself just because I am myself. My Being exceeds my being a rich property instance.
This little thought-experiment suggests that there is more to self-love than love of the being-instantiated of an ensemble of properties. For Phil and I have the same properties, and yet each is willing to sacrifice the other. This would make no sense if the Being of each of us were exhausted by our being instances of sets of properties. In other words, I do not love myself solely as an instance of properties but also as a unique existent individual who cannot be reduced to a mere instance of properties. I love myself as a unique individual. And the same goes for Phil: he loves himself as a unique individual. Each of us loves himself as a unique individual numerically distinct from his indiscernible twin.
Classical theism is a personalism: God is a person and we, as made in the image and likeness of God, are also persons. God keeps us in existence by knowing us and loving us. God is absolutely unique and each of us is unique as, and only as, the object of divine love. The divine love penetrates to the very ipseity and haecceity of me and my indiscernible twin, Phil. God loves us as individuals, as essentially unique (Josiah Royce). But this is not possible if we are reducible to rich property instances. I detect a tension between the personalism of classical theism and the view that persons are property instances.
The Dialectic in Review
One of the entailments of DDS is that God is identical to his attributes, such defining properties as omniscience, omnipotence, etc. This view has its difficulties, so Mann takes a different tack: God is identical to his property instances. This implies that God is a property instance. But God is a person and it is not clear how a person could be a property instance. Mann takes the bull by the horns by boldly arguing that every concrete individual is a property instance -- a rich property instance -- and that therefore every person is a property instance, including God. The argument was found to be uncompelling for the three reasons given. Mann's problems stem from an attempt to adhere to a non-constituent ontology in explication of a doctrine that was developed within, and presumably only makes sense within, a constituent ontology. Too much indebted to A. Plantinga's important but wrong-headed critique of DDS in Does God Have a Nature?, Mann thinks that a shift to property instances will save the day while remaining within Plantinga's nonconstituent ontological framework.2 But God can no more be identical to a concrete property instance than he can to an abstract property.
1 William F. Vallicella, A Paradigm Theory of Existence, Kluwer Philosophical Studies Series #89, 2002, pp. 99-104. See also Hugh J. McCann, Creation and the Sovereignty of God, Indiana UP, 2012, pp. 86-87. See my review article, "Hugh McCann on the Implications of Divine Sovereignty," American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly, vol. 88, no. 1 (Winter 2014), pp. 149-161.
2 See my Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry, “Divine Simplicity,” section 3.
Biblia Vulgata: Si autem Christus non resurrexit, inanis est ergo praedicatio nostra, inanis est et fides vestra.
King James: And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain.
Orthodox* Christianity stands and falls with a contingent historical fact, the fact of the resurrection of Christ from the dead. If he rose from the dead, he is who is said he was and can deliver on his promises. If not, then the faith of the Christian inanis est. It is vain, void, empty, delusional.
Compare Buddhism. It too promises salvation of a sort. But the salvation it promises is not a promise by its founder that rests on the existence of the founder or on anything he did. For Christianity, history is essential, for Buddhism inessential. The historical Buddha is not a savior, but merely an example of a man of whom it is related that he saved himself by realizing his inherent Buddha-nature. The idea of the Buddha is enough as far as we are concerned; his historical existence unnecessary. 'Buddha,' like 'Christ,' is a title: it means 'the Enlightened One.' Buddhism does not depend either on the existence of Siddartha, the man who is said to have become the Buddha, or on Siddartha's becoming the Buddha. Suppose that Siddartha never existed, or existed but didn't attain enlightenment. We would still have the idea of a man attaining enlightenment/salvation by his own efforts. The idea would suffice. (One might wonder, however, whether the real possibility of enlightenment needs attestation by someone's actually having achieved it -- which would drag us back into the realm of historical fact -- or whether the mere conceivability of it entails, or perhaps provides good evidence for, its real possibility.)
Hence the Zen saying, "If you see the Buddha, kill him." I take that to mean that one does not need the historical Buddha, and that cherishing any piety towards him may prove more hindrance than help. Non-attachment extends to the Buddha and his teachings. Buddhism, as the ultimate religion of self-help, enjoins each to become a lamp unto himself. What is essential is the enlightenment that one either achieves or fails to achieve on one's own, an enlightenment which is a natural possibility of all. If one works diligently enough, one can extricate oneself from the labyrinth of samsara. One can achieve the ultimate goal on one's own, by one's own power. There is no need for supernatural assistance. If Buddhism is a religion of self-help, Christianity is most assuredly a religion of other-help. On the latter one cannot drag oneself from the dreck by one's own power.
Trouble is, how many attain the Buddhist goal? And if only a few renunciates ever attain it, how does that help the rest of us poor schleps? By contrast, in Christianity, God, in the person of the Word (Logos) made flesh, does the work for us. Unable ultimately to help ourselves, we are helped by Another. And the help is available to all despite their skills in metaphysics and meditation. As Maurice Blondel observes, . . . if there is a salvation it cannot be tied to the learned solution of an obscure problem. . . It can only be offered clearly to all. (Action, p. 14) (By "do the work for us," I of course do not mean to suggest the sola fide extremism of some Protestants.)
I remain open to Christianity's claims because I doubt the justification of Buddhistic self-help optimism. Try to hoe the Buddhist row and see how far you get. One works and works on oneself but makes little progress. That one needs help is clear. That one can supply it from within one's own resources is unclear. I know of no enlightened persons. But I know of plenty of frauds, spiritual hustlers, and mountebanks. I have encountered Buddhists who become very upset indeed if you challenge their dogmas such as the anatman ('No Self') doctrine. The ego they deny is alive and well in them and angry at having the doctrine to which their nonexistent egos are attached questioned.
Both Buddhism and Christianity are life-denying religions in that they both reject the ultimacy and satisfactoriness of this life taken as end-all and be-all. But while Christianity denies this life for the sake of a higher life elsewhere and elsewhen, Buddhism denies this life for the sake of Nirvanic extinction. The solution to the problem of suffering is to so attenuate desire and aversion that one comes to the realization that one never existed in the first place. Some solution! And yet there is much to learn from Buddhism and its practices. Mindfulness exercises and other practices can be usefully employed by Christians. Christianity and Buddhism are the two highest religions. The two lowest are the religions of spiritual materialism, Judaism and Islam, with Islam at the very bottom of the hierarchy of great religions.
Islam is shockingly crude, as crude as Buddhism is over-refined. The Muslim is promised all the crass material pleasures on the far side that he is forbidden here, as if salvation consists of eating and drinking and endless bouts of sexual intercourse. Hence my term 'spiritual materialism.' 'Spiritual positivism' is also worth considering. The Buddhist is no positivist but a nihilist: salvation through annihilation. What Christianity promises, it must be admitted by the intellectually honest, is very difficult to make rational sense of. For example, one's resurrection as a spiritual body. What does that mean? How is it possible? For an introduction to the problem, see Romano Guardini, The Last Things, "The Spiritual Body," pp. 61-72.
Admittedly, my rank ordering of the great religions is quick and dirty, but it is important to cut to the bone of the matter from time to time with no mincing of words. And, as usual, political correctness be damned. For details on Buddhism see my Buddhism category.
I should say that I take Buddhism very seriously indeed. It is deep and sophisticated with a rich tradition of philosophical commentary. Many of the sutras are beautiful and ennobling. Apart from its mystical branch, Sufism, I cannot take Islam seriously -- except as a grave threat to other religions and indeed to civilization itself. An interesting and important question is whether Muslims are better off with their religion as opposed to having no religion at all. The question does not arise with respect to the other great religions, or if you say it does, then I say it has an easy answer.
There are some affinities between Christianity and Buddhism. One is explored in The Christian 'Anatta Doctrine' of Lorenzo Scupoli.
As for why I am not a Buddhist, I give one reason in Buddhism on Suffering and One Reason I am not a Buddhist. Others are in the Buddhism category.
Here is something for lefties to think about. While there are are some terrorists who are socioculturally Buddhist in that they were raised and acculturated in Buddhist lands, are there any Buddhists who terrorize from Buddhist doctrine?
*By 'orthodox' I do not have in mind Eastern Orthodoxy, but a Christianity that is not mystically interpreted, a Christianity in which, for example, the resurrection is not interpreted to mean the attainment of Christ-consciousness or the realization of Christ-nature.
Herewith, some definite decouplings of rock and roll from sex and drugs.
Norman Greenbaum, Spirit in the Sky
Johnny Cash, Personal Jesus. This is one powerful song.
Johnny Cash, Redemption
Clapton and Winwood, Presence of the Lord. Why is Clapton such a great guitarist? Not because of his technical virtuosity, his 'chops,' but because he has something to say.
George Harrison, My Sweet Lord
George Harrison, All Things Must Pass. Harrison was the Beatle with depth.
Bob Dylan, See that My Grave is Kept Clean
Joan Baez, Leonard Cohen, Ramblin' Jack Elliot, and Buffy Sainte-Marie, Passing Through
Ludwig Wittgenstein, Culture and Value, p. 45e: "Go on, believe! It does no harm."
Simone Weil, Gravity and Grace, tr. Craufurd, Routledge 1995, p. 75:
The infinite which is in man is at the mercy of a little piece of iron; such is the human condition; space and time are the cause of it. It is impossible to handle this piece of iron without suddenly reducing the infinite which is in man to a point on the pointed part, a point on the handle, at the cost of a harrowing pain. The whole being is stricken in the instant; there is no place left for God, even in the case of Christ, where the thought of God is then that of privation. This stage has to be reached if there is to be incarnation. The whole being becomes privation of God: how can we go beyond? After that there is only the resurrection. To reach this stage the cold touch of naked iron is necessary.
'My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?' There we have the real proof that Christianity is something divine. (p. 79)
We are spiritual beings, participants in the infinite and the absolute. But we are also, undeniably, animals. Our human condition is thus a predicament, that of a spiritual animal. As spirits we enjoy freedom of the will and the ability to encompass the whole universe in our thought. As spirits we participate in the infinity and absoluteness of truth. As animals, however, we are but indigent bits of the world's fauna exposed to and compromised by its vicissitudes. As animals we are susceptible to pains and torments that swamp the spirit and obliterate the infinite in us reducing us in an instant to mere screaming animals.
Now if God were to become one of us, fully one of us, would he not have to accept the full measure of the spirit's hostage to the flesh? Would he not have to empty himself fully into our misery? That is Weil's point. The fullness of Incarnation requires that the one incarnated be tortured to death. For if Christ is to be fully human, in addition to fully divine, he must experience the highest exaltation and the lowest degradation. These extreme possibilities, though not actual in all, define being human.
The Crucifixion is the Incarnation in extremis. His spirit, 'nailed' to the flesh, is the spirit of flesh now nailed to the wood of the cross. At this extreme point of the Incarnation, doubly nailed to matter, Christ experiences utter abandonment. He experiences and accepts utter failure and the terrifying thought that his whole life and ministry were utterly delusional.
The darkest hour. And then dawn.
Having somewhat churlishly accused Daniel M. of failing to understand my post Does Classical Theism Logically Require Haecceitism, he wrote back in detail demonstrating that he did understand me quite well. I will now post his e-mail with some responses in blue.
A haecceity property is a property H of x such that: (i) H is essential to x; (ii) nothing distinct from x instantiates H in the actual world; (iii) nothing distinct from x instantiates H in any metaphysically possible world.
Haecceitism is the doctrine that there are haecceities. But what is an haecceity?
Suppose we take on board for the space of this post the assumptions that (i) properties are abstract objects, that (ii) they can exist unexemplified, and that (iii) they are necessary beings. We may then define the subclass of haecceity properties as follows.
A haecceity is a property H of x such that: (i) H is essential to x; (ii) nothing distinct from x exemplifies H in the actual world; (iii) nothing distinct from x exemplifies H in any metaphysically possible world.
So if there is a property of Socrates that is his haecceity, then there is a property that individuates him, and indeed individuates him across all times and worlds at which he exists: it is a property that he must have, that nothing distinct from him has, and that nothing distinct from him could have. Call this property Socrateity. Being abstract and necessary, Socrateity is obviously distinct from Socrates, who is concrete and contingent. Socrateity exists in every world, but is exemplified (instantiated) in only some worlds. What's more, Socrateity exists at every time in every world that is temporally qualified, whereas Socrates exist in only some worlds and only at some times in the worlds in which he exists.
Now suppose you are a classical theist. Must you accept haecceitism (as defined above) in virtue of being a classical theist? I answer in the negative. Franklin Mason answers in the affirmative. In a comment on an earlier post, Mason gives this intriguing argument into which I have interpolated numerals for ease of reference.
 When God created the world, he knew precisely which individuals he would get. Thus  he didn't need to have those very individuals in front of him to know which ones they were. Thus  there must be a way to individuate all possible individuals that in no way depends upon their actual existence.  Such a thing is by definition a haecceity. Thus  there are haecceities.
I don't anticipate any disagreement with Mason as to what an haecceity is. We are both operating with the Plantingian notion. We disagree, however, on (i) whether there are any haecceities and (ii) whether classical theism is committed to them. I deny both (i) and (ii). In this post I focus on (ii). In particular, I will explain why I do not find Mason's argument compelling.
My reservations concern premise . There is a sense in which it is true that when God created Socrates, he knew which individual he would get. But there is also a sense in which it is not true. So we need to make a distinction. We may suppose, given the divine omniscience, that before God created Socrates he had before his mind a completely determinate description, down to the very last detail, of the individual he was about to bring into existence. In this sense, God knew precisely which individual he would get before bringing said individual into existence. Now either this description is pure or it is impure.
A pure description is one that includes no proper names, demonstratives or other indexicals, or references to singular properties. Otherwise the description is impure. Thus 'snub-nosed, rationalist philosopher married to Xanthippe' is an impure description because it includes the proper name 'Xanthippe.' 'Snubnosed, rationalist, married philosopher,' by contrast, is pure. (And this despite the fact that 'married' is a relational predicate: necessarily, to be married is to be married to someone or other.) Pure descriptions are qualitative in that they include no references to specific individuals. Impure descriptions are nonqualitative in that they do include references to specific individuals. Thus 'person identical to Socrates' is a nonqualitative description.
Now if God has before his mind a complete pure description of the individual he wills to create then that description could apply to precisely one individual after creation without being restricted to any precise one. (Cf. Barry Miller, "Future Individuals and Haecceitism," Review of Metaphysics 45, September 1991, p. 14) This is a subtle distinction but an important one. It is possible that Socrates have an indiscernible twin. Call his 'Schmocrates.' So the complete description 'snub-nosed, rationalist philosopher, etc.' could apply to precisely one individual without applying to Socrates, the man in the actual world that we know and love as Socrates. This is because his indiscernible twin Schmocrates would satisfy it just as well as he does. The description would then apply to precisely one individual without being restricted to any precise one. So there is a clear sense, pace Mason, in which God, prior to creation, would not know which individual he would get. Prior to creation, God knows that there will be an individual satisfying a complete description. But until the individual comes into existence, he won't know which individual this will be.
As I see it, creation understood Biblically as opposed to Platonically is not the bestowal of existence upon a pre-existent, fully-formed, wholly determinate essence. It is not the actualization of a wholly determinate mere possible. There is no individual essence or haecceity prior to creation. Creation is the creation ex nihilo of a new individual. God creates out of nothing, not out of pre-existent individual essences or pre-existent mere possibles. Thus the very individuality of the individual first comes into being in the creative act. Socrates' individuality and haecceity and ipsiety do not antedate (whether temporally or logically) his actual existence.
Mason would have to be able rationally to exclude this view of creation, and this view of the relation of existence and individuality, for his argument to be compelling. As it is, he seems merely to assume that they are false.
Could God, before creation, have before his mind a complete impure description, one that made reference to the specific individual that was to result from the creative act? No, and this for the simple reason that before the creative act that individual would not exist. And therein lies the absurdity of Plantingian haecceities. The property of identity-with-Socrates is a nonqualitative haecceity that makes essential reference to Socrates. Surely it is absurd to suppose that that this 'property' exists at times and in possible worlds at which Socrates does not exist. To put it another way, it is absurd to suppose that this 'property' could antedate (whether temporally or logically) the existence of Socrates.
We are now in a position to see why Mason's argument is not compelling. If  is true, then  doesn't follow from it. And if  follows from , then  is false. Thus  conflates two distinct propositions:
1a. When God created the world, he knew precisely which pure complete descriptions would be satisfied.
1b. When God created the world, he knew precisely which individuals would exist.
(1a) is true, but it does not entail
2. God didn't need to have those very individuals in front of him to know which ones they were.
(1b) entails (2), but (1b) is false.
I conclude that classical theism does not entail haecceitism. One can be such a theist without accepting haecceities. This is a good thing since there are no haecceity properties!
And one of them, a doctor of the Law, putting him to the test, asked him, "Master, which is the great commandment in the Law?" Jesus said to him, "'Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole mind.' This is the greatest and the first commandment. And the second is like it, 'Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.' On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets." (Matthew 22:35-40)
Can love be reasonably commanded? Love is an emotion or feeling. As such it is not under the control of the will. And yet we are commanded to love God and neighbor. How is this possible? An action can be commanded, but love is not an action. Love is an emotional response. So how can love be commanded?
In the case of loving God, there is not only the problem of how love can be commanded, but also the problem of how one can love what one doesn't know. Some people are such that to know them is to love them. Their lovableness naturally elicits a loving response. But apart from the mystical glimpses vouchsafed only to some and even to them only rarely and fitfully, God is not known but believed in. He is an object of faith, not of knowledge. (If you say that God is known by description via theistic 'proofs,' my response will be that such knowledge is not knowledge of God but knowledge that something or other satisfies the description in question.) How can we love God if we are not acquainted with God? Genuine love of God is love de re, not de dicto.
I won't be discussing the second problem in this entry, that of how one can love what one doesn't know, but only the first, namely: How can love be commanded, whether it be the love of God or the love of neighbor?
Here is quick little modus tollens. If love can be commanded, then love is an action, something I can will myself to do; love is not an action, not something I can will myself to do, but an emotional response; ergo, love cannot be commanded.
One way around the difficulty is by reinterpreting what is meant by 'love.' While I cannot will myself to love you, I can will to act benevolently toward you. And while it makes no sense to command love, it does make sense to command benevolent behavior. "You ought to love her" makes no sense; but "You ought to act as if you love her" does make sense. There cannot be a duty to love, but there might be a duty to do the sorts of things to and for a person that one would do without a sense of duty if one were to love her.
The idea, then, is to construe "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself" as "Thou shalt act towards everyone as one acts toward those few whom one loves" or perhaps "Thou shalt act toward one's neighbor as if one loved him."
The above is essentially Kant's view as reported by William E. Mann, God, Modality, and Morality, pp.236 ff. It makes sense. But how does it apply to love of God?
Perhaps like this. To love God with one's whole heart, mind, and soul is to to act as if one loves God with one's whole heart, mind, and soul. But how does one do that? One way is by acting as if one loves one's neighbor as oneself. Another way, and this is my suggestion, is by living the quest for God via prayer, meditation, and philosophy.
A tip of the hat to Karl White for pointing us to this article which includes a critique of Francis Beckwith's contribution to the debate. Craig concludes:
So whether Muslims and Christians can be said to worship the same God is not the truly germane question. The question is which conception of God is true.
I would allow that the latter question is the more important of the two questions, but it is not the question most of us were discussing. In my various posts, I endeavored to remain neutral on the question of the truth of Christianity while pursuing the former question. See the first two related articles infra.
Suppose the true God is the triune God. Then two possibilities. One is that Muslims worship the true God, but not as triune, indeed as non-triune; they worship the true God all right, the same one the Christians worship; it is just that the Muslims have one or more false beliefs about the true God. The other possibility is that Muslims do not worship the true God; they worship a nonexistent God, an idol. We are assuming the truth of monotheism: there is a God, but only one.
Now worship entails reference in the following sense: Necessarily, if I worship the true God, then I successfully refer to the true God. (The converse does not hold). So either (A) the (normative) Muslim successfully refers to the true God under one or more false descriptions, or else (B) he does not successfully refer to the true God at all.
Now which is it, (A) or (B)?
The answer depends on your theory of reference.
Consider this 'Kripkean' scenario. God presents himself to Abraham in person. All of Abraham's experiences on this marvellous occasion are veridical. Abraham 'baptizes God' with the name Yahweh or YHWH. The same name (though in different transliterations and translations) is passed on to people who use it with the intention of preserving the direct reference the name got when Abraham first baptized God with it. The name passes down eventually to Christians and Muslims. Of course the conceptions of God are different for Abraham, St. Paul, and Muhammad. To mention one striking difference: for Paul God became man in Jesus of Nazareth; not so for Muhammad, for whom such a thing is impossible.
If you accept a broadly Millian-Kripkean theory of reference, then it is reasonable to hold that (A) is true. For if the reference of 'God' is determined by an initial baptism or tagging and a causal chain of name transmission, then the reference of 'God' will remain the same even under rather wild variation in the concept of God. The Christian concept includes triunity; the Muslim conception excludes it. That is a radical difference in the conceptions. And yet this radical difference is consistent with sameness of referent. This is because the reference is not routed though the conception: it is not determined by the conception. The reference is determined by the initial tagging and the subsequent name transmission.
Now consider a 'Fressellian' scenario. The meaning of a proper name is not exhausted by its reference. Names are more than Millian tags. It is not just that proper names have senses: they have reference-determining senses. On a descriptivist or 'Fressellian' semantics, a thoughtful tokening by a person P of a proper name N successfully refers to an individual x just in case there exists an x such that x uniquely satisfies the definite descriptions associated with N by P and the members of his linguistic community.
So when a Christian assertively utters a token of 'God is almighty,' his use of 'God' successfully refers to God only if there is something that satisfies the sense the Christian qua Christian associates with 'God.' Now that sense must include being triune. The same goes for the Muslim except that the sense that must be satisfied for the Muslim reference to be successful must include being non-triune.
It should now be clear that, despite the considerable overlap in the Christian and Muslim conceptions of God, they cannot be referring to the same being on the 'Fressellian' theory of reference. For on this theory, sense determines reference, and no one thing can satisfy two senses one of which includes while the other excludes being triune. So we have to conclude, given the assumption of monotheism, that the Christian and Muslim do not refer to one and the same God. Given that the true God is triune, the Christian succeeds in referring to the true God while the Muslim fails. The Muslim does not succeed in referring to anything.
So I continue to maintain that whether Christians and Muslims worship the same God depends on one's theory of reference. This is why the question has no easy answer.
Those who simple-mindedly insist that Christians and Muslims worship numerically the same God are uncritically presupposing a dubious Millian-Kripkean theory of reference.
Exercise for the reader: explain what is wrong with Juan Cole's article below.
She says that it is too important to be left to philosophers. She is right that the debate is important and has practical consequences, although I don't think any of the philosophers who have 'piped up' recently (Beckwith, Tuggy, Feser, Rea, Vallicella, et al.) want to take the debate merely as a point of entry into technical questions about reference and identity.
One of the points McGrew makes is one I have repeatedly made as well, namely, that the sorts of examples proffered by Francis Beckwith, Dale Tuggy, and Edward Feser beg the question. If the question is whether Christians and Muslims worship and refer to the same God, one cannot just assume that they do and then take one's task to be one of explaining how it is possible. Of course it is possible to refer to one and the same thing under different descriptions. But how does that show that in the case before us there is one and the same thing?
Another point that McGrew makes that I have also made is that one cannot show that the Christian and Muslim God are the same because their respective conceptions significantly overlap. No doubt they do: for both religions there is exactly one God, transcendent of his creation, who is himself uncreated, etc. But the overlap is insufficient to show numerical identity because of the highly important differences. Could one reasonably claim that classical theists and Spinozists worship the same God? I don't think so. The difference in attributes is too great. The reasonable thing to say is that if classical theism is true, then Spinozists worship a nonexistent God. Similarly, the difference between a triune God who entered the material realm to share our life and misery for our salvation and a non-triune God whose radical transcendence renders Incarnation impossible is such a huge difference that it is reasonable to take it as showing that the Christian and Muslim Gods cannot be the same.
McGrew and I also agree in rejecting what I will call the 'symmetry argument': since Jews and Christian worship the same God, the Christians and Muslims also worship the same God. It doesn't follow. Roughly, the Christian revelation does not contradict the Jewish revelation on the matter of the Trinity, since the Jews took no stand on this question before the time of Jesus. The Christian revelation supplements the Jewish revelation. The Islamic 'revelation,' however, contradicts the Christian one by explicitly specifying that God cannot be triune and must be disincarnate.
McGrew is certainly right that the 'same God' question ". . . can’t be decided by a flick of the philosophical wrist." And this needed to be said. Where I may be differing from her, though, is that on my view a really satisfactory resolution of the questions cannot be achieved unless and until we achieve real clarity about the underlying questions about reference, identity, existence, property-possession, and so on. It is highly unlikely, however, that these questions will ever be answered to the satisfaction of all competent practioners.
Where does this leave the ordinary Christian believer? Should he accept the same God thesis? It is not clear to me that he needs to take any position on it at all. But if he feels the need to take a stand, I say to him that he can rest assured that his non-acceptance of it is rationally justifiable.
Master podcaster Dr. Dale Tuggy and I continue our discussion. He's got a great voice for this medium, doesn't he? Me, I'm too sotto voce.
Francis Beckwith mentions the Kalam Cosmological Argument in his latest The Catholic Thing article (7 January 2106):
1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
2. The universe began to exist.
3. Therefore, the universe has a cause of its existence.
Suppose that a Muslim and Christian come to believe that God exists on the basis of this Kalam argument and such ancillary philosophical arguments and considerations as are necessary to establish that the cause of the universe is uncreated, transcendent of the universe, unchanging, etc. The result is a conception of God achieved by reason without the aid of divine revelation. It is a conception common to the normative Muslim and the normative Christian. Crucial differences emerge when the core conception is fleshed out in competing ways by the competing (putative) revelations. But if we stick with the core philosophical conception, then all should agree that there is important overlap as between the Christian and Muslim God conceptions. The overlap is achieved by abstraction from the differences.
So far so good.
Beckwith then asks whether the Muslim and the Christian "believe in the same God" and he concludes that they do.
Permit me a quibble. 'Believe in' connotes 'trust in, have faith in, rely upon the utterances of,' and so on. I believe in my wife: I trust her, I am convinced of her fidelity. That goes well beyond believing that she exists. If I believe in a person, it follows that I believe that the person exists. But if I believe that a person exists, it does not follow that I believe in the person. Professor Beckwith is of course aware of this distinction.
At best, then, what the Christian and the Muslim are brought to by the Kalam argument and supplementary considerations is not belief in God, but belief that God exists. To be even more precise, the Kalam argument, at best, brings us to the belief that there exists a unique, transcendent, uncreated (etc.) cause of the beginning of the universe. In other words, both Christian and Muslim are brought to the belief and perhaps even the knowledge that a certain definite description is satisfied. The properties mentioned in this description are what constitute the shared philosophical understanding of 'God' by the Muslim and the Christian. At best, philosophy brings us to knowledge of God by description, not a knowledge by acquaintance. The common description is usefully thought of as a 'job description' inasmuch as God in brought in to do a certain explanatory job, that of explaining the beginning of the universe. As my teacher J. N. Findlay once said, "God has his uses."
But note that this common Christian-Muslim description leaves undetermined many properties an existent God must possess. (And it must be so given the finitude of our discursive, ectypal, intellects.) But in reality, outside the mind and outside language, God, like everything else, is completely determinate, or complete, for short. I am assuming the following existence entails completeness principle of general metaphysics (metaphysica generalis).
EX -->COMP: Necessarily, for any existent x, and for any non-intentional property P, either x instantiates P or x instantiates the complement of P.
What the principle states is that every real item, everything that exists, satisfies the property version of the Law of Excluded Middle. It rules out of reality incomplete objects. For example, God in reality is either triune or non-triune. He cannot be neither, any more than I can be neither a blogger nor not a blogger. The definite description(s) by means of which we have knowledge by description of God, however, are NECESSARILY (due to the finitude of our intellects) such that there are properties of God in reality that these descriptions do not mention. This is of course true of knowledge by description of everything. Everything is such that no description manageable by a finite mind makes mention of all of the thing's properties, intrinsic and relational.
Now suppose that Christianity is true and that God in reality is triune. Then the above common definite description is satisfied. The common Muslim-Christian conception is instantiated -- but it is instantiated by the Christian God which of course must exist to instantiate it.
The Christian and the Muslim both believe that God (understood as the unique uncreated creator of the universe) exists. That is: they believe that the common conception of God is instantiated, that the common definite description is satisfied. They furthermore believe that the common conception is uniquely instantiated and that the common description is uniquely satisfied. But they differ as to whether the instantiator/satisfier is the triune God or the non-triune God.
So we can answer our question as follows. The question, recall, is: Do Christians and Muslims believe in the same God?
Muslims and Christians believe in the same God, as Beckwith claims, in the following precise sense: they believe that the same God exists, which is to say: they believe that the common philosophical God concept is uniquely instantiated, instantiated by exactly one being. Call this the anemic sense of believing in the same God.
But this is consistent with saying that Muslim and Christian do not believe in the same God in the following precise sense: they don't believe that the wholly determinate being in reality that instantiates the common philosophical God concept is the triune God who sent his only begotten Son, etc. Call this the robust sense of believing in the same God.
Now we robustos will naturally go with the robust sense. So, to give a plain answer: Christians and Muslims do not believe in the same God. If Christianity is true, the Muslim God simply does not exist, and Muslims believe in an idol.
The mistake that some are making here is to suppose that the shared Muslim-Christian philosophical understanding enscapsulated in the common concept suffices to show that in reality one and the same God is believed in, and successfully referred to, and non-idolatrously worshipped by both Muslims and Christians. Not so!
The real (extramental, extralinguistic) existence of God cannot be identified with or reduced to the being instantiated of a concept that includes only some of the divine determinations (properties). 'Is instantiated' is a second-level predicate, but God exists in the first-level way. Equivalently, God is not identical to an instance of one of our concepts. God is transcendent of all our concepts. So if we know by revelation that God is a Trinity, then we know that the Muslim God, the non-triune God, does not exist.
So far, Ed Feser's is perhaps the best of the Internet discussions of this hot-button question, a question recently re-ignited by the Wheaton dust-up, to mix some metaphors. Herewith, some notes on Feser's long entry. I am not nearly as philosophically self-confident as Ed or Lydia McGrew, so I will mainly just be trying to understand the issue for my own edification. But I am sure of one thing: the question is difficult and has no easy solution. If you think it does, then I humbly suggest you are not thinking very hard, indeed, you are hardly thinking.
1. Feser rightly points out that a difference in (Fregean) sense does not entail a difference in (Fregean) reference. So the difference in sense as between 'God of the Christians' and 'God of the Muslims' does not entail that these expressions differ in reference. Quite so. But I would add that on a descriptivist semantics reference is routed through, and determined by, sense: an expression picks out its object in virtue of the latter's unique satisfaction of an identifying description associated with the referring expression, a description that unpacks the expression's sense. If we think of reference in this way, then 'God' refers to whichever entity, if any, that satisfies the definite description encapsulated in 'God' as this term is used in a given linguistic community. So while difference in sense does not by itself entail difference in reference, difference in sense is consistent with difference in reference, so that in a particular case it may be that the difference in sense is sufficiently great to entail a difference in reference. Suppose that in one linguistic community a person understands by 'God' the unique contingent being who created the universe but was himself created, while in another a person understands by 'God' the unique necessary uncreated being who created the universe. In this case I think it is clear that the difference in sense entails a difference in reference. Both uses of 'God' may fail of reference, or one might succeed. But they cannot both succeed. For nothing can be both necessary and contingent.
From what has been said so far, 'God' (used by a Christian) and 'Allah' (used by a Muslim) may have the same reference or may have a different reference. The issue cannot be decided by merely pointing out that a difference in sense does not entail a difference in reference.
2. Feser makes a point about beliefs that is surely correct. You and I can have conflicting beliefs about a common object of successful reference without prejudice to its being precisely a common object of successful reference. For example, we both see a sharp-dressed man across the room drinking from a Martini glass. Suppose I erroneously believe that he is drinking a Martini while you correctly believe that he is drinking water. That difference in belief is obviously consistent with one and the same man's being our common object of perceptual and linguistic reference. "Similarly, the fact that Muslims have what Christians regard as a number of erroneous beliefs about God does not by itself entail that Muslims and Christians are not referring to the same thing when they use the expression 'God.'" (Emphasis added.)
True, but it could also be that conflicting beliefs make it impossible that there be a common object of successful reference. It will depend on what those beliefs are and whether they are incorporated into the respective senses of 'God' as used by Muslims and Christians. I will also depend on one's theory of reference, whether descriptivist, causal, hybrid, or something else.
It should also be observed that in perceptual cases such as the Martini case there is no question but that we are referentially glomming onto one and the same object. The existence and identity of the sharp-dressed drinker are given to the senses. Since we know by direct sensory acquaintance that it is the same man both of us see, the conflicting beliefs have no tendency to show otherwise. But God is not an object of perception via the outer senses. So one can question how much weight we should assign to the perceptual analogies, and indeed to any analogy that makes mention of a physical thing. At best, these analogies show that, in general, contradictory beliefs about a putatively self-same x are consistent with there being in reality one and the same subject of these beliefs. But they are also consistent with there not being in reality one and the same subject of the contradictory beliefs.
But not only is God not an object of sensory acquaintance, he is also arguably not an object among objects or a being among beings. Suppose God is ipsum esse subsistens as Aquinas held. It will then be serious question whether a theory of reference that caters to ordinary references to intramundane people and things, beings, can be extended to accommodate reference to self-subsistent Being. Not clear! But I raise this hairy issue only to set it aside for the space of this entry. I will assume for now that God is a being among beings. I bring this issue up only to get people to appreciate how difficult and involved this 'same God?' issue is. Do not comment on this paragraph; it is off-topic for present purposes. See here for one of the posts in which I disagree with Dale Tuggy on this issue.
3. Now consider these conflicting beliefs: God is triune; God is not triune. Please note that it would be question-begging to announce that the fact of this dispute entails that the object of the dispute is one and the same. For that is exactly what is at issue. The following would be a question-begging little speech:
Look man, we are disputing whether God is triune or not triune; we are therefore presupposing that there is one and the same thing, God, about whose properties we are disputing! The disagreement entails sameness of object! Same God!
This is question-begging because it may be that the tokens of 'God' in "God is triune; God is not triune" differ in sense so radically that they also differ in reference. In other words, the mere fact that one and the same word-type 'God' is tokened twice does not show that there is one and the same object about whose properties we are disputing.
4. Feser writes,
Even errors concerning God’s Trinitarian nature are not per se sufficient to prevent successful reference. Abraham and Moses were not Trinitarians, but no Christian can deny that they referred to, and worshiped, the same God Christians do.
[. . .]
But shouldn’t a Christian hold that some reference to the Trinity or to the divinity of Jesus is also at least necessary, even if not sufficient, for successful reference to the true God? Doesn’t that follow from the fact that being Trinitarian is, from a Christian point of view, also essential to God? No, that doesn’t follow at all, and any Christian who says otherwise will, if he stops and thinks carefully about it, see that he doesn’t really believe that it follows. Again, Christians don’t deny that Abraham and Moses, or modern Jews, or Arians and other heretics, refer to and worship the same God as orthodox Christians, despite the fact that these people do not affirm the Trinity or the divinity of Jesus.
There is a modal fudge across these two passages that I don't think it is mere pedantry on my part to point out. In the first passage Feser claims in effect that
A. No Christian CAN deny that Abraham and Moses worshiped the same God that Christians do
while in the second Feser claims in effect that
B. No Christian DOES deny that Abraham and Moses worshiped the same God that Christians do.
If we charitably substitute 'hardly any' for 'no' in (B) then we get a statement that I am willing to concede is true. (A), however, strikes me as false. I myself am strongly tempted to deny that Jews and Christians worship the same God -- assuming that the Jewish God is non-triune and explicitly determined to be such by Jews -- and what I am strongly tempted to do strikes me as entirely possible and rationally justifiable. Why can't someone reasonably deny that Jews and Christians worship the same God?
Feser thinks he has cited some incontrovertible fact that decides the issue, the fact being that everyone or almost everyone claims that Jews and Christians worship the same God. I concede the fact. What I don't concede is that it decides the issue. My claim against Feser on the present occasion is not that he is wrong to maintain that (normative) Jews, Christians, and Muslims all worship the same God, but that he is not obviously right, his confident asseverations in the passages lately quoted notwithstanding. I am saying to Feser what I said to Beckwith and Tuggy: you gentlemen think this issue easily resolved. But it isn't, in large part because its resolution depends on the solution of hitherto unsolved problems in the philosophy of language.
Here are two questions we ought to distinguish:
Q1. Do Christians use 'God' and equivalents with the intention of referring to the same being that Jews refer to or think they are referring to with 'God' and equivalents?
Q2. Do Christians and Jews succeed in refer to the same being?
An affirmative answer to the first question is consistent with a negative answer to the second question. I agree with an affirmative answer to (Q1). But this affirmative answer does not entail an affirmative answer to (Q2). Moreover, it is reasonable to return a negative answer to (Q2). I will now try to explain how it is reasonable to answer (Q2) in the negative.
5. The crux of the matter is the nature of reference. How exactly is successful reference achieved? And what exactly is reference? And how is worship related to reference?
First off,the causal theory of Kripke, Donnellan, et al. is reasonably rejected and I reject it . It is rife with difficulties. (See e.g., John Searle, Intentionality, Cambridge UP, 1983, ch. 9) Connected with this is my subscription to the broadly logical primacy of the intentional over the linguistic. Part of what this means is that words don't refer, people refer using words, and they don't need to use words to refer. All reference, at bottom, is thinking reference or mental reference. Reference at bottom is intentionality. To refer to something, then, whether with words or without words, is to intend it or think of it. This is to be understood as implying that words, phrases, and the like, considered in their physical being as marks on paper or sounds in the air or carvings in stone (etc.) are entirely lacking in any intrinsic referential, representative, semantic, or intentional character. They are not intrinsically object-directed. There is no object-directedness in nature apart from mind. (Though it may be that dispositionality is an analog of it. See here.) This is equivalent to saying that there is no objective reference without mind. A word acquires reference only when it is thoughtfully used.
Reference to particulars in the sense of 'refer' just explained is always and indeed necessarily reference to propertied particulars. This is because reference to a particular 'picks it out' from all else, singles it out, designates it to the exclusion of everything else. Particulars taken in abstraction from their properties cannot be singled out to the exclusion of all else. To think of a thing or person is to think of it as an instance of certain properties and indeed in such a way as to distinguish it from all else. So, to think of, and thus refer to, a particular is to think of it as an instance of a set of properties that jointly individuate it.
To refer to God, then, is to think of God as an instance of certain properties. I cannot think of God directly as just a particular, and then as instantiating certain properties. This ought to be quite clear from the fact that in this life our (natural) knowledge of God is not by acquaintance but by description. I don't literally see God when I look upwards at "the starry skies above me" or gaze inward at "the moral law within me" to borrow a couple of signature phrases from Immanuel Kant. Our only access to God here below is indirect via his properties, as an instance of those properties. Here below we approach God from the side of his properties as we understand them. The existence and identity of my table is known directly by acquaintance. Not so in the case of God. The existence of God is not given to sense perception but has to be understood as the being-instantiated of certain properties. The God I know by description is God qua uniquely satisfying my understanding of 'God.'
Someone could object: What about mystical experience? Is it not possible in this life to enjoy mystical knowledge by acquaintance of God? This is a very large, and I think separate topic. To the extent that mystical experience leads to mystical union it tends to collapse the I-Thou and man-God duality that is part of the framework of worship as we are discussing it in this context. See my Buber on Buddhism and Other Forms of Mysticism. It also tends to explode the framework in which questions about reference are posed . I mean the framework in which: here is a minded organism with linguistic capacity who thoughtfully utters certain words and phrases while out there are various things to which the organism is trying to refer and often succeeding.
There is also the question of the veridicality of mystical experience. How do I know that an experience of mine is revelatory of something real? How do I know that successive experiences of mine are revelatory of the same thing? How do I know that the mystical experiences of different people are veridically of the same thing? So I suggest we bracket the question of mystical experience.
Any natural knowledge of God in this life, then, is by description. Reference to God is indirect and via the understanding of 'God' within a given religion. Now the orthodox Christian understanding of 'God' is that God sent his only begotten Son, begotten not made, into our predicament to teach us and show us the Way (via, veritas, vita) and to suffer and die for our sins. Together with this contingent Sending goes the triunity of God as the necessary condition of its possibility. This is part of what an orthodox Christian means by 'God,' although I reckon few Christians would put it the way I just did. It is part of the sense of 'God' for an orthodox Christian. But this is not part of the sense of 'God' for the orthodox Muslim who denies the Trinity, the Incarnation, and the soteriology connected with both.
So do Christians and Muslims succeed in referring to the same being? No. Successful reference on a descriptivist semantics requires the cooperation of Mind and World. Successful reference, whether with words or without words, requires that there exist outside the mind something that satisfies the conditions set within the mind. (Remember: it is not primarily words that refer, but minds via words and mental states.) Now suppose there exists exactly one God and that that God is a Trinity. Then the Christian's understanding of 'God' will be satisfied, and his reference to God will be successful. But the Muslim's reference will fail. The reason for this is that there is nothing outside the mind that satisfies his characteristic understanding of 'God.'
Of course, the Muslim could put it the other way around. Either way, my point goes through: Muslim and Christian cannot be referring to the one and the same God.
You say the Christian and Muslim understandings of 'God' overlap? You are right! But this overlap is but an abstraction insufficient to determine an identifying reference to a concrete, wholly determinate, particular. In reality, God is completely determinate. As such, he cannot be neither triune nor not triune, neither incarnated nor not incarnated, etc. in the way the overlapping conception is. So if the triune God exists, then the non-triune God does not exist. Of course, we can say that the Christian and the Muslim are 'driving in the same direction.' Heading West on Interstate 10, I am driving toward the greater Los Angeles area, and thus I am driving toward both Watts and Laguna Niguel. But there is a big difference, and perhaps one pertaining unto my 'salvation,' whether I arrive in Watts or in Laguna Niguel. What's more, I cannot terminate my drive in some indeterminate location. The successful termination of my peregrination must occur at some wholly definite place. So too with successful reference to a concrete particular: it must terminate with a completely determinate referent.
Here is another related objection. "If the Christian God exists, then both Christian and Muslim succeed in referring to the same God -- it is just that this same God is the Christian God, i.e., God as understood in the characteristically Christian way. The existence of the Christian God suffices to satisfy the common Christian-Muslim underdstanding of 'God.'"
In reply I repeat that both mind and world must cooperate for successful reference on a descriptivist semantics. So it is not enough that God exists and that there be exactly one God. Nor is it enough that the one God satisfy the common Christian-Muslim conception; for the Muslim God to be an object of successful reference it must both exist and satisfy the characteristic Muslim understanding of 'God.'
My thesis is a rather modest one. To repeat what I said above:
My claim against Feser on the present occasion is not that he is wrong to maintain that (normative) Jews, Christians, and Muslims all worship the same God, but that he is not obviously right, his confident asseverations in the passages lately quoted notwithstanding. I am saying to Feser what I said to Beckwith and Tuggy: you gentlemen think this issue easily resolved. But it isn't, in large part because its resolution depends on the solution of hitherto unsolved problems in the philosophy of language.
Yale's Miroslav Volf has a 17 December 2015 piece entitled Wheaton professor’s suspension is about anti-Muslim bigotry, not theology. It is a sloppy piece of mere journalism but it does raise an important question:
What is theologically wrong with asserting that Christians and Muslims worship the same God, according to Hawkins’s opponents — and mine? Muslims deny the Trinity and incarnation, and, therefore, the Christian God and Muslim God cannot be the same. But the conclusion doesn’t square. And Christians, though historically not friendly to either Judaism or the Jews, have rightly resisted that line of thinking when it comes to the God of Israel.
The important question is this: Is someone who denies that the Christian and Muslim Gods are the same logically committed to denying that the Christian and Jewish Gods are the same? Volf seems to think so. To the extent that an argument can be attributed to Volf it seems to be this:
A. There are good reasons to deny that the Christian and Muslim Gods are the same if and only if there are good reasons to deny that the Jewish and Christian Gods are the same.
B. There are no good reasons to deny that the Jewish and Christian Gods are the same.
C. There are no good reasons to deny that the Christian and Muslims Gods are the same.
I think one can reasonably reject (A). Volf writes,
For centuries, a great many Orthodox Jews have strenuously objected to those same Christian convictions: Christians are idolaters because they worship a human being, Jesus Christ, and Christians are polytheists because they worship “Father, Son and the Spirit” rather than the one true God of Israel.
It is arguable however that these great many Orthodox Jews have misrepresented the Christian convictions. Christians do not worship a mere human being; they worship a being that is both human and divine. So the charge of idolatry is easily turned aside. And Christians are not polytheists since they explicitly maintain that there is exactly one God, albeit in three divine persons. Trinitarianism is not tri-theism.
A Christian could say this: The God of the ancient Jews and the God of the Christians is the same God; it is just that his attributes were more fully revealed in the Christian revelation. The Christian revelation augments and supersedes the Jewish revelation without contradicting it. Or did Jews before Christianity arose explicitly maintain that God could not be triune? Did they address this question explicitly? And did they explicitly maintain that Incarnation as Christians understand it is impossible? (These are not rhetorical questions; I am really asking!) Suppose the answers are No and No. Then one could argue that the Christian revelation fills in the Jewish revelation without contradicting it and that the two putatively distinct Gods are the same. My knowledge of an object can be enriched over time without prejudice to its remaining numerically one and the same object.
Analogy: the more Dale Tuggy 'reveals' about himself, the fuller my knowledge of him becomes. Time was when I didn't know which state he hails from. At that time he was to my mind indeterminate with respect to the property of being from Texas: he was to my mind neither from Texas nor not from Texas. I simply had no belief about his native state. But now I know he is from Texas. There was no real change in him in this respect; there was a doxastic change in me. My knowledge of the man was enriched due to his 'self-revelation.'
Now why couldn't it be like that with respect to the O.T. God and the N.T. God? We know him better now because we know him through Jesus Christ, but he is numerically the same One as we knew before.
It is different with Islam. It is arguably a Christian heresy that explicitly denies Trinity and Incarnation which (from the Christian point of view) are attributes God has revealed to us. Islam takes a backward step. Arguably, Islam's God does not exist since it is determined explicitly to be non-triune and non-incarnated. The God of the O. T. was not explicitly determined to be non-triune and non-incarnated; so there is no difficulty with the O.T. God being identical to the N. T. God. But what if Jews now claim, or even before the Christ event claimed, that their God is non-triune and non-incarnated? Then their God does not exist. This seems like a reasonable line for a Christian to take. It involves no bigotry whatsoever.
Of course, these issues are exceedingly difficult and one cannot reasonably expect to reach any agreement on them among learned and sincere truth-seekers. I am not being dogmatic above. As before, I am urging caution and rejecting simple-minded solutions. Volf's simple-mindedness and sloppy journalism gets us nowhere. And his accusations of bigotry are deeply offensive and themselves an expression of politically correct bigotry.
Let us meditate this Christmas morning on the sheer audacity of the idea that God would not only enter this world of time and misery, but come into it in the most humble manner possible, inter faeces et urinam nascimur, born between feces and urine, entering between the legs of a poor girl in a stable. Just like one of us, a slob like one of us. The notion is so mind-boggling that one is tempted to credit it for this very reason, for its affront to Reason, and to the natural man, accepting it because it is absurd, or else dismissing it as the height of absurdity. A third possibility is to accept it despite its being absurd, and a fourth is to argue that rational sense can be made of it. The conflict of these approaches, and of the positions within each, only serves to underscore the mind-boggling quality of the notion, a notion that to the eye and mind of faith is FACT.
The Most High freely lowers himself, accepting the indigence and misery of material existence, including a short temporal career that ends with the ultimate worldly failure: execution by the political authorities. And not a civilized Athenian execution by hemlock as was the fate of that other great teacher of humanity, but execution by the worst method the brutal Romans could devise, crucifixion.
In the Incarnation the Word nailed itself to the flesh in anticipation of later being nailed to the wood of the cross to suffer the ultimate fate of everything material and composite: dissolution. Christ dies like each of us will die, utterly, alone, abandoned. But then the mystery: He rises again. Is this the central conundrum of Christianity? He rises, but not as a pure spirit. He rises body and soul.
God is the Word ("In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word WAS God"); the Word becomes flesh; the flesh nailed to wood becomes dead matter and nothing Wordly or Verbal or Logical or Spiritual or Sense Bearing, and so next-to-nothing; but then the next-to-nothing rises and ascends body and soul to the Father by the power of the Father. Christ rises bodily and ascends bodily. A strange idea: bodily ascension out of the entire spatio-temporal-bodily matrix! He ascends to the Father who is pure spirit. So, in ascending, Christ brings matter, albeit a transformed or transfigured matter, into the spiritual realm which must therefore be amenable to such materialization. It must permit it, be patient of it. The divine spiritual milieu cannot be essentially impervious to material penetration.
Before the creation and before the Incarnation of the Creator into the created order divine spirit had the power to manifest itself materially, and in the Incarnation the power not only to manifest itself materially but to become material. The divine Word becomes flesh; the Word does not merely manifest itself in a fleshly vehicle. It becomes that vehicle and comes to suffer the fate of all such vehicles, dissolution. The divine spirit was always already apt for materialization: it bore this possibility within it from the beginning. It was always already in some way disposed toward materialization. On the other hand, matter was always already apt for spiritualization.
We humans know from experience that we can in some measure spiritualize ourselves and indeed freely and by our own power. We know ourselves to be spiritual beings while also knowing ourselves to be animals, animated matter, necessarily dependent on inanimate matter including air, water, dead plants and dead meat. (When an animal eats another animal alive, the first is after the matter of the second, not after its being animated.)
Whether or not we exercise our severely limited power of self-spiritualization, we are spiritual animals whether we like it or not and whether we know it or not: we think. Each one of us is a hunk of thinking meat. We are meaning meat. How is this possible? The matter of physics cannot think. But we are thinking matter. This is the mystery of the entanglement of spirit and matter in us. We live it and we experience it.
We could call it the 'The Little Incarnation.' Mind is incarnated, enfleshed, in us. The Little Word, the Little Logos, has always already been incarnated is us, separating us as by an abyss from the rest of the animals. Here, in us, we have an ANALOGY to the Incarnation proper. In the latter, the Second Person of the Trinity does not take on a human body merely, but an individual human nature body and soul. So I speak of an analogy. Incarnation in the case of Christ is not a mere enfleshment or embodiment. The Little Incarnation in us is the apparently necessary enfleshment of our spiritual acts in animal flesh.
The mystery of the entanglement of spirit and matter in us reflects the mystery of the entanglement of spirit and matter in God. Divine spirit is pregnant with matter, and accepting of the risen matter of Christ, but matter is also pregnant with divine spirit. Mary is the mother of God. A material being gives birth to God. This is how the Word, who is God, is made flesh to dwell among us for our salvation from meaninglessness and abandonment to a material world that is merely material.
Matter in Mary is mater Dei. Matter in Mary is mother and matrix of the birth of God.
For a different take on the meaning of Christmas, see my Incarnation: A Mystical Approach?
When I was eight years old or so and first took note of the phrase 'Merry Xmas,' my piety was offended by what I took to be the removal of 'Christ' from 'Christmas' only to be replaced by the universally recognized symbol for an unknown quantity, 'X.' But it wasn't long before I realized that the 'X' was merely a font-challenged typesetter's attempt at rendering the Greek Chi, an ancient abbreviation for 'Christ.' There is therefore nothing at all offensive in the expression 'Xmas.' Year after year, however, certain ignorant Christians who are old enough to know better make the mistake that I made when I was eight and corrected when I was ten.
It just now occurs to me that 'Xmas' may be susceptible of a quasi-Tillichian reading. Paul Tillich is famous for his benighted definition of 'God' as 'whatever is one's ultimate concern.' Well, take the 'X' in 'Xmas' as a variable the values of which are whatever one wants to celebrate at this time of year. So for some, 'Xmas' will amount to Solsticemas, for burglars Swagmas, for materialists Lootmas, for gluttons Foodmas, for inebriates Hoochmas, and for ACLU extremists Antichristianitymas.
A reader suggests some further constructions:
For those who love the capitol of the Czech Republic: Pragmas. For Dutch Reformed theologians of Frisian extraction who think Christmas is silly: Hoekemas. For Dutch Reformed philosophy professors of Frisian extraction who like preserves on their toast: Jellemas. For fans of older British sci-fi flicks: Quatermas. For those who buy every special seasonal periodical they can get their hands on: Magmas. One could probably multiply such examples ad nauseum, so I won't.
How could an ACLU bonehead object to 'Xmas' so construed? No doubt he would find a way.
A while back I quipped that "Aporeticians qua aporeticians do not celebrate Christmas. They celebrate Enigmas." My man Hodges shot back: "But they do celebrate 'X-mas'! (Or maybe they 'cerebrate' it?)"
Merry Chimas to all, and to all a good night.
A measured statement from the Christian evangelical camp by Mark Tooley. Excerpt:
At the very least, Christian immigration advocates should urge U.S. immigration policies that strongly prohibit persons who reject American democratic principles. Over one hundred years ago immigration policies screened against anarchist sympathies, which murderously raged in Europe. Later U.S. policies screened against Bolshevism. Of course, the U.S. screened against Nazi and Fascist sympathizers. So too it should protect against adherents of Islamist theocratic political supremacy.
This should strike one as supremely self-evident unless one is a hate-America leftist as are too many people in high places. I don't need to name names.
(That's a curious expression, isn't it? If I write or say a name, I haven't named it. I have named the bearer of the name. For example, if I write 'Obama,' I haven't named that name; to name that name I would have to write something like, " 'Obama'. ")
(This is a repost from February 2013 slightly emended, except for an addendum added today. Reposts are the reruns of the blogosphere. You don't watch a Twilight Zone or Seinfeld episode just once do you?)
A couple of days ago I had Nicholas Humphrey in my sights. Or, to revert to the metaphor of that post, I took a shovel to his bull. I am happy to see that Galen Strawson agrees that it is just nonsense to speak of consciousness as an illusion. Strawson's trenchant review of Humphrey's Soul Dust: The Magic of Consciousness is here. Unfortunately, I cannot see that Strawson has shed much light either, at least judging from the sketch of his position presented in the just-mentioned review:
There is no mystery of consciousness as standardly presented, although book after book tells us that there is, including, now, Nick Humphrey's Soul Dust: The Magic of Consciousness. We know exactly what consciousness is; we know it in seeing, tasting, touching, smelling, hearing, in hunger, fever, nausea, joy, boredom, the shower, childbirth, walking down the road. If someone denies this or demands a definition of consciousness, there are two very good responses. The first is Louis Armstrong's, when he was asked what jazz is: "If you got to ask, you ain't never goin' to know." The second is gentler: "You know what it is from your own case." You know what consciousness is in general, you know the intrinsic nature of consciousness, just in being conscious at all.
"Yes, yes," say the proponents of magic, "but there's still a mystery: how can all this vivid conscious experience be physical, merely and wholly physical?" (I'm assuming, with them, that we're wholly physical beings.) This, though, is the 400-year-old mistake. In speaking of the "magical mystery show", Humphrey and many others make a colossal and crucial assumption: the assumption that we know something about the intrinsic nature of matter that gives us reason to think that it's surprising that it involves consciousness. We don't. Nor is this news. Locke knew it in 1689, as did Hume in 1739. Philosopher-chemist Joseph Priestley was extremely clear about it in the 1770s. So were Eddington, Russell and Whitehead in the 1920s.
One thing we do know about matter is that when you put some very common-or-garden elements (carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, sodium, potassium, etc) together in the way in which they're put together in brains, you get consciousness like ours – a wholly physical phenomenon. (It's happening to you right now.) And this means that we do, after all, know something about the intrinsic nature of matter, over and above everything we know in knowing the equations of physics. Why? Because we know the intrinsic nature of consciousness and consciousness is a form of matter.
The main point of Strawson's first paragraph is surely correct: we know what consciousness is in the most direct and unmistakable way possible: we experience it, we live through it, we are it. We know it from our own case, immediately, and we know it better than we know anything else. If Dennett doesn't know what a sensory quale is, then perhaps the cure is to administer a sharp kick to his groin. Feel that, Dan? That's a quale. (I am assuming, of course, that Dennett is not a 'zombie' in the technical sense in which that term is used in philosophy of mind discussions. But I can't prove he isn't. Perhaps that is the problem. If he were a zombie, then maybe all his verbal behavior would be understandable.)
In the second paragraph Strawson rejects an assumption and he makes one himself. He rejects the assumption that we know enough about the intrinsic nature of matter to know that a material being cannot think. The assumption he makes is that we are wholly physical beings. So far I understand him. It could be that (it is epistemically possible that) this stuff inside my skull is the thinker of my thoughts. This is epistemically possible because matter could have hidden powers that we have yet to fathom. On our current understanding of matter it makes no bloody sense to maintain that matter thinks; but that may merely reflect our ignorance of the intrinsic nature of matter. So I cannot quickly dismiss the notion that matter thinks in the way I can quickly dismiss the preternaturally boneheaded notion that consciousness is an illusion.
I agree with Strawson's first paragraph; I understand the second; but I am flabbergasted by the third. For now our man waxes dogmatic and postures as if he KNOWS that consciousness is a wholly physical phenomenon. How does he know it? Obviously, he doesn't know it. It is a mere conjecture, an intelligible conjecture, and perhaps even a reasonable one. After all it might be (it is epistemically possible that) the matter of our brains has occult powers that physics has yet to lay bare, powers that enable it to think and feel. I cannot exclude this epistemic possibility, any more than Strawson can exclude the possibility that thinkers are spiritual substances. But to conjecture that things might be thus and so is not to KNOW that they are thus and so. All we can claim to KNOW is what Strawson asseverates in his first paragraph.
Here is Strawson's argument in a nutshell:
1. We know the intrinsic nature of consciousness from our own case.
2. We know that consciousness is a form of matter.
3. There is nothing mysterious about consciousness or about how matter gives rise to consciousness; nor is there any question whether consciousness is wholly physical; the only mystery concerns the intrinsic nature of matter.
The problem with this argument is premise (2). It is pure bluster: a wholly gratuitous assumption, a mere dogma of naturalism. I can neutralize the argument with this counterargument:
4. If (1) & (2), then brain matter has occult powers.
5. We have no good reason to assume -- it is wholly gratuitous to assume -- that brain matter has occult powers.
6. We have no good reason to assume that both (1) and (2) are true.
7. We know that (1) is true.
8. We have good reason to believe that (2) is false.
Further Thoughts: Strawsonian Theology? (20 September 2015)
Strawson tells us that he is assuming that we are "wholly physical beings." Now a proposition cannot be true or false unless it is meaningful. But what does it even mean to say that we are wholly physical beings given that this entails that some wholly physical beings are conscious and self-conscious? What does 'physical' mean if beings as richly endowed with mentality as we are count as "wholly physical"? There is a semantic problem here, and it looks to be a failure of contrast. 'Physical' contrasts with 'mental' and has a specific meaning in virtue of this contrast. And vice versa. So if nothing is mental, then nothing is physical in the specific contrastive sense that lends 'bite' and interest to the thesis that we are wholly physical. To put it another way, if nothing is mental and everything is physical including us with our richly endowed inner lives, then the claim that we are wholly physical is not particularly interesting. It is nearly vacuous if not wholly vacuous. It has been evacuated of its meaning by a failure of contrast. If we are wholly physical in an umbrella sense that subsumes the contrastive senses of 'physical' and 'mental,' then Strawson has merely papered over the problem of how the mental and the physical are related when these terms are taken in their specific senses.
Suppose Einstein and his blackboard are both wholly physical. We still have to account for the fact that one of them is conscious and entertains thoughts while the other isn't and doesn't. That is a huge difference. What Strawson has to say is that in us thinking and feeling beings powers of matter are exercised that are not exercised in other, less distinguished clumps of matter. Hidden in the bosom of matter are powers that a future physics may lay bare and render intelligible.
But if Strawson widens his concept of matter to cover both thinking and nonthinking matter, does he have a principled way to prevent an even further widening?
If minds like ours are wholly physical, why can't God be wholly physical? God is a mind too. Presumably God cannot be wholly physical because God is not in space and is not subject to physical decomposition. But if we can be wholly physical despite the fact that we think and are conscious -- if there is nothing in the nature of matter to rule out thought and consciousness -- then perhaps there is nothing in the nature of matter to rule out material beings that have no spatial location and are not subject to physical decomposition.
If an advanced physics will reveal how meat heads like us can think, then perhaps there are other properties and possibilities of matter hitherto undreamt of. Consider Christ's Ascension, body and soul, into heaven. Christ's Ascension is not a dematerialization: he ascends bodily into a purely spiritual, nonphysical, 'dimension.' Without losing his (resurrected) body, Christ ascends to the Father so that, after the Ascension, the Second Person of the Trinity acquires Christ's resurrected body. On our ordinary way of thinking, this is utterly unintelligible. God is pure spirit, pure mind. How can Christ ascend bodily into heaven, and without divesting himself of his body, enter into the unity of the purely spiritual Trinity? It is unintelligible to us because it issues in a formal-logical contradiction: God is wholly nonphysical and also in part physical. A mysterian would say it is a mystery. It happened, so it's possible, and this regardless of its unintelligibility to us.
On Strawson's approach there needn't be any mystery here: some parcels of matter have amazing powers. For example, we are wholly material and yet we think and feel. It is truly amazing that we should be thinking meat! If so, God might be a parcel of matter that thinks, feels, and -- without prejudice to his physicality -- has no spatial location and is not subject to physical decomposition. If so, the Ascension is comprehensible: Christ ascends bodily to join the physical Trinity. It is just that he sheds his particular location and his physical mutability. He remains what he was on earth, an embodied soul.
The same could be said of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into heaven. She too entered bodily into heaven. On a Strawsonian theology, this might be rendered intelligible without mysterianism.
To sum up. If matter actually thinks and feels in us, as Strawson holds, then he has widened the concept of matter to embrace both 'ordinary' matter and sentient, thinking, 'spiritual' matter. But then what principled way would Strawson have to prevent a further widening of the concept of matter so that it embraces God, disembodied souls, angels, and what not?
Steven Nemes makes two main points in his Christian Life as Philosophy. The first I agree with entirely: Jesus Christ is not a philosopher. The philosopher is a mere lover of wisdom. His love is desirous and needy; it is eros, the love of one who lacks for that which he lacks. But Jesus Christ lacks nothing; he is is the fullness of wisdom, "The Wisdom of God embodied," as Nemes accurately puts it. So Christ is no lover of wisdom in the strict sense in which Socrates is a lover of wisdom. Divine love is not erotic but agapic.
The wisdom of Socrates was largely the wisdom of nescience: he knew what he did not know. In stark contrast, Christ claimed not only to know the truth, but to be the truth in the via, veritas, vita passage at John 14:6: "I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father except through me." Ego sum via et veritas et vita; nemo venit ad Patrem nisi per me.
Here is Nemes' second point:
So Christ falls into the category of god or sage (or both), rather than that of philosopher. On the other hand, the Christian -- the person who desires to learn of Christ, and who finds in him the fount of all wisdom -- is the true philosopher. The Christian admits that she lacks wisdom, yet she desires it. So she goes to the source of all wisdom, which is Christ, in order to learn from him.
Christian life can therefore be understood as philosophy: a desirous effort to learn wisdom from Wisdom Itself, embodied in the person of the Godman Jesus Christ.
I disagree with this second point. A philosopher is not only one who, lacking wisdom and desiring it, seeks it, but also one who seeks the truth in a certain way, by a certain method. It is characteristic of philosophy that it is the pursuit of truth by unaided reason. 'Unaided' means: not aided by divine revelation. (It does not mean that the philosopher does not consult the senses.) The philosopher operates by reason and seeks reasons for what he believes. The philosopher relies on discursive reason as he encounters it in himself and accepts only what he can validate by his autonomous use of reason. Qua philosopher, he accepts no testimony but must verify matters for himself . The philosopher is like Doubting Thomas Didymus at John 20:25: "Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails and put my finger into the place of the nails and put my hand into his side, I will not believe."
That is the attitude of the philosopher. The philosopher is an inquirer into ultimate matters, and doubt is the engine of inquiry. Where's the evidence? What's the argument? What you say may be true, my brothers, but how do you know? What's your justification? You say our rabbi rose from the dead? That sort of thing doesn't happen! I want knowledge, which is not just true belief but justified true belief. You expect me to believe that Jesus rose on no evidence but your testimony from probably hallucinatory experiences fueled by your fear and hunger and weakness ? Prove it! W. K. Clifford takes it to the limit and gives it a moral twist: "It is wrong always and everywhere to believe anything on insufficient evidence." Presumably the testimony of a bunch of scared, unlettered, credulous fisherman would not count as sufficient evidence for Thomas Didymus or Clifford.
The Christian, however, operates by faith. If Reason is the faculty of philosophy, Faith is the faculty of religion. The philosopher may reason his way to the existence of God and the immortality of the soul, but he cannot qua philosopher arrive at the saving truth that "the Word became flesh and dwelt among us" (John 1:14) by the use of reason. The saving truths are 'known' by faith and not by reason. It is also clear that faith for the Christian ranks higher than reason. As Jesus says to Thomas at John 20:29: "Because thou hast seen me, Thomas, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen and have believed."
The attitude of the believer who is also a philosopher is fides quarens intellectum, faith seeking understanding. But what if no understanding is found? Does the believer reject or suspend his belief? No. If he is a genuine believer, he continues to believe whether or not he achieves understanding. This shows that for the believer, reason has no veto power. The apparent logical impossibility of the Incarnation does not cause him to reject or suspend his belief in Jesus as his Lord and Savior. If he finds a way to show the rational acceptability of the Incarnation, well and good; if he fails, no matter. The Incarnation is a fact known by Revelation; as an actual fact it is possible, and what is possible is possible whether or not we frail reeds can understand how it is possible. The believer in the end will announce that the saving truths are mysteries impenetrable to us here below even if he does not go to the extreme of a Tertullian, a Kierkegaard, or a Shestov and condemn reason wholesale.
The attitude of the philosopher who is open to the claims of Revelation is different. He feels duty-bound by his intellectual conscience to examine the epistemic credentials of Biblical revelation lest he unjustifiably accept what he has no right to accept. This attitude is personified by Edmund Husserl. On his death bed, open to the Catholic faith, he was yet unable to make the leap, remarking that it was too late for him, that he would need for each dogma five years of investigation.
There is a tension here and it is the tension between Athens (Greek philosophy) and Jerusalem (the Bible), the two main roots of the West whose fruitful entanglement is the source of the West's vitality. As Leo Strauss sees it, it is a struggle over the unum necessarium, the one thing needful or necessary:
To put it very very simply and therefore somewhat crudely, the one thing needful according to Greek philosophy is is the life of autonomous understanding. The one thing needful as spoken by the Bible is the life of obedient love. The harmonizations and synthesizations are possible because Greek philosophy can use obedient love in a subservient function, and the Bible can use philosophy as a handmaid; but what is so used in each case rebels against such use, and therefore the conflict is really a radical one. ("Progress or Return?" in The Rebirth of Classical Political Rationalism, University of Chicago Press, 1989, p. 246, bolding added.)
So is the Christian the true philosopher? Only in the sense that philosophy points beyond itself to something that is no longer philosophy but that completes philosophy while cancelling it. I am tempted to reach for an Hegelian trope while turning it on its head: if Christianity is true, then philosophy is aufgehoben, sublated, in it. If Christianity is true, then the Christian arrives at the truth that the philosopher at best aims at but cannot arrive at by his method and way of life, the life of autonomous understanding. To achieve what he aims at, the philosopher would have to be "as a little child" and accept in obedient love the gift of Revelation. But it is precisely that which he cannot do if he is to remain a philosopher in the strict sense, one who lives the life of autonomous understanding.
The Christian life is not the philosophical life. It lies beyond the philosophical life and, if true, is superior to it.
The doctrine of the Trinity does not say there is one God and three Gods, or that God is one Person and three Persons, or that God has one nature and three natures. Those would indeed be self-contradictory ideas. But the doctrine of the Trinity says that there is only one God and only one divine nature but that this one God exists in three Persons. That is a great mystery, but it is not a logical self-contradiction.
Peter Kreeft, Fundamentals of the Faith, (Ignatius, 1988), p.42.
I don't think that the doctrine as so stated (above) rises to a level of clarity that allows for Kreeft's last sentence. Do you?
I agree with you, Dave.
First sentence: Exactly right.
Second sentence: Right again.
Third sentence: Also correct.
Fourth sentence: this is a bare assertion sired by confusion. The confusion is between the explicitly or manifestly contradictory and the implicitly or latently contradictory. The following are all explicitly self-contradictory:
a. There is only one God and there are three Gods.
b. God is one person and God is three persons.
c. God has one nature and God has three natures.
To be precise, the above are self-contradictory in the logical presence of the proposition that nothing can be both numerically one and numerically three. To be totally precise, then, I should say that the above three are near-explicitly self-contradictory to distinguish then from, say, 'God is one person and it is not the case that God is one person,' which is an explicitly formal-logical contradiction, i.e., a contradiction whose contradictoriness is rooted in logical form alone: *p & ~p.* Such contradictions I call narrowly-logical to distinguish them from (wait for it) broadly-logical contradictions such as *Some colors are sounds.* But
d. There is exactly one God in three divine persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit
though not explicitly or near-explicitly contradictory as are the above three examples, is nonetheless contradictory in that it entails (in the logical presence of other orthodox doctrinal claims and self-evident truths) contradictions. How? Well, consider this aporetic septad:
1. There is only one God.
2. The Father is God.
3. The Son is God.
4. The Holy Spirit is God.
5. The Father is not the Son.
6. The Son is not the Holy Spirit.
7. The Father is not the Holy Spirit.
If we assume that in (2)-(7), the 'is' expresses absolute numerical identity, then it is clear that the septad is inconsistent. (Identity has the following properties: it is reflexive, symmetric, transitive, and governed by the Indiscernibility of Identicals). For example, from (2) and (3) taken together it follows that the Father is the Son by Transitivity of Identity. (That identity is a transitive relation is an example of a necessary and self-evident truth.) But this contradicts (5): The Father is not the Son.
So we have an inconsistent septad each limb of which is a commitment of orthodoxy.
What this shows is that (d) above, while not explicitly and manifestly contradictory as are (a)-(c), is nonetheless contradictory in that it entails three explicit formal-logical contradictions, one of them being *The Father is the Son and the Father is not the Son.*
Of course, there are various ways one might try to evade the inconsistency of the above septad. But this is not the present topic. The present topic is whether Kreeft's fourth sentence is justified. Clearly it is not. The mere fact that (d) is not obviously contradictory as are (a)-(c) does not show that it is not contradictory. I have just argued that it is.
Kreeft says in effect that (d) is a "great mystery." Why does he say that it is a mystery if not because it expresses a proposition that we find contradictory? If we didn't find (d) contradictory we would have no reason to call it mysterious. So Kreeft is in effect admitting that we cannot make coherent logical sense of (d). This suggests that Kreeft may be waffling between two views:
V1: The doctrine of the Trinity, though of course not rationally provable by us (because known by revelation alone) is yet rationally acceptable by us, i.e., free of logical contradiction, and can be see by our unaided reason to be free of logical contradiction
V2: The doctrine of the Trinity cannot be seen by us to be rationally acceptable in the present life, and so must remain a mystery to us here below, but is nonetheless both true and free of contradiction in itself.
(V1) and (V2) are clearly distinct, the latter being a form of mysterianism. I raised some doubts about Trinitarian mysterianism yesterday.
Peter Lupu wrote me yesterday about baptism, I responded online, and today he is back at me again:
In your response you say:" As for the change in metaphysical status wrought by baptism, the main change is the forgiveness of all sins, whether original or individual (personal). The baptism of infants removes or rather forgives original sin only . . . ."and" The change in metaphysical status wrought by baptism would be better described as a change in soteriological status."I am puzzled. Why isn't conception (or even natural birth) sufficient for a salvational (soteriological) status? After all, according to all Monotheistic views, conception marks man's metaphysical status as having a spiritual soul that would animate his natural existence post birth and determine man's metaphysical status as a vital, organic, yet spiritual, being. Granting the soul at conception and rendering it a vital, active, animating force upon natural birth should suffice to grant man salvational status. Moreover, according to the creation, the soul represents God's spirit that was transferred from God to man ('spirit' in Hebrew also means 'ruah ' or 'wind' and God's spirit is translated as 'ruah Hashem' or "God's wind or breath"). Hence, bestowing a soul upon man at conception, and rendering it a vital force that animates his life at birth and thereafter, should suffice to bestow upon man salvational metaphysical status; for the soul represents God's determination, not man's. Baptism as a determinant of soteriological metaphysical status trumps the prior decision of God to grant salvational status and, since, Baptism is an act of man, it represents man's overreaching into the divine sphere where only God may act.Hence, I am puzzled.
A reader asks:
What ontic or metaphysical status does baptism bestow upon one who is baptized in Christianity? Clarification: What ontic or metaphysical status does a newborn have pre-baptism vs. post-baptism?
I am not a theologian, nor do I play one in the blogosphere. But that never stopped me from pursuing my education in public on all sorts of topics including narrowly theological ones. So here are some thoughts.
Right off the bat we need two distinctions. One is between infant baptism and baptism that comes later in life. The latter, for an obvious reason, should not be called adult baptism. Some Christians are opposed to infant baptism. A famous example is Kierkegaard. (See Attack Upon 'Christendom', p. 205 f.) The other distinction is among different understandings of baptism within Christianity. Some sects such as Baptists are opposed to infant baptism. It is also worth noting that baptism antedates Christianity. According to the New Testament, John the Baptist baptized Jesus, which indicates that baptism was a Jewish practice before it was a Christian one.
As for the change in metaphysical status wrought by baptism, the main change is the forgiveness of all sins, whether original or individual (personal). The baptism of infants removes or rather forgives original sins only since infants cannot commit personal sins, while in the case of the baptism of adults, or rather non-infants, both original and individual sins are forgiven. The effects of original sin, such as mortality, of course remain. The above is true for both the Roman Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox.
One interesting difference, however, is that in the Roman church the three sacraments of Christian initiation, baptism, communion, and confirmation, are not all conferred on infants at the same time, while in the Eastern church they are. A second difference is that the Orthodox continue the primitive practice of baptism by total immersion, whereas the Romans merely sprinkle some holy water on the candidate's forehead. The Eastern objection to this 'watering down' of the primitive rite (pun intended) is that it destroys or at least weakens the symbolism. If all sins, whether original or not, are forgiven by baptism, then this is better symbolized by total immersion than by a little water on the forehead. (See Timothy Ware, The Orthodox Church, Penguin 1963, pp. 283-285)
The change in metaphysical status wrought by baptism would be better described as a change in soteriological status.
Puzzles and problems and questions galore lurk beneath the surface. Perhaps I shall address some of them later. One question that occurred to me: assuming that there are good arguments for infant baptism, why not pre-natal baptism, in the third trimester, say? How would the rite be implemented? Water could be sprinkled on the pregnant woman's abdomen.
A budding theologian friend of mine offers his thoughts here.
Herewith, a second response to Aidan Kimel. He writes,
The claim that God is a being among beings is immediately ruled out, so it seems to me, by the classical understanding of divine transcendence: if all beings have been created from nothing by the self-existent One, then this One cannot be classified as one of them, as sharing a world with them. To think of God as a being would thus represent nothing less than a return to paganism. We would be back at Mt Carmel with Elijah and the priests of Ba’al.
I myself incline to the view that the divine transcendence entails that God cannot be a being among beings. But I do not see in the passage above a good argument for the view to which I incline. Fr. Kimel's argument appears to be this:
1. All beings have been created from nothing by the self-existent One.
2. The self-existent One cannot be a being among beings.
This argument is valid in point of logical form — the conclusion follows from the premise — but the premise is false. If all beings have been created ex nihilo by the self-existent One, then, given that the One cannot create itself, it follows that the One does not exist and thus cannot be self-existent. The premise is self-refuting.
But let us be charitable. Perhaps what Fr. Kimel intends is the following argument:
1*. All beings other than the self-existent One have been created from nothing by the self-existent One.
2. The self-existent One cannot be a being among beings.
The premise is now true, but the conclusion does not follow — or at least it is not clear how the conclusion is supposed to follow. Why cannot it be like this? God, the self-existent One, creates beings distinct from himself. These beings 'now' (either temporally or logically) form with God a collection of beings. So although God has all sorts of properties that make him the supreme being such as omniscience, and the rest of the omni-attributes, he remains a being among beings.
It is a simple point of logic that one can give a bad argument for a true conclusion. This is what Fr. Kimel does above. I agree with his conclusion, but I reject his reasoning as confused. He in effect confuses the two arguments displayed. The first is valid with a false premise; the second is invalid with a true premise.
The following quotation from a very interesting Guardian piece by John Gray entitled What Scares the New Atheists (HT: Karl White):
 The new atheists rarely mention Friedrich Nietzsche, and when they do it is usually to dismiss him.  This can’t be because Nietzsche’s ideas are said to have inspired the Nazi cult of racial inequality – an unlikely tale, given that the Nazis claimed their racism was based in science. The reason Nietzsche has been excluded from the mainstream of contemporary atheist thinking is that he exposed the problem atheism has with morality.  It’s not that atheists can’t be moral – the subject of so many mawkish debates.  The question is which morality an atheist should serve.
Five sentences, five comments.
2. Granted, the Nazis claimed their racism was based in science. But this is consistent with their racism having other sources as well. So it doesn't follow that it is an "unlikely tale" that the Nazis drew inspiration from Nietzsche. I say it is very likely. See Nietzsche and Nationalism Socialism.
3. Spot on!
4. Agreed, atheists can be moral. Indeed, some atheists are more moral that some theists — even when the moral code is the Decalogue minus the commandments that mention God. The question whether an atheist can be moral, however, is ambiguous. While it is clear that an atheist can be moral in the sense of satisfying moral demands, it is not clear that an atheist can be moral in the sense of recognizing moral demands in the first place. It is an open question whether an atheist, consistent with his atheism, could have justification for admitting objective moral demands.
5. Before one can ask which morality an atheist should serve, there is a logically prior question that needs asking and answering, one that Gray glides right past, namely,
Q. Is there any morality, any moral code, that an atheist would be justified in adhering to and justified in demanding that others adhere to?
Most of us in the West, atheists and theists alike, do agree on a minimal moral code. Don't we all object to child molestation, female sexual mutilation, wanton killing of human beings, rape, theft, lying, financial swindling, extortion, and arson? And in objecting to these actions, we mean our objections to be more than merely subjectively valid. When our property is stolen or a neighbor murdered, we consider that an objective wrong has been done. And when the murderer is apprehended, tried, and convicted we judge that something objectively right has been done. But if an innocent person is falsely accused and convicted, we judge that something objectively wrong has been done. Let's not worry about the details or the special cases: killing in self-defense, abortion, etc. There are plenty of gray areas. The existence of gray, however, does not rule out that of black and white. Surely, in the West at least, there is some moral common ground that most atheists and theists, liberals and conservatives, stand upon. For example, most of us agree that snuffing out the life of an adult, non-comatose, healthy human being for entertainment purposes is objectively wrong.
What (Q) asks about is the foundation or basis of the agreed-upon objectively binding moral code. This is not a sociological or any kind of empirical question. Nor is it a question in normative ethics. The question is not what we ought to do and leave undone, for we are assuming that we already have a rough answer to that. The question is meta-ethical: what does morality rest on, if on anything?
There are different theories. Some will say that morality requires a supernatural foundation, others that a natural foundation suffices. I myself do not see how naturalism is up to the task of providing an objective foundation for even a minimal code of morality.
But of course one could be an atheist without being a naturalist. One could hold that there are objective values, but no God, and that ethical prescriptions and proscriptions are axiologically grounded. (N. Hartmann, for example.) But let's assume, with Nietzsche, that if you get rid of God, you get rid of the Platonic menagerie (to cop a phrase from Plantinga) as well. It needs arguing, but it is reasonable to hold that God and Platonica stand and fall together. That is what Nietzsche would say and I think he would be right were he to say it. (The death of God is not an insignificant 'event' like the falling to earth of a piece of space junk such as Russell's celestial teapot.)
No God, no objective morality binding for all. Suppose that is the case. Then how will the new atheist, who is also a liberal, uphold and ground his 'enlightened' liberal morality? John Gray appreciates the difficulty:
Awkwardly for these atheists, Nietzsche understood that modern liberalism was a secular incarnation of these religious traditions. [. . .] Nietzsche was clear that the chief sources of liberalism were in Jewish and Christian theism: that is why he was so bitterly hostile to these religions. He was an atheist in large part because he rejected liberal values. To be sure, evangelical unbelievers adamantly deny that liberalism needs any support from theism. If they are philosophers, they will wheel out their rusty intellectual equipment and assert that those who think liberalism relies on ideas and beliefs inherited from religion are guilty of a genetic fallacy. Canonical liberal thinkers such as John Locke and Immanuel Kant may have been steeped in theism; but ideas are not falsified because they originate in errors. The far-reaching claims these thinkers have made for liberal values can be detached from their theistic beginnings; a liberal morality that applies to all human beings can be formulated without any mention of religion. Or so we are continually being told. The trouble is that it’s hard to make any sense of the idea of a universal morality without invoking an understanding of what it is to be human that has been borrowed from theism.
Gray is right. Let me spell it out a bit.
Consider equality. As a matter of empirical fact, we are not equal, not physically, mentally, morally, spiritually, socially, politically, economically. By no empirical measure are people equal. We are naturally unequal. And yet we are supposedly equal as persons. This equality as persons we take as requiring equality of treatment. Kant, for example, insists that every human being, and indeed very rational being human or not, exists as an end in himself and therefore must never be treated as a means to an end. A person is not a thing in nature to be used as we see fit. For this reason, slavery is a grave moral evil. A person is a rational being and must be accorded respect just in virtue of being a person. And this regardless of inevitable empirical differences among persons. Thus in his third formulation of the Categorical Imperative in his 1785 Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals, Kant writes:
Act so that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in that of another, always as an end and never as a means only. (Grundlegung 429)
In connection with this supreme practical injunction, Kant distinguishes between price and dignity. (435) "Whatever has a price can be replaced by something else as its equivalent; on the other hand, whatever is above all price, and therefore admits of no equivalent, has dignity." Dignity is intrinsic moral worth. Each rational being, each person, is thus irreplaceably and intrinsically valuable with a value that is both infinite -- in that no price can be placed upon it -- and the same for all. The irreplaceability of persons is a very rich theme, one we must return to in subsequent posts.
These are beautiful and lofty thoughts, no doubt, and most of us in the West (and not just in the West) accept them in some more or less confused form. But what do these pieties have to do with reality? Especially if reality is exhausted by space-time-matter?
Again, we are not equal by any empirical measure. We are not equal as animals or even as rational animals. (Rationality might just be an evolutionary adaptation.) We are supposedly equal as persons, as subjects of experience, as free agents. But what could a person be if not just a living human animal (or a living 'Martian' animal). And given how bloody many of these human animals there are, why should they be regarded as infinitely precious? Are they not just highly complex physical systems? Surely you won't say that complexity confers value, let alone infinite value. Why should the more complex be more valuable than the less complex? And surely you are not a species-chauvinist who believes that h. sapiens is the crown of 'creation' because we happen to be these critters.
If we are unequal as animals and equal as persons, then a person is not an animal. What then is a person? And what makes them equal in dignity and equal in rights and infinite in worth?
Now theism can answer these questions. We are persons and not mere animals because we are created in the image and likeness of the Supreme Person. We are equal as persons because we are, to put it metaphorically, sons and daughters of one and the same Father. Since the Source we depend on for our being, intelligibility, and value is one and the same, we are equal as derivatives of that Source. We are infinite in worth because we have a higher destiny, a higher vocation, which extends beyond our animal existence: we are created to participate eternally in the Divine Life.
But if you reject theism, how will you uphold the Kantian values adumbrated above? If there is no God and no soul and no eternal destiny, what reasons, other than merely prudential ones, could I have for not enslaving you should I desire to do so and have the power to do so?
Aristotle thought it natural that some men should be slaves. We find this notion morally abhorrent. But why should we if we reject the Judeo-Christian God? "We just do." But that's only because we are running on the fumes of the Judeo-Christian tradition. What happens when the fumes run out?
It is easy to see that it makes no sense, using terms strictly, to speak of anything or anybody as a creature if there is no creator. It is less easy to see, but equally true, that it makes no sense to try to hold on to notions such as that of the equality and dignity of persons after their metaphysical foundations in Christian theism have been undermined.
So there you have the Nietzschean challenge to the New Atheists. No God, then no justification for your liberal values! Pay attention, Sam. Make a clean sweep! Just as religion is for the weak who won't face reality, so is liberalism. The world belongs to the strong, to those who have the power to impose their will upon it. The world belongs to those hard as diamonds, not to those soft as coal and weak and womanish. Nietzsche:
Here one must think profoundly to the very basis and resist all sentimental weakness: life itself is essentially appropriation, injury, conquest of the strange and weak, suppression, severity, obtrusion of peculiar forms, incorporation, and at the least, putting it mildest, exploitation - but why should one for ever use precisely these words on which for ages a disparaging purpose has been stamped?
Beyond Good and Evil, Chapter 9, What is Noble?, Friedrich Nietzsche Go to Quote
More quotations on strength and weakness here.
I plan to spend a few days next month at a Benedictine monastery in the desert outside of Santa Fe, New Mexico. The suggestion was made that I give some of the monks a little talk. I think "A Philosopher Defends Monasticism" would be an appropriate title. So I have been reading up on the subject.
This morning I looked to see what Kierkegaard has to say on the topic of monks and monasteries in his late works For Self-Examination and Judge for Yourself! They are bound together in an attractive English translation by Howard and Edna Hong (Princeton University Press, 1990).
Of course I did not expect old Kierkegaard to have anything good to say about the monastic ideal, but I was slightly surprised by the harshness of his tone.
I myself am highly sympathetic to the ideal. Had I been born in the Middle Ages I would have been a monk for sure. I fantasize my having been Thomas Aquinas' amanuensis and intellectual sparring partner. And although I love to read Kierkegaard and about him and have been doing so all of my philosophical life, there are two things about him that put me off. One is his anti-mysticism, which is of course connected with his anti-monasticism. The other is his anti-rationalism. But these two add up to a third, his fideism, which I also find off-putting. Well, more on all of this later. Now let's look at some quotations.
One of S.K.'s objections, perhaps his main objection, to monks and monasteries and 'popery' is straight from Luther: it is to the idea of earning merit before God by good works:
To want to build upon good works -- the more you practice them, the stricter you are with yourself, the more you merely develop the anxiety in you, and new anxiety. On this road, if a person is not completely devoid of spirit, on this road he comes to the very opposite of peace and rest for his soul, to discord and unrest. No, a person is justified solely by faith. Therefore, in God's name, to hell with the pope and all his helpers' helpers, and away with the monastery, together with all your fasting, scourging, and all the monkey antics that came into use under the name of imitation. (Judge for Yourself! 193, emphasis added)
You cannot justify yourself before God by your own efforts: "a person is justified solely and only by faith." (193) In these later works of direct communication, S. K. speaks in his own voice and is here clearly endorsing the thought of Luther on justification.
A few pages earlier S. K. speaks of the highest life:
No, it is certainly not the highest to seek a solitary hiding place in order if possible to seek God alone there. It is not the highest -- this we indeed see in the prototype [Christ]. But although it is not the highest it is nevertheless possible . . . that not a single one of us is this coddled and secularized generation would be able to do it. But it is not the highest. The highest is: unconditionally heterogeneous with the world by serving God alone, to remain in the world and in the middle of actuality before the eyes of all, to direct all attention to oneself -- for then persecution is unavoidable. This is Christian piety: renouncing everything to serve God alone, to deny oneself in order to serve God alone -- and then to have to suffer for it -- to do good and then to have to suffer for it. It is this that the prototype expresses; it is also this, to mention a mere man, that Luther, the superb teacher of our Church, continually points our as belonging to true Christianity: to suffer for the doctrine, to do good and suffer for it, and that suffering in this world is inseparable from being a Christian in this world. (169)
S. K. here sounds his recurrent theme of Christianity as heterogeneity to the world. The heterogeneity to the world of the monastic life, however, does not go far enough. A more radical heterogeneity is lived by one who remains in the world, not only living the doctrine, but suffering for it. No doubt that is how the Prototype lived, but he was and is God. How is such a thing possible for any mere mortal?
If true Christianity requires suffering for the doctrine, if it requires persecution and martyrdom, then true Christianity is out of reach except for those who, like present-day Christians in the Middle East, are even as we speak having their throats cut for the doctrine by radical Muslim savages as the rest of the world looks on and does nothing. In the Denmark of Kierkegaard's day (1813-1855), when Christianity was the state religion and the object of universal lip-service, true Christianity was out of reach for S. K. himself by his own teaching. The true Christian must be prepared for persecution and martyrdom, but it is difficult to see how they can be "inseparable from being a Christian in this world."
So add this persecution extremism to the off-putting factors already listed: the anti-mysticism, the anti-rationalism, and the extreme fideism.
But what a prodigiously prolific writer he was! What a genius, and what a fascinating specimen of humanity.
From a reader:
Thank you for continuing to examine the important topic of "daily bread." I don't know of any other philosophy blog writer who combines depth, significance, and clarity like you do!
I agree that spiritual needs are primary, that our world is a vale of soul-making, and that there need not be a disjunction between the spiritual and physical aspects of human nature. Passages such as Mt. 4:4, Jn. 4:10-14, Jn. 6:35, Prov. 4:7 and 16:16, and 2 Peter 1:4-15 seem to emphasize spiritual needs over material needs. Jn. 4:10-14 is particularly interesting.
Jesus answered her, "If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water." "Sir," the woman said, "you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?" Jesus answered, "Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life." (Jn. 4:10-14)
Notice that Jesus states a counterfactual. The woman interprets the statement in material terms. Jesus responds by contrasting the transience of material water with the permanence of spiritual water.
Jesus goes on to say:
"A time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth." (verses 23 and 24) Meanwhile his disciples urged him, "Rabbi, eat something." But he said to them, "I have food to eat that you know nothing about." (verses 31 and 32)
These passages seem to prioritize spiritual development, and to support your spiritual interpretation of "daily bread."
 The word generally translated “daily” is indeed an unusual one – epiousios, which is apparently found nowhere else in scripture or anywhere in Greek literature.  Even so, the idea that this is spiritual and not physical bread is very much a minority theory, one that’s generally not accepted by contemporary translators.  Maybe it isn’t impossible, but feeling compelled to accept such an interpretation to “purify” prayer seems mistaken to me. We are embodied beings, not angels, and God’s creation of the physical world was a good thing and not a Manichean mess to be overcome. Asking God to supply not only our spiritual needs but our physical needs as well seems appropriate. (If God cares about sparrows and the lilies of the field, it isn’t too much trouble for him to be concerned for our general physical well-being as well.) Moreover, the act of praying for our daily “bread” is a way of acknowledging that even in that respect we are dependent on God. The God of the Bible is not the hands-off god of Plato, Aristotle, and the deists. God is not like the petty deities of the Greek pantheon, but to divest the biblical God of the sort of personal care and love expressed in books like Hosea and in passages like Luke 13:34 and good old John 3:16 misses something important – something literally crucial. Of course, my objections here don’t mean that we should view God as a cosmic ATM. That would be idolatrous. Even so, the possibility of going too far in one direction doesn’t mean that one can’t also go too far in the opposite direction as well.
Ad . Agreed. As I wrote a few years back:
The Greek word translated as quotidianum in the Luke passage and as supersubstantialem in the Matthew passage is epiousios. I am not competent to discuss the philology of this Greek word, which may be a hapax legomenon. (Nor am I competent to assess the correctness of the two Wikipedia entries to which I have just linked; so caveat lector!)
Ad . Dennis may be right about this. I don't know. But if I'm right, then my being in the minority, the default position for a maverick, is no problem at all.
Ad . Agreed, we are embodied beings, not angels. (It may even be that we are essentially embodied, or if not essentially embodied, then incapable of a complete existence without a body.) But while we are not angels, we are not mere animals either. The main point for present purposes, however, is simply that, as physically embodied beings, we need food and water and other material things for our maintenance if we wish to continue as physically embodied beings.
We are further agreed that matter is not evil, and Manicheanism is out. A physical universe created by a good God is itself (derivatively) good. (Of course, there are deep and vexing questions that lurk below the surface. For example, if ens et bonum convertuntur, then evil is privatio boni, and that raises some serious questions.)
So Dennis and I agree on two key points: that (i) we are embodied (and thus in need of ongoing material sustenance) and that (ii) being embodied is not an evil condition as such. How is it supposed to follow from these two premises that it is appropriate to ask God to supply our physical needs, needs that we have the power to supply for ourselves?
It doesn't follow. We can and must supply our physical needs as best we can by our own efforts. That is our job, not God's. God has a role to play, but it concerns our spiritual development.
Here is my take on the Christian message. We are here below to achieve spiritual individuation. Spiritual individuation, unlike physical individuation, is a task, not a given. It is a task we freely undertake or fail to undertake. We are here to spiritualize ourselves, to actualize ourselves as spiritual individuals. This is a process of theosis, of becoming god-like. God is the Absolute Individual. Our task is to become genuine spiritual individuals by participating in the divine Individuality. This material world is a vale of soul-making (John Keats), a place where we either work at this spiritual individuation or fail to do so. In this life we are always only 'on the road,' in statu viae. We are not here to enjoy material goods as ends in themselves as if this world were our final destination.
In this transient life we must work at supplying our material needs as best we can by our own individual and collective human efforts, not by praying for miracles. I am not saying that miracles are impossible. And I am not saying that anyone who, in extremis, a theist in a foxhole, for example, cries out to God for material assistance is doing something morally wrong. In my original entry I conceded that not all petitionary prayer for mundane benefits is objectionable, and that some of it simply reflects, excusably, our misery and indigence. My point is that, insofar as we can (individually and collectively) do for ourselves we must do for ourselves, relying on God not for our material needs (except insofar as he created the physical universe within which alone material needs can be felt and met) but for our spiritual needs.
And so I do not see that Monokroussos has given me good reason to alter my interpretation:
"Give us this day our daily bread" is thus a request that we be supplied on a daily basis with spiritual bread that we need every day. And since we need it every day, we must ask for it every day. But who needs it? Not the bodily man, but the "inner man" says Cassian. The inner man is the true man. 'Inner man' is a metaphor but it indicates a literal truth: that man is more than an animal. Being more than an animal, he needs more than material sustenance.
It is also worth noting that the materialist interpretation of the daily bread petition plays right into the hands of religion's detractors who see religion as a childish and superstitious thing. There is also this to consider: are there any well-documented cases of people who were miraculously supplied with physical food after they prayed for it? But there are countless cases, some in my own direct experience, in which spiritual assistance was provided as a result of prayer.
For Dave Bagwill, who posed some questions in the near vicinity of the ones I will be addressing. This is a heavily revised version of a 2011 post. The MavPhil doctrine of abrogation is in effect. This is a hairy topic; expect a hard slog. If you prefer a 'leiter' read, a certain gossip site suggests itself.
One morning an irate C-Span viewer called in to say that he prayed to the living God, not to the mythical being, Allah, to whom Muslims pray. The C-Span guest made a standard response, which is correct as far as it goes, namely, that Allah is Arabic for God, just as Gott is German for God. He suggested that adherents of the three Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) worship the same God under different names. No doubt this is a politically correct thing to say, but is it true?
Our question, then, is precisely this: Does the normative Christian and the normative Muslim worship numerically the same God, or numerically different Gods? (By 'normative Christian/Muslim' I mean an orthodox adherent of his faith who understands its content, without subtraction of essential tenets, and without addition of private opinions.) Islam and Christianity are both monotheistic. So if Christian and Muslim worship different Gods, and a monotheistic God exists, then one is worshipping a nonexistent God, or, if you prefer, is failing to worship the true God.
1. Let's start with the obvious: 'Allah' is Arabic for God. So if an Arabic-speaking Coptic Christian refers to God, he uses 'Allah.' And if an Arabic-speaking Muslim refers to God, he too uses 'Allah.' From the fact that both Copt and Muslim use 'Allah' it does not follow that they are referring to the same God, but it also does not follow that they are referring to numerically different Gods. So we will not make any progress with our question if we remain at the level of words. We must advance to concepts.
2. We need to distinguish between our word for God, the concept (conception) of God, and God. God is not a concept, but there are concepts of God and, apart from mystical intuition and religious feelings such as the Kreatur-Gefuehl that Rudolf Otto speaks of, we have no access to God except via our concepts of God. Now it is undeniable that the Christian and Muslim conceptions of God partially overlap. The following is a partial list of what is common to both conceptions:
a. There is exactly one God.
b. God is the creator of everything distinct from himself.
c. God is transcendent: he is radically different from everything distinct from himself.
d. God is good.
Now if the Christian and Muslim conceptions of God were identical, then we would have no reason to think that Christian and Muslim worship different Gods. But of course the conceptions, despite partial overlap, are not identical. Christians believe in a triune God who became man in Jesus of Nazareth. Or to put it precisely, they believe in a triune God the second person of which became man in Jesus of Nazareth. This is the central and indeed crucial (from the Latin, crux, crucis, meaning cross) difference between the two faiths. The crux of the matter is the cross.
So while the God-concepts overlap, they are different concepts. (The overlap is partial, not complete.) And let's not forget that God is not, and cannot be, a concept (as I am using 'concept'). No concept is worship-worthy or anyone's highest good. No concept created the world. Whether or not God exists, it is a conceptual truth that God cannot be a concept. For the concept of God contains the subconcept, being that exists apart from any finite mind. It is built into the very concept of God that God cannot be a concept.
It is clear then, that what the Christian and the Muslim worship or purport to worship cannot be that which is common to their respective God-conceptions, for what is common its itself a concept.
We could say that if God exists, then God is the object of our God-concept or the referent of our God-concept, but also the referent of the word 'God.'
3. Now comes the hard part, which is to choose between two competing views:
V1: Christian and Muslim can worship the same God, even though one of them must have a false belief about God, whether it be the belief that God is unitarian or the belief that God is trinitarian.
V2: Christian and Muslim must worship different Gods precisely because they have different conceptions of God. So it is not that one of them has a false belief about the one God they both worship; it is rather that one of them does not worship the true God at all.
There is no easy way to decide rationally between these two views. We have to delve into the philosophy of language and ask how reference is achieved. How do linguistic expressions attach or apply to extralinguistic entities? How do words grab onto the (extralinguistic) world? In particular, how do nominal expressions work? What makes my utterance of 'Socrates' denote Socrates rather than someone or something else? What makes my use of 'God' (i) have a referent at all and (ii) have the precise referent it has?
4. It is reasonable to hold, with Frege, Russell, and many others, that reference is routed through, and determined by, sense: an expression picks out its object in virtue of the latter's unique satisfaction of a
description associated with the referring expression, a description that unpacks the expression's sense. If we think of reference in this way, then 'God' refers to whatever entity, if any, that satisfies the definite description encapsulated in 'God' as this term is used in a given linguistic community.
Given that God is not an actual or possible object of (sense) experience, this seems like a reasonable approach to take. The idea is that 'God' is a definite description in disguise so that 'God' refers to whichever entity satisfies the description associated with 'God.' The reference relation is one of satisfaction. A grammatically singular term t refers to x if and only if x exists and x satisfies the description associated with t. Now consider two candidate definite descriptions, the first corresponding to the Muslim conception, the second corresponding to the Christian.
D1: 'the unique x such that x is omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent, created the world ex nihilo and is unitarian'
D2: 'the unique x such that x is omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent, created the world ex nihilo, and is triune.'
Suppose that reference is not direct, but routed through sense, or mediated by a description, in the manner explained above. It is easy to see that no one entity can satisfy both (D1) and (D2). For while the descriptions overlap, nothing can be both unitarian and triune. So if reference is routed through sense, then Christian and Muslim cannot be referring to the same being. Indeed, one of them is not succeeding in referring at all. For if God is triune, nothing in reality answers to the Muslim's conception of God. And if God is unitarian, then nothing in reality answers to the Christian conception.
And so, contrary to what Miroslav Volf maintains, the four points of commonality in the Christian and Muslim conceptions listed above do NOT "establish the claim that in their worship of God, Muslims and Christians refer to the same object." (Allah: A Christian Response, HarperCollins 2011, p. 110.) For if reference to God is mediated by a conception which includes the subconcept triune or else the subconcept unitarian, then the reference cannot be to the same entity.
A mundane example (adapted from Kripke) will make this more clear. Sally sees a handsome man at a party standing in the corner drinking a clear bubbly liquid from a cocktail glass. She turns to her companion Nancy and says, "The man standing in the corner drinking champagne is handsome!" Suppose the man is not drinking champagne, but mineral water instead. Has Sally succeeded in referring to the man or not?
Argumentative Nancy, who knows that no alcohol is being served at the party, and who also finds the man handsome, says, "You are not referring to anything: there is no man in the corner drinking champagne. The man is drinking mineral water or some other bubbly clear beverage. Nothing satisfies your definite description. There is no one man we both admire. Your handsome man does not exist, but mine does."
Now in this example what we would intuitively say is that Sally did succeed in referring to someone using a definite description even though the object she succeeded in referring to does not satisfy the description. Intuitively, we would say that Sally simply has a false belief about the object to which she is successfully referring, and that Sally and Nancy are referring to and admiring the very same man.
But note how this case differs from the God case. Both women see the man in the corner. But God is not an object of possible (sense) experience. We don't see God in this life. Hence the reference of 'God' cannot be nailed down perceptually. A burning bush is an object of possible sense experience, and God may manifest himself in a burning bush; but God is not a burning bush, and the referent of 'God' cannot be a burning bush. The man in the corner that the women see and admire is not a manifestation of a man, but a man himself.
Given that God is not literally seen or otherwise sense-perceived in this life, then, apart from mystical experience, the only way to get at God is via concepts and descriptions. And so it seems that in the God case what we succeed in referring to is whatever satisfies the definite description that unpacks our conception of God.
5. My tentative conclusion, then, is that (i) if we accept a description theory of names, the Christian and Muslim do not refer to the same being when they use 'God' or 'Allah' and (ii) that a description theory of names is what we must invoke given the nonperceivability of God. Christian and Muslim do not refer to the same being because no one being can satisfy both (D1) and (D2) above: nothing can be both triune and not triune any more than one man can both be drinking champage and not drinking champagne at the same time.
If, on the other hand, 'God' is a logically proper name whose reference is direct and not routed through sense or mediated by a definite description, then what would make 'God' or a particular use of 'God' refer to God?
One might propose a causal theory of names.
The causal theory of names of Saul Kripke et al. requires that there be an initial baptism of the target of reference, a baptism at which the name is first introduced. This can come about by ostension: Pointing to a newly acquired kitten, I bestow upon it the moniker, 'Mungojerrie.' Or it can come about by the use of a reference-fixing definite description: Let 'Neptune' denote the celestial object responsible for the perturbation of the orbit of Uranus. In the second case, it may be that the object whose name is being introduced is not itself present at the baptismal ceremony. What is present, or observable, are certain effects of the object hypothesized. (See Saul Kripke Naming and Necessity, Harvard 1980 p. 79, n. 33 and p. 96, n. 42.)
As I understand it, a necessary condition for successful reference on the causal theory is that a
speaker's use of a name be causally connected (either directly or indirectly via a causal chain)) with the object referred to. We can refer to objects only if we stand in some causal relation to them (direct or indirect). So my use of 'God' refers to God not because there is something that satisfies the definite description or disjunction of definite descriptions that unpack the sense of 'God' as I use the term, but because my use of 'God' can be traced back though a long causal chain to an initial baptism, as it were, of God by, say, Moses on Mt. Sinai.
A particular use of a name is presumably caused by an earlier use. But eventually there must be an initial use. Imagine Moses on Mt. Sinai. He has a profound mystical experience of a being who conveys to his mind such locutions as "I am the Lord thy God; thou shalt not have false gods before me." Moses applies 'God' or 'YHWH' to the being he believes is addressing him in the experience. But what makes the name the name of the being? One may say: the being or an effect of the being is simply labelled or tagged with the name in an initial 'baptism.'
But a certain indeterminacy seems to creep in if we think of the semantic relation of referring as explicable in terms of tagging and causation (as opposed to in terms of the non-causal relation of satisfaction of a definite description encapsulated in a grammatically proper name). For is it the (mystical) experience of God that causes the use of 'God'? Or is it God himself who causes the use of 'God'? If the former, then 'God' refers to an experience had by Moses and not to God. Surely God is not an experience. But if God is the cause of Moses' use of 'God,' then the mystical experience must be veridical. (Cf. Richard M. Gale, On the Nature and Existence of God, Cambridge UP, 1991, p. 11.)
So if we set aside mystical experience and the question of its veridicality, it seems we ought to adopt a description theory of the divinenames with the consequences mentioned in (i) above. If, on the other hand, a causal theory of divine names names is tenable, and if the causal chain extends from Moses down to Christians and (later) to Muslims, then a case could be made that Jews, Christians, and Muslims are all referring to the same God when they use 'God' and such equivalents as 'Yahweh' and 'Allah.'
So it looks like there is no easy answer to the opening question. It depends on the resolution of intricate questions in the philosophy of language.
For starters, the Crusades to the East were in every way defensive wars. They were a direct response to Muslim aggression—an attempt to turn back or defend against Muslim conquests of Christian lands.
Christians in the eleventh century were not paranoid fanatics. Muslims really were gunning for them. While Muslims can be peaceful, Islam was born in war and grew the same way. From the time of Mohammed, the means of Muslim expansion was always the sword. Muslim thought divides the world into two spheres, the Abode of Islam and the Abode of War. Christianity—and for that matter any other non-Muslim religion—has no abode. Christians and Jews can be tolerated within a Muslim state under Muslim rule. But, in traditional Islam, Christian and Jewish states must be destroyed and their lands conquered. When Mohammed was waging war against Mecca in the seventh century, Christianity was the dominant religion of power and wealth. As the faith of the Roman Empire, it spanned the entire Mediterranean, including the Middle East, where it was born. The Christian world, therefore, was a prime target for the earliest caliphs, and it would remain so for Muslim leaders for the next thousand years.
With enormous energy, the warriors of Islam struck out against the Christians shortly after Mohammed’s death. They were extremely successful. Palestine, Syria, and Egypt—once the most heavily Christian areas in the world—quickly succumbed. By the eighth century, Muslim armies had conquered all of Christian North Africa and Spain. In the eleventh century, the Seljuk Turks conquered Asia Minor (modern Turkey), which had been Christian since the time of St. Paul. The old Roman Empire, known to modern historians as the Byzantine Empire, was reduced to little more than Greece. In desperation, the emperor in Constantinople sent word to the Christians of western Europe asking them to aid their brothers and sisters in the East.
That is what gave birth to the Crusades. They were not the brainchild of an ambitious pope or rapacious knights but a response to more than four centuries of conquests in which Muslims had already captured two-thirds of the old Christian world. At some point, Christianity as a faith and a culture had to defend itself or be subsumed by Islam. The Crusades were that defense.
I tend to look askance at petitionary prayer for material benefits. In such prayer one asks for mundane benefits whether for oneself, or, as in the case of intercessory prayer, for another. In many of its forms it borders on idolatry and superstition, and in its crassest forms it crosses over. A skier who prays for snow, for example, makes of God a supplier of mundane benefits, as does the nimrod who prays to win the lottery. Worse still is one who prays for the death of a business rival.
Perhaps not all petitionary prayer for mundane benefits is objectionable. Some of it simply reflects, excusably, our misery and indigence. (Did not Christ himself engage in it at Gethsemane?) But much of it is. What then should I say about the "Our Father," which, in the fourth of its six petitions, appears precisely to endorse petitionary prayer for material benefits?
The other five petitions in the Pater Noster are either clearly or arguably prayers for spiritual benefits. In a spiritual petition one asks, not for physical bread and such, but for things like acceptance, equanimity, patience, courage, and the like in the face of the fact that one lacks bread or has cancer. "Thy Will be done." One asks for forgiveness and for the ability to forgive others. One prays for a lively sense of one's own manifold shortcomings, for self-knowledge and freedom from self-deception. One prays, not to be cured of the cancer, but to bear it with courage. One prays for the ability to see one's tribulations under the aspect of eternity or with the sort of detachment with which one contemplates the sufferings of others.
The fourth petition, "Give us this day our daily bread," translates the Biblia Vulgata's Panem nostrum quotidianum da nobis hodie which occurs at Luke 11:3.
At Matthew 6:11, however, we find Panem nostrum supersubstantialem da nobis hodie, "Give us this day our supersubstantial bread." 'Supersubstantial' suggests a bread that is supernatural, beyond all sublunary substances, and beyond all creatures. To ask for this heavenly bread is to ask for a 'food' that will keeps us spiritually alive.
For a long time I perhaps naively thought that 'daily bread' had to refer to physical bread and the other necessities of our material existence. So for a long time I thought that there was a tension, or even a contradiction, between 'daily bread' and 'supersubstantial bread.' A tension between physical bread and meta-physical bread.
But this morning I stumbled upon what might be the right solution while reading St. John Cassian. The same bread is referred to by both phrases, and that same bread is spiritual or supersubstantial, not physical. 'Supersubstantial' makes it clear that 'bread' is to be taken metaphorically, not literally, while 'daily' "points out the right manner of its beneficial use." (Selected Writings, p. 30) What 'daily' thus conveys is that we need to feed upon spiritual bread every single day. On this reading, the fourth petition is as spiritual as the others, and the whiff of superstition and idolatry that I found offensive is removed.*
This reading also has the virtue of cohering nicely with Matthew 4:4 according to which man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. Not by physical bread, but by meta-physical bread.
"Give us this day our daily bread" is thus a request that we be supplied on a daily basis with spiritual bread that we need every day. And since we need it every day, we must ask for it every day. But who needs it? Not the bodily man, but the "inner man" says Cassian. The inner man is the true man. 'Inner man' is a metaphor but it indicates a literal truth: that man is more than an animal. Being more than an animal, he needs more than material sustenance.
Addendum on the Literal and the Metaphorical
Here is a question that vexes me. Are there literal truths that cannot be stated literally but can only stated or gotten at metaphorically? Can we state literally what a man is if he is more than an animal? Or must we use metaphors?
"Man is spirit." Isn't 'spirit' a metaphor? "Man has a higher origin." 'Higher' is metaphorical. "Man is made by God in his image and likeness." Aren't 'made,' 'image,' and 'likeness' metaphors?
I once heard a crude and materialistic old man say that if man is made in God's image, then God must have a gastrointestinal tract. I tried to explain to the man that 'image' is not to be taken in a physical sense but in a spiritual sense. But I got nowhere as could have been expected: anyone who doesn't understand right away the spiritual sense of 'made in God's image' displays by that failure to understand an incapacity for instruction. It is like the student who doesn't get right away what it means to say that one proposition follows from another, and thinks that it refers to a temporal or a spatial relation.
The question is whether the spiritual sense can be spelled out literally.
* For Simone Weil, "Christ is our bread." We can have physical bread without eating it; we cannot have spiritual bread without 'eating' it: the having is the 'eating' and being nourished by it. This nourishing is the "union of Christ with the eternal part of the soul." (Waiting for God, p. 146) The fourth petition of the Pater Noster, then, is the request for the union of Christ with the eternal part of the soul. It has nothing to do with a crass and infantile demand to be supplied with physical food via a supernatural means.
A review by Thomas F. Madden of Jonathan Riley-Smith, The Crusades, Christianity, and Islam. Some excerpts (bolding added):
It is generally thought that Christians attacked Muslims without provocation to seize their lands and forcibly convert them. The Crusaders were Europe’s lacklands and ne’er-do-wells, who marched against the infidels out of blind zealotry and a desire for booty and land. As such, the Crusades betrayed Christianity itself. They transformed “turn the other cheek” into “kill them all; God will know his own.”
Every word of this is wrong. Historians of the Crusades have long known that it is wrong, but they find it extraordinarily difficult to be heard across a chasm of entrenched preconceptions. For on the other side is, as Riley-Smith puts it “nearly everyone else, from leading churchmen and scholars in other fields to the general public.” There is the great Sir Steven Runciman, whose three-volume History of the Crusades is still a brisk seller for Cambridge University Press a half century after its release. It was Runciman who called the Crusades “a long act of intolerance in the name of God, which is a sin against the Holy Ghost.” The pity of it is that Runciman and the other popular writers simply write better stories than the professional historians.
[. . .]
St. Paul said of secular authorities, “He does not bear the sword in vain; he is the servant of God to execute his wrath on the wrongdoer.” Several centuries later, St. Augustine articulated a Christian approach to just war, one in which legitimate authorities could use violence to halt or avert a greater evil. It must be a defensive war, in reaction to an act of aggression. For Christians, therefore, violence was ethically neutral, since it could be employed either for evil or against it. As Riley-Smith notes, the concept that violence is intrinsically evil belongs solely to the modern world. It is not Christian.
All the Crusades met the criteria of just wars. They came about in reaction attacks against Christians or their Church. The First Crusade was called in 1095 in response to the recent Turkish conquest of Christian Asia Minor, as well as the much earlier Arab conquest of the Christian-held Holy Land. The second was called in response to the Muslim conquest of Edessa in 1144. The third was called in response to the Muslim conquest of Jerusalem and most other Christian lands in the Levant in 1187.
[. . .]
And yet, so ingrained is this notion that the Crusades began the modern European assault on Islam that many moderate Muslims still believe it. Riley-Smith recounts : “I recently refused to take part in a television series, produced by an intelligent and well-educated Egyptian woman, for whom a continuing Western crusade was an article of faith. Having less to do with historical reality than with reactions to imperialism, the nationalist and Islamist interpretations of crusade history help many people, moderates as well as extremists, to place the exploitation they believe they have suffered in a historical context and to satisfy their feelings of both superiority and humiliation.”
In the Middle East, as in the West, we are left with the gaping chasm between myth and reality. Crusade historians sometimes try to yell across it but usually just talk to each other, while the leading churchmen, the scholars in other fields, and the general public hold to a caricature of the Crusades created by a pox of modern ideologies. If that chasm is ever to be bridged, it will be with well-written and powerful books such as this.
We Americans are forward-looking people, 'progressives' if you will. ("History is bunk," said Henry Ford.) Muslims, by contrast, live in the past where they nurture centuries-old grievances. This is part of the explanation of the inanition of their culture and the misery of their lands, which fact is part of the explanation of why they won't stay where they are but insist on infiltrating the West. Exercised as they remain over the Crusades, lo these many centuries later, it behooves us to inform ourselves of the historical facts. This is especially important in light of President Obama's recent foolish, unserious, and mendacious comments.
Herewith, then, a piece from someone who knows what he is talking about. I copied it from this location.
Jihad vs. Crusade
U.S. President George W. Bush's use of the term "crusade" in calling for a powerful joint effort against terrorism was unfortunate, but excusable. In Western usage, this word has long since lost its original meaning of "a war for the cross," and many are probably unaware that this is the derivation of the name. At present, "crusade" almost always means simply a vigorous campaign for a good cause. This cause may be political or military, though this is rare; more commonly, it is social, moral or environmental. In modern Western usage it is rarely if ever religious.
Yet "crusade" still touches a raw nerve in the Middle East, where the Crusades are seen and presented as early medieval precursors of European imperialism -- aggressive, expansionist and predatory. I have no wish to defend or excuse the often-atrocious behavior of the crusaders, both in their countries of origin and in the countries they invaded, but the imperialist parallel is highly misleading. The Crusades could more accurately be described as a limited, belated and, in the last analysis, ineffectual response to the jihad -- a failed attempt to recover by a Christian holy war what had been lost to a Muslim holy war.
At the time of the Crusades, when the Holy Land and some adjoining regions in Syria were conquered and for a while ruled by invaders from Europe, there seems to have been little awareness among Muslims of the nature of the movement that had brought the Europeans to the region. The crusaders established principalities in the Levant, which soon fitted into the pattern of Levantine regional politics. Even the crusader capture of Jerusalem aroused little attention at the time, and appeals for help to various Muslim capitals brought no response.
The real countercrusade began when the crusaders -- very foolishly -- began to harry and attack the Muslim holy lands, namely the Hijaz in Arabia, containing the holy cities of Mecca and Medina where Muhammad was born, carried out his mission, and died. In the vast Arabic historiography of the Crusades period, there is frequent reference to these invaders, who are always called "Franks" or "infidels." The words "Crusade" and "crusader" simply do not occur.
They begin to occur with increasing frequency in the 19th century, among modernized Arabic writers, as they became aware of Western historiography in Western languages. By now they are in common use. It is surely significant that Osama bin Laden, in his declaration of jihad against the United States, refers to the Americans as "crusaders" and lists their presence in Arabia as their first and primary offense. Their second offense is their use of Arabia as a base for their attack on Iraq. The issue of Jerusalem and support for "the petty state of the Jews" come third.
The literal meaning of the Arabic word "jihad" is striving, and its common use derives from the Quranic phrase "striving in the path of God." Some Muslims, particularly in modern times, have interpreted the duty of jihad in a spiritual and moral sense. The more common interpretation, and that of the overwhelming majority of the classical jurists and commentators, presents jihad as armed struggle for Islam against infidels and apostates. Unlike "crusade," it has retained its religious and military connotation into modern times.
Being a religious obligation, jihad is elaborately regulated in sharia law, which discusses in minute detail such matters as the opening, conduct, interruption and cessation of hostilities, the treatment of prisoners and noncombatants, the use of weapons, etc. In an offensive war, jihad is a collective obligation of the entire community, and may therefore be discharged by volunteers and professionals. In a defensive war, it is an individual obligation of every able-bodied Muslim.
In his declaration of 1998, Osama bin Laden specifically invokes this rule: "For more than seven years the United States is occupying the lands of Islam in the holiest of its territories, Arabia, plundering its riches, overwhelming its rulers, humiliating its people, threatening its neighbors, and using its bases in the peninsula as a spearhead to fight against the neighboring Islamic peoples." In view of this, "to kill Americans and their allies, both civil and military, is an individual duty of every Muslim who can, in any country where this is possible, until the Aqsa mosque and the Haram mosque are freed from their grip, and until their armies, shattered and broken-winged, depart from all the lands of Islam, incapable of threatening any Muslim."
Muhammad himself led the first jihad, in the wars of the Muslims against the pagans in Arabia. The jihad continued under his successors, with a series of wars that brought the Middle East, including the Holy Land, under Arab Muslim rule and then continued eastward into Asia, westward into Africa, and three times into Europe -- the Moors in Spain, the Tatars in Russia, the Turks in the Balkans. The Crusade was part of the European counterattack. The Christian reconquest succeeded in Spain, Russia and eventually the Balkans; it failed to recover the Holy Land of Christendom.
In Islamic usage the term martyrdom is normally interpreted to mean death in a jihad, and the reward is eternal bliss, described in some detail in early religious texts. Suicide is another matter.
Classical Islam in all its different forms and versions has never permitted suicide. This is seen as a mortal sin, and brings eternal punishment in the form of the unending repetition of the act by which the suicide killed himself. The classical jurists, in discussing the laws of war, distinguish clearly between a soldier who faces certain death at the hands of the enemy, and one who kills himself by his own hand. The first goes to heaven, the other to hell. In recent years, some jurists and scholars have blurred this distinction, and promised the joys of paradise to the suicide bomber. Others retain the more traditional view that suicide in any form is totally forbidden.
Similarly, the laws of jihad categorically preclude wanton and indiscriminate slaughter. The warriors in the holy war are urged not to harm noncombatants, women and children, "unless they attack you first." Even such questions as missile and chemical warfare are addressed, the first in relation to mangonels and catapults, the other to the use of poison-tipped arrows and poisoning enemy water supplies. Here the jurists differ -- some permit, some restrict, some forbid these forms of warfare. A point on which they insist is the need for a clear declaration of war before beginning hostilities, and for proper warning before resuming hostilities after a truce.
What the classical jurists of Islam never remotely considered is the kind of unprovoked, unannounced mass slaughter of uninvolved civil populations that we saw in New York two weeks ago. For this there is no precedent and no authority in Islam. Indeed it is difficult to find precedents even in the rich annals of human wickedness.
Mr. Lewis is professor emeritus of Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University.
I have been, and will continue, discussing Trinity and Incarnation objectively, that is, in an objectifying manner. Now what do I mean by that? Well, with respect to the Trinity, the central conundrum, to put it in a very crude and quick way is this: How can three things be one thing? With respect to the Incarnation, how can the Second Person of the Trinity, the eternal and impassible Logos, be identical to a particular mortal man? These puzzles get us thinking about identity and difference and set us hunting for analogies and models from the domain of ordinary experience. We seek intelligibility by an objective route. We ought to consider that this objectifying approach might be wrongheaded and that we ought to examine a mystical and subjective approach, a 'Platonic' approach as opposed to an 'Aristotelian' one. See my earlier quotation of Heinrich Heine. A marvellous quotation.
1. The essence of Christianity is contained in the distinct but related doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation. Josef Pieper (Belief and Faith, p. 103) cites the following passages from the doctor angelicus: Duo nobis credenda proponuntur: scil. occultum Divinitatis . . . et mysterium humanitatis Christi. II, II, 1, 8. Fides nostra in duobus principaliter consistit: primo quidem in vera Dei cognitione . . . ; secundo in mysterio incarnationis Christi. II, II, 174, 6.
2. The doctrine of the Trinity spelled out in the Athanasian Creed, is that there is one God in three divine Persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Each person is God, and yet there is exactly one God, despite the fact that the Persons are numerically distinct from one another. According to the doctrine of the Incarnation, the second person of the Trinity, the Son or Logos, became man in Jesus of Nazareth. There is a strong temptation to think of the doctrinal statements as recording (putative) objective facts and then to wonder how they are possible. I have touched upon some of the logical problems the objective approach encounters in previous posts. The logical problems are thorny indeed and seem to require for their solution questionable logical innovations such as the notion (championed by Peter Geach) that identity is sortal-relative, or an equally dubious mysterianism which leaves us incapable of saying just what we would be accepting were we to accept the theological propositions in question. The reader should review those problems in order to understand the motivation of what follows.
3. But it may be that the objective approach is radically mistaken. Is it an objective fact that God (or rather the second person of the Trinity) is identical to a particular man in the way it is an objective fact that the morning star is identical to the planet Venus?
Perhaps we need to explore a subjective approach. One such is the mystical approach illustrated in a surprising and presumably 'heretical' passage from St. John of the Cross' The Ascent of Mount Carmel (Collected Works, p. 149, tr. Kavanaugh and Rodriguez, emphasis added):
. . . when a person has finished purifying and voiding himself of all forms and apprehensible images, he will abide in this pure and simple light, and be perfectly transformed into it. This light is never lacking to the soul, but because of creature forms and veils weighing upon and covering it, the light is never infused. If a person will eliminate these impediments and veils, and live in pure nakedness and poverty of spirit . . . his soul in its simplicity and purity will then be immediately transformed into simple and pure Wisdom, the Son of God.
The Son of God, the Logos, the Second Person of the Trinity, is 'born,' 'enters the world,' is 'incarnated,' in the soul of any man who attains the mystic vision of the divine light. This is the plain meaning of the passage. The problem, of course, is to reconcile this mystical subjectivism with the doctrinal objectivism according to which the Logos literally became man, uniquely, in Jesus of Nazareth when a certain baby was born in a manger in Bethlehem some 2000 years ago.
4. A somewhat less mystical but also subjective approach is suggested by an analogy that Josef Pieper offers in Belief and Faith, p. 89. I will explore his analogy in my own way. Suppose I sincerely and thoughtfully say 'I love you' to a person who is open and responsive to my address. Saying this, I do not report an objective fact which subsists independently of my verbal avowal and the beloved's reception of the avowal. There may be objective facts in the vicinity, but the I-Thou relation is not an objective fact antecedent to the address and the response. It is a personal relation of subjectivity to subjectivity. The reality of the I-Thou relation is brought about by the sincere verbal avowal and its sincere reception. The lover's speaking is a self-witnessing and "the witnessed subject matter is given reality solely by having been spoken in such a manner." (Pieper, p. 89) The speaking is a doing, a performance, a self-revelation that first establishes the love relationship.
5. The Incarnation is the primary instance of God's self-revelation to us. God reveals himself to us in the life and words of Jesus -- but only to those who are open to and accept his words and example. That God reveals himself (whether in Jesus' life and words or in the mystic's consciousness here and now) is not an objective fact independent of a free addressing and a free responding. It depends on a free communicating and a free receiving of a communication just as in the case of the lover avowing his love to the beloved. God speaks to man as lover to beloved. In the case of the Incarnation, God speaks to man though the man Jesus. Jesus is the Word of God spoken to man, which Word subsists only in the free reception of the divine communication. Thus it is not that a flesh and blood man is identical to a fleshless and bloodless person of the Trinity -- a putative identity that is hard to square with the discernibility of the identity relations' relata -- it is that God's Word to us is embodied in the life and teaching of a man when this life and teaching are apprehended and received as a divine communication. The Incarnation, as the prime instance of divine revelation, is doubly subjective in that subject speaks to subject, and that only in this speaking and hearing is the Incarnation realized.
6. Incarnation is not an objective fact or process by which one thing, the eternal Logos, becomes identical to a second thing, a certain man. Looked at in this objectivizing way, the logical difficulties become insuperable. Incarnation is perhaps better thought of as the prime instance of revelation, where revelation is, as Aquinas says at Summa Contra Gentiles, 3, 154, "accomplished by means of a certain interior and intelligible light, elevating the mind to the perception of things that the understanding cannot reach by its natural light." Revelation, so conceived, is not an objective fact. Incarnation is a mode of revelation. Ergo, the Incarnation is not an objective fact.
7. This is admittedly somewhat murky. More needs to be said about the exact sense of 'subjective' and 'objective.'
This entry continues the conversation with Tim Pawl about Chalcedonian Christology.
I set forth the following antilogism:
3. The individual human nature of the Logos is a substance.
4. Every substance is metaphysically capable of independent existence.
5. The individual human nature of the Logos is not metaphysically capable of independent existence.
I expected Tim to question (4), but he instead questioned (5). That turned the dialectic away from the general-ontological Aristotelian framework, which I was claiming does not allow the coherent conceivability of the Chalcedonian formulation, toward the exact sense of the Chalcedonian theological doctrine of the Incarnation.
As I see it, we are now discussing the following question. Is it metaphysically possible that the individual human being who is the Son of God -- and is thus identical to the Second Person of the Trinity -- exist as an individual human being but without being the Son of God? I thought I was being orthodox in returning a negative answer. As I understand it, the individual human being who is the Son of God in the actual world, our world, is the Son of God in every possible world in which he exists. This is equivalent to saying that Jesus of Nazareth is essentially (as opposed to accidentally) the Son of God. (X is essentially F =df x is F in every possible world in which x exists.)
If I understand what Tim Pawl is saying, his view is that there are possible worlds in which Jesus of Nazareth exists but is not the Son of God. So the issue between us is as follows:
BV: Every metaphysically possible world in which Jesus exists is a world in which he is identical to the Son (the Logos, the Word, the Second Person).
TP: Some metaphysically possible worlds in which Jesus exists are worlds in which he is not identical to the Son (the Logos, the Word, the Second Person).
In his latest comment, Tim writes,
I do think that there is a merely possible world in which CHN [Christ's human nature] exists as unassumed. In such a world, it fulfills the conditions for being a supposit. And so it fulfills the conditions for being a supposit with a rational nature. So it is a person in that world, [call it W] even though it is not a person in this world [call it A].
I am afraid I find this incoherent. If Jesus is (identical to) the Son of God, then Jesus is (identically) the Son of God in every world in which he exists. To spell out the argument:
1. 'Jesus' and 'Son' are Kripkean rigid designators: they designate the same item in every possible world in which that item exists.
2. Necessity of Identity. For any x, y, if x = y, then necessarily x = y.
3. Jesus = Son.
4. Necessarily, Jesus = Son. (from 2, 3 by Universal Instantiation and Modus Ponens)
5. It is not possible that Jesus not be identical to the Son. (from 4 by the standard modal principle that Nec p is logically equivalent to ~Poss~p.)
For Shaun Deegan, who 'inspired' a sloppy prototype of the following argument hashed out over Sunday breakfast at a Mesa, Arizona hash house.
More precisely: is it coherently conceivable that one person, the Second Person of the Trinity, the Word of God, the Logos, have both an individual divine nature and an individual human nature? (A person, as per Boethius, is an individual substance of a rational nature.)
This is not the same as the question: Is the Incarnation coherently conceivable? For my concern is whether the Incarnation is coherently conceivable within a broadly Aristotelian ontological framework. My answer: I don't think so. My answer leaves open the question whether the Incarnation is coherently conceivable within some other ontological framework.
1. If N is a nature of substance s, then s cannot exist without having N. Natures are essential to the things that have them. In possible worlds jargon: If N is a nature of s, then in every possible world in which s exists, s has N. (The modality in play here is broadly logical or metaphysical.)
2. The Logos L is a necessary being: L exists in every possible world.
3. The Logos has the individual divine nature DN.
4. The Logos has the individual divine nature in every possible world. (from 1, 2, 3)
5. The Logos has the individual human nature HN.
6. The Logos has the individual human nature HN in every possible world. (from 1, 2, 5)
7. The individual human nature HN exists in every possible world. (from 6)
8. No individual human nature exists in every possible world.
9. (7) and (8) are logical contradictories.
Therefore, by reductio ad absurdum,
10. One of the premises is false.
But which one? Let's examine the premises. No classical Trinitarian theist could reject (2) or (3). And no believer in the Incarnation could reject (5). No classical theist could reject (8) given that God might have refrained from creating a natural universe with human beings. So it seems that someone who adheres to each of these theological commitments must reject (1), which is a plank in the Aristotelian platform.
Or, if you adhere to Aristotelian principles, it seems you must abandon the orthodox Chalcedonian line on the Incarnation.
I need to answer three questions. This post addresses only the first.
1. What is the difference between an Aristotelian primary substance and a supposit (hypostasis, suppositum)?
2. Is there any non-theological basis for this distinction?
3. If the answer to (2) is negative, is the addition of suppposita to one's Aristotelian ontology a case of legitimate metaphysical revision or a case of an ad hoc theoretical patch job? According to Marilyn McCord Adams, "Metaphysical revision differs from ad hoc theoretical patching insofar as it attempts to make the new data systematically unsurprising in a wider theoretical context." ("Substance and Supposits," p. 40)
The First Question
By 'substance' I mean an Aristotelian primary substance, an individual or singular complete concrete entity. Among the characteristics of substances are the following: substances, unlike universal properties, cannot be exemplified or instantiated; substances, unlike accidents, cannot inhere in anything; substances, unlike heaps and aggregates, are per se unities. Thus Socrates and his donkey are each a substance, but the classical mereological sum of the two is not a substance.
Now what is a supposit? Experts in medieval philosophy -- and I am not one of them, nota bene -- sometimes write as if there is no distinction between a substance and a supposit. Thus Richard Cross: "Basically a supposit is a complete being that is neither instantiated or exemplified, nor inherent in another." ("Relations, Universals, and the Abuse of Tropes," PAS 79, 2005, p. 53.) And Marilyn McCord Adams speaks of Socrates and Plato as "substance individuals" and then puts "hypostases or supposits" in apposition to the first phrase. (PAS 79, 2005, p. 15)
My first question, then, is: Is there any more-than-verbal difference between a substance and a supposit, and if so, what is it?
One answer that suggests itself is that, while every substance has a supposit, some substances have alien supposits. That is, some substances are their own supposits, while others are not their own supposits, but have alien supposits. (I take the phrase 'alien supposit' from Adams, p. 31 et passim.) A substance has an alien supposit if and only if it is not its own supposit. I understand Aristotle to maintain or at least be committed to the proposition that every (primary) substance is essentially its own supposit. (I rather doubt that the Stagirite ever raised the question of alien supposition.) If so, then no substance is possibly such as to have an alien supposit. If alien supposition is metaphysically or broadly logically possible, however, then we have a ground for a more-than-terminological distinction between substances and supposits. Whether the converse of this conditional holds is a further question. For it may be that there is a ground for the distinction even if alien supposition is not possible.
Incarnation, Trinity, and the separated soul's survival between death and resurrection are theological examples of alien supposition. Whether there are non-theological examples is a further, and very important question, one the answer to which has consequences for questions (2) and (3) above.
The Incarnation is an example of alien supposition as I will now try to explain.
The orthodox view is that God the Son, the second person of the Trinity, the Word, becomes man in Jesus of Nazareth. Although the Word becomes flesh and dwells among us as we read in the NT, the Word does not merely assume a human body, nor does it acquire a universal property, humanity; the Word assumes a particularized human nature, body and soul. The eternal Word assumes or 'takes on' a man, an individual man, with an intellectual soul and and animal body. But now a problem looms, one that can be articulated in terms of the following aporetic tetrad:
a. A person is a (primary) substance of a rational nature. (Boethian definition)
b. There is only one person in Christ, the Word, the Second Person of the Trinity. (Rejection of the heresy of Nestorius, according to which in Christ there are two persons in two natures rather than one person in two natures.)
c. The individual(ized) human nature of Christ is a primary substance of a rational nature.
d. Every (primary) substance is its own supposit, which implies that every substance of a rational nature has its own personhood.
The tetrad is logically inconsistent: any three limbs taken in conjunction entail the negation of the remaining one. Thus the conjunction (a) & (c) & (d) entails the negation of (b). For if there are two primary substances of a rational nature, the Word and Christ, then there are two persons each with his own individualized nature, contra Chalcedonian orthodoxy, according to whch there is exactly one person in two natures. The solution to the tetrad is to deny (d), the very natural Aristotelian assumption that every substance is its own supposit. One does this by maintaining that, while the individualized human nature of Christ is a substance, it is not a substance that supports itself: it has an alien supposit, namely, the Second Person of the Trinity.
If the Incarnation as Chalcedonian orthodoxy understands it is actual, then it is possible. If so, alien supposition is possible, which straightaway entails a distinction between substance and supposit: while every substance has or is a supposit, not every substance has or is its own supposit. The individualized human nature of Christ is a supposited substance but is not itself a supposit.
Let me now say a bit about the Trinity. Here too a problem looms that can be cast in the mold of an aporetic tetrad.
a. A person is a (primary) substance of a rational nature. (Boethian definition)
e. There are exactly three divine persons, Father, Son, Holy Ghost . (Rejection of 'Quaternity')
f. The individualized nature of God is a primary substance of a rational nature.
d. Every (primary) substance is its own supposit, which implies that every substance of a rational nature has its own personhood.
Again, the tetrad is inconsistent, and again the solution is to reject (d) by saying that, while the individualized divine nature is a primary substance, it is not one that supposits itself: it has three alien supposits, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
The Son is thus the alien supposit of both God's divine nature and Christ's human nature.
My first question concerned the difference between a substance and supposit. My tentative answer is that while only substances can be supposits, there are substances that are not their own supposits nor are they supposits for anything else, an example being the individualized human nature of Christ.
Is there a non-theological basis for the distinction? if not, then the suspicion arises that the distinction is purely ad hoc, crafted to save tenets of orthodox Christian theology. But this is a question for another occasion.
What's wrong with ad-hocery?
For Dave Bagwill, who is trying to understand the Chalcedonian definition.
Consider this triad, and whether it is logically consistent:
1. The man Jesus = the 2nd Person of the Trinity.
2. The 2nd Person of the Trinity exists necessarily.
3. The man Jesus does not exist necessarily.
Each of these propositions is one that a Christian who understands his doctrine ought to accept. But how can they all be true? In the presence of the Indiscernibility of Identicals, according to which, roughly, if two things are identical, then they share all properties, the above triad appears inconsistent: The conjunction of (1) and (2) entails the negation of (3). Can this apparent inconsistency be shown to be merely apparent?
Reduplicatives to the rescue. Say this:
4. Jesus qua 2nd Person exists necessarily while Jesus qua man does not exist necessarily.
5. Jesus exists necessarily & Jesus does not exist necessarily.
And that is a plain contradiction. But this assumes that reduplicative constructions need not be taken with full ontological seriousness as requiring reduplicative truth-makers. It assumes that what we say with reduplicatives can be said without them, and that, out in the world, there is nothing that corresponds to them, or at least that we have no compelling reason to commit ourselves to reduplicative entities, qua-entities, one might call them. That assumption now needs to be examined. Suppose we parse (4) as
6. Jesus-qua-2nd Person exists necessarily & Jesus-qua-man does not exist necessarily
where the hyphenated expressions function as nouns, qua-nouns (to give them a name) that denote qua-entities. It is easy to see that (6) avoids contradiction for the simple reason that the two qua-entities are non-identical. But what is non-identical may nonetheless be the same if we have a principled way of distinguishing between identity and sameness. (Hector-Neri Castaneda is one philosopher who distinguishes between identity and a number of sameness relations.) Essentially what I have just done is made a distinction in respects while taking respects with full ontological seriousness. This sort of move is nothing new. Consider a cognate case.
Suppose I have a red boat that I paint blue. Then we can say that there are distinct times, t1 and t2, such that b is red at t1 and blue at t2. That can be formulated as a reduplicative: b qua existing at t1 is red and b qua existing at t2 is blue. One could take that as just a funny way of talking, or one could take it as a perspicuous representation of the ontological structure of the world. Suppose the latter. Then, adding hyphens, one could take oneself to be ontologically committed to temporal parts, which are a species of qua-entity. Thus b-at-t1 is a temporal part that is distinct from b-at-t2. These temporal parts are distinct since they differ property-wise: one is red the other blue. Nevertheless, they are the same in that they are parts of the same whole, the temporally extended boat.
The conceptual move we are making here is analogous to the move we make when we say that a ball is green in its northern hemisphere and red in its southern hemisphere in order to defuse the apparent contradiction of saying that it is red and green at the same time. Here different spatial parts have different properties, whereas in the boat example, different temporal parts have different properties.
Can we apply this to the Incarnation and say that Jesus-qua-God is F (immortal, impassible, necessarily existent, etc.) while Jesus-qua-man is not F? That would avoid the contradiction while upholding such obvious truths as that divinity entails immortality while humanity entails mortality. We could then say, borrowing a term from the late Hector-Neri Castaneda (1924-1991), that Jesus-qua-God is consubstantiated with Jesus-qua-man. (Hector the atheist is now rolling around in his grave.) The two are the same, contingently the same. They are ontological parts of the same substance, and are, in that sense, consubstantiated. Jesus is God the Son where ‘is’ expresses a contingent sameness relation, rather than strict identity (which is governed by the Indiscernibility of Identicals and the Necessity of Identity).
The idea is that God the Son and Jesus are, or are analogous to, ontological parts of one and the same whole. This is an admittedly bizarre idea, and probably cannot be made to work. But it is useful to canvass all theoretical possibilities.
A reader inquires,
The Creed of Chalcedon (A.D 451) set forth the following dogma, among others: (my emphasis)
".. one and the same Christ ....to be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one Person and one Subsistence, not parted or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son . . ."
The deliberate language of 'two natures' in 'one Person' is really remarkable. When you find some time, can you give me a bit of direction in determining, first - what it is for a person to 'have a human nature' and second - depending on that answer, is there any way to explain the concept of a person having two 'natures'? I even find the statement that human persons have both an 'animal nature' and a 'human nature' troublesome. There is a category mistake that I sense but cannot yet explain.
The reader poses three questions. After answering them, I will pose a fourth question that the reader doesn't explicitly ask.
Q1. How can a human person have both an animal nature and a human nature? I don't see much of a difficulty here. If man is a rational animal (Aristotle), then Socrates, in virtue of being human, is an animal. Now he is both animal and human essentially as opposed to accidentally. Thus Socrates could not have existed without being an animal: he could not have been inanimate, say a statue or a valve-lifter in a '57 Chevy. And he could not have existed without being human: he could not have been nonhuman like a cat or a jelly fish. Whether or not every essential feature of a thing is part of its nature, every nature is essential to a thing that has it. So I see no problem in saying that Socrates has both an animal nature and human nature, where the latter includes the former, though not conversely. Nature N1 includes nature N2 just in case it is impossible that something have N1 but not have N2.
Q2. How can a person have two natures? This is answered above. Humanity and animality are distinct -- the first includes the second, but not conversely -- but there is nothing to prevent one and the same individual substance from having both of them.
Q3. What is it for a person to have a human nature? On the Boethian definition, a person is an individual substance of a rational nature. So the question might be: How can a rational individual -- an individual being that has the capacity to reason -- also be human? Well, I don't see much difficulty here. Not every person is a human being, but every human being is a person. So humanity includes personhood.
Q4. How can one and the same person have two seemingly incompatible natures? I suspect that this is the question the reader really wants to pose. There is no obvious problem about one person having two natures if they are logically compatible as they are if one includes the other. The problem is that while humanity includes animality, humanity appears to exclude divinity. Among the marks of humanity: animality, mortality, mutability, passibility; among the marks of divinity: spirituality (non-animality), immortality, immutability, impassibility.
According to Chalcedon, one and the same person is both fully human and fully divine. Now, necessarily, anything human is passible, thus capable of suffering. But, necessarily, nothing divine is passible; hence nothing divine is capable of suffering. So if one and the same person is both human and divine, then one and the same person is both capable of suffering and not capable of suffering. This is a contradiction. Herein lies the difficulty.
The reader needs to tell me whether this is the problem that is exercising him. (Note that the problem can be developed using attributes other than passibility.)
I wonder whether the reader would be satisfied with the following strategy and the following analogy. Christ qua human is capable of suffering, but Christ qua divine is not. This removes the contradiction. Analogy: Obama qua president is commander-in-chief of the armed forces, but Obama qua citizen is not.
I am not endorsing either the reduplicative strategy or the analogy.
The following from a reader:
I have been accused, on a forum, of being a second-class Christian because I have stated that I cannot understand Trinitarian doctrine [as presented in the Athanasian creed]. I have stated that I do accept the Apostles' Creed, but that is not seemingly good enough. So I have asked for clarification from forumites as to why they believe not only that the doctrine is true, but that believing it is a must for 'full fellowship'.
My reader goes on to say that the responses of his fellow forum members were unsatisfactory. His main question is: "What practical difference does a belief or non-belief in the Athanasian doctrine of the Trinity make?" My reader accepts and tries to live by the the Apostles' Creed, but doesn't understand the Athanasian Creed. As well as he might not, given the logical difficulties of the doctrine.
To answer the reader's question: no practical difference to speak of.
The underlying problem, as it seems to me, is that of the relative importance of doctrine and practice. In every religion there is both. Are they of equal importance? Or is one more important that the other? I suggest that, while both are important,
1. Practice is more important than doctrine;
2. Theological doctrines are necessary makeshifts, feeble human attempts at conceptualizing what by its very nature must remain in the main beyond the human conceptual horizon in this life;
3. Doctrinal disputes can and often do lead to acrimonious controversies that are the exact opposite of conducive unto salvation.
The two central precepts of Christianity are: Love God with your whole heart, whole soul, and whole mind, and love your neighbor as yourself. What exactly is enjoined by these two absolutely central precepts may be reasonably discussed, and ought to be. But we know more or less what they mean and require of us. And we know more or less what would be incompatible with their practical realization.
To love God is not to love one's ideas about God. For then one is loving, not God, but products of one's own ego. A theologian in love with his own pet formulations is arguably a high-level idolater. And analogously for the doctrinal formulations of one's church or sect.
And it would seem that bitter, rationally unresolvable dispute about exceedingly abstruse questions is not at all conducive to love of neighbor, and is in fact in many cases incompatible with such love. Consider some such theological nicety as the filioque clause. The question is whether the Holy Ghost proceeds from the Father and the Son -- filioque means 'and the Son' -- or from the Father directly. Quite apart from the question of what practical difference this could make in the life of a believer, does the question have a sense clear enough to permit a rational solution?
The Athanasian Creed, quite unlike the Apostles' Creed, makes subscription to verbally precise Trinitarian and Christological doctrines a necessary condition of salvation. Their verbal precision, however, has not prevented centuries of debate as to their exact meaning and coherence. To hurl an anathema at anyone who fails to accept them on pain of damnation strikes me as nothing more than an expression of the human-all-too-human need for doxastic security. People have a terribly strong need to be secure in their beliefs even when the beliefs in question are plainly open to serious doubt.
Mature religion, I would say, is more quest than conclusions.
People can and ought to be judged by the company they keep, the company they keep away from, and those who attack them.
S. N. counters thusly:
For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.' (Luke 7.33-4)
God incarnate can safely consort with gluttons and drunkards and the lying agents of the Infernal Revenue Service, but mortal man cannot. So one who does so consort ought to be judged by the company he keeps. The judgment might be along the following lines, "You are morally weak, and you know you are; and yet you enter the near occasion of sin?"
This leads to a question about "Judge not lest ye be judged." How is this NT verse at Matthew 7, 1-5 to be interpreted? Is it to be read as implying the categorical imperative, "Thou shalt not judge others morally"? Or is it to be interpreted as a merely hypothetical imperative, "You may judge others morally, but only if you are prepared to be judged morally in turn and either condemned or exonerated as the case may be"?
The first reading is not plausible. For one thing, one cannot detach the antecedent or the consequent of a conditional in the way one can detach the conjunct of a conjunction. Compare 'If you don't want to be judged by others, don't judge them' with 'You don't want to be judged by others and you don't want others to judge you.' The categorical imperative 'Don't judge them' does not follow from the first. The declarative ' You don't want others to judge you' does follow from the second.
But now a third reading suggests itself to me, one that in a sense combines the categorical and the hypothetical, to wit, "You may judge others morally, but only if you are prepared to be judged morally and condemned by God, since no man is justified before God." This is tantamount to a categorical prohibition on judging.
I suspect the third reading is the correct one in the context of Christian teaching as a whole. But I'm no theologian.
Simone Weil, Gravity and Grace, tr. Craufurd, Routledge 1995, p. 75:
The infinite which is in man is at the mercy of a little piece of iron; such is the human condition; space and time are the cause of it. It is impossible to handle this piece of iron without suddenly reducing the infinite which is in man to a point on the pointed part, a point on the handle, at the cost of a harrowing pain. The whole being is stricken in the instant; there is no place left for God, even in the case of Christ, where the thought of God is not more at least [at last?] than that of privation. This stage has to be reached if there is to be incarnation. The whole being becomes privation of God: how can we go beyond? After that there is only the resurrection. To reach this stage the cold touch of naked iron is necessary.
'My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?' There we have the real proof that Christianity is something divine. (p. 79)
J. P. Moreland is against it. Me too. More generally, I oppose any amalgamation of classical theism and materialism about the mind. (See my "Could a Classical Theist be a Physicalist?" Faith and Philosophy, vol. 15, no. 2, April 1998, pp. 160-180.) Here are some excerpts from Moreland's piece:
Christianity is a dualist, interactionist religion in this sense: God, angels/demons, and the souls of men and beasts are immaterial substances that can causally interact with the world. Specifically, human persons are (or have) souls that are spiritual substances that ground personal identity in a disembodied intermediate state between death and final resurrection . . . .
[. . .]
In my view, Christian physicalism involves a politically correct revision of the biblical text that fails to be convincing . . . .
[. . .]
The irrelevance of neuroscience also becomes evident when we consider the recent best seller Proof of Heaven by Eben Alexander. Regardless of one’s view of the credibility of Near Death Experiences (NDEs) in general, or of Alexander’s in particular, one thing is clear. Before whatever it was that happened to him (and I believe his NDE was real but no not agree with his interpretation of some of what happened to him), Alexander believed the (allegedly) standard neuroscientific view that specific regions of the brain generate and possess specific states of conscious. But after his NDE, Alexander came to believe that it is the soul that possesses consciousness, not the brain, and the various mental states of the soul are in two-way causal interaction with specific regions of the brain. Here’s the point: His change in viewpoint was a change in metaphysics that did not require him to reject or alter a single neuroscientific fact. Dualism and physicalism are empirically equivalent views consistent with all and only the same scientific data. Thus, the authority of science cannot be appropriated to provide any grounds whatsoever for favoring one view over another.
I'm with J.P on the irrelevance of neuroscience to the philosophy of mind, and vice versa, but with three minor exceptions that I explain in the third article cited below.
I am too catholic to be much of a Catholic.
But if one needs institutionalized religion, one could do far worse, assuming one can stomach the secular-humanist liberal namby-pambification and wussification that the post-Vatican II church can't seem to resist, the dilution of doctrine and tradition that empties into the nauseating Church of Nice.
There was something profoundly stupid about the Vatican II 'reforms' even if we view matters from a purely immanent 'sociological' point of view. Suppose Roman Catholicism is, metaphysically, buncombe to its core, nothing but an elaborate human construction in the face of a meaningless universe, a construction kept going by human needs and desires noble and base. Suppose there is no God, no soul, no post-mortem reward or punishment, no moral world order. Suppose we are nothing but a species of clever land mammal thrown up on the shores of life by blind evolutionary processes, and that everything that makes us normatively human and thus persons (consciousness, self-consciousness, conscience, reason, and the rest) are nothing but cosmic accidents. Suppose all that.
Still, religion would have its immanent life-enhancing role to play, and one would have to be as superficial and ignorant of the human heart as a New Atheist to think it would ever wither away: it inspires and guides, comforts and consoles; it provides our noble impulses with an outlet while giving suffering a meaning. Suffering can be borne, Nietzsche says somewhere, if it has a meaning; what is unbearable is meaningless suffering. Now the deep meaning that the Roman church provides is tied to its profundity, mystery, and reference to the Transcendent. Anything that degrades it into a namby-pamby secular humanism, just another brand of liberal feel-goodism and do-goodism, destroys it, making of it just another piece of dubious cultural junk. Degrading factors: switching from Latin to the vernacular; the introduction of sappy pseudo-folk music sung by pimply-faced adolescents strumming gut-stringed guitars; leftist politics and political correctness; the priest facing the congregation; the '60s obsession with 'relevance.'
People who take religion seriously tend to be conservatives and traditionalists; they are not change-for-the-sake-of-change leftist utopians. The stupidity of the Vatican II 'reforms,' therefore, consists in estranging its very clienetele, the conservatives and traditionalists. The church should be a liberal-free zone.
Man is godlike and therefore proud. He becomes even more godlike when he humbles himself.
The central thought of Christianity, true or not, is one so repellent to the natural human pride of life that one ought at least to entertain the unlikelihood of its having a merely human origin. The thought is that God humbled himself to the point of entering the world in the miserably helpless and indigent way we in fact do, inter faeces et urinam, and to the point of leaving it in the most horrendous way the brutal Romans could devise, and from a most undistinguished spot, a hill in an obscure desert outpost of their empire.