Thursday, March 13, 2014

I Can Get You a TOE by 9 O'clock this Morning

Let's play a theological game of SPOT the FALLACY (or EXPOSE the THEO-ILLOGIC). Hartshorne's essay in The Philosophy of Martin Buber serves as a fine example of his overall approach and a good summary of his metaphysical and theological preoccupations. I personally don't see any flaws in his theo-logic, but I bring with me no preconceptions that might get in the way.

Hartshorne's best book, in my opinion, is Philosophers Speak of God (cowritten with William Reese), in which he -- almost in scholastic fashion -- presents the best arguments of virtually every great thinker in history, and methodically pokes holes in each one.

His targets range from the pre-Socratics to the postmoderns. However, since the book was published in 1953, prior to the pandemic of postmodernism, it only touches the hem of that soiled garment, e.g., Freud and Nietzsche, who are as cognitive HIV to the full blown psychopneumatic AIDS of a Derrida, Foucault or Edward Said.

Having said that, I suspect that I might be missing something, because it all seems too easy. I mean, if I can fully understand it, there must be something wrong with it, right?

It's like Giuliani's highly useful definition of art: If I can do it, then it isn't art. For example, I couldn't have painted the Sistine Chapel or carved the Pieta. But I could, say, smear some sheets with blood from a severed toe. How? Oh, I could get a toe, believe me. That's the easy part. There are ways. Hell, I can get you a toe by 3 o'clock this afternoon. With nail polish. These fucking amateur artists...

Speaking of which, I can get you a T.O.E. -- Theory Of Everything -- by 9:12 this morning. Let us proceed by getting back to our special geist, and just hope he's not as unholy as some people seem to think.

Hartshorne begins with the following: "First, the supreme principle is not absoluteness or self-sufficiency, but relativity."

I admit to swallowing this fishy principle, hook, line and sinker. Perhaps you don't. If so, then you're off the hook. You are free to pursue the implications of a fully self-sufficient and changeless whale of an absolute.

But if you pursue these implications and entailments to the belly of the beast, your head will soon be swimming with the fishes. Don't stop halfway at a comfortable or convenient why station. Don't just throw out the little questions, but keep asking the big ones that always get away.

As Dennis Prager always says, it is one thing to vaunt the strengths of one's position, another to acknowledge its weaknesses, trade-offs, and unintended consequences. Leftists in particular never admit to the latter, and we certainly don't want to imitate that chronically intellectually dishonest rabble.

Being that relation is absolute, "This primacy of relatedness is not to be denied even of God." Although this may sound shocking to some, it shouldn't shock the Christian, since the ontological Trinity "speaks of the interior life of the Trinity, the reciprocal relationships of Father, Son, and Spirit to each other without reference to God's relationship with creation."

To me -- and I could be way wrong about this -- the whole point of the Incarnation is to widen out, so to speak, the ontological Trinity, so as to potentially include man within its loving embrace.

Thus, "God, the inclusive Thou, is relative to us, as well as we to Him." This is because Jesus as man is made fully inclusive within the dynamic Trinity, as Son to Father. In other words, the ontological Trinity widens out to include (the man) Jesus, who, as God and man, is (therefore) both economic and ontological Trinity.

This would explain how, "in an incomprehensible way," we may have "an effect upon God." For me, this also explains the paradox of a suffering God who is supposedly changeless. Clearly, to suffer is to be subject to change. Via the Incarnation, God participates quintessentially in the suffering of man.

Steadfast is not necessarily synonymous with changelessness. Rather, one might say that it is what we place our faith in despite all the changes. I mean, we hope God is steadfast, but we also hope he is moved by our suffering, don't we?

Hartshorne acknowledges that "To very many, these are strange, puzzling, or even odious and blasphemous words." However, I believe this blasphemy is intrinsic to Christianity, not extrinsic. It is why "the world will hate you" and "you will be persecuted in My name." In short, it is as blasphemous to suggest that God changes as it is revolutionary to suggest that the earth isn't the center of the physical solar system.

Indeed, Hartshorne characterizes the transition from God-as-substance to God-as-relation as a Copernican Revolution of the spirit.

Much of this debate revolves around the question of freedom, for freedom and relation are inextricably intertwined. In short, "if freedom is denied to man, then it cannot be rationally attributed to God," because "if we experienced no freedom in ourselves, no power of resolving indetermination, we could not even have the idea" of freedom. In a way, we would be God, because with no freedom, nothing in us would be distinguishable from him.

Or, one could say that the denial of human freedom renders us either God or object, for only an unconscious object has zero freedom, so to insist that only God is free is to render man an object, an It. Either way, it is impossible for a being with zero freedom to attribute complete freedom to another.

And isn't freedom inseparable from change? For Hartshorne, it is not a matter of all change bad, pure changelessness good. Rather, if we admit change into the Godhead, then it must be "supreme or ideal" in comparison to our "inferior or deficient" use of freedom.

Or, to put it concretely, we might say that Jesus makes perfect use of his freedom. It is not that he is subject to no change, but rather, participates in perfect change.

But again, I'm sure I'm missing something.


Blogger ted said...

I just got the Hartshorne book. Will take me a few weeks to dig in.

I suppose for us to participate in perfect change, that would mean we need perfect constraints in freedom?

We do things in relation to God by deciding our own being, with necessary help from him as setting limits to the disorder inherent in freedom. Those limits, IMHO, may be the key to perfect change?

3/13/2014 09:36:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

I would think so: as chordal structure is to perfect improvisation, i.e., "running the changes."

3/13/2014 09:42:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Steadfast is not necessarily synonymous with changelessness. Rather, one might say that it is what we place our faith in despite all the changes. I mean, we hope God is steadfast, but we also hope he is moved by our suffering, don't we?

Yes, just so. To say "steadfast" to me implies something more akin to a dynamic strength in the face of change - an active dependability - than, say, the relative changelessness, inelasticity and imperturbability of solid rock.

3/13/2014 10:12:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Like the difference between courage and stupidity.

3/13/2014 10:16:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Ha - yes.

Either way, it is impossible for a being with zero freedom to attribute complete freedom to another.

Puts a deeper spin on loving one's neighbor as oneself...

3/13/2014 10:33:00 AM  
Blogger mushroom said...

For I the LORD do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed.
(Malachi 3:6, ESV)

I the LORD do not change -- but look at the context. It's relational to His covenant people.

God is good. That doesn't change. But there wouldn't be a cosmos to start with if He were always and only One. There'd be nothing else.

3/13/2014 11:00:00 AM  
Blogger mushroom said...

Saying "relative" makes me nervous, but relational, related, relationship are a lot more relaxing.

3/13/2014 11:03:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

I think again that that can be interpreted along the lines of Count on it, I got your back, I'm always here, I won't go changin' on you, etc., otherwise there is no way to explain all the biblical passages with clearly imply some type of change.

3/13/2014 11:03:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Concur about relative. "Perfectly related" -- as, for example, Father to Son -- sounds more acceptable.

3/13/2014 11:04:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Our faith seems to involve a kind of steadfastness.

I wonder if God has a kind of faith in man, so to speak?

3/13/2014 11:06:00 AM  
Blogger ted said...

Ah, the slippery slope of process theology. Just found a quote by Hartshorne where he privileges the pro-choice movement:

As the Buddhists for two thousand years have seen, "A can turn into B" is one thing,
"A is B" is another. (So long as pro-lifers persist in denying this distinction, than which none could be much plainer, my conclusion must be that they are trying to prove their case by verbal ambiguity.) Even a small child
is enormously superior to a fertilized egg or any single cell whatever, for the child is many billions of such cells, a
substantial portion of them organized into a nervous system, the most complex, subtly integrated natural system
we know about, short of God as the integrated cosmos!

Privileging potential for actual is always the issue here. As perfect change becomes the mantra, we can become means to a greater end but dismiss what we are today. I have not come to see how to reconcile this yet.

3/13/2014 11:09:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

re. God having faith in man, I would hope so; otherwise, why save Noah?

Ted, if that's the direction Hartshorne takes it, he's wrong. The error in this instance lies in essentially calling a human more superior by the more cells he has; mistaking quantity for quality. If that's the case, then the most superior human ever would be the one with the greatest mass.

Of course, that's not quite the point he's making; rather, he's slipping into materialism, and putting matter over man.

3/13/2014 11:24:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

I don't think there is any necessary connection between process theology and Hartshorne's political positions, which tend toward the usual fashionable liberal nonsense.

3/13/2014 11:26:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

In fact, if I think about it, I can no doubt find a flaw in his flow.

3/13/2014 11:26:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

As Julie just did.

3/13/2014 11:27:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...


I can get you a toe...

3/13/2014 11:28:00 AM  
Blogger Magister said...

Ok, I'm genuinely intrigued.

3/13/2014 12:27:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

About the toe?

You probably haven't seen The Big Lebowski, then...

3/13/2014 12:30:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

There is a link to the scene in the post.

3/13/2014 12:42:00 PM  
Blogger ted said...

Julie, well done!

Now write the book :)

3/13/2014 01:49:00 PM  
Blogger ted said...

I still think there is an interesting tension reconciling process theology with classical liberalism. Not sure if any of the ontological political philosophers have done this (Voegelin, Strauss) since they were very much steeped in classical theology.

3/13/2014 01:54:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

I agree. It seems that both would be steeped more in an information theory approach.

3/13/2014 02:02:00 PM  
Blogger Van Harvey said...

Gagdad said "Concur about relative. "Perfectly related" -- as, for example, Father to Son -- sounds more acceptable."

Yep. Maybe it's because as a programmer I work so much with relational databases, that I find no conflict between Absolute and Relational. I've usually found that the problems people have with the terms usually creep in around what they've left out: Context. Leave the context out, and you soon find yourself stuck with a big, deadened IT.

3/13/2014 06:44:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Here's an interesting take on relationality at the human level by Father Stephen, in the comments to a recent post of his about the Orthodox tradition of Forgiveness Sunday:

"Theologically, the word is perichoresis, a mutual sharing between persons. It applies to the persons of the Godhead, such that what we predicate of one is true of the other. It is part of what it means to be truly personal, rather than merely individual.

For human beings, though this has largely been distorted through our sins, there is still a perichoresis, a mutual coinherence and sharing in the life of the other. And yes, it means I also bear your sin. For the least spiritually mature, this will seem ridiculous. For the saints, this will be utterly true and profound. Learning to accept this also means learning to truly pray for others, not to judge others, to understand that your life is my life – and in so doing – and only in so doing – come to love the other. You will never love your neighbor as yourself until you learn that his life is yours."

3/13/2014 07:31:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Thinking about that some more, I wonder if the Orthodox idea of perichoresis doesn't come a little too close to obliterating the individual. There's a big strain there of combating "individualism," which in some sense is understandable - the point of course is to identify oneself fully with God, and presumably it would be slightly easier to love one's neighbor as oneself if one sees no distinction between the neighbor and the self - but ultimately, I think, defeats the purpose of relationship.

Also, if all men are the same man, as it were, why bother with shuffling the gene pool? Wouldn't it have made more sense for humans to reproduce by cloning, if that were the point? And even then, what would be the point?

3/14/2014 06:36:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

I just scanned the wiki article to try to get up to speed on perichoresis, and at the very end it mentions something about reciprocity and symmetry in the Trinity. If asymmetrical equates to individual, then perhaps this fuels the dynamism of its eternal activity. Which actually makes sense to me. If things were totally symmetrical, there could be no activity. Speaking of which -- possibly, since I haven't read it -- this piece by Camille Paglia was linked at Lucianne this morning, and is supposed to be very good.

3/14/2014 07:54:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

For some reason that link goes to the article, and then switches to another, so you may have to click back to get the Paglia one.

3/14/2014 07:57:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

I've noticed some news sites do weird things like that lately. Very annoying. Seems to work okay on the iPad so far, though.

3/14/2014 08:05:00 AM  

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