Atheism is not a religion. But the following is not a good reason for thinking so:
Atheism (and here I mean the so-called “weak atheism” that does not claim proof that god does not exist), is just the lack of god-belief – nothing more and nothing less. And as someone once said, if atheism is a religion, not collecting stamps is a hobby. That really ought to end the discussion right there. Clearly, a mere lack of belief in something cannot be a religion.
Right, a mere lack of belief in something cannot be a religion. But atheism is not a mere lack of belief in something. If atheism is just the lack of god-belief, then tables and chairs are atheists. For they lack god-belief. Am I being uncharitable?
Suppose someone defines atheism more carefully as lack of god-belief in beings capable of having beliefs. That is still unacceptable. Consider a child who lacks both god-belief and god-disbelief. If lacking god-belief makes him an atheist, then lacking god-disbelief makes him a theist. So he is both, which is absurd.
Obviously, atheism is is not a mere lack of belief, but a definite belief, namely, the belief that the world is godless. Atheism is a claim about the way things are: there is no such thing as the God of Judaism, or the God of Christianity, or the God of Islam, or the gods of the Greek pantheon, or . . . etc. The atheist has a definite belief about the ontological inventory: it does not include God or gods or any reasonable facsimile thereof such as the Plotinian One, etc.
Note also that if you deny that any god exists, then you are denying that the universe is created by God: you are saying something quite positive about the ontological status of the universe, namely, that it does not depend for its existence on a being transcendent of it. And if it does not so depend, then that implies that it exists on its own as a brute fact or that it necessarily exists or that it causes itself to exist. Without getting into all the details here, the point is that if you deny that God exists, this is not just a denial of the existence of a certain being, but implies a positive claim about the ontological status of the universe. What's more, if there is no creator God, then the apparent order of the universe, its apparent designedness, is merely apparent. This is a positive thesis about the nature of the physical universe.
Atheism, then, is not a mere lack of god-belief. For it implies definite positive beliefs about reality as a whole and about the nature and mode of existence of the physical universe.
Why then is atheism not a religion? No good purpose is served by using 'religion' to refer to any set of action-guiding beliefs held with fervor and commitment. For if one talks in that hopelessly loose way, then extreme environmentalism and Communism and leftism are religions.
Although it is not easy to craft a really satisfactory definition of religion, I would say that all and only religions affirm the existence of a transcendent reality, whether of a personal or impersonal nature, contact or community or identification with which is the summum bonum and the ultimate purpose of human existence. For the Abrahamic faiths, Yahweh, God, Allah is the transcendent reality. For Taoism, the Tao. For Hinduism, Brahman. For (Mahayana) Buddhism, the transcendent state of nirvana. Since atheists precisely deny any such transcendent reality, contact with which is our highest good and ultimate purpose, atheism is not a religion.
"But aren't militant atheists very much like certain zealous religionists? Doesn't militant atheism function in their lives much as religion functions in the life of the religiously zealous?" No doubt, but if one thing is like another, that is not to say that the one thing is the other or is a species of the other.
And another thing. If atheism is not a religion, then, while there can be atheist associations, there cannot be, in any serious sense of the word, an atheist church.
I have been objecting to the calling of leftism a religion. Curiously, some people call atheism a religion. I object to that too.
The question as to what religion is is not at all easy to answer. It is not even clear that the question makes sense. For when you ask 'What is religion?' you may be presupposing that it has an essence that can be captured in a definition that specifies necessary and sufficient conditions. But it might be that the concept religion is a family resemblance concept like the concept game (to invoke Wittgenstein's famous example). Think of all the different sorts of games there are. Is there any property or set of properties that all games have and that only games have? Presumably not. The concept game is a family resemblance concept to which no essence corresponds. Noted philosophers of religion such as John Hick maintain the same with respect to the concept religion.
If you take this tack, then you can perhaps argue that Marxism and secular humanism and militant atheism are religions.
But it strikes me as decidedly odd to characterize a militant anti-religionist as having a religion. Indeed, it smacks of a cheap debating trick: "How can you criticize religion when you yourself have a religion?" The tactic is an instance of the 'So's Your Old Man' Fallacy, more formally known as the argumentum ad hominem tu quoque.
I prefer to think along the following lines.
Start with belief-system as your genus and then distinguish two coordinate species: belief-systems that are theoretical, though they may have practical applications, and belief-systems that are by their very nature oriented toward action. Call the latter ideologies. Accordingly, an ideology is a system of action-guiding beliefs. Then distinguish between religious and non-religious ideologies. Marxism and militant atheism are examples of non-religious ideologies while the Abrahamic religions and some of the Eastern religions are examples of religious ideologies.
I am using 'ideology' in a non-pejorative way. One could also speak of Weltanschauungen or worldviews except that 'view' suggests spectatorship whereas action-guiding belief-systems embody prescriptions and proscriptions and all manner of prudential dos and don'ts for participants in the flux and shove of the real order. We are not mere spectators of life's parade, but are 'condemned' to march in it too.
To repeat: there are theoretical belief-systems and belief-systems that are ineluctably action-guiding and purpose-positing. Among the latter we distinguish two subspecies, the religious and the non-religious.
But this leaves me with the problem of specifying what it is that distinguishes religious from non-religious ideologies. To put it Peripatetically, what is the specific difference? Perhaps this: all and only religions make reference to a transcendent reality, whether of a personal or impersonal nature, contact or community or identification with which is the summum bonum and the ultimate purpose of human existence. For the Abrahamic faiths, Yahweh, God, Allah is the transcendent reality. For Taoism, the Tao. For Hinduism, Brahman. For Buddhism, the transcendent state of nirvana. But I expect the Theravadins to object that nibbana is nothing positive and transcendent, being only the extinguishing or dissolution of the (ultimately illusory) self. I could of course simply deny that Theravada Buddhism is a religion, strictly speaking. I could lump it together with Stoicism as a sort of higher psychotherapy, a set of techniques for achieving equanimity, a therapeutic wisdom-path rather than a religion strictu dictu.
There are a number of tricky and unresolved issues here, but I see little point in calling militant atheism a religion, though I concede it is like a religion in some ways.
But as I have been pointing out lately, if one thing is like another, that is not to say that the one thing is the other or is a species of the other.
Given your criterion 3 for an ideology to be a religious doctrine, it is doubtful that Islam could be viewed as a religion (it is also a socio-political system with a supremacist agenda, but that is another matter).
In Islam, man can err, has to be obedient to Allah, but man is not fallen, and needs no redemption.
When he is born, a human being is pure (and a Muslim by nature). His primordial nature (fitra) is not wounded, corrupted, fallen, and needs no regeneration.
Even more, according to the most extensive interpretation of the (belated and somewhat anti-Qur'anic) doctrine of ismah (the impeccability of prophets), prophets, including Muhammad, never sin intentionally.
Here again are my tentatively proposed seven criteria for an ideology's being a religion:
1. The belief that there is what William James calls an "unseen order." (Varieties of Religious Exerience, p. 53) This is a realm of absolute reality that lies beyond the perception of the five outer senses and their instrumental extensions. It is also inaccessible to inner sense or introspection. It is also not a realm of mere abstracta or thought-contents. So it lies beyond the discursive intellect. It is a spiritual reality and thus mind-like. It is accessible from our side via mystical and religious experience. An initiative from its side is not to be ruled out in the form of revelation.
2. The belief that there is a supreme good for humans and that "our supreme good lies in harmoniously adjusting ourselves" to the "unseen order." (Varieties, p. 53)
3. The conviction that we are morally deficient, and that this deficiency impedes our adjustment to the unseen order. Man is in some some sense fallen from the moral height at which he would have ready access to the unseen order. His moral corruption, however it came about, has noetic consequences.
4. The conviction that our moral deficiency cannot be made sufficiently good by our own efforts to afford us ready access to the unseen order.
5. The conviction that adjustment to the unseen order requires moral purification/transformation.
6. The conviction that help from the side of the unseen order is available to bring about this purification and adjustment.
7. The conviction that the sensible order is not plenary in point of reality or value, that it is ontologically and axiologically derivative. It is a manifestation or emanation or creation of the unseen order.
As I understand Islam, a normative Muslim could accept my (1) and (2). But as Professor Boisson makes clear, (3) implies that Islam is not a religion.
We can now argue in two ways: If anything is a religion, then its satisfies my criteria; Islam does not satisfy my criteria; ergo, Islam is not a religion. Or one could insist that Islam is a religion and that my (3) ought to be jettisoned.
What about Buddhism? It is a religion of self-help, a religion of self-power as opposed to other-power. Among the last words of the Tathagata:
Therefore, O Ananda, be ye lamps unto yourselves. Rely on yourselves, and do not rely on external help.
Hold fast to the truth as a lamp. Seek salvation alone in the truth. Look not for assistance to anyone besides yourselves.
[. . .]
I now exhort you, saying: ‘All component things must grow old and be dissolved again. Seek ye for that which is permanent, and work out your own salvation with diligence.’
My (4) rules out self-help wisdom-paths. We cannot achieve salvation by our own power. We need divine grace. So if Buddhism is a religion, then (4) must be jettisoned. If, however, (4) is upheld, then Buddhism does not count as a religion.
We note en passant that my (4) also rules out Stoicism and Pyrrhonian Skepticism as religions.
This leads to the thorny question of what one is doing when one sets forth criteria as I have done. I am obviously not involved in a project of pure stipulation. On the other hand I am not trying to give a lexical definition of 'religion.' Dictionary definitions are of little use in inquiries such as this one. (See The Dictionary Fallacy.) I am trying to pin down the normative essence or nature of religion.
But does religion have an essence? Not clear. It may be that the concept of religion is a family resemblance concept, one to which no essence corresponds. But even if religion does have an essence, how do I know that my criteria articulate this essence? In particular, how do I justify (3) and (4)?
But suppose religion does have a normative essence and that I have captured it. Then Islam and Buddhism are no more counterexamples to my definition than the existence of a three-legged cat is a counterexample to a definition of 'cat' that includes being four-legged as one of its essential marks. A three-legged cat is not a normatively normal cat; it is a defective cat. Islam and Buddhism are arguably not normatively normal religions; they are defective religions. They leave out essential features of the 'true' religion.
It is important to realize that none of these questions will ever be resolved, here below leastways, to the satisfaction of every competent practitioner of the relevant disciplines. It is therefore eminently stupid, besides being morally wrong, to violate and murder our ideological opponents, except in self-defense against the adherents of the 'religion of peace' to employ a contemporary example.
Saw your post today. I really do think that modern Leftism is best understood as a religion. I realize also that understanding something as if it were a religion is different from saying it is a religion, and so I've just written a response to your post, in which I try to make the case that Progressivism is, in effect, a religion to the people who espouse it -- that it activates all the same behaviors and cognitive postures.
I'm hoping we might come to a "meeting of the minds" on this one, because I believe that seeing the Left as embodying a religion is, when it comes to having to deal with them, a helpful (and accurate) stance for the rest of us.
I will have to read Malcolm's lengthy response, but for now a couple of quick rejoinders.
1) Is leftism a religion to the people who espouse it? I rather doubt it. I don't think your average committed lefty would cop to being religious in his beliefs and practices. If you could find me a communist or other atheistic leftist who understands his stance as religious I would be very surprised. Of course there are 'progressives' who are members of Christian and other churches. They water down Christianity to bring it in line with their 'progressivism.' They are lefties first, and Christians second, if at all. But we are not talking about them.
2) Why is it "helpful" for us in our battles with destructive leftists to view them as adhering to and promoting a religion? I say it is not helpful. It is obfuscatory and inaccurate. It blurs important distinctions. And it is unnecessary.
But if people want to say that leftism functions in the psychic economy of a committed leftist in a manner closely analogous to the way religion functions in the psychic economy of a committed religionist, then I have no objection. Just don't say that leftism is a religion. Or if you insist on using the sentence 'Leftism is a religion,' make sure you make it clear that you are using it to express the above proposition.
Just as a salt substitute is not salt, a substitute for religion in the life of a leftist is not a religion.
Via Malcolm Pollack, I came to an essay by William Deresiewicz in The American Scholar in which surprising claims are made with which Pollack agrees but I don't. Deresiewicz:
Selective private colleges have become religious schools. [Emphasis added.] The religion in question is not Methodism or Catholicism but an extreme version of the belief system of the liberal elite: the liberal professional, managerial, and creative classes, which provide a large majority of students enrolled at such places and an even larger majority of faculty and administrators who work at them. To attend those institutions is to be socialized, and not infrequently, indoctrinated into that religion.
[. . .]
What does it mean to say that these institutions are religious schools? First, that they possess a dogma, unwritten but understood by all: a set of “correct” opinions and beliefs, or at best, a narrow range within which disagreement is permitted. There is a right way to think and a right way to talk, and also a right set of things to think and talk about. Secularism is taken for granted. Environmentalism is a sacred cause. Issues of identity—principally the holy trinity of race, gender, and sexuality—occupy the center of concern. The presiding presence is Michel Foucault, with his theories of power, discourse, and the social construction of the self, who plays the same role on the left as Marx once did. The fundamental questions that a college education ought to raise—questions of individual and collective virtue, of what it means to be a good person and a good community—are understood to have been settled. The assumption, on elite college campuses, is that we are already in full possession of the moral truth. This is a religious attitude. It is certainly not a scholarly or intellectual attitude.
Dennis Prager is another who considers leftism to be a religion:
For at least the last hundred years, the world’s most dynamic religion has been neither Christianity nor Islam.
It has been leftism.
Most people do not recognize what is probably the single most important fact of modern life. One reason is that leftism is overwhelmingly secular (more than merely secular: it is inherently opposed to all traditional religions), and therefore people do not regard it as a religion. Another is that leftism so convincingly portrays itself as solely the product of reason, intellect, and science that it has not been seen as the dogma-based ideology that it is. Therefore the vast majority of the people who affirm leftist beliefs think of their views as the only way to properly think about life.
I begin with Prager and return to Deresiewicz.
While I agree with the rest of Prager's column, I have trouble with his characterization of leftism as a religion.
It is true that leftism is like a religion in certain key respects. But if one thing is like another it does not follow that the first is a species of the other. Whales are like fish in certain key respects, but a whale is not a fish but a mammal. Whales live in the ocean, can stay underwater for long periods of time and have strong tails to propel themselves. Just like many fish. But whales are not fish.
I should think that correct taxonomies in the realm of ideas are just as important as correct taxonomies in the realm of flora and fauna.
Leftism is an anti-religious political ideology that functions in the lives of its adherents much like religions function in the lives of their adherents. This is the truth to which Prager alludes with his sloppy formulation, "leftism is a religion." Leftism in theory is opposed to every religion as to an opiate of the masses, to employ the figure of Karl Marx. In practice, however, today's leftists are rather strangely soft on the representatives of the 'religion of peace.' (What's more, if leftism were a religion, then, given that leftism is opposed to religion, it follows that leftism is opposed to itself, except that it is not.)
Or you could say that leftism is an ersatz religion for leftists. 'Ersatz' here functions as an alienans adjective. It functions like 'decoy' in 'decoy duck.' A decoy duck is not a duck. A substitute for religion is not a religion. Is golf a religion? Animal rescue?
An ideology is a system of action-guiding beliefs. That genus divides into the two species religious ideologies and nonreligious ideologies. Leftism, being "overwhelmingly secular" just as Prager says, is a nonreligious ideology. It is not a religion, but it shares some characteristics with religions and functions for its adherents as a substitute for religion.
You might think to accuse me of pedantry. What does it matter that Prager sometimes employs sloppy formulations? Surely it is more important that leftism be defeated than that it be fitted into an optimal taxonomy!
Well yes, slaying the dragon is Job One. But we also need to persuade intelligent and discriminating people. Precision in thought and speech is conducive to that end. And that is why I say, once more: Language matters!
Now let's consider the criteria that Deresiewicz adduces in support of his thesis that the elite liberal schools are religious. There seem to be two: these institutions (i) promulgate dogmas (ii) opposition to which is heresy. It is true that in religions there are dogmas and heresies. But communism was big on the promulgation of dogmas and the hounding of opponents as heretics.
Communism, however, is not a religion. At most, it is like a religion and functions like a religion in the lives of its adherents. As I said above, if X is like Y, it does not follow that X is a species of Y. If colleges and universities today are leftist seminaries -- places where the seeds of leftism are sown into skulls full of fertile mush -- it doesn't follow that these colleges and universities are religious seminaries. After all, the collegiate mush-heads are not being taught religion but anti-religion.
Pace Deresiewicz, there is nothing religious or "sacred" about extreme environmentalism. After all it is a form of idolatry, nature idolatry, and insofar forth, anti-religious.
Why would a critic of leftism want to label it a religion? Prager, who promotes religion, might be thinking along these lines: "You lefties cannot criticize religion since you have one too; it is just that yours is an inferior religion." Someone who opposes religion might be thinking along the following lines: "Religion is a Bad Thing, not conducive to human flourishing; leftism is a religion; ergo, leftism is a Bad Thing too."
This may be what is going on in Deresiewicz's mind. He is opposed to extreme leftism and thinks he can effectively attack it by labeling it a religion. This strategy encapsulates two mistakes. First, leftism is not a religion. Second, religion is a good thing. (I would even go so far as to argue that Islam, "the saddest and poorest form of theism" (Arthur Schopenhauer, reference and quotation here), has been of service to the benighted peoples who know no better religion: they are better off with Islam than with no religion at all.) There is also the question whether dogmas are bad for us.
But now's not the time to worry about whether religion with its dogmas is good for humans. My present point is that leftism is not a religion, and that no good purpose is served by confusing it with a religion.
Isn't This All Just a Semantic Quibble?
I don't think so. It goes to the question whether religion has an essence or nature. Some say it doesn't: the concept religion does not pick out an essence because it is a family-resemblance concept in Wittgenstein's sense. I say religion has an essence and that the following points are ingredient in that essence:
1. The belief that there is what William James calls an "unseen order." (Varieties of Religious Exerience, p. 53) This is a realm of absolute reality that lies beyond the perception of the five outer senses and their instrumental extensions. It is also inaccessible to inner sense or introspection. It is also not a realm of mere abstracta or thought-contents. So it lies beyond the discursive intellect. It is a spiritual reality. It is accessible from our side via mystical and religious experience. An initiative from its side is not to be ruled out in the form of revelation.
2. The belief that there is a supreme good for humans and that "our supreme good lies in harmoniously adjusting ourselves" to the "unseen order." (Varieties, p. 53)
3. The conviction that we are morally deficient, and that this deficiency impedes our adjustment to the unseen order. Man is in some some sense fallen from the moral height at which he would have ready access to the unseen order. His moral corruption, however it came about, has noetic consequences.
4. The conviction that our moral deficiency cannot be made sufficiently good by our own efforts to afford us ready access to the unseen order.
5. The conviction that adjustment to the unseen order requires moral purification/transformation.
6. The conviction that help from the side of the unseen order is available to bring about this purification and adjustment.
7. The conviction that the sensible order is not plenary in point of reality or value, that it is ontologically and axiologically derivative. It is a manifestation or emanation or creation of the unseen order.
If I have nailed down the essence of religion, then it follows that leftism, which is a form of secular humanism, is not a religion. Leftism collides with religion on all of these points. This is not a semantic claim but an ontological one. And the issue is not a quibble because it is important.
In sum. We must try to think as clearly as we can. We must therefore not confuse what is distinct. Hence we ought not confuse leftism with a religion.
Is it possible to be a religiously pious Pyrrhonian? The Pyrrhonian skeptic, aspiring to tranquillity of mind, tries to live without beliefs. These of course include religious beliefs which are a prime cause of bitter and sometimes bloody contention. So one might think that a skeptic of the stripe of Sextus would have nothing to do with religion. But this is not the case. Skepticism does not require abstention from religion. What Pyrrhonian skepticism implies is the project of beliefless piety or beliefless religiosity. Let me explain.
The Pyrrhonian skeptic is in quest of the human good. But he is convinced that theoretical inquiry will not lead us to it. His is a medicinal or therapeutic conception of philosophy. We are ill, and we need a cure, an empirical cure. ('Empiricus' is not Sextus' last name!) Therapy, not theory! would make a good Pyrrhonian motto. There may be truth, but certain knowledge of it is unavailable to us. We are thrown back upon beliefs. But beliefs are many, they conflict, cancel each other, and inflame ugly passions. Belief conflict militates against that freedom from disturbance or ataraxia which Pyrrhonian skeptics deem essential to human well-being (eudaimonia). On their view the cacophany of competing belief claims is a prime source of kakadaimonia. Beliefs are part of the problem.
The skeptical cure for our doxastic ills is suspension of belief and a tranquil re-insertion into the quotidian. We emerged from the everyday to seek the truth that we thought would bring felicity, but the truth rebuffed us, proving unknowable. We were cast back upon beliefs and the strife of systems. We ought then to return to everyday living and everyday discourse. Hence my talk of re-insertion into the quotidian. It is in the service of tranquillity. Tranquillity, not truth! might serve as a good second Pyrrhonian motto.The tranquil re-insertion into the quotidian involves acquiescence in the customs and traditions of one's time and place.
Among the most widespread and deeply embedded customs and traditions are those of a religious nature. Making his peace with the everyday and the ordinary, the Pyrrhonian makes his peace with the observances, rites, rituals, and verbal formulations of the religion practiced around him. He participates in the observances and assents verbally to the formulae of worship and belief. But he abstains from inner commitment.
A Pyrrhonian Catholic
A Pyrrhonian Catholic might attend mass and in that context recite and give verbal assent to the Apostles' Creed: "I believe in God the Father, almighty creator of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, his only Son . . . . But while uttering sentences, our Pyrrhonian would not affirm or deny any propositions. Withholding assentfrom theological propositions, he would suspend judgment on such questions as whether or not God exists; whether or not the cosmos is ontologically derivative from a causa prima; whether and in what sense this First Cause is omnipotent; whether and in what sense this God has a Son, and so on. Thus he would presumably not get into a fight with an atheist over the existence of God, or with a Muslim over the tripersonality of God. Our Pyrrhonian would simply go along with the prevailing religious customs and usages of his time, place, and social group while (silently) withholding intellectual assent from propositions which purport to record the structure of reality apart from language games and forms of life, to employ, anachronistically, some Wittgensteinian turns of phrase. (The post-Tractarian Wittgenstein was also an exponent of philosophy as therapy.) Time to quote an authority.
Terence Penelhum: "The skeptic continues with the rituals and the formulae of his tradition, self-consciously seeing it as a tradition and not believing it, yet not denying it." (God and Skepticism, D. Reidel 1983, p. 14, emphasis in original.)
A radical Pyrrhonian Catholic might take it a step further. It is one thing to suspend judgment with respect to a proposition; a more radical thing to doubt whether there is any proposition to suspend judgment about. The radical Pyrrhonian Catholic grants only the verbal formula; he does not grant that it expresses a proposition. For example, he might doubt, with respect to the formula "There is one God in three divine persons" whether there is any coherent proposition that this sentence expresses. The sentence is a grammatically admissible concatenation of individually meaningful words, but this leaves open the question whether there is a unitary sense, or Fregean Gedanke/proposition, that these words, taken collectively as forming a sentence, express. Our radical will not assert that there is no such proposition; he will express his being at a loss over the question. He will give vent to the mental state of aporia, the state of being at a loss, being perplexed, flummoxed, uncomprehending.
With respect to the Trinitarian formulation, the moderate Pyrrhonian Catholic grants that the formula expresses a proposition, but suspends judgment as to the truth or falsity of the proposition. The radical Pyrrhonian Catholic, by contrast, suspends judgment as to whether or not the formula expresses a proposition.
Let us now put the radical 'on the back burner' to stew in his juices. We may revisit him later.
Is the Moderate Position on Pyrrhonian Piety Plausible?
It is widely agreed that it is impossible for a Pyrrhonian to have no beliefs at all. But this is not our question. Our question is whether it is possible, and if possible plausible, for a person to live religiously, talking the talk and walking the walk, playing the language game and participating in the form of life, without specifically religious or theological dogmatic commitments or adherences. Is beliefless religiosity possible? Is it possible to give merely verbal but nonetheless sincere assent to religious formulae while suspending belief as to the truth value of the propositions these formulae express or imply?
I say it is not possible and so not plausible. What would it be to give merely verbal sincere assent to "I believe in God the Father, almighty creator of heaven and earth . . . ." while suspending judgment with respect to such propositions as: God exists, God is omnipotent, God is a creator, The cosmos and its contents are creatures, and so on? This is impossible if the mental state of suspension is one in which one is settled on suspension and ceases all further inquiry convinced that the truth values of the propositions in question are unknowable. For then suspension is in the service of tranquillity, not truth. One ceases caring about truth. But then one cannot sincerely utter the formulae. One cannot sincerely say the sentence 'God created the world' in the context of a religious service without accepting the proposition the sentence expresses. Of course, not every utterance of a sentence is an assertive utterance; but a sincere utterance of a religious sentence in the context of divine worship cannot be other than assertive. Or so say I.
But suppose suspension of judgment is not in the service of tranquillity, but in the service of cognition. I suspend judgment pro tempore in the interests of inquiry the better to get at the truth. But then one forsakes the Pyrrhonian stance as I understand it. Suppose I sincerely say "Christ was born of a virgin" in the context of a worship service. This seems compatible with suspending judgment on the proposition expressed so long as my suspension is in the service of ongoing inquiry and I allow the possibility of a future acceptance of the proposition in question.
We need to think further and harder about the distinction between suspension in the service of tranquillity and suspension in the service of cognition. I detect a tension between the two in the skeptic camp. The skeptic qua inquirer cannot rest in tranquillity and quietism renouncing all concern for truth; but as a therapist out to cure us of ataraxia-busting belief, he must rest in tranquillity and renounce the quest for truth.
Is it not essential to the skeptical stance that attainment of the human good does not require participation in the truth?
Many Democrats use 'unconstitutional' rather broadly to refer to anything they don't like. Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) apparently favors this broad (mis)use of the term. He claimed -- wait for it -- that President Donald Trump's temporary ban on Muslim immigration from seven Muslim countries is "unconstitutional" because it applies a religious test.
But of course it isn't. In Article VI, paragraph three of the United States Constitution we read that "no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States." This has nothing to do with immigrants; it pertains to citizens who seek public office. (It is also worth noting that the clause says nothing about the states; it pertains to seekers of Federal offices. See here.)
So it is clear that Schumer made a false statement. Did he lie? Did he knowingly make a false statement? It is a good bet that he did given his leftist agenda. And he thought he could fool us, too.
It is plain, then, that there is nothing unconstitutional about applying a religious test to immigrants. It might nevertheless be argued that a religious test is being applied, unconstitutional or not, and that there is something dubious about this. "It is not who we are," some bien-pensant liberal will gush. But is the test religious?
Bear in mind that Islam is a hybrid worldview: it is as much a political ideology as a religion. The reason Muslims are singled out and subjected to a test for immigration-worthiness and found wanting is not because of their specifically religious views but because of their political views. As ought to be clear by now, Islamic law or Sharia is incompatible with the values of the United States. The state needn't care about anyone's views about abstruse theological questions such as the Trinity, the divinity or non-divinity of Christ, the exact mechanism of divine revelation, etc. But every state has a right to defend itself against subversive elements.
"Is every Muslim a subversive element?" Don't be stupid.
After all, no one would confuse Trump with a religious man. Robert Tracinski's explanation strikes me as correct:
The strength of the religious vote for Trump initially mystified me, until I remembered the ferocity of the Left’s assault on religious believers in the past few years—the way they were hounded and vilified for continuing to hold traditional beliefs about marriage that were suddenly deemed backward and unacceptable (at least since 2012, when President Obama stopped pretending to share them). What else do you think drove all those religious voters to support a dissolute heathen?
Ironically, a pragmatic, Jacksonian populist worldling such as Donald J. Trump will probably do more for religion and religious liberty in the long run than a pious leftist such as Jimmy Carter.
Mr. Carter famously confessed the lust in his heart in an interview in -- wait for it -- Playboy magazine. We should all do likewise, though in private, not in Playboy. While it is presumptuous to attempt to peer into another's soul, I would bet that Mr. Trump is not much bothered by the lust in his heart, and I don't expect to hear any public confessions from his direction.
But what profiteth it to confess one's lust when one supports the destructive Dems, the abortion party, a party the members of which are so morally obtuse that they cannot even see the issue of the morality of abortion, dismissing it as a health issue or an issue of women's reproductive rights?
A colleague once reported an out-of-body experience. He had been resting on his back on a couch when he came suddenly to view himself from the perspective of the ceiling. He dismissed the experience. He had too much class to use the phrase 'brain fart,' but that is what I suspect he thought it was: a weird occurrence of no significance. Vouchsafed a hint of what might have been a reality beyond the ordinary, he chose to ignore it as if it were not worth the trouble of investigating. That sort of dismissive attitude is one I have trouble understanding. Especially in a philosopher!
It would be as if the prisoner in Plato's Cave who was freed of his shackles and was able to turn his head and see an opening and a light suggestive of a route out of the enclosure wherein he found himself were simply to have dismissed the sight as an insignificant illusion and then went back to 'reality,' the shadows on the wall.
I have no trouble understanding someone who, never having had any religious or mystical experiences, cannot bring himself to take religion seriously. And I have no trouble understanding someone who, having had such experiences, and having seriously examined their epistemic credentials, comes to the conclusion that they are none of them veridical. But to have the experiences, and not think them worth investigating -- that puzzles me.
Ross Douthat assembles some examples similar to the case of my quondam colleague in his Christmas Eve column, Varieties of Religious Experience, a title he borrows from the eponymous masterpiece of William James. Here is one:
As a young man in the 1960s, the filmmaker Paul Verhoeven, of “RoboCop” and “Showgirls” fame, wandered into a Pentecostal church and suddenly felt “the Holy Ghost descending … as if a laser beam was cutting through my head and my heart was on fire.” He was in the midst of dealing with his then-girlfriend’s unexpected pregnancy; after they procured an abortion, he had a terrifying, avenging-angel vision during a screening of “King Kong.” The combined experience actively propelled him away from anything metaphysical; the raw carnality of his most famous films, he suggested later, was an attempt to keep the numinous and destabilizing at bay.
That makes about as much sense to me as blinding oneself lest one see too radiant a light.
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.
For some religion is too good to be true. For others it would be awful if true. And then there are the indifferent for whom religion is simply not an issue. Among the latter are those who consider talk of religion to be in bad taste in polite society.
In earlier generations, books like this one would have had to contain either an atheistic attack on or a theistic defense of traditional religion. [. . .] Nowadays nobody bothers, and it is considered in slightly bad taste to even raise the question of God's existence. Matters of religion are like matters of sexual preference: they are not to be discussed in public, and even the abstract questions are discussed only by bores.
What has happened? [. . .] I believe that something much more radical than a decline in religious belief has taken place. For us, the educated members of society, the world has become demystified. . . . we no longer take the mysteries we see in the world as expressions of supernatural meaning. We no longer think of odd occurrences as cases of God performing speech acts in the language of miracles. Odd occurrences are just occurrences we do not understand. The result of this demystification is that we have gone beyond atheism to the point where the issue no longer matters in the way it did to earlier generations. (pp. 34-35)
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.
Not everything in the NYT is leftist crap. The new Scorsese effort is based on the novel “Silence,” by Shusaku Endo.
My copy should be arriving today. A tip of the hat to Karl White for informing me of it.
“The novel poses a very profound theological question,” Peter C. Phan, a Jesuit theologian at Georgetown who was born in Vietnam, told me. “The question is this: Are we allowed to do an essentially evil act to obtain a good result?
Catholicism is true enough to provide moral guidance and spiritual sustenance for many, many people. So if you are a lapsed Catholic, you could do far worse than to return to the arms of Holy Mother the Church. And this despite the deep post-Vatican II corruption. Better such a reversion than to persist in one's worldly ways like St. Augustine who, at age 30, confessed that he was "still caught fast in the same mire by a greed for enjoying present things that both fled me and debased me." (Confessions, Bk. 6, Ch. 11, Ryan tr., p. 149)
But if you are a Protestant like Tim McGrew or James Anderson, should you 'swim the Tiber'? Some branches of Protestantism are also good enough and true enough to provide moral guidance and spiritual sustenance. And this despite the problems of Protestantism.
I should think that practice is more important than doctrine. Better to remove the lust from your heart than to write an erudite blog entry about it. The doctrines will always be debated and contested. Does the Incarnation make logical sense? Is it perhaps true whether or not it makes sense to the discursive intellect? We will never know here below.
Would it not be folly to postpone the reform of one's life until one had solved intellectual difficulties that we have good reason to believe cannot be solved in our present state? Orthopraxy trumps orthodoxy. Three elements of Christian orthopraxy: follow the Ten Commandments; avoid the Seven Deadly Sins; try to live by the Two Greatest Commandments.You won't get very far without grace, but the trying may precipitate the grace.
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.
What follows is a re-post, slightly redacted, from 3 November 2012. Occasioned by the Biden-Ryan Veep debate in 2012, it is equally applicable to the 2016 Kaine-Pence Veep debate, except that in 2016 only Kaine is (nominally) Catholic.
The abortion question is almost always raised in the context of religion. The Vice-Presidential debate provides a good recent example. The moderator introduced the topic with these words: “We have two Catholic candidates, first time, on a stage such as this. And I would like to ask you both to tell me what role your religion has played in your own personal views on abortion.” Why didn't the moderator just ask the candidates to state their positions on abortion? Why did she bring up religion? And why the phrase "personal views"? Are views on foreign policy and the economy also personal views? Below the surface lies the suggestion that opposition to abortion can only rest on antecedent religious commitments of a personal nature that have no place in the public square.
A question that never gets asked, however, is the one I raise in this post: What does the abortion issue have to do with religion? But I need to make the question more precise. Is the abortion question tied to religion in such a way that opposition to abortion can be based only on religious premises? Or are there good reasons to oppose abortion that are nor religiously based, reasons that secularists could accept? The answer to the last question is plainly in the affirmative. The following argument contains no religious premises.
1. Infanticide is morally wrong. 2. There is no morally relevant difference between (late-term) abortion and infancticide. Therefore 3. (Late-term) abortion is morally wrong.
Whether one accepts this argument or not, it clearly invokes no religious premise. It is therefore manifestly incorrect to say or imply that all opposition to abortion must be religiously-based. Theists and atheists alike could make use of the above argument.
But on abortion, Obama is an extremist. He has opposed the Supreme Court decision that finally upheld the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act against that form of infanticide. Most startlingly, for a professed humanist, Obama -- in the Illinois Senate -- also voted against the Born Alive Infant Protection Act. I have reported on several of those cases when, before the abortion was completed, an alive infant was suddenly in the room. It was disposed of as a horrified nurse who was not necessarily pro-life followed the doctors' orders to put the baby in a pail or otherwise get rid of the child.
Return to the above argument. Suppose someone demands to know why one should accept the first premise. Present this argument:
4. Killing innocent human beings is morally wrong. 5. Infanticide is the killing of innocent human beings. Therefore 1. Infanticide is morally wrong.
This second argument, like the first, invokes no specifically religious premise. Admittedly, the general prohibition of homicide -- general in the sense that it admits of exceptions -- comes from the Ten Commandments which isd part of our Judeo-Christian heritage. But if you take that as showing that (4) is religious, then the generally accepted views that theft and lying are morally wrong would have to be adjudged religious as well.
But I don't want to digress onto the topic of the sources of our secular moral convictions, convictions that are then codified in the positive law. My main point is that one can oppose abortion on secular grounds. A second point is that the two arguments I gave are very powerful. If you are not convinced by them, you need to ask yourself why.
Some will reply by saying that a woman has the right to do what she wants with her own body. This is the Woman's Body Argument:
6. The fetus is a part of a woman's body. 7. A woman has the right to do whatever she wants with any part of her body. Therefore 8. A woman has the right to do whatever she wants with the fetus, including having it killed.
For this argument to be valid, 'part' must be used in the very same sense in both premises. Otherwise, the argument equivocates on a key term. There are two possibilities. 'Part' can be taken in a wide sense that includes the fetus, or in a narrow sense that excludes it.
If 'part' is taken in a wide sense, then (6) is true. Surely there is a wide sense of 'part' according to which the fetus is part of its mother's body. But then (7) is reasonably rejected. Abortion is not relevantly like liposuction. Granted, a woman has a right to remove unwanted fat from her body via liposuction. Such fat is uncontroversially part of her body. But the fetus growing within her is not a part in the same sense: it is a separate individual life. The argument, then, is not compelling. Premise (7) is more reasonably rejected than accepted.
If, on the other hand, 'part' is taken in a narrow sense that excludes the fetus, then perhaps (7) is acceptable, but (6) is surely false: the fetus is plainly not a part of the woman's body in the narrow sense of 'part.'
I wrote "perhaps (7) is acceptable" because it is arguable that (7) is not acceptable. For a woman's body is an improper part of her body; hence if a woman has a right to do anything she wishes with her body, then she has a right to kill her body by blowing it up, say. One who has good reason to reject suicide, however, has good reason to reject (7) even when 'part' is construed narrowly. And even if we substitute 'proper part' for 'part' in the original argument, it is still not the case that a woman has a right to do whatever she wishes with any proper narrow part of her body. Arguably, she has no right to cut out her own heart, since that would lead to her death.
I am making two points about the Woman's Body Argument. The first is that my rejection of it does not rely on any religious premises. The second is that the argument is unsound.
Standing on solid, secular ground one has good reason to oppose abortion as immoral in the second and third trimesters (with some exceptions, e.g., threat to the life of the mother). Now not everything immoral should be illegal. But in this case the objective immorality of abortion entails that it ought to be illegal for the same reason that the objective immorality of the wanton killing of innocent adults requires that it be illegal.
Of course it follows that you should not vote for the abortion party, a.k.a. the Dems. And if you are a Catholic who votes Democratic then you are as foolish and confused as the benighted Joe Biden and the the benighted Tim Kaine.
Do you value religious liberty? Then you must work to defeat Hillary Clinton, which is to say: you must vote for Donald Trump.
The Left, being totalitarian, brooks no opposition and is brutal in its suppression of religion. Consider the example of Fr. Ernest Simoni:
Persecution in Albania was exceptionally harsh, even for Communist Eastern Europe. Among the living martyrs who were present and greeted Francis was Fr. Ernest Simoni. He gave a moving account of his almost three decades spent in Albanian labor camps; Francis was visibly moved.
The history behind this personal story is worth recalling. The conflict between the Catholic Church and Communist state in Albania can be divided into three stages:
1) 1944-1948 when the government terrorized and persecuted believers and clergy;
2) 1949-1967 when the government tried to “nationalize” or Albanize the country’s religions, and to establish a National Albanian Catholic Church similar to the Patriotic Church created by Albania’s then-ally, Communist China. This stage reached its culmination with Albania proclaiming itself the world’s first atheist state;
3) 1990 to the present, during which the Albanian Church awoke after decades of martyrdom and persecution.
Fr. Simoni was arrested on December 24, 1963, just after he had finished celebrating the Christmas Vigil Mass in the village of Barbullush, Shkodër. Four officers from the Albanian Secret Police (Sigurimi) showed up at his church and presented him with arrest and execution orders. “They tied my hands behind my back and began beating me, while we were walking to the car,” he recalled.
He was brought to the interrogation facility and kept in complete isolation, suffering unbearable tortures for three consecutive months. The accusation was that he had been teaching his “philosophy.” He taught his people “to die for Christ.” During three months of confinement and interrogation, the persecutors tried to force him provide evidence against the Catholic hierarchy and his brother priests, which he refused.
There is an interesting American connection to his persecution. One of the accusations against Fr. Simoni was that he had celebrated a requiem Mass for the repose of President Kennedy’s soul, exactly a month after the Catholic president’s death. A journal found in Fr. Simoni’s room featured a picture of President Kennedy and was presented to the court as material proof – of something or other.
“By God’s grace, the execution was not carried out,” Fr. Simoni recalled. After the trial, he was sentenced to twenty-eight years of forced labor, working first in the mines and then as a sanitary and sewage worker, until the fall of Communism in 1991.
Hillary got clobbered in last night's debate, but Trump missed an opportunity to refute her nonsensical claim that vetting Muslim immigrants involves the application of a "religious test."
In Article VI of the U. S. Constitution we read:
. . . no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.
Two questions. One concerns Muslim citizens of the U.S. The other concerns Muslims who are attempting to immigrate. The first question first.
Does it follow from the passage quoted that the U. S. Constitution allows a Muslim citizen who supports Sharia (Islamic law) to run for public office? No! For the same Constitution, in its First Amendment, enjoins a salutary separation of church/synagogue/mosque and state, though not in those words. Sharia and the values and principles enshrined in the founding documents are incompatible. On no sane interpretation is our great Constitution a suicide pact.
It is important to realize that Islam is as much an anti-Enlightenment political ideology as it is a religion. It is an unholy hybrid of the political and the religious. Our Enlightenment founders must be rolling around in their graves at the very suggestion that Sharia-subscribing Muslims are eligible for the presidency and other public offices.
A religion that requires the subverting of the U. S. Constitution is not an admissible religion when it comes to applying the "no religious Test" provision. On a sane interpretation of the Constitution, Islam, though a religion, is not an admissible religion where an admissible religion is one that does not contain core doctrines which, if implemented, would subvert the Constitution.
Or one might argue that Islam is not a religion at all. Damn near anything can and will be called a religion by somebody. Some say with a straight face that leftism is a religion, others that Communism is a religion. Neither is a religion on any adequate definition of 'religion.' I have heard it said that atheism is a religion. Surely it isn't. Is a heresy of a genuine religion itself a religion? Arguably not. Hillaire Belloc and others have maintained that Islam is a Christian heresy. Or one could argue that Islam, or perhaps radical Islam, is not a religion but a totalitarian political ideology masquerading as a religion. How to define religion is a hotly contested issue in the philosophy of religion.
The point here is that "religious" in ". . . no religious Test shall ever be required" is subject to interpretation. We are under no obligation to give it a latitudinarian reading that allows in a destructive ideology incompatible with our values and principles.
As for immigration, would-be immigrants have no rights under our Constitution. So Article VI doesn't apply to them at all.
As for gaseous talk of blocking Sharia-supporting Muslims as being "not who we are," it suffices to say that 'liberals' who gas off like this ought simply to be ignored.
There is no right to immigrate, and a nation is under no obligation to allow in subversive elements. But it does have every right to protect its culture and values. Here alone is a decisive reason to vote for Trump and block Hillary. Trump punched hard last night, but not hard enough. He should have pointed out that Hillary is a destructive leftist globalist who aims at the same "fundamental transformation" that Obama called for. He should have pointed out that no patriot calls for the fundamental transformation of his country. For what that implies in our case is the destruction of the U.S. as it was founded to be.
Univocity. There is an absolute reality. We can speak of it literally and sometimes truly using predicates of ordinary language that retain in their metaphysical use the very same sense they have in their mundane use. For example, we can say of Socrates that he exists, and using 'exists' in the very same sense we can say of God that he exists. Accordingly, 'exists' is univocal in application to creature and creator. Corresponding to this sameness of sense there is a sameness in mode of Being: God and Socrates exist in the very same way. No doubt God exists necessarily whereas Socrates exist contingently; but this is a mere different in modal status, not a difference in mode of Being. It is the difference between existing in all possible worlds and existing in some, but not all, possible worlds.
And the same holds for non-existential predicates such as 'wise.' We can say of Socrates that he is wise, and using 'wise' in the very same sense we can say of God that he is wise. Accordingly, 'wise' is univocal in application to creature and creator. Corresponding to this sameness of sense there is sameness in mode of property-possession: God and Socrates both have wisdom by instantiating it.
Analogicity. Theological language is literal, but analogical. I won't discuss this view now.
Negative Theology. The absolute reality is beyond all our concepts. God is utterly transcendent, radically other. Nothing can be truly predicated of God as he is in himself, not even that he exists, or does not. The problem with this approach is that it threatens to render theological language unintelligible.
So why not adopt the Univocity View? Is there any good reason not to adopt it?
I think there is a good reason, namely, that the UV implies that God is a being among beings; that God as absolute reality cannot be a being among beings; ergo, etc.
But what does it mean to say that God is a being among beings? As I see it, to say that God is a being among beings is to say that God is no exception to the logical and ontological principles (pertaining to properties, property-possession, existence, modality, etc.) that govern anything that can be said to exist. It is to say that God fits the ontological or general-metaphysical schema that everything else fits. It is to say that God is ontologically on a par with other beings despite the attributes (omniscience, etc.) that set him apart from other beings and indeed render him unique among beings. To spell it out. If God is a being among beings, then:
a. Properties. Some properties are such that God and creatures share them. Consider the property of being a self. For present purposes we may accept Dale's definition: "a being capable of consciousness, with intelligence, will, and the ability to intentionally act." God is a self, but so is Socrates. Both are selves in the very same sense of 'self.' 'Self' is being used univocally (not equivocally and not analogically) in 'God is a self' and 'Socrates is a self' just as 'wise' is being used univocally in 'God is wise' and 'Socrates is wise,' and so on.
Some are uncomfortable with talk of properties and seem to prefer talk of concepts. Well then, I can put my present point by saying that some concepts are such as to be common to both God and creatures, the concept self being one example.
b. Property-possession. God has properties in the same way that creatures do. My first point was that there are some properties that both God and creatures share; my present point is a different one about property-possession: the having of these shared properties is the same in the divine and creaturely cases. Both God and Socrates instantiate the property of being a self, where first-level instantiation is an asymmetrical relation or non-relational tie that connects individuals and properties construed as mind-independent universals.
The point could be put conceptualistically as follows. Both God and Socrates fall under the concept self, where falling under is an asymmetrical relation that connects individuals and concepts construed as mind-dependent universals.
c. Existence. God is in the same way that creatures are. Given that God exists and that Socrates exists, it does not follow that they exist in the same way. Or so I maintain. But part of what it means to say that God is a being among beings is to say that God and Socrates do exist in the very same way. Whatever it is for an item to exist, there is only one way for an item to exist, and God and Socrates exist in that very same way. For example, if what it is for x to exist is for x to be identical to some y, then this holds both for God and Socrates.
d. It follows from (a) and (b) taken together that God is really distinct from his properties, and that his properties are really distinct from one another. God is in this respect no different from Socrates. Really distinct: distinct in reality, apart from our mental operations. (What is really distinct need not be capable of separate existence.) And both items have their properties by instantiating them.
e. It follows from (c) that God is really distinct from his existence (just as Socrates is really distinct from his existence) and that God is really distinct from existence (just as Socrates is distinct from existence).
f. It follows from (d) and (e) taken together that God is not ontologically simple. Contrapositively, if God is ontologically simple, then God is not a being among beings as I am using this phrase. It is therefore no surprise that Dale Tuggy ansd other evangelical Christians reject divine simplicity whereas I am inclined to accept it. See my SEP entry for more on this.
To conclude, my argument against the Univocity View is as follows:
A. If the UV is true, then God is a being among beings in the sense explained. B. If God is a being among beings, then God is not ontologically simple. C. An absolute being must be ontologically simple. D. God is the absolute being. Ergo E. God is ontologically simple. Ergo F. God is not a being among beings. Ergo G. The Univocity View is not true.
So I reject the UV. If the other two views are also rationally rejectable, then we have an aporia, which, I suggest, is what we have. We are at an impasse, as usual in philosophy.
In his Warranted Christian Belief (Oxford UP, 2000), Alvin Plantinga mounts a critique of John Hick's Kantianism in the philosophy of religion. In this entry I will begin an evaluation of Plantinga's critique. I will focus on just two and a half pages, pp. 43-45, and examine only one preliminary argument.
The question, very simply, is whether our concepts apply to the ultimately real. If God is the ultimately real, as he is, then the question is whether or not our concepts apply to God. If they don't, then we cannot refer to or think about God or make true and literal predications of him such as 'God is infinite.' If so, we cannot have any beliefs about God. Now Plantinga's project is to show that Christian belief (which of course includes beliefs about God) is warranted. But a belief about X cannot be warranted unless there is that belief. So there had better be beliefs about God, in which case there had better be true and literal predications about God. This implies that God must have properties and that some of these properties must be such that we can conceive them, i.e., have concepts of them. In brief, it must be possible for some of our concepts to apply to God.
For Hick, God is the ultimately real, or simply 'the Real' but our concepts do not apply to God/the Real. (43) For present purposes, we needn't consider why Hick holds this except to say that it is for broadly Kantian reasons. And we needn't consider all the nuances of Hick's position. At present I am concerned only with Plantinga's refutation of the bald thesis that none of our concepts apply to God. Plantinga writes,
If Hick really means that none of our terms applies literally to the Real, then it isn't possible to make sense of what he says. I take it the term 'tricycle' does not apply to the Real; the Real is not a tricycle. But if the Real is not a tricycle, then 'is not a tricycle' applies literally to it; it is a nontricycle. It could hardly be neither a tricycle nor a nontricycle, nor do I think that Hick would want to suggest that it could. (45)
Here again is what I am calling the Bald Thesis: None of our terms/concepts apply literally and truly to the Real/God. Has Plantinga refuted the Bald Thesis? I am sure London Ed, who got me going on this, will answer affirmatively. Plantinga has given us a simple, clear, and knock-down (i.e. dispositive or decisive) argument that blows the Bald Thesis clean out of the water.
Or Does It?
Here is a response that Ed won't like.
Plantinga assumes that everything that exists is subject to the Law of Non-Contradiction (LNC), the Law of Excluded Middle (LEM), and the principle that everything instantiates properties, where if x instantiates property P, then x is distinct from P. Reasonable assumptions! These assumptions articulate (some of) what I will call the Discursive Framework, the framework within which all our discursive thinking takes place. On these assumptions the following tetrad is no tetralemma:
a. My wife is a tricycle b. My wife is not a tricycle. c. My wife is both. d. My wife is neither.
This is no tetralemma since all limbs are false except (b). My wife, delightful as she is, is not so wonderful as to be 'beyond all our concepts.' She does not lie, or stand, beyond the Discursive Framework. She is not a tricycle and therefore she falls under the concept nontricycle. Now the same goes for the Real (or the Absolute, or the Plotinian One, etc.) if the Real (the Absolute, etc.) is relevantly like my wife.
Now that is what Plantinga is assuming. He is assuming that tricycles, and wives, and the Real are all on a par in that each such item is a being among beings that necessarily has properties and has them by instantiating them, where property-instantiation is governed by LNC and LEM. What's more, he assumes that everything that exists exists in the same way, which implies that there are not two or more different ways of existing, say, the way appropriate to a finite item such as my wife and the way appropriate to God. For Aquinas, God is Being itself: Deus est ipsum esse subsistens. Everything else is really distinct from its being. But Plantinga will have none of that, implying as it does the doctrine of divine simplicity. Everything exists in the same way and has properties in the same way. The differences between wife and God are in the properties had, not in they way they are had, or in the way their subjects exist.
Plantinga also assumes that to talk sense one must remain with the confines of the Discursive Framework. This is why he says, of Hick, that "it isn't possible to make sense of what he says." We ought to concede the point in this form: It makes no discursive sense. For discursive sense is governed by the above principles.
If you say that no property can be predicated of the Real, then you predicate of the Real the property of being such that no property can be predicated of it, and you land in incoherence. These quick little arguments come thick and fast to the mentally agile and have been around for ages. But note that they presuppose the absolute and unrestricted validity of the Discursive Framework.
It is not that the Discursive Framework is irrational; you could say it is constitutive of discursive rationality and meaningful speech. But how could someone within the Framework prove in a noncircular way its absolute and unrestricted validity? How prove that it is not restricted to what our finite minds can think? How prove that nothing lies beyond it? Of course, anything that lies beyond it is Unsayable and cannot be thought in terms of the Framework. And if all thought is subject to the strictures of the Framework, then what lies beyond cannot be thought.
How then gain access to what is beyond thought? Nondual awareness is one answer, one that Buddhists will like. The visio beata of Thomas may be another. But I don't need to give an answer for present purposes. I merely have to POINT TO, even if I cannot SAY, the possibility that the Discursive Framework is not absolutely and unrestrictedly valid. This is equivalent to the possibility that the Discursive Framework is but a transcendental presupposition of our thinking without which we cannot think but is not legislative for all of Being. I am using 'transcendental' in the Kantian way.
The Framework cannot rationally ground its hegemony over all Being; it can only presuppose it. We can conclude that Plantinga with his quick little argument has not refuted the Bald Thesis according to which there is a noumenal Reality that lies beyond our concepts and cannot be accessed as it is in itself by conceptual means. He has rationally opposed the thesis, but in a way that begs the question. For he just assumes the absolute and unrestricted validity of the Discursive Framework when the question is precisely whether it is absolutely and unrestrictedly valid.
So I pronounce round one of Plantinga-Hick a draw.
Religion can appear under the guise of a childish refusal to face the supposed truth that we are but a species of clever land mammal with no higher origin or destiny. It can also appear under the guise of transcendence and maturity: the religious seek to transcend the childish and the merely human whereas worldlings wallow in it.
Religion must remain a riddle here below, as much of a riddle as the predicament it is supposed to cure. If religion wants a symbol, let it be:
And if anyone should say that only the sick need medicine, then let the reply be: We are all sick.
Martin Castro, an Obama appointee, is chairman of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.
Here’s Mr. Castro: “The phrases ‘religious liberty’ and ‘religious freedom’ will stand for nothing except hypocrisy so long as they remain code words for discrimination, intolerance, racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia, Christian supremacy or any form of intolerance.”
Mr. Castro’s is the prevailing view among progressives. Barack Obama alluded to it when he derided small-town Americans bitterly clinging to guns or religion (i.e., the Second and First Amendments). Ditto for Mrs. Clinton, who in a remark about reproductive rights declared that “deep-seated cultural codes, religious beliefs and structural biases have to be changed.” (William McGurn, WSJ, 12 September 2016)
We should thank Mr. Castro for giving us such a clear and concise insight into the mind of the Left.
Note first the liberal-left obsession with hypocrisy. Why does it so exercise them if not because of their hatred of religion with its difficult-to-achieve moral demands? ("He who so much as looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart." I quote this hard saying from memory. Too hard, a lefty might say: it drives people to hypocrisy.) They hate the stringent moral demands religion makes and so they attack as hypocrites those who preach them.
To a leftist, preaching can only be 'moralizing' and 'being judgmental.' It can only be the phony posturing of someone who judges others only to elevate himself. The very fact of preaching shows one to be a hypocrite. Of course, leftists have no problem with being judgmental and moralizing about the evil of hypocrisy. When they make moral judgments, however, it is, magically, not hypocritical.
And therein lies the contradiction. They would morally condemn all moral condemnation as hypocritical. But in so doing they condemn themselves as hypocrites.
Coded Speech and the Hermeneutics of Suspicion
To understand the Left you must understand that central to their worldview is the hermeneutics of suspicion which is essentially a diluted amalgam of themes from Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud.
Thus nothing has the plain meaning that it has; every meaning must be deconstructed so as to lay bare its 'real meaning.'
Suppose a conservative says, sincerely, "The most qualified person should get the job." Applying the hermeneutics of suspicion, the leftist takes the conservative to be speaking 'in code': what he is really saying is something like: "People of color are given extra unfair benefits because of their race."
Or suppose a conservative refers to a black malefactor as a thug. What he has actually said, according to the hermeneutics of suspicion, is that the malefactor is a nigger. But 'thug' does not mean 'nigger.' 'Thug' means thug. There are thugs of all races.
Leftists often call for 'conversations' about this or that. Thus Eric Holder famously called for a 'conversation' about race. But how can one have a conversation -- no sneer quotes -- about anything with people who refuse to take what one sincerely says at face value?
One of Trump's signature sayings is "Make America great again!"
To a leftist, this is a 'racist dog whistle.' It doesn't mean what it manifestly means; there is a latent sinister meaning that we can thank Bill Clinton for exposing. It means -- wait for it -- “That message…America great again is if you’re a white Southerner, you know exactly what it means, don’t you. What it means is I’ll give you an economy you had 50 years ago and I’ll move you back up on the social totem and other people down.”
The irony is that Slick Willy used the same sentence himself!
Here we come to the nub of the matter. The liberal is a piece of moral scum who refuses to treat his political opponents as rational beings, as persons. He dehumanizes them and treats them as if they are nothing but big balls of such affects as fear and hate bereft of rational justification for the views they hold.
Leszek Kolakowski has a message for New Atheists, leftists, transhumanists and any other bunch of religion bashers who think religion will wither away, be put out of business by some technological advance, or will eventually be confined to the sphere of the merely private. The following quotations are from an interview with the philosopher conducted by Nathan Gardels entitled Man Does Not Live by Reason Alone. (HT: Karl White) Emphasis added. For more on Kolakowski poke around in the Kolakowski category.
Moreover, the rationalist predictions about religion also turned out to be wrong. I don’t expect the death of religion or the death of God. Secularization hasn’t eradicated religious needs.
[. . .]
So, far from secularization inexorably leading to the death of religion, it has instead given birth to the search for new forms of religious life. The imminent victory of the Kingdom of Reason has never materialized.
As a whole, mankind can never get rid of the need for religious self-identification: who am I, where did I come from, where do I fit in, why am I responsible, what does my life mean, how will I face death? Religion is a paramount aspect of human culture. Religious need cannot be excommunicated from culture by rationalist incantation. Man does not live by reason alone.
Gardels | The cultural catastrophe being that without a set of rules that comes from religious tradition there are no moral brakes on man, particularly on the gluttony of homo consumptus?
Kolakowski | Yes, no moral brakes. When culture loses its sacred sense, it loses all sense. With the disappearance of the sacred, which imposes limits on the perfection that can be attained by secular society, one of the most dangerous illusions of our civilization arises—the illusion that there are no limits to the changes we can undergo, that society is an endlessly flexible thing subject to the arbitrary whims of our creative capacities.
[BV Comment: You can see this today in the nonsensical social constructivism according to which people incoherently speak of race and sex as social constructs.]
In the end, as I have written in the essay “The Revenge of the Sacred in Secular Culture,” this illusion sows disastrous despair. The modern chimera, which would grant man total freedom from tradition or all pre-existing sense, far from opening before him the perspective of divine self-creation, suspends him in a darkness where all things are regarded with equal indifference.
To be totally free from religious heritage or historical tradition is to situate oneself in a void and thus to disintegrate. The utopian faith in man’s self-inventive capabilities, the utopian hope of unlimited perfection, may be the most efficient instrument of suicide human culture has ever invented.
To reject the sacred, which means also to reject sin, imperfection and evil, is to reject our own limits. To say that evil is contingent, as Sartre did, is to say that there is no evil, and therefore that we have no need of a sense given to us by tradition, fixed and imposed on us whether we will it or not.
As you put it, there are thus no moral brakes on the will to power. In the end, the ideal of total liberation is the sanctioning of greed, force and violence, and thus of despotism, the destruction of culture and the degradation of the earth.
The only way to ensure the endurance of civilization is to ensure that there are always people who think of the price paid for every step of what we call “progress.” The order of the sacred is also a sensitivity to evil—the only system of reference that allows us to contemplate that price and forces us to ask whether it is exorbitant.
The values whose vigor is so vital to culture cannot survive without being rooted in the realm of the sacred. This is true not only of the values of which Milosz spoke —honesty and personal dignity—but others as well.
[. . .]
Gardels | At the end of the last modern century, can secular man reintroduce the sacred? Can we base ethical values on reason instead of revolution? Must personal responsibility be rooted in transcendent beliefs?
Kolakowski |It is obviously possible for individuals to keep high moral standards and be irreligious. I strongly doubt whether it is possible for civilizations. Absent religious tradition, what reason is there for a society to respect human rights and the dignity of man? What is human dignity, scientifically speaking? A superstition?
Empirically, men are demonstrably unequal. How can we justify equality? Human rights is an unscientific idea. As Milosz says, these values are rooted in a transcendent dimension.
Gardels | It strikes me that totalitarianism of a different kind could emerge from the new global capitalist order—a totalitarianism of immediate gratification in which reason is conditional to self-interest.
What is to defend dignity and human rights from total commercialization?
Kolakowski |The absence of a transcendent dimension in secular society weakens this social contract in which each supposedly limits his or her freedom in order to live in peace with others.
Such universalism of interest is another aspect of the modern illusion. There is no such thing as scientifically based human solidarity.
To be sure, I can convince myself that it is in my interest not to rob other people, not to rape and murder, because I can convince myself that the risk is too great. This is the Hobbesian model of solidarity: greed moderated by fear.
But social chaos stands in the shadows of such moral anarchy. When a society adheres to moral norms for no other reason than prudence, it is extremely weak and its fabric tears at the slightest crisis. In such a society, there is no basis for personal responsibility, charity or compassion.
Now, with the ecological imperative, a new ethos of species self-preservation is being discussed. To some extent, it may be true that we are instinctively programmed for self-preservation of the species. But the history of this last modern century has certainly demonstrated that we can destroy members of our own species without great inhibitions. If there is species solidarity at some deep biological level, it hasn’t saved us from civil destruction.
Thus, we need instruments of human solidarity that are not based on our own instincts, self-interest or on force. The communist attempt to institutionalize solidarity ended in disaster.
Here's how I think science will eventually put religion out of business. Soon medical science is going to be able to offer serious life extension, not pie-in-the-sky soul survival or re-incarnation, but real life extension with possible rejuvenation. When science can offer and DELIVER what religion can only promise, religion is done.
1. Religion is in the transcendence business. The type of transcendence offered depends on the particular religion. The highly sophisticated form of Christianity expounded by Thomas Aquinas offers the visio beata, the Beatific Vision. In the BV -- you will forgive the abbreviation -- the soul does not lose its identity. It maintains its identity, though in a transformed mode, while participating in the divine life. Hinduism and Buddhism offer even more rarefied forms of transcendence in which the individual self is either absorbed into the eternal Atman/Brahman, thereby losing its individual identity, or extinguished altogether by entry into Nirvana. And there are cruder forms of transcendence, in popular forms of Christianity, in Islam, and in other faiths, in which the individual continues to exist after death but with little or no transformation to enjoy delights that are commensurable with the ones enjoyed here below. The crudest form, no doubt, is the popular Islamic notion of paradise as an endless sporting with 72 black-eyed virgins. So on the one end of the spectrum: transcendence as something difficult to distinguish from utter extinction; on the other end, immortality mit Haut und Haar (to borrow a delightful phrase from Schopenhauer), "with skin and hair" in a realm of sensuous delights but without the usual negatives such as heartburn and erectile dysfunction.
I think we can safely say that a religion that offers no form of transcendence, whether Here or Hereafter, is no religion at all. Religion, then, is in the business of offering transcendence.
2. I agree with my correspondent that if science can provide what religion promises, then science will put religion out of business. But as my crude little sketch above shows, different religions promise different things. Now the crudest form of transcendence is physical immortality, immortality "with skin and hair." Is it reasonable to hope that future science will give rise to a technology that will make us, or some of us, physically immortal, where 'physical' is understood as we understand it in the here and now? I don't think so. That would violate the Second Law of Thermodynamics according to which the entropy of an irreversible process in an isolated system increases leading in the case of the universe (which is both isolated and irreversible) to the heat death of the universe and the end of all life. Granted, that is way off in the future. But that is irrelevant if the claim is that physical immortality is possible by purely physical means. And if that is not the claim, then the use of the phrase 'physical immortality' is out of place. In a serious discussion like this word games are strictly verboten.
3. Physical immortality is nomologically impossible, impossible given the laws of nature. Of course, a certain amount of life extension has been achieved and it is reasonable to expect that more will be achieved. So suppose the average life expectancy of people like us gets cranked up to 130 years. To underscore the obvious, to live to 130 is not to live forever. Suppose you have made it to 130 and are now on your death bed. If you have any spiritual depth at all, your lament is likely to be similar to that of Jacob's: "The length of my pilgrimage has been one hundred and thirty years; short and wretched has been my life, nor does it compare with the years my fathers lived during their pilgrimage." (Genesis 47:9)
The important point here is that once a period of time is over, it makes no difference how long it has lasted. It is over and done with and accessible only in the flickering and dim light of intermittent and fallible memory. The past 'telescopes' and 'scrunches up,' the years melt into one another; the past cannot be relived. What was distinctly lived is now all a blur. And now death looms before you. What does it matter that you lived 130 or 260 years? You are going to die all the same, and be forgotten, and all your works with you. After a while it will be as if you never existed.
The problem is not that our lives are short; the problem is that we are in time at all. No matter how long a life extends it is still a life in time, a life in which the past is no longer, the future not yet, and the present a passing away. This problem, the problem of the transitoriness of life, cannot be solved by life extension even if, per impossibile, physical immortality were possible. This problem of the transitoriness and vanity of life is one that religion addresses.
So my first conclusion is this. Even if we take religion in its crudest form, as promising physical immortality, "with skin and hair," science cannot put such a crude religion out of business. For, first of all, physical immortality is physically impossible, and second, mere life extension, even unto the age of a Methuselah, does not solve the problem of the transitoriness of life.
4. But I have just begun to scratch the surface of the absurdities of transhumanism. No higher religion is about providing natural goodies by supernatural means, goodies that cannot be had by natural means. Talk of pie-in-the-sky is but a cartoonish misrepresentation by those materialists who can only think in material terms and only believe in what they can hold in their hands. A religion such as Christianity promises a way out of the unsatisfactory predicament we find ourselves in in this life. What makes our situation unsatisfactory is not merely our physical and mental weakness and the shortness of our lives. It is primarily our moral defects that make our lives in this world miserable. We lie and slander, steal and cheat, rape and murder. We are ungrateful for what we have and filled with inordinate desire for what we don't have and wouldn't satisfy us even if we had it. We are avaricious, gluttonous, proud, boastful and self-deceived. It is not just that our wills are weak; our wills are perverse. It is not just that are hearts are cold; our hearts are foul. You say none of this applies to you? Very well, you will end up the victim of those to whom these predicates do apply. And then your misery will be, not the misery of the evil-doer, but the misery of the victim and the slave. You may find yourself forlorn and forsaken in a concentration camp. Suffering you can bear, but not meaningless suffering, not injustice and absurdity.
Whether or not the higher religions can deliver what they promise, what they promise first and foremost is deliverance from ignorance and delusion, salvation from meaninglessness and moral evil. So my correspondent couldn't be more wrong. No physical technology can do what religion tries to do. Suppose a technology is developed that actually reverses the processes of aging and keeps us all alive indefinitely. This is pure fantasy, of course, given the manifold contingencies of the world (nuclear and biological warfare, terrorism, natural disasters, etc.); but just suppose. Our spiritual and moral predicament would remain as deeply fouled-up as it has always been and religion would remain in business.
5. If, like my correspondent, you accept naturalism and scientism, then you ought to face what you take to be reality, namely, that we are all just clever animals slated to perish utterly in a few years, and not seek transcendence where it cannot be found. Accept no substitutes! Transhumanism is an ersatz religion.
It could be like this. All religions are false; none can deliver what they promise. Naturalism is true: reality is exhausted by the space-time system. You are not unreasonable if you believe this. But I say you are unreasonable if you think that technologies derived from the sciences of nature can deliver what religions have promised.
As long as there are human beings there will be religion. The only way I can imagine religion withering away is if humanity allows itself to be gradually replaced by soulless robots. But in that case it will not be that the promises of religion are fulfilled by science; it would be that no one would be around having religious needs.
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?
In April of 2011, 60 Minutes had a segment on the monks of Mt. Athos. It was surprisingly sympathetic for such a left-leaning program. What one expects and usually gets from liberals and leftists and the lamestream media is religion-bashing -- unless of course the religion is Islam, the religion of peace -- but the segment in question was refreshingly objective. It was actually too sympathetic for my taste and not critical enough. It didn't raise the underlying questions. Which is why you need my blog.
We know that this world is no dream and is to that extent real. For all we know it may be as real as it gets, though philosophers and sages over the centuries, East and West, have assembled plenty of considerations that speak against its plenary reality. We don't know that there is any world other than this one. We also don't know that there isn't. Now here is an existential question for you: Will you sacrifice life in this world, with its manifold pleasures and satisfactions, for the chance of transcendent happiness in a merely believed-in hinter world? The Here is clear; the Hereafter is not. It is not clear that is is, or that it isn't, or what it is if it is. When I say that the world beyond is merely believed-in, I mean that it is merely believed-in from the point of view of the here and now where knowledge is impossible; I am not saying that there is no world beyond.
Let us be clear what the existential option is. It is not between being a dissolute hedonist or an ascetic, a Bukowski or a Simon of Sylites. It is between being one who lives in an upright and productive way but in such a way as to assign plenary reality and importance to this world, this life, VERSUS one who sees this world as a vanishing quantity that cannot be taken with full seriousness but who takes it as preparatory for what comes after death. (Of course, most adherents of a religion live like ordinary worldlings for the most part but hedge their bets by tacking on some religious observances on the weekend. I am not concerned with these wishy-washy types here.)
The monks of Mount Athos spend their lives preparing for death, writing their ticket to the Beyond, engaging in unseen warfare against Satan and his legions. They pray the Jesus Prayer ceaselessly; they do not surf the Web or engage in competitive eating contests or consort with females -- there are no distaff elements on the Holy Mountain.
Is theirs the highest life possible for a human being? Or is the quest to determine what is the highest life the highest life? The monks think they have the truth, the final truth, the essential and saving truth. Thinking they possess it, their task is not to seek it but to implement it in their lives, to 'existentially appropriate it' as Kierkegaard might say, to knit it into the fabric of their Existenz. There is a definite logic to their position. If you have the truth, then there is no point in wasting time seeking it, or talking about it, or debating scoffers and doubters. The point is to do what is necessary to achieve the transcendent Good the existence of which one does not question.
This logic is of course common to other 'true believers.' Karl Marx in the 11th of his Theses on Feuerbach wrote that "The philosophers have variously interpreted the world, but the point is to change it." Marx and the commies he spawned thought they had the truth, and so the only thing left was to implement it at whatever cost, the glorious end justifying the bloody means. Millions of eggs were broken, though, and no omelet materialized.
Buddha, too, was famously opposed to speculation. If you have been shot with a poisoned arrow, there is no point in speculating as to the trajectory of the arrow, the social class of the archer, or the chemical composition of the poison; the one thing necessary is to extract the arrow. The logic is the same, though the point is different. The point for Buddha was not theosis (deification) as in Eastern Orthodoxy, or the classless society as in Marxism, but Nirvana, the extinguishing of the ego-illusion and final release from the wheel of Samsara.
If you have the ultimate truth about the ultimate matters, then by all means live in accordance with it. Put it into practice. But do you in fact have the truth? For the philosopher this is the question that comes first and cannot be evaded. If the monks of Mt. Athos are right about God and the soul and that the ultimate human goal is theosis, then they are absolutely right to renounce this world of shadows and seemings and ignorance and evil for the sake of true reality and true happiness.
But do they have the truth or does one throw one's life away when one flees to a monastery? Does one toss aside the only reality there is for a bunch of illusions? There is of course a secular analog. I would say that all the earnest and idealistic and highly talented individuals who served the cause of Communism in the 20th century sacrificed their lives on the altar of illusions. They threw their lives away pursuing the impossible. Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, for example, who went to the electric chair as atomic spies. Such true believers wasted their lives and ended up enablers of great evil. In the end they were played for fools by an evil ideology.
So isn't the philosopher's life the highest possible life for a human being? For only the philosopher pursues the ultimate questions without dogmatism, without blind belief, in freedom, critically, autonomously. I am not saying that the ultimate good for a human being is endless inquiry. The highest goal cannot be endless inquiry into truth, but a resting in it. But that can't come this side of the Great Divide. Here and now is not the place or time to dogmatize. We can rest in dogma on the far side, although there we won't need it, seeing having replaced believing.
My Athenian thesis -- that the life of the philosopher is the highest life possible for a human being -- won't play very well in Jerusalem. And I myself have serious doubts about it. But all such doubts are themselves part and parcel of the philosophical enterprise. For if nothing is immune from being hauled before the bench of Reason, there to be rudely interrogated, then fair Philosophia herself must also answer to that tribunal.
Philosophy is reason's search for the ultimate truth about the ultimate matters. But reason is not reason unless it strives mightily beyond itself to sources of truth that transcend it. So the true philosopher must be open to divine revelation. If it is the truth the philosopher seeks, then he cannot confine himself to the truth accessible to discursive reason.
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).
I stated that the reason for carefully vetting Muslims who aim to immigrate into the USA is political rather than religious. I had several points in mind, one of them being that it is the theocratic character of Islam that renders it incompatible with Western values, but not its specifically religious character. Theocracy is a form of political organization whereas there is nothing in the nature of the religious as such that requires that a religion be theocratic. Theocracy is a political concept. Religious character is -- wait for it -- a religious concept. These are different concepts. That should be obvious. If it is not obvious, argument up ahead!
It struck me as important to make the distinction between the political and the religious because the political reasons for vetting or even excluding Muslims or some proper subset thereof, perhaps the 'Medina Muslims,' are consistent with the commitment to religious liberty enshrined in the First Amendment to the U. S. Constitution. According to this amendment, the government shall not interfere with the free exercise of religion. Now while the First Amendment applies only to citizens, not to would-be citizens, it expresses a value that is universal in scope, that of religious liberty. The value/right comes first; the amendment merely protects it.
Note also that according to the Article VI of the Constitution, there shall be no "religious Test" for would-be holders of public office. So it is not the fact that Muslims have a different religion than most of us that supplies a reason for carefully vetting them; it is because their religion is a hybrid ideology, a political-religious ideology, the political component of which is manifestly incompatible with American political principles. I hope it is obvious that a totalitarian theocracy is incompatible with limited government.
Canadian philosopher Jacques, however, questions my distinction between the political and the religious. He writes,
What are political grounds? I doubt there could be any kind of political theory that isn't ultimately based in some (implicitly) religious attitude. Consider the very idea that religion and politics are different realms, or should be or could be. It's an idea that Protestants find easy enough to accept, because of their peculiar religious beliefs. People in a Protestant-derived society such as the USA find it easy to accept because they have been shaped by Protestantism. But if Islam is true, there is no such distinction.
I am afraid I cannot agree with this. First of all, it is obvious that at the notional level there is distinction between the concept of the political and the concept of the religious. The distinction holds even if one or both concepts are empty. The first concept would be empty or uninstantiated if there were no states, just people organized in non-state or sub-state ways. But there are, we know, states. We don't know, however, if there is anything corresponding to the concept of the religious. Here are some typical religious 'objects': nirguna Brahman, saguna Brahman, Nirvana, The One of Plotinus, Deus qua ipsum esse subsistens (Aquinas), Allah, Yahweh, immortal souls . . . . Suppose that naturalism is true and that there are no religious 'objects' at all, where naturalism is the thesis that reality is exhausted by space-time and its contents. There would still be a distinction between the political and the religious. They are clearly distinct at the conceptual level. I hope Jacques is not denying the distinction at the notional or conceptual level.
Jacques appears to be claiming that every type of political theory is based in some implicitly religious attitude. That would be false for the political theory of a naturalist. I should think it is obvious that one could have a political doctrine that did not entail or presuppose any religious doctrine. A libertarian doctrine of the state as outlined in, say, Robert Nozick's Anarchy, State, and Utopia, is consistent with the view that religion is a purely private matter.
Jacques tells us that "if Islam is true, then there is no such distinction" as that between the political and the religious. But surely if two concepts are extensionally equivalent, it does not follow that they are the same concept. To borrow a Quinean example, x is a cordate iff x is a renate, but it doesn't follow that being cordate and being renate are the same property or concept. So even if Islam is true -- God forbid! -- there would still be a distinction between the religious and political character of Islam. And that is all I need for the points I am making.
But if we think about this carefully, we see that there is not even an extensional equivalence. Not every religious item in Islam is a political item. For example, take the following doctrinal item: There is no god but God! Call it Radical Monotheism. Consider it and all its entailments. Among the entailments: God/Allah exists, is radically one, is not a trinity, is radically transcendent of the world, etc. None of these metaphysical propositions has, by itself, any political implication. One could, in all logical consistency, accept all of these propositions and also accept American principles of government. Case in point: Dr. M. Zuhdi Jasser, a moderate Muslim who battles what he calls "political Islam" in A Battle for the Soul of Islam: An American Muslim Patriot's Fight to Save his Faith, Simon and Shuster, 2012. My tribute to Dr. Jasser here.
A reformed Islam that is consistent with American values is not only possible but also actual in the case of Dr. Jasser and a few others. So, obviously, the political and religious aspects of Islam can be prised apart. They are distinct. I should add that, while there are a few moderate Muslims, the vast majority are not. These are the ones that subscribe to Islamic law (sharia) and have no intention of assimilating to the West and its values. I am afraid that Dr. Jasser's noble attempt at a reform of Islam is bound to fail. But that is a separate issue.
Probably the same goes for Catholicism (on the most honest and coherent interpretation) and Hinduism or lots of Amerindian religions. It makes no sense, on these various religious views, to isolate some particular realm of human affairs as being just 'political' rather than religious. Just as it makes no sense, on most religious views, to isolate an area that is just 'ethical' or 'artistic' without also being religious. Just as it makes no sense for progressives to isolate an area that's just 'personal' and not political.
With respect to Catholicism, Jacques is on very shaky ground. Jesus himself provides the charter for temple/church - state separation with his "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's; render unto God the things that are God's." That saying presupposes for its very sense that the political and the religious are not identical. The saying occurs in all three of the synoptic gospels. It is of course subject to different interpretations, but the Catholic reading is something like the following. Although our main obligations are to God, we also have obligations to the political authorities, where 'Caesar' represents the political authorities of whatever time and place. So of course the political and religious spheres are distinguishable.
And surely it is false that the concepts of the ethical and the religious coincide, or that no ethics is possible that does not rest on religious tenets. This would have shocked old Aristotle whose eudaimonistic ethics rests on no religious bases. There is of course a primum mobile in Aristotle's system, but it has no religious meaning. The Prime Mover, just as such, is precisely NOT "what all men call God." (Aquinas, Quinque viae)
Jacques tells us that progressives or as I call them, 'progressives,' do not separate the personal from the political. But of course they have to, at the notional or conceptual level, if there are to be in a position to say something meaningful albeit stupid such as The personal is political. This is an informative identity claim only if the senses of 'personal' and 'political' are different -- he said with side-long glance in the direction of Frege. On the level of reference, however, it is true that the person is political for 'progressives.' But so what? They're wrong. Jacques concludes:
Protestant theology holds up individualism and autonomy as very important values, ultimately for theological reasons. Take away Protestantism, or some similar theology, and it's not clear why we should care so much about these things -- for example, why we should care that society has some tolerance for religious diversity or a non-religious conception of politics. So I'm suggesting that, if Islam is not a 'pure' religion then western liberalism or conservatism is not a 'pure' political theory.
Jacques seems to be saying that there are no non-theological reasons for caring about the toleration of religious diversity. Well, try this reason on for size: We tolerate religious diversity because we do not know which religion is true; nor do we know if any extant or possible religion is true. Given deep and intractable disagreement within religions, across religions, and between religion and anti-religion, toleration makes possible comity (social harmony) and prevents foolish, costly, and sometimes bloody conflicts. There is no need for a theology to underpin this commitment to toleration. Atheists and naturalists have no theology, but that does not prevent them from espousing toleration.
"So I'm suggesting that, if Islam is not a 'pure' religion then western liberalism or conservatism is not a 'pure' political theory." I can't agree with this either. Islam itself -- not Islam 'lite,' some Jasserian reformed, de-politicized Islam -- is as much a political ideology as a religion. It is very far from being just a religion. But much of American conservatism is mostly free of religious elements. Correct me if I am wrong, but nowhere in the U. S. Constitution or its Amendments is there any reference to God or to any religious doctrine.
A massage parlor is given the name Nirvana, the implication being that after a well-executed massage one will be in the eponymous state. This betrays a misunderstanding of Nirvana, no doubt, but that is not the main thing, which is the perverse tendency to attach a religious or spiritual significance to a merely sensuous state of relaxation.
Why can’t the hedonist just enjoy his sensory states without glorifying them? Equivalently, why can’t he admit that there is something beyond him without attempting to drag it down to his level? But no! He wants to have it both ways: he wants both sensuous indulgence and spirituality. He wants sensuality to be a spiritual experience and spirituality to be as easy of access as sensuous enjoyment.
A catalog of currently misused religious terms would have to include ‘heaven,’ ‘seventh heaven,’ ‘hell,’ 'dark night of the soul,' and many others besides.
Take ‘retreat.’ Time was, when one went on a retreat to get away from the world to re-collect oneself, meditating on the state of one's soul and on first and last things. But now one retreats from the world to become even more worldly, to gear up for greater exertions in the realms of business or academe. One retreats from ordinary busy-ness to prepare for even greater busy- ness.
Instead of dropping 'retreat,' which would be the honest thing to do, the secularist drains it of its religious meaning and gives it a worldly one, but without entirely stripping it of its original sense. In this way the secularist can attempt to profit from ancient associations without quitting his secularity.
And then there is ‘spirituality.’ The trendy embrace the term but shun its close cousin, ‘religion.’ I had a politically correct Jewish professor in my kitchen a while back whose husband had converted from Roman Catholicism to Judaism. I asked her why he had changed his religion. She objected to the term ‘religion,’ explaining that his change was a ‘spiritual’ one.
I didn't lay into the good lady as I perhaps should have, for her 'spiritual' good.
Etymologically, ‘religion’ suggests a binding, a God-man ligature, so to speak. But trendy New Age types don’t want to be bound by anything, or submit to anything. I suggest that this is part of the explanation of the favoring of the S word over the R word. Another part of the explanation is political. To those with a Leftward tilt, ‘religion’ reminds them of the Religious Right whose power strikes them as ominous while that of the Religious Left is no cause for concern.
A third part of the explanation may be that religion is closely allied with morality, while spirituality is often portrayed as beyond morality with its dualism of good and evil. One of the worst features of New Age types is their conceit that they are beyond duality when they are firmly enmired in it. Perhaps the truly enlightened are beyond moral dualism and can live free of moral injunctions. But what often happens in practice in that spiritual aspirants and gurus fall into ordinary immorality while pretending to have transcended it.
One may recall the famous cases of Rajneesh and 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."
This gives new meaning to the phrase 'dharma bum.'
'Theology' is often misused. In the reliably politically correct NYT, we find:
“When you buy gold you’re saying nothing is going to work and everything is going to stay ridiculous,” said Mackin Pulsifer, vice chairman and chief investment officer of Fiduciary Trust International in New York. “There is a fair cohort who believes this in a theological sense, but I believe it’s unreasonable given the history of the United States.”
So to believe something 'in a theological sense' is to believe it unreasonably. It follows that liberals have plenty of 'theological' beliefs. In the 'theology' of a liberal theology can be dismissed unread as irrational.
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.
Hitchens says somewhere that he didn't suffer from cognitive dissonance of the sort that arises when a deeply internalized religious upbringing collides with the contrary values of the world, since he never took religion or theism seriously in the first place. But then I say religion was never a Jamesian live option for him. But if not a live existential option, one that engages the whole man and not just his intellect, then not an option explored with the openness and sympathy and humility requisite for understanding.
So why should we take seriously what Hitchens says about religion? He hasn't sympathetically entered into the subject. He hasn't fulfilled the prerequisites for understanding. One such prerequisite is openness to the pain of cognitive dissonance as suffered when the doctrines, precepts and practices of a religion taken seriously come into conflict with a world that mocks them when not ignoring them. But in Hitchens by his own account there was not even the possibility of cognitive dissonance.
Consider two working class individuals. The first is a sensitive poet with real poetic ability. His family, however, considers poetry effete and epicene and nothing that a real man could or should take seriously. The second is a lout with no appreciation of poetry whatsoever. The first suffers cognitive dissonance as his ideal world of poetic imagination collides with the grubby work-a-day-world of his unlettered parents and relatives. The second fellow obviously suffers from no comparable cognitive dissonance: he never took poetry seriously in the first place.
The second fellow, however, is full of himself and his opinions and does not hesitate to hold forth in the manner of the bar room bullshitter on any and all topics, including poetry. Should we credit his opinions about poetry? Of course not: he has never engaged with it by practice or careful reading or the consultation of works of literary criticism. He knows not whereof he speaks. His nescience reflects his lack of the poetic 'organ.'
Similarly, a fellow like Hitchens, as clever as he is, lacks the religious 'organ.' So religion is closed off from him and what he says about it , though interesting, need not be taken all that seriously, or is to be taken seriously only in a negative way in the manner of the pathologist in his study of pathogens.
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.
Within this scheme, where to locate Islam? For Christians and Jews alike, the difficulty—and the embarrassment—lie in the indisputable fact that Islam believes in one God, eternal, almighty, the Creator of heaven and earth, merciful. Is not this formula, which I have adapted from the Christian credo, continuous with the words spoken by the Lord when He passed before Moses on Mount Sinai at the second giving of the Ten Commandments? Yes. But those same Ten Commandments open by identifying God as the liberator of His people in a particular historical situation: “I am the Lord your God Who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.” In the God of the Qur’an, there is no such history.
Nor is that the only problem that presents itself if one tries to approach Islam as a revealed religion, at least as Christians and Jews understand the term. The Christian Church believes that it is the desire of the revealed God to manifest Himself and communicate His message of redemption, letting man know of the truths that elude the grasp of the human mind unaided by grace. To the revelation contained in the Hebrew Bible, the Christians added a “new testament,” while continuing to recognize the full authority of the document given before the arrival of their messiah.
Muslims also hold that they received a revelation. It is conceived, however, not as part of a historical narrative but as the transmission of an eternally preexisting text. In this transmission, the prophet, Muhammad, does not play a role akin to that of Moses and Jesus. He does nothing but receive texts, which he repeats as if under dictation. As opposed to the Bible, which Christians declare to have been “inspired,” the Qur’an is uncreated. It is the uncreated Word of God.
[. . .]
Thus, for a Christian as for a Jew, there can be no continuity between the Bible and the Qur’an. The point holds even for those passages reflecting an evident concurrence on the idea of the one God. Although Muslims like to enumerate the 99 names of God, missing from the list, but central to the Jewish and even more so to the Christian conception of God, is “Father”—i.e., a personal God capable of a reciprocal and loving relation with men. The one God of the Qur’an, the God Who demands submission, is a distant God; to call him “Father” would be an anthropomorphic sacrilege. The Muslim God is utterly impassive; to ascribe loving feelings to Him would be suspect.
Are Muslims, then, like Jews and Christians, “children of Abraham”? The Abraham whom Islam claims for itself is yet another messenger—and a Muslim. He is not the common father first of Israel and then of Christians who share his faith. Indeed, since the truth, according to the Qur’an, was given totally on the first day and to the first man, it is inconceivable that Abraham could have played the founding role assigned to him by Jews and Christians. Rather, the Ibrahim of the Qur’an takes part in Muslim worship by building the Ka’ba temple and instituting the pilgrimage to Mecca. Far from Muhammad sharing the faith of Abraham, it is Abraham who holds the faith of Muhammad.
[. . .]
Much fun has been made, wrongly, of the Muslim notion of paradise. Admittedly, it is not like the Jewish or Christian notion, which envisions an eternity participating in the life of the divine. In the other-world of Islam, God remains separate and inaccessible, but man finds there forgiveness, peace, “satisfaction.” If biblical religion suggests a road map that originates in a garden, Eden, and finishes in a city, the heavenly Jerusalem, the Qur’an charts a return to the garden. Ancient mythologies are replete with similar images: idealized banquets with flowing cups, beautiful virgins and young men, a climate of heavenly satiety in which all desire is fulfilled.
In concordance with natural religion (and with the Hellenistic substratum on which Islam was built), Muslim religious life offers more than one model of piety. For the truly devout, two ways are open, just as in the Greco-Roman world: philosophy (Arab falsafa, itself heavily impregnated with neo-Platonism) and mysticism. Less rigorous souls, with the help of the law and moderate observance of the “five pillars” of Islam, can adhere to a mild but perfectly sufficient religious regimen. This is surely a great advantage over the two biblical religions, which expect of believers a greater scrupulousness and a deeper introspection; it is also, once more, reminiscent of ancient paganism, whose rites were designed to ornament and to enhance the individual’s natural, spontaneous sense of the divine.
From this perspective, two facts about Islam that always astonished medieval Christians seem not so astonishing after all: the difficulty of converting Muslims, and the stubborn attachment to their faith of even the most superficially observant. From the Muslim point of view, it was absurd to become a Christian, because Christianity was a religion of the past whose best parts had been included in and superseded by Islam. Even more basically, Christianity was anti-natural: just as Manuel’s Muslim debater insisted, its moral requirements exceeded human capacities, and its central mysteries defied reason.
[. . .]
Of all the contemporary expressions hinting at a consanguinity between the Qur’an and the Bible, the falsest may be “religions of the Book.” This phrase is itself of Islamic origin, but it has nothing to do with what it is widely and misleadingly supposed to suggest. It refers, rather, to a special legal category, “people of the Book,” that provided an exception for Christians and Jews to the general rule decreeing death or slavery for those who refused to convert to Islam. Instead, these groups (as well as two other peoples in possession of a scripture, namely Sabians and Zoroastrians) were allowed to retain their property and to continue to reside in Muslim lands with the second-class status of dhimmi.
That such expressions can be so lightly employed is a sign that elements of the Christian world are no longer capable of distinguishing clearly between their own religion and Islam. Are we returning to the times of John of Damascus, when it was possible to entertain the deluded thought that Islam might itself be a form of Christianity? It is not inconceivable. History records more than one instance of a Christian church unconsciously drifting toward Islam when it does not know any longer what it believes in, or why. This was precisely the fate of the Monophysites in Egypt, the Nestorians in Syria, the Donatists in North Africa, the Arians in Spain.
Islam is not some primitive, simplistic, unworked-out religion. It is neither a “religion of camel drivers” nor a religion of soft and malleable borders. To the contrary, it is an extremely strong religion, with a specific and highly crystallized conception of the relation between man and God. That conception is no less coherent than the Jewish and Christian conceptions; but it is quite opposed to them. Although some Christians may imagine that, because Muslims worship the common God of Israel, Islam and Christianity are closer than either is to paganism, this is not the case. In fact, Christianity and Islam are paradoxically but radically separated by the same God.
It follows that the effort to engage in “dialogue” with Muslims has been set on a mistaken course. The early Church fathers deemed the works of Virgil and Plato a preparatio evangelica—preparation for the Gospel, for the truth of Christianity. The Qur’an is neither a preparation for biblical religion nor a retroactive endorsement of it. In approaching Muslims, self-respecting Christians and others would do better to rely on what remains within Islam of natural religion—and of religious virtue—and to take into account the common humanity that Muslims share with all people everywhere.
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.
Each of the following three propositions strikes me as very reasonably maintained. But they cannot all be true.
A. Worship Entails Reference: If S worships x, then S refers to x. B. Reference Entails Existence: If S refers to x, then x exists. C. Worship Does Not Entail Existence: It is not the case that if S worships x, then x exists.
It is easy to see that the triad is inconsistent. The conjunction of any two limbs entails the negation of the remaining one. For example, (A) and (B), taken in conjunction, entail the negation of (C).
What makes the triad a very interesting philosophical problem, however, is the fact that each of the constituent propositions issues a very strong claim on our acceptance. I am inclined to say that each is true. But of course they cannot all be true if they are logically inconsistent, which they obviously are.
Why think that each limb is true?
Ad (A): While there is much more to worship than reference, and while reference to a god or God can take place without worship, it is surely the case that whatever one worships one refers to, whether publicly or privately, whether in overt speech or in wordless thought.
Ad (B): Unless we make a move into Meinong's jungle, it would seem that reference is reference to what exists. There are different ways for reference to fail, but one way is if the referent does not exist. Suppose I think Scollay Square still exists. Trying to say something true, I say, 'Scollay Square is in Boston.' Well, I fail to say something true because of the failure of reference of 'Scollay Square.' My sentence is either false or lacks a truth-value. Now if one way for a reference to fail is when the referent does not exist, then reference entails existence.
Here is a second consideration. Philosophers often speak of reference as a word-world relation. Better: it is a relation between a word of phrase thoughtfully deployed by a person and something that exists extralinguistically. But surely if a genuine relation R holds, then each of R's relata exists. In the dyadic case, if x stands in R to y, then both x and y exist. A weaker principle is that of existence-symmetry: if x stands in R to y, then either both relata exist or neither exists. Both principles rule out the situation in which one relatum of the reference relation exists and the other doesn't.
So if reference is a genuine relation, and a person uses a word or phrase to refer to something, then the thing in question, the referent, exists. So again it seems that (B) is true and that reference entails existence. If the referent does not exist, then the reference relation does not hold in this case and there is no reference in this case. No referent, no reference. If reference, then referent.
Ad (C): Some say that the Christian God and the Muslim God are the same. But no one this side of the lunatic asylum says that all gods are the same. So at least one of these gods does not exist. But presumably all gods have been worshipped by someone; ergo, being worshipped does not entail existence.
So how do we solve this aporetic bad boy? We have three very plausible propositions that cannot all be true. So it seems we must reject one of them. But which one?
(A) is above reproach. Surely one cannot worship anything without referring to it. And I should think that (C) is obviously true. The idolater worships a false god, something that does not exist. As Peter Geach points out, the idolater does not worship a hunk of gold, say, but a hunk of gold as God, or God as a hunk of gold. But then he worships something that does not exist and indeed cannot exist. The only hope for solving the triad is by rejecting (B). For (B) does not share in the obviousness of (A) and (C). (B) is very plausible but not as plausible as the other two limbs.
London Ed will presumably endorse (B)-rejection as the solution since he is already on record as saying that one can successfully refer to purely fictional (and thus nonexistent) individuals and that one also be confident that it is numerically the same fictional individual to which different people are referring in different ways. Thus if London Ed brings up in conversation the fictional detective who lives on Baker Street, has an assistant named 'Watson,' etc. , then I know he is referring to Sherlock Holmes. And referring successfully. We are talking about one and the same individual. Successful reference thus seems not to require the existence of the referent.
But notice. If there is successful reference to nonexistent individuals, then it would seem that reference is an intentional state just like worshiping is. Or to put the point in formal mode: it would seem that 'refers' is an intentional verb just like 'worship' is. What one worships may or may not exist without prejudice to one's being in a state of worship. On (B)-rejection, what one refers to may or may not exist without prejudice to one's being in the state of referring.
By the way, it is not words that refer, but people using words. Of course, one can say that 'cat' in English refers to furry, four-legged mammals, but that is elliptical for saying that competent English speakers who are using 'cat' in a standard, non-metaphorical, way refer by the use of this word to furry, four-legged mammals. Linguistic reference is grounded in and parasitic upon thinking reference, intentional reference. And not the other way around. Not everyone agrees, of course. (Chisholm and Sellars famously disagreed about this.) This is yet another bone of contention at the base of the Same God? controversy. And one more reason why it is not easily resolved.
Well, suppose that linguistic reference is like mental reference (intentionality) in this respect: just as the intentio is what it is whether or not the intentum exists, the reference is what it is whether or not the referent exists. This makes sense and it solves the above aporetic triad. We simply reject (B).
Now where does my solution to the above triad leave us with respect to the question, Does the Christian and the Muslim worship the same God? My solution implies that they do not worship the same God. For it implies that reference to an individual or particular is not direct but mediated by properties. Let's consider private, unverbalized worship in the form of discursive prayer. Suppose I pray the Jesus Prayer, or some such prayer as 'Lord, grant me light in my moral and intellectual darkness.' Such prayer is on the discursive plane. It is not a matter of infused contemplation or any state of mystical intuition or mystical union. On the discursive plane I have no knowledge of God by acquaintance, and certainly not by sensory acquaintance. My knowledge, if knowledge it is, is by description. I refer to God mentally via properties as that which satisfies, uniquely, a certain identifying description. Obviously, I cannot have God before my mind as a pure, unpropertied particular; I can have God before my mind only as 'clothed' in certain properties, only as an instantiation of those properties.
Now if the properties in terms of which I prayerfully think of God include the property of being triune, and the properties in terms of which a Muslim thinks of God include the property of not being triune, then no one thing can be our common mental referent. For in reality outside the mind nothing can be both triune and not triune.
If you object that there is a common God but that the Muslim has false beliefs about it, then I say you are either begging the question or assuming a causal theory of reference. It is certainly true that different people can have contradictory beliefs about one and the same thing. But if you say that this is the case with respect to the Muslim and Christian Gods, then you assume that there is one God about whom there are contradictory beliefs -- and that is precisely to beg the question. This is the very mistake that Beckwith and Tuggy and others make.
If, on the other hand, you are assuming a casual theory of reference, then how will you solve my triad above? Besides, you take on board all the problems of the casual theory. The notion that reference can be explained by causation is a very questionable one, about which I will have more to say later.
Having just read Peter Geach's "On Worshipping the Right God" (in God and the Soul, Thoemmes Press, 1994, pp. 100-116, orig. publ. 1969) I was pleased to discover that I had arrived by my own reasoning at some of his conclusions. On Christmas Eve I quoted Michael Rea:
Christians and Muslims have very different beliefs about God; but they agree on this much: there is exactly one God. This common point of agreement is logically equivalent to [the] thesis that all Gods are the same God. In other words, everyone who worships a God worships the same God, no matter how different their views about God might be.
Rea's argument is this:
A. There is exactly one God if and only if all Gods are the same God
B. Everyone who worships a God worships the same God.
But as I pointed out, the state of worship/worshipping is an intentional or object-directed state, and like all such states, not such as to entail the existence of the object of the state. One cannot worship without worshipping something, but it does not follow that the object worshipped exists. So (B) is false. Geach makes the same point in 'formal mode':
It may be thought that since there is only one God to worship, a man who worships a God cannot but worship the true God. But this misconceives the logical character of the the verb 'to worship.' In philosophers' jargon, 'to worship' is an intentional verb. (108)
Exactly right. And so, just as I can shoot at an animal that is not there to be shot at, I can worship a God that is not there to be worshipped.
I put the point in my own 'formal mode' way when I said that 'worships' is not a verb of success.
The possibility of worshipping what does not exist is connected with the question whether 'God' is a logically proper name. Geach rightly argues that "'God' is not a proper name but a descriptive term: it is like 'the Prime Minister' rather than 'Mr. Harold Wilson.'" (108) One of his arguments is similar to one I had given, namely, that God is not known by acquaintance in this life. As Geach puts it, ". . . in this life we know God not as an acquaintance we can name, but by description." (109)
God is therefore relevantly disanalogous to the examples Beckwith and Tuggy gave. Those examples were of things known or knowable by sensory acquaintance here below. Suppose Dale and I are seated at one and the same table. I pound on it and assert "This table is solid oak!" Dale replies, "No, it is not: there is particle board where you can't see." Dale thinks that a disagreement about the properties of a putatively self-same x presupposes, and thus entails, that there really is a self-same x whose properties are in dispute. But that is not the case. Disagreement about the properties of a putatively self-same x is merely logically consistent with there really being a self-same x whose properties are in dispute. In the case of the table, of course, we KNOW that the dispute is about one and the same item. This is because the table is an object of sensory acquaintance: its existence and identity are evident. But it can be different in the case of God with whom we are not sensorily acquainted.
Clearly, a Spinozist and a Thomist are not worshipping one and the same God despite the fact that for both Thomists and Spinozists there is exactly one God. One of them is worshipping what does not exist.
And so it is not at all obvious that Jew, Christian, and Muslim are all worshipping the same God. That, I submit, is crystal-clear. And so those who think that the question has an obvious answer are plainly wrong.
But this is not to say that Jew, Christian, and Muslim are NOT worshipping one and the same God. That is much more difficult question.
This thing has really 'gone viral' as they say. A tip of the holiday hat to Dale for his excellent compilation of hyperlinks and commentary. Everybody and his uncle seems eager to jump into the fray, one that is at once bitterly political and deeply philosophical.
A moment ago I headed over to The Catholic Thing to drop a link there to my piece, but the combox to Dr. Beckwith's article has been closed at 170 comments. Just as well. That comment zone resembles the Augean stables and you are well-advised to don your hip-length boots before wading in. "Don we now our gay apparel." Better yet, just read the material Dale has selected.
The following entry has been languishing in the queue for years. I just now finished it for what it's worth.
Which is worse, the fundamentalism of a Jerry Falwell or the snarling hatred of religion of a Christopher Hitchens, who, in his anti-Falwell diatribe, shows just how far someone who is a leftist about religion can sink?
Readers of this blog know that I have little patience with fundamentalist forms of religion. But whatever one thinks of Falwell's views, he was a decent human being capable of compassion and forgiveness. (I recall with admiration the kindness and forbearance he displayed when he confronted his tormentor, the pornographer Larry Flynt, on Larry King Live.) Can one say that Hitchens is a decent human being after his unspeakably vicious attack on a dead man while he was still warm? I have in mind the matchbox quotation. In "Faith-Based Fraud," Hitchens wrote:
In the time immediately following the assault by religious fascism on American civil society in September 2001, he [Falwell] used his regular indulgence on the airwaves to commit treason. Entirely exculpating the suicide-murderers, he asserted that their acts were a divine punishment of the United States.
The problem with Falwell's statement was that he was in no position to know that the 9/11 attacks were divine punishment. What is offensive about such statements is the presumption that one is en rapport with the divine plan, that one has some sort of inside dope as to the deity's designs. In his credulousness and self-confidence, Falwell displayed a lack of respect for God's transcendence and unsearchableness. But this is just part of what is wrong with fundamentalism, which is a kind of theological positivism.
It is also offensive to hear some proclaim in tones of certainty that Hitchens is now no longer an atheist. They know that God exists and persons survive bodily death? They know no such thing, any more than Hitchens knew the opposite. Convictions, no matter how strong, do not amount to knowledge. (Here is a quick little proof. Knowledge entails truth. So if A and B have opposite convictions, and convictions amount to knowledge, then one and the same proposition can be both true and not true, which violates the Law of Non-Contradiction.)
But although Falwell's 9/11 statement can be criticized, he can't be criticized for making it. He had as much right to make that statement as Hitchens had for his cocksure proclamation that no God exists, not to mention his assaults on Mother Teresa and who all else. After all, that was Falwell's view, and it makes sense within his system of beliefs. There was certainly nothing treasonous about Falwell's statement, nor did it "entirely exculpate the suicide-murderers." Perhaps Falwell was a theological compatibilist, one who finds no contradiction in people acting freely in accordance with a divine plan.
So while we should certainly not follow Hitchens' nasty example and trash the dead, we should not go to the other extreme and paper over the foul aspects of Hitchens' personality. And we should also give some thought to the extent to which his viciousness is an upshot of his atheism.
For in the end, the atheist has nothing and can be expected to be bitter. This world is a vanishing quantity and he knows it; and beyond this world, he believes, there is nothing. That is not to say it isn't true. But if you are convinced that it is true, then you must live hopelessly unless you fool yourself with such evasions as living for some pie-in-the-future utopia such as Communists and other 'progressives' believe in, or for some such abstraction as literature.
Nobody will be reading Hitchens in a hundred years. He'll be lucky if he is still read in ten years.
Have you ever heard of Joseph McCabe (1867-1955)? Not until now. But he too was a major free-thinker and anti-religion polemicist in his day. Who reads him now?
Flannery O'Connor, The Habit of Being (Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, 1979), p. 227 in a letter to Maryat Lee dated 28 June 1957:
I doubtless hate pious language worse than you because I believe the realities it hides.
To the unbeliever, pious language is just so much cant and hypocrisy and offensive for these reasons. At funerals for worldly persons one sometimes hears pious claptrap about the dearly departed going off to be with the Lord. This may prove sickening to the unbeliever. Here is someone who spent his whole life on the make. And now you portray him as eager to meet his Maker? Or a nominal Catholic who never prayed the rosary in his life is set in an open casket with a rosary interlaced between his fingers. Disgusting!
The conventional lukewarm believer, for whom there is a tendency to conflate formulas and usages with the underlying realities, will not be offended. He does not take religion all that seriously in any case. It is a matter of habit and acculturation and respectability together with a vague sense that it might be a good idea to attend services as a sort of insurance lest any of the stuff about heaven and hell turn out to be true.
And then there is the person of genuine faith, for whom faith is not a convenience or a crutch or cheap consolation or an insurance policy or a mere matter of habit or acculturation or respectability. Such a person aims to penetrate through the formulas and usages to the transcendent realities and is offended by conventional piety for the right reason.
Current events warrant this re-post from two years ago. Christian precepts such as "Turn the other cheek" and "Welcome the stranger" make sense and are salutary only within communities of the like-minded and morally decent; they make no sense and are positively harmful in the public sphere, and, a fortiori, in the international sphere. The monastery is not the wide world. What is conducive unto salvation in the former will get you killed in the latter. And we know what totalitarians, whether Communists or Islamists, do when they get power: they destroy the churches, synagogues, monasteries, ashrams, and zendos. And with them are destroyed the means of transmitting the dharma, the kerygma, the law and the prophets.
So my question to Catholic bishops and their fellow travellers is this: Do you have a death wish for you and your flocks and your doctrine?
An important but troubling thought is conveyed in a recent NYT op-ed (emphasis added):
Machiavelli teaches that in a world where so many are not good, you must learn to be able to not be good. The virtues taught in our secular and religious schools are incompatible with the virtues one must practice to safeguard those same institutions. The power of the lion and the cleverness of the fox: These are the qualities a leader must harness to preserve the republic.
The problem as I see it is that (i) the pacific virtues the practice of which makes life worth living within families, between friends, and in such institutions of civil society as churches and fraternal organizations are essentially private and cannot be extended outward as if we are all brothers and sisters belonging to a global community. Talk of global community is blather. The institutions of civil society can survive and flourish only if protected by warriors and statesmen whose virtues are of the manly and martial, not of the womanish and pacific, sort. And yet (ii) if no extension of the pacific virtues is possible then humanity would seem to be doomed in an age of terrorism and WMDs. Besides, it is unsatisfactory that there be two moralities, one private, the other public.
Consider the Christian virtues preached by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. They include humility, meekness, love of righteousness, mercy, purity of heart, love of peace and of reconciliation. Everyone who must live uncloistered in the world understands that these pacific and essentially womanish virtues have but limited application there. (I am not using 'womanish' as a derogatory qualifier.) You may love peace, but unless you are prepared to make war upon your enemies and show them no mercy, you may not be long for this world. Turning the other cheek makes sense within a loving family, but no sense in the wider world. (Would the Pope turn the other cheek if the Vatican came under attack by Muslim terrorists or would he call upon the armed might of the Italian state?) This is perfectly obvious in the case of states: they are in the state (condition) of nature with respect to each other. Each state secures by blood and iron a civilized space within which art and music and science and scholarship can flourish and wherein, ideally, blood does not flow; but these states and their civilizations battle each other in the state (condition) of nature red in tooth and claw.
The Allies would not have been long for this world had they not been merciless in their treatment of the Axis Powers.
This is also true of individuals once they move beyond their families and friends and genuine communities and sally forth into the wider world.
The problem is well understood by Hannah Arendt ("Truth and Politics" in Between Past and Future, Penguin 1968, p. 245):
The disastrous consequences for any community that began in all earnest to follow ethical precepts derived from man in the singular -- be they Socratic or Platonic or Christian -- have been frequently pointed out. Long before Machiavelli recommended protecting the political realm against the undiluted principles of the Christian faith (those who refuse to resist evil permit the wicked "to do as much evil as they please"), Aristotle warned against giving philosophers any say in political matters. (Men who for professional reasons must be so unconcerned with "what is good for themselves" cannot very well be trusted with what is good for others, and least of all with the "common good," the down-to-earth interests of the community.) [Arendt cites the Nicomachean Ethics, Book VI, and in particular 1140b9 and 1141b4.]
There is a tension between man qua philosopher/Christian and man qua citizen. As a philosopher raised in Christianity, I am concerned with my soul, with its integrity, purity, salvation. I take very seriously indeed the Socratic "Better to suffer wrong than to do it" and the Christian "Resist not the evildoer." But as a citizen I must be concerned not only with my own well-being but also with the public welfare. This is true a fortiori of public officials and people in a position to influence public opinion, people like Catholic bishops many of whom are woefully ignorant of the simple points Arendt makes in the passage quoted. So, as Arendt points out, the Socratic and Christian admonitions are not applicable in the public sphere.
What is applicable to me in the singular, as this existing individual concerned with the welfare of his immortal soul over that of his perishable body, is not applicable to me as citizen. As a citizen, I cannot "welcome the stranger" who violates the laws of my country, a stranger who may be a terrorist or a drug smuggler or a human trafficker or a carrier of a deadly disease or a person who has no respect for the traditions of the country he invades; I cannot aid and abet his law breaking. I must be concerned with public order. This order is among the very conditions that make the philosophical and Christian life possible in the first place. If I were to aid and abet the stranger's law breaking, I would not be "rendering unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's" as the New Testament enjoins us to do.
Indeed, the Caesar verse provides a scriptural basis for Church-State separation and indirectly exposes the fallacy of the Catholic bishops and others who confuse private and public morality.
Given that the ubiquity of crosses all across this great land has not yet established Christianity as the state religion, why, as it declines in influence, do the cruciphobic shysters of the ACLU and their ilk agitate still against these harmless and mostly merely historical remnants of a great religion?
A mercifully short (9:17) but very good YouTube video featuring commentary by name figures in the philosophy of religion including Marilyn Adams, William Alston, William Wainwright, and William Lane Craig. Craig recounts the experience that made a theist of him. (HT: Keith Burgess-Jackson)
As Marilyn Adams correctly points out at the start of the presentation, the belief of many theists is not a result of religious experience. It comes from upbringing, tradition, and participation in what Wittgenstein called a "form of life" with its associated "language game." I myself, however, could not take religion seriously if it were not for the variety of religious, mystical, and paranormal experiences I have had, bolstered by philosophical reasoning both negative and positive. Negative, as critique of the usual suspects: materialism, naturalism, scientism, secular humanism, and so on. Positive, the impressive array of theistic arguments and considerations which, while they cannot establish theism as true, make a powerful case for it.
But my need for direct experience reflects my personality and, perhaps, limitations. I am an introvert who looks askance at communal practices such as corporate prayer and church-going and much, if not all, of the externalities that go with it. I am not a social animal. I see socializing as too often levelling and inimical to our ultimate purpose here below: to become individuals. Socializing superficializes. Man in the mass is man degraded. We need to be socialized out of the animal level, of course, but then we need solitude to achieve the truly human goal of individuation. Individuation is not a given, but a task. The social animal is still too much of an animal for my taste.
It is only recently that I have forced myself myself to engage in communal religious activities, but more as a form of self-denial than of anything else. My recent five weeks at a remote monastery were more eremitic than cenobitic, but I did take part in the services. And upon return I began attending mass with my wife. Last Sunday a man sat down next to me, a friendly guy who extended to me his hand, but his breath stank to high heaven. Behind me some guy was coughing his head off. And then there are those who show up for mass in shorts, and I am not talking about kids. The priest is a disaster at public speaking and his sermon is devoid of content. Does he even understand the doctrine he is supposed to teach? And then there are all the lousy liberals who want to reduce religion to a crapload of namby-pamby humanist nonsense. And let's not forget the current clown of a pope who, ignorant of economics and climatology, speaks to us of the evils of capitalism and 'global warming' when he should be speaking of the Last Things. (Could he name them off the top of his head?)
But then I reason with myself as follows. "Look, man, you are always going on about how man is a fallen being in a fallen world. Well, the church and its hierarchy and its members are part of the world and therefore fallen too. So what did you expect? And you know that the greatest sin of the intellectual is pride and that pride blinds the spiritual sight like nothing else. So suck it up, be a man among men, humble yourself. It may do you some good."
I read about your recent experiences with communal
religion. Your self-reflection reminded me of something Rabbi Harold Kushner
writes about in his book WHO NEEDS GOD. He talks about visiting with a young man
who told him, "I hate churches and synagogues, they're full of nothing but
hypocrites and jerks"...Kushner says he had to fight the urge to say, 'yep, and
there is always room for one more'.
For $85 a month, you get discounts on his merchandise, and the chance to meet ‘Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science personalities’. Obviously that’s not enough to meet the man himself. For that you pay $210 a month — or $5,000 a year — for the chance to attend an event where he will speak. . . . But the $85 a month just touches the hem of rationality. After the neophyte passes through the successively more expensive ‘Darwin Circle’ and then the ‘Evolution Circle’, he attains the innermost circle, where for $100,000 a year or more he gets to have a private breakfast or lunch with Richard Dawkins, and a reserved table at an invitation-only circle event with ‘Richard’ as well as ‘all the benefits listed above’, so he still gets a discount on his Richard Dawkins T-shirt saying ‘Religion — together we can find a cure.
The website suggests that donations of up to $500,000 a year will be accepted for the privilege of eating with him once a year: at this level of contribution you become a member of something called ‘The Magic of Reality Circle’. I don’t think any irony is intended.
Just as religion is a hustle for some, anti-religion is for others.