Given what we know from yesterday's Updike entry, the suspicion obtrudes that, while Updike clearly understands the Resurrection as orthodoxy understands it, his interest in it is merely aesthetic in Kierkegaard's sense, and not ethical in the Dane's sense, which suspicion comports well with the charge that Updike radically divorced Christian theology from Christian ethics.
Or perhaps, as a Protestant, Updike thinks that since God in Christ did all the work of atonement, he needn't do anything such as reform his life and struggle and strive for metanoia but can freely enjoy himself in the arms and partake of the charms of other men's wives. Am I being fair?
In Updike’s religion, then, there are no commandments we are meant to keep except the obligation to accept what is: “Religion includes, as its enemies say, fatalism, an acceptance and consecration of what is.” Our only responsibility is to “appreciate” the great gift that life represents. He learned from Barth that the next life is simply this life in review, and from his Lutheranism, he wrote, “a rather antinomian Christianity”—the idea that there are no laws we should fear or live by—which he was “too timid to discard.” There is no hint of final judgment. Nor is there any imperative to repent or improve ourselves: in Begley’s words, “Original sin may be inescapable, but any concerted effort to improve one’s game resembles a righteous struggle for salvation.” And if there was anything he learned from Barth, it was that all human efforts to save ourselves are wrongheaded and futile. As one critic summed it up, Updike “radically divorced” Christian theology from Christian ethics.
The upshot was a self-indulgent religion that basked in self-affirmation while running from voices that would challenge the self to change, particularly in ways that were not pleasant. It is telling that Updike’s last poem ends with words of self-assurance from Psalm 23: “goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, forever.”
One cannot help thinking that Updike’s religion helped build the theological scaffolding for mainline Protestantism’s baptism of gay marriage. Updike wrote of mainline Protestants and their efforts to justify the sexual revolution. Although Updike himself regarded heterosexual sex as normative, his elevation of sex as a way to transcendence would prevent heterosexual Protestants from barring the door to other kinds of sex. Updike told the CBS reporter, “Sex is one of the means—maybe the foremost means—whereby the [moral and religious] search is conducted.” Once mainline America became persuaded—even in the absence of empirical evidence—that gays are born that way, how could they deny that their sex might be their way to the divine? Updike would surely have agreed. And millions of Updike readers could thank the novelist for helping them see that marriages defined by desire were not only a right but also a sacrament.
'See' is standardly employed as a verb of success. I wonder: does the author in his last sentence so intend it? 'Believe' would work better, no?
More importantly, it is just self-serving nonsense to view sex as the foremost means for conducting the moral and religious search. That sounds like a joke. I am put in mind of Chogyam Trungpa. According to one report, ". . . Trungpa slept with a different woman every night in order to transmit the teaching to them. L. intimated that it was really a hardship for Trungpa to do this, but it was his duty in order to spread the dharma."
We are concupiscent from the ground up. So it is no surprise that even Christianity can be so twisted as to serve the sex monkey by one who apparently was its slave.
But if truth be told, I just now ordered Couples to see how the brilliant Updike makes his case. Updike is a master of social phenomenology as I discovered when I read Rabbit is Rich in the early '90s.
As for the radical divorce of theology and ethics, there cannot be anything salutary about splitting them asunder. But if split them you must, it would be better to jettison the theology and keep the ethics for the sake of our happiness in this world, which we know, as opposed to the next which we merely believe in. It is an empirical question, but on balance the sexual revolution has not improved human eudaimonia. Our predicament post-pill is hardly a paradise.
Updike looks to be a poster boy for the false dichotomy of spirituality versus religion.
Enjoying your posts as always! Thanks for writing so regularly, at such a high level. Reading your posts on Wittgenstein on religion I have a few quick thoughts about religion (or Christianity specifically). When I first started reading Wittgenstein, I initially thought that he had in mind some very different reason for thinking that historical evidence or facts were irrelevant to religion. Then I realized this was just what I wanted to think, for my own reasons; I think you've done a good job here of explaining what he and his followers probably have in mind, and why it seems so absurd.
Still, I have sympathy for his claim that it just wouldn't matter if it turned out that all the Gospels were fabrications (for example). I'm not a Christian--at least, I don't think I am one? But I have the strong intuition that the story of Christ is just true, in some ultimate sense, so that if it's not historically true that would only show that history is a superficial or irrelevant kind of truth--that it just doesn't matter what happened historically if we want to know about ultimate things like God, the soul, the afterlife.
If I learned that Christ never existed, for example, then I'd be inclined to interpret this "fiction" as some kind of intrusion of a higher reality into our lame little empirical world. God might well pierce the Veil of Maya in a "fictional" story, right? If this world is illusory or second-rate somehow, it wouldn't be that surprising if that's the way it works. The prisoners in the Cave might first intuit the real world outside by seeing (similarly) "fictional" representations of the real world produced by the figures in front of the fire.
So I think Wittgenstein overlooks an important third possibility: the truth of Christianity might be neither "historical" nor some set of "truths of reason" but instead some other truth that is just as "objective" (i.e., independent of any language games) but which is only grasped by means of a historically false narrative (or by means of participating in a certain language game for which questions of truth and falsity with respect to the empirical or historical world are irrelevant). I realize this is kind of sketchy and vague! Do you know what I mean?
This is fascinating and I encourage Jacques to work out his ideas in detail and in depth.
A comparison of Christianity with Buddhism suggests itself. As I understand Buddhism, its truth does not require the actual existence of a prince Siddartha who long ago attained Enlightenment by intense seated meditation under the Bodhi Tree and in so doing became Buddha. This is because one's own enlightenment does not depend on what some other person accomplished or failed to accomplish. There is no Savior in Buddhism; or, if you will, one is one's own savior. Salvation is not vicarious, but individual. Buddhism is a religion of self-help, or 'own power': if one attains the salvific state one does so by one's own power and doing and not by the mediation or help of someone else. History, then, doesn't matter: there needn't have been someone in the past who did the work for us. The sutras might just be stories whose truth does not depend on past events, but is a function of their efficacy here and now in leading present persons to the salvific state (nibbana, nirvana). Verification in the here and now is all that is needed.
What Jacques is saying sounds similar to this. The Christian story is true, but not because it records historical facts such as the crucifixion, death, and Resurrection of one Jesus of Nazareth, who took the sins of the world upon himself, the sacrificial lamb of God who, by taking the sins of mankind upon himself and expiating them on the cross, took away the sins: agnus dei qui tollit peccata mundi. Jacques is telling us that the Christian story is true whether or not it is historically true, and that its truth is therefore not the truth of an historical account. And he agrees with Wittgenstein that the truths of Christianity are not propositions discernible by reason. I think Jacques is open to the idea that the truth of Christianity is revealed truth, a sort of revealed 'fiction' or 'myth' that illuminates our predicament. But Jacques disagrees with Wittgenstein, and agrees with me, by denying that Christianity is a mere language game (Sprachspiel) and form of life (Lebensform). That would subjectivize it, in contradiction to its being revealed truth.
Jacques is proposing a fourth way: Christianity is the revelation by God of a sort of 'fictional' or 'mythical' truth that does not depend on what goes on "in our lame little empirical world." To evaluate this one would have to know more about the sense in which Christianity is true on his reading. Buddhism doesn't need historical facts because its truth is a matter of the efficacy of its prescriptions and proscriptions in inducing in an individual an ever-deepening detachment from the samsaric world in the direction of an ultimate extinguishing of desire and the ego that feeds on it.
I seem to recall Max Scheler saying somewhere that the Buddhist project is one of de-realizing the sensible world. That is a good way of putting it. The Buddhist meditator aims to see through the world by penetrating its radical impermanence (anicca) which goes together with its total lack of self-nature or substantiality (anatta), the two together making it wholly 'ill' or 'unsatisfactory' (dukkha).
Christianity, however, is not life-denying in this sense. Christ says that he came so that we may have life and have it more abundantly. This life is a transfigured life in which the self is not dissolved but transformed. Christianity does not seek the eradication of desire, as does Buddhism, but its re-direction upon a worthy object.
Orthodox -- not majuscule but miniscule 'o' -- Christianity is not susceptible to Jacques' reading. Christianity is a very strange religion blending as it does Platonic and Gnostic elements with Hebraic materialism and particularism. (How odd of God to choose the Jews.) Although Gnosticism was rejected as heresy early on, Platonism is essential to Christianity as Joseph Ratzinger rightly argues in his Introduction to Christianity. (Ratzinger was Pope before Bergoglio the Benighted. The German has a very good theological-philosophical head on his shoulders.) But Jewish materialism and particularism are also essential to Christianity. No orthodox Christian can gainsay what Saul/Paul of Tarsus writes at 1 Corinthians 15:14: "And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain." (KJV)
How the mystical-Platonic-spiritual-universal elements (Augustine, Pascal, Kierkegaard, et al.) can be made to fit with the material-historical- particularist elements is not easy to say. There are a number of tensions.
But the main thing that speaks against Jacques' interpretation is that Christianity does not propose an escape from this material world of space, time, flux, and history. This world is not illusory or the veil of Maya as on such Indian systems as Advaita Vedanta, nor is it anicca, anatta, and dukkha in the precise senses that those terms have in original, Pali Buddhism. This world is not a product of ignorance or avidya, and the task is not to see through it. The goal is not to pierce the veil of Original Ignorance, but to accept Jesus Christ as one's savior from Original Sin. The material world is real, albeit derivatively real, as a created world.
Is this world "second-rate"? Well, it does not possess the plenary reality of its Source, God. It has a different and lesser mode of Being than God's mode of Being. And it is a fallen world. On Christianity, it is not just mankind that is fallen, but the whole of creation. What Christianity proposes is not an escape from this world into a purely spiritual world, but a redemption of this world that somehow spiritualizes the gross matter with which we are all too familiar.
So on my understanding of Christianity, the problem with the material world is not that it is material, but that it has been corrupted by some Event far in the past the negative effects of which can only be undone by subsequent historical events such as the birth of Christ, his atonement, and the Second Coming. History is essential to Christianity.
Like Jacques, I too have Platonic tendencies. That may come with being a philosopher. Hence I sympathize with his sketch. Maybe the truth lies in that direction. But if we are trying to understand orthodox Christianity, then Jacques' approach is as unacceptable as Wittgenstein's.
1 Corinthians 15:14: "And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain." (KJV)
Ludwig Wittgenstein, Culture and Value, U. of Chicago Press, 1980, tr. Peter Winch, p. 32e, entry from 1937:
Queer as it sounds: The historical accounts in the Gospels might, historically speaking, be demonstrably false and yet belief would lose nothing by this: not, however because it concerns 'universal truths of reason'! Rather because historical proof (the historical proof-game) is irrelevant to belief. This message (the Gospels) is seized on by men believingly (i.e. lovingly). That is the certainty characterizing this particular acceptance-as-true, not something else.
A believer's relation to these narratives is neither the relation to historical truth (probability), nor yet that to a theory consisting of 'truths of reason'. [ . . .]
Central to the Gospel accounts is that Christ was seen alive by numerous witnesses after his crucifixion and death. Assuming that 'faith' and 'belief' are interchangeable in this context, Paul is saying that belief in Christ as savior is vain (empty, without substance) if the Gospel accounts are false. Wittgenstein, however, is maintaining the exact opposite: Christian belief loses nothing of its substance even if the Gospel accounts could be proven to be false.
How can Wittgenstein maintain something so seemingly preposterous?
Christianity is a form of life, a language-game, self-contained, incommensurable with other language-games, under no threat from them, and to that extent insulated from logical, historical, and scientific objections, as well as from objections emanating from competing religious language-games.
This is why the "historical proof-game" is irrelevant to Christian belief. The two language games are not in competition.
But is the Christian belief system true? Evasion of this question strikes me as impossible.
Here is where the Wittgensteinian approach stops making sense for me. No doubt a religion practiced is a form of life; but is it a reality-based form of life? When Jesus told Pontius Pilate that he had come into the world to bear witness to the truth, Pilate dismissed his claim with the skeptical, "What is truth?" I for one cannot likewise dismiss the question of the truth of Christianity in Pilate's world-weary way. (Pilate comes across to me like a Pyrrhonian skeptic who is tired of these deep questions and just doesn't care any more.) If Christianity is true, it is objectively true; it corresponds to the way things are; it is not merely a set of beliefs that a certain group of people internalize and live by, but has an objective reference beyond itself.
And no doubt religions can be usefully viewed as language games. But Schachspiel is also a Sprachspiel. What then is the difference between Christianity and chess? Chess does not, and does not purport to, refer to anything beyond itself. Christianity does so purport. This is why it is absurd when L. W claims, in other places, that Christianity is not a doctrine. Of course it is a doctrine. Its being much more than a doctrine does not show otherwise.
So I say the following. If it is demonstrable that the Resurrection did not occur, then Christian faith is in vain. Paul is right and Ludwig is wrong. Historical investigation cannot be wholly irrelevant to Christian belief. On the other hand, at some point one has to make a faith commitment. This involves a doxastic leap since one cannot prove that the Resurrection did occur. Will is superadded to intellect and one decides to believe. It may help to reflect that unbelief is also a decision and also involves a leap. Given the infirmity of reason, and the welter of conflicting considerations, it is impossible to know which leap is more likely to be a leap onto solid ground.
"Go on, believe! It does no harm." (CV, 45e)
Existentially, this may well be the decisive consideration. What, after all, does the believer lose if Christianity turns out to be false? Where is the harm in believing? On the other hand, should it prove to be true . . . .
So while Wittgenstein, like Kierkegaard, takes an extreme, and ultimately untenable view, he has existential insights that need accommodation.
Here is an extended post on Wittgensteinian fideism.
As cinema and story-telling, The Case for Christ leaves something to be desired. But if ideas are your thing, then this movie may hold your attention as it held mine. It will help if you are at least open to the possibility that Christ rose from the dead.
The review in Christianity Today is worth reading, but the anti-intellectual tenor of the following bit stuck in my craw:
Alas, all that goes out the window when it comes time for the portions of the film that actually make the case for Christ. It is beyond the scope of a film review to evaluate the specific arguments and assumptions articulated by the people whom Strobel interviews, but regardless of their rhetorical and historical merits, the apologetics sequences make for bad cinema and bad storytelling. Periodically, the domestic melodrama and character development come to a screeching halt, superseded by enormous chunks of exposition that work better on a page than on a screen.
Gunn does his best to stage the interviews in an interesting way, but the results are nonetheless stilted, sometimes comically so. (A conversation with a medical professional, for example, is set in a laboratory with lots of doctors milling about, doing vaguely science-y things while ignoring the reporter who is distracting their boss with questions about the Crucifixion.) The audience is left with little to do other than twiddle their thumbs while they wait for the story to start rolling again.
Twiddle their thumbs? Are you serious? That part of the flick raised in a graphic way the issue of whether the Swoon Hypothesis holds any water, and to my mind, showed that it doesn't. To hell with story-telling. The best parts of the movie were the apologetics sequences.
But if you are looking for entertainment, or think that a man's relation with his wife is of more importance that the question of the Resurrection, then you should stay away from this movie.
The Christian is a Platonist about one man, Christ: he pre-exists both his conception and his birth. But there is no Platonism about any other human. The rest of us enjoy no Platonic pre-existence. We are literally nothing until we are conceived. One could say that orthodox Christians are anthropological exceptionalists with respect to one man. And he is indeed a man. If he is fully God and fully man, then he is fully man.
This entry assumes familiarity with the story recounted by Shusaku Endo in his novel, Silence. Philip L. Quinn's "Tragic Dilemmas, Suffering Love, and Christian Life" (The Journal of Religious Ethics, vol. 17, no. 1, Spring 1989, 151-183) is the best discussion of the central themes of the novel I have read. I thank Vlastimil Vohanka for bringing Quinn's article to my attention.
Quinn argues powerfully and plausibly that Rodrigues is "trapped in an ethical dilemma." (171) I will suggest, however, that while the dilemma is genuine, it cannot be ethical. Let us first hear what Quinn has to say:
When Rodrigues tramples on the fumie [image of Christ] what he does, I think, is both to violate a demand of his religious vocation binding on him no matter what the consequences and to satisfy an equally pressing demand for an expression of love of neighbor. The case resists subsumption under one but not the other of these descriptions. Both demands are characteristic of distinctively Christian ethic. They spring from a single source: the commandment that we both love God with total devotion and love our neighbor as ourselves. The misfortune is that Rodrigues cannot, given that he is the kind of person his life has made him, satisfy one of these demands without violating the other. He is, I suggest, trapped in an ethical dilemma. (170-171)
Quinn then proceeds to explain what an ethical dilemma is:
There is an ethical dilemma when a person is subject to two ethical demands such that he cannot satisfy both and neither demand is overridden or nullified. [. . .] Demands that are neither overridden nor nullified are in force. When one confronts two conflicting ethical demands both of which are in force, one is caught in an ethical dilemma. It seems to be that this is the situation of Sebastian Rodrigues.
I will now attempt to set forth the problem as clearly as I can.
Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole mind, and with thy whole strength;
Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.
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)
B. Both demands are morally obligatory because they are divinely commanded.
C. Both are equally obligatory: neither takes precedence over the other.
D. Neither demand can be overridden and neither can be nullified.
E. An exterior act of apostasy such as trampling on the fumie even without a corresponding interior act of apostasy counts as a violation of the first commandment.
F. Failing to engage in a simple exterior act such as trampling on the fumie that will save many from prolonged torture and death is a violation of the second commandment. Therefore:
G. Rodrigues faces a dilemma: he must satisfy both demands, but he cannot satisfy both demands.
But is this dilemma an ethical dilemma? Arguably not.
H. Ought implies Can: If one ought to do x, i.e., if one is morally obliged to do x, then it must be possible that one do x. Contrapositively, if it is not possible that one do x, then one is not morally obliged to do x.
I. It is not possible that Rodrigues satisfy both demands in the terrible situation in which he finds himself. Therefore:
J. Rodrigues is not morally obliged to satisfy both demands in the situation in which he finds himself. This is not to say that, in general, a Christian is not morally obliged to satisfy both demands; it is is to say that a person in the situation in which Rodrigues find himself is under no moral obligation to satisfy both.
At best he is in an awful psychological bind. The dilemma is psychological, not ethical. Quinn may be committing a non sequitur when we writes (emphasis added),
The misfortune is that Rodrigues cannot, given that he is the kind of person his life has made him, satisfy one of these demands without violating the other. He is, I suggest, trapped in an ethical dilemma.
From the fact that R. is deeply psychologically conflicted due to the circumstances he is in and the kind of person his life has made him, it does not follow that he is in an ethical dilemma. He cannot be morally obliged to do what it is impossible for him to do. So:
K. Rodriguez is not "trapped in an ethical dilemma."
L. We should also note that if Rodrigues does face an ethical dilemma, then this would seem to show that there is something deeply incoherent about Christian ethics. This would not follow if the dilemma is merely psychological.
M. So what should Rodrigues do? Exactly what he is depicted as doing in the novel. I can think of two reasons that justify trampling upon the fumie and saving the prisoners from torture.
The first is that his apostasy is merely external, not in his heart, and therefore arguably not apostasy at all in the precise circumstances in which he finds himself. So (E) above, even if true in general cannot be true for R. in the circumstances.
The second is that, given the silence of God, it is much better known (or far more reasonably believed) that the prisoners should be spared from unspeakable torture by a mere foot movement than that God exists and that Rodrigues' exterior act of apostasy would be an offence God as opposed to a mere betrayal by Rodrigues of who he is and has become by his life choices.
Luke 2:21 (NIV): On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise the child, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he was conceived. (emphasis added)
This New Testament passage implies that before a certain human individual came into existence, he was named, and therefore could be named. The implication is that before an individual comes into existence, that very individual can be an object of irreducibly singular reference by a logically proper name. That is by no means obvious as I shall now argue.
To simplify the discussion let us revert to a mundane example, Socrates, to keep the particulars of Christian incarnational theology from clouding the issue. We will have enough on our plates even with this simplification. At the end of this entry I will return to the theological question.
A Remarkable Prophecy
Suppose there had been a prophet among the ancient Athenians who prophesied the birth among them of a most remarkable man, a man having the properties we associate with Socrates, including the property of being named 'Socrates.' Suppose this prophet, now exceedingly old, is asked after having followed Socrates' career and having witnessed his execution: Was that the man you prophesied?
Does this question make sense? Suppose the prophet had answered, "Yes, that very man, the one who just now drank the hemlock, is the very man whose birth I prophesied long ago before he was born!" Does this answer make sense?
To focus the question, let us assume that there is no pre-existence of the souls of creatures. Let us assume that Socrates, body and soul, comes into existence at or near the time of his conception. For our problem is not whether we can name something that already exists, but whether we can name something that does not yet exist.
I say that neither the question nor the answer make sense. (Of course they both make semantic sense; my claim is that they make no metaphysical or broadly logical sense.) What the prophet prophesied was the coming of some man with the properties that Socrates subsequently came to possess. What he could not have prophesied was the very man that subsequently came to possess the properties in question.
What the prophet prophesied was general, not singular: he prophesied that a certain definite description would come to be satisfied by some man or other. Equivalently, what the prophet prophesied was that a certain conjunctive property would come in the fullness of time to be instantiated, a property among whose conjuncts are such properties as being snubnosed, being married to a shrewish woman, being a master dialectician, being accused of being a corrupter of youth, etc. Even if the prophet had been omniscient and had been operating with a complete description, a description such that only one person in the actual world satisfies it if anything satisfies it, the prophecy would still be general.
Why would the complete description, satisfied uniquely if satisfied at all, still be general? Because of the possibility that some other individual, call him 'Schmocrates,' satisfy the description. For such a complete description, uniquely satisfied if satisfied at all, could not capture the very haecceity and ipseity and identity of a concrete individual.
We can call this view I am espousing anti-haecceitist: the non-qualitative thisness of a concrete individual cannot antedate the individual's existence. Opposing this view is that of the haecceitist who holds that temporally prior to the coming into existence of a concrete individual such as Socrates, the non-qualitative thisness of the individual is already part of the furniture of the universe.
My terminology is perhaps not felicitous. I am not denying that concrete individuals possess haecceity. I grant that haecceity is a factor in an individual's ontological 'assay' or analysis. What I am denying is that the haecceity of an individual can exist apart from the individual whose haecceity it is. From this it follows that the haecceity of an individual cannot exist before the individual exists.
But how could the non-qualitative thisness of a concrete individual be thought to antedate the individual whose thisness it is? We might try transforming the non-qualitative thisness of a concrete individual into an abstract object, a property that exists in every possible world, and thus at every time in those worlds having time.
Consider the putative property, identity-with-Socrates. Call it Socrateity. Suppose our Athenian prophet has the power to 'grasp' (conceive, understand) this non-qualitative property long before it is instantiated. Suppose he can grasp it just as well as he can grasp the conjunctive property mentioned above. Then, in prophesying the coming of Socrates, the prophet would be prophesying the coming of Socrates himself. His prophecy would be singular, or, if you prefer, de re: it would involve Socrates himself.
What do I mean by "involve Socrates himself"? Before Socrates comes to be there is no Socrates. But there is, on the haecceitist view I reject, Socrateity. This property 'deputizes' for Socrates at times and in possible worlds at which our man does not exist. It cannot be instantiated without being instantiated by Socrates. And it cannot be instantiated by anything other than Socrates in the actual world or in any possible world. By conceiving of Socrateity before Socrates comes to be, the Athenian prophet is conceiving of Socrates before he comes to be, Socrates himself, not a mere instance of a conjunctive property or a mere satisfier of a description. Our Athenian prophet is mentally grabbing onto the very haecceity or thisness of Socrates which is unique to him and 'incommunicable' (as a Medieval philosopher might say) to any other in the actual world or in any possible world.
But what do I mean by "a mere instance" or a "mere satisfier"?
Let us say that the conjunctive property of Socrates mentioned above is a qualitative essence of Socrates if it entails every qualitative or pure property of Socrates whether essential, accidental, monadic, or relational. If Socrates has an indiscernible twin, Schmocrates, then both individuals instantiate the same qualitative essence. It follows that, qua instances of this qualitative essence, they are indistinguishable. This implies that, if the prophet thinks of Socrates in terms of his qualitative essence, then his prophetic thought does not reach Socrates himself, but only a mere instance of his qualitative essence.
My claim, then, is that one cannot conceive of an individual that has not yet come into existence. For until an individual comes into existence it is not a genuine individual. Before Socrates came into existence, there was no possibility that he, that very man, come into existence. (In general, there are no de re possibilities involving future, not-yet-existent, individuals.) At best there was the possibility that some man or other come into existence possessing the properties that Socrates subsequently came to possess. To conceive of some man or other is to think a general thought: it is not to think a singular thought that somehow reaches an individual in its individuality.
To conceive of a complete description's being satisfied uniquely by some individual or other it not to conceive of a particular individual that satisfies it. If this is right, then one cannot name an individual before it exists.
Back to Theology
Could an angel have named Jesus before he was conceived? If I am right, no angel, nor even God, could name Socrates before he came to be. But the case is different for Jesus on classical Trinitarian theology. For while there is on Christian doctrine no pre-existence of the souls of creatures, there is on Christian doctrine the pre-existence of the Word or Logos, the Second Person of the Trinity. So one could possibly say that the angel named the pre-existent Word 'Jesus.'
As the book reaches its climax, Rodrigues feels the sand giving way beneath him:
From the deepest core of my being yet another voice made itself heard in a whisper. Supposing God does not exist. . . .
This was a frightening fancy. . . .What an absurd drama become the lives of [the martyrs] Mokichi and Ichizo, bound to the stake and washed by the waves. And the missionaries who spent three years crossing the sea to arrive at this country – what an illusion was theirs. Myself, too, wandering here over the desolate mountains – what an absurd situation!
Scorsese’s Silence is not a Christian film by a Catholic filmmaker, but a justification of faithlessness: apostasy becomes an act of Christian charity when it saves lives, just as martyrdom becomes almost satanic when it increases persecution. “Christ would have apostatized for the sake of love,” Ferreira tells Rodrigues, and, obviously, Scorsese agrees.
The Catholic Church holds it better for the sun and moon to drop from heaven, for the earth to fail, and for all the many millions on it to die of starvation in extremest agony, as far as temporal affliction goes, than that one soul, I will not say, should be lost, but should commit one single venial sin, should tell one wilful [sic] untruth, or should steal one poor farthing without excuse.
Tully Borland points us to The Sinister Theology of Endo's SILENCE. A good article, but a bit smug and pat for my taste. The author seems not to appreciate the moral bind Rodrigues is in. A topic to be explored in a separate entry.
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.
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.
Suppose you are father of a daughter who has been brutally raped. The rapist is apprehended, tried, and found guilty. Suppose further than the man convicted really is guilty as charged and pays the penalty prescribed by the law, and that the penalty is a just one (the penalty that justice demands, as I would put it). The man serves his time, is released from prison, and yet you still harbor strong negative feelings toward him. You are assailed by murderous thoughts. You fantasize about killing him. After all, he violated your sensitive daughter in the most demeaning way and scarred her psychologically for life, snuffing out her vibrancy and souring her on life and men. What the miscreant did cannot be undone no matter what punishment he endures. But despite the negative feelings, you decide to forgive the man. And let us further suppose that you forgive him not just for your own peace of mind, but to restore good relations with him. (Suppose he is an acquaintance or co-worker of yours.)
Now if I understood what my young friend Steven was arguing a while back, his point was that this is not a genuine case of forgiveness: because the miscreant has paid his debt, there is nothing to forgive him for. Even if you forgive him before he serves his sentence, knowing that he will serve it, you have not truly forgiven him. Steven's thought, which he takes to be an explication of Christian forgiveness, is that true forgiveness exonerates the person forgiven: it removes the guilt and moral responsibility and with them the need for restitution and punishment. One cannot both truly forgive and demand that justice be served. True forgiveness is such that it cannot be made conditional upon the satisfaction of the demands of justice.
I think only God could forgive in this sense. So if this is Christian forgiveness, then I wonder whether it has any relevance to human action in this world.
That's one concern. Here is another, which may well rest on theological misunderstanding.
Curiously, in orthodox Christianity, God does not forgive man in the above sense: he 'holds his feet to the fire' for the 'infinite' offense of disobeying the infinitely perfect and good God. Is God not a Christian? Because the guilt man incurs by the primal disobedience of the first parents is infinite, there is nothing finite man can do to set things right either individually or collectively. Only God can restore right relations between God and man. So the triune God sends his Son into the world to assume human nature. This God-man is sacrificed in expiation of the infinite guilt incurred by Adam and Eve. Only God can atone, by substitution, for man's infinite sin.
There is dying, there is being dead, and there is the momentary transition from the one to the other.
While we rightly fear the suffering and indignity of dying, especially if the process is drawn out over weeks or months, it is the anticipation of the moment of death that some of us find horrifying. This horror is something like Heideggerian Angst which, unlike fear (Furcht), has no definite object. Fear has a definite object; in this case the dying process. Anxiety is directed -- but at the unknown, at nothing in particular.
For what horrifies some of us is the prospect of sliding into the state of nonbeing, both the sliding and the state. Can Epicurus help?
If the Epicurean reasoning works for the state of being dead, it cannot work for the transition from dying to being dead. Epicurus reasoned: When I am, death is not; when death is; I am not. So what is there to fear? If death is the utter annihilation of the subject of experience, then, after death, there will be nothing left of me to experience anything and indeed nothing to be in a state whether I experience it or not. Clearly, a state is a state of a thing in that state. No thing, no state.
This reasoning strikes me as cogent. On the assumption that physical death is the annihilation of the person or self, then surely it is irrational to fear the state one will be in when one no longer exists. Again, no thing, no state; hence no state of fear or horror or bliss or anything. Of course, coming to see rationally that one's fear is irrational may do little or nothing to alleviate the fear. But it may help if one is committed to living rationally. I'm a believer in the limited value of 'logotherapy' or self-help via the application of reason to one's life.
I suffer from acrophobia, but it hasn't kept me away from high places and precipitous drop-offs on backpacking trips. On one trip into the Grand Canyon I had to take myself in hand to get up the courage to cross the Colorado River on a high, narrow, and swaying suspension bridge. I simply reasoned the thing out and marched briskly across staring straight ahead and not looking down. But then I am a philosopher, one who works at incorporating rationality into his daily life.
Why then do so many find the Epicurean reasoning sophistical? To Philip Larkin in "Aubade" it is "specious stuff":
This is a special way of being afraid No trick dispels. Religion used to try, That vast moth-eaten musical brocade Created to pretend we never die, And specious stuff that says No rational being Can fear a thing it will not feel, not seeing That this is what we fear — no sight, no sound, No touch or taste or smell, nothing to think with, Nothing to love or link with, The anaesthetic from which none come round.
It seems clear that our boozy poet has failed to grasp the Epicurean reasoning.
Still, there is the moment of death, the moment in which the self helplessly dissolves, knowing that it is dissolving. My claim is that it is this loss of control, this ego loss, that horrifies us. Ever since the sense of 'I' developed in us we have been keeping it together, maintaining our self-identity in and through the crap storm of experience. But at the moment of dying, we can no longer hold on, keep it together. We will want to cling to the familiar, and not let go. This I suggest is what horrifies us about dying. And for this horror the reasoning of Epicurus is no anodyne.
So I grant that there is something quick and specious about the Epicurean cure. If one is rational, it has the power to assuage the fear of being dead, but not the fear of dying, the fear of ego loss.
I consider it salutary to cultivate this fear of dying. It is the sovereign cure to the illusions and idolatries of worldliness. But the cultivation is hard to accomplish, and I confess to rarely feeling the horror of dying. It is hard to feel because our natural tendency is to view everything without exception objectively, as an object. The flow of intentionality is ever outward toward objects, so much so that thinkers such as John-Paul Sartre have denied that there is any subject of experience, any source of the stream of intentionality. (See his The Transcendence of the Ego.)
Everyone knows that one will die; the trick, however is not just to think, but to appreciate, the thought that I will die, this unique subjective unity of consciousness and self-consciousness. This is a thought that is not at home in the Discursive Framework, but straddles the boundary between the Sayable and the Unsayable. My irreducible ipseity and haecceity of which I am somehow aware resists conceptualization. Metaphysics, just as much as physics, misses the true source of the horror of death. For if metaphysics transforms the I or ego into a soul substance, then it transforms it into an object. (Cf. the Boethian objectifying view of the person as an individual substance of a rational nature.) An immaterial object is still an object. As long as I think of myself from the outside, objectively, from a third-person point of view, it is difficult to appreciate that it is I, the first person, this subjective center and source of acts who will slide into nonbeing.
Now we come to "that vast moth-eaten musical brocade," religion, "created to pretend we never die." Although this is poetic exuberance and drunken braggadocio, there is a bit of truth that can be squeezed out of Larkin's effusion. The religious belief in immortality can hide from us the horror and the reality of death. It depends on how 'platonizing' the religion is.
Christianity, however, despite its undeniable affinities with Platonism (as well appreciated by Joseph Ratzinger, the pope 'emeritus,' in Introduction to Christianity), resolutely denies our natural immortality as against what is standardly taken to be the Platonic view. On Christianity we die utterly, and if there is any hope for our continuance, that hope is hope in the grace of God.
Is there then any cure for the horror of death? In my healthy present, my horror is that of anticipation of the horror to come. The real horror, the horror mortis, will be upon us at the hora mortis, the hour of death, when we feel ourselves sliding into the abyss.
In extremis, there is only one cure left, that of the trust of the little child mentioned at Matthew 18:3. One must let oneself go hoping and trusting that one will get oneself back. Absent that, you are stuck with the horror.
Nothing would be more foolish and futile than to take the advice of a different drunken poet, and "Rage, rage against the dying of the light." The dim light of the ego must die to rise again as spirit. In fact, it is the ego in us that 'proves' in a back-handed sort of way that we are spiritual beings. Only a spiritual being can say 'I' and saying it and thinking it isolate himself, distancing himself from his Source and from other finite selves even unto the ultimate Luciferian conceit that one is self-sufficient.
The Op-Ed pages of The New York Times are piss-poor to be sure, but Ross Douthat and David Brooks are sometimes worth reading. But the following from Brooks (28 October) is singularly boneheaded although the opening sentence is exactly right:
The very essence of conservatism is the belief that politics is a limited activity, and that the most important realms are prepolitical: conscience, faith, culture, family and community. But recently conservatism has become more the talking arm of the Republican Party. Among social conservatives, for example, faith sometimes seems to come in second behind politics, Scripture behind voting guides. Today, most white evangelicals are willing to put aside the Christian virtues of humility, charity and grace for the sake of a Trump political victory.
Come on, man. Don't be stupid. The Left is out to suppress religious liberty. This didn't start yesterday. You yourself mention conscience, but you must be aware that bakers and florists have been forced by the state to violate their consciences by catering homosexual 'marriage' ceremonies. Is that a legitimate use of state power? And if the wielders of state power can get away with that outrage, where will they stop? Plenty of other examples can be adduced, e.g., the Obama administration's assault on the Little Sisters of the Poor.
The reason evangelicals and other Christians support Trump is that they know what that destructive and deeply mendacious stealth ideologue Hillary will do when she gets power. It is not because they think the Gotham sybarite lives the Christian life, but despite his not living it. They understand that ideas and policies trump character issues especially when Trump's opponent is even worse on the character plane. What's worse: compromising national security, using high public office to enrich oneself, and then endlessly lying about it all, or forcing oneself on a handful of women?
The practice of the Christian virtues and the living of the Christian life require freedom of religion. Our freedoms are under vicious assault by leftist scum like Hillary. This is why Trump garners the support of Christians.
The threat from the Left is very real indeed. See here and read the chilling remarks of Martin Castro of the U. S. Commission on Civil Rights. Given Castro's comments the name of the commission counts as Orwellian.
Classical theists hold that God created the world ex nihilo, out of nothing. This phrase carries a privative, not a positive, sense: it means not out of something as opposed to out of something called ‘nothing.’ This much is crystal clear. Less clear is how creation ex nihilo (CEN), comports, if it does comport, with the following hallowed principle:
ENN: Ex nihilo nihit fit. Nothing comes from nothing.
The latter principle seems intuitively obvious. It is not the case that something comes from nothing. Had there been nothing at all, there would not now be anything. (ENN) is not, however, a logical truth. A logical truth is one whose negation is a formal-logical contradiction. Negating (ENN) yields: something comes from nothing. This is logically possible in that no contradiction is involved in the notion that something come to be out of nothing. Logical possibility notwithstanding, that is hard to swallow. Rather than explain why -- a fit topic for yet another post -- I will assume for present purposes that (ENN) is a necessary truth of metaphysics. It is surely plausible. (And if true, then necessarily true.) Had there been nothing at all, there would have been nothing to 'precipitate' the arisal of anything. (But also nothing to prevent the arisal of something.)
You are not philosophizing until you have a problem. My present problem is this: If (ENN) is true, how can (CEN) be true? How can God create out of nothing if nothing can come from nothing? It would seem that our two principles form an inconsistent dyad. How solve it?
It would be unavailing to say that God, being omnipotent, can do anything, including making something come out of nothing. For omnipotence, rightly understood, does not imply that God can do anything, but that God can do anything that it is possible to do. But there are limits on what is possible. For one thing, logic limits possibility, and so limits divine power: not even God can make a contradiction true. There are also non-logical limits on divine power: God cannot restore a virgin. There are past events which possess a necessitas per accidens that puts them beyond the reach of the divine will. Nor can God violate (ENN), given that it is necessarily true. God's will is subject to necessary truths. Necessary truths, like all truths, are accusatives of the divine intellect and so cannot exist unless the divine intellect exists. The divine intellect limits the divine will.
Admittedly, what I just stated, though very plausible, is not obvious. Distinguished philosophers have held that the divine will is not limited in the way I have described. But to enter this can of worms would take us too far afield, to mix a couple of metaphors. So we add to our problem the plausible background assumption that there are logical and non-logical limits on divine power.
So the problem remains: How can God create the world out of nothing if nothing can come from nothing? How can we reconcile (CEN) with (ENN)?
One response to the problem is to say that (CEN), properly understood, states that God creates out of nothing distinct from himself. Thus he does not operate upon any pre-given matter, nor does he bestow existence on pre-given essences, nor create out of pre-given possibles. God does not create out of pre-given matter, essences, or mere possibilia. But if God creates out of nothing distinct from himself, this formulation allows that, in some sense, God creates ex Deo, out of himself. Creating the world out of himself, God creates the world out of nothing distinct from himself. In this way, (CEN) and (ENN) are rendered compatible.
In sum, ‘Creatio ex nihilo’ is ambiguous. It could mean that God creates out of nothing, period, in which case (CEN) collides with (ENN), or that God creates out of nothing ultimately distinct from himself. My proposal is that the Latin phrase be construed in the second of these ways. So construed, it has the sense of ‘creatio ex Deo.’
But what exactly does it mean to say that God creates out of God? A critic once rather uncharitably took me to mean precisely what I do not mean, namely, that God creates out of God in a way that implies that the product of the creative operation (creation in the sense of created entities) is identical to its operator (God) and its operand (God). That would amount to an absurd pantheism in which all distinctions are obliterated, a veritable "night in which all cows are black," to borrow a phrase from Hegel.
When I say that God creates ex Deo what I mean is that God operates on entities that are not external to God in the sense of having existence whether or not God exists. I build a rock cairn to mark the trail by piling up otherwise scattered rocks. These rocks exist whether or not I do. My creation of the cairn is therefore neither out of nothing nor out of me but out of materials external to me. If God created in that way he would not be God as classically conceived, but a Platonic demiurge.
So I say that God creates out of ‘materials’ internal to him in the sense that their existence depends on God’s existence and are therefore in this precise sense internal to him. (I hope it is self-evident that materials need not be made out of matter.) In this sense, God creates ex Deo rather than out of materials that are provided from without. It should be obvious that God, a candidate for the status of an absolute, cannot have anything ‘outside him.’
To flesh this out a bit, suppose properties are concepts in the divine mind. Then properties are necessary beings in that they exist in all metaphysically possible worlds just as God does. The difference, however, is that properties have their necessity from another, namely God, while God has his necessity from himself. (This distinction is in Aquinas.) In other words, properties, though they are necessary beings, depend for their existence on God. If, per impossibile, God were not to exist, then properties, and indeed the entire Platonic menagerie (as Plantinga calls it) would not exist.
Suppose that properties are the ‘materials’ or ontological constituents out of which concrete contingent individuals – thick particulars in Armstrong’s parlance – are constructed. (This diverges somewhat from what I say in A Paradigm Theory of Existence, but no matter: it is a simplification for didactic purposes.) We can then say that the existence of contingent individual C is just the unity or contingent togetherness of C’s ontological constituents. C exists iff C’s constituents are unified. Creating is then unifying. (We have a model for this unifying in our own unification of a sensory manifold in the unity of one consciousness.) Since the constituents are necessary beings, they are uncreated. But since their necessity derives from God, they are not independent of God.
In this sense, God creates out of himself: he creates out of materials that are internal to his own mental life. It is ANALOGOUS to the way we create objects of imagination. (I am not saying that God creates the world by imagining it.) When I construct an object in imagination, I operate upon materials that I myself provide. Thus I create a purple right triangle by combining the concept of being purple with the concept of being a right triangle. I can go on to create a purple cone by rotating the triangle though 360 degrees on the y-axis. The object imagined is wholly dependent on me the imaginer: if I leave off imagining it, it ceases to exist. I am the cause of its beginning to exist as well as the cause of its continuing to exist moment by moment. But the object imagined, as my intentional object, is other than me just as the creature is other than God. The creature is other than God while being wholly dependent on God just as the object imagined is other than me while being wholly dependent on me.
A critic thinks that "The notion of total dependence, dependence in every respect, entails identity, and therefore no dependence at all. If a is dependent on b in all respects, then a ‘collapses’ into b, taking dependency, and difference, with it." So if the creature is dependent on God both for its existence and for its nature, the creature collapses into God. And of course we can’t have that. It is obvious that the manifest plurality of the world, the difference of things from one another and from God, must be maintained. We cannot allow a pantheism according to which God just is the world, nor one on which God swallows up the plural world and its plurality with it.
The principle lately quoted is refuted by every intentional object qua intentional object. The object imagined is totally dependent in its existence on my acts of imagining. After all, I excogitated it: in plain Anglo-Saxon, I thought it up, or out. This excogitatum, to give it a name, is wholly dependent on my cogitationes and on the ego ‘behind’ these cogitationes if there is an ego ‘behind’ them. (Compare Sartre’s critique of Husserl on this score in the former’s Transcendence of the Ego.) But this dependence is entirely consistent with the excogitatum’s being distinct both from me qua ego, and from the intentional acts or cogitationes emanating from the ego and directed upon the excogitatum. To press some Husserlian jargon into service, the object imagined ist kein reeller Inhalt, it is not "really contained" in the act. The object imagined is neither immanent in the act, nor utterly transcendent of the act: it is a transcendence in immanence. It is ‘constituted’ as a transcendence in immanence.
The quoted principle may also be refuted by more mundane examples, examples that I would not use to explain the relation between creator and creature. Consider a wrinkle W in a carpet C. W is distinct from C. This is proven by the fact that they differ property-wise: the wrinkle is located in the Northeast corner of the carpet, but the carpet is not located in the Northeast corner of the carpet. (The principle here is the Indiscernibility of Identicals.) But W is wholly (totally) dependent on C. A wrinkle in a carpet cannot exist without a carpet; indeed, it cannot exist apart from the very carpet of which it is the wrinkle. Thus W cannot ‘migrate’ from carpet C to carpet D. Not only is W dependent for its existence on C, but W is dependent on C for its nature (whatness, quiddity). For W just is a certain modification of the carpet, and the whole truth about W can be told in C-terms. So W is totally dependent on C.
So dependence in both essence and existence does not entail identity.
Somehow the reality of the Many must be upheld. The plural world is no illusion. If Advaita Vedanta maintains that it is an illusion, then it is false. On the other hand, the plural world is continuously dependent for its existence on the One. Making sense of this relation is not easy, and I don't doubt that my analogy to the relation of finite mind and its intentional objects limps in various ways.
In any case, one thing seems clear: there is a problem with reconciling CEN with EEN. The reconciliation sketched here involves reading creatio ex nihilo as creatio ex Deo. The solution is not pantheistic, but panentheistic. It is not that all is God, but that all is in God.
Modern masters of science are much impressed with the need of beginning all inquiry with a fact. The ancient masters of religion were quite equally impressed with that necessity. They began with the fact of sin -- a fact as practical as potatoes. Whether or no man could be washed in miraculous waters, there was no doubt at any rate that he wanted washing. But certain religious leaders in London, not mere materialists, have begun in our day not to deny the highly disputable water, but to deny the indisputable dirt. Certain new theologians dispute original sin, which is the only part of Christian theology which can really be proved. Some followers of the Reverend R. J. Campbell, in their almost too fastidious spirituality, admit divine sinlessness, which they cannot see even in their dreams. But they essentially deny human sin, which they can see in the street. The strongest saints and the strongest sceptics alike took positive evil as the starting-point of their argument. If it be true (as it certainly is) that a man can feel exquisite happiness in skinning a cat, then the religious philosopher can only draw one of two deductions. He must either deny the existence of God, as all atheists do; or he must deny the present union between God and man, as all Christians do. The new theologians seem to think it a highly rationalistic solution to deny the cat.
What Chesterton is saying is that sin is a fact, an indisputable fact, whether or not there is any cure for it. Not only is sin a fact, original sin is a fact, an observable fact one can "see in the street." Chesterton also appears to be equating sin with positive moral evil.
Is the concept of moral evil the same as the concept of sin? If yes, then the factuality of moral evil entails the factuality of sin. But the concept of moral evil is not the same as the concept of sin. It is no doubt true -- analytically true as we say in the trade -- that sins are morally evil; but the converse is by no means self-evident. It is by no means self-evident that every moral evil is a sin. It is certainly not an analytic or conceptual truth. Let me explain.
Moral evil is evil that comes into the world from a misuse of free will. As such, it could exist whether or not God exists as long as there are free agents. All that would be required for the existence of moral evil, in addition to free agents, would be moral values and/or moral laws. Sin, however, implies God by its very concept. Sin is an offense against God. A sinful act is not just a morally wrongful act, but an act of disobedience, a contravention of a divine command. From the Catholic Encyclopedia article on sin:
In the Old Testament sin is set forth as an act of disobedience (Genesis 2:16-17; 3:11; Isaiah 1:2-4; Jeremiah 2:32); as an insult to God (Numbers 27:14); as something detested and punished by God (Genesis 3:14-19; Genesis 4:9-16); as injurious to the sinner (Tob., xii, 10); to be expiated by penance (Ps. 1, 19). In the New Testament it is clearly taught in St. Paul that sin is a transgression of the law (Romans 2:23; 5:12-20); a servitude from which we are liberated by grace (Romans 6:16-18); a disobedience (Hebrews 2:2) punished by God (Hebrews 10:26-31). St. John describes sin as an offence to God, a disorder of the will (John 12:43), an iniquity (1 John 3:4-10).
My first conclusion, then, is that moral evil is not the same as sin. The concept of sin includes the concept of moral evil, but not conversely. This is because sin is an offence against God. If so, then it is difficult to see how sin could be a fact, as Chesterton claims. It is more like an interpretation of certain facts. We need an example.
One man brutally assaults another to get his wallet. He beats him to death with a baseball bat while the victim's little girl looks on in horror. The act is evil, and let's assume that the act's being evil is a fact not only in the sense that it is the case, but also in the sense that it is evidently the case, observably the case, indisputably the case. But is the act of assault sinful? Only if God exists. For only if God exists can there be an offence against God, which is what sin is. But that God exists is not a fact in the sense I just defined. For even if it is the case that God exists -- even if the proposition God exists is true -- it is not evidently, observably, indisputably the case that God exists. Chesterton says one can "see sin in the street." This is just false. For surely one cannot see God in the street, or in the sky, or in nature as a whole. The theist interprets what he literally sees in terms of, within the horizon of, his belief in God, and so he interprets the evil act as a sinful act. But the sinfulness of the act of assault is not a perceptible quality of it: it cannot be 'read off' the act.
My second conclusion, therefore, is that sin is not a fact in the sense defined. This is because calling an act sinful involves an interpretation of the act in terms of an entity, God, whose existence is not a fact in the sense defined. It is interesting to note that if sin were an observable fact, then, given that concept of sin includes the concept of God, we would be able to mount a quick argument for God from the existence of sin. That is, we could argue as follows:
There are sinful acts; If there are sinful acts, then God exists; ergo, God exists. This argument is valid in point of logical form, but is not probative because it begs the question in the first premise: anyone who classifies some acts as sinful in so doing presupposes the existence of God.
So, contrary to what Chesterton says above, sin is not a fact one can "see in the street." It is no more an observable fact than the createdness or divine designedness of the universe are observable facts. They may be facts, but they are not observable facts. I seem to recall Kierkegaard saying something similar to what Chesterton says above. Kierkegaard, if memory serves, says in effect that Original Sin is the one dogma that is empirically verifiable. But this is the same mistake. The most one can say is that the fact of moral evil is plausibly explained by the doctrine of Original Sin. If the doctrine is true, then we have a plausible explanation of the ubiquity and horrendous depth of moral evil; but other explanations are possible which operate without theistic assumptions.
Supposing we are able to disqualify these other explanations, we could argue that Original Sin is the best explanation of the pervasive fact of moral evil. Even if such an argument were sound, it would not show that Original in is an empirical fact; it would remain at best an explanatory hypothesis.
Apparently, Richard Swinburne, perhaps the most distinguished of contemporary philosophers of religion, had the chutzpah to defend a traditional Christian view of homosexuality at a meeting of the Society of Christian Philosophers. This provoked the outrage of certain cultural Marxists.
If only a 'trigger warning' had been issued prior to Swinburne's address! Then the whole controversy might have been avoided. The girly girls and pajama boys could have padded off to their sandbox to play with their dolls until the start of the next session.
Required reading for a sense of the depth of the rot in contemporary academe. Here is the conclusion of Dreher's article:
The fact that a Yale philosophy professor not only holds such vicious opinions towards another professor who apparently only stated a historically standard Christian philosophical view of homosexuality, but who also did not hesitate to publicly denounce that professor in the most vulgar possible terms, is a striking sign of the revolutionary times. To give you a sense of the ideas that are considered so vile as to be unutterable, even in a Christian philosophers’ conference, I searched in Swinburne’s 2007 book Revelation to see what his view on homosexuality is. To my knowledge, there has been no transcript provided of his SCP talk, but numerous online comments by philosophers who were there said that there was nothing in it that Swinburne had not already said in Revelation (which was published by Oxford University Press, not known for being a purveyor of National Socialist tracts) It’s possible to search on Amazon and find the relevant pages in the Swinburne book. It starts on p. 304. As best I can tell, here is his argument:
Children need two parents. The inability to beget children is a “disability.”
Homosexuality, by this definition, is a disability.
Disabilities need to be prevented and cured.
What causes homosexuality? We don’t know, but it’s likely some combination of genetics and environment.
We can change the environmental conditions by discouraging people from homosexual acts, and embracing a homosexual identity.
There is always a possibility that the disability called homosexuality might be cured, so therapy should be considered. But as of now, we have no reason to think that it will be successful, except in a slight number of cases.
In any case, homosexuals should be encouraged to be chaste, just as heterosexuals should be encouraged to be chaste in the face of their own disordered sexual impulses.
We must show love and compassion to homosexuals (and others with disordered impulses), but real love and compassion implies wanting not what they want, but what is best for them.
Therefore, to love gays (and everybody else) is to desire that all who live outside the bounds of normative heterosexual marriage live in chastity.
This is a very common Christian argument from Scripture and the natural law. For a more detailed version of this argument, see the Catechism of the Catholic Church’s teachings on the meaning of sex and sexuality. The Catholic Church teaches that all sexual acts and all sexual desire outside of heterosexual marriage (including masturbation, and use of pornography) are disordered, because they disrupt the purpose of sex (= the unity of the couple, open to the possibility of the conception of new life). This is why the Church condemns contraception as a deformation of the right use of sex. The Catechism calls homosexuality “intrinsically disordered” because it is a state of sexual desire that can in no way be rightly ordered.
One can easily see why contemporary philosophers would object to this, and theyshould object to it, philosophically, if it violates their principles. But the idea that what Swinburne said is some sort of crazy right-wing blast from the bowels of Hitleriana, not fit to be stated in philosophical company, is insane.
But I don’t think Stanley and his academic confreres are insane, not in the least. I think they are radical progressive ideologues. I think they deliberately want to demonize any philosophers who hold to the traditional Christian teaching on the meaning of sexuality, particularly homosexuality. One of the most prominent contemporary philosophers is Princeton’s Peter Singer, who has advocated bestiality (under certain conditions) and the extermination of handicapped newborns. Singer is welcome within contemporary philosophical circles … but Richard Swinburne is now to be anathematized?
Anybody with eyes can see what’s going on here. There is a cleansing underway. The fact that the Society of Christian Philosophers is allowing itself to be bullied by these people is deeply depressing. Christian philosophers ought to be defending Swinburne’s right to state his opinion, even if they disagree with that opinion.
(I should add here that one of the handful of reasons I would even consider voting for Trump is the certain knowledge that a Hillary Clinton administration would only further the cultural hegemony of cutthroat revolutionaries like Stanley and his fellow travelers.)
On classical Christology, as defined at the Council of Chalcedon in anno domini 451, Christ is one person with two natures, a divine nature and a human nature. But isn't this just logically impossible inasmuch as it entails a contradiction? If Christ is divine, then he is immaterial; but if he is human, then he is material. So one and the same person is both material and not material. Again, if Christ is divine, then he is a necessary being; but if he is human, then he is a contingent being. So one and the same person is both necessary and not necessary.
There are several ways to remove contradictions like these. One way is by using reduplicative constructions, another invokes relative identity theory, and a third is mereological. This entry will examine Michael Gorman's version of a fourth approach, the restriction strategy. (See Michael Gorman, "Classical Theism, Classical Anthropology, and the Christological Coherence Problem" in Faith and Philosophy, vol. 33, no. 3, July 2016, pp. 278-292.) Glance back at the first example of putative contradiction. The argument requires for its validity two unstated premises:
Necessarily, every divine being is immaterial
Necessarily, every human being is material.
If so, and if Christ is both divine and human as orthodoxy maintains, then Christ is both immaterial and material. We can defuse the contradiction if we follow Gorman and replace the first of these with a restricted version:
R. Necessarily, every solely divine being is immaterial.
From this restricted premise, a contradiction cannot be derived. Christ, though divine, is not solely divine because he is also human. "Saying that every solely divine being is immaterial does not imply that Christ is immaterial, because Christ is not solely divine; therefore, it leaves open the door to saying that Christ is material." (283) In this way, 'Christ is divine' and 'Christ is human' can be shown to be a non-contradictory pair of propositions.
Now there is more to Gorman's article than this, but the above restriction is the central move he makes. Unfortunately, I cannot see how this is satisfactory as a defense of the Chalcedonian definition.
For even if Christ is unproblematically both divine and human, how is he unproblematically both immaterial and material? Clearly he must be both. Gorman removes contradiction at one level only to have it re-appear at a lower level. He shows how something can be coherently conceived to be both divine and human, but not how it can be coherently conceived to be both immaterial and material.
Can Gorman's move be iterated? Can we say that an immaterial entity need not be solely immaterial? Can we say, coherently, that while Christ is immaterial he is also material? I don't see how. It is a contradiction to say that one and the same x is both F and not F at the same time, in the same respect, and in the same sense of 'F.' If you say that Christ is immaterial qua God but material qua man, then you have abandoned the restriction strategy and are back with reduplication.
Not again! Yes, again. On 5 September 2016 anno domini, in the pages of Crisis Magazine, Fr. Brandon O'Brien opined (emphasis added):
While some similarities may exist between the Christian and Muslim conceptions of God, it is certain that the Christian who prays “Our Father, Who art in Heaven” each day is not praying to the same God as the Muslim who prays “There is no god but Allah and Muhammad is his prophet.” This is because they are not worshipping the same God.
Certain! How's that for theological chutzpah?
The title of the piece is "Why Christians and Muslims Worship Different Gods." The reason is that the Christian and Muslim conceptions of God are drastically different. The doctrine of the Trinity is perhaps the key difference. For normative Christians God is tri-une: one God in three divine persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It is well-known that normative Muslims reject this trinitarian conception and hold to the radical unity of Allah. God cannot have a son, either in heaven or on earth. This key difference leads to the crucial difference. For Christians, God, or rather God's Son, died on the cross (crux, crucis) for man's salvation, was resurrected, and ascended into heaven body and soul.
So the conceptions of God in the two religions are radically different. But how is it supposed to follow that Christians and Muslims worship numerically different Gods? It doesn't follow! Let me explain.
Suppose Sam's conception of the author of Das Kapital includes the false belief that the author is a Russian while Dave's conception includes the true belief that he is a German. This is consistent with there being one and same philosopher whom they have beliefs about and are referring to. One and the same man, Karl Marx, is such that Sam has a false belief about him while Dave has a true belief about him.
Now suppose Ali's conception of the divine being includes the false belief that said being is non-triune while Peter's conception includes the true belief that God is triune. This is consistent with there being one and same being whom they have beliefs about and are referring to. One and the same god, God, is such that Ali has a false belief about him while Peter has a true belief about him.
What I have just shown is that from the radically different, and indeed inconsistent, God-conceptions one cannot validly infer that (normative) Christians and (normative) Muslims refer to and worship numerically different Gods. For the difference in conceptions is consistent with sameness of referent. So you can see that Fr. O'Brien has made a mistake.
But nota bene: Difference in conceptions is also consistent with a difference in referent. It could be that when a Christian uses 'God' he refers to something while a Muslim refers to nothing when he uses 'Allah.' Consider God and Zeus. Will you say that the Christian and the ancient Greek polytheist worship the same God except that the Greek has false beliefs about their common object of worship, believing as he does that Zeus is a superman who lives on a mountain top, literally hurls thunderbolts, etc.? Or will you say that there is no one God that they worship, that the Christian worships a being that exists while the Greek worships a nonexistent object? And if you say the latter, why not also say the same about God and Allah, namely, that there is no one being that they both worship, that the Christian worships the true God, the God that really exists, whereas Muslims worship a God that does not exist?
In sum, difference in conceptions is logically consistent both with sameness of referent and difference of referent.
Apparently, this is difficult for some to see. My good friend Dale Tuggy writes,
Christians and Muslims disagree about whether God has a Son, right? Then, they’re talking about the same (alleged) being. They may disagree about “who God is” in the sense of what he’s done, what attributes he has, how many “Persons” are in him, and whether Muhammad was really his Messenger, etc. But disagreement assumes one subject-matter – here, one god.
Tuggy is saying in effect that disagreement presupposes, and thus entails, sameness of referent.
I think Tuggy is making a mistake here. Surely disagreement about the properties of a putatively self-same x does not entail that there is in reality one and the same x under discussion, although it is logically consistent with it.
A dispute between me and Ed Feser, say, about whether our mutual acquaintance Tuggy has a son no doubt presupposes, and thus entails, that there is one and the same man whom we are talking about. It would be absurd to maintain that there are two Tuggys, my Tuggy and Ed's, where mine has a son and Ed's does not. It would be absurd for me to say, "I'm talking about the true Tuggy while you, Ed, are talking about a different Tuggy, one that doesn't exist. You are referencing, if not worshipping, a false Tuggy." Why is this absurd? Because we are both acquainted with the man ('in the flesh,' by sense-perception and countless memories) and we are arguing merely over the properties of the one and the same man with whom we are both acquainted. There is simply no question but that he exists and that we are both referring to him. The dispute concerns his attributes.
But of course the situation is different with God. We are not acquainted with God: God, unlike Tuggy, is not given to the senses. Mystical intuition and revelation aside, we are thrown back upon our concepts of God. And so it may be that the dispute over whether God is triune or not is not a dispute that presupposes that there is one subject-matter, but rather a dispute over whether the Christian concept of God (which includes the sub-concept triune) is instantiated or whether the Muslim concept (which does not include the subconcept triune) is instantiated. Note that they cannot both be instantiated by the same item.
The point I am making is a subtle one, and you have to think hard to grasp it. The point is that it is not at all obvious which of the following views is correct:
V1: Christian and Muslim 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 worship different Gods precisely because they have mutually exclusive 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.
The difference can be put in terms of the difference between heresy and idolatry. If Islam is a Christian heresy, as has been maintained by G. K. Chesterton et al., then the Muslim has false beliefs about the same being about which the Christian has true beliefs. If, on the other hand, the Muslim is an idolator, then he worships a god that does not exist, which obviously cannot be identical to the true God who does exist.
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?
For the technical details see the entries collected here.
Most of the writing on this topic is exasperatingly superficial and uninformed, even that by theologians. Fr. O'Brien is a case in point. He thinks the question easily resolved: you simply note the radical difference in the Christian and Muslim God-conceptions and your work is done. Others make the opposite mistake. They think that, of course, Christians and Muslims worship the same God either by making Tuggy's mistake above or by thinking that the considerable overlap in the two conceptions settles the issue.
My thesis is not that the one side is right or that the other side is right. My thesis is that the question is a very difficult one that entangles us in controversial inquiries in the philosophies or mind and language.
You might say it doesn't matter. If Christians and Muslims worship the same God, then Muslims are heretics: they have false beliefs about the true God. If Christians and Muslims worship different Gods, then the Muslims are idolaters: they worship a nonexistent god. Not good either way. This won't be acceptable to Muslims, of course, but why shouldn't a Christian say this and leave it at that?
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. Therefore 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. Therefore 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
I'm sorry. I've re-read your post, and it strikes me as quite clear, and I think I understand it. So perhaps the problem lies in my rather compressed e-mail, and not in my understanding of your post. Any rate, if this is wrong then this message should reinforce that. I elaborate a bit below on my earlier email, but this isn't meant to stop you from writing another post about the matter if that was your intent.
1. I agreed with your claim that classical theism does not entail haecceitism. I did not mean to imply, in saying this, that I agree either with the specific view of pre-creation divine knowledge you articulated, or with Mason's view. I agree that classical theism doesn't entail haecceitism because I don't think that the nature of classical theism forces a particular choice on this issue, either between your view or Mason's view or another.
BV: Good. I agree that a particular choice is not forced by the nature of classical theism.
2. I agreed (or rather said I'm inclined to agree) that there are no *non*-qualitative individual essences / haecceities prior to creation.
BV: I missed this; thanks for the clarification. It now seems we are on the same page. To spell it out: prior to God's creation of Socrates, and thus prior to the latter's coming into existence (actuality), there was no such non-qualitative property as identity-with-Socrates, or any other property involving Socrates himself as part of its very content. The modal analog holds as well: in those metaphysically possible worlds in which Socrates does not exist, there is no such property as identity-with-Socrates.
Of course, I am not saying that when Socrates does exist, then there is the haecceity property identity-with-Socrates instantiated by Socrates; I am saying that there are no haecceity properties at all, where an haecceity property is an abstract object that exists in every metaphysically possible world but is instantiated in only some such worlds, and furthermore satisfies this definition:
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.
An item is abstract iff it does not exist in space or time. An item is concrete iff it is not abstract.
Please note that when I say that there are no haecceity properties in the sense defined, that does not exclude there being haecceity properties in some other (non-Plantingian) sense. Note also that there might be haecceities that are in no sense properties. The materia signata of Socrates is not a property of him; so if someone holds that the haecceity (thisness) of Socrates either is or is grounded in his materia signata, then he would be holding that there are haecceities which are not properties. Similarly if spatiotemporal location is the principium individuationis, and if a thing's thisness = its principium individuationis.
Thus, if I am right, there is no sense in which the identity and individuality of Socrates somehow pre-exist his actual existence as they would pre-exist him if there were such a property as his nonqualitative haecceity property identity-with-Socrates. If so, then divine creation cannot be understood as God's bringing it about that the haecceity property identity-with-Socrates is instantiated. We would then need a different model of creation.
3. I then said that, notwithstanding (1) and (2), I defend a view that is close to haecceitism. I'll just elaborate a bit more here on where I'm coming from.
It seems to me you articulate a view like Robert Adams in his 1981 "Actualism and Thisness", and Christopher Menzel in his 1991 "Temporal Actualism and Singular Foreknowledge", with two key components.
First component: (A) Prior to creation, God's knowledge of what he might create is exclusively qualitative or pure in content (no reference to particular individuals). In light of my (2) above, I'm inclined to agree with this. Now let's say (this is admittedly imprecise, but I'm trying to be concise) that an item Q of qualitative knowledge *individuates* a particular possible creature C just in case Q's instantiation would be sufficient for C's existence and exemplification of Q.
Second component: (B) None of the aforementioned qualitative knowledge individuates a particular possible creature (such as Socrates). The reason for this is that for any relevant item of knowledge Q, there are multiple possible creatures that might exemplify Q (e.g., Socrates and Schmocrates), and so Q's instantiation is not *sufficient* for a *particular* possible creature to exist and exemplify Q.
The view I'm attracted to accepts (A) but denies (B). I think that purely qualitative knowledge could individuate possible creatures. (Thus far this view looks like Leibniz's, as I understand it.) So, were I arguing against you, your paragraph on Socrates/Schmocrates and the next paragraph on the Biblical / Platonic contrast would be areas of focus.
BV: Now I think I understand what your project is. You are right to mention Leibniz. I was all along assuming that the Identity of Indiscernibles is false: it is broadly logically possible that there be two individuals that share all qualitative or pure properties, whether essential or accidental, monadic or relational. I believe my view is committed to the rejection of the Identity of Indiscernibles. Could there not have been exactly two iron spheres alike in every respect and nothing else? This is at least thinkable if not really possible. You on the other had seem committed to the Identity of Indiscernibles: it is not broadly logically possible that there be two individuals sharing all the same qualitative or pure properties.
Suppose the Identity of Indiscernibles is true. And suppose God has before his mind a wholly determinate, but merely possible, concrete individual. Let it be an iron sphere. Equivalently, he has before his mind a conjunctive property the conjuncts of which are the properties of the sphere he is contemplating creating. Call this conjunctive property a qualitative individual essence (QIE). It is qualitative in that it makes no reference to any actual individual in the way identity-with-Socrates does. It is an individual essence in that only one thing in the actual world has it, and this thing that has it must have it. If creation is actualization, all God has to do to create the wholly determinate mere possible iron sphere is add existence to it, or else bring it about that the qualitative individual essence is instantiated.
But then how could God create Max Black's world in which there are exactly two indiscernible iron spheres? He couldn't. There would be nothing to make the spheres numerically distinct. If x and y are instances of a QIE, then x = y. For there is nothing that could distinguish them. Contrapositively, if x is not identical to y, then it is not the case that x and y are instances of the same QIE. That is what you are committed to if you uphold the Identity of Indiscernibles.
On my view of creation, divine creation is not the bestowal of actuality upon pre-existent individuals; God creates the very individuality of individuals in creating them. In doing so he creates their numerical difference from one another. This is equivalent to the view that existence is a principle of numerical diversification, a thesis Aquinas held, as it would not be if existence were merely the being instantiated of a property. Thus individuals differ in their very existence: existence and individuality are bound up with each other. This view of creation involves God more intimately in what he creates: he creates both the existence and the identity of the things he creates. Thus he does not create out of mere possibles, or out of haecceity properties, whether qualitative or nonqualitative: he creates out of nothing!
On Plantinga's scheme, as it seems to me, creation is not ex nihilo but out of a certain 'matter,' the 'matter' of haecceity properties. Since they are necessary beings, there are all the haecceity properties there might have been, and what God does is cause some of them to be instantiated.
The view I've described might seem to commit me to this: (C) prior to creation, there exist *qualitative* haecceities (again, using your definition of 'haecceity') or individual essences for *every* possible creature. And the (compressed) part of my email about a "new kind of essence" is meant to challenge the implication of (C). (Here is where my view departs from Leibniz's.) I think that God can know precisely which individuals he will get (not just which pure descriptions would be satisfied), even if *some* possible creatures lack qualitative haecceities. However, I was imprecise at best in telling you that my view is "close to" haecceitism. Given that you define haecceitism as the view that there are haecceities, I think the view I've described is committed to haecceitism - it just isn't committed to the view that *every* possible creature has a haecceity. I don't claim to have adequately explained or motivated, either in this email or the last, this particular view of pre-creation knowledge. I was only trying to quickly sketch the view I defend in the paper I mentioned.
BV. Very interesting. Perhaps you could explain this more fully in the ComBox. I don't understand how any possible creature could lack a qualitative haecceity. Only wholly determinate (complete) mere possibles are fit to become actual. This is because it is a law of (my) metaphysics that existence entails completeness, though not conversely. Completeness is thus a necessary condition of (real) existence. But if x is complete, then has a qualitative thisness which can be understood to be a conjunctive property the conjuncts of which are all of x's qualitative properties.
So why do you think that some possible creatures lack qualitative haecceities?
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.
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.
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.
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?)"
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 . . . ."
" 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.
Peter asked me yesterday about baptism in Christianity, and so I took my task as one of explaining concisely what the sacrament of Baptism does for the one baptized according to Christians. What I said was correct, though I left a lot out. Now I will say some more in trying to relieve Peter's puzzlement. I will not give my own view of baptism, but merely explain what I take to be the Christian view.
Peter's puzzlement concerns the necessity of baptism. Why do we need it? After all, man is made in the image and likeness of God. This likeness, of course, is spiritual, not physical. Like God, man is a spiritual being. Unlike God, he is an animal. Man, then, has a dual nature: he is a spiritual animal. This sets him above every other type of animal, metaphysically speaking. He has a special metaphysical status: he is the god-like animal. As god-like, he equipped to share in the divine life. Every creature has a divine origin, but only man has a divine destiny.
If so, if man was created to be a spiritual being, and to share in the divine life, then his special metaphysical status should suffice for his salvation. Or so Peter reasons. Why then is there any need for baptism? The Christian answer, I think, is because of Original Sin.
Man is a fallen being. Somehow he fell from the metaphysical height he originally possessed. This is not to say that he ceased to be a spiritual animal and became a mere animal. It is not as if he was metaphysically demoted. Both pre- and post-lapsarian man has the special metaphysical status. But after the fall, Man's relation to God was disturbed in such a way that he was no longer fit to participate in the divine life. I would put it like this: Man the spirit became man the ego. Overcome by the power to say 'I' and mean it, a power that derives from his being a spirit, man separated from God to go it alone. The power went to his head and he fell into the illusion of self-sufficiency. He used the God-given power to defy God. He became a law unto himself.
In short, man fell out of right relation to God. Thus the necessity of a restoration of that right relation. This is where the Incarnation comes into the picture. Only God can bring man back into right relation with God. God becomes one of us, suffers and dies and rises from the dead. Having entered fully into death and rising again, God the Son secures the redemption of man for those who believe in him. The immersion in water and the re-emergence from it signify the entry into death and the resurrection in which death is conquered.
So why do we need baptism if we already enjoy the special metaphysical status of being spiritual beings? We need it because of the fall of man, his original sin. In baptism, each individual human being appropriates the inner transformation that Christ won for humanity in general by his death and resurrection.
Peter says that baptism is an act of man. That is not the way a Christian would understand it. Baptism is a sacrament: an outward sign of an inward (spiritual) transformation. The physical rite is of course an act of man, but the inner transformation is due to divine agency.
The Peter Puzzle Potentiated
Suppose Peter accepts the foregoing. He can still raise a difficulty. "OK, I see how Original Sin comes into the picture, along with Incarnation, Resurrection, Redemption and Atonement. But if Christ died for our sins and restored humanity to right relation with God, why do we need baptism? What additional job does this do? Didn't Christ do the work for us?"
Here I suppose an answer might be: "Yes, Christ did the heavy lifting, but each of us must accept Christ as savior by faith. Baptism is the faithful acceptance whereby the individual joins the Mystical Body of Christ wherein he reaps the salvific benefits of Christ's passion."
At this point Peter might reasonably object: "But how is such a thing possible for an infant? How can an infant accept Jesus Christ as lord and savior?" Here we arrive at the vexing question of infant baptism.
There are obviously many difficult questions here, and equally difficult answers.
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 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?
If a negative answer is given to (Q), then Gray's logically posterior question lapses.
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
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.
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.