Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Merely Absolute

As a way to warm up, perhaps I will deal with objections to yesterday's post (those that I didn't respond to in the comments). And I do welcome the objections. No need to be shy. I'm thinking this through in real time, so any criticism is helpful. We're in this together!

Ebony Raptor says "My questions have to do with how to describe the be-ing of God. Theologians I talk to see Hartshorne as saying questionable things about God's immanence in nature. There's something troubling to them about how he describes ontology."

Well, I suppose one must specify the things that trouble them. Hartshorne does say that God is immanent in nature, but also transcendent. Thus, this is not pantheism but panentheism, the latter of which is entirely orthodox.

Oopsie. At the end of that section we read that Hartshorne was a Unitarian, which for me is a little like finding out Don Colacho was a scientologist, or worse, Schuon was a Muslim. As I said yesterday, we need to rescue the poor man from himself. Or at least kidnap his heathen ideas and raise them in a proper Christian home.

Mushroom stumbles over the notion of change in God, which is perfectly understandable. In the classical view, if something is capable of change, then it isn't perfect. In other words, it if can develop, it implies that it wasn't perfect.

Here I think we need to be very careful about projecting our words onto God, and then being trapped in them. Furthermore, we need to be cautious about making deductions about the nature of God based upon such abstract logic, and then using the abstraction to trump the concrete. Doing so is a little like emphasizing transcendence to the exclusion of immanence and coming out with half a God.

Think of some of the primary attributes of God that render the concept of changelessness extremely problematic: personhood, creator, love, life, self-giving, etc. Again, if these words mean what they mean, then I don't see how they can possibly be reconciled with changelessness. What would it mean, for example, to be an unchanging person? Basically being dead, or insensate, or in a coma, or autistic, or an MSNBC host.

For Hartshorne, God is both absolute and relative: absolute in the abstract but relative in the concrete. In short, absolute/relative is an irreducible complementarity, something which I believe is a fundamental lesson of the Trinity.

The Trinity cannot be further reduced to something less (or more) than itself (i.e., a monad) without thereby losing its identifying features of love, relationship, knowledge, creation, etc. Behind or before the Father is not an ontological bachelor; we might even say that the Trinity is just as much an effect as a cause of eternal love-in-relation. Certainly it is a way to conceptualize, frame, and think about this eternal love.

For me, one of Hartshorne's most helpful ideas -- and it can be used in many contexts -- is that when faced with a complementarity, the more concrete of the two complements is the more fundamental. Thus, for example, the abstract and unchanging God is the form of "the supreme personality as such." It is like saying Joe is Joe. Without ever actually meeting him in the flesh, we can affirm that Joe is Joe, has always been Joe, and will always be Joe. In that sense, Joe is unchanging, for Joe=Joe.

But there is also the concrete state of "God as person caring for the creatures he has created." This is the real Joe, not just the idea of Joe. For Hartshorne, "The abstract does not act, only the concrete acts or is a person." Furthermore -- and this is the (for me) revolutionary part -- "it is the divine Person that contains the Absolute, not vice versa" -- just as "the man contains his character, not the character the man."

Here is where, I believe, human language lands the champion of changelessness in the soup. "Any concrete case," writes Hartshorne, "contains the entire unlimited form." For example, consistent with Aristotle, there is no abstract realm of disembodied ideas.

Rather, the idea is in the concrete expression: any man is an instance of man-as-such. Thus, the abstract form appears "unlimited, not because it has all possible cases in actualized form, but because it has no actual case within it, being the common form of all actuality, and no actuality whatever."

In short, abstract possibility "is unlimited because it is not actualized at all. It is everything in the form of possibility, nothing whatever in the form of actuality."

Therefore -- and I realize this is a Big Leap for many people, "God as merely absolute is nonactual," whereas God-as-relative is concrete person.

I love that "merely" absolute. For example, if someone tries to sell me on Islam, the first thing I would say is: "Allah? He is merely absolute. He can't be the real thing. He can't even be actual. He's just an abstraction, not a concrete person."

Perhaps this is why the only way to relate to the abstract Father is through the concrete Son, always and forever. God is our eternal relative, and we his.

[A]s absolute God is 'simple,' has no constituents. But this only shows once more that it is God as relative that is the inclusive conception.... A wholly absolute God is power divorced from responsiveness or sensitivity... --Hartshorne

44 Comments:

Blogger Rick said...

God is not merely perfect.
He'd never settle for it!

11/26/2014 09:28:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Well, as I said in a comment to yesterday's post, perhaps he ceaselessly moves from perfection to perfection, and perfection cannot surpass itself.

11/26/2014 09:33:00 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

"I think we need to be very careful about projecting our words onto God, and then being trapped in them. Furthermore, we need to be cautious about making deductions about the nature of God based upon such abstract logic, and then using the abstraction to trump the concrete. Doing so is a little like emphasizing transcendence to the exclusion of immanence and coming out with half a God."

When I get a crazy new idea about what I think is God, I've been doing this lately. I take the idea and compare it to what I know of the God who created the Cosmos, in all it's splendor, beauty, logic, life, matter, infinite size, the Saints, Christ, the Virgin, the full weight it all, etc. and say to myself, does this sound like the same God?
I have to remember just Who I think I'm thinking about.

11/26/2014 09:35:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Yes, revelation is nothing if not concrete, whereas a lot of theology is an abstraction from it. The abstraction is then taken as the reality, which Whitehead called the fallacy of misplaced concreteness.

11/26/2014 09:37:00 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

UF says something about (I think in the Hanged Man) the perfect man acts first, and will takes second place. It's a difficult concept (for my melon).

But perhaps it is true. There seems to be indications (I think) in Genesis that God acted first (abstraction), then judged the creation (the concrete), meaning that He was taking a hell of a chance on us and didn't know entirely how we might turn out... Or, after weighing our potentials in the balances before the beginning, decided: I AM doing it anyway.
Like the prodigal father's faith in the son who left.

11/26/2014 09:49:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Rick, agreed. In my recent readings, it seems as though The Plan - while always consistent and pointing ahead to a grand deustination - is at the same time being constantly revised to accommodate the unyielding necks of the subjects, who always seem to have other ideas.

In truth, it often seems on the one hand as though the author of the Pentateuch anthropomorphized god a little too much - but on the other hand...

11/26/2014 10:37:00 AM  
Blogger mushroom said...

I can see that. That's kind of how I was reconciling it to myself yesterday. We have been taught this changelessness -- which is true -- in order to emphasize the transcendence of God. Traditionally we have been fearful of suggesting that in immanence, in interacting with the creation, He does work with us and, hence, change.

The same thing happened with the idea of pre-existent souls. It was no big deal to guys like Origen. As things moved along, the Church downplayed that idea in order to play up the uniqueness of Christ's pre-existence as the Second Person of the Trinity.

It's like trying to get the canoe in a straight line. If you don't want to go in circles, you're going to have paddle on the other side about half the time.

11/26/2014 11:08:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

The image comes to mind of a kaleidOscope constantly moving from one beautiful pattern to the next...

11/26/2014 11:59:00 AM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

"For me, one of Hartshorne's most helpful ideas -- and it can be used in many contexts -- is that when faced with a complementarity, the more concrete of the two complements is the more fundamental. Thus, for example, the abstract and unchanging God is the form of "the supreme personality as such." It is like saying Joe is Joe. Without ever actually meeting him in the flesh, we can affirm that Joe is Joe, has always been Joe, and will always be Joe. In that sense, Joe is unchanging, for Joe=Joe.

But there is also the concrete state of "God as person caring for the creatures he has created." This is the real Joe, not just the idea of Joe. For Hartshorne, "The abstract does not act, only the concrete acts or is a person." Furthermore -- and this is the (for me) revolutionary part -- "it is the divine Person that contains the Absolute, not vice versa" -- just as "the man contains his character, not the character the man."

Bob, you truly have a gift to explain more clearly the ineffable compliMantery cOMcepts.

11/26/2014 12:30:00 PM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

It's good to remember that we cannot contain God in our concept(s) of perfection.
Perfection to perfection means perfect change, without changing perfection (I say this without intending to sound Sphinx-like and failing).

11/26/2014 12:37:00 PM  
Blogger ted said...

[A]s absolute God is 'simple,' has no constituents. But this only shows once more that it is God as relative that is the inclusive conception.... A wholly absolute God is power divorced from responsiveness or sensitivity... --Hartshorne

While the absolute God may have no constituents, it does have intention. Otherwise, there would be no purpose or meaning in the concrete. What holds it all together is the Absolute. But while Hartshorne may be partial to the concrete, I would gather an Absolute (being not-one and not-two), could hold the changeless with the change. This is where the Trinity becomes more coherent as a doctrine.

11/26/2014 12:39:00 PM  
Blogger William Wildblood said...

I would reconcile the perfection of God with the idea that he changes (or grows) by saying that changelessness is a kind of limitation. It’s almost claustrophobic! Surely God manifests or creates to become more, always complete but always moving on to greater levels of completion.

I came to this way of thinking because I had to work out how I disagreed with the Buddhists and rigid non-dualists and all those who maintain that reality is impersonal and that the personal is just an illusion to be transcended. It seems to me that the personal is the whole point of why there is something rather than nothing for, as you point out, Bob, God is both absolute and relative, and there is never one without the other. Or, in a phrase, God is love.

This is where I would part company with the Traditionalists like Guenon and Schuon for whom the relative is somehow lower than the absolute. I think we have to put them on the same footing as equally necessary to the whole.



11/27/2014 06:43:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

That's what I think. If we're gonna go with God-as-person, take it all the way.

11/27/2014 09:11:00 AM  
Blogger ted said...

Going through these videos at Prager U for the first time. Love these concise life lessons. Would have served me well decades ago.

11/27/2014 09:26:00 AM  
Blogger ted said...

I sense the Trinity gives God more dynamism: God-as-essence, God-as-person, and God-as-relation (or some variation thereof). Maybe this conflates the relative and absolute, but I don't believe in is inconsistent with Hartshorne all that much.

11/27/2014 09:48:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

I have to say, Prager has probably been the biggest influence in my life. Started listening over 20 years ago, when I was still an angry liberal.

11/27/2014 09:55:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

I think Hartshorne would rightly say that we only have the word absolute because of the relative, and vice versa. The one is inconceivable in the absence of the other. But where he tweaks things is to say that of the two, the relative is more fundamental, because it contains the absolute. In short, there is an Absolute Relative and his name is God, the "always perfectly relating."

11/27/2014 09:57:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

He may be wrong, but it sure resolves a lot of conundrums.

11/27/2014 09:59:00 AM  
Blogger ted said...

He's not syndicated in Boston, so I was not aware of him until I saw you mentioning him. And he would probably do well here. Oddly enough, although the area is primarily liberal, talk radio is quite conservative here and does well. I think lots of liberals watch or listen to conservative media (consider that Fox has more Democrats watching than MSNBC or CNN). But here again, it's not what you take in, it's how. And for most leftists, this stuff is just fuel for their fire and rarely able to convert distorted mindsets. Yet Prager appears to have a more gentle, high-minded approach that actually could make headway with the right kind of folk.

11/27/2014 10:06:00 AM  
Blogger ted said...

In short, there is an Absolute Relative and his name is God, the "always perfectly relating."

Sounds like a Trinity to me. Partial, yes, like any path.

11/27/2014 10:09:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Ted, agreed re. Prager's approach. Back when I listened to talk radio, after listening to him, I couldn't stomach too many other shows even when I agreed with them - for the most part, I found them too abrasive and often completely obnoxious. It was the courteous approach, plus his genuine faith, which helped turn me around, too.

11/27/2014 10:24:00 AM  
Blogger ted said...

Yes Julie... I think for "heady" folks like us, we require a more high-minded doorway. It was like that for God for me. I needed the spiritual intellects to gently guide me in.

11/27/2014 10:30:00 AM  
Blogger Van Harvey said...

Gagdad said "In short, there is an Absolute Relative and his name is God, the "always perfectly relating.""

Yep. Any other relational database, Object Oriented Programming, Aristotlians out there feel near to bursting? The information is Both absolute And relative, and would be gibberish otherwise.

As I suppose the object is both particle And wave, and could not Be otherwise.

And the Truth is that if you accept the wrong key to relate your information upon, you compromise it all.

Programming with physics & awareness - the ultimate in Virtue All Reality.


11/27/2014 10:42:00 AM  
Blogger John said...

Changing, growing, developing, absolute personal God. You are Mormons, and didn't even realize it!

11/27/2014 11:50:00 AM  
Blogger Van Harvey said...

...and you are not only an absolute twit, but are relatively the only one not to realize it.

11/27/2014 12:21:00 PM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Is that you, Joe?

11/27/2014 03:11:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Well, I spent the day unpacking the books and organizing the library. What is remarkable is how few of them are truly necessary.

11/27/2014 03:33:00 PM  
Blogger ted said...

I believe you may be going the way of Aquinas where it's all seeming "like straw."

11/27/2014 03:39:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

FYI -- Amazon has a sale through Sunday midnight, 30% off any book. Info should be on the page, but use promo code HOLIDAY30.

11/29/2014 09:20:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Thanks - you have any current recommendations?

11/30/2014 06:32:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Hmm. Not really. I used it to order Sowell's new edition of Basic Economics. I read the first edition may years ago, but this is not only updated but like twice as long. This other one, Inventing the Individual, looks very promising -- right up Raccoon Alley -- but I haven't yet received it.

11/30/2014 08:20:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Or you could go with Obama's more elevated selections.

11/30/2014 08:40:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

The Conrad must be for oppo research...

11/30/2014 08:43:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Interesting. I'm guessing most of those are for the kids. Or maybe the Mrs. At least there's nothing involving Shades of Grey or sparkling vampires.

Re. the Conrad, maybe it's just about decoration; it's a classic, and he can pretend he's smart for reading it. Plus it's about Africa. Anyway, it's not like he has time to lift the covers, what with all those rounds of golf and the tiring process of making imperial edicts.

11/30/2014 10:06:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

This new bio of Stalin is compelling, but at over 700 pages, and only taking the story to 1928, requires a degree of commitment. Two things so far: 1) Russia is a totally alien place, and 2) life would be so great if it weren't for the f-ing intelligentsia.

11/30/2014 10:25:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Yes, on both counts. I suppose the world could handle intelligentsia, if they would just keep to their ivory towers and let the rest of us get on with the business of living.

Russia becomes more baffling the more I learn about it. For instance, apparently if you smile at a strange Russian they'll assume you're plotting against them or something.

11/30/2014 11:05:00 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

"Or you could go with Obama's more elevated selections."

HA! I just saved 100%!

11/30/2014 03:08:00 PM  
Blogger Joan of Argghh! said...

He may be wrong, but it sure resolves a lot of conundrums.

Or perhaps verbalizes better than most our own inklings of seeming contradictions. I think that's why, when we read such ideas, we tend to embrace them heartily because we know... we know.

And if we really know ourselves, we fall back to the concrete in order to test the knowing we think we know. The only absolute is the Truth at the back of the omniscience, omnipotence, omnipathos. Why shouldn't the absolute Truth embody the absolute beauty of of the quest to become one with It?

11/30/2014 04:37:00 PM  
Blogger ted said...

I like what Sowell writes, but I am not sure I enjoy how he writes. I've read a couple of his books, but they took me the longest time to get through. There's something where some writers put unnecessary strains on you.

11/30/2014 04:58:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Yes, his books are like pure reason unleavened by any poetry whatsoever. He does have an occasional sly & dry sense of humor, however.

11/30/2014 05:16:00 PM  
Blogger ted said...

Bob: Got a music recommendation for you. I recently heard Robert Plant give an interview, and was asked what would be his one album to take to deserted island. He mentioned the Great Destroyer by Low. Having never heard of it, I decided to make an impulse purchase, and I've been listening all weekend. They have this uncanny ability to write melodic songs that build with intensity. Great record!

11/30/2014 05:38:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Happy Advent, Raccoons! Here's some very traditional and lovely, yet largely-unheard, music for the season.

11/30/2014 09:21:00 PM  
Blogger Rogelio Bueno said...

For some reason I am provoked to think about this:

“It was obvious to Aristotle that most things which move do so because some other moving object impels them. A hand, itself in motion, moves a sword; a wind, itself in motion, moves a ship. But it was also fundamental to his thought that no infinite series can be actual. We cannot therefore go on explaining one movement by another ad infinitum. There must in the last resort be something which, motionless itself, initiates the motion of all other things. Such a Prime Mover he finds in the wholly transcendent and immaterial God who ‘occupies no place and is not affected by time’. But we must not imagine Him moving things by any positive action, for that would be to attribute some kind of motion to Himself and we should then not have reached an utterly unmoving Mover. How then does He move things? Aristotle answers, ‘He moves as beloved’. He moves other things, that is, as an object of desire moves those who desire it. The Primum Mobile (the outermost or innermost - depending on your point of view - sphere of Heaven) is moved by its love for God, and being moved, communicates motion to the rest of the universe.”
C.S. Lewis, Discarded Image

12/01/2014 09:24:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Beautiful. I really should read more CS Lewis.

12/01/2014 09:30:00 AM  

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